Telecoms security has been in and out of the headlines for almost two years now, ever since patriot/traitor/hero/villain (delete as your opinion dictates) Edward Snowden revealed the PRISM campaign and the rest in 2013.
We've since learned that GCHQ has a pretty tight grip on the communications flowing around the UK and the rest of the world. So you'd think the folks at the top at GCHQ and the government would be adept at keeping their own comms secure.
Not so, it seems. Sneak was amused to read that David Cameron received a prank phone call from someone who managed to bypass the switchboard security (the mind boggles as to how) and was given the mobile phone number of the head of GCHQ, Sir Robert Hannigan.
Cameron explained that the hoax call took place while he was out for a walk, and was told, presumably by a government switchboard operator with a heavy case of 'Sunday afternoon lull', that he was being put into a conference call from Hannigan.
Cameron, however, was not taken in and said he was immediately suspicious when the caller said sorry for 'waking him up' at the start of the call.
Sneak knows politicians are often characterised as lazy, feckless types, but even he wouldn't have thought Cameron was in bed at 11am on a Sunday.
"I thought that was strange as it was eleven o'clock in the morning," Cameron said, with James Bond-like calm.
He then confirmed that he ended the call without revealing any national security information, such as Trident's tactical nuke launch codes, his inner thigh measurements or the location of the Holy Grail. Phew.
Looking through his mountain of emails, Sneak believes that plenty of virtual hot air could be condensed down into the 140 characters of a tweet.
But as a weathered and scarred veteran of tax return navigation, Sneak draws the line at trying to fit inherently obtuse tax inquiries into a format suitable for social media consumption.
After all, you try persuading the tax office that 20 bottles of single malt Scotch are a legitimate tax deductible in a single tweet.
Yet, according to the BBC, Stephen Hardwick, director of communications at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), said that Twitter could be used to "supplement" the department's phone service.
Sneak has used Twitter to supplement his dealings with the HMRC but believes the content of such tweets should not be revealed before the watershed.
Presumably, Hardwick is the type of communications specialist who prefers to save words by carrying out all interactions in a form of verbal semaphore.
The direct director is championing Twitter use owing to the long waiting times associated with calls regarding tax self-assessment. With a veneer of the shambolic surrounding the HRMC helpline, Sneak can imagine that callers are having their patience taxed as well as their income.
Despite Hardwick thinking that Twitter is the solution, he has met opposition from Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who described the idea as "laughable".
Presumably between her guffaws, Hodge said: "No customer-based service should tolerate such a poor service and ministers and senior management should simply sort this out."
Sneak would like to note that Hodge's call to action was stated in under 140 characters. She could have tweeted that, but the MP appears to lack a Twitter account. Sneak wonders whether she is best positioned to be criticising the use of Twitter while a not tweeter herself.
Further derision came from Treasury minister Shabana Mahmood, who said that it "beggars belief" that the government would encourage people to "publically tweet about their tax affairs".
Seemingly ignoring the wordier shadow politicians, Hardwick stated that the HRMC does not want people to tweet their personal details.
Sneak believes if you listen carefully enough you can hear a collective sigh of disappointment from lazy groups of identity thieves and cyber criminals looking for an easy mark.
Not one usually to side with sniggering politicians, Sneak has to agree with them this time. Given the average tax return is 10 pages worth of text, to tweet complex inquires would be akin to writing War and Peace on the back of a stamp.
With peak periods of tax returns and credits seeing a spike in inquiry calls, Hardwick compared HRMC with the Post Office during busy periods.
Sneak can confirm that a similarity certainly exists when it comes to experiencing long waiting times and rising frustration, but at least with the post he can watch his dog terrorise the postman every morning.
22 Jul 2014
Sneak is working on a novel. It's a labour of love that is so complex, clever and cunning that it makes Game of Thrones look like Spot the Dog. When it's ready, and yes Mum it will be, the world will proclaim the greatness that is Sneak.
So good is this work that Sneak has always been concerned that writing it in the traditional method – on Microsoft Word on a laptop – posed the risk that if someone got wind of it and hacked into his machine, they could steal the idea and make gazillions.
To avoid this fate, Sneak has for many years used an ancient, bashed-around typewriter left to him by his great grandfather (the dapper chap pictured above).
Yes his friends mock him when they come round (OK, see it over his shoulder on the webcam) but it’s a trusty machine and no-one’s going to hack into it, that’s for sure. In fact, he often wondered why other security-conscious organisations don't have the odd typewriter kicking around for important intel.
Well it appears the Germans are catching on after Sneak read that the German government is considering using the old-fashioned machines to help stop spies, such as those from the US, from accessing, intercepting and reading the country's most secret data.
The Guardian reported that Christian Democrat politician Patrick Sensburg, after being asked, as a litte joke, if the country was considering typewriters to avoid spying that, "As a matter of fact, we have – and not electronic models either."
"Really?" came the response (in German though, no doubt). "Yes, no joke," Sensburg said back. He never jokes.
Good for you Germany! Let’s see you crack a unnetworked, decades-old, ink and ribbon typewriter, NSA. As for Sneak, he's off to write chapter 247 of his novel. It's an exciting bit, as the Orc King Gringarlos battles the Dragon Wizard Zilarbeth in the Moon Palace of Zingador. Excited? You should be.
We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.— CIA (@CIA) June 6, 2014
Sneak finally has some decent people to talk to on his social networking accounts, the venerable chaps, and ladies, at the US Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA to close friends.
Sneak is often found to be on the receiving end of a mute or blocking order, he hopes that the new social CIA will embrace him and his own brand of unclassified disclosure.
Certainly it looks like the CIA is open to the social experience and it has promised to share outwards. Sneak hopes that it will be equally open to responses.
While looking at the CIA account Sneak realised that other people have the same hope, and he noticed that a chap called @Wikileaks has promised to respond to official disclosures with some of its own. Sneak is looking forward to that.
However, while he is hoping for messages that are juicy like so many peaches, the truth is probably - and this is often the case - that things will be very boring indeed.
Take the CIA on Facebook. Sneak was expecting to see a video of a monkey sniffing something, a picture of some lunch, or hell, even a selfie, but none of that is in place. Instead there is a message that promises no fun at all.
"CIA welcomes your comments, however we wish to maintain the decorum appropriate to a taxpayer-funded organisation, we will moderate, and delete as necessary, comments deemed inappropriate. Failure to adhere to these guidelines may result in the author(s) being blocked from this page without notice," it says in a cat-free early post.
"Do not post graphic, obscene, sexually explicit or racially offensive comments or content. We also will not tolerate comments that are abusive, hateful, slanderous or that are intended to defame anyone or any organisation. All content must be unclassified. Do not post any content that may be considered classified, sensitive, or that would cause immediate and undue harm to a person or organisation."
As one who never ventures far from the safety of his living room Sneak can count himself lucky he’s not one of the many Londoners who have experienced street crime, especially not of his beloved mobile phone.
However, it’s a worrying trend and Sneak was pleased to see Mayor of London Boris Johnson tackle the issue head on with a letter to the top mobile phone makers, including Apple, Samsung and Google, asking them to help tackle phone theft.
Scanning the letter, it’s clear some hasty rewriting took place in City Hall to tone down some of Johnson’s more colourful prose. However, a source in the capital passed Sneak a copy of the first draft, which is presented below in all its glory.
Dear chaps or chapesses (yes I know women can be high-ranking business officials these days, the modern world eh, marvelous!)
What spiffing weather we’re having! Anyhoo, look, there’s this dash awful phone-gizmo theft problem in London that I need your help with. It seems some of the awful scallywags and ne’er-do-wells who don’t live in Kensington and Chelsea are appropriating – through foul means – the portable telecommunication devices of upstanding citizens.
The rozzers at Scots Yard tell me they’re powerless to stop anyone and that I should ask you geek and nerds – and I mean that affectionately you brilliant brainy boffins – for some help stopping these ruffians.
No, I don’t mean some sort of weedy geek squads patrolling the streets, Lord no!
What I want is some sort of whizzo tech solution. Surely you can rustle up some nifty gizmo to stop this happening? Some sort of Heath Robinson contraption that stops someone being able to use a stolen phone would be great – you could call it the Boris-a-tron! You can have that free of charge! Marvelous!
Anyway, send me some drawings of what you think could work and I’ll personally look over them before giving them the sign off.
Sent from my blasted tablet device (haha!)
Thieves of London, you have been warned...
UK chancellor George Osborne has chosen the morning of the 2013 budget to unleash himself on the Twittersphere, sending his first tweet on Wednesday morning. Under the @George_Osborne account, he tweeted:
Today I'll present a Budget that tackles the economy's problems head on helping those who want to work hard & get on twitter.com/George_Osborne…— George Osborne (@George_Osborne) March 20, 2013
The tweet is accompanied by a picture of the chancellor with his red box, indeed working hard and getting on, if you call sitting with a blank piece of paper and doing some scribbling as evidence of achievement.
Sneak hopes that one of the budget announcements will be providing the UK chancellor with a calculator or actual computer to add up his sums.
Osborne had managed to amass more than 20,000 followers by mid-morning Wednesday, including MPs and industry groups like David Cameron, Liam Fox and the British Chambers of Commerce - those that Sneak would define as dull as ditchwater, and keeps far from his Twitter feed - plus a few random ones like Bill Gates and The Beautiful World: the most beautiful, crazy, stunning pictures of this earth, the biography claims.
Obviously our chancellor needs a little light relief every now and again, though Sneak would have gone for @sockington.
However, no sooner had poor George published his one and only tweet this morning, but the floodgates opened on a torrent of abuse and mick-taking aimed at the chancellor.
It took Sneak a fair while of searching through the hundreds of welcome tweets to Osborne to find some clean enough to post on a professional site like V3, but this gives a taste of the messages.
It's good you've joined Twitter, @george_osborne, because if you're doing rubbish at your job, Twitter can really help you focus.— David Schneider (@davidschneider) March 20, 2013
I despair that @george_osborne is a) about to help plunge more people into poverty, and b) incapable of punctuation.— El (@ellesueur) March 20, 2013
Some might feel sorry for the chancellor being subject to this level of abuse and ridicule, on the most important day of his year. But Sneak suspects an ulterior motive.
Osborne, or his canny PR team, would have known full well the likely outcome of unveiling his Twitter account on Budget Day, and must be secretly hoping that the interest in all the tweeting will overshadow any controversial decisions the chancellor announces this afternoon, or at least encourage some level of sympathy for him.
Sneak is sorry to reveal to Osborne that Twitter is not exactly a hotbed of sympathetic and measured viewpoints. All of which puts us in mind of this delightful moment from last summer:
Sneak has always admired those lone fighters, the rebels, the individuals who stand against the odds to stick it to The Man. So it is with utter admiration that Sneak doffs his hat to rapid left-wing street fighter George Galloway, having learned of his one-man fight against the might of microblogging site Twitter.
Galloway, most famous for his sumptuous facial hair and cat impersonations, has manfully tried to get the lily-livered weaklings in the House of Parliament to wake up to the spectre of Twitter, proposing an early day motion to impose sanctions on on the site.
“This House notes that Twitter is now a very widely used mode of social networking,” his motion begins inauspiciously. Thanks George, Sneak – along with the rest of Western civilisation - was kinda aware of that.
But old firebrand Galloway soon gets going.
“Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications,” he rails, before accusing the site of failing to co-operate with police, calling its behaviour “reprehensible”.
Sneak had been rather impressed with the Transparency Report Twitter had published earlier this year, but now feels – in light of Galloway's clear-sighted rant – that he must have had the wool pulled over his eyes by this, “US-based enterprise whose primary motivation is to maximise its profits”, as @georgegalloway describes them.
Sadly, no other MP has dared rally to the cause, making Gorgeous George's the only signature of the motion to date. Odd that, it's almost as if this were just some crude publicity stunt rather than a serious political campaign.
05 Feb 2013
The folk in North Korea don't have it easy and that's putting it mildly.
In fact Sneak finds it outrageous that in a world of internet access and smartphones and tablets people in the nation are barely allowed online and mobile phones can only call internally, effectively shutting off the outside world.
Of course, the leaders of such despotic regimes rarely place the same burdens on themselves as they do to their poor populous, and a photo that's emerged from North Korea shows its leader Kim Jong-un seeming to enjoy the benefits of smartphone.
Speculation immediately suggested it could be a Samsung. This would of course be highly embarrassing for the North Korean leader as the south is the nation's sworn enemy. However, it appears more likely to be an HTC device.
HTC is a Taiwanese firm, struggling in the market, and having its brand associated with a tyrannically leader bent on smothering a downtrodden population with the simply swipe of a smartphone doesn't help.
The use of an HTC would suggest Kim is a fan of the Android operating system, despite its security issues. Only recently the executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, was in North Korea to talk up web access. Perhaps he gave it to him as a gift.
Of course, the real question is, what does he think of BB10?