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Rory Cellan-Jones

Red faces at the Home Office

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 6 Apr 09, 19:18 GMT

When an e-mail arrived from a reader earlier this afternoon about a story we'd written on new EU regulations on data retention, I have to confess I was rather slow to react. Then I had another look and noticed this in the second paragraph:

...the Home Office is linking to a Chinese porn website.

Mike Riley had been wondering whether the new directive applied to his company. He needed to know if he was a "communications services provider", and so under an obligation to retain his customers' data.

Off he went to the Home Office website, and eventually burrowed his way down to this page. On the right, he noticed several links, including one to a body called the Technical Advisory Board (the link has since been removed). This, according to information elsewhere on the Home Office site, is a "non-departmental public body that advises the Home Secretary on whether the obligations imposed on communications service providers (CSPs) under the terms of RIPA are reasonable". But when Mr Riley clicked on the link he was directed to what appeared to be a porn site.

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After reading his email, I too clicked on the link - and ended up on the same site, though it appeared to be Japanese rather than Chinese. I contacted the Home Office press office, and provided them with the first news of this embarrassing glitch.

Within minutes, they had broken the link, then removed it altogether from the page. The press officer thanked me - and stressed that the site had not, as we'd both at first assumed, been hacked. Instead, she said someone had taken over what was a redundant site, which had once belonged to the Technical Advisory Board, and occupied it with something rather different.

So is this a serious matter - or just a moment of embarrassment for a government department which has had its fair share in recent days? Mr Riley says it does matter. He says he's still not sure whether he's covered by the new directive and has "little faith in getting an answer from the Home Office who seemingly are unable to monitor and securitize, their own site let alone the communications data of millions of email users in the country".

On the other hand, this kind of stunt happens to a number of prominent websites - and causes red faces rather than real damage. A bigger threat appears to come from the Chinese group which has allegedly managed to hack its way into government departments around the world in a cyber-warfare operation. But I can imagine the Home Office will be hoping not to hear the word "porn" again for at least a few weeks.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    The real question is though, was that more interesting than the intended site? hehe

  • Comment number 2.

    Look up the page in Google Cache and see for yourself :-p

  • Comment number 3.

    Presumably his ISP will have logged that visit to a Japanese sex site and his name will come up when the powers that be are looking for someone who has visited such sites in future.

  • Comment number 4.

    If the TAB is defunct who should one now contact if in need of advice regarding a notice of investigation under RIPA? The TAB is still heavily touted on the Home Office website.
    (http://security.homeoffice.gov.uk/ripa/interception/technical-advisory-board/) Who will define what a CSP is now that the tab is no more ?

    It appears to me that the DNS has been hijacked rather than a defunct site been appropriated, Incidentally google the "technical advisory board" and the link to the Japanese (not Chinese, you are correct RCJ) site is still there. Penultimate link first results page.


  • Comment number 5.

    Rory:
    Yes, there are many red faces at the Home Office...I would also think that they understand what they did....

    ~Dennis Junior~

  • Comment number 6.

    The link still appears to be on a number of Government related sites including Ofcom and Parliament.

    The domain hasn't been hijacked, a porn site has just managed to register the domain when the Home Office let it expire on 7th February.

    Surprising Nominet let a someone outside the UK register and use a .org.uk address.

  • Comment number 7.

    This isn't the first time that the Home Office appears to have lost control of one of its websites.

    As is described at http://www.sophos.com/blogs/gc/g/2008/09/01/video-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-nhtcu-website/ they allowed the website of the now defunct National Hi-Tech Crime Unit to slip through their fingers too.

    Although the Home Office has told Rory that it has removed the link, it can still be found as clickable hotlinks in PDF documents hosted on their website.

    It took me less than 30 seconds to find the offending link on the Home Office's website, so it doesn't appear that their clean-up can have been that thorough.

  • Comment number 8.

    Has Jacqui employed her hubby and 'right hand man' as the HO web-site administrator?

  • Comment number 9.

    as adders said it also appears on the following websites:

    ofcomm:

    Parliament: [Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    The home office might also want to check the following files:

    [Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    [Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 10.

    RCJ writes: "On the other hand, this kind of stunt happens to a number of prominent websites - and causes red faces rather than real damage."

    I think that the fact that 'Home Office and porn' is news for the second time in only a few days is damaging in itself.


    adders #6 writes: "Surprising Nominet let a someone outside the UK register and use a .org.uk address."

    is that so exceptional? appears to be the norm for all the .tv (transvestite ??) sites.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    My understanding with the .TV top level domain, and it may be wrong, is that the rightful owner is the country of Tuvalu and that they auctioned it off to raise money to pay for their seat at the UN. The registrar allows anyone to buy domains with that TLD - where as .uk are supposed to be better protected by Nominet.

  • Comment number 13.

    "... it appeared to be Japanese rather than Chinese. I contacted the Home Office press office, and provided them with the first news of this embarrassing glitch."

    An embarrassing glitch indeed, confusing Chinese and Japanese... can't believe you have a procative vid with a "click to play video" on it. Hugh Dennis' skit on an older episode of Mock the Week comes to mind ... "... the new BBC porn channel, C-Boobies ..."

  • Comment number 14.

    #8:

    My thoughts exactly!

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    I wonder if anyone will be held accountable for this? I doubt it...

    I'm the web manager for a high street fashion brand -- I'd undoubtedly get the sack if this happened on my site...a site that most probably gets far less traffic than the Home Office website!

    Any comment from our civil servants? Again, I doubt it! We'd be demanded to have an explanation on our blog with in the hour....just another difference between private and 'public' sector i guess!

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    Unfortunately for us that work on private sector; our It industry colleagues - the civil servants - are protected by a benevolent boss (the govern).

    Therefore, I truly believe, that no one will get fired.

    Again, unfortunately!

  • Comment number 21.

    What concerns me is the desire of the British public to notify the media before the government body concerned. These things happen, links expire and are changed, instead of making a media circus out of it, a quick email to the webmaster would have got it fixed.
    Ok, if following that nothing was done then fair enough, its then newsworthy.

  • Comment number 22.

    #21: I think the desire to notify the media is rooted in a desire to embarass the government at any given opportunity. Whilst this is not the kind of news I'd expect to see on the front page of The Times, I doubt I'm alone in finding the incident quite amusing, which is very much a part of modern journalism. If you're not interested in the story, nobody is forcing you to read it.

  • Comment number 23.

    The moral intentions of news outlets thse days is aweful. I could believe that an edittor would happily sell his own countries security for money and be the first to report the grave security lapse.

    they have a duty to protect us just like the armed forces and emergency services... yet they are more happy frightening the entire nation and exposing our failing to all the terrorists of the world. I think it is time that these edittors were dragged to court for explosing nationally sensitive information.

    To jail with them!

  • Comment number 24.

    How unfortunate that the reader cannot distinguish between Chinese and Japanese. I suppose they are all the same to him/her?

 

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