As well as the major stories in the news this week, there have been quite a few smaller items from the UK that caught my eye, for different reasons.
Cyber blackmail is on the increase. According to the police, webcam blackmail cases have doubled in the last year, going from fewer than 400 to over 850. The NCA (National Crime Agency) admit, however, that many of the victims don’t report the crime, so actual numbers are likely to be far greater.
Contrary to what you might expect, the majority of victims are males between 21 and 30, who are befriended by fake identities on social media and persuaded to perform sexual acts in front of their webcams.
The blackmailer will then usually demand money or they will post the videos online, or share with the victim’s friends, workmates, and family, in a moved dubbed ‘sextortion’. It’s believed that online blackmail of this type has led to several suicides.
If you’re targeted, the NCA advises not paying anything or communicating with the criminals, but to take notes and screenshots of all messages, temporarily suspend your social media accounts so the evidence is preserved, and report the incident both to the police and to the social media site where the contact was made.
Gone in Six Seconds
I don’t know what kind of courses they offer at Newcastle University, but experts there announced this week that it’s possible to guess all the details necessary to crack your credit card security in under six seconds, using a laptop and an internet connection.
They’ve developed a technique called Distributed Guessing Attack, which feeds the card number simultaneously into hundreds of websites and guesses the remaining details until it strikes lucky by a process of elimination – something which usually takes around six seconds. The researchers found that some credit card companies did not have systems in place to detect multiple high-speed attempts.
Each website allows often up to 20 attempts at inputting the required data, and by using up these guesses on each site, the DGA software is able to very quickly piece together the required information. Added to that is the fact that different sites often ask for different info, so the cyber thief can piece it all together even faster.
There is some speculation that an attack of this type was used to hack the details of 9000 Tesco Bank customers in early November.
Going, Going … Almost Gone
It was reported this week that a retired businessman, Minh To, found to his surprise that his half-million-pound house was up for auction on the property sales website, RightMove. If the man’s daughter, an estate agent, hadn’t called him only a few days before the sale to ask where he was moving, he might never have discovered the scheme.
Greater Manchester Police traced four men who had raided Mr To’s postbox for utility bills and used them to forge his signature and transfer the deeds of the house into their ownership. This was possible because Mr To had paid off his mortgage, otherwise the agreement of the bank involved would have been required.
Back in September, a new polymer £5 note was launched in the UK, with Sir Winston Churchill on the reverse. The new note was designed to be more robust than the previous paper versions, but it hit the news this week when a vegetarian café in Cambridge refused to accept the new note as it contains animal products.
An online petition has already been launched in response to an outcry by vegans, vegetarians and some faith groups, when it became known that the new fiver contains tallow, a form of rendered fat from either cows or sheep.
The Australian inventor of the process commented that the fuss was “absolutely stupid” although the Bank of England claims it’s looking for a solution. Singer Morrissey, meanwhile, has suggested that people donate their own bodies after death to be used in the production process …
Not All Bad News
In keeping with the ‘leave ‘em laughing’ tradition of British news reports, my final piece is about Craig Vaughan, a farmer in Teesside, whose Cocker spaniel, Dora, was stolen along with her five puppies, while Mr Vaughan was busy milking his cows.
Mr Vaughan appealed for help on social media tracing the dogs, and the news was shared up and down the country. His hope was that it would be publicised enough to make it almost impossible to sell the pups.
And on Wednesday, he announced that a third party had intervened and managed to get the dogs back on his behalf.
“Someone has done me a massive favour and he wouldn’t take any money from me for them,” Mr Vaughan is quoted as saying. “I cannot believe I have got them back. It just goes to show you cannot beat the Great British public.”
I wonder if police are looking for Cruella Deville?
This week's Word of the Week is stibogram, meaning a record of footsteps, as opposed to ichnogram, meaning a forensic record of footprints.