back to article Spooks foils fictional Russian plot

UK Security Services yesterday breathed a sigh of relief at their last-minute foiling of a "distributed denial of service" (DDoS) attack on the UK by elements of the Russian Security Services. The attack was due to be launched at 4pm GMT, when a Russian submarine tapped into a transatlantic cable – just off the shore of …


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  1. Spoonguard
    Paris Hilton

    Inplausible plot devices? In MY Televison?


  2. Frumious Bandersnatch
    Black Helicopters

    tapping an undersea cable to plant a virus?

    Why didn't they just put it on some USB disks and drop them around the streets of London? Or slap some Google stickers and a fake camera on top of a car and engage in a bit of wardriving? If the thing is a zero-day worm it doesn't matter where the point of injection is...

    Yeah, OK, I admit... dramatic effect. I've heard of it. I suppose a single point of command and control makes sense for the telly, even if there's no technical reason why a DDOS worm should need one. But perhaps I've said to much already... hence the helicopter...

  3. Frumious Bandersnatch

    another note on security

    This bit is scary and wrong-headed: "[The Home Office] also confirmed that in extreme circumstances, it would be possible for the UK government to close down the internet."

    Firstly, that's a terrible response to a DDOS attack. Attacker wants to shut down parts of the Internet and you go and give them exactly what you want. WTF? Secondly, is anyone else worried that has (or claims to have, at any rate) this power and would consider using it in a case it thinks is an emergency? What exactly constitutes an emergency in that case? I'll leave the paranoid conspiracy theorists to start shouting about false flag operations and the like. But finally, I have to ask "oh really?" because it's a bit hard for one country to shut down the Internet, whether they think they should have that power or not.

  4. Terrence Bayrock

    "Nul points" for the submarine - comment

    Actually, this has already been done by the US Navy in the 70's.

    A specially designed submarine (USS Halibut) attached a tapping device on Russian military seabed telephone cables under Operation "Ivy Bells".

    Operated for months on stretch, recording military signals traffic for later analysis by the NSA.

    Make the Spooks plot somewhat more plausible.

  5. Nick

    The DM Approach

    El Reg following the DM approach and getting upset days after the event :)

    Whilst it was nice to see the writers at least having a slight understanding of IT security, my criticism of the whole thing was that, if they worked out which fibre this 0DA was due to arrive on, then why not just unplug it, rather than having to hack in and send one in reverse to the submarine. Also, would this not have launched an attack on whichever country was on the other end of the fibre? I also reminded me of the movie 'Independence Day' all over again.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    I saw it

    Bloody awful. Wooden acting of scripts that were so far from reality that they were painful. A hitwoman that plants a car bomb and then goes and stands with her intended victims ( I'd be running the other way, wouldn't you?). The guys who are told to go and get her are told her code name and from that they know what car shes driving and what she looks like. I could go on but it just makes you want to cry. Great photography, lousy content.

  7. Nomen Publicus
    Black Helicopters

    Not so far fetched

    It's been widely reported that a US submarine has tapped into an undersea communications cable in the past.

    There are techniques for tapping into fibre optic cables without any break in the cable or the data passing over the cable.

    However, as you say, it's far easier to inject data from some cybercafe.

  8. David Neil
    Black Helicopters

    Don't write off the subs

    The US navy managed to plant devices which intercept Soviet comms cables back in the 70's - pretty sure it was off Vladivostock. As I recall the idea was that subs would visit the tap every couple of months and retrieve the tapes - eventually it was discoered and the device ca now be seen in a museum in Moscow.

    Also the new US Seawolf class sub, USS Carter, is rumoured to have the ability to have the ability to tap undersea cables - no smoke without fire and all that...

  9. Ed

    No Subs.....?

    But then it would just be a furry toothed geek in a cafe.....

    A little too RL for prime time tv lol

  10. Dave Bell

    The BBC did it before.

    About a dozen years ago, the BBC ran a action/drama series about hi-tech spook-stuff. I can't recall the title, but the submarine tapping the undersea cable was in one of the episodes. There was an Ex-Russian Foxtrot boat moored down by the Thames Barrier as a tourist attraction, and they used that as a set. They used several locations on the Isle of Dogs as well, including a hotel.

    The first episode involved genetically-engineered insects and, if I remember right, the last made use of a missile with an EMP warhead, in an attempt to destroy the City's computers so that the bad giuys would control the off-site backups. Hollywood terrorism, but sometimes valid questions about such things as who you can trust.

    More fun than Spooks

  11. Mark Barton

    Good old Spooks

    Hurray for Malcolm! He always thinks of something to thwart the baddies at the last moment

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know when you hear a bump in the night....

    ... that's he Russian army chipping away a tunnel under your building.

    And who do you think PUT those leaves on the line? Al Qaeda that's whom!

    And you know when Fox is on the TV and you want to turn over, but the TV remote has gone, but you put it down only a minute ago, and you're sure you know where it was, so who could have taken it? Mossad!

    And who put the extra M in whoM? The Grammar Nazis! They love putting little errors in what you type, so they have something to complain about!

    Lots of Spooks plot material there:

    Picture the scene, two turban wearing unshaven faces are hiding in the bushes next to the railway line. The 12:13 from Chipping Norton, rushes by... "neeeeeeeeee niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii" goes the train.

    One terrorists mutters 'durka durka' to himself then places some green leaves on the metal rail. The other pours water on the leaves to make them wetter. "NO Mustafa, we cannot be so cruel as to put WET leaves on the line", "YES Osama we must make the infidels pay! Durka Durka Durka".

    In an concrete office block in the city, a lonely old woman name Djacki tries to convince her boss of the threat.

    Djacki: "There's a real and dangerous threat from leaves on the line, we have to act now! I am the only one who understands how dangerous this threat is!"

    Boss: "Don't be silly Djacki, you're letting your imagination get the better of you! Nobody would be so evil as to put leaves on the line!"

    Djacki: "They're so evil, they have leaves already pre-wetted in safe-houses around the country!"

    Boss: "Wet? Good god no! Diabolical evil!"

    Djacki: "There are some risks I'm not prepared to take. We need to send a strong message to these foliage-istas that we will not be terrorised by their tarrying of mass transport!"

    Boss: "I am swayed by the alliteration in your argument Djacki, do what you must."

  13. Richard Brown


    Using of a sub may be a little over the top in this case but submarines have been used for tapping into underwater cables. The Americans did this to a USSR military communications cable during the Cold War and is documented in the book Blind Man's Buff.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    really, see

  15. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Why the submarine ...

    "In fact they could probably do just as much damage launching the programme from an internet café in Ealing"

    But when keeping the citizens scared shitless one has to increase fear, paranoia and hatred but without inducing panic. Otherwise it is counter-productive to the gravy train and agenda.

  16. Alastair Smith

    Fibre optics

    And aren't fibre optic cables un-tappable, due to the essential property of total internal reflection? Maybe technology's moved on since I was at school. I spent most of Tuesday night's episode laughing...

  17. Stuart Gray

    And not merely from an Internet café in Ealing

    but from a USB key, left in a rear facing port of a computer in an Internet café in Ealing, ready to be triggered by the next login.

    Mine's the one with the "Knighthood for Q" campaign badge on it.

  18. Brian
    Thumb Down

    Nul points for technical accuracy

    Although I like the show, and find the plots entertaining, the number of technical errors is sometimes unbelievable.

    Take the supposed submarine transmission intercepted by Malcolm - a signal at 542 nanometres? Sorry, but that's visible light - not likely to be used for comms.

    And the whole idea of crashing the subs computers using a virus - bollocks. If you can identify which cable it's tapped into, you just shut down the router to which it connects and send a boat with a few depth charges to smarten Ivan up.

    I could list more, but it winds me up too much - I'll consult for free on the rest of the series if they want, just to avoid having to shout at the telly when it's on.

  19. Nano nano
    Black Helicopters

    "TIA" was _much_ scarier

    but why did Adam have to drive to an open square - the nearest tunnel, bridge, courtyard or underground carpark would surely have done ?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    But in the interests of broadcasting accuracy...

    The North Sea is not off the coast of Cornwall.

    Anyone else think that before the sub lost power, the screen should have flickered and "all your sub are belong to us" should have appeared on screen?

    Oh, and I know it's a bit far fetched, but couldn't the Russians have had a Gypsy on board with a dowsing rod to tell them which way to swim to the cable?

  21. Anonymous Coward

    why just not nuke London ?

    frankly speaking - ye' good ol' nuke makes more damage.

    Denial of service of hundred of websites... what's the point?

    let's burn into ashes the server THAT'S A DENIAL OF SERVICE

  22. Matt Thornton

    Close down the Internet

    My immediate reaction is "what a load of cobblers!" but I suppose in reality it wouldn't be so hard, considering that pretty much everything is run by a handful of top level entities... switch them off and I guess things would go pop for a while.

    I'd like to know, however, which trigger happy civil servant has his hand hovering over the big red button, though. And whether or not there'd be an Independence Day / Armageddon launch procedure with the word coming from Gordon Brown... bunch of SAS storm in to the "Internet control building", clutching metal briefcases, request the use of some poor soul's "station", all that double key must be turned at the same time nonsense...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Get a life!

    Oh come on! I watched it with my girlfriend but do you think she wanted me to interject all the time with quips such as "That's not right" and "That wouldn't work"? NO! It's entertainment - enjoy it for what it is!

  24. Svantevid

    Submarine Wiretapping for Fun and Profit

    From one of my favourite websites:

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sub is indeed dumb, the cafe however is even dumber

    Well, one thing which you can hit with a sub (or even easier, with two blokes in a BT van) is a fibre running a couple of corporate leased lines or unprotected MPLS VPNS that connect datacenters to their remote backups as required by post-9/11 business continuity requirements. However, you need to hit the right fiber and need to have the right gear to tap into it. As some of the "interesting data"may be trucking along mixed into a 40G wavelength this is not going to be very easy.

    You cannot hit that from an Internet cafe in Ealing.

  26. adifferentbob

    It was utter pants.

    That's the only way you can describe pretty much the whole storyline. Poor spycraft, dubious tech doubletalk (I ranted at the 500nm bit too) and very dodgy character development. Sheesh what is more maddening is that I still watch it even though it has been going steadily downhill ever since they stuck that woman from Brooksides' face in a deep fat fryer. Can't they send the whole series off to live in South America under a new identity. Please.

    Oh - was it all based on real events ? Would the cyber attack really be possible. I don't know, but more importantly I don't care.

  27. Chris Pinto

    @Dave Bell

    The series you are thinking of was called "Bugs"

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @D Bell.

    You mean Bugs. I suspect if you watch it on DVD you'll realise your memory is rose-tinted.

  29. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    Bloody awful

    Look, I like the show but the plots need work. Zero-day exploit? Jesus, it was like being forced to watch Independence Day.

  30. Pete Silver badge

    simpler, more direct and worse consequences

    If you have a submarine at your disposal and want to seriously screw our internet capacity, just use your sub. to cut the undersea cables.. That way you'd drop not only the internet connections we have, but the majority of telephone capacity, too.

    In fact, you wouldn't even need a submarine, just have an old trawler drag it's anchor alond selected parts of the seabed and you'd strike lucky.

  31. Herby

    Fiber optic cables CAN be tapped!

    When I was working at RayNet (then a division of Raychem), the entire work they were doing was based on both injecting and detecting signals into and out of fiber optic cables. They did it by bending the cables around a radius, and if done correctly you can make things work quite well. We were developing "fiber to the curb" to have nice digital signals get there. Now days, DSL is used, and they have remote terminals for both the data and the voice.

    Things change over 20 years! What used to be OK (8kHz data for voice), is nothing compared to 3MHz+ coming into your home. Oh, well.

    Yes, submarines did tap a cable as discussed.

  32. Sceptical Bastard

    Utter bullshit

    "... it would be possible for the UK government to close down the internet"

    Yeah. Right. Which 'internet' would that be?

    Presumably not the international packet-switching network based on the TCP/IP suite of protocols which runs on publicly-owned and privately-owned infractucture in virtually every sovereign nation in the world?

    Presumably not the same "network of networks" that links tens of thousands of corporate, government, academic, business, and individual WANs and LANs across the globe?

    Perhaps the all-powerful UK government means it can "close down" the services carried over the network - the billions of web pages carried on millions of servers throughout the world, the millions of mail servers, the hundreds of thousands of IRC and other 'chat' servers, all the FTP servers and games servers...

    You get the picture, I'm sure.

    However, the UK government *might* be able to restrict physical connection to the internet within its own borders; it might be willing to renege on peering agreements; it could (conceivably but improbably) shut down, or effectively shut down, the PSTN (the public circuit-switched phone network) in the UK; and it could probably also restrict UK citizens' ease of access to internet-carried services such as the web or email.

    But that's a far cry from "UK government closing down the internet". I reckon Wacky Jacqui is getting ideas above her station. Or maybe the fat bitch has become delusional after watching too many spy thrillers on telly.

    Paris because even she is not stupid enough to believe a single European state can "close down the internet"

  33. This post has been deleted by its author

  34. Jimmy

    That's show business......

    Some of the commenters on here really need to lighten up a little. With the possible exception of 'Bremmner, Bird and Fortune', Spooks is the greatest piece of piss-taking, over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek satire you can see on the telly at the moment. Relax, put your feet up and enjoy it for what it is.

    The only people who take it seriously are the Home Office weirdos who watch it religiously, seeking new policy initiatives to justify their utterly pointless existence.

  35. Matt Semper

    Welcome to Earth

    Independence Day was an awesome movie, yes it was ridiculous to suggest that he could just plug and play network interface his mac with the alien space ship (back then you needed a phd to make one talk to a pc). And then there is the fact that if all they were using the satellites for was a countdown then surely it was entirely unnecessary, they could have just synchronised their clocks once before they arrived. And if they needed to remain in communication, the fact that they had a ship positioned over every major city on the planet, would mean they'd easily be able to manage near line of sight communication between themselves without the need for satellites.

    But if you can suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy, energy weapons, apparent anti-gravity flight, force fields, and inter-stella flight then surely you can ignore the IT goofs too. it was great fun, and we got to see them blow up the whitehouse :)

    I still enjoy Spooks but I do think it's gone downhill somewhat, and I wish they wouldn't cycle the cast so damn quickly, I still keep hoping that one day they'll bring Tom back in. (Some case where he was undercover, and needs to go back, or only he knew the identity of an informant who has key intelligence)

    And I thought bugs was great back in the day, but was very disappointed when I got the Series 1 DVD, I guess the standard of TV acting has gotten higher.

    Anyone remember a series the BBC ran for a very short while around the same time, called Crimetraveller?

  36. Ash

    Reminded me of...

    I cried a little.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    @Get a life! by AC

    ``Oh come on! I watched it with my girlfriend but do you think she wanted me to interject all the time with quips such as "That's not right" and "That wouldn't work"? NO! It's entertainment - enjoy it for what it is!``

    I would like to agree with you. Only problem with that is what our brilliant leaders tend to turn around and think this is reality, then act accordingly. Look at the security joke of liquid on airplanes. If I really wanted to cause trouble, an impossible binary liquid bomb would be the last think of my mind. Unfortunatly, the bad guys know how the real world works. O wait, aren`t our brilliant leaders the bad guys? I get confused

  38. Michael Miller

    If I wanted to cause mass confusion

    I'd just cut all the lines......

  39. Clive Mitchell


    ha ha. Nice one centurion, like it.

  40. Moss Icely Spaceport

    Titled removed by Russian Sub

    It's just TV you proles!

  41. LaeMi Qian
    Black Helicopters

    The use THIS big red button!

    Oldie but a goodie :-P

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    @Nano nano, and others.

    Stop the car in an open area where the only source of shrapnel is the car and the blast can radiate freely in all directions except down (hmm, should have been a rather large crater and considerably more peripheral damage from a blast that size methinks - just look at footage from Iraq!), or the nearest enclosed space where the blast wave would have been constrained and the 'building' material converted into even more shrapnel?

    Personally I would have thought the nearest river would be better - you might end up covering a large area with horrible smelly mud and smelly water, but at least the explosion would be well and truly contained (and shrapnel HATES traveling through water)...

    It's a TV SHOW, for frack's sake. You don't really want the Beeb to go telling those nasty men in their black hats a really good way to make a mess, do you?

    I rather thought that the idea of some government buffoon telling Harry that he should lower the threat level as the Great British Public needed some good news was a bit near the knuckle... surely our Beloved Leader and his friends would never consider trying to bury bad news, or spin the facts to make themselves look good... oops.

    Ooh look, there's a Police helicopter hovering over (CLASSIFIED) at about (CLASSIFIED) feet, with a large (CLASSIFIED) pointing my way. And what's that coming through on my (CLASSIFIED) radio set to frequency band(CLASSIFIED)? "Target in sight, he's definitely got information of use to terrorists and he's sat at his compu....LI hdiwehg0[-e ;knlj )(&()^() ilqg8T 7 i <<CARRIER LOST>>

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Nothing to worry about.

    Well I for one sleep safe in my secret underground bunker knowing the Russkies would be no match for our techno-savy underwater Navy boys:-

    "But to be honest, sometimes I just switch it off and on again."

    And does the internet have a BIG scissor switch arrangement for being turned off and on? Please tell me it does.


    "Internet off."


    "Internet on."


    "Internet off."


    "Internet on."

    It would be like using Sky broadband through one of their own brand routers so I'd personally not notice much difference.


    "Internet off."


    "Internet on."

  44. TeeCee Gold badge
    Thumb Up


    Too true. Not much "off" Vladivostok either, but pretty bloody close in. Close enough, in fact, to be the dedicated military comms cable connecting the stations in the area that they were tapping. Back then, this required a sub to waffle in, remove the existing tapping device with its logs full of military chat, and attach a new one on a regular basis.

    Eventually some Russki pillock snagged the cable with an anchor, requiring it to be repaired and the logging device was recovered. The Soviets would never have been able to prove who was responsible, but for the thoughtful inclusion of a little plate on the exterior surface with serial numbers, maker's name and such which rather helpfully included the words "Made in the USA" for the hard of thinking. Much was made of this at the time.

    Of course, the Yanks furiously denied responsibility, claiming that it must have been a stitch up as they'd never be dumb enough to label the thing like that. History fails to record if anyone was dumb enough to believe that the Yanks aren't that dumb.

  45. Eddie Edwards

    No-one else noticed this?

    It wasn't a DDOS. It was a DOS sourced from a single location. That's just a DOS.

    And the zero-day virus was no less silly than when Goldblum did it in Independence Day. Unless of course Russian subs run Windows.

    And a signal at 500nm? That's not a radio frequency. It's the colour green.

    The only good side to this episode was the killing off of the ultra-annoying Adam Carter.

    Smiley, because he's turning in his grave.

  46. Simon Brothwood

    Who cares

    come on guys, its an entertainment programme, its not meant to be factually acurate, its just something to keep people entertained.

    stop been geeks for an hour a week and use your imaginationa and enjoy the show for what it is, who cares if its not 100% acurate.

  47. Matt Thornton

    Oh and...

    Does anyone have a slot-loading disc drive that would actually accept a CD being hammered in to it the way Lucas North did? All the ones I've ever had (including the one in my car, and the ones on my various Macs) would have a right fit if I did that.

    (I was also amused to see an Archos 605 the previous week being used to scan for mobile phones. Unless of course that's a (paid-for) plugin that Archos haven't released to the general public.)

  48. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    I'm surprised

    That someone at the Reg wastes his/her time to watch that stupid NuLabour pro-ID cards scaremongering propaganda...

  49. Anonymous Coward

    @AC @Nano nano, and others.

    "And what's that coming through on my (CLASSIFIED) radio set to frequency band(CLASSIFIED)? "

    That'd be a TETRA radio, running encryption that means you could only hear it if the message was intended to be heard by you (or your group).

    Sorry, your plot is about as accurate as the spooks plot!

    As for the spooks storyline... they didn't seem to allow for the fact that the fibre optic cable would contain dozens or hundreds or strands, and for the intended attack to work they would need to identify and tap the correct one(s), rather than clamp something on the side with probes that push in and that's it.

  50. heystoopid


    So why would they bother , when a standard sea launched ICBM warhead detonated at an altitude of approximately thirty (30) miles or forty five (45) kilometres (below the Kaman line) up high over the Irish Sea would cause minimal property damage but would quite literally fry most modern micro processors for a minimum of one hundred and eighty (180) miles or approximately two hundred and eighty (280) kilometres radius from blast centre and even fuse overhead telephone cables all over Cardiff as well , nice one !

    Wiki with references

    As Sting would say there is no thing as a winnable war and Joshua would comment in the film War Games "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess? " .

    On youtube are the declassified films and much more

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    People not tech

    It's the yanks that go for exotic technical solutions and as others have said, attached devices to undersea telephone cables to bug Russian military communications. The FSB (formerly KGB) has tended to use people. They never seem to have trouble finding people in positions of responsibility who will do their bidding either for cash or political idealology. If the SIS are really paying under 20K to some of their systems and networking people working in central London, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were moonllghting for the FSB.

  52. spegru

    only slightly impossible

    In fact many submarine cables, especially the long ones going to the US (that tend to go out of cornwall - so at least they got that right) have things called repeaters in them - to boost the optical signal every 80km or so.

    The older ones of these were regenerated - meaning extracting the signal from the optical fibre, and then retransmitting it optically.

    So if they were attacking an old cable with this type of repeater, rather than the cable itself, there is just a chance they could achieve something, by hacking into the signal payload.

    In theory this could allow access to an internet router in the UK. However, whether they would achieve anything more this way than by attacking from a cyber cafe is highly questionable because the likely out come of such an attack is to crash the router concerned - and of course there are hundreds of them in the UK's internet - resilience is the whole point of it when it was originally engineered by the US military.

    Really I do annoy myself sometimes with the things I happen to know.

    No good for enjoyment of shows like this ........ sigh

  53. Waggers
    Dead Vulture

    Techy TV plot not too realitic

    So what's new? Do I detect a slow news day at Reg HQ?

  54. Craig Williams

    500nm is correct

    Those of you complaining about the '500nm' are just plain wrong:

    Just how GCHQ managed to intercept a point to point blue/green laser is the dodgy part (since the whole point of this is to allow a submerged submarine to communicate without broadcasting) - the wavelength however is spot on.

  55. Anonymous Coward

    The worst bit...

    ...was referring to RN *Engineering Officers* as "technicians". Grrrrrr etc.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The sub was essential

    It was necessary as it allows us all to speculate on the need to keep shifty looking foreigners out of the country in case they happen to be terrorists or agents of a hostile nation armed with a USB memory stick. Thank God we do as it forces the bad guys to use a submarine.

    Pure WASP drivel, I think I am going to be sick.

  57. Nano nano

    Open square ...

    the point being that the open square took so long to get to that there was no "safety margin". Neither could you guarantee it being empty.

    A nearer, less "optimal" location (surely in their database) might have been preferable.

    "at the T-junction, turn left ... the blast confinement zone is second right. goodbye ! "

  58. Stevie


    So the Russians will mount a submarine attack that will result in us not being to access Russian pron-and-virus sites?

    Where will we go to see "yonug grils spnacked until there bottoms is red" after that? And who will steal my credit card number while I'm researching this disgusting web phenomenon?

    The government must act!

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Regular hackers put real viruses on thousands of UK servers now and nobody is reverse hacking them, let alone catching them. I'm talking about bored freshmen, not KGB...

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