back to article Virgin Media CUTS OFF weekend 'net surfers after embarrassing smut-filtering snafu

Virgin Media customers were hit by an annoying network cockup on Saturday, after the cable company's smut-filtering Web Safe system stupidly blocked lots of websites. Subscribers complained about the snafu on Twitter, where many people claimed that they could barely access anything over Virgin Media's network. Reg reader Red …

  1. Haku

    Sounds like they used the technology behind Zaphod Beeblebrox's favourite sunglasses

    At the first hint of trouble they turn totally black to prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.

  2. Bogle

    I'm not with stupid

    Ha ha ha! That is all.

    1. Chad H.

      Re: I'm not with stupid

      Considering your choices for hard line service is with Stupid, or Stupider (openreach), I'll take stupid any day.

      1. James 100

        Re: I'm not with stupid

        The difference is, Openreach don't even see inside your packets - just like in the dialup era, there's just a data flow between you and your ISP's access routers. Openreach don't even have the *ability* to filter your traffic on that level, let alone a system that could do that accidentally!

        It's a shame. If they put their minds to it, Virgin could offer a decent service - instead, they waste money importing a censorship system from China (paid for by all their customers, opted out or not), spam customers to arm-twist them into using it to placate Nanny Perry - then force it on everyone by mistake anyway.

        (I'd been a customer of theirs - and before the merger, Telewest too; there was a time when they actually had an edge. Now, they just claim silly peak throughput their choked-up backbone can never deliver, even when it isn't falling over entirely.)

        1. Glen 1

          Re: I'm not with stupid

          Downvote explanation:

          "waste money importing a censorship system"

          Cameron basically said to the big four ISPs (BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin) that if they don't implement censorship, the gov will legislate for it. While pointing at a consultation survey to say there was a demand.

          Example question (paraphrased from consultation survey):

          "Should everyone have their internet connection censored, or just people who live with children?"

          This legislation was rejected by the Lib Dems. Labour has said they would introduce a mandotry BBFC style system. Don't blame VM for scummy censorship when it's our political masters who made the decision (or implied menacingly that they would).

          Source (with citations)

          "Openreach don't even see inside your packets"

          As you know, Openreach is not a consumer ISP. It's the companies that buy services from Openreach that are introducing the filters. Such as (i dunno hmmmm let me think) BT, Sky and Talk Talk.

          From Wiki article:"Default filtering of existing customers will be implemented by all four major ISPs during 2014 with the aim of ensuring that the system applies to 95% of all households by the end of the year"

          "spam customers to arm-twist them into using it"

          I have recieved precisely 2 emails on the subject. One with the announcment, and one with the big ON/OFF buttons. Hardly arm twisting.

          "force it on everyone by mistake anyway"

          It is not by mistake. It is part of the threatened law. Again, that is not VMs fault. (looks meaningfully at Tory voters). If you've not turned it off from the email, it can be turned off via the ISP dashboard (under my apps->web safe).

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I'm not with stupid

            Don't blame Tory voters for this. This came from the Mumsnutters.

  3. werdsmith Silver badge

    Interesting, I've been using VM all weekend and I haven't noticed a thing.

    Everything fine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Maybe you weren't looking at smut.

      My smut-oggling activities were slightly disrupted by this, despite the fact that my PC is set to use a non-VM DNS. And I think it's been going on for a few days actually.

      1. Naughtyhorse

        Maybe you weren't looking at smut.


        well my grumble flickery was all tickety boo. :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Everything fine here too

      1. I would never use the DNS system of a provider which considers it as an outsource-able expense instead of a core service which is essential to doing business. NTL (it was still called this way), outsourced DNS maintenance as far back as 2003? or 4. Forgot the exact date, if I dig through my mail archive from those days, I may find it.

      2. I would never use smut filter driven by an SP which does not have a clue how to implement _ANY_ services - all services provided by Virgin are either resold or outsourced.

      So looking at the named.conf.options on my house server there is a key statement there:

      forwarders {;;;


      The first two are Level3, the third is Google. People who actually have some modicum of clue how to run a service (not something you will find @ Dumb (NTL) or Dumber (BT Retail).

      So rather unsurprisingly, everything here works :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Everything fine here too

        Rules to follow:

        1. Where possible use your own kit with the ISPs hardware in modem mode. Their stuff is often poorly configured tat or just plain shite but you often need to use it for support reasons. Avoids changing any settings when you give them the flick and bring on the next incompetent.

        2. Always use your own choice of DNS servers and never the ISPs. I have never found ISP DNS to be in any way reliable and that is from providers across two continents.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Everything fine here too

          Be* used to have pretty reliable DNS servers, but that was five years ago before O2 bought them (and then sold them to Sky).

    3. John Tserkezis

      "Interesting, I've been using VM all weekend and I haven't noticed a thing. Everything fine."

      Try taking off your Zaphod Beeblebrox anti panic glasses first.

  4. Khaptain Silver badge

    VM keeping you safe

    Whether you want it or not, there is not going to be any fappenings in VM residences from now on... You guys have no idea how lucky you are, it was horrible and I mean downright nasty...

    Give VM some Facebook likes or Twitter tweeties for having them save you from the montrosity.

    Quote from one of the greatest cinema monologues of all time ( well nearly, my excuses Mr Brando).

    "I’ve seen horror, horror that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a fappener. You have a right to fap me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means."

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"... what at least one subscriber probably said.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

      They went vertical.

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

        > Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

        > They went vertical.

        Bravo, sir. A (subtle) COTW.

    2. Christoph

      Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

      We'll soon have all you bloody ornithologists banned!

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

        We'll soon have all you bloody ornithologists banned!.

        Come on, there is nothing wrong with observing some boobies and an occasional shag *

        * Isn't English language just lovely :)

    3. VinceH

      Re: "What the hell have you done with all the tits!!!"...

      " what at least one subscriber probably said."

      And the answer would have been "They're all still working for us here at Virgin Media."

      What I found most annoying about their smut filter was that every damned time I logged in to see my bill I was prompted to check my settings for it - given that only a few select cookies are allowed to remain on my computer from one session to the next, I assume that was how they were (very stupidly) determining whether or not the customer had decided whether or not to use the filter. However, I noticed that I wasn't prompted last week - so they've finally seen the error of their ways on that one, and stored that in the account (or just stopped prompting people).

      As a matter of interest, though, if all innocent traffic was being blocked by the filter - was 'guilty' traffic being let through?

  6. Anonymous Bullard

    Web Safe FAIL kills access to loads of 'respectable' sites

    I guess access to El Reg wasn't hindered, then.

  7. Stuart Halliday

    It killed my TIVO box too. Couldn't access any programmes. Phone service said it would be fixed by 02:30am.

  8. Christian Berger

    Such things should be illegal

    After all such systems change your data and that's something an ISP should never do. After all we trust them to just forward our packets. It's kinda like if your mail company would start censoring your letters.

    1. Glen 1

      Re: Such things should be illegal

      As I mentioned up thread. These filters were put in place to pre-empt legislation that the tories were going to bring in (that the Lib Dems objected to). Labour has said they would bring in similar laws via a BBFC style system.

      So the this thing that should be illegal, will also be manditory pretty darn soon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Such things should be illegal

      If the ISP is transparently proxying/redirecting DNS which can be done - it has no protection against that. I was MiM-ing DNS regularly as a corporate admin, it is trivial. By the way, there are ISP home routers that _ARE_ configured to do that out there too.

      However, this is not the case

      1. Virigin's level of understanding of DNS operation is less than that. Ditto for any other SP service (the same situation is in all large residential SPs, they are not alone in that).

      2. They are not doing that - they are providing DNS as a service and dishing out a config where you by default use that service. The implementation of that service is distinctly dodgy because it is considered a cost center, not an essential part of the service provision. They also forgot to change that idea when they incorporated DNS into the censorship system which the UK government is shoveling down our throats thought its SP helpers. That is again - not surprising as you need to understand service operation for that.

      So you can attribute malice here on the day when there will be a warm body in Virgin which can set-up (not shop-up) a set of anycast DNS servers and integrate them correctly for HA into their routing (this in my book is the "entry" clue level for a proper Service Provider DNS installation). It is more likely to see Lucipher snow-ploughing the street though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Such things should be illegal

        "If the ISP is transparently proxying/redirecting DNS which can be done - it has no protection against that. I was MiM-ing DNS regularly as a corporate admin, it is trivial. By the way, there are ISP home routers that _ARE_ configured to do that out there too."

        OpenDNS & DNSCrypt. They run DNS on non-standard ports, including 443 (SSL). And DNSCrypt is encrypted DNS, which doesn't look like DNS.

        Doesn't help you when the ISP has IP level filters in place, so whilst you might be able to resolve correctly, your access to the URI/name may well be impeded anyway.

        Or just run a VPN....

  9. OzBob

    So, (from down here in the antipodes)

    does that mean all pr0n is blocked permanently in the UK, or just by default and can be switched off?

    1. Old Handle

      Re: So, (from down here in the antipodes)

      Only by default. But from what I understand (I'm not in the UK either) some companies, especially mobile providers, are determined to make opting out as inconvenient and annoying as possible.

    2. Trainee grumpy old ****

      Re: So, (from down here in the antipodes)

      It means the major ISPs have agreed(*) to provide an option to filter "unsuitable" content (because - see icon). Some weeks I ago I had checked my own account settings I was very surprised to see that the default setting there was opt-out.

      As one would expect the definition of "unsuitable" is suitably vague (at least whatever definitions I've seen have left me with more questions than answers).

      I must admit that Virgin is my ISP. In my defence may I point out that my router's DNS settings point elsewhere and I appear to have been completely missed by this outage, reading about it on El Reg is the first I've known about it.

      (*) for "agreed" read - "bullied by the, pure as driven snow, tabloid press".

  10. Mark 85

    Looks like VM made some very happy and some not so happy.

    I'm not sure if it's the "won't someone think of the children" crowd or the far religious right because no porn could be viewed. With no one getting anywhere, it probably pissed off Google since no ads could be served.

  11. batfastad


    The clue is in their name.

  12. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Not Happy

    Had this on Saturday night - I had to go through a number of very slow pages to opt out of their filter. It seriously impacted my ability to post criticisms of that night's Doctor Who episode.

  13. casaloco

    What I never understood

    What I never understood, is if they can block "unsafe" and "unsuitable" sites, why don't they have an option to block adverts. Or even better, some port blocking options. Less than 0.05% of users need access to inbound FTP, HTTP, RDP etc. They could massively reduce traffic and improve security by letting you choose which ports to open at an ISP level... basically an ISP level firewall. 95+% of people don't need ANY inbound ports open.

    1. streaky

      Re: What I never understood

      Blocking inbound FTP/HTTP/RDP isn't going to reduce any sort of level of traffic, beyond a few attempts at the first step of the three way handshake. That doesn't even register. Most people's routers will do exactly the same thing anyways.

      Not entirely sure what your argument is here.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Looks like the "great wall of Hampshire" (or wherever they do this) problem is persisting today with non-adult sites still reporting problems -

    The following error was encountered:

    Unable to forward this request at this time.

    This request could not be forwarded to the origin server or to any parent caches. The most likely cause for this error is that:

    The cache administrator does not allow this cache to make direct connections to origin servers, and

    All configured parent caches are currently unreachable.

    Your cache administrator is

  15. streaky

    Sounds Safe

    "By using a different DNS service, I was able to work around the problem."

    Surely you're not suggesting that their filters can be completely bypassed by the thing that any 6 year old can do - use different resolvers.

    Sounds wildly pointless and you shouldn't let virgin babysit your kids for you.

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Sounds Safe

      By default you can't change the DNS servers that the Virgin 'Super' hub uses, you need to put it into modem mode and run your own router to change DNS, or change it on a per-device basis.

      Basically I think we're talking about eight year old level here, not six.

      1. streaky

        Re: Sounds Safe

        By default you can't change the DNS servers that the Virgin 'Super' hub uses, you need to put it into modem mode and run your own router to change DNS

        Why would you ever need to do that? Change it on the device. The fact that somebody changed DNS to get round the problem proves it isn't an issue when there is no problem. Ergo their babysitting service is worthless (at best).

  16. Anonymous John

    "Essential Maintenance"

    I do hate that phrase. The NHS Blood Transfusion Service used it last week when their on-line booking service went tits-up for four or five days.

    1. Tom 38

      Re: "Essential Maintenance"

      Curious - when the NHS Blood Transfusion Service went tits-up, did you consider the maintenance work they did in order to rectify it non-essential?

      1. Darryl

        Re: "Essential Maintenance"

        When something goes titsup, what you're doing to try and get it working again isn't called 'maintenance', it's called 'repairs'.

  17. Naughtyhorse

    Bad but....

    Not their biggest fuck up of the week.

    rip test pilot

  18. Bernard M. Orwell

    So, all you folks enjoying a little schadenfreuder at the expense of a few inconvienienced VM users; a question: What sort of speeds do your providers peak at? 2mb? 10mb? a whopping 50mb maybe?

    My VM runs solidly at 152mb. I like that.

    Find me an ISP with a comparable speed that *never* has such issues and I will swap to them today.

    Otherwise, TTFN haters.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      My UK ISP provides me an unfiltered web feed - so no IWF filtering, no court ordered censorship - and thus will never have any issues with failed implementations of censorship.

      The speed is 1000 Mbit, both up and down - let me know when your virgin gets up to those speeds.

      1. Mayhem

        unfiltered web feeds

        Well I have a range of 100mb circuits from Colt, Level3, TDK and Orange scattered around Europe, and all of them at some stage have passed on polite little notes from the relevant local RIAA affiliate to complain about guests downloading movies*. So it really doesn't matter what tier your ISP is, the Powers That Be will get to them in time.

        *To be fair, they don't do anything else, just pass them on. We have a quiet chuckle, and pass them on in turn to the short term storage device aka Recycle Bin.

      2. Bernard M. Orwell


        Who's your provider? Is that a corporate lease-line or into your home? Do you pay £35 a month for it? If it's, as I suspect, the bandwidth used by your business, I certainly have you beat in my workplace. If its into your home and a reasonable price then I'm allllll ears.

        Just tried a few of those "blocked" sites....yeah, didn't take long to reach those either, not that I ever use torrents. Those are for n00bs.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No, that is for my home internet service from Hyperoptic - £50/month, no usage limitations. Why would I compare your home internet against a corporate leased line?

          At work I have burstable gigabit and a backup 100 Mbit link, but the boss literally goes purple if we go above 300 Mbit.

          1. Bernard M. Orwell

            Good heavens!

            Colour me shocked! And it's available right here in Cardiff too?


            :) thanks very much chaps.

    2. streaky

      "Find me an ISP with a comparable speed that *never* has such issues and I will swap to them today."

      Hyperoptic 1000/1000. The only issue I've had is when my housemate didn't tell me they were doing maintenance at 4am and I couldn't play dota 2. Sad times.

  19. hi_robb


    the people complaining about this are wankers...

    1. Bernard M. Orwell

      Re: Hmmm

      Must admit, the people complaining about a temporary outage and then suggesting the downtime is an indication of incompetence remind me of some people I know involved in IT...

      ....the end users.

  20. Jagged

    VM user here. Didn't see any disconnection issues over the weekend. I don't have the filter, so that may be a reason.

    Oh and by the way, VM is opt in not opt out. So they are not exactly "forcing in it everyone".

    My broadband speed over the weekend was 87 down and 6 up (if test your broadband is in anyway accurate). Don't ask me why I was testing, but I do test regularly ;)

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