Email blackmail brouhaha tears UKIP apart as High Court refuses computer seizure attempt

And you thought politics was winding down for Christmas

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has suffered a data breach after allegedly having 143 party email accounts accessed amid demands made by blackmailers, the High Court in London has been told (PDF).

UKIP is suing former party leader Richard Braine, former deputy leader Tony Sharp and former General Secretary and one-time party returning officer Jeff Armstrong, and, in Mr Justice Warby's words, "a former member who has IT skills" called Mark Dent.

Although the lawsuit is ongoing, an interim judgment from the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court reveals claims of illicit email access and blackmail. It also reveals the chaos tearing apart the party that put Nigel Farage onto the political map.

Amid "internal political strife" in mid-October this year, Armstrong was accused by party comrades of trying to block a group of candidates, the so-called "Batten Brigade", from standing in internal elections to UKIP's National Executive Committee.

From a website whose address was mentioned in the judgment, it appears one of those candidates was former party leader Gerard Batten himself. He publicly defended Youtube star and party candidate Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, when the latter used Twitter to say he "wouldn't even rape" a female Labour MP. Batten stood down from the leadership in June.

As senior UKIPpers argued over the NEC elections, party discipline began to break down. The NEC voted to suspend Armstrong. Party leader Braine then suspended the entire NEC – which was subsequently unsuspended by NEC member and chairwoman Kirstan Herriot, who in turn declared that Braine himself was now suspended. Party functionaries argued over who should access what IT systems at party HQ. Various people called the police to claim crimes had been committed. Email accounts were suspended and accessed.

While all this was going on, a mysterious message was sent. At least four people received this email from the address reply[at] on the night of 16 and 17 October:

Subject: You're [sic] ukip emails

On Wednesday we legally got all your ukip emails for years, ones from or to you or which you sent from outside of ukip to any one with a ukip email. If any one says we do not have them or did not get them legally they are lying, that is why we removed the Party Secretary. After two days our B.B. team will be reviewing the emails for evidence. Then the useful parts can find their way any where, even your neighbours, we know where you are. Think how much you will lose. We give you a chance. By Midnight on Friday 18, you must resign from ukip and all your positions you claim in ukip, sending the resignation to both and, who do not have any connection but can verify for us. Then we won't do any thing. Once you betrayed the Party Leaders you don't deserve pity but we give you're [sic] choice. B.B.

Describing this as a "blackmail threat", High Court judge Mr Justice Warby observed: "The demand for prompt resignation addressed to several senior UKIP figures would appear to be unwarranted, and the threat to disclose email correspondence appears on the face of things to be plainly illegitimate."

The threat was not carried out. Herriot was made aware of it by Neil Hamilton, who forwarded it to her from his private email address while adding "it may be a spoof".

UKIP immediately asked the High Court for an injunction to stop Braine, Sharp, Armstrong and Dent from revealing anything they may have obtained from 143 named UKIP email addresses – and, in early November, added a request for an order forcing Dent's computer to be "seized and searched". It was claimed that an audit of UKIP's servers identified that Dent had something to do with the email data breach mentioned by the blackmailer.

Dent had, on Braine's instructions, visited party HQ to lock Herriot out of her account, open up the party's Mailchimp account to somebody evidently favourable to Braine's faction and to "do a Microsoft Office 365 Evidence scan of the chairman's account and other account to gain evidence, for use later."

UKIP argued that because Braine had been suspended, he had no power to send Dent to party HQ and therefore Dent's access to its systems was unauthorised.

Unfortunately for the party its contracted IT expert, Zain Ul-Haq, gave it a report which concluded: "I have insufficient information to determine whether data was exfiltrated during the security event."

He did, however, recommend a forensic examination of a computer used to access its mail server.

Dent, noted Mr Justice Warby, "denies responsibility for, or even knowledge of, the blackmailing email."

Dismissing both UKIP's application to seize Dent's computer and to impose a non-disclosure injunction on him, Braine, Armstrong and Sharp, Mr Justice Warby ruled: "UKIP has not pleaded as a fact, because it lacks an evidential basis to assert, that Mr Dent acquired any of the allegedly confidential information. It follows that he cannot be accused of passing that information to the other named defendants, or to Persons Unknown, and the Particulars of Claim contain no such averment."

He added: "The prospects of UKIP establishing at a trial that any of the defendants to this claim obtained, and then threatened to disclose, confidential information derived from UKIP's email database are slender in the extreme, or worse."

The judge also ruled that Ul-Haq's report "contains no indication that a download [from UKIP systems] occurred or might have occurred." The full judgment is available from the judiciary website. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Electron-to-joule conversion formulae? Cute. Welcome to the school of hard knocks

    Shake, rattle and roll is incompatible with your PABX

    On Call There are some things they don't teach you in college, as a Register reader explains in this week's instalment of tales from the On Call coalface.

    Our reader, safely Regomised as "Col", headed up the technical support team of a PABX telecom provider and installer back in the early 1990s. PABX, or Private Automatic Branch eXchange, was the telephony backbone of many an office. A failure could be both contract and career-limiting.

    Col, however, was a professional and well versed in the ins and outs of such systems. Work was brisk and so, he told us, "I took on a university grad with all the spunk and vigour that comes with it. He knew the electron-to-joule conversion formulae et al."

    Continue reading
  • Korea's NAVER Cloud outlines global ambitions, aim to become Asia's third-biggest provider

    Alibaba is number two in much of the region, but is a bit on the nose right now

    Korean web giant NAVER has outlined its ambition to bring its cloud to the world, and to become the third-largest cloud provider in the Asia-Pacific region.

    NAVER started life as a Korean web portal, added search, won the lion's share of the market, and has kept it ever since. South Korea remains one of the very few nations in which Google does not dominate the search market.

    As NAVER grew it came to resemble Google in many ways – both in terms of the services it offers and its tendency to use its muscle to favour its own properties. NAVER also used its scale to start a cloud business: the NAVER Cloud Platform. It runs the Platform in its home market, plus Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Presences in Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand are imminent.

    Continue reading
  • Build it fast and they will come? Yeah, but they’ll only stay if you build it right

    Here’s where to start

    Sponsored Developers have never had so much choice. Every week there’s a new framework, API, or cloud service that promises to help deliver software to market faster than ever. And it’s not just tooling. Agile, continuous integration, and DevOps techniques have made teams more efficient, too. But speed brings with it increased expectations. Pressure from customers and colleagues, alongside the burden of staying current with new tooling, can lead to mistakes.

    Whether it’s a showstopping bug that slips through into production or an edge case that lies in wait for years, pressure to deliver is driving some teams to pile up technical debt and mismatched stakeholder expectations.

    What’s the solution? Well, it’s to do what we’ve always done: build on what came before. In the absence of unlimited time and budget, a low-code platform gives both experienced and new developers a suite of tools to accelerate their development. Automation in just the right places lets teams bring their unique value where it really matters, while all the standard building blocks are taken care of.

    Continue reading
  • Royal Navy will be getting autonomous machines – for donkey work humans can't be bothered with

    No robot killers 'in my lifetime' says admiral

    DSEI 2021 The British armed forces will be using robots as part of future warfare – but mostly for the "dull, dangerous and dirty" parts of military life, senior officers have said.

    At London's Defence and Security Equipment International arms fair, two senior officers in charge of digitisation and automation said the near future will be more Wall-E than Terminator – but fully automated war machines are no longer just the stuff of sci-fi.

    Brigadier John Read, the Royal Navy's deputy director of maritime capability, said in a speech the military "must automate" itself so it can "take advantage of advances in robotics, AI and machine learning."

    Continue reading
  • WTF? Microsoft makes fixing deadly OMIGOD flaws on Azure your job

    Clouds usually fix this sort of thing before bugs go public. This time it's best to assume you need to do this yourself

    Microsoft Azure users running Linux VMs in the IT giant's Azure cloud need to take action to protect themselves against the four "OMIGOD" bugs in the Open Management Infrastructure (OMI) framework, because Microsoft hasn't raced to do it for them.

    As The Register outlined in our report on this month's Patch Tuesday release, Microsoft included fixes for flaws security outfit Wiz spotted in Redmond's open-source OMI agents. Wiz named the four flaws OMIGOD because they are astonishing.

    The least severe of the flaws is rated 7/10 on the Common Vulnerability Scoring System. The worst is rated critical at 9.8/10.

    Continue reading
  • Businesses put robots to work when human workers are hard to find, argue econo-boffins

    The lure of shiny new tech isn't a motivator, although in the USA bots are used to cut costs

    Researchers have found that business adoption of robots and other forms of automation is largely driven by labor shortages.

    A study, authored by boffins from MIT and Boston University, will be published in a forthcoming print edition of The Review of Economic Studies. The authors, Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo, have both studied automation, robots and the workforce in depth, publishing numerous papers together and separately.

    "Our findings suggest that quite a bit of investment in robotics is not driven by the fact that this is the next 'amazing frontier,' but because some countries have shortages of labor, especially middle-aged labor that would be necessary for blue-collar work,” said Acemoglu in a canned statement.

    Continue reading
  • After eight years, SPEC delivers a new virtualisation benchmark

    Jumps from single-server tests to four hosts – but only for vSphere and RHV

    The Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) has released its first new virtualisation benchmark in eight years.

    The new SPECvirt Datacenter 2021 benchmark succeeds SPEC VIRT_SC 2013. The latter was designed to help users understand performance in the heady days of server consolidation, so required just one host. The new benchmark requires four hosts – a recognition of modern datacentre realities.

    The new tests are designed to test the combined performance of hypervisors and servers. For now, only two hypervisors are supported: VMware’s vSphere (versions 6.x and 7.x) and Red Hat Virtualisation (version 4.x). David Schmidt, chair of the SPEC Virtualization Committee, told The Register that Red Hat and VMware are paid up members of the committee, hence their inclusion. But the new benchmark can be used by other hypervisors if their vendors create an SDK. He opined that Microsoft, vendor of the Hyper-V hypervisor that has around 20 per cent market share, didn’t come to play because it’s busy working on other SPEC projects.

    Continue reading
  • Forget that Loon's balloon burst, we just fired 700TB of laser broadband between two cities, says Google

    Up to 20Gbps link sustained over the Congo in comms experiment

    Engineers at Google’s technology moonshot lab X say they used lasers to beam 700TB of internet traffic between two cities separated by the Congo River.

    The capitals of the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazzaville and Kinshasa, respectively, are only 4.8 km (about three miles) apart. The denizens of Kinshasa have to pay five times more than their neighbors in Brazzaville for broadband connectivity, though. That's apparently because the fiber backbone to Kinshasa has to route more than 400 km (250 miles) around the river – no one wanted to put the cable through it.

    There's a shorter route for data to take between the cities. Instead of transmitting the information as light through networks of cables, it can be directly beamed over the river by laser.

    Continue reading
  • Apple's M1 MacBook screens are stunning – stunningly fragile and defective, that is, lawsuits allege

    Latest laptops prone to cracking, distortions, owners complain

    Aggrieved MacBook owners in two separate lawsuits claim Apple's latest laptops with its M1 chips have defective screens that break easily and malfunction.

    The complaints, both filed on Wednesday in a federal district court in San Jose, California, are each seeking class certification in the hope that the law firms involved will get a judicial blessing to represent the presumed large group of affected customers and, if victorious, to share any settlement.

    Each of the filings contends Apple's 2020-2021 MacBook line – consisting of the M1-based MacBook Air and M1-based 13" MacBook Pro – have screens that frequently fail. They say Apple knew about the alleged defect or should have known, based on its own extensive internal testing, reports from technicians, and feedback from customers.

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft's Azure Virtual Desktop now works without Active Directory – but there are caveats

    General availability of Azure AD-joined VMs

    Microsoft has declared general availability for Azure Virtual Desktop with the VMs joined to Azure AD rather than Active Directory, but the initial release has many limitations.

    Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), once called Windows Virtual Desktop, is Microsoft's first-party VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) solution.

    Although cloud-hosted, Azure Virtual Desktop is (or was) based on Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services tech which required domain-joined PCs and therefore a connection to full Windows Active Directory (AD), either in the form of on-premises AD over a VPN, or via Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) which is a Microsoft-managed AD server automatically linked to Azure AD. In the case that on-premises AD is used, AD Connect is also required, introducing further complexity.

    Continue reading
  • It's bizarre we're at a point where reports are written on how human rights trump AI rights

    But that's what UN group has done

    The protection of human rights should be front and centre of any decision to implement AI-based systems regardless of whether they're used as corporate tools such as recruitment or in areas such as law enforcement.

    And unless sufficient safeguards are in place to protect human rights, there should be a moratorium on the sale of AI systems and those that fail to meet international human rights laws should be banned.

    Those are just some of the conclusions from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) in a report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021