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Virgin Media’s Censorship Tool Bodges UK Customers Internet Traffic

Monday, November 10th, 2014 (8:04 am) - Score 3,054
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Cable operator Virgin Media has issued a brief apology after an unspecified number of their customers suffered problems accessing websites due to a fault with the ISPs Web Safe (Parental Control) service, which uses network-level filtering to block “potentially age-inappropriate websites” from the eyes of children.

The Government requires that all of the country’s largest broadband ISPs offer customers an “enforced” option about whether or not to enable similar network-level filtering solutions and the majority of subscribers generally choose not to use it.

But in this case even those whom had specifically elected not to enable Virgin Media’s Web Safe service were also suddenly finding their access being obstructed due to an unusual fault with the same system, with the first angry reports coming in at around 5-6pm on Saturday (8th Nov 2014).

Customers complained that their attempts to browse various websites were instead being forwarded by the providers DNS servers to https://websafe.virginmedia.com/select?originalURL=… (i.e. the ISPs Web Safe filtering system), which then promptly returned an SSL error (“Secure Connection Failed“). The problem appeared to affect websites sporadically, with some like Google and Facebook working fine and most others throwing up the error.

Furthermore customers who called Virgin Media to complain were initially greeted by an automated message that simply advised them to reboot their routers, which obviously didn’t work because the problem was at the ISPs end. The ISP eventually coughed up to the issue at around 8pm (here) and it was finally resolved by early Sunday morning.

A Virgin Media support agent said:

I’m pleased to confirm that this was fixed last night.

Please accept our apologies for the inconvenience caused.”

Virgin Media’s WebSafe filter is DNS based and so the ISPs more informed customers were able to work around the problem by swapping to different Domain Name Servers, such as OpenDNS or Google’s own Public DNS. People who already use one of the non-ISP DNS alternatives were naturally not affected by the providers fault.

One interesting outcome of the recent problems is how some subscribers have informed ISPreview.co.uk that they will no longer be using Web Safe.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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