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UPDATE4 Political Twist as Sky Broadband Fix Wrongful Block of ISPreview

Friday, May 26th, 2017 (7:57 am) - Score 3,656
sky_broadband_sheild

Customers of Sky Broadband, specifically those who have enabled the ‘Shield’ (Parental Control) service, won’t have been able to view ISPreview.co.uk since yesterday evening because the ISP has wrongfully blocked us under their “Phishing and Malware” category. But there’s a political twist..

Upon first hearing about the unusual censorship (thanks to all those who Emailed or Tweeted) we immediately began conducting some scans in order to see if any nasty viruses or malware had crept in but came up empty. Similarly none of the popular online website security monitors (e.g. Sucuri) have reported an infection. So far as we could tell, all of ISPreview.co.uk’s systems and files were clean.

sky_broadband_block_ispreview

At this point things start to get very interesting. A quick test via Quttera’s scanner claimed that two of our news articles contained a link to EXTERNAL sites (i.e. nothing to do with our own server) that had apparently been blacklisted for Malware and those articles are here:

* UK Liberal Democrats Pledge 30Mbps+ for All by 2022 and 2Gbps+ FTTP

* 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto is Short on Surprises for Broadband

Naturally we were intrigued, particularly given the political angle of the blacklist. Sure enough Quttera stated that the problem wasn’t with ISPreview.co.uk itself but rather the fact that Amazon’s Cloud server, specifically the one holding the PDF formatted 2017 Conservative Party Manifesto (s3.eu-west-*.amazonaws.com), appears to have been blacklisted for Malware.

A lot of news sites used the same PDF link for their Manifesto coverage and the Conservative’s own website also uses it. I’ve changed the Amazon URL above to avoid this news article being blacklisted too and below is an example of the problem. The Liberal Democrat article was most likely tagged incidentally because it linked to the same news article and had a link to the same PDF on Amazon’s Server.

wrongful_manifesto_block

In short, ISPreview.co.uk is fine but it appears as if most or all of our entire site is being blocked by Sky’s Parental Controls because a single EXTERNAL link in just one of our news articles may have been compromised. NOTE: I ran a check on the Conservative PDF and it was clean, instead the issue seems to be with two .JS [Javascript] files that were hosted on the same Amazon server, which doesn’t even affect the PDF itself.

Now to me that is overzealous filtering at its worst, with an odd political plot twist to boot, but others may take a different view. As a site that has existed for nearly two decades we obviously have hundreds of thousands of pages, yet to block most or all of that site just because one EXTERNAL link has briefly gone bad seems ridiculous (Amazon will hopefully have cleaned it by now). Not to mention that we’re a consumer information site that covers broadband ISPs like Sky, which adds another fun dynamic to the filtering debate.

I should add that we have only tested the Sky Broadband Shield block with the PG (Parental Guidance) level restriction, although the same block may apply on their other age related restrictions. In the meantime we’ve removed the direct link to the Conservative manifesto, although assuming Amazon’s server was the cause then the Malware tag might be affecting many more sites than ours.

At least we’re in good company because everybody from Facebook to Imgur has in the past been hit by Sky Broadband’s network-level filtering systems (examples here, here and here).

We have of course attempted to contact Sky about this and are awaiting their response.

UPDATE 10:19am

Apparently Vodafone Home Broadband customers may have also faced a similar block today.

UPDATE 10:38am

The Quttera scanner should no longer report any Malware on the two news stories as it has now recognised that the Manifesto links were removed earlier this morning. Still waiting to hear from Sky.

UPDATE 11:25am

We’ve run a quick test and it appears as if Sky has now removed the block. The operator has confirmed this and we are awaiting some clarity on their reasons.

UPDATE 1:18pm

Now for Sky’s official response, which more or less confirms what has already been said.

A Sky Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Our Broadband team were advised that the ISPreview website contained a threat of Malware of Phishing and for this reason it was automatically blocked. After manually investigating, we identified that there was no risk from the site itself and removed the block.”

No mention of any changes being made to avoid other sites being blocked like this in the future.

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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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12 Responses
  1. dragoneast

    Get ready for more of this sort of thing. Though I’m still looking forward to the day when Murdoch blocks himself. Oops, sorry, that might get the site banned again.

    1984, in 2017. As time moves forwards, we go backwards. Accidentally, on purpose; of course.

  2. RevK

    This looks like a simple breach of section 3(2)(b) of The Computer Misuse Act 1990. Sky have impeded access to data (the web site) on a computer. Their blocking system is intended to impede access. Section 3 of the act even covers doing so “recklessly”. They have done so without the consent of the person responsibility for the computer (i.e. the site operator for ispreview.co.uk). This is no different to someone performing a denial of service attack on the site, expect in this case we know who did it. That looks like a simple crime and should be reported to the police, in my opinion.

    • dragoneast

      Not quite so easy I fear. The condition of it being an offence is that (s.3(1)(b) )”at the time when [the offender] does the act he knows that it is unauthorised”. The parental filters rely on a deemed consent, which can be done i.e. there is an opt out. If someone has not opted out, then the blocker does not “know that it is unauthorised”. Remember that to prove a criminal offence requires proof beyond reasonable doubt. At the very least there is reasonable doubt.

      There is a point though. Given our legislators suffer from acute legislative diarrhea, laws in greater or lesser conflict with each other increasingly become commonplace. You’re right about one thing: it’s a fertile breeding ground for lawyers, amateur and otherwise.

      Personally I’ve love to get Microsoft when they keep issuing Windows 10 updates that mess up my PC, and leave me to reset or reinstall with half a days work. I consent to updates, because I haven’t switched them off altogether, but not to them messing up the operation of my PC in the process or rendering it inoperable.

    • Personally I’ve love to get Microsoft when they keep issuing Windows 10 updates that mess up my PC, and leave me to reset or reinstall with half a days work. I consent to updates, because I haven’t switched them off altogether, but not to them messing up the operation of my PC in the process or rendering it inoperable.”

      100% agreed on that.

    • Steve Jones

      Nonsense. Any reading of the act and the obvious intent behind it (and Parliamentary intent matters – higher courts to take that into account) clearly show that this act is intended to deal with those who either knowingly hack into a computer or system in order to disable it or gain advantage or do so recklessly. An unforeseen side-effect of a filtering algorithm does not fit that scenario. In any event, there was no access to the computer or system in question.

      If we are to take your rather interpretation, anybody who was reckless in making a configuration or network change which disabled a computer would be guilty of a criminal offence under this act. That’s an awful lot of programmers and system admin people who will be trooped in front of the judge.

      At worst it would be an issue of civil liability, which is where it would belong. The police have more important things to do than investigate the unforeseen side-effects of a software algorithm. Their focus should be on criminal intent.

    • Steve Jones

      @dragoneast

      The route to a remedy with your Microsoft problem is in the civil courts. However, you’d have to prove, at the very least, that they had not taking due care in development and testing.

      I don’t know if it’s been tried in the home of class actions, namely the USA, but if anybody won such a case, it would surely turn into a Pyrrhic victory, as if the suppliers of system software were to be found responsible for costs incurred due to software failure, then the move would surely be to completely closed systems, such as that on the iPad. No company would be able to afford to produce a product like Windows at an acceptable retail price without everything being nailed down.

      If you want a future tied down that tight, then fine and many people are clearly happy with that given the popularity of tablets.

      Modern systems are simply immensely complex and it is infeasible to test every eventuality, every combination of hardware and system software and timing of events. That’s not to mention the issue that PC hardware is not infallible either as it generally does not include the level of protection against hardware corruption that you will find on Enterprise systems (one of the reasons the latter are so expensive – and restrictive).

  3. Brian

    Vodafone home broadband also blocked access today, added ISP Review to safe list, access restored. Not just Sky.

  4. Rollers

    Im on Vodafone too and had no problem. Its easy to get around these blocks if you just use a different dns provider such as Opendns or google, both free, probably quicker and safer and circumvents any blocking from your isp. There are lots of other providers too but I have no knowledge about them.

  5. captain.cretin

    And this is why I turn all filtering off and endeavour to teach my children how to use the internet safely.

    Mark, you did double check to make sure no one had left a bad review of Sky in the hours before the block??

  6. Wise Old Owl

    Was this blocked by url or dns?

  7. Rich

    My Sky BB Shield is set to “18” and you got blocked on that as well. I trusted you and added you to the allow list 🙂

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