Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Jetty.

I took the two photos above earlier this week; they depict the damage done recently to the old Erith wooden jetty adjacent to Erith Riverside Gardens. The Port of London Authority and The Marine Police Force are currently investigating the circumstances of the serious "hit and run" collision which has effectively cut the historic jetty in half, and has meant that it is currently out of use. The PLA have published a Notice to Mariners which states:- "Mariners are advised that ERITH CAUSEWAY is currently out of action and is not to be used. Damage sustained to the structure has rendered it unsafe and it will remain out of use until repairs have been undertaken. Further details of when work is being undertaken, as well as any temporary restrictions to passing traffic will be included on the regular London VTS River broadcast on VHF Channel 14. For the latest information contact London VTS on VHF Channel 14 or by telephone on 0208 855 0315". The precise cause of the damage is still unknown - it would appear that a sizable vessel must have collided with the jetty, but at the time of writing, nobody has come forward, and there would appear to be no witnesses. I would imagine that The Marine Police Force are checking with all of the marine engineering yards on the Thames and beyond for evidence of a ship with damaged bows. I understand that it is a navigational incident investigation and may have to be dealt with through insurance, as it could be expensive. The PLA apparently have some idea of who may have been responsible, but no one at present has admitted liability. My sources indicate that it is doubtful that the jetty will be back in use before the end of January. Hopefully I will have more on this mystery soon. If you have any additional information, you can contact me in confidence by Emailing me at

It would appear that fraudsters are at it again; the latest in a long line of ATM cons has been reported in Dartford - and if it has appeared there, it is likely that it will be seen in other local towns. In essence, some cash machines have been found to have illegally been fitted with a device which retains the users card when they insert it in the machine. The criminal then retrieves the card and empties the bank account of the victim - they have already observed the PIN number being entered prior to the theft. The device which retains the victim's cash card is referred to as a Lebanese Loop. A Lebanese loop is a device used to commit fraud and identity theft by exploiting automated teller machines (ATMs). In its simplest form, it is a strip or sleeve of metal or plastic which blocks the ATM's card slot, causing any inserted card to be apparently retained by the machine, allowing it to be retrieved by the fraudster when the cardholder leaves. Its name comes from its regular use amongst Lebanese financial crime perpetrators, although it has since spread to other international criminal groups. The scam has been reported in countries with high numbers of ATMs such as the UK, the United States, Germany and France. Police officers in Dartford received the report that two devices had been placed inside ATMs in Hythe Street on the 29th December. These devices were successfully removed, and I understand that investigations continue. The Lebanese Loop fraud is widespread - the term “Lebanese loop” is applied to any number of similar devices that are used to perpetrate ATM fraud by retaining the user's card. In their simplest form, Lebanese loops consist of a strip or sleeve of metal or plastic (even something as simple as a strip of video cassette tape) that is inserted into the ATM's card slot. Some loops have a covering fascia which appears superficially to be part of the ATM, while others are simply a length of dark-coloured tape with glue strips to hold it temporarily inside an ATM slot. Lebanese Loop devices are relatively simple to construct, requiring less technical skill than a card skimming technique. When the victim inserts their ATM card, the loop is long and narrow enough that the ATM machinery can still fully draw the card in and read it. The victim then enters their personal identification number (PIN) as normal, and requests the funds. The ATM then tries to eject the card, the loop device prevents the card from being ejected, either with a flap covering the fascia's slot, or a diagonal slit in the tape which catches against the card. The machine senses that the card has not been ejected, and draws the card back into the machine. The cash drawer does not open, and the money that has been counted is retained by the machine. In most cases, the victim's account is not debited. The victim believes the machine has malfunctioned or genuinely retained their card. In a typical scam, the perpetrator will obtain the victim's PIN either by watching them enter it the first time (shoulder surfing), or by approaching the victim under the pretence of offering help and suggesting they re-enter their PIN (and again, watching them do so). More sophisticated variants of the Lebanese loop scam have developed. In some cases, the fraudsters attach a small camera to the ATM to record the victim entering their PIN. The video from this camera is then transmitted to the fraudsters, who may be waiting near the machine and viewing the video on a laptop computer, meaning they need not approach the victim directly. There have been cases where a fake keypad is fitted to the machine over the top of the real one, and this records the PINs entered. Once the victim has left the area, the perpetrator retrieves the loop and the trapped card, and uses it, along with the stolen PIN, to withdraw cash from the victim's account. Now that this has been identified in Dartford, it is highly likely we will see the fraud carried out in places such as Bexleyheath Broadway; it is advised for ATM users to be especially vigilant whilst withdrawing cash - look for any attachments to the machine that should not be there, and beware of anyone getting too close whilst you are using the ATM. Newer cash machines are fitted with technology to minimise the effects of the Lebanese Loop, but lots of older machines are still in use all over the country. If you have had any experience of this kind of criminal activity, leave a comment below, or Email me at

The poster above is to promote a new Building Futures course due to run shortly in the borough.  It is aimed at giving unemployed people an introduction to working in construction. Applicants for the free two week course need to be at least nineteen years of age, unemployed, and receiving some form of benefit. Contact details for the course, which will run from the 13th to the 24th of February are on the graphic above.

It would seem that it is not just PC’s that are vulnerable to ransomware – malicious software that encrypts the files on your device, demanding a ransom payment to un-encrypt them (or not as the case may be). Now ransomware has been reported on certain LG Smart Televisions. A programmer in the USA found that after his wife downloaded an app which promised to stream free movies to their LG television, a notice purporting to be from the FBI was displayed on the screen, saying that suspicious files were found and the user had been fined. The obvious ransomware rendered the TV inoperable, which he managed to fix using the below simple steps that may apply to other LG Smart Televisions. To perform a factory hard reset – (something that is not documented in the user manual, and is not widely known), one needs to reach around to the rear of the TV screen and do the following:-  "With the TV powered off, place one finger on the settings symbol then another finger on the channel down symbol. Remove finger from settings, then from channel down, and navigate using volume keys to the wipe data/ factory reset option. This will return any LG Smart TV to a “factory new” condition". Any software will be removed from the TV, and all settings and preferences will need to be re – done – it will remove any malware from the TV, so this may well be a small price to pay. This kind of malware infection is likely to become more widespread, as more devices get connected to the web as part of the “internet of things”. To illustrate this, the Chaos Communications Congress is the world’s oldest hacker conference, and Europe’s largest. Every year, thousands of hackers gather in Hamburg to share stories, trade tips and discuss the political, social and cultural ramifications of technology. At the latest congress, several bold (and worrying claims were made - with evidence to back them up). You may recall that I have published warnings about things like Smart Utility Meters in the recent past; well, my relatively mild warnings about hackers accessing your meter due to weak or nonexistent security, and the fact that the cost of deployment is going to exceed the cash saving to the individual. This has been put in the shade by delegates at the Chaos Communication  Congress:- Netanel Rubin, co-founder of the security firm Vaultra, presented his research on smart meters, electricity meters that coordinate with the utility company and other meters on the same network to ensure that the power grid of a city is fit for the 21st century. Rubin managed to intercept the communications between the smart meter and the utilities company itself. That would enable billing fraud (either stealing free electricity, or maliciously increasing the bills of victims), as well as privacy invasions. Things get worse if a user has other smart devices in their house, such as a smart door lock. “Imagine you woke up to find you’d been robbed by a burglar who didn’t have to break in,” Rubin said. At its worst, he argued, a hacked smart meter could cause explosions or house fires. The devices are designed with the goal of rendering that an impossibility, but then, they are also designed with the goal of rendering hacking them impossible. Not every design goal is achieved. Rubin then went on with some even more alarming news. He claimed the Smart Meter gear uses weak encryption, relies on easily cracked protocols, and can be programmed to explode. The software vulnerability hunter derided global efforts to roll out the meters as reckless, saying the "dangerous" devices are a risk to all connected smart home devices. Smart meters can communicate with networked devices inside homes, such as air conditioners, fridges, and the like. A hacker who could infiltrate the internet-connected meters could control those gadgets and appliances and potentially unlock doors. They could also manipulate the meter's code to cause fires, something that's trivially easy using mains supplies, Rubin claimed. You'd be forgiven for thinking fuses would prevent such a blaze, although the researcher is convinced the hardware can be tricked into overexerting itself and exploding. "An attacker who controls the meter also controls its software, allowing them to literally blow the meter up," he told the Congress in Hamburg, Germany, last month. "If an attacker could hack your meter, he could have access to all the devices connected to the meter. The smart meter network in its current state is completely exposed to attackers. All meters of the same utility use the same basic security credentials," Rubin told the applauding audience. "One key to rule them all." Worse, Rubin found smart meters that hand over critical network keys when communicating with home devices without checking if the gadgets should be trusted. This opens an avenue for criminals to set up equipment that masquerades as home devices, steals the keys, and impersonates meters. "You can communicate with and control any device in the house from way across the street, open up locks, cause a short in the electricity system, whatever we want to do. A simple segmentation fault is enough to crash the meter, causing a blackout at the premises," Rubin said. Rubin was accused of fear-mongering by the conference's audience. He shot back that he wanted to grab the public's attention with dire warnings of exploding boxes - however rare that might turn out to be.

Regular readers will be aware of how much I like "then and now" photographs of the local area; the upper of the two photos above was taken in July 1966, and it shows what Erith Riverside Gardens looked like then. The lower photo shows what the gardens looked like on Thursday of this week. Unfortunately due to physical changes in the garden layout, I was unable to get a shot from the very same position as that in the original, but it is close enough for an easy comparison.

You may recall that back in 2014 I wrote extensively about Enderby House, and the nearby Enderby's Wharf where from the 1850’s to the 1970’s the home of undersea telecommunications cable manufacturing near the Thames riverfront and the Blackwall Tunnel. Barratt Homes have been redeveloping much of this site into a residential area; at present there is a fight going on to preserve Enderby House - Barratt want to turn the listed building into a pub / restaurant, whilst the local conservation group wants to turn it into a museum of telecommunications and a community centre. Barratt have already demolished most of the undersea cable winding section of the factory, and more is likely to go soon. The very first intercontinental communications technology was created and manufactured on the site; The first telegraph cable to France was laid in 1850 after tremendous efforts to find technologies that worked. Until 1970s the cable was made here in Greenwich and loaded onto cable-laying ships moored on the riverside using the equipment that is still in place on the shore today. Enderby House became crucial to the history of the world’s communications after the Atlantic Telegraph Company was set up in 1856 to provide a telegraph link between the old and new worlds. Initially the cables were used to carry Morse Code signals for the fledgling telegraph industry; later voice and teleprinter data capability was added; nowadays the world’s data networks are run by millions of miles of high capacity fibre optic cable - which was invented by a Hong Kong born British / American citizen called Dr. Charles Kao. He attended Woolwich Polytechnic, and in the 1960’s invented the entire field of fibre optic data transmission technology, without which the modern high speed Internet would be impossible. Charles Kao and his work in the pioneering field of optical digital communications gained him a number of awards, including a Knighthood, and the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physics. His cables were made and then were wound onto giant drums at Enderby Wharf, where they were then loaded onto cable laying ships, ready to be laid on the sea bed of the world’s oceans. The Enderby Wharf factory made 82 percent of the world’s undersea cable until the late 1950’s when other manufacturing facilities took on a greater role. There is still a factory owned by Alcatel Lucent on the site behind Enderby House, but now it only makes undersea cable switching and control gear, rather than the cables themselves, which are now manufactured at other locations. Enderby House has been sold by Alcatel Lucent to Barratt’s, and is now in a very shabby and damaged state; the empty building, though listed, has been repeatedly vandalised by local knuckle dragging morons. You can join the conservation group working to preserve this very historic building by clicking here.

Over the last four or five years, I have noticed that the number of local houses with ambitious and showy exterior Christmas decorations has markedly decreased. There used to be an escalating cold war between a number of homeowners to see who could make the most extravagant and over the top lighting display. As the lights have now come down after the holiday period, it got me thinking. Now common sense (and perhaps better taste) have prevailed. Most displays nowadays are more discreet. I think the reasons for this are multiple; the cost of electricity has increased markedly in the intervening time, and metal thefts have skyrocketed – and nothing attracts a metal thief more than electrical cable, packed to the gills as it is with high quality copper. On top of this I think that in these times of cutbacks and redundancies, people are reluctant to appear as a conspicuous consumer. On top of these factors, I think that technology has also had an influence. Modern Christmas lights are now LED rather than incandescent bulb based, and these LED lights seem to be more subtle and discreet – as well as using a hell of a lot less electricity.

It would seem that we are now almost certainly not going to see any of the "Boris Buses" in the London Borough of Bexley. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has announced that no further of the buses are to be purchased. I cannot say that I am particularly surprised; the handful of existing buses have been somewhat of a disappointment - the New Routemasters have come under sustained criticism for design faults such as overheating for passengers in summer and emitting more pollution than their predecessors did, due to unreliable hybrid batteries. In July 2015 the BBC reported a high level of battery failure, with 80 New Routemasters operating in diesel-only mode. 200 New Routemasters have at least some failing batteries, which will be replaced under warranty. An improved battery design is being introduced. The New Routemasters emit more harmful particles than the buses they replaced. London mayoral candidate and transport expert Christian Wolmar, who first revealed problems with the New Routemasters, said in July 2015: "This is further evidence that this project was misconceived from the start. I have been told that drivers have been complaining about the failed batteries since August last year and yet nothing has been done. It is no surprise the emissions are higher than those on conventional buses as the New Bus for London is not operating as designed. It is supposed to be powered by an electric motor, but instead is using its inefficient diesel engine that should, in normal conditions, be running at constant speed". Most of the routes being serviced by the New Routemaster buses are in Central, East and North London, and none are running on any route in either the London Borough of Bexley or Royal Borough of Greenwich. A single New Routemaster was tested locally a couple of years ago - rather unsuccessfully, as it turned out. It was stuck at the bus halt in front of Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, effectively blocking Bexley Road, and the passage of any other traffic. I spoke to the driver, who was out of the cab. It turned out that the bus computer had crashed, and he could not get it to reboot; a bus fitter from Bexleyheath bus garage had come to take a look, but he could not fathom the problem - the only item working on the bus were the emergency flashers - everything else had completely locked up. A specialist engineer had been called, but was having to travel down from their depot at Waterloo. It did not bode well for the future.

Something seems to be happening in the London Borough of Lewisham which could set a precedent that could then end up affecting residents of the London Borough of Bexley. Lewisham Council seem to be working on a policy of compulsorily purchasing land used for sporting and entertainment venues, then selling the land off to property developers. Millwall Football Club have admitted for the first time that they may be forced to leave their South East London home and relocate to Kent should the seizure of their land go ahead. Lewisham council’s plan to compulsorily purchase areas around the Den and sell them onto a mysterious offshore developer with connections to the current Labour administration has already drawn both disbelief and mass protest. With the compulsory purchase order likely to be confirmed at a council meeting next Wednesday Millwall have conceded publicly for the first time the club could have to leave the area that has been their home since 1910. What concerns me is that should this go ahead, other London councils may copy this behaviour, and grab land used for other sports arenas and opens spaces to sell off for easy cash from property developers eager to build yet more box - like flats to make as much money as possible - not only would the council gain immediate cash from the sale of the land, but they would have a continuous new revenue stream from the annual council tax receipts. Bexley Council have a well - known reputation for acting in this manner already, and if Lewisham get their way, this will only spur them onto take similar actions themselves. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The ending video this week is a short clip from the most recent episode of The Grand Tour - the mega budget Amazon Prime replacement for Top Gear with the three presenters who left the BBC. If you have not seen The Grand Tour before, it is basically Top Gear on a massively increased budget; each week the three presenters travel the world in a giant tent, putting on the show in a different country each week. If you liked Top Gear (before that smarmy, self important git Chris Evans briefly took over), then you will love The Grand Tour. Here Jeremy creates his ideal hybrid sports car / off road vehicle by adding the body from a classic Mercedes Benz SL to the chassis and running gear from a Land Rover Discovery. For some reason James and Richard are a little less than impressed...

1 comment: