back to article Virgin Media skulks in disused public toilets

Virgin Media has resorted to hiding in disused public toilets as Britain's demand for ever-fatter pipes to channel digital detritus into the home grows. The Secret Bases website, which normally includes pictures and locations of sneaky-beaky British infrastructure operated by the security services, has now focused on some of …

  1. David Harper 1

    "Rather ironically, one of Bazalgette's descendants now runs a TV production company. One could easily draw parallels between that, the internet and the industrialised movement of civilisation's waste."

    It's a VERY old joke: Joseph Bazalgette made a fortune pumping shit out of people's homes. His great-great-grandson made his by reversing the flow.

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Another great-great-grandson is Ed Bazalgetta, who played guitar in The Vapors ("Turning Japanese")

  2. wolfetone Silver badge
    Coat

    Well, at least you now know why your internet is always a little bit shit.

    1. NonSSL-Login
      Coat

      Gives a new meaning to the phrase, "i'm a bit buffered up".

  3. jake Silver badge

    The only question remaining is ...

    What flows more sewage? The municipal blackwater infrastructure, or the digital network for the same area?

  4. wyatt

    Bet they don't need to cool the kit, never been in a warm public toilet.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      @wyatt

      not a George Michael follower then?

      1. wyatt

        Re: @wyatt

        No and from what I heard he was the one doing the following..!

  5. nuked

    We're going to need a bigger boat.

  6. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Thanks to a very obscure corner of Virgin Media's website detailing all of its local infrastructure sites, Turnbull was able to have a shufti at some of the weirder buildings that Virgin has taken over in its reverse-Bazalgettian mission.

    Even if the corner of the website is obscure, I'm still surprised that they're so open about disclosing the location of of points of their infrastructure. I thought companies were usually fairly protective of this sort of information to protect against people doing nefarious things.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity", but it's often not too hard to work things out. Chamber covers in streets can easily be lifted to see the routes the ducts are taking.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You don't even need to do that, just look where they have f***ed up the pavement.

        1. Muscleguy Silver badge

          The gas people have been long after Telewest first laid the cables here. Also some footpaths have been relayed, erasing the footprints of the cable layers.

          Last I was back in Auckland, NZ the footpaths around my sister's place were painted with the directions for the expected cable layers.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity", [...]"

        We were once given directions to a customer's data centre on a large industrial estate. "Look for the Fort Knox security features on a building with no name." Sure enough every other building on the estate had an apparent company name or logo prominently displayed.

        1. Tikimon Silver badge

          Company also hidden from job applicants!

          Many moons ago I was broke and desperate in Washington DC during a recession that had engineers and lawyers scrabbling for newspaper delivery jobs. One of the job ads I replied to: armored car driver (Wells Fargo).

          The ad had an address and that's all. The huge, windowless building was unmarked, with only one door to the parking lot. Door was unmarked, with a button and speaker grille. Bzzzt. The person who answered rudely demanded what my business was. On being told I was there for the job ad, lots of rude and irrelevant questions. Finally, reluctantly, they send someone to let me in. The interviewer was a rude, unfriendly bastard as well. They offered me the job a month later, but thankfully I had found a good job at a laboratory. Crappy job too.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Back when I worked for ntl: I spent a lot of time visiting sites, and there were some truly odd ones. Back room of a pub, CMTS cabinet in the middle of a field. One of the Irish Sea cables terminated in the back room of a (disused) cafe on the beach at Lytham in Lancs. Surprised the GIS guys by telling them what it looked like, coz I grew up there. Local engineers couldn't find it.

      That was common problem at the time: UK cable having grown by accretion, there was no central GIS back then. I spent ages driving around, writing down addresses.

      This will always be the case, and I know from experiment that BT has similarly obscure sites.

      Must admit that VM having exposed this stuff on the public website is a step backwards. It's *supposed* to be secret!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @A/C

        That was common problem at the time: UK cable having grown by accretion, there was no central GIS back then.

        I'm a business customer of Virgin Media, and trust me, they still don't have joined up systems inside Virgin Media.

        Even when they have merged systems together, the resulting data quality has been poor. Unless you get hold of an employee who's been there a long time and knows the history, you're stuffed.

    3. aidanstevens

      What makes you think they care about physical security? VM street cabinet doors are often found wide open or hanging off. The amount of damage that could be done in a short period of time with basic tools is breathtaking.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "VM street cabinet doors are often found wide open or hanging off. The amount of damage that could be done in a short period of time with basic tools is breathtaking."

        There is a VM box on my garden boundary. For ages the lock had been removed and the door often hung open. I put a loop of cable ties round it. After a while presumably a visiting VM engineer cut the cable ties - and left the door still with its broken lock. Repeat every few months.

        Annoys the hell out of me having to trim the hedge with the box in the way. I am not even a VM customer.

        1. d3vy Silver badge

          "There is a VM box on my garden boundary. For ages the lock had been removed and the door often hung open. I put a loop of cable ties round it. After a while presumably a visiting VM engineer cut the cable ties - and left the door still with its broken lock. Repeat every few months"

          Either :

          Take the door off.

          Weld it shut

          or (My favorite)

          Put a confetti cannon on the inside with the string trigger tied to the door and then put your cable ties back on...

          Then keep reporting faults causing visits, they will soon sort the lock out.

        2. Stratman

          Annoys the hell out of me having to trim the hedge with the box in the way.

          There's a joke in there somewhere

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "There's a joke in there somewhere"

            A critic's comment on the autobiography*** of novelist Simon Raven was "the filthiest book on cricket ever written". The author promptly asked if the quote could be used on the book's cover. Simon Raven would have felt at home in El Reg comments.

            ***Shadows On The Grass (1981)

  7. Chris King Silver badge

    The story goes that after doing his sums to figure out the capital's daily drainage needs in the late 1850s, based on the most generous population and sewage production figures per capita, he then realised "we're only going to get one chance to do this properly" – so he promptly doubled the size of all the pipes.

    As opposed to Virgin Media, who would probably limit how many times you're allowed to flush the toilet per day before cutting the water supply to your cistern. "Reverse-Bazalgettian" indeed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      More likely they would give you an illusion extra flush for free then charge you for it in a couple of months.

      1. Shady

        Even more likely, just when you've finished, and your marriage absolutely depends on the ability to flush, you'll get "There is a high demand in your area, Flush is not available right now. Please try again later"

        1. Simon Harris Silver badge

          "There is a high demand in your area, Flush is not available right now"

          Are Virgin Media going for the Cape Town supply contract?

          https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/24/cape-town-to-run-out-of-water-by-12-april-amid-worst-drought-in-a-century

  8. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Here in Guptastan all the kit would have been blagged yonkers ago...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That one near southern cemetery won't last long if the locals find out about it, I grew up in a rough area but it's rough as nuts round there.

      1. Allan 1

        We already know about it, and have for a while. They beefed up security a fair bit.

  9. Denarius Silver badge

    the time of the forward thinking planner has indeed passed

    Then: using generous figures then realising only one chance to do this right. Doubles pipe sizes

    Now: what is cheapest solution that might work. And the pipes are too small from start especially if not not containing dirty water. Yes I am on Oz NBN, why do you ask ?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Virgin Media's disused toilet base next to Manchester's Southern Cemetery"

    After seeing a VM van parked there a few times in the evening, I assumed that the driver must have been dogging in the cemetery! Given the history of those toilets, he may well have had a few people coming up asking to see his equipment.

  11. Simon Harris Silver badge

    Thank you for using Virgin Media...

    Now wash your hands.

  12. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
    Trollface

    I really hope...

    They sanitize any data coming from that location...

  13. Milton Silver badge

    And now I know where to ask—

    And now I know where to ask—this question:

    I live in one of the so-called "new towns" and have observed something that may have been going on for a while (but having acquired a dog I'm doing more neighbourhood walking, so only really *noticing* now): the metal street cabinets, typcially hip-high boxes full of wire bundles, seem increasingly disused. By that I mean, busted open, no apparent attempt to fix them, with the innards looking much the worse for wear.

    So the question is: is this part of a tech trend to not using such cabinets for telecoms/internet? Are they, as appears to me, becoming surplus to requirements? I feel sure someone here can slake my curiosity.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And now I know where to ask—

      Maybe they're fakes, designed to divert attention away from the loo-kit.

  14. -maniax-
    FAIL

    VM's geography seems a bit suspect

    According to "a very obscure corner of Virgin Media's website" Woodford Green is in Hertfordshire

    https://careers.virginmedia.com/locations/other-locations/hertfordshire/woodford-green-pintail-road/

  15. aidanstevens
    Pint

    "reverse-Bazalgettian mission"

    Very good - you deserve a drink for that!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

    The exact route of the UKs high-pressure gas grid is a secret. Or supposed to be. When I worked for BG, more than one telemetry engineer had gotten lost (pre-GPS) and had to be pointed to the relevant location by a local. ("Oooo arrrr, you'll be wanting the offtake - just across that field, and in the dip").

    I never managed to get on the firefighting jolly, held at Hinckley, but apparently a fractured main could throw a flame 400m (the gas is at 75bar - 1015psi).

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

      "The exact route of the UKs high-pressure gas grid is a secret. "

      Maybe it used to be. Pretty sure its not now*

      Im in the process of building a system which makes the gas, electric and water networks searchable to enable safe digging maps for contractors.

      The process went like this :

      Me : [On Phone] "I'd like access to the gas network GIS data please"

      Them : Who are you and what do you want it for?

      Me: Im working for [REDACTED] and we are building a safe digs system.

      Them : Theres a disk in the post, you'll get quarterly updates.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

        If a contractor hits a *high pressure* gas main, he'll be miles from anywhere. The only places you'll ever see a trace is where they have to cross rivers - and the security is not obvious.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

      If by secret you mean the top hit on Google for "UK gas network map" which gets you freely (for non commercial use) downloadable GIS data on the UK's gas and electricity transmission mains, plus handy PDFs just in case you don't have the appropriate software to open them.

      https://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/about-grid/our-networks-and-assets/gas-and-electricity-network-routes

      Just don't tell the Russians.

      Oops, too late - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-42834662

      "For the minister's information, all data regarding the location of British power stations and pipelines is as secret as, for instance, photographs and the location of Westminster Abbey or Big Ben."

      1. d3vy Silver badge

        Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

        "If by secret you mean the top hit on Google for "UK gas network map" which gets you freely (for non commercial use) downloadable GIS data on the UK's gas and electricity transmission mains, plus handy PDFs just in case you don't have the appropriate software to open them."

        :)

        "Heres the shape data, KML and some PDFs... just dont tell anyone, ok?"

        Thats what I was getting at, they give away the Map viewer app which makes this data searchable at 1:500 scale for commercial use with nothing more than a brief phone vetting - Secret my arse!

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

        I now realise I've seen our local high pressure main, as it's buried underneath the dismantled railway line. Quite a neat way of getting across a National Park.

    3. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

      I lived out in the sticks of Yorkshire and you'd see orange roofed posts in the ground that marked these out for helicopters to spot and follow for visual inspection. Always in farmers hedgerows and easy to spot when roving the locality.

      Everyone knew they were for gas lines of this nature.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Companies try to hide behind "Security by obscurity"

      Also often easy to spot when tracing from aerial photos for openstreetmap; if there's a straight line going across a field, lined up with one in the next field, and the next, and the next... it's not where hedges have been grubbed up, but a pipeline, and you'll soon find a pumping station or similar, and the gas and water ones are both readily recognizable from aerial photos.

  17. This post has been deleted by its author

  18. Paul

    more fibre

    we've been told we need more fibre in our diet, well, we also need more fibre in our internets, however, I want my fibre in my house, not in the next street.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back in the early 2000's

    I was doing some repairs on a house in California.

    Like many houses in the area the property also had a small guest house in the back that the owner rented out.

    It had an unusually large amount of internet cables piped into to it from the front all hobbled together.

    I asked the homeowner if she knew what it was used for and she said that the tenant was setting up some kind of "server" but that was all she knew about it.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Back in the early 2000's

      Either the renter missed the boat on making money off of so-called "portals", or it was a spammer. My money is on spammer.

  20. rcw88

    Ironically, Bazalgette's sewer, which relied on the tidal effect to sweep everything out to sea failed to flush the problem properly... and there was buffer overflow.. which was very unpleasant..

    Good plan though, hide network nodes in plain sight - leaving blank areas on OS maps didn't fool Soviet mapmakers. Perhaps VM locations are not considered critical infrastructure...

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