Iain Maciver: Western Isles Council hack needs further investigation – is Vera free?

“It will never happen to me because I have half a brain.

“I know what an email from a scammer looks like, and I am not clicking on any emails from a prince in Nigeria, or any telling me that I have won the lottery in Russia.”

Yes, that was me a couple of years ago. Since then, dirty scammers have penetrated the security system of Western Isles Council. That has caused chaos, and the effects are still being felt.

A local incident does focus the mind. So, I started investigating – looking to see how active these crooks are. There’s an epidemic. According to IT Governance, a body that advises on anti-hacking measures, there were more than 8.2 billion breaches in 2023. To be specific, 8,214,886,659, plus the one at the comhairle, so that is a total of… Well, it’s a lot. I’m running out of printer ink, so just work that out for yourselves.

Mindless acts like that cause pain. Some people had to wait for allowances that they really needed to eat. Just last month, our local museums on Benbecula and in Stornoway lost their accreditation status. The body looking after museum standards identified various issues that need attention before they can be returned to their proper status. Plans, reviews and assessments must be completed.

Specialist cops have made no breakthrough yet, searching for black ops on the dark web. The scammers hide their internet protocol address, known as an IP, through which you can trace just about anyone connected to the web. The polis haven’t confirmed the type of hack, but they’re often ransomware. Criminals demand cash for the new passwords they’ve changed the system to.

How did computer hackers who crippled our local council flee the scene of the crime? They just ransomware. Sorry, I just had to.

Colo(u)rful language

Right, be serious, Maciver. Oh, look – news just in. Hackers who took over systems in 2023 say they won’t give back access to the files until they are told by the various chief executives of these organisations how good looking they are. That’s a handsomeware attack. Enough.

Meanwhile, I want to attack Americans for mangling our English language. A holidaying Texan asked me if I was going out in corduroy pants. I said: “Yeah, they are really comfortable and… Oh, you mean these trousers?”

I hate the word gotten. It’s popping up everywhere – even in newspapers, though I’ve not seen it in this one

And dozy Brits who murder the language with Americanisms. We educated these Yanks, and then they changed the color, sorry, colour and passed their version back to our kids through films and computer games.

I hate the word gotten. It’s popping up everywhere – even in newspapers, though I’ve not seen it in this one. If I were a teacher… The past participle for get is got. Got that? If that is something you haven’t gotten yet, get out. Grrr. It wouldn’t be long until I had gotten the sack.

We’ll miss you, Brenda

Someone else is leaving their job, but they’ve not been sacked. The blessed Brenda Blethyn, who has been the waddling detective in the battered hat, Vera, on our screens since 2010. What are we going to do?

When the first few series screened, they bypassed us in this house. Then lockdown descended and we stayed in, did not party like some of our leaders, and we turned to some rarely-explored channels on the box. Then we found Vera. Bang: hooked, right away.

The kindly old bat – her character calls herself that – was a hard-bitten, hard-faced, occasionally hard-drinking softie who would secretly reach out to anyone in need she came across; an underling or hitherto unknown stranger who needed a wee leg up. Her tough approach to colleagues, like her sidekicks Joe Ashworth and Aiden Healy, was soft-centred.

Vera has had a long shift. Sorry, I’m getting mixed up. It’s time for Brenda Blethyn to put her feet up. She’s amazing, and was into her 60s when she became a DCI – a part she was born for. Now, at a couple of notches off her 80th, she’s been playing the Geordie tec with energy and believability and sheer pzazz. We’ll miss you, Brenda.

Another colleague of Vera’s was much put-upon Kenny, played by veteran tough-guy Scots actor Jon Morrison. He too was putty in her hands and, in her way, she was devoted to him and his sometimes-dodgy ways. Incidentally, I remember Jon from the memorable Play for Today episode Just Another Saturday, about the fearful toxicity of the Orange Walks back then in Glasgow. That was in the 1970s but, alas, the terror remains.

Meanwhile, despite my lack of long police service like Vera, my own investigation into the council hack is continuing apace. They may have passed away, as I have found a grave. The stone says just R. The IP is well hidden.

Iain Maciver is a former broadcaster and news reporter from the Outer Hebrides

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