The observation made by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News, his go-to book on the machinations of the Fourth Estate, came to mind this morning: “as one [Daily] Mail veteran put it to me, ‘If the Mail go for you, they get every phone number you have dialled, every school-mate, everything on your credit card, every call from your phone and from your mobile. Everything’. Even if it is against the law”.
If that f***er from Crewe says I've done anything illegal, I'll sue the c***
Why the memory jog? Ah well. As the full extent of the cyber attack that took out much of the NHS’ networks became clear, so did the work of a tech specialist who goes by the handle of MalwareTech. He managed to stop the malware spreading in tens of thousands of cases. For most people, this would be sufficient knowledge. Not the Mail. They had to know where he lived, name him, and identify him to their readers. This they did.
Both the Daily Mail and allegedly independent sister paper the Mail on Sunday have worked as one: first came the MoS with “Surf dude who saved the day: Self-taught web geek is hailed a hero for foiling the ‘ransomware’ virus that crippled the NHS”. But being a surf dude cannot mean anonymity. So we had the start of a doxing exercise.
First the MoS published his photo. Then they added “The man is only known publicly as Malware Tech, but his public messages on social network Twitter provide a revealing insight into his background … Half-Scottish, one of his parents is a nurse and he was born in June 1994 … He now lives in a Victorian house in South-West England, where he has constructed an impressive array of computer screens and servers”.
And if that were not sufficient to let every malicious presence with an axe to grind - like all those who were denied their $300-a-throw ransom extortion by MalwareTech’s actions - the following day, the Daily Mail went the whole hog and published his name.
Nick Davies - blew the whistle on the Mail's MO
In that part of the Northcliffe House bunker that is free of self-awareness, or irony, out came the headline. “EXCLUSIVE: Hero surfer who beat the virus that wreaked havoc across the globe reveals he is working with spooks to thwart a ZOMBIE cyber attack today and fears for his safety but has been inundated with job offers”. And why might he have “fears for his safety”? Might it be because the Dacre doggies named hiim?
Because that’s just what they did: “The 22-year-old IT expert … Marcus Hutchins, a keen surfer who lives in an English seaside town”. And where did the Mail get the information that enabled them to name Hutchins and publish all those clues as to where he lives? The Mail won’t tell us that, although the second part of the Leveson Inquiry might find out.
But, you might say, all that illegal stuff no longer happens. The papers cleaned their acts up after the phone hacking scandal. Well, no they didn’t, as Byline Media’s blagging scandal revelations have shown. And Nick Davies warned us that it was still going on.
At the end of Flat Earth News’ chapter on The Dark Arts, he reveals what one of those close to Steve Whittamore of Operation Motorman notoriety told him: “it’s back to business as usual. He says they won’t touch the Police National Computer any more, because that is what brought in the Police in addition to the Information Commission, but they are busy once again, talking calls from Fleet Street newspapers who want them to break the law for them”. So as to how the Mail doxed Marcus Hutchins … I’ll just leave that one there.