Hacking Walsall Council’s servers

Not literally of course. I’m one of those people who has always sought out knowledge and tries to work things out. Much in the same way that I possess the knowledge and skills to illegally rip DVD’s, I also have also over the years accumulated what could be defined as the slightly darker side of the techie nature. I’m not a hacker per say, nor a cracker either so much in the same way that I possess the knowledge to undertake what are decidedly illegal activities, I simply choose not to because it’s against my own principles.

That said, and one of the reasons I’ve been very busy was that I had something rather complicated to sort out with Walsall MBC the other week that required me to pop into their OneStopShop up at the Civic Centre in Walsall.

I’ll start by saying which will not be a surprise to regular readers that I don’t hold Walsall MBC in particularly high regard. I’ve visited the OneStopShop twice before and on both occasions I’ve been dealt with by a member of staff who really didn’t appear to know what they were doing and subsequent problems that arose after those encounters only went to confirm that. I also find it a bit of a pain that I should have to go all the way up to Walsall to sort these things out because they are too inflexible to sort out the issues any other way but there you go. In time past I could have gone to the Neighbourhood office in Willenhall which is a whopping couple hundred yards walk from the house but since the Tories closed them all down and centralised everything (note to self, don’t believe Tories that talk about communities) now us poor residents of Walsall have to wade our way through the complete mess which passes for the road system around the town.

While I was at the OneStopShop waiting my 38 minutes to be served (yes I did time it) I noticed that they’d got some public terminals for web access so I decided to check them out. They’re a bit pants really. Anything interesting or useful like Google are inaccessible along with it seems most blogs so that probably explains why the computers are sitting there unused while their highly inneficient Pentium 4 processors burn up electricity for no reason. Strangely enough this site isn’t restricted which is strange given how critical I’ve been of the council but there you go.

What I did notice however, being the curious Penguin that I am is the setup of the machines. They’re quite restricted in what you can use on them for obvious reasons but with two glaringly obvious exceptions.

First up, there are various bits of the Window XP operating system running and available which if you know what you’re looking for would provide any would-be hacker/cracker a good starting basis for trying to break into their system. I won’t obviously say what but as my blog is read by a number of people up at yon council I’m sure someone will tip-off the IT bods to have a look.

Secondly, and probably more indicative of the times is the rather easy access to the DOS prompt. Now for those under 30 who are not techie bods you probably won’t remember this but back in the days before all these cute little icons that you click to load stuff there was what’s called the Command Prompt. It’s easily recognisable as a black screen with a little flashing white cursor where you can actually type stuff to tell the computer what to do. I was very amazed to find it easily accessible on the public machine and in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing can be an absolute dream for getting in and causing all kinds of mayhem. Perhaps the techie bods at the council are young and don’t know what it’s for or what it can do, or perhaps they’re just schooled in the click an icon approach of a Windows system but someone tell them that this isn’t really a good idea.

In fact, having the computers set up in such a way really isn’t advisable. I mean have they never heard of ‘dummy terminals’ or hey, they could always be really kicking and up to date and run bloody virtual machines through an entirely different server than leaving their system open to attack like that. Just a thought really, never mind, it is only Walsall Council after all.