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Crime Networking The Internet United Kingdom

Some Londoners Cut Off As Failed Copper Thieves Take Fiber 184

Posted by timothy
from the friday-the-13th dept.
judgecorp writes "About 37,000 Sky broadband and phone customers lost their connection, as incompetent copper thieves raided BT's infrastructure... and took fibre. Some scrap metal dealers will pay £4 per kg for stolen copper cables, but there is no dark market for fibre, so the thieves didn't make anything — which might be some small consolation to customers, some of whom had to wait for two days for BT to repair the inaccessible cables."
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Some Londoners Cut Off As Failed Copper Thieves Take Fiber

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  • by turkeydance (1266624) on Friday December 13, 2013 @07:54PM (#45685579)
    or Crispy Kritters as the constables call them
    • by pixelpusher220 (529617) on Friday December 13, 2013 @08:34PM (#45685867)

      repair the inaccessible cables

      Well not to the thieves...

      • Well, it depends. Obviously running cable through a conduit is somewhat more labour-intensive than pulling it out, especially if the conduit isn't vertical. In this case I'm not sure it was all that inaccessible, though, given that the thieves went through a manhole cover; surely that suggests at least a reasonable passage to crawl through.
        • by fluffy99 (870997)

          Perhaps inaccessible meant difficult for a fiber splicing guy with his fusion splicing equipment to get to?

          • by gweihir (88907)

            Naa, that explanation is way too complicated for the average slashdotter. And it has the added disadvantage to be very likely true.

            Here is a better one that has the added advantage of being an insane conspiracy-theory: This is really a terrorist attack, and the terrorists collapsed the tunnel with explosives!

            Just needs an explanation why the usual political scum are not all over this yet. Any takers?

        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          They pulled it out via the man hole telecoms conduits are not big enough for people to get inside :-)
        • by stoatwblr (2650359) on Saturday December 14, 2013 @02:05PM (#45689931)

          1: tying a rope around the cable, attached to a quad bike.
          2: 2 blokes stand at end end of the cable with sharpened spades. They stand on rubber mats.
          3: At a signal (walkie talkies or mobile phone), they simultaneously chop through the cable bundle.
          4: Someone on the quadbike revs up and rips the cable out of the duct.

          The thieves then roll the cable up at their leisure, usually having about 25-30 minutes to finish the deed before the police show up.

          It's standard practice to use vans painted up to look like genuine phone company items and for the theives themselves to dress as phone company workers

          The phone company (BT OpenEeach) and UK police have implemented procedures to get faster response to cable breaks and for police to attend the area automatically - that is why the thieves have 25-30 minutes instead of the 2-4 hours they previously had. As a result several prolific gangs have been caught, but only 1 in 50 cable thefts results in anyone being apprehended.

          SImilar tactics are also used to steal copper from the railway system - and that's despite cables carrying a few hundred volts.

          Only the really desperate (and foolish) ones try to steal from HV switchyards. The tactic there is to throw heavy chains over incoming 250kV lines to short them out, but because power distribution systems use rebreakers, those chains generally only last a couple of minutes before they melt.

          Penalties for being in a cable theft gang are esentially a slap on the wrist compared to the profits which can be made and even with recent tightening of laws, the penalties for handling stolen comms cables are laughable.

          Given that railway cable thefts can (and often do) result in upwards of a half a million people being stranded (often in trains, stalled on lines), there's some traction on calls to make a specific class of offence such as "interference with transport network/endangering transport" (which also includes lasing aircraft) with non--parole terms of at least 10 years.

    • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Friday December 13, 2013 @08:47PM (#45685953)
      Great anecdote (or myth) about copper thieves from my area. Supposedly (and i've never actually confirmed this story, but it sure sounds good). Some copper thieves purchased a old power company truck at auction, which still had the giant spool assembly on it. They modified this spool rig to run in reverse very quickly, and supposedly, over the course of a few days or weeks, went along several miles of phone line on poles and detached the cable from the insulators, and left it lying on the crossbeams of the telephone poles. This meant that the phone system still worked. Then, on the final night, they went out, cut the line at both ends of their work, hooked it to the truck, and spooled it up. They took two miles of copper in a matter of minutes.

      This story goes well with the story that some drug runners bought the same model pickup as the local power company used, painted the local power company's logo on it, and was driving on private back country roads to avoid the border patrol stations, pretending to be inspecting lines, or whatever, until some rancher noticed that the logo was hand painted and had a spelling error or some such nonsense.

      of course, all this is probably fiction designed to scare the outsiders, but it sure makes for good entertainment!
  • by msobkow (48369) on Friday December 13, 2013 @07:55PM (#45685593) Homepage Journal

    Declare the copper thieves terrorists and have them shot.

  • As someone who has spliced fiber: It's such a PITA, no wonder no one's buying it. I almost feel sorry for the NSA goons who had to splice all that fiber optic cable to create PRISM. A couple of days to restore operation is awesome. Kudos to Sky broadband workers who repaired the cluster fsck.

  • "Dark Market"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by erroneus (253617) on Friday December 13, 2013 @07:59PM (#45685621) Homepage

    I have never heard of a "dark market" before. Is this a more "PC" way of saying "Black Market"? I know I recently heard people asserting that "Black Friday" is racist, so is "Black Market" also racist?

    • by stymy (1223496)
      I think the difference is that black market is strictly illegal, while dark market includes legit businesses that sometimes buy stolen goods (like copper lines, etc.) on the side.
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      It's like dark matter and dark energy. The observations say it should be there but we can't prove it.
    • by hey! (33014)

      A black market is a market in which transactions can be presumed to be illegitimate. For example a market in stolen organs is a "black market".

      A gray market is one which transactions can be presumed to be legal, but are considered undesirable by the original sources of the products. In a "gray market" transaction, the seller has valid title to the goods but is undercutting the manufacturer's attempts to establish different retail prices in different countries.

      So, I should think a "dark market" would be one

    • by jythie (914043)
      I suspect someone was mixing up their termonology, or they just wanted it to sound cool so they borrowed "dark" from all those hip new darknets all the kids are talking about.
  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday December 13, 2013 @08:04PM (#45685677)
    We have had thieves ruin 80 thousand dollars worth of HVAC equipment to steal a few hundred bucks of scrap copper and aluminum coil. In some ways, "cleaning" the material so it can be sold for top tier scrap is more work than a regular job.
    • Yeah, but they'd expect you to be sober, clean, reliable, and show up by 9am five days in a row at a regular job.

    • In some ways, "cleaning" the material so it can be sold for top tier scrap is more work than a regular job.

      Not sure about the HVAC, but in case the copper is regular cable, "cleaning" is very easy: take the cable to a remote location, set it on fire, and after the insulation has burned, take the copper to a scrap metal dealer.

      And let the property owner deal with the scorch marks on his land.

      • What kind of cable uses flammable insulation these days?

      • Where I live (London, Ontario, Canada), scrap metal dealers will not buy wire which has been burned. You have to either manually strip the insulation off or sell it to them with insulation still on and get peanuts for it.

  • It could have gone much. much worse for them: Not for the squeamish. [thepadrino.com]

    • by dwywit (1109409)

      Dayum! I doubt if they even knew what hit them.

      Evolution in action.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4krgxKGLFc [youtube.com]

        Better. This guy in India was standing on top of the roof of a train powered by electricity. He stood up and grabbed the hot line thus grounding him and the train he stood on. Instantly he bursts into flames and is left smoking where he lay. It was instant. And that's the power of electricity. Don't fuck with it!!!

        BTW, you couldn't pay me to be a lineman. An occupation like that scares the crap out of me. Either you have a set of balls, or are completely oblivious t

        • by gweihir (88907)

          Removed as "shocking and disgusting content". I wonder whether this wording is accidental....

          • Youtube is now ran by a bunch of pussies at Google. Anyways, the video was shocking (pun intended) and horrifying. It wasn't gruesome however. Aside from the sad loss of his life, the poor guy died instantly. And if we should all have a say-so in how we exit from reality come the time, that's probably not a bad way to go.

  • by maxrate (886773) on Friday December 13, 2013 @08:20PM (#45685787)
    I had a giant spool of fiber cable in my garage (about 1/2" thick cable, 12 strand burial 62.5 multimode) - 62.5 is pretty obsolete. Guys come around garbage night picking up scrap metal from homes on the street.... I tried leaving the giant spool of fiber out before and they knew it was fiber so they didn't take it. I waited a few months, I wrap a little bit of 24 pair cat 3 telephone cable on the very outer layer, BAM! entire 180lbs fiber spool gone by the metal guys! They got a few feet of copper, and a whole bunch of useless fiber, I was so happy! Remember, spool was heavy, took up too much space, I don't feel like having Kijiji/Craigslist people come to my home - I just wanted it gone. Cat 3 24pair?... no tears shed over that either.
    • Same way you get rid of your old couch pretty much. Put it on the street corner with a sign that says "free couch" and it will sit until it rots. Put a sign that says "Couch, 50$" and it will be gone before you get back to your front door.
    • by Ichijo (607641)

      If they made shopping carts out of copper, it would instantly solve shopping cart blight.

    • The frogs and fish who just received a new home would like to thank you for the beautification of the bottom of their pond...

      Do you actually believe that they didn't just throw your spool away the second they were told it was worthless? You're littering by proxy.

    • by tompaulco (629533)
      I left an old console TV out like this. They took it, and then brought it back.
      Then I left an old dishwasher out there. It still ran, just had bought a new one. They took the copper parts they wanted out of it rendering it useless for anybody else, and then nobody else would take it.
      • by maxrate (886773)
        I had the same problem. Intentionally left a ShopVac outside, worked perfectly, cosmetic condition was A+ (sign said, 'works').... Just (maybe) needed a filter (Home Depot). They took the copper coils out of the motor, left the unit behind - useless unit now. That is why I did the 24 pair Cat 3 copper on top of the fiber... hopefully they broke their backs loading the spool on to the pick up truck.
        • by Jeremi (14640)

          I had the same problem. Intentionally left a ShopVac outside, worked perfectly, cosmetic condition was A+ (sign said, 'works').... Just (maybe) needed a filter (Home Depot). They took the copper coils out of the motor, left the unit behind - useless unit now. That is why I did the 24 pair Cat 3 copper on top of the fiber... hopefully they broke their backs loading the spool on to the pick up truck.

          It's hard to specify terms of use for items that you leave on the sidewalk. If you'd like a little more control over how your hand-me-downs get re-used, I recommend something like FreeCycle.org [freecycle.org]. I've had good results there.

  • Naturally, if fiber were valuable for a dark market it would no longer be dark.
  • We've had the same problem in Southern Ontario before, where 80k people lost internet access for nearly a day on Rogers, back in the early 2000's. A lot of companies now put "fibre" on their above ground lines to stop them from cutting it, it works, kinda.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      I wonder what it would cost to give out free proximity current detectors by the truckload - make it cheap and easy for thieves to quickly skip over the cables not carrying any current (and thus presumably being fiber). Might increase cable theft rates slightly, but the reduction in fiber damage could well be far more dramatic.

      Of course if there's significant "dark" cable lying around in Ontario that would be a non-starter, you have to keep the false negatives down if you hope to avoid pointless fiber damag

    • If they would spell it correctly, maybe it would work better.

  • According to the Guardian, the hapless criminals were after valuable copper cable, but all they managed to find was fibre, which enables faster broadband speeds but is almost impossible to resell.

    How do they know that they were copper thieves? How do they know that the thieves weren't actually trying to steal fiber cables? This is like someone stealing a car, and then everyone laughing at them and calling them failed mobile-home thieves. The whole article is one assumption (at least it appears that way because it never provides reasoning) and keeps pointing to how dumb the thieves were.

    Queue the NSA theorists...

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Very true. GCHQ was interested in cell networks and voice prints. Good cover for a few regions of interest to get a bulk new telco upgrade distant from any exchange staff or UK court?
    • I haven't ever heard of fiber cable thieves, whereas people regularly steal copper out of walls of buildings. If there were a big market for fiber cable, probably assuming they got what they meant to would make sense, but assuming that these people went to all this trouble to steal glass doesn't.
  • by hurfy (735314) on Friday December 13, 2013 @08:51PM (#45685981)

    Some of my neighborhood thieves have moved to London.

    Sounds like whoever stole the broken 20 year-old cassette deck out of the 40 year-old car sitting open in the driveway on flat tires. Must be a gold mine for sure! They even left all the knobs and bolts in the tray in the console with the wrench. Biggest WTF ever.

    • by Dan541 (1032000)

      I had a thief break into my car and steal the trashbag. It was a plastic Myers (Department store) bag that I was using as a bin, perhaps they thought it contained expensive clothing.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      Was it a good wrench?
      Gotta love a thief who leaves you with a profit...

  • Copper theft is incredibly destructive for the return. For a couple of dollars worth of copper, they won't think twice about ruining a $10,000 air conditioner. Plus considering the amount of time it takes to steal the copper, they could have gotten a minimum wage job and made more money, and not have to go to jail or die at the end of the day. It just pisses me off how stupid these a-holes are and how much damage they cause to society as a whole.
    • by gweihir (88907)

      Well, accepting a huge damage to somebody else for a moderate personal gain is the very core definition of evil. Copper thieves, investment bankers, cult leaders and politicians all qualify.

      • huge damage to somebody else for a moderate personal gain

        Except that even compared to just their own damage/"investment" they don't come out ahead. Read grand-parent post:

        Plus considering the amount of time it takes to steal the copper, they could have gotten a minimum wage job and made more money

        So you really have to wonder, what exactly is driving those idiots...

        • by gweihir (88907)

          Indeed. I think it must be some advanced delusions grandeur, along the lines of them figuring themselves elite high-tech thieves that will make it big. They probably have not even bothered to find out what little money they would have gotten had they been successful.

  • Do "legitimate" businesses like piping companies or wire companies buy copper wholesale from scrapyards which are clearly dealing in stolen copper? I'm just confused as to how there is a market for stolen copper. I understand that it is easier to rip it out of an air conditioning unit than it is to dig it out of the ground, but I'd think it would be easy to reduce demand for stolen copper and kill the market for it by penalizing companies who accept stolen goods, same as any other goods. I'd expect that
    • by Dunbal (464142) *
      My understanding was that a lot of it ends up in shipping containers bound for China.
      • by Bengie (1121981)
        A truck full of manhole covers is a truck with broken springs. Holy crap that would weigh a lot. I appreciate the analogy but I really liked the image it put in my head. Some poor bastard with a crappy old truck trying to haul manhole covers that weigh 100lb each.
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Do "legitimate" businesses like piping companies or wire companies buy copper wholesale from scrapyards which are clearly dealing in stolen copper? I'm just confused as to how there is a market for stolen copper. I understand that it is easier to rip it out of an air conditioning unit than it is to dig it out of the ground, but I'd think it would be easy to reduce demand for stolen copper and kill the market for it by penalizing companies who accept stolen goods, same as any other goods. I'd expect that the

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