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British Cops Hack Into Government Computers 247

CmdrGravy writes "The British Police have hacked into Government computers as part of the on-going 'cash for peerages' investigation. They've uncovered evidence which has, so far, led to one arrest and charge of perverting the course of justice for a leading Labour party figure. This charge carries a potential life sentence. The British police have the power to hack into computer systems as part of an investigation. On previous occasions they have said they did not believe the government was providing them with the information they had been asking for and had warned that they would seek other methods to gather evidence. The police won't say what tools they have used. From the article: 'The investigators did not have to notify No 10 if they were "hacking" into its system. One legal expert said: "In some cases, a senior officer can give permission. In other cases, you might need the authorization of an independent commissioner, who is usually a retired judge appointed by the Home Office."'"
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British Cops Hack Into Government Computers

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  • That's Hot (Score:5, Funny)

    by Prysorra ( 1040518 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:06PM (#17711086)
    Nothing like hot state-on-state action, eh?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by iminplaya ( 723125 )
      Heh, no joke. Our local papers have stories about cops from two different jurisdictions getting into actual gun battles occasionally. I also get a kick out of watching the elephants battle it out. Too bad we never learn anything from it.
  • Curiosity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thansal ( 999464 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:06PM (#17711094)
    So, I know next to nothing about legal systems outside of the USA. In the US the police would need a warrent (I am goign with the bassis of our laws, not the mockery that is today).

    Is the approval that the british cops gained:
    "In some cases, a senior officer can give permission. In other cases, you might need the authorisation of an independent commissioner, who is usually a retired judge appointed by the Home Office."

    The same basic idea? Or is this a change, or what not. Basicly can some one more familiar with the british legal system explain this?

    • IANAL but I think this revolves around it being the computers belonging to the goverment - this would mean the home office has the authority over any data on it. Since it is in charge of the overall investigation it is allowed to go after any data the goverment has.

      Systems belonging to private individuals or companies would still be safe unless a court order were issued (atleast I would really hope so!!)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Have you considered that maybe a warrant *is* the authorisation of an independent commissioner, who is usually a retired judge?

      Really the lesson here is that the British can fool an American by replacing a word with its definition.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by jguevin ( 453329 )
        True, just like a President can fool a Prime Minister by replacing material evidence with a really firm handshake. Or I can fool you by replacing your coffee with Folger's Crystals.
      • by Thansal ( 999464 )
        Well, let us see. A warrent in the USA is issued by a Judge, no one else. A senior officer is not a judge, and a independent commissioner, who is usually a retired judge appointed by the Home Office., does not sound like a judge to me either (what is the home office for that matter?). I am used to a 3 bransh system (Legislature, judical, executive), where each 2 can check the other (yes, it is gettign horribly messed up atm, but alot of what is happening is unconstitutional, however the actual system is
  • by Reverse Gear ( 891207 ) * on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:06PM (#17711096) Homepage
    I wonder who the British police hired to do this, according to the article they used "computer experts" to do the job.
    But now that these "computer experts" have done this once with police blessing, had a nice look at the systems I wouldn't wonder if they could do it again without the blessing or knowledge of the police.

    From the article it doesn't look like the sys-admins at Downing Street have been all that involved in this, I sure hope they have now been notified of how this was done and whatever way was used to get into the systems have been closed.

    One could suspect that with the police having known these/this "computer expert(s)" it might be an indication that it wasn't a white hat they got hold of, but really that is just speculation, it might also have been a white hat person.

    Anyhow I know nothing but what it says in TFA, which really isn't a lot, but for the sake of british security I sure hope this has been done in a sensible way.
    • by attonitus ( 533238 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @01:53PM (#17712746)

      With the appropriate authority, the police can do things that your everyday hacker on the street might find very difficult, e.g. gain physical entry to Downing Street, so there's no reason that there would be a gaping hole waiting for black-hats to enter through.

      There are several organisations in the UK that regularly do IT security work for the ministry of defence, the police and the security services and have staff who are cleared to high security levels. I worked for Detica [] about 10 years ago and I think that they would have had the capability to assist in this kind of thing then, don't know if they still do. Qinetiq [] might be another firm that would have people with relevant expertise.

    • by Ash Vince ( 602485 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @02:02PM (#17712868) Journal
      Chances are they went and asked GCHQ, the british telecommunications survelience people to provide someone.

      I am sure they have some very good staff being that they invented the idea of codebreaking using computers over 60 years ago.

      Also worth noting that after RSA came out and published their work on public key cryptography GCHQ admitted they had known how to do it but kept it secret. This page has some decent info: []

      Anyone pointing out that the refences to GCHQ are all very old should also know that they would never dream of telling anyone else if they had cracked every encyrption method known. Why create more work for yourself when your primary role is listening in to other peoples communications?
    • One valid explanation might be social engineering. A senior police officer and a senior civil servant probably met at their old Oxford college for a drinky-poo.

      "Have you heard this awful nonsense about the 'cash for peerages' evidence? Old Chigwell just isn't playing the game at all. It's a dreadful bore."

      "Oh I wouldn't worry about that old fellow. Have a whisky.
      I'm sure we can work something out."

      Much like an episode of "Yes, Minister". :)
  • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:07PM (#17711106) Journal
    Yeah, how dare someone be able to get a peerage because of wealth. Everyone knows that's not how it's supposed to work. If this were to continue, well ... completely undeserving people could get one!
    • by Don_dumb ( 927108 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:16PM (#17711220)
      They even treat some people here like they are royalty.
    • If this were to continue, well ... completely undeserving people could get one!

      At least the British Upper House is funny...Canada's is sad. As far as I can tell, in Canada not only to "completely undeserving people" get senate appointments from time to time, as far as I can tell it wouldn't even be illegal for someone to buy a seat in the senate from the PM. At the very least the ability to use old-school hereditary peers in Britian for political manipulation is a BIT limited. Canada has never had heredi
      • by samjam ( 256347 )
        The main benefit of the house of Lords, is that (unlike elected politicians) they don't have to look first to their own re-election and pocket-lining, because there is no special incentive for them.

        Instead they can just do a decent job, and keep the lease-my-soul politicians honest.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:53PM (#17711790)

      I know it sounds laughable on the face of things, but the real problem is that the Labour Party got the money, which they then used to (partially) fund their election campaign, and once they won the election, they started handing out these peerages to the people that gave them money.

      It's a case of a political party abusing their authority for the benefit of the party and not the government or the people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Until today, I had never even heard the word "Peerage." In America you can't just buy your way into power. You have to be born into the Bush family to get it.


  • by Salvance ( 1014001 ) * on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:08PM (#17711118) Homepage Journal
    Here's what I don't get: this is the British police, not some elite hacking group. They are probably using pretty basic hacking methods to hack into government computers. If this is the case, why aren't the computers more secure to begin with? If the police can do it, I'll bet your kid's lunch money that your teenage neighbor can as well. To me, the lack of adequate security is a far more significant embarrassment than the hacking itself.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by thetroll123 ( 744259 )
      >If the police can do it, I'll bet your kid's lunch money that your teenage neighbor can as well.

      Well, there is the matter of physical access, of course. Lots of police working in Downing Street and other government and party premises on - ostensibly - security/protection duties etc. I'd like to see your "teenage neighbor" stroll in there and connect up a PC...
      • by Zadaz ( 950521 )
        Yeah. A kid getting into a secure area would be inconceivable [].

        But probably wouldn't need that since there's a wireless access point somewhere around there.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Why would the British Police be using "basic hacking methods"? They're a government organisation, which means they have the funding (and power) to hire and use professionals in situations such as this. Not to mention they're also probably part of a WAN which means they could well be "on the inside" of the Government's network already.
      • Not to mention that the British police already runs some very powerful online crime investigation units. Who staffs these? I'd guess someone with some knowledge of Information Security. The same people who could probably perform some of the actions they investigate on a daily basis

        Whoever modded the GP up as interesting and insightful was obviously smoking as much crack as the GP was. Mod down please, for the love of common sense and decency!
      • by thelost ( 808451 )
        how dare you assume anything but the British Police being totally incompetent!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dr Caleb ( 121505 )
      "If the police can do it, I'll bet your kid's lunch money that your teenage neighbor can as well."

      You seem to underestimate British Police. You probabally shouldn't.

      "They are probably using pretty basic hacking methods to hack into government computers. "

      Who was it cracked Enigma without a computer again? And they probabally have the best tools available.
      • by Lord_Slepnir ( 585350 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:23PM (#17711330) Journal
        It was actually the Polish [] that did most of the cracking of Enigma. The British just took their work, automated it, and produced ULTRA.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:58PM (#17711876)
          A longer and more accurate answer would be:

          It was the Poles who cracked the first two rotors of Enigma without computers.

          It was the British Navy who captured the rest of the rotors and the code-books.

          It was Turing and Flower who built the first electronic programmable computer that enabled a theoretical crack to be actually used in real-time to read German traffic and produce ULTRA.
          • by jeremyp ( 130771 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @04:02PM (#17714530) Homepage Journal
            That's not a more accurate answer.

            The Poles originally cracked three rotor Enigma.

            The Germans made it more secure (by adding two new rotors so the daily key used three rotors from five).

            The Poles realised they didn't have the resources to crack Enigma anymore and handed everything over to the British.

            The British (esp. Alan Turing) enhanced the cracking methods including building an electro-mechanical device called a "bombe" to help with the key cracking (NB, the Polish also had such a device, but the British version was much improved).

            The German Navy used a four rotor enigma and much stricter key generation protocols such that for much of the war it could only be cracked by capturing daily keys from u-boats etc.

            Colossus, the first electronic programmable computer, was built to crack a completely different cipher called Lorenz. Alan Turing had very little to do with that. NB, I'm fairly sure Colossus was not Turing complete. The engineer who designed Colossus was Tommy Flowers.
      • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:30PM (#17711426)
        >Who was it cracked Enigma without a computer again?
        I think I'm safe in saying it wasn't the Metropolitan or City Police.
      • A better example of British IT: [] []

        Of course, the Turing Police ( [] ) are on the job now but the British police and the British in general were the idiots in the 1950's. Hmmm ...
        • by Thansal ( 999464 )
          Just remember that the TP are not Brits, they are an organization with deals going on with most govn'ts (they are not a govn't org them selfs), and tend to just ignore all laws any way. Oh, and dont' forget that they are mostly incompetent anyway.

          grumble, I am almost sure that Wiki article is wrong, Freeside is NOT a casino, it would be close to calling it a resort town. And blade runner has nothing to do with the Turing Police (and thus Neuromancer), aside from both taking place in Cyberpunk worlds.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by arevos ( 659374 )

      Here's what I don't get: this is the British police, not some elite hacking group.
      I think it's safe to say that no matter the level of security expertise of police computer experts, it's always going to be greater than the expertise of government IT staff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I don't like making assumptions, but I do believe that the British police are part of the British Government. Odds are they have access to some systems inside the Government network that commoners don't, and could leverage that to get access to what they wanted.
    • They are probably using pretty basic hacking methods to hack into government computers.

      Yeah, they were held up for a moment when none of his kids' birthdays was the password, but then they realized it was his anniversary in reverse.

      Police used computer experts... []

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by jafac ( 1449 )
      . . . why aren't the computers more secure to begin with?

      The fundamental rule of corrupt politicians is that they are corrupt, because they are lazy and stupid, and have obtained power through means other than being clever and working hard (ie. lying, and being well-connected).

      The idea of PAYING someone to do the hard work of securing their computers is an anathema to them. They would rather spend their money BRIBING the police to not investigate them. Unfortunately for them, they seem to have stumbled o
    • by DerWulf ( 782458 )
      Maybe your initial assumption is just baseless? It'd be more reasonable to expect that the government computers are safe since there's been no incidents so far eventhough the target is high profile. Which would indicate that cops are quite the hackers. Maybe they use contacts and know-how from the cyber-crime units that every european police force has?
    • by turgid ( 580780 )

      What's double-triple-funny and ironic is that this was done under laws that this government brought in, eroding centuries-old civil liberties and legal precedent, to bolster their War on Terror. You know, the old argument that "terrorist suspects" don't have the same "rights" as everyone else, so you have nothing to fear. The laws were never going to be used against white middle-class^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hh o nest, hard-working members of the public.

      Ho hum.

      As for the computers being insecure,

  • Interesting... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Whilst it's good that Goverment bodies get the same level of investigation as anyone else would, I believe it to be a bit of a 'flogging a dead horse' situation. Blair is leaving this year, and I very much doubt he'd be under the hammer in this sitation (he's already been interviewed [] and released). Indeed it is important to catch those that are guilty, but I don't feel it is going to damage Labour any more than they already are.

    I do find it quite hypocritical that the British Government have such power a
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CmdrGravy ( 645153 )
      There are quite a lot of things which amuse me about this whole episode:

      1) It's a Labour government being accused of selling Peerages when it is really only them who have ever been opposed to this idea.

      2) Various members of the Labour party moaning that Ruth Turner is a lovely lady and that its in extremely bad taste to go around to arrest her at 6AM in the morning with 4 police officers. This is a bit like saying to the police who are arresting you for a blatant crime "Don't you have any real criminals to
    • by DaveCar ( 189300 )
      It's a fairly minor point, but he wasn't "released" because he was never detained. "Mr Blair was not interviewed under caution and he was not accompanied by a lawyer, his spokesman said". Basically he was questioned as a witness, not a suspect (heh, yet ;).

      It would be funny (though I'm not suggesting likely, as the second part of the bill hasn't come in yet I believe) if Jack Straw got put in the position of having to provide a password/phrase for some account/key or other that he had either forgotten or ne
    • by aug24 ( 38229 )
      By the same logic, all fraudsters should not be charged if they agree to retire (with their ill-gotten-gains intact).

  • In fact (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:10PM (#17711140)
    Nobody has been charged as a result of this investigation. The official who was arrested was questioned on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and was later released.
  • by Byzboy ( 579547 )
    The British government is reaping what it has sown. Often the most dangerous people are the well-intentioned few who know no bounds when it comes to implementing things for our own good. To them the ends always justify the means. The government has given the police the power to search almost anything in almost any way they see fit so of they go biting the hand that feeds them.

    Must end have run out of cliches.

    • If they cry foul they will be hoist by their own "the innocent have nothing to fear" petard. A taste of their own medicine.
    • If even large accounting firms are bright enough to have some skills in 'forensic accounting' and so on, I'd be surprised if the whole UK police force didn't employ at least someone with hacking skills. The interesting ethical modifier is the get-out-of-jail card they have in using them. If they get caught on official business they just wave the badge and go their way. Likewise, they likely see its most distasteful sides. I wonder what affect this would have on their attitudes to hacking in their personal l
    • There should be no need to hack

      I think that the RIP act alows the police to demand your password.
      If you do not provide this information the sentance is a long term in gaol.

  • That doesn't sound like much fun.
  • by webvictim ( 674073 ) <gus AT webvictim DOT net> on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:13PM (#17711178) Homepage
    So the British government is trying to cover something up... quelle surprise.

    Actually, I shouldn't be shocked. They've lied about funding, the health service, taxes and just about everything else... they'd be the first to try and protect their own livelihoods when it came to the crunch.

    Is it just me, or is my country going to the dogs? Or is it just that there is no such thing as an honest politician?

    • We need to think up some kind of safeguards to protect politics from politicians as they are giving it a bad name.
    • >Is it just me, or is my country going to the dogs?
      Going? Wrong tense.
      What I find most sad is that when Blair et al first came to power, they were a genuine breath of fresh air compared to the previous Tory incumbants and for the first year/18months they did a lot of really good stuff. Somewhere along the line though they just turned in to carbon copies of those they replaced, if anything worse. I can't think of any aspect of the labour government which doesn't have a whiff of hypocracy, corruption or
    • by kentrel ( 526003 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:30PM (#17711438) Journal
      Is it just me, or is my country going to the dogs? Or is it just that there is no such thing as an honest politician?

      Maybe it's your Chicken Little attitude, and your tarring of all politicians with the same brush. No-one was charged or convicted with anything here, yet you've already jumped on a bandwagon and declared them guilty. Even if they are guilty that doesn't mean there aren't many more local politicians and MPs, etc who are really trying to make life better for their constituants.

      In a democratic society the politicans are the employees of the people. They are a reflection of the people's own strengths and weaknesses. If an employee in your company is suspected of stealing you don't declare all of your employees to be thieves, or would you? Politics is no different even if you're of the opinion that you're helpless and can do nothing.

      The fact that the police have no problem going to these measures to investigate possible criminal actions within the government is a sign that this country is far from "going to the dogs", and is exactly how a democratic country should be run, where the politicians live in fear of the people's disapproval, and not the other way around. I'm not afraid of anyone in Parliament - are you? We put them there, we can get rid of them. If they break the law, we'll deal with them. That's democracy.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by webvictim ( 674073 )
        Whether you are willing to admit it or not, the truth is essentially that politicians care about one thing and one thing only - and that is votes. Yes, they are scared about what the public think of them, so much so that they will go to any length to keep themselves the positions of power that they hold so dear. This is why they will lie, cheat and deceive in any way possible just to make themselves look good, or at least better than their rivals. There is no "none of the above" option on poll cards. What
    • The really funny thing is that everyone's known that this has been happening for decades, if not centuries (note the silence from the other parties). The thing that has got them in trouble and could potentially bring them down is the lengths they have gone to cover it up. We're only a couple of steps from Watergate UK, methinks.
    • by Ngwenya ( 147097 )

      So the British government is trying to cover something up... quelle surprise.

      Of course a government covers things up. It's got statutory authority to guard national secrets. What you mean, I guess, is that the government is covering up something which should be disclosed because of fear of embarrassment. In which case, I'll simply ask for your evidence (related to the honours for loans accusation) and await an answer. (Note: answers like "They're all at it", or "Everybody knows its true" don't count as evid

      • Or could it be that politicians are representative of the people, and thus can be both honest and dishonest?

        Or maybe they start that way, but once politicians they have power. Power corrupts... etc.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I live in Britain as well, but I'm a US citizen. I'm not sure if your country is going to the dogs, but looking at Westminster everything seems normal from my cultural perspective. Are the MPs not normally partisan jerks who lie during corruption investigations?
  • by TheCybernator ( 996224 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:19PM (#17711256) Homepage

    The police won't say what tools they have used
    Kidnapping. Torturing. Unknown Prisons. Britney Spears.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LizardKing ( 5245 )

      Britney Spears.

      Yup, someone holding my eyelids open so that I had to look at another picture of Britney's cellulite? Or that "upskirt" shot of her rather ravaged beaver? It would have me confessing to anything.

      • >her rather ravaged beaver?
        I keep reading about these shots of either her or Lindsey Lohan's 'angry beavers' from their recent commando nights out but I've never seen any. I clearly need to improve my Google skills.
  • by seanyboy ( 587819 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:20PM (#17711270)
    I'm guessing that the "hacking" that is being described is actually a standard analysis of the hard drive after the computer has been taken by the police as evidence. There's nothing unusual in this at all. They'll be looking for deleted files and examining the disk on a sector by sector basis. The Government (or a stupid journalist) is defining this as "Hacking" when in fact it's what the police do with all seized computers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by matt4077 ( 581118 )
      If you'd RTFA, you'd notice they're talking about "remote accessing of computers", which is exactly what the term hacking usually refers to. And no, don't even bother to explain the difference between hacking and cracking.
  • One aspect no-one has commented on, I'd have assumed that the Security Service would be closely monitoring the Number 10 ISP etc. to look for hostile intrusions... Why didn't they catch this?
    • by Xugumad ( 39311 )
      I could be wrong, but I believe the police are actually responsible for security at No. 10...
    • Bearing in mind that it is a government agency doing the "intrusion" and that they had to get authorisation first - they probably simply weren't flagged as "hostile".

      The "hacking" may well turn out to be connecting or logging on using an admin password legally obtained.

      I'm sure Number 10 has an IT admin (damn sure Tony doesn't do it himself) and fairly sure that said admin isn't exempted from RIPA compliance. If they went in under RIPA then (s)he's not necessarily allowed to even tell their superiors of th
  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:29PM (#17711410)
    all the passwords were "NigellaDoMe"
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Except for Tony Blair of course. But, fortunately one of the hackers finally thought of trying "Bush_Lapdog123".


  • by benhaha ( 456005 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:29PM (#17711416)
    That the escalation in the UK's police powers has gone too far.
  • So, in England there's none of that annoying 'Probable Cause' and 'Warrants' rubbish?

    It's nice to see rights being stomped on in another country for a change.
  • by Budenny ( 888916 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:37PM (#17711524)
    My sources tell me that, as usual, the most serious charges are related to secondary offenses.

    In the present case what is terrifying Government Ministers and senior figures in New Labour is that they may be charged with anti competitive behaviour and market manipulation - distorting the free market in peerages and other honours, and colluding with other honours suppliers. If the police start to suspect something like this has gone on, the Office of Fair Trading and the European Commission could get involved, and you know that when the Competition Directorate moves, terror strikes.

    It is truly tragic. Britain was always famous around the world as the country that operated the most open and transparent market for honours of all sorts. Its a great pity it has come to this.
  • Obvious! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Monday January 22, 2007 @12:58PM (#17711862) Homepage Journal
    One Westminster source said police inquiries seemed to have made a recent breakthrough. "Quite clearly, in the past few days, the police have found something quite significant, possibly a file dump of some kind," said the source.
    Of course it's all in the garbage file! Obviously, they've seen the film.
  • The police won't say what tools they have used.

    I'm sure it involved a large quantity of Xena tapes and Hot Pockets...

  • Update: (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ajehals ( 947354 ) <> on Monday January 22, 2007 @02:28PM (#17713264) Homepage Journal

    PC James Smith (now Lord Smith of Whitekirk) and Det Sgt Margaret Jackson (now Dame Jackson of Drumadoon) have said that nothing of interest was found. The supervising officer Det Insp Michael Parks (Now Lord Parks of Worth Matravers) stated that whilst nothing untoward had been identified, the procedures surrounding the "hacking" and its legality would be revised. "This revision is to be taken as the intrusion into downing street computers has caused undue distress and concern to members of the British government, and is therefore probably in contravention of the European Unions Human Rights Legislation" said a downing street media official Martin Smith-Spinalot. Lord Parks also noted that Mr John Hackeby, the home office official that had authorised the intrusion had been fired from the home office for theft of office supples and is in the process of being extradited to the United States due to his involvement in online gambling, terrorist funding and drugs trafficing, for which the US State department has said it probably has some sort of evidence, or could find some by strengthening or introduction legislation to allow it to do "anything it wants to do to fight bad things".

    (just in case anybody missed it, the above is fictitious and intended as light humour)

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