In a tiny cell in the Tower of London, four spies languish in perpetual twilight. Every so often one twitters into life, parroting the state secrets he learned while squatting on the desk of some Whitehall mandarin, until a couple of Beefeaters kick him into silence.
Because Igor Furbski of the KGB, Mohammed el-Furbih from Islamic Jihad, republican hard-liner Begorrah O'Furby and the Red Army's Lee Kee Furbee have been rumbled. Following a tip-off from the US National Security Agency (NSA), MI5 has had a purge of desk-dwelling soft toys. Next door are six Microsoft Barneys, while across the hall a dozen furry dice are being urged to change their spots.
A touch far-fetched? Not according to the NSA, which has banned all Furby toys from its headquarters because they can record and repeat human speech. Security consultancies have already spotted a fresh market and are positively vetting thousands of bears, bunnies and Buzz Lightyears.
In Silicon Valley, three startup companies are working on an encryption system for Furbish - as if it weren't incomprehensible already.
The trouble with security is that people's concerns about it are usually inversely proportional to their understanding. This is nothing new. Our ancestors assumed that reclusive old women were witches, strangers meant dangers and any kind of mental or physical oddity must be the work of Beelzebub.
Today's benighted ignoramuses believe that industrial spies lurk in every office car park with detector vans, scanning the words on users' PC screens; that nameless hackers conscientiously read every unencrypted email message and that every floppy disk and email attachment is infested with hardware-crippling viruses.
It does no good to remind them that the detector vans would do better to try to read the passwords written on the Post-it Notes stuck to the users' screens. Or that most unencrypted email is about football and that the virus most likely to damage their company is flu.
It's no use pointing out that the biggest IT security risk faced by businesses is power failure, followed by user error and Lan failure or that hardware theft, staff misuse and operator error also feature in the top 10 risks (according to the National Computing Centre's 1998 Business Information Security Survey).
Suggest that they spend less of their millennium bug budget needlessly updating PC Bioses and more on ensuring their suppliers and customers will still be in business and they will just stare blankly. And as for warning them about backups, contingency planning and disaster recovery steps, you might as well be talking Furbish for all the notice they'll take.
Still, at least one group of activists is pleased at the distraction caused by the Furby scare. Haven't you ever wondered why the Teletubbies have aerials on their heads? Or thought that 'eh-oh' sounds suspiciously like a call sign?
Paul Bray is a freelance IT journalist.
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