How did five Doctor Who series 8 scripts end up online weeks before broadcast?

Our resident tech expert investigates how dozens of confidential documents about shows from Doctor Who to Call the Midwife cropped up on Google

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How did five Doctor Who series 8 scripts end up online weeks before broadcast?
Written By
Jonathan Holmes

Today’s sensational appearance online of five scripts from the new series of Doctor Who poses serious questions about BBC Worldwide’s web security. Dozens of scripts from popular TV series, as well as internal BBC Worldwide documents, were left available on the internet for anyone to see. 

Private servers for bbcmiami.com appear to have been left open to public indexing, allowing people to find the content using search engines like Google. As well as the Doctor Who scripts, RadioTimes.com has seen evidence of scripts and materials from shows including Call the Midwife, The Musketeers, Great British Bake Off and Top Gear among many others. 

Despite bbcmiami.com since taking their server offline, copies of many of the documents were still available to view in online caches this afternoon. Using basic Google searches, RadioTimes.com was able to freely download scripts and transcripts for shows including Call the Midwife and Great British Bake Off. However, at the time of writing the Doctor Who scripts were not available in this way.

The mishap also led to the release of internal documents including advertisements, internal file formats, technical manuals and even videos of television programmes. The cache also shows that video files were stored alongside the new Doctor Who scripts, but it can’t be confirmed whether these were the new episodes themselves. 

BBC Worldwide only opened its HQ in the Coral Gables area of Miami last month, to serve as a hub for all of its Latin American operations. The company was described recently as a “state-of-the-art business environment” that would serve as a “launch pad” in the area.

The Corporation's commercial arm issued a statement citing a “security issue” and said it was investigating. A spokesman refused to comment further on how long the issue had been going on, when it was noticed or whether any information on the server was deemed sensitive.

One theory the investigators will want to look closely at is that the documents were not stolen using sophisticated hacking techniques, but merely surfaced through Google searches after servers became public.

The Miami office refused to comment on whether they were responsible for bbcmiami.com or on any other matter when contacted by RadioTimes.com.

The BBC's statement in full read: “BBC Worldwide is currently investigating a security issue around Doctor Who Series 8 where unfinished material has inadvertently been made public. We deeply regret this and apologise to all the show's fans, the BBC and the cast and crew who have worked tirelessly making the series.

“We would like to make a plea to anyone who might have any of this material and spoilers associated with it not to share it with a wider audience so that everyone can enjoy the show as it should be seen when it launches. We know only too well that Doctor Who fans are the best in the world and we thank them for their help with this and their continued loyalty."

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