FBI Snatches Web Servers as Scotland Yard Arrests Alleged Hacker

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Of all the server hosting contingency plans on the books, here’s one you probably missed: web server takedown and seizure by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It just happened in Reston, Virginia on Tuesday, though at this point it’s anyone’s guess why. All we know is that the timing coincides with yesterday’s reported arrest by U.K. police of a 19-year-old alleged hacker at his home in Wickford, Essex, a small village a few dozen miles east of London. U.K. authorities implied the arrest was related to recent corporate and governmental hack attacks by groups like LulzSec and Anonymous, writing “The arrest follows an investigation into network intrusions and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against a number of international business and intelligence agencies by what is believed to be the same hacking group.”

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The New York Times reports that the FBI hit the Virginia-based server hosting facility at 1:15 a.m. on June 21st and made off with a pile of computers. The site was apparently used by Zug, Switzerland-based “internet business solutions” company DigitalOne AG. According to DigitalOne’s “about” page, the company “specializes” in “High-End Dedicated Servers.” The company’s website was unresponsive this morning.

“In a market that is becoming increasingly saturated with companies offering dedicated server solutions, what [sic] DigitalOne stand out from the rest?” reads the company’s branding pitch (from a cached Google page). “We use the latest industry technology to offer the most reliable and professional service possible, at some of world’s most competitive rates, with unparalleled level [sic] of technical support.”

Digital One’s CEO Sergej Ostroumow outed the FBI’s involvement yesterday, telling the Times the outage was the FBI’s fault. “In the night F.B.I. has taken 3 enclosures with equipment plugged into them, possibly including your server — we cannot check it,” wrote Ostroumow in an email to one of his clients.

The FBI was only interested in one of DigitalOne’s clients, said Ostroumow, but grabbed a bunch of servers hosting other clients anyway. Ostroumow branded the FBI seizure “unprofessional” and said his company’s been working to solve the problem since. It’s hard to imagine recovering from a situation in which entire server racks are abruptly shut down and hauled off site. Any RAID-related realtime backup benefits would evaporate with disk seizure, and the only way to restore service would involve building completely new servers and restoring data from the most recent backups (assuming those weren’t taken as well).

The impact on DigitalOne’s client base is substantial, affecting multiple blogs, a service called Instapaper that lets users save articles to be read later, and bookmarking site Pinboard.

Why’d the FBI reportedly make off with so much redundant computing gear? Ostroumow suggests the FBI didn’t know the difference between a single server and an “enclosure,” which harbors “racks” of multiple servers.

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