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Masked thieves storm into Chicago colocation (again!)

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The recent armed robbery of a Chicago-based co-location facility has customers hopping mad after learning it was at least the fourth forced intrusion in two years. They want to know how C I Host, an operator that vaunts the security of its data centers, could allow the same one to be penetrated so many times.

"I can't believe a datacenter has been broken into that many times," said Nick Krapf, president of Bloodservers.com, a startup game hosting provider, who said $15,000 worth of Dell servers were stolen in the October 2 heist. "What do you got to do to secure your facility for it not to happen? We're pulling all our equipment from all their other facilities."

In recent years, many IT administrators have found religion about installing security patches and deploying other measures such as intrusion prevention systems to keep criminals from accessing their systems and the data stored on them. The series of break-ins at C I Host is a reminder that safeguards must also extend to more mundane protections, including dead-bolt locks and steel cages.

CI Host likes to vaunt the security of its Chicago-based colocation facility, noting that safeguards include multiple layers of 24x7 security cameras, proximity card readers, biometric access controls and key pads, double-locking mantraps at data center entrance and 360-degree perimeter and roof surveillance. And yet, the same location has been the target of at least four burglaries or robberies since August 2005, according to police reports and former customers, some of whom say they lost sensitive data and hundreds of thousands of dollars in hardware.

Representatives from C I Host didn't respond to emails requesting comment for this story.

In the most recent incident, "at least two masked intruders entered the suite after cutting into the reinforced walls with a power saw," according to a letter C I Host officials sent customers. "During the robbery, C I Host's night manager was repeatedly tazered and struck with a blunt instrument. After violently attacking the manager, the intruders stole equipment belonging to C I Host and its customers." At least 20 data servers were stolen, said Patrick Camden, deputy director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department.

The Chicago location has been hit by similar breaches in the past, according to police reports. One report detailing an occurrence on September 23, 2005, recounts a "hole cut through the wall coming out onto the hallway of third floor." During a September 20, 2006 incident, an intruder "placed a silver + blk handgun to [victim's] head and stated 'lay down on the floor.'" The victim, a C I Host employee, was then blindfolded, bound with black tape and struck on the head with a weapon, according to the report.

To add insult to injury, C I Host representatives haven't been particularly quick to alert customers of the robberies. It took them several days to admit the most recent breach, according to several customers who say they lost equipment. According to James F. Ruffer III, support people told him his server was down because the company had a problem with one of its routers. Krapf, the Bloodservers.com president, said he was told the same thing, as did several people recounting their experience on this forum.

"From a business owner perspective, my reputation is worth more to me than money," said Ruffer. "The longer they waited the more money each particular person was losing. They should have been upfront and right on the ball." ®

If you have information about security breaches affecting C I Host or other data center operators, please contact Dan Goodin using this link.

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