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Thieves take out Cable & Wireless centre

Locals claim scrap metal hunters crush websites

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Updated Cable and Wireless's Watford network site went offline at 1am this morning, after thieves apparently stole vital equipment.

Several Reg readers emailed us to report the outage when websites hosted at the Watford centre suddenly went kaput. They were told robbery or vandalism caused the downtime.

The outage has been blamed for tipping several major websites off the internet, including Sainsbury's and Ordnance Survey.

C&W told The Register: "Cable and Wireless have experienced unforeseen network issues that have regrettably had an effect on a number of our customers. We have deployed emergency engineers to investigate the issues and work to restore full service to our customers." The company said it could not answer further questions while investigations were going on.

No customer data was taken and thieves got into an unmanned network site rather than the actual data centre.

Data centres, despite their supposed security, are a favourite target for thieves. The most dramatic recent case was Verizon Business centre in King's Cross which was raided by thieves disguised as Met Police officers. They tied up staff and stole motherboards.

Kit stolen from Watford is believed to include Cisco 6509 switches and some routers.

Local rumours point to a theft of "scrap metal" from the Watford data centre, which locals say backs onto a holiday site. "The site was raided by police only last week, looking for scrap metal theft evidence," said one comms exec who lives nearby.

Internet service providers, however, have been told that the unmanned Watford data centre was broken into last night. "It's all hush-hush for the time being," said one source, "but we're hearing that all the cards for all the Cisco equipment on the site have been stolen."

Thefts of metal for resale as scrap have been highlighted by UK police forces, including British Transport Police, as the fastest growing area of crime they have to deal with. Copper wire for comms links is being replaced as rapidly as possible with fibre - but thieves, unable to tell the difference between fibre and copper, have apparently been pulling fibre out of the ground almost as fast as it is buried.

"It looks like the thieves, thwarted in their search for copper and lead, have targeted this unmanned building," said one Bucks resident this morning. "Whether they know where to sell Cisco networking cards remains to be seen, but this might not be the right time to go scanning eBay for bargains."

This morning marks the second major outage for Sainsbury's in the last month.

A message on the Sainsbury's website this morning read: "We are very sorry that you are unable to get access to our groceries site at the moment. This is due to a technical problem that our internet providers, Cable & Wireless, are experiencing.

"Our system is working fine, so we will be carrying on delivering all our orders today as usual.

"We are working with Cable & Wireless to restore our website access as quickly as possible. If you require any further assistance, please call our contact centre on Freephone 0800 328 1700."

The Financial Times was another casualty, with the raid leaving its website frozen.

Update

C&W sent us the following statement: “Cable & Wireless has experienced some network issues that have regrettably affected a number of our customers. The issues have arisen following a break-in at one of our network sites in Watford, during which some of our equipment was stolen. This has interrupted some of the services to customers for whom we provide managed hosting services.

"We are in the process of investigating the incident and have deployed specialist engineers to work on restoring full services to affected customers as quickly as possible. Delivering a great service to customers is our core priority, and we are working with those affected to minimise the impact on their businesses.” ®

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