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The policy that helped Anonymous hack AAPT

How vigilant is your host or public cloud provider?

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Anonymous' theft of data from a dormant AAPT server might not have been possible had the telco used a different host.

AAPT has said the Cold Fusion server Anonymous accessed was, essentially, forgotten. In its un-patched state it was therefore easy meat.

One question the Anonymous incident therefore raises is just why the server was there at all. El Reg suspects that's been asked rather tersely within the halls of AAPT, and expects that the IT department there has probably not admitted that servers get lost all the time.

If you doubt that's a fact, consider the evergreen market for network discovery tools that scour a network and report back with a list of every piece of attached kit. Consider, too, the phenomenon of virtual machine sprawl, which raises its head when IT departments summon oodles of virtual machines into existence and then forget them.

Lost servers on a LAN aren't a big deal. But the Anonymous/AAPT incident shows hosted servers rather raise the stakes.

Which is why we decided to ask several hosting and cloud providers what they do when they see an orphaned server. Telstra, Optus and AWS have not responded to those queries.

But Melbourne IT, where AAPT's server resided, has, explaining its stance as follows:

In Melbourne IT’s hosting environment there are either active servers or decommissioned servers. Customers use their servers for different purposes, whether they be production environments, testing environments or disaster recovery services. Some servers could be kept on standby by customers for business continuity or for changing project demands; others exist for regulatory compliance where data needs to be stored for a certain number of years.

How customers decide to use their servers can change from month to month or year to year. How often the content on those servers is updated, or what content is stored on those servers, is at the customer’s discretion. Given such a wide range of usage by our customers, the concept of a ‘dormant server’ does not exist.

Therefore all active servers are treated as active unless we have received notice from the customer to decommission the service (or Melbourne IT decommissions the server due to a breach of contract by the customer). Decommissioned servers are removed from the active server pool and the data is erased.

In other words, if you forget about a server hosted at Melbourne IT and keep paying for it, the company will run it forever.

That's a contrast to the policy at Macquarie Telecom's public cloud outfit Ninefold, where Chairman and Co-Founder Peter James told us a rather different regime operates.

“If no activity has taken place for three calendar months, we contact the customer prior to the third month to indicate there has been no activity and that account closure is pending,” he wrote. “Then, at the customer’s request, their account is open or closed.”

Given the near-inevitability of the occasional absent-minded server loss, it therefore seems that being a customer of an outfit with a policy like Ninefold's is probably preferable to working with the kind of policies in place at Melbourne IT. ®

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