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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

F.B.I. seizes web servers, knocks sites offline

Instapaper and Curbed Network are among the sites hit, though the cause of the raid is unknown


By VERNE G. KOPYTOFF nytimes.com



updated 6/21/2011 10:30:20 PM ET
6:16 p.m. | Updated Adding that the F.B.I. did not comment.
6:55 p.m. | Updated Adding comments from Curbed Network and Instapaper.
7:35 p.m. | Updated Adding comment from DigitalOne.
9:22 p.m. | Updated Adding additional comments from DigitalOne.

The F.B.I. seized Web servers in a raid on a data center early Tuesday, causing several Web sites, including those run by the New York publisher Curbed Network, to go offline.
The raid happened at 1:15 a.m. at a hosting facility in Reston, Va., used by DigitalOne, which is based in Switzerland, the company said. The F.B.I. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the raid.
In an e-mail to one of its clients on Tuesday afternoon, a DigitalOne employee, Sergej Ostroumow, said: “This problem is caused by the F.B.I., not our company. In the night F.B.I. has taken 3 enclosures with equipment plugged into them, possibly including your server — we can not check it.”
Mr. Ostroumow said that the F.B.I. was only interested in one of the company’s clients but had taken servers used by “tens of clients.” 

He wrote: “After F.B.I.’s unprofessional ‘work’ we can not restart our own servers, that’s why our website is offline and support doesn’t work.” The company’s staff had been working to solve the problem for the previous 15 hours, he said.
Mr. Ostroumow said in response to e-mailed questions that it was not clear if the issues would be resolved by Wednesday.
It is not clear what the F.B.I. was looking for, or whether the raid was in response to recent attacks by hacker groups on corporate and government sites.
A government official who declined to be named said earlier in the day that the F.B.I. was actively investigating theLulz Security group and any affiliated hackers. 

The official said the F.B.I. had teamed up with other agencies in this effort, including the Central Intelligence Agency and cybercrime bureaus in Europe.
The sites of the Curbed Network, including popular blogs covering real estate, restaurants and other topics, were all unavailable Tuesday evening. Lockhart Steele, Curbed’s president, said his team realized that the company’s sites were down at around 3 a.m. and contacted DigitalOne. After initially declining to say what had happened, DigitalOne explained that the F.B.I. had raided the data center, Mr. Steele said.
“Our servers happened to be in with some naughty servers,” he said, adding that his sites were not the target of the raid. Curbed is working to get its sites back online, probably by Wednesday.
The raid also affected a server used by Instapaper, a popular service that saves articles for later reading. Marco Arment, Instapaper’s founder, said he lost contact with a server hosted by DigitalOne early on Tuesday. Instapaper’s Web site is still operating but has slowed somewhat. Mr. Arment said he had not heard from DigitalOne or law enforcement, and had no reason to believe that Instapaper was a target of the raid.
Pinboard, a bookmarking site, was operating on a backup server and some of its features were turned off, a post on its site said.

DigitalOne provided all necessary information to pinpoint the servers for a specific I.P. address, Mr. Ostroumow said. However, the agents took entire server racks, perhaps because they mistakenly thought that “one enclosure is = to one server,” he said in an e-mail.
DigitalOne had no employees on-site when the raid took place. The data center operator, from which DigitalOne leases space, passed along the information about the raid three hours after it started with the name of the agent and a phone number to call.
Before learning of the raid, Mr. Ostroumow, who is in Switzerland with the rest of his team, thought the problem was a technical glitch.
Nick Bilton contributed reporting.
This story, "F.B.I. Seizes Web Servers, Knocking Sites Offline" first appeared in the New York Times.

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times

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