Vulnerability

The policy that helped Anonymous hack AAPT

How vigilant is your host or public cloud provider?

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.

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.

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