On September 10th, the immensely popular web domain hosting and registration service Go Daddy suffered a major crash, leaving both their site and millions of others inaccessible. Though the issue was largely resolved within the day, with a full recovery by the next morning, the effect of the outage was deeply felt. Hundreds called in demanding answers, only to be greeted with an automated message directing them to the site’s Twitter page. Some sites, perhaps the most prominent being the highly respected task management app Asana, say that they no longer wish to be affiliated with the hosting service. So how did this happen? Well, that’s still up for debate. I’ll provide the evidence and allow you to come to your own conclusion.

confused person at computer

Inside the Mind of an Internet Criminal

As with most breeds of criminal, hackers come in many varieties. There are those who simply find the practice fun or are able to extract some catharsis from the act of vandalism. Some just want the bragging rights. Defacing a website can be seen as the modern equivalent of leaving a graffiti tag as it feeds into the same urges, the desire for expression, for revolt, for disruption or simply a drive to leave one’s mark. Considering that Go Daddy hosts approximately five million webpages it would logically be a prime target for people such as these. However, there is another kind of hacker, the vigilante, a romantic notion certainly, the kind of person whose criminal actions stem directly from their concept of morality and a belief that their crime is necessary in response to the crimes of others. These are the kind of hackers who primarily fill out the membership of Anonymous, who last year were voted by Time magazine readers as the “most influential person” of 2012.

Anonymous Hacker Group Possibly Involved

Born on the imageboard 4chan, Anonymous is a group who primarily seek to combat online censorship and government observation. Anyone who believes in their message is welcome to join, and the group has no organized caste system, with no leader at the top and no centralized means of communication. Associating themselves with the image of unsuccessful terrorist Guy Fawkes (a whole three years before the release of the film version of V for Vendetta when everybody started doing it), the group has let fly some impressive displays of power in the nine years they have been active. Members of the organization helped police apprehend several criminals, including online child predator Chris Forcand, and instigated the shut down of child pornography site Lolita City. They have attacked sites which foster homophobic attitudes, including that of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. They launched major campaigns protesting the closures of file sharing sites Megaupload and the PirateBay. But, as combatants of internet censorship, it makes sense that one of their biggest campaigns would focus on the SOPA bill. On the day when the bill Anonymous launched an attack which left the sites representing Universal Music, the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Association of America temporarily down for the count. Considering the influence and size of these organizations, stopping there would have been impressive enough, but Anonymous was just warming up. That same day, government sites for the Department of Justice and the FBI fell as well. While hundreds of other sites blacked out in protest, Anonymous went ahead and targeted those who did not wish to do so voluntarily. One of these, a supporter of SOPA, was Go Daddy.

"...we have let our customers down and we know it."
Go Daddy CEO, Scott Wagner

So did Anonymous attack Go Daddy this time? Well, the organization has never been shy about claiming responsibility for their actions, so when they say their organization as a whole had nothing to do with this, I believe them. However, one rogue member, identifying himself only by his Twitter name, AnonymousOwn3r, says that he is responsible, and that he can take out Facebook and Google too whenever he wants. In one tweet he threatened to “put 99% of the internet in #tangodown.” He refused to discuss his methods and said that his motivations were not political, saying in his own peculiar brand of English that he’d “like to test how the cyber security is safe,” but he did make it clear that he was acting alone, saying “the attack is not coming from Anonymous collective (sic), the attack it’s coming only from me.”

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While at least one prominent member of Anonymous, AnonOpsLegion, congratulated AnonymousOwn3r on his work, most of the members who have responded have attempted to distance themselves from the situation, with one member professing his belief that the hacker’s actions could be potentially damaging to the group’s reputation, saying that he might be a “newbie to activism” and calling him “misguided.” Member AnonyOps jokingly posted “Godaddy technician trips over Ethernet cord, pulling it from edge router. Blames Anonymous.” to the group’s official Twitter feed. Overall, it appears that the majority of the group does not approve of AnonymousOwn3r’s actions. But were they his actions at all?

Go Daddy's Explanation

During the hours while Go Daddy was recovering they refused to disclose the reason for the crash, saying only that they were still both “investigating and working.” When the site did go back up however, they claimed that AnonymousOwn3r was, in fact, a liar, and that it had all been their own fault. They said that the issue was with “a series of internal network events that corrupted router data tables.” The organization’s current CEO said “we have let our customers down and we know it.” After such a sincere apology, can’t we just tie a ribbon around this thing and call it concluded?

Notable Conspiracy

Nope, not quite yet, for some feel there might be a minor conspiracy afoot. While their response seems genuine and their motives for taking the blame if a member of Anonymous really was responsible might seem unclear, there are those who believe Go Daddy is telling a bit of a fib. Are these accusers crazy, or maybe just bored? Perhaps, but I can see where they’re coming from. Would AnonymousOwn3r have reason to lie? Sure. Maybe he just wants attention, to boost his ego or to build a reputation. Perhaps he saw Go Daddy providing no reasons for the crash and no one else taking credit and decided it was safe to step in and claim it for himself. It might have even been a misguided attempt to further the mythical standing of Anonymous. He used vague language concerning his methods, responding to assumptions that he used a PERL script to attack the site by saying “I use it also but I used others scripts bots developed by me but I will not release to the public” and saying of his intentions with the site that “when I do some DDoS attack, I like to let it down by many days. It can last one hour or one month.” Such language could be indicative of a man who didn’t know what he was talking about, perhaps because he was lying, or it could simply be a protective measure. Regardless, Go Daddy has come under the wrath of Anonymous before, and it is certainly conceivable that a rogue member would have plenty of reason to attack them again.

On the other hand, we of course have Go Daddy saying that there is no truth to AnonymousOwn3r’s claims, and why shouldn’t we believe them? If they were hacked, would they have reason to cover it up? Well, let’s just say Go Daddy hasn’t had the best year. Sure, they’re still making an incredible amount of money, but their support of SOPA was highly damaging to their reputation. They eventually had to backpedal and stop vocalizing their feelings concerning the highly controversial bill amid threats from Anonymous and other hackers because so many websites were leaving their service in protest. Likewise unpopular was the video footage of CEO Bob Parsons (which he released himself and bragged about) shooting an elephant to death. Unsurprisingly, he resigned a couple of months ago. The man currently running Go Daddy, the one who released the apologetic statement quoted above, is simply manning the position until a more permanent replacement can be found. After so many shakeups it’s not so ridiculous to think that Go Daddy would rather not draw attention to an attack by an organization as well known (and as politically charged) as Anonymous. This is all not to mention that the site has been hacked before, in 2007 and 2009, and further successful attacks might make the company seem unreliable and insecure. If this were simply an internal issue, one which was corrected before its existence was even mentioned, that would certainly make the site’s users feel much more secure than an admittance that the site was hacked, it was hacked before and it might get hacked again. One thing is for sure: no matter who’s responsible, there are a lot of very unhappy Go Daddy customers out there.

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