SOME say it was an act of evil.
On the Queen's Birthday long weekend, a Melbourne IT company's hard drives were hacked and thousands of files and websites erased. Today that company, Distribute.IT, is dead - its business and reputation so trashed that its owners were forced this week to sell it to a competitor. Thousands of small Australian businesses whose websites it hosted are picking up the pieces.
The hacker obliterated 4800 websites in a lightning nighttime strike upon Distribute.IT
The hacker obliterated 4800 websites in a lightning nighttime strike upon Distribute.IT on June 11, leaving a message on the company's home page: ''owned by evil at efnet you mother f***ers need to get a clue before you run a business your security is horrible !!!!! the one and only evil at efnet i am back mother f***ers!!!''
Distribute.IT's clients quickly began screaming for answers, but it took the company 10 days to report - via a blog it had started to replace its own wiped website - how thoroughly it had been hacked. ''The overall magnitude of the tragedy and the loss of our information and yours is simply incalculable; and we are distressed by the actions of the parties responsible for this reprehensible act,'' it wrote.
Affected customers expressed sympathy but also anger.
''We've been dealing with them for three years, I know the owners personally and we've had zero communication from them,'' said Cheyne Johnstone, chief executive of VentraIP, one of Distribute.IT's largest customers, who had more than 8500 domain names hosted there. Although not erased, those domain names have been ''effectively frozen'' since June 11.
Marne Jakins, owner of a Queensland-based web design company for rural businesses, said her clients had been hit hard by the enforced downtime.
Milan Rajkovic of web hosting company Milan Industries, says he lost some of his own clients through the hacking episode. ''If your back-ups are gone, you're screwed. And obviously the disaster recovery plan they [Distribute.IT] had in place was not up to scratch.''
On Thursday web services company Netregistry announced it had ''acquired'' Distribute.IT. Netregistry chief executive Larry Bloch said he had no prior designs on a takeover, but the gravity of the crisis gave him no choice.
Netregistry's technicians are now salvaging what they can from the hard drives, prioritising the worst-affected customers.
Distribute.IT's former owners declined requests for an interview, but Mr Bloch said they were devastated and exhausted. ''This is just a tragedy for them.''