The Lost Companies

Security troubles lead to disappearance of two established organizations in two months

2:00 PM -- In 1587, more than 100 British citizens were brought ashore at Roanoke Island, N.C., the first English colony in America. The colonists had hopes and dreams of building a new life in what was then one of the hottest emerging markets in the world.

In 1590, one of the colony's founders returned from a trip to England and found the settlement deserted. All of its inhabitants had disappeared, leaving only one word – "Croatoan" – carved in a tree. The fate of the so-called "Lost Colony" remains one of America's most puzzling unsolved mysteries.

Which brings us, inevitably, to the IT security market.

In the past two weeks, Dark Reading has brought you the stories of two organizations that disappeared from the Web in a fashion that is highly reminiscent of the Lost Colony. Two organizations that seemed to have hope and promise, that seemed ripe to thrive, suddenly disappeared with little more than a cryptic note.

This week's mystery is Whitedust Security, a once-promising news and research site that promised "uncut and unbiased" content and was busily planning a conference of black- and white-hat researchers in London next month. But the portal ran into industry criticism, and eventually ran afoul of key hacker groups, just as the early settlers in America ran afoul of the native tribes. (See Whitedust Security Site Shuttered.)

Today, Whitedust Security is completely closed. All that remains of its Website is a cryptic note that says, in essence, "You won." Its founders don't answer their phones; their emails are no longer valid. If anyone knows what really happened to Whitedust, they aren't talking.

This scenario is remarkably similar to the story we brought you two weeks ago, when Verus Inc., following a colossal IT blunder that left at least six hospitals' personal data exposed, closed up shop without a word to anyone. The once-bustling Website services company, which supported some 30 employees and as many as 60 major hospitals' sites, left only a phone message referring customers to another company. (See Medical IT Contractor Folds After Breaches.)

They could have at least taken a minute to carve a word or two on a tree.

The mysteries of these "Lost Companies" may never be fully solved, but they do prove one thing: It's easier to fold a Web business than it is to start one. An established Website may look solid and seem reliable, but you'd better look more closely than that. Unplug the server, unplug the phones, and the whole enterprise is gone in 60 seconds.

Did Whitedust disappear because it was attacked, or because of its own folly? As with the Lost Colony, we'll probably never know for sure. But "colonists" on the Web, particularly in the security space, should know that it's a lot better to make friends with the natives than to tick them off.

Just ask the folks on Roanoke Island.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading