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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Network Solutions Knocked Down Again

MySQL problems to blame for customers' website editing and permission change problems, says hosting provider, but users suspect more nefarious cause.

Network Solutions customers have been facing further access problems, following last week's distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the hosting company's servers.

Last week, Network Solutions reported that bigger-than-usual DDoS attacks had been responsible for making its corporate website, as well as multiple sites it hosts, inaccessible on July 17, for which it apologized two days later. The company manages more than more than 6.6 million domains, provides hosting services, registers domain names and also sells SSL certificates, among other services.

This week, multiple customers have reported being unable to access their sites or alter file and folder permissions. The company flagged those problems Monday via Twitter, as it responded to reports that MySQL-using customers were having problems accessing or editing their websites. Tuesday, the company tweeted: "For customers reporting a 403 error: We expect the issue to be resolved within 2 hours," and soon offered a fix, in the form of a link to a Network Solutions website page offering instructions for resetting file-access permissions.

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Via Twitter, multiple customers reported that the fix had worked. Others, however, said that the fix appeared to work only temporarily, if at all. "Still have problems with MySQL. Reset permissions didn't help. Seems slower after," tweeted one customer. Others said they were having difficulty accessing FTP sites or their websites.

One InformationWeek reader, a network engineer named "Brentt G" -- his employer declined to have its name cited for this story -- emailed Tuesday night to suggest that the file-permission problems appeared to have been the result of attack and compromise of systems at Network Solution, which is owned by Web.com. "This time it is not a DDoS attack tho, their servers have actually been compromised," said Brentt. "Hackers have rooted the servers used for Web hosting and have changed all the chmod permissions on website files to deny access to everything, even the server itself, so all customer sites are simply saying '403 access denied' when you try to view them." (Chmod, for "change mode," refers to the Unix command for changing file and folder permissions on a Web server.)

Brentt said that at least for him, the suggested fix wasn't sticking. "When you login and fix the permissions manually for a given site, within five minutes they are reset to 'access denied' and broken again," he said. "There is either a script running wild that is changing the permissions repeatedly, or the hackers are still in the servers, doing it actively at this moment. We have three customers who use [Network Solutions], so I am connected with the issue directly."

A Web.com spokesman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment about whether Network Solutions' permissions problems were the result of an attack or compromise of any of its systems, whether the problems had yet been fully resolved, and what was being done to prevent a recurrence.

As of early Wednesday afternoon, the website for "netsolhost.com" -- a Network Solutions hosting website -- also appeared to be unreachable. In online comments, some customers suggested that outage had begun Tuesday.

Will the technical challenges facing Network Solutions lead some customers to defect? Another InformationWeek reader, faulting the company for not reaching out directly to customers -- rather than just via Twitter or the corporate blog -- after last week's DDoS attacks said he's shopping for a new hosting service. "Regardless of whether or not they had the ability to communicate at the time of the attack, they eventually should have reached out to customers as soon as it was possible," he said. "We will likely be moving our services ... since it seems like Network Solutions has had this issue multiple times and, at least from my interaction with them, do not seem that concerned about it."

[ Update: Throughout Wednesday, Network Solutions customers reported rolling domain name system (DNS) outages. But Web.com said that by Wednesday evening, the problems had been fully resolved. "The 403 error was related to changes made to the system by Network Solutions," said spokesman John W. Herbkersman, via email. Asked what the company had done to prevent a recurrence, he replied: "We continually strive to improve our processes and change controls to minimize any impact on our customers." ]

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