UnitedLayer COO: Giving access to InterCage is an issue of ethics

Richard Donaldson, COO of co-location provider UnitedLayer, knows that his new client InterCage is unpopular. It's just that he's not sure that hosting botnets, malware, and spam services deserves a lifetime of incarceration.

Because that is, Donaldson says, effectively what it means to cut off InterCage (a.k.a., Atriva) from the net community in this day and age.

"Data centers are becoming the information plants for the information age," said Donaldson, whose firm re-admitted Emil Kacperski's notorious service to the land of the net-living after what the COO termed "challenging and lively discussion," not to mention the actual pulling of plugs on InterCage's stinkiest servers.

But ethically, he doesn't believe that InterCage's past offenses -- which include serving as a major source of botnets, malware, spam and other net-junk -- merit the ultimate punishment, though he points out that InterCage may have already self-administered its own doom, since it "may not be in business much longer" with its net reputation in tatters.

There's no Internet body that enforces penalties for suspected evildoers; neither blacklists nor blocks have the force of law, and the law itself is an international patchwork on the subject. But when company after company dropped relations with InterCage in the wake of multiple reports documenting its shady dealings, suddenly UnitedLayer (which previously had a co-location agreement with the troubled firm, and prides itself on its "technocratic oath" to Do No Technical Harm) was the last firm willing to work with it. That essentially gave Donaldson's people the power to send InterCage dark or, as he chose to do, stick InterCage in a sandbox and watch it like a liability lawyer watches a hyperactive two-year-old.

"It's house arrest," says Donaldson, who told Kacperski that although "what you've done in the past is the past," strict monitoring, rigid adherence to UnitedLayer's Acceptable Use Policy, and diligent response to any complaints was required to keep InterCage online. "Our partners are actively watching" for trouble, he told BetaNews. He noted that while none of his other clients have raised a fuss about the new neighbor, one of the firm's upstream providers (Global Crossing) has chosen to block the IP addresses assigned to InterCage.

It's not that Donaldson is unclear about the things InterCage has done, and as a knowledgeable person in technology, he finds certain of InterCage's actions hard to understand. He quizzed InterCage's proprietors about the reports' findings, and says that though he tends to take the owners of the company at their word, he finds it hard to believe they didn't know about the mayhem they brought about.

That's not the question, he says. This is: As a provider, what is the ethical thing to do in this situation? Can people reform? Can they stay reformed?

Donaldson told us that UnitedLayer made it clear to InterCage that there will be "no latitude" on behavior -- queries and requests must be answered, the firm's activity must be monitored, the data for InterCage's skankier former clients must stay deleted, and the server on which Donaldson saw Kacperski physically pull the plug must stay out of commission.

But, Donaldson noted glumly, there's already a difference between the would-be reformed service and those bad guys who mean to stay bad. Just six hours after Kacperski pulled that plug on that notorious machine, one service it hosted -- Esthost, the reviled malware-and-junk outfit currently believed to be based somewhere in the Baltic region -- was back online via two new services.

InterCage's Emil Kacperski was unavailable for interview.

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