Outage and data loss at Web Hosting Canada still unexplained

Montreal-based service provider Web Hosting Canada has still not explained the cause of a major incident Saturday that took customers on eleven of its servers offline, with the loss of data on five of the machines. Only two of the servers have so far returned to service.

As of Monday morning the company was not still answering its phone. Instead it directed callers to use its online chat service or create a customer support ticket.

It’s unknown whether the incident was a technical problem or a cyber attack.

On its website the company said five of nine servers had both their local storage and their external backup storage “heavily damaged.”

In a posting Sunday night at 11 p.m., it said its initial data recovery efforts on these five servers were unsuccessful. Attempts to recover the backups for them also failed. The company has now engaged an external data recovery firm to assist.

This morning the company said recovery of four servers is proceeding. As of 9 a.m., a server named “Beaubien” was at 88 per cent, “Peel” and “Atwater” were at 65 per cent, while “Rachel” was at 64 per cent. (Customers would know the names of their servers.)

In a posting Sunday night the company said it hopes to fully recover all accounts on these servers from backups “by end of day Monday, and hopefully sooner.”

For those with local backups of their websites and/or data and who are able to upload the files, a fresh account on a new server will be created.

For those who have no local backups “we’re now recommending that all affected clients that have experienced data loss consider using a new, temporary hosting account that’s already created in their client area” in a service dubbed Lifeboat.

Once these customers’ domains are linked to the new account it will operate as their previous email and website hosting accounts did. “These accounts will remain free of charge until at least January 1, 2022 and are intended as a stopgap measure until a more permanent solution is found,” the company said.

UPDATE: On Sept. 13 WHC said its recovery efforts “have proven highly effective and we have been successful at restoring most impacted accounts through our courtesy backups.”

“Some of the data we recovered may have been corrupted,” it added. “The level of data corruption we have seen so far is minimal. However, even a small level of data corruption might prevent a website from functioning fully.”

Privately-owned Web Hosting Canada offers a range of services including web hosting for both businesses and resellers, cloud servers, dedicated servers and managed WordPress hosting, website virus protection, creation of SSL certificates and more, with servers in several parts of the country. The company founder and CEO is Emil Falcon.

Its home page says the company is “trusted by over 60,000 Canadian small businesses.”

The first statement about the incident the company made on its website was on Saturday at 1 p.m., when it said,  “We can confirm that multiple systems are impacted by a major incident right now. We are attempting to recover source data and restore service functionality and will post updates as soon as they become available.” Eleven of 13 systems were down.

By 3 p.m. Saturday it was working on backups from four servers. By 7:50 p.m. the company warned five other servers had suffered “more severe data loss” than others. At that time it also told customers who had their own backups that new accounts could be created.

By Sunday morning data from two servers had been fully recovered and were operating normally, with recovery of four more continuing. But later that morning the company said the external backup servers of the five troubled systems were “partially destroyed.”






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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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