E-Mail at The Washington Post Disrupted by a Missed Payment
By Jacques Steinberg
Date: February 06, 2004
Source: The New York Times
Sometimes it doesn't take a hacker to bring down a computer network.
The Washington Post said yesterday that it had inadvertently allowed the registration for one of its Internet domain names - washpost.com - to expire. That lapse had the immediate effect of shutting down the e-mail system that reporters and other Post employees use to exchange messages with the world, something they were unable to do for much of the day.
In a message sent to newsroom employees over another computer server yesterday morning, Steve Coll, the managing editor of The Post, wrote that "Network Solutions, which manages Internet addresses, apparently notified The Post of the pending expiration via a drop-box that was not being monitored.'' Mr. Coll wrote that "all external e-mail has been disrupted and external senders are receiving delivery failure notices.'' In general, the cost of renewing an Internet domain name is under $100.
The Post said that it had been able to renew its registration for washpost.com by midmorning, before any outsider had a chance to lay claim to it. But the disruption to the newspaper's newsgathering efforts was significant enough that Post editors were advising reporters to set up temporary e-mail accounts using Yahoo and Hotmail.
In interviews, several reporters said the loss of e-mail made them realize how dependent they had become on technology to do their jobs.
"I know I'm missing things,'' one reporter said.
Another said that many people in the newsroom, especially those who believed they should be paid more, expressed regret that they had not "snapped up the domain name and parlayed it into the reward that they know they so well deserve.''
By 5 p.m. yesterday, the newspaper had restored some e-mail functions, a spokesman for The Post, Eric Grant, said, but did not yet have "100 percent e-mail capability.''
Mr. Grant declined to say if any of The Post's production operations or other Web services - including its main news Web site, washingtonpost.com, whose domain name did not expire - had been affected by the lapse.
The Post is not the first company to allow its registration to expire inadvertently. Last May, for example, Alameda Power and Telecom, a California utility, allowed its domain name to lapse through an oversight, The Contra Costa Times reported at the time, drawing complaints from nearly 100 customers whose messages to the company bounced back.
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