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Guest Column

Has Hillary's Server Really Been Wiped?
By William Fankboner
Sep 18, 2015 - 2:12:30 AM

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I would have thought that by now someone with computer chops would have explained what 'wiping' a server is about. And then I began to investigate the subject myself and discovered it is a bit more complicated than I at first thought.

In case you haven't been following the story closely, when she was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted governmental business, much of it classified, on an unsecure private server operated from her home in upstate New York. Servers on the Internet are simply hard disks called 'blades' that store information much as it is stored on your computer's hard disk. A server may consist of an array of several 'blades' with huge capacity. If nothing else the following analysis will give you a general idea of the factors in play.

As everyone knows, there is more than one operating system out there in the cyber world and they all manage deletions and 'wiping' (so-called) in different ways. (This is apart from the operating systems that run mobile smart phones.) The three major operating systems are: (1) Unix (or some variation of it, like Linux), (2) the Windows operating system, and (3) Apple's operating system, OSX (based on the old Next OS and virtually identical to Unix).

Chances are Platte River Networks (and thus HRC's email server) is using a web server program called Apache and the Apache email client, the program that processes emails. Apache and its email program (or client) run under all three operating systems, Linux, Apple and Windows.

But let's look at the most popular system first, Microsoft Windows. This is the OS I work under and that 90% of the people reading this post use.

Under Windows, your email client, for example gmail.com, is under the control of some third party, in this case Google. When you delete an email under Google, it could be that you are deleting it from your hard disk, or from one of Google's servers, or both. It depends upon how long Google archives deleted email traffic, if at all.

Now here's where it gets interesting. If HRC's email client is on a server running Apache, the most likely scenario, then whether the server has been permanently 'wiped' would depend on how the various layers of software handle deletions. If HRC's technicians simply did a mass 'deletion' of 30,000 emails, then the emails are probably all recoverable, because 'deleted' files are simply transferred to a temporary folder or directory called a trash bin. And even if HRC purged her trash bin, the text of her emails is still on the hard disk somewhere.

If HRC's people did a 'high level format' of the server (hard disk), which only erases links to all files in the filing system, then the emails are also recoverable by anyone with modest technical skills. But if her techs did a 'low level format,' which overwrites every file, including email files, with zeroes, then those emails are gone, baby, gone.

But again, if HRC's Apache email client is anything like mine, then it's quite possible the emails are still available at some archive in the 'cloud' (even if her tech's did a 'low level format' of her server). Not to mention the fact that most mission critical data is also preserved offsite. (In other words, a responsible employee of a mission critical operation, usually in the IT department, will be tasked with hand-carrying a backup of all data home with them at regular intervals.)

Here's the kicker, and I'm amazed no one has mentioned this, because it is so obvious. Unless HRC was sending emails to other persons on her own server, she must have sent these emails to parties who were receiving and storing them on a State Department server or some other governmental server like the White House server. So theoretically they are all recoverable, assuming the recipients of her emails didn't 'wipe' their email archive using a 'low level format.' Moreover, this means claims of the Obama Administration that they didn't know HRC was using a private unsecure server are dubious at best.

The latest word from the Justice Department is that HRC's staff and other correspondents used unsecured private email clients like AOL and Gmail to communicate with one another!

Yikes!

Bottom line. Most of those emails are probably still out there somewhere... either archived on governmental, Gmail, and AOL servers, and on servers in the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation.

Well, Obama did promise his administration would be the most transparent of all time.

William Fankboner
Website
Copyright 2015 William Fankboner


Most recent article:

Our Pop Culture Society - Let's Hear It for Dennis Ritchie!
By William Fankboner
Apr 29, 2015

For those unfamiliar with Dennis Ritchie, you are using his software technology right now. He was the computer science wizard who invented the C programming language and (along with Ken Thompson and Brian Kernighan) designed the Unix operating system. Still baffled? These are the software technologies that freed computer power from mainframes for use in the desktop PC, like the Apple Mac, and that now run the Internet, Google, and information systems of the corporate world. Though a bit too technical to compete with the ephemeral glitz and glamour of Hollywood power agents or NASCAR heroes, they have an authentic industrial glamour of their own. Computer algorithms, those intricate skeins of logic that mimic the cognitive activity of the human mind itself, run the world we live in, and they are written in the C programming language (or in one of its many derivatives).


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