[ISN] Web hoster takes security to extremes

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 10:43:55 PST

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    By Larry Dignan
    Staff Writer, CNET News.com 
    January 11, 2002, 4:00 a.m. PT 
    Web-hosting company Advanced Internet Technologies is big on security.
    Not necessarily the firewall, virtual private network, virus detection
    type of thing. More like the barbwire, munitions closet and
    paratrooper type of security.
    The Fayetteville, N.C.-based company has razor-wire fences, windows
    painted black in some areas, and even a munitions closet with 12-gauge
    shotguns and 9-millimeter Beretta pistols. Its data centers are
    protected by 8-inch reinforced concrete and 24-hour guards. And those
    precautions were taken before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
    "Unless we put in anti-aircraft missiles, there's not a lot more we
    can do," said AIT CEO Clarence Briggs. "We don't screw around with
    Other Web-hosting companies have increased physical security,
    installing bulletproof glass, posting guards and the like, but most
    tend to stop at standard security measures such as limiting access to
    authorized employees. None seems to have gone as far as AIT, analysts
    "This company is doing a lot more than others when it comes to
    security," said Meena Almaula, a Web-hosting analyst at IDC.
    At Atlanta-based Interland, which has physical security for its
    servers and data centers, a representative said the Web-hosting
    company considers its biggest threat to be hackers. AIT, of course,
    makes use of security software to fend off enemies of that stripe.
    Other defenses at Interland include palm-scanning biometric systems,
    guards and video monitoring. Competitor Exodus Communications says it
    uses video surveillance, security alarms and motion sensors.
    Where every day is Veterans Day
    For AIT, physical security measures are used to deter trespassers, but
    mostly to foster a military culture where employees "like their guns
    and meat," a company representative quipped.
    In fact, 85 percent of AIT's staff has military experience, with many
    serving at Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, just outside AIT's
    headquarters. To most of AIT's military-bred employees, Briggs'
    security measures may make the company almost feel homey.
    Privately held AIT has three subsidiaries that provide Web hosting,
    training for information technology professionals, and Internet
    Protocol network services. It has 180,000 customers spread across the
    The company is profitable, Briggs said, and is ranked No. 28 in
    Deloitte & Touche's 2001 Technology Fast 500, which recognizes the
    fastest-growing technology companies in North America and their
    contributions. In its home state, AIT is the second fastest-growing
    technology company with a five-year growth rate of 22,241 percent,
    ahead of better-known Red Hat and RF Micro Devices.
    In February, AIT plans to launch voice and data services over its
    Internet Protocol network. When the network is complete, AIT will have
    a metropolitan network built around Fayetteville that it will use to
    market business and residential phone service and eventually video
    Although AIT's expansion into voice and data over IP services may seem
    a bit of a leap from its core Web-hosting and training businesses,
    Briggs seems confident it will pay off.
    "We've spent the money, thrown our shoulder into it, and are putting
    it up," he said.
    Executives at AIT say one of the keys to AIT's success is its culture,
    which revolves around military titles and structure. AIT is a place
    where tech buzzwords such as Java and C++ meet military terms such as
    "forward operator," jargon for an information gatekeeper on the front
    The privately held company expects about $30 million in revenue for
    2001, while other Web-hosting companies such as Exodus Communications
    have struggled.
    As far as tackling the tech sector in tough economic times, Briggs,
    41, and his company aren't fazed. "In our previous lives we've all
    done things significantly more difficult than this," he said. "We can
    get in the weeds and make it happen."
    Battle tested
    If Briggs sounds like a military man that's because he served in the
    U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division and is a veteran of Desert Storm.  
    He also lists freestyle wrestling as a hobby, has security clearance
    with the military, and dabbles in Mandarin Chinese.
    Briggs cuts to the chase pretty quickly, and there's a good reason for
    that: While many tech executives have only engaged in a war of words,
    AIT's head honchos have actually been to war.
    AIT's operating chief served in two wars and helped modernize the
    armed forces of the Philippines. The CFO was an aero scout in the 82nd
    Airborne and has more than 500 hours of flight time.
    The company's chief of staff is fluent in Polish and holds a
    top-secret security clearance with the U.S. government. And he's not
    alone. Other execs at AIT are also battle-tested (literally) and
    well-versed in just about everything imaginable, ranging from tae kwon
    do to underwater search and rescue.
    "The military is very bad at a few things, but it has the proper
    methodology down cold," said Sean McCoy, owner of Netrophia.com, a
    Brunswick, Ga., Web-design company and an AIT customer. McCoy said
    AIT's approach to business is familiar because it's based on military
    "It's easy to understand the chain of command," said McCoy, who served
    in the Army. Other customers contacted by CNET News.com also said that
    AIT's military-like style and operating methods are a plus for the
    Ken Marcus, owner of Precision Web Hosting in Vista, Calif., said that
    AIT's enhanced security may not be necessary, but he finds it apropos
    for a group of former military men. "It definitely fits with their
    culture," Marcus said.
    McCoy, who describes AIT's complex as a large facility with no
    "elaborate furnishings," said AIT brings back a lot of military
    memories. "There's a war room and a lot of military jargon being
    thrown around," he said. "They've taken the coolest part of the
    military and integrated it into their business."
    Briggs admits that some customers are taken aback by the metal
    detectors and other security precautions, but they come around pretty
    quickly. "They realize that we don't screw around with their data."
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