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NOTE: Important amendatory material has been added at the conclusion of this post.
For the first time in well over a month, the Chicago Headline Club has a Web site. There's not much on it — going there is like going back 15 years to a much simpler time — but CHC will be slowly restoring content, which it must first vet for corruption.
The CHC Web site was shut down by its Web host provider, AxisHost, a few days before the April 23 Lisagor Awards dinner, which is far and away the most important event in the CHC year. AxisHost told the Fosdals that hackers had corrupted it. President-elect Hilary Fosdal tells me that AxisHost put the site back online until the dinner was past, but then shut it down again, and ignored her requests to open the site so she and her husband, Steve Fosdal, could go in and start examining the files. Without the Web host's cooperation, she tells me, "we cannot actually go in and touch any of our files."
But last Friday, June 18, Hilary Fosdal says, without warning, let alone an explanation, AxisHost reactivated the site. The Fosdals say they have only AxisHost's word for it that the site was actually hacked, but they have to assume it was. And they were appalled to think it had been put back online while still, presumably, contaminated. They told AxisHost to shut it down at once.
Compounding their frustrations, Hilary Fosdal says, was the $9.99 AxisHost drew from the CHC's escrow account for a month's services — a month that CHC was offline. "A paltry sum," says Hilary Fosdal, "but the message was that she took her time, knowing full well five weeks ago we were going to close the account."
Fosdal spoke of Tina Peters, president of AxisHost, who told me by email that "privacy rules" did not permit her to answer questions I'd sent her about the CHC account — such as the allegation that she'd charged CHC $9.99 for a month when its site was down. But she added, "I can tell you that the scenario you describe has not happened with any of our customers."
Hilary Fosdal is associate new media editor at the Law Bulletin Publishing Company. Her husband, who's done the heavier lifting in dealing with the CHC Web site, is an IT consultant.
They've found a new Web host, bluehost, and they're looking for help in the painstaking work of examining old files for corruption and salvaging what can be salvaged. They say they thought they'd found that help in a data analytics firm that quoted them a price of $2,000 to help create a new Web site, and another $8,000 to examine the old site's corrupted data base (with no promises that anything would be saved), but its four-week time line to get the job done was longer than they felt it should be necessary to wait.
So the Fosdals decided to get a new site up by themselves. Unfortunately, they were unknown to Network Solutions, the company where the CHC domain name, headlineclub.org, is registered. Fortunately, the Tribune's Jason Jedlinski, who once upon a time registered CHC there but hasn't been involved in the Headline Club's leadership in years, was able to put his hands on the necessary account numbers and passwords at home. On Monday he authorized a switch to Steve Fosdal. It was like putting a new name on a bank account.
On Wednesday, Steve Fosdal put the CHC Web site back online. A recently formed CHC digital committee that includes HIlary Fosdal is now responsible for adding content to it until it approximates the old site.
UPDATE: Hilary Fosdal has written to correct and clarify the above accounts, which she faults in several specifics. She writes that the CHC site was suspended by AxisHost after, not before, the Lisagor dinner. And she continues:
It was not until we submitted a support ticket through the AxisHost website that they notified us that our website had been compromised and that they had decided to shut down our site. The Headline Club site had been attacked by hackers. Steve and I arranged an appointment with AxisHost to gain access to our files in order to remove the hacks. During the security remediation we found at least three distinct malware files that had been installed by hackers. AxisHost kept our site up following our security remediation. Unfortunately and without warning, approximately a week later our account was suspended again.
We submitted another support ticket with the intent of getting access to our site files so we could clean them of any malware. We never received a response from AxisHost to our request and therefore had no ability to examine any files. Without access to our files we were unable to determine the nature, extent, or even the existence of any malware.
Our first request to close our account with AxisHost took place on May 23. The Headline Club account was not closed until June 23.
The Headline Club’s plan for the new site is not to ‘approximate the old site’, but to allow the digital media committee to determine the direction of any new content to best serve the CHC and members’ needs in the coming years.