‘Deleted Entire Company With One Line of Code’ Claim Turned Out to be Just a Hoax

Message posted to the ServerFault forum claimed that the poster had deleted all files on his web hosting company’s servers – including backups – when he accidentally ran a misconfigured script.

Brief Analysis:
The man later admitted that the post was just a hoax. He told an Italian media outlet that the post was a ‘guerrilla marketing operation’ designed to promote his server management services startup.

I run a small hosting provider with more or less 1535 customers and I use Ansible to automate some operations to be run on all servers. Last night I accidentally ran, on all servers, a Bash script with a rm -rf {foo}/{bar} with those variables undefined due to a bug in the code above this line. All servers got deleted and the offsite backups too because the remote storage was mounted just before by the same script (that is a backup maintenance script).

Detailed Analysis:
Here’s the breakdown:

A user posted a message on the ServerFault forum in the hope of getting assistance with a major problem.  Supposedly, the man, who claimed to operate a small hosting provider with around 1535 customers, had accidentally deleted all data on the company’s servers when he ran a Bash script with a bug in the code. The man claimed the buggy code deleted all of his backups as well.

Other ServerFault users tried to assist, although the consensus was that there was not much that the man could do to recover from this monumental error. It was suggested that the man had managed to delete his entire company with just a single line of bad code. The mainstream media soon got hold of the story, and the man’s supposed plight was aired in news publications around the world.

However, it turns out that the whole story was just a hoax.  The man, one Marco Marsala, later told Italian news outlet Repubblica that the supposed company deletion never occurred.  He admitted that the story was just a joke. He further explained that it was a ‘guerrilla marketing operation’ designed to advertise his server management services startup. He also claimed that the code he included in the post was actually harmless but that none of the people who saw the post seemed to notice this.

Understandably, admins at ServerFault were not amused by the hoax and responded thusly:

It turns out the the recent question regarding the misuse of rm -rf in Ansible was actually just a hoax in some kind of viral marketing effort. It become quite famous on various media and gathered a large number of views.

Since I don’t think we should allow ServerFault to be abused in such way, I deleted the question once I learned about the hoax.

It remains to be seen how effective the hoax will be as a marketing ploy for the man’s company. But, it has certainly gained him a good deal of notoriety.

Deleted Company hoax

Last updated: April 18, 2016
First published: April 18, 2016
By Brett M. Christensen
About Hoax-Slayer

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