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Fox News and their BS explanation of Hillary Clintons Mail Server

Posted on Aug 22, 2015 by Paul White

Ask any Tech Guy that actually works in tech, and they will often be annoyed by things like hacker movies, due to the drama of things that do not happen or do not exist, and the technical inaccuracies make us want to just turn off the TV or walk out of the theater.  Fox News has taken it to the next level with a attempt of explaining what a server is, and trying to relate it to Hillary Clinton's Mail Server.  Allow me to point out all that is wrong with this discussion.

If you didn't see the original video you can watch it over at Fox News here


Inaccuracies of Fox News Email Server Explanation

Granted I understand that Fox News can't talk about computers in a context that is worthy of a techical discussion. To do so would cause their base viewers ( OLD PEOPLE ) to get stressed and change the channel.  However due to the way Fox has presented this article OLD PEOPLE will now go about living their lives assuming that all servers look like rack servers, they all have 3.5" hot swap drives, and they all cost $20K dollars, and they would also assume that Hilary must have been running her server on similar hardware.

The Case

What you see is a 1U rack server, they are designed to fit into a storage / server rack.  These racks typically stack 42 servers on top of each other like pizza boxes.  They also come in 2U, 3U and larger sizes, which are just 2x or 3x as tall.  The bigger the box the more hardware you can fit into it.  However its important to point out that even though its a 1U rack server,  Its really just a computer. its no different than your desktop at home.  It has a CPU or 2, RAM, Disk Drives, a Motherboard, Network ports, and power supplies.  The only difference is all the hardware is designed to fit into a 19" Rack Server box that is only 2 " tall.  Don't assume anything that looks like this is a server. The expert on the show stated that this is what they should have been using to run their mail server software.  Of course most people will miss this part, and assume that this box is what Hillary's Server looked like.

What is a Server?

A server is not a computer.  A server is defined by the role it plays in your home or business.  Software is what makes a computer a server, not the hardware.  A Mail Server can send and receive email communication.  Once again this is just software.  Mail Server Software can be installed on just about anything.  Microsoft's Exchange Server,  Smarter Tools SmarterMail, Webmail, ext..   Even though the industry has gotten comfortable with calling anything inside a 19" x 2" rack mount case as server, technically its not correct.

You need a new expensive sever to run a Mail Server.

There are servers still in operation today that are well over 10 years old.  It doesn't take that much power to run a mail server.  Especially for an organization as small as Hillary's.  I used to run 500 email accounts on a 12 year old server, that was also managing a web server, stats server, and database server.  Assuming you could get a static IP from your Carrier and clearance for port 25, you could in theory run a mail server from a late 90s smart phone.

Servers cost $20,000

That number was thrown around to once again impress old people.  If you went to Dell, or HP, or Cisco and bought a brand new server with the most high end components sure it might cost $20,000.  But for the most part servers are CHEAP!!!  You can get a server that looks just like that for under $500 on ebay.  On top of that I can tell that this server is an older model as most servers have gone towards 2.5" hotswap drives, and use SSD drives and not regular platter based hard drives. What he pulled out of the front of the server was a 3.5" drive, not the newer 2.5" drives, and I could tell it was not an SSD.  In which point there would be no reason to run the hottest Xeon chips since he is bottlenecked on his Hard Drives IO.  Only half the memory banks were full as well.  This server was likely an old dinosaur, and not one of the new cutting edge units that might warrant a $20K price tag.

Servers are always in datacenters

You can run a server from anywhere that you can get a static IP address and clearance for port 25.  Many ISPs will block outgoing port 25 traffic so people can't use their home internet connect to run a mail server. They bundle things like port 25 access, and static IPs on their business class internet plans which often cost 3X as much, when they really shouldn't.  Assuming you can get around the IP and Port issues you can run a server from anywhere. Your Home, Your office, or a Datacenter.  The truth is a 1U rack server is the last thing you would want running in your home. The reason is they have high RPM fans to keep the CPUs cool.  They sound like Jet engines winding up, and aren't much quiter once they are up and going. Most servers of this type are in datacenters. From what I have read about Hilary's server it was running from an Mom and Pop Hosting company out of Denver, and not in a high security datacenter.  

Wiping the data

When you delete a file or even a partician, the data doesn't really go away.  Its still there, but the index is no longer there.  There is recovery software that can often restore your data after the contents have been deleted, assuming those sectors have not already been over written with other data. When you want to truely wipe your data, you zero write out your drives. This involves taking all sectors that no longer store data, and turning all the bits to zeros.  There is free software that allows you to do this, though doing this does take a long time, even days depending on the size and speed of the drives. But even this is not 100% wiping the data.  Law Enforcement has a advanced tools that can analize the individual bits to determine what data was once stored there. Deleting a file is like using an eraser. There is going to be a smug remaining showing something was there.  The more your write and erase on that area of the paper, the harder it will be to tell what was once written there.  The same goes for disk storage.  The more times a sector has been written to the less likely a chance that any advanced tools can retrieve what was once stored there.  

Law Enforcement makes a copy and analizes the copy

This is absolutely incorrect.  Law enforcement does not show up with spare drives and then hang around your home or office making copies of your drives.  They take the drives and the computers.  Even though the data is digital.  Deep analysis tools will often look at the bits at the analog level.  You can't clone the analog parts of a disk.  Also if this was a real server, the data is likely stored on a RAID array in which multiple disks are used to provide fault tollerance.  You can't just pull a single disk out of a RAID array and retrieve any data.  You would need to pull all disks in the array.

Hilary also running server out of her New York Home

Turns out Hillary had her IT guy install a server in her NY Home.  Many people wonder how did she do this?  You can run a server from anywhere.  All it takes is a call to your ISP to get business class internet access which will open port 25 and give you static IPs.  This change is usually just flipping a switch at the carrier's end.  They might need to give you an updated Modem / router depending on what features you need, but typically any DOCSIS 3 modem will work just fine.  To make things worse her IT guy plans to plead the fifth, which indicates he knew setting up the server for Hilary fell into a very grey area.  But then the real question is this.  Is the Devil's IT guy as guilty as the devil?  My thoughts are No.  He was hired to setup a server, to communicate email which is very legal.  The responsibility falls on Hilary who's job is to know the law surrounding email communications. She has a Law Degree, is intelligent. Nobody is going to buy she doesn't understand technology.  


Fox News wants to give their viewers a visual reference when discussing Hillary's Server.  Thats nice for the viewers, but unfortunately its going to leave many viewers with misconceptions on technology.  

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