Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Oct. 21, 2020

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Epik buys Vancouver-based BitMitigate

Both have provided services to far-right, neo-Nazi groups

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:

Vancouver-based cybersecurity company BitMitigate has been acquired by Epik, a web hosting company and domain name registration service.

In a video announcing the acquisition on Thursday, Epik CEO Rob Monster praised BitMitigate’s security services for “giving you solutions that are comparable to the likes of (industry leader) Cloudflare at a fraction of the cost.”

BitMitigate offers protection for websites from a host of online threats including Distributed Denial of Service attacks, which attempt to crash websites by overloading them with traffic requests. The company offers a suite of website security tools in free and paid subscription plans, with the goal of providing enterprise-level online services to mass-market customers.

“It makes the website faster and more secure, and gives the owner more control over how it works,” said BitMitigate founder Nicholas Lim.

Lim was 19 when he founded the company in 2017, and it’s grown to a team of more than 10 people. Lim estimates the company’s clients receive a combined 50 million page views per month. BitMitigate doesn’t have a physical location, he said — each team member works out of a home office.

BitMitigate will continue to operate as a wholly owned division of Epik, according to the announcement, and Lim will become Epik’s chief technology officer. BitMitigate’s day-to-day operations will remain largely unchanged, according to Lim, but the merger will allow the company to continue to grow within Epik, which is located in the Seattle area. Lim declined to say how much Epik paid to buy BitMitigate.

One thing that was not mentioned in Monster’s video: the acquisition brings together two companies that have each made headlines in recent years for providing services to far-right and neo-Nazi websites that have been dropped by other providers.

Domain registration company GoDaddy and cybersecurity company Cloudflare kicked neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer off their services in August 2017 after the site posted an article mocking Heather Heyer, the woman killed during protests in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.

Not long after, BitMitigate began providing security services for The Daily Stormer, taking over the role that had been held by Cloudflare.

In an article posted on BitMitigate’s website at the time, Lim stressed that his company did not create or endorse any of The Daily Stormer’s content. But he condemned the idea of corporations having the power to regulate or censor content, and characterized his decision to help the site as a commitment to free speech.

“The question isn’t whether or not the content at The Daily Stormer should exist, but rather whether or not it is the responsibility of technology companies to be consistent in defending the right to freedom of expression enshrined within our constitution,” he wrote.

Monster offered a similar rationale in November 2018 when Epik became the new registrar for Gab, a social media site that is frequented by white supremacists and doesn’t ban hate speech.

GoDaddy and several other online service companies dropped their support for the site after it was revealed that the alleged perpetrator of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was a frequent Gab user and had authored numerous anti-Semitic posts on the site. Eleven worshippers were killed in the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, 2018.

Websites need a registered domain name in order to be reached by online users, so GoDaddy’s decision resulted in Gab temporarily disappearing from the internet. But the site came back a short time later when Epik became Gab’s new domain name provider.

In a blog post on Epik’s website, Monster described the decision as a nonpartisan free speech issue, arguing that “de-platforming” actions taken by GoDaddy and others were tantamount to “digital censorship.”

Hate speech

In media interviews, Monster has said he does not support the views of the websites he hosts, and has expressed confidence that Gab’s operators will use good judgment when curating the site.

But in a January post on its Hatewatch blog, the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote that Monster’s willingness to host Gab and similar websites means that he is “cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving.”

BitMitigate and Epik weren’t the only groups debating freedom of speech on the internet in the wake of The Daily Stormer and Gab incidents. After Cloudflare dropped The Daily Stormer, the security company’s CEO said the decision was a difficult one and expressed discomfort with the notion of online service companies acting as arbiters for content.

The nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation agreed with his comments in an article posted by the group’s leaders, warning that although providers do have a First Amendment right to choose their customers, the decision to drop The Daily Stormer could set a dangerous precedent.

“All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country,” the group wrote. “But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.”

Lim said BitMitigate’s deal with Epik was prompted by the way the two companies’ services fit together to offer a more complete service experience for customers, and the issue of providing service to websites like Gab didn’t factor into the decision.

“We both believe that free speech is a pillar of modern society,” he said. “We certainly align on that, but it wasn’t the reason why we partnered up.”

He also downplayed both companies’ business with websites like The Daily Stormer, which he said make up only a fraction of a percentage of each group’s thousands of customers. The Daily Stormer is also on one of BitMitigate’s free plans, he noted, so the company doesn’t receive any money from the website.

“Those are just the ones that get all the attention,” he said.

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