How an IP mapping glitch turned a farm into federal hell

Everyone from federal agents to ambulance staff and IRS collectors all ended up on the same doorstep for years due to one lazy IP setting.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
Michael Rosebrock, Getty Images/iStock

A rural Kansas farmhouse has been the target of federal agents and investigators for the past 10 years, driving the elderly owner and tenants up the wall -- and is all due to one mapping glitch.

The owner of the farmhouse, 82-year-old Joyce Taylor nee Vogelma, family members and tenants at the property were left in the dark for a decade as to why hordes of federal agents, ambulance crews, investigators and tax collectors have all been turning up at the doorstep.

For years, not only has Voglema's family, past tenants and the current renters, James and Theresa Arnold, been accused of being spammers and identity thieves, the remote property has been combed consistently at all hours for missing children, suicidal individuals, tax dodgers and criminals.

The cause? A single company which turned the rural farmhouse into a geographic hotspot and default answer for investigators attempting to trace nefarious IP addresses in the United States.

The farmhouse happens to be a two-hour drive from the exact geographical center of the United States, and therein lies the problem. As reported by Naked Security, IP intelligence firm MaxMind is at fault for disrupting the peace of the rural property.

The firm is used by law enforcement and other agencies to determine the location of interesting parties. However, few officers realize that while GPS coordinates and IP addresses seem set in stone, they are not pinpoint precise -- and so officers turning up at the farmsteads' door believed that was the correct location, rather than a 'probable' area -- or, in this case, the US as a whole.

The case has wound up in court, and in a background check conducted as part of the Arnolds' complaint, it appeared that MaxMind picked the farmhouse to act as the default IP for what was basically an unknown US location.

While the exact center would have been clearer, the Kansas land had a less cumbersome latitude and longitude to associate with an IP address but was still close enough to the center to work.

MaxMind says the company's IP service was never meant to be used as a tracker for households; rather, it should be to a city or zip code level only.

The original investigator into the story, Kashmir Hill, was told by MaxMind that the farm's troubles will eventually end, as the default location IP address will be moved to a body of water, clearing up any confusion. However, it is up to MaxMind's clients to update the service, which could still be months -- and a lot more time for more police officers to come knocking.

The current tenants of the property are seeking compensation in excess of $75,000.

The 10 step guide to using Tor to protect your privacy

Editorial standards