My Website Was Gone When I Woke Up

Teli Adlam —  November 22, 2005

For a split second this morning I thought the world had ended and I was the last person on Earth.

I received no emails, no one bid for the spot on my blog’s sidebar, and even around the house was eerily calm.

I knew something was wrong and immediately went to check my website – account suspended. I had no idea how long it had been this way and it was like my worse nightmare playing out before me.

I was fuming. I knew my account was paid through the year, I knew that I wasn’t doing anything wrong with my account – I pride myself on doing “the right thing” and there was no other reason I could think of for my account to be suspended.

I can’t remember a time I’ve ever wanted or needed to speak with a host over the phone – email support has always been good enough, but never has anything seemed more urgent. Since my host only offered and online ticket system, I submitted my ticket and waited as patiently as I could (which wasn’t very patiently at all).

It turns out that an old script on my site wasn’t patched against the new spam exploit going around. I had forgotten about the script because I was no longer using it, but the spammers were still able to find it and exploit it to send out a mass mailing.

The script has since been deleted and my account has been restored, but that was a very scary 30 minutes this morning. It got me thinking about the worst case scenario.

Paul Short suffered massive data loss when his host skipped town and I realized that it could easily have been me. No one is immune to losing their online empire, not even if you’re using a dedicated server.

If you pay a third party (other than the data center and maintenance crew for the server that you own), you can be shut down.

So, I provide you with some tips to help you protect yourself and minimize any potential damage:

  1. Know your host. Get reviews, check their reports, check how long they’ve been in business, make sure they have a guarantee, and monitor their uptime status. Make sure their customer service is top notch by sending them a few email questions, or even call them up, before you send them your money.
  2. Do not host all your eggs in one basket. Have multiple webhosts. Yes, add on domains are great, but what happens if your host goes down – all your websites go with it and you have no where else to go.
  3. Do weekly back ups of everything. Most hosts do nightly backups, but they also have a disclaimer stating they can’t be held liable if there should be catastrophic failure and all your data goes missing. Do not rely on your webhosting – back up your files, your email, and your databases, at very least, once a week. Worst case is you’ll only be one week behind.
  4. Extra care is needed with extra special sites. Have your back up hosts ready to take on another site at the drop of a hat. Have the domain added as an add-on domain, make sure all the databases are set up, and the files are uploaded. In the unlikely event that your site’s host goes down, you can have it back online within a few hours.
    • When you do your weekly back up, simply take an extra moment to upload the files to the back up hosts and update the database.
  5. Stay in the know, or hire someone to do it for you. With so many nasty things going around on the web and the unscrupulous people, it’s important to stay a step ahead. It’s tiring, but necessary. Make sure your scripts are updated, make sure you know who, how, and why people are accessing your site, check for anomalies in your webstats, or suspicious activities and if you notice anything strange – notify your host immediately.
  6. Keep the lines of communication open. Although many hosts will shut down your account without notice, something I’m not particularly keen on, some hosts who will try to contact you first. Make sure you leave them with up to date contact information.

I certainly hope you never have to deal with a host skipping town, or your account being suspended for one reason or another, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Teli Adlam


8 responses to My Website Was Gone When I Woke Up

  1. WOW, Teli,

    I am sorry to hear about your ordeal this morning. And thank you so mucn for your detailed tips on minimizing potential damage. You mentioned backing up: can you go into more detail on how to do that? I appreciate your wisdom. Adriana

  2. Ouch Teli

    I feel bad enough having discovered on one of my accounts that for some reason PHP isn’t working on the primary domain.. but is on all subdomains.
    Yes I have submitted a support ticket, I just hope they address it fast. One thing to be thankful for, the site isn’t yet 100% php, or there would be absolutely nothing for the SEs to see.

  3. I had this happen to me a few days ago. I hate that feeling of “it is down”! Even worse, I had a notice up to contact the billing dept. Ugh. How humiliating.

    I had told my webhost I wanted to move to VPS instead of reseller and it was time to renew my account and they didn’t know what I wanted to do since they are different prices and I hadn’t responded to their email (because I had a pinched nerve)… luckily someone PM’d me and told me and was able to get it take care of in ten minutes.

    Still… I hate that feeling!

    Mindy Koch

  4. Thank you Adriana, Andrew, and Mindy for commenting and for sharing your own stories. It’s important that people know, it happens – a lot more than is usually mentioned…

    Adriana, I created a brand new post on how to back up a website. Hopefully you will find it helpful 🙂

  5. Well good news on the home front… my server is back running PHP again, so all the navigation and half the content has suddenly reappeared.

    PHP is wonderful, but tempermental. It only takes a small adjustment in server setting to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.

    Have you got any suggestions for tools that will automatically update a static version of a wordpress blog, maybe in a password protected directory, such that is for instance MYSQL blows a fuse on a server, you can switch to the static content?

    I suppose one option would be to have a feed of all posts, and send it to a static based blog such as blogger, and somehow mimic the file structure for a switch with .htaccess

  6. Teli,

    Same thing happened to me so now I have 5 different hosting providers.

    I take my top 5 money earning domains and put 1 on each server so that if it happens again I switch to one of the other 4.

    Happy Thanksgiving to my US bloggers and friends.

    John Walsh

  7. The internet is still open to many threats. We all are anxious about what may happen to our web site the next day, so better solutions must be found!

  8. Great tips.
    My only query is with regards to your last point. It is one of those things that seems to be good in theory, but as the practice requires a two way agreement (half of which we have no control over), apart from making sure that my contact info is all up to date; what can I really do to make sure the lines of communication stay open?
    From experience you only find out how good things are when they go wrong. Unfortunately, this is also when you realize just how bad things can get as well. And that can be devastating.
    Hosts disappear, but websites will live forever. Or vice versa.