Tag Archives: security

Change in Our Terms of Service

The nature of technology is growth and change – what’s super-hot and super-fast one minute is obsolete and out-of-date the next. It’s a perpetual learning curve for people who want to stay on the latest and greatest hardware or software platforms, and a constant source of frustration for people who just want to write a blog without worrying about the tech.

As a web host, it is our duty to provide secure, stable, and user-friendly environments and features for our customers, so you can do what you do best – get your content out there!

Toward that end, we are adding the following verbiage to our Terms of Service, effective immediately:

“In order to maintain a secure and stable hosting environment, Black Chicken Host reserves the right to update without notification any code on our servers to its most current supported version, including, but not limited to:

  • Content Management Systems (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, et cetera)
  • Plugins
  • Themes
  • Scripts
  • All packages offered by the Softaculous installer”

We realize keeping your software up-to-date can be a time-consuming task, but it is so very important to the security of your account. Thus, we decided to take it upon ourselves to do it for our customers.

We have seen some nasty malware put into place due to out-of-date plugins (RevSider, Gravity Forms, et cetera) which have had effects ranging from having the server’s IP address black-listed at Google and ATT to destruction of account data.

Going forward, we will be finding all outdated software on our servers and updating everything to the most current version. In almost every case, this should be completely transparent to you and your readers. In very rare cases, updating a theme may cause your site’s appearance to change. In other rare cases, updating a plugin may cause it to not function correctly in conjunction with the other plugins on your site.

While we don’t ever want to interfere with your site’s functionality, it behooves us all to keep everything on its current, most secure version, and it is incumbent upon BCH to keep you all as safe as possible.

We’ll have another blog post soon about what kinds of security exploits can happen as a result of outdated plugins – it’s scary stuff! – but that’s all for now.

Please do let us know if you have questions or concerns!

CloudFlare: What It is, What It is Not.

Black Chicken Host has partnered with CloudFlare CDN to bring you better load times and increased security at no cost to you.

CloudFlare Certified Partner

What CloudFlare is:

CloudFlare is a simple and free Content Delivery Network which places your website’s content closer to your readers all around the world. By caching your images and other static content geographically closer to your global readers, your website will load more quickly and consume fewer resources on the local server. The static portions are cached on the CloudFlare servers for a short period of time, typically less than 2 hours, after which time they check to see if your site has been updated. If there is new content, CloudFlare dumps their existing cache and starts fresh.

By automatically moving the static parts of your site closer to your visitors, the overall performance of your site improves significantly.

The overall effect is that CloudFlare will typically cut the load time for pages on your site by 50% which means higher engagement and happier visitors.

CloudFlare caches your content worldwide:

CloudFlare CDN Sites

Additionally, CloudFlare can save you money on bandwidth. On average, CloudFlare customers see a 60% decrease in bandwidth usage, and a 65% in total requests to their servers.

How does CloudFlare protect you from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks?

Black Chicken Host already has impressive security metrics in place; utilizing CloudFlare’s service improves upon our already outstanding security. CloudFlare’s mitigations offer a broad range of protections against attacks such as DDoS, hacking, or spam submitted to a blog or comment form. What is powerful about the CloudFlare approach is that the system gets smarter the more sites that are part of the CloudFlare community. They analyze the traffic patterns of hundreds of millions of visitors in real time and adapt the security systems to ensure good traffic gets through and bad traffic is stopped.

In fact, CloudFlare was initially developed as a tool to increase website security – and its founders accidentally discovered it radically improved the load times of its customers. Now personally, I find that hilarious. And fantastic.

The CloudFlare servers filter out the bad guys before they even reach our servers or your website, blocking malicious traffic before it can do any harm. But how? Honestly? I have no earthly idea. It just… works. I suspect this graphic is slightly dumbed down:

CloudFlare - how it works?

That’s it in a nutshell – some magical thing happens inside that CloudFlare cloud, and it’s a black box for the rest of us. As long as it keeps working, I’m happy.

So, let’s sum this up:

  • Improved load times
  • Enhanced security
  • Less bot spam
  • Offline browsing potential
  • FOR FREE

Not bad, right?

CloudFlare: What it is not

The CloudFlare service is not an excuse to never update your software or not to use strong passwords. It’s an extension of our already superb security, but it is no replacement for common sense.

It is not a 100% guarantee of no down time, ever. However, should your server experience difficulties (high load, or even being offline for a short time,) CloudFlare can often keep your content flowing to your readers by utilizing their caching service.

It is not Google Analytics. CloudFlare offers statistics for your site, but they will vary from GA (they tend to report higher numbers, due to how they gather and parse the information.) They’re handy to track trends, but are not the best way to measure your audience (definitely use Google Analytics for that.)

Ok, I want CloudFlare! How do I get it?

For Black Chicken Host customers, enabling CloudFlare is as easy as pushing a button (provided you are using our nameservers.)  We are pleased to offer you the CloudFlare service for FREE. There is no commitment. Turning CloudFlare on and off takes two clicks of the mouse in your cPanel account, so feel free to try it out. If you’ve misplaced your cPanel login information from your Black Chicken Host welcome email, please just let us know via a support ticket.

How to Enable CloudFlare in cPanel

The one potential downside to using CloudFlare through Black Chicken Host (as opposed to signing up yourself and having to muck about with your DNS) is you must use www in your domain. Thus, if your WordPress site is set up using http://yourdomain.com right now, we’ll need to change that to http://www.yourdomain.com — this is an easy thing for us to help you with, and is only a matter of aesthetics.

Also, you must use Black Chicken Hosts’s nameservers. Nearly all of our customers already do, but it’s an important item to note.

CloudFlare also offers a paid-for “Pro” version, which of course offers more features and functions. You can read about that on their website. We offer the free version so you can take things for a test drive and see if you like it. If you do, the paid-for version might be something you’d like – it makes no nevermind to us, we receive no commission.

Here’s a short animated video which goes into far less detail than I have here… but it it gives a good overview:

Introduction to CloudFlare

Questions? Comments? Just let us know. If you’d like more information, or if you’d like assistance getting started with CloudFlare, you know we’re here and happy to help!

Best,

Erin D.

Password Security Which Will Surprise You

For so long, we in the information technology field have been pressing upon our users to maintain “secure” passwords, which included upper- and lowercase letters, punctuation, numbers, and absolutely no dictionary words. This began back in the day when hackers actually had to manually try to gain access to user accounts, which was time-consuming. If a bad guy couldn’t guess your password after a few tries he or she might move on to another unlucky victim with a less-secure password. I am totally guilty of recommending ridiculous passwords to users, because it’s how most systems administrators were brought up. Imagine my chagrin when math got involved!

hacker

Spoiler alert: There are exactly zero hackers who look like this.

These days, however, most hackers will use some kind of automated script to gain access to a server or account. These scripts (or “bots”) can rapid-fire login attempts at up to 100 login attempts per second! Black Chicken Host servers will shut these bots down after 5 failed login attempts, but it’s still an excellent idea to make sure you have a password that’s difficult for them to crack. We’ll do a post about our security metrics at another time, but suffice it to say, they’re pretty good!

These scripts often utilize a database of commonly-used passwords, dictionary words, and dictionary words with special characters like “p@assw0rd” instead of “password.”

Here’s the kicker, though: If you make a password out of four unrelated dictionary words, you’ll have a password which would take thousands of years to crack, but which is far easier to remember than the standard garbledygook we’re often forced to implement.

Did I just blow your mind?

Allow me to demonstrate with a comic from the renowned geek comic strip, xkcd:

password_strengthBy using the password “correcthorsebatterystaple,” the user has effectively created a password that would take a dedicated hacking script performing at 1000 attempts per second 550 years to crack. And? It’s dead simple to remember – yay!

Now, please don’t actually use “correcthorsebatterystaple” as your super-secure yet easy-to-remember password; it’s on the internet, and scripts are going to include it as one of their possible attempts. Come up with your own, such as elevatorbarnyardbackpackdonkey (please don’t actually use that one either, of course – it’s just an example.)

The goal with complex passwords is to ensure (as much as possible) the character combination does not exist in a database anywhere. “z%^Mgt501?$$” is very unlikely to exist in a database, but who can remember that? Prior to xkcd coming out with the “correcthorsebatterystaple” comic, that combination was also incredibly unlikely to be in a database, and is so very much easier to remember.

This is not to say the random passwords aren’t still secure, or that they aren’t more secure.– they are. The issue we’re trying to address here is easy of usability. If you have to write down your password on a sticky note, that’s utterly defeating the password process. So, let’s use something you can remember!

Personally, I still use a mnemonic to generate my own passwords (take the first letter of each word of the chorus in a favorite song, and insert the punctuation from the pauses in the song, too;) however, when we need to generate passwords for customers, we’ll be using this far simpler method of stringing four words together.

password3

Some admins don’t want to tell their customers this is the case – they’ve been preaching the nonsense passwords for so long, they don’t want to admit simple dictionary words are better. To be perfectly honest, I almost didn’t share this because how embarrassing, right? In my view, though, it’s better to be upfront and share the information, because this can make our lives so much easier! Who needs added complexity when we have gardens to plant, livestock to tend, jobs to go to, kids to feed, et cetera? Bask in an easy-to-remember password, courtesy of Black Chicken Host. 😉

If you’re interested in the science behind why this four word schema works, you can read more here: The Usability of Passwords. This quote hits the nail on the head:

“In Hollywood, passwords are hacked one digit at the time. Meaning the system would return true or false information based on partial matches. This is not how the real world works. You cannot match a password based on a partial matches. “This * *” is not the same as “this is fun”. It would return it as FALSE. You have to match all three words, all at once.”

In short, the real world of “computering” is far, far different from what film and television make it out to be.  You can craft highly secure passwords by using a combination of plain old-fashioned dictionary words.