Disaster Recovery Process

I have spent quite a long time writing and documenting a process that you can follow which would help you to recover a failed or worse still a hacked site. Contingency planning is something non IT professionals don’t worry a lot about, a particularly in charities. There isn’t time, or it is not a priority. Or in many cases people just do not think about it.

From time to time I get questions about what if I am not available, or I am run over by a bus. All of you can and should have access to the essential information to allow you to move your site should the need arise. You are not tied in any way to me, and I don’t prevent you from leaving. I am not running the Hotel California of web hosting. I have come across a few that make it difficult though.

Disaster Recovery

It would be wise to take a quick look at the following while you do not have a disaster on your hands. Then at least you know the information is there.

You will need the following information if you don’t have it then now is a good time to ask.

  • Control Panel User Name and Password.
  • Your own backup of your website loaded on one of your systems so you can readily access it.

The full article is password protected and accessible from the main menu but can be located here: Disaster Recovery

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Backing up Outlook

If you have just joined me you may have had a website with a different hosting company and are moving over to the managed services I provide. You will need to check your email configuration first and at the very least as a precaution back it up to an independent location.

Most organisations should be running a back up process such that the loss of a single computer or device would not mean you lose everything. Many in my experience are not, or do not know how to do this.

In this tutorial and the accompanying document below I show you how to check your mail configuration and run a backup for most of the recent versions of Outlook. The steps are outlined below, these need to be taken by you before the hosting is switched over because there is a risk you may lose your email if it is actually located on the server and not locally. This is called an IMAP account. You need to be using POP3 if I am providing your mail. Continue reading Backing up Outlook

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Security Update 6th Jan 2016 – All sites

I have spent the last week going through all websites and making sure they are updated and stable. Each has also been independently backed up.

With immediate effect I am going to set up a location on this site to describe the security set up for all sites I am hosting, and keep this up to date to reflect the current set up. You will need your password to access this space. Click on the button below.

Security Configuration

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Modern Tribe Events Calendar

How to resolve a failed plugin

On some websites I have used the Events Calendar from Modern Tribe. Some of you have the professional version installed. On or around the 21st of October 2016 a problem occurred where the authors released a new version of the plugin which caused several sites to crash. This is a very rare event, however it can be frustrating when it happens, and worse still what do you do about it?

With this particular problem the sites were critically affected meaning you could not login or do anything. When accessing the site; all you would see is a white screen with a message on it saying a script had failed.

In this case the message looked similar to this:

Fatal error: Class ‘Tribe__PUE__Package_Handler’ not found in /home/risu3a12/public_html/wp-content/plugins/the-events-calendar/common/src/Tribe/PUE/Checker.php on line 200

I would not normally expect my client base to know what to do other than see there is a problem. However there is something you can do which will get your site back online quickly albeit with some reduced functionality, this should work in most cases where a plugin fails.

What to check

If you see a message appear where your website was, the first thing to do is copy it and send it to me. I will get to it as soon as I can. For those of you that reported it back to me when it occurred you will know that my response time was within a few hours of you telling me about it.

Here is something you can do for Plugin related problems. Look at the message, and note that the path to the problem script includes the text

…../wp-content/plugins/………

This tells me it is a plugin problem, so it automatically isolates the problem to a specific area of your website. Looking a little further, the plugin is called The Events Calendar

…./wp-content/plugins/the-events-calendar/…

With that knowledge you can locate the folder which contains the code for that plugin and rename it. If you rename it the website will not be able to run the code (because it is has moved to a new location), and if it was the code in the plugin that was causing the problem then it has been bypassed. You will find the website is back up and running, but without the calendar plugin working in this case.

How do I do this?

Depending on your skill level you may wish to pass the problem to me and I will handle it. If you want to have a go, then you need access to the  control panel for your website. You may already have this, if you haven’t then request it and I will provide it to you.

You log into your control panel (a different location to the admin address for your website) by going to http://(my website homepage address)/cpanel Substitute “my website homepage address” with your home page address. You will see a user name and password is requested. Enter that.

On the next page is a set of icons. Look for the  File Manager icon and click on it. Then navigate to the folder /public_html.

This is generally the root directory of your website. In some cases it isn’t so if you cannot locate this folder do not take any further action in case you break something.

Once in /public_html/ look for wp-content, then plugins. This will place you in the directory where all of the plugins are located.

Next you look carefully at the error code produced by your website. In this case it showed the-events-calendar.

Locate the folder with that name and rename it to the-events-calendar-broken and save the change.  The code is still on your site, however your website cannot access it anymore because the path to it is no longer valid. So it will simply skip over it.

If you return to the users view of the website, you will see it is now running. However the plugin you have effectively disabled is not running, so you have lost some functionality.

Right now is a good time to back up the entire website. Login and go to Settings, UpdraftPlus and backup the site and download the backup before you do anything else.

Resolution

What happens next depends on the plugin. So I will comment on this particular case, bearing in mind that several days have elapsed, generally it may take +24hrs or more before a patch or fix is available from the author.

Log into the website as an administrator and check to see if there are any outstanding upgrades pending. Your site generally updates these once a day. If the plugin that you just disabled has an upgrade pending. Run the update. In this case new code was installed and the problem was resolved.

Don’t forget to go back to the File Manager and delete the directory you renamed. You will see that the original directory has been created again as a result of updating the plugin. It may have cleaned it up for you, but it is best to check and verify.

Things to note in this process

Taking these actions retained any data associated with the plugin in the database. So all of the calendar entries were ok and unaffected. It may have been possible to delete and restore the plugin, however that may have deleted the data in the data base as well. It usually does not, however you cannot be sure. So it is best to take care if you find yourself in this situation.

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Crunch those images!

Those of you that have worked through my tutorials will know that one of the points I continuously raise is the importance of scaling images down to a size at or near the resolution of the image in the browser screen.

There is no point downloading a 5MB file where a 50kB file would have done the same job, I am not exaggerating here, it does happen frequently.

I go around and back the sites up 4 times a year and some are getting inexplicably large, so I go in and check and find out there are lots of very large images which have been uploaded to the site. Of course the images all look ok. However if you are out and about and using a mobile connection as many people do these days they are downloading 5MB vs 50kB;  100 x more data than they need to download with no additional benefits. However they are paying per MB for their connection!

In addition to costing your mobile users their data allowance for the privilege of visiting your site, your backups are also growing in size.

But I have found a solution!

Go to your Plugins option on the menu of your site and put into the search box WP Smush. This plugin will go through your images and reduce them in size to something that is more appropriate for a website. It can also be set up to resize anything you upload, just in case you forget.

I have used this on a couple of sites this month to work through lots of images which were too big and taking up too much space in the hosting.

Use something like this and your sites will load more quickly.

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Hacked Site

While nobody wants to have a hacked site, and we all take lots of precautions; one occurred in December. We are unable to establish what precisely had happened, but it looks as though the hacker got into the hosting space rather than into the website.

There are several ways to get into the hosting space, via the hosting provider, through my master account which can access everywhere, or through a username and password combination to something called cPanel. This controls the hosting and email.

In this case the hack was fortunately benign and quite clever. Around the website were additional menus that related to the content on the site. So to someone arriving on the site, it looked a little odd but related.

There were menus that related to families and young children, and these invited you to go to other related sites. What is happening here is that the hacker will probably receive referral fees by steering people to these other sites. This would be the motivation for doing it. So it was not a more typical defacement. Continue reading Hacked Site

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Housekeeping

I have been around all of the sites I am hosting over the past 28 days and backed them all up and retained a local copy. All of the sites now have a new plugin installed called UpDraftPlus, this is a premium plugin which automates the back up of websites.

I mentioned this a few months back, I have now installed it everywhere. The plugin can be located under Settings and UpDraftPlus Backups.

It is possible to create an instant backup, however all sites should be backing themselves up and retaining the last 6 weeks’ worth of backups automatically. Bear in mind that if you have a large site, this will take up a lot of your hosting space. So in some cases you may have fewer than 6 backups.

If anyone is close to the limits I have extended the space at no extra cost.

Using Dropbox

In a few cases I have also set up Dropbox for new websites so that they back themselves up and keep a copy of the website somewhere else other than the hosting. It is free to open a DropBox account and you can use it for up to 2GB worth of space. If you are interested in having your site backed up to an independent location please let me know.

Helping yourself

Continue reading Housekeeping

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Got a server? Then you may need one of these.

This might seem like a luxury, they have been around for a long time and also very expensive. Now however they are available to home users and small businesses for less than £100.

UPS

A UPS is an Uninterruptable Power Supply. It is used to maintain power to devices that need to run continuously. Things like servers, network attached storage (NAS), and to a lesser extent your router and some key network devices if you are backing up your server.

You can also use it to power your desktop PC, which should mean you never lose anything through a power failure.

They perform several important functions, one is power line conditioning, and the other is continuing to provide 240v AC to a device when the mains power to a property or office fails.

The way they do this is by charging a battery (or several batteries) in a box. The power from the batteries is passed to an inverter which regenerates the 240V AC at an output or several outputs.

If the incoming mains power is interrupted then the output of the device continues to run based on the available battery power. That is, until the battery is exhausted.

The more sophisticated ones can send signals to attached devices to ask them to shut down (gracefully). Continue reading Got a server? Then you may need one of these.

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Cloud Based file sharing

I am sure everyone has heard of the “Cloud”, it basically means somewhere on the Internet, without being specific. Of course we all place our trust in this and anticipate that “somewhere” is safe and secure.

A Home-Start regional office contacted me with a problem. They were based in two locations. At least one of which was using a local government network and firewall before being able to access the internet. Cloud based file sharing systems such as DropBox were deliberately blocked by the firewall. In this case (understandably) it was the policy of the IT department to prevent files being sent out of the location to potentially insecure places.

The Home-Start regional office had a core set of files (probably procedures) that they wanted to share between the two sites. Such that both sites could edit them and save them back.  Continue reading Cloud Based file sharing

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