On Monday, GoDaddy’s servers were taken offline by “internal corrupted router issues”, causing millions of websites to shut down. Site owners had to wait in silence for six painful hours before service was restored. Although this was GoDaddy’s greatest and most widely publicized service outage since its founding in 1997, cyber attacks are nothing new, and they are increasingly on the rise lately with the growing desire for hacker fame and reputation advancement in the hacker community.
A broad spectrum of businesses suffered because of the GoDaddy failure, from the working mother selling jewelry on Etsy to developing web-based startups and even GoDaddy’s own model spokeswoman Danica Patrick. The outage resulted in businesses grinding to a halt, losing of revenue, stalling their growth and potentially losing reputation. Here are some businesses that shared their GoDaddy experiences from Monday with us:
- CamiBands – the online retailer of waistline slimming, cleavage concealing, shirt extending wardrobe accessories. Creator Holly Xerri comments, “we were down for at least two hours and it probably cost us a few hundred dollars in sales. We only sell online so this was extremely disruptive and costly for our online operation.”
- Total Home Supply – a small retailer of air conditioners, kitchen appliances, laundry, home heating, outdoor living, commercial appliances and more. Mickey Luongo speaks about the company’s experience, “Monday’s outage brought down our whole site and most email. This left us with not much to do other than wait as our entire business is online… I would estimate that we lost around $15,000 in potential sales… We never expected to have any issues with our DNS provider so we did not really have a backup plan.”
- Rapaport Law – a small four-person NYC-based law firm that also sells over 150 legal forms online. “Both my law firm and the legal forms business are heavily dependent upon the continuous functionality of our websites and email accounts. We utilize GoDaddy for all hosting, email, etc… [W]e basically lost touch with our clients and others for the entire day” says Marc Rapaport.
- thesquarefoot.com – a commercial real estate search site. “Our site was down for about 4 hours,” according to co-founder Aron Sussman, “It was extremely unfortunate timing for us seeing as though there was a story about us in the Houston Chronicle that ran on Monday. We were seeing a ton of traffic and it is hard to estimate the number of customers who have tried to come to our website and were frustrated due to its unavailability.”
So if you’re a small business owner, how do you reduce your risk of being a cyber attack or server outage victim? We put together some of our own tips after the debacle, but we wanted to get some input from outside experts on how to prevent such disasters and maintain a strong reputation.
Simple Disaster Prevention Strategies
- Keep automated offline backups
Back up your product and sales data offline on a remote location such as your own computer or server. This way, you can continue to fulfill your existing orders even when your website is down. Patrick King, Founder of ImagineDesign, emphasizes the importance of automated backups: “[T]here are real-time failover solutions and DNS configurations that you can put in place to keep you online in the event of a crash, which can be set up for less than $200. In this case, there would be a backed-up replica of your site on another server, managed by a different company, and upon an outage, your domain would be automatically redirected to the replica site. The most downtime you’d experience would be around 15 minutes.” Some companies that King suggests to research and consider are CloudFlare, Simple Failover and BackupBuddy.
- Invest in cyber protection
Money Crashers technology expert Andrew Schrage suggests, “Some of the top names in cyber protection include Cisco, TrustWave, ArcSight, and Corero.” Additionally, Schrage says investing in adequate anti-virus software, strong firewalls, data loss prevention software and securing mobile devices will effectively help protect against cyber attacks. He adds, “Most experts put cyber crime at the top of the list of risks to online businesses, coming in ahead of reputation damage and lawsuits,” so the investment is worth it.
- Use dedicated hosting, not shared hosting
Ben Piper of Ben Piper Consulting, an IT strategy consulting company who helps IT leaders solve problems, shares his expert advice, “A shared web host has many websites on one server. If one website is targeted with a Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack, it could take all of the sites on that server down. Dedicated web hosting provides each customer its own server(s). Dedicated web hosting typically costs 3-4 times more than shared hosting.”
- Consider cloud-based web hosting
To minimize the high impact of a website outage, Piper also suggests “invest in a cloud-based web hosting provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). The advantage of a cloud-based provider is that they host your site on multiple dedicated servers. If one server goes down, the others will pick up the slack.”
- Maintain DNS redundancy
Many domain registrars like GoDaddy offer free DNS service but the free service may cost you dearly and almost always guarantees frequent down times. Piper supports this simple cost-effective solution: “Have multiple DNS servers tied to your web site’s domain names. The recent attacks GoDaddy and AT&T saw were against their DNS servers. Customers who were dependent solely upon GoDaddy’s or AT&T’s DNS saw outages. Those who had a secondary DNS server already configured saw less of an impact.”
- Consider switching DNS providers altogether
Choose a DNS provider with a guaranteed 100% uptime service level agreement (SLA).
Mickey Luongo admits that after the GoDaddy outage, “We have started to look into new DNS providers, specifically those who have 100% up time SLAs. We hope that these providers will have more redundancy and will respond to the issue in a more timely manner (6 hours is very long in internet time).”
Reduce Reputation Damage
- Switch your email provider
For many, email and communicating with clients and customers is the cornerstone of your business. Because of this, choose a more reliable email provider who is separate from your web hosting service so you can continue to ongoing communications and not loose customers.Rapaport’s law firm suffered from GoDaddy’s email blackout: “Because most of our clients use email as their primary method of communicating with us, we faced an enormous disruption. In addition, the bulk of our ongoing communications with other law firms and courts in litigation matters is conducted via email… To partially remedy the situation, each attorney and staff member at my firm provided the firm’s largest clients with our personal email addresses (AOL/GMail).”
- Add your customer service number to all your correspondences
If your customer service number is only available on your website and your website goes down and your email is inaccessible, your customers will have no way to contact you. Include your customer service number in all your emails to your customers so they can reach you in case of emergencies.Holly Xerri learned this the hard way after the GoDaddy incident: “[A]nyone who wanted to reach us through the contact form on our websites was out of luck and, with the website down, they would not be able to locate our customer service phone number which is obviously not a good thing.”
- Avoid silence
Maintain communication with your clients and stay informed of the downtime situation. No information is often worse than bad information, so be upfront about downtime occurrences.IT specialist Piper suggests to avoid trying to keep an outage under wraps, since “if a customer tries to go to your site and hears nothing from you, they may assume you didn’t pay your bill, went out of business, or are just flaky and unreliable. Communicating with your customers as soon as possible alleviates these fears and gives them a reminder to come back later when your site is back up.”Schrage of Money Crashers echoes this imperative: “Communicate frequently with your customers to let them know what is going on – this is an area in which GoDaddy did poorly.”ImagineDesign expert Patrick King suggests, “Always try to find out the severity and cause of the outage from the host. With that information, you’ll know whether it’s temporary or if you need to make more long-term arrangements by loading your files onto another hosting account and forwarding your domain.”
Don’t wait until it’s too late to implement enhancements to your cyber security. According to Asana founder Dustin Moskovitz, Asana had been contemplating switching from using GoDaddy as their DNS and web hosting service but disaster stuck first. Moskovitz says, “This was a poorly thought out decision, made by me, at the very beginning of the company. It is unfortunately somewhat high friction to change, but we’ve already had it on our task list to migrate. This outage… will certainly hasten that departure.”
Act now and save yourself before the next cyber attack disrupts your business.
Do you have a GoDaddy or web hosting horror story? Let us know in the comments below.
Frustrated Man in Data Center Image – Original image from Shutterstock