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The Chrome Browser and Symantec SSL Certificates

You may be aware of the problem that Symantec has been having with Google over issuing of a large number of SSL certificates for major domains to individuals who were not associated with the domains. It’s a long story, but the result was Google informing Symantec that the Chrome browser would no longer trust SSL certificates issued by Symantec. The revocation of trust was to occur gradually over certain dates.

As a result, Symantec sold their SSL certificate business to another company that Google does trust. It becomes a little confusing though, since the new company is keeping the Symantec name for the certificates they issue.

If you bought an SSL certificate from us, you have either a RapidSSL, GeoTrust QuickSSL or GeoTrust True BusinessID certificate, and those are Symantec certificates.

Are you affected?

If, like most users, you renew your SSL certificate every year, this issue should not affect you. When you renew, the certificate will still be issued by Symantec, but it will be issued by the new incarnation of Symantec which Google trusts.

If you purchased a multi-year SSL certificate, check this timeline to see if there are any important dates that you should be aware of:

Certificates issued before June 1st, 2016

The Chrome browser will no longer trust this certificate after March 15, 2018. In order to retain trust by the Chrome browser, you need to replace this certificate.

Certificates issued after June 1st, 2016

The Chrome browser will no longer trust this certificate after September 13, 2018.

If you have a multi-year cert and aren’t quite sure if you’re affected, open up a support ticket and we’ll help you out.



Recap of New Hosting Services and Features in 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, we reflect on the year that’s passed and look forward to a new year.  Here are some of the new features, services and enhancements that we introduced in 2017.

ASP.NET Core Deployment Options

Last year, we launched support for ASP.NET Core on our hosting platform. Since then, Microsoft has been busy with many minor updates and also a major update with ASP.NET Core 2.0. We’ve been working hard to support .NET Core and support the different versions that our customers may be using. Winhost supports Framework Dependent Deployment (FDD) and also Self-contained deployment (SCD).

ASP.NET Framework 4.7

While Microsoft continues to update their latest .NET Core initiatives, they continue to update ASP.NET 4.x as well. We kept up-to-date with Microsoft’s ASP.NET 4.x framework and support ASP.NET 4.7 hosting on our platform.

Managed WordPress

Since WordPress is one of the most popular apps on the web, we host a fair share of WordPress sites. Ans due to its popularity, WordPress gets a lot of attention from hackers, so we’ve helped many of our customers with compromises and hacks. To insure security, it’s important to keep up-to-date with WordPress updates, theme updates and plugin updates.

To that end, we understand that many of our customers may not have the time or the know-how to maintain their WordPress site – so we launched a Managed WordPress service. With our Managed WordPress service, we harden your WordPress application and will update your WordPress core, plugins and themes monthly. Our expert staff will also personally review your WordPress installation every month, looking for any signs of compromise or malicious files. And if any malicious activity is found, we’ll clean it up.

node.js

Due to customer requests, we added support for Node.js. If you are interested in using Node.js, get in contact with us.

Increased FTP Users

We also increased the number of FTP users that can be created for each of our plans. The Basic plan supports 10 FTP users, the Max plan supports 30, and the Ultimate plan supports 100.

Although I didn’t highlight any of the behind-the-scenes activity in this list, you can rest assured that we continue to make improvements to our back-end infrastructure, security, processes, hardware and support.

We’re honored that so many of you trust Winhost with your important websites and applications, and we work hard every day to make you happy that you’ve made that choice.

Wishing everyone a very happy new year!



How SSL certificates work

SSL certificates are necessary if you do credit card transactions on your site, or if you simply want to make your site available via an HTTPS URL (such as: https://example.com). If you visit that URL without the HTTPS prefix, you’ll notice that there’s no security “lock” displayed in your browser. That lock icon means your connection to a site is encrypted.

If you’ve never cared about HTTPS, it’s probably time to start. The days when you could avoid using HTTPS are rapidly coming to an end, and Google and the other big web browser makers are more or less forcing the change on everyone. So it’s a change we’re all going to have to make, or one day in the not-too-distant future, security warnings could be greeting every visitor who loads our sites.

With that in mind, here’s a high level overview of what SSL is and how it’s implemented. Think of it as an introduction to the concepts and a peek at the inner workings for anyone who is new to the subject.

Technical note: modern web servers don’t really use the SSL (Secure Socket Layer) protocol anymore, but the name has stuck to the certificates as kind of a generic identifier, so we use “SSL” in this article. The TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol has replaced SSL for most uses. We’re also using the example of a web browser connecting to a web server, but the concept is the same no matter what kind of client is making a secure connection to a server.

What is an SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate is really just a text file that is installed on the web server. It ensures that the domain name in the certificate matches the domain name of the site, and enables a visitor’s browser to make a secure connection to the site, so that the traffic back and forth is encrypted and no third-party can listen in on the conversation.

The reason for encrypting transferred data may be obvious where financial transactions are concerned, but even if you’re not sending financial data across the web, quite a bit of private data can be passed between your site and a visitor’s browser (like usernames and passwords). That private data is valuable to unscrupulous types, so encrypting the connection protects the data. Without an SSL certificate and the HTTPS connection, that encryption doesn’t happen.

It’s worth noting here that an HTTPS connection doesn’t prevent someone from finding out which domains you’ve visited. It just makes it (theoretically) impossible for them to see any of the data that was exchanged during the visit.

What’s inside the SSL certificate?

An SSL certificate contains information about your business or organization (or simply you as a person), and a cryptographic key unique to your domain or certificate. That key is used to establish the encrypted connection. Your website presents the key to the visitor’s browser, and if the browser determines the key is valid (more on that in a minute), the encrypted connection is established.

Let’s talk about trust for a minute…

The entire SSL system is based on trust. When the HTTPS protocol was established, everyone agreed to trust certain organizations (and later companies) to issue legitimate certificates. Those organizations and companies are called certificate authorities. The certificate authority verifies who you are when they issue the certificate and the browser trusts the that the certificate authority has done that verification.

You might see a bit of a problem there if you’ve ever requested a “domain validated” SSL certificate and noticed that no one actually checked anything other than the fact that you had an email address on the domain. It wasn’t always that way. In the early days of SSL, the certificate authority did verify that you were who you said you were, and the owner of the domain you were requesting a certificate for. But as you might imagine, that time-consuming kind of validation quickly became impossible, so now that level of manual human validation is only done for expensive “extended validation” certificates.

How does the browser know when to trust an SSL certificate?

Every certificate authority issues a “root certificate,” which is like a master certificate for that authority. If the authority operates under different names or resells certificates through other companies, they issue “intermediate certificates” that are related or connected to the root certificate. Then the certificate for your domain is associated with the intermediate or root certificate, and that makes up a certificate chain. So the browser trusts the certificate for your domain because it’s associated with a root certificate.

Your certificate, any intermediate certificates and the root certificate are all installed on the web server. The same root certificates are also pre-installed in web browsers and many computer operating systems, so the browser can validate the root certificate on the web server. There are actually a few checks and validations that take place between the different certificates, but her’s a simplified diagram of the chain:

The connection is trusted if:

How does SSL work?

It’s pretty easy to get lost in the tall weeds here, because the underlying system that handles HTTPS encryption between a client (browser) and a server (your site) is quite complicated (and to add to the complication, the system is always changing, as better and stronger encryption methods are introduced).

But in a nutshell:

– The browser makes a TCP (standard Internet) connection to the site on the web server.

– The browser starts an SSL “handshake,” which is a transfer of data to the server about which version of SSL/TLS the browser is running, and which encryption methods it wants to use.

– The web server determines the highest SSL/TLS version that is supported by both the server and the browser, then sends its certificate(s) to the browser.

– If the certificate(s) meet all the criteria described above (in the “connection is trusted if” section), a cryptographic key is then exchanged and the browser tells the server that all further communication will be encrypted, and sends an encrypted authentication message to the server.

– The server verifies that the message is correct, then returns a similar message that the browser verifies.

– That’s the end of the “handshake,” and until it is broken, the browser and server can communicate securely.

Luckily all of those steps typically take place in a fraction of a second, and the browser and web serer don’t have to do them again (unless the secure connection is broken).

Well, that’s a lot of words for a “simplified” explanation, isn’t it. Sorry about that. But hopefully this has helped you to better understand what an SSL certificate is and what it does.

 

Still curious about SSL/HTTPS? Check out these other articles:

Ready or Not, It’s Time to Consider HTTPS
Let’s (not) Encrypt. But let’s not ignore https either.
How to Secure Your Primary Domain for Free When Ordering an SSL Certificate
Google Chrome, SSL certificates, SHA-1, SHA-2 and the “obsolete cryptography” message



How to Keep WordPress Safe and Secure

This little factoid should freak you out: More than 80,000 websites are hacked every day.

That’s almost one every second, or about 29 million every year. Those numbers translate to a lot of pain and inconvenience for a lot of people. Count yourself lucky if you’ve never been one of them.

There are a quarter of a billion domains with active websites. If 29 million sites are hacked every year, that means we’re living in a world where more than 1 in 10 websites are likely to be compromised. Every year.

How does this happen?

Security starts at home. It’s an old saying, but it applies to a lot of website compromises. We see a lot of hacks that aren’t actually website hacks at all, because the perpetrator is using valid FTP login credentials that were harvested by logging keystrokes or reading log files on a home computer or laptop that has been infected with a virus or malware.

But perhaps the most common way in to a website or server is through old, unpatched third-party software. And a large percentage of that old, unpatched third-party software is WordPress, or WordPress plugins.

Before I give you some tips on locking up your WordPress site, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Winhost has a fully managed WordPress hosting, security and hardening service. The service includes WordPress hardening for maximum security, WordPress-specific support and personalized assistance, and maybe most importantly, monthly updates of WordPress core, Plugins and Themes. The monthly updates consist of one of our in-house WordPress security experts personally examining your WordPress installation for malicious files and signs of compromise. If we discover that your WordPress installation is compromised or hacked, we’ll clean up the mess.

Okay, that’s it for the sales pitch. But if you’ve ever had to clean up a WordPress compromise, I’m pretty sure that you’ll be able to see the value in that service.

Locking down WordPress

The first step in WordPress security doesn’t have anything to do with WordPress itself, but rather site backups. If you always have a current backup, it’s much easier to bounce back from a compromise. Simply identify your most recent “clean” backup, delete everything on your site and upload the clean backup.

We do periodic backups of our entire network for disaster recovery purposes, so if you are compromised you could just request a backup from us. The problem with that approach is we back up every day, and we only retain one copy of those backups. So if you don’t notice that your site has been compromised for a few days, our backup will likely be a copy of the compromised site. That’s not going to be of much help.

So we recommend a cloud backup service. There are a lot of them out there, or you can set one up from your Winhost Control Panel with a few clicks. Our SiteBackup service backs up your website files and databases on a schedule that you choose, retaining as many versions of the backup as you want to keep.

Okay, so that’s a good place to start, with a daily backup of your WordPress site and database. Next are a number of things that you should do to prevent a compromise of your WordPress site.

Update, update, update
How often do you log in to the admin section of your WordPress site? If it’s less than every week – or even every month – you need to start checking in more regularly and updating both the core WordPress files and all of your plugins. If you use a plugin and can’t remember ever updating it, check out the plugin’s page on WordPress.org and make sure it hasn’t been abandoned. If it seems like it has, uninstall it. Chances are there’s a well-maintained plugin out there that will do the same thing.

Kill the admin user
If you installed WordPress some time ago, it may have created a user named “admin” by default. Most brute-force WordPress hacks attempts are on the “admin” username, so you don’t want it to be there. To check, go to your Users page (/wp-admin/users.php) and see if admin is listed there. If it is, create another user or give another existing user the administrator role and delete the default admin user.

Don’t use the default WordPress MySQL table prefix
If the bad guys do manage to find a vulnerability within your site and one of their attempts is to query a table or insert into a table and you used the default table prefix, you could be in trouble. When you’re installing WordPress it’s best to change the table prefix from the default “wp_” to something different. One easy way to do that is to insert random characters after “wp_” – for example wp1od02l_ or wp5434fs_.

Change the WordPress login error
By default, WordPress gives hints about your login when a login fails. One of the steps in our hardening service is to change the login error to “You have entered the wrong Username or Password!” That way someone trying to compromise your site will never know if the username or password is incorrect, making it much more difficult to force or guess a login.

Remove the WordPress version information
It really helps the bad guys to know which WordPress version you’re using. Once they know the version, they can try known vulnerabilities giving them a better chance of getting into your site. They’ll also use Google to find WordPress blogs running a specific version of WordPress that’s easily hackable. You can use a plugin to remove version information.

Disabling Theme and Plugin Editing
The theme editor within WordPress is there to allow you to make quick changes to the code within a theme’s files. Chances are you won’t ever use that feature, but you can be pretty sure that the bad guys will make use of it to enter malicious code. In fact, that is how a lot of WordPress sites get hacked. To prevent that, enter the following rule in your Wp-config.php file, right before the “Stop Editing” tag:

/** Disable File Theme and Plugin Editing */
define('DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT', true);

What else?
The Winhost hosting environment goes the extra mile by disabling executable files from running within the uploads folder, as well as IP restriction of the wp-admin directory. That way the wp-admin directory can only be accessed from IP addresses you specify.

Last but not least, install a Security plugin
If you haven’t already done so, we would highly recommend installing one of the WordPress security plugins. As part of our hardening service we make the security plugin a “Must Use” plugin. That means the plugin can’t be disabled from the admin section of WordPress. The only way to disable it is by deleting the plugin via FTP.

That’s a lot to install, configure and keep track of, but following these recommendations will make your WordPress installation much less susceptible to compromise. If it all sounds good but you don’t really have the time or inclination to do it yourself, let us do it for you.



Deploying an ASP.NET Core 2.0 (Orchard Core) Site on Winhost

The great thing about ASP.NET Core is that it’s portable, allowing you to run your Core application on any OWIN-compatible server. So, even if a particular version of .NET Core is not installed on the server, you can still deploy your Core app in “self-contained” mode.

In this example, we’re going to use the Orchard Core application. Orchard Core is a re-write of the original Orchard application (the thing that runs all the MSDN blogs) in ASP.NET Core. As of the time of this writing, Orchard Core is using ASP.NET Core 2.0. And, at the time of this writing, we have not yet updated our servers with the newest .NET Core to support ASP.NET Core 2.0 natively, but, to repeat: you can still deploy your Core app in “self-contained” mode.

First, some house-keeping. Make sure you have the .NET Core 2.0 SDK installed and Visual Studio is updated.

Orchard Core supports different databases, SQL, SQLite, MySQL and Postgres. I’m going to use SQL, which is included with all Winhost plans. This is a good time to create the SQL database in your Winhost control panel.

Onto the instructions:

  1. Download the Master Branch of Orchard Core from GitHub.
  2. Unzip the file and open the OrchardCore.sln solution file in Visual Studio 2017.
  3. Wait for Visual Studio to restore all the Nuget packages.
  4. Set OrchardCore.Cms.Web as the startup project (right-click OrchardCore.Cms.Web and select “Set as Startup Project”)

  1. Open the OrchardCore.Cms.Web.csproj project file (right-click OrchardCore.Cms.Web and select “Edit OrcOrchardCore.Cms.Web.csproj”)

By default, Orchard Core is Framework-dependent. We have to change that to make it self-contained. We have to specify the target platform (tell the application what kind of server it’s going to be running on). In my case, my Winhost site is running on Windows 2012/IIS 8. You can find this information in your Winhost control panel, under the Site Info section. The Runtime Identifier for Windows 2012/IIS 8 is: win8-x64.  If you’re site is running on a different server, you can check out the full catalog of Runtime Identifiers here.

  1. In the PropertyGroup section, add:
    <RuntimeIdentifier>win8-x64</RuntimeIdentifier>

  1. Save your changes.

Now we’re just about ready to publish.  This would be a good time to remove the parts of Orchard Core that you’re not going to use. (For this example site, I didn’t remove anything.)

Before, pre-2.0, we would have run the dotnet restore and dotnet build commands at this point. But now, those are implicit commands with publish. So you can just run the publish command (right-click OrchardCore.Cms.Web and select “Publish…”). I used FTP to publish the project directly onto the Winhost servers. Instructions for different deployment methods are available here.

Wait for the project to publish, then navigate to your site and you should see the Orchard Core setup page:

I picked the Agency Recipe. Fill out all the fields, click the Finish Setup button and you should see your new site:



Fall App Installer Updates

The latest version of these apps are now available:



Special year-end discount on new sites for current Winhost customers

From now through the end of the year, you will receive a 25% discount on all new sites ordered through Control Panel. The discount applies to whichever plan term you select, so the longer the term, the more you’ll save.

To get started, go to the “Sites” section of Control Panel and click the “Order New Site” button. Your discount will be automatically applied.

If you’ve been putting off purchasing a new site for that special project, now is a great time to get started. This discount is for current Winhost customers only. It’s our way of saying thank you for being a loyal customer. We appreciate your continued support!

The discount applies to hosting fees only for the first payment term. Subsequent terms will renew at the regular price. Domain registration and other third party services are not included.



Getting Started with SpamExperts

SpamExperts is a great anti-spam service. It’s easy to use, and relatively inexpensive because you just need one service to cover your entire domain. (Most other spam services require you to buy one service for each of your email addresses.) Our SmarterMail email service (included with all of our plans) comes with some spam-fighting features that allow you to set your own weights and filters. But a lot of our customers were not comfortable with tweaking those weights and filters on their own and risk losing important emails.

SpamExperts is highly effective out-of-the-box. Simply set-it-and-forget-it. In fact, we found it so effective that we switched over to using it for our own corporate emails.

This articles explains how to set up your SpamExperts service.

  1. Login to the control panel at: https://cp.winhost.com/
  2. Click on the SpamExperts button

 

 

  1. Click the green Order New SpamExperts button

 

 

  1. Select the domain name you want to buy the service for and the billing period you want, then click Continue

 

 

On the next page, you can set where SpamExperts will send your email after filtering. Our system will look up the current email servers for your domain. This will be the correct setting for most users.

 

 

  1. Click Continue
  2. Click Submit My Order

The service will only take a few seconds to set up. Now you have to set up your domain mail records (MX Records) to point to the SpamExperts service.

  1. Click the SpamExperts button
  2. Click the Manage link

 

 

On the next page, you’ll see the SpamExperts MX Records to use. If you are using our nameservers, our system will automatically set up the MX Records for you.

  1. Click the Yes, update my DNS records link

 

 

  1. Click OK on the notification to confirm

And you’re all set! Again, SpamExperts works great out of the box. If you’re so inclined, you can click the green SpamExpert Portal button to get the SpamExperts interface to make changes to the service settings.

A note about Greylisting: Greylisting is an effective anti-spam function that we enable in SmarterMail by default. Greylisting can delay when you receive new emails. Disabling Greylisting gets rid of the delay, but likely results in much getting more spam. With SpamExperts filtering out spam, you can disable Greylisting in SmarterMail. No spam, no delay. Yay!