Are Hackers the Only Threat to Your Site Uptime?

page-not-found-688965_640Every business that operates in the online arena, either solely or in concert with a brick-and-mortar establishment, fears hackers. For years, experts have warned that it’s not a matter of if, but when a company will be hacked. If it can happen to mega corporations, healthcare providers, banks, and even government entities that have the highest levels of security, it can definitely happen to the average business.

This is partially due to the fact that most businesses are woefully under-protected when it comes to internet security. Or perhaps hackers are just one step ahead. The outcome is the same – your business suffers when hackers cause site downtime and steal, corrupt, destroy, or ransom your data.

Of course, hackers are not the only cause of website downtime. Although hackers pose a real threat, there are other reasons why your website might suffer unscheduled downtime. This interruption of service will annoy customers and cost you money.

The good news is that you’re not the first business to deal with such problems and you can learn a lot from those who suffered before. Preparing yourself to recover from downtime starts with understanding potential causes and then determining how best to plan for recovery. Here are a few threats to your site uptime and what you can do to minimize them.

Web Hosts

It’s important to take your time when it comes to choosing a suitable web host. You will first want to consider the bottom line regarding rates and scalability.  Just as importantly, you want to make sure the vendor you select has a solid reputation for service. Look for a host that offers some guarantees (by way of reparations) should you suffer unscheduled downtime.

No web hosting service can guarantee 100% uptime, so if you hear this promise you should probably keep looking. However, reputable and reliable providers should warn you well in advance of scheduled downtime. A good hosting service will be available to help you address and troubleshoot issues with downtime and, in some cases, they may even back up their guarantees with a policy of repayment for any unscheduled downtime you do suffer due to problems on their end.

Traffic and Bandwidth

Business owners must always concern themselves with the bottom line if they want to run an efficient and profitable operation. In terms of bandwidth, you’ll have to try to calculate the amount of virtual traffic that is likely to come in so that you can pay for an appropriate package.

If you miscalculate and you experience more traffic than anticipated, your site could go down. This will leave visitors and patrons unable to peruse your wares and make purchases online. A web host that offers scalability will allow you to ramp up quickly should such issues arise.  However, you might want to err on the side of caution by opting for more bandwidth than you think you’ll need and then scale back if you’re not using it all.

Employees

Hackers are a definite threat to your business, but one of the most common ways for hackers to gain entry to your system is through your employees. This happens most often when employees are careless with login information. By creating weak passwords that are easy to hack or allowing others access to their login information, these employees are putting your system at risk.

Employees may also behave in an unsafe manner by visiting dangerous websites, opening emails from unknown senders, or clicking suspicious links. All of these ill-advised actions could result in hackers gaining access to your system and shutting it down from the inside out.

There are two good ways to deal with this. First, you should train your employees to behave in an appropriate manner when using company resources. Second, you should use software protections that prompts employees to create strong passwords (and update them frequently), that warn employees when they’re about to do something dangerous, that requires additional confirmations for downloads, or that outright denies access to certain online resources.

Monitoring and Alerts

If you want the best chance to minimize and address website downtime, regardless of the cause, your best bet is to hire a monitoring and maintenance service. These professionals can not only monitor your site and alert you when problems arise, but they can help you to plan for action and recovery when downtime does occur.

How to Protect Against Common Hack Attacks

attack computer codeHacking is not really a new concept. In fact, the idea of breaking into a business to steal information, make a quick buck, or simply wreak havoc has been around pretty much as long as there have been businesses. The advent of online technologies has just upped the ante, so to speak, by increasing B2C connections and centralizing the data, making for a virtual smorgasbord that criminals can’t ignore.

Even worse, hackers are ahead of the game. They’re constantly finding new ways to break down defenses, exploit chinks in the armor, and defeat protective measures. This, of course, is also nothing new.

Build a better lock and thieves will find ways around it. The difficulty, as always, is that one party plays by the rules and the other delights in breaking them. That said, you can’t suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without at least trying to protect yourself.

At the very least there are privacy laws in place that mandate some effort on your part to protect the sensitive information entrusted to you by customers. That said, you also have an ethical responsibility to treat confidential information with the utmost care, and frankly, your business will suffer the most if that data is compromised, thanks to government penalties, possible lawsuits, and a damaged reputation.

What can you do? As it turns out, you can do a lot. Many businesses are sorely in need of increased protection from hackers. In some cases pricy upgrades are needed, but others rely on pure common sense. Here are some strategies to help you protect against the most common hack attacks.

Don’t Be an Easy Target

As in the real world, many crimes in the online arena are crimes of opportunity. Hackers are predators – why work hard for a kill when there are so many easy pickings available? If you’re not protecting yourself adequately, your company will pay the price.

Although the headlines often feature only the highest-profile hacks on mega-corporations, it’s much more common for small businesses to be targeted and compromised simply because they don’t have the same level of protection as their larger brethren. If you want to secure yourself against the most common attacks, you need to at least take basic measures.

A firewall is pretty much a given, as is antivirus/anti-spyware software. However, you can do a lot more on behalf of your company and your clients. For starters, you’re going to need a web application firewall (WAF) to protect your online operations the same way you protect your internal network.

From there you can consider more aggressive options like using encryption software, hiding your website’s CMS with security applications, and employing a third-party monitoring service, just for example. These measures can cost you, but likely not as much as a data breach will, and you can pick and choose the options that work best for your business.

Focus on Login Controls

One of the easiest points of ingress for hackers is often customer or employee logins. The good news is that you can do a lot to stymie hackers on this front.

Strong password requirements are a must, but you should also prompt users to change their password frequently and automatically log users out after short periods of inactivity. You can also use login software that doesn’t auto-populate fields.

If the password is wrong, don’t allow the username to display even if it was correct – clear all fields for additional login attempts and freeze the account following successive fails to log in. Two-step verification is also becoming more popular for added security.

Train Employees

Your protective tools are only as good as the people using them. Your password protections, for example, are worthless if users allow easy access to login information. Your firewalls can’t protect against ignorant behavior.

Training is therefore an essential element of protection. You may have software that warns network users about dangerous websites, but you also need to train them to navigate away instead of ignoring these warnings and behaving in a foolhardy manner.

Employees should also be warned against opening suspicious emails or clicking harmful links. With proper training your employees and even your customers can be taught how not to facilitate data breaches.

Hire Help

If you want to protect against hackers you may have to hire professional help. Whether you employ an on-site IT staff or you contract with third-party service providers, you should update and maintain your hardware and software regularly, monitor your network, and implement a system of alerts that warns you of suspicious activity. Early warning of hacking activity can be a very valuable protective measure.

Best Practices for Systems Backup

data backup cloudThe growth of internet operations over the past couple of decades has been extremely beneficial for commercial interests in a number of ways. Not only can businesses now reach a much broader range of prospective customers, but they can offer the convenience of purchasing from the comfort of home thanks to online shopping carts.

That’s just the benefits for retailers. Service providers can also offer ease of use to customers and clients thanks to speedy communiques and information sharing online. In both cases, however, there is one major challenge to consider: security.

When consumers provide businesses with private data, including names, contact information, credit card numbers, and even social security numbers, just for example, they expect this sensitive data to be protected. In addition, there are laws in place specifically aimed at protecting consumer privacy, such as those listed here on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

In other words, companies must have systems in place to protect confidential information, not only for customers, but also employees, vendors, and anyone else they do business with. Unfortunately, data breaches can occur, even with the best security measures in place.

Taking steps like encrypting data can help to ensure that even stolen information is unusable. However, a business that suffers a data breach could end up dealing with files that have been locked, corrupted, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unusable.

Natural disasters can occur, as well, wiping out memory or even destroying physical systems. For these reasons, companies must prepare for data recovery with a solid strategy for backing up data. Here are a few best practices to set you on the right path.

Hardware and Software

Your best bet when it comes to data recovery is to avoid situations where you have to recover lost or stolen data. This is the worst-case scenario when it comes to data protection.

The best way to avoid data loss is to set up hardware and software that keeps your data safe. This means utilizing secure servers and setting up network security programs like a firewall, antivirus software, and encryption to protect data from breach situations.

Of course, it’s not always possible to stop breaches or natural disasters that could wipe out your system, so it’s also important to set up a system of backups to make data recovery (at least from your last save point) possible.

Planning for Recovery

When it comes to backing up data, there are three main considerations: frequency, capacity, and policies and procedures. You need to start by determining how often you want to back up your data.

Some companies do it weekly, some prefer daily, and others have multiple saves per day. The frequency of turnover of data could help you to figure out how often you should back up information.

You also need to think about the capacity required to save your company data, especially if you want to keep several save points on hand. Ideally, you should plan for flexible storage capacity with the option to grow along with your operation, either in-house or off-site (or both).

Finally, you need to implement policies and procedures for backup. With the right hardware and software in place, you may be able to automate the entire process. Still, your employees should know how and when to back up data, as well as how to keep it safe.

3-2-1 Backup Rule

The rule of thumb for backing up data is the 3-2-1 rule. This rule states that you need a minimum of three copies of data, that it must be stored in at least two different formats, and that one copy of your data should be stored off-site.

This level of redundancy might sound extreme, but suppose you have operational data stored on a network and backed up on hard drives. What if a tornado destroys your office, your servers, and all of your data?

If such a catastrophe should occur, you’ll certainly be glad you created a third copy of your company data and stored it off-site, making recovery possible.

Monitoring and Management

The final practice to observe when it comes to data backup is monitoring and management. When you hire services to monitor your systems and manage your data backups, you can increase security and your ability to avoid costly issues like data breaches that could lead to losses.

Free and Easy Network Security Tips for Every Office

Let’s be clear up front: every business is going to have to spend some money on network security. Not only do you need to put proper protections in place to ensure you’re not an easy target for hackers, but you also have to comply with federal and state laws pertaining to privacy. If a data breach compromises private data for employees, clients, and so on, you could find yourself in serious legal hot water.

However, once you have a firewall, antivirus/antispyware software, password protection software, and extras like VPN or FTPs in place to protect your network and your data, you’ll find that there are a number of free and easy ways to ensure that the protections you paid for continue to perform as intended. Here are just a few free and easy network security tips that will benefit every business.

Go Paperless

This might not sound like a network security tip, but if documents containing sensitive information like user names and passwords get into the wrong hands, a network breach could result. Even better, going paperless actually saves you money.

If you’re not able to go completely paperless, at least make sure to shred and recycle documents appropriately, taking every precaution to ensure that data isn’t readily available to industrious dumpster divers.

Perform Updates

Software and firmware need to be updated regularly if you want to protect your network from outside threats. Most of your hardware and software will have options in the settings to automatically check for and install updates, making the process easy for you, but if you have IT staff on hand, you may want to perform these updates manually or at least get notifications when new updates are available so you can decide if you want to allow them or not.

All of the hardware that supports your network, including computers, servers, modems, routers, and so on will need firmware and driver updates to continue functioning properly and communicating with other devices on your network. Relevant software updates can ensure that you’re protected against the latest threats. Both can help to keep you protected, but only if you check regularly and perform updates as needed.

Schedule Regular Scans

With proper updates your antivirus/anti-spyware software should protect your network from viruses and other malicious code. However, it’s a good idea to schedule regular system scans to ensure that nothing suspicious has slipped through the cracks and infiltrated your network.

Require Strong Passwords

Password protection is an excellent way to keep unwanted visitors out of your network, but only if the passwords used are strong enough that hackers can’t crack them. You should therefor require employees and online users to create strong passwords.

These days passwords should have a minimum of 8-12 characters, with combinations of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. In addition, users should make sure not to use personal information like pet names, birth dates, addresses, and so on.

One good option is to use an easy-to-remember acronym that looks like gibberish to anyone else. For example, the phrase “My 2 dogs-Fido and Spot-are 9 and 13” would become “M2d-FaS-a9a13”.

Change Passwords Frequently

It’s not enough to create strong passwords; you should also prompt users to change them on a regular basis. This will help to stop the potential threat arising from either employees that share passwords or hackers working on gaining entry to your system.

Policies and Training

All the protections in the world can’t keep you safe from ignorance and stupidity. You must therefore set clear policies for appropriate behavior when using the network and then train all employees accordingly.

These policies could include common sense activities like keeping passwords private (i.e. not sharing them with coworkers, supervisors, outsiders, or anyone else), as well as behaving in a safe and responsible manner when using company resources. Employees should be trained to avoid email from unknown senders, steer clear of dangerous websites, and avoid clicking suspicion links, just for example.

Having such policies in place and training employees to behave properly might seem like a waste of time, but it only takes one mistake and you might as well throw the doors wide open and invite hackers in. With proper hardware, software, policies, and training procedures in place, your business has the best chance of avoiding a data breach and the resulting fallout.

What You Need to Know About Ransomware

Everyone knows how important it is to protect a business network from threats like viruses, spyware, and malware. To that end you probably have a strong firewall, antivirus/anti-spyware software, password protection, and perhaps even encryption programs and monitoring services in place.

This is all good news for your business and your customers. When you make security a top priority, you can avoid data breaches, comply with federal and state privacy laws, and keep your customers safe and satisfied.

Unfortunately, hackers and other cyber criminals are always looking for new ways to bypass protective measures and get at sensitive data. In some cases, they’re interested in stealing identities. Others are just cyber terrorists looking to wreak havoc.

The latest form of malware to gain popularity is called ransomware. If you haven’t yet heard of this threat, much less encountered it, you’ll definitely want to find ways to steer clear. Here are a few things every business needs to know about ransomware.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a specific type of malware intended to disrupt use of your computer with the goal of exacting a ransom payment to undo the damage. It works by restricting access to your computer, either by locking you out or encrypting files, so that even if you can open them, you can’t actually access the information they contain.

Victims are generally given a time frame, say 24 hours, in which to pay. Most often, payments have to be made in virtually untraceable currencies like Bitcoin or deposited onto prepaid cards via MoneyGram, just for example.

Ransom amounts tend to be relatively reasonable, fluctuating between less than $100 and just a few hundred at the top end.  Victims report that payment was met with reward – computers were unlocked and files were decrypted – while failure to pay resulted in loss. In other words, many businesses felt like it was simply easier to pay up.

How Does Ransomware Get In?

Like most malware, there are two main ways ransomware can infect your computer. You either let it in by clicking and downloading a file or it can infiltrate your network through subpar security.

When it comes to security breaches, you may or may not have been able to do more. If your employees are careless with passwords and hackers get in, you probably could have prevented the problem with stricter controls. On the other hand, sophisticated cyber criminals can hack even strong defenses, so you may not be entirely to blame.

As for clicking suspicious links and downloading files, you have no one to blame but yourself. User error is the most common way for ransomware to infiltrate your system. Be careful what you download!

How Can I Protect My Network?

If you find yourself victimized by ransomware, you have two choices: pay the piper or make use of appropriate antivirus fixes available. Depending on the type of ransomware, you have a couple of options.

Some ransomware is nothing more than scareware. It tells you something is wrong with your computer and asks for money to fix it, but in fact nothing is wrong. In some cases, this threat can easily be removed by switching your computer to safe mode operation and running an antivirus scan to locate and remove malware.

Of course, this may not be possible if the malware locks up your computer so that you can’t access any programs or functions, effectively barring you from safe mode and antivirus tools. This is a little more complicated to fix, but a system restore could do the trick. At this point you may want to seek professional help.

If you’re dealing with something serious, like the now infamous CryptoLocker, however, you’re in for a fight. This malware actually encrypts your files and it is practically impossible to undo the damage without paying the ransom.

This is not to say you should encourage this type of behavior by paying. You’ll never have to if you prepare for a ransomware attack and plan accordingly.

The simple solution is frequent and comprehensive system backups. You should do it daily, at least. This way if your data is compromised by ransomware, all you have to do is shut down and revert to a backup save point. For companies that have large amount of data, backups are especially important. SiteUptime client Tradebit.com stores many terabytes of data and uses several different companies to insure that their data is backed up and safe. They have been able to avoid data loss in the past as a result of this proactive approach to backups.

Having access to multiple copies of your data will result in minimal data loss and you can avoid paying the ransom. Naturally, you’ll want to figure out how the breach occurred and beef up security should you suffer a ransomware attack, but your best defense with this type of malware is a good offense.

Comparing Internal Vs. External Website Monitoring

Any business that relies on the power of its website knows that monitoring is often the difference between minimal downtime and an extended outage. Neither is good in today’s fast-paced marketplace, but the former is definitely preferable over the latter.

Website monitoring ensures that your site or application is running at peak performance by auditing connectivity, DNS records, bandwidth speeds, and load testing under various traffic conditions along with other important metrics. Monitoring is focused on keeping your site or application operating without interruption by detecting problems before they arise and addressing them quickly when they do.

Many of these services will also rate the efficiency of your site against others to track things like memory use, page load time, processing speeds, and so on, so your site is working just as quickly and effectively as possible. That’s one of the many reasons monitoring is important; it helps you maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Like any important decision involving the success of your enterprise, you have options that you’ll want to consider when selecting the right type of service for your particular needs. You have two choices, internal or external monitoring. Both will work hard to keep your site running properly 24/7, but each has distinct advantages that are well-suited for certain types of sites and server capabilities. Let’s take a look at the two different types that are available.

Internal Monitoring

This version is done from within your server. It runs inside your company firewall and offers real time updates of the strength and well-being of your system. The service tracks all of your pertinent metrics like memory usage, disk space, CPU load, page load times, and all related processes. It will let you know when you’re running out of available memory and monitor network traffic on your server.

One of the biggest advantages of internal monitoring is having a clear picture of the health of your system. The service can keep a running tally for all the statistics of your server’s performance, giving you the ability to look ahead and see the problems that might arise before they happen. These can include issues like needing to add extra disk capacity or run necessary maintenance protocols, so you can schedule that vital upkeep with enough early warning to your customers that there will be some short yet necessary downtime on your site. Being able to get ahead of things such as these are a smart way to operating a successful website.

There are some drawbacks however, the main one being the nature of an “internal” service. Everything contained in the software of your server is running together, so when the server goes down guess what happens to your monitoring capability? That’s right, you won’t know there’s an outage until you realize it yourself, which leaves you vulnerable to experiencing significant downtime during peak hours.

External Monitoring

Think of external monitoring as a safety net. This type of service is done outside of your corporate firewall and offers all of the same tracking capabilities of your memory, load times, usage, and so forth. In addition, external services can check a whole range of other areas such as the operational integrity of various ports along the network, URL content, response times and behavioral patterns.

Perhaps the most advantageous element of external monitoring over internal is the ability to keep working even when the server goes down. If a problem is detected, no matter how small or catastrophic, the service will continue to monitor the system and remain able to diagnose the reason for an interruption. Then it will contact you in whatever method you have arranged, text message, phone call, email, all of them if you like, and you’ll know the second when something has gone awry. That way you can get started on fixing the problem immediately and minimize your downtime as much as possible.

Some external monitors will even work to solve the issue for you, which can be a relief since the very service that has been made aware of the interruption is now on the job to eliminate it and get your server running at peak performance once again. This means peace of mind for you and less downtime for your business website.

Mitigating the Effects of Website Downtime

Website downtime can be a real momentum killer for your business. When your website isn’t working properly it can mean lost revenue, decreased productivity, brand damage, and might even result in your Google rankings being adversely affected. Downtime of any duration is bad, unfortunately, it’s also inevitable. It can hit the big guy and little guy alike, major companies like Amazon, Facebook, even Google, are prone to outages. The difference is found in how these companies mitigate the problem to make the unavoidable less detrimental to the success of their enterprise.

The first thing to keep in mind is the cost of downtime and accepting that it will happen to you at some point in the future. The business owner who doesn’t prepare accordingly is only asking for trouble; sticking your head in the sand ready only to “cross that bridge if you come to it” is a recipe for disaster.

If you know it’s coming then there are some important steps that should be taken now, so the extent of your imminent outage is minimized to the least amount of downtime possible.

Know the Risks

Accepting the inevitable means knowing the risks that exist with respect to downtime. There are a number of reasons why a website or server can stop working. Hardware fails, software stops working, routers get reconfigured, files can become corrupted and viruses that invade your system can all cause your site to go offline. Then you have the scheduled maintenance that comes with any server or hosting service.

You can’t avoid that downtime if you want your site working at peak performance. When it comes to the components that comprise your network, take precautions with redundancy, security management, data backup and any other pertinent safeguards that might be exclusive to the size and needs of your system.

Human Error

It’s a fact of life, the human element can and will manage to muck up the works in some capacity. That’s just who we are, folks. But you can mitigate our involvement by taking steps to make sure the people who are working in close proximity to your server are well trained and fully knowledgeable of that system.

This could mean hiring a service that has excellent standing in the marketplace to run the operation and keeping your own employees fully apprised of how your server(s) works, especially if everything is done internally.

Good Monitoring

Website monitoring is a valuable component to mitigating the effects of downtime. Not only do these services track and audit all of the necessary processes and elements of a properly working server but they can alert you to any potential problems that could threaten to interrupt the network.

You have the choice of internal monitoring, which is done behind your corporate firewall and works within the system, or external monitoring, which involves a third-party keeping your network fully operational.

The drawback with internal monitoring is that if your server fails the monitoring often fails with it, so it’s no longer working to alert you if there’s a problem. External doesn’t have that issue, the company safeguarding the integrity of your network is on-call at all times and will contact you if there’s an interruption.

Get Insured

Most forms of risk have some type of insurance associated with them to minimize your exposure in the event of calamity. The same goes for IT downtime. These insurance policies can vary in coverage necessity depending upon the nature of the company and the importance of a website or similar portal to the success of that business. A website that plays a vital role in generating revenue of any kind will likely be a strong candidate for coverage.

Devise a Plan

You know that downtime is inevitable and you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and preparatory actions to mitigate the potential damage. But what about after that downtime has occurred? Devising a plan for recovery can be just as important as making plans to deal with the downtime itself.

Detecting the problem and fixing it is only part of the story; contacting all of the affected parties such as vendors, company personnel, and customers, repairing the issues to avoid similar problems from repeating themselves, and securing all sensitive data are just a few portions of any good recovery operation. Make sure you have one in place so your business is back on its feet quickly.

First 5 Things to Do If Your Network Experiences Downtime

We all enjoy a little downtime, except when your network has decided to stop working. That’s bad and it can bring your company to a halt resulting in lost productivity, service disruption, and a negative impact on your bottom line. Even worse, your information may be vulnerable to security breaches affecting your reputation in the marketplace.

There’s no denying that network downtime can be catastrophic and some businesses might experience significant financial losses for every hour of inactivity. In order to minimize the damage, it’s prudent to have a response plan in place so you know what to do as soon as something happens. That way if disaster strikes you can work on fixing the problem immediately and have your network up and running as quickly as possible.

1. Understand the Possible Risks

A network is a complicated amalgam of parts that all need to work in concert with one another. If one of them goes down, then the network stops running properly. There can be any number of reasons why a network fails including a power outage, device malfunctions, human error, security attacks, firmware incompatibility and failed updates and upgrades are just some of them.

Knowing how to assess and diagnose these problems is a good start to fixing them if and when they arise. Routers are usually the main culprit in most network failures, caused by a change in configuration or a failed upgrade. Being cognizant that it could be a router issue means you have a typical starting point from which to attempt to fix the problem.

2. Troubleshooting

When you know where to look, it can be much easier to solve the problem. The router is a good place to begin, but there are other common issues that might lead to network downtime. Diagnose modems, firewalls, Ethernet cards, and servers to check if they’re faulty or overloaded. Analyzing the extent of the outage and contacting your Internet Service Provider are two of the most effective methods for figuring out what’s wrong with the network. Your ISP can also run a diagnostic assessment to help pinpoint where the problem is located.

3. Embrace Disaster Preparedness

The best plan of attack is the one you’ve created before disaster strikes. Any network can go down at any time, so creating a disaster readiness protocol lets you start your recovery the minute the systems have failed. The first step is to implement a form of redundancy to safeguard against data loss.  Establishing backup resources and knowing where to locate all pertinent information in the event of an emergency will allow you to solve the mystery of your failed network sooner.

In addition, make sure to set up recovery procedures to get the network back online once any malfunctions or failures have been assessed and fixed. When you have these protocols in place, you can engage them immediately and waste less time before your business is operational again.

4. Contact Everyone

Depending upon the type of business you’re running and the amount of traffic relying on the network, you might need to alert a whole list of people as to the outage. This can include vendors, service providers and even customers about the temporary interruption. It may also require contacting other departments within your company as well as IT management personnel to start remedial asset recovery actions.

This way, any proprietary information and sensitive data that might be accessed via the network can be properly protected from any outside threats. Customers who can’t reach your business are likely to shop elsewhere, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Let them know you’re experiencing a temporary hiccup as soon as possible, which can help soften the blow to your bottom line. If your customers are aware of the problem, they may be willing to wait for you to correct it before spending their dollars with your competitor.

5. Avoid the Problem

The best thing to prepare for any downtime your network experiences is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Maybe you’ve experienced a serious outage in the past and you want to take steps to avoid a similar situation. Partner with a network monitoring service to audit all of the devices in your network to ensure they are running properly on their current configuration settings. If something changes in one of them, the service alerts you of that change which could help you avoid long-term headaches.

These services also incorporate automatic backups that restore your network to operational settings.  This way, if and when a change or upgrade results in network failure, the network reverts to the previous configuration.

Top 5 Reasons Why Your Website Could Experience Downtime

In business, downtime is unavoidable. Even restaurants have to close occasionally to fumigate or deep clean, so it’s no great shock that websites sometimes suffer from downtime as well. However, it’s important to differentiate between planned downtime and service blackouts.

When you plan downtime for maintenance or upgrades to your website, you have the opportunity to inform users well in advance and even post a redirect page for visitors that explains why your website is temporarily out of service. With service blackouts, there is no warning and no explanation – users are simply unable to access your website.

While there are certainly times when such downtime is faultless, there are also occasions when service outages could have been avoided. By understanding why downtime occurs, you have the opportunity to prevent it.

As a responsible business owner, you should always use a web monitoring service that will notify you when your site goes down so you can respond immediately, as well as provide reports that help you to pinpoint the problems. However, you should also be aware of the most common causes of downtime so that you can try to avoid them. Here are a few you should know about.

1. Unreliable Web Hosting Service

Many web hosts realize the concern their clients have about downtime. When you’re searching for a suitable web host, you’re likely to find all kinds of claims about how little downtime users experience. A common promise is that you’ll have service 99% of the time.

This sounds pretty reliable until you start crunching some numbers. 99% uptime equates to about seven hours of downtime each month, which equals about three and a half days each year that your site won’t have service. If you’re running a business, this number is unacceptable.

It’s like randomly closing the doors to a retail store three days a year without informing customers. Can you imagine how upset you’d be if you went to your grocery store during business hours and the store was closed with no explanation? What if it was a store you were visiting for the first time? You’d probably never go back.

You don’t want this situation with your website, which means you need a reliable web host. In all honesty, a site that actually delivers service 99.9% of the time is about the best you’re going to get. There’s just no getting around the fact that things happen that even a solid web host cannot anticipate or combat.

2. DNS Issues

DNS stands for Domain Name Server and the easiest way to explain it is to equate it to a phone call. When someone dials a phone number, the signal is routed to the appropriate receiver and the person you’re tying to reach hears their phone ring.

DNS is the system that recognizes website names and then identifies corresponding IP addresses and routes to them, ensuring that people typing in your web domain or clicking links to your site are directed to the appropriate landing page. So what can go wrong?

A lot, as it turns out. DNS issues are not at all uncommon. When you register your domain, the vendor you purchase it from should configure your DNS.

However, when you make changes to your website, there’s always the possibility that you could accidentally enter incorrect information or use incorrect settings, potentially messing with the DNS and causing problems for users.

3. Software Compatibility Issues

Building and maintaining a website requires a variety of software solutions. Even if they’re purported to be compatible, there could still be issues with programs fighting for dominance. Or the plug-ins you use could end up being incompatible, just for example.

The result could be pages that don’t load or even complete website failure. Either way, you need to correct the conflict or you could suffer ongoing issues with downtime.

4. Hackers

Hackers may attack you in various ways, by insinuating viruses or malware into your system to wreak havoc, by using spyware to steal information, or by outright breaking in. The result could be damage to your website, punctuated by downtime.

Hackers may go after any business, large or small. Luckily, you can protect against hackers with a proper web application firewall and antivirus/anti-spyware/anti-malware programs.

5. Natural Disasters

Okay, this is not as likely as, say, an unreliable web host, but natural disasters definitely occur and they can knock out service to particular regions or even take down the servers that are hosting your website. The best bet to avoid this is to select a web host that has back-up servers in another location just for such occurrences.

How to Proactively Monitor Your Site Uptime

Traditionally, businesses have relied on customers visiting stores in order to purchase goods or services. This meant having posted business hours and ensuring that the store was open on time to welcome customers.

These days the internet has significantly changed the way many companies conduct their business operations. Certainly brick-and-mortar stores are still popular, but many businesses have also embraced the 24/7 access offered by the internet.

Your business can make sales at all hours of the day and service consumers across the globe thanks to websites and secure online shopping carts. Of course, this system does require your site to be available, and for this you will have to rely on a web hosting service.

Unfortunately, these services are not always reliable. As a business owner, you need to know when downtime occurs and how long it lasts so that you can assess the impact to your business and find out if you need to switch to a more reliable service provider.

How can you be proactive when it comes to monitoring website uptime? Here are a few steps every business owner should take.

Visit Frequently

How often do you look at your own website? Unless you’re making changes, the answer could be infrequently. If you want to have any idea of what your customers are complaining about, it behooves you to visit your website at least daily to make sure it’s up and running and note loading times.

You should also ask employees to check in periodically throughout the day, both on computers and mobile devices. With input from a variety of sources you can gain at least some idea of what’s going on with your website and whether it might be suffering from frequent or prolonged episodes of downtime and inaccessibility.

Know When Scheduled Downtime Will Occur

This is an important factor. For one thing, you’re likely to schedule your own downtime for maintenance and updates, preferably during the slowest times of the day, and you should inform subscribers in advance and post a redirect to an explanation page while the site is down. You don’t want to alienate visitors or else they may never visit your website again.

At times, your web hosting service may also schedule downtime for similar reasons (maintenance, upgrades, etc.). A good host will inform you well in advance so that you, in turn, can make appropriate preparations to inform your customers. You can even schedule your maintenance to coincide with your web host.

Hire a Monitoring Service

There are steps you can take on your own to monitor website uptime, but if you really want to know what’s going on around the clock you need to hire some outside help. The good news is that it’s not hard to find reliable monitoring services to do the heavy lifting for you.

What do these professional services provide? Not only do they offer consistent monitoring of your website with frequent check-ins to make sure your site is up and running, but they also check it from several different geographic locations to ensure that it is accessible not only locally, but also via domestic and international portals.

In addition, these tests may be synchronized to allow for verification across multiple locations and provide further data about where and when downtime is occurring. The resulting data can help you to determine whether the problem lies with your web host or with specific portals.

Some services are free and some offer paid subscriptions that include additional features. Most monitoring companies offer both options as a means of providing solutions for businesses large and small.

Request Reporting and Alerts

Although there are many options to choose from when you’re interested in hiring a service to monitor your website uptime, you need to look for a vendor that provides two main things: reporting and alerts. For starters, you need regular feedback that includes actionable data.

Ideally, your site will suffer from little or no downtime, but if it does occur, you need to know the particulars, the when and why, so that you can take appropriate corrective action. Alerts are also a must.

A good monitoring service will provide you with immediate alerts concerning downtime via email, or text, for example, so that you can respond in record time. This service is essential to making the most of your third-party website monitoring service.