Website hosting is a complicated affair to the uninitiated. Most people use free sites because it’s faster and easier to set up and maintain. In the mid-nineties, it would be places like Geocities and Yahoo that would host free personal sites. Geocities was later bought out by Yahoo. Lots of web sites that were hosted on Geocities went to Internet heaven and can only be found if they were archived at the Internet Wayback Machine. Nowadays, places like WordPress, Blogster, and Blogger that have taken over the free web site space. If you wanted to look professional, you had to buy your own web site hosting space and a domain name.
For the last 6 years, I was using Lunarpages for my hosting. When I first signed up with them, they were a competent company. The technical support was reasonably quick and efficient, with an average of a 12 hour response time for email. Also, they were reasonably priced, at $6.95/month, for unlimited bandwidth and unlimited web space. Unfortunately, things were changing. Their previously free cPanel feature was now an extra $24.00/year. I chalked it up to things you have to pay for, and ponied up the money. It was necessary for me to keep using cPanel on my web sites as it makes the setup and maintenance easier. The hosting product I was using was supporting 4 sites: memorysdream.com, masarap.ph, reggiereginaldo.com, and hamp.ph.
Around the 2nd quarter of this year though, I began experiencing problems. My mom’s site, masarap.ph, was experiencing intermittent downtime. It would go down for anywhere from 3 minutes to a few hours at a time. I couldn’t figure out why it was happening. The site is a recipe repository, where Mom shares her latest experiments. Lunarpages was insisting that some plugins that I had installed were eating up too much server memory, and needed to be disabled. We disabled the identified plugins, but the issue continued. My personal site, memorysdream.com, didn’t seem to be affected. They would also insist that based on their records, the site was always online during the time periods I would specify.
Rica and I compared masarap.ph to memorysdream.com. We couldn’t find a noticeable difference in the web site installations. Both were using the same plugins. We would always make sure we were using the latest version of WordPress, plugins and themes. The only difference was the WordPress theme. We quickly excluded the theme from the reason we were having issues. The themes were similarly implemented enough that we couldn’t find any coding that would cause the issues.
To try to determine the root cause of the issue, we installed Wordfence as a method to identify who was accessing the web site and uncover any issues. We also closely monitored our hits using Google Analytics and Statcounter. We also used Awstats, a server based stat counter we could access from cPanel. We determined that we were getting hit with from a lot of crawlers and people trying to break into the site. We implemented additional things to limit login attempts.
Lunarpages had me disable some parts of Wordfence, as it was eating up too much bandwidth. It was frustrating, I needed to see who was hitting my sites to block their IP addresses, but the server I was on couldn’t handle the implementation. Going through the raw logs was an exercise in patience. There was a lot of traffic, and it wasn’t easy determining what were legitimate hits.
Throughout the year, I would still get emails saying masarap.ph was down. We still couldn’t pin down what was happening. As a test, we decided to transfer the sites to another server to test if the load issues would be replicated. One of Rica’s programmer friends, Paul, had an account at 247-host.com and we decided to test it there. He said there were no issues. That lead us to believe we needed to change hosting services for the simple reason that the servers we were paying for couldn’t give us what we needed. I had paid up for Lunarpages hosting until February 2015, so was going to just wait it out and then transfer when the contract came up for renewal.
Last November, things came to a head. I wasn’t able to access any of my sites. I couldn’t even access cPanel through the Lunarpages special URL. I sent an email saying my site was down, and Lunarpages responded with:
November 18, 2014
Re: [Lunarpages Online HelpDesk] [VB26GE11EWX2] Cannot access memorysdream.com cpanel and web site
Thank you for contacting Lunarpages Support. Your IP address (***IP REMOVED**) appears to be blocked on the server firewall due to mod_security triggered. We have already unblocked your IP so that you should now be able to access your website/server properly at this time.
ModSecurity (also known as “modsec”) has proven itself useful in a variety of situations, and again this is true in assisting with WordPress brute force attempts resulting in a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. While a number of WordPress plugins exist to prevent such attacks, custom modsec rules can prevent such attacks for all WordPress installations on a server. Modsec immediately filters incoming HTTP requests, which assists against taxing server resources.
These rules will block access for the offending IP address for 5 minutes upon 5 failed login attempts over a 3 minute duration. If you would like to disable mod_security, you can do it as your own risk. Here is some further information and a full explanation for your reference:
I hope this helps. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns.
Panop Kornwithayasin (Ex Sujit Kornwithayasin)
Customer Service Representative
Lunarpages Internet Solutions
After they unblocked my IP, I was able to access my sites again, but I decided not to change the rule. By itself, the rule is useful. It does help prevent excessive login attempts.
Then in the last week of November, when I was going to post an update for my article at ManilaSpeak.com, I couldn’t access my site again. I spent 58 minutes on hold with waiting for Technical Support to tell me they blocked my IP address, again, because it was logging in maliciously. I freaked out. I wasn’t even logging into the site, how could my IP address be logging in maliciously? I manage all the computers in the house, and none of them were logging onto any of my sites without my knowledge. I use a static IP with a closed, private network. I asked how to stop this from happening, and the tech said I couldn’t. That was frustrating. He just said, call us again, so we can unblock it. The whole conversation lasted less than 5 minutes. I felt I wasted an hour of my life just to have my IP unblocked.
This was enough. I was sick of technical support that would only give me email canned answers. cPanel, which had been free for many years, and is still free at many other hosting services, I now had to pay for. To top it off, my own IP address would regularly get blocked from accessing my site.
It was time to move. NOW.
Since 247-host.com had a great endorsement from Paul, I figured, why not. If we have issues, at least we know a programmer who could help us figure out what was going on.
The deal at 247-host.com is amazing! It was almost half price from what I was paying at Lunar Pages. The Shared Hosting Gold Package I decided to get is $3.00/month less than what I was currently paying. cPanel is included, so I figured the true test is the tech support. I found out they will transfer your website files for you, FOR FREE. That clinched it for me. I signed up.
And then got the best surprise, I got a 50% discount because of Cyber Monday. I signed up for a 2-year contract to give me the best value.
The site transfer did have a few hiccups. The WordPress installations didn’t properly connect to the databases on the first try, but when I informed 247-host.com, their techs were the ones who fixed it, in less than 6 hours. Some of the delays in resolution were actually caused by the time difference, as they are a Canadian company, and I’m about several hours ahead in the Philippines.
I also like that there are several lines available for tech support: email, chat, online ticket system, and phone. I’ve used chat, email, and the online ticket system. Haven’t tried phone support yet, as the methods I used provided me with reasonable response times. Sometimes the techs would answer in less than 10 minutes. This is much better than having to wait 24-48 hours for Lunarpages’ canned email response.
Hopefully, 247-host.com will live up and exceed my expectations. They’re doing going a great job right now.