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Webhosting for Non-Technical People: the Dark World of DDoS Attacks

Author, marketing VP and notorious luddite

Author, marketing VP and notorious luddite

DDoS attacks sound like something out of one of those cheese-ball 1980s “hackers break into somebody’s computer and ignite a world war three” movies — you know, the ones that feature 400 baud modems and TRS-80s with cassette drives — but “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks are very real, and are a growing problem.

ServInt, like everybody else in the hosting industry, has seen an uptick in DDoS activities on its network over the last couple of years. And while DDoS hasn’t been a major problem for us, it’s something we’re working hard to stay ahead of — which is what brought it to my attention, and what got me to make the effort to understand DDoS attacks better.

What is a DDoS attack?

A DDoS attack occurs when hackers gain control of multiple computers (that’s what makes these attacks “distributed”) and force them to make some form of system resource-dependent request of a target computer or website. The volume at which these requests are made quickly overwhelms the computer that is being targeted, and eventually the site or computer ceases functioning.

This is not the place — and I am certainly not the author — to go into the specifics of how this all works. Here’s an article that does a good job summarizing the different kinds of DDoS attacks.

What’s more important to you and me is: how can all this affect ServInt customers, and what measures does ServInt take to address the problem? Read more

My Son’s First Linux Command

3038629479_cdf1017a4e_bMy son is five years old and a digital native. For the last year or so he’s been saying that he wants to develop video games when he grows up. I’ve acknowledged his desire, telling him that he can develop video games, but that he’d need to learn how to write code and work hard. When he recently brought up his plan again I finally said, “Okay, lets do it.”

We sat down and talked about what he wanted his game to do. His first idea was a Minecraft type game with dinosaurs, I told him that was a good end goal, but that we needed to start smaller, something simple. I asked him what he wanted the goal of his game to be about, he said slaying a dragon. Then I asked him how he wanted the game to start, and he chose waking up in a cave. We then began designing our text-based adventure.

I used this opportunity to teach him the echo command. Echo is the simplest of commands, returning whatever string of text or variables is typed into the command. It’s also a great command to use to learn your first script. Read more

Install Minecraft Overviewer on cPanel

tech bench game techEditor’s note: this tutorial assumes you are familiar with working on the command line on your server via SSH. If you’re not, you might want to check out this article first to get your feet wet.

In previous Tech Bench posts, we discussed how to install vanilla Minecraft and how to install Bukkit Minecraft, but how can you look at your beautiful server maps and buildings and show them off to your friends? Minecraft Overviewer is one solution.

As I’ve mentioned before, Minecraft is memory intensive. Minecraft Overviewer is also memory intensive. I would recommend at least a Signature VPS for hosting a Minecraft server, but an Ultimate would be better.

mcmap2

Here is how to install Minecraft Overviewer on a cPanel VPS. Read more

PHP Mail Issues and DNS

tech bench 2 Here’s a question: What do these two very common email support request have in common?

1. A VPS user believes that the PHP mail function is not working or that there is something wrong with the mail sending script (Contact Us form, registration form, or an order form which sends an email).

2. A user is having trouble sending email to other email accounts that are hosted on the same server.

In both cases, the client’s site is usually hosted on the server while email is hosted elsewhere. The site is also usually using third party nameservers (e.g. nameservers at a third-party domain registrar). The server is trying to send email locally instead of remotely where it actually exists (Google Apps, GoDaddy mail, Office365 etc).

If you think your PHP mail function is not working because you are having trouble sending email to an account on your server, you should check your DNS configuration:

  1. Run a DNS report of the domain on a site such as intoDNS.
  2. Use the output to determine if the domain is using third-party nameservers.

Third-party nameservers are nameservers whose IPs do not resolve to your server’s IP addresses. Running a DNS report will help you determine if this is the case. If it is, you likely set up an A record to have the site resolve to your server while keeping the mail exchange (MX) records set to resolve to another server.

The Fix:

  1. Move the domain for the off-server email address from /etc/localdomains to /etc/remotedomains. On cPanel servers, this can be done in WHM:
    1. Navigate to DNS Functions >> Edit DNS Zone, choose the domain in question and scroll to the bottom and switch to ‘Remote Mail Exchanger’. This change in WHM updates the above two files. (In certain instances even though a domain may be in /etc/remotedomains, it may still be in /etc/localdomains as well. Check to see if it is properly removed if you decide to add the file manually.)
    2. If you are using your own private nameservers for the domain in question, this is all that needs to be done to resolve the issue. If you are NOT using your own private nameservers, proceed to step 2.
  2. Delete the DNS zone file from the server because it is using third party nameservers and is not needed on the server. This local zone file is actually what is directing the server to send email locally instead of looking for it off your server. The zone file can be deleted from the following location: DNS Functions >> Delete a DNS Zone

Please note that this DNS zone file can be generated again if you ever decide to move away from third party nameservers and start using your own (e.g. ns1.yourdomain.com and ns2.yourdomain.com).

That’s it, you should now be able to send email at your domains that are hosted with third parties.

Installing Virtualmin: Free Server Control Panel

tech bench advanced topicsEditor’s Note: This Tech Bench: Advanced Topics post assumes knowledge and comfort with working on the command line of your server. If you would like to learn more about working on the command line, you can begin here.

After the choices of hosting provider and server package, one of the most important considerations a VPS customer can make when purchasing service is his or her choice of control panel. Control Panel software allows a user to configure and administer a server without the need to log in on the command line, greatly simplifying both routine and complex server administration tasks.

ServInt offers and fully supports the cPanel control panel, but there are other choices. Some of our customers wish to install their own control panel. One of the more popular choices is Virtualmin. There are two version of Virtualmin, a paid version and a free version. In this article, we’ll discuss how to install the free version of the Virtualmin software on a VPS server. Read more

Domain Collision in a World of .guru and .ninja

tech bench 2Since 2004 there have been only 22 common generic top-level domains (gTLDs) for use on the Internet. One of the side effects of this is the proliferation of startups with weird mishmashes of letters for names. In the coming months, there will be over 1000 new gTLDs made available to the public. Over 100 are already out there, including .wiki, .support and even .ninja.

gTLDs are issued by ICANN after an application process, and once approved they are added to what’s called the global DNS. In 2012, ICANN closed the application process on new gTLDs to add to that pool. You can see the list of what’s been issued and how many domains have been bought here.

As a responsible web hosting provider, we need to prepare for anything that might break or change as a result of the new gTLD process. And indeed, there’s an issue that might cause things to break as a result of new gTLDs being issued. It’s called “domain collision.” Read more

Why We Fight for Internet Freedom

i2c-supporterThis week I have the honor of representing not just ServInt but the rest of the Internet infrastructure industry when I get to moderate the Internet Education Day event and awards ceremony hosted by the Internet Infrastructure Coalition (i2Coalition).  At this event, scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 in the Rayburn House Office Building, the i2Coalition will be giving Champion of Internet Innovation Awards to U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) and U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) for their work helping this industry grow and succeed.

I love this industry, because what we do is important. Our customers build their dreams atop our infrastructure, and their dreams are literally changing the world — for the better, in my view. That being said, the Internet is huge and complex, and it has attracted a few bad players with its reach and leverage. Companies like ServInt have been on the front lines of fighting that bad stuff for decades — things like child pornography, SPAM and malware.

It’s not enough for companies like ours to fight regulation of our industry. Read more

Today’s Internet Isn’t One-Type-Fits-All

photo-mgt-reedThere’s a revolution underfoot in the hosting industry, but it’s not what you think. The Cloud has arrived. It has gone mainstream. The revolution I’m talking about is a silent one. It’s a war waged by veteran hosting customers who know the products they want, but see them mothballed or discontinued as they’re forced into one-type-fits-all technologies they don’t need — and by new customers who need powerful hosting but are overwhelmed by the proliferation of complex “solutions” in today’s hosting marketplace.

The Cloud promised to allow massive scalability and utility billing, but for some customers that has translated into complicated deployment and unpredictable costs.

Frankly, I’m tired of seeing those who desire a simpler model of powerful hosting — the tried-and-true dedicated server — marginalized by a hosting industry intent on moving to a unified model of Cloud hosting technology for all users. Read more

Serious Horsepower, Incredible Value: ServInt’s New Flex v3 Dedicated Servers

servint flexServInt’s Flex line of dedicated servers launched in 2012 with the goal of providing dedicated server customers the best, most trustworthy hardware in the world, coupled with modern tools that give dedicated server customers the ability to upgrade, downgrade and scale easily to meet changing needs. Today I’m proud to announce the newest addition to our product line, the ServInt Flex v3 Dedicated server. We’ve incorporated the latest, most powerful hardware and technology into these servers, all while keeping costs low to put real power into the hands of the small-to-medium sized business consumers, bloggers, resellers, and start-ups.

The value proposition for the Flex line is simple: incredible power, easy scalability, top-notch server management, and fair pricing. The basic concept of the v3 line is no different. With the Flex v3 Dedicated server line we maintain the best value in the dedicated server marketplace and raise the stakes for our competition even more. Flex Dedicated servers start at $199 a month. And our most popular model, the Flex Pro, starts a $299. For server specifications and management similar to our $299 a month Flex Pro v3, you will pay up to 5x to 10x more at companies such as Rackspace and Media Temple. Read more

Why is My VPS Slow?

277945267_23c08b55b9Does your website load slowly?

Have you upgraded into a “professional” hosting package only to find that your new VPS lacks the performance you were promised?

Lackluster server performance has been a thorn in the side of VPS hosting customers for some time. Many buyers have learned to pay attention to server specs — getting as much RAM, as many CPU cores and as much disk space as possible for their money. But others have realized that spec shopping alone won’t guarantee performance.

But why not? Why can’t VPS customers simply buy a server with more RAM, CPU and disk and trust that they will get the boost in server performance they require?

The problem most often comes down to something called the “noisy neighbor.” Read more

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