Home » Canvas Host blog » Service Updates

Topic: Service Updates

Keeping Your WordPress Website Updated and Automatic Updates

The reality of the world wide web (the Internet) is that there have always been hackers and there will always be hackers. If you own a website, the responsibility for its security is shared between website owner and the website hosting provider. At Canvas Host, we implement many lines of defense against hacking to keep our servers secure, but that is only half the battle.

If website code is poorly written or not kept up-to-date by the website’s owner, it is still vulnerable to hacking. This is why we ask customers to do their part to keep their website secure. To this end, we offer this article to help educate you about the importance of keeping your WordPress code updated, and some of the ways we can help facilitate or even automate that process for you.

The nuts and bolts of this post:

  • Who: You (or you have us do it for you)
  • What: Get your WordPress update
  • When: NOW
  • Where: Installatron / cPanel
  • Why: To prevent your website from getting hacked and to prevent the rest of the websites on the server with you from getting hacked

You need to get your WordPress website updated NOW with Installatron/cPanel for two main reasons: first, to prevent your website from getting hacked and second, to prevent the rest of the websites on the server with you from getting hacked.

Let’s begin by stating that if none of this interests you, but you do acknowledge the necessity of having your website be secure, Canvas Host can look at your hosting package and provide a quote as to the feasibility and cost to enroll your website(s) with Installatron. Please be aware that your website may not easily import with Installatron (because of modifications to WordPress or permissions from a previous web host) so any quote for the work is based on the assumption that the import and configuration is standard and you will be notified if that is not the case.

Email to Request a Quote for Automatic Updates

FOR THE DO-IT-YOURSELF-ER

For those of you who have been keeping your WordPress website updated on your own, you are probably aware that there are three components of your website that require regular/ semi-regular updating:

  1. The plugins;
  2. The theme(s); And,
  3. The WordPress framework itself.

It is my preference that if running updates manually, they are done in a specific order: Plugins, Themes, and WordPress. There is a whole discussion to be had about the reasons for this, but we will leave that for another time.

The first question to be asked is this: Is your website already managed by Installatron?

If you don’t know the answer to this question, you need to log in to your hosting account cPanel and go to the cPanel Section called Software. The Installatron Applications Installer link will be in this section.

Finding Installatron in Canvas Host cPanel

If you see your website homepage next to a panel with your website details, then your website is in Installatron. If not, then your website needs to be imported into Installatron and please continue with this tutorial if your website is not in Installatron or skip down further if your website is already in Installatron.

What if my WordPress website is not in Installatron?

If you have gone to cPanel and discovered your website is not Installatron you can set up automatic updates after importing the website into Installatron. At this point you should be in your hosting cPanel and you should have selected the Installatron Applications Installer. Since your website is not in Installatron you will be directed to the Installatron page where you can search for application. Here you will scroll down a select the WordPress icon/ option.

Selecting the WordPress option in the Canvas Host Installation software

On the next screen you will select the option underneath the Install this application drop down (import existing install).

Importing an existing WordPress install at Canvas Host with Installatron

On the next page you will select the continue option in the “From this account” section.

Importing from your website hosting account with Canvas Host's cPanel

Next, you will select the domain and directory (if there is one) that you would like to import and push the import option. Your WordPress website should begin to import.

Setting the domain and directory when importing a WordPress website into Installatron

Now you can continue to the next step.

What if my WordPress website IS already in Installatron?

At this point we assume you are already logged in to cPanel and have clicked inside of the Installatron Applications Installer. Next you should identify which WordPress website (you may have more than one) for which you want to configure automatic updates.

A screenshot of a website that has been imported to Installatron with Canvas Host

Check the checkbox next to the website you want to configure for automatic updates. Then select the wrench icon or push the edit option.

Screenshot showing the edit option for Installatron's automatic website updates

An overview of your Installatron settings for this website will load. Slide down on the page and configure the options that work for you. A good set of options is to select the following:

  • Automatic Update (Update to any new version.)
  • WordPress Plugin Automatic Update (Update WordPress plugins as new version become available.)
  • WordPress Theme Automatic Update (Update WordPress themes as new versions become available.)
  • Automatic Update Backup (Create a backup and automatically restore the backup if the update fails.)
  • Email Notification (Send all email notifications for the installed application.). This should generate an email to whatever email address you originally have had on file with Canvas Host
Some automatic update settings for Canvas Host

Scroll to the bottom of the page and make sure to press Save All in order to update your settings.

Automatic Backup Settings Screenshot for Canvas Host, cPanel, WordPress, and Installatron

Some considerations:

  • If you have premium themes or plugins for that require an update key or purchase, Installatron will not be able to run updates.
  • If updates break your website Installatron should restore to a back up and (if you asked for email notifications) provide you with a message that there was an issue).
  • Canvas Host cannot guarantee the software provided by Installatron however it was tested prior to this blog posting and has worked to keep several websites updated with no issues.
  • Any customization you or your web developer may have done to your website might render different results.

We encourage you to attempt to go through this process with any WordPress websites you have hosted at Canvas Host and if you would like us to go through the steps that is something our IT and Web Development Staff can handle.

We hope this article helps you better understand the importance of keeping your code updated, how it can be done within Canvas Host’s environment, and how our staff can help you if needed. Please contact us with any questions about this article, or our WordPress updating and design services.


Converting a non-SSL Website to SSL

ssl certificate

There are two kinds of websites on the Internet: Those that use SSL, and those that do not. When accessing a website protected by SSL, your browser’s address bar may turn a green color, or a golden or green padlock icon may appear next to the start of the website URL in that address bar.

If the website is accessed at https://, but the SSL certificate is incorrectly configured, or more commonly, the website is not entirely encrypted because it is trying to serve files not protected under SSL, your browser will show you a popup alert informing you of this error. Websites serving errors to visitors can cause confusion or a breakdown in trust with the user, and potentially lead to lost sales and traffic. So, it is vital to ensure your website is correctly configured for use with SSL.

If you have just installed SSL on your hosting account, there are additional steps you will still need to take to ensure the site functions properly with SSL.

The following steps assume you are using WordPress, the most widely used application framework in our network. (Similar steps are required for other frameworks, such as Joomla, Drupal, and Magento, but are not addressed in the scope of this article.)

1. Change the main links within your application framework to reference “https://”

Log into your website’s administration panel. In WordPress, navigate to Settings -> General, and note the following:

WordPress Address (URL)
Site Address (URL)

Change these values to ensure the full URL in each contains https:// and not simply http://.

Optionally, if you are more of a database administrator type of person, you can log into the MySQL database for this WordPress installation using phpMyAdmin within Cpanel, and navigate to the the “homeurl” and “siteurl” variable values in WordPress’s wp_options table, ensuring the link for both variables begins with “https://”.

2. Force SSL requests with a .htaccess file

The .htaccess file lives in the document root of your website. In Cpanel, this directory is /public_html/. The file may not appear when using an SFTP program or when accessing File Manager through Cpanel, so be sure to set “show hidden files” is set in your application.

To force SSL requests throughout your website, include the following rules in your .htaccess file:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTPS} off
RewriteRule (.*) https://%{HTTP_HOST}%{REQUEST_URI} [R=301,L
]

Make sure that “www.example.com” is replaced with your actual domain name.

3. Verify images and included files are called with https://, or an absolute file path for the URL

Though the first two steps should adequately enforce file and resource requests for your website should be served securely, we have found many cases where “hard-coded” links, such as an IMG tag with a TAG parameter requesting a file, beginning with “http://” can be all it takes to make a page fail to fully load in SSL and therefore result in a popup error.

A good example of this would be a WordPress blog post or page with an included file. By default, images placed using the WordPress Media Library, will by default be written out as a complete URL, meaning the IMG tag will show http:// or https:// as part of the included file’s URL.

For this reason, we recommend that you search for and replace all references to included files throughout your website, so none request http://. One plugin that achieves this at the database level is simply named, “Search & Replace”, and can be downloaded here:

https://wordpress.org/plugins/search-and-replace/

Even then, we suggest a manual review of all prominent pages or blog posts of your website, to ensure the links have been altered.

If performing this manually, you can simply change the IMG SRC value and strip out the entire protocol and URL, leaving just the file structure. For example, instead of a tag like this:

<img src="http://www.canvashost.com/path-to-the-included-file-or-image.jpg" alt="" />

You could change the reference to:

<img src="/path-to-the-included-file-or-image.jpg" alt="" />

When modifying links in this way, the browser automatically understands that whatever website address you are at (in this case, on our website, at https://www.canvashost.com), should be used to pre-pend that link, so the browser will understand the IMG tag to effectively read:

<img src="https://www.canvashost.com/path-to-the-included-file-or-image.jpg" alt="" />

This is a bit of a hack, but useful if you ever plan on changing the primary domain of your website, or wanting to reference the website through additional domain names that have been aliased/parked on the account, as the absolute file path will still be valid for each of those requests.

4. Verifying your website theme uses either SSL or absolute file path

This may present the trickiest aspect of website cleanup. Your website theme (or template) contains file path callouts to images, stylesheets, javascript files, and other included files, all of which will need to be hard-coded to “https://”, or be stripped down to the absolute file path as demonstrated in step 3.

You can verify the state of your website by first accessing it with a browser at https://(your domain), so your browser is attempting to reach it securely. If you don’t see any errors, you may be all done, as the same theme files will be loaded regardless of which page of the website you access.

If you happen to see a browser error, try viewing the page source. In Firefox and Chrome on a PC, for example, this can be done by pressing Ctrl-U with your keyboard. The actual, served HTML code will be displayed. Once viewing the source code, simply search for references to “http://”, such as “src=’http://”, to see cases where the theme is trying to load files or images with http:// and not https://.

The next step will be to individually log into the theme files and make necessary adjustments, just as done in step 3. Once you’ve completed this cleanup, try loading a fresh copy of the website and go over this until the broken padlock icon disappears from your browser’s address bar. You’ve done !

5. Canvas Host can help!

If you’re still stuck or simply want some help, Canvas Host is happy to assist. We’ve helped many customers through these steps. Though it is billed work, it costs about $200 to fully ensure a website is protected by and working properly with SSL. If you are interested in learning about our SSL clean service, please contact our Sales team at sales@canvashost.com.


Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates (AutoSSL) Now Supported

Canvas Host is pleased to inform you that we will now offer Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates on our Shared and WordPress service lines, through Cpanel’s AutoSSL service. The certificates will not be available in our PCI Compliant hosting service line.

Let’s Encrypt provides basic, free SSL certificates to all domains hosted on a Cpanel account. The certificates are issued and installed automatically, and without the sometimes lengthy verification and installation process with other certificates.

Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates are issued for three months, and are automatically renewed so long as you wish to use them.

Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates do not require a static IP address in order to function on your account.

Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates are automatically issued for all service-related subdomains, such as mail.yourdomain.com or webmail.yourdomain.com, for added account access security.

Additionally, Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates will enable you to use your own domain name as the mailserver host when using secure mail, which previously required you to use the server host name.

Most importantly, Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates will allow your website to function under basic SSL security, which is now a requirement to maintain SEO rank with with Google’s indexing service. Websites not hosted under SSL may lose SEO rank among Google and other search engines.

Those are all the benefits of Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates. Here is what the certificates will not do.

Using Let’s Encrypt SSL Certificates

With Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates, you don’t have to configure anything. You can verify the status of all Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates by logging into your Cpanel interface, then going to TLS/SSL -> Manage SSL Sites. You will be shown a full list of currently installed certificates.

To use your website with SSL, you will need to verify several things:

  • Your application settings and/or program code will need to reference https:// and not http:// for website links, such as the “Home URL” and “Site URL” settings within WordPress.
  • You may additionally need to modify your application’s .htaccess file to force non-SSL requests to SSL.
  • You may need to change references to files and scripts in your website’s theme (template) files, as well as IMG SRC tags called throughout your website, changing them from http:// to https:// or better yet, making included files reference from the start of the document root and not include the domain in the link at all.

If you aren’t sure how to do this or do not have a Web designer, Canvas Host can perform these services for you at a cost of $60/hour. For a free quote, please contact our Sales team at sales@canvashost.com, or by calling us at 800.574.4299 x1.

Down Sides to Let’s Encrypt

Web browsers on Windows operating systems, XP and older, do not work well with Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates and may show errors to users of those platforms. If you run a website that serves a diverse range of customers, those users may see errors when visiting your website.

In terms of validation, Let’s Encrypt issues Domain Validation (DV) certificates. They do not offer Organization Validation (OV), Extended Validation (EV), or wildcard certificates, as those cannot be automatically issued.

Let’s Encrypt SSL certificates do not include any warranty and should not be used for encrypting information sent to or received from your website, such as accepting credit card payments from website visitors. If your website’s security is hacked and customer information is compromised, you would be directly liable for that breach and not covered by any warranty.

Although PCI (payment card industry) standards currently accept DV certificates, PCI rules are subject to continuous change, and at some point Let’s Encrypt certificates will not pass PCI compliance rules.

For these reasons, we do not recommend the certificates be used in place of paid certificates offered by Canvas Host, which include a warranty, are known to pass PCI compliance, and are supported by Canvas Host.

More information on Let’s Encrypt may be found on their website, at: https://letsencrypt.org/


Canvas Host Acquires Portland-based Host Pond

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 23, 2017

Portland, Oregon – Canvas Host, a Portland web hosting provider, acquired Host Pond on March 23, 2017. Financial details were not disclosed. With more than 700 customers comprising 1600 domain names, the acquisition is the largest ever for Canvas Host.

Richard Powell, owner of Host Pond, said in a release to his company’s customers this morning, “I’m thrilled to announce that Portland-local Canvas Host has agreed to assist in a seamless transition of our customers into their virtually identical hosting environment. After an exhaustive and careful search and all the possible ways I could have envisioned this transition going, I’m confident that this was the best possible outcome.”

David Anderson, Owner of Canvas Host, added, “When two companies join forces, there is an opportunity to create something better than what they separately were before. Though technically an acquisition, philosophically we think of this as a merger, as there are many great things the two companies have each done with their service lines and how they care for customers. Together, our two companies’ energies are a perfect match, and we’re excited to see our collective offerings evolve and improve. In the end, it will mean happier customers that will receive ever better support.”

About Canvas Host

A sustainable web hosting provider based in Portland, Oregon, Canvas Host provides comprehensive web hosting, domain registration, email, e-commerce and dedicated hosting services. An Oregon Benefit Company and certified B Corporation, the company operates on triple bottom line principles of people, planet, and then profit, giving back to the community through partnerships with local non-profits and organizations, organizing monthly educational networking with Green Drinks, planting trees through Friends of Trees, and offsetting not only its energy consumption, but also 15 Portland-area homes with clean, renewable wind energy through Bonneville Environmental Foundation.

For information on Canvas Host’s services, please contact the Sales team at sales@canvashost.com, or by calling 503.914.1118 x1.

***


A stormy day for Amazon’s cloud

If your business uses Amazon’s AWS S3 cloud service for website or application hosting, you may be offline today.

As reported by numerous technical journals, a portion of AWS is experiencing “high error rates”, which seem to be concentrated in portions of the Amazon network along the eastern United States.

Websites, stock trading services, financial services, medical research databases — the works — are all seeing partial- to complete outages of web applications and services. Sites are loading slowly — if at all — and rich media streams are at a standstill. In some cases, website pages are loading, but without images, style sheets, or other presentation elements, the result being browsers downloading pages that resemble a 1995-era, stark white page background filled with generic Times New Roman text.

The irony of a service believed to be “always available” was best expressed in an article by Tech Crunch:

IsItDownRightNow.com also appears to be down as a result of the outage.” (Source listed below)

Contrary to belief, outages of AWS and similar cloud service providers happen regularly, and when they do, the issues can be widespread. This is because so much of the scale-able technology that powers cloud networks is dependent on components that function separately from one another, distributed across a wide network that may span thousands of miles, and with a requirement that all resources are working flawlessly. Any failure in a component of the cloud network can subsequently slow down, interfere, or outright bring down other components.

No technology platform is perfect, and no amount of redundancy can protect against the type of service failure that AWS is experiencing today. The fallacy of an “unstoppable, always-accessible cloud” is one reason Canvas Host has not partnered with a larger cloud provider. When compared to traditional dedicated, clustered-server, or private (smaller) cloud services, we believe the same level of performance can be achieved on a smaller scale, at the same or better cost, and with greater reliability, than by going with a large, cloud service like AWS.

Sources:

USA Today: Amazon’s cloud service has outage, disrupting sites

Geek Wire: AWS cloud storage is down and the internet is freaking out

Tech Crunch: Amazon AWS Outage Breaking Things For A Lot Of Websites And Apps