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What web hosting plan is right for you?

There are a few types of web hosting. The basic one is known as shared hosting, VPS, cloud hosting and server also known as bare metal. Basically, two things affect your choice, the budget and what do use it for.

In my opinion, understand the different types of web hosting is important. This will help you with a realistic budget to a web hosting. What is a realistic budget?

I call it a realistic budget because the prices can differ a lot between plan A and plan B. For example, shared hosting is 200 a year bu a bare metal server is 200 a month. There is a huge difference in price. Here’s the question, do you need a dedicated server? Or do you just need a simple web hosting for you to publish a simple website and create a few mailboxes?

We do not anticipate a startup buying a server unless you are running a campaign and you are expecting huge traffic like an auction website or similar. These websites have greater returns and revenue generated from the website, hence the cost is justifiable.

Some choose to run their campaign with a smaller scale server like the VPS or the cloud hosting. VPS behaves like a server but with little resources. Because VPS and cloud hosting are scalable, it is good for those have an uncertain amount of traffic at the start.

I suggest base on your requirement to set your budget. It is not possible to buy a server at a shared hosting price. Don’t laugh, we have spoken to customers with such perception. Basically, they have a faint idea on web hosting. So, it is important to research and know the differences between different types of web hosting.

Cloud server vs VPS

Cloud server vs VPS

Both the Cloud server and a VPS are fundamentally the same. They are virtualized, but in terms of function, they cloud be different. Operating both the cloud server of the VPS are the same, you do need special skill on a cloud server or a VPS.

The major difference is the storage. When you are labelling your service as cloud means the guest machine will move to another host when the resided host has failed. VPS works directly with the local storage.

If the resources are spread to a few hosts like MySQL, Web Server, Tomcat, etc are known as cloud hosting. They could be confusing especially to a beginner. So Cloud server is better? In a certain way, yes if your instance has failed. The guest machine (Cloud server) will move to another host.

There are more points of failure for a cloud server set up. The setup requires more equipment, costs are higher and there are more interconnects. So it is quite a debatable question which is better. Most importantly, you have a backup and you can restore quickly.

However, I reckon a VPS might perform better at the same CPU class due to the shared storage. Even it is a fibre connection, it will definitely cost more. In the industry, many providers jump into the bandwagon using the word ‘cloud’ on their services to get more people to sign up.

As a consumer, we need to ask more pre-sales question if you are buying a ‘Cloud’ service, it could be misleading. Anyway, you can know more about the service what you are paying.

A few things to do on your control panel

A few things to do on your control panel

What do you do when you first received your hosting with Plesk or cPanel? It is common for you to set up a user account and uploads a website. I’m sure you do that. It’s nothing wrong if you are a shared hosting user. Actually, you are a tenant, is using part of the control panel, not the entire server.

However, things are different on a VPS and dedicated server. But most times, I’m still seeing the client neglected some of the settings I’m going to mention later.

Since VPS and the dedicated server is entire own by you, so as well the control panel if you are using Plesk or cPanel. The settings you will be doing it in prior to setting up your websites. Please take mote cPanel known as WHM for the server administrator, the root user.

a. Whether you are using WHM (cPanel) or Plesk Onyx, update your admin & root user’s default password. Do not use the default password.

b. Check the server hostname, make sure they are resolvable and PTR (rDNS) is set up.

c. Server time is correct where it is tallied to your time zone.

d. Your update is turned on and its frequency.

e. The RBL on your email service for anti-spam filtering.

f. Mod_security is switched on.

g, The strength of the password is set to ‘strong’ or above.

h. Monitor the space left on this server.

Actually, there are other things you might consider to go through and set them up. However, the above is the important task I suggest you do prior to start using your server.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated server or a high performance VPS?

Dedicated server or a high-performance VPS?

This has been always in my head, should I deploy a dedicated server or a high-performance VPS? The tricky part is ‘high performance’, how high is high? Higher than? We ask this question ourselves. Yet today, I had have found the answer.

In my dictionary, high performance means better than its class and the enhancement should be speed, not quantity. If you ask me on what to choose between a dedicated server and a high-performance VPS, I will go for a VPS if my application runs well.

There are a few reasons why I go for a VPS. Basically, you can scale whenever you want. Today, I can choose a lower plan but I will scale up when my user’s base grows. The cost is definitely lower while you might see little utilisation on a server.

However, this is only a reason. The major reasons are the recovery time and possibility. It is possible to restore a VPS using a snapshot and the restoration is much quicker. If the snapshot is portable, high chance you can restore it at any host using the same type of virtualization. They are flexible and feasible.

I cannot deny that in some situations, a dedicated server is the only choice. But if the situation has allowed, I will choose to stick with a VPS. Given the advantages, probably you save more per Gb in hard Disk storage. However, if space is not an issue I do not mind paying more for restoration speed.

Plesk Onyx or cPanel?

Plesk Onyx or cPanel?

I would say this is a question for you when you are subscribing a web hosting. Some may have been using cPanel and some use Plesk. Whatever the case do you actually need them? The control panels are not free, they are selling in monthly or paid upfront yearly for a discount.

So, the question is do you need them? And which one? I have been dealing with many Linux and cpanelWindows servers, and my answer is yes. However, cPanel is limited to Linux only. If you have a Windows server, a control panel might not be necessary but it is making your life easier and save time on a Linux server.

It has to do with the operating system. In my opinion, this is the reason why you need it on a Linux server and it is not a must or you simply forget about it. So what to do with the operating system? On a Windows server, it offers a GUI and most items are manageable through the administrator’s interface.

plesk onyxUnlike a Linux server, you can operate a Windows server with little understanding. Just Google searches and navigate on a Windows server, you might find setting up your website is pretty straight forward, Thanks to the GUI, it is easy to understand the steps and what to execute.

Linux server uses a SHELL, and commands can be compleated. You might need customization for some hosted situation and these adjustments done on configuration are in text format. Any mistyped or misconfiguration can cause the service related refuse to start.

Each time you have made any changes to a configuration you need to reload to take effect. To set up a website like WordPress and install the required services and components, you will take more time on a Linux server than Windows server.

Especially to a novice, it is difficult to set up on a Linux server but the success rate is high on a Windows server. So that’s mean to say it a good idea to have a control panel on Linux server but you can dave if it a Windows server.

Now, we know high chance we will need a control panel if you own a Linux server, However, cPanel or Plesk Onyx works best for you? Actually, this control panel has targetted a different type of customers in my opinion. If you are a beginner and do not spend much time to understand each function, I suggest Plesk. However, if you want to dive deeper and better control on the server, goes with cPanel.

I personally like Plesk but sometimes I hate it when I want to do a bit more like changing the behaviour of my mail service, I always ended up in SHELL but it might not be the case for cPanel. One thing I’m sure is you will save plenty of time and it is much easier working with a control panel on a Linux server.

Most control panels work well with CentOS Linux distribution, thus it is popular.

3 important functions you must know in SmarterMail

3 important functions you must know in SmarterMail

A lot of our SmarterMail users might have neglected these 3 important functions in connectivity. In my opinion, they are relatively important. It is good to understand the functions and their purpose.

cloud storageThe first one is cloud storage. Users can connect to their cloud storage like Google Drive, Dropbox and deposit their files via SmarterMail webmail. That’s mean to say, you can upload any attachment to your cloud storage after reading incoming emails. This will save time downloading the files and connect to your cloud storage to upload.

The second one is ‘Email Retrieval’. Like what it says retrieve email and it retrieves email using POP3 or IMAP4 from any mailbox that supports these protocol. This is especially good if you have many external email accounts and consider to consolidate them, read and reply with the same mailbox.

If you are a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo users, refrain yourselves forwarding the email to them but fetch those emails from them. The email services have a very stringent anti-spam policy. forwarding emails might cause your mail server IP blocked. Remember a forwarding will forward the spam emails that you received.

The third one is rare and it might be a wanted feature to some user is an ‘SMTP Account’.  At the webmail, you can send emails using another SMTP mailbox but not the local SmarterMail SMTP. Which mean you can reply or write an email using another desired mail server. I found this is useful if I’m representing another organization.

I’m sure many SmarterMail users might have found it new and I thought you guys should know there are such things,

SmarterMail – Migration makes easy

SmarterMail – Migration makes easy

If you are using one of the email servers and want to migrate to SmarterMail, you can use the migration tool in the webmail as shown. Basically, SmarterMail imports all your emails stored on the current mail server either using POP3 or IMAP4, however, if you are Gmail user, you can import calendars, tasks and contacts too.

smartermail migration1

 

gmail migration

Brute-force Protection

Brute-force Protection

Whether you are using Exim, Postfix or others, I personally feel that the brute-force protection is necessary. I have seen unauthorized login attempts on email accounts especially the common ones.

I supposed your service provider has been telling you ‘please use the strong password’. However, Imseeing compromised account use a weak password. So, please remind yourselves always to use strong passwords.

brute force

A strong password can be 13 characters and above, a mixture of the symbols, capital letters, small letters and numbers. You don’t and never define such as strong password ‘P@ssword123456’ Yes. it has more than 13 characters., symbols, capital, small letters and numbers.

This type of password is very guessable, they are likely in the hacker’s dictionary. Never use this kind of password. Combination of name, birthday, handphone and NRIC number should be avoided too. A password is your first defence line, hence it is important to make sure they are not guessable.

Devices have set up with email services should install with a good anti-virus capable of detecting malicious activities like for example ports scanning which is common nowadays. This is also important to an individual, even you have a strong password, there is risk your password is stolen through a backdoor on a virus-infected devive.

If you do have the above both, the brute-force protection is useful but it is not 100% you are protected or you are safe. Hackers will attempt to login to your email account with their hacking program using a guessable password.

The ideal of brute-force protection is a rule to block further failed login after X attempts in X interval and block the source for an X period. This is effective to bar authorized access. Whoever came out the mechanism is a genius. This mechanism has protected many, not only email accesses.

Like SmarterMail has such feature out of the box, actually more like internal spammer etc. However, today topic is mainly on brute-force and yes, SmarterMail has built-in with such feature. The server admin can define the number of attempts and the block interval. SmarterMail will display the IP address and its location, should you blacklist them permanently.

I personally felt this is a great feature to protect our email users. This feature reduces the workload on email server admin too. A good email system must built-in with a good security feature and SmarterMail did it.

 

Configure maldet to detect malware infected files

Configure maldet to detect malware infected files

In the last article, we install maldet. We learn how to configure maldet today. Again, I want to mention maldet is free and only for Linux server. Let us begin the configuration, assuming you have installed maldet successfully.

virusFor setting up maldet, the configuration file at /usr/local/maldet/conf.maldet has to make sure you be modified.

The next are some of the general options that you will may just want to set.

If you will want to be notified of the existence of malware by email, set the following selections.

email_alert : If you want to get email alerts whenever a suspect file is detected, then it should be set to 1.
email_addr : The email address to which notifications should be directed. This is used in combination with the email_alert option.
email_ignore_clean : When malware notifications have been automatically cleaned out (check the next two options), ignore dispatching email notifications. This is disabled by default. Set it to 1 to allow it, if you have decide to put up an automated daily scan that picks up and cleans the hits and you do not want to be notified of these by email.
What action will need to be used on the infected files? The following alternatives can be placed to quarantine (to push the affected files to a secure and protected area where they are unable to create any damage) the files.

quarantine_hits : The default value is 0. Set this to 1 and so that the infected files will be relocated to quarantine.
quarantine_clean : The default value is 0. This is used once quarantine_hits is set to 1. Do you want the program to further clean the files? Set this to 1 if you will want the program to try to clean the malware injections. Maintain this as zero if you want to check before cleaning.
In a multi-user conditions, the following choices may become useful.

quarantine_suspend_user : By default, the following is disabled and set to 0. If you set this to 1, the accounts of users who have got hits will be suspended. For this to function, quarantine_hits should be 1.
quarantine_suspend_user_minuid : The lowest user id which can be suspended. This is set to 500 by default.
inotify_minuid : The lowest user id above which users need to be watched. The default value is 500.
inotify_docroot : The web directory relative to the home directory of users. By default, it is set to public_html. If this is set, only this web directory will be checked.
Save and close the configuration file.

A simple scan
For a simple scan, run maldet with the –scan-all option with a path as an argument. It first builds a list of files for almost all the directories and sub-directories in that path. Then it reads through all any files and gives the number of hits. It also provides a report which you can easily view to examine the files that are suspicious. Help to make sure that you provide the full path and not the relative path.

sudo maldet –scan-all /home/username/public_html/

A notice of warning, though. The setting scan_ignore_root in the configuration file is set to 1 by default. This triggers files that are owned by root to be ignored in the file list that maldet builds. The default value is more efficient, but the assumption is that your root password has not been compromised and malware are not injected into root-owned files. Change this setting to 0 if you want root-owned files also to be scanned. This might slow down the scan. So, use it judiciously.

You can view the files that are affected by opening the report file mentioned.

Quarantine affected files
When quarantine_hits is set to 1, maldet not only scans for malware, but also moves the hits to quarantine so that your users do not have access to these files. So, your malware scan may produce results as below. In this case, quarantine_clean is set to 0.

If you view the report, you can see the affected files and their quarantine location. You can inspect the files and then decide on whether you want to clean them.

If you scan with the quarantine_hits set to 0, you need not set it to 1 and redo the scan. Instead, you could quarantine all malware results from the previous scan with

sudo maldet -quarantine SCANID

Quarantine and clean affected files
When quarantine_clean is set to 1, it moves the affected files to quarantine, maldet tries to clean them.

If you did a scan with the quarantine_hits or quarantine_clean set to 0, you can do a clean with the following option.

sudo maldet -clean SCANID

Restore a file
If you want to restore a file which was false positive as a malicious and quarantined, or if you have  cleaned the file and want it back in its proper location,

sudo maldet -restore FILENAME

Alternately, give the complete path of the quarantined file.

sudo maldet -restore /usr/local/maldetect/quarantine/FILENAME

Wildcard scan
You can also make use of wildcards in your scan path. ? is the wildcard character.

sudo maldet –scan-all /home/?/public_html/

This will check all directories inside /home and if any of them had a public_html sub-directory, then that directory will be scanned completely.

Recent scan
If you want to check the same path as a previous scan, but only those files created or modified in the recent past, you have to run maldet with the –scan-recent option and the number of days n

sudo maldet –scan-recent /home/username/public_html/

A weekly incremental check will be done by doing such a recent scan for 7 days.

Automate periodic scan
You can automate daily scans using the cronjob feature. During installation, LMD installs a cronjob at /etc/cron.daily/maldet.

This cronjob will update signatures, include new malware threats in its registry and perform a daily check of all the home directories and recent changes on the server. Whenever, it detects some malware, it will notify you specified in the configuration.

Monitor mode
The inotify monitor can be used to monitor users real-time for file creation, modification or movement. Monitoring can be done with one or more of the three options available,

Monitor users
The users option will take the home directories of all users in the system who have UID greater than inotify_minuid and monitor them. If inotify_docroot is set, the users’ web directory, if it exists, will only be monitored.

sudo maldet –monitor users

Monitor paths
Alternately, you can monitor paths. Give a comma-separated path with the –monitor option.

sudo maldet –monitor PATH1,PATH2,…
For example,sudo maldet –monitor /tmp,/home,/var

Monitor files
If you have concerns about specific files, you can monitor specific files by giving a comma-separated list of files.

sudo maldet –monitor FILE1,FILE2,..

Exclude files or paths
Certain paths or files can be excluded from the scan, by using the ignore files.

Add files or paths to be excluded from daily scan in /usr/local/maldetect/ignore_paths

Add signatures to be excluded from daily scan in /usr/local/maldetect/ignore_sigs

Add files or paths to be excluded from inotify monitoring in /usr/local/maldetect/ignore_inotify.

Add the extensions of file types that you want to exclude from daily scans (one per line) in /usr/local/maldetect/ignore_file_ext. Sample entries in file could be

.png
.jpg
Check out more options like running maldet in the background and other finer settings by using the help option.

sudo maldet –help
If you run a self-hosted website, at some point or the other, it is possible for malicious hackers to inject malware into your system. Before that happens, get your system secure and install maldet to keep ahead of such attacks.