Shared-Hosting Perils

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-07-13 Print this article Print

Putting your Web or mail server on the same server as other sites to save money may have hidden costs.

Shared hosting can be a cost-efficient solution for many Web sites, but you may end up paying a different sort of price. As always when sharing with strangers, theres a risk of the unknown. A well-designed and -managed operating system along with other system software may be able to protect applications and users from one another, but things do go wrong at times.

Consider what happens when an attacker goes after one of the other sites on your shared server. Vulnerabilities such as the MySQL Password Handler Buffer Overflow Vulnerability or the PHP wordwrap() Heap Corruption Vulnerability may occur. If the attacker gains control of the server or the database, youre all just as vulnerable.

And the attacker may not even be an outsider—it could be another customer.

Mike Prettejohn of the Internet research firm Netcraft Ltd., which follows the hosting market carefully, said he thinks "strongly themed shared hosting—such as the Yahoo storefronts"—are the best type of shared hosting. They define a rigid but easy-to-use environment for the customer, limiting the damage the customer can do accidentally or otherwise, and they scale brilliantly for the hosting company. Such hosts usually focus on product and service sites because they have better potential for sharing facilities, such as a shopping cart program and tax and shipping calculation.

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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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