Shared-Hosting Perils

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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