This site is too marvellous for its own good.

That feeling that something you’re involved with is less great than it ought to be is familiar to all of us. But this week I found out the hard way that I had done the precise opposite, creating something a lot more powerful than I had imagined.
This, it turns out, is the reason why this web site has been in and out of use for the past few weeks. It’s a modest enough corner of cyberspace, just a few pages, a few dozen posts, and hundreds rather than millions of visitors. It’s designed for a select readership in the universe I know about: people into journalism, science, higher education, university ranking, media training, futurology and the like, and ideally with a lavish budget for my skills in these areas.
But there’s the rub. While the site is tiny, its footprint is huge. Because of its subject matter, it has links to, and more important, back links from, top universities, government departments, scientific societies, university rankings bodies including QS, the one I work for, media organisations, and other bodies with significant volumes of online gravitas.
Last year I noticed the first signs that all was not well with the site. Larger or smaller areas of white began to appear in this blog, and a look at the maintenance version showed that the spaces were filled with stuff I had not written – miles of links to Canadian pharmacists offering Cialis and Viagra, whatever they are, and, bizarrely, plugs for shoes from a globally-known maker of sports goods.
Shortly after that all the plugins that are used to control vital functions on the site vanished, as did my ability to load any new ones.
Not long after that the site itself went offline, in a denial of service attack presumably facilitated by these changes. In one day it had 27,000 Chinese and 17,000 Ukrainian visits. Aren’t there better things to be getting on with in Ukraine right now?
While my web hosting firm was able to get the site back online on an erratic basis, I realised at this point that I needed some proper help, and here my growing links to the Suffolk business world (see below) came in handy. Green Shoots Learning, a terrific and highly eco-friendly training business with which I hope to be working soon, put me in touch with Lindsey and Simon Trainer, and they know all this backwards. They explained that the authority of the links to this site gets lent to the evildoers who add their own text to it, making it an easy way to bulk up their online credibility. The hackers had also removed my plugins in order to disable the protection that they are meant to provide.
With this knowledge, it proved possible to have an informed discussion with the folk at the hosting company, and this led to the plugins reappearing and the site stabilising, at least thus far. Removing the bogus links will take longer, and there seems to be no simple way of preventing its reappearance. Still, nice to know that my raw cyber power draws admiring glances around the world.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.