What Mrs. Yona Sussnovitch, 85, Taught Me About Hacked Websites

…Hacked websites are really no big deal. Sit back, kick your feet up on the desk, grab your coffee and let me tell you a story about Mrs. Yona Sussnovitch and I.

Your Site Is Hacked!

I’d been busting my butt on a project for a few months now and we were slowly been getting results. I’d just recruited a new person to work on the project, and I find out – from this new person no less – that the site was looking odd…

I check it out, and see that it’s been hacked and defaced. So I dig around online…

Hacked By Some Iranian @^&%$

Turns out the hacker is some &%#^* supporter of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the so-called President of Iran. Ahmadinejad, for those who don’t know, is a man who truly deserves the label of evil, for denying the Holocaust and for advocating in favour of a nuclear genocide against Israel. This supporter of his was supposedly defacing a large number of sites to send a message to President Obama not to interfere in Iran’s affairs. As if the real, legitimately-elected President of the United States of America, was going to be intimidated by some Persian weenie with a computer.

(This is actually relevant to my story. It’s not just random politics, as I try to keep business and life separate.)

Once this happened, I hustled to contact Dreamhost, who are my hosting provider on every project I build because their support is usually really fast and good. I also asked my friends over Twitter for help. I got a few answers and tips from zest things up‘ .) My fellow Canuck Jeff Richards (@jdrichards) also generously offered his help. My buddy Jeremy from Slingshot SEO, an Indianapolis Web Design and SEO firm, was also nice enough to RT it for me.

Following that, I emailed the people on the project to tell them to avoid the site for the moment being, as the hacker was apparently also interested in installing malware on people’s computers.

It also meant I had to tell people that the site was on hold for the moment, and NOT to link to it, to avoid sending visitors who’d get their computers infected.

As you can imagine, this was not very natural for me. “No, DON’T visit the site. We don’t want traffic! Don’t link to us…” Somehow, I don’t think many internet marketing professionals say that with any frequency.

Anyways, I spent a bunch of time on that as well as other business related issues that were pretty tiring. By the time I got to my salsa dance lesson this evening, I was in a crummy mood.

Things didn’t get much better during the lesson, as we started 5 minutes late (but still finished on time). To make things worse, the teacher had trouble communicating some issues, and also spent a good amount of time on issues she felt like teaching, but which I hadn’t intended to cover when I bought the private lesson. And the cherry on the sundae was confirmation (which I kind of knew) that my technique is still weak after months of [group] courses, as is my rhythm. Sigh…

So by the time I got on the bus home in the evening, I was feeling pretty sour. And that’s when I met Mrs. Yona Sussnovitch.

My friend Eli and I were standing in the back of the bus, chatting. Eli got a seat, and I was then standing until someone got up, and Mrs. Yona Sussnovitch moved into that seat so that I could have a seat too (it’s a question of how the seats are laid out). She happened to have a bag of groceries at her feet before she moved, so I picked them up and put them on my lap when I sat down, so she’d be able to keep an eye on her groceries, and so I’d have some legroom.

Mrs. Sussnovitch started talking to me, and telling me about her kids and grandkids. Many of our elderly are fairly lonely, and having an elderly grandaunt I haven’t visited in a bit, I could understand where she was coming from – not to mention I felt a bit guilty. So I decided to listen to Mrs. Sussnovitch and participate in her small talk.

As we got to Mrs. Sussnovitch’s stop, I realized her groceries were kind of heavy for a lady of her age, so I offered to lend a hand, since it would be a negligible effort and time investment for me, but really help her. And that’s where things got really interesting.

Who is Mrs. Sussnovitch?

(I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Wow Gab, it took you 700 words to get to the interesting part. Geez, way to bury the lead and write poorly…” Well, suck it up. I do more than my share of polished writing, and I’m entitled to relax a bit on my own blog.)

As we were walking and talking, Mrs. Sussnovitch pushed up her sleeve to show me the blue-ing number tattooed on her left arm. (It looked like A-986something? I didn’t have my glasses on so it was hard to read.) I’d seen one such tattoo before, so I instantly recognized what she was showing me. Mrs. Sussnovitch is a Holocaust survivor. A survivor of Auschwitz, to be precise. Two years in Auschwitz, if you can imagine how harrowing an experience that is.

(She volunteered all this info; I didn’t probe for it or anything like that.)

Like many other survivors, Mrs. Sussnovitch wondered why she had survived where others had died. She’d thought about whether it might not have been better to ‘have been reunited with her mother’ [whom the Nazis killed in Auschwitz]. Told me how she’d lost just about all her family in the camps.

At 14, she was sent home from school. When her father met with the school staff responsible to ask why, the staffer said the Nazis had sent him a letter to send home the Jewish kids. (I guesstimated Mrs. Sussnovitch’s age based on knowing that the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1938.)

As Mrs. Sussnovitch put it, even though she didn’t have university schooling, her “life [experience] has been a real education.”

Aww, Poor Baby Got Hacked

Hearing Mrs. Sussnovitch’s life experience, hearing about how her husband – another Holocaust survivor who went miraculously lived through 5 years in Auschwitz – died 20 years ago at the relatively young age of 68, really put my day into perspective.

So I didn’t get to my readings for school this afternoon. At least I have the privilege of attending school. Of living in a ‘big, peaceful country’ as Mrs. Sussnovitch describer her postwar reasons for emigrating here, citing the description her father had given her of Canada before the war.

A site I’m working on got hacked? Not the end of the world. But considering who was behind it, it’s very much an appropriate occasion to be denouncing the scumbag “President” of Iran. The scumbag for whom another genocide would be only too sweet, and is even now pursuing nuclear weapons to that end. I’ll leave the political discussion at that.

(Political comments will be deleted, sorry.)

Epilogue

While I’ve felt a bit dissapointed on some of Dreamhost web hosting‘s support/billing work recently, today’s efforts really restored my faith. I just logged back into the wp-admin area as I write this post, and also found that the whole rest of the blog is back up. Additionally, Dreamhost communicated about the issue via their blog and responded to my support email pretty quickly, pointing me to the blog post by way of explanation. Good reputation management right there.

As well, as BrassCrest pointed out, Dreamhost don’t have to back up anyone’s sites or restore them according the Terms of Service

On the other hand, the fact that this hit their whole server suggests that it wasn’t a vulnerability with one particular site, but an issue with their machine. So if sites go down because of their machine, it’s only normal that they take care of getting them back up and limit downtime.

In any case, Dreamhost performed admirably, and fast, so I can’t complain. I still recommend hosting with them :).

In any event, the site is back up and things were not as bad as I initially anticipated. Cheesy as it may sound, I’m living in an amazing situation with nothing really to be getting upset about.

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Comments

  1. Good read man. I had to spend a few hours fixing a big problem with one of my sites today and I thought that it was the wort thing in the world, until I read this. People need perspective once in a while.

    Comment by Lou - September 7, 2009 @ 7:15am
  2. Gabriel: Great post. My mom was one of two sisters that grew up on a dairy farm in the countryside of VA. She was very strict on my and my 4 brothers and always made sure we were darn thankful for what we have. I try to pass this onto my two spoiled squirts (8 & 11) and when they complain about like what restaurant we are going to I'll always say something like: At least you are not in some desolate country in Africa with no food or water and flies all over your mouth. Ans other such bs.. Knowing about just how hard other humans have it both now and in history should keep anyone grounded. But, it does't. :) RM

    Comment by Atlanta RealEstate - September 13, 2009 @ 5:35pm
  3. A very moving story. Talk about perspective.

    Comment by Ryan - October 2, 2009 @ 10:36am

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