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Thursday, 01 November 2018 12:38

Turning Back Time

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Current PHP Versions

Time doesn't bypass anything, or anybody! That includes our computers, our mobile phones, our TV's, our cars......even us! So why would websites be any different?
Yet it's been my experience in the past that when I notify some clients that their sites have become outdated and no longer have security support they seem surprised. It's as if they weren't aware that websites, like everything in life, are affected by the passage of time. 

So how does a website age? Visually you can always tell an old website because of the way it looks, as it will appear somewhat dated compared to modern ones. But it's not the visual element that's the problem.....it's the code that's been used within it where the problem lies. Because as time goes on, security holes appear. And if they're not patched and updated then there are going to be security breaches!

Another critical element in the "safe" life expectation of a site is PHP. PHP is the scripting language on the server that runs all our clients' websites......in fact around 83% of the sites on the Web are powered by PHP. 
Over the years, as with all technology, PHP has advanced considerably. It's much more secure, and now considerably faster in the time it takes to render web pages. This gives you peace of mind re security, and a much better experience to your users. But as it advances through the versions it becomes necessary to remove certain coding elements that older sites used. This is to ensure that any unsafe elements are no longer included, and to continue to advance the application in terms of performance and security.

Unlike some years ago, we now have the option to run multiple PHP versions on a server at the same time......so most web hosts are able to accommodate the needs of all users at any given time. At present we have PHP 5.6, 7.0, 7.1, and 7.2 available which can be assigned on a per site basis. And 7.3 is due to launch next month so that will be added as well.
But a big change also happens next month which will affect clients on older sites: PHP 5.6 and 7.0 will become unsupported and end of line! Here's the PHP version calendar:

PHP Versions 

After those two highlighted dates, any users on PHP 5.6 and 7.0 will no longer have security support and are potentially exposed to unpatched security vulnerabilities.
The key point you have to be aware of here is that if you still need to run on those old PHP versions, then there's elements within your site that are out of date as well. So there's two risks facing you: outdated site software and outdated server software.

In terms of our clients, we will continue to provide PHP 5.6 and 7.0 for them until the expiry of their current hosting period. At that point, if they don't intend to upgrade their sites, we will find an alternative Web Host for them who can still offer these outdated versions. But be aware, those Hosts won't be able to offer that facility indefinitely......there will come a point in time when they'll withdraw them too.
As always, my advice is this: Only use currently supported versions of site software and server software. If you don't, then you're putting yourself, and others on the server, at risk of potential security breaches.

As I mentioned earlier, some clients don't like to hear that they are potentially at risk. But we have a responsibility to keep clients informed, in the same way your mechanic would give you a safety advisory related to your car. I doubt that anybody wants to get a report saying their brakes are failing........but it's most definitely something they need to be told! 
Another reaction I get is when clients say "Why would anybody want to hack my site? It doesn't get a lot of visitors so I'll just leave the site as it is".
Now just change that thought process to "Why would anybody want to burgle my house or steal my car? I'll just carry on leaving the doors unlocked".

Make no mistake, Point 1 and Point 2 express exactly the same point of view.....that somehow it won't happen to me. However, statistics suggest that it will happen to you if you don't take security seriously. There are more than 1.86 billion websites on the internet. Around 1% of these, something like 18,500,000, are infected with malware at a given time each week; while the average website is attacked 44 times every day. Official Industry Source HERE!

Just because you're not aware of this situation doesn't mean it's not happening. It just means it's not happening to you because of the proactive steps we have taken on an ongoing basis over many years.
If we are no longer able to take those measures because of the circumstances I've detailed in this article then we have a responsibility to our clients to make them aware of it. Of course, what they decide to do at that point is their decision......but nobody who's a client of ours can ever say "I didn't know".

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