A suspicious man wearing sunglasses working on his computer

Dangers of the Digital Age: Phishing

Our digital age is definitely a two-edge sword; we love the wealth of information and services at our fingertips, but we hate all of the bad things that can happen while we’re online, especially when it takes our time, our money or even our identity. From spammers to scammers, there are a LOT of bad people out there who want nothing more than to steal something precious from us–but only if we let them.

A Relatively New Threat–Phishing

A few weeks ago, one of my clients contacted me regarding a strange email he had received. The message looked authentic but was generic enough for him to wonder if perhaps he had let an online account lapse somewhere, and that he needed to do something immediately to renew the account. The email looked something like this (I’ve replaced my client’s email address with a generic one for demonstration purposes):

Phishing example

This is a perfect PHISHING example where a bad guy out there is trying to fool the email recipient by sending what appears to be a legitimate message in the hopes that the recipient will click an associated link (the “VALIDATE ACCOUNT” link in this case) and enter credentials (typically a username and password) into what the recipient assumes is a legitimate account. In these cases, the account is anything but legitimate, and once the thieves have your username and password, there’s no telling what they can do with it.

How Can I Tell If It’s a Phishing Attempt?

There are nearly always tell-tale signs that a received email is not legitimate. In the example above, the message is rather generic (as they don’t really know what account you may be expecting). It’s also not as professional as you’d expect (a “real” email would be branded with an organization’s name and colors and simply look better). But the real trick is to HOVER your mouse (don’t click!) over whatever link they want you to click and review what appears. In this case, you’d see the following:

Phishing example

Notice that when you roll your mouse over the link, the destination URL appears (the website you would go to if you did indeed click the link). Note how there are a LOT of characters assigned to the URL–this is almost always a clear sign of nefarious activity. So, if you don’t recognize the destination URL, don’t click on it!

I’m Here to Help!

In this case, my client emailed me with the suspicious email and I was able to provide appropriate advice. So, if you’re not sure about something you’ve just received, simply email me and I’ll let you know if it’s legitimate.

Another Popular Scam–Overdue Hosting Invoices

Note that another very common scam out there are for disreputable hosting companies to send an overdue invoice for website hosting. Again, the invoice will look legitimate, and in a way it is–it’s a very dishonest way of fooling site owners into moving their website hosting to another company (and paying WAY more for that hosting). Most Huelsman Way clients simply have me handle their domain hosting payment each year; if you’re one of them and receive an invoice for hosting, it’s most likely a scam (but send it to me just in case so I can verify).

Other Huelsman Way News

Site hosting information, content development and other happenings at The Huelsman Way.

Upcoming Server Migration

Last week, I was informed by my cloud host SiteGround that they’ll be moving my cloud server to a new datacenter facility in Iowa on February 5th. As I received in their announcement, “This is a standard and seamless procedure that will be performed late at night when server traffic is minimal. We do not expect any downtime for your account, however brief outages of a few minutes are possible while migrating your data to the new server.”

Unfortunately, the server migration will require a reset all DNS settings for all the sites. For those clients whose DNS is already pointing directly to SiteGround, those settings will be automatically updated and shouldn’t be an issue for anyone. However, there are a few who may still be pointing to my original Rackspace cloud server (which, in turn, are being redirected to SiteGround). In those cases, I’ll likely need to update the DNS manually.

So, please be aware that the server is moving this Wednesday, February 5th. If you notice any issues with your site afterwards, let me know and I’ll be sure to take care of the issue quickly!

PHP Upgrade to 7.3

Similarly, SiteGround will be “bumping” the version of PHP running on all Huelsman Way sites to 7.3 on February 26th. PHP is the programming language used to run WordPress, and yes, there are different versions of the language (SiteGround is trying to be proactive in ensuring that the latest versions of WordPress are running on the latest versions of PHP). Again, this shouldn’t be an issue for any of the sites, but be aware of the change.

Ongoing Site Development

Website development continues! I’m currently actively developing, assisting with development or have just completed development of the following sites:

Ongoing BrowserQuests™ Development

Work continues on my online browser-based role-playing game (RPG) BrowserQuests™ which I’ve written in .NET Webforms and is tied to a SQL Server database (unlike all the WordPress stuff I manage that utilizes completely different technologies). Over the holidays I wrote a brand new module consisting of two quests, intended to be a “prequel” of the story I have online so far. I’m now entering all that content into the BQ engine, and when it’s all done and properly tested, I’ll upload the new module to the Internet. My hope is to have this done by the end of February!

Interested in BrowserQuests™? Subscribe to my BQ newsletter for all the latest!

Susie Show Bridal Fair

Susie Huelsman of The Susie Show at the 2020 Madison Winter Bridal FairSusie and I exhibited at the Madison 2020 Winter Wedding Show back on January 12-13. Despite the snow and Packer game on Sunday, attendance was very good and Susan did well at the event, signing three brides-to-be that weekend alone (two in 2021 and one later this summer). Susie also learned that she had again won the Couples Choice Award for 2020, presented by WeddingWire.com for her perfect 5.0 score (the sixth year in a row!).

Learn all about Susie and her fabulous wedding DJ package at SusieShowWeddings.com!

Huelsman Client of the Month

Celebrating those businesses and organizations I have the privilege to help and serve! Each month, I’ll showcase one of my current clients, going in order from longest-serving to my more recent clientele.

Trowbridge Online

Way, way back in 2003 or so, I developed a custom, from-scratch content management system (CMS) I affectionately called “The Web Manager” (this was before there was even a term for “CMS”). The idea was simple; leverage a single codebase to develop a potentially-infinite number of smaller websites. At one point I had about fifty clients for the system. Then, DotNetNuke came along and I eventually migrated all of my sites to that.

One of my earlier “Web Manager” sites was TrowbridgeOnline.com, owned and operated by Joe McFarland of Waunakee. Joe has run his own commercial real estate development and management company since 1986 and, in 2003, was one of the first to sign-on with me. I would rebuild his site in DNN around 2011 and again in WordPress in 2018. Through the years, Joe has been a great client to work for and I greatly value his continued business!

Serving the Greater Madison area since 1986, The Trowbridge Group offers office space to lease, office warehouse space to lease as well as build to suit and lease to own opportunities. Give them a call at 608-849-9789 to talk about your next commercial development project!

 

Photo Credit: Header photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Introduction to the Avada WordPress theme

A New Year–A New Theme?

Just as a new roof on a house or coat of paint on a car doesn’t last forever, neither do WordPress website themes (the templates that implement and manage a site’s overall structure, color and presentation). I’ve been managing WordPress sites now for several years (along with DNN sites for over ten years) and I’ve noticed some trends that I’d like to pass along (and reasons why you may want to think about a new WordPress theme for 2020).

Vendor-related Issues

Some WordPress themes age gracefully and some, unfortunately, don’t. The worst that happens is the original theme vendor goes out of business; when that happens, it’s game over for the theme (and it should be replaced immediately). Less extreme is when the vendor stops supporting the theme—I’ve had that happen a few times last year and the only recourse was to replace the theme as well (sometimes the vendor provides an improved alternative but sometimes they don’t). At this point, if you haven’t heard from me regarding your theme, assume that it is still supported by the theme vendor.

Technology-related Issues

Sometimes, certain elements of the theme (or plugins that the theme relies upon) get old and need to be replaced. I had this happen last year when a certain plugin required an older version of PHP (the programming behind WordPress) but the overall site was automatically migrated to a newer version, breaking the site. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of individual WordPress plugins out there, and while most of them are routinely upgraded and continue to work well, a few occasionally break and, in turn, can take the site down with them. This is mainly why I log into each and every WordPress site I manage every two weeks and update the plugins, so I can stay on top of these issues and make sure the theme is operating correctly.

Design-related Issues

Web content design is certainly quite subjective—what looks or works great to one person may not be so great to another. In general, however, WordPress themes are being redesigned in certain ways that make them easier or more interesting (“sticky” headers that keep the main menu at the top of the screen, parallax background images that scroll at a different rate than the rest of the site, highly-interactive elements that move, spin, flip or otherwise do something when the mouse touches them, etc.). Site designers are always pushing the envelope in terms of improved presentation, both in the way the site is managed as well as the way it appears to the public in a browser.

Example Sites

While I spent much of the past two years migrating my earlier DNN sits over to WordPress (and still have a few to go), I’ve especially enjoyed the past few months and I’ve learned a great deal more about themes. For example, I really liked the new Kerge resume theme so I built a brand new site dedicated to my own career (https://www.scottymark.com) to showcase the theme. I also really like working with the world’s most popular WordPress theme Avada, which I used this past fall to build the new website at https://www.aptuswi.com, update the sites at https://bltechwi.com, http://hrstaff.net and https://newcmg.org, and work on the sites at https://staging2.helpinghandswi.com and http://new.riverlandconservancy.org. Note that the overall theme is NOT industry-specific (it will work for any business or organization), but it does come with dozens of industry-specific templates.

Changing Themes

Of course, swapping-out a WordPress theme for another is not a trivial task—it will take some time and money. The process I now use is to first create a staging server version of the current site, which becomes a clone but is managed separately (so changes made to the staging server do NOT affect the original “production” server). Then, the new theme is purchased, installed and configured, the original content migrated over and the overall results thoroughly tested. Once the new theme is ready, it’s easy for me to then publish that back to the production server. Regarding costs, a new WordPress theme like Avada typically costs around $60, and then there’s my time; I don’t consider site rebuilding as included within my annual site hosting/maintenance fee, but I also won’t charge a lot for the help. Note that I’m pretty busy right now with site development but I should have more time in the spring or summer.

Other Huelsman News

Although we’ve both been on Christmas break much of the last two weeks, Susie and I remain very busy (and here I thought getting older meant slowing down professionally!).

Madison Winter Bridal Fair

As we have for the past five years or so, Susie and I will be exhibiting at the upcoming Madison 2020 Winter Wedding Show this upcoming weekend, January 12-13. Even if you have nothing to do with an upcoming wedding, come see our exhibit, talk to Susie and learn more about what we do! We’ll also have our photobooth operating, so you can grab some crazy props, take some pictures and go home with a bridal souvenir. If you DO know someone who is getting married, let Susie know—she’s already booking into 2021!

Sites Under Redevelopment

I’m currently rebuilding no less than six client sites, three to complete my two-year migration from DNN to WordPress (WaunafestRun.com, WaunaFest.org and TheSusieShow.com) and three to update the site’s current themes (as described above). My hope is to have all of this work done by April or so.

Annual Hosting Invoices Sent

For those of you who host their websites with me, you should have received an invoice from me recently. Again, the annual hosting fee not only pays for the web server where WordPress is hosted and managed, but any email-based services provided (and, in many cases, the cost of the annual domain registration as well). Further, I use the hosting fee to offset all the time I spend not just updating plugins and ensuring that each site is working at peak efficiency but making any modest web content updates requested as well (although I’ll still charge an hourly rate to rebuild sites, as introduced above). Think of my annual hosting fee as “insurance” against future problems with your site—I’m here to fully take care of you!

New BrowserQuests™ Development

I also continue to work hard on my unique online role-playing game (RPG) available at http://www.browserquests.com. Utilizing the DNN application framework, I’ve custom-developed an online, single-player, persistent (changes made within the game persist over time) “Dungeons and Dragons”-like system where players sign-up, choose a hero, then play through a variety of encounters, battling monsters, finding treasure and interacting with a virtual game master (GM). Recently, I developed a new mechanism for selecting a character hero at the start of the game and then managing the overall adventuring party, and over the Christmas break I wrote a whole new module called “Coming of Age” that will act as the first set of encounters for new players to interact with, serving as both a tutorial as well as introduction to the fantasy world of Sisalus where all play takes place. My hope is to have this new module in place and ready for everyone sometime in February!

Huelsman Client of the Month

Finally, with the new year comes a new tradition—celebrating those businesses and organizations that I continue to have the privilege to help and serve! Each month, I’ll showcase one of my current clients, going in order from longest-serving to my more recent clientele.

Lori Lins Limited

Certainly the longest business client relationship I have is with Lori Lins, currently in Milwaukee, WI (https://www.lorilins.com) who runs a very large and successful talent agency.

Way, WAY back in the day (around 2002 or so) I worked with Lori to build her a custom content/talent management system, one that would allow her to showcase her talent online to her own large set of clients as well as act as her overall business website. The project was developed using Microsoft’s Active Server Pages (a precursor to the popular .NET framework used everywhere today) and tied to a SQL Server database backend. Incredibly, the site remains online today and is still serving Lori, her clients and her talent (while she is having the site rebuilt in DNN by another consultant).

Lori has been a FANTASTIC client all these years and we certainly consider each other good friends as well. Thanks, Lori, for an amazing journey and everything we’ve shared together over the past two decades!

Blog header image for December 8, 2019

The Road Ahead for 2020

After a two-year hiatus, it was certainly time for me to check-in with all my Huelsman Way clients and let all of you know of my intentions for 2020 and beyond. To summarize, I’m planning to continue my development and hosting consultancy indefinitely so nobody has to worry about their sites needing to be migrated elsewhere anytime soon–I’ll continue to take good care of them!

Summary of 2019

I began the year continuing to convert my older DNN (DotNetNuke) sites to WordPress, basically completing that process back in the spring. That said, I still have a few sites left in DNN, and as DNN has made a bit of a resurgence recently (something I blogged about back in September 2017) I’m not in any hurry to migrate those few remaining sites.

Indeed, I continue to build in DNN in support of my pet BrowserQuests application, which I resurrected back in the summer and am actively working on again. If you’re into online role-playing games–or just want to see what I can do with an online application framework such as DNN–you can review my recent updates to the system and even give the game a try by signing-up with the application.

While my wife Susie’s mobile DJ/wedding business is winding-down now for the year, it got pretty intense the last few months (we do some 20-25 weddings and special events throughout the area every year, mainly from June through November). If you haven’t heard, Susie actually won the Madison magazine “Best Local DJ” award at the beginning of the year, the only woman to ever do that. She continues to hold a perfect 5.0 review score with WeddingWire.com and, I’m sure, will win the Couple’s Choice award for 2020 as well.

Finally, I’ve just created a new website for myself, ScottyMark.com. While my earlier site at https://www.thehway.net was fine, I wanted something that better focused on me personally and summarized all that I’ve accomplished throughout my career. So, from this point forward, expect to see more of these newsletters from my new site!

Intentions for 2020

With the new year, I’ll again be sending out my annual hosting invoices–expect to see those around January 5th or so. Again, I charge these annual hosting fees (typically $125/year for smaller sites up to five pages and $250/year for larger sites) to not only cover the costs of website hosting but the time I spend every two weeks updating sites and ensuring that they’re all working properly. As a reminder, I also provide simple content update services in return for the hosting fee, so if you want anything updated on your site, just let me know and I’ll be happy to do it!

I’m also planning to blog again going into 2020. There’s a lot going-on out there and I think I can bring added value to my consulting and hosting services by letting everyone know about the issues and possibilities involving their websites and discussing them on a fairly-frequent basis. So, watch for more information-packed newsletters from The Huelsman Way throughout 2020!