Open source software is free programming available for anyone to examine and change. Because it is free and has easy setup instructions, it requires less work, limited knowledge to use, and provides a fast profit. Unlike most products, there is no actual company directing the software; it is primarily maintained and added to by a community of volunteers.
In an ideal world, the helpful community approach philosophy is great, but in the real world not everyone is so noble. As such, the very nature of open source adds considerations that a business owner needs to be aware of.
Since a web designer only has to download and follow instructions, they don't have to understand what any of the code actually does. If your site crashes or is hacked, there is no quick-fix professional web development team to call for help. The site will have to be shut down while your designer goes back to the code's source to see if the issue has been reported previously and can be fixed.
If a particular bug has been solved, the designer then needs to follow instructions to fix it. Of course they will expect you to pay them for their time. If it hasn't been solved, they will have to submit a bug report and wait several days or weeks for a solution. If your site generates income, being offline for repairs can be costly.
There are also security issues with open source software. I often ask prospective clients this: how comfortable would you feel if you knew that diagrams of your property's security system and details of every flaw in that system were posted online for local burglars to study?
Because open source users need somewhere to research and report issues, any bugs and security flaws are posted online for everyone to see, including hackers. They have all the time in the world to go through the bug lists and see if there's a way a bug could be used to gain access to a site.
There are websites and forums online solely dedicated to hacking open source sites. If a site is hacked, the hacker will share the site URL and how they gained access so that other hackers can try also. This means that even if your site is hacked and then fixed, you will be on the hacking community radar and have other hackers prying at the door.
If you are unlucky enough to have a site that is hacked, there are more long-term consequences besides inconvenience or loss of money. If your site is hacked and used to send out mass spam emails, chances are your email addresses will be added to a global spammer blacklist, and you will have difficulty sending out legitimate emails. If your site is used to distribute viruses, you will be blocked by the searches as a malware site and, if not banned completely, have to fight to regain any search results.
What can you do? The obvious solution is to avoid open source products like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal and Magento. If you are interviewing a web designer, ask which product they will be selling you and see if it's one of the products mentioned above. If you already have an open source site, you need your designer to check at least weekly for fixed bugs and to apply any fixes and security measures to your site. While this will cost you more money, it is the best thing you can do to avoid issues using open source.
Even though we do not sell open source sites, we still keep up with their security issues just to be aware of the techniques hackers are using. With this knowledge, we have coded our sites to detect if someone is trying to hack them. If a hacker does try to gain entry to one of our clients' sites, the site lets us know what they were trying to access and blocks them immediately from the server, thus protecting our clients.
If you have concerns with your web presence, now is the perfect time to look into our WebUpdate system sites, which take advantage of advanced marketing, SEO, and promotion features to give your business the best competitive edge online.
Terry Young is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing and Design,
the award winning web and multimedia design agency in Chesapeake.
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