published Friday, September 17th, 2010

Jenkins: Website security proves hard to unlock


by Donnie Jenkins

Walt Whitman once said, “I contain multitudes: I contradict myself.” Gabby Hayes put it more simply, “I’m danged if I do, and danged if I don’t.”

I was reminded of these quotes recently when dealing with a technical situation.

A good friend recently passed away. He had been the administrator of another friend’s website hosted by GoDaddy.com. The two had published an e-mail newsletter for years which tied in with the site.

When our friend passed away, he left login information for the site including a user name and password. When I tried to access the site with that information, I was given the dreaded error message indicating that the username or password was incorrect. As you might imagine, this presented a major problem. I had been asked to take over administration of the site and could not access it.

I began a long and tedious e-mail exchange with the support department at GoDaddy.com. The first couple of times I received what looked like the equivalent of an e-mail form letter or template response, telling me again what I already knew. I scanned and e-mailed what I believed was proper documentation of our claim to take over the site based on their own instructions.

After a series of back and forth e-mails, it became apparent that there is no way for me to save the site for my friend, even though he has every right to take it over. There are hundreds of documents on the site that he wants to keep.

Fortunately there are many programs available that allow a person to download all the content on a website and view it from a hard drive. I have done this, so the content is preserved. However, it will be extremely difficult to easily repurpose and use this content on any new site I build, not impossible but very time consuming. All this because of a procedural matter.

Now, to be fair, GoDaddy.com certainly has every right to protect its users from fraud and it’s essential to use strict measures to do so. However, there is no doubt that I provided more than enough information to prove my friend’s claim to the site, including his identity and connection with the company he co-owned with our deceased friend.

The irony in all of this is that the normal complaint you hear about online services is just how slack their approach to security is. You’ve seen my many columns on Facebook security issues, identity theft and so on.

It seems almost bitterly funny that the most secure procedure I’ve run across recently is one that prevents a legitimate user from accessing a site to which he has every right. Something’s broken here. The tech universe is a bit askew.

The site in question will at some point be shut down for non-payment whenever the arrangements made by our deceased friend expire. I will of course be building a new site using some of the content I downloaded, but it would have been so much simpler to simply use the existing site.

I can sum up my experience by quoting a statement expressing the classic double bind: The next thing I tell you will be true. The last thing I said is a lie.

Go figure.

E-mail Donnie Jenkins at donniejenkins@yahoo.com.

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