This week I saw a post from Amy Cohen’s blog regarding Ancestry being down from a Distributed Denial of Service attack on their servers. I’d been merrily using the site with no issues that morning but had switched to researching records via Findmypast and FamilySearch for some work I was doing for a client, so was unaware of the issue until I saw the post come up in my email. I went to try the site, and of course, couldn’t access it. I was unable to use the site at all on Tuesday and was finally able to use it on Wednesday.
The trouble is Ancestry own so many other sites, like FindaGrave and the Rootsweb message boards that this outage was pretty widespread. Not only did it affect access to these sites, it also affected the way Family Tree Maker works. I had been working on a tree for my client and after having reached my time limit, it was time to upload the tree as a private one onto the site so I could send a link for the client to be able to have a good interactive experience of their tree… However, FTM thought I wasn’t online and so therefore wouldn’t let me do anything. It hadn’t been giving me the usual ‘shaking leaf’ hints so I figured there was some sort of problem, but every time I went to ‘Go Online’ I would get an error message telling me that I was either not connected to the internet or a firewall was preventing the connection. Neither of which were true and a check on the Ancestry facebook page revealed that this was a knock-on effect of the server problems. Even though today FTM tells me I am online, when I go to upload the tree it tells me there is no internet connection…. mmm
What is a Distributed Denial of Service attack? It is when a host of faceless bots bombard the server with bogus requests (often these come from PCs infected with malware that gains some control over the machine), meaning the server cannot cope with the traffic and crashes. Sites may have to deploy reverse proxies to try and literally turn the requests away as they hit the server. WordPress was hit by a similar attack back in 2011. Having grown up with a father as an internet security consultant I know all too well about this sort of stuff!
It certainly shows how reliant many of us are on certain websites, not just for the information available on them, but many people had their trees uploaded on there who perhaps do not have a back up of it anywhere else, especially if they do not use any offline tree building software. Thankfully I didn’t have a deadline to work to, so it was OK to stop for the day and come back when it was back up again, but it was still frustrating, especially when you are on a roll with your research and don’t really want to have to stop. I just noted down what I wanted to look up so it was easy enough to do what I needed to do when I could. There were still issues with the other websites yesterday, I had to keep using cached versions of Rootsweb threads to read them and some elements of the main site aren’t working very well – like my profile picture isn’t displaying and when I go to the profile section it won’t load.
On the plus side I am finding Findmypast a lot easier to navigate now. Since their system changes I wrote about earlier this year, it seems they have been proactive with user feedback and made some positive changes. It is still a bit of a faff at times but once you get to grips with the mechanisms of things it’s actually more useful than it had initially seemed to be. Although I had noticed that the sites headers that usually are shown on toolbars etc had recently started with the word ‘Ancestry’ – on my Google Chrome home page it was confusing to me. For those of you who don’t use this – it will often show you the most frequently used websites as a quick link with a small picture of the page. I find this pretty useful because it is of course the sites I am visiting on a regular basis – WordPress, Facebook, Etsy, Hotmail, Ancestry and Findmypast. So seeing the word ‘Ancestry’ over the picture that clearly wasn’t for Ancestry was just a bit odd. They have now changed this, so I wonder if perhaps people had seen the same and had complained? Not great to stick the name of your competitor on the metaheaders of your website!
Findmypast’s 100in100 is still going strong – with currently up to 73 record sets having been added. The latest ones are the nonconformist records from Presbyterian, Baptist and Independent churches, the Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan registry and the extensive collection of Non-conformist records in the Dr Williams’ Library in London. These records have previously been available through BMDRegisters as part of The National Archives and TheGenealogist and were also recently added to the Ancestry raft of records.
Findmypast have also just announced they have bought Origins.net – this is very interesting as they hold quite a lot of Irish records and also the National Wills Index – which is pretty costly to access. Having this as part of an existing subscription will be marvellous!