Good For You, Feedly!

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(This post originally appeared on Forbes)

Because of all the writing I do I’ve become a big user and a big fan of Feedly, the RSS application where I can bring feeds from hundreds of different sources into one place and then save and access them from any device. And now, I’m an even bigger fan of the company. Why? Because their service was interrupted, of all things.

Last week, Feedly came under not one, but three Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. The attackers managed to bring the company’s site down and then demanded a ransom to back off. I don’t know what the ransom demand was (as a point of reference, the same thing happened to Meetup.com recently and the ransom was a whopping $300) but it doesn’t make a difference. Feedly adamantly refused to give in to the attackers. So for three full days an epic geek battle was fought in a far off, nether world that no few of their customers really understand.

But happily, the good guys prevailed. Feedly not only got back up and running but turned away the third attack without even an interruption of services. This is a story shared by others. For example, Evernote was hit at the same time as Feedly and other well known tech companies like Vimeo, Basecamp, MailChimp and Bit.ly have also been victims. And these are just the big names. I have a handful of clients, companies you’ve never heard of, who have suffered the wrath of the CryptoLocker virus, another type of “ransomware.” I personally don’t know anyone who, like Feedly, has given in to the attackers’ demands. Good for them. And good for you, Feedly. Our grandfathers fought on the beaches of Normandy. Today’s greatest generation fights in cyberspace.

Will attackers keep attacking? Will there continue to be hackers who want to bring down systems like yours and demand money? Yes, this will continue to happen. But Feedly’s recent adventure has, for me, answered other questions. For example…

Will your customers go away if your website goes down? No. Feedly’s outage really affected me. I’m a customer and I rely heavily on their service to help me make deadlines. So you know what I did when they were down for a couple of days? I coped. I lived. I found alternatives. I was inconvenienced. But not rounded-up-by-Nazis-and –sent-to-concentration-camps-inconvenienced. I went to other sources, spent a little more time, and exerted a little effort. But life went on and now things are back to normal. Think of all of the millions of people affected by the recent security breaches at Target, eBay, Verizon and Michaels Stores. Life went on for them too. Their credit card numbers or passwords may have been compromised. OK…not good, but everyone’s fine. Relax. A customer can always cancel a credit card (the usual maximum fee for fraudulent transactions is $50 but most of the time a bank will waive that) or change a password. Your customers will likely stick by you – just get it fixed as quick as possible and try not to let it happen again.

Is your data secure in the cloud? Yes. In fact, Feedly’s experience only further proves that your network’s security is vastly inferior to that of a good, cloud based service. If you were attacked by a ransomware how would you respond? Admit it – it’s unlikely that you have the technical expertise on staff or even on standby to fight against a savvy hacker. Feedly was attacked by some pretty advanced malware and yet they were able to get things right in just a couple of days. Could you? As Feedly has shown, no cloud based service is impenetrable. But they have deeper resources, more expertise and smarter people who focus on these things all day and night. Cloud based applications and managed service companies have designed their business models around delivering services over the cloud and therefore cannot let security issues significantly interrupt this model, or else they’d be out of business.

Should you share your problems with the public? Absolutely. Feedly’s transparency and bitter response to its attackers kept me informed (and cheering). Their blog read like a war diary. Granted, the updates were few and far between but I get that – they’re working on it, what more is there to say? I also appreciate that they didn’t insult my intelligence by making specific predictions as to when they’d be up and running – how could anyone know that? If your website went down do you have an alternative way to communicate with your customers? Do you have a separate blog, Facebook, Twitter account – whatever, established so that you can update your customers? Many of my clients don’t have that in place. You should. Oh, and should Feedly’s management issue a statement now that all this has been resolved? Yeah, I guess that would help calm a few nerves but in the end all we care about is that it doesn’t happen again.

One final thing – Feedly’s a free service. I haven’t given the company a penny (don’t let them know this but I would gladly pay because I enjoy and rely on their product every day). Would the situation have been more serious if I were a paying customer and my world depended on their service? Probably not, but my patience would likely run out sooner. Unless it’s Netflix. Hear that, Netflix? I’m only halfway through House of Cards so don’t mess me up!

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