Category: Security

CloudFlare: Next steps

On the whole, the transition to CloudFlare seems to have been successful.  The only sites that weren’t viewable, according to reports I received, were oz.labourstart.org and usa.labourstart.org (and possibly fr.labourstart.org).  These were all sub-domains (oz, usa, fr) which I had not instructed CloudFlare to use or ignore.  I’ve now ensured that every sub-domain we registered on 1&1 Internet is now recognized by CloudFlare.  CloudFlare gives us live reports on what it does, and it has prevented a very large number of attacks on LS in the last 48 hours, so this has to be a good thing.  I hope overall it will ensure we stay online when 1&1 has a problem, and that it will speed up the rendering of our pages no matter where you are in the world.  Please continue to update me if you notice something else offline.  Use [email protected] for this purpose just in case the whole labourstart.org domain is offline.

The week in review – 9-16 April

The biggest news:

I just set up CloudFlare as a way of ensuring that LabourStart stays online no matter what.  It should also theoretically really speed up the display of our site, anywhere in the world.  It should kick in sometime in the next 48 hours.  If LabourStart suddenly becomes unusable  that probably means I did something wrong with the setup. In that case, please email me making sure not to use a labourstart.org address — email me at [email protected], which will get through.  Make sure you note that email address now, as this blog will also become inaccessible if our site goes offline.

Other news:

Facebook: We have a new Hebrew language Facebook page, updated daily and picking up followers fairly quickly.  We’re up to 48 likes.  We also have pages in Turkish (99 likes), French (300 likes) and English (6,441 likes).  We only have 209 people on our Hebrew language mailing list, so this is quite good — 1 in 4 are now Facebook fans.  If we had the same result in English, we’d have something like 19,000 fans on Facebook.

New home page: The new home page is now working in 11 languages and should be working in all 29 by the end of this week.  Following a vigorous discussion about the logo, we’ll make a decision in the next few days.

New pages for countries and state/provinces: This is also being configured according to the new design, and hugely improved.  See for example the new UK home page at http://www.labourstart.org.uk.

Campaigns: The Hong Kong dock workers remains our latest, with over 7,300 messages sent so far, though we will likely be launching a new one today for the ITF.  We’ve added a prominent link on campaigns to Reddit which, according to participants in the recent e-Campaigning Forum, can be a very effective way to boost traffic to a site (at no cost).  Two of our oldest campaigns — Nissan USA and the Philippines — have been closed.  A new version of a Canada-only campaign has also been launched, with over 600 messages this week.

Mailing lists: We now have a mailing list in Thai with 49 subscribers, and our first campaign in that language.

Book: We’re nearly done with the writing of our introduction to the global labour movement — we hope to go to press this Friday and have copies ready for sale by 4th May, when we hold the LabourStart May Day party in London.

May Day party:  This important fund-raising event takes place on 4th May this year at the Bread & Roses pub in London.  I’m hoping to raise up to £1,000 pounds.  So far, over 200 people have either confirmed their attendance or said they may come (slightly more say they will definitely come).  The general secretary of the ITF is due to speak, as are others.  Two performers have volunteered to provide the entertainment for the evening — Dave Thorpe and The Ruby Kid.

Today in Labour History: Edd’s added many more items, as we need to ensure that we have at least one for each month for each of the major countries.  This appears on the bottom of our UK page, if you want to see what it looks like.  Comrades who can help should contact us [email protected]

Dormant languages: We’ve identified 11 languages where correspondents have ceased posting news — we’ll need to chase them up and find replacements, but if comrades have any suggestions they’d be most welcome.  The languages are:

  1. Czech (nothing since 2010)
  2. Danish (nothing since April 2012)
  3. Greek (nothing since 2011)
  4. Farsi (nothing since November 2012)
  5. Italian (nothing since 2011)
  6. Georgian (nothing since July 2012)
  7. Kreole (nothing since 2010)
  8. Portuguese (nothing since July 2012)
  9. Serbian (nothing since 2011)
  10. Suomi (nothing since April 2012)
  11. Swedish (nothing since July 2012)

Techy stuff: I had to review our server on 1&1 Internet as they are no longer supporting the MySQL 4 format starting from the end of this month.  Fortunately, all our databases are MySQL 5 so we should be fine.

 

Weekly review – 29 January – 6 February 2013

Campaigns:

  • Korea campaign: Still growing, but not yet at 10,000.  We’ll be writing to every PSI affiliate in the next few days to get them on board.
  • Mexico campaign: We’ll be doing our bit as part of the IndustriALL-sponsored Week of Action; our campaign should be launched on Monday the 11th in support of Los Mineros; we have the full backing of the United Steelworkers in the USA and Canada on this one.
  • UK campaign: We launched our biggest-ever UK-only campaign, in cooperation with the RMT.  They emailed and texted all their members about it, producing a sudden sharp increase in the number of supporters.  This is now up to almost 2,600 supporters.  UK campaigns will now show on the UK news page.
  • Australia campaign: Expect a campaign in the next day or two in support of Bob Carnegie.

Languages:

  • Tagalog: We’ve had our first two campaigns translated into this Filipino language; we’ll now begin creating newswires and publicizing this.
  • Polish: We have now had a couple of campaigns translated and a mailing done to our list.  Six of the 20 Polish people who signed up to our most recent English campaign volunteered to translate campaigns in future — so it looks like we’re reviving our project.
  • Czech: Following up on the Polish model, I contacted the small number of Czechs who had signed up for the most recent campaign in English; several of them have volunteered to help get campaigns up in their language.  We have a mailing list of 65 Czech trade unionists, so this can probably grow fairly easily into 100 or more.
  • Chinese: We’ve now added the campaigns to the home page in Chinese and Lennon has suggested a number of changes to improve the page.  The number of Chinese supporters for our most recent campaign has grown considerably thanks to Lennon’s efforts.
  • Korean: Our first campaign to get more than a handful of Korean responses has meant that we finally have a small, but growing, Korean mailing list.
  • Vietnamese: It’s been a while since we’ve had a campaign appear in Vietnamese, but we’ve gotten the latest one translated and hope to begin growing a base of supporters in this language.
  • Japanese: Mac has resumed translations — and publicity — so the Korea campaign is available in this language and has had some significant support in Japan.
  • Indonesian: We’ve now added the campaigns to the home page in this language too.  All our campaigns are now showing on their appropriate home pages — if we have campaigns in that language.  Otherwise, the English campaigns are usually shown.
  • Portuguese: We were able to get the latest campaign up and mailing out thanks to the PSI staffer in South Africa who has volunteered to help with this very important global language.
  • Finnish: We’ll have our first Finnish language campaign next week – the Mexico campaign, which targets a Finnish employer.

Annual survey on trade union use of the net: We’re going to launch this one soon, have collected some very good suggestions from senior correspondents and others.

Mailing lists: We continue the transition from MailChimp (very expensive) to Sendy (very cheap).  All lists except for English and French have been moved over.  We need to work on issues like templates and segmentation, but are on the case.

Inactive correspondents: We’ve seen a large drop in the number of correspondents we’re showing because we have one-by-one been contacting, and then dropping, those who are inactive.  We may be down to 450 by the time we’re done.

LabourStart in Numbers: See my report this week — we haven’t seen spectacular growth anywhere, but all our Asian language lists have grown in recent days.

Security: Some of the pages on our campaigns site were exposing some email addresses of supporters – these are now password-protected or in the process of becoming password-protected.

Book [1]: We now have a Kindle edition of our campaigns book — we’ll begin publicizing this shortly.  Sales of the book remain strong; we’ve sold just under 500 copies in 5 weeks.

Book [2]: I completed the first draft of a book for Union Communication Services entitled “Making Unions Stronger – Using the Internet Better”.  A second draft is being sent off tomorrow.  Thanks to Edd and Derek for reading the whole thing through.

Fundraising: Not a great response from the GUFs and others we approached recently.  Today I’ll do a mailing to our “power users” — people who support our campaigns all the time, and will know how to value our work.  I need the help of all of you to raise funds to sustain our ever-growing campaigning.

 

Weekly round-up: 30.10-5.11

Conference: Programme and flyer are now ready and have been widely publicized.  The number of registrants is now around 140, 100 of them from Australia.  We need to double that.  Conference opens in less than 3 weeks …

Campaigns: We’re about to launch a new campaign re Mexico; details later today.  I tightened up security on the page showing who supports our campaigns – you now need a password to view it.  I also did the fortnightly mailing to all our campaign partners.  We’re also working on some interesting changes that could allow unions to create their own campaigns on LabourStart, as they can do now on sites like change.org.  The Bahrain campaign is at 7,300 supporters, making it larger than the one we did earlier in the year, and our second-largest current campaign.

Newswires: I tried to fix the Caribbean RSS newswire and discovered that all our regional RSS newswires aren’t working.  Still trying to fix this, hoping to get it all sorted this week.  I discovered that the ActNOW RSS feed has not been updated since we moved servers and aim to fix that this week as well.  Our Labour Newswire Global Network – the directory of sites that use the newswire – is being cleaned up for the first time in years.

Education & Training: I did preparations for a course I’m helping to deliver for the European Trade Union Institute later this month — wrote up some notes and located articles to share with participants on the subject of online campaigning.

App: I’ve made a breakthrough of sorts, and have done a lot of work on apps for LabourStart and the IUF in the last week.  Expect to see something very soon.

Today in labour history: This is a new feature for our website — and possibly for a print calendar next year.  Our intern, Edd, is working on it.

Fundraising: We’ve prepared a letter and brochure to be sent to regional offices of most of the major British unions.

Labour Book of the Month: We’ve selected the November featured book, and will publicize it next week.  We’ve made contact with some British bookshops about doing a UK version of this as well.

Spam attack – first defense

Update: There was a small bug – so people were not able to complete the sending of campaigns.  Now fixed.

A couple of days ago our campaigns site was down for an hour or more following a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack on the company which hosts the connection to our new server in Iceland.  I have no idea if the attack was directed against us, but noticed today when updating our mailing lists that we’ve had dozens of people signing up to our campaigns with addresses like [email protected] and random countries.

These are fairly easy to spot, as it’s very unlikely that a person with the email address of [email protected] who says their country is the Falkland Islands is likely to sign up to our Norwegian language mailing list.  So I spent an hour today trying to clear many of these addresses from our lists.  MailChimp itself will purge them over time, so in that sense it doesn’t really matter much.

The problem, however, is that these spammers have been attempting to use our system.  It’s unlikely that they’ve been able to send out mail through it, but they may have been sending some of the recent campaign messages to our targets.  The numbers we’re talking about our quite low – perhaps a few dozen attempts we can see.

I looked into using a CAPTCHA system but it strikes me that this might make it very hard for people to sign up (Recaptcha is the most popular) and I’d like an easier-to-use system now.

If you look at our campaigns now, you’ll see at the bottom a little box above the Submit button with this logo:

Stop Spam!

At the moment, let’s test this and see if it effectively blocks most spam.

If not, we will have to upgrade to a proper CAPTCHA.

We will need this bit of text translated — if we decide to stay with it:

Enter the number ___ here:

Thank you.

As well as this:

Sorry, but you must enter the correct code

Click on the back button of your browser and try again.  The code appears at the bottom of the page, next to this logo:

Weekly update for 3-10 July

Note: There will be no update next week as I will be on holiday.

Campaigns: Several improvements noted below, including the ability to see all active campaigns on one page, broken down by language. We’re also now showing campaign news in English as well as the campaign’s own language on each campaign page. And the pass-it-on code for campaigns is now working again. We’ve also made it impossible for Google to find and show the list of email addresses of campaign supporters — something that was happening on our new server due to the unusual configuration of Apache there (this was not the case on our old server).

Fundraising: We’ve hired a graphic designer — having talked to 9 different individuals and companies, who all made proposals — to produce a small brochure which we can use to explain to unions what LabourStart does for them and encourage them to make donations. We’ll let you know when copies are available. We’re still waiting to get addresses of US unions.

Labour films: We noticed that the links to the online labour films database and the list of labour film festivals – maintained by the Washington DC Metro Labor Council and co-sponsored by LabourStart – had stopped working and were removed. We’ve now gotten the new details and will be putting up new links.

Weekly roundup – but for 3 weeks this time (oops)

As I was travelling in the USA for part of this time, I have an excuse. Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve been up to these past 3 weeks.

Campaigns: I’ve closed a number of those that reached the 3 month limit, and launched three others. Our biggest campaign ever was launched during this period. I began work on a new system to allow others – senior correspondents, for example – to launch campaigns while I am travelling. I also did a full review of the last two campaigns and what’s been translated and what not; as a result, we now have campaigns and mailings done for Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish and Hebrew. I’m still waiting for responses from our translators for Korean, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish and Vietnamese. Ideally, all campaigns will appear in 18 languages, and we’ll mail to 18 lists.  As a result of these campaigns, we now have over 93,000 names on our mailing lists.

Social media: I dealt with problems that arose from repeated attacks on our Twitter account (now solved). UnionBook grew to more than 5,000 members for the first time.

Partners: I set up a meeting at the ITUC, to take place in Brussels next week. I continued fundraising efforts with GUFs and British unions. So far this year, nine GUFs have given money and seven British unions have either pledged or donated.

Conference 2012: Work continues in Sydney; our organizing committee there is growing and meeting regularly and we’re sharing information on Basecamp.

In brief: Mailing list migration, mega-campaigns, campaign history, Arabic, site security

I continue doing the migration of most of our short and inactive lists to MailChimp – but am holding off on the biggest (Norwegian, French) until I have the consent of the editors.  Each day I migrate 5 or 6 languages over.

I’ve raised the question with the ITUC and some of the GUFs that we need a popular campaign – one that will get tens of thousands of supporters – in order to grow our list in the way that groups like 38degrees and Avaaz do.  Our campaigns tend to focus on little-known industrial disputes and often the first time anywhere has ever heard of these is when we campaign on them.  From time to time, we should take on more popular causes — and the growth of our mailing lists will mean that the smaller campaigns will benefit enormously.

I’ve posted a page where I intend to document all the campaigns we’ve done over the years — to see who has been asking us (recently, mostly GUFs), which countries are affected, how many people sign up, who the target was, and what the result on the ground was.  I’d personally find this useful when I give talks or write articles about online campaigning, but it will also more generally give us a sense of what we’ve been doing and where we should be going.

I’m in negotiations with an exiled Iraqi trade unionist in the USA — USLAW was circulating an appeal to people to help him out.  I think we’ll pay him something to translate some of our stuff (e.g., campaigns, mailings) into Arabic.

I’ve taken a number of important steps to make our site more secure, which I won’t be publishing here for obvious reasons.  Suffice it to say that the Berkman Center report on how human rights organizations are vulnerable to cyber-attack has influenced me and I had a fairly long to-do list of things which have all now been implemented.  I’m happy to discuss this with any of you by email.

Thursday morning updates: survey, campaigns, UnionBook, backups, LabourStart.tv, DDoS attacks, Maghreb, etc

  • I plan to stop allowing participation in our online survey once we have 1,000 responses.  We currently have 978.  Please help by spreading the word.  By the way, the largest groups of survey participants come from the following countries so far: UK, USA, Canada, Australia and Norway.
  • UnionBook has now reached over 3,000 members following the push yesterday.  In fact, we’ve picked up 120 new members in the last 9 days.
  • We’ll be closing the Vietnam campaign in the next few days.  This will bring us down to only two active campaigns.
  • We’ve had a formal request for a campaign from Bangladesh.
  • We are expecting additional requests for campaigns in the next few days from Turkey, Japan and Korea.
  • I’ll be setting up a French language newswire for the Maghreb countries, as Andy has long proposed.
  • I’ve read the Berkman Center (Harvard) report on denial of service attacks on independent media and human rights websites and plan to implement some of their suggestions for improved security in the next few days.  I’ve also written up a short article for the British weekly Solidarity about this.
  • I’ve changed the way we backup the site now.  There is now a full weekly backup of our MySQL databases (we didn’t do this before) and instead of packing (zipping) all our other files and backing that up, we’re now backing up all the files on the site on a weekly basis using FTP.
  • I have written once again to the domain registrar for the “.tv” domain requesting that they reinstate our labourstart.tv domain.