What to Do When Your Website Is Held Hostage

It’s a situation that no one wants to be in, and one that we hope none of our loved ones are ever faced with. No, I am not talking about embarrassing photos on social media. I am referring to your personal or business website being held captive. Before we consider bringing in Liam Neeson, let’s look at the topic a bit closer. It may feel like a hopeless situation, but if your website is held hostage, there are some things you can do to rescue it.

What do you mean, really?

First of all, let’s define what a website hostage situation may be. It could be a situation where someone who has heightened control of the website is purposely making it inaccessible until certain requests are met. It could also be a case where someone is not relinquishing control and administrative rights despite authoritative requests by you the site owner. While these two examples are rooted in nefarious terms, they’re not the only possible situations. These I will call “hostage with intent.”

There could also be cases where there is no direct intent. Those would be cases where there simply is no one around who knows how to obtain access. Perhaps someone who did have access had parted ways on good terms, and important credentials got missed with knowledge transfer.

Regardless of bad or no intent, not having someone involved in the business or situation who can perform administrative tasks and have final say in decisions or actions could be considered a situation where your website is held hostage.

Can you elaborate in a bit more detail? What can I do?

Each situation is different and each are going to have both similar and individual steps needed to be taken.

License Woes

Let’s start off with a simple situation. Think back 15 months ago. You had this awesome idea for a new Learning Management System website. You did your research, and you found that Acme WordPress Agency was a perfect fit to help you execute your grand vision. Things go well. The project finishes up, and it’s a grand launch. Acme WordPress Agency took care of all the details for you, made sure premium products were purchased, and licenses applied.

Since the time of the launch, those purchased licenses have been allowed to expire. And since support agreements have elapsed, they’re not obligated to renew those licenses. However, you’re not able to apply critical update to those products without a valid license, and the site is frozen at its current state.

What can you do? The most important next step, if you’re facing this type of situation, is going to be to purchase your own licenses for each applicable product. The downside is going to be it could be a pretty hefty bill to do this. However, the upside is that those licenses are yours and are no longer tied to someone or a company that can disappear or refuse renewal, leaving you free from having to deal with another instance where your website is held hostage.

Owner vs Developers

So, you’ve ensured all of your premium licenses are registered by an account you control. Awesome. What about issues with previous developers or something happens to previous developers and they are incapable of work?

Hopefully it never comes down to this, but there are times where relationships turn sour and working agreements get broken. Perhaps there are disputes over payments. Perhaps there are conflicts of interest that prevent things going smoothly from there on out. If you find yourself here, hopefully things are still civil enough that an agreement can be reached and all appropriate knowledge/credential transfer occurs.

If things aren’t that amicable, it is possible that legal recourse may be needed to officially solve everything. As things work themselves out, and you have confirmed that you have appropriate ownership of assets, it is prudent to do a personal audit or have a trusted person to an audit of all users that can access the hosting and the website. This would include changing passwords, if not also creating new users to log in with, as well as changing SFTP login credentials. Removing unfamiliar users or any you know shouldn’t have access is also a solid step to help protect further action.

Another situation that we all hope never comes is the possibility that something happens to the person or company and they have gone missing or are unable to continue, whether it be a major accident or worse. We will stick with the more lighthearted scenario where people simply are not responding. No matter how many times you try to contact them, you are never hearing anything back. You’re starting to wonder if they got abducted by aliens.

What can you do? One solution could be purchasing some new hosting, as necessary, and getting the website transferred over to it. This solution should be pretty straightforward, especially if you know where to acquire recent backups of the site, or are able to create a new backup. This would provide you with a copy of the most important details that you could then get imported in to the new location. This solution is applicable if you also have access to your domain registrar, so that you can appropriately point the domain to the new server.

While this may not move over EVERY piece of content of your site and the contents uploaded, it should at least cover the essentials. The rest can be recovered, hopefully, if the missing people ever finally get back to you.

Measures to help prevent moments in the future

One of the biggest steps you can take is to make sure services used are signed up under your own name or your company’s name. This should help ensure that you are the person with final control. If you need to give out elevated access to others to help craft and create your website and web presence, whenever possible, give them their own account to log in with. This prevents them from having access to the primary account, and they can have their access removed without affecting everyone.

If you haven’t been using contracts thus far, or only on certain occasions, look into using them more often, if not every time. Contracts will be a much more iron-clad document that lays out all details of the agreement and would be a valuable aid if legal proceedings come up.

How would Maintainn factor in to all of this?

If you find yourself in a situation like any of the examples above, or even one we haven’t described, Maintainn can help. If you want to move everything you can to a new host that you have ownership over, we can aid in getting and restoring a backup as much as possible. If needed, we can provide an audit of your website and see what all utilizes premium licenses and help make sure our own licenses are applied instead of someone else’s. We can do everything within our power to provide information and get you and your site in a more favorable state.

Now, Maintainn may not look like Liam Neeson, or have the authoritative legal knowledge he would, but we are here to assist you when your website is held hostage. Let us know how we can help you.

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