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Quarterly kwacha rate review, Q3 2016

1 July 2016 22:51:01 +0000

Based on the current value of the Zambian kwacha in US dollars and recent trends, we are lowering our retail kwacha prices effective today and until the next quarterly review by 4%.

Some sample rates:

  • webONE hosting plan (monthly): ZMW 172.50
  • mailONE hosting plan (monthly): ZMW 115.00
  • gTLD domain (annually): ZMW 218.50

Our new kwacha rates will be online within 24 hours.

Quarterly kwacha rate review, Q2 2016

1 April 2016 08:35:07 +0000

Based on the current value of the Zambian kwacha in US dollars and recent trends, we are lowering our retail kwacha prices effective today and until the next quarterly review by 11%.

Some sample rates:

  • webONE hosting plan (monthly): ZMW180.00
  • mailONE hosting plan (monthly): ZMW120.00
  • gTLD domain (annually): ZMW228.00

Our new kwacha rates will be online within 24 hours.

Domain news: Price increase on dot-uk domains, elimination of multi-year rates

19 January 2016 01:22:12 +0000

The dot-uk registry is raising the price of their domains and eliminating lower pricing when registering for two years at a time effective 1 March, and so we must too.

This means that the new annual price for dot-uk domains will increase from US$14.00 to US$17.00 per year on 1 March. Most of this increase is due to the elimination of the lower pricing on biennial renewals.

Due to low demand for multi-year registrations and renewals, we’re also taking this opportunity to eliminate our multi-year pricing that we have offered on most domains we sell. In order to make a meagre profit on a ten-year registration/renewal we have had to charge a high enough single-year price that when you whittle down the price to what we’d offer for ten years (the maximum allowed by most registries), we were possibly making mere pennies. Given that we have absorbed domain price increases in the past, we would have actually lost money on a ten-year registration at our posted prices on some top-level domains.

We’ll still sell multi-year registrations and renewals, but any discounts will be negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

If you have any questions, please let us know. Thanks for your business.

Christmas 2015 and New Year hours and wishes

23 December 2015 20:49:55 +0000

Time sure flies when you’re having fun. It’s hard to believe that another year is about to end, and a new one about to start.

We thank you, as we should do more often, for your custom in 2015. In 2016 we’ll be celebrating our 20th anniversary, and whether you’ve been a client with us since 1996 (as some of you have) or you only joined us this year, your business is appreciated every day. Thank-you. We look forward to continuing to earn your business next year and further into the future.

Over the Christmas and New Year break we’ll be taking a bit of a break ourselves. From 23 December to 3 January our offices will be closed. Servers and support emails will continue to be monitored 24/7 and any urgent matters will be attended to right away. Routine or administrative matters will be addressed on Monday the 4th.

We wish you and your colleagues, employees and families a merry Christmas (if you celebrate it), and all the best for the New Year.

Office hours

4 July 2015 08:59:55 +0000

NinerNet‘s offices will be closed from Friday, 3 July and will re-open on Friday, 10 July. Emergency support will continue to be available 24/7, but routine emails and enquiries will be dealt with on Friday, 10 July. Thank-you.

Office hours

23 April 2015 20:24:50 +0000

NinerNet‘s offices will be closed from Friday, 24 April and will re-open on Monday, 4 May. Emergency support will continue to be available 24/7, but routine emails and enquiries will be dealt with on Monday, 4 May. Thank-you.

Office hours

20 March 2015 04:54:14 +0000

NinerNet‘s offices will be closed for the week of 23-27 March. Emergency support will continue to be available 24/7, but routine emails and enquiries will be dealt with on Monday 30 March. Thank-you.

Christmas and New Year Hours and Wishes

23 December 2014 23:24:57 +0000

I’m taking this opportunity to thank you for your business in 2014 and to say that I look forward to continuing to earn your business in 2015.

We wish you and your families and employees a very happy Christmas, and all the best for the New Year.

Our office will be closed until Monday 5 January, but our systems will be monitored 24/7 (as always) and support will continue to be available 24/7 for emergent requests.

Configuring our servers against “POODLE”, SSL/TLS, and email security

24 October 2014 15:52:19 +0000

The maintenance to protect against the “POODLE” exploit has been finished, as we’ve noted on our status blog. While I’d like this to be a short post stating just that, like the maintenance itself, there is more to it than meets the eye.

What was anticipated to take about an hour during a scheduled weekend maintenance window ended up taking much longer as we waded through the pros and cons of configuring some or all services to disable SSL version 3. (Of course, very few people know about and can prepare for these things in advance.) First, there was some debate in information security circles about just how serious this issue was/is, how quickly it needed to be addressed, and by whom. In short, some took it more seriously than others, but there was general agreement that other issues (Heartbleed and Shellshock, for example) were much bigger. Those that didn’t feel it was that serious had their reasons, but we’re not in business to gamble with your security.

While this is a vulnerability in a protocol (SSL version 3) that is (or has been) used to secure different types of connections, the main area of concern was with HTTPS connections — i.e., web browsing. To my knowledge, the only known exploit of this protocol vulnerability uses JavaScript, and only over HTTPS connections. In other words, there is currently no known issue with using SSLv3 to secure non-HTTPS connections — e.g., email.

To that end SSLv3 will still work on some of our mail servers. How this is handled — if your email program can’t use TLS — differs between email programs, with some email clients failing silently and establishing a non-secure connection instead, and some failing completely to connect. We expect that most email programs using our existing suggested configurations will continue to work across all of our servers. However, while we have not had any reports of issues from clients, one of the reasons this took longer than anticipated was the surprising number of current or recent email clients that stopped working when we disabled SSLv3 on the mail servers. Connections by email clients configured to use SSLv3 still work on server NC018, while on NC027 they will fail silently as described above. This is related to the differing behaviour of the software running these two mail servers.

All web servers (including control panels) were configured to deny SSLv3 connections by Monday this week. Web browser developers seem to have kept up with and done a better job implementing TLS in current versions than some email client developers. As we’ve stated several times previously, Outlook 2003 should be relegated to the past, along with Microsoft Internet Explorer version 6. The latter uses only SSL (and has TLS disabled) by default. Microsoft, of all people, have actually had an active campaign to discourage the use of MSIE 6 since 2009 with their ie6countdown.com website; according to that website, only 3.3% of users worldwide are still using MSIE 6, and about three quarters of them are in China. Put it this way, using MSIE 6 today is like trying to drive a Model T Ford on modern roads among modern cars, expecting to go as fast as modern cars and to be serviced by modern mechanics. In short, using certain software today is simply a bad idea, even if it still appears to some people to work.

Another thing I’d like to address here is the difference between SSL (secure sockets layer) and TLS (transport layer security) … or, more correctly, the perceived difference. There is no difference. They are essentially the same thing. For all intents and purposes, the lay person can consider TLS version 1.0 to be SSL version 4.0. That’s not true from a technical standpoint, but as someone who deals every day with clients who just want their computers to work and are more concerned about the intricacies of their trucking business (for example), they do the same thing: encrypt your Internet connections. TLS, as the successor to SSL, is newer and better (as the “SSL version 4.0″ comparison above makes clear), and you should use TLS in preference to SSL any time you have a choice.

Finally, a word about email security. It has become more and more clear to me over the years that the trend in software development is to hide things from the average user. There is a point to which this is good; after all, if you had to type in all of the commands that your email program (for example) uses to connect to the mail server to download or send your email, you might as well write a letter with a quill and ink and send it via carrier pigeon. However, if your email program is going to fail silently and send your message in the clear — i.e., over an unencrypted connection — that’s something you probably want to know about if you thought you were using an encrypted connection. But this is not something you will read about in glossy brochures extolling the virtues of this email program or that. The fact is, most people will never be aware of such an issue, and those that have the most to fear — for example, people living in or reporting on dictatorships — will only realise they have a problem when there is that ominous knock at the door that reveals their communications have been compromised.

For this reason it is not enough to rely on your email service provider — not even NinerNet Communications — to secure your communications if you are, for example, an activist in a police state or a reporter with confidential sources. No, you have to take that responsibility on yourself by encrypting the actual messages you send before you send them. How to do this is certainly beyond the scope of this post, and even if you were to do it it may not be necessary for all of your communications. But going to this extent to protect yourself in this way takes extra time and effort and may require additional software on your computer, but at the end of the day you need to determine for yourself the pros and cons in your own cost-benefit analysis.

SSL version 3 “POODLE” vulnerability

17 October 2014 05:21:12 +0000

The latest in a series of recent vulnerabilities discovered in software commonly used on servers hosting websites and email (among other services) has reared its head. “POODLE” (conveniently discovered by the clever rhymers at Google) is a catchy name for a vulnerability found in a two-decade-old cryptographic protocol used to encrypt network connections. SSL — the secure sockets layer protocol — has become a household word over the years, and those three letters are still now used by many to refer generically to secure connections, even though SSL version 3.0 (published in 1996) was superseded by TLS (transport layer security) version 1.0 fifteen years ago (in 1999).

All of this introductory information is not intended to trivialise the problem, of course, but to give some background and illustrate how it can take a long time for new standards to be adopted, and old ones to be abandoned. Often, old standards live on simply because “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” … and now (well, three days ago) we find that the last version of SSL — version 3.0 — is indeed “broke”.

As such we will be re-configuring all of our servers still configured to allow SSL 3.0 connections to use TLS exclusively. This will require reconfiguring and restarting web servers, FTP servers and various email services. While we anticipate the work on all servers taking about an hour, interruptions in service — if there are any — should be brief and last only a few seconds at a time as services are restarted.

Of particular interest — due to a couple of recent support requests related to our newer mail server on NC027 — is that Microsoft Outlook 2003 users will likely no longer be able to connect securely to the mail servers on NC018 and NC023 (the relay server), as Outlook 2003 does not have support for TLS. Apparently a 2004 “hotfix” available from Microsoft will add TLS support to Outlook 2003, but we cannot vouch for this personally, nor are we aware of any clients who have used this. It should be noted that Microsoft stopped supporting Outlook 2003 earlier this year. It is obsolete software.

It is of interest to me personally that my favourite email program of all time — Eudora — will weather this storm and continue to flourish, as it does support TLS. However, sadly, even Eudora will eventually succumb to the ravages of time and the march of technology. In fact, I strongly suspect it only supports TLS version 1.0, and I have noticed that Google actively discourages connections from old email clients such as Eudora, probably because they likely suggest using an email client that supports at least TLS version 1.1. The latest version of TLS is 1.2, already six years old itself.

So, we will be using our weekend maintenance window to perform this maintenance. However, instead of starting at the usual time, this maintenance will begin at 21:00 UTC on Saturday, 18 October and, as stated above, should take roughly one hour. Please consult our status blog for updates on this maintenance, and please contact support if you have any questions or concerns.

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This is the corporate blog of NinerNet Communications. It's where we post announcements, inform and educate our clients, and discuss issues related to the Internet (web and email) hosting business and all that that entails. This includes such concomitant industries and activities such a domain registration, SSL certificates, online back-up, virtual private servers (VPS), cloud hosting, etc. Please visit our main website for more information about us.

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