The Danger Of Hotlinking – Web Related Lessons I Learned This Week

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For the past year, I’ve become accustomed to waking up early in the morning with several orders already waiting for me in my email inbox. Let me tell you.

It’s nice knowing that money is being made during the night even though I’m asleep the entire time. A few days ago however, I got up and there was not a single order in my email even by 9am.

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Photo by Ktylerconk

Naturally I was suspicious, so I immediately went to our online store expecting to find something wrong. Nope! Everything seemed to be normal so I decided to wait it out a little longer. Several more hours passed and still not a single order came in. I was getting worried.

Finding The Culprit

Several things were going through my head. Do we have a new competitor that is stealing all of our business? Is no one getting married anymore?

Did Google de-index our website? Was this the end of our wedding linens store? As you can see, my neurotic side started coming out.

While it isn’t entirely unusual to have some slow days while running the store, having absolutely no orders for the day is something that hasn’t happened for a very long time. So I ran a quick battery of tests.

  • Did a search on Google for our main search terms. Searches came back on front page as normal.
  • Called the ISP to see if there was any suspicious outages that I wasn’t aware of. Nope!
  • Went through our website and placed a few items in the shopping cart. Everything was working as it should
  • Checked up on our competitors to see if anything looked suspicious. Nope! No new competitors.

In short, everything looked fine. Meanwhile my wife was telling me that everything was ok and not to worry.

The Problem

Finally, the ultra paranoid personality within me decided to physically go through the checkout process exactly how a customer would. Lo and behold, one of the pages during checkout was hanging!

When I brought up the source code, I noticed that there was some old 3rd party javascript tracking code on our checkout pages along with some graphics hosted on someone else’s server.

Turns out that this 3rd party server was down and as a result was dragging down my online store with it! So immediately I searched and removed all 3rd party javascript and hotlinks from the store (except for Google code) and everything went back to normal again.

The Lesson

Don’t use any third party code that is hosted on another server unless absolutely necessary! If you do decide to use code or graphics from another server, make sure that it’s a reputable and established company.

I’m not sure how much money we lost during that half day but it was enough to make me annoyed. In any case, just keep this in mind the next time you decide to add that extra badge or 3rd party code to your site.

By adding that code, you are essentially giving your website yet another point of failure.

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15 thoughts on “The Danger Of Hotlinking – Web Related Lessons I Learned This Week”

  1. Actually, hot linking is unethical because you are draining someone else’s resources. I have several photos across my small network which I know are hotlinked. Sure, I get some “traffic” but in reality that photo sits on my server while someone else uses it.

    Wherever possible, copy the photo over to your site (if allowed) and use it from there. Never depend on a third site to power your business.

    1. Hey Matt
      The code that was hanging my site was code from some service I signed up for a long time ago. I think their servers were down. Either that or they are now out of business. While combing through the code, I also noticed that I accidentally hotlinked a few credit card images as well. I have since checked to make sure all images are hosted on my own server.

  2. Boy Steve, that’s certainly something to think about. It probably would have taken me a lot longer to locate the problem. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. Hi Steve, although not a good thing to happen to you, it was a great lesson learned. It shows your analytical skills are up to scratch :)

    1. @Stephen,Steven
      I’m glad that it was helpful. Way back in the beginning when I was a newbie, I used to sign up for and use other people’s random services and javascript left and right. Now I’m a little more picky.

      1. Come to think of it, I think reddit also had an outage earlier this week which made my blog extremely slow to load. I have also since removed all javascript social media buttons and am using plain old links instead.

  4. Do you have any experience with Amazon S3?

    It’s what I use for external images and files to take some load off my web server but since I don’t have enough experience with it, was wondering whether you or anyone else use it.

    1. @Vanya
      I don’t use Amazon S3 but I do know many people who do. In general it’s a reliable service and Amazon is definitely a trustworthy company to rely on in terms of uptime.

  5. Wow, I never heard of that before (3th party hot linking). Thanks for the heads up for me not to use it if I ever came across something like that.

    1. Hi Carla,
      Chances are you are probably using 3rd party javascript on your site. For example if you are using a digg button, if the digg servers get slow, it will slow down your site as well. That’s why I now use links instead of javascript for my articles

  6. This is an excellent tip that very few people would catch. Thanks for sharing!

  7. One day, many, many years ago, I hosted a little emoticon graphic on the web server for my personal blog (long before Consumerism Commentary). I noticed in my logs that tons of people were using that URL to that tiny GIF in their own websites.

    So I decided to get back at all those hotlinkers by changing the GIF to an image that might not have no so safe for work, let’s say.

    Turns out that some middle school student got in big trouble for having their website with, let’s just say inappropriate, photos all over their site, when they thought the images were little yellow smiley faces, as they were before I switched out the graphic.

    I was contacted by the superintendent of the kid’s school, and I explained it wasn’t the kid’s fault and he shouldn’t be suspended. But he probably knows now not to hotlink.

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