Website Speeds, Higher Security & an Exciting Future

Welcome to the Fall 2014 School Year!

Fall has started off with a bang at Digital PTO and we are all off and running! We hope you have all had a smooth transition back to school and that your membership and registration drives were a success! For those of you that had PTA and PTO registrations and sign ups on paper, don’t forget that for only $249 you can have access to high end online family registration forms that will save you days of work re-typing from paper forms. You can check out our Premium Plans Here.

What’s New with Digital PTO this Fall?

This summer was exceptionally busy for us at Digital PTO! We fought off thousands of hackers, speed up our website load times significantly, added even more security, added professional grade email delivery to our high volume schools sending emails, released our top level events calendar to every single one of our members and started paving the way to even more technology and features.

So let’s take a quick look at everything:

Speed. Or Lack of Speed..

Speed was a MAJOR issue this Fall and unfortunately, our page load times (how fast a page loads when you open it) were frustratingly slow. We spoke to many of you about this issue, but we wanted to let the rest of you know what happened and what we’ve done to address it.

Toward the beginning of August, an automated group of computers (called a bot net) started attacking the Digital PTO Network. They were simply trying to log into the system. We have great security and the attackers were locked as soon as they tried to log in with fake or guessed credentials. Things were running nice and smoothly but the bot net continued to grow. By the middle of August we had over 10,000 different computers trying to log in at the same time and each one of them was averaging 8 attempts per minute. They were shifting IP addresses, so they were very hard to block. Doing the math, that comes out to around 80,000 log in attempts on our network PER MINUTE. We’ve got great servers, but that kind of volume brought our processors to their knees.

We immediately went on the offensive and started blocking IP addresses that we’re trying to log in automatically so that they could not even get to the log in screen, but even then, our servers had to still look at the IP, determine if it was black listed and then either send the log in page or the blocked page. At times we even went so far as to shut down the log in functionality for 30 minutes at a time to give our servers a rest.

After consulting with some of the internets’ top security firms we have now added two more layers of protection to our system and they have been working beautifully. We are now blocking access from the majority of the countries around the world (which is where 99% of the hackers were coming from) and we also have added an outer shell, think of it as a mote in a castle, that blocks attackers before they can even get to our walls (the servers). Ever since the new security has been installed, we have had virtually no speed issues!

In addition to security, we spent a great deal of time getting our internal speeds up, regardless of hackers. The major change we made was the integration of page caching. Prior to our new caching technology, every time a page would load it would contact the database, get the information, contact the image folders, get the info, go back to the database, see it it missed anything and then finally deliver the page. That’s how a typical website works. Our new technology now allows us to have “saved” pages ready to go before a visitor even arrives. So in the background, the website goes to the database and image folders, grabs the information, turns it into a webpage that is already ready to display and saves it. When someone visits that webpage, the pre-made page is displayed and is delivered super fast. Don’t worry though, we want to make sure that your website is always up to date with the saved pages, so every 5 minutes or so, the website will go through and re-save all the pages to make sure there are no changes. In addition, any time you PUBLISH or UPDATE a page, the cache will automatically be deleted and a new page will be created.

We have also added professional grade email delivery service to some of our high volume members. This kills two birds with one stone because it takes more load off our our servers as they are no longer sending blast emails and it also provides incredible delivery rates for those schools using our Automatic Email Blasts. We will gradually be adding this service to more accounts, but for now we have targeted our high volume senders and added it to their accounts. This will also improve delivery of other emails (like form confirmations), etc.

The final change we made was for our employees logging in. We now feature two step authentication for our team, so when we log in, we enter our username and password and submit,  then a text is sent to our phones with a one time code that we have to enter on the next screen before we can get into the network. It’s one more added layer of security that helps keep our network safe and sound.

As you can see, we are extremely committed to our schools and parent groups. You are our top priority and our goal is to provide you with the best technology and service available. We appreciate all of your patience as we battled our attackers, we know that the speeds were terrible, but we know you’ll be happy with the ultimate outcome.

Looking forward we are also planning some major work on our database this winter. We do not want to touch anything during this critical time of back to school, but once that rush is over, the work on the databases will begin and we anticipate that it will boost speeds even further! So look forward to that.

30,000 Events on our Network!

Earlier this summer, we made the decision to release our top level events calendar (normally only used by Premium Plus Members) to our entire network at no additional charge and the new calendar has been extremely popular! You have all collectively added 30,000 events already! If you are not using the new calendar yet, we would highly advise you to do so and if you need any help setting it up or replacing your outdated calendar, please let us know, we’d be happy to help.

Paving the way for an exciting future

Our development team has spent a better part of the summer locked in a closet coding. Actually, they have really nice desks, but the point is that they have been working hard on new technologies. We have some MAJOR technology releases coming this year and we can’t wait to show them to you. We can’t say a whole lot more at this point, but we guarantee that the new features will be popular :)

Thanks so much for being a part of the Digital PTO community, we’re so glad to have you on board and look forward to helping your group for years to come!

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