How We Turned a Hacking Disaster Into an Opportunity

Written by Amy Lestition Burke on January 7, 2019

Picture the scene: it’s six weeks before our annual conference. Preparations are in full swing. Members are registering through our websites as usual. Then, our main site and all of its components are hacked. End of the world, or an opportunity for improvement?

The Special Libraries Association (SLA) has 107 component websites hosted on WordPress, for geographic chapters and special interest groups. Beginning in April, the Special Libraries Association underwent a series of hacks coming from all over the world. Our IT person was snowed under trying to get the situation under control. These websites were managed by volunteers with varying levels of technological capability, so they weren’t very secure and passwords could be found easily. SLA’s main website was blacklisted as a result of this because they were all on one server.

In the midst of preparation for our biggest event of the year, we couldn’t do business online and neither could our components. Before the hacking finally stopped, we moved the component websites to a different server, which enabled the main website to be taken off the blacklist. In May, we realized we needed another approach to hosting the component websites, and fast. We couldn’t afford not to do business and to lose more registrations every day.

We already had a trusted partnership with Higher Logic Communities. We decided to move all our WordPress sites onto Higher Logic’s microsite platform. With the annual conference coming up, we had an opportunity to get buy-in from everyone in person, including the technology advisory council, the board and the component groups. Presentations were made, conversations were had, and demonstrations were given of the new sites. The timing just worked out.

We gave security guidelines to volunteers, and explained that security updates would now be the responsibility of Higher Logic, so volunteers could focus on their role as subject matter experts, planning programs and releasing content specific to their area of interest. The Board approved this migration in July. Since then, the design and content template has been finalizing and the components started migratration in September.

The hacking crisis definitely made the process look different to what we expected. Previously, we envisioned making small updates and revisions over time that would trickle down from to the component sites. Now it’s happening in reverse, by modernizing the component website then making them all look consistent across the board and then working on the main site.

So far it’s a win-win. We’re unrolling some new technological functionalities that we haven’t had access to before. Each volunteer-run unit will have more support. We’re going to sell advertising on component website. We’ve been able to handle all this through the pre-existing relationship of trust we had built with the board, volunteers, components and Higher Logic as partners and collaborators. If it wasn’t for that, this implementation wouldn’t be happening.