"To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved." - George MacDonald
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Posted on 2015-09-16 by IceBear

In this and two following articles I'd like to take a look at three different areas of personal data storage, how I see a majority of people handling these three issues and what my personal theoretical approaches regarding them is. This is going to be purely about data storage and security, not transport security, which is another topic on its own.

The questions mainly are:

  • Where am I supposed to store my private data?
  • Is my data secure?
  • Who can access my data?
  • Is security based on trust or actual scientific security (encryption)?

First of all, the three distinctions of data storage I'd like to make, and also how I'm splitting the articles, are the following:

  • Email storage
  • Preference storage (application preferences, browser syncing, phone syncing etc.)
  • Personal data storage (photos, videos, documents, contacts, calendar, etc.)

Let's start with email storage. Where are your emails stored? The vast majority of Internet users have an email account with one of the big free email providers or they might have an account that is provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP). Maybe you even use some shared web hosting somewhere which comes with shared email servers. Whichever of these is the case: your emails are effectively stored with a third party, an ISP that is not you.

Let me ask you this: where is your mail stored? And by mail I actually refer to physical mail: letters. Where are they received? Surely you have a mailbox at your home, or you might have a post-office (PO) box. Most likely you'll be receiving your mail at your mailbox in front of your house and then store it safely inside your home. Would you want your letters to be sent to a third-party that is sending you a copy but also storing all your letters within their own house? Probably not.

I believe we have a major misunderstanding how we are treating Email currently. We are giving away our email data to big companies that make a living with it (among with other services). Always keep in mind that you're most likely not the customer when using a free service, you might be the actual product. If events in the last years regarding the NSA and Edward Snowden have shown us anything, it's that our data stored at big ISPs is most likely easily accessible by governments.

Instead of using such a centralized infrastructure, we should be decentralizing Email in the same way our usual mail system works. When you go back looking at the development of email, it actually was meant to be exactly like that.

My suggestion for email therefore is this:

  • Get your own domain name to use for your email address. Be aware that public email providers like gmail.com, hotmail.com, etc. are the ones in charge of their domain names and can cancel them or your email address at any time. You should be the one in charge of your own domain name.
  • Run your own email server at home. While this might sound difficult, a lot of services and communities try to make this as easy as possible. Some examples would be iRedMail, Mail-in-a-BoxSynology Email Server and YunoHost. In case you've heard about or own a Raspberry Pi, there are two major projects making self-hosted services, including Email, on a Raspberry Pi as easy as possible: arkOS and FreedomBox.
  • Use a third-party email server only as a backup mail server. In case your Internet connection at home drops and your mail server is unreachable, configure a third-party email server as a backup, so your emails will be delivered regardless. In a best case scenario, you can set up a friend's home email server as your backup server and vice versa.
  • Use end-to-end encryption such as GPG to protect your emails even if someone else is able to access them.

This just a very brief overview of why I suggest hosting your own email server. There are lots of other things to consider and running an email server is by no means an easy task, I understand that.

As a concluding suggestion, I'd like to introduce the website PRISM Break which lists free and open alternatives for all kinds of proprietary and closed solutions. Specifically for mail servers: PRISM Break Mail Servers

In my next article I'll be taking a look at preference storage, where to save application preferences, what to do with browser syncing and phone syncing.

Article NSA parody logo cc by EFF. Article title in reference to "All your base are belong to us".

Posted on 2011-07-17 by IceBear

Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end. The days where you opened your multiplayer game, opened the server browser, ordered the servers by their latency, added some more filters like preferred map, players, and so on to your liking and finally selected the server you wanted to join. Back then people still knew what latency or ping meant. Back then game servers were running on dedicated machines which had more bandwidth and resources available than usual personal computers. When a server started lagging and your ping got too high, you simply looked for a server you had a better connection to.

Those were the days on the good old personal computer. Today unfortunately video gaming consoles took a major place in video gaming and with them came the average dumbed down casual gamers who simply want to play with the push of a button.

Ping? You mean those fancy colored bars which go green, yellow and red according to my connection? Oh yes, yes. I know those from my phone, too. It's like the reception to the server, right?

Dedicated servers you say? I don't know, I simply press "join match" or "start match" and that's it. But I prefer games where that function is combined by one button, sometimes called "instant play" or also "inb4 ragequit".

But even when games actually do get dedicated servers, often they're only released for Windows. Now you might be saying "Linux is not meant for gaming anyhow, right?". Well, even though most major video games don't run on Linux as a client, the majority of people are running Linux dedicated servers and not Windows dedicated servers for games. And no, I'm not going to back that with some fancy statistics now but simply state my own experience there. Just think about it for a second, it makes perfect sense. What kind of server administrator needs some freaking graphical user interface (GUI) on their server? And Windows always comes with a GUI, that's why it's called Windows after all (duh). It's a waste of resources that could be used otherwise. Not to mention the overall system stability, licensing costs (none vs. too much) and open source vs. closed source.

So thanks to video gaming consoles we either get no dedicated gaming servers at all or crippled ones. Let's see what games are made for the average dumbed down casual gamer:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - No dedicated servers available at all

Call of Duty: Black Ops - Dedicated servers operation limited to GameServers.com

"If players want to run a dedicated Ranked or Unranked server on the PC, they will have to rent one through GameServers" - Josh Olin

Battlefield Bad Company 2 - Dedicated servers operation limited to "trusted partners"

"DICE will have trusted partners with datacenters worldwide that you'll be able to rent a dedicated server from [...]" - Battlefield Blog post

And now some games where developers and publishers don't care about Linux dedicated servers:

  • Brink (work in progress, so far not released)
  • Crysis 2
  • Dino D-Day
  • Duke Nukem Forever
  • Monday Night Combat
  • Plain Sight

And many more... It's saddening to see how the video gaming world is dumbing down and how publishers and developers don't think it's very important to have Linux dedicated server support or dedicated server support at all. Look at those games and their number of active players. Look at those games and ask the number of active players how they're fed up by simple matchmaking functions that don't work very well. They'll probably tell you that they often ragequit because they ended up on a server somewhere far, far away with a latency beyond anything that could still be considered enjoyable.

And if there is dedicated server support but it's limited to "trusted partners" only that means that whether you own a dedicated server yourself somewhere doesn't matter. Because you can only directly rent a game server from those "trusted partners". Those of course come with a higher price since you probably would've been able to host several gaming servers on your dedicated server but instead you have to rent them for more cash than you pay for your dedicated server.

Why is that happening? Why do companies treat their customers like they're complete idiots? Why do we have to dumb everything down? We don't need some fancy colored bars where we had our latency shown as a number before. Going from a number to a colored bar is a reduction in information which we used to have before. How come private individuals can't host dedicated gaming servers anymore? Why would that even be limited to certain "trusted partners"? Is some cash flowing there?

The first thing I do when I want to buy a new multiplayer game is to check whether Linux dedicated servers are supported. That's because I always like to host my own server. I know the setup of that server, I know when it's reachable and I can always enjoy playing on it when I want. So to me, when a multiplayer game does not support Linux dedicated servers can be a reason to not buy the game. And that means the company will have a potential customer less which equals to less money for them. Now, I'm just a single individual but I'm pretty convinced there are more people thinking just like me. (Just search for "Linux" on that page)

Think about it.

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