Self-host Everything

I firmly believe that “cloud services” will be the downfall of the internet: instead of a free and open network, where anyone can provide services, we’re moving towards a few monolithic networks providing “free” services (in exchange for selling your data to advertisers, and showing you advertisements) and stomping out all smaller competition, Walmart-style.

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There are several issues with depending on cloud service providers:

You are at the mercy of the service provider. What would happen if, say, Facebook chose to shut down services in your country tomorrow? How many people would you lose touch with? How many photos and messages would you lose forever? Better yet, how fucked would you be if Gmail disappeared?

Your data is most likely being vacuumed up by various nation-state attackers. As the Snowden slides revealed, virtually all major cloud service providers are providing your personal data directly to the NSA — however, it would be foolish to assume that only the NSA has your data. Because these cloud service providers are international, your data is most likely also provided to intelligence agencies in virtually all developed countries, from China to Russia to Israel. Why? Because these providers “must follow the law”, and operating in many countries means following the law in many countries.

Cloud services are a tempting target for attackers. Imagine if you could… oh I dunno, find nude pictures of many celebrities in a single datastore. If you had the skills, wouldn’t that be a juicy target? That being said, cloud services are usually fairly secure, but slip-ups still happen.

All “free” cloud services sell your data to advertising firms. There’s probably some sweatshop worker reading your emails right now to figure out whether to sell your male enhancement pills or sunglasses. I hope you’re not surprised, as you agreed to it in the EULA you accepted — how else did you think these services would get paid for? Interestingly, Google is mostly likely the least evil of the providers in this regard, because they do their own advertising. So at least your data stays with one company.

I bet you have a solution, LG. 

Of course. The answer is to self-host everything.

Running your own services lets your keep control of your data, and offers enhanced privacy and security. While running services requires a certain amount of technical competence, it’s far more straightforward (and cheaper) than many people assume. Find yourself a nice VPS host (DigitalOcean and Linode are good) or a host for dedicated servers (I’ve had good experiences with Online.net, Hetzner, and OVH), find some tutorials, pay a few bucks per month, build services, break services, fix services. Find a few technically-able friends to give you a hand, or a few privacy-aware friends to split the cost with. Some examples:

  • Email: Postfix and Dovecot, optionally Roundcube (webmail)
  • Chat: Prosody (XMPP)
  • Files: OwnCloud
  • Documentation: Mediawiki
  • Blog: WordPress
  • Search Engines: Searx
  • <a href="https://github this content.com/Kickball/awesome-selfhosted/blob/master/README.md” target=”_blank”>More

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Won’t this be horrendously expensive?
For a few users, you can run all of the above on a $5/month DigitalOcean VPS.

Won’t things break?
Absolutely. But learning how to fix things when they break is what makes you a good sysadmin. Backup often, backup well.

Won’t it be inconvenient?
Absolutely. But that’s the whole appeal of cloud service providers: convenience, in exchange for your personal data. At some point, you’ll realize it’s just not worth it.

Will I be secure against hackers/nation-state attackers?
Kinda. You’ll be safe from certain types of attacks: the NSA storing and analyzing every email you send via Gmail, for instance. If you’re specifically targeted, no, you’ll get #rekt anyway via the attacker compromising/compelling your hosting provider, putting malware on your home computer, or being beaten with a wrench until you give up your encryption keys. But self-hosting keeps your data out of the massive, easy-to-access pools of personal data on cloud services — it makes it more difficult for attackers to get at your data, and making attacker’s jobs more difficult is something we should all strive to do.

Humor me: try it out today. Get a domain name, fire up a $5 VPS on DigitalOcean, find an inital server setup and securing your server guides, then follow the ISPmail tutorial and set up email services (DigitalOcean and Linode have excellent knowledge bases of tutorials: see 1 and 2). Test it out, find features you want, find tutorials to implement them. Do something dumb, break something, then figure out how to fix it. Find some friends, work together, and free yourself of the cloud service botnet.

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3 thoughts on “Self-host Everything”

    1. @me I agree.
      I’m still researching on such decentralized serverless solution vs self-hosted ones. I’m lacking infoSec skills (well, even basic network security skill to be honnest), to figure if it’s a safe path or not..
      I’d love to find some input on that.. Choosing Syncthing over NextCloud as my cloud storage solution would obviously be a “nobrainer” pick for me, if I knew for sure that the data on the network can’t be scrapped/hijacked by any one..

      If you could provide some input on that, it would be much appreciated.

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