« Archives in June, 2020

How to Internet 101: Backups

Rule 1 about anything that touches the internet: This goes double for servers that are on all the time and configured by amateurs (you and me): KEEP BACKUPS.
Rule 2 of the internet: KEEP BACKUPS!

Always back up your data, your server configuration, and your databases. That way, when you view your site one day and discover it’s been overwritten by SEO spam selling viagra in chinese, you’ll be able to wipe it and restore.

If you’re handling customer data or people’s credit cards, you need a higher standard of security. If you are only serving content though, the easiest and best security is just keeping backups. You can always nuke it all and start over. With Linux, nuking it all and starting over is an hour exercise that doesn’t even require calling the Microsoft mothership for authentication.

backup the /etc directory (config files)
backup the /var directory (where you’ve probably put your mail and website files)
backup your /home directories

Some helpful database backup stuff for mysql:

Dumping a database to a backup file

msqldump -u username -p database_name > file.sql

Restoring a dumped database file to the database (first create the database)

mysql -u username -p database_name < file.sql

WordPress.com is getting censor-happy again

My home-bases on the internet are hosted on either server computers in my house, or servers that I rent from vanilla-hosting providers. I recommend Linode for hosting, and Namecheap for domain name registration. So far, they haven’t burned me.

Unfortunately, our cultural civil war has unleashed a bunch of censorious hyenas on our companies, and the interent as a whole. Payment processors, blog-service providers, hosting providers, and other services are being systematically denied to people because of their politics, or just the information they provide and the people they “associate with”. This is possible, because people have placed their content into the hands of a few centralized service providers.

Running your own server has never been more important, to preserve the freedom of the internet, to keep yourself from being silenced, and to keep your content from being arbitrarily stolen or destroyed by the asshole companies you entrusted it to.

Running your own blog on your own server is not difficult. If the email tutorial below scared you, don’t let it: most things aren’t as mind-numbingly complicated as a Postfix/Dovecot server. Your own instance of the wordpress blog software can be run on a server that you control. There are also many other php applications out there that are freely available to use (wikis, other blog software, php forums, etc). The whole infrastructure of the early-2000s internet is mostly available for free – all you have to do is sacrifice some SAN points to the penguin gods. But I think it’s well worth it in the end to have your own home online.

A comment I posted back in 2018:
On Adaptive-Curmudgeon’s blog (very fun blog, check it out): Link

Ditto. I moved my blog to a server that I rent. (I keep backups and can move it again to another server if necessary). WordPress’s recent misbehaviour though leads me to wonder if I should back up all my posts and media onto a different format entirely, in case they start trying to go after independent instances of their software through some backdoor.

I was also recently IP banned by google. That was a fun experience. I was looking up academic papers, but I must have looked up the wrong one in the wrong way (spin up the tinfoil beanie: there must be some deep dark secret about superconductivity!). It turns out there is absolutely no customer service number to call, and absolutely no one to appeal to. Not even an automated robot, as infurating as those are to deal with. If you’re banned by google, you’re banned. I called up my internet service provider to get them to reset my IP address, and they treated it like a federal crime to try to evade a google-ban. Something must be deeply wrong with me, my computer, or both, if I happen to be *disliked* by a mindless robot. Send the FBI! (I called sales the next day, and salesmen seem to have a more pragmatic attitude towards what they owe their *paying customer*, especially since I had one toe out the door at that point.)

While it is *thankfully* possible to go through different services, it’s nevertheless unsettling when the owners of a near-monopoly act like assholes. Just because it is possible to defend against assholish behavior, doesn’t mean that the world isn’t a less friendly place because of it. It could be one definition of a golden age: For a few brief decades, people cut each other a tiny break, do what they promise, and stop acting like jerks! Civilisation flowers.

I agree, learning how to defend against it and owning your own platforms are vitally important. It’s somewhat depressing that so many people have followed a convenience gradient down into placing all their content in just a few oligopoly platforms that they don’t own or control.

Email Server Instructions

I’ve written up a very rough draft of instructions on how to set up your own email server. These are instructions for setting up a Postfix/Dovecot server with OpenDKIM authentication on Ubuntu and Raspbian.

Link to Tutorial