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April 7, 2019

Preparing for cyberdeath with a killswitch server

Death comes for us all, and chances are, you don't even have a legal will and testament prepared. But before you have a panic attack and start tweeting at your attorney, let me ask you this: have you thought about what will happen to your website once you bite it?

Spoiler, but: it's going to go down, fast.

Your Facebook page will happily outlive you. We've all seen the tombstone pages for our departed friends, and maybe even posted on one ourselves. "Miss you buddy." Like he's still checking Facebook in the afterlife, and not hella partying. Tragically ripped from this world beacuse of his own stupid cocaine mistakes? He'd better not be checking Facebook.

But if you really like computers, enough to read a blog that asks whether you do in the title, you've probably spent less time on social media and more time building your own site. Maybe you maintain a couple of cloud servers. They might feel autonomous, but they're just an extension of you, and once you kick the infernal bucket, they'll be following shortly after.

Sure, they'll chug along for a little while, handling that nice traffic, but as time wears on, servers decay. Log files bloat the drive; the software becomes outdated and falls prey to malicious bots. Even before that happens, your web host will shut off your account for non-payment. Credit card? Yeah, that's going to stop working. Site's down before your spouse has even chosen an urn.

Listen, if you don't actually like computers, you might not want to invest the money to pre-pay your server hosting and domain name reservation costs several years in advance. I get it — you have other things going on. Maybe your website isn't even that important to you. But otherwise, throw a few hundred dollars into your hosting account and let's move onto maintenance. Logrotate. Unattended Upgrades. Automatic WordPress updates. A cron task to restart every so often. If nothing catastrophic happens, this will keep you going for a while.

But running a VM for a couple of years after your body gets chewed up by the underside of a bus is just the groundwork. You can put that server to use — really have some fun. Or, at least create a fun experience for the people who survive you.

If you can't bring yourself to do that, even though you claim to love them, you can click back over to Reddit or wherever. Because right now we're going to build a killswitch to blast your friends and family with content from beyond the grave.

You can mitigate the spookiness of this a number of ways, but the first thing we have to think about is setting up a safe trigger system. Obviously it would be disasterous if got set off before you actually died, so you want to make sure you can't ever forget to hit the override button at regular intervals. And hitting that button should be as easy as possible.

A painless way is to have your system send you an email every week with a link. "Are you dead?" Not yet, you'll click, but time ticks on. If you miss more than 4-5 emails, you're dead. Or you're locked out of your email, but if that happens, you can hopefully still access the killswitch server itself, and hit the override manually. Always build multiple methods of override.

Once we're secure, we can start putting together our content. What you pack into this cannon is up to you — how do you want to be remembered? What do you want people to know, but couldn't tell them in life without disasterous consequences? A burn list may be top of mind, but this is also an excellent opportunity to drop that secret SoundCloud account you've been running, yet too embarrassed to tell anyone about. For added returns, stagger your posthumous communications. Even when your server finally runs out of cash, your people should still be wondering: is that it?

Just in case anyone gets mad, place some orders for gift baskets for a few years down the road. Even if you don't die, somebody's going to end up with some nice jams.

So there you have it — a kind of immortality that'll have your loved ones saying: "Ahh, I miss that fucking nerd."

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