PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

Rolling your own email servers - is this game over?

Jan 2003

Those of us who have not ventured into the world of web-interfaced services for a while, might have overlooked that Yahoo has now produced a complete set of services for email and web sites that makes the prospect of trying run and manage your own – and deal with the steadily increasing issues of hackers and backup – all rather pointless. Even an SME is probably better off letting Yahoo take the strain.

Of course this is utterly contrary to the founding tenets of the internet, since from a world of nicely distributed and resilient “stand alone” services, capable of withstanding nuclear attack by rerouting around the failures, we are back to the shortcomings of the original lumpy solutions such as pre-internet Compuserve and Prestel, with their traditional (and frequent) single points of failure. And a single large organisation that is impossible to access and talk to as a user – but that governments so enjoy “dealing with”, compared to the anarchic mass of small autonomous systems spread around the globe.

If I was a terrorist, I’d feel a lot more anonymous on one of the bigger services where it’s easy to get lost in the sheer enormity of it all. However, you can be quite certain that every email is traceable to the originating IP address – and from there, back through to the ISP terminal server and login logs– sooner or later. Whoops, it’s an internet café – or a stray “borrowed” 802.11 connection.

Anyway, I gave up on Hotmail a long time ago when a “secret” Hotmail account of mine started receiving spam mysteriously. I had never ever published the address anywhere as a test of the security of the system, and I still got spam. Added to which, would I really want to trust Microsoft with any more of my sensitive personal information? I don’t think so.

The problem with all webmail services but Hushmail is that the mail text transmission is “in the clear” even if the password at sign-on is over SSL. I don’t know if this is because the NSF/MI5/CIA want easy access to scan everyone’s mail, or the service operators are just lazy. I am quite certain that everything on the Hushmail service is scanned by the CIA, but I can just about trust them not sell my email address to a third party spam agency. But only just…

For most users of email – especially itinerant users - the only thing wrong with the Yahoo services is the seemingly incurable yank passion for advertising everywhere. Even as a paying subscriber to the service, I get the commercials, but am rapidly becoming completely indifferent to them.