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Protecting Your Website

There are so many forms of censorship online and things like the new NSA Spy Center certainly have people concerned about their privacy.  That said, a couple of friends recently brought a completely different issue up to me focusing on protecting their website.

Sure news events such as SOPA are scary and one friend wanted to know what he could do if the government shut down his site.  Another friend, along these same lines, sent me the following article – http://www.sovereignman.com/personal-privacy/why-you-want-an-offshore-email-account/ – which provides details on how a bank forced Google to shut down an innocent user’s GMail account.  That user did nothing wrong – the bank sent him some confidential information by accident – and yet the account was, and still is, offline and there is nothing that user can do.

Answers to these types of questions revolve around moving your hosting outside of the United States but things are not always so easy.  Focusing first just on website hosting, there are some rather reputable providers out there such as http://gandi.net in India and http://joker.com in Switzerland.  That stated, many of the others are going to be worse than anything a U.S.-based provider will ever do to you.  Many providers will hack your site, use your information however they want and/or drop your site for no apparent reason.  A few years ago there was a common scam wherein certain providers would hold your domain hostage in return for more money.

International providers like Rackspace are great for distribution but they are U.S.-based companies and thus will shut you down instantly based on the whim of the U.S. government.

The problems with overseas providers go further as countries such as France are actually much more stringent than the U.S. and they have no limits on powers or abilities to shut down your site.  Rules in those countries tend to make SOPA look like child’s play.  Of course, the U.S never wants to be outdone completely and they do things that are frankly shocking.  Check out this article and read about how the U.S. shutdown a non-U.S. citizen’s website that was targeting Europeans and locked down his registrar so he can never move his domain.  This guy’s only fault was the fact that he registered with a U.S.-based registrar.

You also need to be very aware of the domain extension you utilize.  For example most .net ending are controlled by the U.S. Department of Commerce and can be shutdown no matter where you are registered.  If you are going through an overseas provider then you need to be very aware of what extensions offer real protection.  Fortunately the reputable providers can help you figure that out.  While I have never completed an exhaustive review, I have found that countries that are more open in general tend to have more consumer-friendly registrars and I have found that the more anti-U.S. the country is, the more resilient to U.S. sanctions the registrar becomes.  Check local laws in a given country first of course as, again, many countries are very far behind the U.S. in terms of openness and freedom of speech online.

Moving onto email, online app hosting, etc…  If you are using Google to host your domain then you are subject to the Patriot Act, U.S. censorship, etc…  Now most people think this is not an issue…until a bank sends you their confidential information by mistake…but your options here are just not as good.  The first level of defense is to switch to a registrar as described previously and the good ones will also host your email.  While that might sound great, remember that almost all hosted email providers store your email internally.  Thus, is forced far enough, they will divulge all of your emails and that might not be what you want.  Also, things like online calendars and apps are hard to find outside of the mainstream and certainly very few registrars offer anything along these lines.

So what can you do?

Well the next level is to host your own email server and/or applications using a suite such as Smarter Tools which provides many of the features you would have through GMail.  In this case, you would register your domain somewhere safe, obtain a Virtual Private Server or Cloud Server, purchase and install Smarter Tools, setup your DNS as per Smarter Tools’ step-by-step guide and you are set.

Not so easy, huh?

Again, everything is a challenge and that is the point.  If you are willing to put in the time – and finding a reputable/reliable VPS/Cloud Server provider outside of the U.S. can be daunting – you can completely control your email and domain.  I would recommend countries such as Iceland (which essentially thumbs their collective nose at the world), Russia, Brazil or the Ukraine for hosting but BE CAREFUL as they are many more hacks out there than reliable options.  Unfortunately, the best non-U.S. options are based in U.S.-friendly countries which are often no better than just staying in the U.S.

Finally, if you are going down this path of hosting your own server, then encrypt, encrypt, encrypt.  There are numerous options that you can install of your VPS/Cloud Server that will encrypt everything using a key only you know.

You do not need to go crazy, a great simple option is https://scrambls.com/ which auto-encrypts anything you send online in a very ingenious manner that protects your content from anybody outside of your intended audience.  Store that Google – for all the good it will do for you!

Finally, I believe privacy is a huge issue that will become more and more prevalent over time – you should own and control your information online.  That said, if you are not doing anything nefarious then the government has better things to do than watch your every move.  Sure they can record everything you do online but the government has been invading your privacy through your cell phone for years and it probably has yet to negatively impact your life.

The question is how prepared you should be and what you can do to mitigate the negative impacts when the government mistakenly or purposely takes you out.  I have provided some options here and IP Ghoster will provide some of the most cutting edge communication security tools you have ever seen, but the answer comes back to you.  How much is your privacy worth to you and how far are you willing to go to protect your data?

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