Hack and / - Your Own Personal Server: the Network

This first installment of Kyle's personal server series will walk you through some common network hangups that can get in the way of hosting your own server at home.

These days, it seems everyone is talking about the cloud. Now, what exactly someone means by “the cloud” seems to vary, but typically, the cloud refers to some sort of service, such as e-mail, Web, DNS, file storage and so on, that is managed for you by a third party. Many people love how easy it can be to outsource their e-mail service, blog or image site to someone else. Like oil changes, home repair and cooking, server administration is yet another task you can pay (either with money or with marketing data) someone else to manage for you.

Alongside this trend to outsource work is a growing movement that values doing things yourself. Some examples include “Makers” involved in designing their own electronics, do-it-yourself home improvement, gardening, amateur cheese making, baking and even home brewing. The fact is, many of these so-called chores actually are rather rewarding and even fun to do yourself. I think we as Linux users should apply this same idea to server management. It turns out it is quite rewarding, educational and not terribly difficult to manage your own services at home instead of outsourcing them to the cloud. This is on top of the fact that when you manage your own server, you are in full control of your server, what's installed on it and who can see it.

In this series of columns, I'm going to discuss how to set up various types of services at home and how to make them available to the Internet at large. In this first column of the series, I discuss some things you should consider about your network before you set up your first server at home.

Your Internet Connection

When it comes to hosting servers at home, all ISPs (Internet Service Providers) are not created equal. Before I even discuss bandwidth, first you should look into your ISP's terms of service. It turns out that some ISPs discourage, disallow or sometimes outright block home users from hosting their own services on the Internet. Take a large dose of caffeine and try to read through your ISP's terms of service (or just call and ask them) to see whether they have any sort of restrictions. These days, at the very least it's common for even server-friendly ISPs to block outbound e-mail traffic (SMTP port 25) by default to prevent spam. Although I'll discuss this more in a future column about e-mail, some ISPs will lift this restriction and some won't. The bottom line is that if hosting your own server is important to you, you will want to make sure you use an ISP that allows it. For me, this policy is more important when choosing an ISP than even speed or price.

Static IPs vs. Dynamic IPs

No matter what type of Internet connection you have, ultimately you are assigned at least one publicly routed IP address. If this address changes each time you connect to the Internet (or each time your DSL or cable modem resets), you have a dynamic IP. If this IP stays the same, it's static. Although people historically have run servers on both static and dynamic IPs, with a dynamic IP, you will have to go through the additional trouble of setting up some sort of dynamic DNS service so that each time your IP changes at home, everyone trying to access your service on the Internet will get the new IP. Unfortunately, due to the nature of how DNS works, you can't always guarantee (even with low TTLs) that everyone will see your changed IP in a timely manner, so if you are serious about running servers at home, I recommend you spring for one or more static IPs.

Connection Speed

Typically when you rate the quality of your Internet connection at home, you first look at your download speed. Average home users rely much more on their download bandwidth than their upload bandwidth as a metric of how “fast” their connection is, and many home Internet connections have much higher download bandwidth than upload. Once you start hosting servers at home, however, you'll find that their performance is governed more by your upload bandwidth. If you want to host bandwidth-hungry services at home, like streaming audio or video or image-heavy Web sites, you might want to upgrade or change your Internet connection to get more upload bandwidth. On the other hand, your personal DNS or e-mail server probably is going to be fine even with somewhat low upload bandwidth. Although upload bandwidth can be slower at home than at a data center, most connections at home (at least in the US) are unmetered so you don't have to worry about bandwidth caps.


Kyle Rankin is Chief Security Officer at Purism, a company focused on computers that respect your privacy, security, and freedom. He is the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu


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Ethical Hacking

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