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Building a private email server

Ben Johnson and Aparna Alluri Mar 5, 2015
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The questions about why Hillary Clinton used a home email server system instead of her government account while she was Secretary of State have multiplied. But here’s a different kind of question: How easy is it to build an at-home email server?

Meet Lee Hutchinson, Senior Reviews Editor for Ars Technica, who did just that

He says the question of even attempting to create a server is a complicated one. “Stop and reassess if you want to really go down this road because it’s not easy,” he says. Disheartening as that sounds, he’s right.

For one, it’s a long process. Hutchinson says he researched for months to set up his own server. Then there’s the logistics. First you need a computer if you want to host it on your house.

“Not the best option,” says Hutchinson. “It’s so easy for people ‘s home computers to get co-opted into malware and turned into spam spewing.” In fact, because of this problem, most big companies try to prevent users from doing just that.

“Generally, it’s a terms of service violation, and they try to make it as technically difficult as possible,” says Hutchinson.

Most of all, the process takes a lot of time, not just to set it up, but also to maintain it. “If gmail goes down at 3 AM, it’s not your problem, says Hutchinson. But if it’s your email server that goes down at 3 AM? Then it is your problem, especially if you’re working on something important and or you’re on a deadline.

But if difficulty is no barrier, Hutchinson says the main advantage to setting up a private email server would be “to skirt discoverability requirements that would be placed on actual government emails sent through actual government systems.”

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