Why OpenBSD Is Important To Me
The freedom to speak in private is essential to democracy. The less private your conversations, the more careful you are about what you say. And being careful leads to less candor, less criticism, and less innovation. Thought and private speech are the breeding ground for new, sometimes controversial ideas. They are how we prototype, think new ideas through, refine them, and get them ready for wider distribution and discussion.
The US government has chosen to attack everyone’s privacy, US citizen and world citizen alike, in the name of attacking the privacy of terrorists. The government view is that privacy is an impediment to keeping us safe from physical harm. Tragically, they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater–we want to be safe from physical harm so that we can engage with society as free citizens with the maximum possible liberty…putting us in a digital prison, where all of our communication is subject to the whim of government review is the opposite of keeping us safe, its a devastating attack on our freedom.
Time after time when the people of the United States have openly debated encryption and privacy, the people have made it clear that we do not want to trade away our privacy in exchange for the possibility of making it easier for the govenment to secure our physical safety. Instead of respecting our wishes, or reopening the debate to see if we would change our minds in light of 9/11 or other physical attacks, the US govenment chose to spy on us in secret and then lie about it. They took advantage of our trust in them, and that’s the second tragedy of their actions–this loss of trust will have negative, far reaching consequences for decades to come.
In OpenBSD I Trust
OpenBSD is an operating system that prioritizes security, encryption, and free (as in free and open) software. Its built in the open–anyone can see the code and discussions around it. That’s no accident–the earliest contributors recognized that transparency and public discussion are essential to effective security. If you follow the project and the email lists for any length of time, it becomes clear that the core contributors are passionate about security and quality. These are volunteers that spend their limited, precious spare time on building a great operating system that they give away for free because they want to see secure, high quality software thrive in the world. They’ve been doing it for 20 years.
What they’ve made works really well. While its not as easy for a consumer to use as Windows or OS X, to someone more technically inclined, its straightforward to use as a server or as a desktop for many use cases. And the big feature: it starts our very secure and if you’re careful you can keep it that way as you customize it to suit your purpose.
A Fight Worth Fighting
Nothing is perfect, of course. I imagine the NSA has a bag full of OpenBSD exploits, and truth be told, for most of us security newbs its easy to misconfigure our software and expose our data on accident. But OpenBSD has gifted to the world a fighting chance–a foundation as solid as any available for building a private digital life. Its for all these reasons that I use OpenBSD for many of my servers at home, run OpenBSD on my main laptop, donate to OpenBSD, buy CDs, patch 3rd party software so its compatible with OpenBSD, and have looked for other ways to help.
I still have insecure, anti-secure, and anti-privacy software and hardware in my life–I have an iPhone, I use Linux and Windows at home, and Linux and OS X at work. Plenty of hardware in my life has backdoors (I’m looking at you Intel). But I’m slowly replacing the bad stuff with the good stuff, as I’m able to find OpenBSD (and open hardware) based solutions for my remaining use cases.
Its work, to be sure. It would be easier to just use OS X and Windows for a lot of stuff I do. It would be easier to use iCloud and Google Drive and Dropbox for everything. It would be easier to just trust everyone in all the corporations of the world and all the governments of the world. Or short of that, it would be easier to bury my head in the sand and optimize exclusively for convenience. It would be easier not to contribute–to just leech off others' works and let them leech off my me and my data. But that’s not the path to better world or to a free one. Our freedom requires fighting, struggling, working. OpenBSD is on our side, and its volunteers are fighting for us. We should fight too. Our freedom is worth fighting for.
Discussion on Hacker News.