Make Your Own Dead Man's Switch

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A dead man's switch is a switch that's supposed to activate after the man who's created it has died or become incapacitated. They're usually applied for vehicles that require human participation (i.e. train operation) but they can also be used to denote methods for people to perform actions after they're dead. Since dead people are normally in no position to do stuff on their own (i.e. flip switches, eat living people) some form of automation is needed.

One example of a dead-man's switch can be seen in the novel Beyond Recall, where Rachel Lesage threatens the world using biological weapons deployed via courier service delivery that she calls every 24 hours for delaying the package. If she doesnt call the delivery (i.e. she's dead) the weapons are deployed.

This article discusses a very simple way to deliver messages post-mortem without anybody being in direct knowledge of what's going to be delivered. This design was originally concieved for usage in one of my stories. But then again I realized it could actually work in a real scenario.

Here are the steps:

1. Create a blogger account (e.g. Public Static) or an email account.

2. On that account, draft your messages. Make sure they are left in "drafts" and not actually published/sent (that would be embarassing).

3. Get at least four people. All four of them should be net savvy and active online and it will be much more secure if they do not know each other.

The first person should be very close to you. If possible a family member. He or she should be somebody who will most likely know if you're dead. If you feel that there's a chance that he or she might die with you, get another secondary close person too. These persons will be called "reporters".

The second and third persons should be specially active with their emails. They will be called "components".

The fourth person should be somebody you completely trust. He will be the only person who will know of the format the messages will be sent in. he'll also be the first to read the messages so he should be conditioned to publish no matter what it says. (it's helpful if the messages dont contain anything that would cause him to hesitate)

4. Tell the "reporter" if ever you die, he or she should send a mail to two email addresses containing a passphrase of sorts e.g. "The fat lady has sung." as a title. The two email addresses should be the addresses of the "components"

5. Give the username and password of the account to the second and third person respectively. Do not tell them what the phrases are for, just tell them that if they recieve an email containing the passphrase you told the "reporters", they should send their phrase to another email address. This email address should be the address of the fourth person.

6. Instruct the fourth person that if ever he receives two emails, he should use it to access blogger/email and publish all contents that are inside the account.

So there. Using this mechanism, you can have a message delivered after you're dead, without having to setup any fancy computer program for the function. The participants in the sequence will not be able to act independently and view or publish your messages. They wont even know your favors are for a dead man's switch.

Reliability is of course traded off with security. You can have many reporters and ask the components to not send out until every reporter has sent an email. This decreases the chance a reporter will try to become an asshole and send an email even before youre dead and succeed in publishing your entries. However, it increases the chance that one of the reporters will not send and your messages will be locked forever.

Anyway that's just the general idea. It's not 100% reliable but it might be fun to see how it turns out (spoiler: you don't). Have fun.

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