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Jul 8, 2022

You Probably Should Create a Dead Man’s (or Woman’s) Switch

If you have information you want to pass on after your death, a dead man’s switch could be what you need.

The concept behind a dead man’s switch is fairly simple. It’s a trigger or a switch designed to activate when its human creator becomes incapacitated, usually designed to be triggered in the event of it’s creator’s death. While originally used for switches in machines, the term has become more popular in computer software.

A dead man’s switch serves as a failsafe, ensuring the release of information in case the person dies. One common use might be an email message sent to one’s relatives after the creator’s death stating, “Here’s where to find the insurance papers, my last will-and-testament, my list of passwords for all the online services I gave been using, here’s where to access my crypto currencies, and other documents you may need.”

Originally, dead man’s switches were primarily used on machines, including railroad locomotives, outboard motors, and even snowmobiles. If the user became incapacitated, they would simply bring the machine into a safe state by reducing the throttle or applying the brakes. However, today most dead man’s switches apparently are created for computer use.

One of the most notorious deaths in the past few years was that of John McAfee, the man behind McAfee antivirus software. During his lifetime, John made a lot of atrocious claims. He claimed to have a dead man’s switch, stating that he had files on corruption in several governments. He stated that he would release more than 31 terabytes of incriminating information if he were arrested. He even stated that the information would be released the moment he disappeared.

The result? After John McAfee died, only one image was posted on his Instagram channel. Lots of people have since searched for the “31 terabytes of incriminating information” but apparently no one has yet found it.

Generally, a dead man’s switch can be set up and used by anyone with a little technical knowledge.

The software requires you to encrypt data and create a set of triggers that automatically activate if there’s no timely human intervention. For instance, if you fail to log into your email account or some other piece of software for a specific number of days, it may trigger a series of events. For instance, it might send the email I mentioned earlier about “Here’s where to find the insurance papers” and similar information.

You can create your own dead man’s switch if you have just a little technical expertise. Otherwise, there are now ready-made tools that you can use, such as Dead Man’s Switch at https://www.deadmansswitch.net/.

Although basic, Google’s Inactive Account Manager (at https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3036546?hl=en) is easy to set up. It works as a dead man’s switch too although it does not have all the capabilities of the Dead Man’s Switch web site or of most home made “switches.”

The Dead Man’s Switch web site at https://www.deadmansswitch.net/ lets you write a series of emails and decide who to send them to. The emails are encrypted and stored on the company’s servers. After every few days, you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm if you’re fine.

As long as you keep clicking on the link, it won’t trigger. These notifications are sent via email, Telegram, or through your browser. You can easily define the interval and set the time for activation.

If you fail to respond to the notification, the service will automatically send the emails to your recipients. At the moment, the FREE service lets you create two emails for two different recipients. They also have a paid option that lets you create more emails for different recipients.

How much technical expertise must you have to create a dead-man’s switch? If you use the web site at https://www.deadmansswitch.net/, the answer is “almost none.” You don’t need to have John McAfee’s technical skills. If you know how to answer questions, you can use the online web site (FREE for up to two different email recipients, fees charged for more email messages).

Now, go create your own “dead man’s switches” and here’s hoping they don’t get triggered for many more years.

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