Internet Cafes in 2016

The Starbucks I am sat in right now is the model of the modern internet cafe. There is coffee, free WiFi, chairs(!), they are happy for you to sit there all day if you order an over priced drink every so often. And other than me there are people in here using laptops, they might even be working.

In the 90's an internet cafe was a different thing, there might have been coffee and drinks, but the main feature that drew people in were the rows and rows of computers. Laptops had weedy specs and were really over priced. Many people probably visited just to use the computers, it might have been there only way to get online.

Internet cafes did not last in the west, the pc market had to make laptops affordable to live. With disposable income and infrastructure that had to appear to be world leading it quickly became expected to have a computer at home.

There is an impression in the western mindset, driven by the media, that internet cafes are still a big thing in poorer parts of the world. If you show a user in India or China using a computer from an internet cafe no one will bat an eye. Both For the Win and Reamde feature Gold Farmers playing MMO's from internet cafes.

Unfortunately Internet cafes aren't a myth, there are still many places you can find desktop computers set up for general public access. University computer rooms, public libraries, airports and hotel lobbies are some common culprits. As in the 90's and 2000's public machines are a security nightmare.

You can never be safe using someone else's computer, that is why the cloud is such a joke. General public machines are a potential goldmine to a malicious actor and maybe worse, are a breeding ground for malware that will be around even when the host isn't actively malicious.

== Can We Build An Internet Cafe in 2016? ==

People are going to no matter what, can we build something that is reasonably safe for a user? I think we first have to assume that the machines we are going to use are not actively malicious, there is very little we can do to stop someone that is actively coming after you. Active attacks are rare, most people are only targeted when they stand out from the crowd.

I think there are two ways we can do this:

1. User provides the computing and storage

In this case the user has their own computing power, but they need access to a larger screen and more capable peripherals. The venue operator just have to provide a standard interface, lets say HDMI ports on large monitors, and the keyboard and mouse.

You could carry a some sort of HDMI stick pc, a raspberry pi, or something else. This idea is the basic of Ubuntu's Convergence computing, the phone you carry around all day is already a capable enough computer. With a little hardware to connect a screen, keyboard and mouse, the convergence device goes from phone OS to full desktop OS.

The convergence idea is really interesting, but Ubuntu is starting it up very slowly. One day soon, hopefully.

2. User provides storage

The second idea is that the venue provides normal desktop computers of some sort we would expect, but they don't have a hard drive or operating system installed.

Instead the user brings a bootable USB stick with a proactively secure operating system like tails installed. The user is able to take the USB stick wherever they go and manage to maintain a session between boots.

This is possible now.


Reading: Abaddon's Gate, Reamde

The subtitle text for Neal Stevenson's website is excellent

Stevenson or Hacked

blog morning

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