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Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Toward a new strategy for Microsoft

December 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Back on 7 August I suggested that Microsoft’s plan for its own tablet was a big mistake (A Microsoft-made tablet? Big mistake). I may have been wrong – but only if it is part of a completely new and wider strategy.

Let’s look at the Big 4: Apple, Google, Microsoft and The User.

Microsoft’s strategy is built on the predominance and continued dominance of the PC. Without the PC there is only a small Microsoft – and the PC is in decline, and possibly a terminal decline. Microsoft’s strategy is in decline.

Apple’s strategy is built around owning everything, both hardware and software – and charging an obscene price for that monopoly. So far it has worked very successfully; but if you listen to the undercurrents from The User there is growing User dismay over both the price of that monopoly, and the frequency with which loyal subjects are asked to dump existing product and buy new product. Apple’s strategy is at the apex, and the only way is down (with a slight delay when it dumps OS/X in favour of desktop iOS).

Google’s strategy is to base everything in the cloud, and to own the cloud. This makes distribution very, very cheap, and upgrades cheap, seamless and invisible to the User. Google is proving very, very successful in this strategy.

But what about The User? The User’s strategy is to demand everything now, preferably free (but at least very cheap), anywhere and anytime. Microsoft provides none of this. Apple provides some, but not much, of this. Google provides it all.

So on current strategies, Microsoft is doomed, Apple will decline while Google will grow and thrive. (Incidentally, Amazon seems to have seen the writing, and I rather suspect that all three will have to watch out for Amazon in a few years time.)

But what if Microsoft has also finally come to its senses? What if the Microsoft tablet is not just a one-off foray into hardware, but part of a completely new strategy aimed at combining Apple’s hardware/software monopoly approach with Google’s cloud efficiency?

There are growing rumours that Microsoft is about to switch from, say, 3-yearly Windows releases to yearly releases. This makes no sense whatsoever under the current strategy. Expecting users to buy a new operating system every year won’t wash. Unless…

Let’s say that the MS plan is not new operating systems delivered in box or on disk, but new downloads delivered from the cloud just as its current patches are delivered every second Tuesday of the month. This model would require something like an annual license for the OS rather than a fixed price for the box. If that license were around £25 per year (preferably less), few users could say that use of Windows for just £2 per month is excessive. Let’s now take that to the logical conclusion: Windows and Office both migrate to the cloud and are both upgraded or patched on a continuous basis, as and when required, and paid for on a low-cost rolling license.

So Microsoft’s new strategy could be to own both hardware and software – starting with its own tablet but moving into phones (perhaps by buying Nokia?) and desktops (perhaps by buying Dell or Acer, or even building new from scratch?) – in mimicry of Apple; and then maintaining its software in and distributing from the cloud in mimicry of Google. Such a strategy would combine the best of all possible worlds; and while it is by no means certain that Microsoft could do it, if successful it could reverse the decline of Microsoft.

Categories: All

Liberty, security and prejudice

September 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Prejudice is the difference and depth between any point of view and our own. If someone agrees with us, that person is unprejudiced; if someone disagrees with us, that person is prejudiced – either against us personally or at least our point of view. The ‘difference’ is a measure of distance in argument; the ‘depth’ is a measure of entrenchment despite argument. To be truly prejudiced, someone must have a different view and be impervious to logical and compelling argument.

So, from my point of view, anyone who disagrees with me and refuses to listen to me is prejudiced (and requires educational redirection). To them, it is I who is prejudiced and requires re-educating – but that is just a measure of their prejudice. I make this point so that any person who reads this post and flatly refuses to agree with me can understand just how prejudiced he or she really is.

OK – so I came across this article in governing.com, written by Steve Towns. It starts:

Until cybersecurity standards are in place, security professionals worry that terrorists could shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy with the click of a mouse.

My hackles rise. Typical government-sponsored fear-mongering to get the people to accept loss of freedom to an increasingly authoritarian government in exchange for the fallacy of security.

The second paragraph continues

Dan Lohrmann has been in the information security business for the bulk of the past decade, and he’s scratching his head over the continued inability of Congress to enact nationwide cybersecurity protections.

I don’t know Mr Lohrmann, but I scratch my own head that any thinking person can be taken in by this government claptrap. So I need to know more about Mr Lohrmann. Enter LinkedIn. A quick search reveals

Since his career began as an [sic] computer systems analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA) in the 1980s, Daniel J. Lohrmann has been a recognized leader in addressing the importance of global computer networks and security.

NSA huh? Well that explains it all. Just another pro-government, un thinking, pre-packaged, prejudiced apologist.

But seriously, I beseech all citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave to stop and ask, just how much of that freedom am I willing to give up for the promise of unquantified, un-guaranteed, undeliverable, vote-winning security?

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

WikiLeaks, Antileaks, DDoS, Stratfor and TrapWire

August 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Life is a game of cricket – sometimes you face bouncers, and sometimes beamers; but usually it’s spin and swing. The internet is full of spin and swing, with business, government, law enforcement and hackers all trying to spin the news to their own advantage in order to swing public opinion behind their own position. It’s called disinformation, and everyone’s at it. But like cricket, you only need one ball to spin or swing, and you cannot trust anything ever again.

So with that introductory warning that I really haven’t got a clue, we can ask, what’s going on with WikiLeaks? This is one possibility. It’s all down to TrapWire and the information about TrapWire coming out of the latest WikiLeaks Stratfor emails.

TrapWire seems to be an international surveillance system centred in and run by the US. It makes Cameron’s Communications Bill look pedestrian. That’s not strictly accurate, since the Communications Bill watches people’s cyber movements, while TrapWire watches real world movements; that is, pedestrians (and cars and anything else that moves). It connects the nation’s CCTV surveillance cameras. As an aside, we can be pretty confident that when (not if) the US gets its Cybersecurity Act, that data will be connected to the TrapWire data. What’s more worrying for Brits is that when (not if) Cameron gets his Communications Bill into an Act, that data will also be connected to TrapWire.

This latter is just conjecture, but look at the parallels in UKUSA and do the math. Also consider this from one of the WikiLeaks emails (dated 22 September 2010):

This week, 500 surveillance cameras were activated on the NYC subway system to focus on pre-operational terrorist surveillance. The surveillance technology is also operational on high value targets (HVTs) in DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and London and is called TrapWire (www.abraxasapps.com).

So TrapWire was already operational in the UK almost a year ago.

Well, of course I checked on the Abraxas site (a company apparently populated by a high density of ex-CIA staff), but got nowhere.

abraxas not found

Google cannot connect

It’s not just me.

Abraxas not just you

…and neither can anyone else…

There’s no buzz on the internet (yet at least) that Abraxas has been tangoed down by Anonymous (in retaliation for Antileaks taking out WikiLeaks). So – pure conjecture – they’ve taken it down themselves.

Thank goodness for Google cache (if you’re quick, it might still be there…)

and…

It wouldn’t be surprising if Abraxas has disconnected itself. This TrapWire thing is big, and the Stratfor emails show it’s being used much wider than published. It’s bad enough that the UK government wants to spy on its own citizens (using our taxes to pay for it, of course), but that it has already opened the door to facilitate US government spying on the British people is quite simply obscene. Or, to be British, unacceptable. I can’t begin to think what the American people will make of it.

So, to go back to the original question, what’s going on with WikiLeaks? The obvious conclusion is that it has been taken down (well, effectively blocked) by a continuing DDoS that has been claimed by Antileaks specifically to suppress the emerging information about TrapWire (WikiLeaks is still down as I write this). This is just conjecture on my part; but, well, the dots connect. Under the guise of anti-terrorism western governments will stop at nothing in their determination to have absolute control over us.

Categories: All, Politics, Security Issues

A Microsoft-made tablet? Big mistake

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Microsoft once ruled a roost that is now dominated by that great cock, Apple. Apple dwarfs all other technology – in fact, all – companies. And Microsoft is jealous.

Apple’s secret is that it owns both the hardware and the software; and is a must-have brand. Microsoft owns only the software; and for many is a must-not-have brand. None of this is written in stone.

But Microsoft’s solution is just plain wrong. It is planning to build its own tablet, to compete with the iPad and Android.

This would be a mistake. Microsoft should remember its roots (software) and its history (it destroyed IBM’s PC-DOS, and the IBM PC, by making MS-DOS available to any and all hardware manufacturers; but made none itself). Google has learnt this lesson. Android is the antithesis – and possibly the ultimate nemesis – of iOS. It is open, cheap, and available to all hardware manufacturers.

Microsoft’s latest plan for its own tablet will merely hasten its own demise. Already, MS-fanboy Acer has said, “If Microsoft is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?” There’s some sort of advice here: if you want to rule the roost, don’t shit in your own hen-house.

Categories: All

Is it safe to carry on using Dropbox? Yes and No: Part II

August 5, 2012 12 comments

Ever since the news of a potential breach at Dropbox emerged, my old post “Is it safe to carry on using Dropbox?” has been getting an elevated number of hits. It is time perhaps to update.

Firstly, what’s this about a breach? Well, Dropbox wasn’t breached in the traditional sense of the word. The likelihood is that a number of Dropbox users had the same log-in credentials (email address and password) that they used on a different web account that was breached. The criminals were able to reuse the credentials stolen from elsewhere, and gain access to a number of Dropbox accounts.

Unfortunately, one of these accounts belonged to a Dropbox employee. The criminals gained access to his account and found a file containing an unknown number of users’ email addresses. It was probably these users that were subsequently spammed, leading to the suggestion that Dropbox had been hacked.

This leaves us two questions: is Dropbox safe to use; and what lessons should we learn?

Dropbox is no more nor less safe than it was before; that is, it is not safe. This for two reasons: firstly, it is in the cloud; and secondly, Dropbox is a US company. You don’t know what is happening in a cloud that is not your own; so it is not safe. Dropbox is registered in the US, and is subject to the PATRIOT Act – the US authorities are able to demand details of you and your account simply because they want them. So Dropbox is just not safe for confidential or incriminating content (and nor, note, is any other US-based cloud company).

But why worry if the data you store is neither of these? You can increase the level of security by locally encrypting the files (with something like TrueCrypt) and storing only encrypted files. The basic rule is simple: if it is important that nobody else ever sees the data, don’t use Dropbox; if it doesn’t matter if other people see your files, you can use Dropbox. If you’re somewhere in-between, encrypt.

What should we learn from this? Well, it is good that Dropbox has or will be initiating additional security – including two-factor authentication. This will make your data more safe from hackers, but it has no effect on law enforcement intrusion. And judging from Google’s 2FA, few people will bother using it.

I also very much like the new security page (partial screenshot below). It’s available at your Dropbox settings location, and shows who has recently accessed your account and who is currently accessing your account. This is certainly worth checking regularly. Note also that this is where you change your Dropbox password.

Dropbox security

The new Dropbox security page

But despite this good response from Dropbox, the fact remains that these are reactive and not proactive steps. Security is still an afterthought, added on to systems rather than designed into them. That’s one lesson we don’t seem able to learn. Secondly, it is sad that a Dropbox employee should be guilty of fundamental security no-nos: he stored a file with user emails in plaintext; and he was reusing the same password on at least two different accounts.

These are the main lessons that we all need to learn: do not trust other people or systems to do security for you. It is your, not their, responsibility (or at least, even if it is their responsibility, you cannot assume they will do it).

And finally, and fundamentally, and beyond all others: when will we ever learn to stop re-using the same password on multiple accounts? Tens of millions of passwords have been stolen from tens of major providers this year alone – and that’s just the ones we know about. Are you sure that your own password is not included? If it is, and you re-use it on multiple accounts, then you simply don’t know who has access to your accounts. And if that includes your email account or bank account, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re screwed.

So, is Dropbox safe? Probably not; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use it under certain circumstances. I shall certainly carry on using it. But are we safe? Absolutely not until we start using unique, strong passwords for every different account. Hint. Use a good password manager.

Update: the revelations from Edward Snowden concerning US government access to cloud services, which will include Dropbox, adds new urgency to considering the use of Dropbox. See our latest commentary following Edward Snowden’s Prism revelations: Is it safe to carry on using Dropbox (post Prism)? Yes and No: Part III

See also: Is it safe to carry on using Dropbox following the DMCA takedown revelations? (03/31/2014)

Is it safe to carry on using Dropbox with Condoleezza Rice on the Board? (04/14/2014)

Categories: All, Security Issues

Simon Cowell: creativity? Roger Daltrey: my generation? I don’t think so

July 26, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s a puzzle. What do Simon Cowell, Roger Daltrey (CBE), (the Lord) Lloyd Webber, and (Sir) Elton John (CBE) have in common?

Yes, you’re right, they’re all aging fuddy-duddies. But that’s not the answer. You can choose from any of the following correct answers:

Their letter includes this:

Illegal activity online must be pushed to the margins…

The simplest way to ensure this would be to implement swiftly the long overdue measures in the Digital Economy Act 2010; and to ensure broadband providers, search engines and online advertisers play their part in protecting consumers and creators from illegal sites.

Let’s look at this.

implement swiftly the long overdue measures in the Digital Economy Act 2010
That is, start the three strikes graduated response to frighten UK citizens into doing what we want: which is to support a broken business model in order to carry on making our fortunes even bigger.

ensure broadband providers, search engines and online advertisers play their part
That is, get ISPs to block sites we don’t like; get search engines to censor links we don’t like; and prevent advertisers advertising things we don’t like.

The problem here is this. Those things they don’t like are mostly (but far from entirely) already illegal. We have laws (even without the Digital Economy Act) that can be used against illegal things. But what these people want is to become the arbiters of the law – they wish to tell the courts what is illegal rather than have the courts decide. And they don’t care how many innocent people are hurt or disrupted in the process.

Yesterday, TorrentFreak published an overview of the rightsholders’ leaked strategy. On cyberlockers, for example, they want sites that do not comply with their own infringing-content removal criteria, to be shut down. Megaupload is a good example. It didn’t remove infringing copyright fast enough for the rightsholders – so in conjunction with the FBI it was taken down. Who cares about the thousands of legal users with thousands of legally stored documents? Certainly not the rightsholders.

Frankly, if it wasn’t so serious it would be hilarious. Daltrey made a fortune by talking about his generation. That generation was young and dynamic and rebellious. Now he has abandoned the young and the rebellious in favour of the rich and staid. Cowell has put his name to the statement, “To continue to create world-beating creative content…” This is Simon Cowell. The same Simon Cowell who has sucked creativity out of the music industry by concentrating on pre-packaged, good-looking pretty boys and girls who can do nothing but recycle cover versions of old music. Creativity? All of these people want to stamp out creativity and concentrate increasing their own – nobody else’s – fortunes.

You and me and the internet generation are the enemy; and you and me must be made to conform to an internet made in their own image.

Categories: All, General Rants, Politics
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