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The ongoing challenge for women in high-tech companies

In the United States, Sunday, May 14, is Mother’s Day. (Mothering Sunday was March 27 this year in the United Kingdom.) This is a good time to reflect on the status of women of all marital status and family situations in information technology. The results continue to disappoint.

According to the Unites States Department of Labor, 57.2% of all women participate in the labor force in the United States. 46.9% of the people employed in all occupations are women. So far, so good. Yet when it comes to information technology, women lag far, far behind. Based on 2014 stats:

  • Web developers – 35.2% women
  • Computer systems analysts – 34.2% women
  • Database administrators – 28.0%
  • Computer and information systems managers – 26.7%
  • Computer support specialists – 26.6%
  • Computer programmers – 21.4%
  • Software developers, applications and systems software – 19.8%
  • Network and computer systems administrators – 19.1%
  • Information security analysts – 18.1%
  • Computer network architects – 12.4%

The job area with the highest projected growth rate over the next few years will be information security analysts, says Labor. A question is, will women continue to be underrepresented in this high-paying, fast-growing field? Or will the demand for analysts provide new opportunities for women to enter into the security profession? Impossible to say, really.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that the biggest high tech companies lag behind in diversity. That’s something that anyone working in Silicon Valley can sense intuitively, in large part due to the bro culture (and brogrammer culture) there.

Read more about this in my essay for Zonic News, “Women in Tech – An Ongoing Diversity Challenge.”

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Open up the network, that’s how you enable innovation

I have a new research paper in Elsevier’s technical journal, Network Security. Here’s the abstract:

Lock it down! Button it up tight! That’s the default reaction of many computer security professionals to anything and everything that’s perceived as introducing risk. Given the rapid growth of cybercrime such as ransomware and the non-stop media coverage of data theft of everything from customer payment card information through pre-release movies to sensitive political email databases, this is hardly surprising.

The default reaction of many computer security professionals to anything that’s perceived as introducing risk is to lock down the system.

In attempting to lower risk, however, they also exclude technologies and approaches that could contribute significantly to the profitability and agility of the organisation. Alan Zeichick of Camden Associates explains how to make the most of technology by opening up networks and embracing innovation – but safely.

You can read the whole article, “Enabling innovation by opening up the network,” here.

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H-1B visa abuse: Blame it on the lottery

In 2016, Carnival Cruises was alleged to have laid off its entire 200-person IT department – and forced its workers to train foreign replacements. The same year, about 80 IT workers at the University of California San Francisco were laid off, and forced to trained replacements, lower-paid tech workers from an Indian outsourcing firm. And according to the Daily Mail:

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is being sued by 30 former IT staff from its Florida offices who claim they were unfairly replaced by foreign workers— but only after being forced to train them up.

The suit, filed Monday in an Orlando court, alleges that Disney laid off 250 of its US IT staff because it wanted to replace them with staff from India, who were hired in on H-1B foreign employee visas.

On one hand, these organizations were presumably quite successful with hiring American tech workers… but such workers are expensive. Thanks to a type of U.S. visa, called the H-1B, outsource contractors can bring in foreign workers, place them with those same corporations, and pay them a lot less than American workers. The U.S. organization, like Carnival Cruises, saves money. The outsource contractor, which might be a high-profile organization like the Indian firm Infosys, makes money. The low-cost offshore talent gets decent jobs and a chance to live in the U.S. Everyone wins, right? Except the laid-off American tech workers.

This is not what the H-1B was designed for. It was intended to help companies bring in overseas experts when they can’t fill the job with local applicants. Clearly that’s not what’s happening here. And the U.S. government is trying to fight back by cracking down on fraud and abuse.

One of the problem is the way that H-1B visas are allocation, which is in a big lottery system. The more visas your company asks for, the more visas you receive. Read about the problems that causes, and what’s being done to try to address it, in my latest for Zonic News, “Retaining Local Tech Workers Vs Outsourcing to Foreign Replacements Using H-1B Visas.”

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Last year’s top hacker tactics may surprise you

Did you know that last year, 75% of data breaches were perpetrated by outsiders, and fully 25% involved internal actors? Did you know that 18% were conducted by state-affiliated actors, and 51% involved organized criminal groups?

That’s according to the newly release 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon. It’s the 10th edition of the DBIR, and as always, it’s fascinating – and frightening at the same time.

The most successful tactic, if you want to call it that, used by hackers: stolen or weak (i.e., easily guessed) passwords. They were were used by 81% of breaches. The report says that 62% of breaches featured hacking of some sort, and 51% involved malware.

More disturbing is that fully 66% of malware was installed by malicious email attachments. This means we’re doing a poor job of training our employees not to click links and open documents. We teach, we train, we test, we yell, we scream, and workers open documents anyway. Sigh. According to the report,

People are still falling for phishing—yes still. This year’s DBIR found that around 1 in 14 users were tricked into following a link or opening an attachment — and a quarter of those went on to be duped more than once. Where phishing successfully opened the door, malware was then typically put to work to capture and export data—or take control of systems.

There is a wealth of information in the 2017 DBIR, covering everything from cyber-espionage to the dangers caused by failing to keep up with patches, fixes, and updates. There’s a major section on ransomware, which has grown tremendously in the past year. There are also industry-specific breakouts, covering healthcare, finance, and so-on. It’s a big report, but worth reading. And sharing.

Learn more by reading my latest for Zonic News, “Verizon Describes 2016’S Hackers — And Their Top Tactics.”

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No security plan? It’s like riding a bicycle in traffic in the rain without a helmet

Every company should have formal processes for implementing cybersecurity. That includes evaluating systems, describing activities, testing those policies, and authorizing action. After all, in this area, businesses can’t afford to wing it, thinking, “if something happens, we’ll figure out what to do.” In many cases, without the proper technology, a breach may not be discovered for months or years – or ever. At least not until the lawsuits begin.

Indeed, running without cybersecurity accreditations is like riding a bicycle in a rainstorm. Without a helmet. In heavy traffic. At night. A disaster is bound to happen sooner or later: That’s especially true when businesses are facing off against professional hackers. And when they are stumbled across as juicy victims by script-kiddies who can launch a thousand variations of Ransomware-as-a-Service with a single keystroke.

Yet, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), small and very small businesses are extremely deficient in terms of having cybersecurity plans. According to the BCC, in the U.K. only 10% of one-person businesses and 15% of those with 1-4 employees have any formal cybersecurity accreditations. Contrast that with businesses with more than 100 employees: 47% with more than 100 employees) have formal plans.

While a CEO may want to focus on his/her primary business, in reality, it’s irresponsible to neglect cybersecurity planning. Indeed, it’s also not good for long-term business success. According to the BCC study, 21% of businesses believe the threat of cyber-crime is preventing their company from growing. And of the businesses that do have cybersecurity accreditations, half (49%) believe it gives their business a competitive advantage over rival companies, and a third (33%) consider it important in creating a more secure environment when trading with other businesses.

Read more about this in my latest for Zonic News, “One In Five Businesses Were Successfully Cyber-Attacked Last Year — Here’s Why.

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Self-inflicted public relations disasters: United Airlines, Pepsi, Tanium, Uber

There are public-relations disasters… and there are self-inflicted public-relations disasters. Those are arguably the worst, and it’s been a meaningful couple of weeks for them, both in the general world and in the technology industry. In some cases, the self-inflicted crises exploded because of stupid or ham-handed initial responses.

In PR crisis management, it’s important to get the initial response right. That means:

  1. Acknowledging that something unfortunate happened
  2. Owning responsibility (in a way that doesn’t expose you to lawsuits, of course)
  3. Apologizing humbly, profusely and sincerely
  4. Promising to make amends to everyone affected by what happened
  5. Vowing to fix processes to avoid similar problems in the future

Here are some recent public relations disasters that I’d label as self-inflicted. Ouch!

United Airlines beats passengers

Two recent episodes. First, a young girl flying on an employee-travel pass wasn’t allowed to board wearing leggings. Second, a doctor was dragged out of a plane, and seriously injured, for refusing to give up his seat to make room for a United employee. Those incidents showed that gate agents were unaware of the optics of situations like this, and didn’t have the training and/or flexibility to adapt rules to avoid a public snafu.

However, the real disaster came from the poor handling of both situations by executives and their PR advisors. With the leggings situation, United’s hiding behind obscure rules and the employee-ticket status of the young passenger, didn’t help a situation where all the sympathy was with the girl. With the ejected and beaten passenger, where to begin? The CEO, Oscar Munoz, should have known that his first response was terrible, and his “confidential” email to employees, which blamed the passenger for being unruly, would be immediately leaked to the public. What a freakin’ idiot. It’s going to take some time for United to recover from these disasters.

Pepsi Cola misses the point

A commercial for a soft drink tried to reinterpret a famous Black Lives Matter protest moment in Baton Rouge. That’s where a young African-American woman, Ieshia Evans, faced off against heavily armored police officers. In Pepsi’s version of the event, a white celebrity, Kendall Jenner, faced off against attractive fake police officers, and defused a tense situation by handing a handsome young cop a can of soda. Dancing ensues. World peace is achieved. The Internet explodes with outrage.

Pepsi’s initial response is to defend the video by saying “We think that’s an important message to convey.” Oops. Later on, the company pulled the ad and apologized to everyone (including Ms. Jenner), but the damage was done, so much so that a fun meme was of White House spokesman Sean Spicer dressed up as an United Airlines pilot offering a can of Pepsi.

Tanium’s bad-boy CEO sends the wrong message

Tanium, a maker of endpoint security and management software, has fallen into the trap of owner hubris. As this story in Bloomberg explains, the top executives, including CEO Orion Hindawi, run the company more for their own benefit than for the benefit of their customers or other shareholders. For example, says Bloomberg, “One of the most unnerving aspects of life at Tanium is what’s known internally as Orion’s List. The CEO allegedly kept a close eye on which employees would soon be eligible to take sizable chunks of stock. For those he could stand to do without, Hindawi ordered the workers to be fired before they were able to acquire the shares, according to current and former employees.” As Business Insider reported, nine executives have left recently, including the president and top marketing and finance officers.

And then there’s the power-trip aspect, says Bloomberg. “The company’s successes didn’t do much to lift morale. Orion berated workers in front of colleagues until they broke into tears and used all-hands meetings as a venue to taunt low-level staff, current and former employees said.” Bloomberg reports that a major VC firm, Andreessen Horowitz, made note of Orion’s managerial flaws and presented them to partners at the firm early last year, saying that Orion’s behavior risked interfering with the company’s operations if it hadn’t already. This sort of nonsense is not good for a company with a decent reputation for intellectual property. The company’s response? Crickets.

Uber drives off the clue train

I’m a happy Uber customer. When traveling, I’m quite disappointed when the service is not available, as was the case on a recent trip to Austin, where Uber and Lyft aren’t offered. However, I’m not a fan of the company’s treatment of women and of the misdeeds of its CEO. Those PR disasters have become the public face of the story, not its innovations in urban transportation and self-driving cars. When a female engineer went public with how she was mistreated and how the company’s HR department ignored the issue, the Internet went nuts — and the company responded by doing a mea culpa. Still, the message was clear: Uber is misogynistic.

And then there were several reports of public naughtiness by CEO Travis Kalanick. The best was a video of him berating an Uber driver. Yes, Kalanick apologized and said that he needs help with leadership… but more crickets in terms of real change. As Engadget wrote in mid-April, the time for Uber leadership to step down is long overdue for the good of its employees, drivers, customers and shareholders. It’s unlikely the company can withstand another self-inflicted PR disaster.

It doesn’t have to be this way

When a PR disaster happens — especially a self-inflicted one — it’s vital to get on top of the story. See the five tips at the top of this blog, and check out this story, “When It Hits the Fan,” on tips for crisis management. You can recover, but you have to do it right, and do it quickly.

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Manage the network, Hal

Some large percentage of IT and security tasks and alerts require simple responses. On a small network, there aren’t many alerts, and so administrators can easily accommodate them: Fixing a connection here, approving external VPN access there, updating router firmware on that side, giving users the latest patches to Microsoft Office on that side, evaluating a security warning, dismissing a security warning, making sure that a newly spun-up virtual machine has the proper agents and firewall settings, reviewing log activity. That sort of thing.

On a large network, those tasks become tedious… and on a very large network, they can escalate unmanageably. As networks scale to hundreds, thousands, and hundreds of thousands of devices, thanks to mobility and the Internet of Things, the load expands exponentially – and so do routine IT tasks and alerts, especially when the network, its devices, users and applications are in constant flux.

Most tasks can be automated, yes, but it’s not easy to spell out in a standard policy-based system exactly what to do. Similarly, the proper way of handling alerts can be automated, but given the tremendous variety of situations, variables, combinations and permutations, that too can be challenging. Merely programming a large number of possible situations, and their responses, would be a tremendous task — and not even worth the effort, since the scripts would be brittle and would themselves require constant review and maintenance.

That’s why in many organizations, only responses to the very simplest of tasks and alert responses are programmed in rule-based systems. The rest are shunted over to IT and security professionals, whose highly trained brains can rapidly decide what to do and execute the proper response.

At the same time, those highly trained brains turn into mush because handling routine, easy-to-solve problems is mind-numbing and not intellectually challenging. Solving a problem once is exciting. Solving nearly the same problem a hundred times every day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year (not counting holidays) is inspiration for updating the C.V… and finding a more interesting job.

How do we solve this? Read my newest piece for Zonic News, “Artificial Intelligence Is The Right Answer To IT And Security Scalability Issues — And AI Won’t Get Bored.

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Look who’s talking – and controlling your home speech-enabled technology

“Alexa! Unlock the front door!” No, that won’t work, even if you have an intelligent lock designed to work with the Amazon Echo. That’s because Amazon is smart enough to know that someone could shout those five words into an open window, and gain entry to your house.

Presumably Amazon doesn’t allow voice control of “Alexa! Turn off the security system!” but that’s purely conjecture. It’s not something I’ve tried. And certainly it’s possible go use programming or clever work-around to enable voice-activated door unlocking or force-field deactivation. That’s why while our home contains a fair amount of cutting-edge AI-based automation, perimeter security is not hooked up to any of it. We’ll rely upon old-fashioned locks and keys and alarm keypads, thank you very much.

And sorry, no voice-enabled safes for me either. It didn’t work so well to protect the CIA against Jason Bourne, did it?

Unlike the fictional CIA safe and the equally fictional computer on the Starship Enterprise, Echo, Google Home, Siri, Android, and their friends can’t identify specific voices with any degree of accuracy. In most cases, they can’t do so at all. So, don’t look to be able to train Alexa to set up access control lists (ACLs) based on voiceprints. That’ll have to wait for the 23rd century, or at least for another couple of years.

The inability of today’s AI-based assistants to discriminate allows for some foolishness – and some shenanigans. We have an Echo in our family room, and every so often, while watching a movie, Alexa will suddenly proclaim, “Sorry, I didn’t understand that command,” or some such. What set the system off? No idea. But it’s amusing.

Less amusing was Burger King’s advertising prank which intentionally tried to get Google Home to help sell more hamburgers. As Fast Company explains:

A new Whopper ad from Burger King turns Google’s voice-activated speaker into an unwitting shill. In the 15-second spot, a store employee utters the words “OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” This should wake up any Google Home speakers present, and trigger a partial readout of the Whopper’s Wikipedia page. (Android phones also support “OK Google” commands, but use voice training to block out unauthorized speakers.)

Fortunately, Google was as annoyed as everyone else, and took swift action, said the story:

Update: Google has stopped the commercial from working – presumably by blacklisting the specific audio clip from the ad – though Google Home users can still inquire about the Whopper in their own words.

Burger King wasn’t the first to try this stunt. Other similar tricks have succeeded against Home and Echo, and sometimes, the devices are activated accidentally by TV shows and news reports. Look forward to more of this.

It reminds me of the very first time I saw a prototype Echo. What did I say? “Alexa, Format See Colon.” Darn. It didn’t erase anything. But at least it’s better than a cat running around on your laptop keyboard, erasing your term paper. Or a TV show unlocking your doors. Right?

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Email clients and 3D paint applications do not belong in operating system releases

No, no, no, no, no!

The email client updates in the 10.12.4 update to macOS Sierra is everything that’s wrong with operating systems today. And so is the planned inclusion of an innovative, fun-sounding 3D painter as part of next week’s Windows 10 Creators Update.

Repeat after me: Applications do not belong in operating systems. Diagnostics, yes. Shared libraries, yes. Essential device drivers, yes. Hardware abstraction layers, yes. File systems, yes. Program loads and tools, yes. A network stack, yes. A graphical user interface, yes. A scripting/job control language, yes. A basic web browser, yes.

Applications? No, no, no!

Why not?

Applications bloat up the operating system release. What if you don’t need a 3D paint program? What if you don’t want to use the built-in mail client? The binaries are there anyway taking up storage. Whenever the operating system is updated, the binaries are updated, eating up bandwidth and CPU time.

If you do want those applications, bug fixes are tied to OS updates. The Sierra 10.12.4 update fixes a bug in Mail. Why must that be tied to an OS update? The update supports more digital camera RAW formats. Why are they tied to the operating system, and not released as they become available? The 10.12.4 update also fixes a Siri issue regarding cricket scores in the IPL. Why, for heaven’s sake, is that functionality tied to an operating system update?? That’s simply insane.

An operating system is easier for the developer test and verify if it’s smaller. The more things in your OS update release train, the more things can go wrong, whether it’s in the installation process or in the code itself. A smaller OS means less regression testing and fewer bugs.

An operating system is easier for the client to test and verify if it’s smaller. Take your corporate clients — if they are evaluating macOS Sierra 10/12/4 or Windows 10 Creators Update prior to roll-out, if there’s less stuff there, the validation process is easier.

Performance and memory utilization are better if it’s smaller. The microkernel concept says that the OS should be as small as possible – if something doesn’t have to be in the OS, leave it out. Well, that’s not the case any more, at least in terms of the software release trains.

This isn’t new

No, Alan isn’t off his rocker, at least not more than usual. Operating system releases, especially those for consumers, have been bloated up with applications and junk for decades. I know that. Nothing will change.

Yes, it would be better if productivity applications and games were distributed and installed separately. Maybe as free downloads, as optional components on the release CD/DVD, or even as a separate SKU. Remember Microsoft Plus and Windows Ultimate Extras? Yeah, those were mainly games and garbage. Never mind.

Still, seeing the macOS Sierra Update release notes today inspired this missive. I hope you enjoyed it. </rant>

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Windows 10 Creators Update will take forever to download, install, and update

Prepare to wait. And wait. Many Windows 10 users are getting ready for the Creators Update, due April 11. We know lots of things about it: There will be new tools for 3D designing, playing 4K-resolution games, improvements to the Edge browser, and claimed improvements to security and privacy protections.

We also know that it will take forever to install. Not literally forever. Still, a long time.

This came to mind when my friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols shared this amusing image:

Who could be surprised, when the installation estimation times for software are always ludicrously inaccurate? That’s especially true with Windows, which routinely requires multiple waves of download – update – reboot– download – update – reboot– download – update – reboot – rinse and repeat. That’s especially true if you haven’t updated for a while. It goes on and on and on.

This came to the fore about three weeks ago, when I decided to wipe a Windows 10 laptop in preparation for donating it to a nonprofit. It’s a beautiful machine — a Dell Inspiron 17 — which we purchased for a specific client project. The machine was not needed afterwards, and well, it was time to move it along. (My personal Windows 10 machine is a Microsoft Surface Pro.)

The first task was to restore the laptop to its factory installation. This was accomplished using the disk image stored on a hidden partition, which was pretty easy; Dell has good tools. It didn’t take long for Windows 10 to boot up, nice and pristine.

That’s when the fun began: Installing Windows updates. Download – update – reboot– download – update – rinse – repeat. For two days. TWO DAYS. And that’s for a bare machine without any applications or other software.

Thus, my belief in two things: First, Windows saying 256% done is entirely plausible. Second, it’s going to take forever to install Windows 10 Creators Update on my Surface Pro.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes for you.

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Listen to Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Don’t weaken encryption!

It’s always a bad idea to intentionally weaken the security that protects hardware, software, and data. Why? Many reasons, including the basic right (in many societies) of individuals to engage in legal activities anonymously. An additional reason: Because knowledge about weakened encryption, back doors and secret keys could be leaked or stolen, leading to unintended consequences and breaches by bad actors.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, is worried. Some officials in the United States and the United Kingdom want to force technology companies to weaken encryption and/or provide back doors to government investigators.

In comments to the BBC, Sir Tim said that there could be serious consequences to giving keys to unlock coded messages and forcing carriers to help with espionage. The BBC story said:

“Now I know that if you’re trying to catch terrorists it’s really tempting to demand to be able to break all that encryption but if you break that encryption then guess what – so could other people and guess what – they may end up getting better at it than you are,” he said.

Sir Tim also criticized moves by legislators on both sides of the Atlantic, which he sees as an assault on the privacy of web users. He attacked the UK’s recent Investigatory Powers Act, which he had criticised when it went through Parliament: “The idea that all ISPs should be required to spy on citizens and hold the data for six months is appalling.”

The Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which became U.K. law last November, gives broad powers to the government to intercept communications. It requires telecommunications providers to cooperate with government requests for assistance with such interception.

Read more about this topic — including real-world examples of stolen encryption keys, and why the government wants those back doors. It’s all in my piece for Zonic News, “Don’t Weaken Encryption with Back Doors and Intentional Flaws.

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Congress votes against Internet customer privacy; nothing changes

It’s official: Internet service providers in the United States can continue to sell information about their customers’ Internet usage to marketers — and to anyone else who wants to use it. In 2016, during the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) tried to require ISPs to get customer permission before using or sharing information about their web browsing. According to the FCC, the rule change, entitled, “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services,” meant:

The rules implement the privacy requirements of Section 222 of the Communications Act for broadband ISPs, giving broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used and shared by their ISPs. To provide consumers more control over the use of their personal information, the rules establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information that is calibrated to the sensitivity of the information. This approach is consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

More specifically, the rules required that customers had to positively agree to have their information used in that fashion. Previously, customers had to opt-out. Again, according to the FCC,

Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.

Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.

Sounds good, but Congress voted in March 2017 to overture that rule. Read about what happened — and what consumers can do — in my story for Zonic News, “U.S. Internet Service Providers Don’t Need To Protect Customer Privacy.”

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Three years of the 2013 OWASP Top 10 — and it’s the same vulnerabilities over and over

Can’t we fix injection already? It’s been nearly four years since the most recent iteration of the OWASP Top 10 came out — that’s June 12, 2013. The OWASP Top 10 are the most critical web application security flaws, as determined by a large group of experts. The list doesn’t change much, or change often, because the fundamentals of web application security are consistent.

The 2013 OWASP Top 10 were

  1. Injection
  2. Broken Authentication and Session Management
  3. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  4. Insecure Direct Object References
  5. Security Misconfiguration
  6. Sensitive Data Exposure
  7. Missing Function Level Access Control
  8. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
  9. Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
  10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards

The preceding list came out on April 19. 2010:

  1. Injection
  2. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  3. Broken Authentication and Session Management
  4. Insecure Direct Object References
  5. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
  6. Security Misconfiguration
  7. Insecure Cryptographic Storage
  8. Failure to Restrict URL Access
  9. Insufficient Transport Layer Protection
  10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards

Looks pretty familiar. If you go back further to the inaugural Open Web Application Security Project 2004 and then the 2007 lists, the pattern of flaws stays the same. That’s because programmers, testers, and code-design tools keep making the same mistakes, over and over again.

Take the #1, Injection (often written as SQL Injection, but it’s broader than simply SQL). It’s described as:

Injection flaws occur when an application sends untrusted data to an interpreter. Injection flaws are very prevalent, particularly in legacy code. They are often found in SQL, LDAP, Xpath, or NoSQL queries; OS commands; XML parsers, SMTP Headers, program arguments, etc. Injection flaws are easy to discover when examining code, but frequently hard to discover via testing. Scanners and fuzzers can help attackers find injection flaws.

The technical impact?

Injection can result in data loss or corruption, lack of accountability, or denial of access. Injection can sometimes lead to complete host takeover.

And the business impact?

Consider the business value of the affected data and the platform running the interpreter. All data could be stolen, modified, or deleted. Could your reputation be harmed?

Eliminating the vulnerability to injection attacks is not rocket science. OWASP summaries three approaches:

Preventing injection requires keeping untrusted data separate from commands and queries.

The preferred option is to use a safe API which avoids the use of the interpreter entirely or provides a parameterized interface. Be careful with APIs, such as stored procedures, that are parameterized, but can still introduce injection under the hood.

If a parameterized API is not available, you should carefully escape special characters using the specific escape syntax for that interpreter. OWASP’s ESAPI provides many of these escaping routines.

Positive or “white list” input validation is also recommended, but is not a complete defense as many applications require special characters in their input. If special characters are required, only approaches 1. and 2. above will make their use safe. OWASP’s ESAPI has an extensible library of white list input validation routines.

Not rocket science, not brain surgery — and the same is true of the other vulnerabilities. There’s no excuse for still getting these wrong, folks. Cut down on these top 10, and our web applications will be much safer, and our organizational risk much reduced.

Do you know how often your web developers make the OWASP Top 10 mistakes? The answer should be “never.” They’ve had plenty of time to figure this out.

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Top Do’s and Don’ts for creating friendly calendar invites

“Call with Alan.” That’s what the calendar event says, with a bridge line as the meeting location. That’s it. For the individual who sent me that invitation, that’s a meaningful description, I guess. For me… worthless! This meeting was apparently sent out (and I agreed to attend) at least three weeks ago. I have no recollection about what this meeting is about. Well, it’ll be an adventure! (Also: If I had to cancel or reschedule, I wouldn’t even know who to contact.)

When I send out calendar invites, I try hard to make the event name descriptive to everyone, not just me. Like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics” or “Suzie Q and Alan Z — XYZ donations.” Something! Give a hint, at least! After all, people who receive invitations can’t edit the names to make them more meaningful.

And then there’s time-zone ambiguity. Some calendar programs (like Google Calendar) do a good job of tracking the event’s time zone, and mapping it to mine. Others, and I’m thinking of Outlook 365, do a terrible job there, and make it difficult to specify the event in a different time zone.

For example, I’m in Phoenix, and often set up calls with clients on the East Coast or in the U.K. As a courtesy, I like to set up meetings using the client’s time zone. Easy when I use Google Calendar to set up the event. Not easy in Outlook 365, which I must use for some projects.

Similarly, some calendar programs do a good job mapping the event to each recipient’s time zone. Others don’t. The standards are crappy, and the implementations of the standards are worse.)

There’s more than the bad time-zone mappings. Each Web-based, mobile, and desktop calendar app, even those that claim to conform to standards, has its own quirks, proprietary features, and incompatibilities. For example, repeating events aren’t handled consistently from calendar program to calendar program. It’s a real mess.

Here are a few simple do’s and don’ts for event creators. Or rather, don’ts and do’s.

  • DON’T just put the name of the person you are meeting with in the event name.
  • DO put your name and organization too, and include your contact information (phone, email, whatever) in the calendar invite itself. Having just a conference bridge or location of the coffee shop won’t do someone any good if they need to reach you before the meeting.
  • DON’T assume that everyone will remember what the meeting is about.
  • DO put the purpose of the meeting into the event title.
  • DON’T think that everyone’s calendar software works like yours or has the same features, vis-à-vis time zones, attachments, comments, and so-on.
  • DO consider putting the meeting time and time zone into the event name. It’s something I don’t do, but I have friends who do, like “ClientCorp and Camden call re keynote topics — 3pm Pacific.” Hmm, maybe I should do that?
  • DON’T expect that if you change the event time on your end, that change will percolate to all recipients. Again, this can be software-specific.
  • DO cancel the event if it’s necessary to reschedule, and set up a new one. Also send an email to all participants explaining what happened. I dislike getting calendar emails saying the meeting date/time has been changed — with no explanation.
  • DON’T assume that people will be able to process your software’s calendar invitations. Different calendar program don’t play well with each other.
  • DO send a separate email with all the details, including the event name, start time, time zone, and list of participants, in addition to the calendar invite. Include the meeting location, or conference-call dial-in codes, in that email.
  • DON’T trust that everyone will use the “accept” button to indicate that they are attending. Most will not.
  • DO follow up with people who don’t “accept” to ask if they are coming.
  • DON’T assume that just because it’s on their calendar, people will remember to show up. I had one guy miss an early-morning call he “accepted” because it was early and he hadn’t checked his calendar yet. D’oh!
  • DO send a meeting confirmation email, one day before, if the event was scheduled more than a week in advance.

Have more do’s and don’ts? Please add them using the comments.

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What’s the deal with Apple iCloud accounts being hacked?

The word went out Wednesday, March 22, spreading from techie to techie. “Better change your iCloud password, and change it fast.” What’s going on? According to ZDNet, “Hackers are demanding Apple pay a ransom in bitcoin or they’ll blow the lid off millions of iCloud account credentials.”

A hacker group claims to have access to 250 million iCloud and other Apple accounts. They are threatening to reset all the passwords on those accounts – and then remotely wipe those phones using lost-phone capabilities — unless Apple pays up with untraceable bitcoins or Apple gift cards. The ransom is a laughably small $75,000.

According to various sources, at least some of the stolen account credentials appear to be legitimate. Whether that means all 250 million accounts are in peril, of course, is unknowable.

Apple seems to have acknowledged that there is a genuine problem. The company told CNET, “The alleged list of email addresses and passwords appears to have been obtained from previously compromised third-party services.”

We obviously don’t know what Apple is going to do, or what Apple can do. It hasn’t put out a general call, at least as of Thursday, for users to change their passwords, which would seem to be prudent. It also hasn’t encouraged users to enable two-factor authentication, which should make it much more difficult for hackers to reset iCloud passwords without physical access to a user’s iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Unless the hackers alter the demands, Apple has a two-week window to respond. From its end, it could temporarily disable password reset capabilities for iCloud accounts, or at least make the process difficult to automate, access programmatically, or even access more than once from a given IP address. So, it’s not “game over” for iCloud users and iPhone owners by any means.

It could be that the hackers are asking for such a low ransom because they know their attack is unlikely to succeed. They’re possibly hoping that Apple will figure it’s easier to pay a small amount than to take any real action. My guess is they are wrong, and Apple will lock them out before the April 7 deadline.

So what’s really going on, and what can be done about it? Read more in my essay, “Apple iCloud Accounts Hacked — Or Maybe Not,” on Zonic News.

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The cybersecurity benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning

Let’s talk about the practical application of artificial intelligence to cybersecurity. Or rather, let’s read about it. My friend Sean Martin has written a three-part series on the topic for ITSP Magazine, exploring AI, machine learning, and other related topics. I provided review and commentary into the series.

The first part, “It’s a Marketing Mess! Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning,” explores probably the biggest challenge about AI: Hyperbole. That, and inconsistency. Every lab, every vendor, every conference, every analyst, defines even the most basic terminology — when they bother to define it at all. Vagueness begets vagueness, and so the terms “artificial intelligence” and “machine learning” are thrown around with wanton abandon. As Sean writes,

The latest marketing discovery of AI as a cybersecurity product term only exacerbates an already complex landscape of jingoisms with like muddled understanding. A raft of these associated terms, such as big data, smart data, heuristics (which can be a branch of AI), behavioral analytics, statistics, data science, machine learning and deep learning. Few experts agree on exactly what those terms mean, so how can consumers of the solutions that sport these fancy features properly understand what those things are?

Machine Learning: The More Intelligent Artificial Intelligence,” the second installment, picks up by digging into pattern recognition. Specifically, the story is about when AI software can discern patterns based on its own examination of raw data. Sean also digs into deep learning:

Deep Learning (also known as deep structured learning, hierarchical learning or deep machine learning) is a branch of machine learning based on a set of algorithms that attempt to model high level abstractions in data by using a deep graph with multiple processing layers, composed of multiple linear and non-linear transformations.

In the conclusion, “The Actual Benefits of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning,” Sean brings it home to your business. How you can tell if an AI solution is real? How can you tell what it really does? That means going beyond the marketing material’s attempts to obfuscate:

The bottom line on AI-based technologies in the security world: Whether it’s called machine learning or some flavor of analytics, look beyond the terminology – and the oooh, ahhh hype of artificial intelligence – to see what the technology does. As the saying goes, pay for the steak – not the artificial intelligent marketing sizzle.

It was a pleasure working on this series with Sean, and we hope you enjoy reading it.

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The Russians are hacking! One if by phishing, two if by Twitter

Was the Russian government behind the 2004 theft of data on about 500 million Yahoo subscribers? The U.S. Justice Department thinks so: It accused two Russian intelligence officers of directing the hacking efforts, and also named two hackers as being part of the conspiracy to steal the data.

According to Mary B. McCord, Acting Assistant Attorney General,

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the United States and elsewhere.

Ms. McCord added that scheme targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including security staff, diplomats and military personnel. “They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities,” she said.

From a technological perspective, the hackers first broke into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services. From there, they harvested information, including information about individual users and the private contents of their accounts.

The harm? The hackers, explained Ms. McCord, were hired to gather information for the FSB officers — classic espionage. However, they quietly went farther to steal financial information, such as gift card and credit card numbers, from users’ email accounts — and also use millions of stolen Yahoo accounts to set up an email spam scheme.

You can read more about this — and also about Twitter hacking in the escalating war-of-words between Turkey and the Netherlands. See my post for Zonic News, “State-Sponsored Hacking? Activists Who Support A Cause? Both? Neither?

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Repurposing, solution, robust, best of breed, mission-critical, next-generation, web-enabled, leading, value-added, leverage, seamless…

Let’s take a chainsaw to content-free buzzwords favored by technology marketers and public relations professionals. Or even better, let’s applaud one PR agency’s campaign to do just that. Houston PR, based in the UK, has a fun website called “Buzzsaw” which removes those empty phrases from text, such as press releases. Says the agency:

This free tool automatically hacks PR buzzwords out of press releases to make life more bearable for Britain’s hard-working journalists.

The Buzzsaw can also be used for speeches, strategy documents, advertising copy or any other collections of words that need to be as clear as possible.

You’ll find that toe-curling terms like repurposing, solution, robust, best of breed, mission-critical, next-generation, web-enabled, leading, value-added, leverage, seamless, etc, are struck out by the Buzzsaw.

It also takes a scythe to cutesy Hipster-style words and phrases like “totes amazeballs”, “awesome” and “super excited”.

To compile the Buzzsaw database we asked thousands of journalists to supply examples of the PR terms that irritate them the most.

Here are some of the words and phrases that Buzzsaw looks for. Note that it does tend to be British-centric in terms of spelling.

“win rates”, “business development lifecycle”, “market-leading”, “global provider”, “simple mission”, “optimal opportunities”, “unmatched capabilities”, “big data”, “pace of investment”, “priority needs”, “Blue Sky Thinking”, “Descriptor”, “Packages”, “Manage expectations”, “collegiate approach”, “oxygenate the process”, “low hanging fruit”, “Happy Bunny”, “Robust procedures”, “keep across”, “Stewardship”, “Solutioning”, “net net”, “sub-ideal”, “action that solve”, “expidite the deliverables”, “park this issue”, “suite of offerings”, “sunset”, “horizon scan”, “110%”, “Socialise”, “Humble”, “Special someone”, “Super”, “Shiny”, “Taxing times”, “Do the math”, “Sharing”, “Nailed it”, “Bail in”, “Revert”, “Sense check”, “Snackable content”, “higher order thinking”, “Coopetition”, “Fulfilment issues”, “Cascade”, “Demising”, “Horizon scanning”, “Do-able”, “Yardstick”, “Milestone”, “Landmark achievement”, “Negativity”, “True story”, “So True”, “Next-generation”, “Voice to voice”, “So to speak”, “Step change”, “Edgy”

Check it out — and if you are a tech PR professional or marketeer, maybe try it on your own collateral.

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Exciting News: BZ Media sells InterDrone to Emerald Expositions

As many of you know, I am co-founder and part owner of BZ Media LLC. Yes, I’m the “Z” of BZ Media. Here is exciting news released today about one of our flagship events, InterDrone.

MELVILLE, N.Y., March 13, 2017 BZ Media LLC announced today that InterDrone™ The International Drone Conference & Exposition has been acquired by Emerald Expositions LLC, the largest producer of trade shows in North America. InterDrone 2016 drew 3,518 attendees from 54 different countries on 6 continents and the event featured 155 exhibitors and sponsors. The 2017 event will be managed and produced by BZ Media on behalf of Emerald.

Emerald Expositions is the largest operator of business-to-business trade shows in the United States, with their oldest trade shows dating back over 110 years. They currently operate more than 50 trade shows, including 31 of the top 250 trade shows in the country as ranked by TSNN, as well as numerous other events. Emerald events connect over 500,000 global attendees and exhibitors and occupy over 6.7 million NSF of exhibition space.

“We are very proud of InterDrone and how it has emerged so quickly to be the industry leading event for commercial UAV applications in North America,” said Ted Bahr, President of BZ Media. “We decided that to take the event to the next level required a company of scale and expertise like Emerald Expositions. We look forward to supporting Emerald through the 2017 and 2018 shows and working together to accelerate the show’s growth under their ownership over the coming years.”

InterDrone was just named to the Trade Show Executive magazine list of fastest growing shows in 2016 and was one of only 14 shows in the country that was named in each of the three categories; fastest growth in exhibit space, growth in number of exhibitors and in attendance. InterDrone was the only drone show named to the list.

InterDrone 2017 will take place September 6–8, 2017, at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV, and, in addition to a large exhibition floor, features three subconferences for attendees, making InterDrone the go-to destination for UAV educational content in North America. More than 120 classes, panels and keynotes are presented under Drone TechCon (for drone builders, engineers, OEMs and developers), Drone Enterprise (for enterprise UAV pilots, operators and drone service businesses) and Drone Cinema (for pilots engaged in aerial photography and videography).

“Congratulations to Ted Bahr and his team at BZ Media for successfully identifying this market opportunity and building a strong event that provides a platform for commercial interaction and education to this burgeoning industry”, said David Loechner, President and CEO of Emerald Expositions. “We have seen first-hand the emerging interest in drones in our two professional photography shows, and we are excited at the prospect of leveraging our scale, experience and expertise in trade shows and conferences to deliver even greater benefits to attendees, sponsors, exhibitors at InterDrone and to the entire UAV industry.”

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Look out iOS, Android and IoT, here comes the CIA, says WikiLeaks

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency can spy on mobile phones. That includes Android and iPhone, and also monitor the microphones on smart home devices like televisions.

This week’s disclosure of CIA programs by WikiLeaks has been billed as the largest-ever publication of confidential documents from the American spy agency. The document dump will appear in pieces; the first installment has 8,761 documents and files from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, says WikiLeaks. According to WikiLeaks, the CIA malware and hacking tools are built by EDG (Engineering Development Group), a software development group within the CIA’s Directorate for Digital Innovation. WikiLeaks says the EDG is responsible for the development, testing and operational support of all backdoors, exploits, malicious payloads, trojans, viruses and any other kind of malware used by the CIA.

Another part of the program, code-named “Weeping Angel,” turns smart TVs into secret microphones. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode. The owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

According to the New York Times, the CIA has refused to explicitly confirm the authenticity of the documents. however, the government strongly implied their authenticity when the agency put out a statement to defend its work and chastise WikiLeaks, saying the disclosures “equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm.”

The WikiLeaks data dump talked about efforts to infect and control non-mobile systems. That includes desktops, notebooks and servers running Windows, Linux, Mac OS and Unix. The malware is distributed in many ways, including website viruses, software on CDs or DVDs, and portable USB storage devices.

Enterprises should expect many updates to come from every major hardware or software vendors – and be vigilant about making those security updates. In addition, attempt to identify unpatched devices on the network, and deny them access to critical resources until they are patched and tested.

To read more about this, including Apple’s reaction to the targeting of iOS devices, see my full story, “WikiLeaks Exposes CIA Spyware On Mobile, IoT Devices,” on the Zonic News blog.

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Apple replaces Videos mobile app with TV — confuses iPad users

Apple isn’t as friendly or as as communicative as one would think. Earlier today, I received a panic call from someone trying to sync videos to her iPad from a Mac – and receiving a message that there was no suitable application on the iPad. Huh? That made no sense. The app for playing locally stored videos on an iPad is called Videos, and it’s a standard, built-in app. What’s the deal?

In short: With the iOS 10.2 operating system update, Apple renamed the Videos app to TV. And it has to be installed from the Apple App Store. It’s a free download, but who knew? Apparently not me. And not a lot of people who queried their favorite search engine with phrases like “ipad videos app missing.”

What’s worse, the change had the potential to delete locally stored video content. One dissatisfied user posted on an Apple discussion forum:

New TV App deleted home videos from iPad

I had a bunch of home videos on my iPad, and when I updated to iOS 10.2, the new TV App replaced videos. On my iPhone 6, this process went fine. I launched TV, and up popped the Library, and within it was a sub-menu for Home Videos. The one and only one I had on my iPhone is still there.

But I had dozens on my iPad and now they are all gone. Not only are they all gone, but there is no sub-menu for Home Videos AT ALL! I can probably replace them by synching to my laptop, but this is a time-consuming pain in the *$$, and why should I have to do this at all?

This change was unveiled in October 2016, with much fanfare, claiming:

Apple today introduced the new TV app, offering a unified experience for discovering and accessing TV shows and movies from multiple apps on Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. The TV app provides one place to access TV shows and movies, as well as a place to discover new content to watch. Apple also introduced a new Siri feature for Apple TV that lets viewers tune in directly to live news and sporting events across their apps. Watching TV shows and movies across Apple devices has never been easier.

The update appeared, for U.S. customers at least, on December 12, 2016. That’s when iOS 10.2 came out. Buh-bye, Videos app!

The change moved a piece of core functionality from iOS itself into an app. The benefits: The new TV app can be updated on its own schedule, not tied to iOS releases, and iOS releases themselves can be smaller. The drawback: Users must manually install the TV app.

Once the TV app is installed, the user can re-sync the videos from a Mac or Windows PC running iTunes. This should restore the missing content, assuming the content is on the desktop/notebook computer. How rude, Apple!

Let me add, snarkily, that the new name is stupid since there’s already a thing from Apple called TV – Apple TV.

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Snapchat IPO goes big — let’s hope it doesn’t go poof!

What’s the Snapchat appeal? For now, it’s a red-hot initial public offering and the promise of more public offerings to come, after a period of slow tech movement on Wall Street.

The Snapchat social-media service is perplexing to nearly anyone born before 1990, myself included. That didn’t stop its debut on the New York Stock Exchange from ringing everyone’s bell. According to Fox News, Snapchat’s (SNAP) wildly successful trading debut, which bested Facebook’s (FB), Alibaba’s (BABA) and Google’s (GOOGL). At the outset of trading Thursday, the stock jumped more than 40 percent to $24 a share, no thanks to Main Street investors who were largely left out of the action. Snapchat surged 44 percent Thursday, closing at $24.48, which valued the social media company’s market cap around $28.3 billion.

Not bad for a social media service whose appeal is that its messages, photos and videos only stick around for a little while, and then vanish forever. That places Snapchat in stark contract against services like Facebook and Twitter, which saves everything forever (unless the original poster goes back a deletes a specific post).

Read more about my thoughts on Snapchat — and the tech industry’s expected IPOs for 2017 — in my latest blog for Zonic News, “The Huge Snapchat IPO Is Big News – What Will Follow?

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The three big cloud providers keep getting bigger!

You keep reading the same three names over and over again. Amazon Web Services. Google Cloud Platform. Microsoft Windows Azure. For the past several years, that’s been the top tier, with a wide gap between them and everyone else. Well, there’s a fourth player, the IBM cloud, based on their SoftLayer acquisition. But still, it’s AWS in the lead when it comes to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), with many estimates showing about a 37-40% market share in early 2017. In second place, Azure, at around 28-31%. Third, place, Google at around 16-18%. Fourth place, IBM SoftLayer, at 3-5%.

Add that all up, and you get the big four at between 84% and 94%. That doesn’t leave much room for everyone else, including companies like Rackspace, and all the cloud initiatives launched by major computer companies like Alibaba, Dell and HP, and all the telcos around the world.

it’s clear that when it comes to the public cloud, the sort of cloud that telcos want to monetize, and enterprises want to use for hybrid clouds or full migrations, there are very few choices. You can go with the big winner, which is Amazon. You can look to Azure (which is appealing, of course, to Microsoft shops) or Google. And then you can look at everyone else, including IBM SoftLayer, Rackspace, and, well, everyone else.

Read more in my blog post for Zonic News, “For Cloud IaaS and PaaS Providers, There Are the Big Three – and That’s How It’s Going to Stay (for Now).” That post also covers the international angle when all the big cloud providers are in the U.S. — and that’s a real issue.

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An intimate take on cybersecurity: Yes, medical devices can be hacked and compromised

Modern medical devices increasingly leverage microprocessors and embedded software, as well as sophisticated communications connections, for life-saving functionality. Insulin pumps, for example, rely on a battery, pump mechanism, microprocessor, sensors, and embedded software. Pacemakers and cardiac monitors also contain batteries, sensors, and software. Many devices also have WiFi- or Bluetooth-based communications capabilities. Even hospital rooms with intravenous drug delivery systems are controlled by embedded microprocessors and software, which are frequently connected to the institution’s network. But these innovations also mean that a software defect can cause a critical failure or security vulnerability.

In 2007, former vice president Dick Cheney famously had the wireless capabilities of his pacemaker disabled. Why? He was concerned “about reports that attackers could hack the devices and kill their owners.” Since then, the vulnerabilities caused by the larger attack surface area on modern medical devices have gone from hypothetical to demonstrable, in part due to the complexity of the software, and in part due to the failure to properly harden the code.

In October 2011, The Register reported that “a security researcher has devised an attack that hijacks nearby insulin pumps, enabling him to surreptitiously deliver fatal doses to diabetic patients who rely on them.” The insulin pump worked because the pump contained a short-range radio that allow patients and doctors to adjust its functions. The researcher showed that, by using a special antenna and custom-written software, he could locate and seize control of any such device within 300 feet.

report published by Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) shows the danger. This report examined 12 hospitals, the organization concluded “that remote adversaries can easily deploy attacks that manipulate records or devices in order to fully compromise patient health” (p. 25). Later in the report, the researchers show how they demonstrated the ability to manipulate the flow of medicine or blood samples within the hospital, resulting in the delivery of improper medicate types and dosages (p. 37)–and do all this from the hospital lobby. They were also able to hack into and remotely control patient monitors and breathing tubes – and trigger alarms that might cause doctors or nurses to administer unneeded medications.

Read more in my blog post for Parasoft, “What’s the Cure for Software Defects and Vulnerabilities in Medical Devices?

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Advocating for safer things: On the road, in the home, in business, everywhere

Think about alarm systems in cars. By default, many automobiles don’t come with an alarm system installed from the factory. That was for three main reasons: It lowered the base sticker price on the car; created a lucrative up-sell opportunity; and allowed for variations on alarms to suit local regulations.

My old 2004 BMW 3-series convertible (E46), for example, came pre-wired for an alarm. All the dealer had to do, upon request (and payment of $$$) was install a couple of sensors and activate the alarm in the car’s firmware. Voilà! Instant protection. Third-party auto supply houses and garages, too, were delighted that the car didn’t include the alarm, since that made it easier to sell one to worried customers, along with a great deal on a color-changing stereo head unit, megawatt amplifier and earth-shattering sub-woofer.

Let’s move from cars to cybersecurity. The dangers are real, and as an industry, it’s in our best interest to solve this problem, not by sticking our head in the sand, not by selling aftermarket products, but by a two-fold approach: 1) encouraging companies to make more secure products; and 2) encouraging customers to upgrade or replace vulnerable products — even if there’s not a dollar, pound, euro, yen or renminbi of profit in it for us:

  • If you’re a security hardware, software, or service company, the problem of malicious bits traveling over broadband, wireless and the Internet backbone is also not your problem. Rather, it’s an opportunity to sell products. Hurray for one-time sales, double hurray for recurring subscriptions.
  • If you’re a carrier, the argument goes, all you care about is the packets, and the reliability of your network. The service level agreement provided to consumers and enterprises talks about guaranteed bandwidth, up-time availability, and time to recover from failures; it certainly doesn’t promise that devices connected to your service will be free of malware or safe from hacking. Let customers buy firewalls and endpoint protection – and hey, if we offer that as a service, that’s a money-making opportunity.

Read more about this subject in my latest article for Pipeline Magazine, “An Advocate for Safer Things.”

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Thinking new about cyberattacks — and fighting back smarter

What’s the biggest tool in the security industry’s toolkit? The patent application. Security thrives on innovation, and always has, because throughout recorded history, the bad guys have always had the good guys at the disadvantage. The only way to respond is to fight back smarter.

Sadly, fighting back smarter isn’t always the case. At least, not when looking over the vendor offerings at RSA 2017, held mid-February in San Francisco. Sadly, some of the products and services wouldn’t have seemed out of place a decade ago. Oh, look, a firewall! Oh look, a hardware device that sits on the network and scans for intrusions! Oh, look, a service that trains employees not to click on phishing spam!

Fortunately, some companies and big thinkers are thinking new about the types of attacks… and the best ways to protect against them, detect when those protections end, how to respond when attacks are detected, and ways to share information about those attacks.

Read more about this in my latest story for Zonic News, “InfoSec Requires Innovation.”

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Phishing and ransomware attacks against you and your company are getting smarter

Everyone has received those crude emails claiming to be from your bank’s “Secuirty Team” that tells you that you need to click a link to “reset you account password.” It’s pretty easy to spot those emails, with all the misspellings, the terrible formatting, and the bizarre “reply to” email addresses at domains halfway around the world. Other emails of that sort ask you to review an unclothed photo of a A-list celebrity, or open up an attached document that tells you what you’ve won.

We can laugh. However, many people fall for those phishing scams — and willingly surrender their bank account numbers and passwords, or install malware, such as ransomware.

Less obvious, and more effective, are attacks that are carefully crafted to appeal to a high-value individual, such as a corporate executive or systems administrator. Despite their usual technological sophistication, anyone can be fooled, if the spearphishing email is good enough – spearphishing being the term for phishing emails designed specifically to entrap a certain person.

What’s the danger? Plenty. Spearphishing emails that pretend to be from the CEO can convince a corporate accounting manager to wire money to an overseas account. Called the “Wire Transfer Scam,” this has been around for several years and still works, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, said the FBI.

Read more in my latest for Zonic News, “Phishing and Spearphishing: Delivery Vehicles for Ransomware, Theft and More.”

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Mobility and security at two big shows: RSA and Mobile World Conference

What’s on the industry’s mind? Security and mobility are front-and-center of the cerebral cortex, as two of the year’s most important events prepare to kick off.

The Security Story: At RSA (February 13-17 in San Francisco), expect to see the best of the security industry, from solutions providers to technology firms to analysts. The conference can’t come too soon.

Ransomware, which exploded into the public’s mind last year with high-profile incidents, continues to run rampant. Attackers are turning to ever-bigger targets, with ever-bigger fallout. It’s not enough that hospitals are still being crippled (this was big in 2016), but hotel guests are locked out of their rooms, police departments are losing important crime evidence, and even CCTV footage has been locked away.

The Mobility Story: Halfway around the world, mobility is only part of the story at Mobile World Congress (February 27 – March 2 in Barcelona). There will be many sessions about 5G wireless, which can provision not only traditional mobile users, but also industrial controls and the Internet of Things. AT&T recently announced that it will launch 5G service (with peak speeds of 400Mbps or better) in two American cities, Austin and Indianapolis. While the standards are not yet complete, that’s not stopping carriers and the industry from moving ahead.

Also key to the success of all mobile platforms is cloud computing. Microsoft is moving more aggressively to the cloud, going beyond Azure and Office 365 with a new Windows 10 Cloud edition, a simplified experience designed to compete against Google’s Chrome platform.

Read more about what to expect in security and mobility in my latest for Zonic News, “Get ready for RSA and Mobile World Congress.”

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The top cloud and infrastructure conferences of 2017

Want to open up your eyes, expand your horizons, and learn from really smart people? Attend a conference or trade show. Get out there. Meet people. Have conversations. Network. Be inspired by keynotes. Take notes in classes that are delivering great material, and walk out of boring sessions and find something better.

I wrote an article about the upcoming 2017 conferences and trade shows about cloud computing and enterprise infrastructure. Think big and think outside the cubicle: Don’t go to only the events that are about the exact thing you do, and don’t attend only the sessions about the exact thing you do.

The list is organized alphabetically in “must attend,” worth attending,” and “worthy mentions” sections. Those are my subjective labels (though based on experience, having attended many of these conferences in the past decades), so read the descriptions carefully and make your own decisions. If you don’t use Amazon Web Services, then AWS re:Invent simply isn’t right for you. However, if you use or might use the company’s cloud services, then, yes, it’s a must-attend.

And oh, a word about the differences between conferences and trade shows (also known as expos). These can be subtle, and reasonable people might disagree in some edge cases. However, a conference’s main purpose is education: The focus is on speakers, panels, classes, and other sessions. While there might be an exhibit floor for vendors, it’s probably small and not very useful. In contrast, a trade show is designed to expose you to the greatest number of exhibitors, including vendors and trade associations. The biggest value is in walking the floor; while the trade show may offer classes, they are secondary and often (but not always) vendor fluff sessions “awarded” to big advertisers in return for their gold sponsorships.

So if you want to learn from classes, panels, and workshops, you probably want a conference. If you want to talk to vendors, kick the tires on products, and decide which solutions to buy or recommend, you want a trade show or an expo.

And now, on with the list: the most important events in cloud computing and enterprise infrastructure, compiled at the very beginning of 2017. Note that events can change their dates or cities without notice, or even be cancelled, so keep an eye on the websites. You can read the list here.

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Artificial Intelligence gets smart at CES 2017

Las Vegas, January 2017 — “Alexa, secure the enterprise against ransomware.” Artificial intelligence is making tremendous headway, as seen at this year’s huge Consumer Electronics Show (CES). We’re seeing advances that leverage AI in everything from speech recognition to the Internet of Things (IoT) to robotics to home entertainment.

Not sure what type of music to play? Don’t worry, the AI engine in your cloud-based music service knows your taste better than you do. Want to read a book whilst driving to the office? Self-driving cars are here today in limited applications, and we’ll see a lot more of them in 2017.

Want to make brushing your teeth more fun, all while promoting good dental health? The Ara is the “1st toothbrush with Artificial Intelligence,” claims Kolibree, a French company that introduced the product at CES 2017.

Gadgets dominate CES. While crowds are lining up to see the AI-powered televisions, cookers and robots, the real power of AI is hidden, behind the scenes, and not part of the consumer context. Unknown to happy shoppers exploring AI-based barbecues, artificial intelligence is keeping our networks safe, detecting ransomware, helping improve the efficiency of advertising and marketing, streamlining business efficiencies, diagnosing telecommunication faults in undersea cables, detecting fraud in banking and stock-marketing transactions, and even helping doctors track the spread of infectious diseases.

Medical applications capture the popular imagination because they’re so fast and effective. The IBM Watson AI-enabled supercomputer, for example, can read 200 million pages of text in three seconds — and understand what it reads. An oncology application running on Watson analyzes a patient’s medical records, and then combines attributes from the patient’s file with clinical expertise, external research, and data. Based on that information, Watson for Oncology identifies potential treatment plans for a patient. This means doctors can consider the treatment options provided by Watson when making decisions for individual patients. Watson even offers supporting evidence in the form of administration information, as well as warnings and toxicities for each drug.

Doctor AI Can Cure Cybersecurity Ills

Moving beyond medicine, AI is proving essential for protecting computer networks — and their users against intrusion. The traditional non-AI-based anti-virus and anti-malware products can’t protect against advanced threats, and that’s where companies like Cylance come in. They can use neural networks and other machine-learning techniques to study millions of malicious files, from executables to documents to PDFs to images. Using pattern recognition, Cylance have developed a revolutionary machine learning platform that can identify suspicious files that might be seen on websites or as email attachments, even if it’s never seen that particular type of malware before. Nothing but AI can get the job done, not in an era when over a million new pieces of malware, ranging from phishing to ransomware, appear every single day.

Menlo Security is another network-protection company that leverages artificial intelligence. The Menlo Security Isolation Platform uses AI to prevent Internet-based malware from ever reaching an endpoint, such as a desktop or mobile device, because email and websites are accessed inside the cloud — not on the client’s computer. Only safe, malware-free rendering information is sent to the user’s endpoint, eliminating the possibility of malware reaching the user’s device. An artificial intelligence engine constantly scans the Internet session to provide protection against spear-phishing and other email attacks.

What if a machine does become compromised? It’s unlikely, but it can happen — and the price of a single breech can be incredible, especially if a hacker can take full control of the compromised device and use it to attack other assets within the enterprise, such as servers, routers or executives’ computers. If a breach does occur, that’s when the AI technology of Javelin Networks leaps into action, detecting that the attack is in progress, alerting security teams, isolating the device from the network — while simultaneously tricking the attackers into believing they’ve succeeded in their attack, therefore keeping them “on the line” while real-time forensics gather information needed to identify the attacker and help shut them down for good.

Socializing Artificial Intelligence

There’s a lot more to enterprise-scale AI than medicine and computer security, of course. QSocialNow, an incredibly innovative company in Argentina, uses AI-based Big Data and Predictive Analytics to watch an organization’s social media account — and empower them to not only analyze trends, but respond in mere seconds in the case of an unexpected event, such as a rise in customer complaints, the emergence of a social protest, even a physical disaster like an earthquake or tornado. Yes, humans can watch Twitter, Facebook and other networks, but they can’t act as fast as AI — or spot subtle trends that only advanced machine learning can observe through mathematics.

Robots can be powerful helpers for humanity, and AI-based toothbrushes can help us and our kids keep our teeth healthy. While the jury may be out on the implications of self-driving cars on our city streets, there’s no doubt that AI is keeping us — and our businesses — safe and secure. Let’s celebrate the consumer devices unveiled at CES, and the artificial intelligence working behind the scenes, far from the Las Vegas Strip, for our own benefit.