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Posts Tagged ‘economy’

I feel a little lazy this week. We just got back from a very busy spring with two cruises: one from Vancouver around Hawaii and back to Vancouver on Holland America and the other from Amsterdam to Budapest on a Viking Longboat. I strongly recommend both cruises. Between the trips we attended a family wedding at the other end of the state.

But cyber attacks continue unabated. Some of the more recent “highlights:”

  • On top of the 191 million voter registration records stolen in December 2015, another 56 million records were captured and exposed, probably by a Christian right-wing organization. While a lot of information in your voter registration file is public, it does include name, address, birth date, and party affiliation. Organizations can use that information to correlate other non-public information including voting history, religious affiliation, charity donations, work place, income level, political leaning, and some really strange information like whether you like auto racing.
  • State Farm had information on 77,000 customers stolen by a hack into DAC Group, a large advertising agency in the US and Canada. While it currently seems that no financial information was stolen; it is likely that these customers had their email addresses stolen. What is instructive, however, is that this information was stolen from a development server at DAC. Security on development systems is often not as comprehensive as on a production system, and one of the reasons to have a development system is to confirm that any enhancements have not impacted data security before the software moves to the production environment. You should never use production data in a development environment. DAC should have known better.
  • A Japanese travel agency, JTB Corp, had personal information for almost 8 million people. One of JTB group companies experienced a targeted email attack, and an employee opened an attached file, which infected their server.
  • On the lighter side, the Cowboys Casino in Calgary, Canada, was attacked and personal information on less than 2,000 customers and staff were stolen. You parents told you not to gamble.

These are just a few of dozens of attacks in June 2016. If you are not having trouble sleeping, check out Norse real-time threat intelligence. This shows a small sub-set in real-time of network attacks based on their service and port. This does not include email or other application-level or OS-level attacks.

The last word:

For those of you in the United States, enjoy the Fourth of July and think about the freedoms we have here.

A number of people we met on the European cruise were from the UK, and this cruise was just before the BREXIT election. Most of them were concerned that the UK might vote to leave. From my perspective, it is past time for the UK to leave the EU. The EU bureaucrats control far too much of what each individual country and company must do, down to specifying the size and shape of wine bottles. These bureaucrats all seem to be socialists. As a result, the growth of the European economy is in last place compared to Africa, Asia, North and South America. However, the European economy is growing faster than the economy of Antarctica.

In 1992, “everyone” predicted dire consequences for the UK economy when it refused to abandon the Pound and move to the Euro. In 1990, the UK entered the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, a prerequisite for adopting the Euro. The UK spent over £6 billion pounds trying to keep its currency within the narrow limits prescribed by the EU, but, led by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown, finally ruled out conversion to the Euro in 2007. One of the best moves in recent UK history.

Before the BREXIT vote, the UK was the fifth largest economy in the world. Do you really think a European company will cease to trade with a UK company because they are no longer in the EU?

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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On 15 January 2014, George Osborne stated at the Open Europe Conference, “Europe accounts for just over 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its economy, and 50% of global social welfare spending.” The Right Honourable George Osborne, MP, is the current Chancellor of the Exchequer in England, the equivalent to the Treasury Secretary in the United States. On the surface, this seems like a typical politician’s claim and subject to doubt. But it is likely true.

According to Eurostat, the 27 nations that make up the European Union account for around 7.2% of the world’s population. If you include European nations that are not part of the EU, then it rises to 10.5%. Also according to Eurostat, the EU nations make up 25.8% of the world GDP (about 30% if you include all European nations). So if Mr. Osborne really meant the EU, he is spot on for the first two claims. The last number is a lot harder to pin down. Mr. Osborne credits German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the claim, but fullfact.org has not yet received an answer from the Chancellor’s office. In 2012 the World Bank published a report that Europe accounted for 58% of the world’s social welfare spending. This number included 36 countries as “European,” which includes the 27 EU members. So maybe the 50% number is reasonable for the EU.

Is it any wonder that the millions fleeing from the Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Albania, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Iran and the Ukraine head to Europe? They are certainly not heading for Africa or Russia, even though Russia has a lot of empty space to house hundreds of thousands of refugees. Just as for many of the people who cross into the US from Mexico and further south, many of these people steaming into Europe are really economic refugees. On average in 2015, each EU country had 260 applicants for each 100,000 in local population, but of course it was not eevnly spread among the EU countries. Hungary had 1,799 applicants for each 100,000 in population, while Spain had 32.

Clearly the majority of these immigrants are fleeing terrible conditions where their lives are at great risk. In my view, these people are refugees that the receiving countries have some responsibility to deal with. But we see in the daily pictures from Europe, many able-bodied 18-35 year old men and women with no accompanying children. These people have no pride in their own land; they are not willing to stay and fight for their country and their culture. How much investment will they have in their new country?

This war-fed migration pales when compared with the fleeing masses during and after World War II. Some estimates put the European component of fleeing refugees at 60 million, with over a million of them still trying to find a place to settle five years after the conflict ended.

Perhaps the biggest difference between then and now is that this war still goes on. ISIS and other organizations still want to take over the world by any means. This migration provides the perfect opportunity for ISIS to infiltrate hundreds of fighters and organizers into Europe, and no way for the European countries to verify the identity and background of any of these people.

Another importance difference between now and just after World War II is the ability of these migrants to communicate. In some cases, and for really good reasons, these migrants are being given smart phones. They are an easy way for the authorities to provide information on where to get help and what options are available, and for the migrants to communicate with family members already in Europe. It also provides a way for the few invaders to communicate among themselves and with any sleeper agents or groups already in place.

The last word:

The US government created the Transportation Security Administration, with an annual budget of more than US$7 billion. The main result of this expense is to inconvenience the more than 800 million passengers in the US each year, adding wait hours to every passenger just to get on the plane. Based on the absence of any “we stopped this attack” information from TSA, it seems that actual attacks are stopped by passengers or crew, not TSA. TSA does provide a weekly report that, on average, reads like found six “artfully concealed prohibited items,” about a dozen weapons (mostly small pen knives), and arrested about a passenger a day for “suspicious behavior” or fraudulent travel documents. There is no indication that any of these incidents actually posed a threat to passengers. Rather, the long queues at checkpoints create clusters of people that are prime targets for those wishing to do us harm.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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Over half of the emails I get are spam and potentially contain malware. A few CIO’s have told me that up to 80% of the email that is sent to their company’s email server is spam. Email is the most popular way for cybercriminals and cyber terrorists to get malware into your company’s IT infrastructure or your own personal computers.

MetLifeI recently received an email apparently from MetLife Insurance, complete with Snoopy and the same copyright notices and disclaimers that you would expect to see on a legitimate offer from the company. But it was from Romania.

How did I know it from Romania? The “from” field in the email said “MetLife – Life Insurance”, but when I checked, the actual email address ended in “.ro”, the Internet country code for Romania. Unless you know someone in Romania or do business in Romania, never open an email from there. Romania has many quaint villages and towns, among them Râmnicu Vâlcea. The economy of the 120,000 people who live there is centered around cybercrime, specializing in ecommerce scams (like this MetLife email) or malware attacks on businesses, like yours. The economy is good: lots of expensive BMWs, Audis, and Mercedes, new apartments buildings, gated bungalows, new nightclubs and shopping centers. The US Embassy in Bucharest estimates that Romanian cybercriminals steal US$1 billion from Americans each year.

emailaddressIt is easy to see the actual origin of an email. In most email programs, simply click on the “from” name. Usually to the right of the name will be a triangle symbol. Click on that and you should see something like this, showing the actual email address and giving you options like “Copy Address.” In this case, the email address belongs to linkedin.com so the probability of it being legit is very high. The Met-Life email I received ended with “.ro”.

Another automatically suspect country is The Netherlands (.nl). At least 75% of my spam emails come from either .ro or .nl. If you are curious about an Internet country code, just enter it with the leading period in Wikipedia (e.g., “.no”).

One country has legitimately cashed in on its country code. Tuvalu is a Polynesian island nation midway between Hawaii and Australia that gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1978.   It’s population is less than 11,000. It’s Internet country code is .TV. The domain is currently operated by dotTV, a subsidiary of Verisign. The Tuvalu government owns 20% of dotTV. The net result is that every quarter, the Tuvalu government receives US$1 million for use of the .tv domain. Verisign has been marketing the .tv top-level domain name for rich media content.

What does a very small relatively poor ($3,400 per capital GDP) country do with this predictable income? With its first quarterly payment, it paid the $100,000 it takes to join the United Nations.

But you can receive dangerous emails that look like they are from a friend and actually has your friend’s email address. If you get an email apparently from a friend that has just a link and something like “check this out” do not open it. Check first with your friend to verify that he or she really sent it.

If you are tired of receiving dozens of these emails every week, resist the temptation to respond or click on its “unsubscribe” link. If you respond you simply verify that your email address is valid, and the sender will give or sell that information to other cybercriminals. The “unsubscribe” link is likely to also be a malware installer, immediately infecting your computer. The only thing you should do with a suspect email is to delete it.

Be especially wary of business-like emails that come from generic email addresses like aol, Comcast, gmail, Verizon, or yahoo. For Verizon and Comcast, emails from the companies themselves come from Verizon.com and Comcast.com; emails from subscribers come from Verizon.net and Comcast.net.

If you get an unexpected email that seems to be from someone in your company or a partner that is asking for customer or employee personal information, financial information, or any proprietary information, verify who actually sent it. At a minimum, check the email address and make sure it came from a company email address. I recommend that you call or text the person to make sure the request is bona fide. No one will be unhappy that you “bothered” them to make sure you were not about to cause the company a serious and possibly very expensive problem.

The last word:

Remember that the IRS or Social Security will never ask you for any personal information in an email or over the phone. Unless you initiated the call, do not give Social Security numbers, account numbers, or any other personal or financially sensitive information over the phone. Never put them in an email. And never give passwords to anyone over the phone or in an email.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is having a bad year. On top of a serious breach in 2015 that affected at least 330,000 and led to a class action lawsuit against the IRS, 2016 may turn out to be an even worse year for the agency. The lawsuit claims that the IRS knew its website was vulnerable to security breaches but did nothing to mitigate the problem. This is important, because the same systems are responsible for at least some of the 2016 breaches.

So far in 2016:

  • In January cybercriminals used malware to use 464,000 stolen Social Security Numbers to generate over 100,000 e-file personal identification numbers. These numbers along with your Social Security Number enable a cybercriminal to file a fraudulent tax form and generate a refund.
  • In early February, the IRS could not accept electronic filings (e-file) tax forms for at least one day. The IRS claims this failure was not related to the January attack.
  • In early March, the IRS revealed yet another problem: the system the IRS put in to protect those who were victims of the 2015 hack was itself hacked. What would be funny if this was some movie is that the same IRS online identity verification mechanism that was exploited in 2015 was used to verify the online identify of those who were supposedly protected by the new system. The IRS knew that this verification mechanism was the cause of the 2015 breach, and the pending class action suit alleges that the IRS knew of the problem even earlier. Yet, somehow, the IT security people at the IRS thought it would be a good idea to use it again. As of this writing, the IRS claims that this latest attack has resulted in less than 200 fraudulent filings.

If you are a victim of any of these cyber attacks do not expect a lot of help from the IRS. You should receive a letter in the mail indicating that you were potentially a victim. You might first find out when the IRS tells you that you have already filed your return. In any case, expect that it will delay any refund by weeks and will involve several phone calls with the IRS. It may even require that you go to an IRS office and file in person. If a fraudulent refund has already been sent out, the IRS is likely to claim they have already paid you.

The last word:

In fiscal year 2014 the IRS collected $3.1 trillion in revenue and processed 240 million tax returns. You should expect the IRS to be very careful with the information they keep on every taxpaying individual and corporation in the US. You will be very disappointed. The IRS used to take pride in its ability to protect taxpayer information, but that is clearly not even on their priority list. The 2015 hack enabled cybercriminals to steal $50 million of your tax dollars by using identity theft to file for bogus tax refunds. While $50 million is a very small percentage of $3.1 trillion, each fraudulent tax filing has a serious impact on an individual or company. Also, the stolen information can and has been used in other identity theft exploits.

Even if the IRS has not yet told you it has exposed your information, check your free credit reports periodically looking for new accounts or other fraudulent activity. You can check each of the three agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) once a year for free. I recommend that you spread them out over the year, checking one every four months.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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If you want the full financial and operational value of Cloud Computing, then you want to use a public cloud. The advantages over private clouds include:

  • Low upfront costs.
  • Clear relationship between cost and benefit with pay-for-use model.
  • Easy to try new projects, easy to make change.
  • Flexible.
  • A wide choice of Service Level Agreement choices (SLAs).
  • Easy to provide a world-wide presence.

Of course, there are some public cloud disadvantages, the most critical being security, performance and availability. At this point in time, you can easily meet most performance and availability requirements from a variety of CSPs; security is more difficult. In a public cloud environment, you do not control physical access, and you have no control over who is sharing common infrastructure including networks, server hardware, and storage systems. But there is a way to secure your data both between your facility and your public cloud CSP and within the CSP’s infrastructure: combine Unisys Stealth with Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The basic principle behind Stealth is to only allow a device to communicate with another device if they share a Community of Interest, a COI.  A COI is nothing more than a group of people and servers.  Data can be shared freely within a COI, but must not be shared with any person or server not in the COI.  In the usual Stealth installation, a user’s COI or set of COIs is specified in the site’s identity management system, the system that is used to authenticate a user when the user signs on.

If you are responsible for protecting your company’s proprietary information, your customers’ private information, or concerned with compliance you should at least look at Unisys Stealth. If you are responsible for a government database involving individuals’ information or classified data, you should also be looking at Unisys Stealth.

I have talked about Unisys Stealth before, Amazon Secure Storage Service (Amazon S3), and the combination in “Secure Public Cloud” back in 2013. What has changed are some significant “under the covers” enhancements to Unisys Stealth, the incorporation of Stealth into the AWS Marketplace, and additional operational facilities to enable you to easily extend your datacenter into the AWS cloud to handle expected, or unexpected, sudden increases in resource demand.

The combination protects communication between your AWS virtual servers even within the same physical server, encrypts all communication among the servers in your data center and the servers in the AWS cloud, and controls access based on roles. You control the security access policies that define who and what can communicate, allowing you to isolate applications within your environment for business or compliance reasons.

Stealth subscriptions are sold through the AWS Marketplace; you get one bill from Amazon for everything including Stealth. It is available in every AWS region. Suddenly you can open a presence anywhere quickly and inexpensively, and react to unexpected growth from anywhere.

One of the most important characteristics of Unisys Stealth and AWS is that there is no back door. Unisys, Amazon, and any network component between do not have your encryption keys. Your government cannot force Unisys or Amazon to provide access to your data; they do not have a way to break in. Even if you are OK with your government gaining access to your information at any time without providing notice to you, you should be very concerned. If your government can get in, then so can any other government, cybercriminal or cyberterrorist by using the same back door for access. Another important benefit of Stealth is that even if a cybercriminal as able to insert malware on one of your servers in the AWS cloud, that server would not be able to transmit anything back to the cybercriminals because Stealth will prevent your server from communicating to any device that is not part of a community of interest that you have defined.

The last word:

Unisys has been around since 1886, and is one of the few survivors of the initial computer revolution designing and building commercial and government computers since the 1940s, computer systems that continue to perform “bet the business” functions. Support is a key element of that environment, and no matter how big or small your company is, you still get that enterprise level support from Unisys. Sure, Unisys has the on-line self-help site with all of the technical documentation and discussion you might want, but you can always pick up the phone and talk to a real person who is knowledgeable on the product, and is probably located within one or two time zones of you.

Curious? Check it out with a Unisys AWS test drive.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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ransomwareRansomware is like the elementary school bully who steals your lunch and won’t give it back until you give him a quarter. Except in this case, it is all or most of the files on your computer’s hard drive, and the cost to restore your data is hundreds of dollars.

The first known ransomware attack was back in 1989. Widespread ransomware attacks started in Russia in 2005. By 2012 the attacks had spread outside of Russia, especially to Europe and North America. They work by either encrypting your files or locking access to your system via a variety means, from constantly putting pornographic pictures over everything on your screen to running a fake version of Windows that won’t do anything until you pay.

There are ransomware attacks for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, and Android systems.

Payment is almost always through some form of electronic currency like Bitcoin. These virtual monetary systems are anonymous and it is very difficult for authorities to track the destination of the payments. However, some ransom notes have you call a “toll-free” number to get a key to release your files or system, except the phone number is routed through a country with very high long-distance rates, and the operator “needs” to put you on hold for several minutes before giving you the code. You could end up with a several hundred dollar item on your next phone bill.

Sometimes the pop-up on your screen looks like it came from a law enforcement agency like the FBI in the US, Scotland Yard in the UK, or your local police agency. The notification page claims the agency locked your computer because they detected illegal files on your computer: usually porn or terrorism-related material. Once you get over the official looking notification with all the correct logos and badges and can read it calmly, it looks like a scam. Often the wording is awkward, and, really, is the FBI going to ignore your alleged terrorism-related activities if you Bitcoin them a few hundred dollars?

By the end of 2013, Security expert Symantec reported 600,000 ransomware attacks a month, and expects these attacks to increase substantially in 2016 across all platforms.

If you get a ransomware notification on your business or personal computer, tablet or smart phone, do not pay the ransom. They may give you the key, or they may not. These are cybercriminals, not necessarily known for their ethics. Once the malware is loaded, they can bully you again as often as they want until you clean it off of your system. Have a five-minute rant, calm down, reload a fresh copy of the OS and then restore your files from your latest backup.

The solution, of course, is not to be attacked by ransomware. While you can never be completely protected, here are four things that you should already be doing.

  1. Practice safe clicking. Always check the link in an email or on a website that you are not positive is friendly. Check out my last post for how to do that. Most ransomware comes in through a standard malware attack.
  2. Keep your software up-to-date. Cybercriminals and cyberterrorists are always looking for new vulnerabilities, and they are very good at it. Once they find one, they pass the information on to other cyber attackers. Fortunately, the good guys are also looking for vulnerabilities and making updates to their software to close vulnerabilities as they find them. But if you do not have the latest software, you still have those vulnerabilites.
  3. Use a good security software package that is more than just anti-virus.
  4. Often. No, even more often than that. Periodically, ask yourself when you or your automated backup mechanism made your last backup. Then ask how much grief it would be to redo everything you had done since then. Macintosh Time Machine and Windows 10 File History backup changed files every hour, but only if you have an external hard drive and the option turned on.

In one recent example, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center paid cyber-terrorists 40 bitcoins (about $17,000) to get the key to release the hospital’s data. I call this a cyber-terrorist attack because it put every patient in the hospital at risk of death or serious injury when doctors and nurses can no longer access the patients records or get access to diagnostic information from monitoring or diagnostic equipment. Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center is a private hospital in Los Angeles with 434 beds. The hospital CEO, Allen Stefanek, said the paying the terrorists was the “quickest and most efficient way” to regain control of their data systems. The malware attack was first noticed on February 5, and was fully functioning until 10 days later. Clearly, this hospital IT department was not prepared for any kind of a disaster. I expect they will be attacked again, probably by the same terrorists.

The FBI is investigating, but I would not expect them to catch anybody.

The last word:

Packages like Time Machine and File History are great for automatically backing up in the background while you are working, and in general meaning you never have more than one hour’s worth of work to recover. They also make recovery easy, and can give you the file as it was yesterday or last week in case you really messed it up and do throw away the last change effort.

However, they are not very effective in two cases:

  1. If you have a building failure, they are likely to also get destroyed. A building failure is a case where you cannot get back into the building, perhaps because of a fire, earthquake, biological contamination, police or military action, or terrorist act.
  2. Some ransomware not only makes the files on your computer’s hard drive inaccessible, but will also destroy or encrypt the files on any attached hard drives, like your Time Machine or File History drive.

If you are paranoid, like me, you should also have an offsite backup. It is now fairly easy and inexpensive to do this with packages like Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Carbonite, and a host of others.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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VoteIn addition to being a huge source of interest, amusement, annoying commercials, robo-calls, and anguish to all of us in the US, the 2016 election cycle is likely to drive cybercriminal and hacktivist activity. The Forcepoint 2016 Cybersecurity Predictions Report describes some interesting possibilities.

As an individual, expect to be targeted. By the 2012 election cycle, social media was an important method of getting a candidate’s message out, gauging voter interest, collecting donations, and promoting engagement hopefully leading to a vote. For some candidates, social media is at least as important as the traditional new media. Attackers will use the intense interest in this election cycle to create highly effective email lures and misdirects to push malware to the unsuspecting public.

Some of these attacks will be advanced cyber attacks against specific organizations unrelated to the election, potentially including your company. The cybercriminals will target individuals pursuing election-related information, with the expectation that the cybercriminals can gain access to personal or company information for financial gain or negative business impact unrelated to the election.

The candidates themselves, as well as the news media, will become vulnerable to attacks on their social media sites. These attacks may be by opponents, foreign governments, or hacktivists with a specific political agenda. Expect to see these attacks used to spread inaccurate messages and information. Even if a candidate can quickly correct the information, the false information lives forever and may impact the outcome of an election. In the US political circus, the message is critical.

These attacks on a candidate’s social media could also impact the data the candidate is collecting on probable voters and donations. Corrupting that data could have a huge negative impact on a candidate’s ability to run or fund a campaign.

InfoSec Institute published “Which Top 5 Presidential Candidate is Most Likely to Be Hacked?” back in October, 2015. The only candidate with an “A” rating was Ben Carson (remember him?), largely because he outsources donation and volunteer services and does not have an on-line store; he has a very small attack server. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump got a “B,” Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush got a “C.” Several of these candidates are using unsecured or only partially secured WordPress sites that may leak internal usernames and other information, making them relatively easy targets. While she did get a “B,” Hillary has the largest attack surface based on a quickly built custom application. Her development team’s motto is “ship early and often; done is always better than perfect.” Security may not be high on the team’s priority list, and security testing is likely to be a low priority task.

As the Forcepoint report points out, “Technology decisions made by candidates during their tenure can expose them to data theft attacks (as seen by Clinton’s use of a private email server).” It is also likely true that technology decision made during a campaign may give a hint as to how that candidate will behave relative to data security when elected. If you see a candidate reacting to incorrect information on their web site or social media, then expect that their concern about data security is very low. Put that on your scorecard as one factor as you decide how you will vote.

It will not be just the candidates’ web sites and social media sites, but also those of the hundreds of issue-related websites that represent PACs and other special interest groups.

The bottom line is that you need to be very careful. Before you click on a link in an email or on a website, carefully look at it. Even if you know the sender of an email, if all it says is something like “check this out” or some other short message, be careful: the email may only appear to be from a friend or co-worker. The safest way is to copy the link (right-click on the link and select “Copy Link Location”) and then paste that into your browser’s URL line and make sure you recognize the web site.

The last word:

SEAIf you think it unlikely that a foreign government would attack a candidate, consider the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a group of attackers supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Beginning in 2011, the SEA targeted political opposition groups within Syria, western news organizations (including the BBC, Associated Press, and The Washington Post) and human rights groups. The SEA has managed to send false tweets from Twitter accounts for 60 Minutes, Reuters, Associated Press, ITV News London, and many others. It has defaced the web sites of Forbes, NBC, CBC News, and hundreds of other sites including the National Hockey League.

Of course, the SEA is only one potential government sponsored hacktivist organization, and in my view, not the most dangerous by far. There is a reason why the US and China agreed to a pact to not use cyberattacks to steal company records for financial gain. Of course, China does not admit to ever having done anything like that. A careful reading of the pact indicates that the pact does not bar cyberattacks for other reasons such as political.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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I like statistics. When properly used, they can tell you what has actually happened in the past. Statistics can provide valuable information to help you run your company or for the government to run the country. Statistics can tell you how closely two sets of data are related, their correlation. You might notice, for example, that since you introduced pastel colored widgets, your sales to teenage girls have significantly increased. You might jump to the conclusion that teenage girls prefer pastel colored widgets, and you might be right. On the other hand, the increase in sales to teenage girls could be due to your increased marketing of widgets in women-only high schools and colleges.

When statistics tell you that two quantities vary together, most people will believe that they are related in some way. You should always beware of jumping to conclusions. Correlation does not equal causation. Here are three very high correlation examples from Tyler Vigen’s book Spurious Corrections.” I suspect there really is no relationship between the two quantities in each case.

CorrelationEven if there is an actual cause and effect relationship, it may not be in the direction you think.

Your company collects more and more data about its operation, products and customers. Additionally, thousands of data sets are available from public and private sources about behavior, health, poverty rates, driving accidents and just about anything you can think of. Given enough processor power, you can search for correlations among these data sets. Sometimes these “strange” correlations can prove valuable. A dozen years ago, an almost random check of the correlation between auto accidents involving personal injury or death across the counties of one state had a very high correlation with the number of people over 55 who were taking a specific medicine. The resulting investigation by the pharmacy company that manufactured the drug led to increased warnings to doctors and patients about a previously unsuspected age-dependent side effect.

When someone brings you one of these correlations, pay attention, but apply reason. Correlation is not causality

The last word:

President Obama and many other politicians on the left want to make it illegal for law abiding citizens to own a gun. In their view, only the government should have any weapons. They want to eliminate the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The primary reason the first session of the US Congress included that amendment in the Bill of Rights was the recent experience with their prior government. The British Government severely limited gun possession in towns and cities; they could not police the rest of the colonies. They feared, rightly it turned out, that the colonists could use those weapons against the British government. The US Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that a future government could not take away citizens rights without the citizens having a last resort to deal with a run amok government.

President Obama will tell you that eliminating all legal guns is the solution to these tragic mass-shooting events. But we know that is a false argument. Almost every one of the mass shooting events in the past two decades has been in a “gun-free zone.” We have been steadily increasing the number of these zones, so it includes virtually every school, sporting event, shopping area, government facility, and even most portions of our military bases. We actually put signs up to indicate to potential terrorists of where they will have five to thirty minutes of unbothered time to kill as many unarmed victims as they can.

Consider the recent Oregon tragedy. Chris Mintz is student at Umpqua Community College. As a decorated Army veteran, he tried to stop the gunman before he entered the classroom where the gunman killed nine students. Mr. Mintz was shot seven times for his bravery. If Mr. Mintz had a weapon with him, the results could have been vastly different.

Oregon state law actually requires that colleges allow guns on campus in some circumstances. At a minimum, a college must allow a visitor with a carry permit to bring a gun on campus, but not necessarily a student. Until police arrived, the gunman was the only person with a weapon on the campus.

Gun control laws do not keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists; they only keep them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Chicago, with restrictive gun control laws, had over 400 murders in 2014. That is the equivalent of an Umpqua Community College event every 8 days.

We are painting a target on the back of our children.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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We live in a transparent world; it is almost impossible to keep secrets. Last time I wrote about The Half-Life of Secrets, and I defined a secret as something that if revealed to the wrong entity could cause harm. The secret could be in a document, or could have been something you did or did not do. The “entity” could be a specific individual (e.g., spouse), a group of people (e.g., your customers), a competitor, an organization that provides services (e.g., your insurance company or health care provider), or a government organization.

The Cloud is the primary enabler of the severe reduction in the half-life of your company’s secrets. If you put your business process applications in the Cloud, then your employees, contractors, partners and maybe your customers can access the critical data they need to do their job or buy your products or services from anywhere at anytime.

Unfortunately, that same information is potentially available to cyber-criminals.

You can reach potential customers via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, text messages, email, or a dozen other social media mechanisms. You can target a specific customer, a class of customers, or reach out to a tailored set of prospects. It all happens “now!” and at small fraction of the cost of doing it via putting a physical letter in a mailbox.

Years ago I had a secretary. Don’t yell; that is what they were called back then. If I needed to send a letter to a customer, I could dictate it to her (and it was always a “her”). In an hour or so I would have a letter for my review and signature. Frequently, she had made changes to my letter, and almost always these changes made it better. More importantly, the process provided a time cushion for me when I reread the letter. For reasons of cost and time, very few people have that option anymore. We just type the email or text message or tweet and ship it. How many messages have you received that contained inappropriate information (i.e., secrets), an inappropriate tone or went to the wrong people (often the “reply all” mistake)? Every such message, once you throw it out there, can be forwarded to anyone anywhere. With a great marketing message, these forwards provide a positive multiplier effect along with an implied recommendation. If the message exposes a secret, it just magnifies the problem.

Just like Las Vegas, what happens in the Cloud, stays in the Cloud. Forever. But, unlike Las Vegas, it remains vulnerable to attack.

In his 2004 book In the Blink of an Eye Andrew Parker describes how about 543 million years ago, the chemistry of Earth’s shallow oceans and the atmosphere suddenly changed to become more transparent. Parker’s theory is that this increased transparency led to the Cambrian explosion, a relatively short (20-25 million years) evolutionary event that produced major diversification in life including most of today’s major animal phyla. Increased transparency led to eyes to see prey or predator, which led to new means of locomotion to chase or escape, claws, jaws, shells and other defensive and offensive body parts. Those species that did not evolve fast enough went extinct.

In a Scientific American article and TED talk, Daniel Dennett and Deb Roy talk about how companies must adapt to today’s new transparency, or go extinct. By analogy, organizations must adapt their external body parts to not only take advantage of the new transparency (e.g., FaceBook, Twitter, text messages), but also must create defensive capabilities. A successful organization must create information-handling organs of control and self-preservation as integral parts of its public relations, marketing, and legal departments.

These defensive organs cannot behave like they did ten years ago, or maybe the way they still do today. Your company must join the conversation on your distractors’ terms. You have to respond intelligently, honestly, and in a conversational way. You can’t deny, obfuscate, or preach. The whiff of a secret, and the carnivores will swarm until they dig it out, make it up, embellish it, and sell their story, not yours. In particular, you cannot let your legal department delay your response by weeks or months while approving a communication strategy, nor can your marketing or PR department spend days or weeks trying to figure out how to respond. You need to respond today.

Thus a significant part of your defensive evolution must be proactive: you have to do everything you can to prevent secrets from escaping in the first place.

  • Protect your company data not only in the Cloud but also within your own datacenter. Mostly that means keeping careful track of who should be allowed to access specific types of data, updating each person’s access right every time their role changes, and periodically auditing to ensure that the process works as required.
  • Take advantage of any security options that your Cloud Service Provider(s) can offer you. It is far less expensive and usually more effective to rely on them than your own IT department. As part of that, make sure your contract with any CSP includes what they must do to completely remove old archives according to your documentation life-cycle requirements, and audit that process at least annually.
  • Write, update frequently and publish your security policy. This policy should cover everybody with physical access to your datacenter(s), everybody who has electronic access to your data. It must cover your own computer equipment and your employee, contractor and partner equipment including personal devices. Everyone with non-public access to your data should be required to review your security policy, pass a test, and certify that they reviewed it at least annually.
  • Define who is permitted to “be the voice” of your company through any and all mechanisms. These are the people who can participate in external conversations. Ideally, there should be someone reviewing everything that goes out. This doesn’t have to be a long process, just make sure someone else is looking over the “voice’s” shoulder with the authority to say, “Hold on one minute.” You probably already have such a process for discussions with the press.
  • Set guidelines for different types of situations ranging from annoying to disastrous. You will have to define these terms based on your company’s situation, but it might range from an unhappy customer who posted a bad review to a partner leaking that your next major product is facing a significant delay due to a technical glitch. For each type, decide the ideal response time, who has to approve any message, and what documentation should be kept so the event can be reviewed.
  • Often, one situation will change its severity over a short period of time. You will not get it right everytime, so give the “voice” people the authority to raise their hand to get help. When things go wrong, the first response should not be to fire the “voice,” but to get the message back on track and learn from the situation.

Don’t count on the government for help – they are fairly helpless themselves, and react far too slowly. Country laws are also way behind the times, not able to even keep up with phone technologies.   Even further behind is the ability of a government to prosecute anyone, TV shows like CSI: Cyber aside.

Just like during the Cambrian explosion, it is a jungle out there. Make sure your company survives.

The last word:

NextGen Cloud recently named my blog as one of the 50 Top Cloud Computing Bloggers for IT Integrators. My thanks go to NextGen Cloud, and many thanks to all of my followers and readers.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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Long haul truckers move a lot of America’s goods. You see the eighteen wheelers on the Interstates and you know those guys, and ladies, have been driving hours every day to get their load from point A to point B over distances of up to 3,500 miles. Often, when you are outside of a major metropolitan area on an Interstate, 75% of the traffic is long haul trucks. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 1.5 million long haul truckers on the road today, expected to go over 1.8 million by 2020. There are about 200,000 job openings nationwide for long haul truckers right now.

Why aren’t unemployed or underemployed folk flocking to these jobs? The median annual wage is almost $38,000, with some long haul truckers making more than $58,000 a year. That’s not bad for a job that does not require even a high school diploma. One hurdle is getting a CDL (commercial driver’s license). It can take eight weeks and $6,000 to earn one. Then the job is not for everyone. Many drive by themselves most of the time, and they often live for weeks at a time in the back of their truck in a space the size of a closet.

But I believe we are coming to the end of the long haul trucker. I predict that in ten years there will be virtually no long haul truckers, except for moving vans. Why? The first place autonomous vehicles will really take off is in long haul trucking.

We are in the very early stages of autonomous vehicles that can safely get themselves to a destination with no human intervention. Remember how long it took before there was reliable air travel. The first scheduled fixed wing air service started in January 1914, flying from St. Petersburg to Tampa, Florida, ten years after the Wright Brothers flight in December, 1903. That might not have been considered reliable transportation by everyone. We are almost to that stage with autonomous vehicles. The first real demonstration of an autonomous vehicle in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. At this point, four states and two cities allow autonomous vehicles on the highway (Nevada, Florida, California, Michigan, Washington DC, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho). There are still lots of hurdles to overcome, including cost, liability laws, and public confidence before autonomous cars are common.

The lack of confidence is caused by just thinking about all the things that can go wrong in an urban environment: children playing, pedestrians, bicycles, and manned cars going through red lights, making strange turns, trying to park, or just being distracted. Over a recent six-month period, Google’s self-driving cars have gotten into four accidents in California where there were only 48 autonomous cars. Google claims that the autonomous vehicles were not the cause of any of them. If we ever get to Google’s end point of no drivers in any car at anytime, then in theory there would not be any accidents, and certainly a whole lot less than there are today. Getting there will not be easy.

InspirationBut back to the long haul trucker. Almost the entire route is on the Interstate. Most of the distractions and dangers are removed by the design of the Interstate itself. No red lights, pedestrians, bicycles, cross traffic, parking, …. The first autonomous vehicle license plate for a self-driving big rig went to a Freightliner “Inspiration Truck” in Nevada. It still requires a driver to handle turns at red lights and parking, so there must be a person in the cab.

But I view that as a short-term situation. I believe that within five years there will be thousands of autonomous big rigs on the Interstates, each pulling up to three trailers, and driving 24 hours a day at 65 to 75 miles per hour depending on the specific stretch of highway. No drivers, no one in the cab, and in fact no cab at all. Local truckers will take the trailers to a special lot near an Interstate on ramp, where an autonomous truck will be assigned to take that trailer to another special lot outside the destination city. There, another local trucker will pick up the trailer and drive the last ten to fifty miles.

In ten years there will only be autonomous long haul trucks on the Interstates. Near major metropolitan areas, those trucks will be shunted to the far left lane leaving the rights lanes for cars to jockey for space and exits without the trucks being the way. Imagine a line of trucks, each with up to three trailers, zooming long I80 south of Chicago at 70 mph and about 10 feet apart. When another long-haul truck pulls on the Interstate, the line of trucks will make space for the new truck.

The benefits to the trucking companies are obvious: no drivers to pay, no down time for the truck due to required rest breaks, and safer highways. The trucks will also be lighter, not having to have a cab with comfortable seats, air conditioning and heating, driver safety engineering and expensive manual controls. It will also be almost impossible to hijack an autonomous long-haul truck.

How do you back it up to pick up trailers, move it into a service bay for maintenance, or move it off the highway in an emergency? There’s an app for that. Someone can walk beside the truck for close in maneuvering using a tablet. The trick will be so that it only works when the person is close and has the “keys” to the truck.

But not moving vans. They will, I believe, still have actual drivers, if for no reason other than the families like to see a familiar face when the moving van pulls up to their new house.

The last word:

The impact will be on more than the over one million long haul truckers. Major truck stops along the Interstate will see their business change from servicing drivers to the rare servicing of an autonomous truck with a problem. It won’t be selling fuel: the trucks will be filled up before the journey with enough fuel to get to the destination point. You should expect to see many of these truck stops go out of business.

Along with the adult stores that also serve the truckers along the Interstates, like the Lion’s Den chain of 40 shops along the Midwest Interstates, some with gas stations.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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