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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Quotw NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden got tired of hearing himself referred to as a tech geek this week and told the world that, actually, he’s real-life James Bond type. Speaking to NBC News, Snowden said he wasn’t some lowly outside contractor, but a bonafide 007:

I was trained as a spy in the traditional sense of the word in that I lived and worked undercover overseas, pretending to work in a job that I am not and even being assigned a name that was not mine.

But I am a technical specialist. I am a technical expert. I don't recruit people. I don't recruit agents. I put systems to work for the United States.

Snowden insisted that although the government had downplayed him as some back-room server wrangler, he had done a lot more than it cared to admit, such as working for the CIA, NSA and Defence Intelligence Agency:

The government might deny these things, they might frame it in certain ways and say 'Oh, he's a low level analyst’.

What they are trying to do is use one position I've had in a career here or there to distract from the totality of my experience.

Meanwhile, anyone who was thinking that the whole Internet of Things sounded like a pretty nifty Jetsons-esqe way to live is going to find themselves severely disappointed when they discover the whole thing will probably end up as a way for insurance firms to increase premiums.

Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, said at his company's Solid conference:

You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet? I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the Internet of Things.

That’s something that’s already happening in cars, which can be fitted with devices that monitor driving skills so that good drivers get better premiums. But the flip side of that, of course, is that less capable drivers will get slapped with higher premiums if the Internet of Stuff becomes all ubiquitous and all powerful. And drive-monitoring could be just the tip of the iceberg.

IBM's Rod Smith, who holds the wonderfully named position of VP of Emerging Internet Technology and was presenting with O’Reilly said:

We'll have devices in cars that can do monitoring of your health. There's amazing things that they can do with computer vision…[like] looking for drowsiness... that's information that then comes into insurance companies.

In other depressing news, The Reg discovered this week that Microsoft’s “intelligent assistant” Cortana has the mother of all get-out clauses hidden away in a click-through licence for Windows Phone 8.1 Developer Preview. You might think that Cortana’s job would be to get its facts straight for you, provide you with the information you need when you need it and stay on top of things. That might be what it’s supposed to do, but Microsoft won’t be taking any responsibility if it doesn’t:

Like a real-world personal assistant, sometimes Cortana may (i) draw an inaccurate conclusion about what is important to you, (ii) infer information that accurately reflects you but that you are uncomfortable sharing with others, or (iii) remember some information about you that is no longer true or relevant today. Microsoft does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability, availability or timeliness of inferences and personalised experiences provided by Cortana.

So that’ll come in handy then…

Speaking of things that don’t work as they should, cloud operator Joyent had a major meltdown this week when a fat-fingered admin brought the entire datacentre’s compute assets to their knees. The less-than-dexterous operator accidentally reboot all compute nodes in the centre at the same time in what must have been one of the worst days at work anyone’s ever had.

Luckily, Joyent acknowledged that the system wasn’t set up that well if a single mistake could bring the whole thing down. Joyent's chief technology officer Bryan Cantrill said in a blog post:

While the immediate cause was operator error, there are broader systemic issues that allowed a fat finger to take down a datacentre. As soon as we reasonably can, we will be providing a full postmortem of this: how this was architecturally possible, what exactly happened, how the system recovered, and what improvements we are/will be making to both the software and to operational procedures to assure that this doesn't happen in the future.

Cantrill told The Reg the firm was hoping to learn from its mistakes:

Anything that allows you to administer many, many machines will allow you to do this. There was a silver lining here in the sense it was an opportunity to see how the system behaved. There are lots of ways it could have been much worse.

And it wasn’t planning to take any kind of wrath out on the misfortunate administrator:

The operator that made the error is mortified, there is nothing we could do or say for that operator that is going to make it any worse, frankly… You don't teach dolphins with a shock collar.

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