The sad story of what happened to Mat Honan has been big news for the past ten days or so. All of his devices and data were interconnected via Apple’s iCloud, and they all got wiped clean within minutes. Here’s his story, in his own words. Excerpts:
Apple tech support gave the hackers access to my iCloud account. Amazon tech support gave them the ability to see a piece of information — a partial credit card number — that Apple used to release information. In short, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in the clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification . . .
It turns out, a billing address and the last four digits of a credit card number are the only two pieces of information anyone needs to get into your iCloud account. Once supplied, Apple will issue a temporary password, and that password grants access to iCloud.
GET OFF OF MY CLOUD
(M. Jagger/K. Richards)
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Hey! You! Get off of my cloud
Don’t hang around, baby, two’s a crowd
No technical skill was requs guy’s e-life. The hacker(s) just needed patience, knowledge of customer service procedures at each provider, a method, a couple lucky guesses, and convincing telephone presence. We worry about the security of 128-bit encryption, or the virtues of SHA-2 (secure hash algorithm) versus SHA-1, when the most vulnerable part of any system is the humans who use it.
The fact that the authentication value of a credit card’s last four digits is zero at Amazon and significant at Apple is worrying. Apple claimed that a service rep didn’t follow its password reset procedure. In fact, the procedure WAS followed; it was just a flawed procedure. Apple has reportedly changed their customer service procedure for authenticating an account owner over the phone.
Microsoft has stated that they’re developing the Surface because their hardware partners have failed to innovate. Of course, one reason for that is that “the Microsoft tax” on every PC has left the manufacturers with insufficient margin to support R&D. (I’ve read that Microsoft makes more profit per PC — about $55 per unit — than anyone else. One result is that in an effort to juice up their margins, the manufacturers have loaded new consumer-class Windows PCs with crapware. (HP is the worst offender.)
The June 13 Surface “prototype” was obviously vaporware: there was no ship date, no price, and no hands-on trials.
I fear that the Surface is a bump in the road as CEO Steve Ballmer (Microsoft’s Ringo Starr) rides Microsoft downhill.
I give Mr. Ballmer and Microsoft credit: Surface will undoubtedly shake up the hardware manufacturers. But in the end, their lack of innovation is caused by Mr. Ballmer’s unimaginative management. What else do you expect of a sales manager with no technical chops who becomes CEO?
For the moment, Microsoft Office, Exchange, and Sharepoint remain entrenched in the corporate market, where they earn most of Microsoft’s net profit. How much longer will that continue? See my July 2011 article, Whither Microsoft?
The Internet knits today’s society together, yet most of us aren’t familiar with exactly what comprises “The Cloud”. Last month, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Andrew Blum, the author of a new book, Tubes, A Journey to the Center of the Internet. The book explores the hardware infrastructure that instantly transports data across the globe. Ms. Gross asks the questions that any layperson would ask, and the author replies with amusing stories of his adventures inside the Internet’s data centers, points of presence, repeater huts, and cross-connect centers.
I found Mr. Blum’s descriptions to be easy to understand. I’ve worked inside similar facilities and don’t think that I could describe their components so clearly.
Much of the Internet is built atop older telephone and telegraph infrastructure. (Likewise, American highways are built atop the trails that were blazed by Indians a thousand years ago.) Fiberoptic cable often shares the conduit, cable trays, and trenches where 100-year old lead-sheathed oil-impregnated paper-insulated copper cable still resides.
Click here to read the brief article and/or listen to the 25 minute interview.
The on-line version of Microsoft Office — called Microsoft Web Apps — offers lightweight versions of Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, OneNote, and Powerpoint applications. This is Microsoft’s response to cloud-based Google Docs and Adobe Buzzword. (I notice that Web Apps doesn’t include a program similar to MS-Office’s Access database.)
Google Docs is aimed at Microsoft’s most profitable product, Microsoft Office. The success of Google Docs has placed Microsoft in an awkward position: it must offer an alternative to Google Docs, while not undercutting Microsoft Office sales. Web Apps allows users to view, share, and edit documents on-line, but doesn’t offer full Microsoft Office functionality. The office suite market is changing, and Microsoft’s introduction of Web Apps acknowledges that fact.
Web Apps seems like a great deal: it includes 25 gigabytes of on-line storage (called SkyDrive) for your documents. Microsoft is experienced at providing 90% of what you need for free; to get everything that you want, you must pay. This blog and my website are hosted (for free) on Microsoft’s OfficeLive, and I’m very happy with it; I’ve had to work around some of the limitations, but most of those limitations are manageable. I imagine that Microsoft Web Apps will be similar — not perfect, but good enough for most needs. Read Microsoft’s announcement.
Microcomputer software market history
This battle over office applications is just another example of the truth that no computing market segment is secure. Microsoft taught this lesson back in the early 1980s; now Google is teaching the same lesson to Microsoft. Microsoft started its life in the 1970s by creating computer language interpreters and compilers (MBASIC, ForTran, Pascal, etc.). For years, it seemed that they would stay within that segment, Digital Research would stay within the operating system segment, and Lotus and MicroPro would stay within the applications segment. Then Microsoft, using profits from its language products, released its Multiplan spreadsheet as a competitor to Lotus 1-2-3, MS-Word as a competitor to MicroPro’s WordStar, and MS-DOS as a competitor to Digital Research’s CP/M operating system. Bill Gates had removed the gloves and no segment was ever again sacrosanct. Now Google is playing the same game, using profits from its Adsense and Adwords to do battle on Microsoft’s turf. Knowing how much Bill Gates likes a good fight, I wonder if he’ll remain "retired" on the sidelines?
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Carbonite is the leader in the online backup market. For $55 per year, Carbonite backs up an unlimited amount of data from one computer (either Windows or Mac). I like it: the service is reliable, unobtrusive, and the user interface is intuitive. It has a few competitors, but it leads the market. Acronis, who’s the leader in computer backup software for backing up to local media (tape, external hard drives, etc.), has begun offering Acronis Online Backup for $50 per year. It’s limited to 250 gigabytes of backed-up data, which may be distributed amongst up to 5 computers (Windows only – no Macs). This will be attractive to households and small businesses with several computers.
Acronis’ local backup and disk imaging software regularly wins awards. They are integrating it with their well-respected local-backup product, True Image. This is an industry first. (I have conservative customers who use both an external hard drive and Carbonite for backup. This gives them the fast speeds of local backup plus the security of having encrypted copies of their data reside off-site.) It’ll be interesting to see how well Acronis integrates local and online backup — this could be a real winner.
If Acronis Online Backup is as good as their local backup product, it will give Carbonite serious competition — especially at the introductory discount price of $30 per year (available until 15 February 2010. Subsequent years will not be discounted.). Have a look — both companies encrypt your data before it’s sent over the Internet and both companies offer free trials
Regardless of vendor, online backup offers low entry cost and complete protection within a few days of sign-up: there’s no hardware to buy and setup is very easy.
Articles on my website:
Data Backup ideas: http://russbellew.com/pages/backup.aspx
Local Vs Remote Data Backup — The Pros and Cons: http://russbellew.com/pages/data_backup_local_vs_remote.aspx
Business Continuity Planning: http://russbellew.com/pages/business_cont_planning.aspx
Disaster Recovery Planning: http://russbellew.com/pages/disaster_recovery.aspx
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of both Acronis and Carbonite.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
“Cloud computing” can store and help you synchronize files on multiple laptop and desktop computers.
The trendy term “the cloud” simply refers to the Internet. (Schematic diagrams display the Internet as a cloud.) There are a number of companies that offer file synchronization services. Most offer a basic service for free and charge money for enhanced services.
One of the leading players in this market is Dropbox. Maximum PC recently suggested 15 clever ways that Dropbox can be used to provide other services. Strong competitors include SugarSync and MemoPal.
A nice thing about all these services is that you can use them to synchronize files between geographically diverse sites. You and a colleague who’s located thousands of miles away can work together on a sales proposal in almost real-time: pretty nice for zero cost.