Google and Reliability Engineering

April 30, 2016

There’s a new book about Google SRE. You can find some information about it at this link. In order to understand how the real world works, you may want to navigate to “Google Cloud Status.” The write up explains why “On Monday, 11 April, 2016, Google Compute Engine instances in all regions lost external connectivity for a total of 18 minutes, from 19:09 to 19:27 Pacific Time.” Good news. According to this article “Google Blames Two Bugs for 18 minute Global Comute Engine Outage,”

Benjamin Treynor Sloss, Google’s vice president of engineering, explained on the Google Cloud Status blog that a “timing quirk” in the IP block’s removal occurred when the engineers tried to spread out the new configuration for Compute Engine.

A Google wizard is quoted in the article as saying:

We will conduct an internal investigation and make appropriate improvements to our systems to prevent or minimise future recurrence.”

I assume that the pertinent section of the forthcoming book was not available to the Googlers with their fingertips on the keyboard prior to the outage. Books are one thing; site reliability in the real world is apparently another.

Stephen E Arnold, April 30, 2016

Watson Joins the Hilton Family

April 30, 2016

It looks like Paris Hilton might have a new sibling, although the conversations at family gatherings will be lackluster.  No, the hotel-chain family has not adopted Watson, instead a version of the artificial intelligence will work as a concierge.  Ars Technica informs us that “IBM Watson Now Powers A Hilton Hotel Robot Concierge.”

The Hilton McLean hotel in Virginia now has a now concierge dubbed Connie, after Conrad Hilton the chain’s founder.  Connie is housed in a Nao, a French-made android that is an affordable customer relations platform.  Its brain is based on Watson’s program and answers verbal queries from a WayBlazer database.  The little robot assists guests by explaining how to navigate the hotel, find restaurants, and tourist attractions.  It is unable to check in guests yet, but when the concierge station is busy, you do not want to pull out your smartphone, or have any human interaction it is a good substitute.

” ‘This project with Hilton and WayBlazer represents an important shift in human-machine interaction, enabled by the embodiment of Watson’s cognitive computing,’ Rob High, chief technology officer of Watson said in a statement. ‘Watson helps Connie understand and respond naturally to the needs and interests of Hilton’s guests—which is an experience that’s particularly powerful in a hospitality setting, where it can lead to deeper guest engagement.’”

Asia already uses robots in service industries such as hotels and restaurants.  It is worrying that Connie-like robots could replace people in these jobs.  Robots are supposed to augment human life instead of taking jobs away from it.  While Connie-like robots will have a major impact on the industry, there is something to be said for genuine human interaction, which usually is the preference over artificial intelligence.  Maybe team the robots with humans in the service industries for the best all around care?

 

Whitney Grace, April 30, 2016
Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

25 Springtime for Google

April 29, 2016

The birds a chirping. The flowers are blooming. It is springtime for the Alphabet Google thing. How do I know? Three examples:

  1. Google and Facebook are sucking up ad money. Evidence? “Advertisers adjusted spending accordingly. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new dollar spent in online advertising will go to Google or Facebook, said Brian Nowak, a Morgan Stanley analyst.” See “Media Websites Battle Faltering Ad Revenue and Traffic.”
  2. Taxing authorities want to follow the money. Evidence? “In India, Google was probed for anti-competitive conduct after being caught altering search keywords and pointing them to its own services over those of competitors. If found guilty, the company could be penalized a maximum of $5 billion.” See “Google Could Face New Multi-Billion Dollar Fine from EU for Android App Bundling.”
  3. Google is building fiber networks for certain countries and will be beaming down the Internet using balloons. Evidence? “Project Link is a Google initiative that has built fiber and wifi networks in cities in Uganda and Ghana. It plans to expand the program to even more cities in Africa and around the world.” See “Here’s Everything Google’s Doing to Reach Its Next Billion Users.”
  4. News Corp. is not feeling it when it comes to the GOOG. See “News Corp Broadens Google Antitrust Complaint.”

Does Google have a flag?

Stephen E Arnold, April 29, 2016

New Security Service Enters Consumer Space

April 29, 2016

It looks like another company is entering the arena of consumer cybersecurity. An article from Life Hacker, Privacy Lets You Create “Virtual” Credit Card Numbers, Deactivate One Instantly If It’s Stolen, shares the details of Privacy. Their tool generates disposable card numbers online, which can be tied to accounts with participating banks or Visa cards, and then allows users to easily deactivate if one is stolen. The service is free to users because Privacy makes money acting as a credit card processor. The article tells us,

“Privacy just gives you the ability to create virtual “accounts” that are authorized to charge a given amount to your account. You can set that account to be single use or multi-use, and if the amount is used up, then the transaction doesn’t go through to your main account. If one of your virtual accounts gets hit with an account you don’t recognize, you’ll be able to open the account from the Privacy Chrome or Firefox extension and shut it down immediately. The Chrome extension lets you manage your account quickly, auto-fill shopping sites with your virtual account numbers, or quickly create or shut down numbers.”

We think the concept of Privacy and the existence of such a service points to the perception consumers find security measures increasingly important. However, why trust Privacy? We’re not testing this idea, but perhaps Privacy is suited for Dark Web activity.

 

Megan Feil, April 29, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

A Dark Web Spider for Proactive Protection

April 29, 2016

There is a new tool for organizations to more quickly detect whether their sensitive data has been hacked.  The Atlantic discusses “The Spider that Crawls the Dark Web Looking for Stolen Data.” Until now, it was often many moons before an organization realized it had been hacked. Matchlight, from Terbium Labs, offers a more proactive approach. The service combs the corners of the Dark Web looking for the “fingerprints” of its clients’ information. Writer Kevah Waddell reveals how it is done:

“Once Matchlight has an index of what’s being traded on the Internet, it needs to compare it against its clients’ data. But instead of keeping a database of sensitive and private client information to compare against, Terbium uses cryptographic hashes to find stolen data.

“Hashes are functions that create an effectively unique fingerprint based on a file or a message. They’re particularly useful here because they only work in one direction: You can’t figure out what the original input was just by looking at a fingerprint. So clients can use hashing to create fingerprints of their sensitive data, and send them on to Terbium; Terbium then uses the same hash function on the data its web crawler comes across. If anything matches, the red flag goes up. Rogers says the program can find matches in a matter of minutes after a dataset is posted.”

What an organization does with this information is, of course, up to them; but whatever the response, now they can implement it much sooner than if they had not used Matchlight. Terbium CEO Danny Rogers reports that, each day, his company sends out several thousand alerts to their clients. Founded in 2013, Terbium Labs is based in Baltimore, Maryland. As of this writing, they are looking to hire a software engineer and an analyst, in case anyone here is interested.

 

Cynthia Murrell, April 29, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Businesses as Beneficiaries of the Dark Web

April 28, 2016

Who makes money off the Dark Web? Vice’s Motherboard covers this in a recent article, The Booming and Opaque Business of Dark Web Monitoring. Much coverage exists on the cybercriminals using Tor, but this article describes the two types of threat intelligence monitoring businesses which specialize in crawling the Dark Web. The first approach is algorithm-based, such as the method used by Terbium Labs’ Matchlight product which scans and scours marketplaces for sensitive data or intellectual property. The alternative approach used by some companies is explained,

“The other tactic is a more human approach, with analysts going undercover in hacking forums or other haunts, keeping tabs on what malware is being chatted about, or which new data dump is being traded. This information is then provided to government and private clients when it affects them, with each monitoring company digesting it in their own particular way. But, there is a lot of misleading or outright fabricated information in the dark web. Often, particular listings or entire sites are scams, and forum chatter can be populated with people just trying to rip each other off. For that reason, it’s not really good enough to just report everything and anything you see to a customer.”

Recent media coverage mostly zeroes in on cybercrime related to the Dark Web, so this article is a refreshing change of pace as it covers the businesses capitalizing on the existence of this new platform where stolen data and security breaches can find a home. Additionally, an important question about this business sector is raised: how do these Dark Web monitoring companies valuable leads from scams aimed at deceiving?

 

Megan Feil, April 28, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

Developing Nations Eager to Practice Cyber Surveillance

April 28, 2016

Is it any surprise that emerging nations want in on the ability to spy on their citizens? That’s what all the cool governments are doing, after all. Indian Strategic Studies reports, “Even Developing Nations Want Cyber Spying Capabilities.” Writer Emilio Iasiello sets the stage—he contrasts efforts by developed nations to establish restrictions versus developing countries’ increased interest in cyber espionage tools.

On one hand, we could take heart from statements like this letter and this summary from the UN, and the “cyber sanctions” authority the U.S. Department of Treasury can now wield against foreign cyber attackers. At the same time, we may uneasily observe the growing popularity of FinFisher, a site which sells spyware to governments and law enforcement agencies. A data breach against FinFisher’s parent company, Gamma International, revealed the site’s customer list. Notable client governments include Bangladesh, Kenya, Macedonia, and Paraguay. Iasiello writes:

“While these states may not use these capabilities in order to conduct cyber espionage, some of the governments exposed in the data breach are those that Reporters without Borders have identified as ‘Enemies of the Internet’ for their penchant for censorship, information control, surveillance, and enforcing draconian legislation to curb free speech. National security is the reason many of these governments provide in ratcheting up authoritarian practices, particularly against online activities. Indeed, even France, which is typically associated with liberalism, has implemented strict laws fringing on human rights. In December 2013, the Military Programming Law empowered authorities to surveil phone and Internet communications without having to obtain legal permission. After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, French law enforcement wants to add addendums to a proposed law that blocks the use of the TOR anonymity network, as well as forbids the provision of free Wi-Fi during states of emergency. To put it in context, China, one of the more aggressive state actors monitoring Internet activity, blocks TOR as well for its own security interests.”

The article compares governments’ cyber spying and other bad online behavior to Pandora’s box. Are resolutions against such practices too little too late?

 

Cynthia Murrell, April 28, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

FinFisher How To: The Hacking Team

April 27, 2016

The idea is that math and science club types are competitive. Sure, many did not grasp fencing foils or head to the table tennis club. But the old competitive spark is there. To get a sense of how one outfit (FinFisher) hacked into another outfit (Hacking Team) point your browser at “Hack Back.” I want to raise several questions:

  1. Do these companies compete for law enforcement and intelligence contracts?
  2. Why did the “60 Minutes” report about hacking which aired on April 17, 2016, not mention FinFisher? Did “60 Minutes” “real” journalists overlook this company?
  3. Can either of these companies retrieve data from mobile phones?
  4. Who owns Gamma Group?

Ah, gentle reader, many questions.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2016

Search without Indexing

April 27, 2016

I read “Outsmarting Google Search: Making Fuzzy Search Fast and Easy Without Indexing.”

Here’s a passage I highlighted:

It’s clear the “Google way” of indexing data to enable fuzzy search isn’t always the best way. It’s also clear that limiting the fuzzy search to an edit distance of two won’t give you the answers you need or the most comprehensive view of your data. To get real-time fuzzy searches that return all relevant results you must use a data analytics platform that is not constrained by the underlying sequential processing architectures that make up software parallelism. The key is hardware parallelism, not software parallelism, made possible by the hybrid FPGA/x86 compute engine at the heart of the Ryft ONE.

I also circled:

By combining massively parallel FPGA processing with an x86-powered Linux front-end, 48 TB of storage, a library of algorithmic components and open APIs in a small 1U device, Ryft has created the first easy-to-use appliance to accelerate fuzzy search to match exact search speeds without indexing.

An outfit called InsideBigData published “Ryft Makes Real-time Fuzzy Search a Reality.” Alas, that link is now dead.

Perhaps a real time fuzzy search will reveal the quickly deleted content?

Sounds promising. How does one retrieve information within videos, audio streams, and images? How does one hook together or link a reference to an entity (discovered without controlled term lists) with a phone number?

My hunch is that the methods disclosed in the article have promise, the future of search seems to be lurching toward applications that solve real world, real time problems. Ryft may be heading in that direction in a search climate which presents formidable headwinds.

Stephen E Arnold, April 27, 2016

Research Outlines Overview of Dark Web Landscape

April 27, 2016

The Dark Web continues to be a subject of study. Coin Desk published an article, Bitcoin Remains Most Popular Digital Currency on Dark Web, reporting on a study from two professors in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Their research found that Dark Web sites offered illegal goods and services in 12 categories, such as arms, drugs, and finance. As may be expected, the results revealed bitcoin to be the preferred digital currency of hidden-services commerce. We learned,

“The report, “Cryptopolitik and the Darknet,” which appeared in the February-March edition of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, analyzed about 300,000 web addresses, identifying 5,205 live websites, out of which 2,723 were classified as illicit with a “high degree of confidence.” Of those, each was placed in one of twelve categories, including drugs, arms, and finance. The drugs category was the most frequently identified, with 423 websites, followed by finance with 327 websites. 1,021 websites were categorized as “other” by the research team. Among the financial websites identified as illicit, there were three categories: bitcoin-based methods for money-laundering, stolen credit card numbers and trade in counterfeit currency.”

In addition to this overview of the Dark Web landscape, the article also points out previous research which pokes holes in the conceptualization of the Dark Web as completely anonymous. An attack costing $2,500 is the price of busting a bitcoin user. Playing defense, a coin-mixing service called CleanCoin, helps bitcoin users remain traceless. What will be the next move?

 

Megan Feil, April 27, 2016

Sponsored by ArnoldIT.com, publisher of the CyberOSINT monograph

 

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