All software contain bugs. All complex software contain numerous bugs. Some of those bugs are security holes.
When you hear that a software vendor has found and fixed a security problem that means that somehow that specific bug came up one someone’s radar. People who find these holes for a living, and there are quite a few, sell them to others who then exploit them to create massive botnets, extract credit card information from unsuspecting users or in some cases try to attack online banking accounts.
A regular “zero day” exploit into a computer system connected to the Internet can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars making it a worthwhile occupation for crackers.
However, while many regular computer users have had their computers taken over it’s often not something they themselves notice. If their system it’s just used for drive by DDoSing as part of a botnet, encrypted communication forwarding in a virus control protocol or activities otherwise not disturbing their normal computer usage, they have no reason to ponder the fact that any Internet computer system can be broken into. Even if their online banking account gets accessed the banks replace the balance, sometimes without the customer even knowing, since it’s worse for their reputation having to admit security problems. Crackers, on their part, are content with selling exploits on the black market for regular fixed prices.
A fully digital currency, kept either stored on a regular Internet connected home computer, mobile Internet device or with a cloud service provider is a much more juicy target for a security exploit finding cracker. No profit taking middle men, no traceable transactions in regular national currencies and with the possibility to target many such wallets in a very short time.
All software contain bugs. All complex software contain numerous bugs. Some of those bugs are security holes.
I’m a Bitcoin proponent. I support decentralisation and the removal of the banking and finance tax on human to human monetary transactions. I do have a strong background in computer security though and the above argument has me worried as a serious hindrance to Bitcoin adoption. In short, the only reason you currently still have control over your bitcoins isn’t because you’re better at keeping them safe compared to everyone else – it’s because no one has made you a target. Yet.
(Yes I’m aware of the concept of brain and/or paper wallets – but the currency of the Internet still has to surface when a transaction is to be made and an exploited system could well switch out the target of that transfer then)
I believe, if Bitcoin continues to gain general acceptance, we’ll see for the first time since computers became a household item an awareness of just how insecure such systems really are. It’s not a fault of Bitoin – its protocol still hasn’t been broken – but a fact of complex software. The only solution is to completely redesign our current computing paradigm.
Yeah that will happen.
Bitcoin press has gone through the roof in the last few weeks. So has the exchange rate between traditional currencies and bitcoins – a fact that has seen as many different explanations as I’ve seen people wrapping their heads around the Bitcoin concept and writing about it.
One of the explanations is that there’s a cap on the number of bitcoins that will ever be produced – 21 million (divisible to eight decimals). While the rate at which bitcoins are produced right now makes the currency inflationary, speculation on future worth combined with the influx of people wanting to hold or use the currency can be said to have already brought out its deflationary aspects.
Some predict doom and gloom because of that deflation, essentially proclaiming that a currency that cannot expand, inflate, with the economy will cause it to contract instead – putting a stop to investments when they’re deemed necessary.
There’s a different tack to that argument. In an inflationary economy, like the one we all live in, money in the bank becomes less worth over time. The interest rate I’m currently paid on my savings is less than the rise in the consumer purchase index, effectively meaning that there’s pressure on me to spend that money sooner rather than later.
(The argument that I should “invest” my money is a fallacy. Since it’s been statistically proven that financial managers aren’t able to outperform chance the best you can do is to place money in no-fee index funds – which over time should keep up with inflation. Investments more narrow than that carry higher risk – like betting in a casino. But I digress .. )
A Bitcoin economy on the other hand, when it’s large enough for the regular ups and downs to lessen in magnitude, is one where I would expect my savings to grow in value over time. Thus there’s pressure on me to only spend money when I really need to.
That cannot be a bad thing.
As I’m writing this, I have 20 tabs open in my web browser. Of those, the five latest are newly opened and temporary part of things I’m currently researching.
15 tabs are fixed, they’re always the same. Those tabs contain the websites I visit everyday, my most important windows into the Internet. Controlling one of those tabs means you control 1/15th of the information flow I receive every day – I can’t think of a more important pathway for any company to fight for.
Google, a company that currently owns four of those tabs, announced that they’re giving up on one of them today.
It’s either a sign of just how ubiquitous your business is anyway, or a very bad strategic decision. I guess time will tell – it looks like a service that previously had no mindshare with me might get to take over.
This particular ocean is red.
A report from the World Bank is making rounds in media today. While portraying catastrophic scenarios, it contains no new actual research and is simply extrapolating statistical possibilities. Unfortunately the media headlines aren’t really reflecting the content – not unusual regardless of the topic.
However, it does give me an opportunity to post about some actual research that has taken place since the last IPCC report, while we wait for the new one to come out next year. The focus is on Scandinavia, both since I live here as well as it being one of the places where extensive climate proxies exist.
(Most Swedes know that in our recent history the climate has been both a lot colder as well as nice and balmy. We have no reason to believe our climate should stabilize)
“The level of warmth during the peak of the MWP (Medieval Warm Period) in the second half of the 10th century, equaling or slightly exceeding the mid-20th century warming, is in agreement with the results from other more recent large-scale multi-proxy temperature reconstructions.”
– B. Christiansen and F. C. Ljungqvist, The extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperature in the last two millennia: reconstructions of low-frequency variability, Climate of the Past
“The record provides evidence for substantial warmth during Roman and Medieval times, larger in extent and longer in duration than 20th century warmth.”
– Esper et. al, Variability and extremes of northern Scandinavian summer temperatures over the past two millennia, Global and Planetary Change
And maybe one of the more interesting ones. This is an updated reconstruction by Briffa, famous for having authored one of the hockey sticks used by the IPCC. Apparently the stick has now disappeared.
Some previous work found that MXD and TRW chronologies from Torneträsk were inconsistent over the most recent 200 years, even though they both reflect predominantly summer temperature influences on tree growth. We show that this was partly a result of systematic bias in MXD data measurements and partly a result of inhomogeneous sample selection from living trees (modern sample bias). We use refinements of the simple Regional Curve Standardisation (RCS) method of chronology construction to identify and mitigate these biases. The new MXD and TRW chronologies now present a largely consistent picture of long-timescale changes in past summer temperature in this region over their full length, indicating similar levels of summer warmth in the medieval period (MWP, c. CE 900–1100) and the latter half of the 20th century.
– T. M. Melvin, H. Grudd and K. R. Briffa, Potential bias in ‘updating’ tree-ring chronologies using regional curve standardisation: Re-processing 1500 years of Torneträsk density and ring-width data, The Holocene
I’m quite Popperian when it comes to science. Feel free to voice hypotheses, but if they’re falsified they need to be scrapped and new ones looked into. There are many competing explanations as to how and why the climate on Earth changes and we’re not doing society a favor by only talking about one of them.
Especially when the actual science does not support the hyperbole.
An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. The cycle is sometimes sped along deliberately by “availability entrepreneurs,” individuals or organizations who work to ensure a continuous flow of worrying news. The danger is increasingly exaggerated as the media compete for attention-grabbing headlines. Scientists and others who try to dampen the increasing fear and revulsion attract little attention, most of it hostile: anyone who claims that the danger is overstated is suspected of association with a “heinous cover-up.” The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. Other risks, and other ways that resources could be applied for the public good, all have faded into the background.
– excerpt from Thinking fast and slow, by the psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman
Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to “decarbonize” the world’s economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.
– opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, underwritten by 16 scientists.
(This post brought to you by the confirmation-bias-department)
In the spring of 2008 I sat in the audience at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, watching Clay Shirky on stage. His talk about the cognitive heat sink, on how television had disrupted humanity from spending large parts of our time on being creative, on producing things we wanted to produce, to being simple receivers of information pre-packaged by someone else made a huge impact. Shirky compared the amount of hours we spend watching TV with projects like Wikipedia, and hinted at a future where instead of watching TV we would use our creativity to create other projects like it.
Of course, if you recognize the argument, it’s what later became Shirky’s latest book – Cognitive Surplus. I’ve used it to good effect in my own presentation series over the last few years and in a world where we see a whole generation watching less and less TV and Linchpins eager to put the available creativity to good use – what do we do?
Well. Apparently we spend over 3 million hours each day launching birds into pigs.
Gaming is, however, a lot better for our creativity than TV. One of the more creative of games, being compared to playing with Lego, is Minecraft. It’s a sandbox game, where it would be difficult to describe what if anything the real purpose of the game is. It’s also actively played socially together with others, making it participatory. Lego is said to have been the inspiration for many future engineers – I’m one myself.
These games can be quite addictive as shown by Minecraft’s moniker “minecrack“, and that might be slightly worrying. If we go back to pre-digital times, no matter what our creativity was used for it’s likely it was something physical that lived on when we ourself moved on to other things. We recognize a lot of these creative works as art today, antiques, items that sometimes furthered society.
Digital creativity – value – in virtual worlds only exists for as long as we keep that digital world alive. When the next thing comes along, when I stop creating huge (and time consuming) beautiful structures in Minecraft, they’re gone – forever. True, this is the same with a non-digital sandbox or toys like Lego, but these games are played by the adult population to a much higher degree.
Being a futurist, I love doing projections. Since my answer to the common motivator “Think outside the box!” is -What box? I also sometimes explore boundary conditions by taking projections to their extreme. One answer to Fermi’s paradox is that all sufficiently advanced civilizations spend all their time doing virtual exploration and work inside simulations.
Back to reality – I love Shirky’s argument. I’m slightly worried we’re spending our newfound creativity surplus on things that only have fleeting purpose though, satisfying our neural pathways for the moment but with a bitter aftertaste.
The current buzz du jour is Gamification, and maybe that’s a solution. Make the real world more game like.
(If we’re sufficiently advanced, maybe it already is)
Följande text skrev jag den 5e september 2003 för eventuell publikation i en svensk tidning. Såvitt jag kommer ihåg skedde aldrig det, och eftersom jag nyligen oväntat stötte på den på en gammal del av hårddisken återpublicerar jag den här nu. Man kan tycka att den är väldigt aktuell med tanke på att straffskatten på inspelningsbar media – hårddiskar m.m – höjs igen den 1e april
I veckan som gick annonserade Universal ut att de ska sänka priserna på CD-skivor. Detta skapade enorma rubriker, och kommentarerna har genomgående varit att äntligen har musikbolagen förstått. Det har alltid sagts att just höga priser orsakat den utbredda piratkopieringen – iaf av de som själva kopierar.
Tidigare i somras slog sig den amerikanska musikbranschorganisationen RIAA för bröstet och utropade en delseger i kampen mot den illegala kopieringen av musik på nätet – tydligen har antalet musikbytare minskat med nästan en tredjedel från april till juni. Enligt RIAA berodde en stor del av detta på att de börjat dra enskilda musikbytare inför domstol.
Logiskt sett borde detta leda till ökad skivförsäljning. Musikbolagen har alltid sagt att det är det enkla utbytet av musik på nätet som orsakat minskad försäljning. För att detta ska vara sant ska alltså försäljning av musik på fysisk media gått upp under samma period.
Inte. En analytiker noterade i veckan att även om antalet personer som synligen byter musik på nätet minskat, så har minskningen av antalet sålda skivor som pågått sedan Napsters storhetstid accelererat under samma period – tvärtemot vad som borde hänt om den förhärskande tesen att kopiering av musik på nätet har en direkt koppling till antalet sålda skivor skulle vara sann.
Så hur kommer det sig att Universal går ut och sänker priset på skivorna? Det skulle krävas en stor ökning av antalet sålda skivor för att sänkningen ska betala sig. Visst vore det enklare om musikbolagen istället kunde ta ut någon form av skatt av alla i världen oavsett om de kopierade musik, köpte musik eller ens lyssnar på musik istället?
Det är precis vad de gör. Redan 1999 började flera länder – däribland Sverige – införa en extra avgift på inspelningsbart media. Den extra avgiften går oavkortat till musikbranschen, oavsett om de tomma CDR-skivorna du köper ska användas i backupsyfte eller bränna musik på.
Det är den mest geniala affärsidé jag vet.
Troed Sångberg, 2003-09-05