Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ira Winkler: Facebook is giving hacking a good name again - Computerworld

With all my qualms and concerns with Facebook, this article exemplifies the effort put forth by them for the betterment of the Internet as a whole and obviously, their security hardening as well. 

A hearty Google +1 to the Facebook security team :D

Ira Winkler: Facebook is giving hacking a good name again

Computerworld - Whenever I see another "cyberchallenge" getting play in the press, I think our priorities are screwed up.

People seem to think that organizing teams of people to hack into systems is a way to bring together the best computer talent to square off against each other. I look at it as a waste of that talent. Maybe the press wouldn't be as interested, but I believe we all would be better served by competitions over who can better secure a nonprofit organization, who can develop a better fundraising database or who can teach underprivileged children math or programming better. Cyberchallenges are about who can destroy things most effectively. Doesn't it make sense to challenge young hackers to create something that can provide true value?

That's why I was excited to read about Facebook's latest Hacker Cup. This contest has become one of the few tests of creative computer talent. To quote the IDG News Service's report on the Hacker Cup: "The contest consists of successive sets of increasingly difficult algorithmic problems. Scoring will be based on how accurately and quickly the programmers complete the puzzles. Last year's contest featured challenges such as determining the optimum number of shield generators and warriors one should acquire for the Facebook game Starcraft II and calculating the best race car driving strategy given a variable number of opponents, race track curves and likelihood of crashing."

In other words, it's all about being creative, not destructive. Unfortunately, we often seem to highlight the people who destroy more than those who create.

For example, the National Security Agency is awarding scholarships based on cyberchallenges. This is muddied thinking. The NSA would get far more benefit if it awarded scholarships based on good, creative programming. By rewarding the forces of destruction, the NSA is sending a message. Is it one we want to send to the nation's young hackers?

Meanwhile, the media effectively lionize groups like Anonymous by breathlessly reporting on their latest hacks. But these hacks are really little more than random attacks that take advantage of vulnerabilities. The better story is admittedly much harder to cover, involving the IT staffs at hundreds of companies who create secure architectures and who, though subjected to hundreds, if not thousands, of attacks a day, repel them successfully.

For example, we don't hear about the talent it took to create our telecommunications infrastructure. We take for granted how seamless our communications have become. At this point, the Star Trek communicator seems outdated. Not only can we talk to people by saying their name, but we can also use our phones to text, download videos, run applications and buy a frappuccino from Starbuck's.

Then there's our financial infrastructure. We can walk around without any money, buy things with our cellphones, conduct commerce around the world with people we've never met and do many other things we never envisioned a decade ago. Now, try to name just one person who helped enable such an increase to the quality of our lives.

In both cases, we are talking about many thousands of creators who have done great things in relative anonymity. That's why I'm pleased with what Facebook is doing with its Hacker Cup. It's rewarding people who show they can use their knowledge creatively. And incidentally, it's restoring the original meaning of "hacker" in the process. It's about time that an organization stopped the nonsense of recognizing people focused on destruction and started to reward people for demonstrating an ability to solve problems in creative ways.

There is an irony in my saying this. (And I don't mean that I have been highly critical of Facebook in the past, though my editor did say it would be unusual to hear me saying something nice about the company. My criticism stands; a company enriched by its customers needs to have decent customer service in place.) I'm talking about the fact that I am mostly known for penetration testing and finding problems quickly. My work is in a way a criticism of the systems I test. But while I do believe that such testing and probing is necessary, I really do feel that the people who create the physical and technical infrastructures that I assess do the greater labor. There is a need for people to do penetration testing, but that need has been exaggerated compared to the need for talented professionals to give the penetration testers something to test.

My experience has shown me that penetration testing can involve a great deal of creativity. And admittedly, some hacks are extremely complicated and advanced. But again, the level of creativity is generally exaggerated when you compare it to the overall advances in computer-related innovation as a whole.

Even at the NSA, which possibly employs more professional hackers than any other organization in the world, hackers are only a small percentage of the total IT staff, with the majority of those staffers responsible for running some of the largest data centers in the world, maintaining one of the most complicated satellite communications systems, designing new cryptographic algorithms, developing new applications, maintaining a network of tens of thousands of computers around the world tied to thousands of mainframes and servers, programming and maintaining supercomputers, and much more. And as in any other organization, the skills of the world-class hackers employed by the NSA would be a moot issue if it weren't for the skills of the people who have developed the infrastructure that allows those hackers to exercise their skills.

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

Former Apple Staffer Posts Rare Photo of Steve Jobs Flipping Off IBM - Softpedia

Former Apple Staffer Posts Rare Photo of Steve Jobs Flipping Off IBM

Steve Jobs giving IBM the finger
Enlarge picture
Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Macintosh development team, is using Google+ to show off a photo of a young Steve Jobs flipping off the IBM logo on a street in Manhattan, NYC.

Hertzfeld writes on his Google+ account, “In memoriam for Steve Jobs as 2011 draws to a close, here's one more rare photo that illustrates his rebellious spirit.”

The photo was taken in December 1983, a few weeks before the festivious Macintosh launch. As the story goes, Jobs and Hertzfeld had embarked on a quick trip to New York City to meet with Newsweek to talk about a cover story on their computers.

According to Hertzfeld, the photo was taken spontaneously as the duo walked around Manhattan with Jean Pigozzi at their side. Pigozzi is described as “a wild French jet setter who was hanging out with us at the time.”

Further weighing in on the photo featuring a rebellious Steve Jobs flipping off the IBM logo, Hertzfeld added: “Somehow I ended up with a copy of it. My editor begged me to include it in my book, but I was too timid to ask for permission, especially since IBM was still making CPUs for Apple at the time.”

On the early rivalry between Macintosh and "IBM-compatible" computers based on Microsoft's DOS, the Apple co-founder is quoted in a book (Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward by Jeffrey S. Young, 1987, p. 235) as saying:

“If, for some reason, we make some big mistake and IBM wins, my personal feeling is that we are going to enter a computer Dark Ages for about twenty years.”

The famous 1984 advertising masterpiece was also in direct correlation with IBM or, the Big Blue, as the company was referred to in those days.

In an interview about the release of the Macintosh (24 January 1984), Jobs said: “We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make ‘me too’ products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream.”

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

The City of Lewisville has gone Google

Google Enterprise Blog
Posted by Jason Kirkland, Technology Projects Manager, City of Lewisville

Editors note: Today our guest blogger is Jason Kirkland, Technology Projects Manager for the City of Lewisville, Texas. Jason is recognized by Google as a Government Transformer for his innovative usage of technology to improve information sharing among city staff.

As part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, the City of Lewisville in Texas offers a small community atmosphere with all of the urban amenities. We are always looking for ways to improve our community and the lives of the people who call Lewisville home.

The City is constantly evaluating its IT infrastructure and services to increase efficiency and effectiveness and reduce costs. One area of focus was email and calendar which were provided to our users via Lotus Notes along with a separate Blackberry server to sync mobile devices. After a thorough analysis of cloud-based solutions from various providers, we decided to migrate to Google Apps for Government. The migration not only reduced costs in software license and server maintenance, it also brought robust functionalities for our staff to collaborate better and be more productive. Employees automatically access the most current version of Google Apps, eliminating the need for software patching and upgrades. There is no more confusion caused by the various versions of software people are using. They are also able to gain mobile access to emails, calendars, and documents from virtually anywhere with Internet access.

Google Apps is also more reliable and customizable than the other cloud solutions we evaluated. It provides API access for our developers to harness and integrate with other internal systems. I created an online GIS Map using Google Spreadsheets, Google Maps, and Google Fusion Tables that allowed us to turn a static paper map into an electronic one that is interactive and easy to use. The City is even using Google Video to store and share footage of our water and sewer systems so that we can easily access and analyze this data. For less money than what we previously paid for system maintenance alone, we get much more than just an email and calendar replacement!

Google Apps implementation partner Cloud Sherpas made our migration a smooth process. During a two-week period, we migrated all of our 644 users from Lotus Notes to Google Apps.

The examples above are few of many, and surely more will come as our city continues to use Google’s products to simplify processes from project management to police dispatch. I am honored that Google recognized me as a Government Transformer. With the right tools, my colleagues and I can collaborate and communicate more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

Sent with Reeder

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart