Tag Archives: email

Tech wishes for 2018

Post Syndicated from Eevee original https://eev.ee/blog/2018/02/18/tech-wishes-for-2018/

Anonymous asks, via money:

What would you like to see happen in tech in 2018?

(answer can be technical, social, political, combination, whatever)

Hmm.

Less of this

I’m not really qualified to speak in depth about either of these things, but let me put my foot in my mouth anyway:

The Blockchain™

Bitcoin was a neat idea. No, really! Decentralization is cool. Overhauling our terrible financial infrastructure is cool. Hash functions are cool.

Unfortunately, it seems to have devolved into mostly a get-rich-quick scheme for nerds, and by nearly any measure it’s turning into a spectacular catastrophe. Its “success” is measured in how much a bitcoin is worth in US dollars, which is pretty close to an admission from its own investors that its only value is in converting back to “real” money — all while that same “success” is making it less useful as a distinct currency.

Blah, blah, everyone already knows this.

What concerns me slightly more is the gold rush hype cycle, which is putting cryptocurrency and “blockchain” in the news and lending it all legitimacy. People have raked in millions of dollars on ICOs of novel coins I’ve never heard mentioned again. (Note: again, that value is measured in dollars.) Most likely, none of the investors will see any return whatsoever on that money. They can’t, really, unless a coin actually takes off as a currency, and that seems at odds with speculative investing since everyone either wants to hoard or ditch their coins. When the coins have no value themselves, the money can only come from other investors, and eventually the hype winds down and you run out of other investors.

I fear this will hurt a lot of people before it’s over, so I’d like for it to be over as soon as possible.


That said, the hype itself has gotten way out of hand too. First it was the obsession with “blockchain” like it’s a revolutionary technology, but hey, Git is a fucking blockchain. The novel part is the way it handles distributed consensus (which in Git is basically left for you to figure out), and that’s uniquely important to currency because you want to be pretty sure that money doesn’t get duplicated or lost when moved around.

But now we have startups trying to use blockchains for website backends and file storage and who knows what else? Why? What advantage does this have? When you say “blockchain”, I hear “single Git repository” — so when you say “email on the blockchain”, I have an aneurysm.

Bitcoin seems to have sparked imagination in large part because it’s decentralized, but I’d argue it’s actually a pretty bad example of a decentralized network, since people keep forking it. The ability to fork is a feature, sure, but the trouble here is that the Bitcoin family has no notion of federation — there is one canonical Bitcoin ledger and it has no notion of communication with any other. That’s what you want for currency, not necessarily other applications. (Bitcoin also incentivizes frivolous forking by giving the creator an initial pile of coins to keep and sell.)

And federation is much more interesting than decentralization! Federation gives us email and the web. Federation means I can set up my own instance with my own rules and still be able to meaningfully communicate with the rest of the network. Federation has some amount of tolerance for changes to the protocol, so such changes are more flexible and rely more heavily on consensus.

Federation is fantastic, and it feels like a massive tragedy that this rekindled interest in decentralization is mostly focused on peer-to-peer networks, which do little to address our current problems with centralized platforms.

And hey, you know what else is federated? Banks.

AI

Again, the tech is cool and all, but the marketing hype is getting way out of hand.

Maybe what I really want from 2018 is less marketing?

For one, I’ve seen a huge uptick in uncritically referring to any software that creates or classifies creative work as “AI”. Can we… can we not. It’s not AI. Yes, yes, nerds, I don’t care about the hair-splitting about the nature of intelligence — you know that when we hear “AI” we think of a human-like self-aware intelligence. But we’re applying it to stuff like a weird dog generator. Or to whatever neural network a website threw into production this week.

And this is dangerously misleading — we already had massive tech companies scapegoating The Algorithm™ for the poor behavior of their software, and now we’re talking about those algorithms as though they were self-aware, untouchable, untameable, unknowable entities of pure chaos whose decisions we are arbitrarily bound to. Ancient, powerful gods who exist just outside human comprehension or law.

It’s weird to see this stuff appear in consumer products so quickly, too. It feels quick, anyway. The latest iPhone can unlock via facial recognition, right? I’m sure a lot of effort was put into ensuring that the same person’s face would always be recognized… but how confident are we that other faces won’t be recognized? I admit I don’t follow all this super closely, so I may be imagining a non-problem, but I do know that humans are remarkably bad at checking for negative cases.

Hell, take the recurring problem of major platforms like Twitter and YouTube classifying anything mentioning “bisexual” as pornographic — because the word is also used as a porn genre, and someone threw a list of porn terms into a filter without thinking too hard about it. That’s just a word list, a fairly simple thing that any human can review; but suddenly we’re confident in opaque networks of inferred details?

I don’t know. “Traditional” classification and generation are much more comforting, since they’re a set of fairly abstract rules that can be examined and followed. Machine learning, as I understand it, is less about rules and much more about pattern-matching; it’s built out of the fingerprints of the stuff it’s trained on. Surely that’s just begging for tons of edge cases. They’re practically made of edge cases.


I’m reminded of a point I saw made a few days ago on Twitter, something I’d never thought about but should have. TurnItIn is a service for universities that checks whether students’ papers match any others, in order to detect cheating. But this is a paid service, one that fundamentally hinges on its corpus: a large collection of existing student papers. So students pay money to attend school, where they’re required to let their work be given to a third-party company, which then profits off of it? What kind of a goofy business model is this?

And my thoughts turn to machine learning, which is fundamentally different from an algorithm you can simply copy from a paper, because it’s all about the training data. And to get good results, you need a lot of training data. Where is that all coming from? How many for-profit companies are setting a neural network loose on the web — on millions of people’s work — and then turning around and selling the result as a product?

This is really a question of how intellectual property works in the internet era, and it continues our proud decades-long tradition of just kinda doing whatever we want without thinking about it too much. Nothing if not consistent.

More of this

A bit tougher, since computers are pretty alright now and everything continues to chug along. Maybe we should just quit while we’re ahead. There’s some real pie-in-the-sky stuff that would be nice, but it certainly won’t happen within a year, and may never happen except in some horrific Algorithmic™ form designed by people that don’t know anything about the problem space and only works 60% of the time but is treated as though it were bulletproof.

Federation

The giants are getting more giant. Maybe too giant? Granted, it could be much worse than Google and Amazon — it could be Apple!

Amazon has its own delivery service and brick-and-mortar stores now, as well as providing the plumbing for vast amounts of the web. They’re not doing anything particularly outrageous, but they kind of loom.

Ad company Google just put ad blocking in its majority-share browser — albeit for the ambiguously-noble goal of only blocking obnoxious ads so that people will be less inclined to install a blanket ad blocker.

Twitter is kind of a nightmare but no one wants to leave. I keep trying to use Mastodon as well, but I always forget about it after a day, whoops.

Facebook sounds like a total nightmare but no one wants to leave that either, because normies don’t use anything else, which is itself direly concerning.

IRC is rapidly bleeding mindshare to Slack and Discord, both of which are far better at the things IRC sadly never tried to do and absolutely terrible at the exact things IRC excels at.

The problem is the same as ever: there’s no incentive to interoperate. There’s no fundamental technical reason why Twitter and Tumblr and MySpace and Facebook can’t intermingle their posts; they just don’t, because why would they bother? It’s extra work that makes it easier for people to not use your ecosystem.

I don’t know what can be done about that, except that hope for a really big player to decide to play nice out of the kindness of their heart. The really big federated success stories — say, the web — mostly won out because they came along first. At this point, how does a federated social network take over? I don’t know.

Social progress

I… don’t really have a solid grasp on what’s happening in tech socially at the moment. I’ve drifted a bit away from the industry part, which is where that all tends to come up. I have the vague sense that things are improving, but that might just be because the Rust community is the one I hear the most about, and it puts a lot of effort into being inclusive and welcoming.

So… more projects should be like Rust? Do whatever Rust is doing? And not so much what Linus is doing.

Open source funding

I haven’t heard this brought up much lately, but it would still be nice to see. The Bay Area runs on open source and is raking in zillions of dollars on its back; pump some of that cash back into the ecosystem, somehow.

I’ve seen a couple open source projects on Patreon, which is fantastic, but feels like a very small solution given how much money is flowing through the commercial tech industry.

Ad blocking

Nice. Fuck ads.

One might wonder where the money to host a website comes from, then? I don’t know. Maybe we should loop this in with the above thing and find a more informal way to pay people for the stuff they make when we find it useful, without the financial and cognitive overhead of A Transaction or Giving Someone My Damn Credit Card Number. You know, something like Bitco— ah, fuck.

Year of the Linux Desktop

I don’t know. What are we working on at the moment? Wayland? Do Wayland, I guess. Oh, and hi-DPI, which I hear sucks. And please fix my sound drivers so PulseAudio stops blaming them when it fucks up.

Security updates for Thursday

Post Syndicated from jake original https://lwn.net/Articles/747344/rss

Security updates have been issued by Debian (jackson-databind, leptonlib, libvorbis, python-crypto, and xen), Fedora (apache-commons-email, ca-certificates, libreoffice, libxml2, mujs, p7zip, python-django, sox, and torbrowser-launcher), openSUSE (libreoffice), SUSE (libreoffice), and Ubuntu (advancecomp, erlang, and freetype).

Backblaze and GDPR

Post Syndicated from Andy Klein original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/gdpr-compliance/

GDPR General Data Protection Regulation

Over the next few months the noise over GDPR will finally reach a crescendo. For the uninitiated, “GDPR” stands for “General Data Protection Regulation” and it goes into effect on May 25th of this year. GDPR is designed to protect how personal information of EU (European Union) citizens is collected, stored, and shared. The regulation should also improve transparency as to how personal information is managed by a business or organization.

Backblaze fully expects to be GDPR compliant when May 25th rolls around and we thought we’d share our experience along the way. We’ll start with this post as an introduction to GDPR. In future posts, we’ll dive into some of the details of the process we went through in meeting the GDPR objectives.

GDPR: A Two Way Street

To ensure we are GDPR compliant, Backblaze has assembled a dedicated internal team, engaged outside counsel in the United Kingdom, and consulted with other tech companies on best practices. While it is a sizable effort on our part, we view this as a waypoint in our ongoing effort to secure and protect our customers’ data and to be transparent in how we work as a company.

In addition to the effort we are putting into complying with the regulation, we think it is important to underscore and promote the idea that data privacy and security is a two-way street. We can spend millions of dollars on protecting the security of our systems, but we can’t stop a bad actor from finding and using your account credentials left on a note stuck to your monitor. We can give our customers tools like two factor authentication and private encryption keys, but it is the partnership with our customers that is the most powerful protection. The same thing goes for your digital privacy — we’ll do our best to protect your information, but we will need your help to do so.

Why GDPR is Important

At the center of GDPR is the protection of Personally Identifiable Information or “PII.” The definition for PII is information that can be used stand-alone or in concert with other information to identify a specific person. This includes obvious data like: name, address, and phone number, less obvious data like email address and IP address, and other data such as a credit card number, and unique identifiers that can be decoded back to the person.

How Will GDPR Affect You as an Individual

If you are a citizen in the EU, GDPR is designed to protect your private information from being used or shared without your permission. Technically, this only applies when your data is collected, processed, stored or shared outside of the EU, but it’s a good practice to hold all of your service providers to the same standard. For example, when you are deciding to sign up with a service, you should be able to quickly access and understand what personal information is being collected, why it is being collected, and what the business can do with that information. These terms are typically found in “Terms and Conditions” and “Privacy Policy” documents, or perhaps in a written contract you signed before starting to use a given service or product.

Even if you are not a citizen of the EU, GDPR will still affect you. Why? Because nearly every company you deal with, especially online, will have customers that live in the EU. It makes little sense for Backblaze, or any other service provider or vendor, to create a separate set of rules for just EU citizens. In practice, protection of private information should be more accountable and transparent with GDPR.

How Will GDPR Affect You as a Backblaze Customer

Over the coming months Backblaze customers will see changes to our current “Terms and Conditions,” “Privacy Policy,” and to our Backblaze services. While the changes to the Backblaze services are expected to be minimal, the “terms and privacy” documents will change significantly. The changes will include among other things the addition of a group of model clauses and related materials. These clauses will be generally consistent across all GDPR compliant vendors and are meant to be easily understood so that a customer can easily determine how their PII is being collected and used.

Common GDPR Questions:

Here are a few of the more common questions we have heard regarding GDPR.

  1. GDPR will only affect citizens in the EU.
    Answer: The changes that are being made by companies such as Backblaze to comply with GDPR will almost certainly apply to customers from all countries. And that’s a good thing. The protections afforded to EU citizens by GDPR are something all users of our service should benefit from.
  2. After May 25, 2018, a citizen of the EU will not be allowed to use any applications or services that store data outside of the EU.
    Answer: False, no one will stop you as an EU citizen from using the internet-based service you choose. But, you should make sure you know where your data is being collected, processed, and stored. If any of those activities occur outside the EU, make sure the company is following the GDPR guidelines.
  3. My business only has a few EU citizens as customers, so I don’t need to care about GDPR?
    Answer: False, even if you have just one EU citizen as a customer, and you capture, process or store data their PII outside of the EU, you need to comply with GDPR.
  4. Companies can be fined millions of dollars for not complying with GDPR.
    Answer:
    True, but: the regulation allows for companies to be fined up to $4 Million dollars or 20% of global revenue (whichever is greater) if they don’t comply with GDPR. In practice, the feeling is that such fines will be reserved (at least initially) for egregious violators that ignore or merely give “lip-service” to GDPR.
  5. You’ll be able to tell a company is GDPR compliant because they have a “GDPR Certified” badge on their website.
    Answer: There is no official GDPR certification or an official GDPR certification program. Companies that comply with GDPR are expected to follow the articles in the regulation and it should be clear from the outside looking in that they have followed the regulations. For example, their “Terms and Conditions,” and “Privacy Policy” should clearly spell out how and why they collect, use, and share your information. At some point a real GDPR certification program may be adopted, but not yet.

For all the hoopla about GDPR, the regulation is reasonably well thought out and addresses a very important issue — people’s privacy online. Creating a best practices document, or in this case a regulation, that companies such as Backblaze can follow is a good idea. The document isn’t perfect, and over the coming years we expect there to be changes. One thing we hope for is that the countries within the EU continue to stand behind one regulation and not fragment the document into multiple versions, each applying to themselves. We believe that having multiple different GDPR versions for different EU countries would lead to less protection overall of EU citizens.

In summary, GDPR changes are coming over the next few months. Backblaze has our internal staff and our EU-based legal council working diligently to ensure that we will be GDPR compliant by May 25th. We believe that GDPR will have a positive effect in enhancing the protection of personally identifiable information for not only EU citizens, but all of our Backblaze customers.

The post Backblaze and GDPR appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Early Challenges: Making Critical Hires

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/early-challenges-making-critical-hires/

row of potential employee hires sitting waiting for an interview

In 2009, Google disclosed that they had 400 recruiters on staff working to hire nearly 10,000 people. Someday, that might be your challenge, but most companies in their early days are looking to hire a handful of people — the right people — each year. Assuming you are closer to startup stage than Google stage, let’s look at who you need to hire, when to hire them, where to find them (and how to help them find you), and how to get them to join your company.

Who Should Be Your First Hires

In later stage companies, the roles in the company have been well fleshed out, don’t change often, and each role can be segmented to focus on a specific area. A large company may have an entire department focused on just cubicle layout; at a smaller company you may not have a single person whose actual job encompasses all of facilities. At Backblaze, our CTO has a passion and knack for facilities and mostly led that charge. Also, the needs of a smaller company are quick to change. One of our first hires was a QA person, Sean, who ended up being 100% focused on data center infrastructure. In the early stage, things can shift quite a bit and you need people that are broadly capable, flexible, and most of all willing to pitch in where needed.

That said, there are times you may need an expert. At a previous company we hired Jon, a PhD in Bayesian statistics, because we needed algorithmic analysis for spam fighting. However, even that person was not only able and willing to do the math, but also code, and to not only focus on Bayesian statistics but explore a plethora of spam fighting options.

When To Hire

If you’ve raised a lot of cash and are willing to burn it with mistakes, you can guess at all the roles you might need and start hiring for them. No judgement: that’s a reasonable strategy if you’re cash-rich and time-poor.

If your cash is limited, try to see what you and your team are already doing and then hire people to take those jobs. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you’re already doing it presumably it needs to be done, you have a good sense of the type of skills required to do it, and you can bring someone on-board and get them up to speed quickly. That then frees you up to focus on tasks that can’t be done by someone else. At Backblaze, I ran marketing internally for years before hiring a VP of Marketing, making it easier for me to know what we needed. Once I was hiring, my primary goal was to find someone I could trust to take that role completely off of me so I could focus solely on my CEO duties

Where To Find the Right People

Finding great people is always difficult, particularly when the skillsets you’re looking for are highly in-demand by larger companies with lots of cash and cachet. You, however, have one massive advantage: you need to hire 5 people, not 5,000.

People You Worked With

The absolutely best people to hire are ones you’ve worked with before that you already know are good in a work situation. Consider your last job, the one before, and the one before that. A significant number of the people we recruited at Backblaze came from our previous startup MailFrontier. We knew what they could do and how they would fit into the culture, and they knew us and thus could quickly meld into the environment. If you didn’t have a previous job, consider people you went to school with or perhaps individuals with whom you’ve done projects previously.

People You Know

Hiring friends, family, and others can be risky, but should be considered. Sometimes a friend can be a “great buddy,” but is not able to do the job or isn’t a good fit for the organization. Having to let go of someone who is a friend or family member can be rough. Have the conversation up front with them about that possibility, so you have the ability to stay friends if the position doesn’t work out. Having said that, if you get along with someone as a friend, that’s one critical component of succeeding together at work. At Backblaze we’ve hired a number of people successfully that were friends of someone in the organization.

Friends Of People You Know

Your network is likely larger than you imagine. Your employees, investors, advisors, spouses, friends, and other folks all know people who might be a great fit for you. Make sure they know the roles you’re hiring for and ask them if they know anyone that would fit. Search LinkedIn for the titles you’re looking for and see who comes up; if they’re a 2nd degree connection, ask your connection for an introduction.

People You Know About

Sometimes the person you want isn’t someone anyone knows, but you may have read something they wrote, used a product they’ve built, or seen a video of a presentation they gave. Reach out. You may get a great hire: worst case, you’ll let them know they were appreciated, and make them aware of your organization.

Other Places to Find People

There are a million other places to find people, including job sites, community groups, Facebook/Twitter, GitHub, and more. Consider where the people you’re looking for are likely to congregate online and in person.

A Comment on Diversity

Hiring “People You Know” can often result in “Hiring People Like You” with the same workplace experiences, culture, background, and perceptions. Some studies have shown [1, 2, 3, 4] that homogeneous groups deliver faster, while heterogeneous groups are more creative. Also, “Hiring People Like You” often propagates the lack of women and minorities in tech and leadership positions in general. When looking for people you know, keep an eye to not discount people you know who don’t have the same cultural background as you.

Helping People To Find You

Reaching out proactively to people is the most direct way to find someone, but you want potential hires coming to you as well. To do this, they have to a) be aware of you, b) know you have a role they’re interested in, and c) think they would want to work there. Let’s tackle a) and b) first below.

Your Blog

I started writing our blog before we launched the product and talked about anything I found interesting related to our space. For several years now our team has owned the content on the blog and in 2017 over 1.5 million people read it. Each time we have a position open it’s published to the blog. If someone finds reading about backup and storage interesting, perhaps they’d want to dig in deeper from the inside. Many of the people we’ve recruited have mentioned reading the blog as either how they found us or as a factor in why they wanted to work here.
[BTW, this is Gleb’s 200th post on Backblaze’s blog. The first was in 2008. — Editor]

Your Email List

In addition to the emails our blog subscribers receive, we send regular emails to our customers, partners, and prospects. These are largely focused on content we think is directly useful or interesting for them. However, once every few months we include a small mention that we’re hiring, and the positions we’re looking for. Often a small blurb is all you need to capture people’s imaginations whether they might find the jobs interesting or can think of someone that might fit the bill.

Your Social Involvement

Whether it’s Twitter or Facebook, Hacker News or Slashdot, your potential hires are engaging in various communities. Being socially involved helps make people aware of you, reminds them of you when they’re considering a job, and paints a picture of what working with you and your company would be like. Adam was in a Reddit thread where we were discussing our Storage Pods, and that interaction was ultimately part of the reason he left Apple to come to Backblaze.

Convincing People To Join

Once you’ve found someone or they’ve found you, how do you convince them to join? They may be currently employed, have other offers, or have to relocate. Again, while the biggest companies have a number of advantages, you might have more unique advantages than you realize.

Why Should They Join You

Here are a set of items that you may be able to offer which larger organizations might not:

Role: Consider the strengths of the role. Perhaps it will have broader scope? More visibility at the executive level? No micromanagement? Ability to take risks? Option to create their own role?

Compensation: In addition to salary, will their options potentially be worth more since they’re getting in early? Can they trade-off salary for more options? Do they get option refreshes?

Benefits: In addition to healthcare, food, and 401(k) plans, are there unique benefits of your company? One company I knew took the entire team for a one-month working retreat abroad each year.

Location: Most people prefer to work close to home. If you’re located outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you might be at a disadvantage for not being in the heart of tech. But if you find employees close to you you’ve got a huge advantage. Sometimes it’s micro; even in the Bay Area the difference of 5 miles can save 20 minutes each way every day. We located the Backblaze headquarters in San Mateo, a middle-ground that made it accessible to those coming from San Jose and San Francisco. We also chose a downtown location near a train, restaurants, and cafes: all to make it easier and more pleasant. Also, are you flexible in letting your employees work remotely? Our systems administrator Elliott is about to embark on a long-term cross-country journey working from an RV.

Environment: Open office, cubicle, cafe, work-from-home? Loud/quiet? Social or focused? 24×7 or work-life balance? Different environments appeal to different people.

Team: Who will they be working with? A company with 100,000 people might have 100 brilliant ones you’d want to work with, but ultimately we work with our core team. Who will your prospective hires be working with?

Market: Some people are passionate about gaming, others biotech, still others food. The market you’re targeting will get different people excited.

Product: Have an amazing product people love? Highlight that. If you’re lucky, your potential hire is already a fan.

Mission: Curing cancer, making people happy, and other company missions inspire people to strive to be part of the journey. Our mission is to make storing data astonishingly easy and low-cost. If you care about data, information, knowledge, and progress, our mission helps drive all of them.

Culture: I left this for last, but believe it’s the most important. What is the culture of your company? Finding people who want to work in the culture of your organization is critical. If they like the culture, they’ll fit and continue it. We’ve worked hard to build a culture that’s collaborative, friendly, supportive, and open; one in which people like coming to work. For example, the five founders started with (and still have) the same compensation and equity. That started a culture of “we’re all in this together.” Build a culture that will attract the people you want, and convey what the culture is.

Writing The Job Description

Most job descriptions focus on the all the requirements the candidate must meet. While important to communicate, the job description should first sell the job. Why would the appropriate candidate want the job? Then share some of the requirements you think are critical. Remember that people read not just what you say but how you say it. Try to write in a way that conveys what it is like to actually be at the company. Ahin, our VP of Marketing, said the job description itself was one of the things that attracted him to the company.

Orchestrating Interviews

Much can be said about interviewing well. I’m just going to say this: make sure that everyone who is interviewing knows that their job is not only to evaluate the candidate, but give them a sense of the culture, and sell them on the company. At Backblaze, we often have one person interview core prospects solely for company/culture fit.

Onboarding

Hiring success shouldn’t be defined by finding and hiring the right person, but instead by the right person being successful and happy within the organization. Ensure someone (usually their manager) provides them guidance on what they should be concentrating on doing during their first day, first week, and thereafter. Giving new employees opportunities and guidance so that they can achieve early wins and feel socially integrated into the company does wonders for bringing people on board smoothly

In Closing

Our Director of Production Systems, Chris, said to me the other day that he looks for companies where he can work on “interesting problems with nice people.” I’m hoping you’ll find your own version of that and find this post useful in looking for your early and critical hires.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, if you know of anyone looking for a place with “interesting problems with nice people,” Backblaze is hiring. 😉

The post Early Challenges: Making Critical Hires appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Troubleshooting event publishing issues in Amazon SES

Post Syndicated from Dustin Taylor original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/ses/troubleshooting-event-publishing-issues-in-amazon-ses/

Over the past year, we’ve released several features that make it easier to track the metrics that are associated with your Amazon SES account. The first of these features, launched in November of last year, was event publishing.

Initially, event publishing let you capture basic metrics related to your email sending and publish them to other AWS services, such as Amazon CloudWatch and Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose. Some examples of these basic metrics include the number of emails that were sent and delivered, as well as the number that bounced or received complaints. A few months ago, we expanded this feature by adding engagement metrics—specifically, information about the number of emails that your customers opened or engaged with by clicking links.

As a former Cloud Support Engineer, I’ve seen Amazon SES customers do some amazing things with event publishing, but I’ve also seen some common issues. In this article, we look at some of these issues, and discuss the steps you can take to resolve them.

Before we begin

This post assumes that your Amazon SES account is already out of the sandbox, that you’ve verified an identity (such as an email address or domain), and that you have the necessary permissions to use Amazon SES and the service that you’ll publish event data to (such as Amazon SNS, CloudWatch, or Kinesis Data Firehose).

We also assume that you’re familiar with the process of creating configuration sets and specifying event destinations for those configuration sets. For more information, see Using Amazon SES Configuration Sets in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

Amazon SNS event destinations

If you want to receive notifications when events occur—such as when recipients click a link in an email, or when they report an email as spam—you can use Amazon SNS as an event destination.

Occasionally, customers ask us why they’re not receiving notifications when they use an Amazon SNS topic as an event destination. One of the most common reasons for this issue is that they haven’t configured subscriptions for their Amazon SNS topic yet.

A single topic in Amazon SNS can have one or more subscriptions. When you subscribe to a topic, you tell that topic which endpoints (such as email addresses or mobile phone numbers) to contact when it receives a notification. If you haven’t set up any subscriptions, nothing will happen when an email event occurs.

For more information about setting up topics and subscriptions, see Getting Started in the Amazon SNS Developer Guide. For information about publishing Amazon SES events to Amazon SNS topics, see Set Up an Amazon SNS Event Destination for Amazon SES Event Publishing in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

Kinesis Data Firehose event destinations

If you want to store your Amazon SES event data for the long term, choose Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose as a destination for Amazon SES events. With Kinesis Data Firehose, you can stream data to Amazon S3 or Amazon Redshift for storage and analysis.

The process of setting up Kinesis Data Firehose as an event destination is similar to the process for setting up Amazon SNS: you choose the types of events (such as deliveries, opens, clicks, or bounces) that you want to export, and the name of the Kinesis Data Firehose stream that you want to export to. However, there’s one important difference. When you set up a Kinesis Data Firehose event destination, you must also choose the IAM role that Amazon SES uses to send event data to Kinesis Data Firehose.

When you set up the Kinesis Data Firehose event destination, you can choose to have Amazon SES create the IAM role for you automatically. For many users, this is the best solution—it ensures that the IAM role has the appropriate permissions to move event data from Amazon SES to Kinesis Data Firehose.

Customers occasionally run into issues with the Kinesis Data Firehose event destination when they use an existing IAM role. If you use an existing IAM role, or create a new role for this purpose, make sure that the role includes the firehose:PutRecord and firehose:PutRecordBatch permissions. If the role doesn’t include these permissions, then the Amazon SES event data isn’t published to Kinesis Data Firehose. For more information, see Controlling Access with Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose in the Amazon Kinesis Data Firehose Developer Guide.

CloudWatch event destinations

By publishing your Amazon SES event data to Amazon CloudWatch, you can create dashboards that track your sending statistics in real time, as well as alarms that notify you when your event metrics reach certain thresholds.

The amount that you’re charged for using CloudWatch is based on several factors, including the number of metrics you use. In order to give you more control over the specific metrics you send to CloudWatch—and to help you avoid unexpected charges—you can limit the email sending events that are sent to CloudWatch.

When you choose CloudWatch as an event destination, you must choose a value source. The value source can be one of three options: a message tag, a link tag, or an email header. After you choose a value source, you then specify a name and a value. When you send an email using a configuration set that refers to a CloudWatch event destination, it only sends the metrics for that email to CloudWatch if the email contains the name and value that you specified as the value source. This requirement is commonly overlooked.

For example, assume that you chose Message Tag as the value source, and specified “CategoryId” as the dimension name and “31415” as the dimension value. When you want to send events for an email to CloudWatch, you must specify the name of the configuration set that uses the CloudWatch destination. You must also include a tag in your message. The name of the tag must be “CategoryId” and the value must be “31415”.

For more information about adding tags and email headers to your messages, see Send Email Using Amazon SES Event Publishing in the Amazon SES Developer Guide. For more information about adding tags to links, see Amazon SES Email Sending Metrics FAQs in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

Troubleshooting event publishing for open and click data

Occasionally, customers ask why they’re not seeing open and click data for their emails. This issue most often occurs when the customer only sends text versions of their emails. Because of the way Amazon SES tracks open and click events, you can only see open and click data for emails that are sent as HTML. For more information about how Amazon SES modifies your emails when you enable open and click tracking, see Amazon SES Email Sending Metrics FAQs in the Amazon SES Developer Guide.

The process that you use to send HTML emails varies based on the email sending method you use. The Code Examples section of the Amazon SES Developer Guide contains examples of several methods of sending email by using the Amazon SES SMTP interface or an AWS SDK. All of the examples in this section include methods for sending HTML (as well as text-only) emails.

If you encounter any issues that weren’t covered in this post, please open a case in the Support Center and we’d be more than happy to assist.

Integration With Zapier

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/integration-with-zapier/

Integration is boring. And also inevitable. But I won’t be writing about enterprise integration patterns. Instead, I’ll explain how to create an app for integration with Zapier.

What is Zapier? It is a service that allows you tо connect two (or more) otherwise unconnected services via their APIs (or protocols). You can do stuff like “Create a Trello task from an Evernote note”, “publish new RSS items to Facebook”, “append new emails to a spreadsheet”, “post approaching calendar meeting to Slack”, “Save big email attachments to Dropbox”, “tweet all instagrams above a certain likes threshold”, and so on. In fact, it looks to cover mostly the same usecases as another famous service that I really like – IFTTT (if this then that), with my favourite use-case “Get a notification when the international space station passes over your house”. And all of those interactions can be configured via a UI.

Now that’s good for end users but what does it have to do with software development and integration? Zapier (unlike IFTTT, unfortunately), allows custom 3rd party services to be included. So if you have a service of your own, you can create an “app” and allow users to integrate your service with all the other 3rd party services. IFTTT offers a way to invoke web endpoints (including RESTful services), but it doesn’t allow setting headers, so that makes it quite limited for actual APIs.

In this post I’ll briefly explain how to write a custom Zapier app and then will discuss where services like Zapier stand from an architecture perspective.

The thing that I needed it for – to be able to integrate LogSentinel with any of the third parties available through Zapier, i.e. to store audit logs for events that happen in all those 3rd party systems. So how do I do that? There’s a tutorial that makes it look simple. And it is, with a few catches.

First, there are two tutorials – one in GitHub and one on Zapier’s website. And they differ slightly, which becomes tricky in some cases.

I initially followed the GitHub tutorial and had my build fail. It claimed the zapier platform dependency is missing. After I compared it with the example apps, I found out there’s a caret in front of the zapier platform dependency. Removing it just yielded another error – that my node version should be exactly 6.10.2. Why?

The Zapier CLI requires you have exactly version 6.10.2 installed. You’ll see errors and will be unable to proceed otherwise.

It appears that they are using AWS Lambda which is stuck on Node 6.10.2 (actually – it’s 6.10.3 when you check). The current major release is 8, so minus points for choosing … javascript for a command-line tool and for building sandboxed apps. Maybe other decisions had their downsides as well, I won’t be speculating. Maybe it’s just my dislike for dynamic languages.

So, after you make sure you have the correct old version on node, you call zapier init and make sure there are no carets, npm install and then zapier test. So far so good, you have a dummy app. Now how do you make a RESTful call to your service?

Zapier splits the programmable entities in two – “triggers” and “creates”. A trigger is the event that triggers the whole app, an a “create” is what happens as a result. In my case, my app doesn’t publish any triggers, it only accepts input, so I won’t be mentioning triggers (though they seem easy). You configure all of the elements in index.js (e.g. this one):

const log = require('./creates/log');
....
creates: {
    [log.key]: log,
}

The log.js file itself is the interesting bit – there you specify all the parameters that should be passed to your API call, as well as making the API call itself:

const log = (z, bundle) => {
  const responsePromise = z.request({
    method: 'POST',
    url: `https://api.logsentinel.com/api/log/${bundle.inputData.actorId}/${bundle.inputData.action}`,
    body: bundle.inputData.details,
	headers: {
		'Accept': 'application/json'
	}
  });
  return responsePromise
    .then(response => JSON.parse(response.content));
};

module.exports = {
  key: 'log-entry',
  noun: 'Log entry',

  display: {
    label: 'Log',
    description: 'Log an audit trail entry'
  },

  operation: {
    inputFields: [
      {key: 'actorId', label:'ActorID', required: true},
      {key: 'action', label:'Action', required: true},
      {key: 'details', label:'Details', required: false}
    ],
    perform: log
  }
};

You can pass the input parameters to your API call, and it’s as simple as that. The user can then specify which parameters from the source (“trigger”) should be mapped to each of your parameters. In an example zap, I used an email trigger and passed the sender as actorId, the sibject as “action” and the body of the email as details.

There’s one more thing – authentication. Authentication can be done in many ways. Some services offer OAuth, others – HTTP Basic or other custom forms of authentication. There is a section in the documentation about all the options. In my case it was (almost) an HTTP Basic auth. My initial thought was to just supply the credentials as parameters (which you just hardcode rather than map to trigger parameters). That may work, but it’s not the canonical way. You should configure “authentication”, as it triggers a friendly UI for the user.

You include authentication.js (which has the fields your authentication requires) and then pre-process requests by adding a header (in index.js):

const authentication = require('./authentication');

const includeAuthHeaders = (request, z, bundle) => {
  if (bundle.authData.organizationId) {
	request.headers = request.headers || {};
	request.headers['Application-Id'] = bundle.authData.applicationId
	const basicHash = Buffer(`${bundle.authData.organizationId}:${bundle.authData.apiSecret}`).toString('base64');
	request.headers['Authorization'] = `Basic ${basicHash}`;
  }
  return request;
};

const App = {
  // This is just shorthand to reference the installed dependencies you have. Zapier will
  // need to know these before we can upload
  version: require('./package.json').version,
  platformVersion: require('zapier-platform-core').version,
  authentication: authentication,
  
  // beforeRequest & afterResponse are optional hooks into the provided HTTP client
  beforeRequest: [
	includeAuthHeaders
  ]
...
}

And then you zapier push your app and you can test it. It doesn’t automatically go live, as you have to invite people to try it and use it first, but in many cases that’s sufficient (i.e. using Zapier when doing integration with a particular client)

Can Zapier can be used for any integration problem? Unlikely – it’s pretty limited and simple, but that’s also a strength. You can, in half a day, make your service integrate with thousands of others for the most typical use-cases. And not that although it’s meant for integrating public services rather than for enterprise integration (where you make multiple internal systems talk to each other), as an increasing number of systems rely on 3rd party services, it could find home in an enterprise system, replacing some functions of an ESB.

Effectively, such services (Zapier, IFTTT) are “Simple ESB-as-a-service”. You go to a UI, fill a bunch of fields, and you get systems talking to each other without touching the systems themselves. I’m not a big fan of ESBs, mostly because they become harder to support with time. But minimalist, external ones might be applicable in certain situations. And while such services are primarily aimed at end users, they could be a useful bit in an enterprise architecture that relies on 3rd party services.

Whether it could process the required load, whether an organization is willing to let its data flow through a 3rd party provider (which may store the intermediate parameters), is a question that should be answered in a case by cases basis. I wouldn’t recommend it as a general solution, but it’s certainly an option to consider.

The post Integration With Zapier appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Comcast Explains How It Deals With Persistent Pirates

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/comcast-explains-how-it-deals-with-persistent-pirates-180210/

Dating back to the turn of the last century, copyright holders have alerted Internet providers about alleged copyright infringers on their network.

While many ISPs forwarded these notices to their subscribers, most were not very forthcoming about what would happen after multiple accusations.

This vagueness was in part shaped by law. While it’s clear that the DMCA requires Internet providers to implement a meaningful “repeat infringer” policy, the DMCA doesn’t set any clear boundaries on what constitutes a repeat infringer and when one should be punished.

With the recent Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against Cox, it is now clear that “infringers” doesn’t imply people who are adjudicated, valid accusations from copyright holders are enough. However, an ISP still has some flexibility when it comes to the rest of its “repeat infringer” policy.

In this light, it’s interesting to see that Comcast recently published details of its repeat infringer policy online. While the ISP has previously confirmed that persistent pirates could be terminated, it has never publicly spelled out its policy in such detail.

First up, Comcast clarifies that subscribers to its Xfinity service can be flagged based on reports from rightsholders alone, which is in line with the Fourth Circuit ruling.

“Any infringement of third party copyright rights violates the law. We reserve the right to treat any customer account for whom we receive multiple DMCA notifications from content owners as a repeat infringer,” the company notes.

If Comcast receives multiple notices in a calendar month, the associated subscriber moves from one policy step to the next one. This means that the ISP will issue warnings with increased visibility.

These alerts can come in the form of emails, letters to a home address, text messages, phone calls, and also alerts sent to the subscriber’s web browser. The alerts then have to be acknowledged by the user, so it clear that he or she understands what’s at stake.

From Comcast’s repeat infringer policy

Comcast doesn’t state specifically how many alerts will trigger tougher action, but it stresses that repeat infringers risk having their accounts suspended. As a result, all devices that rely on Internet access will be interrupted or stop working.

“If your XFINITY Internet account is suspended, you will have no Internet access or service during suspension. This means any services and devices that use the Internet will not properly work or will not work at all,” Comcast states.

The suspension is applied as a last warning before the lights go out completely. Subscribers who reach this stage can still reinstate their Internet connectivity by calling Comcast. It’s unclear whether they have to take any additional action, but it could be that these subscribers have to ‘promise’ to behave.

After this last warning, the subscriber risks the most severe penalty, account termination. This is not limited to regular access to the web, but also affects XFINITY TV, XFINITY Voice, and XFINITY Home, including smart thermostats and home security equipment.

“If you reach the point of service termination, we will terminate your XFINITY Internet service and related add-ons. Unreturned equipment charges will still apply. If you also have XFINITY TV and/or XFINITY Voice services, they will also be terminated,” Comcast warns.

Comcast doesn’t specify how long the Internet termination lasts but the company states that it’s typically no less than 180 days. This means that terminated subscribers will need to find an Internet subscription elsewhere if one’s available.

The good news is that other XFINITY services can be restored after termination, without Internet access. Subscribers will have to contact Comcast to request a quote for an Internet-less package.

While this policy may sound harsh to some, Comcast has few other options if it wants to avoid liability. The good news is that the company requires users to acknowledge the warnings, which means that any measures shouldn’t come as a surprise.

There is no mention of any option to contest any copyright holder notices, which may become an issue in the future. After all, when copyright holders have the power to have people’s Internet connections terminated, their accusations have to be spot on.



Comcast’s repeat infringer policy is available here and was, according to the information we have available, quietly published around December last year.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Cloudflare Hit With Piracy Lawsuit After Abuse Form ‘Fails’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/cloudflare-hit-with-piracy-lawsuit-after-abuse-form-fails-180210/

Seattle-based artist Christopher Boffoli is no stranger when it comes to suing tech companies for aiding copyright infringement of his work.

Boffoli has filed lawsuits against Imgur, Twitter, Pinterest, Google, and others, which were dismissed and/or settled out of court under undisclosed terms.

This month he filed a new case against another intermediary, Cloudflare, which has had its fair share of piracy allegations in recent years.

In common with other companies, Cloudflare is accused of contributing to copyright infringements of Boffoli’s “Big Appetites” miniatures series. In this case, several Cloudflare customers allegedly posted these photos on their sites which were then reproduced on the servers of the CDN provider.

The lawsuit mentions that the infringing copies were posted on unique-landscape.com and baklol.com. This was also pointed out to Cloudflare by Boffoli, who sent the company DMCA takedown notices in October and November of last year.

While the photographer received an automated response, the photos in question remained online. Through the lawsuit, Boffoli hopes this will change.

“CloudFlare induced, caused, or materially contributed to the Infringing Websites’ publication,” the complaint reads. “CloudFlare had actual knowledge of the Infringing Content. Boffoli provided notice to CloudFlare in compliance with the DMCA, and CloudFlare failed to disable access to or remove the Infringing Websites.”

The photographer is asking the court to order an injunction preventing Cloudflare from making his work available. In addition, the complaint asks for actual and statutory damages for willful copyright infringement. With at least four photos in the lawsuit, the potential damages are more than half a million dollars.

While it’s not mentioned in the complaint, the email communication between Boffoli and Cloudflare goes further than just an automated response. Court records show that the photographer initially didn’t ask Cloudflare to remove the infringing photos. Instead, he asked the CDN provider to forward them to the ISP or site owner.

“I would be grateful if you would forward this DMCA takedown request to the website owner and ISP so these infringing links can immediately be removed,” it read.

Part of the email communication

From then on things escalated a bit. The emails reveal that Boffoli had trouble reporting the infringing photos through the required form.

When the photographer pointed this out in a direct email, Cloudflare urged him to try the form again as that was the only way to send the DMCA request to the designated copyright agent.

“The DMCA doesn’t require us to process reports not sent to our registered agent as per our registration with the US Copyright Office. Our registered copyright agent is the form located at cloudflare.com/abuse/form and you may proceed via that avenue,” Cloudflare wrote.

If the case moves forward, Cloudflare may use this to argue that it never received a proper DMCA takedown notice. However, Boffoli wasn’t planning on trying again and instead threatened a lawsuit, unless Cloudflare took immediate action.

“As I have said, your form did not work for me despite repeated attempts to use it. And it is insulting for you to suggest that it’s working fine when it is not. So again, this is absolutely my last attempt to get you to respond to this infringement for which you are impeding the removal,” Boffoli wrote.

“If you take no action now I will forward this to my legal team this week. It is more than enough of a burden to have to waste countless hours policing my own copyrights without organizations like Cloudflare running interference for copyright infringers. I am not averse to asking a federal judge to compel you to deal with these copyright infringements. And I will seek statutory damages for contributory infringement at that time.”

As it turns out, that was not an idle threat.

—-

A copy of the complaint is available here (pdf) and the email exhibits can be found here (pdf).

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

All-In on Unlimited Backup

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/all-in-on-unlimited-backup/

chips on computer with cloud backup

The cloud backup industry has seen its share of tumultuousness. BitCasa, Dell DataSafe, Xdrive, and a dozen others have closed up shop. Mozy, Amazon, and Microsoft offered, but later canceled, their unlimited offerings. Recently, CrashPlan for Home customers were notified that their service was being end-of-lifed. Then today we’ve heard from Carbonite customers who are frustrated by this morning’s announcement of a price increase from Carbonite.

We believe that the fundamental goal of a cloud backup is having peace-of-mind: knowing your data — all of it — is safe. For over 10 years Backblaze has been providing that peace-of-mind by offering completely unlimited cloud backup to our customers. And we continue to be committed to that. Knowing that your cloud backup vendor is not going to disappear or fundamentally change their service is an essential element in achieving that peace-of-mind.

Committed to Unlimited Backup

When Mozy discontinued their unlimited backup on Jan 31, 2011, a lot of people asked, “Does this mean Backblaze will discontinue theirs as well?” At that time I wrote the blog post Backblaze is committed to unlimited backup. That was seven years ago. Since then we’ve continued to make Backblaze cloud backup better: dramatically speeding up backups and restores, offering the unique and very popular Restore Return Refund program, enabling direct access and sharing of any file in your backup, and more. We also introduced Backblaze Groups to enable businesses and families to manage backups — all at no additional cost.

How That’s Possible

I’d like to answer the question of “How have you been able to do this when others haven’t?

First, commitment. It’s not impossible to offer unlimited cloud backup, but it’s not easy. The Backblaze team has been committed to unlimited as a core tenet.

Second, we have pursued the technical, business, and cultural steps required to make it happen. We’ve designed our own servers, written our cloud storage software, run our own operations, and been continually focused on every place we could optimize a penny out of the cost of storage. We’ve built a culture at Backblaze that cares deeply about that.

Ensuring Peace-of-Mind

Price increases and plan changes happen in our industry, but Backblaze has consistently been the low price leader, and continues to stand by the foundational element of our service — truly unlimited backup storage. Carbonite just announced a price increase from $60 to $72/year, and while that’s not an astronomical increase, it’s important to keep in mind the service that they are providing at that rate. The basic Carbonite plan provides a service that doesn’t back up videos or external hard drives by default. We think that’s dangerous. No one wants to discover that their videos weren’t backed up after their computer dies, or have to worry about the safety and durability of their data. That is why we have continued to build on our foundation of unlimited, as well as making our service faster and more accessible. All of these serve the goal of ensuring peace-of-mind for our customers.

3 Months Free For You & A Friend

As part of our commitment to unlimited, refer your friends to receive three months of Backblaze service through March 15, 2018. When you Refer-a-Friend with your personal referral link, and they subscribe, both of you will receive three months of service added to your account. See promotion details on our Refer-a-Friend page.

Want A Reminder When Your Carbonite Subscription Runs Out?

If you’re considering switching from Carbonite, we’d love to be your new backup provider. Enter your email and the date you’d like to be reminded in the form below and you’ll get a friendly reminder email from us to start a new backup plan with Backblaze. Or, you could start a free trial today.

We think you’ll be glad you switched, and you’ll have a chance to experience some of that Backblaze peace-of-mind for your data.

Please Send Me a Reminder When I Need a New Backup Provider



 

The post All-In on Unlimited Backup appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Security updates for Tuesday

Post Syndicated from ris original https://lwn.net/Articles/746701/rss

Security updates have been issued by Debian (xen), Fedora (clamav, community-mysql, dnsmasq, flatpak, libtasn1, mupdf, p7zip, rsync, squid, thunderbird, tomcat, unbound, and zziplib), Mageia (clamav, curl, dovecot, ffmpeg, gcab, kernel, libtiff, libvpx, php-smarty, pure-ftpd, redis, and thunderbird), openSUSE (apache-commons-email), Red Hat (rh-mariadb100-mariadb), SUSE (firefox), and Ubuntu (clamav, squid3, and systemd).

Anti-Piracy Video Scares Kids With ‘Fake’ Malware Info

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-video-scares-kids-with-fake-malware-info-180206/

Today is Safer Internet Day, a global awareness campaign to educate the public on all sorts of threats that people face online.

It is a laudable initiative supported by the Industry Trust for IP Awareness which, together with the children’s charity Into Film, has released an informative video and associated course materials.

The organizations have created a British version of an animation previously released as part of the Australian “Price of Piracy” campaign. While the video includes an informative description of the various types of malware, there appears to be a secondary agenda.

Strangely enough, the video itself contains no advice on how to avoid malware at all, other than to avoid pirate sites. In that sense, it looks more like an indirect anti-piracy ad.

While there’s no denying that kids might run into malware if they randomly click on pirate site ads, this problem is certainly not exclusive to these sites. Email and social media are frequently used to link to malware too, and YouTube comments can pose the same risk. The problem is everywhere.

What really caught our eye, however, is the statement that pirate sites are the most used propagation method for malware. “Did you know, the number one way we infect your device is via illegal pirate sites,” an animated piece of malware claims in the video.

Forget about email attachments, spam links, compromised servers, or even network attacks. Pirate sites are the number one spot through which malware spreads. According to the video at least. But where do they get this knowledge?

Meet the malwares

When we asked the Industry Trust for IP Awareness for further details, the organization checked with their Australian colleagues, who pointed us to a working paper (pdf) from 2014. This paper includes the following line: “Illegal streaming websites are now the number one propagation mechanism for malicious software as 97% of them contain malware.”

Unfortunately, there’s a lot wrong with this claim.

Through another citation, the 97% figure points to this unpublished study of which only the highlights were shared. This “malware” research looked at the prevalence of malware and other unwanted software linked to pirate sites. Not just streaming sites as the other paper said, but let’s ignore that last bit.

What the study actually found is that of the 30 researched pirate sites, “90% contained malware or other ‘Potentially Unwanted Programmes’.” Note that this is not the earlier mentioned 97%, and that this broad category not only includes malware but also popup ads, which were most popular. This means that the percentage of actual malware on these sites can be anywhere from 0.1% to 90%.

Importantly, none of the malware found in this research was installed without an action performed by the user, such as clicking on a flashy download button or installing a mysterious .exe file.

Aside from clearly erroneous references, the more worrying issue is that even the original incorrect statement that “97% of all pirate sites contain malware” provides no evidence for the claim in the video that pirate sites are “the number one way” through which malware spreads.

Even if 100% of all pirate sites link to malware, that’s no proof that it’s the most used propagation method.

The malware issue has been a popular talking point for a while, but after searching for answers for days, we couldn’t find a grain of evidence. There are a lot of malware propagation methods, including email, which traditionally is a very popular choice.

Even more confusingly, the same paper that was cited as a source for the pirate site malware claim notes that 80% of all web-based malware is hosted on “innocent” but compromised websites.

As the provided evidence gave no answers, we asked the experts to chime in. Luckily, security company Malwarebytes was willing to share its assessment. As leaders in the anti-malware industry, they should know better than researchers who have their numbers and terminology mixed up.

“These days, most common infections come from malicious spam campaigns and drive-by exploit attacks,” Adam Kujawa, Director of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes informs us.

“Torrent sites are still frequently used by criminals to host malware disguised as something the user wants, like an application, movie, etc. However they are really only a threat to people who use torrent sites regularly and those people have likely learned how to avoid malicious torrents,” he adds.

In other words, most people who regularly visit pirate sites know how to avoid these dangers. That doesn’t mean that they are not a threat to unsuspecting kids who visit them for the first time of course.

“Now, if users who were not familiar with torrent and pirate sites started using these services, there is a high probability that they could encounter some kind of malware. However, many of these sites have user review processes to let other users know if a particular torrent or download is likely malicious.

“So, unless a user is completely new to this process and ignores all the warning signs, they could walk away from a pirate site without getting infected,” Kujawa says.

Overall, the experts at Malwarebytes see no evidence for the claim that pirate sites are the number one propagation method for malware.

“So in summary, I don’t think the claim that ‘pirate sites’ are the number one way to infect users is accurate at all,” Kujawa concludes.

While it’s always a good idea to avoid places that can have a high prevalence of malware, including pirate sites, the claims in the video are not backed up by real evidence. There are tens of thousands of non-pirate sites that pose similar or worse risks, so it’s always a good idea to have anti-malware and virus software installed.

The organizations and people involved in the British “Meet the Malwares” video might not have been aware of the doubtful claims, but it’s unfortunate that they didn’t opt for a broader campaign instead of the focused anti-piracy message.

Finally, since it’s still Safer Internet Day, we encourage kids to take a close look at the various guides on how to avoid “fake news” while engaging in critical thinking.

Be safe!

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Udemy Targets ‘Pirate’ Site Giving Away its Paid Courses For Free

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/udemy-targets-pirate-site-giving-away-its-paid-courses-for-free-180129/

While there’s no shortage of people who advocate free sharing of movies and music, passions are often raised when it comes to the availability of educational information.

Significant numbers of people believe that learning should be open to all and that texts and associated materials shouldn’t be locked away by copyright holders trying to monetize knowledge. Of course, people who make a living creating learning materials see the position rather differently.

A clash of these ideals is brewing in the United States where online learning platform Udemy has been trying to have some of its courses taken down from FreeTutorials.us, a site that makes available premium tutorials and other learning materials for free.

Early December 2017, counsel acting for Udemy and a number of its individual and corporate instructors (Maximilian Schwarzmüller, Academind GmbH, Peter Dalmaris, Futureshock Enterprises, Jose Marcial Portilla, and Pierian Data) wrote to FreeTutorials.us with DMCA takedown notice.

“Pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3)(A) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (‘DMCA’), this communication serves as a notice of infringement and request for removal of certain web content available on freetutorials.us,” the letter reads.

“I hereby request that you remove or disable access to the material listed in Exhibit A in as expedient a fashion as possible. This communication does not constitute a waiver of any right to recover damages incurred by virtue of any such unauthorized activities, and such rights as well as claims for other relief are expressly retained.”

A small sample of Exhibit A

On January 10, 2018, the same law firm wrote to Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The DMCA notice asked Cloudflare to disable access to the same set of infringing content listed above.

It seems likely that whatever happened next wasn’t to Udemy’s satisfaction. On January 16, an attorney from the same law firm filed a DMCA subpoena at a district court in California. A DMCA subpoena can enable a copyright holder to obtain the identity of an alleged infringer without having to file a lawsuit and without needing a signature from a judge.

The subpoena was directed at Cloudflare, which provides services to FreeTutorials. The company was ordered to hand over “all identifying information identifying the owner, operator and/or contact person(s) associated with the domain www.freetutorials.us, including but not limited to name(s), address(es), telephone number(s), email address(es), Internet protocol connection records, administrative records and billing records from the time the account was established to the present.”

On January 26, the date by which Cloudflare was ordered to hand over the information, Cloudflare wrote to FreeTutorials with a somewhat late-in-the-day notification.

“We received the attached subpoena regarding freetutorials.us, a domain managed through your Cloudflare account. The subpoena requires us to provide information in our systems related to this website,” the company wrote.

“We have determined that this is a valid subpoena, and we are required to provide the requested information. In accordance with our Privacy Policy, we are informing you before we provide any of the requested subscriber information. We plan to turn over documents in response to the subpoena on January 26th, 2018, unless you intervene in the case.”

With that deadline passing last Friday, it’s safe to say that Cloudflare has complied with the subpoena as the law requires. However, TorrentFreak spoke with FreeTutorials who told us that the company doesn’t hold anything useful on them.

“No, they have nothing,” the team explained.

Noting that they’ll soon dispense with the services of Cloudflare, the team confirmed that they had received emails from Udemy and its instructors but hadn’t done a lot in response.

“How about a ‘NO’? was our answer to all the DMCA takedown requests from Udemy and its Instructors,” they added.

FreeTutorials (FTU) are affiliated with FreeCoursesOnline (FCO) and seem passionate about what they do. In common with others who distribute learning materials online, they express a belief in free education for all, irrespective of financial resources.

“We, FTU and FCO, are a group of seven members assorted as a team from different countries and cities. We are JN, SRZ aka SunRiseZone, Letap, Lihua Google Drive, Kaya, Zinnia, Faiz MeemBazooka,” a spokesperson revealed.

“We’re all members and colleagues and we also have our own daily work and business stuff to do. We have been through that phase of life when we didn’t have enough money to buy books and get tuition or even apply for a good course that we always wanted to have, so FTU & FCO are just our vision to provide Free Education For Everyone.

“We would love to change our priorities towards our current and future projects, only if we manage to get some faithful FTU’ers to join in and help us to grow together and make FTU a place it should be.”

TorrentFreak requested comment from Udemy but at the time of publication, we were yet to hear back. However, we did manage to get in touch with Jonathan Levi, an Udemy instructor who sent this takedown notice to the site in October 2017:

“I’m writing to you on behalf of SuperHuman Enterprises, LLC. You are in violation of our copyright, using our images, and linking to pirated copies of our courses. Remove them IMMEDIATELY or face severe legal action….You have 48 hours to comply,” he wrote, adding:

“And in case you’re going to say I don’t have evidence that I own the files, it’s my fucking face in the videos.”

Levi says that the site had been non-responsive so now things are being taken to the next level.

“They don’t reply to takedowns, so we’ve joined a class action lawsuit against FTU lead by Udemy and a law firm specializing in this type of thing,” Levi concludes.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Pirate Bay Founder’s Domain Service “Mocks” NY Times Legal Threats

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/pirate-bay-founders-domain-service-mocks-ny-times-legal-threats-180125/

Back in the day, The Pirate Bay was famous for its amusing responses to legal threats. Instead of complying with takedown notices, it sent witty responses to embarrass the senders.

Today the notorious torrent site gives copyright holders the silent treatment, but the good-old Pirate Bay spirit still lives on elsewhere.

Earlier today the anonymous domain registration service Njalla, which happens to be a venture of TPB co-founder Peter Sunde, posted a series of noteworthy responses it sent to The New York Times’ (NYT) legal department.

The newspaper warned the registration service about one of its customers, paywallnews.com, which offers the news service’s content without permission. Since this is a violation of The Times’ copyrights, according to the paper, Njalla should take action or face legal consequences.

NYT: Accordingly, we hereby demand that you immediately provide us with contact information — including email addresses — for both the actual owner of the paywallnew.com website, and for the hosting provider on which the paywallnew.com website is located.

If we have not heard from you within three (3) business days of receipt of this letter, we will have no choice but to pursue all available legal remedies.

Njalla is no stranger to threats of this kind but were somewhat offended by the harsh language, it seems. The company, therefore, decided to inform the NYT that there are more friendly ways to reach out.

Njalla: Thanks for that lovely e-mail. It’s always good to communicate with people that in their first e-mail use words as “we demand”, “pursue all available legal remedies” and so forth. I’d like to start out with some free (as in no cost) advice: please update your boiler threat letters to actually try what most people try first: being nice. It’s not expensive (actually the opposite) and actually it works much better than your method (source: a few tens of thousands years of human development that would not have been as efficient with threats as it would have been with cooperation).

In addition, Njalla also included a request of its own. They kindly asked (no demand) the newspaper’s legal department for proof that they are who they say they are. You can never be too cautious, after all.

Njalla: Now, back to the questions you sent us. We’re not sure who you are, so in order to move further we’d like to see a copy of your ID card, as well as a notarised power of attorney showing that you are actually representing the people you’re claiming to do.

This had the desired effect, for Njalla at least. The NYT replied with an apology for the tough language that was used, noting that they usually deal with companies that employ people who are used to reading legal documents.

The newspaper did, however, submit a notarized letter signed by the company’s Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary, and once again asked for details on the Njalla customer.

NYT: Once again, as I mention above, the referenced website is stealing large amounts of New York Times content. If you click on this link: http://www.paywallnews.com/sites/nytimes

As this abuse — aside from being an egregious infringement of The Times’s copyright — breaches your own Terms of Service, I hope you will be able to see your way to helping me to put a stop to this practice by providing me with the name and contact information for the owner of paywallnews.com and for the ISP on which it is hosted.

This is when things started to get really interesting. Founded by someone with an extensive background in “sharing,” Njalla clearly has a different definition of stealing than the NYT’s legal department.

The reply, which is worth reading in full along with the rest of the communication, makes this quite clear.

Njalla: Stealing content seem quite harsh of this website though, didn’t know that they did that! Is there anyway you can get the stolen items back though? You should either go to the police and request them to help you get the stolen items back. Or maybe talk to your insurance company, they might help to compensate you for the loss. But a helpful idea; if they’ve stolen something and then put copies of that on a website that you can freely access, I would suggest just copying it, so that both of you have the same things. That’s a great thing with the digital world, everyone can have copies of things. I am surprised they stole something when they could just have copied it. I’m guessing it’s some older individuals that don’t know the possibilities of modern day technology to make copies.

It’s obvious that the domain registration service makes a clear distinction between copying and stealing.

Piracy vs. Theft

In addition, Njalla contests that the site is problematic at all, noting that this might be a “cultural difference.”

Njalla spotted something even more worrying though. The NYT claims that the site in question violates its terms of service. Specifically, they reference the section that prohibits sites from spreading content that is illegal according to local law.

Is the NYT perhaps spreading illegal content itself, Njalla questions?

Njalla: Deborah, I was quite shocked and appalled that you referred to this part of our ToS. It made me actually not visit the website in question even though you’ve linked it now a few times. You’re admitting to spreading illegal content at your newspaper, for profit, is that correct?

We’re quite big proponents of freedom of speech, let me assure you of that, but we also have limits. If you spread illegal content, and our customers stole that illegal content and are now handing out free copies of that, that’s a huge issue for us. Since it would be illegal for us to get those copies if they’re illegal, I’m asking you what type of content it is?

As an attachment to the reply, Njalla also sent back a “notarized” letter of their own, by simply copying the NYT letter and sticking their own logo on it, to show how easily these can be fabricated.

TorrentFreak reached out to Sunde who informed us that they never heard from The New York Times after the last reply. As a domain registrant, Njalla is not obliged to comply with takedown requests, he explains.

“If they need help from us on copyright issues, they’re totally missing what we’re doing, and that they should look somewhere else anyhow. But I think most domain services gets tons of these threat emails, and a lot of them think they’re responsible because they don’t have access to legal help and just shut customers down.

“That’s what a lot of our customers say at least, since they migrated from a shitty service which doesn’t know their own business,” Sunde adds.

The NYT is not completely without options though. If they take the case to court in Sweden and win an injunction against paywallnews.com, Njalla will comply. The same is true if a customer really violates the terms of service.

Meanwhile, paywallnews.com remains online.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Skygofree: New Government Malware for Android

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2018/01/skygofree_new_g.html

Kaspersky Labs is reporting on a new piece of sophisticated malware:

We observed many web landing pages that mimic the sites of mobile operators and which are used to spread the Android implants. These domains have been registered by the attackers since 2015. According to our telemetry, that was the year the distribution campaign was at its most active. The activities continue: the most recently observed domain was registered on October 31, 2017. Based on our KSN statistics, there are several infected individuals, exclusively in Italy.

Moreover, as we dived deeper into the investigation, we discovered several spyware tools for Windows that form an implant for exfiltrating sensitive data on a targeted machine. The version we found was built at the beginning of 2017, and at the moment we are not sure whether this implant has been used in the wild.

It seems to be Italian. Ars Technica speculates that it is related to Hacking Team:

That’s not to say the malware is perfect. The various versions examined by Kaspersky Lab contained several artifacts that provide valuable clues about the people who may have developed and maintained the code. Traces include the domain name h3g.co, which was registered by Italian IT firm Negg International. Negg officials didn’t respond to an email requesting comment for this post. The malware may be filling a void left after the epic hack in 2015 of Hacking Team, another Italy-based developer of spyware.

BoingBoing post.

Coolest Projects: for young people across the Raspberry Pi community

Post Syndicated from Rosa Langhammer original https://www.raspberrypi.org/blog/coolest-projects-young-people-raspberry-pi-community/

Coolest Projects is a world-leading annual showcase that empowers and inspires the next generation of digital creators, innovators, changemakers, and entrepreneurs. Young people come to the event to exhibit the cool ideas they have been working on throughout the year. And from 2018, Coolest Projects is open to young people across the Raspberry Pi community.

Coolest Projects 2016 Highlights

Coolest Projects is a world leading showcase that empowers and inspires the next generation of digital creators, innovators, changemakers and entrepreneurs! Find out more at: http://coolestprojects.org/

A huge fair for digital making

When Raspberry Pi’s Philip and Ben first visited Coolest Projects, they were blown away by the scope of the event, the number of children and young people who had travelled to Dublin to share their work, and the commitment they demonstrated to work ranging from Scratch projects to home-made hovercraft.

Coolest Projects International 2018 will be held in Dublin, Ireland, on Saturday 26 May. Participants will travel from all over the world to take part in a festival of creativity and tech. We hope you’ll be among them!

Montage of photos from Coolest Projects 2016: a large space with lots of people, mostly children, sharing projects, socialising, and discussing

“It’s a huge fair especially for coding and digital tech – it’s massive and it’s amazing!

Coolest Projects International and Coolest Projects UK

As well as the flagship international event in Dublin, Ireland, there are regional events in other countries. All these events are now open to makers and creators across the Raspberry Pi community, from Dojos, Code Clubs, and Raspberry Jams.

This year, for the first time, we are bringing Coolest Projects to the UK for a spectacular regional event! Coolest Projects UK will be held at Here East in London on Saturday 28 April. We’re looking forward to discovering over 100 projects that young people have designed and built, and seeing them share their ideas and their passion for technology, make new friends, and learn from one another.

A young boy in a CoderDojo Ninja T-shirt shows another young boy his project, both concentrating intently

Fierce focus at Coolest Projects

Who can take part?

If you’re up to 18 years of age and you’re in primary, secondary, or further education, you can join in. You can work as an individual or as part of a team of up to five. All projects are welcome, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned expert.

You must be able to attend the event that you’re entering, whether Coolest Projects International or a regional event. Getting together with other makers and their fantastic projects is a really important and exciting part of the event, so you can’t take part with an online-only or video-only entry. There are a few rules to make sure everything runs smoothly and fairly, and you can read them here.

A girl in a CoderDojo Ninja T shirt proudly holds the rocket she has built; it's as long as she is tall

Wiktoria Jarymowicz from Poland presents the rocket she built at Coolest Projects

How do I join in?

Your project should fit into one of six broad categories, covering everything from Scratch to hardware projects. If you’ve made something with tech, or you’ve got a project idea, it will probably fit into one of them! Once you’ve picked your project, you need to register it and apply for your space at the event. You can register for Coolest Projects International 2018 right now, and registration for Coolest Projects UK 2018 will open on Wednesday: join our email list to get an update when it does.

How will you choose who gets a place?

There are places available for 750 projects, and our goal is to have enough room for everyone who wants to come. If more makers want to bring their projects than there are places available, we’ll select entries to show a balance of projects from different regions and different parts of our communities, from groups and individuals, and from girls and boys, as well as a good mixture of projects across different categories.

Poster setting out the process of planning and building a project in six stages, and showing the date of this year's Coolest Projects International: 26 May 2018

I need help to get started, or help to get there

To help get your ideas flowing and guide you through your project, we’ve prepared a set of How to build a project worksheets. And if you’d like to attend Coolest Projects International, but the cost of travel is a problem, you can apply for a travel bursary by 31 January.

Coolest Projects is about rewarding creativity, and we know the Raspberry Pi community has that in spades. It’s about having an idea and making it a reality using the skills you have, whether this is your first project or your fifteenth. We can’t wait to see you at Coolest Projects UK or Coolest Projects International this year!

The post Coolest Projects: for young people across the Raspberry Pi community appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

BitTorrent Client Transmission Suffers Remote Takeover Vulnerability

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/bittorrent-client-transmission-suffers-remote-takeover-vulnerability-180116/

With millions of active users, Transmission is one of the most used BitTorrent clients around, particularly for Mac users.

The application has been around for more than a decade and has a great reputation. However, as with any other type of software, it is not immune to vulnerabilities.

One rather concerning flaw was made public by Google vulnerability researcher Tavis Ormandy a few days ago. The flaw allows outsiders to gain access to Transmission via DNS rebinding. This ultimately allows attackers to control the BitTorrent client and execute custom code.

Ormandy has published a patch, which was also shared with the private Transmission security list at the end of November. Transmission, however, has yet to address the issue in an update.

The relatively slow response was the reason why Ormandy decided to make it public before Project Zero’s usual 90-day window expired, Ars highlights. This allows other projects to address the vulnerability right away.

“I’m finding it frustrating that the transmission developers are not responding on their private security list,” Google’s vulnerability researcher writes. “I’ve never had an opensource project take this long to fix a vulnerability before, so I usually don’t even mention the 90 day limit if the vulnerability is in an open source project.”

A member of the Transmission developer team informed Ars that they will address this ASAP, noting that the issue only affects users who have remote control enabled with the default password. This means that people who disable it or change their password can easily ‘patch’ it until the official update comes out.

Interestingly, this isn’t the last BitTorrent related vulnerability Ormandy plans to expose. According to one of his tweets on the matter, this is just the “first of a few remote code execution flaws in various popular torrent clients.”

Judging from a message the researcher sent late November, uTorrent is on the list as well. Apparently, the company’s security email address wasn’t set up correctly at the time, so BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen has been acting as a forwarding service.

uTorrent?

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and more. We also have VPN discounts, offers and coupons

Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/managing-cash-flow/

Cash flow projection charts

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the eighth in a series about entrepreneurship. You can choose posts in the series from the list below:

  1. How Backblaze got Started: The Problem, The Solution, and the Stuff In-Between
  2. Building a Competitive Moat: Turning Challenges Into Advantages
  3. From Idea to Launch: Getting Your First Customers
  4. How to Get Your First 1,000 Customers
  5. Surviving Your First Year
  6. How to Compete with Giants
  7. The Decision on Transparency
  8. Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow

Use the Join button above to receive notification of new posts in this series.

Running out of cash is one of the quickest ways for a startup to go out of business. When you are starting a company the question of where to get cash is usually the top priority, but managing cash flow is critical for every stage in the lifecycle of a company. As a primarily bootstrapped but capital-intensive business, managing cash flow at Backblaze was and still is a key element of our success and requires continued focus. Let’s look at what we learned over the years.

Raising Your Initial Funding

When starting a tech business in Silicon Valley, the default assumption is that you will immediately try to raise venture funding. There are certainly many advantages to raising funding — not the least of which is that you don’t need to be cash-flow positive since you have cash in the bank and the expectation is that you will have a “burn rate,” i.e. you’ll be spending more than you make.

Note: While you’re not expected to be cash-flow positive, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about cash. Cash-flow management will determine your burn rate. Whether you can get to cash-flow breakeven or need to raise another round of funding is a direct byproduct of your cash flow management.

Also, raising funding takes time (most successful fundraising cycles take 3-6 months start-to-finish), and time at a startup is in short supply. Constantly trying to raise funding can take away from product development and pursuing growth opportunities. If you’re not successful in raising funding, you then have to either shut down or find an alternate method of funding the business.

Sources of Funding

Depending on the stage of the company, type of company, and other factors, you may have access to different sources of funding. Let’s list a number of them:

Customers

Sales — the best kind of funding. It is non-dilutive, doesn’t have to be paid back, and is a direct metric of the success of your company.

Pre-Sales — some customers may be willing to pay you for a product in beta, a test, or pre-pay for a product they’ll receive when finished. Pre-Sales income also is great because it shares the characteristics of cash from sales, but you get the cash early. It also can be a good sign that the product you’re building fills a market need. We started charging for Backblaze computer backup while it was still in private beta, which allowed us to not only collect cash from customers, but also test the billing experience and users’ real desire for the service.

Services — if you’re a service company and customers are paying you for that, great. You can effectively scale for the number of hours available in a day. As demand grows, you can add more employees to increase the total number of billable hours.

Note: If you’re a product company and customers are paying you to consult, that can provide much needed cash, and could provide feedback toward the right product. However, it can also distract from your core business, send you down a path where you’re building a product for a single customer, and addict you to a path that prevents you from building a scalable business.

Investors

Yourself — you likely are putting your time into the business, and deferring salary in the process. You may also put your own cash into the business either as an investment or a loan.

Angels — angels are ideal as early investors since they are used to investing in businesses with little to no traction. AngelList is a good place to find them, though finding people you’re connected with through someone that knows you well is best.

Crowdfunding — a component of the JOBS Act permitted entrepreneurs to raise money from nearly anyone since May 2016. The SEC imposes limits on both investors and the companies. This article goes into some depth on the options and sites available.

VCs — VCs are ideal for companies that need to raise at least a few million dollars and intend to build a business that will be worth over $1 billion.

Debt

Friends & Family — F&F are often the first people to give you money because they are investing in you. It’s great to have some early supporters, but it also can be risky to take money from people who aren’t used to the risks. The key advice here is to only take money from people who won’t mind losing it. If someone is talking about using their children’s college funds or borrowing from their 401k, say ‘no thank you’ — even if they’re sure they want to loan you money.

Bank Loans — a variety of loan types exist, but most either require the company to have been operational for a couple years, be able to borrow against money the company has or is making, or be able to get a personal guarantee from the founders whereby their own credit is on the line. Fundera provides a good overview of loan options and can help secure some, but most will not be an option for a brand new startup.

Grants

Government — in some areas there is the potential for government grants to facilitate research. The SBIR program facilitates some such grants.

At Backblaze, we used a number of these options:

• Investors/Yourself
We loaned a cumulative total of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the company and invested our time by going without a salary for a year and a half.
• Customers/Pre-Sales
We started selling the Backblaze service while it was still in beta.
• Customers/Sales
We launched v1.0 and kept selling.
• Investors/Angels
After a year and a half, we raised $370k from 11 angels. All of them were either people whom we knew personally or were a strong recommendation from a mutual friend.
• Debt/Loans
After a couple years we were able to get equipment leases whereby the Storage Pods and hard drives were used as collateral to secure the lease on them.
• Investors/VCs
Ater five years we raised $5m from TMT Investments to add to the balance sheet and invest in growth.

The variety and quantity of sources we used is by no means uncommon.

GAAP vs. Cash

Most companies start tracking financials based on cash, and as they scale they switch to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). Cash is easier to track — we got paid $XXXX and spent $YYY — and as often mentioned, is required for the business to stay alive. GAAP has more subtlety and complexity, but provides a clearer picture of how the business is really doing. Backblaze was on a ‘cash’ system for the first few years, then switched to GAAP. For this post, I’m going to focus on things that help cash flow, not GAAP profitability.

Stages of Cash Flow Management

All-spend

In a pure service business (e.g. solo proprietor law firm), you may have no expenses other than your time, so this stage doesn’t exist. However, in a product business there is a period of time where you are building the product and have nothing to sell. You have zero cash coming in, but have cash going out. Your cash-flow is completely negative and you need funds to cover that.

Sales-generating

Starting to see cash come in from customers is thrilling. I initially had our system set up to email me with every $5 payment we received. You’re making sales, but not covering expenses.

Ramen-profitable

But it takes a lot of $5 payments to pay for servers and salaries, so for a while expenses are likely to outstrip sales. Getting to ramen-profitable is a critical stage where sales cover the business expenses and are “paying enough for the founders to eat ramen.” This extends the runway for a business, but is not completely sustainable, since presumably the founders can’t (or won’t) live forever on a subsistence salary.

Business-profitable

This is the ultimate stage whereby the business is truly profitable, including paying everyone market-rate salaries. A business at this stage is self-sustaining. (Of course, market shifts and plenty of other challenges can kill the business, but cash-flow issues alone will not.)

Note, I’m using the word ‘profitable’ here to mean this is still on a cash-basis.

Backblaze was in the all-spend stage for just over a year, during which time we built the service and hadn’t yet made the service available to customers. Backblaze was in the sales-generating stage for nearly another year before the company was barely ramen-profitable where sales were covering the company expenses and paying the founders minimum wage. (I say ‘barely’ since minimum wage in the SF Bay Area is arguably never subsistence.) It took almost three more years before the company was business-profitable, paying everyone including the founders market-rate.

Cash Flow Forecasting

When raising funding it’s helpful to think of milestones reached. You don’t necessarily need enough cash on day one to last for the next 100 years of the company. Some good milestones to consider are how much cash you need to prove there is a market need, prove you can build a product to meet that need, or get to ramen-profitable.

Two things to consider:

1) Unit Economics (COGS)

If your product is 100% software, this may not be relevant. Once software is built it costs effectively nothing to deliver the product to one customer or one million customers. However, in most businesses there is some incremental cost to provide the product. If you’re selling a hardware device, perhaps you sell it for $100 but it costs you $50 to make it. This is called “COGS” (Cost of Goods Sold).

Many products rely on cloud services where the costs scale with growth. That model works great, but it’s still important to understand what the costs are for the cloud service you use per unit of product you sell.

Support is often done by the founders early-on in a business, but that is another real cost to factor in and estimate on a per-user basis. Taking all of the per unit costs combined, you may charge $10/month/user for your service, but if it costs you $7/month/user in cloud services, you’re only netting $3/month/user.

2) Operating Expenses (OpEx)

These are expenses that don’t scale with the number of product units you sell. Typically this includes research & development, sales & marketing, and general & administrative expenses. Presumably there is a certain level of these functions required to build the product, market it, sell it, and run the organization. You can choose to invest or cut back on these, but you’ll still make the same amount per product unit.

Incremental Net Profit Per Unit

If you’ve calculated your COGS and your unit economics are “upside down,” where the amount you charge is less than that it costs you to provide your service, it’s worth thinking hard about how that’s going to change over time. If it will not change, there is no scale that will make the business work. Presuming you do make money on each unit of product you sell — what is sometimes referred to as “Contribution Margin” — consider how many of those product units you need to sell to cover your operating expenses as described above.

Calculating Your Profit

The math on getting to ramen-profitable is simple:

(Number of Product Units Sold x Contribution Margin) - Operating Expenses = Profit

If your operating expenses include subsistence salaries for the founders and profit > $0, you’re ramen-profitable.

Improving Cash Flow

Having access to sources of cash, whether from selling to customers or other methods, is excellent. But needing less cash gives you more choices and allows you to either dilute less, owe less, or invest more.

There are two ways to improve cash flow:

1) Collect More Cash

The best way to collect more cash is to provide more value to your customers and as a result have them pay you more. Additional features/products/services can allow this. However, you can also collect more cash by changing how you charge for your product. If you have a subscription, changing from charging monthly to yearly dramatically improves your cash flow. If you have a product that customers use up, selling a year’s supply instead of selling them one-by-one can help.

2) Spend Less Cash

Reducing COGS is a fantastic way to spend less cash in a scalable way. If you can do this without harming the product or customer experience, you win. There are a myriad of ways to also reduce operating expenses, including taking sub-market salaries, using your home instead of renting office space, staying focused on your core product, etc.

Ultimately, collecting more and spending less cash dramatically simplifies the process of getting to ramen-profitable and later to business-profitable.

Be Careful (Why GAAP Matters)

A word of caution: while running out of cash will put you out of business immediately, overextending yourself will likely put you out of business not much later. GAAP shows how a business is really doing; cash doesn’t. If you only focus on cash, it is possible to commit yourself to both delivering products and repaying loans in the future in an unsustainable fashion. If you’re taking out loans, watch the total balance and monthly payments you’re committing to. If you’re asking customers for pre-payment, make sure you believe you can deliver on what they’ve paid for.

Summary

There are numerous challenges to building a business, and ensuring you have enough cash is amongst the most important. Having the cash to keep going lets you keep working on all of the other challenges. The frameworks above were critical for maintaining Backblaze’s cash flow and cash balance. Hopefully you can take some of the lessons we learned and apply them to your business. Let us know what works for you in the comments below.

The post Early Challenges: Managing Cash Flow appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.