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How to Compete with Giants

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/how-to-compete-with-giants/

How to Compete with Giants

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the sixth 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

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

Perhaps your business is competing in a brand new space free from established competitors. Most of us, though, start companies that compete with existing offerings from large, established companies. You need to come up with a better mousetrap — not the first mousetrap.

That’s the challenge Backblaze faced. In this post, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from that experience.

Backblaze vs. Giants

Competing with established companies that are orders of magnitude larger can be daunting. How can you succeed?

I’ll set the stage by offering a few sets of giants we compete with:

  • When we started Backblaze, we offered online backup in a market where companies had been offering “online backup” for at least a decade, and even the newer entrants had raised tens of millions of dollars.
  • When we built our storage servers, the alternatives were EMC, NetApp, and Dell — each of which had a market cap of over $10 billion.
  • When we introduced our cloud storage offering, B2, our direct competitors were Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. You might have heard of them.

What did we learn by competing with these giants on a bootstrapped budget? Let’s take a look.

Determine What Success Means

For a long time Apple considered Apple TV to be a hobby, not a real product worth focusing on, because it did not generate a billion in revenue. For a $10 billion per year revenue company, a new business that generates $50 million won’t move the needle and often isn’t worth putting focus on. However, for a startup, getting to $50 million in revenue can be the start of a wildly successful business.

Lesson Learned: Don’t let the giants set your success metrics.

The Advantages Startups Have

The giants have a lot of advantages: more money, people, scale, resources, access, etc. Following their playbook and attacking head-on means you’re simply outgunned. Common paths to failure are trying to build more features, enter more markets, outspend on marketing, and other similar approaches where scale and resources are the primary determinants of success.

But being a startup affords many advantages most giants would salivate over. As a nimble startup you can leverage those to succeed. Let’s breakdown nine competitive advantages we’ve used that you can too.

1. Drive Focus

It’s hard to build a $10 billion revenue business doing just one thing, and most giants have a broad portfolio of businesses, numerous products for each, and targeting a variety of customer segments in multiple markets. That adds complexity and distributes management attention.

Startups get the benefit of having everyone in the company be extremely focused, often on a singular mission, product, customer segment, and market. While our competitors sell everything from advertising to Zantac, and are investing in groceries and shipping, Backblaze has focused exclusively on cloud storage. This means all of our best people (i.e. everyone) is focused on our cloud storage business. Where is all of your focus going?

Lesson Learned: Align everyone in your company to a singular focus to dramatically out-perform larger teams.

2. Use Lack-of-Scale as an Advantage

You may have heard Paul Graham say “Do things that don’t scale.” There are a host of things you can do specifically because you don’t have the same scale as the giants. Use that as an advantage.

When we look for data center space, we have more options than our largest competitors because there are simply more spaces available with room for 100 cabinets than for 1,000 cabinets. With some searching, we can find data center space that is better/cheaper.

When a flood in Thailand destroyed factories, causing the world’s supply of hard drives to plummet and prices to triple, we started drive farming. The giants certainly couldn’t. It was a bit crazy, but it let us keep prices unchanged for our customers.

Our Chief Cloud Officer, Tim, used to work at Adobe. Because of their size, any new product needed to always launch in a multitude of languages and in global markets. Once launched, they had scale. But getting any new product launched was incredibly challenging.

Lesson Learned: Use lack-of-scale to exploit opportunities that are closed to giants.

3. Build a Better Product

This one is probably obvious. If you’re going to provide the same product, at the same price, to the same customers — why do it? Remember that better does not always mean more features. Here’s one way we built a better product that didn’t require being a bigger company.

All online backup services required customers to choose what to include in their backup. We found that this was complicated for users since they often didn’t know what needed to be backed up. We flipped the model to back up everything and allow users to exclude if they wanted to, but it was not required. This reduced the number of features/options, while making it easier and better for the user.

This didn’t require the resources of a huge company; it just required understanding customers a bit deeper and thinking about the solution differently. Building a better product is the most classic startup competitive advantage.

Lesson Learned: Dig deep with your customers to understand and deliver a better mousetrap.

4. Provide Better Service

How can you provide better service? Use your advantages. Escalations from your customer care folks to engineering can go through fewer hoops. Fixing an issue and shipping can be quicker. Access to real answers on Twitter or Facebook can be more effective.

A strategic decision we made was to have all customer support people as full-time employees in our headquarters. This ensures they are in close contact to the whole company for feedback to quickly go both ways.

Having a smaller team and fewer layers enables faster internal communication, which increases customer happiness. And the option to do things that don’t scale — such as help a customer in a unique situation — can go a long way in building customer loyalty.

Lesson Learned: Service your customers better by establishing clear internal communications.

5. Remove The Unnecessary

After determining that the industry standard EMC/NetApp/Dell storage servers would be too expensive to build our own cloud storage upon, we decided to build our own infrastructure. Many said we were crazy to compete with these multi-billion dollar companies and that it would be impossible to build a lower cost storage server. However, not only did it prove to not be impossible — it wasn’t even that hard.

One key trick? Remove the unnecessary. While EMC and others built servers to sell to other companies for a wide variety of use cases, Backblaze needed servers that only Backblaze would run, and for a single use case. As a result we could tailor the servers for our needs by removing redundancy from each server (since we would run redundant servers), and using lower-performance components (since we would get high-performance by running parallel servers).

What do your customers and use cases not need? This can trim costs and complexity while often improving the product for your use case.

Lesson Learned: Don’t think “what can we add” to what the giants offer — think “what can we remove.”

6. Be Easy

How many times have you visited a large company website, particularly one that’s not consumer-focused, only to leave saying, “Huh? I don’t understand what you do.” Keeping your website clear, and your product and pricing simple, will dramatically increase conversion and customer satisfaction. If you’re able to make it 2x easier and thus increasing your conversion by 2x, you’ve just allowed yourself to spend ½ as much acquiring a customer.

Providing unlimited data backup wasn’t specifically about providing more storage — it was about making it easier. Since users didn’t know how much data they needed to back up, charging per gigabyte meant they wouldn’t know the cost. Providing unlimited data backup meant they could just relax.

Customers love easy — and being smaller makes easy easier to deliver. Use that as an advantage in your website, marketing materials, pricing, product, and in every other customer interaction.

Lesson Learned: Ease-of-use isn’t a slogan: it’s a competitive advantage. Treat it as seriously as any other feature of your product

7. Don’t Be Afraid of Risk

Obviously unnecessary risks are unnecessary, and some risks aren’t worth taking. However, large companies that have given guidance to Wall Street with a $0.01 range on their earning-per-share are inherently going to be very risk-averse. Use risk-tolerance to open up opportunities, and adjust your tolerance level as you scale. In your first year, there are likely an infinite number of ways your business may vaporize; don’t be too worried about taking a risk that might have a 20% downside when the upside is hockey stick growth.

Using consumer-grade hard drives in our servers may have caused pain and suffering for us years down-the-line, but they were priced at approximately 50% of enterprise drives. Giants wouldn’t have considered the option. Turns out, the consumer drives performed great for us.

Lesson Learned: Use calculated risks as an advantage.

8. Be Open

The larger a company grows, the more it wants to hide information. Some of this is driven by regulatory requirements as a public company. But most of this is cultural. Sharing something might cause a problem, so let’s not. All external communication is treated as a critical press release, with rounds and rounds of editing by multiple teams and approvals. However, customers are often desperate for information. Moreover, sharing information builds trust, understanding, and advocates.

I started blogging at Backblaze before we launched. When we blogged about our Storage Pod and open-sourced the design, many thought we were crazy to share this information. But it was transformative for us, establishing Backblaze as a tech thought leader in storage and giving people a sense of how we were able to provide our service at such a low cost.

Over the years we’ve developed a culture of being open internally and externally, on our blog and with the press, and in communities such as Hacker News and Reddit. Often we’ve been asked, “why would you share that!?” — but it’s the continual openness that builds trust. And that culture of openness is incredibly challenging for the giants.

Lesson Learned: Overshare to build trust and brand where giants won’t.

9. Be Human

As companies scale, typically a smaller percent of founders and executives interact with customers. The people who build the company become more hidden, the language feels “corporate,” and customers start to feel they’re interacting with the cliche “faceless, nameless corporation.” Use your humanity to your advantage. From day one the Backblaze About page listed all the founders, and my email address. While contacting us shouldn’t be the first path for a customer support question, I wanted it to be clear that we stand behind the service we offer; if we’re doing something wrong — I want to know it.

To scale it’s important to have processes and procedures, but sometimes a situation falls outside of a well-established process. While we want our employees to follow processes, they’re still encouraged to be human and “try to do the right thing.” How to you strike this balance? Simon Sinek gives a good talk about it: make your employees feel safe. If employees feel safe they’ll be human.

If your customer is a consumer, they’ll appreciate being treated as a human. Even if your customer is a corporation, the purchasing decision-makers are still people.

Lesson Learned: Being human is the ultimate antithesis to the faceless corporation.

Build Culture to Sustain Your Advantages at Scale

Presumably the goal is not to always be competing with giants, but to one day become a giant. Does this mean you’ll lose all of these advantages? Some, yes — but not all. Some of these advantages are cultural, and if you build these into the culture from the beginning, and fight to keep them as you scale, you can keep them as you become a giant.

Tesla still comes across as human, with Elon Musk frequently interacting with people on Twitter. Apple continues to provide great service through their Genius Bar. And, worst case, if you lose these at scale, you’ll still have the other advantages of being a giant such as money, people, scale, resources, and access.

Of course, some new startup will be gunning for you with grand ambitions, so just be sure not to get complacent. 😉

The post How to Compete with Giants appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

More on Kaspersky and the Stolen NSA Attack Tools

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/10/more_on_kaspers.html

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are reporting that Israel has penetrated Kaspersky’s network and detected the Russian operation.

From the New York Times:

Israeli intelligence officers informed the NSA that, in the course of their Kaspersky hack, they uncovered evidence that Russian government hackers were using Kaspersky’s access to aggressively scan for American government classified programs and pulling any findings back to Russian intelligence systems. [Israeli intelligence] provided their NSA counterparts with solid evidence of the Kremlin campaign in the form of screenshots and other documentation, according to the people briefed on the events.

Kaspersky first noticed the Israeli intelligence operation in 2015.

The Washington Post writes about the NSA tools being on the home computer in the first place:

The employee, whose name has not been made public and is under investigation by federal prosecutors, did not intend to pass the material to a foreign adversary. “There wasn’t any malice,” said one person familiar with the case, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing case. “It’s just that he was trying to complete the mission, and he needed the tools to do it.

I don’t buy this. People with clearances are told over and over not to take classified material home with them. It’s not just mentioned occasionally; it’s a core part of the job.

More news articles.

Bringing Clean and Safe Drinking Water to Developing Countries

Post Syndicated from Roderick Bauer original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/keeping-charity-water-data-safe/

image of a cup filling with water

If you’d like to read more about charity: water‘s use of Backblaze for Business, visit backblaze.com/charitywater/

charity: water  + Backblaze for Business

Considering that charity: water sends workers with laptop computers to rural communities in 24 countries around the world, it’s not surprising that computer backup is needed on every computer they have. It’s so essential that Matt Ward, System Administrator for charity: water, says it’s a standard part of employee on-boarding.

charity: water, based in New York City, is a non-profit organization that is working to bring clean water to the nearly one in ten people around the world who live without it — a situation that affects not only health, but education and income.

“We have people constantly traveling all over the world, so a cloud-based service makes sense whether the user is in New York or Malawi. Most of our projects and beneficiaries are in Sub Saharan Africa and Southern/Southeast Asia,” explains Matt. “Water scarcity and poor water quality are a problem here, and in so many countries around the world.”

charity: water in Rwanda

To achieve their mission, charity: water works through implementing organizations on the ground within the targeted communities. The people in these communities must spend hours every day walking to collect water for their families. It’s a losing proposition, as the time they spend walking takes away from education, earning money, and generally limits the opportunities for improving their lives.

charity: water began using Backblaze for Business before Matt came on a year ago. They started with a few licenses, but quickly decided to deploy Backblaze to every computer in the organization.

“We’ve lost computers plenty of times,” he says, “but, because of Backblaze, there’s never been a case where we lost the computer’s data.”

charity: water has about 80 staff computer users, and adds ten to twenty interns each season. Each staff member or intern has at least one computer. “Our IT department is two people, me and my director,” explains Matt, “and we have to support everyone, so being super simple to deploy is valuable to us.”

“When a new person joins us, we just send them an invitation to join the Group on Backblaze, and they’re all set. Their data is automatically backed up whenever they’re connected to the internet, and I can see their current status on the management console. [Backblaze] really nailed the user interface. You can show anyone the interface, even on their first day, and they get it because it’s simple and easy to understand.”

young girl drinkng clean water

One of the frequent uses for Backblaze for Business is when Matt off-boards users, such as all the interns at the end of the season. He starts a restore through the Backblaze admin console even before he has the actual computer. “I know I have a reliable archive in the restore from Backblaze, and it’s easier than doing it directly from the laptop.”

Matt is an enthusiastic user of the features designed for business users, especially Backblaze’s Groups feature, which has enabled charity: water to centralize billing and computer management for their worldwide team. Businesses can create groups to cluster job functions, employee locations, or any other criteria.

charity: water delivery clean water to children

“It saves me time to be able to see the status of any user’s backups, such as the last time the data was backed up” explains Matt. Before Backblaze, charity: water was writing documentation for workers, hoping they would follow backup protocols. Now, Matt knows what’s going on in real time — a valuable feature when the laptops are dispersed around the world.

“Backblaze for Business is an essential element in any organization’s IT continuity plan,” says Matt. “You need to be sure that there is a backup solution for your data should anything go wrong.”

To learn more about how charity: water uses Backblaze for Business, visit backblaze.com/charitywater/.

Matt Ward of charity: water

Matt Ward, System Administrator for charity: water

The post Bringing Clean and Safe Drinking Water to Developing Countries appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Equifax Hack Blamed On Single Employee

Post Syndicated from Darknet original https://www.darknet.org.uk/2017/10/equifax-hack-blamed-on-single-employee/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=darknetfeed

Equifax Hack Blamed On Single Employee

We wrote about the Equifax Hack, Data Breach and Leak last month, which happened due to a flaw in Apache Struts that for some reason hadn’t been patched.

Now it seems the CEO Rick Smith is basically placing the blame on a single employee that failed to pass a message on to the right people, rather than taking responsibility for an organisational failure. It’s also interesting there was a scheduled security scan not long after the flaw was disclosed and it wasn’t detected.

Read the rest of Equifax Hack Blamed On Single Employee now! Only available at Darknet.

‘Daily Stormer’ Termination Haunts Cloudflare in Online Piracy Case

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/daily-stormer-termination-haunts-cloudflare-in-online-piracy-case-170929/

Last month Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince decided to terminate the account of controversial neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer.

“I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet,” he announced.

While the decision is understandable from an emotional point of view, it’s quite a statement to make as the CEO of one of the largest Internet infrastructure companies. Not least because it goes directly against what many saw as Cloudflare’s core values.

For years on end, Cloudflare has been asked to remove terrorist propaganda, pirate sites, and other controversial content. Each time, Cloudflare replied that it doesn’t take action without a court order. No exceptions.

In addition, Cloudflare repeatedly stressed that it was impossible for them to remove a website from the Internet, at least not permanently. It would only require a simple DNS reconfiguration to get it back up and running.

While the Daily Stormer case has nothing to do with piracy or copyright infringement, it’s now being brought up as important evidence in an ongoing piracy liability case. Adult entertainment publisher ALS Scan views Prince as a “key witness” in the case and wants to depose Cloudflare’s CEO to find out more about his decision.

“Mr. Prince’s statement to the public that Cloudflare kicked neo-Nazis off the internet stand in sharp contrast to Cloudflare’s testimony in this case, where it claims it is powerless to remove content from the Internet,” ALS Scan writes.

The above is part of a recent submission where both parties argue over whether Prince can be deposed or not. Cloudflare wants to prevent this from happening and claims it’s unnecessary, but the adult publisher disagrees.

“By his own admissions, Mr. Prince’s decision to terminate certain users’ accounts was ‘arbitrary,’ the result of him waking up ‘in a bad mood,’ and a decision he made unilaterally as ‘CEO of a major Internet infrastructure corporation’.

“Mr. Prince has made it clear that he is the one who determines the circumstances under which Cloudflare will terminate a user’s account,” ALS Scan adds.

For its part, Cloudflare says that the CEO’s deposition is not needed. This is backed up by a declaration where Prince emphasizes that he has no unique knowledge on the company’s DMCA and repeat infringer policies, issues that directly relate to the case at hand.

“I have no unique personal knowledge regarding Cloudflare’s DMCA policy and procedure, including its repeat infringer policies, or Cloudflare’s published Terms of Service,” Prince informs the court

Prince’s declaration

The adult publisher, however, harps on the fact that the CEO arbitrarily decided to remove one site from the service, while requiring court orders in other instances. They quote from a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article he wrote and highlight the ‘kick off the internet’ claim, which contradicts earlier statements.

Cloudflare’s lawyers contend that the WSJ article in question was meant to kick off a conversation and shouldn’t be taken literally.

“The WSJ Article was intended as an intellectual exercise to start a conversation regarding censorship and free speech on the internet. The WSJ Article had nothing to do with copyright infringement issues or Cloudflare’s DMCA policy and procedure.

“When Mr. Prince stated in the WSJ Article that ‘[he] helped kick a group of neo-Nazis off the internet last week,’ his comments were intended to illustrate a point – not to be taken literally,” Cloudflare’s legal team adds.

The deposition of Trey Guinn, a technical employee at Cloudflare, confirms that the company doesn’t have the power to cut a site off the Internet. It further suggests that the entire removal of Daily Stormer was in essence a provocation to start a conversation around freedom of speech.

From Guinn’s deposition

Still, since the lawsuit in question revolves around terminating customers, ALS Scan wants to depose Price to find out exactly when clients are terminated, and why he decided to go beyond Couldflare’s usual policy.

“No other employee can testify to Mr. Prince’s decision-making process when it comes to terminating a user’s access. No other employee can offer an explanation as to why The Daily Stormer’s account was terminated while repeat infringers’ accounts are allowed to remain.

“In a case where Mr. Prince’s personal judgment appears to govern even over Cloudflare’s own policies and procedures, Cloudflare cannot meet its heavy burden of demonstrating why he should not be deposed,” ALS Scan’s lawyers add.

To be continued.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Surviving Your First Year

Post Syndicated from Gleb Budman original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/startup-stages-surviving-your-first-year/

Surviving Your First Year

This post by Backblaze’s CEO and co-founder Gleb Budman is the fifth 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

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

In my previous posts, I talked about coming up with an idea, determining the solution, and getting your first customers. But you’re building a company, not a product. Let’s talk about what the first year should look like.

The primary goals for that first year are to: 1) set up the company; 2) build, launch, and learn; and 3) survive.

Setting Up the Company

The company you’re building is more than the product itself, and you’re not going to do it alone. You don’t want to spend too much time on this since getting customers is key, but if you don’t set up the basics, there are all sorts of issues down the line.

startup idea board

Find Your Co-Founders & Determine Roles

You may already have the idea, but who do you need to execute it? At Backblaze, we needed people to build the web experience, the client backup application, and the server/storage side. We also needed someone to handle the business/marketing aspects, and we felt that the design and user experience were critical. As a result, we started with five co-founders: three engineers, a designer, and me for the business and marketing.

Of course not every role needs to be filled by a co-founder. You can hire employees for positions as well. But think through the strategic skills you’ll need to launch and consider co-founders with those skill sets.

Too many people think they can just “work together” on everything. Don’t. Determine roles as quickly as possible so that it’s clear who is responsible for what work and which decisions. We were lucky in that we had worked together and thus knew what each person would do, but even so we assigned titles early on to clarify roles.

Takeaway:   Fill critical roles and explicitly split roles and responsibilities.

Get Your Legal Basics In Place

When we’re excited about building a product, legal basics are often the last thing we want to deal with. You don’t need to go overboard, but it’s critical to get certain things done.

  1. Determine ownership split. What is the percentage breakdown of the company that each of the founders will own? It can be a tough discussion, but it only becomes more difficult later when there is more value and people have put more time into it. At Backblaze we split the equity equally five ways. This is uncommon. The benefit of this is that all the founders feel valued and “in it together.” The benefit of the more common split where someone has a dominant share is that person is typically empowered to be the ultimate decision-maker. Slicing Pie provides some guidance on how to think about splitting equity. Regardless of which way you want you go, don’t put it off.
  2. Incorporate. Hard to be a company if you’re not. There are various formats, but if you plan to raise angel/venture funding, a Delaware-based C-corp is standard.
  3. Deal With Stock. At a minimum, issue stock to the founders, have each one buy their shares, and file an 83(b). Buying your shares at this stage might be $100. Filing the 83(b) election marks the date at which you purchased your shares, and shows that you bought them for what they were worth. This one piece of paper paper can make the difference between paying long-term capital gains rates (~20%) or income tax rates (~40%).
  4. Assign Intellectual Property. Ask everyone to sign a Proprietary Information and Inventions Assignment (“PIIA”). This document says that what they do at the company is owned by the company. Early on we had a friend who came by and brainstormed ideas. We thought of it as interesting banter. He later said he owned part of our storage design. While we worked it out together, a PIIA makes ownership clear.

The ownership split can be worked out by the founders directly. For the other items, I would involve lawyers. Some law firms will set up the basics and defer payment until you raise money or the business can pay for services out of operations. Gunderson Dettmer did that for us (ask for Bennett Yee). Cooley will do this on a casey-by-case basis as well.

Takeaway:  Don’t let the excitement of building a company distract you from filing the basic legal documents required to protect and grow your company.

Get Health Insurance

This item may seem out of place, but not having health insurance can easily bankrupt you personally, and that certainly won’t bode well for your company. While you can buy individual health insurance, it will often be less expensive to buy it as a company. Also, it will make recruiting employees more difficult if you do not offer healthcare. When we contacted brokers they asked us to send the W-2 of each employee that wanted coverage, but the founders weren’t taking a salary at first. To work around this, make the founders ‘officers’ of the company, and the healthcare brokers can then insure them. (Of course, you need to be ok with your co-founders being officers, but hopefully, that is logical anyway.)

Takeaway:  Don’t take your co-founders’ physical and financial health for granted. Health insurance can serve as both individual protection and a recruiting tool for future employees.

Building, Launching & Learning

Getting the company set up gives you the foundation, but ultimately a company with no product and no customers isn’t very interesting.

Build

Ideally, you have one person on the team focusing on all of the items above and everyone else can be heads-down building product. There is a lot to say about building product, but for this post, I’ll just say that your goal is to get something out the door that is good enough to start collecting feedback. It doesn’t have to have every feature you dream of and doesn’t have to support 1 billion users on day one.

Launch

If you’re building a car or rocket, that may take some time. But with the availability of open-source software and cloud services, most startups should launch inside of a year.

Launching forces a scoping of the feature set to what’s critical, rallies the company around a goal, starts building awareness of your company and solution, and pushes forward the learning process. Backblaze launched in public beta on June 2, 2008, eight months after the founders all started working on it full-time.

Takeaway:  Focus on the most important features and launch.

Learn & Iterate

As much as we think we know about the customers and their needs, the launch process and beyond opens up all sorts of insights. This early period is critical to collect feedback and iterate, especially while both the product and company are still quite malleable. We initially planned on building peer-to-peer and local backup immediately on the heels of our online offering, but after launching found minimal demand for those features. On the other hand, there was tremendous demand from companies and resellers.

Takeaway:  Use the critical post-launch period to collect feedback and iterate.

Surviving

“Live to fight another day.” If the company doesn’t survive, it’s hard to change the world. Let’s talk about some of the survival components.

Consider What You As A Founding Team Want & How You Work

Are you doing this because you hope to get rich? See yourself on the cover of Fortune? Make your own decisions? Work from home all the time? Founder fighting is the number one reason companies fail; the founders need to be on the same page as much as possible.

At Backblaze we agreed very early on that we wanted three things:

  1. Build products we were proud of
  2. Have fun
  3. Make money

This has driven various decisions over the years and has evolved into being part of the culture. For example, while Backblaze is absolutely a company with a profit motive, we do not compromise the product to make more money. Other directions are not bad; they’re just different.

Do you want a lifestyle business? Or want to build a billion dollar business? Want to run it forever or build it for a couple years and do something else?

Pretend you’re getting married to each other. Do some introspection and talk about your vision of the future a lot. Do you expect everyone to work 20 or 100 hours every week? In the office or remote? How do you like to work? What pet peeves do you have?

When getting married each person brings the “life they’ve known,” often influenced by the life their parents lived. Together they need to decide which aspects of their previous lives they want to keep, toss, or change. As founders coming together, you have the same opportunity for your new company.

Takeaway:  In order for a company to survive, the founders must agree on what they want the company to be. Have the discussions early.

Determine How You Will Fund Your Business

Raising venture capital is often seen as the only path, and considered the most important thing to start doing on day one. However, there are a variety of options for funding your business, including using money from savings, part-time work, friends & family money, loans, angels, and customers. Consider the right option for you, your founding team, and your business.

Conserve Cash

Whichever option you choose for funding your business, chances are high that you will not be flush with cash on day one. In certain situations, you actually don’t want to conserve cash because you’ve raised $100m and now you want to run as fast as you can to capture a market — cash is plentiful and time is not. However, with the exception of founder struggles, running out of cash is the most common way companies go under. There are many ways to conserve cash — limit hiring of employees and consultants, use lawyers and accountants sparingly, don’t spend on advertising, work from a home office, etc. The most important way is to simply ensure that you and your team are cash conscious, challenging decisions that commit you to spending cash.

Backblaze spent a total of $94,122 to get to public beta launch. That included building the backup application, our own server infrastructure, the website with account/billing/restore functionality, the marketing involved in getting to launch, and all the steps above in setting up the company, paying for healthcare, etc. The five founders took no salary during this time (which, of course, would have cost dramatically more), so most of this money went to computers, servers, hard drives, and other infrastructure.

Takeaway:  Minimize cash burn — it extends your runway and gives you options.

Slowly Flesh Out Your Team

We started with five co-founders, and thus a fairly fleshed-out team. A year in, we only added one person, a Mac architect. Three months later we shipped a beta of our Mac version, which has resulted in more than 50% of our revenue.

Minimizing hiring is key to cash conservation, and hiring ahead of getting market feedback is risky since you may realize that the talent you need will change. However, once you start getting feedback, think about the key people that you need to move your company forward. But be rigorous in determining whether they’re critical. We didn’t hire our first customer support person until all five founders were spending 20% of their time on it.

Takeaway:  Don’t hire in anticipation of market growth; hire to fuel the growth.

Keep Your Spirits Up

Startups are roller coasters of emotion. There have been some serious articles about founders suffering from depression and worse. The idea phase is exhilarating, then there is the slog of building. The launch is a blast, but the week after there are crickets.

On June 2, 2008, we launched in public beta with great press and hordes of customers. But a few months later we were signing up only about 10 new customers per month. That’s $50 new monthly recurring revenue (MRR) after a year of work and no salary.

On August 25, 2008, we brought on our Mac architect. Two months later, on October 26, 2008, Apple launched Time Machine — completely free and built-in backup for all Macs.

There were plenty of times when our prospects looked bleak. In the rearview mirror it’s easy to say, “well sure, but now you have lots of customers,” or “yes, but Time Machine doesn’t do cloud backup.” But at the time neither of these were a given.

Takeaway:  Getting up each day and believing that as a team you’ll figure it out will let you get to the point where you can look in the rearview mirror and say, “It looked bleak back then.”

Succeeding in Your First Year

I titled the post “Surviving Your First Year,” but if you manage to, 1) set up the company; 2) build, launch, and learn; and 3) survive, you will have done more than survive: you’ll have truly succeeded in your first year.

The post Surviving Your First Year appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

NSA Spied on Early File-Sharing Networks, Including BitTorrent

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/nsa-spied-on-early-file-sharing-networks-including-bittorrent-170914/

In the early 2000s, when peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing was in its infancy, the majority of users had no idea that their activities could be monitored by outsiders. The reality was very different, however.

As few as they were, all of the major networks were completely open, with most operating a ‘shared folder’ type system that allowed any network participant to see exactly what another user was sharing. Nevertheless, with little to no oversight, file-sharing at least felt like a somewhat private affair.

As user volumes began to swell, software such as KaZaA (which utilized the FastTrack network) and eDonkey2000 (eD2k network) attracted attention from record labels, who were desperate to stop the unlicensed sharing of copyrighted content. The same held true for the BitTorrent networks that arrived on the scene a couple of years later.

Through the rise of lawsuits against consumers, the general public began to learn that their activities on P2P networks were not secret and they were being watched for some, if not all, of the time by copyright holders. Little did they know, however, that a much bigger player was also keeping a watchful eye.

According to a fascinating document just released by The Intercept as part of the Edward Snowden leaks, the National Security Agency (NSA) showed a keen interest in trying to penetrate early P2P networks.

Initially published by internal NSA news site SIDToday in June 2005, the document lays out the aims of a program called FAVA – File-Sharing Analysis and Vulnerability Assessment.

“One question that naturally arises after identifying file-sharing traffic is whether or not there is anything of intelligence value in this traffic,” the NSA document begins.

“By searching our collection databases, it is clear that many targets are using popular file sharing applications; but if they are merely sharing the latest release of their favorite pop star, this traffic is of dubious value (no offense to Britney Spears intended).”

Indeed, the vast majority of users of these early networks were only been interested in sharing relatively small music files, which were somewhat easy to manage given the bandwidth limitations of the day. However, the NSA still wanted to know what was happening on a broader scale, so that meant decoding their somewhat limited encryption.

“As many of the applications, such as KaZaA for example, encrypt their traffic, we first had to decrypt the traffic before we could begin to parse the messages. We have developed the capability to decrypt and decode both KaZaA and eDonkey traffic to determine which files are being shared, and what queries are being performed,” the NSA document reveals.

Most progress appears to have been made against KaZaA, with the NSA revealing the use of tools to parse out registry entries on users’ hard drives. This information gave up users’ email addresses, country codes, user names, the location of their stored files, plus a list of recent searches.

This gave the NSA the ability to look deeper into user behavior, which revealed some P2P users going beyond searches for basic run-of-the-mill multimedia content.

“[We] have discovered that our targets are using P2P systems to search for and share files which are at the very least somewhat surprising — not simply harmless music and movie files. With more widespread adoption, these tools will allow us to regularly assimilate data which previously had been passed over; giving us a more complete picture of our targets and their activities,” the document adds.

Today, more than 12 years later, with KaZaA long dead and eDonkey barely alive, scanning early pirate activities might seem a distant act. However, there’s little doubt that similar programs remain active today. Even in 2005, the FAVA program had lofty ambitions, targeting other networks and protocols including DirectConnect, Freenet, Gnutella, Gnutella2, JoltID, MSN Messenger, Windows Messenger and……BitTorrent.

“If you have a target using any of these applications or using some other application which might fall into the P2P category, please contact us,” the NSA document urges staff. “We would be more than happy to help.”

Confirming the continued interest in BitTorrent, The Intercept has published a couple of further documents which deal with the protocol directly.

The first details an NSA program called GRIMPLATE, which aimed to study how Department of Defense employees were using BitTorrent and whether that constituted a risk.

The second relates to P2P research carried out by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency. It details DIRTY RAT, a web application which gave the government to “the capability to identify users sharing/downloading files of interest on the eMule (Kademlia) and BitTorrent networks.”

The SIDToday document detailing the FAVA program can be viewed here

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Announcing the Winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge – Conversational, Intelligent Chatbots using Amazon Lex and AWS Lambda

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/announcing-the-winners-of-the-aws-chatbot-challenge-conversational-intelligent-chatbots-using-amazon-lex-and-aws-lambda/

A couple of months ago on the blog, I announced the AWS Chatbot Challenge in conjunction with Slack. The AWS Chatbot Challenge was an opportunity to build a unique chatbot that helped to solve a problem or that would add value for its prospective users. The mission was to build a conversational, natural language chatbot using Amazon Lex and leverage Lex’s integration with AWS Lambda to execute logic or data processing on the backend.

I know that you all have been anxiously waiting to hear announcements of who were the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge as much as I was. Well wait no longer, the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge have been decided.

May I have the Envelope Please? (The Trumpets sound)

The winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge are:

  • First Place: BuildFax Counts by Joe Emison
  • Second Place: Hubsy by Andrew Riess, Andrew Puch, and John Wetzel
  • Third Place: PFMBot by Benny Leong and his team from MoneyLion.
  • Large Organization Winner: ADP Payroll Innovation Bot by Eric Liu, Jiaxing Yan, and Fan Yang

 

Diving into the Winning Chatbot Projects

Let’s take a walkthrough of the details for each of the winning projects to get a view of what made these chatbots distinctive, as well as, learn more about the technologies used to implement the chatbot solution.

 

BuildFax Counts by Joe Emison

The BuildFax Counts bot was created as a real solution for the BuildFax company to decrease the amount the time that sales and marketing teams can get answers on permits or properties with permits meet certain criteria.

BuildFax, a company co-founded by bot developer Joe Emison, has the only national database of building permits, which updates data from approximately half of the United States on a monthly basis. In order to accommodate the many requests that come in from the sales and marketing team regarding permit information, BuildFax has a technical sales support team that fulfills these requests sent to a ticketing system by manually writing SQL queries that run across the shards of the BuildFax databases. Since there are a large number of requests received by the internal sales support team and due to the manual nature of setting up the queries, it may take several days for getting the sales and marketing teams to receive an answer.

The BuildFax Counts chatbot solves this problem by taking the permit inquiry that would normally be sent into a ticket from the sales and marketing team, as input from Slack to the chatbot. Once the inquiry is submitted into Slack, a query executes and the inquiry results are returned immediately.

Joe built this solution by first creating a nightly export of the data in their BuildFax MySQL RDS database to CSV files that are stored in Amazon S3. From the exported CSV files, an Amazon Athena table was created in order to run quick and efficient queries on the data. He then used Amazon Lex to create a bot to handle the common questions and criteria that may be asked by the sales and marketing teams when seeking data from the BuildFax database by modeling the language used from the BuildFax ticketing system. He added several different sample utterances and slot types; both custom and Lex provided, in order to correctly parse every question and criteria combination that could be received from an inquiry.  Using Lambda, Joe created a Javascript Lambda function that receives information from the Lex intent and used it to build a SQL statement that runs against the aforementioned Athena database using the AWS SDK for JavaScript in Node.js library to return inquiry count result and SQL statement used.

The BuildFax Counts bot is used today for the BuildFax sales and marketing team to get back data on inquiries immediately that previously took up to a week to receive results.

Not only is BuildFax Counts bot our 1st place winner and wonderful solution, but its creator, Joe Emison, is a great guy.  Joe has opted to donate his prize; the $5,000 cash, the $2,500 in AWS Credits, and one re:Invent ticket to the Black Girls Code organization. I must say, you rock Joe for helping these kids get access and exposure to technology.

 

Hubsy by Andrew Riess, Andrew Puch, and John Wetzel

Hubsy bot was created to redefine and personalize the way users traditionally manage their HubSpot account. HubSpot is a SaaS system providing marketing, sales, and CRM software. Hubsy allows users of HubSpot to create engagements and log engagements with customers, provide sales teams with deals status, and retrieves client contact information quickly. Hubsy uses Amazon Lex’s conversational interface to execute commands from the HubSpot API so that users can gain insights, store and retrieve data, and manage tasks directly from Facebook, Slack, or Alexa.

In order to implement the Hubsy chatbot, Andrew and the team members used AWS Lambda to create a Lambda function with Node.js to parse the users request and call the HubSpot API, which will fulfill the initial request or return back to the user asking for more information. Terraform was used to automatically setup and update Lambda, CloudWatch logs, as well as, IAM profiles. Amazon Lex was used to build the conversational piece of the bot, which creates the utterances that a person on a sales team would likely say when seeking information from HubSpot. To integrate with Alexa, the Amazon Alexa skill builder was used to create an Alexa skill which was tested on an Echo Dot. Cloudwatch Logs are used to log the Lambda function information to CloudWatch in order to debug different parts of the Lex intents. In order to validate the code before the Terraform deployment, ESLint was additionally used to ensure the code was linted and proper development standards were followed.

 

PFMBot by Benny Leong and his team from MoneyLion

PFMBot, Personal Finance Management Bot,  is a bot to be used with the MoneyLion finance group which offers customers online financial products; loans, credit monitoring, and free credit score service to improve the financial health of their customers. Once a user signs up an account on the MoneyLion app or website, the user has the option to link their bank accounts with the MoneyLion APIs. Once the bank account is linked to the APIs, the user will be able to login to their MoneyLion account and start having a conversation with the PFMBot based on their bank account information.

The PFMBot UI has a web interface built with using Javascript integration. The chatbot was created using Amazon Lex to build utterances based on the possible inquiries about the user’s MoneyLion bank account. PFMBot uses the Lex built-in AMAZON slots and parsed and converted the values from the built-in slots to pass to AWS Lambda. The AWS Lambda functions interacting with Amazon Lex are Java-based Lambda functions which call the MoneyLion Java-based internal APIs running on Spring Boot. These APIs obtain account data and related bank account information from the MoneyLion MySQL Database.

 

ADP Payroll Innovation Bot by Eric Liu, Jiaxing Yan, and Fan Yang

ADP PI (Payroll Innovation) bot is designed to help employees of ADP customers easily review their own payroll details and compare different payroll data by just asking the bot for results. The ADP PI Bot additionally offers issue reporting functionality for employees to report payroll issues and aids HR managers in quickly receiving and organizing any reported payroll issues.

The ADP Payroll Innovation bot is an ecosystem for the ADP payroll consisting of two chatbots, which includes ADP PI Bot for external clients (employees and HR managers), and ADP PI DevOps Bot for internal ADP DevOps team.


The architecture for the ADP PI DevOps bot is different architecture from the ADP PI bot shown above as it is deployed internally to ADP. The ADP PI DevOps bot allows input from both Slack and Alexa. When input comes into Slack, Slack sends the request to Lex for it to process the utterance. Lex then calls the Lambda backend, which obtains ADP data sitting in the ADP VPC running within an Amazon VPC. When input comes in from Alexa, a Lambda function is called that also obtains data from the ADP VPC running on AWS.

The architecture for the ADP PI bot consists of users entering in requests and/or entering issues via Slack. When requests/issues are entered via Slack, the Slack APIs communicate via Amazon API Gateway to AWS Lambda. The Lambda function either writes data into one of the Amazon DynamoDB databases for recording issues and/or sending issues or it sends the request to Lex. When sending issues, DynamoDB integrates with Trello to keep HR Managers abreast of the escalated issues. Once the request data is sent from Lambda to Lex, Lex processes the utterance and calls another Lambda function that integrates with the ADP API and it calls ADP data from within the ADP VPC, which runs on Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC).

Python and Node.js were the chosen languages for the development of the bots.

The ADP PI bot ecosystem has the following functional groupings:

Employee Functionality

  • Summarize Payrolls
  • Compare Payrolls
  • Escalate Issues
  • Evolve PI Bot

HR Manager Functionality

  • Bot Management
  • Audit and Feedback

DevOps Functionality

  • Reduce call volume in service centers (ADP PI Bot).
  • Track issues and generate reports (ADP PI Bot).
  • Monitor jobs for various environment (ADP PI DevOps Bot)
  • View job dashboards (ADP PI DevOps Bot)
  • Query job details (ADP PI DevOps Bot)

 

Summary

Let’s all wish all the winners of the AWS Chatbot Challenge hearty congratulations on their excellent projects.

You can review more details on the winning projects, as well as, all of the submissions to the AWS Chatbot Challenge at: https://awschatbot2017.devpost.com/submissions. If you are curious on the details of Chatbot challenge contest including resources, rules, prizes, and judges, you can review the original challenge website here:  https://awschatbot2017.devpost.com/.

Hopefully, you are just as inspired as I am to build your own chatbot using Lex and Lambda. For more information, take a look at the Amazon Lex developer guide or the AWS AI blog on Building Better Bots Using Amazon Lex (Part 1)

Chat with you soon!

Tara

Wanted: Front End Developer

Post Syndicated from Yev original https://www.backblaze.com/blog/wanted-front-end-developer/

Want to work at a company that helps customers in over 150 countries around the world protect the memories they hold dear? Do you want to challenge yourself with a business that serves consumers, SMBs, Enterprise, and developers? If all that sounds interesting, you might be interested to know that Backblaze is looking for a Front End Developer​!

Backblaze is a 10 year old company. Providing great customer experiences is the “secret sauce” that enables us to successfully compete against some of technology’s giants. We’ll finish the year at ~$20MM ARR and are a profitable business. This is an opportunity to have your work shine at scale in one of the fastest growing verticals in tech – Cloud Storage.

You will utilize HTML, ReactJS, CSS and jQuery to develop intuitive, elegant user experiences. As a member of our Front End Dev team, you will work closely with our web development, software design, and marketing teams.

On a day to day basis, you must be able to convert image mockups to HTML or ReactJS – There’s some production work that needs to get done. But you will also be responsible for helping build out new features, rethink old processes, and enabling third party systems to empower our marketing/sales/ and support teams.

Our Front End Developer must be proficient in:

  • HTML, ReactJS
  • UTF-8, Java Properties, and Localized HTML (Backblaze runs in 11 languages!)
  • JavaScript, CSS, Ajax
  • jQuery, Bootstrap
  • JSON, XML
  • Understanding of cross-browser compatibility issues and ways to work around them
  • Basic SEO principles and ensuring that applications will adhere to them
  • Learning about third party marketing and sales tools through reading documentation. Our systems include Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Salesforce, and Hubspot

Struts, Java, JSP, Servlet and Apache Tomcat are a plus, but not required.

We’re looking for someone that is:

  • Passionate about building friendly, easy to use Interfaces and APIs.
  • Likes to work closely with other engineers, support, and marketing to help customers.
  • Is comfortable working independently on a mutually agreed upon prioritization queue (we don’t micromanage, we do make sure tasks are reasonably defined and scoped).
  • Diligent with quality control. Backblaze prides itself on giving our team autonomy to get work done, do the right thing for our customers, and keep a pace that is sustainable over the long run. As such, we expect everyone that checks in code that is stable. We also have a small QA team that operates as a secondary check when needed.

Backblaze Employees Have:

  • Good attitude and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done
  • Strong desire to work for a small fast, paced company
  • Desire to learn and adapt to rapidly changing technologies and work environment
  • Comfort with well behaved pets in the office

This position is located in San Mateo, California. Regular attendance in the office is expected. Backblaze is an Equal Opportunity Employer and we offer competitive salary and benefits, including our no policy vacation policy.

If this sounds like you
Send an email to [email protected] with:

  1. Front End Dev​ in the subject line
  2. Your resume attached
  3. An overview of your relevant experience

The post Wanted: Front End Developer appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

Game of Thrones Pirates Arrested For Leaking Episode Early

Post Syndicated from Andy original https://torrentfreak.com/game-of-thrones-pirates-arrested-for-leaking-episode-early-170814/

Over the past several years, Game of Thrones has become synonymous with fantastic drama and story telling on the one hand, and Internet piracy on the other. It’s the most pirated TV show in history, hands down.

With the new season well underway, another GoT drama began to unfold early August when the then-unaired episode “The Spoils of War” began to circulate on various file-sharing and streaming sites. The leak only trumped the official release by a few days, but that didn’t stop people downloading in droves.

As previously reported, the leaked episode stated that it was “For Internal Viewing Only” at the top of the screen and on the bottom right sported a “Star India Pvt Ltd” watermark. The company commented shortly after.

“We take this breach very seriously and have immediately initiated forensic investigations at our and the technology partner’s end to swiftly determine the cause. This is a grave issue and we are taking appropriate legal remedial action,” a spokesperson said.

Now, just ten days later, that investigation has already netted its first victims. Four people have reportedly been arrested in India for leaking the episode before it aired.

“We investigated the case and have arrested four individuals for unauthorized publication of the fourth episode from season seven,” Deputy Commissioner of Police Akbar Pathan told AFP.

The report indicates that a complaint was filed by a Mumbai-based company that was responsible for storing and processing the TV episodes for an app. It has been named locally as Prime Focus Technologies, which markets itself as a Netflix “Preferred Vendor”.

It’s claimed that at least some of the men had access to login credentials for Game of Thrones episodes which were then abused for the purposes of leaking.

Local media identified the men as Bhaskar Joshi, Alok Sharma and Abhishek Ghadiyal, who were employed by Prime Focus, and Mohamad Suhail, a former employee, who was responsible for leaking the episode onto the Internet.

All of the men were based in Bangalore and were interrogated “throughout the night” at their workplace on August 11. Star India welcomed the arrests and thanked the authorities for their swift action.

“We are deeply grateful to the police for their swift and prompt action. We believe that valuable intellectual property is a critical part of the development of the creative industry and strict enforcement of the law is essential to protecting it,” the company said in a statement.

“We at Star India and Novi Digital Entertainment Private Limited stand committed and ready to help the law enforcement agencies with any technical assistance and help they may require in taking the investigation to its logical conclusion.”

The men will be held in custody until August 21 while investigations continue.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

MPAA Revenue Stabilizes, Chris Dodd Earns $3.5 Million

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/mpaa-revenue-stabilizes-chris-dodd-earns-3-5-million170813/

Protecting the interests of Hollywood, the MPAA has been heavily involved in numerous anti-piracy efforts around the world in recent years.

Through its involvement in the shutdowns of Popcorn Time, YIFY, isoHunt, Hotfile, Megaupload and several other platforms, the MPAA has worked hard to target piracy around the globe.

Perhaps just as importantly, the group lobbies lawmakers globally while managing anti-piracy campaigns both in and outside the US, including the Creative Content UK program.

All this work doesn’t come for free, obviously, so the MPAA relies on six major movie studios for financial support. After its revenues plummeted a few years ago, they have steadily recovered and according to its latest tax filing, the MPAA’s total income is now over $72 million.

The IRS filing, covering the fiscal year 2015, reveals that the movie studios contributed $65 million, the same as a year earlier. Overall revenue has stabilized as well, after a few years of modest growth.

Going over the numbers, we see that salaries make up a large chunk of the expenses. Former Senator Chris Dodd, the MPAA’s Chairman and CEO, is the highest paid employee with a total income of more than $3.5 million, including a $250,000 bonus.

It was recently announced that Dodd will leave the MPAA next month. He will be replaced by Charles Rivkin, another political heavyweight. Rivkin previously served as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs in the Obama administration.

In addition to Dodd, there are two other employees who made over a million in 2015, Global General Counsel Steve Fabrizio and Diane Strahan, the MPAA’s Chief Operating Officer.

Looking at some of the other expenses we see that the MPAA’s lobbying budget remained stable at $4.2 million. Another $4.4 million went to various grants, while legal costs totaled $7.2 million that year.

More than two million dollars worth of legal expenses were paid to the US law firm Jenner & Block, which represented the movie studios in various court cases. In addition, the MPAA paid more than $800,000 to the UK law firm Wiggin, which assisted the group in local site-blocking efforts.

Finally, it’s worth looking at the various gifts and grants the MPAA hands out. As reported last year, the group handsomely contributes to various research projects. This includes a recurring million dollar grant for Carnegie Mellon’s ‘Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics’ (IDEA), which researches various piracy related topics.

IDEA co-director Rahul Telang previously informed us that the gift is used to hire researchers and pay for research materials. It is not tied to a particular project.

We also see $70,000+ in donations for both the Democratic and Republican Attorneys General associations. The purpose of the grants is listed as “general support.” Interestingly, just recently over a dozen Attorneys General released a public service announcement warning the public to stay away from pirate sites.

These type of donations and grants are nothing new and are a regular part of business across many industries. Still, they are worth keeping in mind.

It will be interesting to see which direction the MPAA takes in the years to come. Under Chris Dodd it has booked a few notable successes, but there is still a long way to go before the piracy situation is somewhat under control.



MPAA’s full form 990 was published in Guidestar recently and a copy is available here (pdf).

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Popcorn Time Devs Help Streaming Aggregator Reelgood to ‘Fix Piracy’

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/popcorn-time-devs-help-streaming-aggregator-reelgood-to-fix-piracy-170812/

During the fall of 2015, the MPAA shut down one of the most prominent pirate streaming services, Popcorn Time fork PopcornTime.io.

While the service was found to be clearly infringing, many of the developers didn’t set out to break the law. Most of all, they wanted to provide the public with easy access to their favorite movies and TV-shows.

Fast forward nearly two years and several of these Popcorn Time developers are still on the same quest. The main difference is that they now operate on the safe side of the law.

The startup they’re working with is called Reelgood, which can be best described as a streaming service aggregator. The San-Francisco based company, founded by ex-Facebook employee David Sanderson, recently raised $3.5 million and has opened its doors to the public.

The goal of Reelgood is similar to Popcorn Time in the way that it aims to be the go-to tool for people to access their entertainment. Instead of using pirate sources, however, Reelgood stitches together content from various legal platforms, both paid and free.

Reelgood

TorrentFreak spoke to former Popcorn Time developer Luigi Poole, who’s leading the charge on the development of Reelgood’s web app. He stresses that the increasing fragmentation of streaming services, which drives some people to pirate sites, is one of the problems Reelgood hopes to fix.

“There’s a misconception that torrenting is done by bad people who don’t want to pay for content. I’d say, in the vast majority of cases, torrenting is a symptom of the massive fragmentation that’s been given as the only legal option to the consumer,” Poole says.

While people have many reasons to pirate, some stick to unauthorized services because it’s simply too cumbersome to dig through all the legal options. Pirate sites have a single interface to all popular movies and TV-shows and legal platforms don’t.

“The modern TV/movie ecosystem is made up of an increasing number of different services. This makes finding content like changing channels, only more complicated. Is that movie you’re about to buy or rent on a service you already pay for? Right now there’s no way to do this other than a cumbersome search using each service’s individual search. Time to go digging,” Poole says.

“We believe this is the main reason people torrent — it’s just easier, given that the legal options presented to us are essentially a ‘go fetch’ treasure hunt,” he adds.

Flipping that channel on an old school television often beats the online streaming experience. That is, for those who want more than Netflix alone.

And the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. As we reported earlier this week, there’s a trend towards more fragmentation, instead of less. Disney is pulling some of its most popular content from the US Netflix in 2019, keeping piracy relevant.

“The untold story is that consumers are throwing up their hands with all this fragmentation, and turning to torrenting not because it’s free, but because it’s intuitive and easy,” Poole says.

“Reelgood fixes this problem by acting as a pirate site interface for every legal option, sort of like a TV guide to anything streaming, also giving you notifications anytime something is new, letting you track when certain content becomes available, and not only telling you where it’s available but taking you straight there with one click to play.”

Reelgood can be seen as a defragmentation tool, creating a uniform interface for all the legal platforms people have access to. In addition to paid services such as Netflix and HBO, it also lists free content from Fox, CBS, Crackle, and many other providers.

TorrentFreak took it for a spin and it indeed works as advertised. Simply add your streaming service accounts and all will be bundled into an elegant and uniform interface that allows you to watch and track everything with a single click.

The service is still limited to US libraries but there are already plans to expand it to other countries, which is promising. While it may not eradicate piracy anytime soon, it does a good job of trying to organize the increasingly complex streaming landscape.

Unfortunately, it’s still not cheap to use more than a handful of paid services, but that’s a problem even Reelgood can’t fix. Not even with help from seven former Popcorn Time developers.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

We Are Not Having a Productive Debate About Women in Tech

Post Syndicated from Bozho original https://techblog.bozho.net/not-productive-debate-women-tech/

Yes, it’s about the “anti-diversity memo”. But I won’t go into particular details of the memo, the firing, who’s right and wrong, who’s liberal and who’s conservative. Actually, I don’t need to repeat this post, which states almost exactly what I think about the particular issue. Just in case, and before someone decided to label me as “sexist white male” that knows nothing, I guess should clearly state that I acknowledge that biases against women are real and that I strongly support equal opportunity, and I think there must be more women in technology. I also have to state that I think the author of “the memo” was well-meaning, had some well argued, research-backed points and should not be ostracized.

But I want to “rant” about the quality of the debate. On one side we have conservatives who are throwing themselves in defense of the fired googler, insisting that liberals are banning conservative points of view, that it is normal to have so few woman in tech and that everything is actually okay, or even that women are inferior. On the other side we have triggered liberals that are ready to shout “discrimination” and “harassment” at anything that resembles an attempt to claim anything different than total and absolute equality, in many cases using a classical “strawman” argument (e.g. “he’s saying women should not work in tech, he’s obviously wrong”).

Everyone seems to be too eager to take side and issue a verdict on who’s right and who’s wrong, to blame the other side for all related and unrelated woes and while doing that, exhibit a huge amount of biases. If the debate is about that, we’d better shut it down as soon as possible, as it’s not going to lead anywhere. No matter how much conservatives want “a debate”, and no matter how much liberals want to advance equality. Oh, and by the way – this “conservatives” vs “liberals” is a false dichotomy. Most people hold a somewhat sensible stance in between. But let’s get to the actual issue:

Women are underrepresented in STEM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics). That is a fact everyone agrees on and is blatantly obvious when you walk in any software company office.

Why is that the case? The whole debate revolved around biological and social differences, some of which are probably even true – that women value job flexibility more than being promoted or getting higher salary, that they are more neurotic (on average), that they are less confident, that they are more empathic and so on. These difference have been studied and documented, and as much as I have my reservations about psychology studies (so much so, that even meta-analysis are shown by meta-meta-analysis to be flawed) and social science in general, there seems to be a consensus there (by the way, it’s a shame that Gizmodo removed all the scientific references when they first published “the memo”). But that is not the issue. As it has been pointed out, there’s equal applicability of male and female “inherent” traits when working with technology.

Why are we talking about “techonology”, and why not “mining and construction”, as many will point out. Let’s cut that argument once and for all – mining and construction are blue collar jobs that have a high chance of being automated in the near future and are in decline. The problem that we’re trying to solve is – how to make the dominant profession of the future – information technology – one of equal opportunity. Yes, it’s a a bold claim, but software is going to be everywhere and the industry will grow. This is why it’s so important to discuss it, not because we are developers and we are somewhat affected by that.

So, there has been extended research on the matter, and the reasons are – surprise – complex and intertwined and there is no simple issue that, once resolved, will unlock the path of women to tech jobs.

What would diversity give us and why should we care? Let’s assume for a moment we don’t care about equal opportunity and we are right-leaning, conservative people. Well, imagine you have a growing business and you need to hire developers. What would you prefer – having fewer or more people of whom to choose from? Having fewer or more diverse skills (technical and social) on the job market? The answer is obvious. The more people, regardless of their gender, race, whatever, are on the job market, the better for businesses.

So I guess we’ve agreed on the two points so far – that women are underrepresented, and that it’s better for everyone if there are more people with technical skills on the job market, which includes more women.

The “final” questions is – how?

And this questions seems to not be anywhere in the discussion. Instead, we are going in circles with irrelevant arguments trying to either show that we’ve read more scientific papers than others, that we are more liberal than others or that we are more pro free speech.

Back to “how” – in Bulgaria we have a social meme: “I don’t know what is the right way, but the way you are doing it is NOT the right way”. And much of the underlying sentiment of “the memo” is similar – that google should stop doing some of the stuff it is doing about diversity, or do them differently (but doesn’t tell us how exactly). Hiring biases, internal programs, whatever, seem to bother him. But this is just talking about the surface of the problem. These programs are correcting something that remains hidden in “the memo”.

Google, on their diversity page, say that 20% of their tech employees are women. At the same time, in another diversity section, they claim “18% of CS graduates are women”. So, I guess, job done – they’ve reached the maximum possible diversity. They’ve hired as many women in tech as CS graduates there are. Anything more than that, even if it doesn’t mean they’ll hire worse developers, will leave the rest of the industry with less women. So, sure, 50/50 in Google would sound cool, but the industry average will still be bad.

And that’s the actual, underlying reason that we should have already arrived at, and we should’ve started discussing the “how”. Girls do not see STEM as a thing for them. Our biases are projected on younger girls which culminate at a “this is not for girls” mantra. No matter how diverse hiring policies we have, if we don’t address the issue at a way earlier stage, we aren’t getting anywhere.

In schools and even kindergartens we need to have an inclusive environment where “this is not for girls” is frowned upon. We should not discourage girls from liking math, or making math sound uncool and “hard for girls” (in my biased world I actually know more women mathematicians than men). This comic seems like on a different topic (gender-specific toys), but it’s actually not about toys – it’s about what is considered (stereo)typical of a girl to do. And most of these biases are unconscious, and come from all around us (school, TV, outdoor ads, people on the street, relatives, etc.), and it takes effort to confront them.

To do that, we need policy decisions. We need lobbying education departments / ministries to encourage girls more in the STEM direction (and don’t worry, they’ll be good at it). By the way, guess what – Google’s diversity program is not just about hiring more women, it actually includes education policies with stuff like “influencing perception about computer science”, “getting more girls to code” and scholarships.

Let’s discuss the education policies, the path to getting 40-50% of CS graduates to be female, and before that – more girls in schools with technical focus, and ultimately – how to get society to not perceive technology and science as “not for girls”. Let each girl decide on her own. All the other debates are short-sighted and not to the point at all. Will biological differences matter then? They probably will – but not significantly to justify a high gender imbalance.

I am no expert in education policies and I don’t know what will work and what won’t. There is research on the matter that we should look at, and maybe argue about it. Everything else is wasted keystrokes.

The post We Are Not Having a Productive Debate About Women in Tech appeared first on Bozho's tech blog.

Introducing the GameDay Essentials Show on AWS Twitch Channel

Post Syndicated from Tara Walker original https://aws.amazon.com/blogs/aws/game-day-essentials-show-on-twitch/

Imagine if you will, you have obtained a new position at Unicorn.Rentals, a company that specializes in LARM, Legendary Animal Rental Market. Given the chance, what child wouldn’t happily exchange anything for the temporary use of a unicorn? What parent could refuse the opportunity to make their children happy? Let’s estimate the year to be 2017 and Unicorn.Rentals continues to dominate in the animal rental market.

You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and lies at the beginning of man’s cloud knowledge. This is a journey into a wondrous land of imagination, a land of both shadow and substance. You are crossing over into the GameDay Essentials Zone.

Well, maybe not another dimension but almost as cool. Maybe, kinda? Either way, I am very excited to introduce the newest show on the AWS Twitch Channel named GameDay Essentials. The GameDay Essentials show is a  “new hire training program” for the aforementioned Unicorn.Rentals company scenario. You will step into the shoes of a new employee being ramped up and trained on cloud computing in order to work successfully for a company using Amazon Web Services.

 

With the GameDay Essentials show, you will get hands-on computing experience to help with the growth of the Unicorn.Rentals startup. The first episode, Recon, premiered on July 25th and provided information on logging services with CloudTrail and Cloudwatch, as well as, how to assess the configuration and identify existing inventory resources in an AWS Account. You can check out the recording of Episode 1–Recon here. The rest of season one for this six-part series airs on Tuesdays at 11:30 AM PT, the next three episodes discussing the following topics:

  • Episode 2 – Scaling: Learn how to scale your application infrastructure by diving into the how to of implementing scaling techniques and auto scaling groups. Airing on August 1 
  • Episode 3 – Changes: Winston Churchill is quoted saying “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often”. This GameDay episode is all about managing change as a key component to success. You will learn how to use native AWS security and deployment tools to track and manage change and discuss how to handle changes in team dynamics. Airing on August 8th
  • Episode 4 – Decoupling: Most people in the technology industry understand that you should avoid creating tightly coupled systems. Therefore, you will discover how loosely coupled systems operate and gain knowledge on how to diagnose any failures that may occur with these systems. Airing on August 15th 

Summary

Our latest show, GameDay Essentials is designed to help you “get into the game” and learn more about cloud computing and the AWS Platform. GameDay Essentials joins our other live coding shows already featured each week on the AWS Twitch Channel: Live Coding with AWS and AWS Maker Studio.

Tune in each week to the AWS Twitch channel to visit another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of cloud. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area, which we call the GameDay Essentials Zone. Get it, like the Twilight Zone, still no? Oh well, check out the GameDay Essentials show on Twitch on the AWS Channel, it is a great resource for interactive learning about cloud computing with AWS, so enjoy the ride.

Tara

HBO Got Hacked, Game of Thrones Spoilers Surface Online

Post Syndicated from Ernesto original https://torrentfreak.com/hbo-got-hacked-game-of-thrones-spoilers-surface-online-170801/

It appears that yet another large media outlet has fallen victim to a high-profile hack.

After Sony and, indirectly, Netflix, hackers have now compromised the network of the American cable and television network HBO.

Sunday evening a mysterious email was sent to reporters, announcing the prominent breach.

“Hi to all mankind. The greatest leak of cyber space era is happening. What’s its name? Oh I forget to tell. Its HBO and Game of Thrones……!!!!!!” the email read.

While several reports were published, the first by Entertainment Weekly, the actual leaked files were not widely available on the usual pirate sites. However, a few hours ago a website appeared online that claims to hold the ‘treasure trove.’

Winter-leak.com, a reference to the famous Game of Thrones “Winter is Coming” phrase, does indeed list several files that appear to come from HBO.

“In a complicate operation, we successfully penetrated in to the HBO Internal Network, Emails, technical platforms, and database and got precious and confidential stuff that blaze your eyes,” the hacker, or hackers write on their website.

The hackers claim to have 1.5 terabytes of data from the company. So far, previously unreleased episodes of Ballers, Barry, Insecure and Room 104 are featured on the site. However, there are also three separate archives listed, with over a terabyte of data.

Most prominent, perhaps, is a preliminary outline of the fourth episode of the current Game of Thrones season, which will air this coming Sunday.

At TorrentFreak, we always strive to find proof for reported leaks, and from what we’ve seen and gathered, it does indeed appear to be the real deal. The Game of Thrones information, for example, lists a preliminary outline of the fourth episode of season 7, including many spoilers.

As can be seen below, the outline itself is watermarked by the hackers, with the tagline “HBO is falling.”

Perhaps even more unusual, the leak also includes a video, featuring Game of Thrones images, the leaders, and a textual outline of the episode. As with the outline, the videos are available for the third and fourth episode of season 7.

HBO’s chairman and CEO, Richard Plepler, has confirmed that the company’s infrastructure was breached, but didn’t mention what information was accessed. He sent an email to employees a few hours ago, informing them about the “cyber incident.”

“As most of you have probably heard by now, there has been a cyber incident directed at the company which has resulted in some stolen proprietary information, including some of our programming,” he wrote.

“Any intrusion of this nature is obviously disruptive, unsettling, and disturbing for all of us. I can assure you that senior leadership and our extraordinary technology team, along with outside experts, are working round the clock to protect our collective interests.”

The full contents of the leaks have yet to be analyzed. It’s doubtful that any Game of Thrones episodes will leak, but there’s likely to be a lot of confidential information in the copied data, which HBO would otherwise prefer to keep to itself.

HBO has already mentioned that it’s doing everything in its power to prevent the leaks from spreading any further. In addition, they are also working with law enforcement to track down the people responsible.

Source: TF, for the latest info on copyright, file-sharing, torrent sites and ANONYMOUS VPN services.

Top 10 Most Obvious Hacks of All Time (v0.9)

Post Syndicated from Robert Graham original http://blog.erratasec.com/2017/07/top-10-most-obvious-hacks-of-all-time.html

For teaching hacking/cybersecurity, I thought I’d create of the most obvious hacks of all time. Not the best hacks, the most sophisticated hacks, or the hacks with the biggest impact, but the most obvious hacks — ones that even the least knowledgeable among us should be able to understand. Below I propose some hacks that fit this bill, though in no particular order.

The reason I’m writing this is that my niece wants me to teach her some hacking. I thought I’d start with the obvious stuff first.

Shared Passwords

If you use the same password for every website, and one of those websites gets hacked, then the hacker has your password for all your websites. The reason your Facebook account got hacked wasn’t because of anything Facebook did, but because you used the same email-address and password when creating an account on “beagleforums.com”, which got hacked last year.

I’ve heard people say “I’m sure, because I choose a complex password and use it everywhere”. No, this is the very worst thing you can do. Sure, you can the use the same password on all sites you don’t care much about, but for Facebook, your email account, and your bank, you should have a unique password, so that when other sites get hacked, your important sites are secure.

And yes, it’s okay to write down your passwords on paper.

Tools: HaveIBeenPwned.com

PIN encrypted PDFs

My accountant emails PDF statements encrypted with the last 4 digits of my Social Security Number. This is not encryption — a 4 digit number has only 10,000 combinations, and a hacker can guess all of them in seconds.
PIN numbers for ATM cards work because ATM machines are online, and the machine can reject your card after four guesses. PIN numbers don’t work for documents, because they are offline — the hacker has a copy of the document on their own machine, disconnected from the Internet, and can continue making bad guesses with no restrictions.
Passwords protecting documents must be long enough that even trillion upon trillion guesses are insufficient to guess.

Tools: Hashcat, John the Ripper

SQL and other injection

The lazy way of combining websites with databases is to combine user input with an SQL statement. This combines code with data, so the obvious consequence is that hackers can craft data to mess with the code.
No, this isn’t obvious to the general public, but it should be obvious to programmers. The moment you write code that adds unfiltered user-input to an SQL statement, the consequence should be obvious. Yet, “SQL injection” has remained one of the most effective hacks for the last 15 years because somehow programmers don’t understand the consequence.
CGI shell injection is a similar issue. Back in early days, when “CGI scripts” were a thing, it was really important, but these days, not so much, so I just included it with SQL. The consequence of executing shell code should’ve been obvious, but weirdly, it wasn’t. The IT guy at the company I worked for back in the late 1990s came to me and asked “this guy says we have a vulnerability, is he full of shit?”, and I had to answer “no, he’s right — obviously so”.

XSS (“Cross Site Scripting”) [*] is another injection issue, but this time at somebody’s web browser rather than a server. It works because websites will echo back what is sent to them. For example, if you search for Cross Site Scripting with the URL https://www.google.com/search?q=cross+site+scripting, then you’ll get a page back from the server that contains that string. If the string is JavaScript code rather than text, then some servers (thought not Google) send back the code in the page in a way that it’ll be executed. This is most often used to hack somebody’s account: you send them an email or tweet a link, and when they click on it, the JavaScript gives control of the account to the hacker.

Cross site injection issues like this should probably be their own category, but I’m including it here for now.

More: Wikipedia on SQL injection, Wikipedia on cross site scripting.
Tools: Burpsuite, SQLmap

Buffer overflows

In the C programming language, programmers first create a buffer, then read input into it. If input is long than the buffer, then it overflows. The extra bytes overwrite other parts of the program, letting the hacker run code.
Again, it’s not a thing the general public is expected to know about, but is instead something C programmers should be expected to understand. They should know that it’s up to them to check the length and stop reading input before it overflows the buffer, that there’s no language feature that takes care of this for them.
We are three decades after the first major buffer overflow exploits, so there is no excuse for C programmers not to understand this issue.

What makes particular obvious is the way they are wrapped in exploits, like in Metasploit. While the bug itself is obvious that it’s a bug, actually exploiting it can take some very non-obvious skill. However, once that exploit is written, any trained monkey can press a button and run the exploit. That’s where we get the insult “script kiddie” from — referring to wannabe-hackers who never learn enough to write their own exploits, but who spend a lot of time running the exploit scripts written by better hackers than they.

More: Wikipedia on buffer overflow, Wikipedia on script kiddie,  “Smashing The Stack For Fun And Profit” — Phrack (1996)
Tools: bash, Metasploit

SendMail DEBUG command (historical)

The first popular email server in the 1980s was called “SendMail”. It had a feature whereby if you send a “DEBUG” command to it, it would execute any code following the command. The consequence of this was obvious — hackers could (and did) upload code to take control of the server. This was used in the Morris Worm of 1988. Most Internet machines of the day ran SendMail, so the worm spread fast infecting most machines.
This bug was mostly ignored at the time. It was thought of as a theoretical problem, that might only rarely be used to hack a system. Part of the motivation of the Morris Worm was to demonstrate that such problems was to demonstrate the consequences — consequences that should’ve been obvious but somehow were rejected by everyone.

More: Wikipedia on Morris Worm

Email Attachments/Links

I’m conflicted whether I should add this or not, because here’s the deal: you are supposed to click on attachments and links within emails. That’s what they are there for. The difference between good and bad attachments/links is not obvious. Indeed, easy-to-use email systems makes detecting the difference harder.
On the other hand, the consequences of bad attachments/links is obvious. That worms like ILOVEYOU spread so easily is because people trusted attachments coming from their friends, and ran them.
We have no solution to the problem of bad email attachments and links. Viruses and phishing are pervasive problems. Yet, we know why they exist.

Default and backdoor passwords

The Mirai botnet was caused by surveillance-cameras having default and backdoor passwords, and being exposed to the Internet without a firewall. The consequence should be obvious: people will discover the passwords and use them to take control of the bots.
Surveillance-cameras have the problem that they are usually exposed to the public, and can’t be reached without a ladder — often a really tall ladder. Therefore, you don’t want a button consumers can press to reset to factory defaults. You want a remote way to reset them. Therefore, they put backdoor passwords to do the reset. Such passwords are easy for hackers to reverse-engineer, and hence, take control of millions of cameras across the Internet.
The same reasoning applies to “default” passwords. Many users will not change the defaults, leaving a ton of devices hackers can hack.

Masscan and background radiation of the Internet

I’ve written a tool that can easily scan the entire Internet in a short period of time. It surprises people that this possible, but it obvious from the numbers. Internet addresses are only 32-bits long, or roughly 4 billion combinations. A fast Internet link can easily handle 1 million packets-per-second, so the entire Internet can be scanned in 4000 seconds, little more than an hour. It’s basic math.
Because it’s so easy, many people do it. If you monitor your Internet link, you’ll see a steady trickle of packets coming in from all over the Internet, especially Russia and China, from hackers scanning the Internet for things they can hack.
People’s reaction to this scanning is weirdly emotional, taking is personally, such as:
  1. Why are they hacking me? What did I do to them?
  2. Great! They are hacking me! That must mean I’m important!
  3. Grrr! How dare they?! How can I hack them back for some retribution!?

I find this odd, because obviously such scanning isn’t personal, the hackers have no idea who you are.

Tools: masscan, firewalls

Packet-sniffing, sidejacking

If you connect to the Starbucks WiFi, a hacker nearby can easily eavesdrop on your network traffic, because it’s not encrypted. Windows even warns you about this, in case you weren’t sure.

At DefCon, they have a “Wall of Sheep”, where they show passwords from people who logged onto stuff using the insecure “DefCon-Open” network. Calling them “sheep” for not grasping this basic fact that unencrypted traffic is unencrypted.

To be fair, it’s actually non-obvious to many people. Even if the WiFi itself is not encrypted, SSL traffic is. They expect their services to be encrypted, without them having to worry about it. And in fact, most are, especially Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and other major services that won’t allow you to log in anymore without encryption.

But many services (especially old ones) may not be encrypted. Unless users check and verify them carefully, they’ll happily expose passwords.

What’s interesting about this was 10 years ago, when most services which only used SSL to encrypt the passwords, but then used unencrypted connections after that, using “cookies”. This allowed the cookies to be sniffed and stolen, allowing other people to share the login session. I used this on stage at BlackHat to connect to somebody’s GMail session. Google, and other major websites, fixed this soon after. But it should never have been a problem — because the sidejacking of cookies should have been obvious.

Tools: Wireshark, dsniff

Stuxnet LNK vulnerability

Again, this issue isn’t obvious to the public, but it should’ve been obvious to anybody who knew how Windows works.
When Windows loads a .dll, it first calls the function DllMain(). A Windows link file (.lnk) can load icons/graphics from the resources in a .dll file. It does this by loading the .dll file, thus calling DllMain. Thus, a hacker could put on a USB drive a .lnk file pointing to a .dll file, and thus, cause arbitrary code execution as soon as a user inserted a drive.
I say this is obvious because I did this, created .lnks that pointed to .dlls, but without hostile DllMain code. The consequence should’ve been obvious to me, but I totally missed the connection. We all missed the connection, for decades.

Social Engineering and Tech Support [* * *]

After posting this, many people have pointed out “social engineering”, especially of “tech support”. This probably should be up near #1 in terms of obviousness.

The classic example of social engineering is when you call tech support and tell them you’ve lost your password, and they reset it for you with minimum of questions proving who you are. For example, you set the volume on your computer really loud and play the sound of a crying baby in the background and appear to be a bit frazzled and incoherent, which explains why you aren’t answering the questions they are asking. They, understanding your predicament as a new parent, will go the extra mile in helping you, resetting “your” password.

One of the interesting consequences is how it affects domain names (DNS). It’s quite easy in many cases to call up the registrar and convince them to transfer a domain name. This has been used in lots of hacks. It’s really hard to defend against. If a registrar charges only $9/year for a domain name, then it really can’t afford to provide very good tech support — or very secure tech support — to prevent this sort of hack.

Social engineering is such a huge problem, and obvious problem, that it’s outside the scope of this document. Just google it to find example after example.

A related issue that perhaps deserves it’s own section is OSINT [*], or “open-source intelligence”, where you gather public information about a target. For example, on the day the bank manager is out on vacation (which you got from their Facebook post) you show up and claim to be a bank auditor, and are shown into their office where you grab their backup tapes. (We’ve actually done this).

More: Wikipedia on Social Engineering, Wikipedia on OSINT, “How I Won the Defcon Social Engineering CTF” — blogpost (2011), “Questioning 42: Where’s the Engineering in Social Engineering of Namespace Compromises” — BSidesLV talk (2016)

Blue-boxes (historical) [*]

Telephones historically used what we call “in-band signaling”. That’s why when you dial on an old phone, it makes sounds — those sounds are sent no differently than the way your voice is sent. Thus, it was possible to make tone generators to do things other than simply dial calls. Early hackers (in the 1970s) would make tone-generators called “blue-boxes” and “black-boxes” to make free long distance calls, for example.

These days, “signaling” and “voice” are digitized, then sent as separate channels or “bands”. This is call “out-of-band signaling”. You can’t trick the phone system by generating tones. When your iPhone makes sounds when you dial, it’s entirely for you benefit and has nothing to do with how it signals the cell tower to make a call.

Early hackers, like the founders of Apple, are famous for having started their careers making such “boxes” for tricking the phone system. The problem was obvious back in the day, which is why as the phone system moves from analog to digital, the problem was fixed.

More: Wikipedia on blue box, Wikipedia article on Steve Wozniak.

Thumb drives in parking lots [*]

A simple trick is to put a virus on a USB flash drive, and drop it in a parking lot. Somebody is bound to notice it, stick it in their computer, and open the file.

This can be extended with tricks. For example, you can put a file labeled “third-quarter-salaries.xlsx” on the drive that required macros to be run in order to open. It’s irresistible to other employees who want to know what their peers are being paid, so they’ll bypass any warning prompts in order to see the data.

Another example is to go online and get custom USB sticks made printed with the logo of the target company, making them seem more trustworthy.

We also did a trick of taking an Adobe Flash game “Punch the Monkey” and replaced the monkey with a logo of a competitor of our target. They now only played the game (infecting themselves with our virus), but gave to others inside the company to play, infecting others, including the CEO.

Thumb drives like this have been used in many incidents, such as Russians hacking military headquarters in Afghanistan. It’s really hard to defend against.

More: “Computer Virus Hits U.S. Military Base in Afghanistan” — USNews (2008), “The Return of the Worm That Ate The Pentagon” — Wired (2011), DoD Bans Flash Drives — Stripes (2008)

Googling [*]

Search engines like Google will index your website — your entire website. Frequently companies put things on their website without much protection because they are nearly impossible for users to find. But Google finds them, then indexes them, causing them to pop up with innocent searches.
There are books written on “Google hacking” explaining what search terms to look for, like “not for public release”, in order to find such documents.

More: Wikipedia entry on Google Hacking, “Google Hacking” book.

URL editing [*]

At the top of every browser is what’s called the “URL”. You can change it. Thus, if you see a URL that looks like this:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138493

Then you can edit it to see the next document on the server:

http://www.example.com/documents?id=138494

The owner of the website may think they are secure, because nothing points to this document, so the Google search won’t find it. But that doesn’t stop a user from manually editing the URL.
An example of this is a big Fortune 500 company that posts the quarterly results to the website an hour before the official announcement. Simply editing the URL from previous financial announcements allows hackers to find the document, then buy/sell the stock as appropriate in order to make a lot of money.
Another example is the classic case of Andrew “Weev” Auernheimer who did this trick in order to download the account email addresses of early owners of the iPad, including movie stars and members of the Obama administration. It’s an interesting legal case because on one hand, techies consider this so obvious as to not be “hacking”. On the other hand, non-techies, especially judges and prosecutors, believe this to be obviously “hacking”.

DDoS, spoofing, and amplification [*]

For decades now, online gamers have figured out an easy way to win: just flood the opponent with Internet traffic, slowing their network connection. This is called a DoS, which stands for “Denial of Service”. DoSing game competitors is often a teenager’s first foray into hacking.
A variant of this is when you hack a bunch of other machines on the Internet, then command them to flood your target. (The hacked machines are often called a “botnet”, a network of robot computers). This is called DDoS, or “Distributed DoS”. At this point, it gets quite serious, as instead of competitive gamers hackers can take down entire businesses. Extortion scams, DDoSing websites then demanding payment to stop, is a common way hackers earn money.
Another form of DDoS is “amplification”. Sometimes when you send a packet to a machine on the Internet it’ll respond with a much larger response, either a very large packet or many packets. The hacker can then send a packet to many of these sites, “spoofing” or forging the IP address of the victim. This causes all those sites to then flood the victim with traffic. Thus, with a small amount of outbound traffic, the hacker can flood the inbound traffic of the victim.
This is one of those things that has worked for 20 years, because it’s so obvious teenagers can do it, yet there is no obvious solution. President Trump’s executive order of cyberspace specifically demanded that his government come up with a report on how to address this, but it’s unlikely that they’ll come up with any useful strategy.

More: Wikipedia on DDoS, Wikipedia on Spoofing

Conclusion

Tweet me (@ErrataRob) your obvious hacks, so I can add them to the list.

Me on Restaurant Surveillance Technology

Post Syndicated from Bruce Schneier original https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2017/07/me_on_restauran.html

I attended the National Restaurant Association exposition in Chicago earlier this year, and looked at all the ways modern restaurant IT is spying on people.

But there’s also a fundamentally creepy aspect to much of this. One of the prime ways to increase value for your brand is to use the Internet to practice surveillance of both your customers and employees. The customer side feels less invasive: Loyalty apps are pretty nice, if in fact you generally go to the same place, as is the ability to place orders electronically or make reservations with a click. The question, Schneier asks, is “who owns the data?” There’s value to collecting data on spending habits, as we’ve seen across e-commerce. Are restaurants fully aware of what they are giving away? Schneier, a critic of data mining, points out that it becomes especially invasive through “secondary uses,” when the “data is correlated with other data and sold to third parties.” For example, perhaps you’ve entered your name, gender, and age into a taco loyalty app (12th taco free!). Later, the vendors of that app sell your data to other merchants who know where and when you eat, whether you are a vegetarian, and lots of other data that you have accidentally shed. Is that what customers really want?