Thursday, July 31, 2014

Technology and Waves

The technology landscape changes quickly, and nearly everyone knows that already.  However, the types of changes that occur fluctuate in waves; such as a hardware innovation like we saw in 2007 where Apple comes out with a touchscreen phone, so then by 2008 everyone else has a touchscreen phone.  Other times it's software, like we saw with digital assistant services such as Apple's Siri, Googles' Google Now or the new Cortana from Microsoft.

Microsoft Cortana In Action...

These waves are analogous to ocean waves in more ways than you would think.  Much like the ocean that has small waves that under normal circumstances will produce a predictable wave frequency (x waves per year, often being annual product refreshes), these smaller waves sometimes combine to create a bigger wave.  Examples of this include faster networking, mobile file access, and better data centres combine to give us Cloud-computing, which generates massive upheaval as mobile and desktop operating systems, developer applications, office suites and everything else gets cleavered to hack in this new technology.

So what waves are we seeing right now?  In short, things are coming to a head in two areas:

  • Power
  • Security
Power is an issue because we are on the move so much and whilst CPU's are getting faster, phones do more and data and display requirements go through the roof, the underlying battery technology hasn't exactly changed much in decades.

Security is an issue due to two factors; first the NSA snooping fiasco has gotten everyone from the general public to governments [such as Germany] up tight, then secondly the amount of cyber-crime and cyber-terrorism is going through the roof.  I've said in the past that people will be waking up to what's really going on for a few years, but it seems like this year it finally happened.  Again, some of the reasons behind this being a problem is the underlying technology hasn't changed in a long time, meaning anyone with a nefarious agenda can sit and pore over the code to see how it works and where it's weaknesses are.

This brings us nicely to this week's unveiling of seL4.  After cyber-terrorists hacked into key infrastructure, a new kernel was created, which you can run drones and other complex systems on. Each component in the system is fire-walled off from other parts, and the security professionals who built it claim that in theory the new system can't be hacked.  Putting aside thoughts that shipping professionals built the "unsinkable" Titanic which still sank, I was somewhat concerned when they then Open-Sourced the code.

Yes, the kernel that is currently unhackable can be pored over by cyber-terrorists or cyber-criminals.  To put the icing on this cake, they can now compile this unhackable kernel and pop it into their own missiles, tanks, drones, etc.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think that was a good idea.