Archive for February, 2010

Cyber Warfare In the “Clouds”

Monday, February 8th, 2010

When used by home/ small business consumers, what do ‘Cloud Computing’ and ‘NetBooks’ have in common? They are both an effort by data/ computer companies to get you to pay for access to your own data!

OK, that was pretty negative, to be fair, both fill an important need. One is to get you to put your data on some one Else’s server (in the ‘cloud” ) and the other is to help you access that data.

Of Course your ‘cloud computing” site subscription fees are all paid up, your Internet service provider fees are all paid up.

And of course your have a strong Internet signal that is letting you create a safe, encrypted session with the cloud.

If any one of these elements is missing, you might be cut off from your data! Like a subscription music service, one day you have access to millions of songs available, but miss a payment, and everything goes away. Of course with the music subscription service, you know that you never really owned the music, you were just renting it. You might feel differently about your own data files which can be considered your own  intellectual property.

Enterprise business users may use ‘application as a service” cloud computing, this is an entirely different thing from what is being offered to consumers. Enterprise users usually take security very seriously and have teams dedicated to ensuring that things stay secure. Very often, the cloud computing environment may be hosted by the business itself, and have strong protocols in place for using the cloud. Most consumers are not very tech savvy, particularly when it comes to network/Internet security issues and have to secure themselves. Even the business users get successfully hacked, it’s called corporate espionage.

Google (strictly as a well known example), is a company that I admire for their sheer audacity (in most cases) in it’s willingness to try new technology models. It is a very popular cloud computing hosting company, Google docs, Google calendar, etc…

Google and several other companies that host other peoples personal data were recently hacked. Google is standing firm on it’s allegation that the attacks originated in China and were of a type that could only be carried out with the resources and permission of a government behind it, i.e. China.

Cyber activity of this type is beyond what we commonly think of as hacking, this is actually cyber warfare. Google has asked for help as reported by CNN online February4, 2010:  “Google has turned to the National Security Agencyfor technical assistance to learn more about the computer network attackers who breached the company’s cybersecurity defenses last year”.

I believe that Google has done the right thing in this case, it was attacked by a government, so it has turned to someone with the resources to help them figure it out, another government, our own.

Do you want your data on the front lines? I feel that the above statement is true, but like any real war, when a conflict is in progress, it safer to keep the troops, I mean your data, at home!

Telephone Lines (the real kind) will be going away

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I think that my rant on cloud computing (please see mention in my last entry) will have to wait awhile, because some real news that will impact the security industry has recently come to light. Please be patient, I’ve been told that strong personal opinions should be balanced with actual facts. So…..

An article in Security Systems News (Volume 13, number 2) by Daniel Gelinas reports that the FCC has issued a public notice seeking comment on a National Broadband Plan that could include the mandatory phasing out of analog telephone networks. In layman’s terms this means that something old is going to go.These types of public comment notices went out before analog cell phones were phased out and before analog TV transmissions were phased out. In this particular case, we are talking about the analog, public switched telephone network, commonly called POTS lines (Plain Old Telephone Service) in the communications industry.

When the analog cell phone system was retired, security dealers had to go out to all of the customers that had a cellullar type back up transmitter (they were ALL analog back then) and replace them with digital transmitters. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of radio units (there were close to 1 million analog radio units installed up to 2008) being replaced.

Many people who have telephone service cannot tell the difference between POTS lines and telephone service provided by an Internet provider, like Vonage, Comcast, FIOS, CableVision etc… But the alarm panel installed at the premise knows the difference. And the difference is large. Only 20% of Americans relay solely on POTS lines for telephone service (AT&T).

So, are POTS lines going away soon? In December 2009, AT&T reported to the FCC that (amongst other things, it is seeking out ways of phasing out ‘Relics Of A By-Gone Era’) 700,000 POTS lines are being cut each month. Lance Dean of NY based 2GIG Technologies made a good point; it’s not a matter of if but of when. “There’s 700,000 lines going down a month. If you do the math, that’s 8 million a year. In a few more years there won’t be any more land lines” (POTS).

AT&T has suggested that it would like to see the POTS system retired by 2014. The FCC’s National Broad Band Plan is due to be delivered to Congress on February 17. 2010.

So what will all of the security dealers who relay so heavily on POTS line for Central Station communications do? Well, fortunately, most manufacturers and savvy security dealers have seen this coming from a mile away. Honeywell for one has an alarm control (VISTA 21ip)  that is designed from the ground up to use the TCP/IP and GSM environment. Honeywell is leading this field of IP based communicators.

My bet is that POTS lines will be going away sooner than later, because most customers are willing to give up the POTS line and use IP to get all of the great service that become possible with IP communications.

Now you know why I always say “Ask me about Total Connect by Honey”. It’s the way of the future, and it’s not delivered by POTS lines!