The Overblown Death of the PC (part 2)

Stop Predicting the Death of the PC.

“The PC Market is collapsing.” –Business Insider

“Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have taken the world by storm. Apple launched theiPhone six years ago. Three years later came the iPad. Google sold its first Android phone in 2008, five years ago. Is the PC dead yet?” –Yahoo Finance with the Business Insider

In Part One of The Overblown Death of the PC we talked about the reasons people believed the personal computer to be on its way out. I disagreed with almost all of them.

But that conversation on LinkedIn continued and the overall message shifted to virtualization, thin clients, and the much ballyhooed “Bring Your Own Device” or BYOD premise of bringing whatever you prefer and just connecting it to the company network.

Bring Your Own Device is not a silver bullet. BYOD is just one of a new strain of network security concerns which continue to abound in our modern age. Malware and other denial of service attacks continue to increase and are working on more sensitive integrated systems every day. As the technology for smarter devices continues to develop and as fast as new apps are being developed, malware is just as quickly propagating across this new interconnected and completely open environment.

What I hear far too little of is an understanding of the new technological ecosystem being developed. In addition to the growing iOS and Android playgrounds where few if any environmental monitoring is being done, almost no malware protections are being enacted and neither security processes, nor human awareness have kept pace with the potential for hackers to invade the privacy of billions of potential devices which lie unprotected for the most part.

Adding to this tech-soup of potential vulnerability are the complexities of virtual computing and remote desktop environments, as well as thin client systems are all becoming dependent on cloud computing technology, wide area networks and client-managed environments. Few are discussing the increasing complexity of these environments where hardware is centralized but use is distributed through a multitude of virtual environments without concern for operational capacity, network stability, and Internet connectivity.

We are seeing more outages of the Internet daily, so much so, there are applications which monitor traffic to let you know which services are currently available:http://www.isitdownrightnow.com/ . Though this tool is primarily for popular web services, Amazon has a version which is also accessible through the internet:http://status.aws.amazon.com/ . Each tool like these is predicated on the idea that no system of computer operation is infallible and the more interconnected we become the more likely we will find the opportunity to see first hand:

For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

The death of the desktop computer is built around the idea we have managed to supersede what the tool has given us.

  • That we have managed to secure our environments, to create infrastructure which will support wireless technologies, metropolitan area networks, and the inevitable planetary-area networks we are designing.
  • That we are able to effectively isolate and route around failed areas of the largest network which connects us all, the internet. The jury is out.
  • That we have greater control of our soon-to-be completely necessary planetary network in such a way, hacking vulnerabilities are a thing of the past, every system which is put on that network is aware of how to deal with potential threats, without human intervention and will do so in a fashion so humans can simply be informed without having to worry about restorations of a failed environment, first.
  • That scrupulous use of said planetary network ensures no one will be using it to unlawfully monitor its users, manipulate the users or their data, socially engineer user behavior for profit, perform acts of vandalism or terrorism, using said network as part of a control system and structure for acts of military warfare or sabotage.

So, is the desktop dead? Is that even the right question?

Perhaps the question should be: Is the desktop computer being killed by corporations who want to manipulate users into a cycle of:

  • Regular planned obsolescence – creating underpowered devices which need constant upgrade to deal with software bloat, development issues and a constant need for upgrades.
  • Consumerism – the technology is really being structured around pushing products, dependence and reliance on said devices (extending the reign of television advertising in the new medium).
  • Development Control: by getting rid of users ability to create information this creates a more passive audience waiting for new “products” and “fees” for receiving them. 
  • Health issues: The long-term effect of using said devices in terms of user health (eyestrain, inattention, psychological distress) and destroying the environment to feed the engine of gadget production.

Is the death of the PC being artificially hastened to sell portable digital technology, even when financial, economic, social, and technological safeguards for that technology are not currently in place? Oh yes, I would say so, just from watching the industry and its lust for profit.

The PC is not dead. But we are sealing it up alive in the coffin for profit’s sake. Think of how much money can be made while new interfaces are being developed. Think of all the planned obsolescence inherently built into each device, replacing it after only 6-12 months. Imagine all of that technological churn being done, the billions spent on advertising new versions of old devices with only minuscule differences making corporations like Apple some of the most profitable agencies on Earth. Think of the ever-expanding app industry estimated to grow to $25 billion dollars in 2013 and continuing to grow. There is so much money to be made by Apple, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, and other device manufacturers I can’t see them NOT promoting the device/gadget over desktops. The potential profitability is absolutely astounding. Charge as much for a handheld device as you do for a laptop with 1/10 the functionality, but call it mobile. “Make a gadget cool, and the sheep will follow.”

If the PC is dying, I suspect someone is killing it; for a profit. And it’s not the butler.

See Also: Gadgets: A Perfect Storm of Wrong – Where I discuss the environmental issues around the constant proliferation of gadget/device technology.

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Perspectives on Cybersecurity

As the head of United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) and the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, General Keith Alexander is at the front lines of many aspects of American national security. While online life has improved many aspects of public life, it has also opened up a entirely new realm of possibilities for those wishing to do the US harm.

The New Age of Malware (courtesy of BYOD)

BYOD: We can't repel malware of that magnitude! -- Admiral Ackbar

As I have mentioned in other articles, [http://exm.nr/x8dv4p] malware is not going away. If anything it is going to explode in the coming years due to the continued erosion of IT standards in the workplace. Technologies such as cloud computing, social media and memes such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device [to the workplace]) are prepared to compromise enterprise security by:

1. Allowing devices that cannot be managed or secured into the workplace environment and allowing users to store company data on those devices. Such devices can easily be lost, stolen and the information vulnerable due to a lack of viable security measures or even the ability to be wiped remotely.

2. Devices such as smartphones or other mobile technology often has limited wireless security or protection, making grabbing data from such technology the next logical step from the cracking community. Do you remember Firesheep? A tool that allowed a remote hacker to grab information from Mozilla browsers in unsecure environments such as coffee shops. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firesheep]

3. As the rise of BYOD continues and resistance to standardization grows, malware will continue to be a rising threat for Android and iDevices alike, [http://zd.net/w20FMG – Android users hit by scareware scam], for the simple reason that apps created for both devices, while monitored loosely, are not absolutely guaranteed of being without sinister purposes in addition to providing whatever resource information they APPEAR to be providing. So while it may be providing you a map to downtown Boston, it could also be monitoring your credit card or online bank information at different locations as well.

4. Social media has not stopped being both a productivity time sink, costing the nation billions in lost productivity (neither commenting for the good or the bad of this, noting it, nothing more) and a vector for virus transmission, personal information gathering, and credit information hacking. Facebook, Twitter, Sony, Google and Amazon have all experienced theft, leaks, loss or outright sale of personal data in 2010-2011 and this trend show no sign of slowing.

5. While the cloud offers the option of being a means of creating virtual environments that are claimed to be safer than your current environment, it means relying increasing on an internet whose services are either being turned into commodities (allowing their prices to be changed, usually higher, without warning or recourse) or those services will be subject to powerful new government interventions such as SOPA or Protect IP [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act], which may make working with materials and providers who will be forced to increase the costs of their service to offset their increases caused by having to improve monitoring of their technology for copyright infringement. This cost is always directed at the user of the technology.

6. Nor does SOPA actually ensure you are any safer from hacking, indeed it may simply be another way such activity is lost in the shuffle as hackers are far more agile in their ability to develop their responses to technology than mainstream users. During the transition to SOPA standards, systems will be more vulnerable than ever.

7. It appears IT is losing the battle for standardization as a means of protecting the enterprise. New technologies such as virtualization promise the ability to deliver the PC experience to any device but most of those are also dependent on the Internet as the deliverer of service. This only means one thing. The cost of protecting your enterprise will increase as the vectors — devices, browsers, clients, cloud, virtualization, continue to proliferate.

In summary: Our enterprise networks have never truly been safe. The threats ranged from:

  • Inadequate layered defenses against attacks: There are still numerous environments especially in small to medium size businesses that do not have firewalls of any kind, any sort of data protection, backup, or redeployment procedure in case of equipment failure, anti-malware, or anti-virus technology in place.
  • Social engineering: manipulating users in an environment to release information about the systems they use to make hacking easier
  • Poor Password Management: Not creating standards for the effective use, configuration or dissemination of difficult to crack passwords
  • Poor standardization of environments: reducing the number of potential holes in the environment by reducing the number of different versions of operating systems, programs and infrastructure support systems
  • Poor policy management: The inability of environments to create usable, enforceable policies designed to make repair, replication, storage, service agreements, backup and responsible use of the office technology to protect company assets from theft, loss, or accidental erasure.

There are many other threats, but our environments have been safer than before many of these ideas were enacted, but the truth of the matter has been our virus software is always at least one day behind the release of any new virus, malware or exploit. Indeed, the zero day release of a virus or exploit could allow thousands or even millions of devices to be infected before anyone is aware the problem has occurred.

In days to come, the already existing suite of issues will only be added to with the continued threat of cloud computing downtime, legitimate accessibility as well as unwanted attacks from outside sources, rising costs both in terms of energy use and costs from service providers and the increasing vulnerability BYOD will bring to the enterprise as hackers/crackers begin to exploit the weaknesses of said devices while under-staffed, overworked and under-appreciated IT departments attempt to stem the tide while providing these new and highly desired services and technologies users feel empower them, without understanding the consequences of that empowerment. It empowers the Dark Side as well. [http://www.csoonline.com/article/print/696325]

@ebonstorm – Thaddeus Howze Atreides