The Day Before Google I/O I’m All In

Tomorrow is Google’s annual developer conference, Google I/O, a rite of passage for any serious developer. One in which I’ve yet been able to attend. Well, there’s always next year.

Leading into this years conference I’ve decided to make a few changes in my social networking usage and strategy. Not just for me personally, but also for my business.

I’m going all in on Google and in particular Google Plus.

There’s been an explosion of social media services in the last five years with Facebook leading the way. However, I don’t particularly like Facebook.

Facebook has been a huge success. However they’ve made many missteps, in particular to privacy which is a very serious issue.

If you ask a user to share information, some of it very personal, then you have to give them the tools  to manage their privacy. Not only has Facebook messed this up, they just can’t seem to get it right and keep it simple.

This is one of the reasons I prefer Google Plus and why I see a bright future for this service. Google Plus is easy to use, intuitive, offers better privacy control and has a clean uncluttered interface.

If you spend 30 uninterrupted minutes digging into all the nooks and crannies of Google Plus you will be able to master it. That’s all it takes.

But Google Plus is much more than a social networking tool. Google Plus is the glue that is unifying many of the best Google services available. And therein lies a winning strategy.

I’ve heard people refer to Google as the Borg, you will be assimilated.

However, unlike in the fictional series Star Trek, where assimilation by the Borg is not an option, with Google you have the choice to use their services or not. The reason the analogy exists is the mere fact that many of their products are that good.

Does Google Plus have a future? As long as Google sees it as a core product that fits their overall strategy, then yes. It also helps that it’s growing fast, and I mean really fast.

In December Google said it 500 million people had created accounts. And just recently Business Insider reported that they had 359 million active users and was growing faster than Twitter.

I’ll still use Facebook to post updates but I’ll be sending the traffic to my Google Plus account. So why not add me to your circles?

At What Point do Cyber Attacks Turn Into a Conventional War?

If you’re an online business or a person of interest, then at some point someone has tried to hack into your computer or your organizations computers.

This past week Mandiant, an information security company, released a report that exposed one of China’s government cyber espionage units. China for its part vehemently denied the report.

“APT1 is among dozens of threat groups Mandiant tracks around the world, and one of more than twenty attributed to China that are engaged in computer intrusion activities,” said Kevin Mandia, Mandiant’s chief executive officer. “Given the sheer amount of data this particular group has stolen, we decided it was necessary to arm and prepare as many organizations as possible to prevent additional losses.”
The scathing report reinforces the notion that China has a significant government cyber theft program. While China is in the spotlight, it is not the only country whose government proactively has a cyber theft program in place.

In fact cyber espionage makes the cold war look tame in comparison.

It’s not just corporate data that being stolen from countries globally, but daily attacks are targeting military assets and other assets considered of strategic value such as orbiting commercial satellites.

The Economist among many other publications has several articles on China cyber theft in the wake of the Mandiant report.

They include titles such as “Getting Ugly – If China wants respect abroad, it must rein in its hackers“, to “Hello, Unit 61398“.

From the Economist “Foreign governments and companies have long suspected that the Chinese hackers besieging their networks have links to the country’s armed forces. On February 19th Mandiant, an American security company, offered evidence that this is indeed so. A report, the fruit of six years of investigations, tracks individual members of one Chinese hacker group, with aliases such as Ugly Gorilla and SuperHard, to a nondescript district in residential Shanghai that is home to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army. China has condemned the Mandiant report. On February 20th America announced plans to combat the theft of trade secrets.”

The ongoing pervasiveness of these global attacks leads to the question, at what point do cyber attacks turn into a conventional war?
It’s not a matter of if, it’s when.

Important: Securing Your Data

You may have heard about this or not. Regardless there are some important lessons here. Last week a prominent writer for Wired had his account hacked. While accounts getting hacked is not unusual what was learned from this hack was disturbing to say the least.

I know many people are lax when it comes to Internet security and passwords. But if you get hacked there is a steep price to pay. A little vigilance goes a long way. The writer who was hacked wasn’t even specifically targeted other than the hacker liked his short Twitter account name. So it can happen to anyone.

Here are some simple things that will help you. The first is obvious and easy but you would be surprised how many people do this:

1. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites.

2. Do use longer passwords even if you can’t remember them. Use a password program to store your passwords.

3. Use two-factor authentication. If you don’t know what that is read and watch the video below. It works on Google, Amazon and other sites. I’ve used it for several years now for Amazon and have recently turned it on for Google including SpaceRef services.

Stealing personal data is not going away. It’s an increasing tactic used by thieves to get your personal information so they can steal your identity, money and more. Being vigilant is important and really doesn’t take much time.

One last thing on social media sites. Most people use social media to share pictures etc. such as on Facebook. To protect yourselves only provide the absolute most basic information you have to. On Facebook don’t provide your date of birth, don’t provide your email addresses etc. This is data just waiting to be stolen. It may be nice for people to wish you happy birthday on Facebook because they were reminded by Facebook but that same data you said ok to is available for hackers who then add that in their efforts for identity theft. And anyway, your friends should remember your birthday regardless if it’s on Facebook.

Amazon Unleashes Cluster Compute Instances for High Performance Computing

I have to say I’m fairly excited at the news today that Amazon is making available a new instance type for Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service called Cluster Compute Instances. Specifically designed for high performance computing (HPC) applications, I can how this new service will be attractive to new start-ups who need HPC but don’t want to spend the considerable money on their infrastructure just yet.

One particular area which I have experience in that uses HPC is the vertical search niche. Crawling and indexing large amounts of data is CPU and RAM intensive and even with servers and in particular storage prices continually dropping it is still costly to setup, maintain and deploy your own crawling cluster. For start-ups this will make Amazon’s Cluster Compute Instances very attractive indeed. I will have to run some numbers on the costs of using Amazon’s Cluster Compute Instances compared to an in-house setup to see how it stacks up. In the meantime here’s the specs on what you get with each Cluster Compute Instance:

The Cluster Compute instance family currently contains a single instance type, the Cluster Compute Quadruple Extra Large with the following specifications:
23 GB of memory
33.5 EC2 Compute Units (2 x Intel Xeon X5570, quad-core “Nehalem” architecture)
1690 GB of instance storage
64-bit platform
I/O Performance: Very High (10 Gigabit Ethernet)
API name: cc1.4xlarge

Amazon allows you deploy up to 8 of their Cluster Compute Instances which are available in the US – N. Virginia Region on the Linux platform. If you need more than 8 Instances then you have to contact Amazon directly to request this.

I’m looking forward to giving Cluster Compute Instances a try at some point.