Daily Tech Digest - October 18, 2021

Magnanimous machines: Why AI work should work for people and not the other way around

The consolidation of power amongst a Big Tech elite fused with state intelligence grows ever stronger. These entities can know everything about us, yet carefully hide their own clandestine obfuscated activities. The best defence to this asymmetry is radical, mandated, and cryptographically secure transparency. To illustrate, in commercial aircraft, we have two essential data recorders (‘black boxes’). One monitors the aircraft itself, and the other monitors cockpit chatter. Both recorders are necessary to understand why an incident has occurred. For the same reasons, we need a similar approach to humane technology. Transparency is the foundation upon which every other aspect of ethical technology rests. It is essential to understand a system, its functions, as well as attributes of the organisation, and not to forget, those who steer it. Through transparency, we can understand that the incentive structures within organisations are aligned towards producing honest good faith outcomes. We can understand what may have gone wrong and how to fix it in the future.

8 Keys to Failproof App Modernization

Typically, modernization initiatives are strategized or rolled out before major events or milestones like data center contracts and vendor contracts coming up for renewal, Software and hardware platforms going End of Service and Support Life, government-imposed deadlines to implement regulatory and compliance requirements, ageing workforce and the risk of shortage of skills. In all such scenarios, since the accumulated technical debt is so high, these become multi-year, multi-million modernization programs. Risks are equally higher in such large programs. And to optimize costs and minimize risks, the temptation sometimes is to somehow get these workloads to the target platform [containerize or rehost without really changing the underlying architecture]. This will result in more technical debt and will necessitate another modernization initiative in a few years and so it goes. The chances of success are much higher if the initiatives are incremental in nature and time-bound say 3-6 months. In fact, it is a recommended practice in agile development practices to pay down technical debt regularly every single sprint.

Three key issues to tackle before smart cities become a reality

Many smart systems require data to be validated and assimilated in real-time for it to be relevant. This poses a problem, in that it requires every citizen to agree to their data being collected and shared, which in turn requires trust. That means the collection of data and its use to influence critical decisions in smart cities, needs careful consideration. However, citizens often worry about being ‘tracked’ – a difficult perception to eradicate in a world where privacy and security are among the biggest challenges each of us faces. Overcoming it requires us to build a comprehensive data privacy and security strategy into any smart city development, with local governments then responsible for educating individuals and society on how their data will be stored, who has access, and how it can be used. Such strategies require careful consideration, as any mistakes that harm public trust could impact the success of smart cities. The NHS COVID-19 app is a good example of this – once people lacked trust in the application, it took only a matter of days for thousands of people to delete it. 

Engineering Digital Transformation for Continuous Improvement

Getting organizations to invest in improvements and embrace new ways of working is a challenge. They don’t just need the right technical solutions, they also need to address the organizational change management challenges that are creating resistance to new ways of working. Organizations frequently have champions that have ideas for improvement and are trying to influence change without a lot of success. These champions find that the harder they push for change, the more people resist. We can have all the best approaches in the world, but if we can’t figure out how to overcome this resistance, organizations will never adopt them and realize the benefits. While pushing for change is the natural approach, research by organizational change management experts, like Professor Jonah Bergerin his book “The Catalyst,” suggests this is the wrong approach. His research shows that the harder you push for change, the more people resist. Whenever they feel like they are trying to be influenced, their anti-persuasion radar kicks in and instead they start shooting down ideas and resisting the change being offered.

A transactional approach to power

As Battilana and Casciaro tell it, it’s not your personal or positional power that determines your effectiveness in any given situation. It is your ability to understand what resources the involved parties want and how the resources are distributed—that is, the balance of power. “We find this extremely compelling,” explains Casciaro, “because it brings power relationships—whether they are interpersonal, intergroup, interorganizational, or international—down to four simple factors.” Taking this a step further, the ability to shift the balance of power within a situation determines your success at exercising power. Battilana and Casciaro find there are several key strategies that support this ability to rebalance power. If you have resources the other party values, attraction is a key strategy. You try to increase the value of those resources for the other party. Personal and corporate brand-building are organized around this strategy. If the other party has too many paths to access your resources, consolidation is a key strategy. You try to eliminate or otherwise lessen the alternatives. Employees join unions to limit the alternatives of employers and increase their power.

Treasury Dept. to Crypto Companies: Comply with Sanctions

The announcement is the latest in a series of moves from the Biden administration to combat ransomware, following high-profile attacks this year that have disrupted the East Coast's fuel supply during the Colonial Pipeline incident; jeopardized the nation's meat supply by attacking JBS USA; and knocking some 1,500 downstream organizations offline by zeroing in on managed service provider, Kaseya, over the July Fourth holiday. Last month, the Treasury Department blacklisted Russia-based cryptocurrency exchange, Suex, for allegedly laundering tens of millions of dollars for ransomware operators, scammers and darknet markets. In its latest issuance, the department alleges that over 40% of Suex’s transaction history had been associated with illicit actors, involving the proceeds from at least eight ransomware variants. Similarly, this week, the White House National Security Council facilitated a 30-nation, two-day "counter-ransomware" event, which found senior officials strategizing on ways to improve network resiliency, addressing illicit cryptocurrency usage, and ways to heighten law enforcement collaboration and diplomacy. 

DevSecOps: 11 questions to ask about your security strategy now

Where does friction exist between security and business goals? The question is relatively self-explanatory: DevSecOps exists in part to remove friction and bottlenecks that have historically introduced risks rather than reduce them. The question also has a subtext: What are we doing about it? This friction often goes unaddressed because, well, it’s unaddressed – as in, people avoid pointing it out or talking about it, whether because of poor relationships, fear factors, cultural acceptance, or other reasons. Leaders need to take an active role here by showing their willingness to talk about it, without finger-pointing or other toxic behaviors. “Leaders should constantly be probing and trying to understand the friction points between the business and DevSecOps,” says Jerry Gamblin, director of security research at Kenna Security, now part of Cisco. “These often uncomfortable conversations will help you refocus your team’s goals on the company’s goals.” A willingness to have those uncomfortable conversations as a pathway to positive long-term change is a key characteristic of a healthy culture.

The importance of crisis management in the age of ransomware

How to prepare for ransomware attacks is an often-asked question. From my point of view, the best action is to go through the checklist of security controls that prevent hackers from taking control of your network. Organizations like Servadus offer a Ransomware Readiness Assessment which helps organizational leadership identify current risks to the corporation. Of course, having up-to-date incident response and business continuity plans are part of that assessment. Outside, the real value comes from remediating weak cybersecurity controls. Additionally, organizations implement a framework to shore security control implementation and sustainability. Many organizations try to maintain compliance and security controls but are vulnerable to attacks 3 to 6 months after validating security in channels in place. The long-term strategy is about validating sustainable security controls. The service framework also allows organizations to evaluate threats to the organization and vulnerabilities of the system software in use. 

The importance of staff diversity when it comes to information security

The information security team’s decision-making is diversified, which contributes to the organisation’s overall strength. The fact that each employee provides an unique perspective to the problem makes it simpler to recognise and address hidden vulnerabilities in the security operations, as well as to identify and correct the deficiencies of other employees, helping them to grow in their own areas of expertise. Consider the likelihood of a breach, as well as the “red team” that will be assigned to deal with the situation. SOC analyst looks for the logs, security engineer looks for the vulnerability and some other team members look for the defensive approach to defend against the vulnerability. As a result, in order to maintain a strong information security team, it is critical to have a diverse workforce. It facilitates task efficiency while encouraging alternative viewpoints. ... An organisation’s security cannot be handled by a single product, and in order to maintain and handle those security products, companies require a large number of employees. So, in order to work efficiently and effectively without being reliant on a single person or product, this should be common knowledge.

Is it right or productive to watch workers?

The recent rise in employee surveillance accelerated during the pandemic, largely because it had to, but the bottom line is that we are now more than ever accustomed to being watched. We accept the intrusion of cameras in novel spaces under the promise of increased safety; doorbell cameras spring to mind, but so too do webcams and smartphones; we accept data tracking to prove we’re “not a robot” on websites; we accept that our information, our clicks, and our preferences are observed and noted. We seem to be primed now to accept that companies have a reasonable expectation to protect their own safety, so to speak, by monitoring us. One recent survey by media researcher Clutch of 400 US workers found that only 22% of 18- to 34-year-old employees were concerned about their employers having access to their personal information and activity from their work computers. Meanwhile, in a pre-pandemic survey of US workers by US media group Axios from August 2019, 62% of respondents agreed that employers should be able to use technology to monitor employees.

Quote for the day:

"Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach." -- Rosabeth Moss Kantor

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