Daily Tech Digest - December 20, 2021

Top 5 Internet Technologies of 2021

Speaking of React, 2021 didn’t see any diminishment of the popular Facebook-derived JavaScript library. Although React-based frameworks abound, one in particular stood out this year: Next.js, the open source framework managed by Vercel. At the end of October, Vercel announced version 12 of Next.js, which included ES modules and URL imports, instant Hot Module Replacement (HMR), and something called “Middleware” that enables you to “run code before a request is completed.” Next.js is indicative of the rise of SSGs (Static Site Generators) over the past few years, with Gatsby and Hugo other examples. Although, there has been a noticeable move away from pure static generation — Next.js now describes itself as a “hybrid static [and] server rendering” framework. Next.js developers love its ease-of-use and all the fancy features (like “edge functions”), however not everyone is enamored with the output of Next.js-made apps. That’s perhaps more of an indictment of React itself, than Next.js. But it is worth noting that there is increasing pushback against React frameworks on the web, due to the amount of JavaScript they tend to use.

Why it’s time to rethink your cyber talent and retention strategy

Organisations that don’t invest in cyber skills training and development programmes for technical personnel and the wider workforce risk throttling their future internal talent marketplace. Today’s increasingly digital workplace means cyber security is everyone’s business. By extending cyber awareness and training to all employees, organisations will be able to mobilise those individuals that demonstrate aptitude and interest to build up their skills set and acquire industry-recognised certifications that will help the organisation expand and strengthen its cyber security teams. Alongside initiating a mentorship programme to support people make a ‘job shift’ into cyber security roles, organisations should look to facilitate defined cyber security career pathways. ... Many IT leaders are already active members of knowledge networks and communities, that present a rich seam of opportunity when it comes to virtually meeting and evaluating potential candidates who are an exact match for their business, in a highly targeted way.

On the Importance of Bayesian Thinking in Everyday Life

Surprisingly, there is no consensus as to what probability really means. In general, there are two ways to think about it. One is to define probability as the observed frequency of events in many trials. For instance, if one would toss a coin many times, approximately half of the outcomes will be heads, and the other half will be tails. The more tosses, the closer the observed frequencies will be to 50–50. Hence, we say that the probability of tossing heads (or tails) is 50%, or 0.5. This is the so-called frequentist probability. There is also another way to think about it, known as subjective or Bayesian probability. In a nutshell, this definition states that a person’s subjective belief about how likely something is to happen is also a probability. I might say: I think there is a 50% chance it will rain tomorrow. It is a valid statement of a Bayesian probability, but not of a frequentist one. ... Whichever definition of probability we adopt (and we will see both in action shortly), probability always follows certain rules. It is a number between 0 and 1 that expresses how certain something is to happen. 

The Future of Work is Not Corporate - It’s DAOs and Crypto Networks

As companies grow, they are no longer able to maintain a sustainable relationship with these orbital network participants. The relationship between the company and the participants turns zero-sum, and in order to maximize profits, the company begins to extract value from these participants. ... The model of a company having strict boundaries between internal and external may have made sense in the Industrial Age, but in the Information Age, this model leads to misaligned incentives and unsustainable extraction. In our world of complex information and orbital stakeholders, companies are no longer suited to help us coordinate our activity. Crypto networks create better alignment between participants, and DAOs will be the coordination layer for this new world. ... DAOs will eventually replace the traditional model. A DAO is an internet-native organization with core functions that are automated by smart contracts, and with people who do the things that automation cannot. In practice, not all DAOs are decentralized or autonomous, so it is best to think of DAOs as internet-based organizations that are collectively owned and controlled by its members.

The future is not the Internet of Things… it is the Connected Intelligent Edge

It is not surprising that Qualcomm is talking about it. At its recent Investor Day presentation, Amon shared how the company is uniquely positioned to drive the Connected Intelligent Edge: “We are working to enable a world where everyone and everything is intelligently connected. Our mobile heritage and DNA puts us in an incredible position to provide high-performance, low-power computing, on-device intelligence, all wireless technologies, and leadership across not only AI processing and connectivity but camera, graphics, and sensors. These technologies will scale to support every single device at the edge, from earbuds all the way to connected intelligent vehicles.” For Qualcomm, Amon sees this as an opportunity to engage a $700 billion addressable market in the next decade. Amon is not alone. ... “Qualcomm is a leader at the Intelligent Edge, driving advances in efficient computing, wireless connectivity and on-device AI. And your vision for a future of technology where everyone and everything is intelligently connected is aligned with our own,” Nadella said.

Measure Outcomes, Not Outputs: Software Development in Today’s Remote Work World

Lower productivity does not always mean that the developer lacks skills and is therefore inefficient. Comparing how much code was written to how much was moved into production provides some key insights. The first insight is whether or not the developer was working on features that are important to the business. Suppose the development team wrote a lot of code, but only a small amount made it to production. In such a scenario, it could mean they weren’t working on the right features because someone misunderstood the business priorities or spent a lot of time on prototyping. Secondly, it is possible that the product owner did not fully define the requirement and kept on changing it, resulting in code churn. Code churn measures the amount of code that was re-written for a feature to be done right. Code churn can happen because of a) inexperienced developers writing bad code, b) the developer’s poor understanding of the product requirements, or c) the product owner not defining the feature well leading to scope changes, or d) the prioritization of features not done right by the product owner.

Lights Out: Cyberattacks Shut Down Building Automation Systems

The firm, located in Germany, discovered that three-quarters of the BAS devices in the office building system network had been mysteriously purged of their "smarts" and locked down with the system's own digital security key, which was now under the attackers' control. The firm had to revert to manually flipping on and off the central circuit breakers in order to power on the lights in the building. The BAS devices, which control and operate lighting and other functions in the office building, were basically bricked by the attackers. "Everything was removed ... completely wiped, with no additional functionality" for the BAS operations in the building, explains Thomas Brandstetter, co-founder and general manager of Limes Security, whose industrial control system security firm was contacted in October by the engineering firm in the wake of the attack. Brandstetter's team, led by security experts Peter Panholzer and Felix Eberstaller, ultimately retrieved the hijacked BCU (bus coupling unit) key from memory in one of the victim's bricked devices, but it took some creative hacking.

What Log4Shell teaches us about open source security

Nearly every organization now uses some amount of open source, thanks to benefits such as lower cost compared with proprietary software and flexibility in a world increasingly dominated by cloud computing. Open source isn’t going away anytime soon — just the opposite — and hackers know this. As for what Log4Shell says about open-source security, I think it raises more questions than it answers. I generally agree that open-source software has security advantages because of the many watchful eyes behind it — all those contributors worldwide who are committed to a program’s quality and security. But a few questions are fair to ask: Who is minding the gates when it comes to securing foundational programs like Log4j? The Apache Foundation says it has more than 8,000 committers collaborating on 350 projects and initiatives, but how many are engaged to keep an eye on an older, perhaps “boring” one such as Log4j? Should large deep-pocketed companies besides Google, which always seems to be heavily involved in such matters, be doing more to support the cause with people and resources?

AI Comes Alive in Industrial Automation

AI and ML tools are getting used to predict future energy consumption patterns in manufacturing. This mitigates soaring energy costs and also helps offset climate change. AI also helps to sort out chaotic systems such as renewables. “Training these AI models is burning tons of energy. That’s not false. It does take energy,” said Nicholson. “But what people are missing is that AI models are designed to help companies with enormous physical systems operate more efficiently.” While AI takes up a lot of processing energy, the results in efficiency savings can far outweigh the expense in energy consumption. “AI can help us make more with less. We can cut down on waste with optimization. We can get growth without consuming more,” said Nicholson. “We can train an optimization model in 20 minutes to save a company tens of millions of dollars of energy consumption per year. The advantages can be huge. That’s already happening.” AI can help plant managers figure out what equipment is best for what task at what time. These are issues that are not easily soloved without computer analysis.

Backdoor Discovered in US Federal Agency Network

Avast's suspicion of network interception and exfiltration is based on its analysis of two files the researchers obtained. The company did not provide ISMG with the origin of the files. One of the files, through which the threat actor initiates the backdoor, is termed as a "downloader" by Avast. It masquerades as a legitimate Windows file named oci[.]dll and abuses the WinDivert, a legitimate packet-capturing utility that can be used to implement user-made packet filters, packet sniffers, firewalls, NAT, VPNs, tunneling applications, etc., without the need to write kernel-mode code. This allows the attacker to listen to all internet communication via the victim's network, they say. "We found this first file disguised as oci.dll ('C:WindowsSystem32oci.dll') - or Oracle Call Interface. It contains a compressed library [called NTlib]. This oci.dll exports only one function 'DllRegisterService.' This function checks the MD5 of the hostname and stops if it doesn’t match the one it stores.

Quote for the day:

"Without courage, it doesn't matter how good the leader's intentions are." -- Orrin Woodward

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