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The Past Few Months in IT Have Been Challenging

April 23, 2014 | Heroix Staff

On the whole, the past few months have not been good for IT.  Let’s take a look at some of the top news items:

Heartbleed:

  • What was it?    
    Heartbleed is an OpenSSL vulnerability that allowed hackers to pull random data from memory for servers running specific versions of OpenSSL.  This had the potential to reveal passwords, credit card numbers, encryption keys, etc. – and has been a problem since March 2012.  TheReg has got a pretty good analysis of the bug.
  • What was the immediate effect?
    If you’re running a website that was using a vulnerable OpenSSL version, you probably spent most of this week patching SSL and updating your certificates.  You may have also sent out emails to your users asking them to change their potentially compromised passwords.
  • How did it affect me?
    Fortunately, all I needed to do was verify that heroix.com wasn’t at risk and change a few passwords.  I did get to revisit my own advice and found that updates from external vendors were a lot easier to find on Twitter than either through their website or customer support.
  • What will the long term effect be?
    Once the dust settles, the questions will be: if a bug this serious went unnoticed for over 2 years, what other problems are out there?  How secure can you actually be on the internet?  Internet resource providers will need to implement more than just encryption if they have to support secure traffic.

End of XP Support:

  • What was it?
    Microsoft’s most successful desktop operating system.
  • What was the immediate effect?
    Microsoft will no longer be releasing patches, but XP computers will still be used.
  • How did it affect me?
    It didn’t.  Rebuilt my last XP laptop at home as Linux a couple of years ago, and we’ve long since upgraded the XP desktops at Heroix.
  • What will the long term effect be?
    If someone finds a security bug in XP as big as Heartbleed was for OpenSSL, Microsoft won’t provide a patch.  There may be third party vendors supplying patches, but it’s on the XP owners to find and apply them.  Another effect may be users not even bothering to replace XP – between tablets and smartphones, they may not need to.

HBO Go Crashes:

  • What was it?
    Cloud based SaaS allowing subscribers to view HBO programming in real time from internet devices.
  • What was the immediate effect?
    A lot of angry users on Twitter complaining that they couldn’t watch the Game of Thrones season premiere, along with bad publicity for HBO in particular and Cloud services in general.
  • How did it affect me?
    What is this Game of Thrones of which you speak?
  • What will the long term effect be?
    There has been speculation that the reason HBO Go crashed was that subscriptions were shared across multiple devices, which had the effect of multiplying demand several times over.  Given that this is not the first time HBO Go has seen problems with higher than anticipated demand on its services, they either need to find a way to scale up their resources, or find a way to limit the number of users allowed per subscription.

End of Ubuntu One

  • What was it?
    Cloud based file storage provided by Ubuntu with both free and paid options.
  • What was the immediate effect?
    Users need to start making plans to download their files and keep them elsewhere by 7/31/14, or lose the data.
  • How did it affect me?
    My files were already backed up elsewhere – but I will lose access to them over the internet.
  • What will the long term affect be?
    If you weren’t using Ubuntu One, probably not much.  But, if you were, then you’re probably reconsidering Cloud storage as a long term backup option.

50 Years of the Mainframe

  • What is it?
    Mainframe computers were – and are – the backbone of data processing and ERP for large organizations.
  • What was the immediate effect?
    Good publicity for IBM – especially now that IBM is offering a mainframe Cloud server.
  • How did it affect me?
    No effect – haven’t really done anything with a mainframe since college.
  • What will the long term affect be?
    On its own, 50 years of anything is a considerable achievement.  In IT, given that XP was considered unsupportably old at 13, the 50 year lifespan for mainframes is a testament to the flexibility, reliability and backwards compatibility of the platform.  Mainframes are not going away anytime soon – that is, as long as they can still find people who have the skills to run them.

What does this all add up to?

1) “Secure” internet connections for the past couple of years weren’t secure.

2) There are still a lot of XP computers in use, and they won’t be getting security patch updates.

3) Cloud technologies sometimes don’t scale the way they should.

4) Cloud vendors sometimes drop services with short notice.

5) The rock solid computers at the core of many large organizations are still going strong – but they’re running out of people who know how to run them.

These are not insurmountable problems – patches will be applied, lessons will be learned, and IT as a whole will live on to make new and better mistakes with technologies that have not even been dreamed of yet.  IBM may even root out enough hardcore mainframe fanatics to address staffing problems for another generation.   The point isn’t to look for an absolutely flawless technology, but to find a pretty good one, keep a close eye on it to make sure it’s working as expected, and find and fix the problems as they crop up.  Because, no matter how many problems are fixed, nothing will ever be completely bug free.