Tech Savvy

A Call to Arms Against the Hacker Hordes

What’s happening this week at the intersection of management and technology.

Attribution and retribution in the fight against cybercrime: Imagine being enthroned at the end of the long table in the C-suite. You’ve got riches beyond imagination at your disposal; tens of thousands of vassals are toiling day and night for you. Your knights surround you, awaiting your command. And, at this very moment, some evil-minded jester with a computer and an Internet connection is breaching the castle walls.

But wait, is that a war horn you hear in the distance? Yes, it’s the lawyers from Steptoe & Johnson riding to your rescue. Enough, says partner Stewart Baker and trusty clerk Victoria Muth in an article for Brink. “It’s pretty clear that building higher walls around our networks is a dead end. So is tighter scrutiny and control over what happens on the network,” they write. “Government is failing us…, too.” The solution? Fight back.

Attribution and retribution are the weapons in this counterattack. “It might mean building ‘beacons’ into documents so that when they are opened by attackers, they phone home to alert defenders that their information was compromised,” suggest Baker and Muth. “It might mean using information provided by beacons to compromise the attackers’ network and gather evidence as to the attackers’ identities. It might mean stopping a DDOS attack by taking over the botnet, or by patching the vulnerability by which the botnet conscripted third-party machines.”

And, of course, you’ll need more lawyers. “We need to bring private resources to bear on retribution as well as attribution — not by endorsing network attacks, but by encouraging retribution within the law,” the authors continue. “Luckily, once an attack has been attributed, legal remedies begin to look quite realistic.”

“In short, you don’t have to sit and take it anymore,” conclude Baker and Muth. “There are plenty of risks in trying to go beyond passive network defenses, but there may be more risk in doubling down on an approach to network defense that has been failing ever more spectacularly for 30 years.”

Oh yeah, we’re going all “Game of Thrones” on hackers.

Technologically enhanced facilities management: Can brute force build a gigafactory in Elon Musk time? The Wall Street Journal reports that Tesla is doubling the construction workforce at its $5 billion battery factory in Sparks, Nevada, in hopes of opening it two years ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, several other companies are applying a bit more finesse, technologically speaking, to their facilities management.

Google engineers Rich Evans and Jim Goa report in the company’s Green Blog that DeepMind AI has taken a break from demolishing Go grandmasters to consider the energy consumed in cooling the company’s data centers. The result: a 40% reduction in energy use. “We accomplished this by taking the historical data that had already been collected by thousands of sensors within the data center — data such as temperatures, power, pump speeds, setpoints, etc. — and using it to train an ensemble of deep neural networks,” write the engineers.

Nvidia is using virtual reality to design the new $380 million headquarters it’s building in Silicon Valley. The chipmaker’s Iray rendering software, writes John Markoff in The New York Times, “has made it possible to quickly alter everything in the company’s architectural design simulation, from the location, size and transparency of triangle-shaped skylights to material surfaces and colors.” By simulating where and how much light will enter the building during each day of the year, for instance, the designers identified hot spots — moving people away from them, while using the heat to warm the building. Markoff doesn’t mention if Iray takes climate change into account.

Virtual brainstorming: People have been trying to get the mashup of brainstorming and the Internet right for a while now. The problem is that it’s tough to generate the inherently chaotic and energetic creativity of the best brainstorming in online sessions. (Heck, anybody who’s sat in on a couple or three of these things knows that it’s tough to capture that energy even when you’ve got everybody physically in a room.) But maybe Mariano Suarez-Battan has found a way to make virtual brainstorming work

Suarez-Battan, reports John Brownlee in Fast Company’s Co.Design, is the cofounder, CEO, and developer of Mural, a whiteboard app that allows virtual teams of any size to brainstorm together in the Cloud. “Each Mural project is an unbounded whiteboard that can grow and shrink to any size, depending on how much it contains,” he writes. “As usual, brainstorming is done by flinging stickies at this whiteboard, but the stickies don’t have to be just text or a drawing. They can also be web links, file documents, YouTube videos, MP3, PDFs, photos, and so on. Once a stickie is on a Mural, it can be edited, rearranged, customized with different colors and text, moved elsewhere on the board, or commented on.”

Mural’s pedigree is pretty impressive, according to Brownlee. The company was a start-up-in-residence at Ideo, the much-lauded design firm, and it’s attracted more than 35,000 monthly users from enterprise customers like Disney, IBM, and Steelcase. Try it here.