This week, two major stories that have been building for several weeks seem to have come together to create an Internet Perfect Storm, resulting in many major websites and services coming to their knees on Friday. The first of these stories we have been following here in the office for over a month: a report that a botnet made up of infected IoT devices could be ready to activate a massive DDoS attack at any moment.
An alert published by the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team cited security sources that had discovered a Trojan released to recruit IoT devices into the Mirai botnet, the most infamous modern systems, as well as other less powerful collections. This alert was based on research conducted by Brian Krebs, a security expert whose blog was attacked by this botnet, and his evidence suggested that over a half million of the devices involved were IoT devices. According to the alert,
The IoT devices affected in the latest Mirai incidents were primarily home routers, network-enabled cameras, and digital video recorders. Mirai malware source code was published online at the end of September, opening the door to more widespread use of the code to create other DDoS attacks.
Now, with those devices in place and ready for another attack, all that was required was a reason. That is where our second story comes in. Earlier this week, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, who has been residing within the Ecuadorian embassy in London for the past five years, announced that his internet access had been severed by a "state party." Shortly after, a trio of tweets containing encoded data were posted, suggesting to many that a "dead man's switch" may have been activated, suggesting that Assange had been assassinated. WikiLeaks had no statement on the status of Assange.
The organization has given evidence that US Secretary of State John Kerry was responsible for demanding that Ecuador cut Assange's internet access to prevent WikiLeaks from tampering in the US election. Shortly after, Ecuadorian officials confirmed that this was indeed what they did, though they denied that their actions were at the instruction of US officials. This is where the two stories get intertwined and the internet seemingly ended for a few hours.
On Friday morning, the IoT-powered botnet was triggered and against a high-profile target, but one you might have never heard of. Dyn, or previously known as Dyn DNS, is a domain name service used by large and small companies alike. In the past, this company has sponsored our CES coverage. For individuals, the company provides the ability to name your home connection so that you can use remote desktop or VPN against an ever-changing IP address.
For large companies, Dyn provides the service that allows you to go to Spotify.com and that name is routed to their various web and service servers al over the internet. While this is a nice convenience, it does provide for a single point of failure. And, since Dyn is one of the largest providers of enterprise DNS services, it provides a very large single point of failure. By striking Dyn, the botnet was capable of taking down a large number of services, many of which are listed at the end of this article.
As a result of the attack, WikiLeaks responded on Twitter, stating,
Mr. Assange is still alive and WikiLeaks is still publishing. We ask supporters to stop taking down the US internet. You proved your point.
First, this was the initial confirmation that Assange was still alive, an important piece of information needed to try to end the botnet. Second, recognizing that they accomplished something was an important piece. As a result, the attacks stopped - at least for a little while. In fact, there were 3 individual waves of attack. The first 2 seemed to end on their own, while the third ended because of the actions of Dyn. Likely they contracted with a DDoS overflow support company - a pretty common behavior.
Today, the internet seems to be back up and running, thankfully. Either Dyn was successful or WikiLeaks was - either way I am thankful that Netflix is fully functional again.
Hit the break to see the list of known services affected.
It has been quite a while since we heard the first rumblings about Nintendo's next console. Nintendo has been surprisingly open about the existence of the project, including referring to it by its codename: Nintendo NX. Over time, we have learned new information - both officially and unofficially - about Nintendo's intentions, including being cartridge-based. Before this week, the most detail we had was a release target of March 2017.
All of that has changed, though, as Nintendo released a 3 minute teaser trailer for the console, officially named Nintendo Switch. The name is a perfect moniker for the console, which essentially replaces both the Wii family and the 3DS family with a single product. This is accomplished by a fascinatingly unique hardware setup that serves as both home and mobile console.
The brains of the operation is a tablet-looking device that may or may-not be touch responsive. I say this because nowhere in the video do they show anyone interacting directly with the display. This could be because the device is not touch sensitive, or because all of the scenes were filmed with black screens and the gameplay was superimposed, and controller-interaction is easier to fake than touch. On the sides are controls that look similar to the design of the logo for the console, called the Joy-Con. Those controls can be used in two ways: attached to the tablet on the sides, or separately, either in unison or for 2-player mode.
Similar to existing mobile Nintendo handhelds, local multi-player remote play is shown, with up to 4 Switches networked together for a single game with 4 players. They also show off 2 Switches being networked together, with the Joy-Cons being used separately, for a total of 4 players playing on 2 the two Switches.
When you get home, the tablet sits into what looks like a charging station. In reality, though, it is likely more than that. In fact, it is almost certainly more like a Surface docking station, giving video output, possibly additional storage capabilities or wired controller support, in addition to powering and charging the tablet itself. That assumedly puts all of the responsibility for the performance of the console on the tablet, but it could also work more like the Surface Book, adding a more powerful video card when you dock the tablet.
In docked mode, the Joy-Cons come back into play. Here, the gameplay is often shown with a different dock for the controls, the Joy-Con Grip, which puts them into a more traditional console controller layout. This center dock likely adds additional power to the Joy-Cons as well. There is also a Pro Controller, which looks a lot like an original Xbox controller. I assume that this center dock is also able to be used remotely, though when they show a pair of pro gaming teams using a controller in mobile mode, they only show the Pro controller.
As was previously reported, the console will run on cartridges, which makes sense for a device intended for mobile use. Discs obviously require physical stability, something you cannot guarantee in a taxi, or while walking. For reference, remember how well a portable CD player worked while walking or riding a bike. This does mean that the Switch will not have any physical backwards compatibility with Wii or Wii U, and the change of cartridge style means no 3DS games, either. That doesn't mean that digital versions won't be made available in the future.
Nintendo has also not confirmed just how much of the console is required for operation, and how much will come in the box. All we know for sure is that the tablet and the pair of Joy-Cons will be included. Nintendo has not confirmed whether the home dock or Joy-Con Grip will be included, likely indicating that there will be bundles for both mobile-focused and home-focused.
More details will come out over the next 5 months, leading up to the March 2017 launch of the product.
In a blog post this week, automaker Tesla made an interesting announcement: all models being produced contain self-driving hardware. This means that, whether your vehicle has the capability for autonomous driving, the vehicle will have the hardware to support it.
We are excited to announce that, as of today, all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory - including Model 3 - will have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. Eight surround cameras provide 360 degree visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors complement this vision, allowing for detection of both hard and soft objects at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data about the world on a redundant wavelength, capable of seeing through heavy rain, fog, dust and even the car ahead.
Unfortunately, just because the hardware is there doesn't mean you can use it. Not yet, at least. As the company has had a string of autonomous driving failures lately, this hardware will be software-locked, preventing its use. Before unlocking the feature, Tesla wants to do more testing and calibration of the overall system. Likely this is to prevent future issues like they have seen in past months.
In fact, vehicles with the new hardware will temporarily have a lack of existing features available in older vehicles, including active cruise control, automatic braking, collision warning and lane holding. These features will, eventually, be enabled through an over-the-air update once the company is confident in its functionality. New features, not previously available on existing models, will also be added over time in the same manner. There is no estimate on when these features will be available, though models with the new hardware are already for sale.
If you have spent any time online this week, you have likely seen at least one incredibly misleading headline about New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and comments he made on a conference call. Unfortunately, the internet can be a place filed with misinformation, as seems to be the case here. I'm not sure if this is a case of an industry looking for an opportunity to make Microsoft look bad, or simply a case of not understanding the man's comments, but I'm here to try and clear up what happened.
During a post-game interview on Tuesday, Belichick was asked,
It was reported that there were some issues Sunday with the sideline technology like the headsets and tablets you use. Does that affect the number of plays you guys may be able to call and how does it affect any potential adjustments that you would make over the course of a game?
Belichick, a man who is not known to be long-winded, took over 5 minutes to answer this question. The full text of the answer is available here if you are interested in reading it. In short, Belichick said that all of the communication technology that they use on the sidelines has problems. None of it is owned by the teams or the stadiums, but instead by the NFL, and teams do not receive it until a few hours before kickoff.
These devices include the Motorola headsets, wireless microphone packs, wireless earpiece and microphone transceivers inside key helmets and sideline Wi-Fi that provides network access for the provided Microsoft Surfaces. The thing to notice about all of this technology is that it works off of wireless frequencies. While all of them work on different frequencies, the stadiums are filled with wireless technology. From hotspots setup by fans to Clearcoms used by the broadcast team, there is plenty of additional technology that could interfere.
That is exactly what happens, according to Belichick, nearly every week. In fact, the technological failures are so common and so widespread that the league has rules that allow for one team to have an outage and for the other team to have the same technology taken away. For example, if the Wi-Fi fails and the coaches are unable to access their playbooks on their Surface, the other team cannot use their Surfaces anymore, either, to level the playing field.
For Belichick, the issue is that he doesn't have control. He is tired of the league equipment not working, and he is tired of losing essential communication with his coaching staff and players. Because of this, he is going to take back control where he can. Obviously he is not going to give up the headsets, because they are easier than making phone calls every 30 seconds. He's not going to give up the helmet communication, because you don't want to lose time on the play clock while your quarterback comes to the sidelines for a chat. The only place he has left is the tablets.
He was very clear that he didn't dislike the tablets themselves. What he did say was that he was tired of not being able to use them. He mentioned liking the ability to pull up previous game video, but only when the Wi-Fi worked. And, because the tablets are owned by the league, it means none of his data is local - it all has to be retrieved from some sort of network storage, which isn't possible if the league's Wi-Fi fails. So, in this case, he is willing to sacrifice the benefits of using the Surface sometimes for the consistency of using a physical playbook.
If I were in his place and, no matter how hard I tried, a piece of technology occasionally made my life harder instead of easier, I would retire it entirely. His feelings and his response are completely rational, though misinterpreted by seemingly every publication that wrote about it.
As Netflix moves towards 50% original content, the company has begun approaching unlikely people for new projects. One such unexpected content producer is Chris Rock, a comedian who hasn't toured in almost a decade and hasn't been comically relevant in even longer.
According to reports, Netflix has written a very large check to Chris Rock to produce 2 exclusive stand-up specials for the platform. These two specials are reportedly valued at $40 million, a number that will set a new record for stand-up specials for a couple of reasons. First, it is the most ever offered a comedian for a special of this kind. This fee is higher than Jerry Seinfeld or Louis C.K., some of the higher paid comedians in the industry.
Second, Chris Rock has been off the road for a long time. This contract for two specials, not just one, is a show of confidence in the comedian's abilities. Normally in a situation like this, a single special would be warranted, using it as a test of whether or not he can command an audience like he could a decade ago. Theoretically, this confidence comes from his performance as host of the Oscars, where he did very well.
The Oscars are not exactly a good measuring tape, though. Not all, and sometimes none, of the jokes are written by the host. Also, the audience is not there for a comedy show; they're there for an awards show. Any comedic reactions could be indicative of nerves over their nominations rather than a host's comedy styling and timing.
None of this is to say that Chris Rock is incapable of commanding a room. It's just to say that this is a lot of money on a hope that he is as funny as he once was.
Since word broke of Twitter's interest in a sale, suitors have come, and suitors have gone. 3 weeks ago, the list was a who's who of companies interested in social and data. Today, the list appears to be empty, with the 5 major rumored suitors all backing away from the discussions.
The last potential bidder for the first round was Salesforce.com, a company that focuses on customer support and sales. Adding Twitter to the company's portfolio would have been a good move. Twitter is used by many companies for customer interaction. I have, myself, interacted with my cable company via Twitter to solve problems, and even gotten an issue resolved with our local grocery store.
Word this week, however, is that Salesforce has walked away from the table, leaving no serious bidders still sitting with Twitter. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said,
In this case we've walked away. It wasn't the right fit for us.
Twitter's next move has to be a big one. They are going to have to address the issues that have caused the bidders to leave contention. Likely, the biggest issue on the table has to do with Twitter's inability to attract new users. That has caused the company to lose around $2 billion over the past few fiscal years. The only way that Twitter can address this issue is in sale price.
The problem, of course, is that the price can only be minimized so much because there are stockholders with stock certificates that are valued at a certain amount. While the price dropped 6 percent at the loss of Salesforce, that is probably not enough to attract new bidders, or to bring back old bidders. The company is going to have to do something, though, if they want this sale to happen.