THEY GOT IT ALL WRONG

November 15, 2017


We all have heard that necessity is the mother of invention.  There have been wonderful advances in technology since the Industrial Revolution but some inventions haven’t really captured the imagination of many people, including several of the smartest people on the planet.

Consider, for example, this group: Thomas Edison, Lord Kelvin, Steve Ballmer, Robert Metcalfe, and Albert Augustus Pope. Despite backgrounds of amazing achievement and even brilliance, all share the dubious distinction of making some of the worst technological predictions in history and I mean the very worst.

Had they been right, history would be radically different and today, there would be no airplanes, moon landings, home computers, iPhones, or Internet. Fortunately, they were wrong.  And that should tell us something: Even those who shape the future can’t always get a handle on it.

Let’s take a look at several forecasts that were most publically, painfully, incorrect. From Edison to Kelvin to Ballmer, click through for 10 of the worst technological predictions in history.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” William Thomson (often referred to as Lord Kelvin), mathematical physicist and engineer, President, Royal Society, in 1895.

A prolific scientific scholar whose name is commonly associated with the history of math and science, Lord Kelvin was nevertheless skeptical about flight. In retrospect, it is often said that Kelvin was quoted out of context, but his aversion to flying machines was well known. At one point, he is said to have publically declared that he “had not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation.” OK, go tell that to Wilber and Orville.

“Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. No one will use it, ever. Thomas Edison, 1889.

Thomas Edison’s brilliance was unassailable. A prolific inventor, he earned 1,093 patents in areas ranging from electric power to sound recording to motion pictures and light bulbs. But he believed that alternating current (AC) was unworkable and its high voltages were dangerous.As a result, he battled those who supported the technology. His so-called “war of currents” came to an end, however, when AC grabbed a larger market share, and he was forced out of the control of his own company.

 

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics Magazine, 1949.

The oft-repeated quotation, which has virtually taken on a life of its own over the years, is actually condensed. The original quote was: “Where a calculator like the ENIAC today is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.” Stated either way, though, the quotation delivers a clear message: Computers are mammoth machines, and always will be. Prior to the emergence of the transistor as a computing tool, no one, including Popular Mechanics, foresaw the incredible miniaturization that was about to begin.

 

“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

Hollywood film producer Darryl Zanuck earned three Academy Awards for Best Picture, but proved he had little understanding of the tastes of Americans when it came to technology. Television provided an alternative to the big screen and a superior means of influencing public opinion, despite Zanuck’s dire predictions. Moreover, the technology didn’t wither after six months; it blossomed. By the 1950s, many homes had TVs. In 2013, 79% of the world’s households had them.

 

“I predict the Internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.” Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com, in 1995.

An MIT-educated electrical engineer who co-invented Ethernet and founded 3Com, Robert Metcalfe is a holder of the National Medal of Technology, as well as an IEEE Medal of Honor. Still, he apparently was one of many who failed to foresee the unbelievable potential of the Internet. Today, 47% of the 7.3 billion people on the planet use the Internet. Metcalfe is currently a professor of innovation and Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise at the University of Texas at Austin.

“There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” Steve Ballmer, former CEO, Microsoft Corp., in 2007.

Some magna cum laude Harvard math graduate with an estimated $33 billion in personal wealth, Steve Ballmer had an amazing tenure at Microsoft. Under his leadership, Microsoft’s annual revenue surged from $25 billion to $70 billion, and its net income jumped 215%. Still, his insights failed him when it came to the iPhone. Apple sold 6.7 million iPhones in its first five quarters, and by end of fiscal year 2010, its sales had grown to 73.5 million.

 

 

“After the rocket quits our air and starts on its longer journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left.” The New York Times,1920.

The New York Times was sensationally wrong when it assessed the future of rocketry in 1920, but few people of the era were in a position to dispute their declaration. Forty-one years later, astronaut Alan Shepard was the first American to enter space and 49 years later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, laying waste to the idea that rocketry wouldn’t work. When Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon in 1969, the Times finally acknowledged the famous quotation and amended its view on the subject.

“With over 15 types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.” Business Week, August 2, 1968.

Business Week seemed to be on safe ground in 1968, when it predicted that Japanese market share in the auto industry would be miniscule. But the magazine’s editors underestimated the American consumer’s growing distaste for the domestic concept of planned obsolescence. By the 1970s, Americans were flocking to Japanese dealerships, in large part because Japanese manufacturers made inexpensive, reliable cars. That trend has continued over the past 40 years. In 2016, Japanese automakers built more cars in the US than Detroit did.

“You cannot get people to sit over an explosion.” Albert Augustus Pope, founder, Pope Manufacturing, in the early 1900s.

Albert Augustus Pope thought he saw the future when he launched production of electric cars in Hartford, CT, in 1897. Listening to the quiet performance of the electrics, he made his now-famous declaration about the future of the internal combustion engine. Despite his preference for electrics, however, Pope also built gasoline-burning cars, laying the groundwork for future generations of IC engines. In 2010, there were more than one billion vehicles in the world, the majority of which used internal combustion propulsion.

 

 

 

“I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked to the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.” Editor, Prentice Hall Books,1957.

The concept of data processing was a head-scratcher in 1957, especially for the unnamed Prentice Hall editor who uttered the oft-quoted prediction of its demise. The prediction has since been used in countless technical presentations, usually as an example of our inability to see the future. Amazingly, the editor’s forecast has recently begun to look even worse, as Internet of Things users search for ways to process the mountains of data coming from a new breed of connected devices. By 2020, experts predict there will be 30 to 50 billion such connected devices sending their data to computers for processing.

CONCLUSIONS:

Last but not least, Charles Holland Duell in 1898 was appointed as the United States Commissioner of Patents, and held that post until 1901.  In that role, he is famous for purportedly saying “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”  Well Charlie, maybe not.

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Portions of this post are taken from the publication “Industry Week”, Bloomberg View, 30 October 2017.

The Bloomberg report begins by stating: “The industrial conglomerate has lost $100 billion in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend.”

Do you in your wildest dreams think that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, would have produced results such as this?  I do NOT think so.  Welch “lived” with the guys on Wall Street.  These pitiful results come to us from Mr. Jeffery Immelt.  It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster-fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.  Let me mention right now that I can sound off at the results.  I retired from a GE facility—The Roper Corporation, in 2005.

The new CEO John Flannery’s pledged to divest twenty billion ($20 billion) in assets perhaps is risking another piecemeal breakup but as details leak on the divestitures and other changes Flannery’s contemplating, there’s at least a shot he could be positioning the company for something more drastic.  Now back to Immelt.

Immelt took over the top position at GE in 2001. Early attempts at changing the culture to meet Immelt’s ideas about what the corporate culture should look like were not very successful. It was during the financial crisis that he began to think differently. It seems as if his thinking followed three paths. First, get rid of the financial areas of the company because they were just a diversion to what needed to be done. Second, make GE into a company focused upon industrial goods. And, third, create a company that would tie the industrial goods to information technology so that the physical and the informational would all be of one package. The results of Immelt’s thinking are not impressive and did not position GE for company growth in the twenty-first century.

Any potential downsizing by Flannery will please investors who have viewed the digital foray as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-ten software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.  Perhaps a wholesale breakup of General Electric Co. isn’t such an improbable idea after all.

GE has lost one hundred billion ($100 billion) in market value this year as investors came to terms with the dawning reality that GE’s businesses don’t generate enough cash to support its rich dividend. It’s also now clear that years of streamlining didn’t go far enough as challenges of dumpster fire proportions at its power and energy divisions overshadowed what were actually pretty good third-quarter health-care and aviation numbers.

One argument against a breakup of GE was that it would detract from the breadth of expertise and resources that set the company apart in the push to make industrial machinery of all kinds run more efficiently. But now, GE’s approach to digital appears to be changing. Rather than trying to be everything for everyone, the company is refocusing digital marketing efforts on customers in its core businesses and deepening partnerships with tech giants including Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc. It hasn’t announced any financial backers yet, but that’s a possibility former CEO Jeff Immelt intimated before he departed. GE’s digital spending is a likely target of its cost-cutting push.

This downsizing will please investors who have viewed digital as an expensive pet project of Immelt’s, but it’s sort of a weird thing to do if you still want to turn GE into a top-10 software company — as is the divestiture of the digital-facing Centricity health-care IT operations that GE is reportedly contemplating.

The company is unlikely to abandon digital altogether. Industrial customers have been trained to expect data-enhanced efficiency, and GE has to offer that to be competitive. As Flannery said at GE’s Minds and Machines conference last week, “A company that just builds machines will not survive.” But if all we’re ultimately talking about here is smarter equipment, as opposed to a whole new software ecosystem, GE doesn’t necessarily need a health-care, aviation and power business.

Creating four or five mini-GEs would likely mean tax penalties.  That’s not in and of itself a reason to maintain a portfolio that’s not working. If it was, GE wouldn’t also be contemplating a sale of its transportation division. But one of GE’s flaws in the minds of investors right now is its financial complexity, and there’s something to be said for a complete rethinking of the way it’s put together. For what it’s worth, the average of JPMorgan Chase & Co. analyst Steve Tusa’s sum-of-the-parts analyses points to a twenty-dollar ($20) valuation — almost in line with GE’s closing price of $20.79 on Friday. Whatever premium the whole company once commanded over the value of its parts has been significantly weakened.

Wall Street is torn on General Electric, the one-time favorite blue chip for long-term investors, which is now facing an identity crisis and possible dividend cut. Major research shops downgraded and upgraded the industrial company following its third-quarter earnings miss this past Friday. The firm’s September quarter profits were hit by restructuring costs and weak performance from its power and oil and gas businesses. It was the company’s first earnings report under CEO John Flannery, who replaced Jeff Immelt in August. Two firms reduced their ratings for General Electric shares due to concerns about dividend cuts at its Nov. 13 analyst meeting. The company has a 4.2 percent dividend yield. General Electric shares declined 6.3 percent Monday to close at $22.32 a share after the reports. The percentage drop is the largest for the stock in six years. Its shares are down twenty-five (25%) percent year to date through Friday versus the S&P 500’s fifteen (15%) percent return.

At the end of the day, it comes down to what kind of company GE wants to be. The financial realities of a breakup might be painful, but so would years’ worth of pain in its power business as weak demand and pricing pressures drive a decline to a new normal of lower profitability. Does it really matter, then, what the growth opportunities are in aviation and health care? As head of M&A at GE, Flannery was at least partly responsible for the Alstom SA acquisition that swelled the size of the now-troubled power unit inside GE. If there really are “no sacred cows,” he has a chance to rewrite that legacy.

CONCLUSIONS:

Times are changing and GE had better change with those times or the company faces significant additional difficulties.  Direction must be left to the board of directors but it’s very obvious that accommodations to suite the present business climate are definitely in order.

DISTRACTIONS

October 18, 2017


Is there anyone in the United States who does NOT use our road systems on a daily basis?  Only senior citizens in medical facilities and those unfortunate enough to have health problems stay off the roads.  I have a daily commute of approximately thirty-seven (37) miles, one way, and you would not believe what I see.  Then again, maybe you would.  You’ve been there, done that, got the “T” shirt.

It’s no surprise to learn that information systems cause driver distraction, but recent news from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety indicated the problem may be worse than we thought. A study released by the organization showed that the majority of today’s information technologies are complex, frustrating, and maybe even dangerous to use. Working with researchers from the University of Utah, AAA analyzed the systems in thirty (30) vehicles, rating them on how much visual and cognitive demand they placed on drivers. The conclusion: None of the thirty-produced low demand. Twenty-three (23) of the systems generated “high” or “very high” demand.

“Removing eyes from the road for just two seconds doubles the risk for a crash,” AAA wrote in a press release. “With one in three adults using the systems available while driving, AAA cautions that using these technologies while behind the wheel can have dangerous consequences.”

In the study, University of Utah researchers examined visual (eyes-on-the-road) and cognitive (mental) demands of each system, and looked at the time required to complete tasks. Tasks included the use of voice commands and touch screens to make calls, send texts, tune the radio and program navigation. And the results were uniformly disappointing—really disappointing.

We are going to look at the twelve (12) vehicles categorized by researchers as having “very high demand” information systems. The vehicles vary from entry-level to luxury and sedan to SUV, but they all share one common trait: AAA says the systems distract drivers.  This is to me very discouraging.  Here we go.

CONCLUSIONS:

I’m definitely NOT saying don’t buy these cars but it is worth knowing and compensating for when driving.


Portions of the following post were taken from the September 2017 Machine Design Magazine.

We all like to keep up with salary levels within our chosen profession.  It’s a great indicator of where we stand relative to our peers and the industry we participate in.  The state of the engineering profession has always been relatively stable. Engineers are as essential to the job market as doctors are to medicine. Even in the face of automation and the fear many have of losing their jobs to robots, engineers are still in high demand.  I personally do not think most engineers will be out-placed by robotic systems.  That fear definitely resides with on-line manufacturing positions with duties that are repetitive in nature.  As long as engineers can think, they will have employment.

The Machine Design Annual Salary & Career Report collected information and opinions from more than two thousand (2,000) Machine Design readers. The employee outlook is very good with thirty-three percent (33%) indicating they are staying with their current employer and thirty-six percent (36%) of employers focusing on job retention. This is up fifteen percent (15%) from 2016.  From those who responded to the survey, the average reported salary for engineers across the country was $99,922, and almost sixty percent (57.9%) reported a salary increase while only ten percent (9.7%) reported a salary decrease. The top three earning industries with the largest work forces were 1.) industrial controls systems and equipment, 2.) research & development, and 3.) medical products. Among these industries, the average salary was $104,193. The West Coast looks like the best place for engineers to earn a living with the average salary in the states of California, Washington, and Oregon was $116,684. Of course, the cost of living in these three states is definitely higher than other regions of the country.

PROFILE OF THE ENGINEER IN THE USA TODAY:

As is the ongoing trend in engineering, the profession is dominated by male engineers, with seventy-one percent (71%) being over fifty (50) years of age. However, the MD report shows an up-swing of young engineers entering the profession.  One effort that has been underway for some years now is encouraging more women to enter the profession.  With seventy-one percent (71%) of the engineering workforce being over fifty, there is a definite need to attract participants.    There was an increase in engineers within between twenty-five (25) and thirty-five (35).  This was up from 5.6% to 9.2%.  The percentage of individuals entering the profession increased as well, with engineers with less than fourteen (14) years of experience increasing five percent (5%) from last year.  Even with all the challenges of engineering, ninety-two percent (92%) would still recommend the engineering profession to their children, grandchildren and others. One engineer responds, “In fact, wherever I’ll go, I always will have an engineer’s point of view. Trying to understand how things work, and how to improve them.”

 

When asked about foreign labor forces, fifty-four percent (54%) believe H1-B visas hurt engineering employment opportunities and sixty-one percent (61%) support measures to reform the system. In terms of outsourcing, fifty-two percent (52%) reported their companies outsource work—the main reason being lack of in-house talent. However, seventy-three percent (73%) of the outsourced work is toward other U.S. locations. When discussing the future, the job force, fifty-five percent (55%) of engineers believe there is a job shortage, specifically in the skilled labor area. An overwhelming eighty-seven percent (87%) believe that we lack a skilled labor force. According to the MD readers, the strongest place for job growth is in automation at forty-five percent (45%) and the strongest place to look for skilled laborers is in vocational schools at thirty-two percent (32%). The future of engineering is dependent on the new engineers not only in school today, but also in younger people just starting their young science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) interests. With the average engineer being fifty (50) years or old, the future of engineering will rely heavily on new engineers willing to carry the torch—eighty-seven percent (87%) of our engineers believe there needs to be more focus on STEM at an earlier age to make sure the future of engineering is secure.

With being the case, let us now look at the numbers.

The engineering profession is a “graying” profession as mentioned earlier.  The next digital picture will indicate that, for the most part, those in engineering have been in for the “long haul”.  They are “lifers”.  This fact speaks volumes when trying to influence young men and women to consider the field of engineering.  If you look at “years in the profession”, “work location” and years at present employer” we see the following:

The slide below is a surprise to me and I think the first time the question has been asked by Machine Design.  How much of your engineering training is theory vs. practice? You can see the greatest response is almost fourteen percent (13.6%) with a fifty/fifty balance between theory and practice.  In my opinion, this is as it should be.

“The theory can be learned in a school, but the practical applications need to be learned on the job. The academic world is out of touch with the current reality of practical applications since they do not work in

that area.” “My university required three internships prior to graduating. This allowed them to focus significantly on theoretical, fundamental knowledge and have the internships bolster the practical.”

ENGINEERING CERTIFICATIONS:

The demands made on engineers by their respective companies can sometimes be time-consuming.  The respondents indicated the following certifications their companies felt necessary.

 

 

SALARIES:

The lowest salary is found with contract design and manufacturing.  Even this salary, would be much desired by just about any individual.

As we mentioned earlier, the West Coast provides the highest salary with several states in the New England area coming is a fairly close second.

 

SALARY LEVELS VS. EXPERIENCE:

This one should be no surprise.  The greater number of years in the profession—the greater the salary level.  Forty (40) plus years provides an average salary of approximately $100,000.  Management, as you might expect, makes the highest salary with an average being $126,052.88.

OUTSOURCING:

 

As mentioned earlier, outsourcing is a huge concern to the engineering community. The chart below indicates where the jobs go.

JOB SATISFACTION:

 

Most engineers will tell you they stay in the profession because they love the work. The euphoria created by a “really neat” design stays with an engineer much longer than an elevated pay check.  Engineers love solving problems.  Only two percent (2%) told MD they are not satisfied at all with their profession or current employer.  This is significant.

Any reason or reasons for leaving the engineering profession are shown by the following graphic.

ENGINEERING AND SOCIETY: 

As mentioned earlier, engineers are very worried about the H1-B visa program and trade policies issued by President Trump and the Legislative Branch of our country.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been “nixed” by President Trump but trade policies such as NAFTA and trade between the EU are still of great concern to engineers.  Trade with China, patent infringement, and cyber security remain big issues with the STEM profession and certainly engineers.

 

CONCLUSIONS:

I think it’s very safe to say that, for the most part, engineers are very satisfied with the profession and the salary levels offered by the profession.  Job satisfaction is great making the dawn of a new day something NOT to be dreaded.

AUGMENTED REALITY (AR)

October 13, 2017


Depending on the location, you can ask just about anybody to give a definition of Virtual Reality (VR) and they will take a stab at it. This is because gaming and the entertainment segments of our population have used VR as a new tool to promote games such as SuperHot VR, Rock Band VR, House of the Dying Sun, Minecraft VR, Robo Recall, and others.  If you ask them about Augmented Reality or AR they probably will give you the definition of VR or nothing at all.

Augmented reality, sometimes called Mixed Reality, is a technology that merges real-world objects or the environment with virtual elements generated by sensory input devices for sound, video, graphics, or GPS data.  Unlike VR, which completely replaces the real world with a virtual world, AR operates in real time and is interactive with objects found in the environment, providing an overlaid virtual display over the real one.

While popularized by gaming, AR technology has shown a prowess for bringing an interactive digital world into a person’s perceived real world, where the digital aspect can reveal more information about a real-world object that is seen in reality.  This is basically what AR strives to do.  We are going to take a look at several very real applications of AR to indicate the possibilities of this technology.

  • Augmented Reality has found a home in healthcare aiding preventative measures for professionals to receive information relative to the status of patients. Healthcare giant Cigna recently launched a program called BioBall that uses Microsoft HoloLense technology in an interactive game to test for blood pressure and body mass index or BMI. Patients hold a light, medium-sized ball in their hands in a one-minute race to capture all the images that flash on the screen in front of them. The Bio Ball senses a player’s heartbeat. At the University of Maryland’s Augmentarium virtual and augmented reality laboratory, the school is using AR I healthcare to improve how ultrasound is administered to a patient.  Physicians wearing an AR device can look at both a patient and the ultrasound device while images flash on the “hood” of the AR device itself.
  • AR is opening up new methods to teach young children a variety of subjects they might not be interested in learning or, in some cases, help those who have trouble in class catching up with their peers. The University of Helsinki’s AR program helps struggling kids learn science by enabling them to virtually interact with the molecule movement in gases, gravity, sound waves, and airplane wind physics.   AR creates new types of learning possibilities by transporting “old knowledge” into a new format.
  • Projection-based AR is emerging as a new way to case virtual elements in the real world without the use of bulky headgear or glasses. That is why AR is becoming a very popular alternative for use in the office or during meetings. Startups such as Lampix and Lightform are working on projection-based augmented reality for use in the boardroom, retail displays, hospitality rooms, digital signage, and other applications.
  • In Germany, a company called FleetBoard is in the development phase for application software that tracks logistics for truck drivers to help with the long series of pre-departure checks before setting off cross-country or for local deliveries. The Fleet Board Vehicle Lense app uses a smartphone and software to provide live image recognition to identify the truck’s number plate.  The relevant information is super-imposed in AR, thus speeding up the pre-departure process.
  • Last winter, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands started working with first responders in using AR as a tool in crime scene investigation. The handheld AR system allows on-scene investigators and remote forensic teams to minimize the potential for site contamination.  This could be extremely helpful in finding traces of DNA, preserving evidence, and getting medical help from an outside source.
  • Sandia National Laboratories is working with AR as a tool to improve security training for users who are protecting vulnerable areas such as nuclear weapons or nuclear materials. The physical security training helps guide users through real-world examples such as theft or sabotage in order to be better prepared when an event takes place.  The training can be accomplished remotely and cheaply using standalone AR headsets.
  • In Finland, the VTT Technical Research Center recently developed an AR tool for the European Space Agency (ESA) for astronauts to perform real-time equipment monitoring in space. AR prepares astronauts with in-depth practice by coordinating the activities with experts in a mixed-reality situation.
  • The U.S. Daqri International uses computer vision for industrial AR to enable data visualization while working on machinery or in a warehouse. These glasses and headsets from Daqri display project data, tasks that need to be completed and potential problems with machinery or even where an object needs to be placed or repaired.

CONCLUSIONS:

Augmented Reality merges real-world objects with virtual elements generated by sensory input devices to provide great advantages to the user.  No longer is gaming and entertainment the sole objective of its use.  This brings to life a “new normal” for professionals seeking more and better technology to provide solutions to real-world problems.

HACKED OFF

October 2, 2017


Portions of this post are taken from an article by Rob Spiegel of Design News Daily.

You can now anonymously hire a cybercriminal online for as little as six to ten dollars ($6 to $10) per hour, says Rodney Joffe, senior vice president at Neustar, a cybersecurity company. As it becomes easier to engineer such attacks, with costs falling, more businesses are getting targeted. About thirty-two (32) percent of information technology professionals surveyed said DDoS attacks cost their companies $100,000 an hour or more. That percentage is up from thirty (30) percent reported in 2014, according to Neustar’s survey of over 500 high-level IT professionals. The data was released Monday.

Hackers are costing consumers and companies between $375 and $575 billion, annually, according to a study published this past Monday, a number only expected to grow as online information stealing expands with increased Internet use.  This number blows my mind.   I actually had no idea the costs were so great.  Great and increasing.

Online crime is estimated at 0.8 percent of worldwide GDP, with developed countries in regions including North America and Europe losing more than countries in Latin American or Africa, according to the new study published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and funded by cybersecurity firm McAfee.

That amount rivals the amount of worldwide GDP – 0.9 percent – that is spent on managing the narcotics trade. This difference in costs for developed nations may be due to better accounting or transparency in developed nations, as the cost of online crime can be difficult to measure and some companies do not do disclose when they are hacked for fear of damage to their reputations, the report said.

Cyber attacks have changed in recent years. Gone are the days when relatively benign bedroom hackers entered organizations to show off their skills.  No longer is it a guy in the basement of his or her mom’s home eating Doritos.  Attackers now are often sophisticated criminals who target employees who have access to the organization’s jewels. Instead of using blunt force, these savvy criminals use age-old human fallibility to con unwitting employees into handing over the keys to the vault.  Professional criminals like the crime opportunities they’ve found on the internet. It’s far less dangerous than slinging guns. Cybersecurity is getting worse. Criminal gangs have discovered they can carry out crime more effectively over the internet, and there’s less chance of getting caught.   Hacking individual employees is often the easiest way into a company.  One of the cheapest and most effective ways to target an organization is to target its people. Attackers use psychological tricks that have been used throughout mankind.   Using the internet, con tricks can be carried out on a large scale. The criminals do reconnaissance to find out about targets over email. Then they effectively take advantage of key human traits.

One common attack comes as an email impersonating a CEO or supplier. The email looks like it came from your boss or a regular supplier, but it’s actually targeted to a specific professional in the organization.   The email might say, ‘We’ve acquire a new organization. We need to pay them. We need the company’s bank details, and we need to keep this quiet so it won’t affect our stock price.’ The email will go on to say, ‘We only trust you, and you need to do this immediately.’ The email comes from a criminal, using triggers like flattery, saying, ‘You’re the most trusted individual in the organization.’ The criminals play on authority and create the panic of time pressure. Believe it or not, my consulting company has gotten these messages. The most recent being a hack from Experian.

Even long-term attacks can be launched by using this tactic of a CEO message. “A company in Malaysia received kits purporting to come from the CEO.  The users were told the kit needed to be installed. It took months before the company found out it didn’t come from the CEO at all.

Instead of increased technology, some of the new hackers are deploying the classic con moves, playing against personal foibles. They are taking advantage of those base aspects of human nature and how we’re taught to behave.   We have to make sure we have better awareness. For cybersecurity to be engaging, you have to have an impact.

As well as entering the email stream, hackers are identifying the personal interests of victims on social media. Every kind of media is used for attacks. Social media is used to carry out reconnaissance, to identify targets and learn about them.  Users need to see what attackers can find out about them on Twitter or Facebook. The trick hackers use is to pretend they know the target. Then the get closes through personal interaction on social media. You can look at an organization on Twitter and see who works in finance. Then they take a good look across social platform to find those individuals on social media to see if they go to a class each week or if they traveled to Iceland in 1996.  You can put together a spear-phishing program where you say, Hey I went on this trip with you.

CONCLUSIONS:

The counter-action to personal hacking is education and awareness. The company can identify potential weaknesses and potential targets and then change the vulnerable aspects of the corporate environment.  We have to look at the culture of the organization. Those who are under pressure are targets. They don’t have time to study each email they get. We also have to discourage reliance on email.   Hackers also exploit the culture of fear, where people are punished for their mistakes. Those are the people most in danger. We need to create a culture where if someone makes a mistake, they can immediately come forward. The quicker someone comes forward, the quicker we can deal with it.


The island of Puerto Rico has a remarkably long road ahead relative to rebuilding after Maria and Irma.

After Puerto Rico was pummeled by Hurricane Maria two weeks ago, a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, the island has been left in shambles. After suffering widespread power outages thanks to Irma, one million Puerto Ricans have been left without electricity. Sixty thousand (60,000) still had not gotten power when Maria brought a total, island-wide power outage and severe shortages in food, water, and other supplies.

As of today, October 2, 2017 there is still no power on the island except for a handful of generators powering high-priority buildings like select hospitals.   The island most likely will not return to full power for another six to nine months. This also means that there are close to zero working cell phone towers and no reception anywhere on the island.  Communication is the life-blood of any rebuilding and humanitarian effort and without landlines and cell phones, that effort will become incredibly long and frustrating. The following digital picture will indicate the great lack of communication.

Fuel for generators is running out (though authorities in Puerto Rico insist that it’s a distribution problem, not a shortage). Puerto Ricans are waiting in six-hour lines for fuel, while many stations have run completely dry.

In most of Puerto Rico there is no water – that means no showers, no flushable toilets, and no drinkable water that’s not out of a bottle. In some of the more remote parts of the island, rescue workers are just beginning to arrive.

To indicate just how dire the situation is:  “According to the US Department of Health and Public Services, a superfund site is “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” These sites are put on the National Priorities List (NPL), a list of the most dire cases of environmental contamination in the US and its territories. These are places where a person can’t even walk on the ground and breathe the air without seriously endangering their health.”  That is exactly where PR is at this time.

Puerto Rico’s fallout from Maria and Irma will result in a long, long road to recovery. Even though the island is home to 3.5 million US citizens, help has definitely been delayed compared to response in the US.    The island’s pre-existing poverty and environmentally dangerous Superfund Sites will make rebuilding a tricky and toxic business, costing in the billions of dollars.

We may get better idea at the devastation by looking at the digital satellite pictures below.

A much more dramatic depiction may be seen below.

CONCLUSIONS:

As recently as 2016, the island suffered a three-day, island-wide blackout as a result of a fire. A private energy consultant noted then that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority “appears to be running on fumes, and … desperately requires an infusion of capital — monetary, human and intellectual — to restore a functional utility.” Puerto Ricans in early 2016 were suffering power outages at rates four to five times higher than average U.S. customers, said the report from the Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics.  What was a very sad situation even before Maria and Irma, is now a complete disaster.  As I mentioned above—a very long road of recovery for the island.

 

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