2014 Technological let-downs: From Sony hack to ‘Heartbleed’, security flaws are always with us

December 30, 2014 10:28 am

Visitors take a selfie with 1600 paper pandas created by artist Paulo Grangeon in Kuala Lumpur. Photo / AP
Visitors take a selfie with 1600 paper pandas created by artist Paulo Grangeon in Kuala Lumpur. Photo / AP

If there’s one thing we learned about technology in 2014, it’s
that other people (never us) can suffer alarming consequences from
security breaches. Scarcely a week went by without a new round of
security-related embarrassments, from actresses private snaps ending up
on the web to people unwittingly starring in YouTube videos of footage
from hacked security cameras. Our reliance on systems we assume to be
watertight was highlighted by the Sony hack, which escalated into a
diplomatic war between North Korea and the US. All a result of
vulnerable security systems.
1) Bugs in the system
It’s
impossible to overstate the potentially catastrophic nature of the
“Heartbleed” bug, discovered in April in Open SSL, a piece of
cryptographic software used across the web to safeguard our
communication and identities.

However, its causes and consequences were so far beyond
our understanding that most of us failed to appreciate what was going
on. The author of the code confessed he had “missed validating a
variable containing a length”, but he may as well have been speaking in
Old Norse. The same is true of “Bad USB”, an exploit proving all USB
devices are fundamentally compromised.
2) Smartphones soar
Google’s
search trends for 2014 ranked Apple, Samsung and Google’s Nexus as the
top three smartphones, but Samsung devices outsold Apple by nearly two
to one – 73 million to 38 million. The majority of smartphones run
Google’s Android operating system (a market share of about 85 per cent)
but Apple has lost none of its talent for creating a buzz around a
product launch, as shown by the unveiling of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6
Plus in September. Billed as “bigger than bigger”, it continued the
industry trend of larger screens.
3) Watching the iWatch
Apple’s
long-awaited watch was also announced in September. Its launch
potentially makes 2015 “the year of the smartwatch” – but the same was
said of 2013 and 2014. The analytics firm Gartner optimistically
predicts 40 per cent of our watches will be “smart” by 2016, but as yet
we’ve failed to embrace them, despite praise for the likes of the Moto
360 and Sony’s Smartwatch 3. With watches, aesthetics are everything,
and that’s where the Apple Watch may score where others have failed.
4) Print your own spanner
The
availability of machines like the Makerbot Replicator Mini (about $2500
new) finally saw 3D printing enter the home, and while it may be the
education sector that really drags it forward, consumer interest will
continue to be piqued by stories such as Nasa emailing a spanner to
the International Space Station.
5) Tap your phone here
One
big, technologically driven change to the way we live has been hinted
at in the last few days of 2014, with the news that Apple has advertised
for a London-based team to work on Apple Pay, an NFC (near field
communication) powered payment system. Essentially, this means tapping
your phone on a reader in a store as an alternative to carrying cash or
cards. Android phones have had NFC capability since 2010, and Google
Wallet, an equivalent to Apple Pay, has operated in the US since 2011.
6) Yo? No. Uber? Yes
The
flood of new software to our phones, tablets, laptops and desktops was
incessant and frequently overwhelming. The blaze of publicity and
comment that greeted the launch of many apps bore little relation to
their eventual popularity: the creators of Yo (an app that enabled your
phone to say “Yo” when a friend pushed a button on their phone)
excitedly boasted of their accumulation of venture capital but a week
later it was old news, a passing fad, an app unceremoniously dumped.
Meanwhile, the minicab app Uber slowly began to cause real social change
and intense debate about the free market.
7) Rage against the machines
The
new, flattened looks of Apple’s iOS8; the latest version of OSX
(codename Yosemite); and Lollipop, the update to Google’s Android
operating system, provoked much furious insistence that all three were
ugly, and not as good as they used to be. But we’ll get used to it. We
always do. It’s one of the consequences of always-on, constantly updated
devices that things will develop and change without our approval. The
appearance on people’s iTunes catalogue in September of a new U2 album, a
gift from Apple, was a perfect example. Countless people screeched
their displeasure across social media when they realised the process of
deleting it wasn’t straightforward.
8) Hail the king
Facebook
remains social media’s undisputed king; with more than 1.35 billion
monthly users, 64 per cent of whom use it daily, its competitors stand
little chance of even touching the hem of its cloak. As usual, it came
in for criticism, but a new potential rival to Facebook, a
privacy-conscious service called Ello, found itself becoming irrelevant
as quickly as the buzz surrounding it had accumulated. We were also told
that anonymous social-media channels such as Whisper and Secret would
provide a crucial service where we could air all our desires and
grievances without worrying about the implications; today, however, both
services look more like a haven for the perpetually angry and sexually
frustrated.

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