Sunday, 16 January 2011

Thunder in the Cloud

I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of cloud computing. Graphics processing chips are experts at floating-point calculations and matrix transformations. These forms of maths are particularly useful for cracking security keys. Ergo, GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) are good for cracking codes. Until recently the Amazon Electronic Cloud Computing (EC2) platform didn't offer GPUs, only the more conventional CPUs. EC2 allows you to massively scale up your processing power and charges for it like a utility. This very useful for one-off heavy computation tasks, or for web startups who, if they find their site becomes incredibly popular very quickly, can scale up automatically, without incurring significant infrastructure costs.

So, Amazon EC2 cloud + GPUs = massive GPU processing power for rent = great hacking platform. I suspect this is just the beginning: this is a new battleground for good vs evil exploitation of technology.

The interesting question, for now, is the ethical one: should Amazon prevent such activity? There was a lot of criticism when Amazon booted Wikileaks off their cloud. As one pundit on Slashdot.org put it "Amazon should show the same responsibility that Ford show in preventing their cars from being used as getaway cars." (ie. none). However, the counter-argument could also be that military contractors are obliged not to sell their state-of-the-art tech to dodgy countries.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Internet and the state

This is a good summary of the key issues in the simmering debate about whether the internet is a good or bad thing for society. What's most interesting is that this avoids the tiresome discussions about personal use/abuse of technology (which is a matter of choice/conditioning anyway) and sticks to the sociological & political factors. It also takes a long-term view, not the usual "look at this example of disruptive technology - cool, eh?", arguing that "Internet freedom is a long game, to be conceived of and supported not as a separate agenda but merely as an important input to the more fundamental political freedoms."