2012 Top Scary Trends in Tech

2012 Top Scary Trends in Tech

Summary: Yes, it's Halloween season of 2012, and we're here to revisit the technologies that are so frightening, they'll make you evacuate from multiple "interfaces".


Yes, it's time again for Scary Tech Trends. We've been remiss in our last few years of Scary Tech coverage, but we're baaaaaaaaaaaaaack.

In previous years, the monsters were such awful ghouls, ghosts and goblins as Unreliable Clouds, IT Consolidation, Virtual Workplaces, The Never-Ending Workday and Cyber Bullies from Hell. 

This year, I've got a bunch of new ones for you, so let's crack open a fresh bucket of chilled monkey brains and get our B-movie rolling.

The Night of the Smartphone and Tablet Zombies

You've seen these poor, lifeless beings everywhere. People... if you can still call them that...  with pallid, emotionless faces, staring down at small screens while they walk direction-less down the street, completely unaware of their surroundings.

Yet these poor souls actually believe they are more "connected" to the outside world and more people than ever.

Sometimes they return to real life, and have real interactions with living human beings, but then this horrible urge kicks in which compells them to pull out their iPhone, their iPad or their Android device. Their PRECIOUS.

They'll pull it out in the middle of a business meeting while someone else is talking, and they'll fiddle with it in the bathroom stall at work (or, good heavens, take calls on it and seal deals while on the can).

They'll pull it out in the middle of dinner with family. They'll mess with it while everyone is cuddling on the couch, watching TV. And even after satisfying the most basic of human requirements, it still won't go away. "Oh was it good for you, honey? Great, you nap, I'm gonna play Scramble with Friends." 

What happened to smoking a cigarette?

If they can think of any inappropriate, awkward time to stare at their little screen and tap on their little itty, bitty keys, they will. Because their PRECIOUS compels them.

And the longer they have their favorite toy turned off or not being used, the greater the urge is to pull it out and use it, as if it has some evil spell cast on them. They must Tweet. They must Status Update. They must Check In. They must Text. They must check for emails. They must. MUST!!!!! EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE.

They've become the 21st-century equivalent of Smeagol. Once, they were human beings. But now they're Smartphone and Tablet Zombies. They may think they're connected to more and more people and information than ever, but for these poor creatures, life is just an illusion.

And for the ones still using Blackberries? Those are the poorest souls of all. We're talking about zombies that are afraid to be seen around other Zombies.

Now excuse me while I check my Twitter feed on my iPhone 5. MY PRECIOUS!

I Know Where You Are... Because You Told Me!

I'm not sure what's scarier, people who are totally oblivious that their lives have been fully absorbed by their smartphones, or that these same people are willing disclose their whereabouts at every opportunity because they think that it's "hip" or "cool" to "Check In".

Check-in for, What, exactly? To gain "Points" and merit badges? What is this, the frickin' Boy Scouts?

For what purpose do you need to broadcast your whereabouts to every single one of your Facebook or LinkedIn contacts or the entire Internet on your Twitter stream in real time? Because you have so much vanity that your actual location being accurate within minutes is so important to your friends and family?

Do they need to know that you buy a bear claw and a large cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts at 8:24am every morning? That you just walked into the proctologist's office? You think it's some kind of incredible achievement that you just became Mayor of the Kenosha, Wisconsin Starbucks? 

Do I really need to see that picture of that wilted garden salad or horrible excuse for a slice of pizza which came out of a plastic box that you just bought at the airport terminal at LAX? 

What's scary here is that these vanity location-aware services like Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram are harvesting thousands of time stamped location datapoints per year for every single one of these users that willingly and often use these services.

What's worse is the future potential for data-mining which could allow, say, a private investigator or a potential employer or a financial services company or insurance carrier or anyone else with a vested interest in how you spend your time could someday use this information against you.

Never mind stalkers who want to actually do you and your family physical harm. 

"Oh you checked into McDonalds and Dunkin' Donuts 84 times from 2010 to 2012? Oh I'm sorry Mr. Smith, we're going to have to raise your life insurance premium, eating all that crap can't possibly be good for you."

But don't listen to me, I'm alarmist. Keep checking in. Really.

Blah! I Come To Suck Your Personal Data!

Location aware services are scary when people are willing to share this information with others, but even scarier is the amount of data that gets shared and distributed that you DON'T wan't others to see. Social Media services like FaceBook encourages its users to "Like" everything because the button is now integrated into every single web site.

The more you "Like", the more datapoints that get built up and stored which FaceBook can use to monetize to advertisers and other third parties. As with the potential hazards of location-aware services like Foursquare, there is a literal goldmine of profiling of "Like" information that gets stored for each and every FaceBook user which could someday come back and bite you.

"Like" information isn't the only data on FaceBook you need to worry about. The service seems to change its personal privacy defaults on a yearly basis and if you leave things as they are, chances are there is data within your profile that is being shared out to the world that you don't want via FaceBook's Graph API.

This information that you don't want shared can even be pulled from what seem like harmless mobile games and applications.

If you haven't done so, take a look at ZDNet's Definitive Facebook Lockdown Guide and secure your profiles right away.

Attack of the Mutant Botnets, Worms and Anonymous

Botnets used to be the domain of Script Kiddies on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) for going after financial and personal data on large targeted groups of individual end-user PCs, but now they've become the preferred cyber-attack tool of hostile governments and their official and unofficial cyber-warfare agents to attempt to steal data and deny service of large end-user services such as Twitter, Yahoo, Google and Facebook, as well as corporate and government extranets.

Botnets require a great deal of of coordination and infrastructure on the part of the cybercriminals to run, which is why they are giving way to more sophisticated, self-replicating attack mechanisms such as Stuxnet and Flamer, both of which are computer viruses that have been specifically engineered to attack industrial infrastructure, such as power plants, or to seek out and steal data from specific users within corporate and academia as an intelligence-gathering mechanism.

Unlike Botnets that have to be coordinated and attack web sites and systems externally, self-replicating worms such as Stuxnet or Flamer  can be injected into the target environment by simply inserting an infected USB key into a Windows PC and using Zero-Day exploits to compromise large networks.

So far, complex worms like Stuxnet have mainly attacked and damaged infrastructure in countries like China and Iran, and the US has largely escaped being compromised by this new form of worm so far. What we know about these types of worms is that they require a lot of man hours to create, design and code, so they aren't the work of just a bunch of smart kids working for hacker groups like Anonymous looking to attack for "cause" or for other malicious reasons.

However, I fear that we may very well be looking at a future where critical aspects of our national infrastructure are brought to a halt due to attacks from worms created by hostile governments or terrorist groups on an on-going basis.

Currently, sophisticated viruses like these are the work of foreign governments cyberwarfare efforts against their enemies. So while (most) civilian end-user PCs are not the actual target, it is a bit disconcerting that at some point, this sort of technology could trickle down to organizations like Anonymous, and could use it against civilians and innocent corporate targets for purely malicious purposes.

The Legacy PC OS That Wouldn't Die

It lies under your desk, where the evil dust bunnies live, haunting the inside of a beige PC case, stored on the hard drive. It's as old as Methuselah, because your IT organization is understaffed, has no budget, or just can't see why replacing it has any value. What am I talking about? I'm talking about Windows XP.

Look, it's been eleven years. XP's had a good run. But it's no longer equipped to handle today's security concerns, and it is just barely hanging on in terms of being able to run current applications and use modern browser technology. It's time to go. Heck, it wants to die.

Windows 8 has just been released, and I've given everyone a bunch of reasons why it makes sense to upgrade to it. But if you are still not ready to take the plunge on this new desktop OS, you really need to upgrade your organization's PCs to Windows 7 at the bare minimum. Seriously.

I know this might involve replacing a whole bunch of desktops, as well as rolling out new versions of productivity suites and other commercial, off-the-shelf apps, but if a large portion of your hardware is EOL, you really need to do this anywany. Along with a good DR plan, keeping your PC as well as your server hardware fresh is part of a good overall business continuity strategy if equipment fails.

And if you don't have this in your plans yet, you should also start looking at Windows Server 2012 to replace your aging Windows 2003 R2 server infrastructure to go along with your desktop overhaul.

The Datacenter That Wouldn't Recover

While this article has been written in a (largely) light-hearted tone, and is directed at number things which should give you and your organization some concern, the recent events which have transpired as a result of Hurricane Sandy striking the Northeast United States should bring Business Continuity and Resiliency to the very top of your company's priority list. And it is no laughing matter.

I can't tell you about how many government and city/local agencies as well as businesses which haven't effectively planned for disaster recovery or have invested enough in backup and data replication infrastructure that I have seen in the last several years.

There are still lots of these places out there which refused to invest in the possibility of dealing with a catastrophic infrastructure loss, despite the warnings of IT management and other trusted IT advisors.

I'm talking about no offisite backups or "Site B" types of scenarios, or even places which have never effectively tested for what would happen during an actual Business Continuity loss or haven't developed manual procedures to bring their environments back, let alone DR systems that are fully or partially automated.

Over the next weeks and months we are going to hear about real horror stories about datacenters that were flooded, lost power, and didn't have sufficent battery backup to allow servers and applications to quiesce cleanly, or had no real offsite backups or replication. The data and financial losses for these organizations who had no real backup plans will be immeasurable, and their customers who had to depend on them getting back online will also have to suffer for it.

Don't be like these guys. Make sure that your infrastructure is backed up remotely, and that you have offisite capabilities, even in a reduced, subcapacity form. Because there is nothing worse than having your business continuity lost permanently due to a natural disaster.

What other scary trends in tech have you encountered this year? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Security, Cloud, Data Centers, Smartphones, Storage, Tablets, Windows, Social Enterprise


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Changing OS

    We in our company have some equipment running off of DOS. Recently we had to replace the computer. We found the cheapest new computer we could and installed Freedos and the backup of the equipment software. Some of the reasons for not changing is very expensive industrial equipment with no Win 7 or Win 8 drivers. The company the made our canning line is out of business, yet replacing the line would cost more than replacing every PC and Server in our business. XP is not going away fast.
    • Obviously Not An Industrial/Medical User

      Agreeing with above:

      When upgrading your computer means you obsolete a $300,000 piece of equipment, you tend to not do that. So what do you do? You a) buy used pc's to act as hardware backups b) have your favorite hard drive recovery company on speed dial and c) make sure you have images of drives. In the medical imaging and industrial fields, this is common - as in really, really common, not just because of the expensive piece of gear that is hooked to the PC, but also for perfectly usable CAD stations, that just happen to be connected to very expensive, very large, old plotters.

      That's about 60% of the equipment here. It's simply not upgradable without dramatic capital investment, with near-$0 ROI.
      • Not to mention,

        Not to mention: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

        Upgrades are great for the vendors, not so much for me. When the vendors start accepting liability for their "new, improved!" systems breaking current software, then your argument starts to get some traction.

        In the current state of affairs unless there is real return from doing the upgrade its all risk to no benefit.
        • Not to mention: If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

          but then, security issues are invisible most of the time, especially on an aging OS.
          • Aging OS

            Aging OS's are not accessable most of the time from the outside world. If someone is running DOS I do not expect them to be connected to the Internet since you have a severely restricted IP stack and to put a virus on DOS you need to use a SYS file with a TSR to hook in to the boot sequence. Later OS's execute anything the is floating around from scripts to flash files without you realizing anything.
    • PLM the same problem

      Heavy producers of CAD data are also forced to old operating systems. I am in the aviation industry, the CAD data for some of the older Aircraft are still actively being produced on UNIX based systems. CAD data dus also not translate easily and effectively to newer versions of the same program. You then need your data management solutions to be able to support these legacy system, and all other systems created on top of this production data.
    • Excellent!

      The author, (whose writing I enjoy, but whose opinions I often do not share,) obviously doesn't appreciate mature stable software. When XP was new, I hated it! After SP2, it became a really good and stable OS. (That was only about 7 years ago, not 11.) Since then it has been patched and re-patched, and the result is the most completed version of Windows ever made, or will ever be made. All versions before and after were/are on the upgrade treadmill.

      While 7 and 8 may have features that XP doesn't, we aren't missing them. As for a modern browser, I had to uninstall IE 9 from the Win'7 machines because it is incompatible with some of our web based application interfaces and many websites. I put them all back to IE 8. If I want a modern browser, there is always Firefox and Chrome! And they run just fine on XP.

      Also, even though 60% of my shop is still Win'XP, the last 6 malware infections I had to clean up were all on the Win'7 systems. While there are other factors involved, the newer OSs are not bullet proof, so the whole security schtick is way over hyped.
    • Why should XP die? Just 'wrap' it in Linux.

      XP is great at handling DOS windows and file management. Is backwards-compatible with my Win98 and DOS machines. Saves me from having to raise fees. My business too is DOS-based, Lotus 1-2-3, version 2.x.

      So: Vista and Win7 will be my webbing machines after 2014, by which time I hope to have created dual boots on all my XP machines, and use Linux to web. If I don't master Linux by then, I'll just use the Vista and Win7 machines. So XP internet exposure, stops. When using XP, I just won't be online. Really simple.

      I don't see why that same idea can't apply to your canning. Also, look into Taos Computing (exdos.com). I was thinking of buying their DOS emulator if I ever decide to convert my 32-bit OS to 64-bit.

      Hope this helps. BTW, you can buy new Dell lapotops and workstations with BSD. I just saw them offered earlier this week.
  • Really scary

    The thought of business making a quick leap from 7 to 8 is unlikely since most are only just now accepting 7 as the standard.
  • Real Nightmare: Big Brother is Watching You

    You go to the grocery store and, during checkout, you swipe your store card. The store sends your personal info and the list of items you're buying to your insurance company. The insurance company compares what's in your shopping list against your medical records and decides that you're going to pay a hefty premium for those steaks because your last cholesterol count was slightly elevated.

    The technology to do this kind of monitoring exists, and it could be done in real time. You'd just see your grocery and restaurant bills jump as your insurance company - with the best of intentions, of course - punishes you for behavior they don't approve of.

    Now all the insurance companies need to do is outlaw cash. Hmmmm....
    • Sorry, Disagree....POS systems that are PCI compliant don't work that way..

      Having helped put in POS systems that are PCI compliant, we separate the purchase detail from the credit card data by design. All the CC company knows is, you bought SOMETHING at a store for $. They have no idea what, and we make sure they don't.
    • Won't happen

      POS systems only pass the total cost to the credit card companies. Visa & Mastercard don't see that you just bought all the leftover Halloween candy, they only see the request to authorize a $157.56 purchase.
      • It could happen....

        PCI standards only protect EFT transactions. Like you say only the total cost of he credit card transaction is sent for authorization with no details of the items that were sold. However, the ECR POS sends the full details of the transactions to the "insert supermarket chain name here" central database so that they can do inventory management and manage the Giro on the store's turnover. As a sideline they could data-mine the demographic details, cross-check customer address details and sell the data to insurance companies who could contact you based on your lifestyle demographic that was extrapolated from the original data. In Europe this is strictly illegal but in the US they can do whatever they want.
        • Addendum

          The payment by credit card authorization is a separate process from the cash register. The Cash register (ECR) scans the items, makes the total, prints the receipt and stores the transaction with its full details.
      • Does happen, ever so slightly differently

        True, PCI doesn't allow to get anything else from *credit card data*. But they have no say about gathering the exact same information from your loyalty card. Oh, it gives you 0.01% rebates that expire only every year, so it's worth using them. right? As a way for the store to electronically identify you AND stay PCI compliant.
    • It is not Big Brother, Its Big Mother

      Big Mother (i.e. the Nanny State) is the one that will treat you like a child that has to be controlled. Big Brother only cares who you date. Is it too much to ask of the American Civil Liberties Union to be on ourside for once? Nope Sorry they are to busy suing the parents of little Johnny because he had the temerity to say a prayer in school before a test. The ACLU is just another club of the Nanny State, no help there.
      • You have it slightly wrong.

        No one is saying Little Johnny cannot say a prayer before his test. He most certainly can. The administration cannot lead a prayer for the whole school forcing everyone to participate, whether or not they want to. There cannot be an official religion, or an official prayer, or an official prayer time. Freedom of Religion also means the freedom not to participate. Little Johnny can pray as much or as little as he wants. (And if half the stories I have heard about Little Johnny are true, he better!)
        • I almost forgot...

          If Little Johnny studied before his test, he wouldn't need to pray before it.
        • Well said, about prayer.

          I'm 'brainouty' in Youtube, and if you look at the videos I make, you'd have to call me something of an obsessive or even anal Christian. That same obsessiveness (i.e., with what the Hebrew and Greek ACTUALLY says versus the kant pandered about it), bids me to be 100% against 'official' prayer in schools. The day when there is any kind of thing like that (maybe the moment of silence thing is okay), then we start down the slippery slope of RELIGIFYING its structure. No thank you.

          I don't notice bolts of lightning striking atheists or the (gasp) people I consider heretics. So we do NOT need any kind of religious agenda WHATSOEVER in politics; and especially not, in schools. Wish the Repubicans would learn this.

          That's why I'm against Win8. It's hitlerian. Hmmmm. Maybe I better go in my closet and pray about that. :)
    • its illegal

      There is a thing called HIPAA y(Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act) that prevents people from looking at your medical records without your consent. And this is taken seriously. Now driving your car 7s different. What if they shut off your car remotely cuz you are late on a payment etc (like while driving) now that's scary.