All posts in “computing”

ICOs are becoming funds

What does a startup do with $48 million? $130 million? $1.7 billion? This question – one integral in the whole ICO craze – hasn’t quite been answered yet but it’s going to be far more interesting as ICOs and cryptocurrencies transform from purely product-oriented companies into actual funds.

Take the news that the creator of the TRON token bought BitTorrent for $140 million purportedly to lend legitimacy to the platform. “One shareholder we spoke to says there are two plans,” wrote TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden. “First, it will be used to ‘legitimize’ Tron’s business, which has met with some controversy: it has been accused of plagiarizing FileCoin and Ethereum in the development of its technology. And second, as a potential network to help mine coins, using BitTorrent’s P2P architecture and wide network of users.”

Given a $4.8 billion market cap, the cost of buying a beloved network brand, even one as tainted by controversy as BitTorrent, is miniscule. Further, it allows TRON to fill its war chest with solid businesses even as its own efforts end laughably with ham-handed announcements about non-existent partnerships and failed pumping by the idiosyncratic John McAfee.

In short, all of those massive ICO raises aren’t going to Aeron chairs and food truck rodeos in the company parking lot. Those smart enough to machinate their way into an ICO raise aren’t interested in product, no matter what they claim. They are interested in becoming investors, gobbling up products and people in order to gain a stranglehold on the space. Further, these ICOed organizations are often already registered as broker-dealers in various jurisdictions and have all of the legalities in place to take and invest large sums of cash. In short, if you think any successful ICOed company will deliver actual product before it would buy itself into multiple iterations of that same product I have a few tokens to sell you.

Startups start small for a reason. None of the current crop of successful ICOs have any technical merits, no matter how dense their white papers. While PhDs and computer scientists have great ideas, ultimately their ideas fail when dashed against the realities of the market. Most startups die because they are underfunded but they are underfunded because the risk associated with their ideas are far too high to ensure a win.

ICOs on the other hand are wild bets that a person who is connected to the crypto space will know better what to do with unearned crypto riches than the owners of those riches. It is a bet that the ICOing org is willing to work a little harder to make 10,000 Ether or a few hundred Bitcoin pay off in the long run and it’s a bet that the congregation of all that crypto wealth will bring the true sharks out to help turn a small investment into a big one. And you never get rich releasing a single product. You get rich buying and controlling multiple products.

The other important consideration? VCs will soon find themselves fighting for deals with ICOed companies. While it won’t happen soon and perhaps the big houses won’t feel it at all, expect smaller VCs to lose LPs as those LPs dump their cash into Maltese ICOs and not Sand Hill Road. It’s an interesting and overdue turnaround.

So don’t expect these ICOed companies to invest in fancy offices and ping pong tables (although they will.) If you’re a startup founder expected these ICOed companies to invest in you.

Bag Week 2018: The Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack will centralize your belongings

Welcome to Bag Week 2018. Every year your faithful friends at TechCrunch spend an entire week looking at bags. Why? Because bags — often ignored but full of our important electronics — are the outward representations of our techie styles, and we put far too little thought into where we keep our most prized possessions.

It’s difficult to show people that you love blockchain. There are no cool hats, no rad t-shirts, and no outward signs – except a libertarian bent and a poster of a scantily-clad Vitalik Buterin on your bedroom wall – to tell the world you are into decentralized monetary systems. Until, of course, the Bitcoin Genesis Block Backpack.

Unlike the blockchain, this backpack will centralize your stuff in a fairly large, fairly standard backpack. There is little unique about the backpack itself – it’s a solid piece made of 100% polyester and includes ergonomically designed straps and a secret pocket – but it is printed with the Bitcoin Genesis Block including a headline about UK bank bailouts. In short, it’s Merkle tree-riffic.

The green and orange text looks a little Matrix-y but the entire thing is very fun and definitely a conversation starter. Again, I doubt this will last more than a few trips to Malta or the Luxembourg but it’s a great way to let Bitcoin whales know your ICO means business.

The bag comes to us from BitcoinShirt, a company that makes and sells bitcoin-related products and accepts multiple cryptocurrencies. While this backpack won’t stand up to 51% attacks on its structural integrity, it is a fun and cheap way to show the world you’re pro-Nakamoto.

So as we barrel headlong into a crypto future fear not, fashion-conscious smart contract lover: the Bitcoin Genesis Block backpack is here to show the world you’re well and truly HODLing. To the moon!

Read other Bag Week reviews here.

Tainted, crypto-mining containers pulled from Docker Hub

Security companies Fortinet and Kromtech found seventeen tainted Docker containers that were essentially downloadable images containing programs that had been designed to mine cryptocurrencies. Further investigation found that they had been downloaded 5 million times, suggesting that hackers were able to inject commands into insecure containers to download this code into otherwise healthy web applications. The researchers found the containers on Docker Hub, a repository for user images.

“Of course, we can safely assume that these had not been deployed manually. In fact, the attack seems to be fully automated. Attackers have most probably developed a script to find misconfigured Docker and Kubernetes installations. Docker works as a client/server architecture, meaning the service can be fully managed remotely via the REST API,” wrote researcher David Maciejak.

The containers are now gone, but the hackers may have gotten away with up to $90,000 in cryptocurrency, a small but significant amount for such a hack.

“Today’s growing number of publicly accessible misconfigured orchestration platforms like Kubernetes allows hackers to create a fully automated tool that forces these platforms to mine Monero,” said a writer of a report by Kromtech. “By pushing malicious images to a Docker Hub registry and pulling it from the victim’s system, hackers were able to mine 544.74 Monero, which is equal to $90,000.”

“As with public repositories like GitHub, Docker Hub is there for the service of the community. When dealing with open public repositories and open source code, we recommend that you follow a few best practices including: know the content author, scan images before running and use curated official images in Docker Hub and certified content in Docker Store whenever possible,” wrote Docker’s head of security David Lawrence in a Threatpost report.

Interestingly, of late hackers have moved from attacking AWS Elastic Compute servers on Amazon’s platform to Docker and other container-based systems. While there are security systems available to manage Docker and Kubernetes containers, users should remain vigilant and assess their vulnerabilities before hackers get more of an upper hand.

The erosion of Web 2.0

How we lost our way… and found it again

It seems quaint to imagine now but the original vision for the web was not an information superhighway. Instead, it was a newspaper that fed us only the news we wanted. This was the central thesis brought forward in the late 1990s and prophesied by thinkers like Bill Gates – who expected a beautiful, customized “road ahead” – and Clifford Stoll who saw only snake oil. At the time, it was the most compelling use of the Internet those thinkers thought possible. This concept – that we were to be coddled by a hive brain designed to show us exactly what we needed to know when we needed to know it – continued apace until it was supplanted by the concept of User Generated Content – UGC – a related movement that tore down gatekeepers and all but destroyed propriety in the online world.

That was the arc of Web 2.0: the move from one-to-one conversations in Usenet or IRC and into the global newspaper. Further, this created a million one-to-many conversations targeted at tailor-made audiences of fans, supporters, and, more often, trolls. This change gave us what we have today: a broken prism that refracts humanity into none of the colors except black or white. UGC, that once-great idea that anyone could be as popular as a rock star, fell away to an unmonetizable free-for-all that forced brands and advertisers to rethink how they reached audiences. After all, on a UGC site it’s not a lot of fun for Procter & Gamble to have Downy Fabric Softener advertised next to someone’s racist rant against Muslims in a Starbucks .

Still the Valley took these concepts and built monetized cesspools of self-expression. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter are the biggest beneficiaries of outrage culture and the eyeballs brought in by its continuous refreshment feed their further growth. These sites are Web 2.0 at its darkest epitome, a quiver of arrows that strikes at our deepest, most cherished institutions and bleeds us of kindness and forethought.

So when advertisers faced either the direct monetization of random hate speech or the erosion of customer privacy, they choose the latter. Facebook created lookalike audiences that let advertisers sell to a certain subset of humanity on a deeply granular level, a move that delivered us the same shoe advertisement constantly, from site to site, until we were all sure we had gone mad. In the guise of saving our sanity further we invited always-on microphones into our homes that could watch our listening and browsing habits and sell to us against them. We gave up our very DNA to companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, a decision that mankind may soon regret. We shared everything with everyone in the grand hope that our evolution into homo ligarus – the networked man – would lead us to become homo deus.

This didn’t happen.

And so the pendulum swings back. The GDPR, as toothless as it is, is a wake up call to every spammer that ever slammed your email or followed you around the web. Further, Apple’s upcoming cookie control software in Safari should make those omnipresent ads disappear, forcing the advertiser to sell to an undifferentiated mob rather than a single person. This is obviously cold comfort in an era defined by both the reification of the Internet as a font for all knowledge (correct or incorrect) and the genesis of an web-based political cobra that whips back to bite its handlers with regularity. But it’s a start.

We are currently in an interstitial period of technology, a cake baked of the hearty camaraderie and “Fuck the system” punk rock Gen X but frosted with millennial pragmatism and desire for the artisanal. As we move out of the era of UGC and Web 2.0 we will see the old ways cast aside, the old models broken, and the old invasions of privacy inverted. While I won’t go as far to say that blockchain will save us all, pervasive encryption and full data control will pave the way toward true control of our personal lives as well as the beginnings of a research-based minimum income. We should be able to sell our opinions, our thoughts, and even our DNA to the highest bidder and once the rapacious Web 2.0 vultures are all shooed away, we will find ourselves in an interesting new world.

As a technoutopianist I’m sure that were are heading in the right direction. We are, however, taking turns that none of us could have imagined in the era of Clinton and the fax machine and there are still more turns to come. Luckily, however, we are coming out of our last major skid.

Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

ASUS announces a motherboard just for crypto-mining

Mining hardware is weird stuff. Either it’s commodity hardware used – inefficiently – for complex computation or specifically-designed, expensive boards that can be used to bring in Bitcoin and little else. Asus, a motherboard maker of some renown, is now helping bridge the gap.

The H370 Mining Master is a basic motherboard that supports 20 graphics cards, the boards used for Ethereum and other less resource-intensive scripts. The cards connect via PCIe-over-USB and each port has is individually controlled and managed by on-board diagnostics. This lets you ensure that each graphics card is running properly and fully connected.

From the release:

Less time maintaining your machine means more time mining with it, which is why the H370 Mining Master includes a suite of diagnostic features designed to make your platform easier to manage. Chief among them is GPU State Detection, which scans the system at boot and indicates whether each riser port is empty, connected to a functional graphics card, or experiencing problems. The updated State Detection GUI clearly identifies the location and status of each port along with the alphanumeric code that identifies it. Onboard diagnostics are augmented by individual debug LEDs that light up when there are problems with specific system components, like the CPU or memory.

The boards also has a number of cryptocurrency features that are activated “out of the box.”

The board ships in Q3 2018 for a few hundred dollars – a far cry from the massive costs associated with custom hardware. Now you just need to power all those massive graphics cards to keep the mining gear going.