It’s been quite a year … On to 2015!

As 2014 closes, it occurs that it has been quite a year technologically for good and bad.  Here are some thoughts as we move into 2015:

Malware, Breaches, Oh My!

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 10.45.13 AMAs I predicted in last year’s New Year’s post, security and privacy has commanded center stage. The Sony attack is but one incident that has proven to be very disruptive.  It goes to show that emails and other messages are not ephemeral. They lie in wait for discovery, either legal or illegal.

More importantly, the Sony breach is the clearest example yet of the tactical and strategic damage an enemy can inflict on our culture, infrastructure, government and way-of-life.  Now I don’t know whether North Korea or a disgruntled ex-employee are responsible for the hack, but the impact was profound and far reaching, beyond just the employees and executives of Sony. This was a proof-case of how easy it is to disrupt us. In 2015, we will see more of this type of breach. Cyber-terrorism is a potent class of weaponry in the arsenal.

Beyond Sony, there were myriad credit card breaches including the latest from Chick-fil-a. Credit cards are basically not very secure and the only good news on this front is that the risk and cost of credit card breaches remain with the banks, since they indemnify you for any loses over $50 (and I’ve not heard of any banks charging the $50). Though highly disruptive, these breaches are at their core caused by criminal enterprises. They typically haven’t demonstrated the profound impact that cyber-terrorism has shown. For more in-depth information about the criminals who are involved, see the excellent website: Krebs on Security.  It’s written by Brian Krebs who just published the book Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime-from Global Epidemic to Your Front Door.  I just finished it and it’s more than a little unsettling.

One note: Credit cards are far better for transactions than debit cards.  You have no protection if your debit information is stolen. My recommendation is: Don’t use debit cards where you can use credit cards.

Proximity Payment Systems

There is good news on the payment front as proximity payment systems are set to explode in usage.  I’ve been using ApplePay for several months now and I’m a big fan for the following reasons:

  • Security — It’s far more secure than credit cards.  Each transaction is verified with your finger print and the point-of-sale terminal is handed a one-time token that will be used to extract payment from the credit card provider.
  • Wide availability — Though its availability is not ubiquitous yet, I’m really amazed how many stores are now accepting  proximity payments.  This is what Apple is good at, lining up resources in advance of the launch of their technologies.  ApplePay, though not the only game in town, has provided the critical mass to significantly advance adoption.  I suspect by the end of 2015, most banks, credit card providers and many retailers will work with ApplePay and other proximity payment systems.
  • It’s really fast — I literally place my phone near the terminal, with my finger on the phone’s button and it authenticates in a second or so … done! No messing with wallets, or swiping cards. You shouldn’t need to sign either, though some retailers are still requiring a signature.  It’s not clear why, but I suspect this will clear up soon.

One note about ApplePay: There are competing technologies that are attempting to block out ApplePay.  Specifically, a consortium of retailers, including CVS and RiteAid is blocking ApplePay to entice folks to use their system: CurrentC. The issue is who owns the data?  CVS wants to be able to target market to their customers.  I suspect this will get resolved within the next year or so.

Proximity payment systems is on my list of 2015 topics … stay tuned.

2015 will also see the acceleration of credit cards issued in the US with embedded chips to be used in lieu of the magnetic strip to transfer credit card information. Like proximity payment systems, this is a much more secure method that makes it much more difficult for hackers to clone your credit card.  This solution has been in use in Europe for years. Adoption in the US has been slow due to the cost to switch over.  The credit card breaches over the past couple years have really lit a fire towards adoption here. The switchover will also help accelerate adoption of proximity payments as retailers upgrade their systems to accept credit cards with embedded chips.

It’s important to note that it will still take time to switch over to this system and as long as the magnetic strip remains, the security value is compromised.

Technology as “The Force”

2015 should continue accelerating the time when technology becomes so ubiquitous that it will manage our environment, entertainment, health and wellness, financial well-being, communication and do so totally in the background.  To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars movie “It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

OK, this analogy is a bit of a stretch, but I do see technology getting to the point, where it is a (nearly) invisible force that surrounds, penetrates and influences our lives in profound ways.

In 2015, home automation will continue to expand as well as wearable technologies like UP, Fitbit and the pending Apple Watch.  On the topic of wearable technologies, we are moving to a time when our doctors will have access to the metrics collected by these devices.

So, 2015 should be an interesting year on the tech front.  I’m looking forward to seeing new devices and other technologies emerge.  I’m also hoping that 2015 is the year when the folks managing our technical infrastructure finally properly invest and secure the gates to our technical lives.

Finally, last year around this time, I wrote a post entitled Your Technical New Year’s Resolutions.  I highly recommend that you revisit this post as the information is still highly relevant as you enter 2015.

May you have a happy, prosperous and safe 2015!

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