Singapore on StackOverflow

stackOverflow

Everyone is buzzing about big data these days.  Without something interesting, I would rather be a reader or an audience. Until now, while I am doing my own website researches, I have noticed something which you may like to know too.

As IT geek coming from Hong Kong and working in Singapore, I can’t remember how many times I was asked “How Singapore is different from Hong Kong?”. There are many similarities between these two ex-British colonies in Asia. People like to compare and contrast both economies on their business readiness, innovations and productivity. In many city indexes, Singapore and Hong Kong are often competing.

After living in Singapore for over 2 years, I usually answered the question more based on my own observations and experience.  For people who is more interested in food, I can talk about the difference in food in the two places.  For someone who cares more in politics, I can talk about the difference in the election systems.  So, in the context of IT industry, “How Singapore is different from Hong Kong?” Which place is having a better competitive edge? Which will better leverage IT advancements to support economic growth?

I have gotten the opportunity to meet with IT professionals from both the public and private sectors in Singapore. Singapore Government dedication and investment on technology is impressive. We see many projects (some experimental) to reinvent this city state. Industry associations like Singapore Computer Society and SITF are working hand in hand to build the competitive edge of Singapore in the IT arena.  However, I am not a PR consultant and should dig deeper. With my IT engineering background, I am trained to be fact-based. So, instead of settling with a conclusion based on what I experienced or how I felt, I would like to finalize my conclusion with hard fact: Data!

So, I turn to Alexa.com, which is a website that tracks Internet usages and ranks websites in each region or country. The ranking of website reveals how netizen surf Internet which tells a lot of their digital life and thus indirectly on digital economy. From there, I looked into the Top 100 websites in Hong Kong and Singapore listed in Alexa website.

First, it stunts me when I see StackOverflow ranked 37th in SG but 57th for HK. This difference tells something about IT industry in two very economies. Stackoverflow.com is the most popular website for programmers globally. Developers and technical professionals share their knowledge via forum-like platform. I myself find it most useful for undocumented features of programming languages & APIs. You don’t spend time on StackOverflow trying to find next hotel deal or sangria receipt. Developers spend time on StackOverflow exchange ideas and share bug-killing joys.

When StackOverflow ranked higher in SG than HK, we may loosely read that the percentage of time SG people collectively spend on developing software is more than HK (i.e. bug killing is more popular in SG). Yet, I believe it is more likely that SG has more developers or SG developers are more hard working!

Absolute ranking in Alexa maybe affected by seasonal or other technical issues, it may not paint the true picture. To avoid such bias, let us use relative ranking, i.e. the distance between Stackoverflow with other popular daily websites (I have chosen online banking and local newspaper). Let us throw in some simple chart here.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 6.12.38 PM

Left hand side  shows SG ranking of Online Banking (DBS.COM.SG), Local Newspaper (Straitstimes.com) and StackOverflow-SG. Right hand side shows HK (HSBC, NextMedia.com and StackOverflow-HK.

A shorter distance between popular websites and StackOverflow reconfirm our observations with absolute ranking. Singapore netizens are more geek! Or, Singapore geeks are more active on the geek-forum! More time are spent on analyzing IT and killing bugs. Just a caveat though: StackOverflow is mainly English, Hong Kong developers may prefer similar forum in Chinese.

Screen Shot 2015-11-29 at 5.28.34 PM

When double check with StackOverflow own 2015 survey, Singapore has 31.7 devs per 1000 people. 6th globally, highest in APAC.

Even with user behavior data, the conclusion may still be too generalized.  However, I do think this gives an encouraging picture to SG policy maker (IDA,ITSC, MDA, LTA etc) and IT practitioners. Singapore have nurtured a culture for people to built and tinker. In the last two years, I met with different communities (like Null Security, iOS Dev Scout, Lean Startup) full of energetic people sharing their experiences and dreams.

Implications for Eddystone-URL in Chrome 44

When I wrote in my last post about Eddystone, I was not aware of Chrome already included an update to scan nearby Eddystone beacons.  Chrome version 44.0.2403.65 available in Apple AppStore (not in Play Store as of writing) now let Chrome user to open an URL broadcasted by Eddystone-URL.

This change is profound ! The following are the implications

  1. Developer no longer needs to write IOS codes to assess functionality offered by beacons . This is a liberation from the Apple iBeacon which must use native iOS APIs.
  2. A web developer can now add physical object interaction to their website. Website content can be targeted to a micro location.
  3. Security wise, the URL is unfiltered. A curious user clicking on a broadcasted URL may be directed to malware infected website.
  4. Privacy wise, by enabling Eddystone and use Chrome to launch the URL. Google knows where you are even when GPS is turn off or blocked. The Eddystone beacon location is your location. Therefore Google has a better “insights” of locations and time of your activities with a 20m accuracy.

Likely Firefox and other browser will follow and enable Eddystone. Will test out this feature with my Raspberry PI BLE project and write in next blog post.

Eddystone-URL opens doors to opportunities and threats

Google launched a beacon Eddystone project and created a new ecosystem connecting physical items with Internet. Estimote Eddystone page gives an example : “The URL could be a regular web page providing relevant information—e.g., a beacon next to a movie poster could broadcast a link to a YouTube trailer. It also could be a dynamic web application, with contextual parameters embedded in the URL—e.g., http://my-restaurant.com/check-in?restaurant_id=6523.”

How true is this statement? What are the infrastructures needed to enable this seamless integration between physical and virtual? More importantly, what are the security and privacy implications? 

The importance of Eddystone project comes from its introduction of an open source format for broadcasting a URL from physical items. In laymen’s term, it enables every physical object to have a unique URL through a BLE device sticking to it. Any smartphone following the protocol will grab the Bluetooth signal, decode it and bring a web page showing relevant info. It is much more flexible than iBeacon which only show UUID, Major and Minor.

Implication is that you DO NOT need to type the web link manually when you see a poster. The poster and your smartphone talks and show the website. NFC does this also but the distance is too short. BLE has an effective range of 20-30 meters.

Sounds simple but currently no browser is able to receive Bluetooth signal by default. The future implementation will require the user to install a mobile app specifically built with Eddystone functions. Take the example mentioned in Estimote Develop Doc, Youtube app needs to launch a new version with Eddystone enabled and show the trailer. (Given Google owns Youtube , it is a massive advertisement opportunity for Youtube.)

User Experiences Issues

On user experiences, I reckon that a new version of Youtube will add a “Scan nearby” button and when pressed, a list of URL (broadcast via EddyStone protocol) will be shown to user to select. Youtube will have hyperlocal targeting capability and be able to show relevant videos relative to where the user stands.

However,  it is not that convenient and promising. Eddystone-URL is an open standard and not encrypted, due to business competition each mobile app developer will not decode received URL if it is not from their own company. A Nike shopping-app will not show a Starbuck URL even it detects a strong signal. To enjoy the benefit and browse the information advertised by Eddystone-URL, a user needs to change app every time he move from one shop to the other. Actually the major road block is user must already know which app to launch. For movie poster, it maybe YouTube app. For car parks, it may be the car park operator app? or the shopping mall app? Or just google map? Launching the wrong app will not be able to decode the URL and display relevant information.

Changing apps frequently and prior knowledge to identify which app to launch are not impediments to wider adoptions of EddyStone. Would it be nice if Google release a new version of Chrome which will accept URL input in additional to the decade-old address bar?

When Chrome is Eddystone enabled, user will be able to see suggested URL from the surrounding environment. Each Eddystone-URL enabled physical object will broadcast their own URL and a smartphone user will be able to select which object most interest them. When this happens, there are security concerns.

Security Issues for unfiltered Eddystone-URL

The prime objective of Phishing emails and Spear-phishing is to lure users in clicking an URL and visit a website. Sometimes, the URL brings up a website which already infected with malware. Other times, the exploit is already in the URL. If there is another channel to deliver a maliciously crafted URL to users’ smartphone, I am sure attackers or cybercriminals will welcome it with open arms! Like most of the Internet standards, security features is missing in the first version. (Anyone remember what happen with the first Wifi standard was released!) The Eddystone protocol does not provide to mechanism to validate or authenticate the broadcasting URL. Eddystone only specifies the data format and application layer security is missing. If a user see a broadcasted URL in browser and there is no easy way to validate its content is secure, out of curiosity the user will likely open the URL and find out what is it. Their smartphone may be infected with malware if the website is controlled by cybercriminals. When browsers enabled with Eddystone-URL, there is a risk of bogus beacons broadcasting URL pointing to phishing websites. This will hugely impact the adoption and usefulness of Eddystone-URL.

A filtering mechanism or URL authentication is essential to the wide adoption of Eddystone-URL. Broadcasting URL from physical objects will enable lots of innovative applications by directly bring rich content to our physical world. However, when this technology gains majority acceptance, security and user protection is a must.

CCSP-isc2

CCSP , joint project from CSA and ISC2

(All comments and blog posts are personal opinions. Not related to any organisation.)

I like to share an exciting news about Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP℠). This week I received an email from ISC2 on awarding me CCSP designation. The blue color of CCSP (Certified Cloud Security Professional) Logo from ISC2 resembles the sky in a sunny day. Same as the sky here in Singapore.

Risks of running application and services on the cloud has been an impediment  and people (journalist in particular) tends to see the cloudy side! I involved in many discussions on cloud security in my volunteer works in CSA Hong Kong & Macau Chapter. Some of the concerns are valid , in particular the lack of experienced professionals and knowledge framework.

CCSP with the support from CSA and ISC2 is the answer to these concerns. In 2013, visionaries (like Aloysius Cheang from CSA APAC and Hord Tipton from ISC2 ) in both organisations joined together in response to market needs. In the past two years, A few other volunteers from CSA and I worked with ISC2 and their consultant Pearson VUE to develop CCSP CBK and examination questions. It was a rewarding experiences.

The process administrated is very structured and all rounded, with concept mapping, team discussions and psychometric analysis. As a security professional, I am thinking maybe system development life cycle (SDLC) should also make use of similar validation process to ensure each feature implemented is user facing and also balanced!

Developing Cloud Security certification is a challenge due to its extensive scope. The final CBK covers six domains:

  • Architectural Concepts & Design Requirements
  • Cloud Data Security
  • Cloud Platform & Infrastructure Security
  • Cloud Application Security
  • Operations
  • Legal & Compliance

Very few people acquired working experiences in all six domains. However, learning cloud technology knowledge and applying security principles in a virtualised environment are both achievable via CCSP CBK. Studying CCSP domains and passing the exam will help security professional to gain knowledge in a structure way, thus able to demonstrate their security skills are not outdated.

Real risk of our digital life – Obedience

NYT article “Review: ‘The Digital Doctor’ by Robert Wachter Weighs Medicine’s Technological Transformation”  reminds us that we are facing a different kind of risk when instructions are computer generated. The risk we were facing or dealing in the past decade has evolved. Now, the real risk is human obedient to machine output! This example show machine to human interfaces are obstacles for human-to-human collaborations.

Imagine if the number of pills were hand-written, will the nurse enquired about the abnormal large amount? Computer screen and print-outs seems embedded  with some magical power.  Maybe people are not confident to challenge a computer. They are trained to trust it!

extract:

“The other big problem behind the overdose was more cultural, and even harder to solve. In a setting in which all exchanges are digital, informal chat (“Do you believe the dose they just ordered?”) tends to vanish. Instead, everyone sits at an individual monitor, immersed in an individual digital world, tuning out the beeps.”

The Most Read Terms and Services, how age-guessing tool tell us about our uses of personal information

In the last 48 hours, age became a hot topic on Facebook, thanks to Microsoft How-Old.net free age-guessing online tool. It proves age is still a contentious topic, regardless gender, race and obviously age. A marvellous marketing gimmick!

As it always happens, once a story caught fire, a few risk aversive or investigating minds start to dig deeper and uncover an inconvenient truth — the terms of this service authorise Microsoft to use user photos more than just age-guessing. Exactly what are the future uses are unknown!

Working in cloud computing and outsourcing for the last 5 years, it is not unusual to see such user terms and conditions. Most of them are crafted in a way that almost all risks are excluded from the service provider liability. The legal counsels are paid to read all reported and unreported court cases and protect company like Microsoft in this case.

The basic assumptions of data privacy protection is in question here and this case offered a chance to review it.

 Consent from user is enough? 

For How-Old.net, clearly the intention of user uploading the photo is to find out the age and gender. User don’t expect it to tell if you have diabetes or your sexualities (it maybe possible with enough data points !). However,  the service provider terms open to possibility of others uses of the photo, without specifying what it will be. Service providers are giving themselves some elbow room for future innovations. This is actually a typical way how commercial terms response to data privacy legislations.

Most data privacy law requires informed and specific uses of personal data. The rationale is  as long as users consent with the uses of PII, there is NO violation of data privacy law. However, we have seen software or web services terms tries to include extensive scope of uses and sometimes non-restrictive uses. Users are either lured to give consent or just ignore the terms completely. User gives consents rather spontaneously !

 

For those like to read the legal terms , extracted here.

However, by posting, uploading, inputting, providing, or submitting your Submission, you are granting Microsoft, its affiliated companies, and necessary sublicensees permission to use your Submission in connection with the operation of their Internet businesses (including, without limitation, all Microsoft services), including, without limitation, the license rights to: copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, translate, and reformat your Submission; to publish your name in connection with your Submission; and to sublicense such rights to any supplier of the Website Services.