Posts Tagged ‘viruses’

Twitter: The Launch Point for THE Next Major Virus Attack?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Twitter is to a havoc-wreaking computer virus like airline travel is to a global pandemic.

When you think about computer viruses, you think about a) their capacity to inflict damage and b) their ability to propagate.  Devastating viruses are disastrous to those infected, but if they’re not able to spread very easily, they’re relatively innocuous to the overall population.  It’s the viruses that inflict massive damage and spread easily that are the most serious.

So, isn’t Twitter one of the greatest threats of all?

In the traditional model of virus distribution the goal is more often cumulative in the sense that the impact of a virus is intended to escalate and magnify its impact over time as computer after computer is infected — It’s a serial process, and the timescales involved typically ranged from weeks to months, even up to a year or more.  For instance, the Conficker virus reported to launch a major attack on April 1, 2009 was purported to be in circulation, active distribution, and on-going development in various forms by those responsible for perhaps a year.  No doubt they were and are yet still serious about whatever they’re up to, but there’s an element of time that works in both their favor . . and ours . . as the virus spreads.

But Twitter presents a different story.  What’s unique about Twitter is its combination of trusted status, instantaneousness, and anonymous forwarding to unknown URL’s (tinyurl and bit.ly are just two of many services used for the purpose of posting shortened, anonymous links on Twitter).  This particular combination has troubled me for quite some time, and it’s become article-worthy because of the growing prevalence of fake ’spam accounts’ on Twitter.  If you haven’t seen one, they’re relatively obvious fake accounts that post one or more links to advertising or virus-infected pages that then follow a thousand or more Twitter accounts, laying in wait for anyone unwitting enough to visit and click on one of the fake links before — Poof! — they’re suddenly spammed with advertising or, worse, infected with a virus.

The saving grace thus far is that these fake ’spam accounts’ are set aside if even only slightly by the fact someone actually has to visit the fake ’spam account’ page for it to actually be dangerous (or, for those more technically adept with Twitter, a heavy Twitter user inadvertently electing to follow one of these fake ’spam accounts’, thereby introducing links to spam or viruses into their personal timeline).  Either way, everyone is ever so slightly ‘protected’ by the fact they must actually engage in some manner in order to open the door to being spammed or infected.

But that all changes if (or when) whoever’s spreading spam and viruses via Twitter successfully cracks a real person’s account.  Think about it, your computer could just as easily be infected by Lance Armstrong on the opening day of the Tour de France as it could be from opening an attachment in your e-mail.  Lance Armstrong has — get this — exactly 1,145,304 followers on Twitter (just checked).  How many of those follower would willingly click on any link he publishes . . . and not give it a moment’s thought?

And how many of those who click would simply look to the rest of us like they’re totally absorbed with the link Lance just posted as each of their computers get infected or, absolute worst case, starts dropping off the internet forever as their hard drives crash.  It’s not far fetched — The reality is that upwards of 1,000,000 computer could be infected (and possibly destroyed) in a matter of minutes.  That’s parallel, not serial virus distribution, and that’s way more alarming than what we’ve faced to date.

Obviously, Lance Armstrong would never be party to such an act — Taking down 1,000,000 of his fans’ computers would do damage to his reputation, too.  But that’s, in part, what makes it possible and perhaps even more likely, the fact everyone trusts Lance Armstrong . . . and everything he (purportedly) posts.

This is a make-or-break issue for Twitter — No company can simply walk around killing its Customers, intentional or not.  It’s not just bad for business — It ends the business.  And it could very well be the end of Twitter should something like the above ever actually occur.

Facebook is about to Implode

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Facebook isn’t working, at least it’s not working, i.e. performing, the way it should.

More pointedly, its financial performance is not outpacing its success in gaining traction.

[When I decided to feature this article with the launch of EntrepreneurialC, my inclination was to provide a solid example for applying entrepreneurial and consulting perspectives to a situation most people are familiar with and, more importantly, to do so in an easily understood style, hence this article and its focus on Facebook.]

So why is Facebook about to implode?

Get Rich Being LazyFacebook ads generally stink.  They don’t promote value.  They’re driving to the lowest common denominator (if they haven’t already).  And they don’t connect with ‘me’, at least not in any way, shape, or form that I would expect based on how much information Facebook has on me.

For a week I made it a point to look at the ads being served, and I became even more discouraged.  Again and again, ads like the one to the right were the most prevalent.  (I took a snapshot of this particular ad just because I thought it so exemplified how crappy and pointless most of the ads are.)  Not all Facebook ads stink — They don’t.  But let’s be just as fair in calling this ad out (and others like it) for the crap that they are.

This one complaint is probably my biggest — Surely, Facebook can’t possibly believe there’s greater monetization to be had on my traffic by encouraging me (and everyone else) to be lazy, can they?  Yet, here it is. 

Facebook is basically just one huge, multi-dimensional Twitter.  I actually am a (reluctant) fan of Twitter so, this is not nearly as backhanded a compliment as it might sound.  But here’s the deal . . . In large part, Facebook is just a lot of specifically-targeted, typically short, though not 140-character limited, messages and whatnot . . . and that’s pretty much about it.  Just because one is a comment on a photo and another is a comment on someone’s status doesn’t really mean they’re not fundamentally the same thing — They’re still, for the most part, just short and sweet messages pervasively floating in and out of everyone’s profiles.  But that’s not why I’m critical of Facebook.

Why I’m critical on this specific point is that I have yet to see where (or to what) all this adds up to.  If I take Twitter by comparison, what sold me on its value is that one day I could not access my GMail account.  I wasn’t sure if it was my computer, my network, my ISP, or Google itself.  All it took was a 20-second visit to search.Twitter.com to see that — Yup — lots of people were commenting on their lack of access.  That answered my question, ended my search (and waste of time), and I was able to productively move onto something else in the meantime.  How or in what manner Facebook delivers that sort of value doesn’t seem to exist, and it’s unclear if it ever will.

On occasion, Facebook applications are serving viruses.  This is no joke.  You would think this criticism would be listed first (and I’m not sure it shouldn’t be).  I will say that this point was what tipped the scales to writing this article and deciding to feature it with the launch of EntrepreneurialC.  It’s still stunning, but an application — without question — served me a virus (and tried to do so more than once).

Regardless of the architecture behind the scenes, the applications are branded with Facebook’s look and feel, and regardless of where exactly the content is coming from, it’s Facebook’s reputation that’s at stake.   Simply put, it’s awful business to jeopardize your Customer’s ability to consume your products or services.  Infecting a computer means a lost Customer — It’s unclear to me how Facebook’s architecture would ever allow for this possibility (without their being a serious lack of appreciation of who their Customers really are and what Facebook must do to gain and keep their business).

[The details are that I was using Chrome, was advised by Chrome on at least two occasion 'not to proceed' for fear of being directed to 'unsafe' pages, and that an immediate scan by Norton Internet Security found (and removed) a virus.  Two instances of trying to report this went unanswered.]

Facebook has regularly encountered technical issues.  This comes and goes, but technical issues that ‘bring down’ Facebook make for a pretty weak argument for Facebook being part of the fabric of how people live their lives.  If Facebook really wants everyone using it all the time, then Facebook needs to be available all the time.  I’ve done enough in the areas of Operations and IT to know that ‘things happen’, but that’s not an excuse — It’s just a reality.  The approach is to try and proactively prevent as many of those types of situations as possible and, on the (rare) occasion that something bad does happen, to take that particular situation and both learn and apply everything you possible can from it, making it more and more unlikely that bad things will happen in the future.  It’s not easy — In fact, it’s very, very difficult.  But it’s the right answer, and yet I’m not seeing clear signs that Faceook has that approach completely and thoroughly in place.

[I'm listing this point because technical issues have clearly happened with some regularlity, but it's listed fourth because I've yet to find much convincing evidence either way on whether this really is a significant factor in Facebook's future.]

So how does all this add up to an ‘implosion’ of Facebook?  Well, go back and look at each point and apply the following tags in order . . . ‘Revenue’, ‘Value’, ‘Security’, and ‘Reliability’.  As those tags more intuitively link for most people and how they judge whether a company will succeed or fail, you’ll likely get my point (if you haven’t already).

Keep in mind, this isn’t a forecast of the future — It’s an assessment of where certain things stand at this relative moment in time.  Standing by the above, there is much that must be accomplished if Facebook wants to sustain itself and achieve its goals, financial and otherwise.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other strategies at play that may not mitigate some of the above.  Remember, it’s a game of overall, not unilateral, success across all fronts — The path to Success often encounters Failure along the way.