Having a Meltdown: An incredibly one-sided discussion

by Uluroo — January 6, 2018

Hyperbole? Check check check check check check check check.

The latest significant development in technology news has been the discovery of two dangerous flaws that affect almost every processor — in phones or computers — that exists. Uluroo would take time to explain this a bit more, but first let's head over to Fox News and see who's blowing up about it!

Steve Hilton is a bit upset about the security vulnerabilities. Everyone has right to be ticked off about these flaws, but this seems to be taking things a wee bit too far:

"Say goodbye to Alexa and Siri, resist the temptations of Google Home and make your life more human!"

"Resisting the temptation" seems a bit dramatic, but then again, Steve has a flair for over-the-topness: Last year, he mentioned that taxing smartphone usage would be a good idea.

It wasn’t exactly the happiest New Year’s news from our tech overlords.

"Tech overlords" is one of the several references Uluroo noticed in Steve's piece that make him look like a technophobe (is that a word?) who doesn't understand the issue at hand.

(It is also the name of a 1950s rock band, sci-fi movie, failed clothing line, and catchphrase.)

In the first week of 2018 we learned that “most of the computers in the world” have dangerous security flaws that make them vulnerable to hackers, criminals, authoritarian regimes, our own security services –you name it.

The article Steve referenced here does say this, but some other quotes from that piece are going to be useful when Steve goes a-rantin'.

It means that pretty much anything you do online is at risk. Your data, your money, your privacy.

That's really funny, because Uluroo noticed this quote from the article Steve linked to (and which Steve decided to ignore) about the first of the flaws, called Meltdown:

There is no evidence that hackers have taken advantage of the vulnerability — at least not yet.

Steve to editor: "What if this Meltdown thing were a much bigger danger than it seems...?"

Editor: "Why, do you have some new information? I thought Meltdown hadn't been exploited yet."

Steve: "Well, no, it sort of just popped into my head."

Basically, this flaw was only known to the tech companies — which is a good thing. And now that they're working on a fix, this vulnerability will blow over soon. Here's what Steve's reference article said about the second flaw (it appears that this one will require a physical fix in the design of processors):

The other flaw, Spectre, affects most processors now in use, though the researchers believe this flaw is more difficult to exploit.

Steve, unless you can find some actual evidence that these vulnerabilities have been exploited, feel free to stop having a meltdown about it.

Delightfully enough, the geeks responsible – while failing to prevent these disasters – have at least managed to come up with some catchy names for them: Spectre and Meltdown. Thanks a lot guys (and yes, it is mainly guys we’re talking about).

Uluroo doesn't know about you guys, but hearing Steve call the engineers in charge of the processors — who are, incidents like this aside, incredibly talented — "geeks" makes Uluroo picture Steve as the old guy who lives across the street and who doesn't understand computers (the "What are the geeks up to these days?" old guy).

What staggers me about all this is the almost total lack of accountability or contrition. Indeed, we’ve seen the opposite ... the CEO of Silicon Valley icon Intel ... is reported to have sold a huge number of shares after he was informed of the problems but before they were made public.

Uluroo agrees with Steve that this is a problem. The Intel CEO made money off of information other shareholders did not have.

Just for reference, here's the article Steve cited earlier on:

The personal computers used by consumers are also vulnerable, but hackers would have to first find a way to run software on a personal computer before they could gain access to information elsewhere on the machine ... Attackers could fool consumers into downloading software in an email, from an app store or visiting an infected website.

So essentially, this vulnerability is exploited exactly the same way as other security vulnerabilities, and consumers can always be careful what software they download and what links they click.

Here's Steve now:

Can you imagine the reaction if we learned that Boeing knew about dangerous design flaws affecting every single one of the company’s planes? Or closer to home, if Campbell’s was aware of dangerous design flaws affecting every can of soup? There would be a national outcry.

A better comparison would be if Campbell's knew that if a malicious party infiltrated their factory and inserted enough of Poison Z to make everyone sick, it would actually be a lethal dosage because of some recipe mess-up. Campell's should maybe just make sure nobody infiltrates their factory and inserts a dosage of Poison Z into their soup. Similarly, users should follow the normal recommended practices of online safety.

The same action by attackers — a poison dosage, a phishing email, or whatever — is required, but it causes a much larger reaction — your personal data being lost, maybe. As long as you protect yourself from the attack and don't click on any links when an email from "the IRS" tells you your taxes are now doubled, you're good.

Yet we have become so dependent on tech, and so used to massive security breaches and hacks, that when something as momentous as this happens we just shrug our shoulders.

Do we? Because Uluroo can already count quite a few people who are annoyed about this. And quite a few more *cough* Steve *cough* who are going on rants about this. (Just wait till you see what Steve thinks we should do about this.)

Indeed, at the same time it is telling us we can’t trust the safety or security of any computer, anywhere...

Unless the computer hasn't downloaded malware recently...

... the tech industry is busy also telling us that we should get ready for a world where computers are literally everywhere.

LITERALLY EVERYWHERE! There'll be one in your lamp, one in your whiteboard, one in your window, one in your bed, even one in your fidget spinner! (That way the fidget spinner can spin by itself.)

Steve, do you understand what the words "literally" and "everywhere" mean? Because literally's definition has been literally bent out of shape by today's culture, but everywhere seems fairly straightforward.

(Computers are Literally Everywhere was a 1959 science fiction novel.)

In previews of the giant annual consumer electronics jamboree to be held in Las Vegas beginning Tuesday, the tech companies are breathlessly promoting all the innovations they’re about to force down everyone’s throat, like it or not.

HERE COMES THE NEXT INNOVATION! Open wide! [Shoves foldable phone into mouth, rendering expensive concept device useless.]

In case you were wondering, Electronics Jamboree was the name of a 1960s attempt at an electronica band, failed light-up Christmas sweater line, family dancing television show, and fundraising campaign to give a battery-powered Christmas candle to every child in New York City.

Steve seems to be portraying our "tech overlords" as malicious parties who will do whatever it takes to force you to buy their next thing. But has Steve forgotten that companies have customers? These tech giants wouldn't exist if people didn't want their stuff. So please stop portraying the customers as the victim when they literally make the choice to buy a device. And don't comment on consumer electronics shows with such contempt.

Artificial intelligence, we are told, will be “everywhere” – running your home, your kitchen, your bath. No aspect of life will be untouched by the robot revolution.

Robot Revolution is the name of a 1970s rock band, sci-fi movie, hole-in-the-wall diner, failed clothing line, and catchphrase (dude, that's rad like the robot revolution). This phrase also helps display Steve's apparent lack of understanding about technology.

Steve refuses to admit to anything good that the "robot revolution" might bring. It's like he's blind to anything good computers and smartphones have done; he just can't accept computers as anything other than the work of maniacal overlords. Essentially, what he's saying is that because of the flaws in the design of computers, we can't trust the computers with an ever-growing piece of our lives.

Yes I know, they’ll surely fix these flaws...

"Remember what I just said? That's all nil."

C'mon Steve, Uluroo was just explaining your point!

... but what about the next ones, and the ones after that?

It's easy to assume that after this public outcry, companies like Intel will not change anything about the way they design their chips; the next flaws will be even worse than the ones we just found out about; and, unlike with Meltdown, Steve maybe will get some evidence that users have been affected by them.

So stay safe in 2018: ditch those computers – say goodbye to Alexa and Siri, resist the temptations of Google Home and make your life more human!

Uluroo isn't sure if the last sentence of Steve's article saved him from writing a headline or a conclusion, but kudos to him.

This hugely one-sided argument seemed completely against technology to the point of being paranoid. Steve basically trashed tech giants and made them the villians (even though they want to fix this whole problem), then told his readers to abandon smart speakers when, come on, he has to know that's not necessary.

Essentially, what we got from Steve's comments about this topic is simple. It seems pretty easy for people to overstate the problems caused by Spectre and Meltdown. Yes, the tech companies screwed up. Yes, they need to fix this before the vulnerabilities are exploited. But thankfully tech companies are working on fixes, no users have been affected by these problems, and you can keep yourself safe as easily as ever. But Steve's final call to action is what confused Uluroo the most. Why is he only telling people to ditch smart speakers when all computers are at risk?

That, among many questions, will probably never get answered.