By Florin R. Ferrs (Tech Writer)
Another year, another data breach. That seems to be the theme of 2021 when it comes to compiling a list of the top tech turkeys of the year.
Let this be a lesson and a warning to IT & MSP pros the world over. Hackers are working overtime to breach your systems, and they've got rogue governments' support.
But not all the tech mayhem of 2021 was caused by hackers alone; some of it, as you will see in the cases of Facebook, Zillow, and even Tesla, was self-inflicted and long in the making.
Welcome to the top five tech turkeys of 2021!
A drama of Shakespearean proportions doesn't even begin to cover the rot in Denmark that's set over the house of Facebook (now the house of Meta). But a turkey by any other name would smell as sour.
It's no secret that there's no love lost between Apple and Facebook. But when your enemy is the biggest player in the valley (Apple), any move they make against you (Facebook) will leave you either badly bruised or mortally wounded.
When Apple unleashed its iOS update in September 2020, it dealt a death blow to one of Facebook's primary sources of income, its ads platform. Adding to the wound inflicted by Apple, there's the litany of self-inflicted damage dating back to the 2016 election and culminating with the double whammy of a whistleblower expose´ in congress and a massive outage of all their platforms.
Facebook's ostrich-like answer to damage control so far has been limited to changing its name in the hope that the storm will blow over. However, they are still bleeding from the impact of the iOS update, forcing them to give weaker-than-expected revenue guidance for the fourth quarter. The jury is still out on whether Facebook/Meta will be able to counter the devastation from the iOS update. Stay tuned.
The Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack
The Colonial Pipeline Company was forced to halt all of the pipeline's operations after the attack, causing fuel shortages upstream that affected big chunks of the northwest.
The FBI attributed the attack to a Russian cybercrime gang and assisted Colonial Pipeline in paying the requested ransom of 75 bitcoin, or 4.4 million dollars.
A few hours after the ransom was paid, the hackers sent Colonial Pipeline a software application to restore their network. Given the implications of cutting off the fuel supply to the entire eastern seaboard, that 4.4 million dollar ransom seems relatively cheap.
This type of cybercrime is quite difficult to prevent and even more challenging to deal with once a breach has happened due to the chaos it generates and the sheer economic implications. The obvious path to take is to increase cybersecurity in all critical systems, but that's something that the government can't provide for the private sector. That is why cybersecurity needs to be ingrained into all IT departments and their customers to avoid a future where massive ransomware attacks are a daily occurrence.
As if proof was needed of the evils of monetizing a website based on overpaying for homes in order to inflate housing prices in middle-class neighborhoods, Zillow announced that they would be exiting the house flipping business and reducing their staff by 25%. The abrupt about-face came after Zillow revealed that they'd lost $381 million flipping homes in just three months. That includes losing money on 90% of house flipping deals in the Phoenix area.
As if inflating the market by buying up all the available housing in a city and then trying to sell it all back with a 100k markup after only a fresh coat of paint wasn't going to explode in their face. So it did.
The Global Microchip Shortage
One of the biggest tech turkeys of 2021 is the global microchip shortage. It first affected the car industry due to slowdowns in car orders as a consequence of the Covid pandemic. Chip manufacturers turned to other customers, like game consoles, to make up for the downturn in orders from car manufacturers. Then, as demand ratcheted back up, microchip manufacturers haven't been able to keep up the pace.
The issue has been exacerbated by the China-USA trade war and even severe drought in Taiwan, the world-leading manufacturer of microchips, that depends on water reservoirs to create the ultra-filtered water needed in the microchip manufacturing process.
The problem is that this is a crisis that may not resolve itself soon because the return on investment on building new microchip foundries is not compelling enough, even during this shortage, as each new factory costs billions of dollars and takes years to build.
Tesla & Amazon Robot Fails
This is the tale of two robots. One of them is a fake, and the other is derided as "just an expensive toy" by employees of the tech firm that created it.
We should be used to getting "fake news" from Tesla's flamboyant CEO by now. Still, it seems that the tech press and Tesla fanboys are gluttons for punishment or just really want to believe Elon Musk when he said that he would take Tesla private at 420 dollars a share, or that the autonomous driving capabilities of certain Tesla cars already exceed that of a human driver (this one had to be walked back by the company shortly afterward). But nothing beats the announcement of a fully autonomous humanoid robot that had Tesla fans geeking out and wanting to believe. But alas, the Tesla autonomous robot was just 2021's version of the Mechanical Turk, just with less skill. At least it could do "the robot," albeit poorly.
Then there was Amazon's Astro robot. At least this one was real, as in, it fulfills the basic tenets of a machine that could be called a robot. But like many things coming out of Amazon these days, it's not a question of if you can create something, but if you should. So far, Amazon's Astro robot's fanbase doesn't even include Amazon employees who have already branded it a failure and a "toy," and think that any likely customer will be the "child of a hedge fund founder" due to the high price point and limited practical use.
Let's hope we all learn from the ghost of tech turkeys' past. Happy Thanksgiving!