Try following the news these days: recipe for a headache. Not only thanks to the sheer bizarre stuff that seems to be reported on a daily basis, but also thanks to news that starts off as being explosive, but when you take the time to read beyond the headlines, it turns out to be either non-news, more nuanced than it looks, and sometimes just (deliberately) misleading or even fake. The last couple of weeks were no exception.
First there is this ‘amazing’ story about Supermicro Computers. According to Bloomberg, Supermicro’s motherboards are being used by the Chinese to infiltrate companies such as Apple and Amazon, using small chips. Bloomberg claims that the malicious chips manipulate the mainboard management controller, a processor that connects and passes communications between the software and hardware sides of a server, creating a ‘stealth back door’. Bloomberg said it spoke to different independent sources. Apple, Amazon and Supermicro say the story is untrue and want Bloomberg to retract it.
This story left me with so many questions. What if this is true, then how in the world do the Chinese get the collected data back to their own servers? Did they build a completely independent high speed network that nobody knows about, solely to send this kind of data back to Beijing? And if not, wouldn’t the data be flagged by network operators? When we do troubleshooting on our network, I can check all traffic, inbound and outbound, to see where a problem is. I am sure someone would have picked up on it.
Is this fake news or is it a story that got the facts wrong? Or is there something else at play here? All I know is that I do not believe this story, and neither do the NSA, the British NCSC and a lot of other experts. Bloomberg still stands by the story. Meanwhile Supermicro shares have fallen over 40 percent.
Missing out on profits
If this wasn’t bizarre enough, I then came across this headline: “Facebook destroys billions of dollars of shareholder value with their open source projects”. I am sorry, what? The writer, David Axelrod claimed that shareholders were missing out on over 3 billion dollars in profits, because of all the open source projects Facebook does. Clearly this is a man who does not understand the value of open source software.
Nearly all major hardware uses some form of open source software to run it. It is one of the best things the Internet gave us. If it wasn’t for open source software, we probably would not have MacOS and Android. Granted, when I first started working in the business in the late 90s, I was skeptical about open source. How could it be safe and kept up to date on a regular basis? But I have learned the value of open source, and how dedicated volunteers work relentlessly to update code and keep it safe. It also help a lot of start-ups to grow and thereby creating a massive value for shareholders in the long run. Today, we cannot operate without open source software.
So, what was this Axelrod on about? Well, his article turned out to be a ‘spin’, as he put it himself, as an answer to some recent sensational news stories. In fact, he is all for open source. Great. But this article just proved to me that there are lots of bizarre news stories out there, some of which are truly outrageous. And yet, people believe them. I almost did, with that last one. So be careful to believe what you read. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.