Even before the pandemic, more than a third of Americans weren’t getting the recommended seven plus hours of nightly sleep that industry professionals recommend. Add the stress of everyone’s new reality, and, by certain estimates, 68% of Americans say they just aren’t getting enough rest.
While you’re probably aware of some of the issues, like mental fog, that can arise when you don’t get enough rest, you may not be aware that your snoozing habits may impact all sorts of unexpected things—think: how well your heart pumps blood, and even your sex drive.
“Most of the systems in our body are predicated on some process of renewal or need for sleep,” explains board-certified sleep medicine researcher W. Christopher Winter, MD, the author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. “Sleep is a fundamental aspect of our thinking, our ability to function, and our immune system. It impacts pretty much everything we need to survive.”
So turn off your phone, close the shades, and hop into bed early tonight. If you don’t, here’s how a lack of sleep may impact your body.
1. It can hurt your immune system.
“There’s a very strong link between sleep and the immune system in general,” says Michael Awad, MD, chief of sleep surgery at Northwestern Medicine and chief medical officer of Peak Sleep. “The body repairs just about every cell in the body when it comes to sleep. Sleep deprivation lowers the body’s ability to mount an immune response.”
Sleep loss is linked to a higher risk of infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One study published in JAMA found that restricting a person’s sleep for four hours a night for six days, followed by sleeping 12 hours a night for seven days, can lead to a greater than 50% decrease in the production of antibodies to a flu vaccine. Basically, your body just can’t mount the usual immune response when you’re wiped out.
Lack of sleep can also lower your immune system’s ability to fight tumor cells and lead to the generation of inflammatory cytokines. These proteins are secreted by the immune system and can cause the development of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders.
2. It can raise your risk of heart disease.
One study of nearly 117,000 people published in the European Heart Journal found that people who slept less than six hours a night were at a greater risk of developing heart disease than their well-rested counterparts. And getting irregular sleep—that is, having no consistent bedtime and wake time—can raise your risk of having some kind of cardiovascular event, including stroke, congestive heart failure, and coronary heart disease, according to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
There are a “tremendous number of mechanisms” at play here, Dr. Winter says. “When you are sleep deprived or have fragmented sleep, your blood vessels lose, to some extent, the ability to expand and contract to regulate things,” he says. People also tend to be at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure when they don’t get enough sleep, Winter says, which can be tough on your heart.
Sleep deprivation can also increase cholesterol levels and general inflammation throughout your body, leading to the formation of plaque in the blood vessels, Dr. Awad says. “When blood vessels start to form plaque, the heart has to work harder,” he explains.
3. It can lower your sex drive.
There are a lot of reasons for this, Dr. Winter says. “When you’re fatigued, your brain prioritizes getting sleep over other things,” he says. But Dr. Winters says other chemicals that are important for sexual performance and arousal, such as oxytocin, can be lowered by sleep deprivation.
One study in JAMA restricted 10 men’s sleep for a week and found that the levels of the sex hormone testosterone in their bodies decreased by up to 15%. (Testosterone is a hormone that can fuel a person’s sex drive.) The reverse is also true: Another study published in JAMA found that people who got more sleep than usual were more likely to have sex the next day. Meaning, if you hit the hay earlier, you just might be up for a little something extra.
4. It can raise your risk of weight gain.
There are a few reasons for this. One is that people “tend to make bad eating decisions when they’re tired,” Dr. Winter says. People are also typically more sedentary and less likely to work out when they’re tired, which also can lead to weight gain, he says.
Research published in the journal Sleep found that people with restricted sleep had altered levels of endocannabinoids, one of the chemical signals that affect appetite, and the brain’s reward system. The researchers also discovered that when people were sleep-deprived, they ate more and unhealthier snacks between meals, at the same time that endocannabinoid levels were at their highest.
Older research has also found that women who get less sleep tend to weigh more than their better-rested counterparts, likely for the reasons above, Dr. Winter says.
5. It can increase your risk for developing diabetes.
There’s a direct correlation between lack of sleep and diabetes, Dr. Awad says. It’s due to your body’s ability to regulate insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that controls your blood sugar, he says. “Lack of sleep reduces the production of insulin from the pancreas and decreases gluten tolerance,” Dr. Awad says. “Cells are then less effective at using insulin, and that can lead to the development of diabetes.”
Virtual landowners have found a way to put their investments to work, but with unintended consequences.
For the modest price of 10,000 MANA tokens (or $7,000) per day, anyone can rent land parcel 27,87 in Decentraland, a 3D virtual world that runs on the Ethereum blockchain. Renting the plot would give the tenant the right to build anything they please—a shop, an event space, an art installation, or whatever else—to host friendly passersby. But the real winner would be their landlord, who goes by the name Beatrix#7239, their virtual pockets bulging with cash.
Not every property is as expensive as parcel 27,87, which is located in the center of the world map, close to where people first spawn into Decentraland. And no one has taken up the rental offer on these terms yet. However, a market for leasing virtual real estate is beginning to take shape, creating a new source of income for virtual landowners who buy up attractive spaces in the metaverse.
In the past nine months, brands like Mastercard and Heineken have rented plots for one-off events or product showcases and, in December, Decentraland released tools that allow anyone to rent virtual land.
The objective was to democratize access to the virtual world, explains Nico Rajco, who led the development of the rentals feature for Decentraland. Everybody benefits, he says, because renting gives new users an ideal “jumping-off point” and landowners can earn a passive income.
But the rental system is also subtly changing the social fabric of the virtual world, dividing people into those who have and those who have not.
When Decentraland launched in 2017, people were given the chance to purchase the ownership rights to 90,601 parcels of virtual land, each represented on the Ethereum blockchain by a non-fungible token (NFT). At the time, plots were sold for roughly $20 apiece, but by the end of 2021—at the height of the NFT boom—land was routinely changing hands for tens of thousands of dollars. One company, Metaverse Group, purchased a single Decentraland plot for $2.4 million.
In line with the slump in the crypto market, demand for virtual real estate has cooled off, leaving landowners looking for new ways to profit from their investments. The new Decentraland rentals system gives them a way to do just that.
The earliest adopters are mostly brands and artists that want to host events or put on shows in Decentraland, with tenancies ranging in duration from a single day to multiple months. The appetite for renting virtual real estate also remains small; there are currently around 300 plots listed on the marketplace and only 40 are occupied by tenants.
But Rajco imagines a scenario in which land rental becomes ubiquitous among all kinds of users. He also says that what’s already been constructed on the land could become a factor in the decision to rent; in the same way an Airbnb customer takes into account the quality and location of a property, the same would be true of virtual real estate. (Building on virtual land costs nothing once the plot has been purchased, but elaborate projects require coding expertise.)
Although Decentraland is among the most popular blockchain-based virtual worlds, it’s far from the only of its breed: Somnium Space, SuperWorld, and the Sandbox are all variations on the same theme. Some have offered in-built rental functionality for years.
One virtual landlord, Chris Bell, who owns one of the largest portfolios of land in Somnium Space, says he earned $18,000 in rental fees in 2021. After cutting his teeth letting out condos in the physical world, he has created something of a virtual real estate empire, amassing 100 plots. The same set of golden rules—buy in a desirable location, invest in improving the property, and set the right rental price—apply in the virtual and physical domains, Bell says.
Sam Huber, CEO of LandVault, says the real money is in combining land rental with auxiliary services like virtual property design and development. His company, which aims to offer a simple “end-to-end” service for renters, is currently able to recoup the cost of purchasing a plot in as few as two months.
Although letting out virtual property is extremely niche, an entire industry has already been established around the concept. There are not only virtual landlords, but property managers and real estate agents to aid them and developers to help design and construct the buildings they want to rent out. There are even investment firms that specialize exclusively in virtual property.
The idea that someone might be willing to pay to temporarily occupy a virtual piece of land is curious in itself, but even more interesting is what this says about the trajectory of these blockchain-powered virtual worlds and the social dynamics forming inside them.
Implicit in this arrangement, says Philip Rosedale, creator of Second Life, is the formation of a new “winner-takes-all” class system. The landed gentry sit atop the social pyramid and below them the professionals and tenants—the latter precluded by price from mounting the property ladder themselves.
The development of sophisticated industries might be construed as a sign of the increasing maturity of virtual communities. But it could also be a sign of disease, says Rosedale, whose own 3D online world pioneered the concept of virtual real estate in the early 2000s.
“The accumulation of wealth in virtual economies is of great concern,” claims Rosedale. Because there is no ongoing cost of ownership for virtual landowners, he says, there will be an “inexorable” and “destructive” consolidation of wealth in the hands of a minority.
Similar theories are raised by Roger Burrows, a sociologist and professor specializing in digital culture and social inequality at the University of Bristol, and Vassilis Galanos, a lecturer in sociology at the University of Edinburgh.
The evolution of virtual real estate is “profoundly political,” says Burrows. He sees virtual worlds as places people go to cocoon themselves among others who share their political beliefs. In this case, so-called cryptonatives have constructed a world over which they preside, as owners of the land, built around the same suspicion of government and public institutions on which the crypto movement was founded. Nominally, anyone is welcome, but only as a tenant.
Burrows says metaverse worlds are simply reflecting what’s happening in the physical world, where ultra-wealthy people like Elon Musk and Peter Thiel separate themselves from “the great unwashed, the difficult and the messy.” The result will be a series of virtual enclaves populated by people with a “misunderstanding of the world” and “fear of otherness,” he says, eliminating any remaining hope that the metaverse will deliver on its promise to unite people from different walks of life.
A different interpretation is that virtual worlds provide the ideal setting for a theatrical simulation of class struggle—a new form of slumming it. Having never experienced class struggle before, theorizes Galanos, those with excess wealth enter into a game that requires them to compete for social status in a virtual community. “It’s like playing Monopoly,” he says.
The platform operators are less concerned about the class dynamics that might emerge within the worlds they have created. The thrust of their argument is generally that hierarchies are native to all human communities, or that exploitative setups will be ironed out as the market matures. “A lot of human nature will be reflected in the metaverse,” says Sam Hamilton, creative director for Decentraland. “Some people will always find ways to game systems and generate wealth.”
Others maintain that the metaverse is a force for inclusion, not division. Hrish Lotlikar, cofounder of metaverse SuperWorld, understands the temptation to treat the virtual rental market as an allegory for class division, but says its evolution is more a reflection of modern attitudes to ownership. Instead of buying a movie, people subscribe to Netflix, and instead of owning a car, they use Uber. In the same vein, he says, some people will prefer to rent virtual land for short periods of use.
Either way, these experiments are playing out on a small scale for now. Although Decentraland attracts tens of thousands of people during events like Metaverse Fashion Week, only around 7,000 visit the world each day on average.
The secret to Second Life’s enduring success and steady social equilibrium—two decades on, the platform still attracts 40,000 concurrent users—is the relentlessness with which it mimics reality, claims Rosedale, all the way down to its system for taxation.
“If you make something more lifelike than social media, you end up with a situation where people are just as good to each other as they are in real life,” he says. But if you make the wrong design choices with virtual worlds—that’s when things go wrong.
Updated 01-20-2023, 10:45 am EST: This story was updated to correct the average number of daily visitors to Decentraland, which is around 7,000 a day, not fewer than 1,000 a day.
Joel Khalili is a reporter for WIRED, covering crypto, Web3, and fintech. He was previously an editor at TechRadar, where he wrote about the business of technology, among other things. Before turning his hand to journalism, he studied English literature at University College London.
The nervous and immune systems are tightly intertwined. Deciphering their chatter might help address many brain disorders and diseases.The brain is the body’s sovereign, and receives protection in keeping with its high status. Its cells are long-lived and shelter inside a fearsome fortification called the blood–brain barrier. For a long time, scientists thought that the brain was completely cut off from the chaos of the rest of the body — especially its eager defence system, a mass of immune cells that battle infections and whose actions could threaten a ruler caught in the crossfire.
In the past decade, however, scientists have discovered that the job of protecting the brain isn’t as straightforward as they thought. They’ve learnt that its fortifications have gateways and gaps, and that its borders are bustling with active immune cells.
A large body of evidence now shows that the brain and the immune system are tightly intertwined. Scientists already knew that the brain had its own resident immune cells, called microglia; recent discoveries are painting more-detailed pictures of their functions and revealing the characteristics of the other immune warriors housed in the regions around the brain. Some of these cells come from elsewhere in the body; others are produced locally, in the bone marrow of the skull.
By studying these immune cells and mapping out how they interact with the brain, researchers are discovering that they play an important part in both healthy and diseased or damaged brains. Interest in the field has exploded: there were fewer than 2,000 papers per year on the subject in 2010, swelling to more than 10,000 per year in 2021, and researchers have made several major findings in the past few years.
No longer do scientists consider the brain to be a special, sealed-off zone. “This whole idea of immune privilege is quite outdated now,” says Kiavash Movahedi, a neuroimmunologist at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). Although the brain is still seen as immunologically unique — its barriers prevent immune cells from coming and going at will — it’s clear that the brain and immune system constantly interact, he adds (see ‘The brain’s immune defences’).
This shift in attitude is widespread in the community, says Leonardo Tonelli, chief of the neuroendocrinology and neuroimmunology programme at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In his experience, almost every neuroscientist who reviews grant proposals for the agency accepts the connection, he says, although many still need to catch up with the latest discoveries in neuroimmunology, which have started to reveal the underlying mechanisms.
The rush to understand how the brain and immune system knit together has prompted a wealth of questions, says Tony Wyss-Coray, a neuroimmunologist at Stanford University in California. “How important is this in normal brain function or disease? That is a very hard question to answer.”
More than two decades ago, when neuroimmunologist Michal Schwartz had just set up her laboratory at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, she couldn’t stop asking herself an unpopular question: could it really be true that the brain is completely cut off from immune protection? “It was completely axiomatic that the brain cannot tolerate any immune activity — everyone thought that if you have any immune activation, this was a sign of pathology,” she says. “But it didn’t make sense that tissue that is so indispensable, like the brain, cannot enjoy the benefit of being assisted by the immune system.”
The idea that the brain was off limits to the immune system took root decades earlier. In the 1920s, the Japanese scientist Y. Shirai reported that when tumour cells were implanted in a rat’s body, the immune response destroyed them, but when placed in the brain, they survived — indicating a feeble or absent immune response. Similar findings followed in the 1940s.
Most scientists also thought that the brain lacked a system for ferrying immune molecules in and out — the lymphatic drainage system that exists elsewhere in the body — even though such a system was first described in the brain more than two centuries ago. The prevailing view, then, was that the brain and the immune system lived largely separate lives. The two were thought to collide only under hostile circumstances: when immune cells went rogue, attacking the body’s own cells in diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
So when, in the late 1990s, Schwartz and her team reported that after an acute injury to the central nervous system, two types of immune cells, macrophages and T cells, protected neurons from damage and supported their recovery, many scientists were sceptical. “Everyone told me, you’re absolutely wrong,” Schwartz recalls.
Since those early experiments, Schwartz’s team and others have amassed a large body of evidence showing that immune cells do, indeed, have a significant role in the brain, even in the absence of autoimmune disease. Researchers have shown, for example, that in mice engineered to lack an immune system, neurodegenerative diseases such as motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and Alzheimer’s disease seemed to progress more rapidly, whereas restoring the immune system slowed their progression. Scientists have also revealed a potential role for microglia in Alzheimer’s disease.
More recently, scientists have shown that immune cells at the brain’s edges are active in neurodegenerative diseases. After examining the cerebrospinal fluid of people with Alzheimer’s, Wyss-Coray and his colleagues found evidence of a rise in numbers of T cells in the brain’s fluid-filled borders5. The expansion of these immune-cell populations suggests that they might have a role in the disease, Wyss-Coray says.
But whether immune cells hurt or help the brain is an open question. In their studies of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders, Wyss-Coray and his colleagues suggest that the immune system could be damaging neurons by releasing molecules that boost inflammation and trigger cell death. Others have suggested that T cells and other immune cells could instead be protective. For example, Schwartz’s group has reported6 that in mouse models of Alzheimer’s, boosting the immune response leads to a clearance of amyloid plaques — a pathological hallmark of the disease — and improves cognitive performance.
It’s now becoming clear that the brain’s margins are immunologically diverse: almost any type of immune cell in the body can also be found in the area surrounding the brain. The meninges — the fluid-filled membranes that wrap the brain — are an “immunological wonderland”, says Movahedi, whose work focuses on macrophages in the brain’s borders. “There’s so much happening out there.”
Some residents are exclusive to the frontiers. In 2021, Jonathan Kipnis, a neuroimmunologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and his colleagues reported7 that there is a local source of immune cells: the bone marrow of the skull.
When they explored how the bone marrow mobilizes these cells, Kipnis and his colleagues demonstrated8 that, in response to an injury to the central nervous system or in the presence of a pathogen, signals carried in the cerebrospinal fluid were delivered to the skull bone marrow, prompting it to produce and release these cells (see ‘Private protectors’).
What role these locally produced immune cells have remains to be seen, but Kipnis’s group thinks that they might have a gentler role than immune cells from elsewhere in the body, regulating the immune response rather than being primed to fight. Kipnis says that this distinction, if true, has implications for treatment. In diseases such as multiple sclerosis, he says, symptoms could perhaps be improved by preventing immune cells from other parts of the body from coming in. By contrast, with a brain tumour, he adds, “you want the fighters”.
His team has also detected a network of channels that snake and branch over the surface of the brain, and which swarm with immune cells, forming the brain’s own lymphatic system9. These vessels, which sit in the outermost part of the meninges, give immune cells a vantage point near the brain from where they can monitor any signs of infection or injury.
In sickness and in health
As evidence builds for the involvement of immune cells during brain injury and disease, researchers have been exploring their function in healthy brains. “I think the most exciting part of neuroimmunology is that it’s relevant to so many different disorders and conditions and to normal physiology,” says Beth Stevens, a neuroscientist at Boston Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts.
Many groups, including Stevens’s, have found microglia to be important to the brain’s development. These cells are involved in pruning neuronal connections, and studies suggest that problems in the pruning process might contribute to neurodevelopmental conditions.
Border immune cells, too, have been shown to be essential in healthy brains. Kipnis, Schwartz and their colleagues, for example, have shown that mice that lack some of these cells display problems in learning and social behaviour10. Others reported11 in 2020 that mice that develop without a specific population of T cells in both the brain and the rest of the body have defective microglia. Their microglia struggle to prune neuronal connections during development, leading to excessive numbers of synapses and abnormal behaviour. The authors propose that during this crucial period, T cells migrate into the brain and help microglia to mature.
One big mystery is how exactly immune cells — particularly those around the borders — talk to the brain. Although there is some evidence that they might occasionally cross into the organ, most studies so far suggest that these cells communicate by sending in molecular messengers known as cytokines. These, in turn, influence behaviour.
Researchers have been studying how cytokines affect behaviour for decades, finding, for example, that cytokines sent out by immune cells during infection can initiate ‘sickness behaviours’ such as increased sleep12. They have also shown in animal models that alterations in cytokines — induced by depleting them throughout the body or knocking out specific cytokine receptors on neurons — can lead to alterations in memory, learning and social behaviours13. How cytokines travel into the brain and exert their effects remains an area of active study.
Cytokines might also be a link between the immune system and neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism. When Gloria Choi, a neuroimmunologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, and her colleagues boosted cytokine levels in pregnant mice, they saw brain changes and autism-like behaviours in the offspring14.
Although these insights are tantalizing, much of the work on how immune cells, especially those in the borders, operate in the brain is still in its infancy. “We are very far away from understanding what’s happening in healthy brains,” Kipnis says.
A two-way street
Communication between the immune system and the brain also seems to go in the other direction: the brain can direct the immune system.
Some of these insights are decades old. In the 1970s, scientists conditioned rats to become immunosuppressed when they tasted saccharin, an artificial sweetener, by pairing it with an immunosuppressive drug for several days15.
In more recent work, Asya Rolls, a neuroimmunologist at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, and her team explored the link between emotion, immunity and cancer in mice. They reported16 in 2018 that activating neurons in the ventral tegmental area, a brain region involved in positive emotions and motivation, boosted the immune response and, in turn, slowed tumour growth.
Then, in 2021, her group pinpointed neurons in the insular cortex — a part of the brain involved in processing emotion and bodily sensations, among other things — that were active during inflammation in the colon, a condition also known as colitis.
By activating these neurons artificially, the researchers were able to reawaken the intestinal immune response17. Just as Pavlov’s dogs learnt to associate the sound of a bell with food, causing the animals to salivate any time they heard the noise, these rodents’ neurons had captured a ‘memory’ of the immunological response that could be rebooted. “This showed that there is very intense crosstalk between neurons and immune cells,” says Movahedi, who wasn’t involved with this work.
Rolls suspects that organisms evolved such immunological ‘memories’ because they are advantageous, gearing up the immune system in situations when the body might meet pathogens. She adds that in certain cases, they can instead be maladaptive — when the body anticipates an infection and mounts an unnecessary immune response, causing collateral damage. This pathway might help to explain how psychological states can influence the immune response, providing a potential mechanism for many psychosomatic disorders, according to Rolls.
It could also inspire therapies. Rolls and her team found that blocking the activity of those inflammation-associated neurons lessened inflammation in mice with colitis. Her group hopes to translate these findings to humans, and is examining whether inhibiting activity using non-invasive brain stimulation can help to alleviate symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease and psoriasis — disorders that are mediated by the immune system. This work is in the early phases, Rolls says, “but it’ll be really cool if it works”.
Other groups are exploring how the brain controls the immune system. Choi’s team is tracing out the specific neurons and circuits that modulate the immune response. One day, she hopes to be able to generate a comprehensive map of the interactions between the brain and immune system, outlining the cells, circuits and molecular messengers responsible for the communication in both directions — and connecting those to behavioural or physiological readouts.
One of the biggest challenges now is to tease apart which populations of cells are involved in these myriad functions. To tackle it, some researchers have been probing how these cells differ at the molecular level, by sequencing genes in single cells. This has revealed a subset of microglia associated with neurodegenerative disease, for example. Understanding how these microglia function differently from their healthy counterparts will be useful in developing treatments, Stevens says. They could also be used as markers to track the progression of a disease or the efficacy of therapies, she adds.
Researchers have already begun using these insights into the immune ecosystem in and around the brain. Schwartz’s team, for example, is rejuvenating the immune system in the hope of fighting Alzheimer’s disease. This work has opened up new avenues for therapeutics, particularly for neurodegenerative conditions, Schwartz says. “It’s an exciting time in the history of brain research.”
Observability is the ability to measure the internal state of a system — an application, for instance, or even a distributed IT system) by examining its outputs, namely sensor data. While it might seem like a recent buzzword, the term originated decades ago.
(Fun fact: In-the-know types abbreviate observability to “o11y,” because there are 11 letters between the initial O and the final Y. Those are some cool m11s.)
Observability uses three types of telemetry data to provide deep visibility into distributed systems and allow teams to get to the root cause of a multitude of issues:
Logs — a record of events, e.g. what happened
Metrics — measured against a standard, e.g what changed by how much and over what period of time
Traces — where in the system did it happen
Now let’s take a look at those immutable rules to keep in mind when considering, adopting and improving an observability solution.
1. An observability solution uses all your data to avoid blind spots
The best way to solve a problem is to collect all the data about your environment at full fidelity — not just samples of data. Traditional monitoring solutions fall short when working with microservices-based applications because they randomly sample traces and often miss the ones you care about (unique transactions, anomalies, outliers, etc.).
When assessing observability solutions, look for those that do not sample and also retain all your traces, as well as populate dashboards, service maps and trace navigations with meaningful information that will actually help you monitor and troubleshoot your application.
2. Operates at speed and resolution of your software-defined (or cloud) infrastructure
Different use cases require different resolutions, depending on how critical they are (a.k.a. how many people are angry at you and/or how much it’s costing). As you start to collect data from more dynamic microservices running on ephemeral containers and serverless functions, you’ll need to collect data in different ways than you did in a virtual machine environment.
If you have microservices running on Kubernetes-orchestrated containers that spin up and down automatically in minutes, or serverless functions that instantiate for only seconds, you’ll need a much finer view. Plan for that need now, as you begin to adopt microservices, because it will be very difficult (and costly) to add it later.
3. Leverages open, flexible instrumentation and makes it easy for developers to use
Plan on using open, standards-based data collection from day one. Proprietary agents are difficult to maintain, degrade service performance and may be outdated before you know it. Choosing to rely on common languages and frameworks will give you the most flexibility not only in how you collect data, but also what cloud solutions you use.
4. Enables a seamless workflow across monitoring, troubleshooting and resolution with correlation and data links between metrics, traces and logs
Organizations manage multiple point tools. It’s not uncommon to find application owners flagging a performance issue with one tool, then contacting another IT operations team that uses a different tool to try to understand how the issue is impacting critical workloads and business performance.
Obviously, this doesn’t work when your actions are measured in seconds. Your observability solution should have all capabilities fully integrated, providing you with relevant contextual information throughout your troubleshooting.
5. Makes it easy to use, visualize and explore data out of the box
A completely fake statistic by a fictional analyst firm shows that most companies use only 12% of the capabilities their software systems provide. Now that’s a powerful made-up statistic. Observability should give you intuitive visualizations that require no configuration — like dashboards, charts and heat maps — and make it easy to interact with key metrics in real time. Your solution should also allow custom dashboards that can help keep an eye on particular services of interest.
6. Leverages in-stream AI for faster and more accurate alerting, directed troubleshooting and rapid insights
As much as we love humans, there’s no denying that cloud-native environments produce too much data for people to make sense of manually. Old-school alert triggers are often inaccurate, causing floods of alerts that frustrate on-call engineers. Observability solutions built with real-time analytics surface relevant patterns and deliver actionable insights before you need them. Look for solutions that are effective at baselining historical performance, performing sophisticated comparisons and detecting outliers and anomalies in real time.
7. Gives fast feedback about (code) changes, even in production
Observability is not just for operations and should be employed during development. Once code is deployed, teams need to understand what is happening within their applications as each release flows down the delivery pipeline. You can’t understand your pipeline, or correlate pipeline events with application performance and end-user experience, if you don’t understand what is happening inside your application. Observability delivers synthetic monitoring, analysis of real-user transactions, log analytics and metrics tracking, so teams can understand the state of their code from development through deployment.
8. Automates and enables you to do as much “as code”
The idea behind the “observability as code” movement is that you develop, deploy, test and share observability assets such as detectors, alerts, dashboards, etc. as code. Monitoring and alerting as code involves automated creation and maintenance of charts, dashboards and alerts as part of service life cycles. Doing so keeps visualizations and alerts current, prevents sprawl and allows you to maintain version control through a centralized repository, all without having to continuously manage each component manually.
9. Is a core part of business performance measurement
In the data age, you need to know what’s going on from development through delivery in order to measure business performance. Observability gives you a view into every layer of the stack, as well as key metrics tailored to your business needs. In cloud-native environments, small upticks in service usage can spiral, even creating increased latency for specific customers. It’s important to understand the KPIs by which your business is measured and how the teams within your organization will consume the data. Observability does that.
10. Provides observability as a service
Modern observability platforms provide centralized management so teams and users have access controls and gain transparency and control over consumption. Implementing clear best practices for observability across your business can not only cultivate a better developer experience, empowering them to work more efficiently and focus on building new features. It can also improve cross-team collaboration, cost assessment and overall business performance.
11. Seamlessly embeds collaboration, knowledge management and incident response
While incidents may be inevitable, a strong observability solution can mitigate downtime or even prevent it entirely, saving businesses money and improving the quality of life for on-call engineers. To respond to and resolve issues quickly (especially in a high-velocity deployment environment), you’ll need tools that facilitate efficient collaboration and speedy notification. Observability solutions should include automated incident response capabilities to engage the right expert to the right issue at the right time, all leading to significantly reduced downtime.
12. Scales to support future growth and elasticity
Have you ever heard the phrase “Duty Now for the Future”? It’s a Devo album from 1979, so it has nothing to do with observability. But the phrase does contain a relevant — immutable — truth. You need to invest now for your future needs and not just your current needs. The same is true for observability.
To meet the needs of any environment — no matter how large or complex — observability solutions should be able to ingest petabytes of log data and millions of metrics and traces, all while maintaining high performance. This ensures that your investments are future-proof.
Now that you’ve read about the benefits of observability and the characteristics of a modern observability solution, take the next step and find out more, including how to implement an observability solution that meets your needs now and in the future. Be sure to download 12 Immutable Rules for Observability.
Just weeks after hackers managed to breach iOS 15 security measures and hack an Apple iPhone 13 Pro, now it’s the turn of Samsung’s current flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S21, to feel the hacking heat.
Unfortunately, like the iPhone 13 Pro before it, the Galaxy S21 has been hacked not once but twice. Indeed, within just a few days, hackers were able to demonstrate a total of 61 unique zero-day security flaws across a range of products and make themselves a whopping $1,081,250 in the process. Here’s how it all went down.
Over the weekend of 16-17 October, Chinese hackers taking part in the annual Tianfu Cup hacking challenge were able to bypass Safari security protections and achieve remote code execution on an iPhone 13 Pro running the fully patched iOS 15.0.2 at the time. What’s more, a different team of hackers went on to jailbreak the same flagship device by way of a ‘one-click’ attack.
The Tianfu Cup came about after China’s elite ethical hackers were banned by the Chinese government from taking part in international competitive hacking events where zero-day exploits are demonstrated. Zero-day exploits target a vulnerability that is unknown to the vendor and, therefore, cannot be stopped immediately.
The most popular hacking event is Pwn2Own (pronounce the ‘pwn’ bit like the ‘own’ bit, you’re welcome), organized by Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative, ZDI, and held twice a year in North America.
Pwn2Own hackers use exploit chains to hack Samsung Galaxy S21
It would have been three times, but one of the hacking teams was unable to successfully execute their zero-day exploit in the allotted timeframe.
However, on Wednesday, 3 November, the STARLabs team used an exploit chain to successfully attack the Samsung Galaxy S21. Officially, this was categorized as a ‘collision’ rather than an outright success as that attack chain included a vulnerability that was already known to Samsung rather than being a full zero-day chain.
On Thursday, 4 November, Sam Thomas, director of research at Pentest Limited, was able to get code execution on the Samsung Galaxy S21 using a three-bug chain that earned a full success label. It also earned the Pentest Limited team a $50,000 cash prize. The STARLabs team were awarded $25,000 for their hacking efforts. The successful hackers also get to keep the devices concerned in what ZDI called ‘the shipping of everything pwned to those who owned.’
Considering that this is the second Pwn2Own hacking event this year, if you combine the two, more than $2 million has been awarded. As far as Pwn2Own Austin was concerned, there could be only one winner. Well, two if you count security in general. It was a close call between the top three hacking teams, with STARLabs third on 12 ‘Master of Pwn’ points and a cash haul of $112,500. However, the top two were neck and neck, with DEVCORE in second on 18 points and $180,000 earned, just behind the Synacktiv team with 20 points and $197,500.
Where were all the ‘wow factor’ hacking targets?
It’s true to say that Pwn2Own Austin lacked wow factor targets, if not wow factor money, at least when compared to the Tianfu Cup. Alongside the Samsung Galaxy S21 smartphone, Pwn2Own also saw a Sonos One Speaker fall (earning the Synacktiv team a cool $60,000 in the process), but otherwise, it was a bunch of routers and printers.
Not that these aren’t worthy products to target, and once the impacted vendors have patched the vulnerabilities exposed (they have 120 days before the methodologies are publicly disclosed), users will be that bit more secure. However, the Chinese event went full out for dramatic impact with Microsoft Windows 10 and Google Chrome getting pwned.
Indeed, it was disappointing not to see any of the new iPhone 13 range running iOS 15.1, or the latest Google Pixel 6, up for hacker inspection. I asked Brian Gorenc, senior director of vulnerability research and head of the ZDI program at Trend Micro, why this was.
“When we announced the contest, we included the latest handsets available from each vendor,” Gorenc says. Since that time, although Apple and Google both released new smartphones, “these new models weren’t available to all of our researchers,” he explains, “so we continued with the hardware versions we initially announced.” It’s still something of a shame to see only the Samsung Galaxy S21 being put to the test, it has to be said.
While I had the opportunity, I also asked Gorenc about his view of the Tianfu Cup and how the withdrawal of the hugely successful Chinese hacking teams had impacted Pwn2Own?
“When Chinese teams withdrew from our competition, we did see an initial drop in participation,” Gorenc says, “however, their exclusion has actually opened the door for other researchers.” Indeed, he says that Pwn2Own Austin is the largest Pwn2Own event ever with “more than double the number of entries than we are used to seeing.”
If anything, he adds, “the lack of teams from China has allowed independent researchers and other teams to have their own success and grow the contest to heights we never expected.” Indeed, the discovery of no less than 61 unique zero-days would appear to be a testament to that.
Gorenc wouldn’t be drawn into the more political debate surrounding China and how it is putting a ringfence around the domestic hacking community when it comes to discovering and disclosing zero-days. “We can’t speak to other contests, but at Pwn2Own, vendors are provided full details of the exploit minutes after the bug was demonstrated on stage,” he says. “Pwn2Own seeks to harden platforms by revealing vulnerabilities and providing that research to the vendors,” Gorenc says, concluding, “the goal is always to get these bugs fixed before they’re actively exploited by attackers.”
I have reached out to Samsung to get an idea when Galaxy S21 users can expect to see these vulnerabilities patched and will update this article in due course.
Davey is a three-decade veteran technology journalist and has been a contributing editor at PC Pro magazine since the first issue in 1994. A co-founder of the Forbes Straight Talking Cyber video project, which has been named ‘Most Educational Content’ at the 2021 European Cybersecurity Blogger Awards, Davey also won the 2020 Security Serious ‘Cyber Writer of the Year’ title. A three-time winner of the BT Security Journalist of the Year award (2006, 2008, 2010) I was also fortunate enough to be named BT Technology Journalist of the Year in 1996 for a forward-looking feature in PC Pro called ‘Threats to the Internet.’ In 2011 I was honored with the Enigma Award for a lifetime contribution to IT security journalism. Contact me in confidence at email@example.com if you have a story to reveal or research to share.