Category Archives: Business

Save money with secure providers

Just a few short years ago, the image of an IT department for small and medium businesses was one of Dilbert-looking technicians noodling around with Cat 5 cable and speaking in a blend of Klingon and Robot. In other words, IT seemed completely remote, complicated and inaccessible to most employees. Additionally, each new hardware and software deployment, including installing malware protection, could take weeks to manually implement across the enterprise, and rarely went smoothly.

One solution – outsourced IT – has found greater acceptance in the past few years as its benefits have become more tangible to even small businesses. It is estimated that globally, 74 percent of companies use some form of outsourced IT solution, up 25 percent from 2009.

 

Read further for compelling reasons why a small or medium business should consider the IT-outsourcing trend.

 

Cost savings

Moving IT off-site can save an SMB thousands of dollars per year. As most business decisions are predicated on the bottom line, this is often the main driver in the decision to migrate. Areas of savings include:

Reducing hardware expenses. Servers, storage, cabling, cooling, and datacenter square footage expense can now be on a cloud vendor’s dime, not yours.

No salary or benefits expenses for IT employees.

Potential tax savings by converting capital expenditures (servers), that depreciate slowly over time, to a monthly cost which can potentially be deducted in the current tax year.

 

The latest software versions – hassle-free

Outsourcing IT means software, including malware protection for endpoints, can be updated automatically by the provider. This obviates the need for a local tech to run around taking workstations offline for upgrades.

Furthermore, updating software not only unlocks newer features, but also closes exploits in older versions that might allow hacker penetration. So it’sworth exploring any platform that can make this process painless and automatic, such as a cloud service.

 

Focus on your business, not technical issues

Anyone who survived working in Corporate America from the 1980s onwards is familiar with the spectacle and lost productivity that accompanies the proverbial “system going down.”

When outsourcing IT to the cloud, this nightmare occurs less often as data is often distributed redundantly across many servers that are monitored constantly, leading to greater stability and uptime, and less worrying about IT matters.

 

Improved security

Reputable outsourced IT providers are dead serious about security against malware, zero-day hacks and other intrusions and constantly monitor and update their protection schemes.

For most SMBs, outsourcing will provide a more frequent and secure back-up solution than their existing IT setups. Furthermore, as the data is kept off-site, it is well- protected from a local catastrophe, such as a fire or flooding.

 

No new employees to manage when scaling up

Scalability is easy with outsourced IT – simply contact the vendor for more storage, memory and processors as needed. There is no longer any need for job postings, interviews, expensive training, personality clashes, worker’s compensation or other common HR issues and liabilities just to get tech personnel to handle the increased operations.

Big Data Mean to Your Business

First there was dot-com. Then web 2.0. Then cloud computing. Now it seems “big data” is catching all the headlines.

Big data is the term used to describe the enormous datasets that have grown beyond the ability for most software to capture, manage and process the information.  But volume is not the only way to define big data. The three Vs generally used to describe big data also include the multiple types – and sources – of data (variety) as well as the speed (velocity) at which data is produced.

If you need more perspective, think about this for a second: According to IBM, 90 percent of the data in the world today has been created over the past two years. That amounts to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being created every day.

 

How can big data help me?

Big data may seem to be a bit out of reach for SMBs, non-profits and government agencies that don’t have the funds to buy into this trend. After all, big usually means expensive right?

But big data isn’t really about using more resources; it’s about effectively using the resources at hand. Take this analogy from Christopher Frank of Forbes who likened big data to the movie Moneyball: “If you have read Moneyball, or seen the movie, you witnessed the power of big data – it is the story about the ability to compete and win with few resources and limited dollars. This sums up the hopes and challenge of business today.”

Specifically, it shows how organizations with limited financial resources can stay competitive and grow. But first, you have to understand where you can find this data and what you can do with it.

 

Big data strategies

Ideally, big data can help resource-strapped organizations:

  • Target their market
  • Make better decisions
  • Measure feelings and emotions

 

Targeted marketing

Small businesses can’t compete with the enormous advertising budgets that large corporations have at their disposal. To remain in the game, they need to spend less to reach qualified buyers. This is where it becomes essential to analyze and measure data to target the person most likely to convert.

There is so much data freely accessible through tools like Google Insights that organizations can pinpoint exactly what people are looking for, when they are looking for it and where they are located. For example, the CDC used big data provided by Google to analyze the number of searches related to the flu. With this data, they were able to focus efforts where there was a greater need for flu vaccines. The same can be done for other products.

Opportunity for businesses of all sizes

The Apple iPad and its many Android “sincere flatterers” have comprehensively shaken up the market for mobile computing; in fact, the late Steve Jobs coined the phrase “post-PC for just this situation.

The days of the traditional laptop computer may not be totally over, but is a hinged screen-keyboard combo the only tool for serious mobile work? Nope. Here are five reasons why….

 

1. For content creation, just add keyboard

Tablets are great for content consumption. Hit the button, and you’re immediately scrolling through Web pages, YouTube videos, annoyed avians and the like. This can lead to the impression that tablets are only good for passively consuming; that they’re no use for creating content, such as documents, spreadsheets and other staples of business life, but that’s short-sighted.

Obviously, tablets’ on-screen keyboards aren’t easy or ergonomic typing tools. However, there’s a wide range of Bluetooth options available that can turn an iPad or Android tablet into a lean, mean, writing machine.

 

But if you’re going to add a keyboard to your tablet, why wouldn’t you just buy a laptop? The next three reasons answer that…

 

2. ARM = light weight + long battery life

PC and Mac laptops are built around the Intel processor architecture, using chips from either Intel or AMD. Often known as x86, the architecture is great for compatibility with the PCs we’ve used for years, but it’s encumbered with historical baggage that makes x86 machines hot, heavy and hungry for battery juice. Modern laptops have improved but are still a world away from today’s tablets.

Most tablets break from Intel’s historical hegemony by using chips designed by ARM. These so-called system-on-a-chip architectures use much less power than x86 – especially when idle. This and modern battery technology can give tablets a 10-hour life and weeks of standby readiness, which means you can get more work done on the go.

Intel is fighting back, though the jury’s still out on whether it can compete. Intel tablets will at least be able to run the full version of Windows 8, as opposed to the cut-down, ARM-only Windows RT.

 

3. Cellular data: a first-class citizen

Today’s tablets often include access to 3G and 4G/LTE networks. The data networking technology is seamlessly integrated, so that you can switch between it and Wi-Fi with no noticeable interruption.

That’s much cleaner than the typical Windows or Mac laptop with an add-on 3G dongle; the difference being that cellular data was designed into tablets from the get-go. So there’ll be fewer excuses to not get the presentation finished on time.

 

4. Seriously cool sci-fi toys today

Who can forget countless Star Trek episodes where an impractically uniformed ensign brought a portable device to Capt. Kirk for him to sign off on some Starfleet paperwork? These sort of science-fiction visions drive gadget designers to invent the future… and who doesn’t want to live in the future?

Don’t deny tablets’ “cool factor.” Your users want to use them, they want to be seen using them, and they’ll thank you for letting them use tablets in business. (However, make sure you stay safe by protecting against Romulan malware and the Klingon drive-by.)

 

5. The phablet trend

There’s also a place in some users’ hearts for a tablet that’s also a phone. In today’s Brangelina world, some refer to these hybrid phone-tablets as phablets: big phones that are also small tablets. Why carry two devices, when you can have one?

We first saw this trend emerge in 2010, with the 5-inch Dell Streak. More recently, Samsung made a splash with its 5.3-inch Galaxy Note. They’re not for everyone, but they do have a growing niche and could translate into greater productivity.

Employees used to stay chained to their cubicles

Employees are increasingly using their own devices as the mobile workforce grows in importance. A Computing Technology Industry Association study found that 84 percent of professionals surveyed use their smartphones for work, but only 22 percent of their companies had a formal mobility policy. The upshot of this mobile shift is that corporate networks will be increasingly vulnerable, unless these devices are reined in with a BYOD enterprise program.

If your company lacks a mobility policy, consider incorporating the following five elements into your BYOD program to save time and money.

 

1. Include clear, written rules

Eliminating risky end user behavior through clear BYOD policies saves IT expenses right off the bat. Some of the most salient points to cover in writing include:

  • Prohibited devices, such as jailbroken phones
  • Blacklisted applications
  • Procedures for lost or stolen devices, including the possibility of wiping out all data on a device
  • Privacy disclosures, such as what personal information the enterprise has access to on a device

Some of these issues, like whether the company can legally wipe out data on a device they do not own, should be cleared with your human resources and legal departments to minimize the risk of lawsuits.

 

2. Make sure it’s formally presented

It is not enough to have employees sign off that they have read the policies – formal classroom or online training is recommended to ensure comprehension and compliance – especially for less tech-savvy workers who might not understand that seemingly innocent actions can expose the company to risks.

 

3. Ensure that it’s scalable and flexible

Make sure your security software can be painlessly installed on new devices. Cloud-based services do this particularly well and are typically available on a per-user subscription model, which saves money by protecting only what is needed at any given time.

Also, consider exceptions to rules, such as allowing peer-to-peer networking programs for certain users who might benefit from these tools. Otherwise, employees may risk bypassing your security protocols in order to use forbidden applications.

 

4. Secure against the greatest number of threats possible

Risky behavior such as opening email attachments from strangers or visiting dubious sites on BYOD devices should be addressed in the written policies and further safeguarded via antivirus software.

There are other exploits to be aware of, which might not be as obvious, such as fake antivirus scanners that users might innocently install, and social engineering (or phishing) threats. A good endpoint protection program will keep employees up-to-date on these lesser-known attack vectors and continually inform them on how to best protect their devices. This does not require much expense but does involve staying abreast of threats and implementing a solid communication plan.

How to Secure Mobile Workforce Devices

Bluetooth is best known as the wireless technology that powers hands-free earpieces. Depending on your point of view, people who wear them either:

a) Look ridiculous (especially if shining a bright blue LED from their ear);
b) Appear mad (when apparently talking to themselves); or
c) Are sensible, law-abiding, safety-conscious drivers.

 

Whichever letter you pick, insidious security issues remain around Bluetooth attacks and mobile devices. While most of the problems identified five to 10 years ago have been straightened out by now, some still remain. And there’s also good reason to be cautious about new, undiscovered problems.

 

Here are a few examples of the mobile security threats in which Bluetooth makes us vulnerable, along with tips to secure your mobile workforce devices.

 

General software vulnerabilities

Software in Bluetooth devices – especially those using the newer Bluetooth 4.0 specification – will not be perfect. It’s unheard of to find software that has zero security vulnerabilities.

As Finnish security researchers Tommi Mäkilä, Jukka Taimisto and Miia Vuontisjärvi demonstrated in 2011, it’s easy for attackers to discover new, previously unknown vulnerabilities in Bluetooth devices. Potential impacts could include charges for expensive premium-rate or international calls, theft of sensitive data or drive-by malware downloads.

To combat this threat: Switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

 

Eavesdropping

Bluetooth – named after the Viking king, Harald Bluetooth Gormsson, thanks to his abilities to make 10th-century European factions communicate – is all about wireless communication. Just like with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth encryption is supposed to stop criminals listening in to your data or phone calls.

In other words, eavesdropping shouldn’t be a problem. However, older Bluetooth devices use versions of the Bluetooth protocol that have more security holes than a tasty slice of Swiss. Even the latest specification (4.0) has a similar problem with its low-energy (LE) variant.

To combat this threat: Ban devices that use Bluetooth 1.x, 2.0 or 4.0-LE.

 

Denial of service

Malicious attackers can crash your devices, block them from receiving phone calls and drain your battery.

To combat this threat: Again, switch off your Bluetooth when you’re not using it.

 

Bluetooth range is greater than you think

Bluetooth is designed to be a “personal area network.” That is to say, devices that are more than a few feet away should not be accessible via Bluetooth.

However, you’re not safe if you simply ensure there’s distance between you and a potential attacker; hackers have been known to use directional, high-gain antennae to successfully communicate over much greater distances. For example, security researcher Joshua Wright demonstrated the use of such an antenna to hack a Bluetooth device in a Starbucks from across the street.