Upgrade To SSD Drives For Speed Boosts, Other Advantages

The spinning disk hard drive has been the reigning king of storage for almost as long as we’ve had desktop computers.

All things end, though, and the HDD’s reign is officially coming to a close. It’s getting increasingly difficult to justify springing for an old-style hard drive when you can buy an SSD or a hybrid drive instead. The advantages are just too compelling.

The primary advantage that SSDs offer over their older counterparts is speed. It comes down to performance. HDD’s can get fragmented over time, which degrades the speed with which they can access files. Even in cases where an HDD is perfectly unfragmented, they still can’t match the access speeds of an SSD, and in business, it’s increasingly the case that speed is life.

A secondary advantage is the form factor of the drive. SSDs are significantly smaller, and as such, much easier to incorporate into system architecture. Even better, as smartphones get incrementally bigger and SSDs continue getting smaller, the day is inevitably coming when they’ll be incorporated into every device you use.

The only real advantage that HDDs have over their sleeker, faster counterparts is in terms of raw storage for the money, and for the moment, the older drives are still cheaper. If you need bulk storage and are on a budget, you may still be tempted to head in that direction.

That will be true for at least the first half of this year, but new facilities are coming online later in the year, which should close most of the price gap between the two technologies. Investing in HDDs now could mean a bigger expense down the road as you eventually retire and replace those drives.
A good intermediary step if you absolutely need storage now is a hybrid drive, which combines the best features of both technologies, but you can expect hybrid drives to have a relatively short shelf life. The moment SSDs come within 20% of the price of comparably sized HDDs, they’re destined to go the way of the dinosaur.

Ransomware May Be Coming To Your Smart TV

Darren Cauthon, a software developer, got a Christmas present this year he didn’t ask for and didn’t want. On Christmas day, his family downloaded and installed an app on their Android-based LG Smart TV and wound up getting a ransomware infection. He took a photo of his TV screen and published it as proof. It is the first known instance of ransomware infecting a television set “in the wild,” but it certainly won’t be the last.

In 2015, security researcher Candid Wueest proved that it was theoretically possible by infecting her own smart TV as a demonstration, but it didn’t get a lot of attention. Needless to say, it’s getting more attention now. What’s worse is the fact that it’s fairly difficult to remove. Attempting to restore the device to factory default settings was ineffective.

When Cauthon called LG’s tech support, they promised they’d send a tech out for $350, which wasn’t much of a savings, since the hackers were only asking for $500 to unlock the set. In the end, Cauthon found the solution, but it involved a lot of hoop jumping.

Working with LG’s tech support on the phone, he was able to put the TV into recovery mode, which allowed the data to be manually wiped, which is a long, painful process that amounts to a more thorough factory reset.

While this was (eventually) successful, it should be noted that Cauthon’s software development background gave him a significant leg up where dealing with this issue was concerned, and even for him, it was a tortuous process that took several hours. The average user would have essentially no chance of success, and be left with few options other than simply paying the ransom and hoping the hackers were true to their word.

It's an interesting case that highlights just how vulnerable our “smart” devices are, and the potential complications that can arise from our increasing reliance on them.

New Version Of Android Trojan Can Take Photos And More

If you haven’t heard of a Trojan called Tordow, you probably will soon. Security researchers have been aware of it since February of this year, but recently, researchers from Comodo Security have unearthed a new, devastating upgrade to the malicious software.

It’s one of a small, but growing collection of Trojans that can “root” an Android device, which is shorthand for its ability to gain root-level access. This allows it to do just about anything its owners want it to.

Among other things, the malware can:
• Remove or disable security apps, allowing other infections to be installed
• Reboot the device
• Interact with mobile banking apps
• Access, rename or delete files
• Collect all phone details and send them to remote locations
• Encrypt files
• Steal login credentials from other apps
And more.

In other words, it’s about as bad as it gets. Even worse is the fact that the authors of the malware have gone to great lengths to reverse engineer popular apps like Pokemon GO, Telegran, and Subway Surfers, inserting hooks in them which install the Trojan in the background.

While these poisoned apps would never get past the filters on the Google Play store, they can, and are being uploaded to third party app vendors which provide alternate download locations for the most popular apps on the store.

This underscores the importance of a seldom discussed, but critical component of data security. You should have policies in place specifying that any apps your employees download are acquired via the Google Play Store (Android) or the Apple Store (iPhone).

Unfortunately, the third party vendors just don’t have the same level of security, which provides fertile ground for malware like this to take root and spread. The hackers are eager to take full advantage.

Cybercrime Rings Getting Smarter And More Sophisticated

Cybercrime is growing up. Increasingly, on the Dark Web, customers can find a wide variety of hacking activities offered as a “service.” There is everything from DDOS attacks launched by massive ‘botnets to carefully orchestrated phishing campaigns to ransomware attacks.

If you’ve got the cash, the hackers have the services.

They’re also getting increasingly savvy in terms of communicating with each other, agreeing not to compete to keep prices high, staking out digital real estate and getting better at product positioning to make their offerings more attractive.

It would be a mistake to say that cybercrime is becoming mainstream, but it is true that cybercrime rings are increasingly adopting all the hallmarks of mainstream businesses, including, in some cases, customer service departments.

2016 saw the most data breaches in the history of the internet. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that 2017 won’t handily beat whatever 2016’s final number is, and there’s no end in sight.

As these groups continue to grow in sophistication, their service offerings will expand, and collaboration between groups will continue to increase.

Steve Durbin, the managing director of the Information Security Forum, recently said he expects this to be the single biggest threat and security challenge of 2017 and for the foreseeable future.
As a small to medium-sized business owner, this represents an enormous challenge for you and your IT staff.

IT security professionals are not only increasingly outmanned, but also outgunned. Managers are increasingly realizing that ramping up spending on digital security is not enough, and employee education will only get you so far.

Taken together, this creates enormous challenges for business at all levels.

The good news is, you don’t have to go at it alone. Our talented experts can review the current state of your firm’s digital security and chart a course that will keep you and your data safe. Call us today and let’s get started.

ATM Skimmers Are Becoming A Huge Problem

Unless your firm is directly connected to the banking industry, you may not be aware of this, but the biggest ATM-related crime that banks have to grapple with is ATM Skimming. It has become a major problem, especially for ATMs that are in areas where they can be accessed 24/7, but that have low security and no one actively monitoring them.

In recent months, hospital ATMs have proven to be the target of choice for hackers, and with good reason. It’s easy to gain entry into the public areas of a hospital where ATMs are found, and the staff is generally so harried just dealing with the patient population that no one is paying much attention to the ATMs or their security.

In the past, banks managed and maintained their own ATMs, but this function was outsourced to third parties years ago.

Back when the banks did it, they scrupulously inspected each machine in their fleet on a regular basis (often, but not always, daily). The third party vendors don’t do this, which leaves ATMs in out of the way, but easily accessible locations vulnerable to skimming.

All a hacker has to do is wear a uniform convincing enough that he can pass himself off as a repairman to gain access to the machine. In a matter of minutes, he can install skimming software which copies debit card data from the magnetic stripes of card holders.

This information is sent back to the hacker wirelessly. It can then be used to replicate cards of anyone who used that particular machine. Then, the hacker simply takes the card, walks up to any ATM, and makes a cash withdrawal.

Skimming has been a problem for years, but in the past several months, the number of such incidents has seen a sudden and suspicious spike. Given the current state of affairs, which includes third party maintenance and does not include daily inspections, and has hundreds of millions of easy to swipe magnetic stripe cards in circulation, this problem is going to get a lot worse before it starts getting better.

Faster Wi-Fi Coming Soon With New WiGig Standard

It’s amazing how pervasive WiFi has become. These days, it’s hard to imagine life without it. The internet is everywhere. It’s always on, and you’re always connected.

Unfortunately, as speeds have improved and bandwidth has increased, so too have the demands we place on it, which has led to a kind of internet cold war. The faster it gets, the more we find to do with it, which strains the limits of currently available speeds, which increase again, and ‘round and ‘round it goes.

Next year, though, is going to be huge for WiFi. The WiFi Alliance has just announced WiGig, which promises speeds up to three times greater than even the best speeds you get out of WiFi connections today.

Manufacturers are already expressing an interest in the new certification program, and as of right now, you can get consumer products that carry it. In fact, if you have a Dell Latitude 7450 or 7470, you’ve already got it.

The drawback, of course, is that in order to realize the best speeds the new technology makes available, both ends of the connection have to support WiGig. At present, there aren’t any routers that do, although that’s coming late this year and early next.

The new standard is expected to really hit stride by mid 2017, when we’ll start seeing WiFi speeds of up to 1GB per second, from a distance of up to 33 feet. At speeds like that, you’ll be able to download your favorite movie in full HD glory in a matter of just seconds, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

This is great news, and a sign of things to come. You can bet that once the new standard has been widely adopted, it’s going to open up whole new frontiers of use. Among other things, you can expect to see VR technologies benefit greatly from the new speeds, and there’s little doubt that it will be a boon to your business, no matter what business you’re in. Where WiFi is concerned, faster is always better.

Spotify Ads May Have Served Up Malware To Your Computer

Are you a Spotify user? If so, you may have been infected. Recently, the company reported that one of its advertising partners had displayed an ad containing malware. As with most software of this type, it wrests control of the user’s browser, opening additional tabs on its own, and directing users to web pages loaded with additional malware in hopes of getting someone to install more.

The company became aware of the problem when users started complaining in the company’s forum, and quickly isolated the ad that was causing the problem, shutting it down and cutting the advertiser off. Nonetheless, some users may still be experiencing strange browser behavior.

If you begin noticing unwanted tabs opening up, redirects that take you to sites you don’t recognize or other suspicious behavior, uninstalling and reinstalling Spotify should take care of the problem.

As an added step, you should probably run an antivirus scan and sweep your machine for malware, just to be sure that no traces of the offending software remain.

Companies have gotten pretty good at spotting this type of attack, but sometimes, malicious code still slips through. It happened to both Google and Yahoo last year with similar results. A few users were impacted, and the malicious ad was quickly identified and removed.

This, of course, only serves to highlight the dangers that are ever present in our digital ecosystem. The world’s hackers are relentless. They’re always probing, always searching for an in. If you don’t have robust defenses in place, they’re absolutely going to succeed. Even with state of the art security, you’re not safe, which is the challenge.

If you’re not confident about the current state of your firm’s digital security, contact us today. One of our talented team members will be happy to review your current security and help you craft a better, more robust plan.

Insulin Pump Hack Takes Technology Threats To A New Level

The risks and dangers associated with the Internet of Things continues to grow. Unfortunately, these days, a hacking attack can actually kill.

Recently, a researcher uncovered a major security flaw in an insulin pump sold by Johnson and Johnson. The Animas OneTouch insulin pump has a WiFi feature that allows a diabetic patient wearing the device to give himself an injection of insulin without ever touching the pump itself.

While convenient, the pump has absolutely no security built into it. Any hacker who gets within twenty-five feet of the device could intercept the signal, review the dosing information which is simply stored as plain text, and change it to whatever value he liked, then issue an order to inject.

The end result is that the hacker could give the patient wearing the pump a potentially lethal dose.
Johnson and Johnson was made aware of the security flaw back in September, but has only just now begun notifying the 114,000 patients currently using the device that there’s an issue. The stated reason for the long delay was that the company wanted to reproduce the hack for themselves to study it.

This is by no means the first hack discovered among the rapidly expanding collection of internet objects, but it bears the distinction of being potentially lethal. No one is likely to die if their smart dishwasher gets hacked, but this takes the threat to a whole different level.

While Johnson and Johnson has published a workaround that should minimize the risks to the patients using their pump, so far, no plans have been announced to add digital security features to the device. This is, unfortunately, representative of a far broader trend.

Manufacturers seem quite eager to make and sell all manner of smart, internet-connected devices, but thus far, have been almost categorically unwilling to build even rudimentary security features into them. Until that changes, we can expect to hear more about exploits that enable even moderately talented hackers to take control of internet objects, and it’s just a matter of time until someone dies as a result.

Ransomware Heavily Targeting Health Care Companies

You’ve probably seen the headlines. This year, hardly a week goes by that there isn’t a report of a company in some way connected to the health care industry falling victim to ransomware. If you think it feels like they’re being specifically targeted, you’re not imagining things.

According to the latest research by FireEye, hackers are specifically targeting health care companies, and they’re going after them with ransomware. The reason? Most health care providers deal in time critical information in a way that many other industries do not. The thinking is that these companies will pay the ransom more readily to get their files back, than to go through the often onerous process of restoring files from backup.

So far at least, it appears that the hackers are right.

There’s more. FireEye has also determined that phishing emails are the weapon of choice where hackers are concerned. They’ll send out a barrage of emails, hoping that some unsuspecting user will click on the link embedded in the message, and that’s all it takes.

On a more technical note, FireEye also discovered that hackers are migrating away from the JavaScript form of their favorite ransomware, Locky. Instead, they’re increasingly using Microsoft Word .docm files attached to email messages. These are functionally similar to .docx Word files, but they can be used to execute macros. In this case, the macro executed is the kiss of death, at least where files on the target computer are concerned.

Put this information to use no matter what industry you’re in, and especially if you’re in any way involved with health care. Be sure that your employees understand the risks involved in even opening a message from an unknown, untrusted source, much less clicking on a link or opening a file it might contain. All it takes is one user, and one careless moment.

New Tech Can Copy And Mimic Your Handwriting

Researchers at University College London have created a fascinating algorithm that can take a sample of hand-written text, and imitate it with eerie similarity. At first glance, that might seem like a silly, or even trivial thing to spend time on, but make no mistake. The problems being solved here are far from trivial.

As an experiment, try writing the same sentence ten times. See how much variability there is in the words, letters and spacing? Not only does the spacing between the words in the sentence vary from one to the next, but so does the spacing between individual letters. The shape can vary markedly from one iteration to the next, too.

Fortunately, this is the kind of problem that machine learning is especially adept at solving, as the researchers have recently indicated.

As to how good their algorithm is…not even the authors of the samples could tell the difference, when comparing their own handwriting with sentences generated by the computer.

The algorithm works by marking up each letter, and every punctuation mark, analyzing them in detail, and examining the variance between duplicated letters to create a baseline. At that point, if the user types in text into the box provided, they’ll get back the same words, written in their own hand.

In terms of practical application, one of the things the team is already doing is finding samples of long dead famous people, and reproducing their works in their own handwriting. So far, the team has found viable samples for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and former President Abraham Lincoln.

In terms of practical application, it has enormous potential for the disabled, and Amazon’s floral delivery service is currently investigating its use. While your company may not have a specific need for this, it’s a fascinating case study in the capabilities of machine learning.

New Chip Cards May Not Be As Secure As Expected

Remember not long ago, when the big credit card issuers went on at some length touting their latest advances in smart chip technology? The new tech was supposed to vastly improve the security of credit cards, rendering them virtually immune to hacking. Well, it turns out that might have been a bit of an overstatement.

At a recent Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a pair of presentations were made, giving the attendees a taste of what’s to come. Both presentations revealed flaws in the security as currently designed. While these flaws present a significant challenge for even a skilled hacker, the fact that they were found and revealed at all is disturbing, and no doubt, it means that toolkits will be developed and made accessible to less talented hackers, which will broaden the scope of the threat.

In the first presentation, a technique was demonstrated whereby the card reader was fooled into thinking that the credit card in question had no smart chip, thus circumventing the added security protocols entirely.

The second, and more ambitious of the two demonstrations, involved stealing the temporary, dynamic number generated by a smart chip. There’s only a very brief window of time to pull this off, but the attempt was successfully made and demonstrated on stage.

These two hacking methods are added to the technique demonstrated by a security researcher last year, in which he reverse-engineered the algorithm to determine the number of a replacement card on American Express cards. Simply get enough information to report the card stolen, have the company issue a replacement, and a hacker can use the new card number to make purchases.

We’ve seen all this before.
In the 1990s, Sony spent billions in an attempt to create DVDs that could not be copied, only to see their significant investment undone in about a week’s time, and with something as simple as a permanent marker, no less. Suffice it to say that there has yet to be a security measure devised that some hacker, somewhere has not been able to figure a way around.

Hackers Can Now Change What You See On Your Monitor

Do you trust what your eyes tell you? If you’re looking at a computer monitor, that trust might be misplaced.

At a recent DEFCON presentation in Las Vegas, researchers demonstrated how it’s possible to hack into a monitor’s firmware and make changes to what a user sees on their computer, without actually breaking into the PC itself.

This has serious security ramifications, because while your PC is typically protected by multiple layers of security, the firmware that drives nearly every monitor currently in use has no protection at all. The method by which most monitors get updates to their firmware is completely open, which is a standing invitation to attack.

It should be noted that it took the researchers more than two years to reverse engineer a way into the monitor’s firmware, so this is by no means a trivial attack that just any hacker can carry out. You can be sure, now that the information is in the wild, it’s just a matter of time before the first company or government agency falls victim to it.

How can such an attack be used?
There are actually a number of applications. A web address can be spoofed, making it appear on your screen that you’re going to a legitimate website, when actually you’re going to a fake website controlled by the hacker and loaded with malware.

It can be used to make your Paypal or other account balances read as zero on your screen, prompting you to click a link to report a problem (the link, of course, controlled by the hacker). By employing misdirection of this kind, it would be easy to lure a user into dangerous waters, and greatly increase the likelihood that they would install malicious software that would give the hacker complete control over the system.

These kinds of oblique attacks are becoming increasingly commonplace. It’s no longer enough to simply secure the PCs, laptops and smart devices that connect to your company’s network. You’ve now got to be concerned with every peripheral, and every internet-capable object your network comes in contact with.

If that seems a bit overwhelming to you, contact us today and we’ll put you in touch with one of our knowledgeable team members. We can assess your current digital security needs, and create a custom solution around those needs.

Ransom Hackers Are Targeting iPhone Users

ansomware has made some inroads into the realm of smart devices, but until quite recently, Android devices were the target of choice. That seems to be changing now. Increasingly, we’re seeing iPhone users targeted by this type of attack.

This particular attack can manifest when the hacker gains a user’s Apple ID account information. Once the hacker has this, he or she can use the “Find My Phone” feature to remotely lock the user’s phone. Once it’s locked, the only way to unlock it is to either pay the demanded fee (currently set at $50 USD) or restore the phone to factory settings, which means losing all your photos, contacts, installed apps, and the like, a thing that few users are willing to do.

While this is bad, it’s more of an annoyance than anything, and so far at least, this type of attack is not at all widespread, having only been seen in a few, relatively isolated cases. The real problem, however, lies in the fact that if a hacker gets your Apple ID account information, he can do a lot more damage than merely remote-locking your phone.

Having access to that account information can be akin to handing the hacker the keys to your virtual kingdom. They can access your files on the cloud and modify them, send mass emails, delete items at will, make purchases on your iTunes account, and more.

Apple security experts are quick to point out that in the cases of these kinds of attacks we’ve seen so far, the user ID and password information needed to successfully implement this attack weren’t stolen by breaching Apple’s own databases, but are caused by users who use the same passwords across multiple web-based platforms and services.

If any one of them gets breached, and you’re using the same ID and password, then the hacker can try those credentials, and gain access to significant portions of your online life. Once more, this provides a compelling reason to stop using the same credentials on multiple sites, and to enable two-factor authentication on your phone, if you haven’t already.

The WiFi of the Future May Consume Much Less Power

Battery life for mobile devices is their single biggest weakness. The greatest challenge in growing and managing the exploding “Internet of Things” isn’t the devices themselves, but rather, the power required to wirelessly transmit the data they’re reporting. Energy is money, and even as research continues to extend battery life to new horizons, there is other important research being done to conserve power.
Recently, electrical engineers at the University of Washington have developed a working prototype that could have enormous implications for wireless technology. Called “Passive WiFi,” it changes the way that WiFi works, and in doing so, the new methodology draws 10,000 times less power than the conventional WiFi we’re all using today. The engineers reported that in terms of power savings, the difference this will make would be comparable to the differences you see now between your battery life with WiFi turned on, versus having it turned off.

The implications of this are almost beyond imagining. Granted, it will be a few years before the technology is readily available, but when it is, it, combined with emerging advances in battery technology that are being primarily driven by Elon Musk and Tesla Motors will usher in an era where wireless devices draw almost no power, and the devices we have come to rely on so heavily in recent years will be able to remain in continuous operation for a fraction of the cost we pay today. This is paradigm shifting technology, and is but the latest advancement in our ongoing technological renaissance that shows no signs of stopping, or even slowing down.

It is often said that speed is everything in business, but that’s too simplistic. Speed matters, yes, but of equal importance is cheap, ubiquitous connectivity. Passive WiFi is an important piece of that puzzle. If you thought the last few years of technological advancement was amazing, hang onto your hat – the best is yet to come.

Employee Connected Devices Could Put Network At Risk

Security company ForeScout has some disturbing new statistics about the state of digital corporate security. According to their research, 85% of IT professionals surveyed said they lacked confidence in their ability to spot a new device, imported by a user as it appeared on, and connected with the company’s network.

The danger here is that you can’t guard against threats you cannot see. Many of the devices brought in by employees lack proper security, and some devices lack any security at all. If these are connected to your company’s network, they provide an easy access point for any hacker looking to breach your security. As things stand now, the two biggest security risks are BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) gear introduced to the network by employees, and the growing proliferation of IoT (internet of things) devices that collect and supply massive amounts of data. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been very good coordination between IT and the rest of the employees in most companies when it comes to devices of either category.

What should be happening is that if a new, unknown and unrecognized device is added to the network, it should alert IT immediately, and be shunted into a sandboxed part of the network with extremely limited access, until it can be assessed by IT for potential security risks. Once IT is satisfied that the device is properly protected, its status can be upgraded as appropriate. Unfortunately, that’s not happening, or rather, it’s not happening in a very high percentage of companies.

Do you know how many devices are attached to your network at any given point in time? Do you know if those devices are secure? Are they all trusted? Do they have appropriate levels of network access? These kinds of questions can literally make or break your business. If you’re not sure, and you need help getting a handle on it, call us today, and a member of our team can assist you in assessing the current state of your digital security, and make recommendations from there.

20 Percent of Small Businesses Take CyberSecurity Seriously – Does Yours?

Barclaycard, one of the giants in the industry of global payments, has some disturbing new data to share about the state of cybersecurity in small and medium-sized businesses. Less than one in five of the businesses surveyed viewed cybersecurity as their top priority. What makes that fact more disturbing still is the fact that nearly half of those businesses admitted to having been a victim of a cyber-attack within the last 12-months, and slightly more than half (54%) saying that they are fearful they may be hit again.

In tandem with this is the fact that a mere 13% of poll respondents said that they were comfortable enough with their level of knowledge to be able to even formulate a plan that would protect their business. When you put those two pieces of information together, along with the fact that, on average, a cyber attack on a small to medium sized business will cost companies about $100,000, it’s easy to see why the data is so disturbing.

The reality is that most of the businesses in operation on the planet today are small to medium-sized. The realization that most of these are terrified of being hit, many of them have already been hit, and few are taking steps to do anything about it is a recipe for long-term disaster.

How is your firm’s cybersecurity? Do you feel confident you can withstand a determined attack on your digital infrastructure? If not, what are your plans to address weaknesses in your current security? If you’re not sure how to proceed, but you recognize that you are at risk, know that you don’t have to go it alone! Contact us today and speak with one of our knowledgeable team members. We can help you assess the current state of your digital security, and assist you with making your firm’s data as safe as it can be.

Just Change Your Password Already – Another 45 Million Passwords Stolen

LeakedSource provides us with yet more bad news. Hackers have breached VerticalScope, a media company that runs a number of large online communities, including several enormously popular ones including Techsupportforum.com, motorcycle.com, and AutoGuide.com.

According to the company, for every record they found, they found a corresponding IP address, email address, and at least one password. The total size and scale of this breach was enormous, spanning more than 1,100 different websites and in excess of 45 million user account records. This, of course, is on top of the literally hundreds of millions of compromised accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, and other popular websites across the internet.

By now, the writing should be on the wall in a font big enough for all to see. You are not safe. Your account information is not safe. If you use the same password across multiple sites, then your identity itself is not safe, because a hacker can get your “master password” from any one of the breaches mentioned above, and access your credit accounts, your bank accounts, and pretty much everything else you have.

End result? The hackers will have everything you once owned, and you’ll have nothing.

Yes, you can get it back…probably. If you don’t mind spending 2-3 years of your life chasing ghosts and phantoms if you’re lucky. The good news is: you don’t have to go through all of that. You can change all your passwords right now, and use a different password for every account you have.

Or, you can do nothing and hope you get lucky. Hope that the law of large numbers works in your favor, and that the hackers will simply pass you by. They might. There are a lot of other accounts they could clean out, but do you really want to take that chance? Change your passwords. All of them. As soon as you finish reading this.

Ransomware Is Bringing To Light The Absolute Need For Robust Backup

The University of Calgary recently submitted to the will of hackers and ponied up $20,000 to get their files back after more than 100 computers were locked via ransomware. Almost every security expert agrees that paying such a ransom is the wrong move, but the university felt that it had no choice. They did not want to risk losing the research data on the impacted machines.

The same security experts who warn against paying such ransoms insist that the best course of action is to implement a robust, secure backup system, and to spend time educating end users on the security risks posed by clicking seemingly innocuous links embedded in emails from unknown and untrusted sources. Even so, a recent survey found that 14% of companies opted to pay the ransom, rather than risk seeing their files lost.

Whether this is because those 14% did not have good backup systems in place is not known, but the bottom line is simply this: If hackers have breached your system to the extent that they have been able to get ransomware onto one or more of your computers, then it’s clear that they are not to be trusted. Who’s to say they will keep their end of the bargain after you’ve paid?

Even if they do keep their end of the bargain, who’s to say that the decryption keys they send you after receiving your payment will actually work, or that if they work, you’ll get 100% of your data back. Even worse, what if the hackers, now knowing that you’re willing to pay, strike again, shortly after you’ve decrypted your files?

Paying the ransom is never a good option, but for at least some companies, there’s little choice. If you don’t have a solid backup plan in place, and your employees don’t understand just how serious the risks are, paying the toll can seem the only viable option. The only way to remain in business.

What’s the current state of your company’s digital security? How robust are your firm’s data backups? In the event of a malware attack, could you rely on them to get you back up and running with limited interruption? The answers to these questions and others like them are only growing in importance as these kinds of attacks become more common.

New Postage Sized SSD Means Smaller Devices Coming

The push toward ever greater miniaturization has been present in the technology industry from the very beginning. Computers that once occupied whole rooms got small enough to fit onto any available desktop. PCs gave way to laptops, which are currently giving way to a variety of handheld devices, and still, the drive to make equipment smaller and smaller continues.

Samsung has provided the latest piece of the puzzle, in the form of a memory chip called PM971-NVMe. While the name might not be the catchiest in the industry, its implications are staggering. The company has managed to fit a whopping 512 Gigs of storage capacity into a chip the size of a postage stamp. Unlike other, conventional memory devices, this chip doesn’t rely on a SATA connection, but instead, can be installed directly onto the motherboard, which dramatically increases speed. According to company specs, this little beauty can download 5 Gigs worth of data in about six seconds, with reading speeds of 1.5GBps and writing speeds clocking in at an impressive 900MBps. Even better, it weighs less than half an ounce.

One of the biggest shortcomings of handheld devices, and a limitation we’ve suffered with since the very first ones began appearing on the market is the fact that onboard storage has always been at a premium. High bandwidth, low latency wireless connections gave rise to the cloud, which helped to offset this limitation, but no matter how you slice it, accessing data from the cloud will never, and can never be as fast or as efficient as accessing it from the device itself.

From the look of things, we’re about to see the end of that particular limitation. The only real drawback? Price. Currently, these chips cost in excess of a thousand dollars. The hope, of course, is as mass production ramps up, that too, will change, but at present, when equipment starts shipping sporting the new memory chips, you’ll only find them in high-end gear. If previous trends keep up, prices will drop and this technology will find its way into the masses and into our devices.

Have Bots Taken Over The Internet?

What percentage of total internet traffic would you estimate that bots (non-human visitors) account for? Twenty percent? Thirty percent? Unfortunately, according to data released by DeviceAtlas, a company that makes software to detect the kinds of devices web visitors are using, reveals that non-human sources account for a staggering 48% of all web traffic. This includes legitimate search-engine crawlers along with hacker-generated bots designed for various purposes.

It has long been known that bots accounted for a significant percentage of total internet traffic, but until recently, we haven’t had the tools to get a precise read on just how much they account for. The belief has always been that ‘bot traffic amounted to low-level background noise on the net, making the new finding disturbing to say the least.

The problem for you, a business owner, is that it’s likely costing you more than you realize. Consider that if you’re paying for advertising based on per click, or per impression, then the number of clicks and impressions generated by bots are inflating your ad spend by nearly 50%. This underscores the importance of carefully examining your analytics so you can determine which of your clicks are being generated by actual humans who might buy your product versus bots who are simply driving your costs up.

It’s a tricky problem, because hackers go to great lengths to try and make their bot behavior emulate human behavior. Worse, with so much bot traffic on the net, your server load increases, making page load times slow to a crawl for human visitors.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to minimize the impact of bots on your bottom line. Several companies make tools that can help identify non-human visitors. This, combined with a filter to restrict non-human traffic can save you a surprising amount of money, and enhance the user experience for visitors to your company’s website.

If you’re not sure where to begin in terms of tackling this problem, contact us today, and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.

Are Internet Speeds Affecting Your Health?

Let’s face it, no one likes to wait. What you may not have known, however, is that your slow internet connection could be detrimental to your health. If that raises a curious eyebrow, here’s the more complete explanation:

The company Ericsson recently conducted a series of experiments in Europe, and put some solid numbers behind what we all know intuitively to be true. That waiting stresses us out. When we’re watching streaming video, and have to sit through constant video re-buffering, we don’t like it. When we pull out our smart devices to search for some or other information we need, we want to put our hands on it quickly. If a page takes too long to load, we get stressed out.

The surprise though, was just how much and how strongly these things impact us. The research found that a user’s heart rate increases 38% when using a mobile device and experience content loading delays lasting longer than two seconds. Heart rate increases further as the delay increases, up to a maximum of six seconds, where it falls off. At that point, the researchers conclude, the user has essentially given up on the task at hand, at least where that site is concerned.

In a similar vein, video re-buffering causes heart rate to increase anywhere from 19% to 34%, depending on the delay associated with the re-buffering. A two second delay between pressing play to begin watching a video and the stream actually beginning lead to an average 16% increase in heart rate, while an additional pause, once the video had begun playing let to an additional 15% increase in heart rate.

The sheer magnitude of these results underscores the importance of utilizing the fastest internet speeds available in your local market. Of course, everyone in business has long understood that speed is life, but now, we also know that slow speeds can actually have potential repercussions to long-term health.

Hard Drive Failures Account For Majority of Data Loss

If you’ve ever booted up your computer and gotten a cryptic “drive not found” message, you’re not alone. In fact, about one third of all data loss occurs because of this very error message. Drives simply failing to appear on your directory structure at all. Of course, when that happens, all the data they once contained is lost to you.

This basic error occurs most commonly with USB flash drives and external hard drives, although security experts warn that it can certainly happen to any type of drive.

There are a number of reasons why a device might suddenly just stop appearing on your pick list: It could be that there’s a problem with the USB connection, and it’s not getting power. Water damage is another big possibility, so if the drive or the connecting cable got wet, it could be the culprit. It’s also possible that the drive has become corrupted, rendering the device unreadable and inaccessible.

Whatever the ultimate cause though, the end result is the same. Your data is temporarily inaccessible to you. Now, it’s true that in many (but not all) cases, a data recovery expert can get at least some of the data back, so all hope is not lost, but this reality underscores the importance of taking regular backups, especially if you rely on external storage media to store critical business files.

Ultimately your business should have a robust backup solution in place that includes regular backups, redundancy, periodic testing, and reporting.

If you find yourself in need of a data recovery expert or are in need of a backup solution, no matter if it is for your business systems or personal notebooks or computers, contact us today. A member of our team will be in touch to discuss how we might be able to assist you and provide the right solution for your needs.

Millions of Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Passwords Have Been Breached

Alex Holden is one of the good guys. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he works for Hold Security, and spends his time in the dark corners of the internet, scouting out what data the hacking community has for sale.

Holden’s latest finding shows that a hacker was selling an extensive database containing the user names and passwords for more than a quarter of a million free email accounts, all for less than a dollar. Roughly 33 million of the passwords were for Hotmail accounts. Another 40 million were for Yahoo accounts, and 25 million were for Gmail accounts. There were plenty of others besides, but the major point here is that if you use a free email service, it’s possible your name is somewhere in the database.

Of course, in terms of scope and scale, given that Gmail alone has more than a billion users, this breach was relatively small as a percentage of total accounts, but in absolute scale, some 270 million user accounts and passwords is a massive breach by any definition.

If you use a free email service, even if it’s not one of the big names mentioned above, to be safe, change your password immediately. Unfortunately, many people tend to reuse passwords, and if your email password is the same as the password to your bank account, not changing your password could be setting yourself up for huge financial pain down the road.

Most email services also offer two-factor authentication at this point, and you would be well served by activating that feature. Of course, it goes without saying that the password to access your bank account should be different from the one you use to log onto your email account, so the short answer is – change your password today, or put your financial information at risk!

Windows “Blue Screen of Death” Getting New Information

If you have a Windows-based PC (and you probably do), then you’ve almost certainly had the dubious honor of seeing the dreaded BSOD, or Blue Screen of Death. Unfortunately, since the first appearance of that screen, it has had a history of being less than helpful. Mostly, what you get is a long string of cryptic letters and numbers that don’t really tell you anything of substance to give you a clue about what went wrong and how to fix it.

It took a Herculean effort, but when Microsoft released Windows 8, they actually managed to make the Blue Screen of Death more annoying than ever, by including “:( “, the ASCII frowning face on top of the lack of information.

Recently though, things have taken a turn for the better. In the most recent Windows 10 update, users on Reddit have noted and posted some changes to the BSOD. Specifically, the inclusion of a QR code.

For the moment, scanning this code takes you to a page on the Microsoft domain which gives you general information about the error, but the company is planning a large update, dubbed the “Anniversary Update,” which promises to include even more information. The goal seems to be that each QR code will eventually take the user to a specific page containing more information about their error in particular, although Microsoft has not confirmed this.

In any case, the recent changes represent a big step forward for one of the least loved (let’s be honest: one of the most annoying) features of Microsoft operating systems, and is simply the latest in an ongoing series of changes for the better that we’ve seen coming out of Microsoft headquarters in recent years. The company seems nimbler and more responsive of late, and it shows no signs of changing course away from that, which is good news indeed for people using the one billion plus Windows-based PCs.

Have You Enabled Two Factor Authentication Yet?

Are you still using single factor authentication in your business? If so, you are taking an unnecessary risk. If the only thing standing between the hacking community and your company’s data is a password, then no matter how robust those passwords might be, it’s just a matter of time before someone slips up, and your system is breached.

Of course, a breach is still possible once you enable two-factor authentication, but breaking into a system so protected is substantially more difficult. A small percentage of hackers will see this as a challenge and try all the harder, but the vast majority will simply pass you by in preference for softer, less protected targets.

It may be possible, however, that you’re not clear on two-factor authentication, so we’ll lay it out for you. Simply put, two factor authentication is the requirement that in order to log into your system, a user needs a password, and some other, different factor, such as a thumb print or retina scan. In other cases, the second factor could be something you have, such as a cell phone or a USB key.

Note that this is fundamentally different from two-step authentication. Under a two-step authentication scheme, you’re using the same factor twice. For instance, if you enter a password and a pin, that’s essentially a second password, so the same factor, used twice.

In a similar vein, some websites are now using a password along with an identifying picture or small graphic you select and assign at the time you create your account. Again, this is essentially a visual password, and is the same factor, used twice.

Two-step authentication is quicker and easier to implement than two factor authentication, although it is understandably less secure. Even so, it’s a good option for companies that cannot (for whatever reason) build genuine two factor authentication into their systems.

If you’re not sure whether or not you can enable two-factor authentication, or if you’ve got questions about upgrading your system security in general, contact our team. We can evaluate the strength of what you currently have, and make recommendations about how to improve it.

New USB Thief Trojan is Virtually Undetectable

There’s a new threat lurking just beyond the periphery of your network. It’s called USB Thief, and while it doesn’t quite measure up to the most sophisticated attacks currently making the rounds, it is definitely top-tier, and is raising eyebrows as security professionals attempt to analyze it.

That analysis is surprisingly hard to conduct, actually. The malware, called “USB Thief,” is embedded on a flash or thumb drive, and the encryption and defensive mechanisms built into the malware are such that it can’t be copied to another device to experiment or run tests on it.

It’s fairly stealthy too, typically hidden in a DLL (dynamic link library) of some other application, like a web browser. When the software on the thumb drive is run/activated, the Data Thief runs quietly in the background. Because the malware resides wholly on the thumb drive, it leaves no trace of itself or its activities on the computer it’s targeting.

In terms of what this particular malware does, quite simply, it scans the target computer and steals data. It can be configured in a variety of different ways, depending on what the hacker is after, collecting documents, spreadsheets, databases, or harvesting files in a given date range. The sky’s the limit, really. Whatever the hackers want, they can get access to.

The only catch? An unsuspecting user has to actually plug the unknown, untrusted thumb drive into the machine in question.

If you don’t plug the USB into a computer on your network, it can’t hurt you. If you and your staff are not in the habit of plugging in unknown or untrusted thumb drives, then this malware poses little threat to you, but bear in mind that unless you have some protocols in place to identify and track the USB drives you use in the day-to-day conduct of your business, it would be very easy for someone to slip an infected drive into the mix, without your ever knowing about it. Even worse, the payload can obviously be changed at the whim of the hackers to something significantly more destructive than simple data theft.

Don’t be taken unawares. If you are concerned that your system may have been compromised, contact one of our qualified data security consultants, who can help you identify any kinks in your network’s armor, in order to provide maximum security and protection.

Smartphone Sales on the Decline For First Time

It seems that the era of explosive smartphone growth has come to an end. This fact will not surprise most of the people who watch the industry closely, and after all, it was inevitable at some point. There are now more smart devices in service than there are people living on the planet. In the face of that, it was only a matter of time before we started seeing a slowdown in the rate of expansion and adoption.

Since the first appearance of the smartphone, the industry has enjoyed double digit growth in sales, year after year. In 2016, projections are that sales will continue to expand, but at a more modest 7%, and while market saturation explains a portion of the decline, it doesn’t paint the entire picture, which is more complex than you might first think.

In the earliest days of the smartphone, new advancements were often revolutionary as wholly new and unseen features were added on a regular basis. These days, most of the advances and improvements are evolutionary and incremental in nature, rather than revolutionary. If a new feature doesn’t speak to the needs of a particular user, then he or she is likely to hold onto his old phone for longer, and wait for a more attractive incremental update before purchasing a new one. In a similar vein, many carriers are offering longer and more complex deals as part of their service contracts, which is another important factor for the increasing longevity of smartphones.

Finally, economic factors may now be having an influence. In previous years, cellphone sales saw relatively little impact, even during tough economic times, but this no longer appears to be the case. When economic activity declines, many people make the strategic decision to hang onto their existing phones for a little longer, and are reluctant to rush out and buy the very latest that the technology has to offer.

This is not to say that the smartphone market is in any sort of trouble. Indeed, it is as healthy and vibrant as ever, with a number of new and exciting advances on the horizon. It is, however, a maturing market, and with that maturity comes inevitable change.

Airplane WiFi Is About To Get Much Better

One of the worst things about taking business trips is the airplane WiFi. It’s a lesson in patience. More often than not, owing to the slow speeds and anemic bandwidth available, you’re better off not even trying to get anything productive done in-flight.

One company, Gogo, has been trying to change that. Their first in-flight WiFi service was a step in the right direction, but only offered a total of 3Mbps in total available bandwidth, which of course, meant that for each individual user, the rate was significantly less than that, and the system was prone to being overwhelmed by all the demands business travelers were regularly placing on it. That will soon be changing.

Responding to the ever-increasing and largely ignored needs of today’s business travelers, Gogo is in the process of testing the 2.0 version of their service, which promises to link directly to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, replacing the company’s current air-to-ground based system.

The new system promises to offer an impressive increase in available bandwidth, taking it from the current 3Mbps to 75Mbps, but of course, the individual user will not have access to all of that. The plan is to limit individual users to speeds of 25Mbps down, and 0.5Mbps up. The hope is that this move will make it easier to get reliable connectivity speeds and make it possible to do meaningful work in-flight, while rendering it unlikely to impossible to engage in internet phone calls and/or in-flight video conferencing, which would all but cripple even the new system.

There is no firm timetable yet for the roll out of the new system, dubbed “2Ku,” but there is broad agreement that this is a major step in the right direction, and should see a major improvement, in what has been to this point, one of the more annoying aspects of business air travel.

The Dangers of Open Wi-Fi

Have you secured your Wi-Fi connection yet? If not, your neighbors may be “borrowing” your internet connection. That poses some potential dangers to you, and could even set you up for some legal trouble, but how can you tell?

There are a number of indirect indicators that someone may be borrowing your connection. Of these, the most common are things like suspiciously slow connection rates and download speeds, and (if you have data caps) getting a bill for more bandwidth than you know you have used. If one of your neighbors is using your connection to download files illegally, you may also be contacted by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) with a less-than-friendly warning about the activity. Of course, if you want to use more direct methods, then the best way is to simply log onto the web interface of your router. From there, you can monitor all connection activity in real time.

Understand that if your connection is unsecured, and someone else piggybacks on your signal, some of the files on your computer are at risk. Specifically, any file that resides in a shared folder on your computer can be seen, modified and even deleted by an unwanted visitor. If you’ve got sensitive information in those shared folders, that’s setting yourself up for trouble.

The good news is, there’s an easy fix for all of this. Routers come with on-board security. You can configure a password for your router so that not just anyone within range can make use of it. As with most other passwords, you can type it into your computer once, and save the information, so that you’re not prompted for the password every time you want to get online.

If you want to take things a step further, there are some great firewall programs available that can provide an added layer of protection and security. The main point here is that given the dangers, it’s extremely unwise to leave your Wi-Fi connection unsecure. It only takes a few minutes to secure the connection, and will give you peace of mind. If you need help setting up or securing your wireless, give us a call.

Hackers Are Upping the Stakes and Holding Networks Hostage

Remember the ‘Good ol’ days,’ when all hackers would try to do is breach your security, steal your files and crash your servers? Well, things are about to get a lot messier, and more expensive. Over the last few years, there’s been a marked increase in Ransomware. If you’re not familiar with the term, the new threat is basically this: A special kind of malware gets installed on a computer in your network. That computer, and all the data it contains is locked down. You’ve got one chance to decrypt and get your data back. If you enter the wrong key, you lose your data. If the malware gets installed on your server, your whole network could be compromised.

Fortunately, there’s a helpful note on the lockout screen, instructing you to call a certain phone number to get your decryption key, and all you have to do is pay the ransom….

Depending on the machine in question, the data it holds may or may not be worth the ransom demand being made, but in some cases, the attack can have devastating consequences. Take, for example, the recent breach of a Los Angeles hospital. In their case, the whole network was compromised, and all the data on it rendered completely inaccessible. The hackers are demanding a staggering $3.6 million dollars to unlock it.

The move has instantly transported the hospital back into the 1950’s, with the staff reduced to operating from landlines and paper records. The staff is working with the authorities, hoping to catch the hackers as they collect the ransom, but in the interim, the hospital has spent more than a week operating in low-tech mode.

Not every Ransomware threat will have consequences as dire as this one, but as this example illustrates, the hackers are more than capable of causing real world harm, including the possible deaths of patients, whose records are completely inaccessible. The lesson here, is simple. Be on your guard. The hackers of the world are both ruthless and relentless, and they’re coming up with new attack vectors faster than the corporate world can cope with them.

Avoid Cheap USB-C Cables – Or Risk Your Machine

Everybody’s always looking for new ways to save money. A little here, a little there, and before you know it, you can realize significant savings. The problem with that approach, however, is that sometimes, the quest to save a few bucks can wind up being much more expensive in the long run.

Take, for example, the ubiquitous USB plug. There’s a new type of cable, called USB-C, which promises to be the next big thing in plug and play technology, allowing us to connect all our devices, from smart phones to monitors and any and everything else we can dream up going forward. The best part? Not only are these new cables reversible, they’re also backwards compatible and fast, allowing for massive amounts of data to be moved between two connected devices, very quickly.

All the big names in the tech industry are adopting the new standard, and several, including both Apple and Google, have already released new laptops that can take advantage of the new connection cable. There’s just one problem, and it’s a manufacturing one. If you buy low-end USB-C cables, they could easily destroy the equipment you connect them to, by drawing more power than the connected device can cope with, and essentially flash-frying it.

Well-constructed cables are designed with resistors that can sense when too much energy is traveling down the pipeline that the cable represents, preventing, or at least seriously mitigating the instances where an overload could occur. Those things are missing from low-end cables, and could lead to a very expensive problem, both in terms of ruined equipment and lost data.

At this point, there’s exactly one person who is personally vetting the various cables for sale on Amazon.com, and he goes by the username Leung. Leung is a Google engineer, and has been systematically testing every USB-C cable the company sells. If you don’t see a review from him on the cable you’re considering buying, give it a pass.

This is an awkward, clearly less than perfect solution, but until the industry can properly sort the issue out, this is your best bet, if you’re considering buying USB-C cables and taking advantage of all they have to offer.

Microsoft Recalls Surface Pro Power Adapters

Do you own a Surface Pro, Surface Pro 2, or Surface Pro 3? If so, and if you made your purchase before March, 2015, you should know that Microsoft has just issued a recall for the AC power cords for those devices.

According to a spokesman for the company, the recall was issued because over an extended period of time, an extremely small proportion of customers owning these devices reported problems with excessive heat, and a potential fire hazard, caused by the power cords being wound or bound too tightly for an extended period of time.

As part of the recall, Microsoft will provide one free AC power cord replacement to every impacted customer. If you have a device that has been impacted by the recall, you can request your free replacement cord from Microsoft here: https://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-ca/support/warranty-service-and-recovery/powercord.

If you don’t own one, the Surface Pro is a wonderful piece of technology. It’s a full-fledged laptop that can also serve as a touch screen tablet as the need arises. This essentially gives you, the user, the best of both worlds. So far, it has been extremely well received, and it is doubtful that this recall will significantly change that. In fact, given Microsoft’s swift response to their impacted customers, if anything, this move could actually increase the popularity of the devices.

The Surface Pro represents one of the instances in which Microsoft tech actually beat Apple’s. Sensing competition from the Surface Pro, Apple is offering a full sized keyboard attachment for their latest iPad, making it a tablet that can (somewhat) function as a laptop. As a laptop, however, it is woefully underpowered, making the Surface Pro the clear winner in this particular contest.

It may be the case that the Surface Pro runs into additional troubles down the road, but if this recall is any indication, its user base is in good hands. Microsoft has so far done an excellent job supporting the product’s growing user base, which is only increasing confidence in it.

How To Ensure That Your Business Email Is Secure

As almost everyone is aware, Email was the first “killer app.” It very quickly went from being an expensive, idle curiosity, where users had to buy digital stamps in order to send each and every email, to something so ubiquitous that on average, people have 3 email addresses, even if they don’t regularly use them. It’s simple to set up a free email account. You can do it in literally minutes.

The problem, of course, is that when something becomes so commonplace, one of the first things that happens is that it begins to be taken for granted. This fact goes quite some distance toward explaining how and why worms, Trojans, and phishing scams are so wildly successful to this day. It’s not that we don’t know about these things and how they work, it’s simply that email has become such a routine part of our day that we simply don’t think about its security, or potential weaknesses in that security any more.

Maybe we should. No, strike that, we definitely should, and here are a few simple ways to help improve the security of your email. These are things you probably already know, but have put out of your mind for a while, so let’s review:

Password Protection
Your passwords are your first, and ultimately your best line of defense when it comes to security. Passwords should be long (at least 12 characters in length), contain a variety of characters, ranging from lower case, upper case, numeric and special characters, and should be regularly, or at least semi-regularly changed.

Encryption
Your second line of defense is some form of encryption. If you’re not using an encrypted email system for business, then you should upgrade immediately. Otherwise, you are essentially locking your front door with a dead bolt, and leaving the back door wide open with a neon sign blinking above it. As you can imagine, this provides somewhat inadequate protection.

Education
Last but certainly not least is the matter of education. Your employees are a lot like you. They too, tend to take email for granted. It’s an easy thing to do. Simply by periodically reminding everyone about safe email best practices from time to time will go a long way toward keeping those things in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Given how much we have come to rely on email as a means of business communication, you owe it to yourself and your company to make sure it is secure. The good news is that you can implement all of the above today, and in very short order.

How Faster Internet Speeds Will Help Your Business

A few cities across America are currently offering ultra-high-speed broadband connectivity. Many more cities have plans to do so in the near future. Here, we’re talking about speeds of up to 10-gigabits, which is nearly a thousand times faster than the speeds offered by the broadband connections in most homes across the nation.

In business in this day and age, speed is everything. Speed is life. A faster connection improves virtually every aspect of your operation, from better, clearer, lower latency VOIP and virtual meeting connections, to large file transfers, to faster cloud-based computing, and pretty much everything in between.

The ability to transfer increasingly larger files at a rapid pace is critical for prototyping and product development, while the faster speeds enable businesses to do more with cloud computing, including the manipulation and extraction of meaningful business intelligence from Very Large Data Sets, more quickly than ever before. These are specific ways that faster connectivity speeds can improve your business.

The reality is that from a process standpoint, there just aren’t that many more gains to be found. Our processes are, at least for the most part, as tight and as efficient as we can make them, so to take prototyping as an example then, about the only way to further shrink the development cycle is to find new ways to increase speed. Current bandwidth speeds then, become the bottleneck, and the crucial challenge that must be overcome if you want to speed your processes further.

Cities that become early adopters of the Ultra-High-Speed connections will create a powerful strategic advantage for themselves, by being able to offer businesses a service that relatively few other places have. If your city does not currently offer 10-gigabit speeds (or higher), begin asking your local city officials why not, and also begin casting about for locations that do. Otherwise, you risk the very real possibility of being left in the dust by faster, more digitally capable competitors.

Things To Check if Your Wi-Fi Seems Slow

Odds are good that you have a wireless router, either in your office, or at home. If you do, then you’ve probably noticed that some days, your connection just isn’t so great. The reason? More likely than not, it’s interference.

Because all wireless routers use the same set of frequencies, if you live in a heavily populated area, it could be the case that your router’s signal is being “squeezed out” and interfered with by the networks of the people around you. The good news is there’s a simple way to test if this is indeed the case.

The first thing you’ll need is software that scans the area for area networks. There are literally dozens of these, but one of the best, most popular, and easiest to use is Net Stumbler. Downloading this and setting it up takes mere minutes. It’s recommended that you put the software on a laptop, so you can move it around the space to check for competing networks that might be visible from different parts of your house.

Run the software, and it will show you a list of all networks in the area, their signal strengths, and what channel they’re using in the range of channels that wireless routers support. You’ll be able to compare your network (which will also be on the list) with the other networks in the detection range. If you see other networks with good signal strengths using the same channel as yours, it’s likely that you’re seeing interference from that network.

If this is the case, you can switch your router to a channel that your neighbors aren’t using, and in doing so, boost the overall performance of your Internet connection. Changing your router’s channel is a fairly simple, straightforward process, but depending on the type of router you have, will determine how to best change the channel. Search for your routers model number on the web and look for changing Wi-Fi channel.

Running Out of Smartphone Space? Easy Fixes to Solve the Problem

It’s a bit of a paradox. In a world of cheap, ubiquitous storage, most smartphones don’t have a lot of storage, and what’s available to you can fill up quickly. If you don’t keep a close eye on it, you could find yourself running out of room almost before you know what hit you. Fortunately, there are some quick and easy ways to free up badly needed space for the things you care about most. We’ll hit the high spots just below: 

Photos and Videos
For most people, their photo and video collections are the single biggest space stealing culprit. It’s just so easy to shoot a short video clip or snap a photo of something interesting. These days, we do it reflexively. The good news here is that there are lots of great cloud-based options you can use to minimize the number of files you’ve actually got to keep on the phone itself. In fact, Google offers a fantastic service called Google Photos, which allows you to store an unlimited number of pictures on the cloud, free of charge.

Before you move your photos though, you’ll probably want to take the step of going through them to delete duplicates or ones you ultimately don’t want or need. It makes the process of keeping them organized much easier.

Apps
Consider doing some “spring cleaning” where your apps are concerned. We’re all guilty of seeing something that looks interesting at first blush, try it for a day or two, and then never actually get around to using it regularly. You’ve probably got a dozen or more of these taking up space on your phone right now. Every few months or so, do a quick audit, see what you’re not actually using and get rid of them. Quick, easy, and it will save you quite a lot of space.

Invest in a Memory Card
If you’re dead set on keeping most of what you’ve got, buy a memory card and store as much as you can on that, preserving your phone’s native storage for the things that matter most. This isn’t a perfect solution, because some smartphones don’t have memory card slots, but it might work for you, depending on how much extra storage space you need and what model you have.

The day will probably come when smartphones have more storage than we’ll need, but that day is not yet here. Until it is, these types of tricks are necessary.

Need Internet On The Go? Here’s How To Stay Connected

It’s no secret, we live in a world of 24/7 connectivity. It’s become such an integral part of our daily lives that we’ve come to expect it. We’re even increasingly taking our work with us when we go on vacation, but there’s the rub. Depending on where you vacation, you may or may not have access to reliable Internet connectivity. Here are a few ways to ensure that you do, so you’re never far from the files you need.

SIMplify Your Access
This first idea isn’t for the tech novice, but you can buy a local SIM card for your phone. Doing this will enable you to enroll in a data plan that meets your needs, wherever you are. It’s a bit of work, and again, not for the non-technical person, but odds are good that even if you’re not a techie yourself, you know someone who is, and they can help you get the kinks worked out before you go on vacation.

Invest in a Mobile Hotspot
A much simpler version of the above, they now make an increasing array of excellent mobile hotspots. These small, unobtrusive devices represent one additional piece of tech gear you have to pack when you go on vacation, but the upshot is, the internet will be right there waiting for you, almost anywhere in the world you choose to go.

Airplane Wi-Fi
If you need to work while in-flight to your vacation destination, bear in mind that all the major airlines now offer in-flight Wi-Fi. Note that these are unsecured, public access connections, so you’re not going to want to access any sensitive or propriety information while in flight, but you can certainly make good use of the offered connectivity in other ways to keep you connected to the world around you.

Hotel Wi-Fi
The good news is that most major hotels offer Wi-Fi service to their guests, but the Golden Rule of the mobile-connected traveler is to ask before booking! Having reliable Internet access while in your room is almost as important as having a comfortable bed for the travelling professional.

Armed with these four tips and tricks, there aren’t many places in the world you can travel to that you won’t have at least some level of connectivity. Then again, maybe what you’re looking for is a vacation where you can unplug and get away from the techno-world for a while. If that’s the case, disregard these suggestions and go have fun.

Upgrade Your Browser Now, Or Else

A year and a half ago, Microsoft drew a line in the sand, making the pronouncement that January 12, 2016 would be the date of the last security patch for Internet Explorer versions lower than IE 9. Their recommendation is that all users upgrade either to Internet Explorer version 11, or the new Microsoft browser, “Edge.” Note that IE 9 will still receive security updates, but only on machines also running Windows Vista, and IE 10, running on Windows Server 2012, will still be covered. Everyone else needs to upgrade to 11, or Edge, or, as many consumers are choosing to do, simply switch to a new browser altogether.

In this case, Microsoft’s logic is impeccable. Recently, they’ve been trimming their costs by eliminating support for legacy systems, including the venerable Windows XP OS, which was the most widely used operating system of all time, and ran Enterprise-level applications for years. Unfortunately, many people aren’t convinced of the potential risks. To this day, there are still some 340 million people still using versions of the software that are soon to no longer be eligible for updates or security patches.

That matters, and it matters a great deal, because love it or hate it, Internet Explorer is, hands down, the most widely used browser on the ‘net, boasting a presence on more than 1.5 billion computers. Yes, you can argue that the accounting methodology is a little dodgy, since IE comes standard with the Windows OS, but the fact remains that millions of people use it consistently, simply because it’s included and many don’t know there are other options.

That’s changing, and many people, upset by the mandate, are simply leaving the Internet Explorer ecosystem entirely and opting for one of the competing browser brands. Google’s Chrome has been a consistent winner, picking up many of the users fleeing from those older Microsoft products, but Mozilla’s Firefox, another alternative web browser, is also picking up its fair share of converts too.

One way or another though, the end is coming in a matter of days. If you haven’t switched by then, you’re needlessly putting your data at risk by using a product that’s no longer supported. This is an easy, painless fix. The potential fallout from missing the deadline, however, could put your company’s security in jeopardy.

Are Your Internet Connected Devices Vulnerable?

As internet devices go, PCs, laptops, and handhelds are all pretty secure, which may sound strange, given the number of successful hacks we’ve seen this year. They’re loaded with security features that make them relatively robust, and able to fend off a variety of attacks.

By comparison, the rapidly growing army of Internet objects are virtually, and often completely defenseless. These could be items such as health and fitness monitors, security cameras, baby monitors, kitchen appliances, video game systems, and just about any device that you connect to the Internet. Many of these simply have no security features at all and some of these objects use recycled encryption keys, meaning that if a hacker breaks into one, he can break into hundreds of thousands of other object sharing the same key.

It is estimated that by 2020, there will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 billion Internet-connected objects online, and the number will only explode from there. If your company has any Internet connected objects in its arsenal they’re much more vulnerable to attack than the PCs, laptops, and handhelds you’ve got connected. Any of these can be used as a potential point of entry for a hacker.
Recently, a new Google-powered search engine called Censys joined the Internet’s ecosystem. Its purpose? To track every vulnerable Internet object online, and it’s really good at its job. The array of devices you’ll find on the Censys list is both staggering and terrifying. On it, you’ll find everything from ATMs to an array of medical devices, computers embedded in modern automobiles, and even control systems for power plants that supply energy to thousands. Again, everything on this list appears because it is vulnerable. These devices lack even rudimentary security features, meaning that even a casual, hobbyist-level hacker can easily take control of them.

Anyone can use the search engine. The good news is, you can use it yourself to identify specific objects on your own company’s LAN to check for vulnerabilities.

The Internet of Things is still in its infancy, and the security measures we take for granted on our PCs simply haven’t caught up with the millions of objects we’re adding to the Internet. Until that happens, your level of vulnerability increases. Take precautions and research the security of devices that you are going to add to your network to minimize your risk and exposure.