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Staying Safe: How to Prepare for Ransomware

RansomwareThe cybercrime game can be faddish at times, with cyber crooks all briefly piling on the “flavor of the month” attack before collectively moving on to the next big thing. One thing we can be certain of after the past year, however, is that ransomware has been added to the regular menu. It’s here to stay.

How Ransomware Works

It’s no wonder the dark underbelly of the internet is so taken with ransomware attacks. For keyboard-based ne’er-do-wells it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

A ransomware attack begins much like any other cyberattack. The bad guys get into the target system by the usual methods; most frequently via a phishing email or a spear-phishing email. This opening is used to plant the malware, and it is the nature of this malware package that sets ransomware apart.

The malware, once it gains access to the system, encrypts all the data it can find with an encryption key known only to the bad guys, who then demand lots and lots of money in exchange for getting the data back.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

A business that has been hit with a successful ransomware attack usually has only 2 options: say goodbye to the data, or pay the money.

No business can afford to lose all their data, so most companies end up paying the ransom, but this has unintended consequences. Now that the bad guys have access to the system, it’s trivial for them to get back in at a later date – some even go so far as to install a backdoor into the system so they can come and go as they please. Having walked away richer the first time, what’s to stop them from going back to the well a second or even third time? They know that the company is willing to pay, and so they make the company pay.

Thankfully, while the consequences of a ransomware attack can be more dire than other types of attack, they are no more difficult to prevent, or to deal with afterwards – given a certain amount of preparation.

Ransomware Defense

The first line of defense is prevention, and this involves solid email security that can detect and remove email-based threats before they reach the recipient. Another key part of prevention, or at least mitigation, is implementing a multi-layered security solution so that breaches can’t compromise the entire system. 

Finally, under preparation and aftermath, companies need to establish and follow a business continuity plan that incorporates real-time backups of all important data.

Real-time backups can allow companies to more or less ignore ransom demands. If infected with ransomware, they can simply roll back the clock to a point before the malware hit the system and continue on, as if nothing had happened, with minimal data or productivity loss.

Conclusion

According to the FBI, ransomware attacks in 2015 were responsible for ransom payments of just over $1.5 million. In 2016 that amount was almost a thousand times more – close to $1 billion. This huge increase is because of two factors: ransomware attacks are hard to stop, and the bad guys are almost impossible to catch.

If the numbers above are any indication, it will be almost impossible for most businesses to avoid a ransomware attack in 2017. Given an environment where ransomware attacks are an inevitability, being properly prepared is the only viable option.

The Explosive Growth of the Cloud

Cloud GrowthThe IT landscape is shifting, and cloud services aren’t just center stage – they’re overwhelming the stage.

The Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Spending Guide, a publication of market intelligence firm IDC, analyzed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) spending numbers across various global markets and a range of industries. The findings are clear: with a 2017 spending increase of 24.4% over 2016, cresting $120 million worldwide, cloud growth outstrips all other IT growth by a factor of seven. And the rate of growth is forecasted to remain high — above 20% per year through 2020.

SaaS Domination

Cloud computing is still dominated by SaaS applications, though there’s no guarantee that SaaS will remain the flagship offering of the cloud. SaaS represents about two-thirds of current cloud spending, but its growth is slower than IaaS and PaaS trajectories: through 2020, PaaS is expected to grow at a rate of 30.1% each year, while IaaS outstrips it at 32.2% annually.

Adoption by Industry

Not all industries are seeing equal cloud adoption. Manufacturing, professional services, and finance are forecasted to spend the most on cloud services, accounting for around a third of all cloud spending. The professional services industry also leads the pack in cloud growth, with a spending rate growing by almost 24% per year.

Cloud Spending

Despite the potential expense of moving large organizations (and entrenched infrastructure) to the cloud, companies with over 1,000 employees aren’t shy about migration: they account for over half of all cloud spending, and their spending rate is increasing faster than companies with fewer employees.

Global Cloud

Generating almost two-thirds of all global cloud revenue, the United States is the largest current public cloud market – though the Asia/Pacific region (Japan not included) and Latin America are each growing at faster rates: Asia/Pacific at 28%, and Latin America at 26.6% annually. In fact, globally, the US has one of the slowest cloud growth markets, increasing at a rate just shy of 20% per year.

As the market matures, it’s likely that previously untapped markets will come to regard the cloud as an essential piece of infrastructure. In particular, European markets have been more resistant to cloud adoption than those in the US, but they show healthy growth which is forecasted to continue through the end of the decade.

Domestically and worldwide, for large companies and small, the cloud is growing – and it’s not predicted to stop any time soon.

How Top Insurance Companies Are Pushing Digital Innovation

Digital InnovationNew leaders in the insurance industry continue to invest in and drive digital innovation, which is particularly apparent in Europe. When research firm Pierre Audoin Consultants (PAC) surveyed 200 mid- to large-sized insurance companies in Europe, the company discovered that they are adopting a number of different strategies across the enterprise.
Paving the Way for Digital Innovation

Because of the appointing of new CEOs across 70% of Europe’s biggest insurance companies within the last 18 months, businesses are integrating more innovative IT strategies. As a result of the recent threat to traditional insurers from innovations in startup, manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities companies, many insurers have taken steps to avoid becoming irrelevant.

Out of the 200 senior business and IT executives that PAC spoke with, 84% have developed formal innovation strategies with dedicated budgets and teams behind them.
The Need for Improved Customer Engagement

One of the biggest motivators behind digital innovation is the demand for better customer engagement, which is true for many industries. Mobile apps are one of the innovations made over the years that have helped improve customer relations and boost loyalty, subsequently increasing customer spending. PAC found that 60% of the insurers surveyed reinforced the need for improved engagement with customers, making it their core focus regarding digital innovation.

Learning from Retail Banking Companies

One industry that can teach insurers how to be more technologically innovative is the retail banking sector, which has gone from lagging in customer engagement to becoming one of the most tech-friendly industries. Many retail banking firms have developed and deployed mobile apps that make operations much more convenient for customers.

Insurance companies have also since transformed from firms with poorer customer experiences to those making waves through innovation. For instance, one free app that has made a difference is known as Trov, developed by Axa Insurance. This app allows customers to easily insure individual possessions using a smartphone, which was an impossible task not long ago.
Potential Obstacles that Insurers Still Face

Innovations may be taking place within the insurance industry, but there are still certain issues that these companies face. Some companies that PAC surveyed cited stringent regulation as the largest obstacle preventing innovation, while one-third stated that outdated infrastructures and technology have been the biggest problems. Others also mentioned that a majority of their business applications are capable of supporting future digital innovation strategies.

Despite the existing shortcomings, insurance companies will likely continue to evolve as they adapt to the digital age, implementing mobile apps and cloud-based communications.

Advantages of BYOD

BYODThe edge that small companies have over larger ones is they can move faster and aren’t bound by restrictive agendas. Small businesses will more likely allow employees to work on the device of their choice. It’s a win-win for the owner and staff members who enjoy flexibility in the workplace. Here’s a deeper look at how bring your own device (BYOD) programs help streamline businesses.

BYOD Cuts Costs

The most obvious advantage to BYOD for a company is that it saves money. The company won’t have to invest in as many computers or software licenses, as workers are responsible for bringing their own laptops, notebooks, and smartphones. The firm will not have to keep upgrading hardware and software, and it will cut costs on security.

One of the most valuable advantages to BYOD is that it provides the company with a safety net in case of a power outage or other disruption. Not everyone will be affected by the same network conditions. Businesses will be able to redirect IT personnel to focus on cost efficiency.

Evidence of Successful BYOD Strategies

Harrison Associates is a health care organization that embraces the BYOD concept. By allowing employees to bring their own devices and providing them with IT support, the company has been able to attract experienced talent.

The firm has used a formal BYOD solution that includes Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS) as a more affordable alternative to shared systems management software Citrix. This solution has led to a reduction in support calls and downtime. Another advantage is that it allows employees to see all applications in one area.

Another organization that has enjoyed success with device flexibility is independent mobile games developer Hutch, led by CEO Shaun Rutland. His policy has been to let employees get their work done with the least amount of friction. Some of the cloud services that help shape the company’s communications are Google Apps for Business, Dropbox, GitHub, Slack, and Atlassian.

The company offers maximum device policy flexibility that includes security and management for its workers. Many of them connect and do assignments as needed. The result is a more confident and productive workforce with less than 3% staff turnover.

Terms and Agreement Language

The best way to secure a commitment from employees that they will comply with company policies is by issuing them a Terms and Agreement form to sign. Their signature will confirm that they have read and understand the policy. The form should specify who pays for communications devices and services and who is responsible for damages that may occur to a device.

One area that is essential to address is setting a policy for personal and professional use. Some companies use software that splits a device into two separate compartments. Employees will be expected to not mix work and personal data. The terms should specify devices, job roles, and security requirements. It should also explain remote policies on network use and disciplinary action for not meeting requirements.

The Front-Office Transformation of the Modern CIO

Customer ExperienceTraditional thinking often relegates technology employees – even executives like the CIO and CTO – as back-office positions, supporting the day-to-day operations of a company without directly interfacing with customers or impacting the bottom line. However, as customers move their business interactions to an increasingly online and social media-driven world, CIOs find that the customer experience is increasingly within their purview. The savvy CIO will finds ways to focus resources on improving the customer experience, which can make a big difference across the entire sales funnel.

Reputation Economies

Reputation economies are growing fast in today’s digital and interconnected world, with word of mouth having a direct and proven impact on sales. With low online barriers for both complaints and praise, customers are likely to take to Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to call out outstanding customer experiences – and disappointing ones. In fact, poor word-of-mouth alone is estimated to cost US companies $41 billion each year, and that number doesn’t count the cost of customers who have a bad experience and simply turned away, never completed a purchase, or never returned.

More and more of a customer’s experience with a company is filtered through the online and technological presence of the company. Between 2015 and 2016, for the first time in history, consumers became more likely to make purchases onlinethan in a brick-and-mortar store, and everything from fresh groceries to B2B enterprise data solutions are moving onto the internet. This means that a CIO is positioned to control one of the most important front-office fields within a company.

Managing the Customer Experience

Content management systems (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems are two of the basic platforms for managing the customer experience. The CRM system monitors and analyzes customer response through a variety of points of contact, from website hits to call center interactions, delivering actionable data to CIO teams. Meanwhile, the CMS tailors a customer’s experience to their needs and preferences.

For example, the CRM for a design software company might track statistics on website hits, and discover that marketing and product information pages are overwhelmingly visited by designers with high-resolution, multi-monitor setups – whereas later in the sales funnel, orders are placed by executives on mobile devices such as tablets, or more middle-of-the-road desktops with monitors. Understanding this breakdown allows a CIO to target each visitor persona with a website experience modeled for their unique environment, leading to positive responses from the customer.

Bringing the CIO and technology staff into the front office may require a hard look at the scope of the position, as well as re-training, clarifying business goals, and auditing existing processes. But the results can bring the power of digital transformation to the company’s growth and sales.

Security Budgets Continue to Soar, But Is It Enough?

SecuritySecurity is now a vital concern for businesses across several industries. However, investments in privacy and defense should have been implemented years ago. With cyber crime now an international epidemic, why have so many companies waited so long to invest in cybersecurity measures? The following sheds some light on whether or not it’s too late to invest in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity Is an Increasing Concern

Cybersecurity is a growing concern for many businesses, and the number of high-profile breaches continues to grow each year. In 2015, there were approximately 781 data breaches across the U.S. – the second highest year on record for security invasions. According to industry monitors, 40% of those breaches happened entirely in the business sector.

With this in mind, industry experts have predicted mass-scale investments in cybersecurity for 2017. Here are a few statistics based on Business Insidermagazine and other industry publications:

  • An estimated $655 billion will be invested in cybersecurity measures between 2015 and 2020.
  • Nearly $2.77 trillion in security investments was estimated for 2016 – far above the $75.4 billion in spending that took place in 2015.
  • These numbers suggest that businesses are just now catching on to the importance of cybersecurity.

Are Recent Security Investments Enough?

Are these recent security investments enough to combat the rising number of intrusions? According to Radware, companies that are only now investing in cybersecurity protocols are way behind. This is due to new threats that are evolving at rapid rates, so much so that even the latest security applications and programs are not able to contest new strains of malware, adware, and other viruses.

Companies cannot afford to sit around and wait for the next best cybersecurity solution. Industry experts recommend the following:

  • Never procrastinate when it comes to protecting enterprise hardware, software, applications, and general infrastructure.
  • Work with leading vendors to develop a sound and proactive security platform that can combat prior and new threats.
  • Strong security platforms are based on solid foundations; core policies and processes for data availability, integrity, access, and confidentiality must be in place.

 

The Rising Costs of Security

IBM recently estimated that the average cost of security breaches in 2016 was $4 million. This was up from $3.8 million in 2015 – and is slated to grow even more in 2017. With this in mind, businesses have to stop scrambling with last minute endeavors to protect corporate data. They simply need to agree on one comprehensive and cohesive security platform that will prevent massive revenue losses.

The longer businesses wait to implement cybersecurity initiatives, the more susceptible they will be to digital intrusions. It will also be harder for them incorporate security measures in the future, especially if infrastructure has already been jeopardized.

How Learning Sales Can Help IT Teams

t2-jan-blog-2Disruption of emerging trends constantly keeps the IT industry alert — or at least it should in certain cases. Some of the buzz terms that define new developments in technology include Internet of Everything, digital transformation, and microservices.

Meanwhile, the cloud, containers, and the Internet of Things (IoT) appear to be established norms that aren’t going away. Furthermore, many companies aspire to integrate downloadable applications with their services. Here are reasons computer consultants need to balance focus on these developments with sales.

Innovations vs. Distractions

One of the biggest challenges of the tech support industry is to sort between meaningful innovations and marketing distractions. Is it necessary to devote time to every trend, such as the consumerization of IT? It actually depends on the goals, resources, and clientele of each provider, since there are multiple ways to resolve any specific problem.

Making the field more complicated is the niche branding of “as a Service” concepts that have been inspired by the SaaS boom. The question becomes: how much time should firms that market themselves as tech experts spend on learning trends that may have little effect on their markets?

The answer needs to stay close to the organization’s budget and the needs of existing clients. If a technology provider invests too much in new technology, this can drain the budget or lock in clients it cannot efficiently serve. Too much focus on how to manage multiple data streams can lead to diminishing returns, which is why it helps to specialize in certain areas while still offering broad packages.

Many times new technology is redundant and merely introduces new semantics to the industry. AWS EC2 instances, for example, essentially equate to VMware vSphere virtual machines (VMs). Even for the most experienced tech talent, this proliferation of variations can create confusion while draining resources on learning subtle differences in these services. One of the best ways for tech professionals to filter through this cutter is to learn sales.


What Tech Pros Should Know About Sales

Although IT and sales are often considered separate professions, learning sales helps tech experts adopt valuable skills that can enhance their careers by influencing colleagues and technology within the companies they work for. Understanding the sales process gives tech professionals an edge in problem solving when they deal directly with customer needs. It helps them communicate and see through marketing hype better instead of thinking in terms of technical jargon.

Here are basic sales steps that can help tech pros advance their careers by making better decisions for customers:

  1. Set the stage for expectations and resource needs by focusing on solving a problem instead of promoting features.
  2. Master solutions by knowing the differences in when and where to apply them.
  3. Improve consistency and control by applying the solution to a process.
  4. Deliver persuasive presentations that point toward clear and logical decisions.
  5. Move the pitch forward by focusing on the end result.
  6. Emphasize value while weighing costs attributed to time and labor.
  7. Be conscious of time and attitude factors that influence mindset.

Even though there’s an industry stereotype that tech support and sales don’t mix, it’s advantageous for tech support teams to develop sales skills, which can contribute to customer satisfaction as well as enhance their careers. The more skills they can bring to their organizations, the better career opportunities they will have.

Securing the Right Levels of Encryption

EncryptionIn a business environment where workplace collaboration is now considered the norm, how are consumer-focused companies implementing end-to-end security? According to industry experts, many commercial entities are simply emulating the security infrastructures of companies like Apple and WhatsApp.

To combat unsolicited messaging and foreign intrusion, Apple revamped its security infrastructure to protect all its iPhone users and data. Similarly, WhatsApp amended its messaging technologies so that no one could access messages except for end-user clients. These changes have served as models for businesses wishing to incorporate stronger levels of encryption for their communications technologies.

Issues with Encryption

While encryption is now commonplace for collaborative efforts, it is still not easy for companies with cloud-based messaging and communications. This is due to the following obstacles:

  • Cloud technologies are consistently changing and evolving, resulting in newer encryption modules that must be adopted and implemented by subscribers.
  • Cloud-based services are now adding more features, including bots, artificial intelligence, and even third-party integration.
  • The above-mentioned features are simply known as “valued additions”. However, this means that third party vendors will still have full access to user data and content.

To tackle this form of “accepted intrusion”, companies in the cloud are looking for stronger and more durable forms of encryption. In fact, they are seeking codes and programs that will protect user data and transmissions from even recognized vendors and services providers. In an industry that is blanketed with so many forms of encryption, is it possible to secure the right balance between content access and privacy?

Encryption Solutions in a Nutshell

There is no concrete answer to the current encryption dilemma. However, IT experts still play a pivotal role in encrypting codes and establishing access, eligibility, and defense for messaging programs. In other words, companies cannot go either way with encryption; not too insecure, but also not too clamped down. They must collaborate to find common ground and acceptable levels of encryption for all parties involved.

To that end, businesses should use fully locked down end-to-end consumer messaging tools. This means companies can take advantage of existing encryption and security codes without investing in other paid messaging apps.

Enterprise Messaging Providers

While WhatsApp seems to be a plausible solution, it is not the only program in town. Enterprise messaging providers also feature end-to-end encryption databases for all messaging platforms. However, services like Slack and HipChat are designed to be less strict when it comes to recognized intrusion. The latter includes IT involvements, especially during periods of downtime and maintenance. Certain clients may also have access to these internal chat databases, which can seriously impact privacy. With this in mind, user content and data can still be breached, and hackers may easily be able to intrude as well.

Green Tech—The Future of the Data Center

t2-december-2In the past few years, there has been an incredible surge in data center construction around the world. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon are spending huge amounts of capital to build them in places like Singapore, Taiwan, and Tokyo. The reason for this unprecedented growth is the expanding global need for both business and personal connections.

However, the amount of energy used to operate data centers is extreme. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, data centers are “the energy hogs of the computing world,” and a study released in June 2016 found that “US data centers consumed about 70 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2014… representing 2 percent of the country’s total energy consumption… equivalent to the amount consumed by about 6.4 million average American homes that year.”

This type of energy consumption places huge drains on global infrastructures. Therefore, a push to develop energy-efficient data centers is at the forefront of IT concerns.

The Definition of a Green Data Center

Green data centers are those that are designed for maximum performance and efficiency, using a minimal amount of resources. Basically, that means that all of the hardware (the mechanical, electrical, and computing equipment) is arranged and operated in a way that reduces the environmental impact of the data center. There are a number of energy-saving strategies used to reduce consumption in data centers, including:

  • Low emission building materials
  • Water reuse and recycling systems (much water is required for cooling purposes in these industrial-scale facilities)
  • Alternative energy technologies (new cooling systems, photovoltaics, and innovative heating units)

Reducing energy consumption at the data center does more than help our environment; it offers OPEX reductions for the owners.

Current Data Center Condition

Over the last decade, there has been an incredible surge in the need for industrial facilities housing large amounts of server and other hardware equipment. Designed specifically for the needs of electronics, these structures require massive amounts of environmental and security controls. However, their proximity to users does determine certain latency issues. Therefore, the abundance of affordable smart devices and increasing ranges of connectivity, combined with a plethora of new “as-a-service” offerings, has generated high demand for more data centers around the world.

The fact that cloud connectivity presents a number of cost-saving and performance improvement strategies for enterprises has also contributed to data center expansion, and even the number of providers who are “born in the cloud.” According to Gartner, IT is projected to shell out nearly $1 trillion over the next five years transitioning to cloud computing services. That type of infrastructure will depend on more data centers for support.

Green Futures

Data center development has increased, and likewise the energy required for operation. The good news is that the global commitment for developing more green facilities is strong. By investing in conservation and reuse equipment, providers will be able to transfer the savings on to the end user. In addition, although the initial capital expenditure is higher than traditional construction, a green data center delivers measurable ROI and long-term reductions in operating costs.

Understanding VoIP Issues and How to Solve Them

t2-december-1Although Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) offers superior quality and service compared to legacy private branch exchange (PBX) systems, situations can still occur that frustrate businesses and customers. Having reliable, clear call service is necessary to maintain a professional image. Dropped or choppy communications generates a bad impression and has the power to reduce revenues.

Fortunately, by knowing the reasons for poor VoIP service, companies can solve those problems swiftly. Following are the most common causes of call quality difficulties, and solutions for eliminating them.

#1. Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Often, dropped calls and persistent sound quality issues are related to the business’s ISP. Many SMBs make the switch to VoIP in order to reduce costs, but fail to calculate the exact impact it will have on their total bandwidth consumption. Other issues include the speed or hardware used. Companies that are still using cable connections rather than fiber-optic service can suffer. Ookla offers a free speed test that can be used to determine current capacity.

Another ISP problem results from having two different providers deliver VoIP and network connectivity. Since call issues can usually be traced back to packet priority, voice transmissions are basically vying for precedence over all other types of data transmissions. So if someone in the office starts a download, call quality suffers.

Solution: Switching to a comprehensive provider that offers hosted phone service in a unified business communication service provides companies with effective packet routing.

#2. Call Interference

Crackly sounds, buzzing, fading in and out, and other disruptions make it difficult for people to communicate. This issue is generally referred to as “jitter,” which is essentially a delay in the reception of voice packets. Although the packets are transmitted in the correct order, evenly spaced, and in a continual stream, they aren’t received in the right order. Causes of jitter include network congestion, unsuitable routing, or faulty configuration.

Solution: Moving to a single provider can resolve these problems; or, companies can increase their bandwidth, place calls above all other traffic (voice receives priority), or overcome the issues by resolving hardware incompatibilities.

#3. Echoes and Delays

When the call sounds like it has been placed inside a cave, the echo heard is the result of latency issues. Voice transmission delays that are longer than 50ms can be discerned by users, and make communications extremely frustrating. This type of propagation delay is irksome, but latency is also a result of improper prioritization.

Solution: Purchasing new hardware, arranging for policy-based network management, and instituting packet prioritization can be accomplished either in-house or by contracting with a service provider.

#4. Dropped Calls and Inconsistent Quality

Companies that suffer from fluctuating VoIP quality and frequent dropped calls present an unprofessional appearance. Although quality problems can be addressed using increased bandwidth, sometimes the issues are a result of inadequate switches, routers, or service.

Solution: Choosing a provider that offers active monitoring and troubleshooting is a good start. However, companies can also check equipment configuration and look at options for simplifying their networks.

As more and more businesses move from legacy PBX to VoIP, the need for

superior service becomes clear. Contracting with a single provider offers network performance solutions that solve many call problems for the modern enterprise.