The Communication Revolution

communication revolution

Communication Revolution

Nice to talk to you, how are things going?
Can you drop me a day and time for a meeting?
When can we talk about the training you need?

You know I see around a hundred questions a day coming my way in various guises and usually keep on top of them, but I have noticed recently that I have dropped the ball on a couple and  wondered why.

I use technology for most things and particularly admin, tasks and communication so how can this be happening? Well in fact the very saviour that I use to keep me organised is the very thing that is making me drop the ball.

How is technology failing me?

I have been doing some historical research and asking the question of how we communicate and of course using my age, no comments here please, as I remember using various versions of communication over my years in industry and business.

Here is a rough breakdown of what I experienced: –

  • Phoned into the office once or twice a day to see if there were any messages for me
  • Got a pager that bleeped when the office needed me, then found a phone and phoned into the office
  • Technology improved and I got given a pager that had a scrolling screen across the top and I could read the messages. This was amazing, where was technology taking us?
  • Got my first company car with built in car phone, large box in the boot and aerial on the roof. The handset took up most of the foot well and a microphone hung in your face as you drove. But, hey that was advances in technology and don’t be fooled I loved it. It also meant I now couldn’t hide anywhere.
  • The next was a company car with a cradle and no large box in the boot and no aerial on the roof. The phone had it all built in and could be removed from the car. What…I was lost for words and it was great. It fitted in my pocket and I could call the office or any clients I wanted. This was just amazing.
  • Then on top of all this I was given a small portable compute that had all my product range on it that I was selling and could work out a quote on the spot for a client. I was then hooked on technology. The tech kept me informed and allowed me to be more flexible in what I was doing, simply brilliant. I could juggle all these no problem and I was mobile even back then.

So where are we now? And I still haven’t answered why technology is letting me down?

Yes, sorry was caught up in nostalgia when times were developing fast and things were simpler.

Now I sound like my gran.

Well, now we have the Internet, the cloud, the web, back then we didn’t so communication was done differently. Now I can get communication from all sections of the Internet that I am active in and believe you me there are a lot of them. Because I am also mobile a lot of the time these communications come in as I am on the hop and I read them quickly and think I will answer that when I get back to base and have time to think it through and check a few things out.

So where do my communications come from now? Well here is the current list and I may have missed some: –

  • Letter, or snail mail as it is called.
  • Emails, quite a lot of emails to various accounts I use
  • Direct messages I get from Facebook, three possible accounts
  • Direct messages I get from Twitter, three possible accounts.
  • Emails I get from LinkedIn
  • Messages I get from my blog I founded and write
  • Messages form my website activity
  • Messages from any LinkedIn groups I am in
  • Messages from Facebook pages I manage
  • Google Hangouts, sometimes a few open at one time talking to more than one person, like holding two phone calls at once.
  • Skype, which I must admit I don’t use a lot really
  • Phone calls on landline and on mobile
  • Text messages
  • Even my file server at home emails me when it updates or has had a problem…….

So my dilemma is that I have on occasion been out the office and mobile and got a message through one of these mediums and read it over and thought I will answer that once I can put a reasonable response together. I then get back to base and there is something in my mind about a message I must answer so I open my emails and check each account, all emails have been read, which of course they have as I looked at it when I was out and about. So it doesn’t jump out at me.

Or on occasion I can’t find an email and think how else did the message come in and spend a bit of time going through all of the above until I hopefully stumble across it. An example recently was one that I had read over when I was out and about that it was a direct message and then my day got busy and confusing. When I got back to base I looked and it wasn’t there. I checked emails and other areas and couldn’t find it. Finally I think found it as a direct message to one of my Twitter accounts I use.

So maybe you can see my dilemma, the very thing I have embraced to make my profile and business public and found easily is also the very thing that is causing me to be juggling so many forms and ways to communicate that I occasionally drop the ball.

What’s the solution, or is there one?

Well, the solution is obviously a difficult one. I could peal back the activity to the essential areas and not over complicate things. Hence only check and receive important messages. But being into all the aspects of the current Internet I find this difficult to rationalise. I even teach people to use it to its fullest. No I will just have to be more organised again and make sure I am aware of the source of communications that come my way and prioritise and deal with them as appropriate. A few extra hours each day might be useful.

What are you experiences of this phenomenon, is it something you have experienced or is it just me?

Working Smarter in 2015

working smarter

Time for change

I finished a recent post with a short section about what can change in 2015. With the phrase Working Smarter.

Now Working Smarter can mean many things to different people. I come from a sales background and smarter was always a way of measuring statistics. Smart targets, now as much as I agree with these they tended to leave a bad taste in my mouth and memory if you like. No matter how I set targets and made them measurable and REALISTIC, my direct line managers had figures of their own and their statistics to back them up. So their targets and figures for me were always away above where I thought they should be and in my mind were unachievable straight from the starting block –  UNREALISTIC.

So when I use the phrase working smarter, don’t panic and start battening down the hatches awaiting the worst.

The Best way.

Having now been in training for some time and working with loads of companies, organisations and departments, all having a huge range of disciplines, I have looked at things from more angles than most people and have come to conclusions that help when encouraging things to change.

Oh! Who wants to Work Smarter: –

  • Individuals can work smarter
  • Teams can work smarter
  • Departments can work smarter
  • Companies can work smarter

From the management team to the individuals on the shop floor everyone can do at least one thing smarter in 2015. Doesn’t sound a lot does it, but when it all adds up, companies change.

I have seen training two people in a department and the company benefitting to a degree that probably couldn’t have been properly explained prior to the training. Time saving techniques freeing up time. Using tired applications to a more productive level. It is amazing and I really should video a session and show you the response from people becoming enthused by something they have maybe used for a long time.

You see working smarter, is sometimes doing the same work you do every day, but doing it in a different way that creates results and gets you enthused. Freeing up resources and getting more out of them.

Don’t let things stay the same, make changes.

Don’t keep doing things the way you always have been, make changes, and make 2015 the year of blowing the dust away and doing things differently. It isn’t really rocket science, but with some help and encouragement and consultancy it can make a change that could revolutionise the way you do things at all levels.

What are your thoughts and are you going to do anything dfferent in 2015? Let us know.

BIG DATA EXPOSED

big data

An SME owner’s (non-technical) perspective on the impact of Big Data.

People like to compare, categorise and count. From basic ‘one, two, many’ counting systems to hyper-complex variations on different types of infinities, we seem to be impelled to view patterns, detect trends and evaluate our daily experiences, individually and collectively, through numerical frameworks. At a mundane level, we value our work input in terms of money earned and measure business performance by accounting for profit or loss; more imaginatively, we give dimension to the universe by calculating light-years between galaxies to which none of us could ever travel, but which we like to count anyway!

Over the last 60 years, computers have enabled us to count (and record our totals) at an increasing pace and to a magnitude that would have appeared both incomprehensible and functionally senseless to many of those early IT pioneers. “Why would we ever need to count so much, so quickly?”, they might have asked. The current benefits of storing petabytes of data on the internet on a daily basis (Google processes lots of petabytes, by the way) were not so obvious in the 1950s, when the technological challenges were focused on making the great mainframes hulks more reliable and keeping them cool enough to work. But now, our IT capabilities have made the compilation of massive data-sets seem almost routine. Big Data, as a concept, is emerging as the latest evolutionary step in a line which includes its earlier diminutive cousins – relational databases and data-warehousing.

But doesn’t the ‘Big’ in Big Data signify that it is only of relevance to big organisations and groups which can access and analyse it? As a small B2B business owner, I don’t believe that to be the case, so here’s my take on what the existence of Big Data means for SMEs. I’ll start with two brief scene-setting questions – How have we created it and why do we think it’s worth having?  

How have we been able to collect so many data-sets, public and private, in such a comparatively short period of time from the birth of the modern computer? The expansion of IT and the internet into daily living– and their adoption and understanding by the masses in the last two decades via PCs and smartphones – have allowed us to record our counts super-massively and with unimaginable speed. The sense of amazement I felt in the late 70s when hearing that a program would be able to carry out the calculations necessary for a college project OVERNIGHT appears embarrassingly naïve today. We’ve all heard the one about the computing power that guided the first men to land on the moon – that there’s more ‘oomph’ in a modern washing-machine chip now than in the whole of NASA in 1969 – stretches the comparison somewhat, but it makes the point that almost-microscopic processors are now orders of magnitude more powerful than their pioneering mainframe progenitors. And today, when we can link up computers in very large arrays to view the universe, analyse statistics on diseases via PCs connected across continents or announce our every waking thought on vast social media ‘soapboxes’, then our sense of conquest – that there is no piece of recordable data out there which we cannot collect and store – becomes limitless. Which leads me to ‘why’?

Why is having Big Data beneficial? That’s been part-answered in my introductory comments. We like to collect, compare and count things, and to me, in a sense, the numbers we can define and then amass on our storage systems have become those ‘things’. So, some of the answer as to why we deem it worthwhile creating evermore data is because “we can” (the mountain’s there, so climb it).  Big Data’s existence, as a by-product of the internet-age, reaffirms to us that we can keep tallies of what matters to us. However, whereas, for the first 50 years of the technical development of IT, increasing memory and speeding up the circuitry to pipe the 1s and 0s to their storage point was the main focus (the digits were the means to the end), once the engineering reached a level of efficiency and reliability to guarantee operating stability, deciding what could now be done with the data thereby collected – the things as objects – became the scientific quest.

So, the question has moved on to become ‘what’s the point of Big Data – how can we extract information we believe to lie in the layer upon layer of digital substrates that form the internet’? Can Big Data, envisaged as a constantly growing entity it itself, a real-time flow of interactions across networks  between people and organisations, now be mined by those with the sophisticated analytical skills and insight to ask the right questions, to yield motherlodes of information that could improve our understanding of human behaviour in a vast range of contexts? The answer, of course, is yes it can.

At a practical level, I’ve mentioned Big Data being analysed by astronomers and medical researchers to give but two small examples of how it is being exploited to test theories and hypotheses. There are, of course, other areas where Big Data is providing previously unavailable opportunities for other types of organisations and individuals to delve into data-sets to ask their own questions, be they commercial, not for profit or academic. For example, the main accountancy firms are in the process rapidly developing their capabilities to purchase and analyse Big Data as the value of their compliance services (making sure tax and other statutory returns are being made on time) diminishes and business-advisory (selling knowledge back to a business to help it grow or manage itself better) increasingly generates larger margins from their clients. My focus, however, now turns to what impact Big Data is having on SMEs by considering two cases based upon real contemporary events.

My first scenario originates from the world of banking, admittedly not the most popular of professions currently, but an essential commercial service for SMEs. The analyses emerging from the masses of Big Data on our transactions the banks own are revealing the fundamental changes in the way we use and interact with our money.  Retail banks are closing branches and laying off staff in their thousands, not without complaint or customer reaction, but nevertheless with confidence that it’s the right thing to do. Why? Because they know, from near real-time Big Data analyses, that more customers are using internet banking and a decreasing number see any need to visit a branch (knowing your local bank manager is no longer a selling feature for your banking services – if it ever was for the majority of us). Having access to your accounts from your mobile phone has much more relevance, and therefore more value, for customers. This is not some banker’s hunch; the analytics prove it, right now! They see cash transactions dropping as cards and smartphone payment facilities are used to make 60% of purchases below £20 by some client demographics – and this is not being restricted to younger customers.

So what’s the impact on SMEs of this evidence from banking Big Data analyses? Well, at a basic practical level, it forcefully shows the more ‘cash-based’ trader that offering cashless payment facilities to customers will definitely bring in more business. However, for me there’s an additional learning point that has emerged from the banks’ current infrastructural changes – it demonstrates that Big Data can now be analysed in such a way as to provide reliable answers to increasingly specific and complex questions about commercial activity.

The banks and other organisations utilising Big Data are not ‘taking a punt’ when they decide to implement radical changes in their structure or operations. Rational decisions are being made, after analysing near real-time information, on product development, marketing campaigns and organisational structure because Big Data supports adaptive change to take place based upon what is required today. Likewise for ambitious SMEs, the opportunities are expanding to access meaningful information about their markets in their geographies that is near-real time, not months out-of-date or carelessly slung together from national marketing samples and sold at extortionate rates. Sure there will be a cost to obtain such intelligence, but there are more data-analysis organisations in the market which will provide more relevant and reliable external information than was available before. Big Data will allow SMEs to be more informed decision-makers, just as it has made large organisations more adaptive decision-makers.

My second scenario arises from a recent Big Data analysis conducted by an expanding financial management app company which provides services specifically for SMEs. Basic, easy-to-use (but perfectly functional and compliant) bookkeeping and accounting apps are now being marketed with the small business owner being viewed as the main purchaser, not their accountant. For most of the UK’s 4 million SMEs, getting over the unappealing bookkeeping hurdle could be made really simple (even enjoyable, for some) by adopting any one of the online financial management services such as Free Agent, QuickBooks and Sage Online. These make simple accounting very affordable and straightforward to do and allow the working relationship with one’s accountant to become more productive as the streamlined and rapid data-input process removes the drudgery of the paperwork, allowing a business to keep close to its most valuable asset – its information, i.e. those facts and figures that let it know how it is performing operationally and commercially. And here Big Data and small business inevitably and fortuitously collide.

Every online transaction is securely recorded in the Cloud by the SaaS providers – so they collectively have the records of their customers’ businesses writ very large. They know, from the transactional data that we pass to them, how we behave as organisations. For my example, Xero.com, a financial management app specialising in the SME market in the US, UK and the Antipodes, has used its anonymised data-sets to demonstrate that businesses which invoice promptly using online delivery methods can reduce their debtor days by 40%. Big Data on how SMEs manage their finances, once more in near real-time, has provided contemporary evidence not only that efficient invoicing gets you paid quicker (which we already knew) but also that using email to send out your bills and offering payment services to your customers can get you paid in 24 days rather than 40; this insight could be worth a fair bit to a cash-strapped business. So SMEs, utilising cloud-based financial, administrative and operational apps, can benefit from contributing their transactional records to a vast data-pool which can be analysed to give back information on comparative performance when measured against their peers.

The development of key performance indicators (KPIs) for SMEs will be an increasingly active market in the next few years. Competitive advantage will attained by those businesses which understand the value of devising and measuring KPIs which are specific to sector, geography, technology or markets and which have access to insightful analysts who understand the product or service being offered to customers. Analysis for its own sake has never been sufficient, but Big Data now makes more purposeful, commercially-focused analysis possible for even the smallest of businesses. Knowing why customers accept or reject what the market is offering can be gleaned from Big Data examinations of purchasing behaviour married to key-word reviews of social media comments. While the vast majority of SMEs are not able to do this for themselves, the opportunities to benefit from the existence of Big Data are beginning to open up through the growth in the tailored data-analytics market.

So, by moving into the era of Big Data, our ability to count has moved one stage further along the developmental path that started with ‘one, two, many’. We now, large and small businesses alike, must now count ‘one, two, how many?’ in order to profit from the advantages that Big Data offers us all to improve our analysis and decision-making.

What are your experiences and thoughts on Big Data and how we can use it?

Guest Blogger this month is
Rory H D Cooper
Managing Director
Canmore in Business
www.canmore.co

 

My Double Google + Experience

google plus

This is about something that caught me off guard, and I am fairly sure it will have caught others out the same way – so what exactly is it?

To explain – I am very keen on using social media, and have a footprint on most of the main platforms that would help my marketplace and business. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Kiltr, and of course – Google+.

I went about setting up the various accounts, and then proceeded to create business pages. All went well. I had a personal Facebook page and then a company page. I had a personal Google+ page, and then went on to set up a company page.

Following me so far? Good! I was indeed a happy bunny, as all was progressing as I had expected. To bolster my knowledge, I attended various Social Media talks and workshops. One suggested getting your company listed on (what is now) Google Local Listings – so I went about doing this. I registered my location and opening hours, and thus got my business on Google Maps. This means that when someone performs a Google search for me, my company pops up on the right hand side of the screen with all my details. I checked all was working, and yes – there it was! Meanwhile my company page on Google+ was gaining visitors and followers – all was just as it should be.

Now this was around two years ago, and I have grown the page to get it where I want it, everything seemed to be going in the correct direction.

So why is this a Double Google+ experience?

Well this year I attended another talk on social media and the speaker displayed the Google+ page of another business, it had all the default settings and it appeared no effort had been spent on it. I sat thinking how glad I was that I had spent the time on my page.

Anyway, I went back to my desk and searched for my company in Google – it was (happily) listed on page one of the results. I then clicked on the Google+ page link under my company name, and to my astonishment discovered my page had very few followers or visitors. It also had the default settings and appearance! I then launched my Google+ account and went to my company page there, and it was the fully customised and populated one – I somehow had two Google+ pages.

I researched and found out that Google creates a Google+ page on Local, but doesn’t explicitly tell you – however this is the one that any searchers will see. I realised that I really had to fix this. Further research led me to carry out the following procedure, and Google doesn’t make it particularly easy.

  1. Sign in to the Google Local page, this used my business email account – rather than my personal Google+ account – I then made my personal account a manager of the Local Google+ page. I then have to wait 19 days, yes 19 days, before I can make my personal email account the owner of the local page.
  2. 19 days later I logged in again with my business email to the Google+ Local page, and then was able to make my personal email address the owner.
  3. I was then given the opportunity to merge the Local page with my previously created business page. Once this option is chosen you are told which areas will be merged. This new merged page will then have the link on Google maps, and all your company details, as well as all the followers I had built up.
  4. I checked by searching in Google and clicking on the Google+ page link to find the old local page still there.
  5. Once you merge the pages you get the choice to delete the old page, which now shows up as backup of the company page. I deleted it and double checked a Google search to see if anything had changed. They had – and I now had the local page I wanted – the one I had originally set up and gained interest in.

So now hopefully you see the double Google+ problem I discovered, and then thankfully cured.
Please let us know if this has been useful.
Were any of you aware that this issue existed?
We’d love to hear from you!

To have Wi-Fi or not to have Wi-Fi that is the question, whether it is nobler …?

free wifiYou get the picture! I write this after having a short break down in Shakespeare country. On my return, I heard a survey being conducted on the radio.

The presenter was telling us that he had recently encountered a survey that rated the most common criteria that young couples (aged 35 years old or less) used to buy or rent a house.

They were asked what the main reason for the choice was. Of course – listeners were thinking about school choice, local area, number of rooms, was it well priced. Considering the age group, I wondered if the need for high speed broadband might play a major part in the choice – it was revealed I wasn’t far off, it was the second top reason for making a choice. The first reason most of them quoted was availability of a good mobile signal. If the house did not have good mobile signal, most of the other factors didn’t matter – how things have changed over the years.

Now, that was a slight aside, as the main topic here is Wi-Fi (as you can tell from my Shakespearean reference in the title). I am slightly sad (as a geek) and when my wife suggested a cottage to hire, I said to make it remote, and that it MUST have Wi-Fi.

Being a small business owner, I often need the flexibility to deal with potential issues – even when away on holiday.

My wife trawled the net, and found a cottage that seemed to tick all the boxes. I checked it over, it all looked great, BUT it had not ticked the Wi-Fi box – so I told her it wouldn’t do. I should point out at this point that she loves looking for holiday cottages, so this isn’t as harsh as you might think. Off she went again, and soon came up with another solution and shortly after the cottage was booked.

We made it down without incident, and settled in. I gained the Wi-Fi key and connected my tablet, only to find that the Wi-Fi was atrocious – the connection slow and not stable. Mobile phone signal was non-existent in the house, and so you had to dance around outside to try and find a signal that worked. I was not a happy chappy. So it was that tearooms and coffee shops were the next best thing, and I was asking at every one: “Do you have Wi-Fi?”

Surprisingly in such a tourist filled area, there were quite a few owners that looked at me like I had asked for a space age technology they hadn’t yet heard of.

So that brings me back to the question, to have Wi-Fi or not to have Wi-Fi?

Operating in the mobile world now, where we are asked to trust all our data to the cloud and the great storage in the sky, I want to ask you if Wi-Fi should be more widely available than it is just now. Some Towns are even installing it in town centres (although sadly in my opinion, the setup is generally being chosen by politicians and not by specialists – so the Wi-Fi you get it substandard, and it would probably be better if it wasn’t there).

So, should tearooms and coffee shops see this as a must have for their clientele? Or is it something extra outside of the norm, and not their problem. I know I spend time in coffee shops, usually having meetings and catch-ups with clients and other business owners, and we use the Wi-Fi a lot. Being honest, if it wasn’t there, we would very likely go somewhere else.

What are you experiences of Wi-Fi availability? We’d love to your opinion on the above discussion!

 

Hack in the box!

security laptopOn average 30,000 websites are hacked every day*, 200,000 new malicious programs/viruses are detected every day**.  Google recently reported that they detect 9,500 websites/day infected with malware used for drive-by download attacks, where the victim only has to browse the site to become infected, and 4,000 of these sites are legitimate company websites. Small business have been a target for cyber criminals for a few years now, because they are an easier target due to their lack of budget and expertise. Is your network as secure as it can be from hackers? Are you sure? Or are you helping cyber criminals distribute malicious programs to your customers, friends and family, even if you’re computers are just acting as a base of operations for attacking and infecting others.

* Sophos Labs Report ** Kaspersky Labs Report

It is estimated that cybercrime costs the world’s economy between $1 – 3 trillion per year.

Many businesses around the world have been struggling financially for a number of years, but sadly the underground hacking economy seems to be alive and well. In July of 2013, the FBI charged two Russians for hacking into US Financial Institutions that resulted in the theft of millions of dollars from more than 800,000 victim bank accounts. One of the hackers and several other undiscovered criminals, were also charged with the stealing and selling of at least 160 million credit and debit card numbers, resulting in losses of hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the indictment, these losses included $300 million in losses for just three of the corporate victims not to mention the immeasurable losses to the identity theft victims, due to the costs associated with stolen identities and fraudulent charges.

Underground Prices for Stolen Credentials and Hacker Services

Hacker Credentials and Services Details Price
*Visa and Master Card (US)   $4
American Express (US)   $7
Discover Card with (US)   $8
Visa and Master Card (UK, Aus & Can)   $7 -$8
American Express (UK, Aus & Can)   $12- $13
Discover Card (Aus & Can)   $12
Visa and Master Card (EU and Asia)   $15
Discover and American Express Card (EU and Asia)   $18
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (US) Track 1 and 2 Data is information which is contained in digital format on the magnetic stripe embedded in the backside of the credit card. Some payment cards store data in chips embedded on the front side. The magnetic stripe or chip holds information such as the Primary Account Number, Expiration Date, Card holder name, plus other sensitive data for authentication and authorization. $12
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (UK, Aus & Can)   $19-$20
Credit Card with Track 1 and 2 Data (EU, Asia)   $28
US Fullz Fullz is a dossier of credentials for an individual, which also include Personal Identifiable Information (PII), which can be used to commit identity theft and fraud. Fullz usually include: Full name, address, phone numbers, email addresses (with passwords), date of birth, SSN or Employee ID Number (EIN), one or more of: bank account information (account & routing numbers, account type), online banking credentials (varying degrees of completeness), or credit card information (including full track2 data and any associated PINs). $25
Fullz (UK, Australia, Canada, EU, Asia)   $30-$40
VBV(US) Verified by Visa works to confirm an online shopper’s identity in real time by requiring an additional password or other data to help ensure that no one but the cardholder can use their Visa card online. $10
VBV (UK, Aus, Can, EU, Asia)   $17-$25
DOB (US) Date of Birth $11
DOB(UK, Aus, Can, EU, Asia)   $15-$25
Bank Acct. with $70,000-$150,000 Bank account number and online credentials (username/password). Price depends on banking institution. $300 and less
Infected Computers 1,000 $20
Infected Computers 5,000 $90
Infected Computers 10,000 $160
Infected Computers 15,000 $250
Remote Access Trojan(RAT)   $50-$250
Add-On Services to RATs Includes set up of C2 Server, adding FUD to RAT, infecting victim $20-$50
Sweet Orange Exploit Kit Leasing Fees   $450 a week/$1800 a month
Hacking Website; stealing data Price depends on reputation of hacker $100-$300
DDoS Attacks Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks– throwing so much traffic at a website, it takes it offline Per hour-$3-$5
Per Day-$90-$100
Per Week-$400-$600
Doxing When a hacker is hired to get all the information they can about a target victim, via social engineering and/or infecting them with an information-stealing trojan. $25-$100

*Note: All Credit Cards sold with CVV Codes

As always, there is no shortage of stolen credit cards, personal identities, known as Fullz, for sale. However, the hackers have come to realize that merely having a credit card number and corresponding CVV code is not always enough to meet the security protocols of some retailers. Hackers are also selling cardholders’ Date of Birth and other personal information. Having this additional information would allow a hacker to answer additional security questions or produce a fake identification, to go along with a duplicate credit card. VBV (Verified by Visa) data is also being sold.

It has been found that credit cards and personal identities for non-US residents continue to sell for more money than the credit cards and identities for US residents. An example of the pricing discovered for stolen credit cards, Track 1 and 2 Data of Credit Cards, Fullz, Date of Birth and VBVs for cardholders is listed in the table above.

Online Bank Accounts for Sale: Name Your Bank and Country Preference

Just as with stolen credit cards, there are hundreds of online banking credentials for sale. It has found that one can purchase the username and password for an online bank account with a balance between $70,000 and $150,000 for $300 and less, depending on which banking institution the account is located. Also one can specify the login information for an account within a specific bank and country.

Malware Infected Computers for Sale

There are thousands of compromised computers (bots) for sale by bot salesmen. The price per computer typically decreases when they are bought in bulk. The costs for infected computers (bots):

  • 1,000 bots = $20
  • 5,000 bots= $90
  • 10,000 bots = $160
  • 15,000 bots = $250

Infected computers in Asia tend to sell for less. It is thought that infected computers in Europe & U.S. are more valuable than those in Asia, because they have a faster and more reliable Internet connection.

Once scammers buy the malware-infected computers, they can do anything they want with the machines. They can harvest them for financial credentials, infect them with ransomware so as to extort money from their owners, or use them to form a spam botnet to send out malicious spam on behalf of other scammers. If you don’t think there is much money in the spam business think again. Research into one of the largest spam botnets, Cutwail, it is estimated that the Cutwail gang’s profit for providing spam services was approximately $1.7 million to $4.2 million over two years.

Malware and Exploit Kits for Sale

A variety of Remote Access Trojans (RATs) are for sale ranging from $50 to $250. Most of the RATs are sold with a program to make it Fully Undetectable (FUD) to anti-virus and anti-malware. However, there were some hackers who sold the FUD component for an additional $20. For those RAT buyers who want the seller to do all the work for them, eg: setting up the RAT’s Command and Control Server, configure the malware to be FUD and possibly infect the target, they could pay an additional $20 to $50.

Exploit Kits – One of the offerings the Sweet Orange Exploit Kit for lease charged between $450/week and $1800/month. Sweet Orange is certainly more expensive to lease than the once popular BlackHole Exploit kit. Before BlackHole’s supposed creator was arrested, the leasing rates for BlackHole were:

  • 3 months—$700
  • 6 months–$1,000
  • One year–$1,500

Hacker Services for Hire: DDoS Attacks, Hacking of Websites, Doxing

Hacking into a Website

The cost to hire a hacker to break into an organization’s website runs between $100 – $300. Generally the higher the fee, the more reputable the hacker. What is worth noting is that most hackers for hire will not hack into a government or military website.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

A DDoS is where 1000’s of computers, controlled by a RAT, are used to attack a website and bring it to a halt through sheer volume of traffic. Those customers wanting to purchase DDoS Attack Services could pay by the hour, day or week. Most hackers who provide the DDOS attacks guaranteed that the target website would be knocked offline.

The rates were as follows:

  • DDoS Attacks Per hour = $3-$5
  • DDoS Attacks Per Day = $90-$100
  • DDoS Attacks per Week = $400-600

Doxing

Doxing is when a hacker is hired to get all the information they can about a target victim. Their methods include searching public information sites, social media sites, as well as manipulating the victim via social engineering and infecting them with an information-stealing Trojan. There are a lot of Doxing services for sale on the hacker underground, A “Vouch” from customers is used to verify that the hacker providing the Doxing service is legitimate. Doxing services range from $25 to $100.

Name Brand Products, Get Them For Cheap

Another service being sold on the hacker underground is where hackers will sell popular products, below the retail price. The hackers will obtain a specified product for a buyer either by using a stolen credit card or by working a scam, where they contact the retailer’s customer service representative and pretend to have purchased the item from the vendor, and it was damaged. The customer service representative is convinced that the complaint is legitimate, and they send out a replacement to the scammer, who in turn sells the product below the retail price.

Summary

For the most part, it does not appear that the types of hacker services and stolen data for sell on the hacker underground have changed dramatically in the past several years. The only noticeable difference is the drop in price for online bank account credentials and the drop in price for Fullz or Personal Credentials. In 2011, hackers were selling US bank account credentials with balances of $7,000 for $300. Now, accounts with balances ranging from $70,000 to $150,000 go for $300 and less, depending on the banking institution where the account is located. In 2011, hackers were selling Fullz for anywhere from $40 to $60, depending on the victim’s country of residence. Fullz are now selling between $25 and only go up to $40, depending on the victim’s location. It is believed that the drop in prices further substantiates that there is an abundance of stolen bank account credentials and personal identities for sale. There is also no shortage of hackers willing to do just about anything, computer related, for money, and they are continually finding ways to monetize personal and business data.

Key Protective Security Steps

Companies should adopt a layered approach to security and consider implementing the following:

  • Firewalls around your network and Web applications
  • Intrusion Prevention Systems or Intrusion Detection Systems (IPS/IDS). These inspect inbound and outbound traffic for cyber threats and detect and/or block those threats
  • Host Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
  • Advanced Malware Protection Solution
  • Vulnerability scanning
  • 24 hours a day x7 days a week x365 days a year log monitoring, and Web application and network scanning
  • Security Intelligence around the latest threats (people working on the latest threats in real-time, human intelligence)
  • Encrypted email
  • Educating your Employees on Computer Security. A key protective measure is to educate your employees to never click on links or attachments in emails, even if they know the sender. Employees should check with the sender prior to clicking on the email links or attachments. Client side attacks using email attachments and hyperlinks to malicious code on the web are the two major infection vectors.

The good news for SME’s is that there are some products out there that are open source and free that can cover a lot of the above. Configured correctly will help to protect the network from malicious hackers, at least make them want to bypass you and attack an easier target.

Individuals Should Implement the Following Security Steps

  • Computer users should use a computer dedicated only to doing their online banking and bill pay. That computer or virtualized desktop should not be used to send and receive emails or surf the web, since Web exploits and malicious email are two of the key malware infection vectors.
  • Avoid clicking on links or attachments within emails from untrusted sources. Even if you recognize the sender, you should confirm that the sender has sent the specific email to them before clicking on any links or attachments.
  • Reconcile your banking statements on a regular basis with online banking and/or credit card activity to identify potential anomalous transactions that may indicate account takeover.
  • Make sure your anti-virus is current and can protect against the latest exploits. Also, make sure that your anti-virus vendor has signatures for detecting the latest Trojans and that you have the most up- to-date anti-virus protections installed.
  • Do not use “trial versions” of anti-virus products as your source of protection. Trial versions of anti-virus products are good for testing products, but do not continue to use the trial version as your protection for your home or work PC. The danger is that the trial version does not receive any updates, so any new Trojan or virus that is introduced after the trial version was released will have total access to your PC.
  • Make sure you have your security protections in place. Patch management is key. It is critical that as soon as they become available you install updates for your applications and for your computer’s operating system.
  • Be cautious about installing software (especially software that is too good to be true – e.g., download accelerators, spyware removal tools), and be conscience about pop-ups from websites asking users to download/execute/or run otherwise privileged operations. Often this free software and these pop-ups have malware embedded.

Make sure your company is not an easy target for the cyber criminals by having a penetration test by a trained and experienced Certified Ethical Hacker.

Penetration testing is the process of evaluating both your physical and digital security systems and finding all areas that are insecure and that need attention. The main goal of penetration testing is not only to find security vulnerabilities, but to attempt to exploit them as well, which can decrease the chances of data loss or allowing unauthorised persons access to secured data. Common problems discovered by penetration testing include software bugs, design flaws and configuration errors. Once these have been identified, they need to be quickly repaired in order to ensure that safety isn’t compromised for longer than necessary. Testing is vital for any business, no matter how large or small, as data has become the most important currency available to organisations and hackers.

Penetration testing should be performed by an experienced tester from outside the organisation or the service provider whom has configured the solution, website, network, etc. It is all too easy to ignore or turn a blind eye to a known issue, or to have the attitude of ‘Nobody could possibly find that flaw!’ or ‘Who would want to hack us? We’re not interesting enough!’ As this involves the security of the business, no half-measures can be taken. Security breaches happen every minute of every day, and unless you have a dedicated team for penetration testing, it may be wise to consider outsourcing the procedure. Having an in-house team is ideal, but there are many businesses that find good reasons to outsource the testing and security of their information systems.

Thanks to our Guest blogger this month
Wynn Jones ECSA/LPT CEH CHFI CVE CCA MCSE
http://www.praetoriansecurity.co.uk

 

Is Virus Protection enough anymore?

virus protectionI thought I would burp a little about the recent news broadcasts detailing the attacks that have happened, as well as the ones that are about to hit in around two weeks’ time.

Let’s start with the one that already happened, the Heart bleed exploit. This affected web servers and took advantage of a flaw in a commonly used library to gather random chunks of working memory. Unfortunately these random chunks often contained people’s login details or other personal information. And so we all had to go and change our passwords for many of the web services we use, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo and so on. Wait, you haven’t done that yet? Well you better get in about it today and make it so!

The attack due in a few weeks’ time was announced on the news feeds last week, and you need to make sure that all your computers are up to date and virus protected within the next two weeks. You have been warned!

So what’s new?

Well, in actuality, nothing is new. We have been plagued with hackers, attacks, and viruses for as long as I have been in IT.  And there is even a possibly they were around before then, I am not as old as you think you know! We have long been advised to keep our computers up to date, to install virus checking software and ensure we have the latest virus definitions. Yet we still succumb to the viruses as they hit the web. Is it because we just get lazy and don’t maintain our computers? Has the computer age made us feel that the software should maintain itself? Why do we have to do anything manually?

I have repaired machines in the past, and have asked the user if they had anti-virus software. The answer was often yes, as it came with the computer. Brilliant I said have you updated it recently … a long pause … no, was the reply, doesn’t it do that itself? I then checked the machine to find that the software was on it when bought, but had never been launched and never registered. In fact, it had simply been taking up some hard drive space and doing not a lot else! Given this was roughly three or four years after purchase, I will not tell you the number of infections I found on that machine.

Which hat are they wearing?

These days you can attend college or university and do an Ethical Hacking course, and come out with a matching qualification. Now if you use this the right way (known as white hat hacking) you will become an asset to any company wanting to protect their systems. Of course, used the wrong way (black hat hacking), you can cause mayhem and leave damage in your wake.

Help me Ian; what do I need to do?

Put simply, you need to do what you have been told to do for as long as I can remember. That is: keep your computer up to date, and keep anti-virus software on it and up to date. If you are on a network, then make sure your firewalls and other barriers are up and running. Oh, and just to let you know, it could all be changing again as the mobile usage increases and the cloud becomes our storage … watch this space, but be protected.

Further info on some of this can be gained by reading our previous blog on Windows XP cover, and on Passwords security.

Take care and be safe…

Let us know your thoughts on this issue and how you are coping in the battle for safe working.

Has the Cloud changed the business weather?

Old Car PhoneI have always promoted the ways in which technology can help us, and how its advancement is changing the game in many different areas – from remote surgery via a net connection, to the way we communicate and interact. Some would say that this is great, and these changes are for the better – at least better than the sluggish old ways we used to do things. Others are more sceptical, and suggest some of what is happening is taking away from human interaction, often to the degree that we just can’t interact effectively face to face anymore.

With the above in mind, I must confess that I do a lot more typing than writing, and as a result my writing skills are just not what they used to be. Saying that, some would say my typing skills also leave a lot to be desired.

Anyway, I digress; I titled this article, “Has the cloud changed the business weather?”

This was a direct hit at what the Internet (or as it’s often called, the cloud) is doing to the way we do business. Let’s look back at the history of how it was done; again I will speak from the experience I gained over my working life.

In times gone by

In past lives I have used written reports, sending them back to my direct line manager. Then we got the marvel that was carbon paper copies, which meant I could keep a copy myself.

A fax was installed in my home office and I could fax info straight to main HQ and get it actioned. No more waiting on the snail mail to deliver. This was a revolution.

I was then made the proud owner of a pager. It would bleep to signify that I had to go to a phone and call the office. The next version had a small LCD screen where I could read a streaming text message instead of phoning in. Where was technology taking us?

OK, you have probably guessed by now that I am not a newcomer to the work environment. In fact I have been through a good number of changes to the way things are done.

The next development was a phone mounted in my company car. This was a large brick like device in the cabin, connected to a larger box that was taking up most of my boot space. The aerial was attached to the roof of the car, and off I went. However, my sales area included the highlands of Scotland, and the signal at that time was really very poor, so generally I was uncontactable unless I found a landline.

The car phone I was given after that was the first that could be considered truly mobile, and could be removed from the car and taken, yes taken with you, anywhere. WOW! This was just amazing. I could text and phone from anywhere and no longer needed to be tethered to my car.

I was then simply given a mobile phone, and along with that my first mobile computer. It had details of all the products I used to sell on it, and had the ability to allow searches and pricing on the spot in front of a client…

How could this be I hear you cry? Well that was technology for you, and it was driving sweeping changes to what we were able to do in business.

Obviously things have moved on greatly since these bygone days, and companies have had to accept technology moves one. They also have to deal with the way it has influenced what they do, and landscape of their proposed market places.

Access to the Internet started very slow, I still remember connecting via a dial up modem (33.6k which by today’s standards is the slowest thing ever) but it was new and exciting at the time. Then ADSL has superseded that, and now ADSL is on the wane due to Fibre broadband being rolled out nationwide.

With this advancement, and mobile broadband reaching similar speeds, it finally means that the cloud has come of age. The idea of ‘Always there Internet’ has truly arrived.

What we can do now in the cloud, and through the cloud, is an order of magnitude more impressive than my first work experiences of technology.

Where will it all go?

The question now, I suppose, is where will it all go? But what I want to ask you is where will you take it?

Will you adopt the latest technology and keep pushing what you can do beyond what you do now? Beyond what others are doing? The cloud is truly changing the weather in the business world in ways that a younger me could only dream of.

We can collaborate worldwide as if we were in the same office. We can have instant access to real-time information that allows us to make informed decisions faster than ever before.

We can access information at any time and any place, which means we don’t have to be tied to an office desk. Mobile Internet usage (or cloud usage if you like) has increased year on year to around 68 to 70% of all Internet traffic. Technology has improved beyond a large bulky desktop computer or chunky laptop, the information is now actually in the palm of your hand.

Our mobiles (and remember I started with a brick in my car) have now turned into smart phones. We can do all sorts of tasks using them, and that includes good quality business work.

Conclusion

I am still excited about where technology can take us, and would like to think I’m still a people person. It will never make me a recluse, so that I do not interact, but it can make my life and business world  easier. It can change the weather on the business front, and for me this has meant more sunshine and less rain, even though there will still be clouds.

What are your thoughts on adopting new technology for you or your business?

That gut Feeling?

gut feeling, intuition

Should we ignore it?

I am always fascinated by the detective dramas on TV, as my wife would tell you, and the way they portray the detective trawling through the clues and the evidence to catch the culprit of the crime.

They also use a phrase quite often where they say, “I can’t prove anything, but I just have that gut feeling he did it.” We also hear about intuition, that feeling that you know it is right or going to happen but there is no evidence or scientific proof that it will.

I have been around this world now for around 51 years and over that time I have picked up info and facts as well as experiences that allow me to make decisions on various areas that I operate in. Generally called experience. Some people keep records and statistics to back up their experience so they can actually prove what they believe. I haven’t been as smart as that, but have I feel over the years gained a degree of Intuition if you like. That built in experience that allows for you to make a call on something before all the facts are in. Now granted sometimes you are wrong. But if I have learned one thing since I setup on my own in business, it is time sometimes is not on your side and you have to be able to turn on a sixpence to make decisions and fly by the seat of your pants.

The more I read about entrepreneurs that have been successful. The more I see that they had this type of approach, and they had the, “Gut feeling”, so to speak.

With 2014 approaching, are you evaluating what you have done in 2013 and looking at all the statistics and making a call just on them, or are you using all your senses and making a call using them as well.

Now, I am not advocating ignoring the obvious, but I am advocating that sometimes the obvious is not what lies around the corner for you and your business. Sometimes we just have to go with our gut feeling.

Have a great 2014 and step out of the statistical comfort box and do something based on just that gut feeling and see what happens.