Andoid Wear Brief Update.

Thought I would update my Android Wear post and let you know some of my experiences…

Watch and screen Protection

Well, I wore the watch for w few weeks before my son suggested that we get screen protectors for the glass. He had sourced a tempered glass stick on protector that did protection to level 7. Which meant it was shatter and scratch proof. Sounded like a great idea.

They arrived and my son fitted it to his watch and then to my watch. I used it and all went well. Time for holidays came and I was loading the cases into the boot of the car and the watch clunked of a case or the edge of the boot and I glanced down to see grinded edge on the glass protector.

This happened and few more times as I went about everyday actions and the bottom edge of the protector had small cracks heading upwards. During my holiday I managed another grinded edge of the protector making the look of the watch face not very appealing.

My son had not managed anything and his was still perfect. He said it was because I wear my watch on my right wrist and that is the hand I do everything with. Hence I abuse it. He may well be right. I tended to think that the glass protector was just sticking up enough to be vulnerable to being caught.

I eventually gave up and ordered a stick on flexible cover for the screen with high scratch rating. I prized the glass one off and you can see in the picture how I liked that.

screen protector

Screen Protector?

 

 

It cracked from the small hairline cracks up through the glass. So my experience would be to avoid these particular protectors and stick with the flexible ones, which I have had on for week now and no problems reported even though I have bumped the watch a few times. You can see the small ginded edges at the top left and side of the screen.

Watch usage

On another probably more interesting note. The watch has been performing well and I have found it beneficial to have an instant pop up of the emails and posts coming up on my watch so I can glance and decide if I action them now on my phone or leave them until a more convenient time.

My son also informed me about a wonderful app that in Scotland is very useful. It is called Rain Alarm Pro. It scans various weather and rain pattern feeds at set intervals and lets you know if you are about to be hit with a downpour. I have used this a few times recently as it installs onto the watch as well and shows me the likelihood of you getting soaking wet. It has enabled me to take cover and watch as others run for shelter.

Battery has been OK, really depending on how many notifications I get to the watch and how I interact with them. I charge it every night by default anyway.

First usage summary

So my first summary would be to say that it is still a bit of a novelty and I am not sure how useful this will be, but as Apps develop and they become more interactive it may well make life easier. The benefit I am finding just now is the fact that I do not need to delve into my pocket every time my phone makes a bleep, as my watch shows me the gist of it.

Watch this space for more, no pun intended….or was there?

Who’s in control?

sicial interaction

Eye Contact

I spend, probably like yourself based on the fact you are reading this, a lot of my time interacting with connections and friends on social media. Technology has become my tool for everyday life and connection to the correct people and areas for my personal life and my business life.

I often here myself tell people when I meet them, that I love technology and where it is taking us. We can handle and do so much more than we have ever been able to do in the past.

Until I bumped into this chaps YouTube Video, wow this made me think and challenged me and touched my sensitivity about what it happening all around me.

Check it out the read on for my initial thoughts after watching this video.

Well what do you think? I hope you watched it all to the very end.

I think it was well written and constructed and touches a lot on what society is now doing. Where we are placing our time and ideas. For some the security of having instant friends that interact with you remotely can be reassuring and social media in the past has been known as a medium to save people’s lives because they posted on it in a time of need and help was given.

But, the questions I suppose we are asking ourselves are, are we in control of it or does it take control of us? And is it changing society for the better?

If you do what the chap in the video did and simply walk down the street and take a bus or tube train and watch the amount of face down glued to the device people there are, it will astound you. But because this is a current 21st century thing we accept it I suppose as a sign of the times we are in.

I wonder what the future will look back and say. Will museums and documentaries reflect on this changing social culture as a good thing or a bad thing?

I still think the flexibility of mobile working and connectivity is amazing for running my business, but I am now challenging where I stand with talking to people. Actually looking in their eyes and engaging with them. Hence my top picture. Laughing out loud together in the same room and space.

I am a people person and always have been since high school and I always like to get in front of a person to talk over things, whether work or private concerns. Remote working only takes me so far and I am sure others are in the same boat.

What are your thoughts on this video and does it challenge you in anyway?

Well done to Gary Turk for making this and challenging where are and where we are going.

Android Where? Or should I say Android Wear.

Android Wear

Android Wear

Yes, I have succumbed to the phenomenon that is Android wear and a testing a LG G Watch with my Nexus 5 phone to see what it can do and if it is really a great benefit to me in what I do.

I run a business and use mobile a lot as I am generally out and about and not tied to a desk as much as I used to be. This is a good thing and I like it, I use my Nexus Tablet and my Nexus phone to juggle all the information that is generally thrown at me every minute of every day. Up to this point the combination of my tablet, Phone and desktop have sufficed in keeping me mostly on top of the information overload.

Being a techie and as some would say a Geek I have also been aware of new developments and the hype around Android Wear, (and the Apple watch, bank loan wear).

So Father’s day came and I asked my sons to give me some money and I would add the rest and treat myself to not the top end but the lower end of the wear market as I am still uncertain how this will make my life better.

First Impressions

I have been using the watch now for around two weeks and here are my first impressions.

Ease of setting up was good and it immediately updated itself as the previous wear software had been getting bad press. The new software has changed the watch interface and usage considerably.
It connects to some of the popular Google Apps immediately and gives some interesting interactions through the watch face. Other apps are downloadable and there are a multitude of watch faces that can be installed to change the look and interaction with the watch.

The watch arrived with the watch itself, strap attached and a charging USB cable and cradle.

When placed on charge it automatically switches on and starts the charge. I have found that over the time I have been using it the battery charge survives depending on how much interaction you have with the watch, early on not long as I was using it a lot in setting up etc.

Connectivity was excellent and it connected to my Nexus 5 with ease and has interacted no problem. All though through Bluetooth and my other fear was the phone battery not lasting. At the start this may have been an issue as I was playing with the watch and downloading and changing settings etc.

But generally it has not drained the battery as much as I suspected it might. So that’s a good thing.

I have tended to place the watch on the charging cradle overnight and not worry about it during the day. It charges using pins on the rear of the watch body. I have cycled through some watch faces to get the one I use the most as well as playing with the LCARS one being a huge TNG fan.

Apps that have impressed

The usage of it I suppose is the question and I am still evaluating the benefits. However when an email pops in and I glance at my watch to see the heading and gist of it, I can take action quickly or just swipe it off to tackle it later. So I am finding that quite useful, not having to rake my tablet or phone out of my pocket every time it buzzes. Weather on the phone face and Google NOW journey times are useful at a glance.

My scary moment was the first time I used my phone for Google Navigation recently with the watch and it pinged the route navigation to the watch face. This caused me to giggle glance at the watch and loose concentration on the road. So good or bad thing I am unsure at this time with that one. I am sure you can disable it and I haven’t as yet.

Early days

So it is early days and I am sure I will find more intriguing benefits of having this Android wear device, I haven’t as yet answered a call from it in private or public. Looking like Dick Tracey I suppose. I suppose the answer to the title is Andoid everywhere.

I may post another update soon, but is anyone using these wear devices to great effect?

If so what are you using and what are you doing with it?

It would be great to hear from you.

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?

How far will you let technology take over?

Is technology taking over?

Is technology taking over?

Lately I have had conversations with quite a few businesses that are all adopting technology at various levels. Some are all for it and adopt the latest and greatest systems to make their workload more manageable, others keep what they see as a safe distance between them and technology.

I must admit even the smaller things, like I always used to have a pocket diary and a desk diary in the past and used them all the time. Now I have a smart phone and tablet and they hold my diary and to do list all in the cloud and they ping and pop to remind me of what the next event in my life is. A small change you may say, but a massive one for some business owners and personnel.

Other things such as keeping documents on a drive that automatically backs up and then having another backup of key areas in the cloud as well, just in case. Before that I had paper lever arch folders all along a large shelf that used to dispense them on my head as I passed by on many occasion. Less clutter I suppose.

Technology reliance

So am I too reliant on technology or is this OK and where do you draw the line?

What brought this post on was an article on the BBC technology news page that stated that Samsung have warned against talking in front of some of their smart TV’s as they listen for commands to be voice activated and record conversations and share them to third parties. I was and am shocked that this could even be happening and I am for new technology and where it can take us. Listening, recording and sharing a conversation that I am having in my own living room is just not on. It is a stage too far. We are all told that security is all down to us and we need to take care and not share the wrong info with the wrong people and keep our passwords secure. Then I read this.

I feel that the use of technology is great and has revolutionised the way I operate and I would say mostly for the better. But I am also not keen on the larger companies trying their arm with stuff like this. No way. A rethink is needed here and I assume that Samsung and others will realise this and make changes.

Should we be frightened?

This should not scare us away from anything technological as there are problems with every method you have of working and it is not always the medium that is causing the issues. So adopt what you feel comfortable with but don’t shy away from trying new ways of handling your daily tasks and workloads. If need be get advice and move a step at a time. Years ago everything was posted and then faxed, and then emailed. Even that is getting superseded by instant messaging systems.

Who knows where we will be in a few years’ time. Breathe and move on….

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

 

I don’t run or manage projects!

Juggling ProjectsThis is a phrase I hear often; usually when talking to business owners, or even employees working for someone. They tell me they are not project managers, and wonder why I am telling them about Microsoft Project?

Well, let’s look at the definition of a project. It is described as a series of tasks that have a beginning and end date, and a deliverable at the very end. It is constrained by resources and timescales. Now, is this sounding familiar?

If not, it should be – as it sums up any task you may be trying to achieve at any given point in time. Let’s assume most of us have a manageable workload (stay with me here!), so let’s liken it to juggling – normally we are juggling one or two balls at a time. We can teach ourselves that, and if we drop a ball, we can react quickly to pick it up again. However, scale this up (as many of us do), and now let’s say that you are juggling six or eight balls, but don’t have time to teach yourself advanced juggling. I would guess that you are now dropping balls more often, and sometimes even more than one at a time. Suddenly it’s not as easy to react to, and the consequences of any ball falling are much worse. There is a term for this situation: we call this firefighting, and when the art of project management changes into simply firefighting things as they happen, we’re in trouble. Is any of this sounding familiar?

So what should we do?

At a risk of sounding glib – the solution is to work smarter. Take the skills you already have, and build on them to enable you to act rather than react. Rather than fight those fires on a regular basis, let’s snuff out the ember as soon as we see it – and using project management software allows you to do this.

I have a client who is managing over 71 projects of various sizes, so that would be 71 balls to juggle – all with a different weight. They said they would never be able to do it without the use of software, and so they had trained themselves to juggle, and have actually been on two of our courses.

So who manages projects?

The answer is simple: we all do. Every one of us. From simply getting dressed in the morning, doing DIY or decorating, right down to our actual business in our workplace, we are managing multiple projects. But are we teaching ourselves to juggle?

Next Steps?

Check out our testimonials and read the section on project management, see what our clients have to say. Then, if you have questions or want to know more, get in touch.

How do you manage projects just now? Are you coping OK? What would happen if you had double this amount?

In our experience it’s usually best to put a system in place now, than try and introduce one after years of self-taught juggling!

We look forward to hearing 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.