Hands on with the Nexus 9 Tablet

N9 review photo

Nexus 9 Review

Have now been using the Nexus 9 for a few weeks now and it was to replace my Nexus 7 2013 model.
First impressions is that it is obviously larger with the 8.9 inch screen. I got the 16 GB model the same Storage I used in the Nexus 7. No issues there. Speed seems OK and it upgraded itself within a day of getting it to Marshmallow the latest version of Android.

Here are the specs for the Nexus 9

Display                                 8.9inch screen

Resolution                           2048 X 1536 pixels, 288 pixels per inch (PPI)

Storage                                16GB

Processor                            2.3 GHz

Ram                                     2 GB

Rear camera                        8-megapixel, flash – yes

Front Camera                      1.6 – megapixel

OS                                        Marshmallow

Battery Capacity                  6700mAh

Wi-Fi                                     802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

Weight                                  425g

So how does it compare with all my daily work tasks?

I use my Nexus every day for work tasks and handle all my social media feeds and emails. As well as typing up documents and accessing the cloud and Internet. I mean I REALLY use it from morning until night it is at my side and always on hand for all the various activities that I do throughout my working and leisure day.

The Nexus 7 handled all this and I never had an issue with performance and battery life. I do run a good number of apps and have multiple desktops. Which is why I find using a tablet computer so useful.
The Nexus 9 has handled all the work loading, but the main things that are different are: –

  • Battery life is less than good. It lasts less than a day, where my Nexus 7 lasted up to two days. The screen being larger seems to burn all the battery power. I have drained it down and recharged it to try and recondition the battery. It hasn’t helped. I find myself charging it during the day and every night. This is not so good and some online trawling of the net suggests that others are finding a similar thing. The upgrade to Marshmallow was supposed to help this but in fact I have noticed no improvement.
  • The screen sometimes also is sluggish and doesn’t respond. Not sure what is causing this.
    It is larger to carry but the pay-out is the better display and larger screen to display data and show clients what I want them to see.
  • It also has no QI charging, which I got into with my Nexus 7. Place it on a pad and off it goes and charges up, no fiddling with connectors anymore. Then they drop it. No fast charge either. Which I did not have with my Nexus 7 but hoped it might be a standard for Nexus devices. But seemingly not with HTC as they produced the Nexus 9 and my Nexus 7 was ASUS. Come on Google get it together.

I am going to continue using it and see how things go. If a cure or fix comes out for the battery life this would be great. So Google if you are reading this what you are up to and what can be done? Get in contact.

What about you guys?

How do you go mobile as they say and is the move to Phablet phones taking away the market for tablet computers? The sales statistics suggest that the sales of tablets has dropped due to phones becoming larger and I have met a few associates who have gotten rid of their tablet computers as their phones are large enough for them to do all they want to do.

What do you use and how is it performing?

Comment below and let us know.

Are you a trail blazer?

White noise

information overload

Information overload

With all the feeds we get each day, whether they be Tweets or Facebook or email or news reports or telephone calls or even, yes, even a face to face meeting. It has been occurring to me that there is a lot of interference and traffic out there. Noise if you like. A white noise that obscures sometimes some very useful and genuine comments and info.

Filtration

Do we have a good method of filtration going on or are we being guided by everything that comes our way. I liken it to a video I once saw of an ant colony and the researchers were studying their behaviour and determining how they travelled and how they made their way back to base.

Obviously, they must use sent trails and they lay them down and everyone else follows them as well. Hey presto a fool proof system to get about and never get lost. Being researchers off course they have to test their theories and after the ants had created their best laid plans and trails the researchers created a circle of scents and trails all around some ants to see how they coped and would they get past it. Basically they surrounded them, with too much information to process, or white noise if you like, and they could not get back to the well laid plan. They were too distracted and could not get outside the circle. They really needed a method of filtration to find that one trail and stay on it at all costs and against all other distractions.

Unsung heroes

I know in amongst everything that bombards me every day there are unsung heroes who have gems of wisdom to help me on my way and keep me focussed and yes I do get a bit overloaded and distracted, but I do try and say to myself, be yourself,  do not try and be anyone else. Because someone finds a certain feed or path the way to go that is maybe not for you and you need to focus and keep going on the scent trail that you have visualised an laid down.

So do we curb our appetite for more info?

So what are the solutions and how do we cope? Do we simply switch off a lot of the noise and, I know a lot of contacts who have done this and are off various platforms and are in their case thankful for it. Bur remember that is maybe not the best approach for you.

Can we apply a filter to things then and just cherry pick what we see and what we interact with?

Well, yes off course you can, but there is always the fear that you filter out and disconnect from some info and miss a great nugget of gold and a gem that would benefit your business and your life. But hey, that is always the case, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else.

Conclusion

I have to admit and say that it is an every changing medium for me and do encourage business owners to use the social media platforms and get out there. Join groups and contribute to what people and business are saying. I am, always changing what I look at and I am rather pleased with myself in the fact that I am now not getting as worked up about some of the feeds. No longer thinking every post is a nugget of gold but applying my filters, where do I want to be and how am I getting there, who can help and what can I do to contribute. I seem to be surviving OK.

How do you cope with all the info and what are your measures of filtration? Would be good to see some comments here. I hope to learn a lot.

The operating system with no faults can throw the first stone.

operating systemsIt has come to my attention over a longish period now, as I get fed feeds from Hacker awareness sites and technology sites about weaknesses in Operating Systems and the fact they are being attacked by hackers and general no-gooders. The sites also feed me with, If only statements. If only the Operating system did this better and If only they didn’t do this.

Can perfection be achieved?

I think the problem is Operating systems by their very nature are developing all the time and when a corporation says we are launching our new version of an Operating System what they are not telling you is that they are already developing the next one in the background as the one they are about to launch is out of date. That’s because technology and we way we use it is changing so fast even they can’t keep up. Not only that we have greater expectations of what we want it to do and each rival vendor is trying to outdo the next one without infringing copyright laws. And there the problem arises as the developments are all copyrighted and each company is suing another company for infringement and also working with them at the same time to develop where they go from here.

Chaos you may think and I think you would be right.

So perfection is very subjective, as perfection to one person is so much different for another person and because the operating systems are always emerging and developing they will never ever tick all the boxes. This used to be the case with hardware and I would tell people, when you buy a computer it will be out of date before it is out the box. This is still the case most of the time. But Operating systems are now the drivers for what we want and how we want to use technology.

Operating Systems have the upper hand

Operating systems now have the upper hand, especially in mobile, with maybe Apple still holding its loyal users to their hardware and OS. Everyone else wants a nice user experience and not a flaky one that causes them to waste time and effort performing a simple task. So Android and Apple OS have taken the market, with Windows Phones really trying last ditch efforts to catch a percentage.

Apple’s software keeps evolving and people are constantly upgrading their devices with various levels of success and Android is much the same with the phone hardware vendor playing more of a part as they are allowed to add functionality to the Android system to give you special features if you buy their phones or tablets. This is called skinning and it varies. Sometimes not much is added and everything works well, and at other times, the Android system has changed so much the phone runs slower and looks different from other Android Devices. You may hear this referred to as bloatware.

Google are still commissioning manufacturers to make a range of what are known as Nexus devices that have hardware but can only have the raw Android install with no additional skinning or tampering with. These at present are my favourite, but have unrealistically gone up in price over their last few incarnations, so we will see.

So moan if you like

So basically we like to moan and make a fuss about this not happening and for goodness sake why can’t this be better. Just remember that the operating systems we use today are so much advanced than we used to use and they are in a constant state of flux all the time. They are never stable and are out of date almost before they are launched. They will get even better, smarter and then we will complain that it is boring and it does it all for us.

Go on shout at an operating system today, you know you want to….

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….

OnePlus One Phone Review

OnePlus One Phone

OnePlus One Phone

History

Before arriving in the land of OnePlus, I had owned an HTC Desire, HTC Desire HD, Nobrand Chinese Phone™, and a Nexus 4 – the N4 being the nicest phone I had owned to date. Being nexus device, it was thoroughly hackable – I was frequently installing different ROM’s, kernels, etc. to get the most out of it. In finding out about the OPO, I was looking to see if the same flexibility would be present (and guaranteed to remain so). I wasn’t disappointed.

Introduction

Getting an OPO

This is the trickiest part. Having found out about the phone late summer, I was only really in the market for a new phone around October – this was, as family can vouch for, my time of bombarding social media feeds with competitions (winning is better than buying on the wallet) and posting inane chatter on the OnePlus forums. This is the prescribed way of getting an invite, which currently, of December 2014, is the only real way of getting a device (the two preorders seemed a bit shambolic with many users complaining of problems placing orders).

Unpacking the OPO

The OPO arrived in reasonable time and I set about unboxing it. What arrived was an envelope which contained a box, which just so happened to have more boxes inside. Boxception. However, a nice boxception with the inner boxes being fashionably designed and pleasing to look at. This being said, I didn’t look at them for long. The device itself is a large (coming from an N4) phablet, with a nicely textured back (I ordered the 64 GB “sandstone” model). I also ordered a clear clip-on case to prevent the device getting mangled when lying on desks.

Here are some pictures of the unboxing (admittedly, pretty poor pictures – I was in a hurry to unbox!): Images of unboxing. There’s also a size comparison between the Nexus 4 and the OPO.

Notice the plain, cardboard box that it all comes in. Fairly minimalistic!

Initial Impressions

Size

“This thing is BIG, but not too bulky…” This would be how I feel about the device a month down the line. It’s a big device to handle. My Wife is completely not interested in using it, as it’s too large for her hands. My hands, whilst not gigantic, have pretty good reach…and I still find myself using both of them to access menus.

Speed

In use, the OPO is a fast, responsive and pleasant device. CM11s (the custom version of CyanogenMod that runs on the OPO as stock) is well tailored to the device. I had no lag flicking through menus, no issues watching Netflix, or streaming content. It’s quite hard to tax the quad core 801 – 3Gb RAM helps to keep things moving along.

Screen

The 5.5” screen is gorgeous. I had read online that the colours aren’t as vibrant as other devices, and the blacks aren’t as black – I haven’t found this to be the case. It looks good. It responds well. The colours seem reasonably accurate – enough for a phone anyways. I don’t plan on doing huge amounts of image/video editing on the OPO!

Does it fit in pockets?

Sure does! Gets a bit awkward trying to sit down sometimes, but a little shuffling and all is well. If you’re a skinny-jeans type…you’ll definitely need another solution though!

Usage

Does it work well as a phone?

Yes.

How does it cope with media, Netflix, Google Play Music, Movie files etc.?

I’ve not noticed any slowdown, or difficulties in playing files, until I started using a Lollipop ROM where codecs weren’t quite plumbed in. This was soon resolved, and now I can watch movies and listen to music/podcasts to my heart’s content.

Any good as a PDA? Is the term ‘PDA’ even still used?

Seems to be. The large screen is excellent for reading emails and web pages, viewing calendar entries, as well as social media feeds. The only downside to such a screen is the distance your fingers have to travel: the OPO is a big phone. As for using the term ‘PDA’, this was how I used to rock and roll: Palm IIIe.

How’s the camera?

As far as phone cameras go, the OPO is pretty good! I’ve never had a phone camera that can take such detailed and rich photos as the OPO. The ability to shoot and save a .DNG is a boon too: when things aren’t quite right, you can quickly adjust in your favourite editor and hopefully sort them out. They offer much more latitude than the standard JPEG output. See this link right here for some examples.

That screen looks good, but is it a pain to hold and use? How does it fare with colours? What about this yellow tinge™ I’ve read about?

A wee bit pain is a good thing, right? Means you know you’re alive! This was a valid concern for me when purchasing the phone – the Nexus 4 is a 4.7” device, so screen size wasn’t an issue as my ever-agile thumbs could quickly jump across the whole screen. Whilst the OPO did present problems at first I quickly adjusted – there’s a crafty way of holding it one-handed that allows for a slight adjustment and the top of screen is then usable. Take my word for it!

The yellow tinge that folks have been moaning about – this I did notice, and it bothered me for all of 30 seconds after which I realised that the amount of time I’d be staring at a pure white screen was pretty minimal. I’ve stopped noticing it now, and it hasn’t affected my use of the OPO at all. Even on text-heavy sites, where there’s lots of white-space its fine. Seems like folks have been finding this to be an issue that resolves itself over time (or with the use of a UV lamp…): Reddit page about the issue going away.

What’s the battery life like? Does it last all day with moderate usage?

This is where the OPO shines for me. I commute to work (roughly 40 minutes each way) and I enjoy listening to podcasts there and back. On previous phones, I could do this but would always have a nagging sensation that I’d run out of juice if I then wanted to view media/play games/photo edit etc. during the day. With the OPO, I don’t need to worry: the SoC (SnapDragon 801) has a nifty feature for audio playback which really maximises battery life. Watch the video explaining it all here. This has certainly proved true for me. Negligible battery drain whilst commuting, enough juice to back up the phone, download and flash ROM’s, play some games (Godus is the current favourite) and pfaff around on social media. Photos and the occasional video on a lunchtime stroll happen fairly regularly. At the end of day, I’m sitting happy with 30-40% left. This is without any custom kernels or underclocking.

So you enjoy some gaming – what games run well, and how’s the performance?

So far I’ve played some Ravensword (which runs well, but I’m convinced could look better), Godus, Carmageddon (looks identical to how I remember it back in the day), Cogs…so some new, some graphically intensive. So far, nothing has troubled it, although I did notice that Godus had intermittent issues – but I thought this was more likely the nightly CM12 build I’m on rather than the OPO.

There was a recent kerfuffle between OnePlus and CyanogenMod…

Ah, yes. This came across as playground politics. The OPO is still guaranteed updates for the next two years from CyanogenMod, so I’m not that bothered.

Caveats

Are there any caveats with the device? Anything that should make a potential buyer reconsider?

The only thing that I’ve read, that really seems to be a tripping point, is the returns procedure. It seems to be overly complicated and I’ve not really read of anyone successfully managing to return a device…but then again, I’ve not really been needing to research this as my OPO is currently working fine.

The only real caveat for me is the unwillingness of insurance companies to insure. My current company rejected my custom after I informed them I would like to change my policy to cover the OPO. Supposedly the OPO wasn’t shipped from Britain (it was, from the British warehouse OnePlus put in place). I reckon they didn’t know what it was, and so refused to insure. For £281 delivered though…is insurance something I need to concern myself with? The verdict is still out!

Conclusion

Any last words?

Buy this phone. If warranties are a concern, realise that you’re getting a high-end device (I know it’s not cutting edge, but then for £281? C’mon!) For not a lot. The build quality is good, the individual components are great, and the overall experience is pleasant. I’ve not looked back! This is genuinely the best device I’ve owned so far.

Guest Blogger this month is Gordon Thomson BSc Hons Applied Computing, Application Developer.

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.

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

 

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?