Category Archives: Security

Jumpstart The Cloud For Small Businesses

Jumpstart The Cloud For Small Businesses

The Cloud For Small Businesses

Cloud computing provides the perfect mix for small startups to jumpstart their business quickly and inexpensively. The utilization of Cloud based SaaS applications as well as benefiting from one of the several managed cloud service providers (Reducing IT costs) can save your company a fair bit of money. You will require a company website and the good news is, there are several CMS offerings available for you to work with offering varying complexities and prices.

Number Crunchers

One of the major to-do lists for any small business is to have a qualified accountant, or if you love numbers, a SaaS accounting program to help manage your business startup.

Attached is an infographic courtesy of Waspbarcode which outlines some of the accounting challenges faced by small businesses.

    • 74% don’t understand how ghost assets impact their books and inflate taxes, insurance or money owed.
    • Only 17% of small businesses use an asset management system that allows auditing.
    • Accountants ranked among the top professionals in order of importance to small businesses; and, 88% of small businesses are very or somewhat satisfied with their accountants.


Churning It Up In The Cloud

Churning It Up In The Cloud

Churning The Corner With SaaS Applications

There’s plenty of research that backs up our reasoning for a move to the cloud. Forrester Research claims that the public cloud computing market will reach $191bn in 2020 (everyone else is doing it); Peer1Hosting claims that 49% of IT decision makers are doing it to reduce costs (everyone else is cutting costs).

And that’s all great. So much of the evidence behind moving data into the cloud rests in the financial – even though on average, a business has around 250 applications to manage on approximately four different clouds (let’s leave that for another time…)

In fact, one the most compelling – yet little measured – impacts of the cloud is the softer element. To what degree is cloud technology helping us retain our talent? To what degree is cloud technology improving our productivity? Indeed, to what degree is cloud technology adding value to our businesses?

Let’s look at how we might be able to quantify the softer side of the cloud.

Days lost vs Days earned


Central London businesses will know the perils of public transport. Last week’s incident at Clapham Junction, where commuters were stuck for 7 hours, underlines the business risk. However, listen to the news, and you’ll have heard of the ‘demob happy’ atmosphere among commuters, many of whom had simply gone online and started working. At least, for as long as their laptops and phones had power. Ten, twenty years ago, this would have been unimaginable.

As a business, take the number of days lost to issues such as transport, minor illnesses, sick children (I can attest to the latter no longer being such an issue from a work point of view), and you can put a figure on how much the cloud is saving your business. Russell Cook wrote that you can add 25 hours per week for some employees with the cloud – a surprisingly large figure.

Churn & the cost of hire

cloud_14It’s hard to measure the effect cloud technology has on churn. However, we can have a go. In one business I worked at, technology was so old that laptops would take 20 minutes to load every morning. That’s 20 minutes, per person, per day – at a minimum – lost to technology. Home working was near impossible as e-mail was not available off-premises, and documents had to be hosted on a local server. On top of the cost of days lost, there was the inevitable disaffection brought about by a company not supporting employees who wanted to ‘get the job done’.

After all, we’re all after job satisfaction.

So if we take the cost of losing an employee and hiring another (some experts claim it’s as much as $55,000 on average), and we add another 5% to our churn due to a lack of cloud services, then we can come to a reasonable figure.

Speed is of the essence

In the UK, our government talks frequently of a lack of productivity in the workplace and they might be right. So what if those laptops loaded more quickly? There’s an extra hour of work for every three employees, per day. But what if files were more accessible and actionable – that’s measurable too.

For instance, a spreadsheet hosted on a local server can only be accessed by one person. A live one can be edited by multiple people. If that spreadsheet saves 5 minutes a day, per person, it may not sound like much. That is, until you add up those 5 minutes over several months, and you end up with several days’ worth of savings.

We’re not alone in finding it hard to quantify the softer side of the business – HR professionals have been trying to quantify for years, and it’s only recently (thanks to the cloud) that they’re able to bring all of their data together. The irony.

However – even if we’re unable to put the pence to it, we can estimate the pounds – and they are considerable, whether they’re hypothetical pounds or not.

By Gareth Cartman

The Growth Of Rampant Digital Diseases

The Growth Of Rampant Digital Diseases

Rampant Digital Diseases

Keeping ‘Rombertik’ at Bay – The New Malware that Destroys Hard-Drives

A new form of malware is still on the loose, and this one takes malicious to a whole new level. Nicknamed ‘Rombertik’ by Cisco Systems, the malware attempts to infiltrate the victim’s browser to procure confidential information; fairly standard operating procedure for malware. Where Rombertik differentiates itself from other malware is the way in which it avoids detection, and how it fights back if it is detected.

Kowsik Guruswamy, CTO for Menlo Security, on the subject. Kowsik says,

“It’s a scenario that we’ve seen time and time again – none of the existing security solutions have been able to protect enterprise users from malware infection. We’ve thrown signatures, sandboxes, big data, analytics and numerous other seemingly innovative security technologies at it yet nothing works. In the State of the Web 2015: Vulnerability Report we published last month, we found that one in three web sites out there pose some sort of risk to the user. We really need to be thinking about ways of eliminating malware that doesn’t involve keeping up with the latest trends – something more definitive that just takes the problem off the table.”

How Rombertik Stays Invisible

Rombertik employs a number of advanced mechanisms that render it almost completely undetectable.


(Source: Talos)

First of all, Rombertik devotes a lot of information – around 97% of its binary data – to appearing perfectly innocent. Only 3% of the program actually functions as malware; the rest of it is a collection of harmless images and functions. Furthermore, the program uses a bogus data generator that, at the beginning of its operation, writes 960 million random bytes to memory, effectively creating over 100GB of log files that analysis applications have to trawl through.

These mechanisms make it extremely hard for any malware detection application to detect Rombertik.

Advanced Sandbox Detection

Rombertik deliberately makes invalid function calls that are designed to invoke specific errors – errors that are typically suppressed by a virtual machine. By doing so, Rombertik can check whether or not it is running within a sandbox. It is only once it determines that it is not running within a sandbox that it begins unpacking itself.

Detection and Self-Destruction

If Rombertik detects that it is in fact running inside a VM, it decides that it has been flagged as a suspicious program, and initiates a self-destruct sequence that ultimate destroys the host computer’s hard drive. Its first priority is to access and overwrite the Master Boot Record of the host hard drive. Essentially, it completely overwrites the MBR partition data with null bytes, making it next to impossible to restore the hard drive.

If it is unable to gain access to the MBR, Rombertik instead encrypts all the files (using an RC4 key) within the C:\ drive’s administrator folder.

Prevention is better than a Cure

The best course of action, as with any virus or malicious software, is to avoid getting it in the first place! Rombertik, as with most cases of malware, gets installed when people click on links or attachments sent through email. The trouble is, these emails can often come from trusted sources – sources that people would never suspect to be harbouring malicious software of any sort. Even Forbes, a well-respected and widely acclaimed website, had fallen victim to hackers back in November 2014, who had used it as a platform to spread malware. The reality is that this can happen to anyone, anytime and anywhere. These are rampant digital diseases that are becoming more and more powerful. We need much better systems in place to find preventative methods before situations become that much more terminal.

By Vanja Daskalovic

Will Your Internet of Things Device Testify Against You?

Will Your Internet of Things Device Testify Against You?

Will Your Internet of Things Device Testify

Imagine this:  Your wearable device is subpoenaed to testify against you.  You were driving when you were over the legal alcohol limit and data from a smart Breathalyzer device is used against you. Some might argue that such a use case could potentially safeguard society. However, it poses a bigger concern about how data from the broader spectrum of Internet of Things (IoT) devices could be used against you.  Doesn’t it seem reminiscent of George Orwell’s dystopian universe, Nineteen Eighty Four where children were indoctrinated to inform on suspicious activity, only now it’s an IoT device? But, this time it’s you who chose to use the device or network of devices that could start working in concert against you.


IoT devices range from wearables such as wristbands, shirts, and goggles to a range of household and other real-world objects that are increasingly being connected to the Internet using RFID chips, barcodes, sensors, bots via mobile applications. And as the technology has become cheaper and more efficient these devices have become enmeshed in our daily lives. Runners like myself regularly slip sensors into our shoes to track our distance and times.  Many people wear fitness bands with the goal of optimizing their sleep, diet and lifestyle patterns. There is also a certain coolness and addictive factor associated with these devices and many rush to have the latest and greatest in these devices.

Data Brokers Are Waiting

What most people don’t think about is most if not all of the analysis of the data is not carried out on the device and is analyzed and often shared with third party data brokers via a cloud backend depending on the privacy policies in place.  These third parties may share information and the aggregated data used to create profiles, which at best case may be use for marketing purposes but over time what’s to stop insurers and law enforcement gaining access to this information?

Earlier this year Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Edith Ramirez warned of the privacy risks when at the CES tradeshow, she posed the question ”Or will the information flowing in from our smart cars, smart devices, smart cities just swell the ocean of “big data,” which could allow information to be used in ways that are inconsistent with consumers’ expectations or relationship with a company?”   The Electronic Privacy Information Center has also written at length on the risks of the “hidden collection” of sensitive data from IoT devices.  In Accenture’s survey report on the “Internet of Things” many of the 2000 respondents polled in the United States indicated they would be willing to share personal data in return for discounts and coupons.

Transparency, Standards And Data Confidentiality


I am a fan of IoT and the potential a great many of these devices offer for improved quality of living and safety, health, greater home and environmental efficiencies.  However, consumers need clear standards for secure connections from the devices to a backend cloud and standards around data confidentiality, and transparency of that data stored and processed in the backend cloud.  Until these standards are in place, I encourage users to be vigilant and to press manufacturers for clear answers on the following at minimum:

  1. Will your data shared with third parties? This is particularly important for any device that collects sensitive data about you. It may be challenging given the volume and legalese of privacy policies but well worth the time investment given it’s your private data.
  2. Understand how your information is transmitted. And, once in storage, who has access to the information?  Is the information stored on a third party’s cloud?  When you stop using the device, what happens to your data?
  3. Take time to understand your device’s privacy settings. Have you configured the device’s settings maximum privacy? Are you only sharing what you are comfortable sharing publicly?

The tension between convenience and privacy is at it’s most strained and hopefully that will accelerate the move towards much needed digital safeguards.  But in the interim, a more cautious and defensive approach will help you preserve your privacy.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

By Evelyn de Souza

Cloud Infographic – 50 Apps That Track Everything

Cloud Infographic – 50 Apps That Track Everything

Big Brother Is Watching You

In George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, citizens of the totalitarian state Oceania are constantly reminded “Big Brother is watching you.” As ominous as this mass surveillance of a fictional civilisation seems, are we complacently doing the same thing to ourselves?

VoucerCloud has released a list of fifty tracking apps (Infographic – See Below) for smart phones (via IT News Africa) , which offer users a multitude of ways to track themselves and their behaviours. Included in this list are apps that allow you to track your heart rate, sleeping habits, and various fitness behaviours, as well as resolutions and to-do lists. Most of these seem fairly harmless and might provide some interesting insight into your life; however there are also apps which allow you to track not only your own movements, but your partner’s movements. Certainly the suggestion is that one would have to willingly allow another to track them, but how easily might someone circumvent this consent? And perhaps you’re quite willing to have your spouse know your every move, but how secure is the data in these apps anyway?

Privacy & Security

A quick search for ‘privacy tracking’ brings up a list of sites which offer options to protect your privacy. It would seem people are particularly concerned with protecting their personal information online, with offerings such as Disconnect, Do Not Track and Blur. These applications and add-ons maintain that criminals and governments alike are tracking you online, and promise to block hackers and trackers while securing your private details. These seem like a good idea; I certainly don’t like the notion that my credit card number is floating around the web, and the appeal of blocking behavioural advertisements is great, but perhaps we should take a step back and evaluate all of the data we’re willingly offering up.

Viewing Choices & Ratings

Currently, I have apps loaded on my Android smart phone that track my viewing choices and ratings, the restaurants I frequent, to-do and to-buy lists, and my movements. I love the fact that Google Home pops up every now and then, telling me how long my drive to work is going to be, pointing out accidents on my route home, and reminding me of flight schedules with tips on the weather at my destination. It does all of this without me ever having requested it. I agreed to the terms, which I didn’t read, ages ago, and am now pleasantly surprised when my phone knows my moves before I do. Perhaps I am being naïve. When I was a child my mom wouldn’t even let me wear a necklace with my name on it for fear someone would use that information to kidnap me, and now I willingly offer far more to any stranger who’s interested.

Conspiracy Theory Types

There are a few people today who refuse to have Facebook and Twitter accounts; request that you keep photographs of them private on your own social pages; and generally remain disconnected from social media. These people are, to my understanding, in the minority, and I’ve always considered them overly mistrustful. Conspiracy theory types. However, as I read through this list of applications, I am forced to reconsider my position. There is an awful lot of information I am dishing out with little or no concern for my privacy and security, and while I can’t really imagine how this might harm me, perhaps I could do to take a leaf from the conspiracy theorists and be a little more aware. Then again, Reporter looks like a fun app! Perhaps it’s a good thing it’s only available for iOS…


By Jennifer Klostermann

Cybersecurity Camps Teach Students How To Counter Online Threats

Cybersecurity Camps Teach Students How To Counter Online Threats

Cybersecurity Camps Teach Students

A US federal government cyber-security camp pilot program, launched recently to show students how to counter online security threats, has been hugely successful and could lead to an unprecedented increase in the number of people wanting to become computer scientists specializing in cyber-security.

The camps, launched in 2014 and which offer a new solution to this problem, were the brainchild of Steven La Fountain, dean of the College of Cyber at the National Security Agency. His idea  was not only to train people who would become part of a successful future cyber-security force, but also to improve teacher skills and inform civilians about what was required.


(Image Source: Shutterstock)

The cyber-security camps, specifically, are a result of a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NCF) and National Security Agency (NSA), GenCyber, that have a mission to increase the body of cyber-security experts needed by both private companies and government agencies. These organizations maintain that by teaching young people about potential online threats at an early age, they will gain respect for online information and make sure that they don’t misuse it later in life.

Associated Press reported that hundreds of students in various parts of the USA would be participating in GenCyber camps in Vermont, South Dakota and southern California. This presumably means that the program is growing.

The first prototype camps were launched late 2014, and at the time the NSA stated it hoped that there would be an eventual “presence” in schools in all 50 American states. Today Josh Pauli, associate professor at Dakota State University, where 200 students are reportedly joining the program, said it was important for students to be “really cyber aware,” or at least “be ready for the next wave of the cybersecurity workforce.” He also said he believed around 200 students would enroll in the next summer program.

Last year (2014) the pilot program ran six camps. This summer the goal was 30, and according to LaFountain, already more than 43 camps have been held at a cost of $4 million. LaFountain initially nominated a goal of 200 camps by 2020, but now says he realizes that this will happen a lot sooner than anticipated.

CybercampAccording to Dr.Victor Piotrowski, lead program director of CyberCorps’ Scholarship for Service program that the NCF runs, every company now has cyber-security on its radar, and everyone wants to hire computer science specialists to deal with the problem. But, “unfortunately we don’t have the capacity.”

The camps are clearly a new way that could prove to be the answer to the need for more cyber-security specialists.

With the probability of cyber-attacks increasing worldwide, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) has warned that it is vital to prepare as best as possible. The problem, though is that there is a lack of “skilled talent,” says an ISACA report. A global survey indicates that 16 percent of IT and cyber-security managers think that at least 50 percent of the people who apply for jobs are qualified, another 53 percent say it takes on average three to six months to find applicants who fit the qualifications they require. In addition to this, there are many organizations that have very little confidence in the cyber-security abilities of their existing staff members.


The study reveals “a high-risk environment” that is made a lot worse by “a lack of skilled talent.” It seems that the biggest problem is a lack of ability to understand the business, followed by skills deficiencies in both communications and technical skills. Further, more than half (52 percent) of the IT managers responding to the study believed that not even a quarter of those applying for jobs were qualified.

This particular study also reported a large number of security breaches, most of which (33 percent) were considered to be the result of personal gain.

It is certainly clear that education is key, and that cyber-security camps have a vital role to play.

By Penny Swift

Layering Governance Over Cloud: Do Not Re-Build Perpetually!

Layering Governance Over Cloud: Do Not Re-Build Perpetually!

Layering Governance Over Cloud 

As the latest Amazon earnings announcement for AWS suggests, enterprises have adopted cloud at a rapid pace over the last few years as a part of the emerging Bimodal IT paradigm. However, given the focus on cost and agile development, the sourcing of cloud vendors has typically been cost-based, and the governance framework adopted across empirical. The recent Sony cyberattacks have proved beyond doubt, that enterprise data is the biggest source of competitive advantage in today’s digital era and needs to be preserved and protected at all costs. Today, as critical business processes and data have started moving to the cloud, there is an increasing clamour for newer and more specific risk and control measures to ensure information security. At the same time, the threat landscape and information security requirements changes with each vendor, location, service, business priority and more. But, this does not and should not mean that organizations need re-invent their cloud management systems and governance processes again every time the threat landscape evolves.

cloud landscape

As the phenomena of cloud-based software deployments become the new normal, enterprises need to take a deeper and renewed look into Information Security and Risk Management instead of perpetually trying to re-build their Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) programs to keep pace with regulations and emerging cloud service models and technologies. The modern and leading organizations of tomorrow need to adopt a layering approach. Organizations need to create a single GRC layer over their cloud ecosystem, which can expand across multiple cloud vendors and models. The layering approach is imperative to ensure the cloud ecosystem can scale securely across the following attributes:

  • Heterogeneity: The ecosystem can support heterogeneous platforms in terms of their operating systems, technology ecosystems, devices and user base to ensure economies of scale and lower total cost of ownership.
  • Virtualization: The ecosystem will adopt cloud-based virtualized environments.
  • Big Data: The ecosystem can manage the complexity, volume and variety of data being created as the phenomena of social collaboration and mobility takes centerstage in enterprises.


The GRC layer should have capabilities to consolidate information from various end-point data sources within the cloud ecosystem and aggregate them into a single container. The layer should be able to provide a common taxonomy and orchestration for system level controls, risk assessments, access control audits and compliance checks across the cloud ecosystem. It needs to have aggregation dashboards and reporting mechanisms to consolidate the data, and provide a single source of truth to IT and business leaders. As business resilience becomes paramount in modern digital enterprises, the governance layer will also need to include the business continuity and disaster recovery related audits, plans and ownership. The layer can be used to define, create and enforce a common set of policies across all cloud vendors. It can act as the repository for all historical information in terms of compliance and control measures. The GRC layer will also provide a common framework for the risk and compliance evaluation of future cloud service providers that an organization may be considering. Having a common risk and control framework will allow the organization to set the right benchmarks and service-level agreements for the providers and aid in assimilating them with the ecosystem in a timely manner.

Cloud Ecosystem Downtime

While the naysayers will debate the cost and complexity of the tasks at hand, the cost of not having the GRC layer within the cloud ecosystem is enormous. Analysts estimated a $5 million USD loss from one single hour of outage of AWS for Amazon itself. Today most businesses are not even able to assess the true cost of cloud ecosystem downtime. The ability to handle these outages, compliance costs and threats leveraging a comprehensive GRC layer can save trillion of dollars in business operations losses, regulatory fines and service restoration costs. A fragmented or silo-based approach not only exposes the organization to the risk of operational loss or data theft, but also increases the cost of replicating the layer separately across each silo.

In conclusion, adopting a GRC layering approach allows organizations to create a single source of truth in terms of cloud governance, as well as superimpose a business context onto cloud-based assets. It is a priority that organizations recognize cloud factors such as the total cost of ownership model, the cost of disruption and the lack of organizational governance, control and provisions. The one stop assurance framework provided by a GRC layer can allow organizations to choose across the variety of emerging service and delivery models allowing them to optimize their total cost of ownership while ensuring governance across cloud ecosystem.

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

By Vibhav Agarwal

Managed Cloud Services and The Small Business

Managed Cloud Services and The Small Business

Managed Cloud Services

The age-old adage jack of all trades, master of none, is as true today as ever. Companies are often required to focus on so many diverse fields in the basic running of their businesses that they spend less time focusing on the reason for their business. With the legal and security implications surrounding IT and data management, it is essential that these services be top of the line and entirely current, but the cost implications for many smaller businesses can be excessive. As with many other divisions such as HR, payroll and maintenance, IT services can be outsourced, though this often comes at a high cost too. Another option is managed cloud services.

Managed cloud services give businesses the ability to tap into cloud services without being experts in the field. Benefits include excellent security, high availability and back-up, as well as cost efficiency. The flexibility this offers is indispensable, and ensures that the back-end is always cutting edge, thus giving you the best resources available to pursue your business’s potential.

Niche Operations



(Image Source: Shutterstock)

While all of the large IT outsourcing companies offer managed cloud services, niche operations have come to the fore offering fast, focused and flexible services at reasonable prices. Rackspace is one of the larger managed cloud service providers, and promises infrastructure provision with system monitoring, DNS management and backup and disaster recovery, as well as management of applications and tools such as specialised database management and application deployment, scaling and lifecycle management. Keytech Managing IT offers similar services in the United Kingdom, Cloud Solutions Group operating out of Melbourne, Australia is another up-and-comer. The list of companies offering these solutions is as substantial as the variety of management options they offer.

As well as offering the basic cloud solutions that any business requires to run efficiently, managed cloud services also level the playing field for small businesses by offering access to complex tools that would otherwise be too costly to consider. The expertise available from these specialised companies far outweighs what any small or medium business could provide in-house, and is provided at a budgeted monthly cost.

Internap is another provider of managed cloud solutions, and offers its customers additional flexibility in its ‘solution builder’. Businesses are able to tailor-make their solution by building an environment that meets their specific needs while filtering out any unnecessary excesses. With the constant evolution of services, reliability and customisation provided, it seems likely that managed cloud service providers will be indispensable to any small business wishing to compete in today’s market.

Sponsored by Keytech Managing IT 

By Jennifer Klostermann

CloudTweaks Comics
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