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Hacks to Reduce Security Breaches in Cloud Computing Networks

Brent Whitfield

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Hacks to Reduce Security Breaches in Cloud Computing Networks

Cloud computing networks are revolutionizing the business world and, with their limited resources, SMBs are often first in line to take advantage of virtualization.

Unfortunately, due to their absent or budget in-house IT services, they are also high on the priority list of hackers looking to cause damage or to steal sensitive data. Even businesses with limited sensitive data on their systems are seen as a way to gain access to their bigger clients’ networks (for example, the HVAC company whose network access credentials opened up a channel to discount store giant Target in the 2013 data breach, costing them millions of dollars in settlements).

The dilemma between increased operational efficiency and higher exposure to security breaches is one being anxiously chewed over by CTOs and business owners everywhere.

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If you decide to bite the bullet and embrace the cloud, here are some tips for minimizing risks.

 

Automate Security Checks

Security-conscious homeowners make sure they check the locks on all of their doors and windows when they leave the house. IT-security businesses do the same with any data coming into or exiting their networks. There are various types of automated threat detection software on the market and some are able to flag changes to firewall and server configurations and even trigger password change reminders.

Just be aware that threat detection automation is not infallible. It still requires a human being to act on any threats it picks up on and, in the case of malware detection, install security patches. Even then, it may be breached as part of a zero-day exploit.

 

Minimize Downloads

Cloud services, especially the bigger ones, are often less vulnerable to security breaches than the systems used by their clients. Where sensitive data is concerned, the fewer versions stored on your in-house systems the better.

One simple hack to reduce the risk of data theft is to strictly limit the downloading of data. For example, if you are accessing a sensitive document – such as a scanned bank statement – on the cloud, use a viewer or your browser’s preview function rather than automatically hitting the download button.

There is no point in your cloud provider implementing end-to-end encryption and two-factor authentication only for a dodgy visitor to plug in a flash drive and swipe documents you’ve left lying about on your own PCs.

 

Use Your Virtual Shredder

As well as reducing the number of downloads, make it a clear policy to delete documents, emails and other data that you no longer need. Leaving emails and documents lying about in system folders – even spam folders or trash cans – not only increases the chance of them being stolen. It also leaves you vulnerable to hidden scripts or infected files.

Adjust the settings of your email server to ensure the spam and trash folders are regularly purged. You can also use the inbuilt Task Scheduler (Windows) or Automator (Mac Os X) to delete, for example, unmodified files of a certain age.

 

Consider Tokenization

Tokenization is used by many security-conscious firms to protect sensitive data (e.g. card details in retail environments). However, tokenization systems can work with other types of sensitive data too.

In a nutshell, tokenization associates real data with a temporary random alternative (the token). The token then replaces the real data during transfer. If the network has been exploited, the hackers can steal only the meaningless token. Unlike some forms of encryption, there is no formula used to create the token from the original data. Therefore, the hacker will be unable to recreate the real data.

 

Strictly Control Third Party Apps – and Users!

Businesses regularly underestimate the number of third party apps that are integrated into their virtual networks. Third party apps using APIs are now ubiquitous across the internet but not all follow good security practice.

Carry out regular audits to draw up a list of all of the third-party apps your business uses. Make sure you are running the latest versions, have installed any security patches and that each app meets your company’s security and compliance standards. If necessary, replace those that do not.

If your organization is complex or you are unsure about whether a third-party app is safe, consider outsourcing this function to a professional IT consulting firm.

It is also wise to run a regular third-party user audit. You wouldn’t allow a lodger to retain the key to your home after they leave so be quick to withdraw any permissions you have granted to your systems when access is no longer appropriate.

If you operate a Bring Your Own Device policy, ensure that former employees’ devices are recovered and/or wiped immediately. On the same theme, make sure that you give third-party users and remote workers only the minimum access they need to perform their role. Your virtual call center agents should not be able to access your company accounts!

Moving Beyond Hacks

Taken together, the tips and software hacks above will afford some protection from security breaches but they will never eliminate all danger. Security in the cloud is a process and there is no one-time hack or ‘silver bullet’ product that will render any business immune to the cyber criminals’ persistent efforts.

The best course of action is to invest in proper staff training, lay sound security foundations (strong passwords, robust data protection policies, regular updates, compliance awareness, etc.) and keep up to date with the most recent developments in technology and IT security.

Brent Whitfield is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides specialist advice and IT Consulting Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive while being sensitive to limited IT budgets. Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters and Yahoo Business. DCGLA was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor. You can follow him on Twitter at @DCGCloud.

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IoT Trends to Watch Out for In Mobile App Development

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Today, the impact of technology on the way we live and work is all-pervasive. Having a mobile presence has become ubiquitous, with an increasing number of organizations recognizing mobile apps as a necessity.

Mobile app industry has become one of the fastest evolving arenas, and the mobile app market is replete with all kinds of apps- lifestyle, health & fitness, gaming, social media, and many more. While all the medium and small-scale organizations are looking to enter this highly competitive market, most of the large companies are already harnessing the potential of these apps to improve their marketing and augment customer engagement.

With new technologies being introduced every day, the power of these apps is on the rise. Presently, the Internet of Things (IoT) technology is tremendously revolutionizing the mobile app development industry by proffering highly scalable benefits. Let’s have a look.

The Pronounced Impact of IoT in Mobile App Development

The concept of IoT is quickly gaining prominence, and the technology behind smart homes and smart cities has begun to flourish. In such a scenario, smartphones play the most vital role as they act as the primary interface through which the user interacts with the IoT-enabled devices. The mobile devices being launched now are empowered with sensors and apps that enable them to communicate with other sensors and devices.

The IoT technology enables a smartphone to execute a wide array of tasks by controlling numerous appliances, for instance, switching the lights on/off, altering their illumination levels, opening/closing the doors, etc. This reduces the human effort and helps in performing all tasks with high precision.

Moving on, IoT has created a massive demand for the development of apps for them. As the number of smart objects increase, a greater number of apps are required to be developed to connect with them. Therefore, the adaptability of apps becomes more widespread. This has also enabled world’s greatest app developers to come together and co-create apps that ensure seamless IoT connectivity.

Developing IoT Apps

The amazing technology of IoT is all set to bring about a new era in the arena of mobile app development by introducing IoT apps. These apps have the potential to combine several elements such as internet-enabled devices, sensors, networks, and the cloud. However, the only concern related to developing these apps is the level of complexity involved. But both Google and Apple have introduced their own specific toolkits, known as Brillo, and HomeKit respectively, to help app developers take up IoT application development with better skills and know-how.

Few Pointers to Be Borne in Mind:

There are a few pointers that must be kept in mind while developing IoT apps for your business.

  • App Development in Different Tiers

The process of software development usually involves different tiers. Similarly, in case of IoT, the development process includes five different tiers, and the app developers must possess adequate knowledge of these. The five tiers include Device, Gateway, Data, Analytics, and Application. Consequently, they all need to be seamlessly incorporated into the development phase in order to create proficient IoT apps.

  • Niche-Oriented IoT Mobile App Development

According to the prevailing market scenario, there are various mobile app development platforms, and the app developers work separately to create apps for different platforms such as Android, iOS, Windows, etc. However, IoT is anticipated to be a unified platform, and hence, the developers need to be adept at developing apps in the IoT niche.

  • Development of Platform from Scratch

The concept of IoT is comparatively novel, and as of now, there is no proper developing platform for the same. This is one of the reasons why developing an IoT app is not easy. New software needs to be developed, as there are no web-based solutions to build mobile apps.

  • Take care of security

Since now all the devices will be connected by the IoT and above that users will be transmitting tons of data via these devices for accomplishing various activities, thus making apps secure is really very imperative. In the current scenario, where actually security is taking a serious shape with every passing day, thus make sure that all the encryption, authentication and the safeguarding protocols are applied to the app for making it highly sophisticated and reliable.

  • Plan the process of development

IoT apps carry a different genre, right from the wireframing till the app deployment, all the steps are harder to implement and requires a little extra brainstorming. These apps, since are different from the mainstream apps, thus are required to be processed in the right way and with the aid of appropriate tools and platforms.

  • Try something extraordinary

Well, the smartphones and the other digital devices are solely controlled by the user touch and perspective gestures, but if we talk about the IoT, the IoT app developers have a more vast opportunity to connect with the user in unique ways and can proffer them rich interfaces. For instance, there is a leap motion that uses the infrared camera to identify the fingers and hand movements of the users, thus eliminating the requirement of touch screens. Now the aforementioned idea can be used in the other domains as well as helping the users to accomplish day to day activities.

Final Words

IoT is a broad spectrum which is still in its infancy. Before building an IoT app, the app developers must try to learn all that they can about IoT and understand the humongous potential of this technology.

Also, because the concept is new, it will take a lot of in-depth research and analysis to develop IoT apps. The developers might come across a lot of difficulties related to IoT platforms, connectivity, etc. Although, presently, the IoT technology leverages protocols like WiFi, Bluetooth, and other cellular services, the best protocol to connect to IoT apps may be invented later on. Developers need to work hard on developing robust IoT apps in order to gain an edge and at the same time, harness the full potential of this amazing technology.

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The 10 Best Cloud Storage Solutions for Small Businesses

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The cloud has quickly superseded local storage as the best way to store the data for your business, but it is not without its risks. If you choose the wrong provider, your data may end up getting compromised, so you need to find the best cloud storage for small business, luckily, we’re here to help you out.

Cloud Computing for Small Business: Best Options Around

1. Google Drive

As always, you will find few better options than Google Drive if you are looking for the most reliable cloud storage service on the internet. There is a reason for Google Drive being one of the most popular options, and they are not prone to the outages and info leaks that you will sometimes see from others.

Small business cloud storage is a big deal for Google Drive, as that is where the bulk of their revenue comes from. The average user does not need more than the 15 GB of storage space that is allotted by Google Drive, so it makes sense to opt for a choice that has your business’ best interests at heart.

2. Dropbox

While some may consider Dropbox less professional than Google Drive, its accessibility is what makes it such a popular option. As you may have guessed by now, more popular small business cloud storage options are often a better choice because they see more frequent support as well as stricter security updates.

For only around $8 per month, you can have 1 TB of storage from Dropbox, beating most of the rates of the other large competitors. Of course, you will want to keep in mind that Dropbox is a little simpler than some of the other options on this list, so they are ideal if storage is all you will need.

3. Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service)

S3 is Amazon’s solution to cloud storage, and as usual, they have put their own twist on it, and it has worked out for the better. If your company is looking for cloud storage that is effective yet reliable, there are few better options than S3, though it is a little pricier than some other options.

You may not know that S3 is just as secure and reliable as the cloud storage that Amazon provides to some of the largest corporations in America. If you want superior-quality cloud storage for a much better price than much of the competition will provide it for, you should opt for Amazon S3 small business cloud services.

4. OneDrive

Microsoft’s OneDrive has the advantage of being optionally packaged with its Office 365 service, which helps you consolidate your office programs and cloud services for small business into one set of credentials. Of course, there are more benefits to OneDrive than this small convenience.

You will find that this cloud storage service gives you more options when you are deciding on just how much storage you will need for your files. Your business cloud will also need to be secure, and Microsoft is known for having better protocols to deal with information breaches than most other providers.

5. Carbonite

We are not getting into the best cloud storage for small business options that are more specialized and meant to be used specifically by companies and businesses. Carbonite has the advantage of being significantly more secure than many of the other options on the market without making sacrifices in other areas.

In addition to improved security, you’ll find that Carbonite has plenty of features that will make things easier for business owners, like automatic backups and more. Carbonite also has the advantage of being more affordable than most other services, offering plans from $60 to $600 per year.

6. SOS Backup

Much like Carbonite, SOS Online Backup combines your small business cloud with a backup service so that they can provide everything that you will need related to storage. Keep in mind that SOS is a little more barebones than what you can expect to get from Carbonite, which makes it ideal for even smaller businesses.

If you’re looking to reduce your operating costs when it comes to storage, SOS is an excellent option that will provide the security that you need while still offering a reasonable number of features. The business use plan for SOS Online Backup is priced at $30 per month.

7. IDrive

IDrive is much like Dropbox in that it gives you expanded file-sharing abilities, making it easier for your employees to work with each other. This service is much more affordable than most of the other options on this list when it comes to cloud storage for small businesses.

While IDrive may be affordable, that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to constantly be worrying about your data. In spite of budget cloud storage services often having problems with remaining secure and reliable, you will find that IDrive boasts a very impressive track record.

8. Bitcasa

If you value security more than anything when it comes to your small business cloud services, then Bitcasa will be the perfect option for you. While they may not offer anything too fancy when compared to the bigger players in the storage industry, Bitcasa is renowned for their excellent security.

Since your files will be encrypted before they even reach Bitcasa, you can rest assured that even people snooping on your network won’t be able to see them. Of course, if you have a security breach of that type, you likely have more significant issues, but it is always good to have more security.

9. Hightail

Hightail is a perfect small business cloud storage provider for those who love the sharing functionality of Google Drive but don’t want to deal with Google’s prices. While this service is more affordable than some other options, you won’t notice much of a loss in functionality.

Of course, Hightail can’t hope to compete with Google when it comes to security, but they are not known for any significant breaches or other issues when it comes to that matter. If you have workers who are more spread out than most businesses, you will find that Hightail is an excellent choice for cloud computing for small business.

10. OpenDrive

Last but not least, let’s look at one of the most affordable options for companies where the bottom line matters more than it will for other businesses. OpenDrive provides a storage solution for those of you who do not want to spend a cent more than they have to, and they are still both reliable and secure.

Small business cloud storage does not always have to be a complicated matter with all sorts of different functions that are hardly ever used. If you won’t end up needing most of the extras that come packaged with other cloud storage services, then you will likely want to choose OpenDrive.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this guide has been able to provide you with the best cloud storage for small business options on the market. There are far too many of them to cover them all, but the ones that are on this list are typically a cut above many of the other choices that you have at your disposal.

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Cloud Computing

10 Stupid Mistakes Businesses Do In the Cloud

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“Sky is the limit”. We enjoy telling this adage. However, what we fail to mention is that underneath those clouds, there hides lightning, thunderstorms, torrential rains and heavy gushes of winds, to name a few.

Same goes for cloud computing as well. On the brighter side, cloud technology provides us with the ample number of benefits including scalability, flexibility, and agility. However, on the other side, even a slightest of mistake or slip-up can result in utter chaos and remorse.
Here are 10 such silly mistakes:

1. Migrating all applications to cloud

Yes, several enterprise applications still aren’t cloud friendly. Businesses can incur fatal damages in terms of application performance and user experience if they move applications that are difficult to integrate with legacy systems. Thus, it is advisable to understand and validate all the applications that you intend to move to the cloud.

2. Firing people on legacy solutions

One of the biggest mistakes businesses do in the cloud is firing employees on the legacy systems in advance, often to compensate for the migration expenses before they actually begin the exodus. Migration to the cloud may take anything from a few months to the year. Therefore, enterprises would require their legacy system and the respective staff during the entire transition. For example, going for a cloud-based CRM software doesn’t mean that you should fire the staff handling your in-house customer data immediately, since this may lead to loss of data. 

3. Flying to cloud without a robust plan

Many enterprises fail to have a robust plan in place when moving to the cloud. They overlook understanding as who in the organization will administer specific cloud-related operations such as data backups, security, access controls, etc. Any blunder here could land your business into troubled waters.

4. Neglecting security

Security undoubtedly has to be the topmost priority when dealing with the cloud. The type of security you wish to have for a specific cloud application must depend on the type of data (sensitivity) that the application handles. For instance, CRM software solutions that deal with crucial customer data should always be encrypted and authenticated with stringent access controls.

5. Believing that on-premise and cloud are the same things

One of the costliest mistakes is treating cloud ecosystem like the way you treat an on-premise data center. Though cloud can offer excellent cost savings, it requires a completely different set of resources and management practices/processes. Failing to do so might lead to waste of efforts, time and money instead of saving.

6. Moving with an amateur or untrained staff

Unfortunately, many IT personnel are still clueless about cloud technology and its mechanisms, especially if it’s their first encounter with cloud technology. On the other hand, finding and recruiting cloud-savvy staff is still a daunting and challenging thing. Migrating to cloud without sufficient knowledge and training can make the process tiring and extensive. This is the reason IT experts and staffs need proper cloud training prior to taking the giant leap.

7. Incompatible move

Another frustrating mistake is migrating to cloud with incompatible operating systems (OS) and/or platforms. The journey to the cloud can be much smoother if your cloud vendor provides you with the same OS and middleware that you already have been using for your on-premise setting. This would eliminate the need for extensive tweaks and rewrites saving tons of efforts and time.

8. Setting unrealistic expectations

Many CIOs and business owners often tend to have larger than life or rather unrealistic expectations when it comes to cloud migration and its infra. For example, hosting documents, email and database apps on cloud-based CRM software solutions shouldn’t be a problem, but running intense videos, graphics and related applications might require specific or additional hardware as per needs. Therefore, it is advisable to rope in a consultant when it comes to understanding and setting realistic expectations from the cloud.

9. Giving service performance analysis a miss

Failing to analyze your cloud service against the expectations you have set will only lead to utter wastage of money and time. Businesses should regularly evaluate the KPIs and undertake appropriate actions to deal with potential discrepancies if any.   

10. Ignoring disaster recovery

All that you move to cloud is 100% safe and secure, right? Well, it is, if you do your part and do it right. For instance, if moving all your critical customer data to a cloud-based CRM software, you ought to acknowledge the uptime from your cloud vendor before you actually initiate the move. Though most of the cloud-based CRM software services offer automatic data recovery and disaster plans, it is still advisable to have a backup strategy of your own ready. What if some dissatisfied admin or a hacker deletes all your critical customer data? This calls to have a robust backup plan in place.         

Takeaway

Cloud computing is a boon when it comes to streamlining critical business operations and getting more productive in today’s cutthroat business ecosystem, but it is highly important that you understand the cloud’s mechanisms in order to reap the most out of it.

Lastly, yet importantly, a foolproof way to mitigate cloud mistakes is to rope in the services of an established and reliable cloud vendor. It is always a smart thing to have a skilled cloud partner onboard for a smooth and trouble-free migration experience.

 

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