May 19th, 2011tech
What does information security mean? To many people it means “making sure confidential information stays confidential”, but in IT we often include “ensure your systems are secure against something that may disrupt the business”. So a fault that allows someone (either by accident or by malice) to stop your systems from working but doesn’t reveal confidential information may still be considered a security issue.
Some of the ideas here may require a small business to seek outside help. None of them, however, should be particularly expensive to follow.
1. Prioritise the issues you face
While it’s natural to worry about viruses and outside hacks (and you should certainly be running anti-virus software), that may not be the biggest issue you face. What about the person who you had to sack last month for misconduct? What about the person you know was upset about their pay rise this year? What about the temp who’s absolutely great at what s/he does but has a tendency to accidentally delete the wrong file? All these people can cause your business issues, and all of them have a far greater opportunity to do so.
The best thing you can do here is to look at how your systems are set up and put together simple, easy-to-follow processes to ensure that the access people have – and therefore the damage they can do – is limited. For current members of staff, ensure that they’re only given what access they need to do their job, and for people leaving the company ensure that whatever the circumstances, they return any equipment they have been issued with and all their access to IT systems is revoked.
2. Thoroughly check PCs before re-using them
Ideally you’d wipe PCs entirely and reinstall everything, but that’s not always practical in a small business. In any event, you should at least ensure that you remove any personal information before you hand your old PC over to the new receptionist. This is particularly important if you’ve been using it to store confidential information – you probably don’t want last years’ pay review spreadsheet being made public, for instance.
This is good advice even if there isn’t confidential information on a PC because it gives you an opportunity to wipe any software that doesn’t need to be on there any more. This in turn reduces the risk of you accidentally going over your allotted licenses – which can be very expensive.
3. Centrally enforce updates
You know how your PC occasionally prompts you to say “Your PC has been updated, please reboot”? And how it never prompts you at a nice convenient time like 5:30pm on a Friday?
I know it’s annoying but those updates are there for a reason. More often than not, they fix security issues which have come to light – and if you don’t install them, your system will be absolutely ripe for the next big issue that causes businesses worldwide to watch their IT collapse around their ears. Mercifully such events are pretty rare, but they do happen.
If you’ve got more than a few PCs, it’s worth setting them up so they all get their updates at a convenient time and ensure that nobody can disable it. If you’ve got a domain, you can do this centrally so you don’t need to visit each PC in turn.
4. Don’t do anything you don’t need to
Virtually every piece of technology you might use has a great big long list of things it can do – and a rather shorter list of things you actually care about.
Here’s the rub:
Every extra feature your technology offers is another thing to go wrong.
This doesn’t mean you should turn things off indiscriminately – even for an expert, this is a very good way to break systems! – but you should be asking yourself “Do I really need to this?”. Don’t assume you have to explicitly enable this sort of function – frequently you’ll find systems ship already set up to do everything and it’s down to you to turn off things you don’t want.
5. Encrypt your laptops
Just because you need a password to use your computer doesn’t mean that information on it is automatically secure. It is still very easy to get at anything on there – generally all you need is a screwdriver. The solution is to use something called encryption, which uses complicated maths to make the information essentially impossible to get at without the password. There are all sorts of options available – from free products such as TrueCrypt to commercial products such as PGP. There’s nothing wrong with the free products, but they tend to offer substantially fewer ways of solving the problem of “Oh dear I’ve forgotten my password”. Which is particularly important considering that once the laptop is encrypted, nobody – not me, not you, not Bill Gates, not even MI5 – can get at the information on it without the password.
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March 19th, 2011cyber
If you imagine that Cyber Threats could be a minor nuisance, you may think in terms of the loss of a few files, or even of a computer crash, nothing to be really excited about. You need only take out your routine backup and you are back on track in no time.
But wait a minute! While we were talking, the whole of our current civilization, on which we depend so heavily, was transformed by exceptional minds, through tireless labor of millions of dedicated people, to be based exclusively on the perfect performance of computer and communication technology.
Think of it. Without paying any attention, we depend for our daily life and its quality, on the flawless operations of myriads of connected computers for everything we need. We enjoy an unprecedented convenience while performing our most common duties or when perusing the most sophisticated facilities.
The electricity we use, the water we find at the tap, the supplies we buy, our transportation, our vacations, our work, our health, our life depend on the smooth functioning of a lot of computer controlled factors that collectively assure the regular course of things.
Around us, all manufacturing, storing, transportation, medical, education and government activities are organized, controlled and executed by people who developed their computer literacy in view of the needs of their careers, to become able to perform their duties.
Besides computers we use cell phones and mobile devices. Our children and grand children learn to search knowledge and communicate from their earliest age. In a perfect world there would not be any reason to worry. Just enjoy your life from everywhere in the world you want to stay, and be in contact with all you care for.
All this is very nice as long as it works. However it now appears that the concept itself of world wide interconnected communications conceals a terrifying vulnerability. It is becoming more and more questionable if it is possible at all to protect the web from intentional destructive attacks.
What happens when natural events like earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, tsunamis or similar disasters suddenly disrupt locally the regular flow of civilized life? Or when wars, insurrections, revolutions, genocide or other man made tragedies take place in distant locations?
In those cases we get a glimpse of what happens to normal forms of civilization when human tools and shelters break down. Nothing works any more, people are left alone in the aftermath of the cataclysm that struck them. Partial help may be given by far away organizations and nations, generally too little and too late. We may express sympathy for the victims, while they mourn their dead people and slowly pick up the shreds of what is left.
What has this terrifying scenario to do with the Cyber Threats mentioned in the title above? Apparently something is deeply disturbing the highest authorities of every nation, if they dedicate so much attention and funds to finance the efforts needed to set up adequate protection against them.
Detailed information openly available from many authoritative sources give a gloomy view of the prospects, if it is true that no credible strategy could be conceived as yet, capable to oppose the most devastating attacks of disruption that nasty individuals, dangerous ideological movements or hostile nations could launch at any time against civilized human communities.
Also it is recognized that the measures deployed by official authorities are regularly lagging behind the potential threats known to be prepared and planned in the dark. Private companies seem wary to spend their assets in improving their precautions and also in purchasing adequate insurance coverage.
This enemy is sneaky, anonymous, hidden in the crowd, but from time to time evidence is collected that guarded secrets were stolen, that money was diverted from companies to unknown thieves, that accessible online servers were forcibly disabled.
Unfortunately, although people at large have no means to stage any special defense, except possibly in the privacy of their own computer, it is a fact that Cyber Threats may affect everyone.
We can only hope that those in charge of dealing with this matter will find the courage, the strength and the ingenuity to put in place credible precautions capable to limit the damage in extent and in time, to find ways to expose the enemy and to win this ultimate war.
It is disturbing to be compelled to recognize that our splendid civilization with all its extraordinary achievements might be at the mercy of people whose only concept of success is the total destruction of anything of value produced by the human history.
Elia E. Levi is a retired engineer with vast experience in a wide range of fields. Upon retirement from over 40 years of serving in manufacturing industries, he started a new activity using the Internet as a means to reach large audiences, to spread knowledge and know how.
He built a website to assist readers with a step-by-step Home Surveillance Guide to understand, design, select and set up independently the best and least expensive Surveillance System for their Home Security. Read more on the subject of this article by looking at Cyber Threats.
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February 19th, 2011Future technology
The advent of the compact disc (CD), and later the digital versatile disc (DVD) were, at the times of their respective creation, were thought to be the end all and be all of media storage and playback. There have been other types of digital media designed for the mass market such as digital audio tapes (DAT’s), mini disc’s (MD’s) to name but a couple of mediums that were at the time, touted as the next big thing to revolutionize how we stored, listened to and watched our digital media. And now, with the mainstream fully embracing Blu-Ray technology, digital optical media seems to have peaked in terms of capability and usefulness.
If you were to discover that optical media, regardless of whether we’re talking about cd’s, dvd’s or the impossibly awesome blu-ray, had a limited lifespan and in fact may not be the ultimate storage or playback method…well, you’d likely be a bit surprised, shocked, maybe even a bit angry depending on how much money and time you’ve invested in your media library. Guess what?
Digital media and optical storage methods are, in fact, not built to last forever, despite what you may think based on what you’ve read or have been told by the salesman who sold you your blu-ray player. Great. All those cases of cd’s and dvd’s and blu-rays have a finite lifespan attached to them – now what? Wait until the next disc based storage format comes along? Sell off your collections based in anticipation of the next even smaller storage format? Believe it or not, the future is already here and slowly gaining traction in the form of all digital content that you stream from a central location throughout your home.
With the rising popularity of services like Netflix and iTunes, consumers are quickly becoming used to the notion of not actually owning physical copies of their media. It may take some time to wrap your head around the idea of going all digital, after all, having bookcases or closets or racks and racks full of music and movies is impressive to look at and, until recently, the commonplace and accepted method of storage and display.
Being able to back-up and copy all of your optical media to one central location, such as a plug in hard drive attached to your main computer, would instantly eliminate the need for physical copies. The space savings alone are enough of an incentive for many consumers to consider this option. Add in the ability to stream wirelessly to any location in your home or to your portable devices, and the idea of owning physical copies of your music and movies seems downright old fashioned.
If you don’t have wireless in your home, there is always an alternative option. By utilizing a media hub or similar device, you can simply unplug your hard drive and connect it to whatever TV screen you choose to use. This method also makes your entire library portable – you could easily take your entire library of music and movies with you wherever you go. Try taking one thousand DVD’s anywhere and you’ll see the benefit of an all-digital library pretty quickly!
Many of the music or film purists who have large collections will always cite the inability to have cover art as one of the reasons to retain physical copies of films and music. There is some merit to this as cover art is an established and attractive part of the music or film contained within. But many of the media players and all digital storage methods offer the user the ability to attach album covers and movie poster art to their corresponding digital files (*”cover flow” in iTunes is a great example of this), thus allowing you to retain the familiar while utilizing the new methodology.
While blu-ray media is currently in fashion and is considered the end all be all of digital media, the evolution to non-physical copies is happening as we speak. Hard drives are getting bigger and capable of more storage. Streaming media throughout the home is simple enough for the average user to install and calibrate. You may not be quite ready to put your existing media up for sale – that’s ok for the time being. You’ve had a lifelong relationship with your albums and movies. But as your choices increase and more and more films and albums are added to your library, combined with the finite lifespan of optical disc based storage, sooner or later you’ll begin to consider going all digital. Whether you make the choice sooner or later, the ease of use, not to mention all of the benefits already discussed here (*think of the space you’ll save around the house!), will have you thinking about your library in a whole new way. Embrace the future of digital media.The Future of Digital Media – No More Physical Copies
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