IT Security

The 4 Most Important Cybersecurity Concerns For Small Business

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The internet is a wild place, and threats to your network’s security can come from all directions. Malware, hackers, and even disgruntled employees can threaten to steal or delete the information your business needs to succeed, and you’ll need to account for all of them if you want your network to stay secure and safe. Of course, you only have so much time and so many resources, so it’s also important to deal with the most dangerous threats first.

1. Dangerous Emails

Phishing is the number one entry point for hackers who want to get into a private network. Phishing emails pretend to be official and either promise a reward or threaten some danger if the recipient doesn’t hand over sensitive information like passwords or bank account numbers. Other dangerous emails include virus carriers with attachments that will infect your computer if you try to download them. Your best defense is to learn what phishing looks like and train your employees to know what to look for, too.

2. Disguised Downloads

Outside of attachments, the way most viruses get onto a new computer is when a user downloads a file that promises to be one thing but is actually something else. A good web browser and antivirus software can identify threats before they can harm your computer, but new, unknown threats are popping up all the time. One quick way to check a file is by looking at its size: if it’s much bigger or much smaller than it should be, it’s probably malware in disguise.

3. No Backup

If a virus does corrupt your computer, it may destroy important data or else make it impossible to reach. If a hacker or a bribed employee steals information off your computer and destroys the original copy, it’s often gone forever. You might even lose your information from a natural disaster like a lightning strike or a flood. However, you can get everything back if you regularly back up your data, and it helps to have both a large storage system on-site and a cloud server as a remote backup.

4. Poor Password Protection

It’s all too common for otherwise sophisticated I.T. businesses to end up using default passwords or easily guessed passwords like “12345” and “password.” Make sure you let your employees know what a strong password is and that you’ll be expecting them to create them without leaving

a note near the keyboard with the password on it. Of course, you should never forget to follow your own rules, either.

All four of these security concerns are obvious, and any good I.T. professional will repeat them over and over again. However, businesses of every size continue to forget about how important they are and how simple it is to avoid these risks. If you can only do one thing about the security of your business network, make sure you and your employees are all familiar with the dangers and know what they ought to do to avoid the risks and maintain basic network security.

technology strategy

Defining Technology Strategy

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Businesses often rely on technology for their everyday business operations. Technology is used for many aspects of the business including sales, marketing, purchasing, accounting, finance, production, human resources. It doesn’t even matter where the business allocates most of their time either because it all comes back to a successful technology strategy. 

What is a Technology Strategy? 

A technology strategy is a plan that consists of different objectives, principles, and tactics as they relate to technology within a business or organization. These strategies focus more on the technology of the business and how that technology is managed.  

Elements of a Technology Strategy 

Many elements are involved in a technology strategy, and many of these are actionable items that can be used to help eliminate pitfalls you are experiencing while also keeping your budget in mind. 

Business Alignment: this part of the strategy helps a business fulfill their needs 

Roadmap: this shows how the business can go from point A to point B and shows how to reach their goals 

LongTerm Timeframe: this allows the business to set up a more long-term plan for success with different milestones and objectives to hit along the way 

Future Focused: this is when future technology needs are considered. You will need to think ahead into the future to come up with a strategy for improvement 

Rationalized: every item included in your strategy has a specific purpose or goal 

Business Needs: these refer to the specific goals and needs of the business 

Balance Budget with Reality: the goals and methods used to achieve those goals need to stay within a specified budget, and a realistic outlook for the results should be maintained 

Regular Updates: you will want to take another look at your strategy a couple of times each year to compensate for any updates or changes 

Creating a Technology Strategy 

To begin creating your technology strategy, you will want a clear understanding of your business, its needs, and the current state of technology being used. Where can you make improvements and what priorities should be set as you move forward? 

When you can prioritize a list, you can then find better resource estimates, so you can better plan for the labor and costs that will be involved with the changes and improvements you will be making. 

Plan for the Long Term 

Finally, as briefly touched upon already, you will want to be sure to plan for the long term when you begin to formulate your technology strategy. Finalize your list of priorities, sit down and determine your budget and how many business cycles may be needed to reach your objectives, and then create your roadmap to show you how to get from point A to point B successfully.  

When thinking long-term, think beyond just the next year. Stretch your strategy even further to make sure that you are covering all the important initiatives. Then you can begin to take a closer look at what technology will be most effective for your business and its specific needs and goals.  

5g Service

Defining 5G: What Is this Wireless Tech?

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Simply put, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networking technology. Many of us experience 4G speeds on our cell phones, and that has been the most prevalent technology over the last several years. However, 5G is promising to deliver higher Gigabit speeds.  

While 4G allows us to stream in HD, 5G will have the capacity to stream 4K HDR content, and so much more making it the new and most wanted wireless tech. 

5G is More Than Speed 

However, when you think about 5G, you shouldn’t just consider speed. 5G is fast, but it also allows you to shift how many cell sites are required and how many devices you can connect to that cell signal site at one time. 

The majority of phone networks being used today rely on 200-foot towers to provide large areas with service. However, 5G sites will be able to connect more devices within that areas at once so it can keep up with the higher demand for service; not only for cell phone signals but also for sensors and cars. 

Provides Lower Latency 

Lower latency is another goal that 5G strives to achieve. Lower latency is how long it takes the network to respond to a request. Currently, latency times are approximately nine milliseconds, but with 5G, we will see that number drop to a roughly one millisecond response time. This lower latency may prove valuable when it comes to different automotive applications. 

These lower latency numbers also mean an improved experience if you use virtual reality or you enjoy playing online multiplayer video games.  

Basic Airwave Sets 

Currently, there are two different sets of airwaves being prepped for 5G service. These sets include those that are above the 6 GHz mark and those that fall below it. Those that are above that mark are known as millimeter waves or mmWAVE.  

These MMWave airwaves in the United States are centered in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands while those under the 6 GHz mark fall into the 3.5 GHz band. There is always going to be more availability with the higher spectrum airwaves. 

What Companies Will Offer 5G? 

The same companies that you use for your phone service today are the same ones that will power 5G service. Among these popular phone carriers, you will find companies based in the United States like AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. 

Each launch window is different for each company, so some might experience the power of 5G before others. There is a lot in the way of telecommunications equipment that is being used to support the 5G efforts of these networks. Included in this equipment are new 5G modems and new tower and backhaul gear.  

When is 5G Launching? 

Verizon announced last October 1 that they launched the first 5G network in the country. However, what was launched is not considered true 5G and is being used in other ways. They are using the 5G technology and not conforming to the industry standards. 

Additionally, Verizon’s 5G service is fixed and will only become available in specific markets in Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. The fixed 5G serves as a fiber or cable replacement, and the signal will be beamed from towers.  

 

phishing

4 Signs That Email Is A Phishing Scam

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Phishing emails are growing ever more common because people keep falling for them. Even so, phishing scams have been around since before the modern internet took shape. The concept is simple: an email that says it’s from an official source tells the recipient that there’s been some trouble and they need their login name and password, bank numbers, social security number, or some other personal information that someone could use to fake your identity.

Once they get your information, the phishing hacker uses it to get into a secure server and steal everything they can. Experts estimate that over 90 percent of all security breaches start with phishing scams. Since phishers send these emails to every account they can find, it’s up to everyone to know what to look for before opening and replying to what could be a scam email.

1. The Sender Email Address

Phishers will send their emails using accounts with names that sound official but aren’t. This can involve picking a domain name that looks like a real company but has a different spelling, and it can involve taking advantage of how modern email systems will list nicknames first instead of addresses. As such, when you get an unexpected email from an official source, make sure you check and verify the address it came from.

2. The Subject Line

Companies that send out a lot of important emails will use an automated system that sends out emails as soon as they notice something happening. Because of this, the subject lines are always the same. If it’s different for once, that’s a sure sign that someone’s phishing you. You should also beware of get-rich-quick subjects like “You’re already a winner!” and “Get an amazing deal, today only!”

3. The Body Text

Misspellings are always a dead giveaway that the email is a fake. So is any request to send sensitive information by email, because no serious company in the world does that. However, many phishers have realized this, and so you also shouldn’t automatically trust URLs, either. Good browsers and antivirus programs will block malicious sites from infecting your computer, but you can avoid even that by looking up the company’s official website and comparing it to the URL in the email.

4. The Attachments

As a rule, never, ever open an attachment in an email unless you know exactly who sent it and you’re expecting the attached file. Attachments can be viruses, Trojans, worms, or any kind of malware that will infect your computer and send important information to the hacker who created it. These viruses can even spread themselves by creating and sending emails from real accounts, which is why you shouldn’t trust email attachments you get even from friends and coworkers. If it seems important, send an email back asking about the attachment before you open it.

Phishing hackers can be just about anyone, from juvenile vandals to greedy con artists to a team working for a foreign government. However, phishing emails always have the same giveaways. Be sure to look for them before you give any personal information away.

cloud storage

What to Consider Before Using a Cloud Services Provider

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More and more businesses have begun migrating to the cloud, and this is because of the vast number of benefits the cloud has to offer. It is an efficient and secure service a business can use as they grow, and their data needs begin to change. The cloud is a service that can grow with them so that the business can scale without any rise in IT costs.

Cloud service providers also benefit businesses because you will have the convenience of any-time- anywhere data access and you do not have to worry about security and backups because the provider covers this for you.

Additionally, many businesses can pay for cloud services with a monthly subscription option which means that you will be billed monthly or quarterly depending on the options you choose.

Data Storage Location and Security

Before signing up for cloud services, you will want to ask the provider where their data center is located. You will also want to find out if they have multiple data centers in use and if your information is going to be backed up and stored in more than one location.

Next, you will want to inquire about the security of your data while it is being stored. The responsibility of data security falls to the provider, so you will not have to worry too much about your own data security. However, you will still want all the details regarding the provider’s security efforts including their policies, SOPs, and data security frameworks.

Past Performance

Another thing to consider is the past performance data including data loss and downtime trends the provider may have experienced over the previous year. It is good to observe these specific trends, so you can have a better idea about how their system reacts and what happens if there is any downtime.

When the system experiences downtime, it can be a loss in profit and business for your company. Therefore, understanding these trends and analytics as it pertains to the prospective cloud services provider is very important.

The Price of the Services

A number of factors can affect the price you may pay for cloud services. The overall costs usually depend on your utility of the service, the physical location of the servers, and the levels of service.

Some cloud service providers may promise 99.9% uptime, and if this is the case, then you should expect to pay more for such a guarantee of service. However, if something happens and you do not experience what the provider promises, then you should see if there is any kind of compensation offered or other recourse that can be taken to rectify the poor service.

No matter which cloud service provider you decide to go with, you should always take your time to consider the bigger elements of the service like the price, security, and location to ensure that you are making the right choice for your business.

Benefits of Managed IT Services For Rapidly Changing Business and Technology

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Managed IT services are becoming more and more popular with small to medium sized businesses. One of the reasons for this popularity is that managed IT services help organizations stay on top of the latest changes in the business world. You might have noticed that the office of today looks completely different to the office of twenty years ago with the landscape continuing to evolve rapidly.

Trying to keep up with all these changes and incorporate them into your business can be next to impossible for many companies, which is where IT managed services step into the breach. Let’s take a look at three of these technological changes and how engaging managed IT services can give your business a competitive edge.

Remote workers: More and more businesses are embracing flexible working hours and remote working, both of which lead to an improvement in their employee’s work/life balance. The major hurdle for many employers however, is setting up an IT and communications system that can cope with remote workers. The solution is to engage a managed IT services company who can design a system that makes collaborative working and real-time editing of shared documents between remote workers and in-house employees a breeze.

Blockchain: This brand-new technology is used by many businesses, such as real estate agents, electricity providers and banks. Essentially, Blockchain is a vast spreadsheet that operates across millions of computers around the world and using state of the art cryptography enables the movement of digital records at lightning speeds. If you believe that your business could benefit from this type of technology, contact us today and we can discuss your options.

Big data: Another technological innovation, big data enables companies to analyze massive amounts of data to identify hidden patterns or correlations that can be used to inform their business operations. Mainly used by large banking corporations or huge multi-nationals for fraud detection and customer analytics, big data is starting to have a significant impact in how organizations deal with their data.

The Challenges Growing Businesses Face With Their IT Strategy

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Today’s businesses will have to focus on a lot of different things in order to ensure that they thrive in the competitive marketplace. But while marketing, hiring, and other things will need to be considered, you also need to pay attention to the way that you implement technology into your business.

Roughly half of all businesses will fail within the first four years of their existence. But when a business succeeds and begins to grow, it’s important that you don’t just sit back and celebrate – you have to continue to evolve along with that business. And a huge part of that is in making sure that you adapt the right IT strategy.

New Challenges With Growth

Growth is great, right? But it can also be a big stumbling block. This is especially true when it comes to IT strategies. Implementing the right IT solutions to reach your goals for your business is something that should make clear sense, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Here are some of the big challenges:

  • Assuming Your Current System Is Enough – While your IT system may have gotten you this far, you can’t just assume that everything will be fine if you leave it alone. Your business grows, and your IT strategy should as well. Waiting too long can lead you to failure.
  • Uncertainty – It’s not always easy to predict upcoming changes or developments. But taking the time to identify potential and then letting that help you get the right strategies is a must.
  • Procrastination – Waiting too long can set you back dramatically. It’s better to invest in good IT solutions early.

Tips For Better IT Strategizing

The growth in the IT world is staggering, and small businesses will spend more than $4.8 trillion on it in 2018. That means that paying attention to your IT strategy is absolutely vital. Some of the best tips for better results utilizing your IT in your business include the following.

  • Identify opportunities and risks. As your business evolves you’ll spot challenges, risks, and new opportunities. Take the time to spot these and work them into your strategy early on.
  • Reduce the risk of entropy. When a business grows quickly, it can become unorganized. Entropy management allows you to keep your IT components on track instead of just letting things ‘flow’, which is usually a bad idea.
  • Match strategy to IT. Above all else, it’s important to make sure your IT and your business strategies are aligned properly. If you’ll make sure that they work together, you’ll start to see much greater results from your efforts and will ensure that your business grows and thrives throughout the future.

Getting The Best Results One of the best things that businesses can do for their IT strategy is to work with the right team for honing their strategy and ensuring they get the best results. And at Avetta Global, we take pride in helping all local businesses that are finding success realize their true potential.

The Challenges And Rewards Of Business IT Alignment

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Technology has always played a role in business, but over the last decade, its importance has increased dramatically. Today, implementing the right IT solutions to your toolkit is a must for making sure that your business thrives.

But as growing market demands and the expectations of customers have caused some business leaders to create their own IT strategies, it’s important to make certain that your own IT aligns with your business strategy perfectly.

Why Proper Alignment is Vital It’s only been over the last few years that informational technology has become such a vital part of business operations. The IT sector is expected to grow by another 5% over the next year, topping $4.8 trillion in 2018. Here’s a look at why it’s so important to align your business IT and your business strategy.

  • It makes compliance easier
  • Reduces risks
  • Ensures better products and services delivery
  • Provides analytics that can be used to enhance your decision making
  • Helps optimize the workflow of your entire team
  • Lowers overall operating costs
  • Improves productivity
  • And more

In short, IT solutions are now more than just supporting tools in a business’ operations. They are a part of daily activity in most departments and will be integral for getting the most from your businesses potential.

This all probably explains why the growth for spending on IT has grown by 4.8% over just 6 years among small businesses. In short, aligning your strategy to your IT is a must for any business.

The Big Challenges

So if it’s so important, just why is it that IT is often misaligned from a company’s overall business strategy? There are several different reasons that this may be the case. Some of the main challenges include:

  • Failure to properly understand the technology. Technical illiteracy can lead to management not understanding what it can do or what it is that they want.
  • Blurry, poorly defined business strategy. If your business strategy isn’t totally clear, it is going to be much harder to get what you need from your IT. Having a clear overall strategy is vital.
  • Failure to adjust. Another big issue is simply that some businesses or business leaders just can’t adjust when a plan runs out of steam or when hurdles are put in the way. By improving strategical agility, you’re able to get more from your IT.

Knowing about these challenges is the first step towards avoiding them. And when you’re able to avoid them, you can move your business towards a better future.

Getting The Best Results

As you can see, it’s vital to make certain your business strategy and IT efforts align properly. But that’s not always easy to do. Trusting in the pros is one of the best ways to make sure that your company gets the absolute best results possible. And for businesses, Avetta Global is here to help with that. Contact us today to get started on aligning your IT and business strategy and to experience just what it can do for your business.

The Big Steps For Client Onboarding Success

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It’s no big secret that paying attention to how you onboard your employees is important for keeping them. But what about your clients? It’s estimated that more than half of organizations will be directing their investments into innovating the customer or client experience in a meaningful way.

Onboarding your clients and customers properly is absolutely vital. The onboarding phase is when you are building a relationship with your clients. It’s when first impressions are formed and when you show them what you can do. In fact, 67% of consumers list bad customer experience as the primary reason they leave for a different business – and that applies to customers and onboarding your clients.

Luckily, it’s not as difficult as you might think to have better success at onboarding your clients. Here are some of the big tips to keep in mind that could provide the best possible results.

One: Know Your Plan Without a good project plan; you’ll never achieve any success with your onboarding. A clearly templated project plan will help reign in the chaos and ensure that you create a seamless, automated process. Outline every step from start to finish.

Two: Automate! IT automation platforms make it easy to reduce the workload, streamline processes, and ensure that manual engineering tasks are not a problem – that you’re able to keep the entire process moving swiftly and effectively.

Three: Optimize Your Endpoints Automation can help identify security issues and make it easier to set up optimization software that keeps things moving smoothly. Optimizing your endpoints is a must for getting the best results.

Four: Deploy Software Once that you have your plan and your automation platform, the next step is to deploy your software correctly. Automating the deployment of software like Adobe and Java will be integral for getting the best results, and the right IT automation platform allows you to deploy your software easily.

Five: Deploy Your Policy You can’t afford to make mistakes during the onboarding process, and the right policy deployment steps will ensure that you don’t end up facing awkward phone calls, failure emails, and more.

Six: Train Your Team If your team isn’t properly trained on how to use your automation processes and tools, you won’t get great results. Show your team how the onboarding process works, train them properly, and guide them to results.

These simple steps can make it much easier to bring a new client onto your team and provide them with a positive experience as they see what you have to offer to them.

Tools You Can Depend On

Whether it’s using automation platforms in your IT network to reduce hours spent on different aspects of the job or using IT tools to develop a project plan and implement it, the right tools make a huge difference. If you’re ready to make sure that your business gets the best results from every client onboarding process, we are here to help.

Fighting Against The Dreaded Time Leak

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They say time is money, and when it comes to a business that’s truer than most realize. Not convinced? A recent study found that employers spend $759 billion each year on paying salaries for hours that contain no actual work – in short, employers are paying people to work but not getting any output from them.

Time Leaks And Wasted Time

Wasted time is one thing, but another thing that needs to be considered is that of the ‘time leak’. This is essentially the opposite of wasted time from employees – it’s actual time that your company could be billing a client but that isn’t counted.

Time that isn’t logged or billed by your team is actually directly related to wasted time – hours that you notice aren’t being billed could also mean that your employees are wasting time instead of doing work that could be earning your business money. And when you consider that 31% of employees waste about an hour a day, that money can add up.

Keeping Tracked Time From Vanishing

Luckily, it’s much easier to stop time leaks than you might think. A few basic steps can have a huge impact on your ability to stop these time leaks and maximize your company’s profit. Here are some of the main things to think about.

  • Better Training – It all starts with training your employees properly. Explaining the different facets of the job and providing your employees with the knowledge that they are expected to turn in all of their billable hours – and how to do it – could help.
  • Time Tracking – Using IT solutions that include time tracking software can help as well. You can even implement reminder messages to techs making sure that they log their hours each day, complete with a reminder about the consequences if they fail to do so.
  • Mobile Connectivity – Sometimes, hours just aren’t logged because the employees aren’t near tools that let them do so. If you invest in the right mobile tools you can let them track their time no matter where they are.
  • Reports and Analytics – If you use the right software solution you can actually see where time is being used and what problems may be occurring with it. Using the data can help you address problems and ensure that your team is delivering their all.

These simple steps are all it takes to make sure that your business doesn’t lose hours and that profits remain as high as they possibly can be. The right tools and technologies can help even further.

A Solution For Time Leaks

One of the best ways to make sure your company stays profitable and that not a single minute is wasted is to harness the power of modern technology. And at Avetta Global, we can help. Our IT solutions make it easy to stop time leaks and ensure that your team is giving you their all – without imposing on them.

A Complete Guide To Successfully Managing IT Services

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To ensure that your business is able to completely thrive, it’s important that you give it all of the tools needed to succeed. There are a lot of different elements that can play a role in how effective your business is, but one that deserves attention is managed IT services. It’s an integral part of businesses and their success, and recent research has shown that the market for these solutions could be worth more than $250 billion by the end of 2021.

Your business needs these tools – giving it every advantage possible is important. Only 3 percent of businesses make it to their fifth year of operation, and only half make it past the first four years of existence. In short, the more tools you provide, the better.

With that in mind, it’s important to make sure you can get the most from your managed IT services. Here are the main elements to pay careful attention to.

The Big Buy In

When you create an executive buy in model, you’re able to allow your entire organization to become part of the managed IT services. As such, you’ll be able to get more effective results from everyone’s efforts.

Productize Your Offering

It’s important that your team is actually fully aware of what it is that they’re delivering. When you productize your services, you identify exactly what you’re going to deliver to your clients and customers.  This gives you a clear look at the overall scope of your activities and makes it easier to deliver them, to create accurate and independent bills, and more.

Solid Processes Matter

Most companies operating today have a kind of informal sales process. But if you put forth the effort to create processes for both sales and operations is absolutely critical for success when you’re selling or delivering managed services. Even when partnered with a third-party group like ours, you’ll still get services that allow you to ‘set it and forget it’.

Build A Better Team

Launching your managed IT services begins with having the right team in place. You’ll need everyone to be on the same page, have a clear understanding of what your processes and products. While these can be employees who have other roles in your business, you’ll still want to have at least one or two who focus most – or even all – of their attention on your managed IT services.

Additionally, you can outsource to ensure that everything goes smoothly and that your efforts are focused on other parts of your business. Keep the basic tips above in mind and you’ll be able to find better success and ensure that your business is able to benefit from its managed IT services.

The Help You Need

Getting the right platform and the right team is important for making absolutely sure your managed IT services are successful and that your business is able to truly thrive. At Avetta Global, we take pride in helping businesses get the results they need.

Comment on Do We Need a New Agency to Reveal Software Secrets? by Rich Marsh

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I’m an old geek, who worked in software for more than 20 years. I was dealing with applications of all size, from a few dozen lines through those with millions of lines of code. (I worked for Big Blue and we wrote software that ran all aspects of telephone companies and later with firms that traded options and sales of energy.)

This is a nice idea – but the only one who could certify the code would be a software design architect who’d been involved with the project for years, and who knew what everything did. I remember one example where we found a literal in the code that ruled out the provisioning or assignment of a specific telephone number. We couldn’t find anyone who knew why, so we changed it. Bad decision. It turned out that number was used by field techs for testing purposes.

So, an agency would not be able to do that. How many lines and routines are in Windows 10? While at Compaq, I dealt with the initial versions of Windows, when it ran on top of DOS. (Yeah, I’m that old.) Even then, it was fairly thick code.

Instead, why not have the agency certify the architect? They could be bonded, and expected to certify that the code met certain criteria. The source could be stored (a common requirement in many contracts anyway), and the certification would go with it. Since most large apps have multiple architects, each would certify that portion of the source that is relevant to their coverage.

I think that’s a more workable solution.

Source: New feed

Not Qualified

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Neither Clinton nor Trump is qualified. Certainly, Gary Johnson isn’t.

While we can debate the relative merits of the three candidates’ fitness to be our nation’s next Commander in Chief, what’s abundantly clear following in the wake of the first presidential debate, not to mention some disturbingly ignorant comments by Libertarian candidate Johnson, is that none of the candidates is even remotely qualified to assume the mantle of TIC…Technology-in-Chief. As billionaire businessman and Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said recently of Mrs. Clinton, “…she just doesn’t understand technology, and she admits that she doesn’t understand technology, and to me that’s a huge negative, because in this day and age, I think wars are going to be fought, more by bytes, and more by cyber terrorism, than they are going to be fought by bombs and bullets, and if you don’t understand that, it’s going to be very difficult as Commander-in-Chief.” Cuban added that he didn’t think either of two major party candidates was “technologically literate.”

In the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton called on tech companies to help prevent ISIS from using the Internet to radicalize people and direct its followers. Trump claimed that even though the U.S. developed the Internet, ISIS is “beating us at our own game.” And he then advocated for getting “very, very tough on cyber and cyber warfare… The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough. And maybe it’s hardly doable.” Sadly, amidst all the rhetoric, neither candidate bothered to lay out a coherent technology policy that showed any awareness of how vital technology has become to our nation, its defense, and the lives of its citizens.

The candidates’ poor grasp of technology is concerning, as our next president will govern at least through 2020, face many challenges, and thus needs to set a long-term technology policy.

Of course, no one expects the president to be a cyber warrior or even to set technology policy without expert advisors. But with major issues surrounding cyber security, consumer privacy, government access to digital data, Internet neutrality, and global Internet governance (among many other things), it’s time for the candidates to put aside divisive rhetoric and partisan platitudes, and take a real leadership role on these challenging technology issues and how America can resolve them in a manner that protects ensures our well-being while also encouraging growth and innovation.  

No matter how many “tech” advisors the next president engages, it’s the president who make the final decision. In the words of President Truman “The buck stops here.” So, our next president will need to know enough about technology to evaluate his or her advisors’ recommendations.

In this way, the candidates are no different than a number of CEOs, too many of whom mistakenly believe that technology is beneath them, or that they don’t need to know technology. They have It departments to deal with that. They have businesses to run. But as a our friend Mr. Shakespeare once said, “Tis an unweeded garden that grows to seed things rank and gross in nature.”

Our next president will fail to understand technology at his or her own peril. Consider just one technology challenge awaiting the 45th Commander in Chief:

  • Cybersecurity: After tanking in the Senate in 2012 (Congress failed to pass the bill after it encountered predictable partisan differences over industry regulation), it seems the consistent drumbeat from government officials and an emerging “Cyber Industrial Complex” were enough to get Congress to finally pass the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, and it’s now officially the law of the land, created, in part, to deal with our nation’s omnipresent vulnerability to malicious hacking. The law enables federal agencies – including the National Security Agency – to share cybersecurity and really any information with private corporations. Though cybersecurity is one of the more pressing issues facing the next president, neither of the two major party presidential candidates have made any concerted effort to outline their positions, perhaps because there is no political benefit to doing so. As Wired Magazine reported, Donald Trump has no official position paper on cybersecurity or privacy, a rather disturbing thought in light of the San Bernardino terrorist’s encrypted iPhone, among many other things.  Trump has made vague reference to China’s “rampant cybercrime” against the US, promised “stronger protections against Chinese hackers” as part of his position paper on the US-China trade relationship, and proposed “closing” parts of the Internet to combat ISIS. However, his cybersecurity positions have been “scattered, misguided, or both,” leading Wired to characterize them as “devoid of context, insight, clarity, or reason.”

Mrs.Clinton, on the other hand, has framed her cybersecurity positions within the context of her broader national security goals. She has also focused on China, saying that she’ll “encourage [them] to be a responsible stakeholder—including on cyberspace, human rights, trade, territorial disputes, and climate change—and hold it accountable if it does not.” Mrs. Clinton has called for a coalition of public and private interests working together to improve our cybersecurity, but avoided commenting on CISA and deflected questions about who was right in the Apple-FBI encryption saga, and instead sought a middle ground, which Wired stated “doesn’t exist” as it pertains to cybersecurity and encryption.

But the fact the candidates don’t seem to care all that much about one of this race’s most important issues doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t. Indeed, more now than ever before, the presidential candidates need to learn, at the bare minimum, enough about technology to acquire a basic understanding of what it can do and what can go wrong. I’m not suggesting that our next president needs to know how to upgrade his or her computer’s memory or remove malware any more than I expect soldiers in battle  to provide health care for patients. But the candidates must set a clear and cogent technology policy and be able to stand up in front of the American people) and explain what needs to be done and why, even if this means hiring someone to tutor them on technology, ideally a trusted consultant with a foot in both the worlds of technology and government who, to borrow a well worn political metaphor, can exist comfortably on both sides of the aisle.

The next president doesn’t need to peruse technical journals, but should be aware of technology trends, regularly asking the chief technology officer to look into an issue and send them a concise summary. The next president doesn’t need to be a hacker, but must learn what hackers can and cannot do, what constitutes cyber-warfare, and what resources the country has to safeguard our technology and networks.

I hope subsequent presidential debates provide more of an opportunity for both major party candidates to clarify their positions on technology and to show how they will lead on an agenda to expand technology opportunities and better protect America from hostile hackers as well as software bugs and malfunctions that put us all at risk.

Image By: Ashton Bingham

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Big Data Will Pick Our Next President

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By Lloyd Marino

Forget the debates. They’re a lot of talk, but change few minds. Speeches and rallies gather the faithful, but bring in few new supporters. Newspapers and TV news are too easily distracted by the latest scandal and much of direct mail is thrown out unread. Instead, it is big data that will elect our next president, at least according to Wired Magazine.

Consequently, both major presidential candidates are striving to tap big data most successfully and learn the most from campaigns’ experience with big data in the election of 2012.

Big Data in 2012 and Today

Big data was a major factor in Obama’s 2012 victory. Obama had a 100 person analytic team to wade through the data and classify every potential voter in swing states by their likelihood of showing up at the polls and voting for Obama. The campaign used that number for data modeling through a SQL Massively Parallel Processing database called Narwhal that could target likely voters with customized messages for their “get out the vote” efforts. They matched potential voters to similar volunteers who would be most persuasive on a person-to-person level.

The Republicans have greatly scaled up their big data operations. In 2012, Orca, their data modeling system crashed on Election Day. This year, Republicans are determined not to make the same mistakes. They have teamed with Deep Roots Analytics to target their television advertising to specific groups. Meanwhile TargetSmart helps Democrats optimize phone calls, fundraising, voter registration, direct mail, social media, and door-to-door canvassing with a national voter profiling database.

How Big Data Helps Campaigns

Both parties monitor social media through big data tools to find people’s concerns and adjust candidates’ stances accordingly. Big data also helps politicians target the best places for voter registration drives, best people to contact to remind them to vote, and best neighborhoods to organize rides to the polls. Using big data, political campaigns can screen out those most likely to vote for opponents so they can focus attention on those who can be swayed. Digital behavioral tracking identifies the voters in swing states who could be convinced to support a candidate and what would be the best way of reaching them. And ad targeting over the Internet ensures that each audience sees the most convincing ad.

Each state compiles a publicly available official voter file with name, gender, birthdate, address, and phone as well as political registration and how frequently the person votes. While the file does not say who the voter selected, even that can be estimated using polling data. Knowing the address, political data experts can supplement this record with census data on average levels of education, income, and race/ethnicity for that zip code, as well as property tax information. Private polling also brings in valuable information. Additional information on interests and concerns can be found on social media. Other data is volunteered by people joining email lists or signing petitions.

Big data also monitors the progress of campaigns. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight amalgamates polls, the economy, and historical trends to weigh the odds of victory on Election Day. While polling sometimes seems as much an art as a science, as witness the constant complaints about skewed polls, Nate Silver uses big data techniques to calculate a more accurate model than any one poll can provide.

Big Data and the Future of American Politics

I am confident that in the future Big Data will encompass an even larger role. Right now, candidates use polling to set and adjust their positions. In the future, they can mine social media for issue areas, allowing them to create more nuanced targeted messages and how to adjust their messages for different audiences. It will allow greater monitoring of what potential voters want to hear from a candidate and could supplement poll information on how candidates perform. For instance, currently campaigns and news media have audience response meters to gauge a sample audience’s reactions during a debate and conduct a quick poll afterwards. But big data analytics on twitter feeds produce a much larger sample of opinion. In the future, I expect less polling and more data analytics.

As more data is collected on each of us, political campaigns will be able to do more. If candidates had access to Amazon’s information on what you buy, they could send endorsements from your favorite authors and target content more exactly. Google records on your most searched topics could inform what position papers they send you. And tracking how much you spend could help set suggested amounts when fundraising.

Big data tools improve the efficiency of a campaign at convincing more people to vote for the candidate. Big data now has the power to model individuals’ behavior to target those most likely to respond and the best ways of reaching them. If big data can help businesses convince consumers to buy Pepsi instead of Coke they certainly can sway potential voters to go to the polls and choose a specific candidate.

I don’t generally use my blog to make an appeal. But elections determine the future of our nation. I implore all my readers to go out and vote on November 8th. And don’t forget the races for House, Senate, and state and local positions that may not get as much attention, but are still vital for our well-being.

Image By: Melissa Fox

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Big Data Battles Global Climate Change

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By Lloyd Marino

Now that Autumn is here with falling temperatures reminding us that winter is on its way, global warming may not seem like such a hot topic. But remember, when it is winter here, it is summer for half the globe. Global warming needs to be a year-round concern.

August 2016 was the hottest August since reliable records started being kept in 1880. It followed the hottest July, hottest June, etc. going back to May 2015. August ties July 2016 for the hottest month ever. It was 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average for August. While politicians continue to debate, the data show global climate change is real and a growing problem.

Mapping Climate Change

Fortunately, big data can help us fight back against a warming Earth. For instance, big data is helping track the effects of climate change:

  • The Google Earth Engine maps 40 years of satellite imagery to allow researchers to demonstrate the effects of climate change on lakes, shorelines, and global forest coverage. NASA’s Landsat provides the longest continuous global record of the global land surface. It monitors how humans and climate have changed the face of the Earth.
  • Another NASA project, the NASA Center for Climate Simulation uses supercomputers to digest mounds of data to model the future of climate change. It can store 19 petabytes of data.
  • Microsoft’s Madingley project will eventually simulate all ecological processes affecting all life on the land and sea. Researchers are already using it to model the carbon cycle and plan to add more simulations to the “General Ecosystem Model” such as the effect of humans on habitat loss. The model would allow leaders to see the results of policy decisions before they are made in the real world.

Solving Climate Change

Big data also goes beyond tracking the damage to becoming part of the solution to climate change problems. For instance:

  • In 2015, nearly 200 nations agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Paris Agreement. The U.S., China, Brazil, and 26 other nations have ratified the agreement. Big data will help measure global climate and ensure that signatories are keeping their promise.
  • The UN’s Big Data Climate Challenge, launched as part of 2014’s Climate Summit challenged the international academic, scientific, technology and policy communities to develop projects to use big data to drive action to help solve global climate change. The winners were the Global Forest Watch that uses satellite data and crowdsourcing to monitor and manage forest resources, and the Site-Specific Agriculture Big Data Team at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture which created a tool to use data on climate and harvests to help farmers make smart decisions about what to plant when that uses big data to predict how climate change has altered traditional wisdom of what crops work best in specific areas.
  • Opower uses big data to compile how much electricity local residents use and sends them reports comparing individuals to their neighbors in order to encourage them to use less. It achieves power savings through inspiring behavior changes. Since 2007, this has saved almost 6 billion kilowatts, enough to power Alaska and Hawaii for a whole year. This cut power plant carbon dioxide emissions by over nine billion pounds.

Additional Steps to Fight Climate Change

But big data can do more. Right now a big problem is policymakers’ reluctance to admit that global climate change exists. Big data can help show the extent of the problem by graphing temperature changes in states and political districts. Politicians who deny global climate change in the abstract will have greater difficulty when confronted with charts showing how it affects major cities under their jurisdiction.

Another danger of climate change is the increase in the sea level from melting ice. Big data can take existing satellite photos of coastal erosion and project them into the future, showing what areas are most likely to be submerged at different temperature levels. This data could help predict where new dams and sea barriers will be needed and where the government should encourage people to move to higher ground. This is a special problem as many major cities are located on the coast—including New York City and Los Angeles—and will be flooded as the waters rise.

I’ve discussed the Svalbard global seed vault before. It preserves over 850,000 seed samples. Researchers can use these seeds to try to make crops weather-resistant and breed in traits that will allow plants to survive on a warmer Earth and grow where nothing else can. Big data can track plant genes and help farmers determine what crops will be most successful under new weather conditions. This will reduce the damage a warmer earth will do to food sources.

Climate change is real and humanity needs to take steps to learn how to survive in a warming world and how to reduce the rate at which the temperature rises. Big data can help us chart the extent of the damage, predict where future problems will arise, and encourage people to reduce the discharge of emissions gases that are aggravating the problem. Big data, and the human ability to innovate with the help of data, are two of our most valuable weapons in the fight against global warming.

Image By: Dawid Małecki

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Non-Standardized Medicine

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Standardized Medicine

Henry Ford, who pioneered the assembly line mass production manufacturing system, once said that a customer who bought his Model T car could have it “painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Today, of course, Ford cars come in a variety of colors and with an extensive range of options beyond Henry Ford’s wildest dreams.

People are not standardized. Walk down the street in most major cities in the U.S. and you’ll see a rainbow of different color, sizes, and shapes.

Businesses recognize this. The hottest trend in restaurants these days is the fast, casual places like Chipotle where you can customize the meal to your taste with hundreds of thousands of combinations.

Yet somehow, when it comes to medicine, differences among people were largely ignored until very recently. Medicine is standardized and doctors follow best practices, at least initially, for everyone. But, since humans are varied, too often the standards of care results in pure trial and error, adding to the time and expense of treatment.

Personalized Medicine

Since the mapping of the human genome in 2003, medicine has been adapting to new knowledge. We now have the ability to analyze an individual’s genetic makeup and customize an appropriate medical treatment. Of course, it is rarely as simple as identifying one specific gene that causes a particular illness. Instead, using pharmacogenomics, researchers can determine how genes affect the body’s reaction to specific conditions and medicines. We know that people with certain chromosomes do better with a particular drug and have no reaction (or a negative one) with another.

According to Nature, the top ten most-used medical drugs only help between a quarter to 0.04 percent of those who use them. Consequently, doctors are increasingly using genetic tests before prescribing medicine. This helps them find more effective treatments with fewer unexpected side effects.

New research is being developed that considers differences among patients and uses genetics to determine the best treatment. This is especially true for cancer and AIDS patients who benefit from better screening, diagnosis, and therapy.

For instance, the Federal $215-million national Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) will conduct a longitudinal study to create a database of the genetic information on a million volunteers that could be used to customize medicine by determining what types of people react best to individual medicines. This will be especially helpful at helping those with cancer.

Personalized medicine tailors treatment to your disease risks, your genome, and lifestyle habits. As a result of the Human Genome Project, scientists have identified over 1,800 genes that affect diseases and developed 2,000 tests.

Sequencing for Everyone

If your doctor knew more about your individual genetic makeup and your genetic tendency to develop certain conditions, s/he could better advise you on changes to your lifestyle and even prescribe medication to advert harmful conditions.

While sequencing once was very expensive, a company called Illumina has developed a $1,000 sequencing service. As with most new technology, one can expect the price will decrease over time and with greater volume. And, since this is bleeding edge technology, more regulation and oversight is needed to ensure quality service and interpretation of results.

For these reasons, I think we need a government program to sequence everybody’s genetic makeup and link it to one’s medical history. This would build on the PMI program while providing more information for doctors. Big data techniques could then enable doctors to practice better personalized medicine by finding what solutions helped people with similar genetics to their current patient.

Since one’s genetics do not change over time, it makes sense to do this sequencing early in life so the map can guide care through child and adulthood. Knowing more about genetics could help people avoid events that could trigger genes with negative effects.

Of course, there are dangers. Society would need strict rules about privacy to prevent insurance companies from using this data to determine who to insure or to set higher rates for people with certain genes. The 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) was a good start, limiting employers’ and insurers’ access to genetic information, but more needs to be done to prevent “voluntary”’ release of this data by imposing exorbitant rates on people who do not surrender it.

We would also need strict rules to prevent people from using this data for non-medical purposes, such as profiling people with a genetic predilection towards criminal behavior. There’s also the potential to misuse genetic data to discourage people with certain genes from reproducing.

Still, despite these problems, there are strong advantages to universal sequencing. Big data techniques grow more effective with larger pools of data, so more entries will allow better matches to an individual’s profile. Universal sequencing will lower costs and avoid the problem of another medical advance that only benefits the rich. And society will benefit when doctors have more information on potential medical issues that could enable patients to avoid costly medical procedures in the future.

Image By: Olsztyn, Poland

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