Will Artificial Intelligence Take Over Your Job?

Artificial intelligence

Now there’s a scary thought and not one I’d really considered until reading an article by Karl Flinders in Computer Weekly.

Over the years, as technology has progressed, more and more jobs have been lost. Frequently, these have been full time roles outsourced to either cheaper service providers in far flung areas of the world, or cloud computing reducing the need for businesses to develop their own software.

It would appear that no one is safe. The world seems intent on developing increasingly sophisticated software that enables robots and artificial intelligence (AI) that could threaten many jobs currently undertaken by humans.

If you think this is all pie in the sky and a bit Hollywood, think again.

According to Karl’s article, IPsoft has launched an AI platform fronted by an avatar called Amelia, which can provide services for “technology help desks, contact centres, procurement processing and advise field engineers” to name but a few processes. Then there’s the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ that uses 58cm tall robots in the front office to help customers.

Those sci-fi movies don’t seem so far fetched any more.

A couple of years ago, TechUK said it wanted to raise awareness of “the benefits that automation software can bring to UK business.”

Where will it all end?

If you’re starting to feel a bit vulnerable, here’s something that will not cheer you up. Karl includes this table showing the likelihood that your job will be computerised.

Telemarketers    99%

Accountants and auditors    94%

Retail salespeople    92%

Word processors and typists    8%

Machinests     65%

Commercial pilots    55%

Actors   37%

Firefighters   17%

Chemical engineers    2%

Recreational therapists    0.3%

Time for a change of career?

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

 

Cyber Attacks Move to the Cloud

This article comes from a recent report in Computer Weekly.

A recent study shows that with an increase in the adoption of cloud-based services, cyber attacks on cloud environments have almost reached the same level as attacks on traditional IT.

The 2014 Cloud Security Report by Alert Logic is based on an analysis of data from cloud and on-premises infrastructures of 2,200 customers.

In the past year, the study found that brute force attacks on cloud environments climbed from 30% to 44% of customers, and vulnerability scans increased from 27% to 44%. These typically involve a number of attempts testing multiple common credential failings to find a way in, while vulnerability scans are automated attempts to find a security weakness in applications, services or protocol implementations that can be exploited.

“As more enterprise workloads have moved into cloud and hosted infrastructures, some traditional on-premises threats have followed them,” said Stephen Coty, chief security evangelist at Alert Logic.

“This reinforces the necessity for enterprise-grade security systems specifically designed to protect cloud environments,” he said.

The report is also based on data from “honeypot” computer systems set up on the internet – those that are expressly set up to attract and trap people who attempt to penetrate other people’s computer systems. These attract attackers to observe attack types and frequency.

The report shows that 14% of malware collected through the honeypots was considered undetectable by 51 of the world’s top antivirus suppliers as attackers re-package variants of malware like Zeus or Conficker.

“Antivirus still has a role as it detecting the other 86% of malware, but organisations have to do a lot more than that to ensure they can catch the malware that antivirus will not.”

According to the report, widespread acceptance of cloud computing in enterprise IT increases the need to secure cloud infrastructure in a way that rivals protection of the traditional datacentre.

To meet this requirement, the report said IT and security professionals must understand the types of threats targeting cloud computing environments, and whether traditional security technologies can perform effectively in cloud environments.

“They must also understand that cloud is a shared responsibility between the service provider and the customer,” said Coty.

“The cloud provider is responsible for foundational services and things like hardening the hypervisor, but users remain 100% responsible for everything at the application layer, including security,” he said.

According to Coty, this means cloud consumers still need to think about features such as secure coding, access management, software virtual patching, monitoring applications and security monitoring.

Cloud consumers also need to talk to their providers about what they need to do from a security point of view, and ask questions about their encryption strategies and how they patch their hypervisors.

“Finally, it is important to stay informed about the kinds of potential threats to your cloud environment to enable you to ask the right questions of your service provider,” said Coty.

“Knowledge is power because knowing what you are vulnerable to will help you to defend your environment a lot more efficiently and work better with your service provider,” he said.

Hybrid Clouds: The Pros and Cons

A Hybrid Cloud isn’t the easiest Cloud model to use securely, but with the right architectural approach, it can be provide the flexible service your customers want.

Before going on, what is a Hybrid Cloud?

Well, it’s a combination of public (e.g. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure etc. ideal for clients with low-risk commodities), private (those built exclusively for a single organisation tailored to their specific needs) and community Cloud service (build for a discrete community such as the Police).

A Hybrid Cloud is an excellent choice if you have an overall service that’s made up of a number of different components, some of which are sensitive and some that are not. Or if you’re launching a web service, but are unsure of what demand is likely to be so you want something that can cope with sudden demand surge.

As already alluded to, security can be an issue as you have to deal with the security considerations of both public and private Clouds.

Lee Newcombe, Chief Information Risk Advisor, Infrastructure Transformation Services Practices, Capgemini UK says:

“This is where the true value of security architecture shines through.  If you have invested in defining a set of consistent and comprehensive logical security services (including functional and non-functional aspects) then you can choose appropriate physical implementations for each of those services relevant to the cloud deployment model and achieve the desired levels of security.   Furthermore, if you have established a relationship with a Service Integration and Application Management (SIAM) provider, then you can also ask the SIAM to provide a set of common security services across your cloud-based supply chain.   Services such as identity management, security monitoring and PKI management can all be centralised and re-used where necessary.   An upfront investment in security architecture enables you to support your business stakeholders to adopt cloud services rather than frustrate their desire for agile, flexible service provision. Hybrid cloud is certainly not the easiest cloud model to deploy securely, however an architectural approach to security, conscious of business context, makes an appropriately secure deployment possible.”

Understanding your business needs (both current and future) will help you determine which Cloud solution is right for you.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Cloud Computing: The Fall of Legacy Tapes

If ever there was a strong case for turning to the Cloud, it’s the future (or rather lack of) of legacy cloud servicestapes.

Legacy tapes are backups that tend to sit in expensive offsite storage vaults. Many of them are of no use, but have to be kept due to legal, compliance and regulatory purposes.

The bigger issue however, is that many of the irreplaceable tape backups are inaccessible because modern machines can’t handle legacy formats.

So there’s a whole lot of backup data out there that can’t be used. The answer for many companies is to retain old hardware just so the tapes can be accessed should the need arise.

But this is just part of a wider IT problem facing many companies.

According to research conducted by EMC, estimated unscheduled downtime costs UK businesses £379,519 per year, which doesn’t include security breaches or data loss. The study showed that globally, IT and senior business executives found that reduced investments in critical areas of IT (e.g. continuous availability, integrated backup and advanced security) hampered IT resilience and recovery after downtime.

Even if downtime is short, there is an immediate impact on the business, which is where the Cloud comes into its own.

The main advantages are:

  • Greater flexibility by adapting bandwidth as the business grows
  • Cloud computing providers take on most issues related to disaster recovery, restoring services faster
  • Businesses benefit from automatic software updates (including security updates)
  • Reduces capital expenditure
  • Employees can work from anywhere
  • Greener way of working
  • Greater security

The pay as you go feature of many Cloud services make it affordable for all businesses. Considering its flexibility and security advantages, it’s definitely an option all companies should investigate, negating the need for expensive offsite storage and backups that could, potentially, become obsolete.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

 

 

Cloud Computing – The Pros and Cons

Our clients ask us a lot of questions about cloud computing.

They read about how great it is, but are concerned about data safety.

To give you some background, cloud computing is basically the outsourcing of your IT services remotely over the internet. At the most basic level it means you putting your data on a third party server and accessing the software over the internet instead of on your individual computer or private server.

So is it a good idea? Only you can decide that, but here are a few of the pros and cons to help you make up your own mind.

Pros of cloud computing

Let’s start with the pros.

It does mean you can have access to all sorts of facilities that you may not have previously been able to afford because you don’t have to buy or maintain servers or company data storage facilities.

But it isn’t all about cost savings. Because data back-up is automatically stored on the cloud application it can save time too, not to mention the long-term flexibility it gives you in terms of storage and processing power.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, there are down sides too.

Cons of cloud computing

The main issues and risk with cloud computing relate to data protection and privacy.

As you already know, when handling personal data, you are subject to the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). One of the Act’s protocols provides that all data must be kept safe.

The main issue here is that, potentially, when in the cloud your information could be stored overseas (and outside the EU), which triggers another protocol under the DPA, namely that data mustn’t be sent outside the EU unless that country has an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects.

Basically, you must check to see where your data is stored and if overseas, you must ask for a list of countries where the data will be processed and what safeguards are in place.

Of course, not every cloud backup provider operates overseas. Our own cloud backup service has military encryption when transmitting data and the data is stored in 2 locations across London.

So the best advice we can give is make sure you do some digging to find out exactly how your data will be stored, where and how securely it will be transmitted.

MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

That might sound like an odd question, but it has been prompted by an article by Simon Secure cloud storageQuicke in MicroScope.co.uk.

According to Simon, research carried out by Varonis highlights that many senior managers only have a loose grip on understanding where their information is stored. In fact, 67% of companies surveyed admitted that their senior management had no idea where their data was, with 74% having no formal process for tracking files that had been placed in the cloud.

Very disturbing reading.

Not only that, but only 9% of companies had a process in place to authorise and review those accessing hosted information with a whopping 68% having no plans to introduce such secure procedures.

The article went on to quote David Gibson, VP of strategy at Varonis:

“The results clearly show a lack of control by those organizations that have adopted cloud file sync services.

“The most disturbing findings were the number of companies that report they have no way to track what data is being stored in the cloud, no process to manage access to that data (or plans to do so), and that management doesn’t know where enterprise data is stored. This should act as a wake-up call for organizations to develop a conscious strategy to ensure secure collaboration as quickly as possible.”

Are you using the cloud? If so, do you know where all your data is? And do you have security procedure in place?

If not – why not?

Is Android’s Security Good Enough?

More and mbouncerore of us are moving into the cloud as it is often a convenient and cost effective solution for small businesses. Plus, with the growing popularity of smartphones, the number of people using apps for business (and personal use) is growing.

But how secure is our data when using apps?

That has been an issue for a while now. Apple have stringent controls over what apps make it to their store, so the issue of security isn’t, well an issue. But when it comes to Android, it’s an entirely different story because there are no pre-publication clearance controls.

Last year, PC Pro ran an article about Android security (or rather the lack of it) and mentioned an experiment run by Dan Wallach, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rice University, Houston. With is permission, his undergraduate security class listened in on the traffic to and from his Android smartphone.

Using Wireshark and Mallory, they quickly discovered that “ Google wasn’t encrypting traffic heading for Google Calendar (using the default Google Calendar app that came with the phone)” although it does go on to mention that Google is “planning on introducing encrypted traffic to Google Calendar on Android as part of an unspecified maintenance release in the future.”

Not only that but, “…while the professor had a Facebook account configured to specify fully encrypted traffic, the Android Facebook app ignored that and sent everything in the clear…especially…Facebook isn’t doing anything like OAuth signatures, so it may be possible to inject bogus posts as well…[plus]one of the requests that the class saw heading to the Facebook server was carrying a SQL statement, which doesn’t bode well.”

It would therefore appear that Android apps, even authorised ones, may not offer you the type of protection you would expect to receive.

Over to you

In light of the article mentioned above, what are your feelings about Android apps?

Have you had any bad experiences?

Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what you have to say.

How Secure is Cloud Computing?

It would appear as though everyone is turning to the cloud these days. Undoubtedly, it has its advantages, such as:

  • Cost savings
  • Increased storage
  • Automation
  • Flexible
  • Greater mobility
  • No more worries about updates leaving you free to concentrate on innovation and building your business

But what about security? How secure is your data when it’s in the cloud?

Keeping your data safe

This is an issue addresses by ITPro. As discussed in their article, there are three basic models for cloud services:

  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – such as Amazon Web Service, where they provide the infrastructure leaving you to deploy your own virtual servers
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS) – such as Microsoft Azure, where you run your applications on the service’s operating system, using its storage infrastructure
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS) – such as Salesforce.com, where you store your data in the service’s databases and use its software to process information

Each of these will require differing security measures, with IaaS demanding that you secure your individual virtual servers. But with PaaS you are reliant on the security features of the service operating system (both your OS security and infrastructure are in the hands of your cloud service provider). As for SaaS, this is the simplest and yet hardest to deal with because even though all your security needs are taken care of by your service provider, you also have to trust your provider (or at least make sure you have a binding agreement that includes security provisions).

An issue of trust

ITPro went on to say that to Salesforce.com’s Tim Barker, Vice President of Marketing in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, gaining trust is an important and consistent focus for them as a company.

However, their trust needs to be verified, which is why he states “We work to ISO 27001 standards, with third party accreditation and we’re also evaluated by prospective customers who send their own security people. So we’re probably more regularly reviewed that any other vendor, right down to code reviews.”

Bearing that in mind, you could argue that cloud services offer a security advantage as a vendor’s solution has probably had much more money spent on its infrastructure, security and competencies than an internal IT department can afford.

Securing your data

As you move away from physical servers and towards virtual networks and private clouds, securing your data (rather than applications) has become more important.

In the cloud, processing resources are fluid and there’s no way to tie data to a specific server – or even to a specific application or service. Instead of treating cloud security as yet another place for firewalls and as yet another threat, it’s time to seize the opportunity to rethink the way we secure data.

One possible answer is encrypting your information within your databases. Therefore the key to working with cloud services is to secure your data.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Dropbox – What? Why? How?

Have you turned to the clouds yet?

Cloud computing seems to be competing as the new black right now with numerous providers coming up with amazing tools to help us simplify our computer usage and data sharing.

Once such application is dropbox . To help you decide whether this is the application for you, below is a summary of Jon Honeyball’s article Dropbox: A simple way to sync files in the cloud which appeared on pcpro.co.uk in August 2010.

What is Dropbox?

Dropbox is an online service that stores files. You specify a point in your file directory tree that you want to be your dropbox, and any directories beneath that point, including all files they contain, are automatically included.

It’s important to note that your files stay on your own disk, too, just where you left them; what you’ve done is tell Dropbox to monitor that specific area of your hard disk and to send any changes up into the cloud, so if you’re using a laptop and you lose network connectivity, everything is still there on your hard disk.

Whenever you perform certain file actions (create, modify, delete and so on) within the Dropbox-monitored space, the changes are synchronised up to the online store.

The best thing is that you get the first 2GB of space for free, and if you want more you can rent it for $9.99/month (around £6.50) for 50GB, or $19.99/month (around £13) for 100GB. If you refer other people and they start using Dropbox, you’ll get a small free space increment as a gratuity or introduction fee: at 250MB per referral, this is a useful amount to add to your 2GB of free space.

Multiple computers

To make Dropbox work across multiple computers that you own, just install the software on each device and log into your account: each newly added machine automatically gets a download of the current server contents into the place that you’ve nominated on each machine to be Dropbox space.

Clearly, it wouldn’t be a good idea if all the machines on your local network had to send and receive via your office internet connection or home ADSL line, so any synchronisation takes place directly, machine-to-machine over the local network if it can see the other machines on the LAN.

This makes local synch very fast indeed, and saves on internet bandwidth. If you want to get to your files when you’re away from your computer, then there’s a full web interface into the remote store. Just log into the service and browse around your storage space.

By default Dropbox stores one month’s worth of changes to each file in its cloud store. To retrieve an older version of a file, just go to the website and choose the file, then select the Show Previous Versions feature. You can use this to roll back changes over time, which is useful, especially for developers.

If you pay for the “Pack-Rat” upgrade, which costs $39 (around £27) then Dropbox will store all your old versions for an unlimited time. This also applies to files that you’ve deleted from your local disk (the Pack-Rat upgrade extends file undelete from 30 days to unlimited time).

Shared directories

There’s another feature that makes Dropbox interesting. If you have a friend who also has Dropbox, then you can set up special directories within your Dropbox tree that are shared between you.

This isn’t just a one-to-one share, but can be created around a group of users, which is ideal for sharing things between friends or members of a family.

Finally, the cross-platform nature of Dropbox is a big issue. There are clients for Windows and Mac, and you can get to your data in the cloud either by the website, or by using a native application on an iPhone, iPad or Android phone, with BlackBerry coming soon.

Dropbox downsides

All of this seems too good to be true, so are there any downsides?

Well, let’s start with the obvious one: the software isn’t really network-aware. Yes, it knows whether a target machine is on your local LAN and then uses the local LAN to transfer, rather than using up and down the internet connection to the server.

That’s fine, but if you’re using a laptop and you’re connected via a 3G connection, you may find you have a big synch happening in the background if many files were changed while your laptop was disconnected. This could be painful from a cost point of view, and almost unthinkable if you’ve trundled to somewhere in Europe and are on a roaming data rate.

Dropbox doesn’t offer many choices here, although pressing Quit will stop any synchronisation. However, Dropbox is set to autorun by default, and you may not notice a big synchronisation taking place in the background.

My next worry is that your data is held in the cloud, presumably in the USA, so it may be open to Patriot Act inspection, and there are implications under the UK’s Data Protection Act too.

You should therefore be careful about what you put into Dropbox shared space, because if you fall foul of the Data Protection Act you’ll be liable. It would be nice if Dropbox offered a European-hosted data service, but there’s no sign of that at the moment.

Finally, there’s no way to control any encryption on the service. Dropbox says that all file transfers are over an encrypted SSL connection, that all files stored on its servers are encrypted with AES-256, that files are inaccessible without a username and password and that Dropbox employees are unable to view any files.

All of that is adequate, but I’d like to be able to insert my own certificate into the system for all my files, to ensure that everything is encrypted under my control. This would cause issues with shared folders, for example, but I’d be happier about holding data outside of the EU.

Great overall

Overall, this is a great service for data backup, recovery and sharing. It’s considerably more sophisticated than just a simple mounted drive using WebDAV. Clearly, it’s useless for disaster recovery, but as a means of ensuring you always have access to your stuff, there’s much to commend it.

As for myself, I’ve paid for the full 100GB solution with the Pack-Rat upgrade, and have added it to my suite of backup, archive and data transfer tools.

I now find it easier to get a friend to install the free Dropbox client and then join in a share than it is to push our files on to some other online shared space. For home and small-business users, this is a great solution.

For larger businesses its lack of management umbrella control and user-controlled encryption could be a worry, but give it a whirl and you might find it incredibly useful – I know I have.

So there you, that’s dropbox in a nut shell. What do you think? Is it for you?

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.

Is Cloud Computing For You?

cloud

Cloud computing gives you a way of managing your data, hardware and software needs by using resources on the internet. all your documents, emails, business applications etc., are stored online ‘in the cloud’.

The major benefit of this is that everything is accessible from any computer or mobile device with an internet connection and web browser.

How cloud computing works

Cloud computing is made up of 3 elements:

  1. Large-scale data centres hosted on remote servers
  2. Services (e.g. software and hardware resources provided over the internet)
  3. Low-cost, web-enables devices (e.g. smart phones, laptops and netbooks)

Therefore businesses of all sizes can benefit from this method of data management. Plus with todays agile working practices, businesses can use smaller, lower-cost portable devices such as smart phones and netbooks that support more mobile and remote working practices.

There are 3 man cloud computing services available:

Software as a service (SaaS)

This is the most common form of cloud computing used by small businesses. It involves using software hosted on remote servers and allows you to run applications through your web browser and save, retrieve or share files stored ‘outside’ your business.

SaaS include office software, CRM systems, and tools for collaborative working which provide greater flexibility allowing you to scale your IT requirements quickly and easily depending on your business needs.

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

This allows businesses to use virtual hardware resources to build their IT infrastructure. This includes server space, data storage facilities and networking hardware. By outsourcing your hardware requirements in this way you can reduce your IT costs as you no longer need to buy it or have the internal expertise to maintain it.

Platform as a service (PaaS)

This involves using online application development capabilities to build and adapt applications to suit your business needs using software development tools and hardware known as ‘cloudware’.

What are the benefits of cloud computing?

In comparison to more traditional approaches, cloud computing has a number of benefits:

  • Reduced IT costs – you don’t need to install and set up software, you can reduce your hardware/software needs, and you’ll reduce your operational costs as you no longer require in-house technical expertise.
  • Scalability of service.
  • Access to new technology – upgrades are managed by your service provider on your behalf.
  • Flexible working practices – documents etc., can be accessed anywhere.
  • Enterprise level back-up.
  • Environment factors – a more environmentally friendly approach to your IT requirements.

Data protection and cloud computing

With cloud computing the main data protection risks for your business are:

  • Loss of data by third-party service providers
  • Unauthorised access to your data
  • Malicious activities targeting your service provider (e.g. hacking or viruses)
  • Poor internal IT security compromising data protection

A risk assessment of these potential hazards and their impact on your business should be undertaken before introducing a cloud computing system.

Don’t forget, as a UK business you must comply with the Data Protection Act when holding personal data about third parties.

As cloud computing applications require high levels of data protection you should check your contract or service level agreement (SLA) to find out what security measures your provider takes to protect your data and the levels of responsibility the provider will take for security, functionality and continuity of service. You also need to know if there are any provisions for compensation in the event of a security breach.

Author: MPM Computer Consultancy provides IT Services, Support and Training to sole traders and small businesses in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds and surrounding villages.