- Thursday, 27 February 2014 07:20
~~There have been a number of news stories in recent months that highlight a pattern of computer and internet security issues that has slowly emerged as more and more companies rely on internet connections and networks to complete transactions and store customer data. Most of these problems were reported as a single flaw in one layer of security, but the more investigators probed the security breaches and their causes, the more they found that the problems existed in several layers of the security systems that were in place. Though there have been several stories of data being leaked, today we will focus on Target’s breach in network security.
By now, most people have heard of, or been a victim of, the Target point-of-sale breach which happened last November and December over the course of a month and a half in 2013. This breach harvested credit card information from Target’s point-of-sale card swipe machines at their brick and mortar stores and sent that information to hackers. Hackers did this by infecting their POS systems with malware. Though Target had anti-malware data leak prevention software installed on their systems, for some reason, the program did not catch the malware, thereby allowing it to infect Targets credit card machines. But there were more layers of security that were compromised that made it easier for the hackers to get into Target’s system. Investigators believe that the breach was first made through a third-party contractor – possibly maintenance staff – who had remote access to Target’s computer systems. These contractors probably had their own security issues that Target did not check into properly, and thus this third party contractor was more vulnerable to hacking, thus making Target more susceptible. There was no two-factor authentication system in place to make sure it was the third party company logging in and not imposters. Another layer of security that was compromised was the lack of proper segregation in Target’s networks. The third-party contractor, that investigators believe was the point of entry into Target’s systems by hackers, had access to heating and cooling systems, but that also gave the hackers access to the systems handling credit card payments. To make matters worse, Target was warned of these flaws in its security, and the warnings did not get to the right personnel who could have corrected the matter. The failure of communication resulted in a failure of another layer of their security.
It’s easy to see in hind-sight how the different layers of security failed to work together to prevent the infamous breach of Target’s credit card systems. Proper lines of communication and chain of command within the IT branch of Target in addition to proper vetting and over-sight given to third-party contractors, separating the less sensitive networks from the more sensitive credit card point-of-sale networks, and keeping malware up to date and working seamlessly with the other layers of security would have helped to prevent hackers from obtaining sensitive credit card information. TRA Consulting, Inc., in Long Beach can help your business avoid problems like Target’s by working with you to find security solutions for all your computer networks and systems. We can consult with you to help your business expand its layers of security and to make sure they are all working together seamlessly.
Microsoft’s New Office Online
- Tuesday, 25 February 2014 04:53
~~Microsoft recently rebranded and re-launched its online version of Microsoft Office, Office Online. Since 2010, the online version of Office was called Microsoft Office Web Apps, but this name created quite a lot of confusion for users who wondered whether this was a downloadable program or an app from an app store. Actually, it is neither one of those things. Instead, Office Online, as Office Web Apps is now called uses cloud computing and cloud storage to power the online version of its Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The online versions of these programs do have fewer features and options when compared with the complete Microsoft Office software package that you install onto your computer. But these lighter versions offered by Office Online offer some capabilities and perks not available through the full Microsoft Office program.
While many businesses may find it the most worthwhile to stick with the full and complete version of Microsoft Office for their workers’ computer stations, many small and medium-sized businesses, like the ones served by TRA Consulting, Inc. in Long Beach, might benefit from offering Office Online to their employees instead of the full Office version. One reason is that workers can access their documents from any computer anywhere, making documents easier to complete and access, especially when a deadline is looming. Another reason businesses might find this computing solution attractive for their offices is the cost. Microsoft has been touting a subscription-based method of payment in the last couple of years, citing that this mode is much cheaper than buying the full, downloadable versions of Microsoft Office. By paying for the online subscription, businesses can reduce software costs and save workers time and productivity by making documents and spread sheets available online and accessible twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Another attractive feature of the newly updated Office Online is real-time co-editing. Microsoft added this feature last November. This would allow workers to collaborate on documents from any computer in any location. In addition to real time co-editing, they also added other enhancements, including the ability to switch more easily between different apps such as from Word to Excel and back, and they also added a library of ready-to-use templates. These apps are linked to SharePoint which is Microsoft’s collaboration platform where there is a central hub for accessing, storing and sharing documents created in Office Online.
Microsoft has been trying to up its game in the cloud computing arena to compete with Google’s suite of online products for individuals as well as its subscription service for business users. Part of the reason for the rebranding was to alleviate confusion and to make Office Online easier to find and access.
Whether you want to buy the traditional desktop-installed version of Microsoft Office, subscribe to Office Online, or use another program entirely, let TRA Consulting, Inc. help you find a cost-effective and convenient word processing and document-creation software or cloud-supported solution for your small or medium-sized business.
California’s Drought and How Computers and the Internet are Helping Us Find Solutions
- Saturday, 22 February 2014 20:40
~~We here at TRA Consulting, Inc. in Long Beach have been hearing, reading, and seeing quite a number of news stories about California’s latest water crisis. Experts say this has been the worst drought in more than 100 years and that it looks like it will be continuing for the foreseeable future. But there are a number of resources available these days that we did not have the last time drought reared its ugly head. Chief among them is our ability to use new technologies to help us solve the problems associated with this drought. The last time there was a major drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we did not have the some of the tools that we can use now.
There are a number of agencies and businesses working on this problem. One company called Leak Defense is developing a device for detecting water leaks in the home that will be similar to a smoke detector. The device can be installed by home owners and will use the home’s Wi-Fi system to alert home owners to potential water leak issues such as a running toilet. The device will be easy to install and require no special knowledge of plumbing. It will attach to the outside of an intake pipe and detect the flow of water. It is sensitive enough to pick up a dripping kitchen faucet, yet calibrated to ignore legitimate water usage like someone taking a shower. Every little bit of water saved from leaky faucets and toilets from homes and businesses across the state really adds up.
Another new development is the increasing use of smart water meters in homes, apartment buildings and businesses. These smart water meters can collect quite a lot about specific water usages and times and that information can more easily be reported to researchers who can develop more new technologies to help us conserve water in more effectively. Moreover, that information can be brought to the market where start-up companies can develop new products, like the water leak detector mentioned above, and bring those products to market.
Some public utility agencies are using text messaging to spread the word about water conservation to its customers. One Oakland-based agency tried out a pilot program that issued water usage report cards to some of its customers. Through the use of the information they were able to gather using smart water meters and a program developed by the company WaterSmart Software, they were able to show users how and where in their homes water could be conserved and urged them to take action. Reports show that many did take action to conserve more water after being encouraged to do so. The pilot program reported a five percent reduction in water consumption with promising results that it might grow if the program were expanded to more utility users for a longer period of time.
The new technologies of software as a service (SaaS), behavioral economics, and big data that have been developed since the last time we had a drought could help us to go a long way towards solving our water shortage issues.
Cloud computing: What is it and how can it help you and your business?
- Thursday, 20 February 2014 08:39
~~Something we hear a lot about lately is “the cloud.” But what is it exactly and why has it become important in both the business and private sectors? The term is so popular these days that it has become somewhat a cliché. And within that cliché, it has become harder and harder to define this nebulous term that everyone seems to keep flinging around. Some even go as far as defining the cloud as anything outside your firewall. But cloud computing is really more a great way for your business to add computing capacity and capabilities without investing in costly infrastructure and the time it takes to get these physical, site-based systems up and running including training personnel in its use, software licensing. Cloud computing involves subscription or pay-per-use services that can increase your company’s computing capabilities by using the internet. These services usually involve renting out space on a server or remote computer and retrieving the information stored in that space or using that remote system’s computing powers for your business needs. These services include, but are not limited to, applications like word processing and accounting, secure data storage, and spam filtering to name a few. These services are offered through a wide variety of companies, large and small. It can be difficult to know which service, subscription or application is right for you.
TRA Consulting, a computer solutions firm based in Long Beach, can help you decide which cloud computing options might work best for your small or medium-sized business and then help you implement those services. But first, let’s discuss the kinds of subscriptions and services that are available to you through cloud computing. Desktop management services are one of the aspects of cloud computing that has been around the longest. This allows updates, software downloads and computer maintenance on your business’ computers to be done from a remote location. Another aspect of cloud computing is software as a service or SaaS. This allows users to access a program or application through the internet which sometimes makes it cheaper than hosting the application on your own local servers and avoiding costly software licensing. SaaS is commonly used for Human Resources apps and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning, a popular business management software). Online data storage is another aspect of cloud computing, these services are helping to augment datacenters through the use of virtual commodity servers. There are some web services that are also important parts of cloud computing. These web services offer APIs (application programming interface) that allow you to do payroll processing, postal services, credit card processing and mapping all through cloud computing.
While the term cloud computing is still a mystery to most and can mean a number of different things to different people, there are many great ways that cloud computing can help you and your business thrive. Contact TRA Consulting, Inc. today to find out how we can help you expand your businesses computing power without much extra cost.
The Hacking Epidemic at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
- Wednesday, 19 February 2014 09:22
~~The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia are in the final stretch. In just a few days, athletes from around the world will be completing their competitions, attending the closing ceremonies, and heading home. But in the meantime, smart phones, computers and tablets in Sochi have been under near constant attack from hackers since before the games began. As NBC Nightly News reported on February 4th, when athletes, support teams, volunteers, reporters, and spectators began arriving in Sochi, Russia in preparation for the games, they found their electronic devices were quickly threatened.
Most people turn on their cell phones when they get off the airplane upon arriving in a new place. When they get to their hotel, they usually fire-up their laptops or tablets. It seems like a very natural thing to do these days, especially when you want to let loved ones and colleagues know you have arrived safely and catch up on any correspondence you might have missed. But as several news stories have warned, hackers are taking advantage of the huge influx of unwitting Olympic visitors to Sochi to gain as much personal information or other sensitive data from the devices that came into the country with their owners. Phones may be tapped wirelessly and hackers can listen into your conversations, and in many cases smart phones automatically downloaded malware that left it open to other types of cyber attacks. The information gleaned by hackers about visitors then might be used by that hacker for theft, or sold to other criminal enterprises for the purposes of identity theft, or even completely hijack a visitors’ computer, tablet or phone to carry out criminal activities.
News sources reporting on the wide-spread hacking in Sochi are reporting that travelers are advised to have no expectation of privacy when they arrive in Sochi. These sources also recommended that travelers remove all sensitive data from smart phones, tablets and computers before leaving home, avoid the public wifi, not use their devices at all, or just leave them at home. Another option might be to buy a new disposable phone once you arrive at your destination for use only in that location.
Whether you traveled to Sochi to enjoy the Winter Olympics, or you are an armchair warrior watching from home, it’s smart to think ahead about computer security here at home and for when you travel. As the example from the Sochi Winter Olympics illustrates, traveling has taken on a new dimension in terms of computer safety and security. At TRA Consulting, let us handle the headache for you. We can advise you on the best way to keep your devices safe for your next business trip or vacation. If you have recently returned from travels, we can help with virus removal and protect your computer, tablet, or phone from future threats. We are serving the Long Beach and Greater Los Angeles areas with computer solutions, training, consulting, and virus removal for individuals, small, and medium-sized businesses