Save money with secure providers

Just a few short years ago, the image of an IT department for small and medium businesses was one of Dilbert-looking technicians noodling around with Cat 5 cable and speaking in a blend of Klingon and Robot. In other words, IT seemed completely remote, complicated and inaccessible to most employees. Additionally, each new hardware and software deployment, including installing malware protection, could take weeks to manually implement across the enterprise, and rarely went smoothly.

One solution – outsourced IT – has found greater acceptance in the past few years as its benefits have become more tangible to even small businesses. It is estimated that globally, 74 percent of companies use some form of outsourced IT solution, up 25 percent from 2009.

Read further for compelling reasons why a small or medium business should consider the IT-outsourcing trend.

 

Cost savings

Moving IT off-site can save an SMB thousands of dollars per year. As most business decisions are predicated on the bottom line, this is often the main driver in the decision to migrate. Areas of savings include:

Reducing hardware expenses. Servers, storage, cabling, cooling, and datacenter square footage expense can now be on a cloud vendor’s dime, not yours.

No salary or benefits expenses for IT employees.

Potential tax savings by converting capital expenditures (servers), that depreciate slowly over time, to a monthly cost which can potentially be deducted in the current tax year.

 

The latest software versions – hassle-free

Outsourcing IT means software, including malware protection for endpoints, can be updated automatically by the provider. This obviates the need for a local tech to run around taking workstations offline for upgrades.

Furthermore, updating software not only unlocks newer features, but also closes exploits in older versions that might allow hacker penetration. So it’sworth exploring any platform that can make this process painless and automatic, such as a cloud service.

 

Focus on your business, not technical issues

Anyone who survived working in Corporate America from the 1980s onwards is familiar with the spectacle and lost productivity that accompanies the proverbial “system going down.”

When outsourcing IT to the cloud, this nightmare occurs less often as data is often distributed redundantly across many servers that are monitored constantly, leading to greater stability and uptime, and less worrying about IT matters.

 

Improved security

Reputable outsourced IT providers are dead serious about security against malware, zero-day hacks and other intrusions and constantly monitor and update their protection schemes.

For most SMBs, outsourcing will provide a more frequent and secure back-up solution than their existing IT setups. Furthermore, as the data is kept off-site, it is well- protected from a local catastrophe, such as a fire or flooding

 

No new employees to manage when scaling up

Scalability is easy with outsourced IT – simply contact the vendor for more storage, memory and processors as needed. There is no longer any need for job postings, interviews, expensive training, personality clashes, worker’s compensation or other common HR issues and liabilities just to get tech personnel to handle the increased operations.

Instead, you can focus your payroll budget on production or sales staff that directly drive revenue.

 

How to move to the cloud

Prior to outsourcing your IT, draw up a migration plan. Then study the stability and security reputation of outsourcing providers before trusting them with your mission-critical data. Malware protection is increasingly important, so discuss solutions with each candidate to explore what steps they take in the event of a breach.

How do you find a reputable vendor? Check out this list of outsourced IT providers or this one to begin with. Or, delve into the metrics of some serious cloud provider benchmarking tests.

How to Be Proactive About Potential Breaches

Are you tiring of users continuously badgering you to get corporate network access for their mobile devices?  Does your corporate management want to buy tablets for the sales team? If so, your small- to medium-sized business (SMB) needs to start proactively addressing mobile security breaches such as malware.

Modifying your existing security policies and protocols, establishing new policies and educating your mobile workforce are economically sound frontline solutions for securing your corporate enterprise and trade secrets.

Here are some tips on how to address mobile device security breaches beforethey happen:

  • Establish corporate information access guidelines. It’s important to pre-determine how mobile device users will access corporate information. Will users download data to devices? Will they access the data remotely? The answer will vary from company to company, so be sure to consider your situation uniquely.  If your company has to be in compliance with a regulatory body like PCI Data Security Standards (DSS) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), then consult with your auditor before enabling network access to mobile devices.
  • Establish device control policies. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) can be full of benefits like saving on corporate hardware purchases and increasing productivity for your mobile workforce and SMB. However, the negatives can outweigh all those positives when a BYOD device brings malware into your network. Create a policy that governs how your corporate IT staff can gain control over a personal device, while maintaining your network security. Include information about how to keep personal information private (e.g., via a mobile device backup strategy that doesn’t touch personal data) and define corporate ownership over data and applications.
  • Enforce device-level security.  Both corporate-owned and personal devices should have secure passwords and screen locks; document this requirement in your mobile device policies. In addition, make sure it’s clear that both personal and corporate mobile devices maintain up-to-date corporate-approved (and preferably corporate-managed) antivirus and security software installed to guard against malware and other security risks.
  • Develop and deliver mobile workforce security training. Education can be just as powerful a security tool as technology. Develop and deliver mobile workforce security training built around keeping your mobile workforce productive and prepared to be the first line of defense against malware and other security threats to their mobile devices. Spell out your corporate policies and include a participant sign-off stating that they understand and will abide by the policies.
  • Determine deal breakers for your mobile device policies. In establishing mobile security policies – regardless of your industry – there are going to be deal breakers when you have to deny certain user requests.
    Deal breakers might include devices not running the current version of its OS, or they may be jail broken. There should also be a defined escalation path for deal breakers so the denial can be dealt with in an official manner with reasons formally documented in your mobile device security policies.
  • Let your business drive mobile device security policies and training. Remember to let your own business requirements and culture drive the policies, training and other upfront work you do to support your mobile workforce when it comes to mobile device security and access.

Opportunity for businesses of all sizes

The Apple iPad and its many Android “sincere flatterers” have comprehensively shaken up the market for mobile computing; in fact, the late Steve Jobs coined the phrase “post-PC for just this situation.

The days of the traditional laptop computer may not be totally over, but is a hinged screen-keyboard combo the only tool for serious mobile work? Nope. Here are five reasons why….

 

1. For content creation, just add keyboard

Tablets are great for content consumption. Hit the button, and you’re immediately scrolling through Web pages, YouTube videos, annoyed avians and the like. This can lead to the impression that tablets are only good for passively consuming; that they’re no use for creating content, such as documents, spreadsheets and other staples of business life, but that’s short-sighted.

Obviously, tablets’ on-screen keyboards aren’t easy or ergonomic typing tools. However, there’s a wide range of Bluetooth options available that can turn an iPad or Android tablet into a lean, mean, writing machine.

 

But if you’re going to add a keyboard to your tablet, why wouldn’t you just buy a laptop? The next three reasons answer that…

 

2. ARM = light weight + long battery life

PC and Mac laptops are built around the Intel processor architecture, using chips from either Intel or AMD. Often known as x86, the architecture is great for compatibility with the PCs we’ve used for years, but it’s encumbered with historical baggage that makes x86 machines hot, heavy and hungry for battery juice. Modern laptops have improved but are still a world away from today’s tablets.

Most tablets break from Intel’s historical hegemony by using chips designed by ARM. These so-called system-on-a-chip architectures use much less power than x86 – especially when idle. This and modern battery technology can give tablets a 10-hour life and weeks of standby readiness, which means you can get more work done on the go.

Intel is fighting back, though the jury’s still out on whether it can compete. Intel tablets will at least be able to run the full version of Windows 8, as opposed to the cut-down, ARM-only Windows RT.

 

3. Cellular data: a first-class citizen

Today’s tablets often include access to 3G and 4G/LTE networks. The data networking technology is seamlessly integrated, so that you can switch between it and Wi-Fi with no noticeable interruption.

That’s much cleaner than the typical Windows or Mac laptop with an add-on 3G dongle; the difference being that cellular data was designed into tablets from the get-go. So there’ll be fewer excuses to not get the presentation finished on time.

 

4. Seriously cool sci-fi toys today

Who can forget countless Star Trek episodes where an impractically uniformed ensign brought a portable device to Capt. Kirk for him to sign off on some Starfleet paperwork? These sort of science-fiction visions drive gadget designers to invent the future… and who doesn’t want to live in the future?

Don’t deny tablets’ “cool factor.” Your users want to use them, they want to be seen using them, and they’ll thank you for letting them use tablets in business. (However, make sure you stay safe by protecting against Romulan malware and the Klingon drive-by.)

Benefits of Moving to the Cloud

Why move to the cloud? There are plenty of good reasons, but mainly it makes good business sense. You can call it efficiency, or call it doing more with less. But whichever spin you prefer, cloud computing lets you focus on what’s important: your business.

Cloud computing can be used for almost all types of applications, not just business security. While the idea of cloud computing can sometimes seem hard to grasp, it’s clear that it saves its users money – especially SMBs, including small office/home office (SOHO).

Plenty of oh-so-clever industry people will tell you what cloud computing is and isn’t. Here’s my simple view: It’s what we used to call software as a service (SaaS), but it’s set up so it’s easy to switch on, simple to expand and contract, and usually has a usage-based pricing model.

Read on to discover why moving to the cloud will save you money in five ways (six, if you’re picky)….

 

1. Fully utilized hardware

Cloud computing brings natural economies of scale. The practicalities of cloud computing mean high utilization and smoothing of the inevitable peaks and troughs in workloads. Your workloads will share server infrastructure with other organizations’ computing needs. This allows the cloud-computing provider to optimize the hardware needs of its data centers, which means lower costs for you.

 

2. Lower power costs

Cloud computing uses less electricity. That’s an inevitable result of the economies of scale I just discussed: Better hardware utilization means more efficient power use. When you run your own data center, your servers won’t be fully-utilized (unless yours is a very unusual organization). Idle servers waste energy. So a cloud service provider can charge you less for energy used than you’re spending in your own data center.

 

3. Lower people costs

Whenever I analyze organizations’ computing costs, the staffing budget is usually the biggest single line item; it often makes up more than half of the total. Why so high? Good IT people are expensive; their salaries, benefits, and other employment costs usually outweigh the costs of hardware and software. And that’s even before you add in the cost of recruiting good staff with the right experience.

When you move to the cloud, some of the money you pay for the service goes to the provider’s staffing costs. But it’s typically a much smaller amount than if you did all that work in-house. Yet again, we have to thank our old friend: economies of scale.

(In case you worry that moving to the cloud means firing good workers, don’t. Many organizations that move to cloud computing find they can redeploy their scarce, valuable IT people resources to areas that make more money for the business.)

 

4. Zero capital costs

When you run your own servers, you’re looking at up-front capital costs. But in the world of cloud-computing, financing that capital investment is someone else’s problem.

Sure, if you run the servers yourself, the accounting wizards do their amortization magic which makes it appear that the cost gets spread over a server’s life. But that money still has to come from somewhere, so it’s capital that otherwise can’t be invested in the business—be it actual money or a line of credit.

 

5. Resilience without redundancy

When you run your own servers, you need to buy more hardware than you need in case of failure. In extreme cases, you need to duplicate everything. Having spare hardware lying idle, “just in case,” is an expensive way to maximize uptime.

Instead, why not let a cloud computing service deal with the redundancy requirement? Typical clouds have several locations for their data centers, and they mirror your data and applications across at least two of them. That’s a less expensive way of doing it, and another way to enjoy the cloud’s economies of scale.

 

Bonus benefit: climate change

Whether or not they believe in global warming, many organizations want to do something about it. This is either because their customers want to do business with green companies, or simply through a genuine desire to emit less CO2 , or other gases believed to warm the planet.

Know about internet telephony

Many SMBs and SOHOs are walking away from their traditional phone companies and moving to the Internet for their telephony needs. In tech jargon, they’re switching from POTS (“plain old telephone service”) to Voice over IP (VoIP, pronounced as one word). Read on to find out what it is, why you should use it, and what to watch out for.

VoIP lets you make phone calls over the Internet with a number of advantages over your landline. It gives you low calling rates, especially when making overseas calls; excellent voice quality, rather than the muffled squawk of a traditional phone; and extra features (or easy access to the hard-to-use features you already have).

A phone using VoIP is different from a regular phone; instead of connecting to an analog phone line, it connects to a computer. That computer is usually called a VoIP gateway, and it’s the bridge between the handset and other telephone users.

 

Breaking it Down: VoIP Types

 

Cloud vs. Local

The gateway connects you to the regular telephone network, or to other VoIP users. Your gateway might be on-site, or it might be a hosted service—“in the cloud”—that you connect to via the Internet.

Running it yourself might be a good option if you have the expertise in-house, but for most people, a service is the simplest and least expensive option.

 

Which System?

Classical VoIP is based on Internet standards like SIP and RTP. The best-known example of a commercial service like this is Vonage; the best-known in-house product is probably the Cisco UCM Suite.

Some newer systems are based on a different standard, called Asterisk. This is a robust, battle-tested system supported by many vendors, including Fonality.

(Normally, you can ignore all this nerdy alphabet soup, but it’s helpful to know which standards your system uses, in case you ever need to know about compatible add-ons.)

No discussion of VoIP software would be complete without mentioning Skype. It’s probably best known as a consumer-focused, free, peer-to-peer service, but the company also offers a service aimed at businesses of all sizes. It’s not just a program you run on your computer; you can also buy dedicated desk phones that work with Skype.

 

Security

One of the advantages of VoIP over regular phone service is the extra security. In the VoIP world, voice scramblers aren’t just the preserve of the military.

It’s similar to working with a secure website, such as your bank. By enabling encryption, you get privacy for your business communication, plus authentication (i.e., protection against call rerouting).

While we’re on the subject of security… remember to stay safe. If your users connect to any Internet services—including VoIP—make sure they’re protected with business-class security.

Also, check with your provider about emergency calling (911 in North America, 112 elsewhere). Some providers do a better job than others of routing your call to the correct dispatcher for your location.

 

Equipment Types

What do you want on your desk? With VoIP, you have three main choices:

  • A regular, wired phone: To connect to a VoIP system, you plug each phone into a bridging device, known as an analog terminal adapter (ATA). The simplest type of ATA has two sockets: one for the phone and one to plug into your computer network.
  • A dedicated digital phone: These all-in-one devices plug straight into your network. Because they’re designed to work with your VoIP system, they often have extra buttons to control special features — for example, there might be a “call back” button, so you don’t need to remember arcane commands like *69.
  • A softphone: This is VoIP software that runs on your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. Skype is the program that most people think of, but other VoIP systems can also work with software-only phones. Some examples are AOL Instant Messenger, Cisco IP Communicator and Jitsi.

Comprehensive endpoint device security

The variety of ways workers are now connecting together and to the web to work more effectively continues to grow.

As the connections expand, so do the steps that need to be taken to ensure those connections communicate with the network in a secure fashion.

Because employees increasingly are using mobile devices to connect to the corporate network, this puts pressure on IT to provide endpoint security and device management solutions that make sense for both the mobile worker and the enterprise.

Research firm IDC predicts that the number of mobile workers will increase to 1.19 billion by the year 2013. The variety of devices that these workers use to connect to the network will also continue to grow.

According to the iPass 2011 Mobile Enterprise Report, 73 percent of enterprises allow non-IT managed devices to access corporate resources. This is a figure that is likely to get larger as 83 percent of firms said they expect to support Apple’s iOS, while 77 percent anticipate supporting Android-enabled devices.

Each mobile device provides its own set of security vulnerabilities. Additionally, mobile equipment has less evolved security applications – most have no anti-virus or anti-spyware protection on the devices themselves. So endpoint devices are among hacker’s preferred targets.

According to the Juniper Networks Malicious Mobile Threats Report 2010/2011, there was a 400 percent increase in Android malware between June 2010 and January 2011.

To take advantage of the productivity offered by web-enabled endpoint devices, including laptops, smartphones and tablets, it is essential that firms adopt policies and procedures that protect enterprise data while enabling staff to use the mobile devices that best fit their needs.

Use Best Practices for Endpoint Security Solutions
There are a number of established best practices for endpoint security management- among these observances are:

  • Require the staff to sign policies and usage statements for all endpoint devices, including those owned by the business and employee-owned equipment. Policies and usage statements should clearly state the security and support that IT will provide, so it is responsible only for those apps and services that IT delivers and approves.
  • Use the cloud layer to route all network requests such as email and server access to block security threats before they can do any damage.
  • Place security solutions in the cloud. This method enables the enterprise to provide central endpoint device management and security rather than going to each device to install security applications.
  • Use the cloud layer to provide authorization capabilities, allowing workers to access different areas of the network, depending on their needs. For example, an auditor might need access to sensitive corporate financial information, while a customer service representative would need to access customer transactions.
  • Delete corporate information from endpoint devices in the event that they are lost or stolen or if the employee’s relationship with the company ends. The Juniper malware study reports that 1 in 20 mobile devices were lost or stolen.

Reduce Your Investment

Trojans, worms and spyware sound like elements straight from a summer blockbuster, but the kind of action/adventure they provide on your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets make them more like a horror movie.

By deploying effective endpoint security, you can help prevent attacks and keep your users safe from viruses and other malware, such as spear phishing and advanced persistent threats. Today’s  state-of-the-art endpoint security has come a long way from its early roots in “antivirus” and has morphed into a complex suite of sophisticated protections against modern threats.

But good protection isn’t free; so, how can you save money, while still protecting your computers? Here’s how to reduce your investment….

 

Keeping users safe

In an ideal world, users would be perfectly security conscious. These mythical users wouldn’t:

  • Click on suspicious links.
  • Open file attachments emailed by criminals pretending to be their friends.
  • Respond to phishing messages that appear to be from a bank.
  • Disable software updates because warnings and reboots are annoying.
  • Disable a security product because it slows down their PC.
  • Install free software from an untrustworthy developer, because their friend liked it on Facebook.

Sadly, our world is less than ideal. Much, much less: A recent report said that 86 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed had lost sensitive data during the previous year.

User awareness training helps, but it isn’t sufficient. That’s why your endpoints need securing. Doing so helps prevent your users from accidentally exposing sensitive business information, such as your  banking credentials, secret-sauce recipes or future product plans.

 

Save time and money on endpoint security

Your challenge is to protect your users while minimizing costs: How do you save time and money, while keeping your company safe?

Look for a modern endpoint security solution – not one thrown together from an old antivirus program and a fresh coat of paint.

 

How can you tell?

A start-of-the-art solution does the following:

  • Works intelligently in the background, without bogging down the user’s computer
  • Scans for malware in seconds, not hours
  • Uses a reliable, built-from-the-ground-up cloud security service to identify malware, not a huge signature file that’s quickly out-of-date
  • Works intelligently while offline, reconnecting with the cloud service to check changes made while disconnected
  • Fixes infected PCs, if necessary, by rolling back the computer’s state to a known-good point
  • Automatically monitors untrusted software executions to prevent infection
  • Allows you to enforce certain policy settings, such as use of USB ports, and prevents users from disabling security features
  • Doesn’t fight with competing installed products, to allow you to test it safely

How does it reduce your investment?

A modern solution will reduce costs by being integrable, controllable and reliable. That means your operating costs are lower, and you won’t lose money from malware infections that only waste IT workers’ time and squander end-user productivity.

Purchase cost is, of course, a factor. However, in most analyses of total cost of ownership (TCO), operations and end-user productivity losses dwarf all other costs.

You have to first consider your budget realities, but it’s smart to benchmark yourself against what similar companies spend. There are free security solutions, but they don’t provide the control or sophistication to minimize your TCO.

Win Over Startup Investors

If you’re looking for startup investors, having a good business idea is only half the battle. You won’t convince them based on your idea alone. The person deciding whether your business is worthy of their investment requires a well-thought-out plan, with details about the business, its growth potential, target market and more.

Business News Daily spoke with Michael Mocatta, partner and COO of Neta Ventures, and Keri Gohman, president of online accounting software company Xero Americas, about investor pitch meetings and how to ensure the relationship is a win-win for you and your investors.

 

1. Show investors you’re a low risk.

Benchmarks for raising venture capital have gone up over time as the cost of product development has decreased, said Gohman. Investors need to see a realistic business model and, in many cases, some initial traction. They also want to see how well the business has been thought out, an acute understanding of the business’s unit economics, and the lifetime value and cost of customer acquisition.

“Investors like to fund growth, rather than product development,” Gohman said. “A startup needs to be able to show an investor month-over-month growth over a certain period.”

 

2. Sell them on your team.

Your team is what makes your idea happen, and potential investors are looking at the people behind the idea.

“When fundraising, it’s important for business owners to show that they’ve been able to recruit a team, inspire the team to develop a solid product, a small subset of people who like using the product, and that the product has grown toward product-market fit,” Gohman said.

Mocatta noted that a common mistake is presenting yourself to a potential investor with a missing link, such as when you’re still looking for the “tech guru.”

“You’ll stand out for the right reasons if the people on your team have experience as well as contacts,” he said. “A diverse team with complementary strengths is what will turn an idea into reality.”

 

3. Create a simple tagline that shows your value proposition.

Entrepreneurs who live and breathe details of innovation find it hard to distill a concept into a simple idea that grabs the imagination of investors. You need to condense the vision of the business into a clear benefit that is compelling and dramatic, said Mocatta. A tagline is even more succinct than an elevator pitch, he added, so have this worked out and memorized before presenting your vision to others.

To define a meaningful vision, Gohman advises going beyond the business’s day-to-day operations and think about the “why.”

“A business with a true vision empowers those involved, giving them a reason to wake up in the morning,” Gohman said. “A vision should be used as a north star, guiding an organization in everything it does: hiring, development, customer acquisition, [etc.].”

 

4. Have a plan for distribution.

Having a plan and some initial traction for distributing your product or service is not a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, said Gohman.

“An entrepreneur needs to have clarity on what they’re selling to their customer and how they’ll reach them,” she said.

Gohman suggested running a few test scenarios to understand how your distribution and demand work. Ideally you should have initial partners or contracts locked down to demonstrate that the business idea can get off the ground.

“I often suggest starting with a retail channel niche and then building the product backward,” added Mocatta. “Where do you want to sell your product? Answer that question and then build your product specifically for that market.”

Cloud for Superior Customer Service

Along with enduring root canals and eliminating malware, dealing with customer service call centers probably ranks near the top of the “most painful experiences in life” list for many people.

Causes for the discomfort include: complex telephone trees that require a preposterous number of key presses to get anywhere; interminable hold times; agents who lack all but the most child-like expertise; and, most maddening: when a customer finally connects with someone who might actually help — they are frequently disconnected.

There has to be a better way. And, there is… in the cloud.

Cloud-based services and applications are making headway into reducing this customer service mess, allowing small business owners to affordably improve the customer experience with cool features that people love, including social media and mobile device interfaces.

 

The importance of customer service management (CSM)

According to a ClickFox survey

  • More than 50 percent of disgruntled customers will spread negative information to others in their social circles.
  • More than one-third of unhappy customers will completely stop doing business with a company that has wronged them.
  • Even worse, 60 percent of those people exposed to these negative comments in social media are influenced by them, meaning most people will avoid you if their friends say you stink.

Not only does this represent lost revenue from these particular customers, but it can wreak havoc on SMB marketing efforts (and budgets) that now have to overcome not just their competitors’ advertising messages but also the negative perceptions and bad word-of-mouth caused by these unpleasant customer service experiences.

 

Cloud solutions

Placing your customer service in the cloud better meets the expectations of customers who are increasingly connected to the web via mobile devices and, therefore, expect instant answers. Rather than deal with a call center, many even prefer self-service answers for their support issues, searching online to bypass traditional help desks altogether.

Businesses can enable this migration of customer service functions with an ever-increasing list of services, including Zendesk, Service Cloud, Desk.com, Parature, and Zoho. Most provide not only traditional phone, email and chat functions, but also integrate with social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to offer robust self-service options.

Mobile-specific CSM apps include Gripe, available for both iPhone and Android, which enables consumers to vote positively for a company with a “cheer” or complain with a “gripe,” both of which get posted to their Twitter and Facebook accounts while also messaging the company’s customer service department for quick resolution.

 

Tangible benefits

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, one 500-seat cloud-based implementation provides up to twice the cost savings of a 100-seat dedicated center over a five-year period. Imagine the impact on your business and customer retention to have five times the customer service agents at half the cost!

There are other advantages of cloud CSM, such as:

  • Eliminating server equipment and maintenance costs
  • Improving agent productivity and first contact resolution rates (Solutions are moved from spreadsheets and other arcane local systems to easily searchable online databases.)
  • Achieving scalability by adjusting agent numbers as required (Some solutions offer instant additional part-time agent rentals for as little as $1 per hour.)
  • Reducing call volume, thanks to social media and self-service elements

Beastly Servers

Oh beastly server, how I will miss thee and thy constant neediness. No longer will I need to cool you down, swap out your bad memory and reimage your data after the inevitable crash.

I have found a better way to handle all of my applications and storage and – get this – I will never again have to physically touch a server or worry about data loss because my backups are automatic and redundant.

Yes, we are breaking up because I have moved on – to cloud solutions. I understand you’re upset, but please get a hold of yourself – and let go of my leg. It’s embarrassing.

 

Why use the cloud?

In all seriousness, maintaining a local server farm for small- and medium-sized businesses has traditionally been looked upon with a certain amount of justifiable dread due to the time and expense involved in maintaining hardware, ensuring data redundancy in the event of corruption and putting new servers online when scaling up.

Cloud computing easily handles all of these issues, and its benefits extend beyond simply outsourcing these annoying tasks. In fact, the affordability and stability of cloud solutions are engendering a sea change in how enterprises can milk their data to improve operations in ways that were previously just too costly to consider.

 

The scalability factor

As an example, let’s consider one of the cloud’s main benefits: massive, and nearly instant, scalability. Storing enormous amounts of data live in the cloud allows that information to be creatively used to solve real-world problems.

Consider a case where a business uses artificial intelligence to detect employee theft by identifying transaction anomalies when compared with years of historical data stored in the cloud.

Prior to cloud solutions, this data might have been archived and taken completely offline to make space for new storage. The affordability of cloud storage and the ability to simply order up more of it with a few mouse clicks enables businesses to leverage and explore a robust, active data set that might go back to the first document or transaction ever stored.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that this is all available for a much lower cost and faster speed than dedicated local servers, which might lack proper load balancing.

 

The world is your office

Another benefit to cloud solutions is the creation of a huge mobile workforce that not only allows workers to operate from all over the world, but also reduces the enterprise’s carbon footprint, thanks to less commuting and reduced power needs.

Using this model, office square footage is greatly reduced as workers access applications and data remotely, and the need for office staples such as desks, computer workstations, phones and kitchen supplies is eliminated.

Cost and environmental benefits not with standing, the cloud-based mobile worker phenomena does present a bit of a headache when it comes to one thing: security.

 

The security issue

The enormous amount of company data and wide variety of endpoints used in the cloud, compounded with the fact that a company’s data is on servers shared with other unrelated businesses, understandably brings to mind security questions and concerns.

Signature based malware protection

For those reluctant to say goodbye to signature-based malware protection, read on for the first of a four-part series that delves into why small and medium-sized businesses should rethink their current solutions and explore cloud-based strategies for endpoint protection.

We are gathered here today, with not-quite heavy hearts, to say farewell to a constant companion. Our “friend” was part of our daily lives, popping up at the oddest times, seemingly just to say “hi,” or – as in any other high-maintenance relationship – demand we drop everything to give it some attention right now.

Imperfect, needy and often intrusive, we nonetheless tolerated its presence as a necessity in this cruel, crazy world full of bad guys – until something radical came along that made our “friend” a casualty in the unceasing conflict that can be called “The Malware Wars.”

The radical new element in the fray? The cloud. So, join us in saying, “Rest in peace, signature-based antivirus program,” and, “Hello, cloud-based endpoint security strategies.”

 

The changing world of web threats

Signature-based antivirus protection arguably peaked in the late 1990s and has been playing catch-up with the blackhats ever since. File injection and other basic virus types were mostly supplanted by Trojans, worms, backdoors and other stealthier nasties, which the big antivirus companies responded to slowly, as these threats did not fit their model of a virus.

Demonstrating how ineffective some solutions are to this day, the notorious 12-year-old Back Orifice 2000 Trojan is still infecting machines, and one out of three web malware encountered in 4Q 2011 were zero day threats, which are completely undetectable by signature-based schemes.

Hackers are also increasingly using social media scams and phishing, with even LinkedIn notifications becoming fair game for delivering exploits. It is clearly a more complicated world in the security space, and only getting worse.

 

New devices, greater risks

Apart from this ever-present development of increasingly sophisticated malware, endpoint security strategies must take into consideration the proliferation of mobile devices used to access workplace email accounts, enterprise Wi-Fi connections and even corporate VPN tunnels. From a security viewpoint, this is a nightmare, especially because mobile devices are fast becoming the number one target for hackers, with both the iPhone and Android devices being compromised in greater numbers.

As downloading antivirus software and updating signatures on every single employee-owned device by IT personnel can prove impossible even for SMBs, it demonstrates that the signature-based approach is broken, and any solution needs to be easy to implement on both current and future endpoints for it to be considered viable.

 

How does the cloud fit in?

Cloud-based endpoint solutions protect devices by installing a small agent on them while keeping all of the detection algorithms on the cloud provider’s hardware. They protect against viruses, rootkits, zero-day threats, packet and port sniffing, and other intrusions by auto-detecting suspicious behavior and delivering a preemptive strike against exploits rather than react to an already-infected situation.