Phony App Stores Put Mobile Device Security at Risk

Bogus online app stores have begun to lure unsuspecting users to download fake applications, putting their security at risk. Once solely reliant on Android users, these third party app stores have shifted onto iOS and given countless iPhone users quite the headache. This particular trend isn’t directly targeting any one particular gaming or social community, meaning that all mobile users should be well aware of what they are downloading, and from where.

The reason that these fake online storefronts haven’t tapped into iOS until recently is due to Apple’s Developer Enterprise Program (DEP) – created to assist companies in building and distributing proprietary applications internally to their employees, third party stores use it to create fake store applications. Potential customers come to these online stores, download what they assume is the latest version of Pokemon GO, Facebook, or Twitter, while adware in the store itself is busy sifting through your mobile device and network. While the user continues to interact with the application, hackers get paid because they are able to access the user’s information and send super targeted ads within the application.

It should be noted that Apple polices its online app store and the DEP to a fault – however, the reason hackers were able to finally use iOS is because each company is granted a certificate in exchange for their $299 payment. Since there isn’t a limit, a hacker could easily create multiple fake accounts and make it that much harder for Apple to track which are legitimate – essentially, it is a game of cyber whack-a-mole and Apple is losing.

Here are the takeaways – make sure you are going directly to verified online app stores and be aware of the applications themselves. Repackaged applications are a common problem online, and luckily these only send advertisements to users; the alternatives vary and could be much more threatening. Keeping yourself up-to-date on the latest trends in cyber security and tips on how you can stay vigilant when online is imperative, whether you are at home or in the office. And, most importantly, blind faith in any third party vendors, app stores or otherwise, is putting your vulnerable data at risk if you or your company doesn’t have proper cyber security protocols in place.

User Experience and Security Go Hand in Hand

User experience had become increasingly more important as web design has expanded with technological advances and consumer tastes. In the past, simply presenting information in a readable format was sufficient enough – now, presentation of information and the overall ease of use of a website is key.

However, security also plays a significant role in the overall user experience. The “user experience” refers to how the user feels while using the website, not just the ease of navigation or purchasing ability and it’s those very emotions that drive users to take action or, conversely, feel uneasy about potential security concerns. A study published this past year showed that 70% of mobile purchasers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am wary of having my personal credit card information hacked using my mobile phone”. That is a large swath of users that need to know their experience on a company’s website won’t be marred by a potential attack, and plays right into a positive or negative user experience.

As users are becoming more aware of cyber security risks, how secure a site seems could be the difference between a verified lead or lost opportunity. Keeping this in mind when viewing users is crucial – make it as simple as possible for them to know that the site they are using will keep their information secure:

  • The simplest way for us to do this is with SSL certificates – which show that any information that is transferred through your website in encrypted.
  • If consumers are going to be making transactions of any kind on your website, using protected payment gateways like Braintree or Paypal shows that, combined with a well-recognized brand, their purchases will be protected.
  • Finally, official security “badges” or getting approved by third party overseers like Google Trusted Store can also help your website look the part.

Overall, these are just small steps to take in order to increase your website’s security, therefore allowing your site’s visitors to feel more at ease and have a positive user experience. How your organization’s cyber security plan is prioritized is a decision that should be made with both external and internal help – having a second opinion opens up additional avenues of exploration, and will ultimately assist in the ultimate cyber security protection plan for both your clients and organization.

How Open Source is Changing the Development Landscape for the Better

Remember that teacher in elementary school that always talked about sharing, and made you share your toys with the other kids in class? That teacher provided a valuable lesson to many in that sharing really is caring. Ok, so enough with the nostalgia – currently, sharing is spoken about in different terms, especially when it comes to software and applications. In the past we used terms like “shareware” or “freeware” to promote free software to a large group of people. Today we often use the term “open source,” referring to software that is made available to anyone, and can be contributed to, or altered by, anyone.

Open source is nothing new, except when it comes to enterprise.

Much of enterprise software is provided by one vendor for a given price, calculated by number of users or licenses, or a monthly or yearly fee. The constant is that the vendor is responsible for updating, maintaining, and improving the software over time. The problem is that the vendor only has so much bandwidth to be able to develop improvements that are equal parts timely and meaningful.

This is where open source software comes in: there are a great number being used for big data, project management, web development, and other projects. Two examples are Hadoop (big data) and WordPress (web development). Both are open source software, having become more popular than they would have had they been created and maintained by only one vendor or company.

Open source allows for collaboration, with software developers from all walks of life contributing to its functionality in order to make it better.

You don’t have to hire this person or seek them out; all you have to do is lay out guidelines to follow and sit back. It creates a chain reaction that helps improve the software more rapidly than if it were only being developed by a few people.

In the realm of open source software like WordPress, this type of collaboration results in a number of improvements to the core of the CMS, as well as thousands of plugins and themes, or skins. When working with a program like Hadoop, it allows businesses to form that utilize Hadoop to build big data infrastructure, and planning and do so much faster.

Open source is a realm of endless possibilities due to platform creators allowing the users develop improvements rather than just selling it to anyone. And while software development is a business (giving away free software won’t pay the bills), there are plenty of ways to create a business out of “freeware” or open source software.

In the end we should all be thankful that these developers cared enough to share their work with others, and allowed other developers to add to their work. What it does is make things better and easier for the rest of us faster than we could have imagined; and that really is a great thing.

Artificial Intelligence Could Change the World of Customer Service

What if a customer service representative always knew the solution to almost any problem? What if they could absorb hours of material in a matter of minutes? Well, that rep may be fast coming.

Meet Amelia, she is a customer service agent. She’s not your typical customer rep, however. Amelia is a robot. IPsoft, a business automation company, has created an artificial intelligence platform that has the potential to drastically renovate the customer service industry.

Hello Amelia

Hello Amelia

Cable, phone, credit card, utility, and any other kind of company you can think of, need almost constant support staff to answer the flood of calls for support of complaints and inquires. Many times though, customers are left in utter frustration from their experience. A major complaint is that these customer service reps simply read off boilerplates and feed customers lines that don’t solve their problem.

Amelia is a much different experience. Amelia can sense certain emotional signals and can better respond to customer attitudes. This is unlike the simple word recognition automation software that many companies use now to direct you to the correct department.

The real question: will Amelia, and software like her, replace human reps? Not entirely. If Amelia doesn’t know the answer to your inquiry she escalates the problem to a human agent. However, Amelia learns. If there is a problem she’s not familiar with, you can have her learn the answer so she can solve the problem next time.

But is customer service automation really a good thing? Many argue that having to “Press 1 for this” or “Press 7 for that” hasn’t made things easier. In fact, most people would prefer to speak to a human being.

bad-customer-service-3-300x276The problem is that people who call the service or support department aren’t calling to rain sunshine upon the company; they’re most often disgruntled or frustrated. The representatives then begin to resent customers, dislike their job, and become indifferent about the company mission.

Having an artificially intelligent robot performing the more mundane tasks, like updating records and adding bill credits, allows the human customer service reps to save time for more pressing issues.

Even with the benefits that Amelia, and platforms like her, bring to the table, it is difficult to replace the human touch Talking to a human is like nothing else that technology can replicate. But with some savvy innovation and some strategic thinking, we can take artificial intelligence like Amelia and IBM’s Watson, and turn them into technological forces for change and innovation to broken systems.

 

Do PHP Updates Affect Your WordPress Website?

An exciting development took place at the O’Reilly Fluent Conference in San Francisco this past week. The O’Reilly Fluent Conference features popular front-end web development platforms including Javascript, HTML5, CSS3, Angular, PHP, and more. PHP creator Rasmus Lerdorf was present at this week’s conference and made waves with an announcement of a new PHP version.

The new PHP version 7 was announced by Lerdorf with a first release tabbed for June with a full release in late 2015, estimated to be in October. PHP is a growing language with an increasing fan and user base. PHP is also the foundation from which the popular blogging and website CMS WordPress is built.

With a big jump in PHP version, many may wonder how updates to the version of PHP will affect their WordPress website or blog. We’ll breakdown some things to keep an eye on once the new version of PHP is rolled out later this year.

WordPress Backend

WordPress as a whole is built on PHP, however, WordPress on its own is not usually affected by new versions. In fact, because PHP and WordPress are both open-source updates to each usually coincide with one another. When a new PHP version is updated, WordPress updates to a new version to support the change. Of course, a WordPress update may not be all you need..

Hosting

You need to make sure your host is running a current PHP version before upgrading your WordPress version. If your host is still running PHP5, it’s best to hold off on upgrading your WordPress version until your host notifies you of updates to PHP on its servers.

Plugins

Many developers of WordPress plugin developers keep their plugin updated along with new versions of PHP and WordPress. However, if you have some older plugins that may have ceased development or are no longer updated, they could be a burden on your WordPress site or even cause it to go down completely. While this is rare, you should go through your plugins to make sure each is compatible with your current WordPress version or are currently being updated and developed.

Themes

Like plugins, WordPress themes are often kept updated with latest versions of WordPress, PHP, CSS, and other front-end languages. It’s a good idea to either update your theme, if possible, or make sure it is current as of the latest WordPress versions. Any theme that is 2-3 years old, or more, and hasn’t been updated in a while may be at risk with new versions of WordPress and/or PHP. Of course, if you want to make sure your theme is always compatible and up to date, you could develop your own.

What To Expect?

New PHP versions shouldn’t be rolled out for several months, especially until the”official” release in Q4 2015. When the first release comes out this summer it may be a good idea to test the new PHP version with your WordPress installation, themes, plugins, etc. If you’re not sure how to do this you can contact your hosting provider for more details, or refer to the WordPress Codex when the new PHP version 7 is available.

Do You Need A Degree To Be A Developer? Maybe Not.

From a young age we are told that school is one of the most important aspects of life. We are told that we won’t be hired for a good job if we don’t study hard, go to college, and get a degree. For certain careers this is certainly true; think doctors and lawyers. Most people would probably think the same about becoming a developer. To become a developer you would likely focus on courses in mathematics and computer science among others. However, a recent survey may dispel this belief.

Stack Overflow conducted what it calls the “most comprehensive developer survey ever conducted” to find out how developers came to learn their skills. The survey includes respondents from all over the world, although Stack Overflow did suggest that developers who don’t take like taking English surveys might be underrepresented. Stack Overflow surveyed over 26,000 respondents who identified themselves a few ways:

  • Full Stack: 6,800
  • Mobile: 1,900
  • Front-End: 1,200
  • Other: 12,000

The most common programming languages were Javascript, SQL, PHP, Java, and C#. Javascript was the most used language overall while Java was the number one server-side language.

While these statistics are certainly insightful, they are not the most eye-opening. The most surprising statistics were how these programmers learned these languages. Nearly half of the survey respondents (48%) did not have a degree in Computer Science or equivalent education while 33% never even took a computer science class at a University. This suggests that that half of developers are self-taught, whether it be through books, informal classes, or on the job training.

Another shocking statistic is the experience of developers. Only a quarter (25%) of developers that responded had experience of 10+ years. This suggests that while developers are growing in number, the trend is a more recent one. Of course, some of this may be due to how recent the language is such as Swift or Node.js.

Ultimately what this survey suggests is that programming is not a career in which a degree trumps all. Experience doesn’t seem to be a huge factor either. What it really comes down to is ability and knowledge. Some would argue that ability and knowledge comes from formal teaching and training, but others may rival this trend to self-taught musicians or other similar realms.

What this really means is that programming is a growing trend around the world. In the United States it is suggested that many IT jobs, many in programming, go unfilled due to the lack of good programmers. This should soon be rectified as more and more programmers become more experienced in a number of different languages.

When it comes to learning programming there are a ton of options out there. The traditional University or classroom route is fairly common. There are also less expensive options such as TreeHouse, CodeCademy, or Khan Academy. Of course, there is always yourself, the self-teacher which as we found out is a great way to learn. Whatever the avenue, it seems developers are no longer coming at a premium, and that’s a great thing for technology and businesses worldwide.

2015 South by Southwest Interactive Preview

South by Southwest is the one of the premier conferences in the United States. The annual conference showcases film, music, and technology (known as Interactive). The interactive portion of the festival features five days of “cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity. Five days of presentations and panels are highlighted by several of the best minds in technology beginning Friday, March 13 and running through Tuesday, March 17.

South by Southwest Interactive was started in 1994, just seven years after the festival’s debut. Each year SXSW brings together the best in many creative and technology based industry. This year’s lineup of speakers and panelists is one of the best yet rivaling past year speakers that include the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Entrepreneur Mark Cuban, Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson, Adam Savage and more. This year’s lineup includes:

  • Paola Antonelli – Senior Curator of the Museum of Modern Art
  • Logan Green – CEO and co-Founder of Lyft
  • Astro Teller – Google[x]
  • Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud – CEO Alfa International

The presentations will range in topics from “science fiction-like” technologies created at the secretive Google[x] laboratory to the rise and evolution of women in the workplace and third world countries. One keynote takes place each day during the festival between 2-3PM.

Keynote presentations are not the only draw at SXSW. There a tons of events to attend including sessions, workshops, and of course the “occasional” party or two. Many of the sessions feature highly relevant technology topics. A few of this year’s sessions include:

  • Media, Tech, and What’s Next?
  • The ISIS Twitter Census
  • The State of Surveillance
  • Defining the Next Generation Retail Experience
  • Healthcare and Technology: Putting the Patient First

You can see a full list of sessions for the festival here.

Finally, visitors can get hands on experience and education with SXSW Workshops. Workshops are the ideal way to not only learn from some of the technology industry’s most brilliant minds, but immerse yourself in today and tomorrow’s technology. Workshops range in subjects from marketing and entrepreneurship to design and social media. A few of this year’s workshops include:

  • Advanced Bran and Marketing for Early Stage Companies
  • Data Visualization: Marketing Skill of the Future
  • Digital Body Language
  • Build Location-Aware Apps Using Open Source
  • Information Architecture Essentials
  • Build Right: Frontend Testing

SXSW features dozens of workshops for a range of different areas. You can see a full list of the 2015 workshops here.

Many believe SXSW is only for the savvy, “next-generation”, or those in the digital arena. In the end, SXSW is a festival of the minds. It brings together great thinkers and motivated doers. It’s built to harness the power of many instead of the few, and help bring technology to the forefront of your everyday life. Not everyday can you attend an event that offers so much in such a short time. You’re not going to gain the knowledge and experience at your local technology meet-ups that you will at SXSW. It is events such as these that strive to make technology a force for driving good in the world, and helping individuals from all walks of life harness its power.

You can learn more about SXSW, the full schedule, and view past presentations by visiting the SXSW.com.

Creating an Effective Cloud Strategy for SMBs

IT infrastructure can be a difficult thing to manage for small and medium sized businesses. Not only are resources tight, so are financials. It’s imperative as an SMB that you get everything you can out of your resources, do it at the right cost, and increase productivity to boot. To accomplish this feat many SMBs are turning to the cloud for help. To get the most out of the cloud it’s important to have the right plan.

So, what do you need to do? First things first, you need to examine your current state of IT operations. How do you manage computing power? How about applications? Or data? Considering a move to the cloud, or more specifically what to migrate to the cloud, isn’t always black and white. Because of this it’s important to know what you’ve got going on. Then, you can begin building your strategy.

Do An Assessment/Identify Benefits

Once you have an understanding of your current operation and its effect on your business it’s time to start determining what you can migrate to the cloud and what benefits it will provide. Of course, you should understand that you shouldn’t just migrate an operation to the cloud just to do it. Remember, there should be not only a benefit technologically but also for the business as a whole. If moving, say, a critical business analytics tool to the cloud will help you lower costs, speed time to market, and free up resources then it’s likely the perfect candidate.

On the other hand, migrating other applications may not be needed or be a smart move. Many experts say that you should use the “three year analysis” when determining if there are cost benefits to the cloud for a particular application or operation. Take in to account the amount of time you need to run an application and how much data needs to be processed. If an application runs 24 hours a day 7 days week every day of the year with terabytes of data the costs of the cloud could be more than running that same application locally. The cloud has a lot of benefits, most notably lower costs, but there are times when the cloud may not be the best case for an application. This is what needs to be determined here – what can you move to the cloud and what benefit will it provide.

Do The Migration First, Then Do Everything Else

Many SMBs try to re-build their applications before migrating to the cloud. It’s important to remember those benefits we talked about before. Taking the time and resources to re-build for the cloud can be counterintuitive. It’s much easier to scale and use the flexibility of the cloud to re-build than it is to do it internally. So, first migrate your applications, then work on refining them later.

Communication Is Key

After determining what operations will be moved to the cloud, and even starting migrations, it’s important to communicate this operational change to everyone in the organization that is affected by it. In small businesses this is fairly simple. Of course, there aren’t as many people to communicate the message to or to help understand the benefits or need behind the process. If an application needs to be accessed by a salesperson who uses the service, an analyst who develops the model, and a finance person who takes payment for the service. Whatever the case may be, it’s important that everyone knows about the migration and how to use the key operations during this time.

Do Everything at Once?

Should you do everything at one time? That’s really up to you. Many small businesses like a more “one by one” or “bit by bit” approach rather than migrating everything they want over to the cloud right away. This can help quell any concerns too. Many are unfamiliar with the cloud or aren’t technologically savvy. This can be a deterrent to using the cloud, which really does have a lot of great benefits. Phasing in your cloud usage could be a great strategy if you’re concerned about hiccups.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Cloud

While most people have had some sort of experience with “the cloud”, many still don’t know what it is or how it works. They simply trust that it’s a place where they can store their music, photos, and work documents or a way to run software without it being physically installed on your computer. With the Internet becoming the most powerful tool in the world cloud computing is only going to get bigger and increasingly necessary. It’s time you learned a few things about the cloud that you may not have known before.

1. Not All Clouds Are The Same As Others

No, not all cloud set-ups are equal. In fact, some are worlds better than others. While they may seem the same, they aren’t. In fact, setting up a “cloud” isn’t that difficult at all. The cloud simply means storing something in a different physical location. What it does is free you up to worry about other things rather than setting up your own IT storage or hosting environment. Someone could essentially set up a “cloud service” right out of their basement with an Internet connection and a few servers, while others set up highly secure datacenters. In the end, the “cloud” can be many different things, but it’s important to make sure you know what you’re getting before procuring any cloud service.

2. Expertise Means Something

Not all cloud providers are “experts”. As we mentioned in the first point almost anyone with some knowledge of computers and an Internet connection can set up a cloud “service”, but it’s the experts that really make it worth your while. Many companies providing cloud services have a number of experts who not only build cloud infrastructure well, but know how to manage and scale it also. Expertise really means something in the field of cloud or managed cloud services.

3. Not All Clouds Are Managed

Simply paying for access to storage or computing power doesn’t mean you’re getting anything more. Some cloud providers only set you up with access, then you’re on your own. If you want to have your cloud managed they’ll jack up the price. Solid cloud providers will make sure you know what you’re getting before you sign on, and will offer options for management that don’t break the bank.

4. Security Is Better

While some may argue against this point, it’s becoming increasingly evident that cloud based platforms are more secure than local environments. This is mainly due to the expertise of many cloud providers. As we mentioned before almost anyone can set a cloud service, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best. Finding expert, datacenter driven cloud providers is the way to go.

5. The Cloud Is Not Something To Fear

It’s common that we fear change, and the cloud is a big change from how things have been done for a long, long time. However, this doesn’t mean you need to fear the cloud. It has tons of advantages including cost effectiveness, scalability, and reliability just to name a few. Overall, the cloud is a big plus in the technology world and can help businesses and individuals alike.

AppleCare For Enterprise – What Can You Expect?

Piggy backing off of our post from last week about the IBM and Apple partnership today we’ll discuss the newly unveiled AppleCare for Enterprise. If you remember, Apple and IBM partnered to construct a new approach to Big Data in an increasingly mobile world. Many questions lingered as to how, and who, would be offering support for the new apps developed by IBM and how device support and care would be handled. Those questions have now been answered.

When Apple and IBM announced their partnership in July, many IT departments across the enterprise space breathed a sigh of relief. For years since the iPhone and iPad’s introduction IT departments have struggled finding ways to implement the popular devices into their scope. Compatibility and security concerns were the primary reasons why. BlackBerry had been the king of the enterprise arena, consistently warding off competitors with a beloved easy-to-use and solidly secure platform. It’s now safe to say that the iOS, and many Android devices for that matter, have supplanted BlackBerry as the device of choice, regardless of what a company’s IT department would like. This shift in preference has shaken up the technology landscape in a big way leading to one of the most powerful partnerships in recent memory. Couple this with the fast rise of Big Data platforms and a need to visualize data while on the go and you have a recipe for big things.

This is all great news, of course, however those excited about the prospects of IBM apps on iOS devices helping the enterprise landscape also had questions about implementation and support. How can we implement these new devices and apps into our company seamlessly? What if we have a problem, who will help us? These are valid questions indeed; and ones that were answered recently by Apple with the introduction of AppleCare for Enterprise.

Most iOS users are familiar with AppleCare in one way, shape, or form. But the consumer level support would not be sufficient for enterprises. The new AppleCare for Enterprise encompasses the following:

IT-level Support & Coverage

Apple describes this as:

“..integrated support and service you can’t get anywhere else. You’ll get IT department–level support by phone or email for all Apple hardware and software. We’ll provide support for complex deployment and integration scenarios, including MDM and Active Directory. And if you need help with IBM MobileFirst for iOS apps, we’ll help troubleshoot your solution and work with IBM to get your issue resolved.”

Apple states that because it is the manufacturer of the devices and often the developer of the applications it will provide high-level support for both. A novel idea indeed. AppleCare for Enterprise allows for up to six IT department contacts that can reach out to Apple for support, with additional contacts allowed to be added for an additional fee. Response times for support are also top-notch, including a one hour response time for critical issues and overall 24/7 support.

Personal AppleCare Account Manager

An AppleCare Account Manager will be assigned to each account. This person acts as your personal “liaison” before implementation and during your time as a client. The Account Manager will assist with IT infrastructure questions, track issues, and provide monthly reports of support. This is especially helpful as an Account Manager can become intimately familiar with each client they manage, rather than calling in to a random or different person each time.

Onsite Service

Not everything can be done online or over the phone. Sometimes we need an actual person to come out and help us. This is described by apple as having:

“..the option to get onsite service coverage for two or three years from the date of your hardware purchase. If you have a hardware issue during that time, AppleCare for Enterprise will help get you back up and running quickly. IBM’s Global Technology Services, a worldwide Apple Authorized Service Provider, will provide onsite service within the next business day.”

There is also an option to apply for the AppleCare iOS Direct Service Program if you want to replace hardware without waiting for a technician.

Device Replacement

Things happen, sometimes mistakes are made, we’re not all perfect with our device. Sometimes they fall out of our pocket, get coffee spilled on them, or are left in the backseat of the cab on the way to the airport. Whatever the case the Device Replacement from AppleCare for Enterprise allows organizations to replace up to 10% of their iOS devices with an equivalent device. This normally occurs within a business day.

So, what should we make of all this? Same day support, device replacement, and personal account managers is nothing new to enterprises. However, the quality of the service is what separates the good from the great. Time will tell whether or not Apple and IBM will be able to handle the customer demand and provide high-quality support for their devices and apps. This is one of the most exciting developments in recent years for enterprise IT, and will hopefully help mitigate some of the issues IT departments have had with iOS devices in recent times. iOS device usage shows no signs of slowing down and this new partnership looks to be the perfect antidote to the fears of IT departments in the past.