Staying Safe on Public WiFi

Public Wi-Fi is a most convenient resource and millions of mobile device users gratefully sign on when it is available.  Data plans are more costly in the U.S. than they should be and avoiding extra charges motivates users to dip into free service.  Not only that, your Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Dropbox, or Twitter app can use local hotspots to obtain internet access even if you do not sign on to unsecured public Wi-Fi.

File sharing and transfers are performed on several apps and that data can be intercepted.  Moreover, log-in credentials can be stolen, allowing cyber criminals to fully access your private accounts.  When using the internet as your phone service, eavesdropping on conversations can take place through the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  If you are using a mobile device that belongs to a business, signing on to unsecured Wi-Fi networks gives hackers are able to access the networks of large organizations and do significant, costly and embarrassingly public damage.

Mobile device users are obliged to pay attention to this commonly occurring risk and take steps to protect our valuable data.  No one wants to clean up the toxic mess of a data breach, whether it’s malware that infects our data files or compromises of your financial account passwords. Antivirus protections and firewalls are effective methods of cyber defense, but these are useless against hackers that hide on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

DO:

  • Convert all password protected sites, such as your cloud-based email sign-in process, to two-step authentication.  For one email address, I receive an automated phone call that asks me to verify that I’m signing in, another sends me a unique code to punch in once I’ve verified via my mobile phone that I’m signing into the email system.
  • Use a VPN, virtual private network, that will encrypt all of your online activities.
  • Visit only https and avoid http websites when browsing on public Wi-Fi networks.
  • Purchase an unlimited data plan for your mobile phone, which for that device anyway, limits the need for free, unsecured Wi-Fi that makes you vulnerable.
  • Consider being especially strict and shutting off the automatic Wi-Fi network search feature from the settings app on your phone or tablet.

DON’T

  • Use your credit card to shop online or access your financial institution for automatic deposits, fund transfers, or any other banking business while using free Wi-Fi.
  • Connect to the hotspot of an unknown individual when searching for available public Wi-Fi.  That hotspot may belong to a cyber criminal who is waiting to do you harm.
  • Enable your device to automatically join networks that offer internet access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

 

 

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Industry Growth Trends 2015 – 2017

Growth  is always on the minds of entrepreneurs,  business owners and Freelance consultants.  Growth is essential for the survival of a business and it can take many forms,  from an increase in current and potential customers,  to a greater number of employees,  higher profits,  or the number of products or services available for sale.  Here are projected industry trends and B2B small business growth projections through 2017 that are based on expected demand,  meaning that there will likely be more current and potential customers ready to spend money in these industries.   The list was compiled by Jackie Nagel,  author of the blog “Oh, The Places Where Your Small Business Can Grow”.

Industries expected to outpace the overall growth of the US economy are:

Technology    42% growth projected

Health care    28% growth projected

Finance          14% growth projected

Retail              14% growth projected

HR Services

Human Resources is an exceptionally broad field and all aspects are expected to show growth over the next 12 – 36 months.  Executive search,  benefits management,  payroll management,  training/ professional development/ executive coaching and compensation specialists can all expect many opportunities to expand their client lists and generate more billable hours.

Internet Security

Freelancers and small business owners do not always pay attention to the many occurrences of internet data security breaches that hackers have visited upon several large corporations.  Be advised that recently,  I was one of many who received a phishing attack email that a hacker sent illegally from the address of a colleague.  The email address lists of all recipients were at risk.  No one wants the embarrassment of a hacked email bearing our business name sent to our client list.  Internet security risks are a real concern and the need for protection is growing.  It’s time to call in a professional and set up a firewall.

Marketing Services

Small business owners often have ambitious marketing plans,  but execution can be a sticking point.  Freelancers who specialize in helping small businesses to launch their marketing strategies will be needed to bridge the time,  talent and strategy development gaps faced by many small organizations,  for-profit and not-for-profit.  The demand for social media strategies,  videography and podcast development,  website development and content marketing expertise will likewise remain strong.

Technology Services

Small business owners and Freelancers continue to explore the benefits of cloud computing for data storage,  real-time document and secure data sharing and videoconferencing.  Entrepreneurs are in search of technologies that will help them to quickly scale-up a business.  Which apps will help entrepreneurs to efficiently grow and manage their enterprise and can it all be mobile?  Demand for technological advances such as 3 D printing and online eyeglasses and contact lenses that let customers virtually try on lens ware are big new entries to the scene and the trend will be upward.  Video game and app development continues to lure talented techies into entrepreneurship as does television and home theater installation.

Green and sustainable building construction

Architects,  structural engineers,  general contractors,  electricians and manufacturers of solar panels are expected to have lots of business through 2017.  Saving money on heating and electricity with energy-efficient buildings are big priorities that real estate developers,  current homeowners and prospective buyers are willing to pay for.  Even landscapers get into the act when they design attractive alternatives to water-sucking lawns.

Boutique mind/ body fitness studios

Overweight and over-stressed Americans are ever optimistic about a new regimen to cure what ails us.  Boutique cycling,  personal training, Pilates,  yoga and meditation studios will continue to proliferate in metro areas.  These studios are less expensive to operate than traditional fitness centers primarily because participants do not perform aerobic routines in big,  mirrored studios,  nor are lines of treadmills and ellipticals needed.  Rather,  participants are confined to a mat,  stationary bike or compact training studio that is stocked with  a well-curated choice of exercise equipment.  Boutique fitness studios even use proportionately less water than traditional fitness centers because participants typically shower at home.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Before You Use That Free Wi-Fi…

Thank goodness for free Wi-Fi sites.  I’m sure you find them convenient and sometimes even necessary.  I’m happy to be able to duck into a library or nice coffee shop that displays a free Wi-Fi sign in the window and get some work done while between appointments.  It’s all good,  but like with so many good things,  there can be a downside to free hotspots.   Perils may lurk in the in the Wi-Fi shadows and we are advised to think a minute before we click and connect.

Information transmitted on an inadequately secured network can be intercepted by some nefarious someone who can use readily available software and equipment.   If that’s not scary enough,  hackers have been known to create pirate Wi-Fi sites that appear to be legitimate,  to trick the trusting into connecting and giving the bad guys access to whatever is done online.  

 Yet despite the risks,  it is possible to take advantage of public Wi-Fi,  but taking precautions to protect your data is strongly advised.

I.      Know your hotspot

Hotels are hotspots that typically require a password and offer free Wi-Fi only to registered guests,  thus making hotel Wi-Fi very secure.   Neighborhood coffee shops  and the public library may not be so secure.  You can sometimes check the level of security if there is a terms of service page to read before you connect  (a la Starbucks). 

According to the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance,  only use hot-spots that provide security technology known as W-Fi Protected Access 2  (WPA2),  which offers more security than the earlier systems WPA and Wired Equivalent Privacy  (WEP).   Look for this info on the terms of service page before you decide to transmit any sensitive data that hackers may seek.  The ultimate security precaution is to refrain from doing any online banking or credit card transactions on public Wi-Fi.

II.    Encrypt the data

On the other hand,   basically all websites that handle sensitive info,  such as banks,  brokerage houses and e-commerce sites,  use encryption technology known as Secure Sockets Layer  (SSL) that scrambles any data that is entered.   You’ll know that SSL is in effect when the web address starts with  “https”.   Several email and social media sites,  notably Gmail,  Hotmail and Facebook,  use SSL to keep private communication safe from eavesdroppers.  Facebook,  however,  requires that users activate the SSL.   To do so,  go first to Account Settings,   click Security,  then enable Secure Browsing.

III.   Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Network  (VPN)  software is a must for those who regularly transmit sensitive data over public Wi-Fi networks.  VPN software creates an  “encrypted tunnel”  through which your data travels as it sails through the world wide web.  Many large corporations have their own SSL networks in place for their employees,  but Freelancers and other small business operators can get some cover as well.  

Anonymizer Universal  http://anonymizer.com  is compatible with Windows,  Mac,  iPad and iPhone and costs $80.00/year.  PrivateWiFi  http://privatewifi.com  supports Windows and Mac and is available at $10/month or annually at $85.00.   VPN4ALL  http://vpn4all.com  is compatible with Windows,  Windows Mobile,  Mac,  Android,  iPad and iPhone for $6.00 – $20.00/month,  depending on the operating system you run and the amount of data you’ll transmit.

OpenVPN Technologies actually developed the open-source technology that is used by several software companies that offer SSL.  Private Tunnel  http://privatetunnel.com is their VPN service and it caters specifically to small business.  Private Tunnel supports Windows and Mac and costs $12.00 – $50.00/year,  depending on the amount of data transmitted.

Finally,  it’s possible to avoid Wi-Fi networks altogether and connect to the internet through a wireless carrier.   For this totally mobile service you will likely pay $50.00 – $60.00 /month.  Wireless carriers use encryption when transferring data.  For your mobile device you’ll probably need a large or unlimited GB plan.  Laptops will require a special device that plugs into a port like a flash drive.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

In the Cloud

Cloud computing hooks you up to numerous computer based business functions,  including email,  website hosting and data storage,  directly through the internet.  Access to those computer functions,  which you select based on your needs,  is available from any computer that has an internet connection.  When your computer functions are in the cloud,  your business is truly mobile.  You can tap into your data and work from anywhere in the world.

Needless to say,  cloud computing offers big advantages to businesses and individuals.  A big plus is the tremendous flexibility available.  It’s possible to access numerous computer applications and software functions and operate your business entirely in the cloud.  Users of cloud computing essentially rent space on a virtual server and order a la carte the applications and functions that are desired,  be it Linux or Windows.

From the cloud,  you can request functions specific to your business,  without buying an entire software package that may cause you to pay for and install what is not useful to you.  One can order online accounting and payroll management functions,  for example,  rather than buying Intuit’s QuickBooks software.

Cloud based website hosting can be customized to provide the appropriate bandwidth to support video,  audio,  e-commerce, survey, etc.  Furthermore,  cloud computing is significantly less expensive to operate as compared to buying separate software components like the latest Windows,  traditional website hosting,  plus whatever else your business must run to operate efficiently.

There will be less money tied up in technology and more money available for marketing,  customer outreach and otherwise carrying out the business mission.  Prices start at about $4.95 US per month.  Amazon,  Google,  IBM,  Microsoft and Yahoo are among the companies that offer cloud computing services.

Many familiar online functions already live in the cloud: gmail and Hotmail; VoIP telephone services like Google and Skype;  social media sites,  including Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter;  media services like Flickr and YouTube;  and Microsoft WebApps,  which offers internet-based access to Excel,  Outlook, Power Point, Word,  etc.

So should you migrate your online operations to the cloud?  Maybe,  maybe not.  Cloud computing may be pervasive,  but it’s not yet perfect.  Reliability,  security and privacy are real concerns.  The major cloud service providers claim they deliver 99.95% availability with 5 hours/year downtime on average.

Nevertheless, during the week of April 21-24 of this year,  the data center that houses Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud servers (EC2) went down and internet access for thousands of businesses was lost as a result.  Although this exciting new technology is being promoted as safe,  comprehensive,  user-friendly and inexpensive,  the underlying infrastructure may not be there yet.

Moreover,  can some pimple-faced brat hack his/her way into your data and wreak havoc on your business?  Let’s pray that never happens,  but to provide the maximum available protection to the integrity and security of your cloud computing,  be sure to use secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption to keep your user name and password safe.

Issues of capability and capacity have also been raised.  Can the present technology support the fast expanding weight of VoIP,  website hosting,  video streams and data storage demands?  What happens as developing nations in Africa,  Asia and Latin America ramp up their internet access and 3 billion more global citizens elect to join the cloud?

All that remains to be seen,  but my guess is that the necessary upgrades will be made to accommodate new cloud users,  because money is the mother of invention.  Data security is probably the larger issue.

On Friday June 10,  the International Monetary Fund learned it was the victim of a major cyber attack.  The data breach occurred over several months and has the potential to expose highly confidential information about the fiscal condition of many nations.  In an article that appeared in the June 12, 2011 New York Times,  the incident was called  “political dynamite”.  There was no mention as to whether the IMF computer system operated in the cloud.

Thanks for reading,

Kim