Author: IronOrbit

How Digital Technology Helps Deal with Climate Change

Digitization and climate change are both hot topics. The two subjects are also getting used together in the same sentence more frequently. For example, did you know digitization is good for reducing carbon emissions? According to the World Economic Forum, Digital technologies have the potential to reduce global emissions by 15%.

Since the pandemic lockdown, people have been working from home. The workforce has been slow in returning to the corporate office setting. An IFS survey conducted last year reports that almost three-quarters of respondents plan to increase spending on digital transformation. The climate control benefits include a reduction of CO2 emissions due to less commuting and travel to in-person meetings. Technologies like Microsoft Teams have made multi-site team meetings easy and readily available.

Cloud migration is the price of admission to competing in the digital world. 

Moving your IT environment to the cloud reduces the need for additional hardware, but more importantly, to your bottom line and the environment, cloud migration modernizes your operations. While being on the cloud, and using robust cloud-enabled services like IronOrbit’s INFINITY Workspaces, won’t make your business carbon neutral, it is a significant first step on that journey.

DEMATERIALIZATION
How You Can Reduce the Environmental Impact on Doing Business

Hardware casings, cords, adaptors, and other electrical products are called E-waste. E-waste is a growing problem. Significant environmental damage happens because nature cannot absorb these products. E-Waste is a significant contributor to the haphazard disposal of old electronics: they’re inert. All E-Waste products contain hazardous materials of one kind or another. The toxic materials are predominantly lead and mercury.

By switching to IronOrbit’s cloud, you can reduce the amount of hardware because you no longer need to invest in so many on-site computer stations. There’s no need to pay for its maintenance or replace machinery when it becomes obsolete. Instead, you only pay for the exact services you need. Over time, this saves you money. Cloud computing can help your company become sustainable while making it more profitable and productive.

Reducing Needless Travel Reduces Carbon Emissions

INFINITY Workspaces is our brand of DaaS, robust technology that enables employees to work remotely with ease. There are different INFINITY packages to fit specific use cases. Even designers and engineers can access the most demanding modern applications on their mobile devices. INFINITY Workspaces empowers Geographically dispersed teams to do their best work. The technology inspires productivity while eliminating the need for lengthy commutes. It also eliminates the carbon emissions associated with daily commutes.

Adopting a work-from-home environment or even a hybrid workplace is an excellent way to reduce your business’s carbon footprint. You could also save some money in the process.

Shared Data Centers Reduce Greenhouse Gases (GHGs)

On-premises servers and data centers use substantial amounts of energy both for running and cooling. The manufacturing, packaging, and shipping of the hardware and peripheral products also add to GHG emissions. Companies can reduce emissions considerably by moving to a cloud computing environment. Once a company moves to the cloud, they use shared data centers. Like the ones operated by IronOrbit, shared data centers run far more efficiently than individual facilities or on-premises servers. There is no longer a need for personal equipment.

A recent forecast by the International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that cloud computing will prevent the emission of more than one billion metric tons of CO2 between 2021 and 2024. Moving away from legacy software and hardware and towards cloud adoption is a logical next step for companies. Insofar as business continuity and investment in the future, cloud migration is a necessity.

Cloud computing and all the digital benefits of having your IT infrastructure on the cloud are valuable for IT departments. IT departments can work more closely with business leaders to develop new sustainability goals. It is favorable for companies, and of course, it contributes to a healthier environment.

Contact us for a no-obligation proof of concept. We’re here to help.
How to Adopt New Technologies
Understand How Technology Can Grow & Protect Your Company Then Take Incremental Steps to Meet Prioritized Objectives.

New technology can benefit companies in all industries. Reading about the possibilities is exciting. Business leaders are eager to get on the bandwagon. Leaders can become impatient when they learn the competition has implemented something like cognitive technologies to solve a problem and gain a significant advantage.

Ultimately, companies recognize that digitizing operations and developing a digital strategy is necessary. The fear is that the longer they wait, the more at risk they put the future of their company. Jumping all in for transformation becomes an irresistible temptation. Too many business leaders want to make fast decisions for fear of missing out. They start the process before they’re ready. Transforming processes before you are ready leads to frustrations and unrealized benefits.

 

Use Managed Services as an Intermediary Step

Part of the challenge for many companies has legacy systems, and they’re not in a position to retire them overnight. Leaders will realize when the next natural progression is to switch to modern applications. Partnering with a forward-leaning technology company like IronOrbit can enable baby steps towards modernizing your operations. This approach affords the time to determine which tools are critical for sustainable growth and which are not.

You build incremental confidence in the technology, while IronOrbit can make recommendations based on your immediate, mid-range, and long-term strategy. And it’s okay if there is no long-term strategy other than fortifying and growing your business. IronOrbit, as your managed service provider, can help supply the missing pieces of the puzzle. You will begin to approach digital more like the business decision it is. An incremental approach enables digitization and adoption of new technologies when it makes sense. Digital and business strategies must align and integrate throughout the organization.

Corporations have silos of group activity. They’ve been that way for over a century. Anything to do with IT would be the purview of a secluded department or an enclave of tech-focused professionals. When you talk about digital transformation or adopting new technologies, you’re talking about a change of one kind or another. Certain company cultures can adapt more quickly than others. Still, change can be complicated. As your Smart Managed Service Provider, IronOrbit helps to simplify the process and make it substantially more manageable.

Begin with the End in Mind

A digital transformation can mean different things to different people. It might mean software to increase operational efficiencies for one, or develop an omnichannel retail strategy for new product offerings for another. Start by clarifying why undertake the transformation and what business opportunities will arise from the changes. The more you know about what challenges you want technology to solve, the easier it will be to build the proper foundation.

In Conclusion

Adopting new technologies should be seen as a marathon and not a sprint. Take the time to understand which technologies perform what kinds of tasks. Identify a prioritized portfolio of projects based on business needs. The close collaboration of in-house technology leaders and C-level executives will become increasingly crucial as acceleration (technology and change) continues. CIOs and CTOs have the expertise to help navigate a straightforward integration of digital and business strategies.

IronOrbit ensures you’ll have a map to successfully evaluate and integrate new technology while balancing the upgrade and management of existing systems.

 

Learn more about how to adopt new technologies for your company here. 
or Call us at (888) 753-5060.
Why CrowdStrike is Essential for Security
Why CrowdStrike is Essential for Security

Cyberthreats to your business are at an all-time high. They are, as President Biden states, “the defining threats of our time.” Is your company prepared to withstand such attacks? According to a recent Gartner article, business leaders need to do more to strengthen their cybersecurity.

 

“There are only two types of companies: Those that have been hacked and those that will be hacked.”

Robert S. Mueller, former Director of the FBI – 2012

 

“There are only two types of companies: Those that have been hacked and those who don’t know they have been hacked.”

accredited to John Chambers, CEO Cisco – 2019

 

Days before Russian tanks began rolling into Ukraine; a significant connectivity outage hit Viasat Inc. (VSAT). The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company is a leading provider of high-speed satellite broadband and secure networking for military and commercial customers worldwide. Viasat modems control thousands of wind European wind turbines. Suddenly, they went offline. The outage hobbled the Ukrainian military as generals began preparing for the Russian invasion. Reuters later reported the blackout to be sabotage.

Although most well-organized ransomware gangs are in Eastern European countries, state-sponsored hacking groups are from China and North Korea. They use sophisticated tools to embed malware deep inside the most extensive networks. In many cases, malicious code can go undetected for months, infecting millions of computers.

On January 15, 2022, members of one of the main ransomware gangs, Our Evil Group, were arrested in Russia. The Putin regime has recruited them to become a state-controlled group of hackers. About a month later, we began to see a resurgence of attacks. And that’s only the attacks we read about in the headlines. For every ransomware attack you hear about, there are three others that go unreported.

 

Hackers used a software supply chain attack to insert malicious code into the company’s Orion system. A supply chain attack works by targeting a third party with access to an organization’s systems rather than hacking the networks directly.
The Software Supply Chain Attack

SolarWinds is a company that supplies its software to over 14,000 companies. Russian military intelligence inserted a form of malware that served as a sophisticated backdoor to these companies. It’s a certainty that some of these backdoors have been successfully embedded without US companies knowing about it. Corporations probably can’t determine conclusively whether-or-not a backdoor has been installed.

In the case of the SolarWinds Corporation, one of their customers, a cybersecurity company called Fire Eye, discovered the malware by chance. They had received the software and, months later, somebody noticed a questionable anomaly. SolarWinds is not a unique situation. There are sure to be other corporations that have been infiltrated.

Escalation of Ransomware Attacks

Recently, the President sent warnings to the citizens and businesses across the country and urged everyone to take steps immediately. Key targets include private companies and any organizations that could apply pressure to the national economy and the government, including critical infrastructures.

When it comes to ransomware attacks, no sectors are off-limits. Hackers are going to go after everything that they can. Last year, we saw how no company, large or small, was immune to attack. For example, there were ransomware attacks on the following:

  • Small Family-Run Fishing Business 
  • Ferry company on Martha’s Vineyard
  • Casino Hacked through a Fish-Tank Thermometer
  • Large meatpacking company 
  • The Colonial Pipeline

 

Raleigh, NC United States- 05-12-2021: A red plastic bag covers an empty pump at a gas station in Raleigh, NC, after a devastating cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline disrupts fuel supplies on the East Coast.

 

Nicole Perlroth assembles her decade of experience as the world’s leading journalist on cybersecurity and digital espionage in an in-depth history of cyberwarfare entitled THIS IS HOW THEY TELL ME THE WORLD ENDS. In it, she warns of the rising stakes for all of us.

The Colonial pipeline was devastated in May 2021 by cyber terrorists. Attackers distributed malware through email then demanded a ransom to restore services. The 5,500-mile pipeline transports 100 million barrels of gasoline and other fuel products per day to the eastern United States. According to a report from Reuters, gasoline futures spiked 3% and have remained above trend since that time.

Two months later, Jennifer Granholm, the Energy Secretary, said that bad actors gained the ability to shut down the U.S. power grid. Hackers embedding themselves in the nation’s electrical grid displayed tremendous sophistication that analysts hadn’t seen before. Whoever was behind the cyber-attacks on our country’s infrastructure was succeeding at an alarming rate. Who did the government call in to investigate? CrowdStrike. Why? Because CrowdStrike has been investigating high-profile cyberattacks since 2011. Investigators at CrowdStrike have even unspooled more recent attacks where the code dates back to 2010. So, CrowdStrike has been on the frontlines of cybersecurity since their beginnings.

What Can Be Done?

There are basic preventative steps that everyone must apply regularly. For example, don’t respond to SMS text messages from unknown origins. Don’t open links from emails of anonymous sources. Make that a personal policy and individuals will effectively eliminate most threats. Companies, on the other hand, are different. They need comprehensive and robust security protocols that are more sophisticated than the attacks.

Companies must realize that antiquated technologies like antivirus and firewalls are weak defenses against modern, sophisticated cyberattacks. Businesses must modernize their cybersecurity by using the new technologies mentioned by President Biden in his message to the nation. Businesses must use security measures like EDR and XDR to protect against modern ransomware groups.

EDR stands for Endpoint Detection and Response. It’s an integrated endpoint security measure that combines real-time continuous monitoring and collection of endpoint data with rules-based automated response and analysis capabilities. In the case of CrowdStrike’s EDR, the security technology combines a high degree of automation with machine learning to enable security teams to identify and respond to threats immediately. The next-generation endpoint protection leverages CrowdStrike’s state-of-the-art file and behavioral-based proprietary machine learning and Indicator-of-attack methodology. This is particularly effective at stopping new, polymorphic or obfuscated malware, which is often missed by legacy antivirus solutions.

An essential ingredient of “next-generation” is reducing overhead, friction, and cost in protecting your environment.

You don’t need a large staff to maintain the CrowdStrike environment. Everything is cloud-based, so there’s no equipment to maintain, manage or update. The Falcon sensor is unobtrusive, and updates are seamless, requiring no re-boots. The web-based management console provides an intuitive and informative view of your company’s complete environment.

XDR is Extended Detection and Response and is the evolution of having EDR as a pre-requisite technology. CrowdStrike’s Falcon XDR uses artificial intelligence to improve threat visibility by making sense of structured and unstructured data at lightning speeds. Falcon XDR rapidly and efficiently hunts and eliminates threats across multiple security domains. What separates Falcon XDR from all others is its ability to isolate and identify relevant telemetry from systems and applications across an organization’s entire IT security ecosystem. Falcon XDR delivers proactive, automated responses to threats across the security stack.

 

CrowdStrike® Falcon® Complete™ is a hands-off and worry-free managed detection and response (MDR) solution. The comprehensive security platform is unique. In addition to endpoint security, cloud workload, and identity protection, it provides the process and technology required to handle all aspects of onboarding and configuration to maintenance, monitoring, incident handling, and remediation.

CrowdStrike’s Falcon Complete protects an organization against someone clicking on a link they shouldn’t have. The technology sees the behavior, and as executable files begin unzipping, Falcon Complete begins monitoring for questionable activity. As soon as malicious activity, Falcon Complete isolates it.

Why CrowdStrike?

CrowdStrike has been leading the charge against cyberthreats since 2011 when it was founded. The security firm uses cloud-based software that collects threat data across all connected devices. Artificial intelligence analyzes the information and seamlessly updates all endpoints.

The fast-growing Austin, Texas-based company provides cybersecurity to 15 of the 20 largest banks and 77 Fortune 100 companies. Private sector clients are apprehensive about the escalation of cyberthreats against Americans amid Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Severe ransomware attacks are likely to increase as sanctions on Russia become more effective.

CrowdStrike has a long history of working with the federal government state, and national oil and energy firms to investigate cyberattacks and shore up defenses. Much of their innovations in security came from listening and working with clients to help solve the most challenging cybersecurity problems. Years of forensic analysis, fine-tuning, and adjusting to meet threats as they emerge have made CrowdStrike the pioneer of cloud-delivered endpoint protection.

CrowdStrike Falcon has revolutionized endpoint security by being the first and only solution to unify next-generation antivirus, endpoint detection and response (EDR), and a 24/7 threat hunting service. Millions of sensors across 176 countries collect and analyze more than 30 billion endpoint events per day. All of them use some form of machine learning and automation. These powerful capabilities are possible through a unique combination of prevention technologies. They include indicators of Attack (IOA), exploit blocking, real-time visibility, and around-the-clock managed hunting to discover and track the stealthiest attackers before they do damage.

The country cannot defend against cyberattacks alone, nor can your organization. Companies need the vigilance of every employee and every contractor. Business leaders must “accelerate efforts to lock their digital doors.” Using CrowdStrike is an effective way to secure all entries to your company’s infrastructure.

IronOrbit knows the importance of having resilient cybersecurity. That is why we protect our virtual desktops, INFINITY Workspaces, with CrowdStrike’s highest level of AI-enabled security technology augmented by live monitoring by a team of CrowdStrike’s team of security experts. Imagine having multiple full-time expert incident responders conducting day-to-day monitoring of alerts.

CrowdStrike® Falcon® Complete™ is a 100 percent hands-off and worry-free managed detection and response (MDR) solution uniquely provides the people, process, and technology required to handle all aspects of endpoint, cloud workload, and identity security, from onboarding and configuration to maintenance.

 

Learn more about how to protect your company here. 

or Call us at (888) 753-5060.

Digital Manufacturing Can Be a Game Changer for the Industry
Digital Manufacturing Can Be a Game Changer for the Industry

Manufacturing is the lifeblood of American industry and was once the envy of the world. No other industry can mobilize the nation like manufacturing. America’s response to World War II was the most extraordinary mobilization of an idle economy in the history of civilization. During the war, 17 million civilian jobs were created, there was a nationwide productivity increase of nearly one hundred percent. Corporate earnings more than doubled.

Today, the manufacturing industry is a pale remnant of what it was before inflation and companies moving manufacturing offshore to places like China. But American manufacturing is at a crossroads. US Manufacturing could continue its downward spiral or turn things around in a big way. For American manufacturing to reclaim its international glory of years past, it must embrace the willingness to learn, innovate, and adopt new technologies. Collectively, these technologies are a part of digital manufacturing.

 

Defining Digital Manufacturing

Digital manufacturing is the application of cloud computing systems to manufacturing services, supply chains, products, data collection, warehousing, and processes. Digital manufacturing technologies link systems and processes across the production environment to create an integrated approach to manufacturing. This strategy encompasses everything from design and development to production and servicing the final products. Traditional factories were analog environments where everything was built by hand, have become Smart Factories.

Think of how the basic 1970’s cellphones evolved into the 90’s smartphones—taking a phone that only made phone calls to a mobile computer that can browse the Internet and run software applications. Then in 2007, the hyper-connected iPhone burst onto the scene. From the beginning, the iPhone was like a Swiss Army knife. It included everything you could want to do with a computer-driven gadget. The iPhone is now a professional quality camera and many other things.

Similarly, a Smart Factory is hyper-connected, predictive, and does many things old analog factories can’t do. These next-generation facilities are the core of digital manufacturing. A fully functioning next-generation manufacturing facility is built on cloud computing to optimize operations, store, and process tremendous amounts of data. The rest of the intelligent factory digital platform utilizes AI, big data analytics, automation, and an array of sensors.

 

Industry 4.0

In 2017, an article in The Economist stated that “The world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” Today, data’s expanding amount and role are the driving force in Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum first identified as “the Fourth Industrial Revolution” or Industry 4.0. Manufacturers can break down siloed workflows and blend employees’ digital and physical worlds by utilizing technologies ranging from IoT (Internet of Things) to M2M (Machine to Machine) communications. Digital technology can dramatically improve productivity in planning and streamline production processes. It could also help solve another growing problem.

According to a study by Deloitte last year, as many as 2.1 million manufacturing jobs will be vacant through 2030. The report warns that the worker shortage will hurt revenue and production. Positions left unfulfilled could ultimately cost the US economy one trillion dollars by the end of the decade. Skilled labor hasn’t been the only hurdle. Supply chain disruptions and difficulties sourcing raw materials hobble the industry. Digital manufacturing can help fill industry jobs by attracting talent who want to use new technology. These people want real-world experience on digital tech designed to increase efficiencies because they know how valuable that experience will be long-term.

On August 12, 2021, Forbes article, Willem Sundblad writes that even if manufacturers can find what they need, prices are so high that they threaten margins. High inflation is sure to exacerbate the supply chain problem.

The battle cry from leaders in manufacturing is to seek out

  • suppliers geographically closer to production centers
  • more resilient supply chains 
  • technology that can help modernize processes 
  • skilled talent to operate effectively in a next-generation factory setting

Sundblad reminds us that the US is good at innovating but not so good at scaling those innovations compared to other countries. While the manufacturing industry might averse to risk, the American spirit is all about taking a calculated risk, especially when our backs are up against the wall. The window of opportunity is open, but it won’t remain open indefinitely. Remember, things move fast, and the stakes couldn’t be higher for manufacturing to get innovation right. Writing about transforming businesses through technology and innovation, Ethan Karp is the President and CEO of a non-profit manufacturing consulting group called Magnet. In his Forbes article, 4 Reasons 2022 Can Be A Game Changer for American Manufacturing, Karp recognizes the opportunity for American manufacturing.

If American manufacturers can invest in talent, technology, and innovation, they’ll be in a good position to take advantage of available opportunities. Karp identifies five of them. They are:

Take Back the Supply Chain

Use a combination of technology and innovation. Think about the incredible pivots thousands of manufacturers made during the pandemic to meet the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Take Calculated Risk

Karp urges manufacturers to override being conservative and take calculated risks. He suggests ways to mitigate the risk of innovation by asking four questions:

  1.  Are you solving a real problem?

2.  Does your product solve the problem?

3.  Can you deliver this solution?

4.  Can you sell it?

Invest in the Smart Factory of the Future

Take whatever capital is available and invest in the technologies used in a Smart Factory. These technologies are the most direct way for manufacturers to excel in a competitive and dynamic marketplace. Over time, Smart Factories lower costs by speeding up processes, reducing downtime, and minimizing waste. These digital innovations will improve supply chain efficiencies.

Automate to Offset Talent Shortages

Karp emphasizes the importance of automation by sharing the story of Gojo, the company that invented the hand sanitizer Purell. The family ran operation successfully tripled its production almost overnight to meet pandemic demand. The company was ready because of its investments in Industry 4.0 technology over the years. Gojo has automation to do repetitive tasks and frees employees to do more value-added technology work, like programming and running the machines. The company hired 500 new people in 2020.

Capture the Infrastructure Boost

Manufacturers like steel and transportation suppliers will be kept busy with the government-sponsored trillion-dollar investments in transportation and public safety. Karp offers two recommendations:

  1.  Evaluate margins to provide a buffer against the unknown
  2.  Have the technology and talent already in place to manage production surges.

As accurate as the threat of digital disruption is, future success is more about making informed decisions with a view of the long-term consequences. Leadership is about establishing a direction and vision for the future, aligning people around that vision, and motivating and inspiring them to take action. Making better choices is a necessary ingredient.

In the February 2022 Harvard Business Review article, How Incumbents Survive and Thrive, Julian Birkinshaw looks at how Fortune 500 companies remain stable despite disrupters. “When companies face a disrupter, their natural response is to fight fire with fire: to set up a competing digital unit, build an incubator or accelerator, or pursue a transformation.”  He cites a McKinsey study that found “companies that adopt bold, offensive strategies in the face of industry digitization improve their odds of coming out winners.”

Companies must embrace digital technology to improve operational effectiveness. The global utility Enel has a division that experiments with new business models (demand management and electric vehicle charging). The unit is called Enel X and has enormous growth potential. However, it currently represents less than two percent of the parent company’s revenues. Everyone else at Enel focuses on optimizing the existing business and providing its nearly seventy-two million customers with high-quality service. But the new technology in its factories and distribution networks, including reengineering its infrastructure and processes, that went into Enel X has bolstered operations throughout the organization. For technology to help manufacturers succeed, leadership should take the time and energy to develop an adaptation strategy that best fits their organization’s unique needs and capabilities.

Considering how Digital Manufacturing and the Smart Factory of Industry 4.0 can help you streamline workflow, be better positioned to seize opportunities, and maintain margins. Don’t start out by going for the big objective. Start with low-hanging fruit. Even still, before beginning any digital manufacturing initiative, understand the technology. Learn what technologies perform what types of tasks and the strengths and weaknesses of each. If you have a chief technical officer or IT director, get them involved in discussions as soon as possible. Suppose people in the IT department have a good understanding of the different Smart Factory technologies. In that case, they’ll save the company wasted time and money pursuing the wrong technology. They’ll also help prevent making technology choices that don’t fit the company objectives. Again, the real tipping point is the willingness to learn.

If you don’t have information technology or data science capabilities on staff, build a team of external service providers. Having the right pool of resources is essential.

 

The Key Areas of Digital Manufacturing

Cost Reduction 

Utilizing cutting-edge technologies to optimize processes can result in financial efficiencies within a manufacturing operation.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Customer-facing technologies help give the customer transparency into the manufacture of their product and ease of communication and collaboration with the manufacturer.

Provisioning of Resources for Employees

A modern workplace nurtures better employee satisfaction and retention rates. The next generation of employees has grown up with high-impact technologies. They expect the deployment of quality effective technologies within their working environments.

Innovation

Traditional manufacturing and production methods are undergoing digital transformation. Going beyond production automation, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) found in Industry 4.0 blurs the boundaries between the physical world and the virtual in cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs). A report from Deloitte describes CPPSs as online networks of social machines organized like social networks. They link IT with mechanical and electronic components that communicate through a network. Smart machines continually share current stock levels, problems, and changes in orders or demand levels.

Improved Operational Efficiency

Although last on our list, operational efficiency is the biggest “selling feature” of the move toward Digital Manufacturing strategies. By digitizing operations, data can be collected, categorized, and analyzed at every stage – from raw materials to finished and delivered products. The utilization of this data then allows your manufacturing firm to use agile cycles to grow and scale.

 

Digital Manufacturing Isn’t Just for Global Giants

Most manufacturers across the country have engaged in a digitization effort. That digitization allows their CIOs to develop digital transformation strategies to help their manufacturing operations inch closer and closer to Industry 4.0 ideals.

 

In Conclusion:

Digital Manufacturing is a genuine game-changer for the industry. To say there are many benefits to digital manufacturing is an understatement. The hyperconnected Smart Factory merges complex manufacturing processes across different departments. Smart Factories eliminate the paper-based process and automate data exchange in fractions of a second. Communication and collaboration going in all directions simultaneously far extend the reach of any manufacturer. What is more, digital manufacturing inspires people to learn and innovate on a much higher level.

Every manufacturer is at a different stage of their Digital Manufacturing journey. The decision to convert traditional factories to smart facilities requires deep engagement with the entire company. Set priorities and create a portfolio of projects. But keep this in mind; the benefits are well within the grasp of even small to mid-size operations. Remember the story of Gojo and how they routinely invested in modernizing their operations. Not all at once but over time. When the time came, regular investments in technology made all the difference. Using smart and autonomous technologies, CIOs are blending the physical and digital worlds while making the most of human resources along the way.

 

How Technology Will Keep U.S. in Business (part 2)

The first part of this blog set the stage for what follows.The coronavirus pandemic slowed us down. At that same it has pushed us into our homes to work. The pandemic has, and continues, to accelerate technological advancements. The novel virus has physically slowed each and everyone of us. And it has slowed the economy. The Brookings Institute reported that our economy has entered a contraction.

 

There is much we still don’t know about the coronavirus, We also don’t know how the lock downs across the country will affect our business and our economy long term. This is all uncharted territory. While all of this true, technology has been a life-saver for many businesses.

So, how is technology going to keep the USA in business and help the economy to recover?

1. Technology Ensures Businesses Continuity & Keeps Supply Chains Moving.

The supply chain for US companies is long and complex.
Goods manufactured here in the USA have multiple supply vendors. The supply chain cycles in weeks – not days or hours.

We pick up an item at a big-box store or the local hardware store. We don’t consider all the suppliers and technology it takes to get that product on the shelf.

The supply chain has slowed for some industries. Our supply chain technology is still in place and working. It’s ready to fire on all cylinders again when called upon to do so. We must monitor our supply chain.

In a Forbes articleJaume Ribera of the IESE Business School contributor, warns of the “bullwhip effect.” This is when fluctuating consumer behavior impacts the supply chain at all levels.

2. Technology Enables Employees to Collaborate & Communicate with Clients.

Most businesses have been hard hit by COVID-19. There are others that have been flooded with new clients. They are struggling to keep up with demand.
The VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) video/audio communications companies are perfect examples of business sectors that have seen a spike in demand. Companies use applications like Microsoft Teams, to give telecommuters the same experience they had at the office.

Because of video and voice conferencing technology employees of companies across the USA are able to work from home, keep their jobs, and contribute to the ongoing health of their business.

 

3. Technology Supports Geo-Diverse Workflow.

Before the USA was impacted by the pandemic, many companies were already heavily investing in industry-optimized cloud workspaces, Microsoft 365, hosted servers, and cloud-based data backup/disaster recovery platforms.

Those who invested early in these technologies are now able to see their investment pay off exponentially. Competitors slow to adopt cloud-based technologies are having to scramble to retool their IT environment. Some have had to shut their doors. Companies already in the cloud are in a good position to push through this crisis. They can maintain workflow and business continuity.

When the post-mortem is done on the business impact of the COVID-19 crisis, cloud-based technology may very well be the hero of the day. It may be the driver that kept our economy from slipping into complete disarray.

 

4. Technology Undergirds the Public Health Message.

There has never been a time in history like this. Government and health officials can disseminate information. Our national telecommunications, internet, and wireless infrastructure may be at capacity. Our backbone of critical technologies is holding. It is playing a key role in the health of the workforce.

Technology giants like Amazon, FaceBook, and Google have stepped up to the plate to squelch the spread of misinformation. They’re replacing it with up-to date factual information.

Blair Levin of the Brookings Institute writes, “all of this internet use is putting more pressure on our broadband infrastructure. Just in the past few weeks, data demands have risen in nearly all categories. The previous peak has become the new average, and the surge is starting to threaten the quality and speed of content downloads. As shelter-in-place directives spread and demand increases, the question lingers of whether our broadband infrastructure can support the new normal.”

Well, the Internet system is working and handling the load. This crisis has reminded the nation it needs to keep up to ever increasing demands.

We need to continue upgrading our broadband infrastructure.

Health authorities are able to deliver critical information. This information is accurate. Distribution is by way of their websites and other trusted sources.

Employees are able to stay safe from the virus. They’re able to continue working remotely. One day this will be over. The returning workforce will be healthier than they would be without access to the disseminated health guidance.

5. Technology Enables Testing and Contact Tracing.

MIT has developed technology that enables your Smartphone to track where you’ve been. At the same time it preserves your privacy. You want to know that everyone around you is safe. At the same time, you don’t want the government tracking where everybody is going. MIT already has an AI-powered device that lets doctors monitor coronavirus patients remotely. The system is called Emerald. It is being used in some assisted living facilities. TheNextWeb reports that, Emerald aims to reduce the risks faced by healthcare professionals treating COVID-19, who are often exposed to the highly infectious disease without adequate protective gear.

Emerald could play a particularly important role in assisted living centers and retirement homes. The residents of these facilities are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

Experts are in agreement that major part of getting everyone back to work, and helping companies get back on their feet, is a healthy workforce. Providing healthcare professionals with the necessary technology to test, report, and contact trace are crucial to this effort.

On April 10th, The Economist reported that Apple and Google announced plans to work together to develop a way to track the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The unification of these two tech giants will make it easier for others to build contact-tracing apps that work without modifying either platform. Of course it raises a question. “If tracing apps are widely adopted, they must make people want to use them,” says Ciro Cattuto, an epidemiologist at the University of Turin, in Italy. “People need to feel like they’re contributing to a common good.”

 

6. Our New Appreciation for the Use of Digital Transformation Technologies.

Marketers for innovative technologies have traditionally had a challenging time convincing some leaders to invest in the future.convincing some business leaders that now was the time to make investments in newer, more efficient, cloud-based technologies.

Investing in technology that drove digital workflow transformation was seen as “nice to have” if “we can afford it.”

But when COVID-19 shifted the ground under the feet of U.S. business, those who had put money into cutting-edge business process technology were better positioned to ride out the storm. Some leaders, like the COO of the Clipper Corporation, Nancy Hejran, know that, one day, a disaster is going to happen. When that day comes, they want their data to be safe and secure.

These technologies will help the USA maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace when COVID-19 has become a memory.

7. Technology Supports the Retooling of Companies for the Post-COVID-19 Economy.

There are yet many uncertainties, there is one thing with which everyone seems to be in agreement. Things aren’t going to snap back to “business as usual” once this wave of Coronavirus has passed.

Company leaders are looking at what their business will be post-COVID-19. For some, the course alteration will be minimal – hardly noticed. For other businesses, the idea of “business as usual” will need a new definition. It is sure to be shaped by the demands of our ramshackle economy and available technologies.

How will the coronavirus change the way we do business? How will it change the global business climate? After all, we are in this together.

We will explore the answers to this question in next week’s blog,

Cybersecurity Recommendations for Companies During Pandemics

“This changes everything.” We’ve heard this many times before. Also, “This time, it’s different.”

Usually, it’s not different. Things feel different for a little while, and then things return to normal.

This time, I think, truly is different. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most businesses to close their doors. Conferences, concerts, and sporting events have been cancelled. And companies have their employees working from home. More employees now work from home than ever before.

“When a crisis like the new coronavirus temporarily forces companies into remote work, it tends to show them that it can be done successfully,” says Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics and cited in the Chicago Tribune.

Remote work probably is here to stay. For that reason, honing your remote work policy is my number one recommendation during the pandemic. I also recommend working on and practicing your disaster and contingency planning policies, storing sensitive data centrally, and encrypting sensitive information.

 

A little background on me: I’m a former CIA officer, so I know a thing or two about traveling and working remotely. Almost 15 years ago, I started working “remotely” under minimal supervision. My work was representing the US Government in meetings with other governments. These were countries most people have never heard of.

When I left the Agency, I found myself consulting and working remotely for companies throughout the US and throughout the world. My clients extended as far away as Poland and Ukraine. I never met my clients Poland face to face. The business was entirely remote.

I co-founded a company. My partners and investors were based in Boston. I worked, you guessed it, from home. My responsibilities necessitated travel. I had to spend some personal time with my team in Boston. I spent about one week each month onsite.

The amount of time needed on-site could vary. While my startup required a good deal of me being onsite, many consulting projects were done remotely. I’d say most any job can be accomplished remotely.

There has been significant discomfort in the past about remote work. I have experienced this first hand. As I rose through the ranks at the CIA, people wanted me for increasingly senior positions. My working from home became more of a problem for my supervisors. Companies might be comfortable with a developer or designer telecommuting. They are definitely not comfortable when it comes to a job that involves managing a team. Last January, I had discussions with companies who loved my skills and experience. They wanted what I had to offer. But the distance and telecommuting was a deal-breaker. So they backed out because they were uncomfortable.

Technology has made Location Irrelevant

Before the coronavirus, management and HR policies were stuck with the old ways of doing things.

The need for physical distancing has forced us to work from home. Many business leaders, managers, and even employees were uncomfortable with the concept. Most will find remote work isn’t bad or scary. Many will even become comfortable with remote work as standard policy. An April 6, 2020 ZDNet article reported that 74% of CFOs say they expect to move previously on-site employees remote post-COVID-19. Gartner found that a quarter of respondents will move at least 20% of their on-site employees to remote work permanently.

Pandemic Recommendation #1: Hone the Remote Work Policy

Remote work is here to stay. Remote work maximizes worker time by cutting out commutes. It decreases the need for parking and office facilities. It saves energy too. Not as much gasoline is used. There are fewer traffic accidents. There is less pollution because people are not driving to work en mass.

But remote work also raises a whole new set of security issues. How do we keep customer or other sensitive data secure when that data is in an employee’s home?

Simple mistakes can lead to large consequences. Failing to patch a computer program or server invites hackers to exploit the flaw.

Do you remember the Equifax incident? Equifax couldn’t be counted on to patch its centralized systems.
Their systems contained huge amounts of personal information. How can we handle personal information printed on little Johnny’s color printer? No company wants to be responsible for the next Equifax-type incident because its employees are working from home.

Having employees work from home presents more vulnerable endpoints. “More personnel telecommuting adds to cybersecurity risks. These people carry devices packed with data. “Opening remote access creates more challenges,” according to Parry Aftab, Executive Director of The Cybersafety Group. Be sure you have considered endpoint security as part of expanded remote access.

And what happens if a worker is injured while working from home? Will they be eligible for Workers’ Compensation benefits?

For these reasons, my number one recommendation is to hone in on your Remote Work Policy. If you don’t already have a remote work policy, then you need one right away. What is the policy now, and what will it be after the crisis is over. If you do have one, now is a great time to review the policy. Make sure it still fits today’s needs and contexts. Update the policy as needed.

The policy should include the expectations of employees. What security measures are employees expected to use at home. Clarify legal liabilities. How will you protect privacy and remain GDPR and/or CCPA compliant? What are the company’s policies on equipment use and repairs? A complete Remote Work Policy will address these issues.

Ensure that employees maintain a safe remote work environment. Secure their devices with anti-malware software. These devices should have personal firewalls, and regular patching for software vulnerabilities.

Pandemic Recommendation #2: Disaster Preparedness & Contingency Plans

A few years ago, I was walking the halls of RSA with one of my clients, helping them make sense of the complex and confusing world of cybersecurity. RSA is *the* conference for cybersecurity. 45,000 people attend each year including more than 600 vendors. We were walking the expo halls. We saw an endless supply of hi-tech security offerings. There were vendors offering proactive protection. Some had advanced threat detection, while others had automated or AI-augmented remediation tools.

 

There were vendors offering proactive protection of one kind or another. Out of the 669 vendors at RSA, not one were there to help companies prepare for disaster recovery and contingency plans.

Out of the 669 vendors at RSA, how many were there to help companies prepare for disaster recovery and contingency plans? I didn’t see one. When it comes to pandemic, we’re mostly on our own. There is no Coronavirus as a Service (CaaS). When we face potential times of crisis, it’s a good reminder to test our continuity plans. If there are no continuity plans to test, then it is vital to create them.

It all starts with your business continuity & disaster recovery plan. Such a plan is a standard part of a NIST 800-53’s CP-1.
It includes strategies like having alternate data storage sites. Alternate data storage sites are important if the main storage site becomes inoperable or compromised. Backups should be in multiple locations far from each other. If one is on the west coast of the United States, the other should be on the east coast. The midwest is also a very good location for remote workers. That region is good for fail over data centers or other cloud resources.

You will want to review your plan. Identify and account for all assets, both technology and human.

Review alternate operations center options. Current areas of operations may become inaccessible. A pandemic may make it unsafe for people to congregate in one place. This is a good time to review or create work-from-home programs. Consider remote fractional vCISO services. Ensure you can maintain your security operations even if employees can’t physically come to the office.

Pandemic Recommendation #3: Store Everything Securely

With so many employees working from home, it’s easy for sensitive information to leak. Remote work often involves creating and editing work-related information. These can be emails, Word documents, and Excel spreadsheets. A customer’s personal identifying information could be left on a personal printer. Sensitive business information can end up on a CD that gets misplaced. There are number of possible security mishaps.

Imagine you recently became GDPR compliant. At a cost of more than $100,000 for 74% of organizations, according to a CPO Magazine article. If you don’t protect personal information at your worker’s homes, you might still be facing a GDPR fine. According to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, a company in England was fined $340,000 for leaving documents with personal information unlocked,

To reduce this risk, it’s important to store files in a centralized location. A secure cloud is the best location. If the information stays in your cloud, it’s much less likely to end up somewhere it shouldn’t be.

Bio-based authentication and encrypting mobile devices prevents others from reading and using the information on a stolen or lost device.
Pandemic Recommendation #4: Encrypt Data

When more employees work from home, it’s more likely that their devices will be lost or stolen. Encrypting these devices prevents others from reading and using the information on a stolen or lost device. Full disk encryption on personal computers, phones, and tablets is a good method. It will encrypt all storage on the employee’s device. Or at least create an encrypted partition to store sensitive data.

Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a good encryption standard to use. The US Government uses AES to keep classified data secure, according to an article in TechRadar.

Even if an employee’s computer is encrypted, there are security risks. The data may not be encrypted when it’s in transport. If an employee has full-disk encryption, the data will not be encrypted in transit. Ensure that data is encrypted before transit. This way anyone who intercepts the data cannot do anything with it. Another good strategy is to set up a secure protocol like Transport Security Layer (TLS).

Technology can go a long way to keep your data secure, but security is essentially a people business. Most breaches occur when people make mistakes. There is no substitute for educating your team. Train and retrain them on the fundamentals. Establishing standards for shutting down each day is a good idea.

The Major Business Advantages for a Remote Workforce
Telecommute, remote work, work from home, flexible location. These are all common terms, depicting the ability to do your job from a location other than the work office. These terms have been on everyone’s mind lately. They’ve joined the lexicon along with words like coronavirus, pandemic, and physical distancing.

The government is closing down operations deemed non-critical. More and more state officials are urging people to stay at home. Companies across the globe have to increase their remote workforce or shut-down altogether. Modern-day technology enables employees to work from home and keep operations afloat. Many positions can make the transition to remote work. These include virtual assistants, customer service, sales, IT professionals, writers, designers, and more.

Many Positions Can Transition to Remote Work. For those that can’t, cross-train your staff and shuffle talent in order to leverage their experience with the company.

A recent article by the New York Times reported that over 158 million Americans have been ordered to stay home due to the Coronavirus. Britain has an even more stringent lockdown policy. They have a country-wide ban on meetings of 2 or more people. It’s not known what the numbers of people working from home are. At least not at the moment. The popular web conferencing SaaS company Zoom noted that it had more active users in the past couple of months than it had all last year.

In a May 5, 2020 article in Forbes magazine, Wayne Rush warns that “telling companies to simply have their employees work from home is easier said than done. Not every company has the resources, the training or even the bandwidth to support an en masse move to remote work. In addition, for many companies, a move to working at home requires a significant shift in their corporate culture, something that may be even harder to accomplish than any physical requirements.” The article goes on to suggest doing some incident management exercises. Well, the time for practicing these disaster responses has ended. The window of opportunity has closed. It is true that, as Jack Gold states in the Forbes article, “companies are really going to struggle.” But overcoming these struggles, whether they’re technical or not, is going to make our companies stronger and better prepared for the future.

PERKS WORKING FROM HOME

There are obvious perks to be working from home. For example, there’s no commute, you can be comfortable, and your pets get spoiled having you home all the time. There are also advantages, which may not be so obvious, for the companies. In this Owl Labs report, we see that in the US alone, 48% of workers were allowed to work at least once a week from home. A whopping 30% could work from home full-time. We see some interesting stats on job satisfaction and pay as well. We’ll get into employee availability, cost-savings, and the technology behind it all a bit later. For now, let’s do a deep dive into the question. Why is a work from home option so beneficial to employees? How does it present such an advantage to the health and prosperity of the company?

 

Those companies that had a remote work policy in place before the pandemic are in a much better position to make the transition.

A remote work environment liberates the totality of the company. No longer are the HR options confined to hiring candidates in one geographic region. You are able to pull job applicants from around the globe. This gives a major advantage in the size of the talent available. Not only the size but the quality of the applicants will go up. So there’s an increased talent pool. You can find the best talent available. You will also tap into a diverse workforce. There’s also an ancillary but real boost to the company’s image.

THE BENEFITS GO BEYOND AN ENHANCED SOPHISTICATED CORPORATE IMAGE

When a company advertises a work from home option, it demonstrates a couple of things. Both come across as sophisticated and attractive. It demonstrates flexibility and agility. It also bespeaks a culture that pushes the edge.

A Fast Company article reports that hiring workers from all over creates more diversity and other possibilities. More expansive regions mean less racial, age, and gender biases. For example, mothers will have an easier time re-joining the workforce after long stretches of staying home. Another major advantage to employers for hiring remote workers is salary. Remote workers don’t get paid less. Cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, D.C. are expensive areas to live in. Companies can hire talent away from their headquarters. Comparable employees can found in locations where the cost of living is much lower. This allows the employee more flexibility when it comes to salary. Companies have more leverage to negotiate.

 

Now is the time for companies to focus on revenue over growth. Remote work facilitates long-term cost savings. The benefits include more leverage to negotiate for talent all over the world.

 

Being able to offer telecommuting options to an employee is an actual company benefit. Telecommuting, when it is available, is listed as a benefit on a company’s website. It’s a perk added to a career opportunity ad. You can often find it alongside retirement options and vacation policies. It is also usually touted throughout the hiring process. There’s a reason for it. Telecommuting is a way to lure those that are familiar with working from home. Some professionals have always wanted to work from home but have never had the option. Those who have worked from home, either partially or full-time, often seek out similar jobs. and companies that embrace this type of culture in their next role. Job satisfaction can come from having a strong remote workforce. This satisfaction yields productivity.

INCREASED JOB SATISFACTION EQUALS INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY

 

The infrastructure fo remote working, including laptop computers for every employee expected to work from home must be in place.

 

Remote workers tend to be more satisfied because of the autonomy it brings. At home, there are fewer distractions (well, in most cases). They have more flexibility in their schedule. Allow employees to be autonomous. They’ll have an increased sense of ownership and freedom. In an office setting, there’s a need to conform to certain things like office attire, hours and a cubicle or desk. The Owl report shows that 71% of remote workers are happy in their current role. Only 55% of non-remote workers are satisfied. Job satisfaction yields productivity. In turn, job fulfillment results in less turnover in the workplace.

Having remote employees means much less overhead. You don’t need the office space. The cost-savings alone are reasons to get behind this movement. The cost of space in San Francisco can be around $80/sf. New York City hovers around $90/sf. The cost incurred for remote working space is of course non-existent. The cost of office furniture is another major factor. A high-end office chair can cost a company between $800 to $1,000. Companies have not provided stipends for home office use and expenses. As the current situation continues, that may change. A good case can be made for on-going telecommuting even after the coronavirus crisis comes to an end. In such a situation, some companies will offer reimbursement programs for home offices.

Some employees have high-speed internet connections at home. Some do not. Some are faster and more reliable than the office network. Embracing work from home, employees tend to use BYOD.

If an employee is operating in their own home, and on their own time, why not let them use their own equipment. BYOD adds more flexibility. Most people make use of their personal devices and computer set up in as much as possible. This is especially true if they have a more powerful laptop than the one issued by the company. Think of a company’s infrastructure. The telephones. The Network. The HAV. These become cost savings when large portions of the workforce do their job from home.

Old technology prohibited the work-from-home option for many businesses. Today, that’s no longer true. Companies can remove any obstacles allowing employees to work from home.

THERE ARE MANY TOOLS TO HELP WITH THE TRANSITION
Technology can no longer be an excuse not to work from home. There are a number of collaboration and communication tools that can handle any workflow.

Look at the hardware available today. The quality of wireless headsets (Plantronics and Jabra) have eliminated background noise. Having a Conference call at home is part of regular business life. There are desks that you can raise or lower as needed. These types of workstations provide better energy levels for those who sit many hours in a chair. Other items include multiple monitors for extended viewing. These are particularly useful for doing design work. There are laptops that fit any task requirements.

Web conferencing software (Zoom, Web-Ex or Skype)s for Business can work anywhere. Attendees have the option to use video or have audio-only meetings. Collaboration is key. Keep employees productive within groups. Keep them communicating. The use of tools such as Slack can keep information flowing.

Slack, a simple SaaS solution incorporates single chat or group-chats. It features system notifications and simple file sharing for your entire organization. The pricing is straight-forward. Telecommuters needing technical help can make use of TeamViewer or RemotePC.

Having your data backed up to the cloud is also important. Your computer is not on the company network. Syncing your work to the cloud is as simple as using Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive. Time tracking tools can report on how long it takes to work on various tasks. They can tell how long you spend on different web pages.

The coronavirus has provoked an exodus from the corporate office to the home. The coronavirus physical distancing might be short-lived or longer-term. How business leaders manage their remote workers will determine the level of productivity. Communication from managers will have much to do with job satisfaction.

There are many SaaS-based apps available. These applications keep employees engaged and available. They also have the flexibility fo step away for a break. It’s a win-win for employees and their employers.

Job satisfaction and productivity are up because of remote work. The question is how will you institute a proper policy? The details will be different for each business. A recent article in Glassdoor proposes a basic approach. It advocates “adequate technology, disciplinary excellence, and clear communicative instructions.”

Employers now have more options to hire cream-of-the-crop talent. They can focus on skillset over the location of a candidate. Working-from-home gives business leaders more time to focus on productivity and bolstering revenue.

 

The Remote Work Survival Kit Under the Threat of the Coronavirus

There is no denying the impact COVID-19 has had on us over the past couple of months. The coronavirus has managed to work its way into every conversation, news headline, and social media post.

The coronavirus is a pandemic according to the World Health Organization. The threat of the virus spreading
has changed the way we live. We have to prepare ourselves for the upcoming months. Canceling large events and gatherings is one way to mitigate the spread of the virus. Sports, schools, churches and many businesses have closed. Or they avoid interaction with the public. Social distancing is the new mandate. Government officials have urged us to not congregate in large crowds. Stay at home if possible. Many companies are sending emails to employees asking them to work from home if possible. Companies that aren’t set up to work remotely are scrambling to make it happen. What was once an option has become a necessity.

This article will provide some options on how to deliver a great work from home experience. None of these technologies are new. If used in combination they will ensure a better work-from-home experience.

Let’s start with the one that can take on many forms and methodologies: BYOD. Bring your Own Device. Gartner defines BYOD as allowing someone to use a personally-owned device to access a company’s resources. This could be the company’s email. It could be actually installing a VPN client on their home computer. Each company has a different take on the level of access granted to non-company assets.

 

The “Bring Your Own Device” concept has been around since 2004. It is not a new trend. What is new is the popularity of using personal mobile devices on the job. The security risks of allowing access to corporate resources has discouraged some companies from adopting a BYOD policy.
Bring Your Own Device

In this post by Remote.CO you can get a sense of the varying level BYOD plays at different organizations. BYOD had its start in the mobile device world. Companies were tired of purchasing cell phones for employees. Employees were tired of carrying around 2 phones. Employees carried their personal phone and the locked-down, outdated one provided by the company. Since then, companies have other ways of getting business data secured on personal devices.

Mobile Device Managers

Microsoft Intune and VMware Airwatch are MDM programs that help protect corporate data on personal devices. Employees have access to an Enterprise app store where they can consume their internal data while using their device of choice. The employee first opts in to install the MDM agent on their device. The list of devices with current modern Operating Systems is no longer limited to only smartphones. Once the agent is installed, the company can push down a profile that allows the device to be managed. Both Intune and Airwatch have a robust set of policies available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. What degree of enforcement the company has on the phone will vary on the company and device type. Once the agent is deployed, and the configuration of Security baseline is set, the device can be actively monitored and secured. This could mean enforcing Bitlocker encryption for Windows 10 devices or managing Filevault on macOS with Intune.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

VDI technology has taken many forms over the years. In its purest form, VDI is accessing a virtual machine over the network from a client or web-browser. This enables companies to have virtual machines always available on the internal network. These virtual controlled Existing management systems control these machines. Security tools protect the company provided applications and data. Having a proper VDI solution for employees to use can be a major advantage. Especially if they need to travel or work from various locations and/or devices. If a company already has VDI in place today, the process of deploying new virtual desktops is easy. It only takes seconds to accommodate new users.

VDI began as a technology installed on-premise or in a company’s private data centers. Later VDI transitioned to the cloud. The major VDI players Citrix, VMware and Microsoft all have major cloud offerings. This is called DaaS or Desktops as a service. Citrix and Microsoft host their DaaS offerings within Azure. VMware can host desktops in AWS, Azure, and the IBM Cloud. Google Cloud is coming soon.

The ability to leverage cloud-based virtual desktops has great advantages. Especially in certain situations like Disaster Recovery. Traditional VDI takes longer to procure and deploy new hardware. DaaS has some extra benefits like less IT overhead. This is because the cloud provider manages more components.

 

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a means of which a computer user is granted access only after successfully presenting 2 or more pieces of evidence (factors) to an authentication mechanism. These are usually having to do with knowledge (something only the user knows); possession (only the user has it); and inherence (like fingerprint voice scan, or retina scan).

Let’s discuss the use of a multi-factor authentication solution. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a subset of multi-factor authentication (MFA). It ensures you can pass multiple criteria for identity. This includes something you know (password or security PIN). It also includes an object like a security token or fob. Finally, something physical that is specific to you (fingerprint, retina scan, facial recognition). A 2FA solution would offer only 2 of these mechanisms to prove your identity.

We’ve all had to input our email or phone number when signing up for an account online. Using a mobile banking app is a good example. An authentication mechanism can be a one-time-password sent to you via text message. It could be using your phone’s builtin face or fingerprint reader. These are ways to prove your identity.

The FBI warns MFA solutions are not completely foolproof. Still, it’s the best way to thwart cyber-thieves from stealing your data. Having a second form of authentication proof is safer than only having a long password. Most modern smartphones and laptops have a built-in fingerprint or smart card reader. There are several key players in the MFA space. The top leaders include Okta, Microsoft Azure MFA, and Duo (recently acquired by Cisco). Duo uses a simple cloud-based 2FA approach. Their system integrates with various types of applications. When a user attempts to gain access, a VDI or VPN provider sends a push notification to your smartphone. The user acknowledges the push notification on their smartphone. There’s no need to enter a second password or copy a 16-digit PIN for verification.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

Do Your Work, Anywhere, and on Any Device

 

If you’re new to working from home, make sure your technology is in order. One important aspect of working remotely is communication. Make sure you have the bandwidth needed to support your tasks throughout the day.

The order from management is to stay at home. Do not come to the office for the next 2 weeks. Work remotely until government and health organizations deem the coronavirus has been contained. Don’t worry about a report or project plan saved on your office desktop. Embrace VDI technology.

VDI means working from a virtual desktop every day. Your data is always available, accessible from wherever you are and protected. Your data is more secure now than it ever was when kept on-premises. The data is backed up across different geographic regions within the cloud. There is no need to worry about catastrophic power or network outage at your local data center. It’s also always on and provides a consistent experience whenever you need to access it.

Maybe you don’t need a full Windows Virtual Desktop to get your work done. You just need access to a handful of SaaS apps like Salesforce.com. An Okta or other MFA solution can help authenticate you from an outside connection. This allows you to gain entry to those specific internal resources without the need to install a VPN client.

Or, what if all you really need is to access your corporate email and files on your phone while safe at your home? Having your smart device enrolled in your company’s Mobile Device Management solution can provide the access you need while keeping the business data secured.

Deciding how to start a remote work enablement plan for your team can seem like an overwhelming task. Like other challenges, it can is not so daunting when done in small steps. Better yet, it is a good idea to bring in experts who can design a solution that works best for your business.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. While there are many ways to enable employees to work from home, there is only one that is perfect for your needs.

Many adversities are beyond our control. It is helpful to focus on those things we can control. We can take steps to prepare for the uncertainties ahead. We can do what is best for our employees and our loved ones.

Using the cloud to work remote is less to do with “social distancing,” and more to do with benefiting your company. Being on the cloud will democratize opportunities for you across the board. You’ll see that remote work is not so much a challenge to overcome, but a business advantage to achieve.

 

Check out IronOrbit INFINITY Workspaces! The Ultimate Remote Work Tool!

 

The Main Benefit of VDI
VDI Planning: 4 Key Pitfalls to Avoid
What is VDI?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) enables virtualized desktops hosted on remote servers on the Internet.  Reducing the need for hardware while improving flexibility, VDI offers practical benefits as well as a hefty return on investment. There is a strong business case to be made. According to the IDC, “The Business Value of VMware Horizon,” of January 2016, there is a 5-year return-on-investment of 413 percent. On average, the virtualized desktop costs 71 percent less to buy, deploy, support, maintain, and use over a 5-year period. This is on a per-device basis. Users spend 76 percent less time on device application log-ins. VDI enables companies to make full use of human capital while preventing many IT-related issues. We need all the help we can get to unlock the massive human assets such as talent, empathy, and creativity. You know, the things computers aren’t that good at. There are indeed great advantages to moving to a DaaS environment. There are also many opportunities for making mistakes along the way. Let’s take a look at the 4 most common pitfalls associated with VDI migration.

A TechRepublic article cites a lack of planning as a major pitfall of VDI integration.  The article went on to report that companies failed to plan for enough resources. Don’t provision for today or tomorrow. Design an infrastructure that will serve your needs next year and for the years ahead. That article was from 2013. It is just as relevant today.

Decide what are the priorities in your VDI environment.

The problem with most VDI implementation is lack of planning. Internal stakeholders should begin with a comprehensive assessment of the IT environment. Also, consider the individual desktop environment. The VDI landscape has changed over the years. Planning and project management are the key to a successful VDI adoption. The initial steps start with an internal dialogue. It’s a good idea to bring in outside expert advice early in the process. Each company is unique. There are different demands and different expectations. The time and effort put into VDI planning will pay incredible dividends for years.

Here are a few of the most common hurdles. They can be overcome when identified early.

VDI Planning
A Common problem with VDI planning is wanting to include everything.
Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once

The first common issue in rolling out a VDI initiative is trying to do too much at once. This applies to both large and small environments alike. VDI does not look the same at any two companies.

Don’t try to include every attractive feature in your initial implementation. Be focused on meeting key objectives. And be selective. Understand the major features and benefits of VDI. But don’t try to include everything in the beginning. This will only slow down the process. It will also distract you from your key objectives. A white paper by VMware recommends taking a step back. Consider what you’re trying to do. Do this before you even think about IT requirements. Instead of diving straight into technical requirements, such as numbers of servers and sizing of WAN links, begin by exploring user needs, business drivers, and special requirements. These special requirements might include things like: compliance issues; high availability; disaster recovery plans, or even the need for the business to rapidly onboard large numbers of new users due to mergers or acquisitions.

Don’t get stuck on the age-old VDI question. For example, using non-persistent versus persistent desktops in their initial deployment.

A company may never deliver a useable VDI solution if they allow themselves to get stuck on an idea. Let’s say that you determine 99% of its VDI desktops will be non-persistent. Well, you need to know that you’re going to spend countless OpEx and CapEx funds.

Stay Focused on Key Points
Zero in on what’s most important to you in a VDI environment.

Narrow down what you need in the planning stage to get VDI in a solid usable state. Set-up your VDI on a set of lean criteria. You can make additions as you go.

Do an Effective Initial Assessment

The next hurdle is company-specific. It is also often overlooked due to the upfront cost and time. I am referring to the VDI assessment that should be a part of the planning. The VDI assessment is the discovery phase of the project. It will help you isolate and focus on what is most important for your business.

Identify who will be using the VDI solution. The assessment is two parts: discussion and analysis. Be sure the process includes all the stakeholders including those who will be using the virtual desktops. Getting them involved early in the design process will help manage expectations. It will also go a long way in nurturing the acceptance of the resulting VDI environment.

Bring All the Brains to the Table
Bringing all the brains to the table will ensure the existing infrastructure is understood and all solution options are on the table.

Let’s use the example of an HR group that will be using VDI during the initial deployment. There is an initial interview. The agenda includes setting expectations of VDI. Begin by looking at how the company currently uses the computer environment.

Discussions along these lines will establish some parameters.
Do they generally only use a combined set of 4 applications? Do they work at varied times throughout the day? Do they only need a web browser and the ability to email clients on the company network?

You also need to do some data gathering of what traditional desktops are doing during the day. What are the applications used? What is needed for the machines to operate?

Most PCs are oversized with wasted resources. VDI is all about compute and storage density. Determining accurate sizing needs equals more cost savings. There are several tools that can do the 2nd part of this equation but don’t overlook the first.

Don’t Overlook Management and Support Responsibilities
This third point is around IT staff.

Who will be managing the new environment once the consultants have departed? Will you share this duty between existing desktop/infrastructure teams? Or will a new team arise to manage the entire solution? Decide this early on.

Manage a VDI environment requires an engineer who understands several key technologies. They sound know how these technologies affect the virtual desktop. These technologies include but are not limited to:

Networking  
Know how users connect to the virtual desktop. Know where to troubleshoot problems like lost connections or poor performance

Compute/Infrastructure
Deep understanding of hypervisors and server infrastructure, depending on the vendor of choice

Security
Knowledge of security products will be inside the virtual desktops and in the network path of VD. This is for troubleshooting purposes.

Desktop Engineering
Basic knowledge for customizing Windows installations and troubleshooting.

Additionally, there are several other ancillary technologies that come in handy. These technologies include DNS, Active Directory, Application Packaging/Delivery, Load Balancing, and Storage.

These skills can come from various class training offerings. Many should come from experience. Knowing how all these different technologies work together in your environment is critical.

Larger companies own many of these technologies.
Separate teams manage them. It is crucial that all the stakeholders be aware of the impact of VDI.

Know who has ownership of the new VDI systems. Make sure there is buy-in from across your IT organization. This is important to establish in the beginning. Everyone needs to be on the same page. This will make training easier. can occur for those needing to ramp up.

This ownership and buy-in include first-line defenders like your typical service desk team. Let them know they’re responsible to field certain common VDI related issues as they come in. Provide education and resources to support them. Service and support is the key benefit of partnering with seasoned VDI consultants.

Don’t Forget the User Experience

As VDI deployment comes together, don’t forget about the user experience.

The User Experience Is Important
User experience is the final litmus test. How the user feels about the experience means the success or failure of VDI or DaaS.

Consider how things were before VDI. Chances are, your employees have been using similar pieces of hardware. They know how their workstation machines perform every day (good or bad). They’ll compare the new VDI environment to what they had before.

This goes back to the assessment stage. Understanding the proper-sizing and performance of each machine is important. It can mean the difference between successful adoption and one that isn’t. It’s also more than that.

If a user now has to login twice to access their Virtual Desktop they will complain. If the machine hangs when opening a video conference they will complain. If patches cause reboots on different days, they will complain. You want to make the change over to VDI as seamless as possible.

The experience should be better, not equal or worse than on a traditional desktop. Make sure you plan to provide the expected performance of each workstation. Allow for a tailored storage solution that is intelligent and optimized for VDI. Consider network crashes. If for whatever reason, they can’t access their virtual desktops, this can also be a problem. Here’s the point. Outside factors can contribute to the total experience on a Virtual Desktop. Many of these factors will be beyond your control.

The successful adoption of VDI means user acceptance. Deliver a desktop-like experience. It means proving the training and support necessary. Company-wide buy-in is key to the success of the whole program. It all begins with planning and making sure you have every brain at the table when that happens.

Ransomware Risk Mitigation: The Desktop-as-a-Service Solution

Ransomware is a dangerous and growing threat. Find out how security-minded executives establish best-in-class protection.

2019 has proven to be an alarming year for cybersecurity professionals and cyber-attacks show no signs of slowing down in 2020.

One cybersecurity firm characterized the rapidly growing pace of cyberthreats across all industries as an “unprecedented and unrelenting barrage”. Within 24 hours of its report, the City of New Orleans and several other municipal organizations fell victim to ransomware attacks.

But it’s not just large-scale enterprises and public institutions that are under attack. Small and mid-sized businesses offer low-hanging fruit for opportunistic cyber criminals, who often use automation to widen their area of attack.

Small businesses, large enterprises, and public institutions alike have all struggled to respond decisively to the ransomware threat. Until recently, executives had few options – and fewer defenses – in their fight against cybercrime. Now, Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solutions offer comprehensive, scalable ransomware protection services to organizations of all sizes.

 

What Exactly is Ransomware and How Does It Work?

 

There are several ways for a cyber intruder to take over your computer system without your knowledge. You won’t know about it until it’s too late.

The typical ransomware attack begins with the stealthy takeover of the victim’s computer. This may be accomplished through phishing, social engineering, or a sophisticated zero-day exploit – the goal is to have access to the network while remaining undetected.

Upon compromising the network, the cybercriminal can begin slowly encrypting important files. Most ransomware applications do this automatically, using a variety of different methods to evade detection. The process may take days, weeks, or months to complete.

Once the ransomware encryption algorithm reaches critical mass, it then locks users out of the network, displaying a ransom note demanding payment for a decryption key. Sometimes the demand is small – on the order of $500 to $1000 – and sometimes the demand reaches into six-figure sums.

Ransom demands are usually for bitcoins. “If one organization is willing to pay $500,000, the next may be willing to pay $600,000.”

Small sums make paying the ransom a tempting option, but a dangerous one. There is no guarantee that the cyber attacker will relinquish control of the network. Instead, executives who pay up reinforce the cybercriminal profit cycle. It is only a matter of time before the ransomware attacker strikes again.

Famous examples of ransomware variants include WannaCry, which spread to over 230,000 computers across 150 countries in 2017, and Petya. The WannaCry crisis targeted healthcare clinics and hospitals, causing untold damage and highlighted the risk that outdated IT systems represent in these industries.

Petya was unique because it did not encrypt specific files. Instead, it encrypted the local hard drive’s Master File Table, rendering the entire device unusable. There are dozens of other variants out there, and each one uses a unique strategy to take advantage of victims. NotPetya developed on Petya’s attack method, using the same vulnerability previously exploited by WannaCry.

Who Is At Risk of Ransomware Attacks?

 

Emsisoft reports that during the first half of 2019, 491 healthcare providers were hit with ransomware. The attacks are increasing and the demands are for larger ransoms.

Everyone. Although high-profile targets like hospitals and municipal institutions make headlines, thousands of business owners are defrauded every day. On average, one business falls victim to ransomware every 14 seconds.

Small and mid-sized businesses are especially vulnerable because they typically do not have access to the kind of comprehensive security resources that large enterprises can afford. Small businesses that do not rely on reputable third-party managed service providers make especially easy targets.

Cybercriminals have shown that they are willing to target hospitals and public institutions without shame. The greater the need for functioning IT systems is, the more likely the cybercriminals are to get paid. This is how the cybercrime profit cycle perpetuates itself.

What Can Small and Mid-sized Businesses Do About Ransomware?

 

Organizations caught unprepared have few options. Although cybersecurity experts correctly warn against paying the ransom, desperate business owners often pay anyways. But the relief is only temporary. 60% of small and mid-sized businesses victimized by cybercriminals do not recover and shut down within six months.

Preparation is key to successfully resisting a ransomware attack. Organizations that cannot afford to develop, implement, and deploy state-of-the-art security resources need to contract a reputable third-party vendor for the purpose.

Even enterprise-level organizations with tens of thousands of employees often find themselves opting for a managed solution instead of an in-house one. The cybersecurity industry is experiencing a widening talent shortage, making it difficult even for deep-pocketed businesses to hold on to their best security officers.

Introducing IronOrbit: Comprehensive Ransomware Protection

IronOrbit achieves best-in-class ransomware protection through a unique approach to cloud desktop hosting. Three key processes must work together flawlessly to guarantee ransomware resilience:

1.   Prevention

The best way to prevent a ransomware attack from taking place is preventing the initial malware deployment. Firewalls, email filters, content filters, and constant patch management all play a critical role in keeping malicious code out of DaaS systems.

Maintaining up-to-date software is more important than most executives and employees realize. Since NotPetya used the same attack vector as WannaCry, its victims entirely consisted of individuals and businesses who neglected to install security patches after the WannaCry crisis.

2.   Recovery

There is no way to guarantee 100% prevention. However, business owners and their IT teams can circumvent the damage ransomware causes with consistent backup and restoration tools. IronOrbit’s disaster recovery features can wind back the clock, reloading your entire suite of business systems to the state they were in just before the attack occurred.

3.   Remediation

Ransomware recovery cannot guarantee business continuity on its own without best-in-class remediation tools. Without the ability to trace the attack to its source in a fully logged environment, there is no way to tell whether the attack has been truly averted or not. IronOrbit uses state-of-the-art digital investigation tools to track ransomware attacks to their source and mitigate them.

Schedule a Consultation with an IronOrbit Security Expert

IronOrbit has helped numerous businesses capitalize on the efficiency and peace of mind that secure DaaS solutions offer. Protect your business from the threat of ransomware with the help of our expertise and knowledge.