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How businesses can embrace change by re-evaluating their networks

How businesses can embrace change by re-evaluating their networks

By Matt Carter, Chief Executive Officer, Aryaka

From AWS to Google Drive, chances are your business is driven by a SaaS consumption model. Multiple clouds, public and private, are common to organisations, and apps keep getting added to the stack – and are expected to perform optimally. The SaaS model has more recently been supplemented with Infrastructure-as-a-Service which provides the framework for businesses to embrace the cloud and maximise their operational ability within this system. This approach is now the modern-day modus operandi, and the answer to the CEO’s mandate to improve productivity, stimulate revenue growth and create an agile digital business model.

The cloud-first “as-a-Service” consumption model, from software to wider network implementation, offers great advantages in productivity, resource-efficiency and convenience to the organisation. The question is, why have enterprises been so quick on the uptake of SaaS yet so hesitant to re-assess the core networking that underpins its capabilities? Organisations today are driven by change and yet many businesses are still reticent to analyse and reconstruct their networks even with floundering connectivity – despite the fact that every business is a digital business and digital transformation requires flexible, agile, efficient networking.

It is time for businesses to take connectivity into their own hands and reduce dependency on the traditional telcos and DIY schemes which are quickly proving incapable of efficiently hosting the vast technology stacks on which businesses increasingly depend. As companies migrate applications and workloads to the cloud, they are faced with the challenge of creating a Wide Area Network that can scale these applications.

What can be done to improve connectivity?

Business networks are so incredibly complex and IT architectures dense with hardware – and software – laden tech stacks that a simplification, a stripping-back process that enables businesses to take back control, is now required.

Multi-vendor solutions, with the logistical difficulties around wiring and MPLS, hinder flexibility and choice and can lock businesses into systems that offer little to no insight internally into the network. This leads to resource wastage, both in human hours and expensive fees, and offers too little control over the network.

As a result of this, many will turn to a DIY solution. These have, for a time, enabled some measure of control over the network, but, crucially, they also require more of the IT organization’s valuable time. Time spent on monitoring the connectivity of your business hinders productivity, an issue not just of interest to executives but also to the UK Government, following its £56 million investment to boost business productivity.

If a business wants to take back control of its network but doesn’t want to spend valuable time monitoring this, it would have traditionally exhausted its options.  This, however, is no longer the case. A cloud-first WAN solution offers the best of both worlds for a forward-thinking corporation, regardless of the size of its IT team. To put it simply, a cloud-first, software-defined WAN solution offers the foundational technology needed to migrate to the cloud combined with the simplicity of having a single portal to manage that network. It gives businesses the flexibility and control they crave, without the hassle of exhaustively monitoring it.

The business benefits of managed networking

The newest cloud-first WAN solutions offer as much or as little connectivity as a business needs, whether it is to connect 10 branches across a dense regional network or 100 branches globally. Businesses no longer need to settle for what they are given by vendors, they can now sustain their own connectivity that is tailored specifically to their own business needs.

The beauty of the cloud-first WAN is that it creates a secure global network connection that’s always on, and provides the security that businesses need within their existing internet, so you can trust all the software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications you use today and tomorrow.

An “as-a-Service” managed network allows business leaders to analyse what is working, what isn’t working and what can be improved, all through a single portal that offers unparalleled internal visibility, in order to exercise full control over this key resort.

Business

The ultimate tech guide to remote working for the casual worker  

The ultimate tech guide to remote working for the casual worker   1

By Paul Routledge D-Link Country Manager

Like many others, you may have grabbed your laptop in the middle of March and headed home, with the initial plan of three weeks working on the sofa, in the garden or in the upstairs office you never use. As always, the picture in your head doesn’t quite match the reality, and now after an extended period, it might be time to make a few upgrades and create a more workable home office environment. From the smaller problems, like a lack of USB ports to charge both your phone and plug in your wireless mouse, to the 10 year older router that powers your wireless network, if you are going to work from home for a long period, you should consider resolving these issues.

If you work from home infrequently, or your network requirements amount to just checking emails, file downloads/uploads and the occasional video conference meeting, then a basic set up is all you require. Let’s run through the requirements for a basic home office set up.

First things first – establish a plan! What is the end goal? More connectivity, faster speeds, data security and better capacity are all possible, but there are a few things to consider before we dive in

  • Your environment  – Mansion, house, flat or garden, where you plan to work will have an impact on what equipment you need
  • How often will you be working at home Are you at home every day or just 1 day a week
  • Bandwidth requirements –  Are you hungry for bandwidth? video conference calls or upload/downloading images and videos
  • Wired or Wireless –  Can you cable up devices or is it mostly going to be wireless connectivity
  • Level of security –  If you work with personal data or financial details for instance, you will need to consider a higher level of security

USB hub/docking station

Let’s run through the requirements for a basic home office set up. As the streamlining of most modern laptops continues, the added portability often has a negative impact on connectivity, sacrificing Ethernet, HDMI and USB ports. As most offices will have docking stations, this only becomes an issue at home. A USB hub acts like a docking station and enables you to connect all of your devices, charge your phone, and connect multiple monitors.

What is a Hub? A Hub will add extra ports to your laptop, desktop, games console or other devices with a USB port, usually they will be USB-A or USB-C. Hubs can also draw power via the USB connection and their lightweight portability allows them to fit into your pocket. USB hubs are plug and play meaning they can just be plugged into your device and they are ready to go.

The router is the king

When its comes to internet, the router is the king – the gateway to all the rest of your networking solution. So if you are still using the router your ISP provided, you could be limiting your network wireless speeds, security and reliability.

Wireless Speed – Wi-Fi 5 or Wireless AC, is the current standard technology in the market but a router advertised as AC1200 doesn’t mean you’re getting a top speed of 1,200Mbps. This number is a combination of band speeds (2.4 and 5 GHz) For example, an AC1200 router is going to have a 2.4GHz band with a top speed of 300Mbps and a 5GHz band with a top speed of 867Mbps.

Coverage Area –  If you have a larger area to cover, a router with more external antenna’s will provide more flexibility, because they can be adjusted to focus broadcast in different directions.

Mu-Mimo (multi user, multi input, multi output)  – MU-MIMO allows the router to broadcast to many devices on the network at the same time, as opposed to one at a time, increasing efficiency.

QoS (Quality of Service)  – QoS lets you tell your router which devices you would like it to prioritise, so that you can choose which devices have priority such as your work laptop or VoIP handset.

App-Based Management  – Apps simplify the task of setting up and making adjustments to your Wi-Fi network, monitoring when devices are connected and helps to easily manage router updates.

Wi-Fi 6

Why do you need Wi-Fi 6? Because your smart home is reaching the limits of its potential. Prevailing Wi-Fi standards simply aren’t built to support “noisy” Wi-Fi environments with countless personal devices and smart home gadgets running simultaneously 24/7. Wi-Fi 6 brings next-generation Wi-Fi technology into your home, giving you the quantum leap in capacity, speed, and range you need to handle all your Wi-Fi demands. Perfect for high-performance, highly device-dense smart homes. Its saves on battery life, With Wi-Fi 6, you get up to 4X more device capacity than you do with Wi-Fi 5 AND includes wireless encryption.

Switching  – Wired Networks

What considerations do you need to make for a wired network? If its possible within your home, a wired network solution can provide better stability and performance than a wireless one, as wired connections are less prone to radio interference and lose fewer packets of data that need to be retransmitted.

Paul Routledge

Paul Routledge

In reality however, it may not be convenient to run cables to every device, so we recommend to use a wired connection when you can, then a wireless connection when you can’t. How many ports do you need? This is where the planning aspect of the network comes in, a normal router will have 4 Lan ports, so an idea of how many extra ports you will need is necessary, just think of all the work or home devices you’ll want to plug in, desktop PC, smart TV, VoIP phone, games console and the switch itself. Switches are most common in 5 or 8 ports versions although many have up to 52 ports!

Network Speed

A switch will either be labelled with Fast Ethernet (10/100mbs) or Gigabit (10/100/1000mbs).

Fast Ethernet

Fast Ethernet can handle speeds up to 100 Mbps, which is probably enough for some people, but those with superfast internet services, will lose the benefits.

Gigabit

10x faster than FE, Gigabit Ethernet can handle the fastest home broadband connections and has the bandwidth to handle high local network demands.

PoE support

Power over Ethernet (PoE) enables network switches to transmit both power and data through an Ethernet cable at the same time, so your PoE enabled switch can connect to an Access Point, Camera or VoIP phone, when there is no power outlet available

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Business

Safeguarding international logistics arrangements during the coronavirus crisis

Safeguarding international logistics arrangements during the coronavirus crisis 2

By Adam Ewart, CEO and Founder of Send My Bag

It has certainly been a whirlwind couple of months. The coronavirus – which at the start of the year seemed like a distant, incomprehensible issue – has impacted virtually every aspect of everyday life. There are live outbreaks in every continent – bar Antarctica – forcing a significant proportion of the global population under some form of lockdown. This has, of course, had a significant impact on the day-to-day operations for industries across the global economy, including international logistics.

Pain points of international logistics sector under changing conditions

The international logistics industry was among the first to feel the pinch from coronavirus. Seven of the top nine container ports in the world are based in China, and the other two ports are in Singapore and South Korea. All three of these countries were hit early by the pandemic and shut down their borders to prevent the spread of the virus. But this has resulted in ships being unable to get into Chinese ports or not being able to load or discharge goods when they dock.

But it’s important to note that not all businesses in the vast international logistics sector have experienced exclusively negative impacts as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. For instance, Send My Bag saw a 1320% year-on-year increase in demand in March, as people started relocating to their home countries. Similarly, orders from Germany, Spain, and Netherlands also rose by 700%, 800% and 600% respectively as travel bans were introduced.

As a result, the business faced a slightly different challenge to other businesses in the international logistics sector – how to respond to a sudden increase in orders. Although our customer base is globally spread and customers use our service for a range of reasons, we do still find the summer months to be our busiest. As such we’ve become accustomed to dealing with seasonality and our customer service runs on flexible systems that can be scaled up or down. Therefore, when we experienced a large spike in orders in March, we shifted to our summer plan and implemented a wide range of measures to respond to the surge in demand, including changes to shifts and rolling out an overtime schedule. We also asked staff if they would like paid work as an option during their annual leave.

The importance of strong leadership and HR functions in crisis

Most importantly during this hectic period were the HR measures we implemented supported by a clear and transparent line of communication with staff. As talks of unemployment filled the news, before the government announced its job retention scheme, we told our entire team that no one would be laid off regardless of any decline in orders anticipated over the next 12 weeks.

There is so much anxiety amongst employees across a range of sectors which could adversely impact their ability to do their job and in turn, impact business performance at a crucial time. It is therefore vital that business leaders are up-front and honest with their employees and imbue them with the confidence needed to do their job to the best of their ability.

We’ve seen businesses both succeed and fail at this essential task during the crisis. For instance, Amazon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, stretching from failing to provide adequate protection for its warehouse workers to its multi-billionaire owner asking the public to pay for Amazon drivers’ sick pay. Whereas, on the other side of the spectrum you have Jack Ma, co-founder of the Alibaba Group, who donated 1 million masks and 500,000 test kits to America and – via his foundation – sent supplies to over 60 countries, including several in Europe and every African nation.

Adapting to change

Adam Ewart

Adam Ewart

Aside from implementing an effective line of communication with staff, the best way business leaders can safeguard their international logistics arrangements in the current climate is by being flexible. In these extraordinary times, businesses mustn’t stick to what they know. You’ve got to be adaptable, flexible and willing to look at alternative ways to deploy your business.

Take Cainiao Smart Logistics Network, the logistics arm of Alibaba, as an example. The network teamed up with a dozen logistical partners to launch a ‘Green Channel’ initiative to expedite the fast and safe delivery of medical supplies throughout China. Not to be outdone by its close competitor, JD Logistics, another China-based logistics business, adapted its supply network and deployed autonomous ground robots for last-mile delivery of crucial supplies in the worst affected hospitals in Wuhan.

At Send My Bag, we had to navigate increased costs and transport restrictions imposed by nations in response to the coronavirus crisis. This included our partners needing to re-route orders when borders were closed – which was particularly prevalent in mainland Europe – and scheduling additional dedicated aircraft to complete our orders when there was a lack of commercial cargo space. Also, certain nations, such as South Africa, are currently only permitting international logistics networks to handle essential goods. To overcome these logistical issues, we had to be flexible and keep customers informed throughout.

Now, as the large spikes we experienced in March have plateaued to some extent, we have reverted back to our off-peak operation plan and are looking at different ways to use our capabilities. This included supporting an initiative to transport testing and PPE kits to frontline medics.

These are difficult and uncertain times for the international logistics industry. The supply lines that we rely on are being disrupted and some sectors are facing a drop in demand, whilst others are experiencing a spike. During these turbulent times, business leaders must be adaptable, show leadership and support their employees.

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Business

A holistic view of organisational security

A holistic view of organisational security 3

By James Ward, Senior Cyber Consultant at MASS

The finance sector is typically more developed than others when it comes to implementing security measures. This is partly due to it being targeted by a diverse range of threat actors who are some of the most advanced, and also because the threat is so great –  even the smallest breach has the potential for significant impact monetarily, or on market reputation, perception or confidence.

Ideally, an organisation’s critical assets should be surrounded by layer upon layer of security measures, all working together so that if one layer is removed or breached, the business’ most valuable assets are not compromised. Too often however, organisations take a siloed approach to security – viewing physical, cyber and personnel security as separate entities, where in fact they are more inter-related than many imagine.

It’s therefore vitally important that security measures are considered holistically and are led and understood by senior management, otherwise gaps for exploitation can be found by intelligent and experienced actors, supported by an ever-growing arsenal of exploitation technology.

Based on the approach MASS takes with public sector and defence organisations, we’ll now consider the security measures which should combine as part of a holistic approach.

Physical security

It might seem obvious, but the first and fundamental consideration should be physical access to a site. For all organisations, this step remains vital – even in the finance industry where physical security principles have long been established.

You should consider the basic question of how an intruder could gain access, starting by reviewing the ‘perimeter’ controls. Indeed, organisations should even question what their perimeter is. With the potential for distributed site facilities, linked remote assets, and supply chain dependencies, this simple question must be answered.

To define where a ‘perimeter’ really lies, the use of scenario-based analysis, threat actor personas, motivations and objectives can be useful. It’s also an invaluable methodology for exposing how an organisation could be exploited.

The physical security stage should also involve a review of physical controls such as fencing, access technology, CCTV coverage etc., including their role in the deterrence and detection of hostile reconnaissance activities. Disrupting the planning cycle of attacks is often overlooked relative to direct prevention of unauthorised access.

That being said, security measures can only be as effective as the people applying them, so an understanding of human behaviours is essential. It’s important to consider how people’s actions affect overall site security and to question why these actions occur.

Simple mistakes like staff wearing security badges in the street could lead to unforeseen issues while poor motivation or effectiveness of roving security staff or those monitoring CCTV may also cause warning signs to be missed, demonstrating that innocent human mistakes could form the seed of future security breaches.

Cyber security

The finance sector’s cyber resilience has advanced considerably, as it’s adapted to threats over the years. But the evolution of the finance industry itself poses new challenges; businesses range considerably in size and new forms of financial transactions provide new opportunities for cyber exploitation. Exploitation toolsets and associated managed services are now more readily available at a lower cost, reducing the financial and technical barriers to advanced cyber-attacks.

The levels of cyber security in the financial sector must be retained, taken to a new level, and existing assumptions continually challenged.

For example, penetration testing regimes are a vital tool in mitigating network cyber risk (including ‘CBEST’ which has been widely rolled out across the finance sector) but have limitations given they are just a snapshot in time. They offer us a valuable depth of analysis within a network but can be constrained in breadth of scope and potentially leave vulnerability blind spots. Very frequent, lighter-touch cyber assessments can fill this gap as they offer a more dynamic view of ongoing vulnerabilities over a wider proportion of the estate, which could represent ‘low hanging fruit’ for the cyber actor. Assessments can be enhanced by applying modern threat intelligence techniques to rapidly identify existing compromises and potential weaknesses (including personnel and corporate digital footprint). This establishes a picture of cyber posture and vulnerabilities before any testing taking place.

End-user device security is also often viewed in terms of its encryption strength, keys etc. Modern methods of fault injection attack (a device’s response to artificially applied ‘fault conditions’ used to derive security credentials), though are able to bypass these assumed security measures, whereas it would take decades to ‘crack’ using more traditional computer power. This means it becomes important to test a device’s vulnerability to fault injection, rather than falling back on the old assumptions for protection.

To take a holistic view, it’s also important to examine the wider supply chain. The finance sector relies heavily on a network of suppliers of digital telecommunications and energy services, and when a network this complex is interconnected, it’s challenging to pinpoint cyber resilience risks. However, identifying ‘hot-spot’ concentrations of dependencies that represent single-point failures within the complexity of the overall business can allow you to filter the complex information and establish risk effectively.

The insider threat

Those who might misuse legitimate access to an organisation’s assets for unauthorised purposes are known as insiders and their threat is often overlooked when considering the overall cyber risk.

For those in the financial sector, personal financial gain could be a particular incentive to potential insiders, while security controls are now so effective that one of the only ways to circumvent them is for hostile actors to exploit those with legitimate access. It can help to think of insider threat as the ‘grand master skeleton key’ of security, as the right insider, or team of insiders can overcome almost all security measures. Security compromises involving insiders also tend to have a disproportionately high business impact.

Yet many organisations overlook insider risk, assuming that pre-employment screening is enough to deter employees and failing to recognise the wide range of risks from genuine human error, through to orchestrated insider activity by paid professionals. Insider cases are typically individuals who have been with an organisation for some years and could have had a personal vulnerability exploited or exposed, or simply become disgruntled with their employer.

It’s a broad area to address and can be more challenging to enforce than other security measures. Internal governance, security culture, employee wellbeing, employment measures, corporate digital footprint, and perceived employee sentiment are some of the aspects that should be considered. Once these internal factors have been addressed, organisations should then make the same assessment of their supply chains.

If the business is sufficiently committed to its security, structured analytical methods can quantify their maturity and assess where the key vulnerabilities and risks could lie. This extra level of understanding can enable improvement, and when it comes to security even small changes can make a big difference.

Consider your dependencies

It’s clear that security is a vast network comprising many different aspects and as such, if not considered collectively, some areas can fall through the cracks.

All businesses have particular dependencies which shouldn’t be overlooked. Your own environment may be protected, but if data is shared with suppliers or partners, is it still secure? If a supplier or partner has a security breach, does that affect your operation?

When assessing security measures, it’s essential to go an extra layer deeper and consider how a range of factors could impact your organisation and its readiness to respond to an incident.

At MASS, our security experts consist of professionals with extensive experience in preventing security breaches and performing assessments in accordance with Ministry of Defence processes, so that we can ensure our security analysis meets and exceeds industry best practice.

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