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THE 5 GOTCHAS OF CYBER INCIDENTS

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By Dr Sandra Bell, Head of BC & ISDG Consulting (Europe), Sungard Availability Services

Not a week goes by without a cyber-incident hitting the press. TalkTalk, Carphone Warehouse and Ashley Maddison are the most recent but unless the response is handled correctly they will end up costing the victim far more than the perpetrator initially intended. The principles of responding to cyber incidents are no different to responding to any emergency or crisis but there are a few “gotcha’s” to look out for and a few simple steps organisations can take to ensure that their response is effective.

Gotcha 1 – It is not always obvious that you have been attacked

If your building has been broken into or your basement is flooded it is fairly quick and easy to spot that something has happened. However, cyber incidents are often harder to recognise and it is not uncommon for them to have been going on under the radar for months before anyone notices. For example research by Arbor Networks in May 2015 reported that retail organisations were taking an average of 197 days to identify breaches and, whilst financial services organisations were better, they were still taking 98 days.

Whilst these numbers may at first sight seem unbelievable they make perfect sense when you consider that cyber criminals habitually take maximum advantage of the facts that: the anonymity of the cyber world means that the chances of detection is low; and that conventional security regimes are tailored to detecting and punishing large scale incidents.

Therefore, rather than carry out one successful heist for £50m, where the probability of being caught is higher and the associated punishment more severe, the cyber criminal’s cost benefit analysis points to 50 million heists of £1 where their activity can go largely undetected and, even if they are caught, the punishment is minor.

Repeated incursions for small amounts of data are therefore much more common. However, this slow burn brings with it two major problems with respect to incident management.

The first is that the early symptoms of cyber incidents are often wrongly classified as technical glitches and consigned to the IT department for long term management and resolution. This means that cyber-attacks are often not identified in sufficient time to launch an effective response because the wider impacts, such as reputational damage and legal implications, are not addressed until the incident has reached critical mass.

The second is that, because the wider business believes that the symptoms are being managed by the IT Department, they turn a blind eye to them and it is often external agencies, such as the press, that first join the dots together and recognise them as cyber incidents.

If this happens then the organisation can find itself firmly on the backfoot and share prices can literally plummet as they are forced to choose between “trial by twitter” if they decide to say nothing until they have investigated thoroughly or publish unanalysed details that are then taken out of context and speculated upon by a world-wide team of experts.

The trick therefore is to make sure that: IT systems are continuously monitored, all anomalies are reported to a central point, and a team that represents the wider business regularly reviews them to ensure that the organisation spots cyber-attacks before the press, customers or other stakeholders.

Doing this would mean that they would often find that they could contain and eradicate the attack before it does too much damage or attracts external attention and, should the incident come to light, they are in good position to provide sufficient information to give confidence that they are in control of the situation.

Gotcha 2 – Not knowing what has been compromised

Even if an organisation spots an attack early it is not always easy to work out what has been compromised. Most organisations IT systems have evolved over time. They frequently started life all neat and tidy and the IT Director could hand on heart say where all the information was held, transmitted and processed. However, they are now frequently complex behemoths who have taken on a whole life of their own and under-resourced IT departments have all too often been forced to regress from the architects and controllers of the systems to the people who just keep the complex IT beast fed and watered on behalf of the company.

Whilst the complexity offers agility, cost-effectiveness and resilience, it also makes it harder to work out what has gone wrong and what information may have been compromised.  This is borne out by research by Sungard AS pointing out the Jekyll & Hyde nature of Hybrid IT (http://www.sungardas.co.uk/Documents/Jekyll-and-Hyde-Whitepaper.pdf) and the Arbor Networks research mentioned above that found that retailers and financial services organisations took an average of 39 and 26 days respectively to investigate, contain and eradicate data breaches.

As cybercrime increases so do people’s expectations with respect to the security of their personal data. Likewise, regulators and law makers across the globe are increasingly forcing organisations to know where the information they are holding is at any one time. Organisations that cannot do this will find it increasingly difficult to trade on the world market and savvy consumers will vote with their feet if organisations cannot give them a straight answer about their data within hours of a breach happening.

It is therefore essential for organisations to keep track of their information systems and information assets so that, should the worst happen, they can respond.

Gotcha 3 – Leaving the response to the techies

As mentioned previously the responsibility to identify cyber incidents often rests solely in the IT department due to a combination of the tendency to use impenetrable language to describe the symptoms and the slow burn of the events themselves.

Whilst the failure to involve the wider organisation can cause delays in attack identification, leaving the response to the techies can also cause problems.

Effective incident management requires teamwork, task work and high levels of personal competencies such as empathy and diplomacy to ensure the achievement of group goals (Hayes and Omodei, 2011). Researchers have also found that Extraverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging (ENTJ) MBTI Test Personality types are well suited to such roles (Hammer 1996) as they  exhibit high degrees of empathy, organisation, analytical thinking and decision making, enjoy being in charge and can visualise systemic or long-term changes they would like to see. Conversely, techies are often Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Perceiving (INTP) personality types who, whilst able to build conceptual models to understand complex problems and are adaptable and have the metal agility to respond to changing environments, often struggle to work in teams and are uncomfortable with time pressures.

Therefore, whilst it is absolutely essential to have deep technical expertise to investigate, contain, eradicate and recover the affected IT system the response team must reach across every discipline within an organisation and be coordinated and led someone who competency set matched that of an emergency manager.

That is not to day that only certain MBTI personality types are able to manage incidents effectively but that other types may often to be playing to their weaker suits.

Gotcha 4 – Bluntness of the technical fix

To a layman a compromised IT system often looks much the same as an un-compromised system. Therefore, whilst all can see and understand the disruption associated with a flood or a fire, there is frequently an expectation that an IT system will be fixed and up and running within hours of a cyber-attack.

However, recovering from a cyber-attack takes time and involves expert resources. The typical steps required to contain a cyber-attack include: block (and log) unauthorised access; block malware sources (e.g. email addresses and websites); close particular ports and mail servers; change system administrator passwords where compromise is suspected; firewall filtering, relocate website home pages, and isolate systems.

Likewise, once the attack is contained the systems cannot be returned to their users until: the infected systems are rebuilt; compromised files are replaced with clean versions; temporary constraints imposed during the containment period are removed; passwords on compromised accounts are reset; patches installed; perimeter security strengthened; and the end to end system checked for functionality.

It is therefore it is highly recommended that alternative working arrangements and backups are in place!

Gotcha 5 – Underestimating liabilities

Finally, even if the organisation successfully navigates the recognition, response and recovery from a cyber-attack many fall at the last hurdle by underestimating their liabilities. Most organisations focus on lost time and damaged reputation. However, there are a whole host of additional liabilities that organisations often overlook when carrying out the cost benefit analysis of cyber security and cyber-attack response measures.

In addition to direct theft and information corruption other direct liabilities include Blackmail attempts and Ransomware. These threats are on the rise and as example McAfee Labs 2015 Threats Report showed that there was a 165% increase in Ransomware in the first quarter of 2015 alone.

Other costs include regulatory liabilities: both wide reaching and sector specific. For example the Current EU law requires organisations to have in place appropriate technical and organisational security measures to protect personal data and the new Data Protection Regulation is proposing fines of €100 million or 5% of the organisation’s annual worldwide turnover, whichever is the greater. Likewise some industry sectors can be heavily penalised for data loss. For example within the UK financial services sector, the regulator has historically levied greater fines for security breaches than the Information Commissioner.

Additional liabilities may also include: Breach of Statutory Obligations: Breach of Contract; Breach of Equitable Duties and Negligence.

The final word of advice is therefore take all liabilities into account when deciding to invest in either security measures to prevent the likelihood of an attack or response measures to mitigate the effects.

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Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room

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Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 1

By Jeff Carlson, author of The Photographer’s Guide to Luminar 4 and Take Control of Your Digital Photos

suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”

Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online. 

It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.

But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.

  1. Improve the picture quality of your call

The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.

Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”

Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”

  1. Place your camera at eye level

A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.

Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 2

Low camera placement from a MacBook

  1. Make the most of natural lighting

Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.

Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.” 

Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 3Lockdown 2.0 – Here's how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room 4

Backlit against a window Facing natural light

  1. Use supplementary lighting like ring lights

The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.

Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.

“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.

Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.” 

In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.

  1. Centre yourself in the frame

Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.

“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”

  1. Be mindful of your backdrop

It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.

“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”

A busy background as seen by a webcam

  1. Make the most of virtual backgrounds

If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.

Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”

  1. Be aware of your audio settings

Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.

“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.

The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”

  1. Be wary of video app add-ons

Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.

“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”

  1. Be the best looking person in the virtual room

What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.

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Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation

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By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech

If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.

Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.

If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.

But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.

For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.

Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.

The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.

However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.

The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.

With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.

The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.

With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.

Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.

Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.

The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.

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What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders

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By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel

The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?

Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.

Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?

Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.

Permanent establishment

Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.

Foreign entity incorporation

To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.

As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.

U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.

Check-the-box planning

Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.

Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties

When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.

Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.

Are you GILTI?

Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.

Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.

The end goal

Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.

If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

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