By Scott Dodds, CEO Ultima
Moving to the cloud securely remains a significant challenge of flexible working
While the end may be in sight for full-scale remote working, most companies are looking to continue with flexible working in some form or other. The benefits that both employers and employees have reaped in terms of cost reductions and flexibility are unlikely to be given up quickly. But in a recent survey of customers, Ultima has found that many challenges still exist for companies if they are to embrace flexible working successfully in the long-term.
The pandemic has forced many companies to innovate at an unprecedented rate, and digital transformation has moved on in a year to a place it would have taken five or more years to do. But many businesses are still struggling with the new normal. They have become more susceptible to cyberattacks, and poor IT infrastructure has resulted in poor employee experience causing productivity and profits to fall.
In a recent survey of over 200 prospective customers, Ultima asked about the challenges they were facing due to current requirements for remote working. Nearly half (41%) cited security concerns as an issue and 17% application access.
IT infrastructure is a cause for concern too. While many companies have embraced the advantages of cloud computing during the lockdown, over a third (37.5%) of respondents, don’t believe they have the capability to move to the cloud. There were a variety of reasons why the respondents don’t think they have the capability, with 16% saying it was due to legacy applications and another 16% saying it was due to budget constraints or challenges. A further 12% per cent blamed lack of in-house technical expertise and another 10% on investment being made in on-premise infrastructure.
The pandemic has created exponential growth in companies requiring cloud services, but their IT staff don’t have all the technical skills to effectively and safely move them to the cloud. This leaves companies open to security vulnerabilities as well as meaning they are not optimising their cloud environment.
While many businesses have risen to the challenges of remote working, infrastructure and security remain an issue. But automated cloud services with in-built security solutions can solve these problems. They can be bought on a pay-as-you-go basis, addressing large CAPEX outlay issues and allowing companies to overcome legacy application issues and provide security that protects both employee and company from outside attack.
Lack of capability and capacity solved
For those companies who’ve still not made the leap to the cloud, automated cloud migration services exist that can overcome the financial and skills shortage barriers to entry. Managed Service Partners (MSPs) can provide technical expertise and technical solutions to make this possible. The results of moving to the cloud can be spectacular too: from an average 30% reduction in expenditure and up to a 750% increase in productivity. They also have no upfront costs.
Using Microsoft Azure’s open and flexible cloud computing platform, for example, combined with automated migration, you no longer need to look after and buy hardware, or sort out power and cooling. Your IT infrastructure and security can be run on a pay-as-you-go basis. And if you need increased capacity, automation means you can extend your on-premises data centres and infrastructure to Azure within a few hours, providing the extra capacity required for critical systems and applications.
Poor security solved
We know that traditional security solutions don’t work well in the cloud. When customers move to the cloud, they try and take their traditional security solutions with them. But as the cloud works in a very different way to on-premises, this leaves companies open to vulnerabilities. You need a made for purpose solution, based on cloud security best practice.
With the latest automation technology security and monitoring solutions are automatically applied to existing and new workloads. It scans the collected data and includes proactive monitoring around security events that will let you know exactly what’s happened in clear-to-understand alerts, and where action should be taken if needed, covering critical areas such as anti-malware. IT staff can view in real-time their security and compliance reporting. Soon we will be able to scan a customer’s environment for security-related bad practice or incidents and make recommendations on how to fix them and even give them a score as to how they are doing.
At Ultima, we’ve also found that on moving to the cloud customers have poor visibility of what is going on in their environment. We know about 25% of companies don’t even realise they have high severity patches missing. This is down to a skills shortage and a lack of time – as patches are often done manually.
With automated cloud services, patching happens automatically on repeat and even scales as your infrastructure grows. If a patch is due and fails for whatever reason the system will automatically create an alert. This information will go to the third line technical team, and they will investigate it themselves, whether that’s your MSP or your own IT staff. The time savings to the IT department are huge – often 100’s of hours a year – enabling them to focus on other projects and have peace of mind about security.
Traditionally, you would do a true-up every month or quarter of your IT environments to bring new things, including security issues, to the management. But when you are in the cloud, you can spin things up so fast, that you will have a gap if you are only doing a true-up every month or quarter. With an automated service, you can automatically onboard things, so you don’t have to wait for the true-up process, which means you have a more proactive security service and less vulnerability. We’ve found that customers who are using automated cloud services have a 66% reduction in security incidents.
Lack of visibility of critical data solved
With ever increasing cloud resources, it can be hard to get visibility into your cloud infrastructure. The technology exists now to automatically scan and configure your cloud resources with centralised logging and telemetry capabilities. As your environment grows, this process repeats itself automatically as it scans and configures itself when new resources are added. This means that all logging information is available, and you can also see on one dashboard insights into your security posture. Usually, it’s hard to see what’s happening from a security perspective – what data is coming in and going out, top destinations, any malicious activity detected in the last 24 hours, etc. Automated services give customers a dashboard that centralises all the information to see what is happening in a simplified format and how your infrastructure is performing at a high level.
These new autonomous cloud services enable companies to free up 100’s of hours of IT staff time and reduce security incidents. Moving to the cloud has previously been a struggle for some companies as costs escalated for support, maintenance and security. New technology has changed that and is ensuring security and infrastructure are no longer barriers to successful cloud deployments and productive, flexible working.
Mobile app acceleration during the pandemic: Businesses must adapt or die
By Mike Rhodes, CEO of ConsultMyApp
For the past year, the over-riding narrative has been to stay at home and reduce in-person contact. As a result, every aspect of our lives, from work and socializing to exercising and shopping, has shifted online.
Amid such a backdrop, the mobile app market has become more important than ever before. In fact, the second quarter of 2020 became the largest yet for mobile app usage, with new downloads skyrocketing to 35 billion and in-app spending reaching a record $27 billion.
Whilst some industries have tackled this new digital challenge head on, and with great success, others have failed to engage and retain users online. The most notable example has been the failure of the NHS track and trace app which, according to the latest reports, only curbed the transmission of coronavirus by 2 to 5 percent last year.
Developing a mobile app is simple, but as track and trace shows, ensuring an app’s success is far more complex than registering the platform and attracting active users. In order to increase visibility, drive installs and retain users, app optimization and pre and post-acquisition marketing is essential. Yet, currently, only the most digitally savvy businesses are aware of this.
So, where do businesses need to concentrate their efforts if they are to successfully leverage their mobile apps and obtain a market advantage in the new Covid-era?
Prioritise app-store optimization
The mobile app industry is booming. Irrespective of the sector, businesses across the world are quickly waking up to the potential of the mobile app market and, as a result, apps are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives.
Amid such a saturated market, app-store optimization should be the top priority for your mobile marketing strategy. According to Apple, 70 percent of individuals use the search tool to find apps, so keyword optimization is essential to make sure that the right people find your app above anyone else’s when they search in the stores.
Moreover, optimizing your creative assets is crucial to ensure sustained conversion. For example, enhancing the icon, screenshots and multimedia assets that appear on the app store can boost the appeal of your listing and help improve download rates. After all, your profile on the app store acts a virtual shop front with a footfall of billions of people globally, so you need to make sure it stands out.
Ultimately, app-store optimization can improve your visibility in organic searches and help to increase overall conversation rates, alongside building a strong foundation for your app to set it up for continued success.
Enhance your communication strategy
Amid the ongoing market upheaval, businesses core messaging has become more important than ever before, and a brand’s ability to communicate effectively with their target market has become pivotal to determine whether they are a thriving success or fall into irrelevance. However, with so many businesses trying to carve out a unique voice online, it can be hard to remain relevant to customers.
Mobile apps provide businesses with a unique opportunity to provide a personalised user experience, that not only works to build relationships with existing customers, but also offers the opportunity to approach an even wider market than before.
Maintaining regular interaction with your customers via a mobile app platform that caters to their personal needs will help to build a loyal following and result in better rates of engagement for the business.
Pivot according to shifts in consumer behaviour
The mobile app market is flourishing and, in Q1 of 2020 alone, the average time individuals spent in apps each week rose by 20 percent. Whilst a recent report has suggested that this shift online will continue long after social distancing measures and lockdown restrictions lift, in order to remain successful, businesses must monitor shifts in consumer behaviour and pivot their app experience.
Developing and optimizing an app is not a one-and-done process. Businesses need to constantly review user interests, sentiments and requirements, alongside design trends, if they are to remain relevant and meet consumer demand. No matter how advanced your app is, if you neglect to pivot your service offerings accordingly, you will fall behind your market competitors.
Review in-app monetization approaches
The past year has brought about drastic changes to the way businesses operate and, if they are to remain successful, they must continue to react to the changing economic climate and adapt to the opportunities available.
Whilst in-app monetisation strategies and mobile advertising can open up access to new revenue streams, businesses must prioritise the customer experience alongside the desire to raise funds. For example, modifying the purchasing process to make it more accessible and intuitive, whilst remaining simple, can help boost sales. In contrast, brands that overlook the potential to monetise aspects of their app, or have a poorly designed app which deters customers, will fall short and lose out on this new market potential.
Address security concerns
Without a doubt, the Covid-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the digital transition. Even individuals who have traditionally resisted the shift online, have been embracing these new opportunities at an unprecedented rate. However, despite this widespread acceptance, there are still concerns over fatigue when it comes to interacting with technology and distrust on security and data protection.
Businesses will need to address these concerns in equal measure if they are to retain users and ensure the long-term success of their mobile apps. Whilst apps need to be optimized to attract customers, functionality is just as important, especially as more brands enter into this space.
On average, it is estimated that each individual has up to 90 apps on their phone, but they will only use nine in any one day. The stark reality is that many apps are downloaded, used once for the required purpose and then forgotten about. If businesses want their mobile apps to succeed in a flooded market, they will need to invest in app optimization and marketing strategies to build awareness, improve the customer experience and develop a competitive edge.
Ultimately, mobile apps have become the new interface for brands and businesses across all sectors amid the ongoing pandemic. This shift is only set to gain momentum moving forward and businesses simply cannot afford to overlook the lucrative potential of the app market if they are to survive in the new Covid-era.
‘Spooky’ AI tool brings dead relatives’ photos to life
By Umberto Bacchi
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Like the animated paintings that adorn the walls of Harry Potter’s school, a new online tool promises to bring portraits of dead relatives to life, stirring debate about the use of technology to impersonate people.
Genealogy company MyHeritage launched its “Deep Nostalgia” feature earlier this week, allowing users to turn stills into short videos showing the person in the photograph smiling, winking and nodding.
“Seeing our beloved ancestors’ faces come to life … lets us imagine how they might have been in reality, and provides a profound new way of connecting to our family history,” MyHeritage founder Gilad Japhet said in a statement.
Developed with Israeli computer vision firm D-ID, Deep Nostalgia uses deep learning algorithms to animate images with facial expressions that were based on those of MyHeritage employees.
Some of the company’s users took to Twitter on Friday to share the animated images of their deceased relatives, as well as moving depictions of historical figures, including Albert Einstein and Ancient Egypt’s lost Queen Nefertiti.
“Takes my breath away. This is my grandfather who died when I was eight. @MyHeritage brought him back to life. Absolutely crazy,” wrote Twitter user Jenny Hawran.
While most expressed amazement, others described the feature as “spooky” and said it raised ethical questions. “The photos are enough. The dead have no say in this,” tweeted user Erica Cervini.
From chatbots to virtual reality, the tool is the latest innovation seeking to bring the dead to life through technology.
Last year U.S. rapper Kanye West famously gifted his wife Kim Kardashian a hologram of her late father congratulating her on her birthday and on marrying “the most, most, most, most, most genius man in the whole world”.
‘ANIMATING THE PAST’
The trend has opened up all sorts of ethical and legal questions, particularly around consent and the opportunity to blur reality by recreating a virtual doppelganger of the living.
Elaine Kasket a psychology professor at the University of Wolverhampton in Britain who authored a book on the “digital afterlife”, said that while Deep Nostalgia was not necessarily “problematic”, it sat “at the top of a slippery slope”.
“When people start overwriting history or sort of animating the past … You wonder where that ends up,” she said.
MyHeritage acknowledges on its website that the technology can be “a bit uncanny” and its use “controversial”, but said steps have been taken to prevent abuses.
“The Deep Nostalgia feature includes hard-coded animations that are intentionally without any speech and therefore cannot be used to fake any content or deliver any message,” MyHeritage public relations director Rafi Mendelsohn said in a statement.
Yet, images alone can convey meaning, said Faheem Hussain, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.
“Imagine somebody took a picture of the Last Supper and Judas is now winking at Mary Magdalene – what kind of implications that can have,” Hussain told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) animations could be use to make someone appear as though they were doing things they might not be happy about, such as rolling their eyes or smiling at a funeral, he added.
Mendelsohn of MyHeritage said using photos of a living person without their consent was a breach of the company’s terms and conditions, adding that videos were clearly marked with AI symbols to differentiate them from authentic recordings.
“It is our ethical responsibility to mark such synthetic videos clearly and differentiate them from real videos,” he said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi in Milan; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Does your institution have operational resilience? Testing cyber resilience may be a good way to find out
By Callum Roxan, Head of Threat Intelligence, F-Secure
If ever 2020 had a lesson, it was that no organization can possibly prepare for every conceivable outcome. Yet building one particular skill will make any crisis easier to handle: operational resilience.
Many financial institutions have already devoted resources to building operational resilience. Unfortunately, this often takes what Miles Celic, Chief Executive Officer of TheCityUK, calls a “near death” experience for this conversion to occur. “Recent years have seen a number of cases of loss of reputation, reduced enterprise value and senior executive casualties from operational incidents that have been badly handled,” he wrote.
But it need not take a disaster to learn this vital lesson.
“Operational resilience means not only planning around specific, identified risks,” Charlotte Gerken, the executive director of the Bank of England, said in a 2017 speech on operational resilience. “We want firms to plan on the assumption that any part of their infrastructure could be impacted, whatever the reason.” Gerken noted that firms that had successfully achieved a level of resilience that survives a crisis had established the necessary mechanisms to bring the business together to respond where and when risks materialised, no matter why or how.
We’ll talk about the bit we know best here; by testing for cyber resilience, a company can do more than prepare for the worst sort of attacks it may face. This process can help any business get a clearer view of how it operates, and how well it is prepared for all kinds of surprises.
Assumptions and the mechanisms they should produce are the best way to prepare for the unknown. But, as the boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” The aim of cyber resilience is to build an effective security posture that survives that first punch, and the several that are likely to follow. So how can an institution be confident that they’ve achieved genuine operational resilience?
This requires an organization to honestly assess itself through the motto inscribed at the front of the Temple of Delphi: “Know thyself.” And when it comes to cyber security, there is a way for an organization to test just how thoroughly it comprehends its own strengths and weaknesses.
The Bank of England was the first central bank to help develop the framework for institutions to test the integrity of their systems. CBEST is made up of controlled, bespoke, intelligence-led cyber security tests that replicate behaviours of those threat actors, and often have unforeseen or secondary benefits. Gerken notes that the “firms that did best in the testing tended to be those that really understood their organisations. They understood their own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and reflected this in the way they built resilience.”
In short, testing cyber resilience can provide clear insight into an institution’s operational resilience in general.
Gaining that specific knowledge without a “near-death” experience is obviously a significant win for any establishment. And testing for operational resilience throughout the industry can provide some reminders of the steps every organization should take so that testing provides unique insists about their institution, and not just a checklist of cyber defence basics.
The IIF/McKinsey Cyber Resilience Survey of the financial services industry released in March lasy year provided six sets of immediate actions that institutions could take to improve their cyber security posture. The toplines of these recommendations were:
- Do the basics, patch your vulnerabilities.
- Review your cloud architecture and security capabilities.
- Reduce your supply chain risk.
- Practice your incident response and recovery capabilities.
- Set aside a specific cyber security budget and prioritise it
- Build a skilled talent pool and optimize resources through automation.
But let’s be honest: If simply reading a solid list of recommendations created cyber resilience, cyber criminals would be out of business. Unfortunately, cyber crime as a business is booming and threat actors targeting essential financial institutions through cyber attacks are likely earning billions in the trillion dollar industry of financial crime.A list can’t reveal an institution’s unique weaknesses, those security failings and chokepoints that could shudder operations, not just during a successful cyber attack but during various other crises that challenge their operations. And the failings that lead to flaws in an institution’s cyber defence likely reverberate throughout the organization as liabilities that other crises would likely expose.
The best way to get a sense of operational resilience will always be to simulate the worst that attackers can summon. That’s why the time to test yourself is now, before someone else does.
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