Press Releases

Sinu Blog: Playing with Sand

  • Monday
    Aug032015

    The 'Internet of Everything': Are we past the point of no return?

    Photo: Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek as reported in Wired on 7/21/15. Right out of a Sci-Fi episode plot, news travelled fast a few weeks ago when two benevolent hackers showed the world they could breach the computer systems of some Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) vehicles using the UConnect system, and remotely control the car’s operational features. According to a recent blog in Forbes, the two hackers – Chris Valasek of IOActive and Charlie Miller, a former NSA staffer – believe that more than 471,000 cars are vulnerable to attack.

    Forbes reports Valasek and Miller “were able to create attacks that could connect to that system, jump over to a chip powering the in-vehicle entertainment and rewrite the firmware on that little piece of hardware. From there, their exploit code could send commands across the car, from killing the brakes to shutting off the engine and playing with the steering, as shown in a video on Wired. It’s total car compromise.”

    Setting aside the controversy around the merits of the dangerous live demonstration, Fortune Magazine points out, “automakers are, right now as you read, shipping increasingly connected cars to market that perform pitifully in terms of security. Their critical, internal electronic systems are not adequately isolated from one another. Their code has not been vetted to an acceptable degree by penetration testers. They are open to attack.”

     

    The FCA solution is to mail out USB sticks with a patch to owners of affected automobiles. According to Carl Leonard, principal security analyst at Raytheon Websense (as reported in NetworkWorld.com), "The decision of Fiat Chrysler to mail out USB sticks to customers directly to patch the recent vulnerability is the security equivalent of waving a red rag to a bull … [Hackers] could, for instance, parody the update with a bogus letter and USB stick of their own, allowing them to launch a multitude of real-life threat scenarios, including crashing or stealing the car.”

    Leonard also questions the wisdom of letting consumers do their own update: "This doesn't even take into account the uncertainty that the USB patch has been applied properly without any negative consequences for the safe operation of the vehicle."

    In addition to the USB mailer, FCA has also provided a patch that’s available for consumers to download online. They created a website where consumers can enter their Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and then download the update. Unless consumers take their vehicles to a mechanic, they are required to perform the patch upgrade themselves.There are basic instructions on the site, but for less tech-savvy consumers, it might prove easier and safer to go to a local dealer.

    The recent Jeep hack is just one example of how the Internet of Everything may be moving past the point of no return. Consumer products, from cars to refrigerators, are adopting Internet technology not only to connect consumers to the on-demand services they are becoming accustomed to, but also to collect data on consumer behavior.  

    As connectivity accelerates, there is a real concern with the ability of manufacturers’ to keep up with the Internet of Everything. For example, in February, well before this FCA hack, the Associated Press reported, “Automakers are cramming cars with wireless technology, but they have failed to adequately protect those features against the real possibility that hackers could take control of vehicles or steal personal data, a member of the U.S. Senate is asserting.”

    While the Jeep hack received media attention recently, the safety concern goes well beyond the automobile industry, and affects many products consumers may not realize are connected to the Internet. 

    If we are indeed past the point of no return and everything will be connected, we need to move beyond thinking of technology as just our computer, laptop, and smartphone. We need to ask how these consumer manufacturers will ensure our data is safe as they develop new, connected products. We can assume connection to the Internet is more important than ever, so businesses and consumers alike will need to understand and implement data security best practices. Your organization’s IT Team (and even your auto mechanic) needs to be comfortable dealing in a connected world, anticipate potential security risks associated with being connected using the newest technologies, and how using legacy, disconnected hardware may put your business at risk.

    Tuesday
    Jul212015

    Tips on selecting the right website builder (and avoiding costly custom coding)

    While we are not web developers, Sinu strives to be a source of info for all things tech for our customers, and many ask our advice about website development and design. Since we started our business over 10 years ago, we have always recommended using website builder services. Back then, there were fewer options and they were hard to customize unless a developer inserted quite a bit of custom code. Today, there are several options that can provide all of the most often-used elements of web design built right into customizable templates – complete with a variety of content management system (CMS), design, and developer functions. We have always believed that you should not spend time and money for someone to write custom code to build what thousands have already built, instead, start with a proven website building platform that can be customized to meet the unique needs of your company.

    Website builders are tools that allow the construction of websites without manual code editing (Wikipedia). There are a number of excellent web builder services available today, and you will want to first determine the basic look and functionality of your website or blogsite to help you select the one that will work best for your company.

    Each platform offers a different degree of ease of design and development. If you need more complex page designs, then you may want a platform that provides your designer a bit more flexibility. A few years ago, some robust website functions (such as solutions for e-commerce, polling, and mobile-responsive) would have required costly custom coding by a developer, today hundreds of plug-in options or themes are available that provide advanced website features for little to no cost, saving your developer time and your business money. If you are looking to get a basic one-to-five page website up quickly, there’s a platform for that too!

    A few other considerations when selecting a website builder:

    Does it offer hosting and how much storage space does it include? (Make sure you are comfortable with the web hosting policy and that it is hosted under the name of your business and you get all the login information from your developer when the website goes live.)

    • Is the site mobile-friendly – does it offer responsive design? (Google ranks websites higher if they are mobile-friendly.)
    • What level of SEO does it provide?  (They typically offer some level, but you may need to consult with an SEO specialist to identify keywords in your industry to ensure good search rankings.)
    • Can it easily push your updates out to your social media sites? (This can be especially important for bloggers or online storefronts.)
    • How does it handle video and other media file storage? (You do not want your website to load slowly or you will lose visitors.)  

    There are a number of website builders to choose from, and it can overwhelming to sort through them all, so we’ve compiled a few of the leaders in the field and summarized features below. We also included information from performance reviews from a number of sources, including Digital Trends,Site Builder Report, and Website Builder Expert.


    Squarespace

    A favorite here at Sinu. Squarespace has years of experience and has built a mature platform. All its themes are mobile-responsive so they work well across a variety of devices. It maintains a large ecosystem of developers who know their tool well, so you can get assistance with customization and any fixes later down the road. Designers and artists embrace the elegance and flexibility of the stylesheet designs, and the latest version of Squarespace has a wonderful array of galleries. Squarespace does have good e-commerce tools, but it does not have the extensive number of plug-ins available with some other platforms such as Wordpress.

     

    Wix

    With 63 million published websites, Wix is rated one of the top free website builders, particularly for consumers and smaller businesses. The hundreds of available HTML templates are extremely user-friendly and reliant on the software’s drag-and-drop interface, which makes building a website a similar experience to crafting a PowerPoint presentation. While Wix offers integration with several third-party plug-ins, its designs are not currently mobile-responsive.

     

     

    WordPress.com

    Because of its open source nature, WordPress excels when it comes to ready-made themes, mobile-optimized templates, and widgets that allow you to include everything from comments to images. However, the platform’s exhaustive tools also require a baseline knowledge of coding at times, and some plug-ins definitely work better than others. To rearrange the layout of a particular template, for instance, the code needs to be modified. Given about 24% of today’s websites are powered by WordPress, there is a large community of developers able to make adjustments or fixes to your website if needed. 

    Weebly

    Weebly is considered by many to be one of the easiest free drag-and-drop website builders in the market. Straightforward – yet effective – tools enable a business or consumer to build a decent-looking website in a matter of hours. The template is a bit more limiting than some other website builder options, since elements can only be inserted into designated areas of the  webpage. Although the service is not mobile-responsive, it offers a customizable mobile site. It also offers a wealth of commerce tools for putting up a storefront.

     There are also a number of website builders that have robust e-commerce tools, including Jimdo and Shopify, however they do not offer the development and design flexibility of some of the other services on the market today.

    Some smaller businesses – particularly in service industries – have opted to use social media in lieu of a traditional website. Social sites like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter are typically free, easy to use, update automatically, and allow interaction between a small business and its customers. These social networks can expose a business to groups of people who are “friends” or connected in some way, and because of that connection, they would be more likely to want to learn more about a product or service if they see their “friends” likes or recommends it. There are some companies who have leaned heavily on these social networks and may only use a one or two-page website to provide contact info and links to their social media sites.

    The bottom line is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on custom coding a website that is dependent on that one developer who has the keys to the code. It is analogous to a custom built car. Would you pay the price for a custom car when there are hundreds of models that could provide just about the same functionality for a fraction of the cost? And if you would, who would know how to fix it?

    Monday
    Jul132015

    Don’t forget to back up your laptop!

    Businesses are finding that people are working from home, on the road, and even on your vacation. Allowing employees the freedom to access data and catch up on work from a mobile device often makes sense when you look at the data, such as a Forrester Research survey which reports that 75% of companies indicate workplace mobility leads to increased productivity. Forrester even coined a name for this emerging class of worker – the “anytime, anywhere employee.”

    But mobility poses a backup problem, because people using laptops often store data on the local drive – which goes where the laptop goes – rather than on the server, which is backed up.  

    In response to the fast-growing number of laptops being used in the workplace, Sinu now offers installation and management of online backup on all of your laptops quickly and efficiently. If your company uses laptops, Sinu recommends installing a Cloud backup solution on each laptop. The cost is about 50% cheaper than external hard drives for the same amount of storage, and is well worth the price to keep your company’s data protected. Additionally, it gives you peace of mind that if an employee should leave the company, you can access the data from their laptop.

    If you are still wondering about laptop backup, read on…

     

    What is online file backup?

    Online file backup is the process of storing the contents of your computer's hard drive, such as your important documents and media files, through the Internet using a third party online backup service.  

     

    Why do I need an online backup service?

    Online backup services provide a simple, secure and economical way to protect all the files on your computer's hard drive. If your hard drive crashes, your computer is stolen, you accidentally erase important information from your computer or you otherwise lose access to important files, online backup services give you the ability to quickly restore any lost information. 

    Will my hard drive really fail?

    It is a fact of life that all computer hard drives will eventually fail or crash. A recent study by Google found that 8% of computer hard drives will fail within the first two years of operation. That means one in every 12 computer hard drives will crash within the first 24 months of operation.

    When your hard drive does eventually fail, you risk losing all the information that was stored on your computer. Restoration of a crashed hard drive that has not been properly backed up can be very expensive without guaranteed results of restoring your data.

    In addition to hardware failure, you may also lose files if your computer is stolen or you accidentally permanently erase important files. In those cases, you have no way to restore your files unless you have been consistently backing them up.

     

    Is online file backup secure?

    Yes. Online backup services utilize the same security measures that financial institutions use to protect sensitive data. This means that the data you store with an online backup service is as secure as your bank account or credit card account information.

    How do online backup services work?

    Online backup services allow you to download a small computer program on your laptop or desktop computer. This application will allow you to select which files you would like to backup and set up automated scheduled backups of your files.

    The first time you use an online backup service it can take several hours or even days to scan and backup all of the files on your computer's hard drive. However, once that initial set up is complete the online backup service will only need to backup new files or those that have changed. This will typically only take minutes if you schedule your automated backups to occur relatively frequently. We recommend that consumers backup their files every day to ensure that they are protected in the unfortunate event of file loss.

    Does my computer need to be on and connected to the Internet in order for online backup services to work?

    Yes. Online backup services use the Internet to transmit files from your computer to an online backup service provider. Most top-rated online backup services can process automated file backups while you are completing other tasks on your computer, such as surfing the Internet or checking your email.

    Keep in mind that it typically only takes a few minutes to process a daily file backup, so you can also run your backup right before you shut down your computer for the day if you prefer.

    What is the difference between online backup and backing up my files to an external hard drive?

    External hard drives allow users to save files from their computer on another separate hard drive. Online backup is a better solution for most consumers for several reasons.

    First, external hard drives have the same hardware failure issues that the internal hard drive in your computer has. They will eventually fail or crash and put the stored information at risk, whereas online backup services are not dependent on a single hard drive to store your information, which makes them infinitely more reliable.

    Second, external hard drives are only as secure as you make them. If your external hard drive is misplaced or stolen you immediately lose all the backup information that you have stored there. Online backup services, on the other hand, allow you to store your information remotely and securely on computer servers that are maintained by professionals. In fact, many major corporations use the same online file backup services that are available to consumers to store important business information because these services are so secure and professionally managed. 

    Third, external hard drives have storage limitations. For example, if you purchase a 100 GB external hard drive it will be able to store 100 gigabytes of information before you need to either purchase an additional drive or delete some information of your existing one. The top-rated online backup services offer unlimited storage capacity for all your important files. You will never need to buy additional storage capacity or hardware and you will never need to choose which files you will keep and which you will delete based off of how much storage space is available.

    Finally, external hard drives are more expensive per gigabyte of storage than most online backup services. We recently analyzed the costs of both options and found that online backup services are about 50% cheaper per gigabyte than using external hard drives.

    How do I restore my files using an online backup service?

    The process of restoring lost files differs depending on the service provider. In most cases, it is as simple as accessing your online account and downloading the files you have backed up.

    The amount of time it takes to download your backed-up files varies based on the amount of data you have stored with your online backup service. It can take anywhere from a few hours if you have a small number of files backed up to several days if you have many large files to recover.

    Contact Sinu with any questions about laptop backup or to discuss the other services Sinu provides to protect your data.