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Sinu Blog: Playing with Sand

  • Friday

    So what is virtual currency and why should businesses care?

    If you have followed the growth of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies over the years, the concept of e-money may have seemed more of an interesting experiment used by hitmen and malware developers – like the much-publicized Cryptolocker (see Sinu blog, 12/1/13).

    Since reputable businesses have started using Bitcoin and other virtual currencies because of its convenience and its ability to facilitate international transactions, it’s important to understand what it is and how it might affect the way we do business in the near future.

    Bitcoin debuted in 2009 as a way to make anonymous transactions across borders without third parties such as banks. (See Washington Post’s 90-second video on the history of Bitcoin.) Today, Bitcoin ATMs are popping up across the country, and can be found in several US cities, including Austin, Seattle, Las Vegas, and Boston. Robocoin, the Las Vegas company installing these virtual currency teller machines, ­says ATMs will soon be available in more cities, including New York City and Los Angeles.

    However, several scandals and the fear of doing transactions using an unregulated currency have made businesses reluctant to adopt Bitcoin. For instance, earlier this year, Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest Bitcoin exchange, filed for bankruptcy claiming hackers had stolen Bitcoin valued at $460 million, leaving users with little recourse and experts speculating about the crytocurreny’s demise. According to the Washington Post report, “Bloomberg conducted a poll of financial professionals in July that indicated people were still wary of the digital currency, with 55 percent surveyed agreeing that it trades at ‘unsustainable, bubble-like prices,’ and reported Bitcoin prices have catapulted to as little as $341 this year from highs of $900.”

    In spite of the risks, the tide may be turning for Bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Paypal, the eBay-owned mobile payment system, recently announced that it would soon let customers pay using the virtual currency. According to a Forbes report, “PayPal announced that it was partnering with Bitcoin processors BitPay, Coinbase and GoCoin to allow its merchants to accept the cryptocurrency for digital goods like online games and downloadable songs. It’s a second baby step for the payments giant toward full Bitcoin adoption after the company’s Braintree unit, a mobile payments provider, said earlier this month that it was working on a feature that would let customers of businesses like Uber and Airbnb pay with Bitcoin.”

    This comes on the heels of several other cryptocurrency announcements. Apple Pay debuted with the iPhone 6 to a flurry of media coverage and speculation about the demise of traditional billfold manufacturers (see AdAge, Could Apple Pay Kill Traditional Wallet Makers) and, more importantly, how it would affect Google Wallet, who entered the space over two years ago.  Alibaba ­– China’s largest e-commerce company (it just made headlines with the world’s largest initial public offering) recently restructured its deal with a version of Paypal called Alipay. The Wall Street Journal calls this online payment platform a “potential golden goose” for Alibaba.

    Even countries are getting in on the e-money train. Ecuador recently announced it will develop a government-backed virtual currency by the end of this year. According to a report by TechSpot, “The idea is to give the 2.8 million people of Ecuador that cannot afford traditional banking a way to send and receive payments in a more affordable way.” It will continue to have the US dollar as a currency, but this will be another choice for Ecuadorians.

    The popularity of virtual currencies with the tech crowd and millennials, coupled with its convenience and ability to facilitate transactions across borders, makes it particularly appealing to e-commerce companies. But as it becomes more available for online transactions, customers are likely to expect all businesses to accept it as a real form of payment in the coming years.




    2014 Survey: Favorite Tech Tools For Small Businesses 

    Time is money and tech companies are designing new innovations to save both for small businesses. Whether it’s plugging in your Square to make an on-the-go sale, or managing your payroll from your tablet in a coffee shop, the tech-abilities are endless.

    Breaking through the clutter of the new and shiny advancements, SurePayroll (@SurePayroll) surveyed small business owners across the country to find out what was working for them – and what their top picks are for 2014.

    Overall, business leaders prized their company website above all else. Following right behind, the survey found email, social media, online advertising and online video presentation resources to be key. As businesses begin moving their data storage to the cloud, Dropbox continues to reign as the most preferred company. Google is hot on their tail followed by Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s OneDrive (which recently announced a merger of its personal and professional service suite) and then Box.

    It was hardly a surprise to see Facebook leading the social media category, followed by LinkedIn. The big surprise is that Google+ came in third beating out Yelp (fourth place) and Twitter (tied for fifth with Quora).

    CRM picks started with Salesforce and followed with Act and then NetSuite while email marketing was again dominated by Constant Contact. InfusionSoft and Marketo tied for second place with MailChimp pulling into third place with its quirky personality and free use up to 2,500 emails/month.

    Google Drive dominates the organizational app category. Evernote comes in second, followed by Tripit and Trello. The interesting thing to see here is that Microsoft OneNote doesn’t even make it to the list. If this trend continues, Google could well push Microsoft out of the office suite market it has dominated for more than two decades. 

    Looking at broader tech trends, the survey noted, “that 70 percent of small business owners are changing the way they do business to adjust for a more technology-based market. As many as 80 percent are leveraging mobile technology for their businesses.” A recent blog we wrote documented that while cloud use is currently only at 37 percent, that it will reach 80 percent by 2020. 

    It is interesting to note that most of the favorite small business services listed in this survey are accessible through the cloud and have mobile-friendly versions. Companies are not just simply migrating to the cloud, they are embracing it.  

    At Sinu, our goal is to help our clients harness the power of technology to support business productivity, freeing them up to better serve their customers and grow their businesses. We believe that people matter...objects don’t. Whether you are looking to adopt more cloud-based solutions, find a better data backup system, or need full-time tech support for your employees, we are here to offer CTO-level consultation and affordable all-inclusive technology for your business.


    How secure is your password? 

    By John Christie, co-founder and COO

    In the days after the Heartbleed story broke earlier this year, Sinu, along with other technology experts, advised our customers to change the passwords of their online accounts to protect their data. Since then, a myriad of security breaches have been announced. 

    In August it was the “nude celebrity hacking” incident where several celebrities fell prey to a having their passwords stolen and their nude photos posted to the Internet. According to Apple chief executive Tim Cook in an interview by the Wall Street Journal, “celebrities' iCloud accounts were compromised when hackers correctly answered security questions to obtain their passwords, or when they were victimized by a phishing scam to obtain user IDs and passwords.”

    An in a more recent incident, 5 million Google passwords were leaked. It turns out that in this recent Google “credential dump,” only a small percentage of the passwords were actually active. However, this news highlights, once again, how critical it is to generate secure passwords.

    “The time it takes to crack a password is the only real way to determine its strength and value,” said Cameron Morris, a developer at defense contractor Partnet in an interview with ZDNet’s John Fontana. Morris developed an open-source tool called Passfault that predicts the time it takes to crack a specific password. So I randomly tested a password. I saw that my self-generated password would only take a day to figure out. Then I tried this free, secure password generation tool – xkpasswd – which creates easy-to-remember but hard-to-guess passwords. The password it generated based on my original password would take over one year to hack.

    Whether you decide to use a password generator or not, there are a few basic best practices that experts agree on for generating and managing secure passwords:

    • Generate a different password for each online account
    • Change your passwords every 3-6 months and don’t reuse them
    • When generating your own password it should contain upper and lowercase letters, punctuation, a number and be 8-14 characters long
    • Do not store your password list in the cloud, such as on Google Docs or Dropbox
    • Consider a two-step verification on services that provide it

    For most of us, it is difficult and time consuming to manage dozens, if not hundreds, of unique online passwords – not to mention changing them every time a new breach is announced! So we often just take a deep breath and hope it doesn’t happen to us. However, there are several password management solutions that can help you both generate and manage secure passwords for your online accounts.

    Last year, the New York Times reviewed a number of different apps to help manage your passwords. We have summarized this report below:

    Password security will continue to be increasingly important to protecting our online data. Fortunately, there are more and more options coming on the market that can help make secure passwords more convenient to generate and manage. As you find a balance between convenience and security with this issue, we suggest moving the balance point as far toward security as you can.