Know Your Tech: A/B Testing

Posted September 27, 2018 by

Concept Art: A/B TestingA key component to effectively attracting your audience is to better understand their preferences. Even the most seemingly insignificant change, like changing the color of the buttons on your website, can have a major impact on how effective your materials are. Fortunately, through a process called A/B testing, observing the impact of these changes is somewhat straightforward.

A/B Testing, Defined

Running an A/B test is the process of comparing a single variable to deem which option, Option A or Option B, is the more effective of the two. The key to an effective A/B test is to only change one thing between the two test subjects – otherwise, you have no way of knowing exactly what it was that was the influential change.

A/B tests can be used to make a wide variety of choices, from something as simple as an adjustment to a call-to-action to a different layout to a particular page. In this case, Option A should be the way things currently are to serve as a control for the experiment, while Option B displays your proposed change. Each option is then presented to an equally-sized segment of your audience to deem which of the two is the more effective.

Setting Up an A/B Test

A/B testing can be used to make a vast number of decisions, as long as they are approached one at a time. As we said before, if multiple variables are involved in a single test, that test isn’t going to deliver reliable enough results to make any well-supported decisions. It is also worth mentioning that A/B testing tends to work better when comparing options for relatively minor changes, like calls-to-action or images included in an email or on a landing page, rather than big ones.

The first step will be to decide which variable you intend to test, followed by your determination of a metric to base your observations against. Does this change boost engagement? Increase the time spent on page? Improve your click-through rate?

Once this has been accomplished, you’re ready to state what your control option will be, and what your change will be after that. Your control group should be whatever you currently have in place, so you can accurately judge if a change would be an improvement or not. Then you need to settle on a sample size, or the number of recipients that will be a part of this test.

Not all changes will be accurately measured with a sample size alone. Some changes would be better left running until a statistically significant data sample has been collected. Speaking of statistical significance, you will also need to decide how significant your results have to be before a change is deemed to be worthwhile.

Running An A/B Test

There are two real keys to running a successful A/B test: first, you have to give it enough time to collect the data you’ll need to come to a conclusion, and second, both options need to be tested at the same time to prevent other variables from affecting your data. Of course, if the variable that your A/B test is evaluating is timing, this doesn’t apply so much.

In short, A/B testing is a relatively simple way to make sure that you’re having as large an impact on your audience as possible. Can you think of any times that you’ve done something similar to test out a proposed change? Tell us about it in the comments!


Hackers Target Major Sporting Events

Posted September 26, 2018 by

Hacker silhouette over a full sports stadiumThere are literally billions of sports fans in the world, and the popularity of these events brings in big money; and big money typically attracts hackers. Using all types of methods, there has been a history of hacking in almost every sport. Today, we take a look at some of the most famous hacks that have shaken up the sports world.

The World Cup

The FIFA World Cup is one of the, if not the, most popular sporting events in the world. Held once every four years, it attracts the attention of billions of people. Since the event is held every four years, it gives the host city a lot of time to get ready for possible hacker attacks. In fact, each new venue spends years and tens of millions of dollars ramping up on their cyber security.

The 2018 event held in Russia proved to be one of the most successful insofar as there wasn’t a major hack of the tournament in any way. It’s not a coincidence that typically state-sponsored Russian hackers are well known to be at the forefront of a lot of the major international sporting hacks. Fans that visited Russia from abroad during the World Cup were warned (mostly by their own governments) that they needed to be diligent not to fall into any tourist traps that would leave their cyber welfare in the hands of the thriving ecosystem of hackers that call Russia home.

Previously, in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the World Cup website was taken down by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and thousands of visitors had their data breached through sophisticated phishing attacks. Each World Cup, especially the next one that will be held in the Middle East (Qatar) for the first time, is a goldmine for hackers.

The Olympic Games

International competitions like the Winter and Summer Olympic Games grab the eye of world for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately for athletes, coaches, and fans from all over the world, they also catch the eyes of hackers. Again, since these events are held every four years there is a long time for administrators to get ready, but that doesn’t stop those inside the host cities (or often outside of them) from trying to get over on the hundreds of thousands of people that show up to watch the events.

At the past Winter Olympics, held in Pyongyang, South Korea, the opening ceremonies were hacked by what turned out to be a Russian hacking collective. The hack caused delays in the festivities and infiltrated the games’ website, so administrators, fearing significant data loss, took down the website. Initially they had masked the attack as coming from North Korea, but it didn’t take long for professionals to ascertain that the hacks were retribution for Russia’s prohibition from the games as a result of a decade-long antidoping policy that found state-sponsored use of performance enhancing drugs; a revelation that many had suspected for decades.

While local hackers spoofed Wi-Fi and targeted athletes and guests during the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Russian hackers from “Tsar Team” and “Fancy Bear” were busy hacking into the Olympic databases to gain access to athletes’ personal information. They subsequently have released some of that information, including information about gold medal gymnast Simone Biles, and tennis legend Venus Williams.

NFL

In the United States, it doesn’t get much bigger than the National Football League. In fact, one study showed that about one-third of all church-going males don’t go to church from Labor Day to New Years. Nearly 30 million people tune in to watch the NFL each Sunday. With this popularity comes attention; and hackers have used this popularity to their advantage.

In 2016 NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s Twitter feed was hacked with a message that announced that he had passed away. The perpetrator happened to be a teenager from Singapore. In February 2017, 1,135 NFL players had their personal information stolen by hackers when the NFL’s union, the NFLPA, was hacked. Hackers made off with 1,262 people’s personal information, their financial data, their home phone numbers, their addresses and more.

In 2009, a man named Frank Tanori Gonzalez was given an extremely lenient sentence for hacking into the standard-definition communications feed at Super Bowl XLIII with a clip from an adult film that aired unedited throughout the greater Tucson area (the game was held in Tampa, FL).

MLB

Major League Baseball makes over $10 billion a year, and they do a phenomenal job of protecting their brand online. MLB makes a lot of their money in media and has made it a point to prioritize cyber security for league business. With individual teams handling their own cyber security, there have been small hacking cases, but unlike most other sports the biggest hacking scandal in baseball history was carried out by a team executive.

From 2013 to 2014, St. Louis Cardinals’ former scouting director, Chris Correa, repeatedly accessed the internal communications server of former division foe Houston Astros. The Astros had moved to the American League from the National League after the 2012 season, and they had hired former statistician Sig Mejdal from the Cardinals. When Mejdal left St. Louis he turned in his laptop. Using the information he got off this laptop, Correa figured out Mejdal’s new password and started entering the Astros network. For his indiscretions Correa got 46 months in federal prison.

NBA

The most famous hack in NBA history is hack-a-Shaq, which was a strategy used to limit Shaquille O’Neal’s effectiveness by making him shoot free throws (with which he struggled mightily), but there have been a few other hacks that have affected NBA players. The most notable, was NBA player Ty Lawson having his computer hacked and held his personal data for ransom in 2016.

Another situation was what is called a catfishing scam that involved NBA forward Chris Andersen and model Paris Dylan. A woman named Shelly Chartier had used multiple people’s online messaging accounts to manipulate Anderson and Dylan into bad situations. Andersen ended up being raided by the Douglas County sheriff’s department because Dylan was 17 at the time and any digital possession of lewd material would be legally considered child pornography. After investigators uncovered the scheme, Chartier was arrested and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Anderson continued his NBA career and Dylan was able to put the situation behind her and is now is an Internet model.

PGA

Recently, the PGA of America held the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. As the golfers were navigating their first rounds, the PGA was under attack by hackers. A message was sent to administrators that read, “Your network has been penetrated. All files on each host in the network have been encrypted with a strong algorthym[sic].” The hackers also sent a Bitcoin wallet number with instructions on how to deposit money.

The PGA of America immediately hired a third-party IT security firm to solve the problem. Since security professionals from all over the world consider these extortion attempts to be futile against the diligence and expertise of security professionals, the line is usually to not pay and hope that the data can be recovered without the encryption key. Only time will tell how the situation is resolved.

Other sports leagues and athletes have had to deal with major problems from hackers over the years, including the English national rugby team’s website being hacked by the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), and four-time Tour De France champion Chris Froome’s performance data was hacked as a rival team was convinced he was using performance enhancing drugs.

There are dozens of ways that you can fall victim to hackers. If your business isn’t already doing all it can to protect your digital assets, the time is now. Reach out to the IT professionals at Excalibur Technology for more information on the best way to protect your business from outside (and inside) threats at (877) NET – KING.


The Most Devastating Hacks of 2018… So Far

Posted September 25, 2018 by

Network security is a crucial consideration for every contemporary business owner, as there are just too many threats that originate from an Internet connection to be overlooked. One only has to look at what businesses of all sizes have dealt with, even within this calendar year, to gain an appreciation for how crucial it is that every business owner consider their cybersecurity.

Here, we’ve assembled a few statistics and examples to illustrate just how serious the threat of cyberattack can be, hopefully inspiring you to prioritize your company’s network security. Consider these cybersecurity figures:

  • In 2017 over 130 large-scale breaches were reported, a 27 percent increase over 2016.
  • Nearly 1-in-3 organization have experienced some sort of cyberattack in the past.
  • Cryptojacking (stealing cryptocurrency) increased 8,500 percent in 2017.
  • 100,000 organizations were infected with the WannaCry ransomware (400,000 machines).
  • 5.4 billion WannaCry attacks were blocked in 2017.
  • The average monetary cost of a malware attack is $2.4 million.
  • The average time cost of a malware is 50 days.
  • Ransomware cost organization’s over $5 billion in 2017.
  • 20 percent of cyberattacks come from China, 11 percent from the United States, and six percent from the Russian Federation.
  • Phone numbers are the most leaked information.
  • 21 percent of files are completely unprotected.
  • 41 percent of companies have over 1,000 sensitive files left unprotected.
  • Ransomware is growing at 350 percent annually.
  • IoT-based attacks are growing at about 500 percent per year.
  • Ransomware attacks are expected to quadruple by 2020.
  • 7.7 percent of web requests lead to malware.
  • There were 54 percent more types of malware in 2017 than there were in 2016.
  • The cybersecurity market will be worth over $1 trillion by 2025.

If that wasn’t convincing enough, what follows is just an assortment of the attacks that 2018 has seen (as of July). To simplify things, we’ve organized them by the intended targets: public (like individuals and government bodies) and private (such as businesses):

Public

January

  • The Department of Homeland Security was affected by a data breach that exposed information about 247,167 current and former employees.

March

  • Atlanta, Georgia was targeted by a ransomware attack called SamSam. This resulted in a massive problem for their municipal infrastructure. The ransom price given was $51,000, but Atlanta’s leadership refused to meet these demands. Overall, the numbers show that Atlanta has spent more than 10 times that number in the fallout of the attack. Some estimates place the actual cost of this event at nearly $20 million.
  • India’s national ID database, Aadhaar, leaked data of over a billion people. This is one of the largest data breaches in history. A user could pay 500 rupees, equal to about $7, to get the login credentials that allowed anyone to enter a person’s 12-digit code for their personal information. For 300 rupees, or about $4.20, users could also access software that could print an ID card for anyone associated with the database.
  • Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company that U.S. President Donald Trump used to help his campaign, harvested personal information from over 50 million Facebook users without asking for their permission. Facebook hasn’t called this a data breach, but Cambridge Analytica has since been banned from using the service thanks to this event.

June

  • A hack of a U.S. Government-funded active shooter training center exposed the personal data of thousands of U.S. law enforcement officials. This also exposed which police departments aren’t able to respond to an active shooter situation.

Private

January

  • 280,000 Medicaid records were exposed when a hacker attacked the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. Among the information exposed were patient names, provider names, and full names for affected individuals.

February

  • An unsecured server owned by Bongo International, a company acquired by FedEx, leaked over a hundred-thousand files of FedEx customers. Some of the information leaked included names, drivers’ licenses, national ID cards, voting cards, and utility bills.

March

  • Orbitz, a travel booking site, fell victim to a security vulnerability that exposed 880,000 customers’ payment card information. There was also about two whole years of customer data stolen from their server.
  • French news site L’Express left a database that wasn’t password-protected up for weeks, despite being warned about the security issues regarding this.
  • 134,512 records regarding patients and financial records at the St. Peter’s Surgery and Endoscopy Center in Albany, NY were accessed by hackers.
  • MyFitnessPal, an application used by Under Armor, exposed about 150 million people’s personal information to threats.
  • The WannaCry ransomware claimed another victim in Boeing, which stated that “a few machines” were protected by Microsoft’s 2017 patch.

May

  • Thanks to Twitter storing user passwords in a plaintext file that may have been exposed by internal company staff, the social media titan had to force hundreds of millions of users to change their password.
  • An unauthenticated API found on T-Mobile’s website exposed the personal information of all their customers simply through the use of their cell phone number. The following information was made available: full name, address, account numbers, and tax IDs.
  • A bug found in Atlassian development software titles Jira and Confluence paved the way for hackers to sneak into IT infrastructure of several companies and one U.S. government agency.
  • Rail Europe, a popular server used by American travelers to acquire rail tickets, experienced a three-month data breach that exposed credit card information to hackers.

June

  • A marketing company named Exactis had 340 million records stolen from it, but what’s most shocking about this is that they had accumulated information about nearly every American out there. In response to the breach, there was a class action lawsuit made against the company.
  • Adidas’s website was hacked, resulting in a loss of a few million users’ personal and credit card information.
  • A hacker collective called Magecart initiated a campaign to skim at least 800 e-commerce sites, including Ticketmaster, for sensitive information.

Clearly, if these lists are any indication, companies of all sizes need to commit to maintaining their network security, holding it to a higher standard. For assistance in doing so, you can rely on the professionals at Excalibur Technology. We can design and implement security solutions to protect you from threats like these, and others that may rear their ugly heads. Give us a call at (877) NET – KING to get started.


Know Your Tech: Proxy Server

Posted September 20, 2018 by

Your server room may be somewhat intimidating to consider. Wires everywhere, mechanical boxes that just sit there, lights blinking intermittently, and the distinct feeling that you probably shouldn’t touch anything – not even a proxy server, whatever that is. However, to help you get to know your tech, the proxy server is exactly what we discuss below.

What Is A Proxy Server?

Oversimplifying things, a proxy server is the device that keeps your end users and the websites that they’re accessing separate, but communicating. Making this a little less straightforward, a proxy server can act as many other things as well, adding to its usefulness in your business.

At its core, a proxy server is extremely useful as a kind of gatekeeper for your users’ browsing. Think of it as a kind of a spam filter for your Internet – instead of a user accessing a potentially infected website, the proxy server allows them to access the data, protecting your network much like a web filter and firewall would. The proxy server also caches the data from common web requests, speeding them up, all the while preserving a user’s privacy online.

A Few Benefits of a Proxy Server

There are a few reasons that a business may utilize a proxy server.

Privacy and Security – As we’ve mentioned, proxy servers have a definite use as a means to protect an organization’s privacy and security. This can be accomplished in a few ways. First, a proxy server is capable of altering some of the identifying information contained in the web request. By doing so, the destination server has no way of knowing where the request came from originally. This keeps browsing habits and personal information protected.

Furthermore, a proxy server is able to encrypt web requests, protecting them from anyone who may try to sneak a peek. Known malware sites can also be blocked through the proxy server. Finally, your company can use a virtual private network (or VPN) in conjunction with the proxy, enabling secure and verified access.

Internet Control – Let’s face it, as great a tool as the Internet is, it can also be a considerable source of distractions. However, a proxy server allows you to both monitor and control the way the Internet is used. If certain websites are proving to be a distraction, the proxy server can block them, instead delivering the user a nice note reminding them to stay on task. Even if the website isn’t blocked, a proxy server can still be used to track how often a website is accessed, allowing you to judge if your employees are really being diligent in their work.

Speeds and Savings – Bandwidth is a very important consideration to make when your business relies on the Internet’s performance in order to function. A proxy server can assist your network performance by caching websites that are frequently visited, cutting the number of requests to that website to one, as opposed to however many employees are attempting to access it.

If you think that your network could benefit from utilizing a proxy server, call us! Excalibur Technology is the premier managed IT support specialist for Illinois and Florida, and we are more than ready to assist you with whatever questions you may have. Give us a call today at (877) NET – KING.


Our 2018 Business Technology Overview

Posted September 19, 2018 by

Businesses have a lot to think about, especially regarding best practices and upcoming trends in technology. Has your business been doing all it can to keep up? We’ve outlined some of the best IT innovations that we expect to see in 2018 as time goes on.

Security Worries

It should be clear that in today’s business world, security is everything. There are so many threats out there that one organization alone can’t possibly keep up with all of them, much to the chagrin of security companies. Most notable of these is the Internet of Things, a term used to refer to the collective body of mobile devices out there with interconnectivity features. Machine learning and improved methodologies have allowed organizations to better protect themselves from these emerging threats. Predictive technologies powered by machine learning have also greatly enhanced the ability of organizations to take on threats. Alongside new innovations like blockchain technology and the zero-knowledge proofs associated with it, machine learning will likely pave the way toward the future of security.

Big Data

Similarly, in order to make a meaningful impact on your business, you need to collect data that can be used to make educated decisions. There are plenty of sources out there that can help businesses acquire and accumulate data, if you know where to look. If your business utilizes solutions that allow it to collect and organize data, you’ll be able to make predictions about which decisions will most benefit your company over time. It can also help you make decisions based on trends in security, user experience, processes, and efficiency.

Artificial Intelligence

A.I. is the future of many business strategies. Since businesses today collect more information than any before them, A.I. can be the most efficient way to benefit from it. A.I. can help your business and its employees better manage both time and resources, and with this comes greater opportunity for innovation and savings to your bottom line. In essence, A.I. can potentially allow businesses to save time by automating redundant or time-consuming tasks, all while learning from the experience.

Accountability

Artificial intelligence presents an interesting problem that businesses haven’t had to deal with to this moment–accountability. If something goes wrong and an A.I. does something illegal, who’s to blame? Issues like these, and many more, all need to be addressed before innovations can be leveraged to the best of their ability.

What are some of your most anticipated trends for the future of business technology? Let us know in the comments.


Budgeting for IT Can Benefit Your Business’ Bottom Line

Posted September 14, 2018 by

budgeting memeYour business depends on a budget to come out in the black at the end of the fiscal year, and the way you invest that budget will have a considerable impact. As you create this budget, your IT needs to be one of your top considerations – after all, it is what effectively powers the modern business. Here, we’ll discuss how diligently incorporating your IT into your budget can help your business be more successful down the line.

How to Approach Your IT Spending

When determining an IT budget, perspective is an important part of the process. It can be tempting to view your IT as just another cost of doing business, but it really is more than that. Your technology (and the state it is in) has ramifications that spread to your entire business, so if it is lacking, everything will be. Employee morale will suffer, your productivity will slow, and your incoming cash flow will falter.

After all, an IT budget needs to account for a lot. There are the costs associated with acquiring and subsequently upgrading your information technology, as well as training your staff to properly leverage these solutions. However, a good IT budget will also account for the odd inconveniences that will require some financial spending to resolve. Furthermore, with your budget in mind as a reference, explore some of your options as far as cost-savings go… are you paying for more resources than you need? Are you leaving money on the table anywhere when those funds could be used more effectively contributing to another goal? While information technology is hugely helpful when leveraged properly, it can become a financial burden if over-invested (or even under-invested) in.

This is how you should actually consider your IT budget: an investment. While some of it will be classified as a business expense, much of your spending will be into endeavors that help your business, either by increasing efficiency or reducing waste. Either way, your IT can be used to put your company in a better financial situation.

Encouraging Financial Well-Being with an IT Budget

If you’re unsure of how to proceed with budgeting your IT, we’ve compiled a handy list of things you should (and shouldn’t) do during the process.

  • Have a set budget for your IT. In order for your business to be able to utilize the caliber of technology solutions it needs for success, you need to put forward the investment into those solutions.
  • Invest in business-enhancing solutions. Whether you’re boosting your internal productivity or fortifying your business against threats that could keep you from conducting business as usual, your IT budget should be spent in ways that directly benefit your operations.
  • Don’t shoot from the hip. Like we alluded to above, if you aren’t investing in your IT solutions correctly, you could find yourself in a worse spot than before. It is crucial that you go about investing in your IT strategically, directing funds to where they are needed and where they will help you to generate more revenue.

Alexa von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest.com, said, “We all have pretty much similar dreams, and at the root of all those dreams is being able to be in control of your money.” We agree, which is why we’re dedicated to providing you with the most value in our IT services without emptying your coffers. To learn more about the easily-budgetable services that we have to offer, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.


Tip of the Week: Avoiding Scams

Posted September 12, 2018 by

Concept Art: danger Uh oh. One of your employees sat down at their workstation and was presented with a pop-up telling them that Microsoft has detected a fatal issue with their workstation, and if they don’t let someone remote in to fix it, all of their data will be lost. This could be a serious problem… especially if your employee falls for this scam and lets in a threat.

Tech support scams are not an uncommon thing, blending social engineering and phishing together to deliver the desired result to a scammer. For our tip, we’ll discuss how to identify and avoid these scams and deprive a scammer of that result.

A Global Problem

Make no mistake, these scams are an issue all around the world. While the impact is felt the greatest in the United States, China, and India, scammers clearly don’t discriminate by region.

However, there’s another layer to the issue of tech support scams.

There is an intense level of competition in India for employment opportunities, especially among the generation who should now be entering the workforce. For some reference as to how intense this competition is, 2016 saw a state-owned bank receive over one and a half million applications for just 1,500 open positions. This makes it not uncommon for many job applicants to be grossly overqualified for the position they are seeking, recipients of a master’s degree in business administration often applying to be a street sweeper. Naturally, this provides ample motivation for the populace to take any job that presents itself – even if it is at the expense of another.

Many call centers in India will take full, unabashed advantage of this, hiring young job-seekers through a convoluted and secretive process – sometimes not even informing the applicant who they are actually working for. This process can also cost the applicant a not-insignificant sum, as they are often charged for these interviews and trainings. Once the training is complete, an applicant leaves with a start date.

However, these jobs are often not what is expected. Instead of working in customer service, these youths are tasked with initiating a scam. They will call a target, deliver their “pitch,” and transfer the primed caller to a senior scammer who seals the deal. However, despite abysmal pay for being involved in these scams and the emotional burden placed on them by interacting with their often-helpless and terrified targets, many of these scammers find that scams are, again, one of the few effective ways to make money. As a result, many of these young scammers – effectively exploited themselves – end up embracing their role, working to get as big a piece of the pie as possible.

Thwarting These Attempts

Of course, while those on the other end of the line may not be in a great position themselves, you want to make sure that their efforts to scam you are ultimately wasted. To accomplish this outcome, it is important to remember a few key warning signs.

  • Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – The first thing to remember is that, if a Microsoft representative suddenly calls you without warning, they probably aren’t actually with Microsoft. You should even take your caller ID with a grain of salt, as that can be spoofed to look official enough to trust.
  • Weak Link in the Chain – Links are another favorite weapon of scammers, as they can be shared in an email to direct a user to a website filled with fake warning pop-ups. Avoid clicking on these links, and if you are presented with an alert screen, restart your computer. Scammers will also work to ensure that they reach the top results of search engines through sponsored ads to attract those legitimately looking for help. These links should be avoided as well. Google has made serious efforts to not allow scammers to run Remote IT Support ads, but it hasn’t stopped everything yet.
  • Remain in Control – Unless you are absolutely sure that a third party is trustworthy, never give up control of your computer. Otherwise, you could hand precious data over to a scammer or otherwise land yourself in hot water.

The Better Method

Of course, if you enlist the services of Excalibur Technology, a fair amount of these points become moot, as you will have access to an experienced team of trustworthy IT professionals who have your business’ interests at heart. For more information, give us a call at (877) NET – KING.

Have you ever encountered a scam like this before? Tell us about it in the comments!


What Virtual Assistant Is Right for You?

Posted September 10, 2018 by

Virtual assistants are some of the most common technologies out there, which is kind of a strange thing to say. With mobile devices taking over the personal and professional lives of users, we suppose it’s natural that virtual assistants have flourished in today’s workplace. What are these assistants, and what are they capable of?

Virtual Assistants, Today and Tomorrow

Virtual assistants are programs that let us speak to our devices to perform certain functions. These functions include adding an item to a list, playing music, creating reminders, and so much more. The future could introduce countless other ways to take advantage of virtual assistants, even if it’s a bit of a strange feeling to talk to an inanimate device.

New providers are also appearing, which in turn expands the selection of virtual assistants to consumers. This can create more competition and encourage the development of fresh ideas that can further the quality of future solutions.

Weighing Today’s Assistants

There are five mainstream digital assistants in today’s business world. They include: Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Samsung’s Bixby.

Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa is pretty high-profile, appearing on Amazon’s flagship devices like its smart speakers, Echo. Other brands use Alexa as well, but it’s most well-known for the Echo speakers. Alexa is used on Amazon’s tablets, as well as in their Amazon Fire TV products and other Internet of Things devices. Alexa is perhaps most well-known for its compatibility with third-party apps, all of which is offered free of charge. Therefore, Alexa is more likely to work with your smart appliances than other solutions out there. Alexa can be downloaded on Android devices, despite reports that it is more limited on these devices compared to Amazon’s.

Google Assistant

Android devices running 6.0 Marshmallow or higher can take advantage of Google Assistant. If you have a Google Home device or similar speaker, you can use Assistant to connect to them. Assistant can be found in headphones, smart displays, and televisions. Assistant is reliable enough that it can be used most of the time, though it is most reliable when it’s used with Google’s services, including Google Calendar and Chromecast.

Bixby

Maybe you’ve never heard of Bixby before. It’s exclusively on Samsung devices like the Family Hub 2.0 refrigerator. Bixby is a three-pronged personal assistant consisting of Bixby Voice (control a device with your voice), Bixby Vision (think Google Lens), and Bixby Home (a Google Feed-like solution). Bixby’s Version 2.0 is open-source, allowing developers the ability to use it in their development plans.

Cortana

Cortana is basically the Microsoft version of Alexa, working with every device that has Windows 10. While Cortana works in a similar way to Alexa, Cortana does have more limited capabilities compared to Alexa’s skills. Even if the user doesn’t have their PC nearby, Cortana can be used on Apple and Android devices. By far Cortana’s most interesting feature is being able to search your settings, documents, and other important data for whatever you’re searching for. The most notable tech demo involving Cortana showcased its ability to compile user-friendly statistics and display them in graphs, highlighting the perks of this virtual assistant.

Siri

Siri was the app that spearheaded development of virtual assistants. Siri is the Apple-exclusive virtual assistant that many users have on their iPhones and other Apple products. The Apple HomePod is a good example of this, but Siri is compatible with many other IoT devices that can give the user unparalleled control over their home just by speaking to their devices.

Which of these virtual assistants is your favorite? Let us know in the comments.


Hackers Plus Artificial Intelligence Equals Big Trouble

Posted September 04, 2018 by

Thanks to the advent of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity professionals have to reconsider how they approach these threats. Machine learning is one option, as it can help today’s modern solutions learn how to be more effective against advanced threats. On the other hand, what’s stopping the other side from also taking advantage of artificial intelligence? The answer: nothing, nothing at all.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense, as computers are capable of working much faster than humans. Plus, they are less prone to user error. Hackers have found A.I. to be effective for the deployment of phishing attacks. According to a study conducted by ZeroFOX in 2016, an A.I. called SNAP_R was capable of administering spear-phishing tweets at a rate of about 6.75 per minute, tricking 275 out of 800 users into thinking they were legitimate messages. In comparison, a staff writer at Forbes could only churn out about 1.075 tweets a minute, and they only fooled 49 out of 129 users.

A more recent development by IBM is using machine learning to create programs capable of breaking through some of the best security measures out there. Of course, this also means that we’ll eventually have to deal with malware powered by artificial intelligence, assuming that it isn’t already being leveraged somewhere.

IBM’s project, DeepLocker, showcased how video conferencing software can be hacked. The process involved the software being activated by the target’s face being detected in a photograph. The IBM team, including lead researcher Marc Ph. Stoecklin, has this to say about these kinds of attacks: “This may have happened already, and we will see it two or three years from now.”

Other researchers have demonstrated that A.I. can be used in cyberattacks, even going as far as using open-source tools to make them happen. What do you think about this development? Do you think that these threats are already present, or do you think that the biggest threat is yet to come? Let us know in the comments.


Communicate Better with a Cloud-Based Unified Solution

Posted September 02, 2018 by

At first glance, the way your organization handles communication in-house might not be the first place your business looks to make money. Still, the point stands that a business that communicates better, functions better; and, when a business is functioning properly, it can work harder to make more money. If your organization isn’t utilizing a unified communications solution yet, you should be.

Issues Stemming from Non-Unified Communications

For the sake of argument, let’s say that your business has twenty employees who all use their own personal email addresses to go about their day-to-day duties. This is extremely unprofessional, as it shows all of your clients that you have zero control over communications between your employees’ personal email accounts, as well as the information shared with them. It goes without saying that your organization’s reputation will suffer as a result of this. Plus, sending sensitive information through accounts that you simply have no control over is sure to break at least a couple of security best practices.

This makes it awfully confusing for clients, too, since they don’t have a frame of reference to judge whether or not the person emailing or calling them is actually with the company they claim to be from. In fact, some hackers make this their primary method of attack, calling companies or sending out unsolicited emails asking about how they can help your business, hoping that whoever they contact doesn’t have the foresight to wonder if dealing with them isn’t a good thing. All businesses should have a unified email domain name and phone number so as not to create situations like these.

This whole debacle gets more complicated when an employee decides to leave your business. If you’re using a unified communications solution, it’s simply a matter of deactivating the employee’s email account or phone extension, but otherwise, you’re risking these employees walking away with more than just their intentions of finding a new job. They could be taking contacts, sensitive information, and account access with them as well, creating a lingering problem that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, these are issues that shouldn’t even be issues in the first place; and they don’t need to be if you implement a unified communications solution from Excalibur Technology.

The Main Points of Unified Communications

Unified communications is a collection of the best business communication services on the market. They all work together to tie your organization’s employees together, while also helping you communicate with your business’ clients. Here are some of the major points to consider for your business’ unified communications solution:

  • Unified email hosted by Excalibur Technology, complete with access to email archiving for later access.
  • Unified phone system accessible through the cloud, making it available for use on laptops, desktops, and mobile devices.
  • Instant messaging and other apps that let your organization stay connected at all times.

Your business shouldn’t be without a unified communications solution. To learn more about how you can get started, reach out to us at (877) NET – KING.



Excalibur Technology
Excalibur Technology
Excalibur Technology
Excalibur Technology
Excalibur Technology
Excalibur Technology