How to Deal With the Travel Ban on Laptops and Tablets

On March 21st, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that any personal electronics larger than a smartphone cannot be carried in the passenger cabin on US-bound flights originating from Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. The airlines affected, all based in the Middle East, have 96 hours to implement the appropriate changes to ensure that non-compliant electronic devices are carried only in checked, not carry-on, luggage. The UK followed suit, implementing essentially the same policy for flights to the UK originating from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

The reasons for the new policy by the US and British governments were not made entirely clear, but the US raid on Al-Qaeda forces in Yemen in January of this year apparently yielded intelligence about the terrorist organization’s development of “battery bombs” that could be large enough to destroy a commercial aircraft. Also cited were the destruction of a Russian A321 over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, and a bomb blast aboard a Somali A321 shortly after it left Mogadishu in February 2016, either or both of which may have been the target of battery bombs or similar devices.

While the ban on personal electronics in carry-on luggage affects only direct flights to the US and the UK from the countries noted above, it’s possible that the ban may be extended to other countries and maybe even to domestic flights in the US, UK and elsewhere.

If you rely on your laptop and/or tablet when traveling, what would you do if the ban suddenly applied to your next trip, as it already has for thousands of travelers? Here are some options:

  • The obvious (and worst) option is to travel with your laptop and tablet in checked luggage. While the rate of lost luggage, at least in the US, is relatively low at 3.09 bags per 1,000 passengers, a dramatic increase in number of laptops and tablets flying in checked luggage might motivate some baggage handlers to help themselves to the suddenly more valuable cargo. Even in the absence of theft, there is a significant risk that rough handling of luggage could damage the devices.
  • Another option is to work only from your smartphone. That will work for things like checking email and making presentations, but for writing, creating presentations or working with spreadsheets, that’s not a viable option.
  • A better option is to use a Windows to Go drive that will allow you to plug this USB device into any Windows-based computer or a Mac and use the computer only as a host. These bootable devices can be imaged with corporate applications and data, they store data only on the USB device leaving nothing on the host, and some are hardware-encrypted, providing a highly secure platform for storing data. Using a Windows to Go drive, a traveler could take with them an outdated Windows 7 or Windows 8 laptop that wouldn’t cause much angst if it was stolen, or they could borrow someone’s laptop at their destination.

There are a number of vendors that offer Windows to Go devices, including Kingston, Spyrus, Kanguru and Super*Talent. These devices offer a robust experience that is more or less indistinguishable from a native PC experience, they’re fairly inexpensive, and they are not likely to be the subject of a ban of the type discussed above. If you must have access to a laptop or tablet when traveling, Windows to Go drives should be an option you should evaluate sooner rather than later.

 

Microsoft vs. Google vs. IBM

While there are a large number of cloud-based communication and collaboration solutions available, the “Big Three” in cloud-based communication and collaboration today are Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite and IBM Connections Cloud (which includes a very good email solution called IBM Verse). I won’t go into what you get with each offering, but you can check out the various components, features and capabilities at the following links for Office 365, G Suite and Connections Cloud.

All of these offerings include robust email, instant messaging, document collaboration, file sharing and other tools, as well as lots of storage. All of these solutions are reasonably priced, although Microsoft’s high end plans are significantly more expensive than the other two (but they also include more capabilities). Microsoft’s solutions require the least disruption to the way that most information workers work, since the vast majority already use the Office suite of Word, Excel and PowerPoint; and Office 365, from a desktop productivity standpoint, is nothing more than a switch from purchasing a perpetual license for these applications to renting them in perpetuity.

From a long-term perspective, however, particularly for enterprise customers, IBM’s solution should be the subject of most decision makers’ serious consideration because of Watson Workspace. Watson, the “computer” that trounced Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy back in 2011, uses cognitive capabilities to analyze social interactions among information workers. Watson is currently being used for cancer research, tax analysis and other data-intensive applications, but Watson Workspace is specifically focused on using these cognitive capabilities in the workplace. The goal of Watson Workspace is to help workers manage information overload, present the right data at the right time, and otherwise streamline work processes with the goal of making people more efficient. Microsoft and Google have analytics and other capabilities that are focused on similar aims, but neither of these vendors have capabilities that compares to Watson at this point. In short, Watson has the potential to revolutionize the way that people work with one another.

The problem for IBM, however, is two-fold:

  • First, IBM is generally more bureaucratic than either of their key competitors and has a more difficult time moving products from the conceptual stage into stuff that people can actually deploy.
  • Second, Microsoft and Google make it easy to buy Office 365 and G Suite, respectively. IBM does not.

As a test of the latter point, I had one of our researchers run a test to see how long it would take to set up an account in Office 365, G Suite and IBM Verse. She started on a weekday afternoon and found that it took six minutes to complete setting up an Office 365 account, four minutes to set up an account in G Suite — and 31 minutes to set up an account in Verse.

Now admittedly, IBM is not really focused on the single user market to nearly the same extent as Microsoft and Google. But the difficulty and length of time associated with setting up an account are indicative of IBM’s need to make its account acquisition process a bit easier and more transparent. This one-off market can result in the deployment of perhaps a few million seats, a market that just about any communications and collaboration vendor should pursue for its own sake, but also for the potential impact it could have on making these tools more familiar in the enterprise space.

In short, IBM’s communication and collaboration solutions are the best of the Big Three, but also the most difficult to acquire.

Is BlackBerry Dead in the Water?

A blog post from yesterday asks the question, “Would you say that BlackBerry is pretty much dead in the water at this point or is there hope left for the struggling Canadian company?”

The question is a good one. In the first quarter of 2009, BlackBerry had  55.3 percent of the US smartphone market and 20.1 percent of the global smartphone OS market; as of the last quarter of 2016, BlackBerry’s share of global smartphone sales had fallen to 0.048 percent. The company’s revenues fell from a peak of $19.91 billion in FY2011 to $2.16 billion in FY2016. It’s operating income and net income have been in negative territory since FY2013. It’s stock price went from $138.87 on April 30, 2008 to $7.45 as of today. In September of last year, BlackBerry stopped making its own phones.

So, yes, a case can be made that BlackBerry is “dead in the water” or very nearly so.

However, I believe that 2017 and 2018 will see a modest resurgence of the company, albeit not to levels that we saw before the iPhone and Android devices began eating BlackBerrys for lunch. Here’s why:

  • BlackBerry isn’t really a smartphone company anymore, but is transforming itself into a software and cyber security company. If they’re successful in doing so, that will turn their 30-something margins into 70-something margins. The company’s financial results are at least hinting that margins are going in the right direction.
  • BlackBerry still has a very good security architecture for mobile devices, one that many decision makers should (and, I believe, will) seriously consider as mobile devices increasingly access sensitive corporate applications and data repositories. BlackBerry’s DTEK technology offers robust user control over privacy and that’s going to be important for many enterprise decision makers.
  • While BlackBerry’s market share in the US and many other markets is really, really poor, the company is still doing reasonably well in places like Indonesia and in some key verticals, such as financial services. For example, a major US bank is standardized on BlackBerry mobile technology, as is HSBC, among others.
  • BlackBerry is increasingly focused on markets that are quite far afield from its traditional phone business. For example, BlackBerry Radar is the company’s first IoT application and is designed for asset tracking, currently in use by a major Canadian trucking firm. BlackBerry QNX, a real-time operating system focused on the embedded systems market, is currently used in 60 million cars worldwide (and replaced Microsoft Sync at Ford). BlackBerry has some interesting and innovative solutions focused on addressing enterprise BYOD/C/A concerns.

The bottom line is that BlackBerry is nowhere near out of the woods, but is definitely showing signs of life. John Chen has done a good job at starting to turn the company around, there is promise in several of BlackBerry’s key markets, and the company has a decent base of working capital. I have some confidence that in a couple of years BlackBerry will see something of a resurgence.

The (Sometimes Dangerous) Power of Perception

I had a conversation with someone this morning that suggested I join a customer advisory board. He recommended it, in part, over a board of directors because, as he put it, the latter takes more in-person time and “it’s difficult to get to other places from Seattle. For example, it would be difficult to get to a place like Omaha.”

This individual’s perception about getting to and from Seattle was right — perhaps 15 to 20 years ago — but that’s no longer the case. For example, I fly Alaska Airlines for most of my business travel and to about 98 percent of the places I travel in the US, Alaska has a direct flight. Plus, in the 26+ years I have been flying Alaska, I have had only three connecting flights — twice to Orlando and once coming back from Las Vegas. That’s three flights out of my too-numerous-to-count flights on Alaska in more than 26 years!

The perception of Seattle as a distant outpost is shared by many, particularly NFL commentators who will periodically tell viewers about the difficulty encountered by teams coming “all the way out” to Seattle. But looking at actual data reveals that for the Jets or Giants to visit the Seahawks they would fly 146 fewer miles than if they were visiting the 49ers. If the Patriots visited the Seahawks, they’d fly 115 fewer miles than if they visited the Rams.

So, perception is often wrong and it has consequences. Much more seriously than the misperception of Seattle as out somewhere past Siberia is the perception by many that the cloud is less secure than on-premises solutions. For example, you can read about the “insecurity” of the cloud, or decision makers’ perception of its insecurity, here, here, here, here and here. However, an examination of the biggest and most damaging breaches of highly sensitive or confidential data over the past several years reveals that the vast majority of these were exfiltrations of data from on-premises systems, not those in the cloud. Even as far back as 2012 the Alert Logic Fall 2012 State of Cloud Security Report noted that users of service provider solutions experienced less than half the number of security incidents than users of on-premises systems. More recently, Infor concluded that, “Cloud vendors typically offer a much higher level of data center and virtual system security than most organizations can or will build out on their own.”

While on-premises solutions can be highly secure, data stored in the cloud is generally. more so. Cloud providers enjoy economies of scale in rolling out security capabilities that most organizations with on-premises systems cannot achieve. The cost of security for cloud providers is generally much lower on a per-customer basis than it is for those that manage security in-house, allowing cloud providers to do more on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Cloud providers suffer from insider threats much less often than do their on-premises counterparts. And, the very existence of cloud providers is much more dependent on maintaining the security of their customers’ data than it is for companies that maintain their own systems on-premises, giving cloud providers the stronger incentive to get security right.

Within the next few weeks we will be publishing a white paper focused on cloud security in which we will be exploring the key issues that decision makers should understand as they consider security in the cloud vs. on-premises.

And, Alaska offers a daily non-stop to and from Omaha.

The Impact of the GDPR on Your Business

We have just published a white paper on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union (EU)’s new data protection regulation, released in May 2016 and with an implementation date of May 25, 2018. Every organization that collects or process personal data on EU residents must comply with the new regulation, regardless of where they are located, or they will face significant financial penalties (up to four percent of their annual revenue) and reputational damage.

Complying with the GDPR requires any organization with personal data on EU residents to implement both organizational and technology measures to remain in compliance. Organizational measures include appointing a Data Protection Officer, developing policies and training on handling personal and sensitive personal data, and an approach for executing a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA). Technological measures for protecting data include capabilities like data classification, data loss prevention, encryption, managing consent more explicitly, data transfer limitations, and technologies that enable data subjects to exercise their rights to access, rectify, and erase personal data held by data controllers.

It is important to note that the GDPR is focused on the protection of personal data, not just its privacy. Complying with the protection mandate requires a higher degree of proactive and far-reaching effort on the behalf of organizations that control or process personal data.

The survey we conducted for this white paper among mid-sized and large organizations that will be subject to the GDPR found that the majority (58 percent) are not sufficiently familiar with the wide scope of the regulation and the penalties it includes. Only 10 percent believe their organizations are “completely ready” to comply with the requirements of the GDPR. That’s a serious problem, since the penalty for failure to comply with the GDPR could cost a large organization many millions or tens of millions of dollars.

You can download our just published white paper here.

What Happens to Your Data When Employees Leave Your Company?

When employees leave a company, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, it is quite common for them to take sensitive and confidential data with them. This paper examines this problem in detail and provides solutions for employers to mitigate the risks. For example:

  • A survey published by Biscom in late 2015 found that 87 percent of employees who leave a job take with them data that they created in that job, and 28 percent take data that others had created. Among the majority who took company data with them, 88 percent took corporate presentations and/or strategy documents, 31 percent took customer lists, and 25 percent took intellectual property.
  • A survey of 1,000 employees in the United States and Europe found that one in five had uploaded sensitive and confidential corporate data to an external cloud service specifically for the purpose of sharing it with others.

As just one example of data theft by departing employees, in September 2016 the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) detected the November 2015 theft of more than 10,000 records by a retiring employee that may have exposed personal information about OCC employees.

Here are some of the important takeaways from a white paper we recently published on this topic:

  • Employee turnover is a fact of life: the typical organization in the United States, for example, can expect that 24 percent of its employees will leave each year, although some companies in the Fortune 500 experience much higher turnover[i].
  • Employees who leave their employers, regardless of the reason for their departure, often take with them sensitive and confidential information, such as intellectual property or trade secrets, that belongs solely to their employer.
  • The theft of this information can damage a company in a variety of ways, including putting them at risk of a regulatory violation, forcing them to take legal action against former employees, harming their competitive position, and negatively impacting their revenue.
  • To reduce the risk of employees taking information with them when they leave, employers should establish detailed and thorough policies and procedures focused on ensuring visibility into employee practices, limiting employee access to data, requiring encryption of sensitive data, managing devices properly, ensuring that data is backed up and archived properly, requiring the use of enterprise apps (since these apps and any associated offline content can be remotely wiped, even on personally managed devices), and ensuring that IT has access to all corporate data to which it should have access (some confidential data, such as HR data, should not be available to IT in all cases.)

To support these policies and procedures, organizations should evaluate and deploy various technology solutions. Technologies that should be considered, but not all of which need to be deployed, include content archiving, backup and recovery, file sharing and collaboration, encryption, mobile device management, employee activity monitoring, data loss prevention, logging and reporting, virtual desktops and other solutions that will minimize the possibility of employees misappropriating corporate data upon their departure.

You can download the white paper here.

Internal Combustion Engines, Critical Thinking and Making Good IT Decisions

Germany’s Spiegel magazine has reported that the German Bundesrat (Germany’s federal council that has representatives from all 16 German states) will ban the internal combustion engine beginning in 2030. Consequently, the only way to achieve this goal would be en masse adoption of electric cars to replace today’s cars that are powered almost exclusively by internal combustion engines. This is a bigger issue in Germany than it would be in the United States, since there are significantly more cars per person in Germany than in the US.

Sounds like a good idea, but edicts passed down from senior managers are not always feasible, particularly when those managers might not have done the math to determine if their ideas can actually be implemented by those in the trenches. For example, here’s the math on the Bundesrat’s edict:

  • As of the beginning of 2015, there were 44.4 million cars in Germany. If we assume that the average German car is driven 8,900 miles per year and gets 30 miles to the gallon, each car consumes the equivalent of just under 10 megawatt-hours of electricity per year (based on one gallon of gasoline = 33.7 kWh).
  • Replacing all 44.4 million cars with electric vehicles would require generation of 443.9 terawatt-hours of electricity per year solely for consumption by automobiles (9.998 mWh per car x 44.4 million cars).
  • In 2015, Germany produced 559.2 terawatt-hours of electricity from all sources. That means that Germany would need to produce or import about 79% more electricity during the next 14 years than it does today. However, during the 13-year period from 2002 to 2015, German production of electricity increased by only 12%.
  • If the additional electricity needed for use by cars came from wind generators, it would require 64.5 million square miles of wind farms (based on an average of 93.0 acres per megawatt of electricity generated), an area that is 468 times larger than Germany’s footprint of 137,903 square miles.
  • If the additional energy came from solar, it would require 1.22 million square miles of solar panels (based on an optimistic assumption of 13 watts of electricity generated per square foot), an area about nine times larger than Germany.
  • If the additional energy came from nuclear power, Germany would need to build the equivalent of 13 high-capacity plants (assuming they have the capacity of the largest US nuclear plant, operating at Palo Verde, AZ).
  • Germany could use all of the oil it currently imports for automobiles for the production of electricity, but that would defeat the purpose of switching to electric cars.
  • Consequently, the only logical options to achieve a complete ban on the internal combustion engine by 2030 are a) build lots of new nuclear power plants that will generate the electricity needed for electric cars, or b) reduce driving in Germany by at least 85%. But even the last option would requires substantially greater production of electricity in order to power the additional rail-based and other transportation systems that would be required to transport Germans who are no longer driving cars. Even if we assume the German government would phase in the abolition of the internal combustion engine over, say, 10-15 years following the 2030 deadline, there’s still the problem of producing 79% more electricity between now and 2040-2045.

So, while converting to electric cars is a good idea in theory, in practice it is highly unlikely to happen in the timeframe mandated by the Bundesrat. In short, edicts from senior managers often can’t happen because these managers never did the math or spoke to anyone in the trenches who would be responsible for trying to make it happen.

The point of this post is not to criticize the German government or the notion of reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, but instead to suggest that critical thinking is needed in all facets of life. When someone proposes a new idea, be skeptical until you’ve done the math and thought about the consequences and considered the various ramifications of the proposal. For example, when senior management suggests your company move the email system completely to the cloud, think through all of the potential ramifications of that decision. Are there regulatory obligations we will no longer be able to satisfy? How much will it cost to re-write all of the legacy, email-generating applications on which we currently rely? What will happen to our bandwidth requirements? How will we deal with disaster recovery? How do we manage security? What is the complete cost of managing email in the cloud versus the way we do it now?

Senior managers or boards of directors will sometimes implement policy or make other important decisions without first consulting those who actually need to make it happen. This means that senior management teams, task forces, boards of directors, etc. need to a) stop doing that, b) do the math for any decision they’re considering and c) consult with the people who will be charged with implementing their decisions.

The Future of Computing is 40 Years Ago

The history of computing can be oversimplified as follows:

  • 1950s through the 1970s: Mainframes, in which massive computing and data storage resources were managed remotely in highly controlled data centers. Intelligence and data were highly centralized, accessed through dumb terminals.
  • 1980s through the 1990s: Client-server computing, in which intelligence and data moved to the endpoints of the network as CPU power and storage became dramatically less expensive.
  • 2000s: Cloud computing, in which much of the intelligence and data storage is moving back to highly controlled data centers, but with lots of intelligence and data still at the endpoints.

I believe the fourth major shift in computing will be to revert back to something approaching the mainframe model, in which the vast majority of computing power and data will reside in data centers that are under the tight control of cloud operators using both public and private cloud models.

Smartphones now have more computing power than most PCs did just a few years ago, albeit with much less storage capacity. While the smartphone does not provide corporate users with the form factor necessary to do writing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. with the same ease that a desktop or laptop computer does, the combination of a smartphone’s CPU horsepower coupled with a monitor and keyboard that serves as a dumb terminal would provide the same experience as a desktop or laptop. As proposed by Robert X. Cringely a couple of years ago, I believe that the corporate PC of the future will be a completely dumb terminal with no Internet connection or local storage. Instead, it will have only a monitor and keyboard and will use the smartphone in the corporate user’s pocket as its CPU and connectivity.

Why? Three reasons:

  • It will be more secure. Data breaches are an unfortunate and increasingly common fact of life for virtually every organization. Many data breaches are the result of simple mistakes, such as laptops being stolen out of cars or left behind at TSA checkpoints, but many data breaches are the result of hacking into on-premises, corporate servers that are insufficiently protected. A review of the most serious data breaches reveals that the vast majority of data breaches have occurred from on-premises servers and other endpoints, not cloud providers. Yahoo!’s recent and massive data breach is more exception than rule, since cloud data centers are typically more secure than those on-premises behind a corporate firewall.
  • It will be cheaper. Instead of providing a laptop and/or desktop computer to individual users, companies will be able to provide a much less expensive dumb terminal to their users that will use a smartphone’s intelligence and computing horsepower to provide the laptop or desktop computing experience transparently. Users will be able to sit down at any dumb terminal, authenticate themselves, and enjoy a laptop or desktop experience. Because storage will be in the cloud, there will be no local storage of data, reducing cost and enhancing security. And, if the dumb terminal is stolen, a company is out only a few hundred dollars, not the millions of dollars for which it might be liable if data is breached from a stolen or otherwise compromised device.
  • It will be more controllable. Instead of users having access to two, three or more computing devices, users can be equipped with just one corporate device, a smartphone, that will enable all of their computing experiences. When the employee leaves the company or loses their device, disabling access to corporate data will be easier and more reliable.

In short, the future of computing will be conceptually similar to what our parents and grandparents experienced: computing intelligence and data storage in some remote, secure location accessed by dumb devices (other than our smartphone).

Best Practices for Dealing With Phishing and Ransomware

We have just published a white paper on phishing and ransomware that we welcome you to download and review. Here are some of the key takeaways from the paper:

  • Both phishing and crypto  ransomware are increasing at the rate of several hundred percent per quarter, a trend that Osterman Research believes will continue for at least the next 18 to 24 months.
  • The vast majority of organizations have been victimized by phishing, ransomware and a variety of security-related attacks during the past 12 months. In fact, phishing and ransomware are among the four leading concerns expressed by security-focused decision makers as discovered by Osterman Research in the survey conducted for this white paper.
  • Security spending will increase significantly in 2017 as organizations realize they need to protect against phishing, ransomware and the growing variety of other threats they face.
  • Most organizations are not seeing improvements in the security solutions they have deployed and in the security practices they follow. While many of these solutions are effective, most are not improving over time, in many cases because internal staff may not have the expertise to improve the performance of these solutions over time. On balance, only two in five of these solutions and practices are considered “excellent”.
  • Security awareness training is a key area for improvement in protecting organizations against phishing and ransomware, since our research found that organizations with well-trained employees are less likely to be infected.
  • There are a variety of best practices that organizations should follow in order to minimize their potential for becoming victims of phishing and ransomware. Among these best practices are implementing security awareness training, deploying systems that can detect and eliminate phishing and ransomware attempts, searching for and remediating security vulnerabilities in corporate systems, maintaining good backups, and using good threat intelligence.

You can download the paper here.

As an aside, I will be attending the Virus Bulletin International Conference next week in Denver and encourage you to do likewise if you’re at all focused on security. I have been to this event before and can vouch for its tremendous value as a place to learn about trends in cyber security and to advance your education about all things security.

Phishing and Ransomware are the Logical Evolution of Cybercrime

Phishing, which can be considered the delivery mechanism for various types of malware and cybercrime attempts; and ransomware, which is a specialized form of malware that is designed for the sole purpose of extorting money from victims, are critical problems that every organization must address and through a variety of means: user education, security solutions, vulnerability analysis, threat intelligence, good backup processes, and even common sense. The good news is that there is much that organizations can do to protect themselves, their data, their employees and their customers.

Phishing, particularly highly targeted forms of phishing like spearphishing and CEO Fraud/Business Email Compromise (BEC), as well as ransomware, are the logical evolution of cybercrime. Because there have been so many data breaches over the past few years that have resulted in the theft of hundreds of millions of records, there is a glut of this information on the market. The result, as there would be in any other business driven by the economics of supply and demand, is that prices for stolen records are dropping precipitously: a leading security firm estimates that the price of a stolen payment-card record has decreased from $25 in 2011 to just $6 in 2016.

Consequently, cybercriminals are turning increasingly to more direct means of theft. For example, ransomware will extort money directly from victims without requiring stolen data to be sold on the open market where it is subject to economic forces that can reduce its value. CEO Fraud/BEC can net hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in a short period of time by getting victims to wire funds directly.

We are in the process of writing a white paper on phishing and ransomware, and will be publishing the results of an in-depth survey on these problems. Let us know if you have any questions or would like copy of the white paper when it is published next week.