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Designing the Future of IT

Personal computing has changed dramatically in the last decade. We now watch movies on our phones. We carry out entire record collection in tiny iPods. And the tablet revolution is changing the way we consume our news, communicate with our friends, and watch out favorite television shows.

But what about business computing? The good news is that advancing technology is changing the way we use computers at work, too. In fact, changes in workplace computing are occurring nearly as fast as they are in the world of personal computing.

The editors at InfoWorld took a look at some of the technology that is exerting the biggest impact on business computing. Here are some of their finds:

HTML5

As InfoWorld says, HTML5 looks similar to traditional HTML. But HTML5 actually allows users to accomplish so many more tasks.

For instance, with HTML5 users can take advantage of video and local data storage capabilities. HTML5 also looks to be the go-to language for web developers as Adobe ends its development of mobile Flash.

Working together with continuous build tools

InfoWorld also points to the growing popularity of such continuous build tools as Jenkins and Hudson as dramatically changing the world of IT and business computing. Continuous build tools allow technicians to work together for the betterment of a company.

As InfoWorld writes, these tools put code through a continuous stream of tests and then send alerts to developers about any problems with this code. This keeps all developers working toward the same goal, InfoWorld says.

Beyond JavaScript

JavaScript is, as InfoWorld says, the most commonly used code in the computing world. However, today’s high-tech developers are looking for replacements. Many are even debating the merits of building entirely new languages, codes that fix all of the troubles that come with JavaScript.

Because of this, translated code has become popular in business computing. Many developers are turning, for instance, to CoffeeScript, which automatically inserts JavaScript’s punctuation into code.

Of course, this is just a small sample of how business computing will change in the coming years. It will be interesting, though, to watch exactly how quickly changes come to the important business-computing arena.

Read more at InfoWorld: http://kbit.co/future-of-IT

Posted in: Business, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Technology

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Eliminate Online Distractions with these Chrome Extensions

We understand: You sit in front of your computer all day long, typing reports, answering email messages, and creating presentations. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to run over to TMZ.com to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip.

But all those side trips to the Internet’s guilty pleasures can add up to a lot of wasted time during the day. They can cut into your productivity, something your boss won’t appreciate.

Fortunately, if you use the Chrome web browser, you can add several extensions designed to keep the Internet’s distractions from cutting into your workday.

The Huffington Post recently took a look at the best distraction-blasting Chrome extensions. Use these and you just might be surprised at how productive you can be.

Stay Focused

The Post story rightly starts with Stay Focused. This add-on places a time limit on all those time-wasting websites that you like. Once the timer on each site runs out, it will remain blocked for the rest of the day, preventing from clicking on CNN or The Onion for an anti-productivity visit.

Cool Clock

If your lack of focus causes you to miss too many meetings or lunch dates, add Cool Clock to your Chrome browser. This add-on comes with a clock, calendar, alarm, timer and hourly desktop time notifications. As the Huffington Post says, it’s designed to make sure that you no longer miss any important appointments. You can also set Cool Clock so that it reminds you of the most important tasks you need to complete during the day.

Last Pass

How much time do you waste trying to remember your password to Gmail or to your online banking website? Last Pass, another nifty Chrome add-on, can change all this. This extension allows you to easily manage and monitor the many online passwords with which you have to contend. You’ll be surprised at how much more time you’ll have once you eliminate those pesky attempts to remember which passwords have numbers and which ones have capital letters.

Turn off the Lights

Sometimes we have to watch rather boring videos as part of our jobs. It can be hard to focus on those videos when there are so many distractions online and on your desktop. That’s where the Chrome extension Turn off the Lights comes in. As the Huffington Post says, this add-on keeps your media player bright but dims everything else on your screen. Use this extension, and you’ll have no excuse for drifting from that corporate video.

Read more at HuffPo: http://kbit.co/chrome-extensions-productivity

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Beyond Bombs: The Military’s Cool New Tech

The military is a major innovator when it comes to developing new technology.

Business Insider recently ran an intriguing feature story about the technology that the U.S. military is currently cooking up. Some of what they are working on might surprise you. In fact, the U.S. armed forces are creating some tech that just might change your life.

The laser gun

Science fiction fans have long wondered when we’d get those cool laser guns from Star Wars and Star Trek. Well, the military now has an operational laser gun, a device known as Excalibur.

As Business Insider writes, the Department of Defense has long worried about the damage that conventional weapons can create in urban warfare. That’s where laser guns come in. The Department of Defense’s DARPA unit is currently developing laser weapons that are 10 times lighter than existing combat lasers. The goal is to one day create 10-kilowatt devices that can be used in precision strikes against ground and air targets.

The doctor is in — your body

DARPA’s In Vivo Nanoplatforms program is developing nanoparticles that can sense and treat illness, disease, and infection all from inside the human body. Yes, that again sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but DARPA is actually moving along rather quickly on this project.

According to Business Insider, the nanoparticles sense specific molecules of biological interest. Researchers are currently working on a complete nanotech demonstration on a large animal, the website reported.

Thermal imaging on the cheap

The U.S. military has long relied on thermal imaging technology. But, as Business Insider points out, this technology is far from cheap. That’s why DARPA is now working on its Low Cost Thermal Imager manufacturing program.

This program, as its name suggests, is attempting to dramatically lower the cost of thermal imaging technology. DARPA would like to one day see thermal imaging machinery in cell phones, eyeglasses, drones, helmets, and rifle sights.

Read more at Business Insider: http://kbit.co/DARPA

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Why You Need to Protect Yourself with Two-Factor Authentication—ASAP!

Slate.com recently ran a frightening story focusing on the travails of Matt Honan, a writer at Wired Magazine. As Slate reports, in August 2012 a hacker broke into Honan’s Apple account, erased the data on Honan’s iPhone, iPad and Macbook, deleted his Google account, and took over his Twitter account. This latter attack was particularly upsetting; the hacker used Honan’s Twitter account to post racist and obscene comments.

As the Slate story says, the story proves that anyone can get hacked, even a journalist for a high-tech publication like Wired.

However, the story also provided some good news: There are steps that consumers can take to make it far less likely that they’ll suffer Honan’s fate. And it all starts with two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication

If you don’t know what two-factor authentication is, then you’re at risk of being hacked.

What happens when you want to access your online accounts? Usually, you just have to enter your email address and a password, right? That’s not good enough to deter skilled hackers today.

With two-factor authentication, you must also enter a code that is sent to you every time you try to log onto one of your online accounts. This extra log-in credential could be the one thing stopping a hacker from breaking into your accounts.

How it works

Google has now enabled two-factor authentication for its accounts. To see how this security system works, then, it’s helpful to study what Google is doing.

If you own a smartphone, you can install Google’s authenticator app on the device. Then when you log onto a Google account, you type in both your password and the code displayed on your smartphone, a code that only you, of course, should be seeing.

If you don’t own a smartphone, you can still use Google’s two-factor authentication system. You can simply wait for Google to send you a text or voicemail message containing the code you need to complete the login process.

Not widely used

Unfortunately, as the Slate story mentions, not many consumers are using two-factor authentication today. The reason? It’s a bit of a hassle. Most consumers want to access their accounts quickly and easily, and entering extra code, or waiting for a text, is not something they enjoy.

But as Honan’s story proves, any step that can slow hackers is one that you should consider. Yes, it might take you a few seconds longer to log onto your accounts, but isn’t the extra security that two-step authentication provides worth this bit of a hassle?

Read more at …

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The Worst Data Security Breaches in History

We all like to think that the companies that have our credit-card information—the banks, entertainment companies, and government agencies—are able to protect our valuable information.

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

CSO Online recently ran a list of some of the worst data security breaches of the 21st Century. And if you want to worry about the safety of your financial and personal information? This list gives you plenty of cause.

TJX Companies

For instance, the list covers the December 2006 security breach suffered by retail giant TJX Companies in which the credit-card information of 94 million customers was exposed.

There are two theories about how this security breach happened. One view is that a group of hackers took advantage of a weak data encryption system and stole credit-card data during a wireless transfer between a pair of Marshall’s stores in Miami. A second theory is that hackers broke into the TJX network through kiosks inside actual stores that allowed people to apply for jobs.

The upshot? Albert Gonzalez, a legend in the hacking community, was arrested and sentenced to 40 years in prison for the scheme.

Department of Veterans Affairs

In May of 2006, hackers stole an unencrypted database with the names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, and disability ratings for 26.5 million Military veterans, active-duty military personnel, and spouses.

The database was, amazingly, stored on a laptop and external hard drive that were both stolen from the home of an analyst with the Veterans Administration.

This case ended with a fairly happy ending as an unknown person returned the stolen laptop and hard drive about a month after the theft.

Sony’s PlayStation Network

PlayStation Network suffered what is still viewed as the worst gaming community data breach ever in April of 2011. Hackers compromised the accounts of 77 million PlayStation Network accounts, and Sony reportedly lost millions of dollars by shutting down the site for a month.

Sony says it has still not found the source of this hack, but as CSO Online says, the hackers gained access to full names, passwords, email addresses, home addresses, purchase histories, and credit-card numbers of PlayStation Network gamers.

Read more at CSO Online.

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Don’t Bust Your Budget While Traveling with a Smartphone

You wouldn’t think of traveling around the globe without your smartphone. After all, that little device can help you quickly change plane reservations, find the trendiest new restaurants, and determine just how busy the highway to your hotel is.

However, there’s one problem: Using your cell phone outside the United States can cost you big bucks.

The pain of international texting

The New York Times’ Frugal Traveler blog recently covered the outrageous costs that smartphone users might encounter when traveling abroad.

Among them? How about 50 cents for every text message you send or receive? Then there’s international roaming rates that can soar to $2, $3, or $5 a minute. It could cost you $15 to retrieve a megabyte of data through your smartphone, according to the blog post.

Fortunately, there are ways travelers can save when traveling. And the Frugal Traveler blog was kind enough to list some of them.

Stay disconnected

Of course, the easiest way is to stay disconnected to your cell phone during your trip overseas. The problem is, that’s easier said. As the blog points out, many international hotels no longer have in-room phones. And pay phones are becoming scarce across the globe.

A more practical solution might be to rely on your hotel’s free Internet connections or on Wi-Fi networks to check emails and send messages. Of course, even if your web browsing and email activity is free, phone calls can still be a problem. A solution? Set up an account with an app such as Skype or Google Voice so that you can make your calls. This won’t be free, but as the Frugal Traveler blog says, it’s far less costly than making standard roaming calls on your cell phone.

In general, expect to pay one-tenth the price of a standard cellphone plan when you’re relying on services such as Skype and Google Voice.

International SIM cards

If your phone allows you to use other providers, your best bet while traveling abroad might be to purchase an international SIM card. The Frugal Traveler tried Telestial’s Passport card for $19 and OneSimCard’s Standard card for $30. Both worked well while the blog’s author traveled. Both will give you a main phone number that’s not from the United States.

Read more at the New York Times.

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It’s Time to Disable Java on Your Computer

Want to protect your computer from hackers? Slate technology writer Will Oremus has one suggestion: disable Java.

If you don’t know, Java is software that runs interactive functions on some web pages. The software has also been roundly criticized for being an open door of sorts to hackers. In a recent story, for instance, Business Insider pointed to the 700,000 Apple computers infected earlier this year with the Flashback Trojan malware. All of these computers were running out-of-date versions of add-ons that let their web browsers run Java.

The best way, then, to protect your computer? Oremus says it’s all about disabling Java.

Security flaw

Hackers recently found a flaw in Oracle’s Java software that allowed these cyber criminals to break into users’ computers and install malware. At the time, the threat was considered a “zero-day” one, meaning a threat that exploits a vulnerability that wasn’t previously known and for which no fix is available.

Since the security hole was discovered, Oracle released a new version of Java that the developer says fixes the vulnerability.

But the fact remains: Hackers frequently use Java to break into users’ computers. Turning it off, then, makes the most sense, especially since Java is no longer needed for the vast majority of websites.

Turning off Java

Turning off Java requires different steps depending upon what web browser you use.

For instance, as Oremus writes, in Firefox users must first select “tools” from their browser’s main menu. They should then click “add-ons” and the disable buttons next to any Java plug-ins.

Safari users must first click “Safari” in the main menu bar and then “Preferences.” Once they’ve done this, they can select the “security” tab and make sure that the button next to “enable Java” is not checked.

Google Chrome users need to type “Chrome://Plugins” in their browser’s address bar. They can then click the “disable” button listed below any Java plug-ins.

Don’t touch JavaScript

Here’s a warning, though: Java and Javascript are not the same thing. If you mistakenly disable Javascript on your computer, you won’t do anything to protect yourself from hackers. However, you might make it so that the websites you visit no longer work properly.

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Protecting Your Mobile Devices While Traveling

We take our offices with us when we travel, toting tablets, laptop computers, and smartphones as we meet with clients across the globe, attend seminars hundreds of miles from our offices, and train new employees in remote locations.

Our mobile devices allow us to scan the web, send and receive emails, access PowerPoint presentations, and work on company reports while we’re on the road.

That’s the good news. The bad news? Our mobile devices can also put our businesses at risk. What happens if you lose one of your devices while on the road? How much sensitive company information will you put in the hands of outsiders?

Fortunately, the staff at the Smallbiz Technology provide some important strategies that businesspeople can use to protect their mobile devices while on the road.

Protect the device

The best way to keep your company’s information and data secure? Don’t leave your tablets, smart phones, or laptops out of your sight. Always know where these devices are when you are traveling. Smallbiz Technology recommends that you store these devices in a safe when you’re staying in a hotel room.

Turn to the cloud

The cloud provides business travelers with a secure place to store their company’s reports and sensitive data. This way, even if someone steals a traveler’s laptop or tablet, they won’t find any sensitive information stored on the device. Of course, business travelers must make sure to limit access to their cloud storage with a difficult-to-guess password.

Login passwords are your friends

Smallbiz Technology recommends that business travelers protect their devices with login passwords. This way, if someone steals their device, this thief won’t be able to access the files stored on it unless they crack the password that allows them to log onto the device.

This means, of course, that business travelers must create complex passwords that consist of letters, numbers, and special characters.

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely protect your mobile devices while taking business trips. However, those travelers who follow these three simple rules will at least make it less likely that their tablets, laptops, or smartphones will fall into the wrong hands.

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4 Easy Ways to Keep Your Computer Safe

Most of us don’t think about computer security until our desktops and laptops are suddenly infected by viruses. When we can’t log onto the Internet or access our email messages because of malware, we suddenly wish we had taken the steps to protect our computers.

The good news is that protecting your computer is a relatively easy task. It mostly requires some common sense and a few quick fixes.

Business Insider recently provided some suggestions for computer users who want to boost the safety of their machines.

1. Turn off Java

Business Insider led with this for a reason. Java, software that runs interactive functions on some web pages, often opens the doors to hackers. Business Insider cited the 700,000 Apple computers that were—earlier this year—infected with the Flashback Trojan malware. All of the computers were running out-of-date versions of add-ons that let their web browsers run Java.

Turning off Java requires different steps depending on what browsers you are running. If you need assistance, check your browser’s Help section. (Or get in touch with us.)

2. Stay current with all software updates

Busy computer users sometimes forget to check their operating systems for updates. This can be a key mistake: Updates often include protection from the latest viruses. If you ignore software updates, you might be leaving your computer vulnerable to hackers.

If you work on a Mac computer, your updates will be delivered through a system called Software Update. PC software updates come from Windows Update.

3. Lock your computer

Business Insider recommends, appropriately, that computer users lock their computers when the machines are sleeping. Doing this requires that you create a password that users must type in to access your computer.

This might seem like an inconvenience. But, as Business Insider points out, what if someone steals your laptop? If this thief can access your computer without a password, the criminal could easily rummage through your personal files and information.

4. Change your passwords

Business Insider recommends that you change your passwords every month. The site also advises you to create passwords that are difficult for others to guess, like ones that contain letters, numbers, and symbols.

Posted in: Business, Computer Maintenance, Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners

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Apps That Speak Your Language, and Everyone Else’s

You’re traveling overseas this summer for the family vacation of a lifetime. Or maybe you need to travel to a foreign country for business. Problem is, you don’t speak the language.

There’s hope, though, and you can get it from your smartphone. Tech companies today offer a wide range of translation apps for tourists and business professionals who are traveling the globe.

Amy Burke, writing for the American Express OPEN Forum, recently highlighted some of the best of these apps. Here’s what she recommends for travelers who need to surmount those language barriers.

Jibbigo

Burke recommends this app, which charges users $4.99 for every language they need to speak, for its ease of use. The app, available on both iPhone and Android devices, allows users to speak into their smartphones or tablets in their native language. It then provides a quick translation into a specific language via text and voice.

Jibbigo comes with more than 40,000 words in its vocabulary. It also doesn’t require a network connection. This can be important to travelers in remote locations.

Dean Foster’s Culture Guides

These guides are a bit more advanced than Jibbigo. As Burke writes, the guides are available for 12 countries so far. The apps provide users with an overview of these countries, maps, weather reports, and currency exchange rates. Of course, it also provides solid translation services.

Word Lens

Here’s an interesting app that relies on your smartphone’s camera to translate. With this app, instead of typing in words or phrases, you can snap a photo of a street sign, menu, or brochure, and Word Lens will translate the writing for you.

The app is a bit limited so far; Burke writes that it only includes Spanish, French, and Italian to English — and vice versa — so far.

Still, it’s a neat idea. The app is free, but each language will cost you $4.99.

These apps represent just a small sampling of translation tools available to travelers today. If you’re making a jaunt overseas, be sure to search your app marketplace for other tools. You might just find the perfect app to get you over the language bump.

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