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Cyber essentials for SMEs

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As a small business owner, the last thing you need is an online security breach. That’s why it’s well worth getting the right security measures in place and reviewing them on a regular basis, writes PAUL MACPHERSON, Head of Security, Xero.

Most of us couldn’t get through the day without using the internet. Whether it’s helping us get to work or schedule plans with our family, one things certain – this access to the internet has massively transformed our lives for the better.

The same goes for small businesses, giving them access to a connected, global world and the ability to transact and operate with far greater efficiency. However, as more small businesses take advantage of the exciting opportunities that the internet offers, it’s crucial that cybersecurity is the number one priority.

According to security software company Norton, globally 689.4 million (31%) people were affected by cybercrime in the past year. What’s more 63% of people also believed it’s become more difficult to stay safe and secure online over the past 5 years. Criminals are getting smarter online – and small businesses, with often limited resources at their disposal, can be particularly vulnerable.

In many security breaches, cyber-criminals simply exploit insecure remote-access software, employee activity and weak password security to gain access. Hacking methods such as phishing and social engineering, as well as sophisticated malware are popular methods used to breach seemingly secure systems.

As a small business owner, the last thing you need is the consequences of an online security breach. That’s why it’s well worth getting the right security measures in place and reviewing them on a regular basis. Here are four focus areas that should be deployed immediately to safeguard your business from attack:

  • Choose the right security software, and don’t forget to update it

It pays to install reputable anti-malware software and regularly update it.  Malware often tries to exploit known vulnerabilities in software and this could seriously compromise your systems. Anti-malware will detect and stop most malicious software including computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware and scareware from entering your systems.

As well as keeping your anti-malware software up to date, you need to keep your operating system and application up to date with the latest security patches. It might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of businesses who don’t do this. Look at the recent WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware instances in which a known Microsoft SMB vulnerability was exploited which organisations should have patched.

  • Equip your employees with the right skills

Many scams and attacks rely on manipulating people to do something that gives hackers the information or access they’re after. Known as social engineering or phishing, these tactics include using personal information to earn trust from unsuspecting employees. All it takes is two seconds for you or one of your team to click on a link or attachment in an email, or enter a password on a fake login page, and you’ve let the criminal in.

No matter what industry your business operates in, you’ve got to educate every last member of staff – including yourself! There are easy-to-use online tutorials available that help train people in the dos and the don’ts when it comes to staying safe online.

  • Use 2SA

The 2SA or Two-Step Authentication is like putting an extra deadbolt on your front door. It involves two layers of security. First, enter your existing password and then input the verification code generated by an app on your smart device. This significantly reduces the risk of account takeover – the cybercriminal may get hold of your password but that’s not enough for them to gain access.

2SA (or 2FA, MFA or 2SV) is also an important security measure to protect your email account. An insecure inbox is incredibly risky; once hackers get hold of it, they’ll be able to reset all your passwords. A compromised business email account is often used for invoice fraud, by intercepting and changing the payment bank account numbers on invoices attached to emails as PDFs.

  • Enforce strict password protocol

The number of passwords most people have these days can be quite overwhelming. So it’s natural for you to pick something that is relatively easy to remember, but this can a dangerous move. A basic password is easy to hack – a dictionary attack can crack a basic code in a couple of seconds.

Make sure you reinforce just how important it is that everyone picks a robust password. Ask them to run it through a password checker to make sure they’re being as safe as possible. Rather than changing your passwords regularly (this can lead to bad password habits and predictable passwords), create a strong password from the get-go. This should include a mix of at least 12 characters of different types. Of course, if you suspect that your password has been compromised then change it immediately.

Using a different password for each login is also good practice. Having a unique password helps prevent a compromise of one login becoming a compromise of many. Consider installing a Password Manager to help generate strong, unique passwords for each site.

A small, agile business typically allows employees to access email or other business apps from their phones. If this is the case, ensure that your employees protect their phones with a password, PIN, or biometric (fingerprint) authentication. A mobile device manager (MDM) can enforce security policies and delete access to business data if the phone is lost or stolen.

Unfortunately, we are living in a world in which these online threats are only going to get more frequent and more sophisticated. Global research tells us that more than 50% of cyber attacks target small businesses. But, the measures you can take to combat these threats are also getting wiser. It might seem like a large commitment with not much ROI, but in the long run it could be the making or breaking of your company.

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Now for hardware-as-a-service

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Integrated ICT and Infrastructure provider Vox has entered into an exclusive partnership with Go Rentals to introduce a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) offering, which is aimed at providing local small and medium businesses (SMEs) with quick, affordable, and scalable access to a wide variety of IT infrastructure – as well as the management thereof.

“Despite an increasingly competitive business environment where every rand counts, many business owners are still buying technology-based equipment outright rather than renting it,” says Barry Kemp, Head of Managed IT at Vox. “The problem with this is that the modern device arena has grown in variety and complexity, making it more difficult to manage, and to reduce the overheads of controlling these devices.”

According to Kemp, there is a global trend being observed in businesses moving away from owning and managing IT infrastructure. This started with the move away from servers and toward cloud-based subscription services, and now organisations are looking to do the same with the remaining on-premise hardware – employees’ desktop systems.

The availability of HaaS changes the way in which local businesses consume IT, by allowing them to direct valuable capital expenditure toward the more efficient and competitive operation of their organisation, rather than spending on hardware products. 

“The rental costs are up to 50% lower than if they buy these products through traditional asset financing methods. Furthermore, using HaaS gives businesses the ability to scale up and down depending on their infrastructure requirements. Customers on a 12 month contract can return up to 10% of the devices rented, while those customers on 24 and 36 month contracts can return up to 20% of the devices – at any time during the contract,” adds Kemp.

More than just a rental

HaaS gives business access to repurposed Tier 1 hardware from vendors such as Dell, HP and Lenovo, equipped with the required specifications (processor, memory, and storage), and come installed with the latest Microsoft Windows operating system, unless an older version is specifically requested by the customer.

Kemp says: “Where HaaS is different from simply renting IT hardware is that businesses get full asset lifecycle management, such as having all company software pre-installed, flexible refresh cycles and upgrades, support and warranty management and transparent and predictable per user monthly fees.”

The ability to upgrade during the contract period means that businesses can keep pace with the latest in technology without needing to invest on depreciating equipment, while ensuring maximum productivity and efficiency for employees. Returned devices are put through a decommissioning process that ensures anonymity, certified data protection, and environmental compliance. 

Businesses further stand to benefit from Vox Care, which incorporates asset management and logistical services for customers. This includes initial delivery and setup in major centres, asset tagging of all rented items, creation, and the repair and/or replacement of faulty machines within three business days – again in the main metropolitan areas. 

Vox Care also assists in the design, testing and deployment of custom images, whereby HaaS clients can have the additional programmes they need (security, productivity tools, business software, etc) easily pre-installed along with the Windows operating system, on all their machines.

Kemp says HaaS customers can get further peace of mind by outsourcing the day to day management of their desktop environment to Vox Managed Services, as well as leverage the company’s knowledge and expertise to manage and host workstation backups to ensure business continuity.

Says Kemp: “Hardware-as-a-Service allows businesses to reduce the total cost of ownership of their hardware and ensure they only pay for what they use. Making the switch to a service model helps them take advantage of the global move in this direction, and to turn their business into a highly functional, flexible, low cost, change your mind whenever you want workplace.”

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Seedstars seeks tech to reverse land degradation in Africa

A new partnership is offering prizes to young entrepreneurs for coming up with innovations that tackle the loss of arable land in Africa.

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The DOEN Foundation has joined forces with Seedstars, an emerging market startup community, to launch the DOEN Land Restoration Prize, which showcases solutions to environmental, social and financial challenges that focus on land restoration activities in Africa. Stichting DOEN is a Dutch fund that supports green, socially-inclusive and creative initiatives that contribute to a better and cleaner world.

While land degradation and deforestation date back millennia, industrialization and a rising population have dramatically accelerated the process. Today we are seeing unprecedented land degradation, and the loss of arable land at 30 to 35 times the historical rate.

Currently, nearly two-thirds of Africa’s land is degraded, which hinders sustainable economic development and resilience to climate change. As a result, Africa has the largest restoration opportunity of any continent: more than 700 million hectares (1.7 billion acres) of degraded forest landscapes that can be restored. The potential benefits include improved food and water security, biodiversity protection, climate change resilience, and economic growth. Recognizing this opportunity, the African Union set an ambitious target to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land by 2030.

Land restoration is an urgent response to the poor management of land. Forest and landscape restoration is the process of reversing the degradation of soils, agricultural areas, forests, and watersheds thereby regaining their ecological functionality. According to the World Resources Institute, for every $1 invested in land restoration it can yield $7-$30 in benefits, and now is the time to prove it.

The winner of the challenge will be awarded 9 months access to the Seedstars Investment Readiness Program, the hybrid program challenging traditional acceleration models by creating a unique mix to improve startup performance and get them ready to secure investment. They will also access a 10K USD grant.

“Our current economic system does not meet the growing need to improve our society ecologically and socially,” says Saskia Werther, Program Manager at the DOEN Foundation. “The problems arising from this can be tackled only if a different economic system is considered. DOEN sees opportunities to contribute to this necessary change. After all, the world is changing rapidly and the outlines of a new economy are becoming increasingly clear. This new economy is circular and regenerative. Landscape restoration is a vital part of this regenerative economy and social entrepreneurs play an important role to establish innovative business models to counter land degradation and deforestation. Through this challenge, DOEN wants to highlight the work of early-stage restoration enterprises and inspire other frontrunners to follow suit.”

Applications are open now and will be accepted until October 15th. Startups can apply here: http://seedsta.rs/doen

To enter the competition, startups should meet the following criteria:

  • Existing startups/young companies with less than 4 years of existence
  • Startups that can adapt their current solution to the land restoration space
  • The startup must have a demonstrable product or service (Minimum Viable Product, MVP)
  • The startup needs to be scalable or have the potential to reach scalability in low resource areas.
  • The startup can show clear environmental impact (either by reducing a negative impact or creating a positive one)
  • The startup can show a clear social impact
  • Technology startups, tech-enabled startups and/or businesses that can show a clear innovation component (e.g. in their business model)

Also, a specific emphasis is laid, but not limited to: Finance the restoration of degraded land for production and/or conservation purposes; big data and technology to reverse land degradation; resource efficiency optimization technologies, ecosystems impacts reduction and lower carbon emissions; water-saving soil technologies; technologies focused on improving livelihoods and communities ; planning, management and education tools for land restoration; agriculture (with a focus on precision conservation) and agroforestry; clean Energy solutions that aid in the combat of land degradation; and responsible ecotourism that aids in the support of land restoration.

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