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August 11, 2015

The Big Hole In The Big Data Talent Pool


Big data is a hot topic in the world of tech – for all sorts of reasons.

Largely, there is much excitement continuing to brew surrounding the subject. Not least because of some of the online tools that are now available, which mean that even SMEs can access at least some of the benefits that big data offers.

By this I’m primarily talking about things like marketing insights that can be gained from analytics tools like Google Analytics, Canopy Labs and Tranzlogic. These are fantastic tools that all online businesses should be using, for the insights that they give can provide a business with over consumer behaviour can be invaluable when it comes to making predictions and planning future marketing strategies.

However, the reality is, that even if you’re fully equipped with every analytics tool going, if you’re not trained and qualified in the art of data science then there is only so much use that having such data will be.

To make the most of big data, the study, the science and the analysis of it really needs to be your full time job – or rather, your business needs to employing a full time big data professional to analyse all the data that your company gathers for you.

 

The Shortage

Yes, the shortage. And I’m of course not talking the shortage of data – for big data is big. It’s bigger than big. It’s huge. Enormous. Perhaps even infinite.

No, I’m talking about the shortage of big data scientists that currently exist, and the general shortage of skills and skilled professionals in businesses around the globe. Indeed, although the analytics tools like those mentioned above are relatively simple to use and are very good for harvesting data – when it comes to cooking up some meaningful insights and predictions with that data, there is a very large and conspicuous hole in the skills set.

The fact is that there is now so much data available to be analysed, that there simply aren’t enough people as yet who are qualified to make sense of it all.

ACI.info produce some very interesting stats and a revealing infographic from DOMO about the amount of data that currently floats around the web waves on a daily basis.

Here are the key findings and the infographic:

Every Minute:

  • Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content.
  • Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times.
  • Instagram users post nearly 220,000 new photos.
  • YouTube users upload 72 hours of new video content.
  • Apple users download nearly 50,000 apps.
  • Email users send over 200 million messages.
  • Amazon generates over $80,000 in online sales.

According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every single day and there just simply isn’t the manpower to cope with it all. In fact, in the US alone, we are looking at a skills shortage of between 140,000 and 190,000 big data professionals – so, if you fancy a career change, big data is hiring.

 

Data Scientists

There are other worrying reports from some very respected sources around the world. For example, Forbes notes that:

“there is still a significant shortage of skilled professionals who can truly be called Data Scientists who can evaluate business needs and impact, write the algorithms and program platforms such as Hadoop.”

And Gartner weighs in with:

“the need for data scientists [is] growing at about 3x those for statisticians and BI analysts, and an anticipated 100,000+ person analytic talent shortage through 2020.”

Indeed, such people with such coveted skills are in high demand, due to their unique skill sets in being able to unlock valuable pieces of business intelligence from a very large pool of unstructured data to give companies competitive insights over their rivals.

The data is used to determine everything from customer behavior to providing analysis on how the company should function in the future if it wants to achieve sustained growth (and pay the salaries of the data scientists that make it possible).

A report from The Guardian in February cites another factor that is contributing to the skills’ shortage – the fact that companies aren’t just after a single, talented individual, but a whole team of them.

British Airways and other major companies recognize that getting the best from their data scientists, however, requires more than just hiring smart people and setting them loose to analyze data.

“They believe that data scientists are more effective and bring more value to the business when they work within teams. Innovation has usually been found to occur within team environments where there are multiple skills, rather than because someone working in isolation has a brilliant idea, as often portrayed in TV dramas.”

The Future?

Starting salaries for data scientists have gone north of $200,000, according to Bloomberg.com. If you want just one for your company – that’s the price, let alone a whole squadron of these “superheroes”.

But, thankfully, universities are stepping up. From the Bloomberg report:

“MIT, where graduate students in physics, astronomy, and biology are fielding offers from outside their chosen fields, is in the process of setting up a dedicated data-science institute. Marilyn Wilson, the university’s associate director for career development, says the center will begin enrolling graduate degree candidates in 2016.

“In the U.K., the University of Warwick introduced a three-year undergraduate data-science program last year, which David Firth, the program’s mastermind, says may well be the first of its kind. “Big Business was complaining about the lack of people,” he says. “Finance is a major employer, but also large-scale insurers, large online commercial retailers, high-tech startups, and government, which has huge data sets.””

Big data has arrived, and the world has decided that we need it. Furthermore, it has decided that we need big data scientists to analyze it all. No doubt one day, some such scientist will develop the software that will put an end, largely, to data science as a profession like we know (and pay for) it now. But until then, the shortage remains, and while students currently study hard to gain the understanding that they will need to literally walk into full-time, high-earning employment, the big hole in big data continues to expand – and it could be decades before we actually have the skills, software and manpower to catch up with it.

Published by Igor Varnava, August  11, 2015

 

 

 

Eternal Darkness – What Happens To Stolen Data When It Enters The Dark Web


According to Computer Rescue Ltd., “the average time it takes for a company to detect a data breach is 205 days.”

That is a frightfully long time. Just think how much damage could be done by then. In fact, if it’s taken the best part of 5 months for a company to realise that some of its data has been stolen, then one would imagine that it would hardly be worth the bother of trying to retrieve or fix anything after this period, for the damage would have surely already been done.

Indeed, the Computer Rescue article goes on to note that “a recent report by a data protection provider has found that 12 days gives cyber criminals the opportunity to reach 5 continents and 22 countries.”

And this just after 12 days. After 205 days, it’s a wonder there’s any business left.

 

Data Breaches 

In today’s world, data breaches are not just things that happen to a few unsuspecting people who are perhaps a little ignorant of the dangers that exist. Of course, people like this are still prime targets for hackers and other cyber criminals – and, although it pains me to say it, there’s still the odd phishing scam that slips through the net.

As dangerous as these can be to an individual, the real headline-makers are the attacks that target businesses. And it’s not just SMEs either. Big corporations have been targeted in the recent past, and successfully hacked, and their data stolen.

Let’s remind ourselves of a couple of these corporations and what happened to them before we go on. I think that this is important – although I’m certain that Sony would struggle to see any positive that came out of what happened there, I like to see these big companies that have been hacked as ambassadors of the dangers that exist to the rest of us. If it can happen to them, then it can happen to you a lot easier.

So – lest we forget…

 

Sony

This was of course big news the world over, devastating for Hollywood, and indeed was almost like something out of a movie itself.

On November 22nd 2014 skulls started appearing on employees’ screens at Sony. A threatening message was attached to the images, saying that certain “secrets” would be exposed from data that had been obtained in a sophisticated cyber attack if certain demands were not met.

An unknown group that called itself #GOP (Guardians Of Peace) later claimed it was responsible for the attack.

Speculation soon formed surrounding the motives for the attack – Sony, for the most part, were of course keen to downplay what was happening – and it wasn’t long before suspicious eyes started fixing on North Korea as having some sort of hand in things, as a form of retaliation for Sony’s release of The Interview (a film which involves a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un). Sony indeed cancelled the release.

So, what was stolen? I hear you cry. Here’s the BBC’s explanation:

“Before the controversy around The Interview, reams of data considered confidential by Sony – and some of the company’s prime assets – were stolen in the hack.

“An early version of a script for the next James Bond movie, Spectre, was leaked but failed to halt production.

Five Sony films, including the new and unreleased version of Annie, turned up on illegal file-sharing sites and were downloaded up to a million times. Brad Pitt’s Fury, which had already hit cinema screens, was also shared.”

 

Target 

This was a big one. A beauty. A “cybercriminal’s dream”, as the New York Times described it.

And here’s how the online version of the NYC tells the tale:

“For months, an amorphous group of Eastern European hackers had been poking around the networks of major American retailers, searching for loose portals that would take them deep into corporate systems.

“In early November, before the holiday shopping season began, the hackers found what they had been looking for — a wide path into Target and beyond.

“Entering through a digital gateway, the criminals discovered that Target’s systems were astonishingly open — lacking the virtual walls and motion detectors found in secure networks like many banks’. Without those safeguards, the thieves moved swiftly into the company’s computer servers containing Target’s customer data and to the crown jewel: the in-store systems where consumers swipe their credit and debit cards and enter their PINs.”

The frightening thing again with this massive attack is that Target had absolutely no clue that a breach was taking place until the Secret Service alerted the company just two weeks before Christmas.

We asked ourselves at the start of this blog how much damage can be caused in a data breach – $18 billion all told in this instance. Ouch!

 

The Size Of The Threat 

Those are just a couple of the big headline-making data breaches that we’ve all heard about. But there are of course many more that largely slip under the public radar.

This is why I like to think of these big companies as ambassadors of the dangers that exist. A bit of a backhanded compliment, I admit, but, unfortunately for the companies themselves, they do serve a purpose for the rest of us.

According to the Identity Theft Resource Centre (ITRC), the number of data breaches tracked in the US alone reached a record high of 783 in 2014 – a figure which represents a significant hike of 27.5% over the number of breaches in 2013.

Since 2010, the number of US data breaches that have been tracked totals to 5,026, and involves an estimated 675 million records.

This is a serious problem, but one that is not always met with due concern from individuals and businesses. Eva Velasque, President and CEO of ITRC makes the following comment:

“With support from IDT911, the ITRC has been able to continue its efforts in tracking and understanding the complex issues surrounding the growing number of data breaches. With an average of 15 breaches a week in 2014, consumers need to be made aware of the risk of exposure to personal identifying information in order to understand the threat posed by this growing list of data breach incidents.

“The ubiquitous nature of data breaches has left some consumers and businesses in a state of fatigue and denial about the serious nature of this issue.  While not all breaches will result in identity theft or other crimes, the fact that information is consistently being compromised increases the odds that individuals will have to deal with the fall out.  The ITRC data breach reports are a necessary educational tool for businesses, government and advocates alike in our communication efforts.”

 

Where Does Stolen Data End Up?

What use is stolen data to a cybercriminal?

Well, probably not much to the actual hacker him/herself, per se – but there are certain marketplaces on the Dark Web where pieces of data and information are actually worth quite a lot of money.

 

What Is The Dark Web? 

I wish I could tell you… but it’s a secret. Shh…

 

Seriously? 

No. I can tell you. The Dark Web is most easily described as being a part of the internet that isn’t indexed by the likes of Google and other popular search engines. It’s those websites and networks that overlay the public internet, but usually require special software or other authorization to visit them.

Websites that reside on the Dark Web are in fact publicly visible, but they conceal the IP addresses of the servers that they are run on, meaning that not only will you not be able to find the sites using popular search engines, but it’s also very difficult for anyone to work out who’s behind the sites. Thusly, it is the Dark Web that is often used for criminal or illegal activity – such as the sale of stolen data.

Zdnet.com describes it like this:

“The Dark Web is one place where stolen information is offered for sale. Accessible through the Tor network, the underground comprises of stores and websites entrenched in illegal activities ranging from the sale of data to hacking tools to drugs and weaponry. However, websites hosted on the network also offer free downloads of data, which is posted anonymously.”

 

The Bitglass Experiment

Security researchers from Bitgalss decided that they wanted to know exactly what happens to data after it is uploaded to the Dark Web. And so they conducted an experiment to find out.

Chris Hines from the Bitglass blog writes:

“We created an excel spreadsheet of 1,568 fake employee credentials, then placed it on anonymous file sharing sites within the “Dark web,” using a Tor browser as our entry point. We tracked the data as it travelled to various sinister locations around the world, and as it was shared amongst cyber-crime syndicates overseas.”

After only a few days, the spreadsheet containing the fake credentials had been downloaded in more than 5 countries across 3 different continents and was viewed over 200 times.

By day 12, Bitglass reports that the file had received more than 1,080 clicks, and had spread to 22 countries on 5 different continents.

“By the end of the experiment the fake document of employee data had made its way to North America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. Countries frequently associated with cyber criminal activity, including Russia, China and Brazil, were the most common access points for the identity data.

“Additionally, time, location, and IP address analysis uncovered a high rate of activity amongst two groups of similar viewers, indicating the possibility of two cyber crime syndicates, one operating within Nigeria and the other in Russia,” Bitglass’s report states.

 

Are you concerned yet? 

Bitglass’s experiment was of course harmless in the sense that it contained no actual real data that could be used for illegal profiteering. However, it most certainly highlights just how easy it is for stolen data to spread online.

Where does your stolen data end up? On the Dark Web is the answer, where it can be passed around anonymously and exploited by anyone who has the small amount of computing skills needed to access it.

The Dark Web is in fact a massive place – thought to actually be 500 times larger than the ‘normal’ internet, and once it enters, it may never be retrieved. Your business’s cyber security, therefore, can never be taken too seriously.

Published by Igor Varnava, August  11, 2015

Migrating From PBX To VoIP? Here’s What You Need


If you’ve taken the decision to migrate from your old PBX system to VoIP, you will undoubtedly have done so with two kinds of savings in mind.

Firstly, savings your bills – using a VoIP means that you will be utilizing the internet to connect calls, which will cut out cabling costs and call charges, since you will of course, in this day and age, already have an internet connection.

Secondly, the money you will save in terms of efficiency and productivity – feature-rich VoIP will enable much more streamlined communications both with customers and between employees and departments in-house.

VoIP offers many benefits for users, and so it’s no wonder that now that the technology has become more accessible and affordable for SMEs as well as big corporations, that now it’s proving to be one of the most popular forms of communications system for businesses around the globe.

 

Migrating From PBX To VoIP

Perhaps it’s the case that the end of your PBX contract is approaching, and so that has further sparked your decision to migrate to VoIP. If this is you, then now is the time to start putting all the necessary things in place to try and make sure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

As with everything, the more you plan ahead, the more chance you have of ensuring that a better service will be achieved early on when the migration is finally complete.

Ideally, you will want a fully-versed IT team to support you throughout the transition. Indeed, without this, the checklist that is provided below will not be accomplishable – which is why I place it at the very top of the list.

What You Will Need In Place During The Migration

 

  1. IT Support

As mentioned above – you will be committed to migrating to VoIP not least, I’m sure, because of the long-term savings that you will be making. With this in mind, you will probably be ready to hire in some professionals to ensure that it all goes smoothly – and if you’re not, then you should be. The cost of this team will be very quickly offset against the money that you will be saving with VoIP, so there’s no need to worry.

Ok, so now that’s been cleared up, let’s consider exactly why you will need strong tech support in the first place.

 

  1. Ideally, Obtain A Public IP Address For All VoIP Devices

If you can, it will be best practice to avoid a connection with single Network Address Translation (NAT). NAT is a firewall technology that enables multiple devices on a Local Area Network (LAN) to use just a single IP address. However, doing things this way will inevitably see you encountering a number of complications, which, put simply, can be gotten around by avoiding this potential problem altogether by obtaining a public IP address for all your foreseen VoIP devices.

If this can’t be done, then there are ways to work around it. You will need to use IP tunneling between those devices on different LANs. Organize a LAN assessment to see what alterations (if any) you will need to make to your network in order to enable a smooth migration – this is why you will need the tech guys in.

 

  1. Check Your Dates!!

The last thing that you want to happen is to be out of service for any amount of time. So, take the time to make sure that your VoIP package is ordered to arrive in advance of your PBX expiration. You will also want to allow yourself a period of grace where you can perform tests on the new system before rolling it out proper (after which there is no going back!!).

 

  1. Make Sure you have ordered enough hardware for what you need

Since you are having an upheaval, you may as well take the time to consider if simply the amount of phones you have in operation is enough (or too many) to suit your business’s requirements. Are they strategically placed around the office for optimum productivity and privacy? Now is the time to get things organized, and your service provider will probably be able help you do that.

 

  1. Allow For Business Disruption

Whenever there’s something new that needs to be installed (or uninstalled (or both) for that matter), there is always the inevitable physical disruption to the office space that comes part and parcel. This indeed may not be able to be avoided – if you need a new Cat5 cable installed for VoIP, which may well be the case, then expect the tradesmen in creating plenty of noise and dust. Prepare for this, though – move employees temporarily out of the office so that productivity is only minimally impaired, if not at all

 

  1. Allow Time For Employee Training

It’s not just physical disruption that’s an inevitability. You must also plan ahead for the time it will take to educate your office users on how to get the most out of the new VoIP system. Be sure to organize group training so the minimal amount of productivity is lost.

Have you recently migrated to VoIP? What difficulties did you encounter? Ley us know in the comments below.

Published by Igor Varnava, July  28, 2015