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Oct
7
What is VPN and Why Do You Need It?
Posted by S2C Staff on 07 October 2019 09:12 AM

What's New in Technology

October, 2019

What is VPN and Why Do You Need It?

What is VPN and Why Do You Need It?The rise in the number of data breaches reported every other day has become a major concern – even to the ordinary internet user. As a result, we have all become aware of the need to maintain privacy while online. One of the measures promising to keep you safe on the internet is the use of a virtual private network (VPN). But before rushing to install one of the many VPNs available, it’s important to understand what a VPN is, why you need it, if it is foolproof and other ways to stay safe on the internet.

What is a VPN?

The VPN service lets you browse the internet privately by masking your IP address – the unique address identifying your device on the web. It also encrypts your internet traffic as it passes through a secure tunnel created from your device to a remote server. Your data appears to be coming from the remote server. This means that a VPN can hide your geographical location, personal data, web browsing history, spending habits and mobile phone activities.

Initially, VPNs were built for business environments to help a business operate a secure network connection. But with today’s cyber security concerns, they have become popular and more widespread.

Why Would You Need to Use a VPN?

There are numerous reasons why a person would need to enlist the services of a VPN company. Here are some situations that require the use of a VPN:

  • Since Congress cleared the way for ISPs to sell users’ browsing history without their consent, privacy is a thing of the past. This means that an internet service provider can sell your browsing data to third parties. A VPN can mask your IP address from your service provider.
  • The encryption offered by VPNs guards against digital threats, hacking, malware attacks and identify theft.
  • VPNs help keep hackers and marketers from tracking your movement online.
  • If you travel to a country where you can’t access some sites, for instance in China where Facebook is not allowed, a VPN will help you stay in touch on any of these blocked sites.
  • When using public Wi-Fi in airports or any other place that offers free Wi-Fi, a VPN comes in handy.
  • Employers who have workers going out for field work or working remotely can set up a VPN to help access company networks securely.
  • Used by whistleblowers, law enforcement agencies, investigative journalists and others who want to shield their identities or location.
  • For user with Voice over IP (VOIP) for making calls, a VPN will help prevent your phone conversations from being tracked or intercepted.
  • When you need to visit questionable websites but want to be safe. For instance, when your identity is stolen and you want to find the website selling your data.

The Bad Side of Using a VPN

Although a VPN service may sound perfect for internet security, it also has some disadvantages. Keep in mind that your internet service provider may no longer have your data, but the VPN provider now has access to it.

A VPN is not 100 percent guaranteed. The VPN provider could be disconnected or there could be a Domain Name Server (DNS) leak. Even with advanced features such as kill switch, VPN data can still leak through software, hardware or other means.

If you fail to use the right VPN, you’ll be in more problems than you are running from. Some VPNs (especially the free services) keep log files. There is no telling where your private data will end up. They could end up selling your data to third parties or supplying your information to the government.

These services also slow down your internet access speed due to the process of data encryption and tunneling network traffic to a remote server that is used to connect you to the internet.

It is not possible to know if the VPN provider commits to what they promise. The only way to find out is when things go wrong. They may promise not to keep logs, but if you fail to read the privacy policy of a VPN company, you will not know if they retain customer data.

A VPN doesn’t protect you from viruses and malware.

Other Security Measures

Since a VPN is not foolproof, it is important that you also observe other security measures to protect your privacy.

It is crucial that you practice digital privacy hygiene. In other words, when online you should limit the amount of personal information that you share. This will help minimize your digital footprint.

Investing in quality antivirus software will protect your device from malware and viruses.

Regularly check if your data has been compromised. Check for strange activity in your emails, social media accounts and even in your bank account.

Use strong passwords or other security features such as biometrics to secure your accounts.

Final Word

You may come across many different types of products and services that promise to keep you safe on the internet. The bottom line is, it’s up to you to protect yourself. A combination of several security measures is a good starting point – the use of a VPN, strong passwords and antivirus programs.


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Sep
2
The Rise of Biometrics Security and Why You Should Take Precaution
Posted by S2C Staff on 02 September 2019 11:00 AM

What's New in Technology September, 2019

The Rise of Biometrics Security and Why You Should Take Precaution

Biometric technology has been on the rise as it promises to make the authentication process more secure and convenient. Unlike passwords and key cards, biometrics are something you will always have, can’t share and can’t forget. This makes the biometric approach convenient and at the same time it has lower password management costs.

Biometrics also are said to be difficult to steal or hack; difficult, but not impossible.

Any technology can have loopholes that can be exploited, and that’s why you need to understand it well and take precautions if you decide to use this approach.

The use of biometrics is not new, but its increased presence in the public domain such as banks makes it a topic of interest.

To help us understand the need to tread carefully, let’s first have a peek at the latest biometric security technologies.

New Trends in Biometric Security

Biometric authentication is becoming popular for digital payments, logging in to banking systems and even on smartphones. New trends in biometrics security include:

  • Voice recognition: the human voice is used to create voice prints to be used for user authentication in a voice ID system. 
  • Face recognition: 3D face recognition is another new development that uses sensors to identify the shape of a person’s face. This is done by using facial characteristics such as the nose, cheeks, chin and contours of the eye sockets. 
  • Mobile biometric technology: mobile devices also have joined the bandwagon, and manufacturers are now fitting them with biometric sensors. It is also possible to attach portable biometric-sensing equipment using a USB cable.
  • Biometrics on the cloud: cloud-based solutions have been developed to speed up the identification process. Since users don’t have to spend so much on necessary applications, hardware and infrastructure, this becomes cost effective.

How Secure is the Biometric Approach?

Biometric security is increasingly being used as a preference to passwords, but how safe is this approach? Fingerprints may not be as secure as they are said to be. Consider this, some researchers were actually able to generate fake fingerprints that they called DeepMasterPrints. These fingerprints were generated using a neural network technique to create artificial fingerprints that can work as a “master key.” This goes to show how a system using fingerprints for security can be vulnerable to dictionary attacks using the created MasterPrints.  

There are many people posting their pictures online on social media. Unfortunately, once you do that your images are no longer private. This means that a face can easily be captured from the internet.

Retina scans are considered extremely reliable and accurate more than the iris scan. However, it is the least common as it’s considered to be intrusive.  

Reservations

The use of biometrics is a great development toward security concerns, but it raises privacy issues. Keep in mind that biometric information can easily be harvested – from a distance and without your knowledge. The cloud also is another reason to be concerned. Although biometrics are effective in enforcing security, the data collected has to be stored somewhere. How secure are the databases that store this information? Of course, this increases the possibilities of a breach.

Some reports made public include a potential hack for the palm vein scanner and a claim by a research team at vpnMentor about a leak of millions of fingerprints from BioStar 2, an app built by Suprema. Whether this and other similar claims are true or not, it just goes to show how vulnerable biometrics data can be. It also won’t be long before marketplaces emerge on the Dark Web for actual biometrics.

Remember that unlike passwords, you can’t change your biometrics. If someone had access to a biometrics database, then they would have access to sensitive data.

Another reservation involves the right to privacy for your biometrics. It’s possible for your biometrics to be collected without your informed consent. For instance, in stores where face recognition is used to identify potential shoplifters or to survey shoppers’ behavior. Recently, the FaceApp Challenge created by a Russian company had its share of controversy. Although said to be purely for entertainment, it also means that no one has control over what the company collecting the data will do with it. 

Businesses face the potential risk of getting sued by their own employees. This is because there are some locations that already have a biometric privacy act law. In the United States, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) allows users to sue under this law to protect their privacy.

Stay Safe

Since cyber criminals are always working on hacking new security systems, it’s crucial that users of these systems remain cautious. One of the ways to stay safe when using biometrics is the use of multi-modal authentication, which requires input from more than one biometric device. This will help overcome some loopholes, such as the use of copied fingerprints or stolen voice and facial prints.

Luckily, with advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, biometrics can be enhanced. Users can be scrutinized using their online behavior. Since people tend to be creatures of habit, a behavior-based system can develop a more complex user profile. The tracked behavior will help to tell a genuine user from a potential threat.

Since it’s difficult to know if your biometrics have been stolen, it’s best to take precautionary measures that could include:

  • Avoiding unnecessarily sharing personal information, such as the bank account numbers, date of birth or Social Security number
  • Paying close attention to your bills and financial statements
  • Watching out for unauthorized transactions by reviewing your credit card and bank statements.
  • Using other security features on your mobile device.
  • Avoiding using public WiFi. It is also important that you keep your sharing and firewall settings updated.

In Conclusion

The biometric authentication is not a silver bullet. Technically, biometrics are not secret and have similar cyber risks as passwords, only they are exploited differently. Whenever a new technology becomes pervasive, there are individuals who will definitely try to figure it out –especially because these technologies are used to access financial services and private data.

In the digital world, we cannot assume complete security. The best you can do is work with known credible vendors and stick with providers who comply with both federal and state data privacy regulations. Lastly, use technologies that are tried and tested.


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Aug
3

What's New in Technology

August, 2019

How the Accountant Role has Morphed with Technology, and What New Skills are Necessary

How the Accountant Role has Morphed with Technology, and What New Skills are NecessaryAccountants are no strangers to inventions. Known inventions such as the abacus, calculators and computers have helped complete tasks quickly and in less time. However, today’s technology is complex and is reshaping the world of accounting. Such new technologies include big data, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, block chain, payment systems, mobility and social collaboration, among many others.

How Technology has Changed the Accounting Industry

Accounting, a traditional field, has not been immune to technological innovations. Initially, an accounting department would rely on IT leaders to make its technology decisions. Today, CFOs are increasingly taking part in decision making when it comes to the implementation of new technologies.

These changes are due to technological innovations in the accounting industry that have contributed to improved productivity and operational efficiency. The replacement of manual accounting with computerized tools has contributed greatly to reducing errors, resulting in more accurate reporting.  

The accounting industry has reaped many benefits from adopting technology. Such benefits include virtual storage of documents, compliant online tools for accounting and taxes, use of communication platforms that ease connecting with customers, forensic analysis tools, and filing financial details with authorities.

Technology such as cloud computing means that a CPA can collaborate with clients in real time. This means that you are able to provide your clients with frequent business insights for performance monitoring and decision making.

All this makes it crucial for any company or professional to adopt these new technologies to remain competitive in today’s digital world.

Impact on the Accounting Profession

There is mixed opinion regarding how technology impacts the accounting industry. With the new technologies adopted in accounting, the accountant and finance professionals are expected to master new skills beyond numbers.

As accounting technology continues to evolve, there are considerations about necessary skill sets for new hires. Recruiters also are searching for candidates with extra skills relating to emerging technological trends.

Obviously, some roles such as manual entry and calculations have become obsolete. But technology has introduced new roles that require that accountants to approach the business environment differently so as to drive value. This calls for a mindset ready to embrace the constant state of change.  

Why It's Necessary to Have IT Skills

Today it’s not enough just to have basic training for software programs used in accounting. CPAs are now becoming part of strategic planning teams. Their new roles include developing new processes, giving advice and even performing future forecasts. You may find an accountant working with a system programmer when developing a digital financial process.

This means that apart from learning accounting practices, an accountant should know how to integrate accounting processes with IT programs. Systems used today require technical skills. Such systems include strategic software applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) systems. Other technologies such as cloud computing have taken accounting to new levels that require advanced skills.

We also can't ignore the fact that technology has also brought with it new challenges. Data security is one such challenge. This requires that accountants also be equipped with knowledge on protecting data and computer systems against cyber threats.

Technology Skills for Accountants

As we have seen, the accounting industry has been impacted by technology. For an accountant to remain relevant in the accounting industry, here are some necessary technology skills:

  • Knowledge of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and supply chain management (SCM) systems
  • Experience in cloud computing
  • Data analytics skills
  • Knowledge of business intelligence software
  • Understanding how processes work
  • Advanced Excel ability

What the Future Holds

Initially, it was thought that the advent of accounting tools would make the accountant redundant. But these tools have helped professional accountants become financial advisors, business counselors and strategists. Hence, the growing automation of accounting tasks presents a great opportunity for professional accountants willing to take up new skills.

It is critical that accountants understand the importance of investing in themselves. This will require learning skills beyond number crunching and preparing tax returns.

It’s also important to note that apart from technological skills, the new work environment will require additional skills such as customer service, business insight, flexibility, communication skills, regulatory knowledge and leadership abilities.


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Jul
3
How To Use AI For HR
Posted by S2C Staff on 03 July 2019 10:02 AM

What's New in Technology

July, 2019

How To Use AI For HR

How To Use AI For HRThere is a lot of new technology being used to automate functions and save money in large corporations, but many small organizations are shut out of those advancements. This is largely because of the cost, training, knowledge and resources it requires to take advantage of such new technology.

But while small business owners might not be able to afford such advances, it’s good to keep up with what’s going on in the tech world – particularly innovations that can help a business owner automate processes and save money on personnel expenses.

One such advancement is how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used for human resources functions. For example, automated processes that adapt to situations can be useful with recruitment, onboarding and training new employees.

Recruiting

In a loose labor market, even a small business could receive hundreds or even thousands of resumes for one open position. In a tight labor market, a job listing might not procure that many responses, but an employer can be very particular about which applicants to meet. In either scenario, AI can be deployed to screen resumes for keywords, experience and education requirements in order to narrow down the list to only highly qualified candidates.

AI processes can help reduce unconscious biases during the initial recruitment process. Furthermore, AI can help businesses automate scheduling and conduct customized text interviewing. In fact, there are now AI pre-screening tools that host video interviews of potential candidates to narrow the list even further before inviting a short list for a phone or face-to-face meeting. One such tool hosts a series of "games" to assess candidates based on their cognitive and emotional features, while avoiding traits related to their gender, socioeconomic status or race. The assessment is then matched up against profiles of past or current employees who have succeeded in that position. If the AI evaluation determines a candidate is not a good fit for the position for which he applied, it can scan other position profiles to see if there is another role for which the candidate might be better suited.

Onboarding

Onboarding often consists of paperwork, digital tools and videos, with very little personal contact apart from a mass orientation. However, AI-enabled chatbots can provide new employees with a more customized and pseudo-personal experience by answering specific questions and providing tailored information based on their role, department or required job skills and processes they need to learn. AI allows a new hire to self-acclimate to the job without having to bother HR, the hiring manager or colleagues with a lot of questions – helping the new employee get up-to-speed and gain confidence on his or her own.

Consumer goods manufacturer Unilever uses a chatbot that is able to speak and answer employee questions in plain, human language. The chatbot can answer hundreds of general questions and even tailor specific advice, ranging from where to catch a shuttle bus to the office in the morning to how to handle HR and payroll issues.

On-the-Job Training

No matter how perfectly qualified a new hire is for the job, there is always a learning curve. Most of the time, it’s a matter of learning the company’s specific computer programs, processes and even in-house jargon – such as what acronyms mean and the names and locations of conference rooms. AI can help new workers learn basic operating procedures such as these as well as specific job tasks.

For example, a new employee could wear an AI headset throughout the day to help carry out daily job functions, all the while asking specific questions and receiving guidance on best practices. An AI headset may even use image recognition technology to identify what the employee is referencing, and even playback images through virtual reality (VR) to help direct the worker to the appropriate screen on his or her computer.

Enhance Productivity (of Human Employees)

Instead of replacing humans, AI can be used to handle menial tasks so that employees can engage in more meaningful work that requires experience, knowledge and the ability to make calculated decisions. While technology is widely used these days for communication, data mining and researching information, AI as the technology of the future might replace lower-level administrative positions so that resources can be allocated to hiring more higher-level workers who will have a greater impact on firm revenues.


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Jun
4
Small Business Survey: How Are Today's SMBs Using Technology?
Posted by S2C Staff on 04 June 2019 11:19 AM

What's New in Technology

June 2019

Small Business Survey: How Are Today's SMBs Using Technology?

Increase productivity, Meet customer demand, Enhance innovation, Boost sales, Differentiate themselves from the competition, Avoid obsolescenceOne way to reduce the overhead associated with hiring workers is to make efficient use of technology. According to a recent survey by CompTIA, 73 percent of midsize businesses and 56 percent of firms with fewer than 20 employees say technology is a primary factor in pursuing their business objectives.

Budgeting

According to the 4Q 2018 survey, the average small/midsize business (SMB) invests anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 a year on technology. About half (52 percent) of small business owners think they’re not spending enough on business technology.

Upgrading

The largest share of small businesses (36 percent) say that in recent years they’ve focused their technology budget on infrastructure, such as laptops, desktops, servers, phones and storage. The second largest item in their tech budget was industry-specific software. Areas in which small businesses say they most need to improve technology include:

  • Integrating different applications, platforms and devices
  • Cyber and data security
  • Managing and using data effectively
  • Modernizing equipment and software
  • Improving ROI on technology purchases
  • Hiring skilled employees with experience working with newer technologies

Customer Service

One interesting find was that customer service is the biggest technology spending priority for SMBs going forward. Small business owners are looking to technology to help them renew existing customer accounts, identify new customer segments and markets, and innovate new products and services.

New Trend

A new trend among SMBs is to use technology as a service or product that can be offered to customers. In fact, more than half (52 percent) of professional service firms such as accountants and lawyers introduced such a service last year. For example, an accounting firm might provide a cyber security audit or become a software reseller (buy at wholesale price and sell to customers for a profit). Among SMBs that have begun offering technology services, almost half say that revenue stream is growing faster than their regular business.

Preferred Tech Vendors

Where do the majority of SMBs buy technology? Pretty much the same places as individual consumers, namely online retailers such as Amazon and brick-and-mortar stores like Best Buy.

Priorities Compared to Two Years Ago

Another interesting finding from the study is that SMBs are not executing on their technology plans as well as they had hoped. The share of respondents who say they’ve achieved their vision and strategy dropped from 23 percent in 2016 to just 18 percent in 2018. The report asserts that, “Many firms are taking two steps forward and one back as they navigate these new learning curves.”

Emerging Technologies

Despite their sluggish success, more than half (53 percent) of SMBs believe that emerging technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) devices, artificial intelligence (AI) and drones will drive opportunities for them in the future. Thirty percent of SMBs say they’ve already incorporated some form of emerging technology into their business to:

  • Increase productivity: 63%
  • Meet customer demand: 47%
  • Enhance innovation: 42%
  • Boost sales: 42%
  • Differentiate themselves from the competition: 39%
  • Avoid obsolescence: 22%

Still, some SMBs are hesitant to invest in emerging technologies. Ten percent think it will trigger a negative impact on their business while 23 percent believe it’s soon to project the potential impact, especially given the cost of entry, the technical training required, and the time it would take to identify high-quality and cost-efficient vendors or suppliers.


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Feb
5
What's New in Technology February 2019
Posted by S2C Staff on 05 February 2019 02:29 PM

What's New in Technology February 2019

Automated Workflow Tools

Automated Workflow ToolsWe often read about how technological advances such as artificial intelligence will someday be used for customer-facing jobs – even eliminating the human touch. However, small firms that rely on trust and personal relationships are not likely to benefit from these innovations. Nonetheless, technology – when used effectively – can enhance a firm’s efficiency and free up resources so that more human time is spent on customer interaction. Used in combination, technology and personal relationships can improve a company’s bottom line.

One of the best ways to use technology is to enhance current processes. Over the past two decades, many firms have begun tracking their client and prospective client interactions via spreadsheets and data software. These days, automated workflow tools can replace many of those older, time-consuming tasks by integrating single-source data for a variety of uses.

For example, meeting notes can now be stored and mined so as to retrieve and compare reported results from month to month or year to year. Client databases can be integrated with information from multiple sources, including handwritten notes, Post-its, voicemails and emails. By collecting, compiling and analyzing related information from every available source, client-facing personnel can track previously asked questions – and answers – so that information is transparent, consistently communicated and reviewed to help understand the concerns of individual clients. This data can be used for periodic outreach communications that directly touch on the issues of greatest interest to each client – proving that technology can actually enhance client relationships rather than detract from them.

However, to take advantage of automated workflow tools, it’s important to conduct periodic reviews to identify ongoing challenges and issues within your organization as well as research tech solutions that can address them in a more efficient manner. The goal is to compile both client data and relevant project information in a centralized location to improve efficiency and collaboration.

The following are a couple of examples of automated workflow tools that can enhance small business operations.

Scheduling

It’s one thing to have a triggering system designed to automate scheduled appointments. However, many times these meetings are wasted because either clients do not arrive with the information (such as forms and receipts to complete a tax return) they need to provide or the consultant has not completed the assignments necessary to facilitate a productive meeting. A scheduling tool can do more than signal it’s time for a periodic consultation. It should be integrated with previous meeting notes to share any ongoing issues that need to be monitored, discussions tabled for a later date, tasks or forms that need to be completed and details of next steps – updated when they are completed. By integrating scheduling software with client data files, regular consultations are enriched with the information necessary for a complete discussion and more time can be spent building trust based on competence and personal interaction.

E-Signatures

Better yet, the more your client files are digitalized the less need for time-consuming, face-to-face meetings just to get a signature. Digital signatures are now a legally accepted form of agreement in many scenarios, and can be integrated as an automated workflow tool. While clients may initially be hesitant, it’s important to make the e-signature process simple in order to demonstrate its value over having to print out documents and sign, scan, upload and return them. Consider using the time normally spent on trying to get a client to respond to invite him out for lunch the first time he successfully completes an e-signature form.


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