Solutions to Password Overload

If only technologists had their way, passwords and PINs would have long been replaced with more innovative (and admittedly, better) security solutions. But such is not the case. Those alternative solutions, which include biometrics, smart cards, and password fobs, effective as they may be, are just way too expensive to implement.

So although passwords and PINs may not be here to stay, they certainly won’t be going away soon either.

Why keeping passwords in memory is no longer possible

A couple of decades ago, it would have been nearly impossible to crack an eight-character password using brute force. Today, however, advancements in computing power are rendering the typical passwords of the past easily decipherable, forcing us to come up with passwords that are not only much longer, but also much more complex and hence difficult to recall.

For instance, memorable words like your favourite character (e.g. ‘skywalker’) may have been acceptable then, but not anymore. Today?s security systems will encourage you to insert numbers or even other keyboard characters as a means to once again counter brute force. Hence, ‘sk5%ywa936lker@#’ may be more acceptable.

Remembering that one alone can be pretty daunting.

To further complicate matters, the number of applications that require passwords for access is much greater than before even for a single end user. Ordinary end users have to keep track of passwords for their email account, network login, workstation login, online services, and so on.

The burden is even greater for your IT admins, who have to remember a larger collection of passwords that protect business critical systems and applications. Clearly, the team in charge of your IT security will need a way to manage all these passwords.

Password management solutions

Existing password management solutions typically come in the form of software applications that store passwords. Basically, all you need to remember are your login details for the app a.k.a. the ?master password?. Once you’ve gained access inside, you can then retrieve any password you stored there.

Some of these apps are installed in portable devices like Pocket PCs, PDAs, or smartphones, which you would normally take along with you. For as long as the device stays with you, your passwords will be in safe hands. What’s more, you can retrieve them anywhere you go.

But obviously, there’s a problem. What if the device gets misplaced or stolen? Although the person who ends up with your device may not be able to gain access into the app and your passwords, neither will you. A better solution would therefore be an app that can be accessed anywhere but is not susceptible to getting lost.

Web-based password manager

A web-based password manager fits the bill. You don’t have to take it with you, but still you can access it almost anywhere. A typical web-based password manager will have all your passwords stored in a centralised, highly secure location.

If you want, you can even use your mobile password manager along with the web-based one. Ideally, your web-based password manager would have a copy of all the end-user passwords as well as the master passwords of your organisation.

With an easy to access but highly-secure web-based password manager, you no longer have to come up with passwords that (ironically) are supposed to be easy to remember but hard to crack at the the same time.

Furthermore, password managers are ideal for keeping passwords that have to be changed every-now-and-then; a requirement that’s becoming all too common in organisations bent on enforcing more stringent controls.

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Excel Spreadsheet Conversion to SQL Reports

Spreadsheets are flexible, inexpensive and easy to use. They are especially handy when it comes to beating report submission deadlines or making impromptu data computations.

Unfortunately, organisations heavy reliance on spreadsheets have made these User Developed Applications (UDA) into high-risk office tools. Simple spreadsheet errors like leaving out a negative sign or a cut-and-paste mistake have already caused million-dollar discrepancies. Also, when a fraudulent employee enters into the picture, the risks become unimaginable.
Think TransAlta’s spreadsheet cut-and-paste glitch (the company later called this a ‘simple clerical error’) which caused the energy firm a whopping $24 million loss or Fidelity’s overstatement of its earnings owing to the omission of the minus sign on the spreadsheet of a $1.3 billion net capital loss.

Denizon can convert your Excel Spreadsheets to a web based SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS). It does not import Excel data, rather it allows the creation and deployment of reports in a more efficient manner by querying the data.

So what is the problem with Spreadsheets?

  • Plagued with risk issues and vulnerable to fraud
  • Lacking in control features especially when copied, edited and emailed between many users
  • A burden to regulation compliance e.g. SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley)
Moreover:
  • Accidental copy-paste/Omission of a negative sign/Erroneous range selection
  • Incorrect data input or unintentional deletion of a character, cell, range, column, or row
  • Possibility of the user working on the wrong version
  • Prone to inconsistent company-wide reporting
  • Often ‘defenceless’ against unauthorised access

See Top 10 Disadvantages of Spreadsheets

What makes SQL Server Reporting Services better than Spreadsheets?

  • Free from spreadsheet risks & equipped with built-in controls that substantially reduce risks to data
  • Less prone to fraud
  • More suitable for regulatory compliance e.g. SOX
  • Designed for an agile business environment

Automatic consolidation eliminates errors and wasted time caused by tedious copy-pasting of data and linking of cells
Better collaboration capabilities allows team members to bring their heads together for planning, budgeting, and reporting even while on the go
Mobility support enables users to input data or retrieve information through their wireless mobile device

Superior sharing features ensures that everyone is exactly on the same page and viewing real-time information
Dashboards provide insightful information at-a-glance through KPIs, graphs, and various metrics
Drill-downs enable users to investigate unusual figures and gain a better understanding of the details that contribute to the big picture
Easy to learn interfaces allow your organisation to cope with fast personnel turnaround or Mergers & Acquisitions

Don’t know how to shift from Spreadsheets to SQL Server Reporting Services?

We’ve got the knowledge and expertise to assist you in:

  • Making a smooth and cost-efficient transition from risky spreadsheets to reliable reports
  • Designing and implementing SOX-compliant report-generating methods and procedures
  • Putting exposure to high-risk reporting methods a thing of the past
Do you really need a Cloud Broker?

A cloud broker is someone who can serve as your trusted adviser when it comes to your dealings with a cloud service provider. Sort of an IT consultant who: is familiar with cloud computing, can negotiate a mutually beneficial relationship between you and a provider, and help you manage usage, performance and delivery of cloud services.?But do you need one?

Is it even time for cloud adoption?

Of course, if you haven’t even started considering moving your IT systems to the cloud, what’s the point of reading this article, right? Well, if you’re running a business in Ireland or the UK maybe you should start thinking about it. The benefits (of moving to the cloud) are simply overwhelming. But then that’s for another post.

For now, let’s just briefly talk about the rate of cloud adoption so far. This should give you an idea what other decision makers nearby think about cloud computing and what they’ve done in this regard so far.

According to research conducted by the Cloud Industry Forum (CIF), the number of first-time users of cloud computing in the United Kingdom has risen by about 27% compared to last year.

The study, which was carried out by research company Vanson Bourne and which involved IT decision-makers from both the private and public sector in UK, also showed that 61% of companies are subscribing to cloud-based services. A similar research conducted last year (2011) revealed only 48%.

In Ireland, plans are underway to adopt cloud computing. According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 75% of Ireland’s CIOs and IT directors are already adopting a cloud computing strategy.

Definitely, the number of cloud adopters is growing. If that number already includes your hottest competitor, then perhaps there’s no time to waste.

But while a migration to the cloud should be in your pipeline, it shouldn’t be something you should rush into. Generally speaking, there are at least three kinds of services offered by cloud service providers: IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and SaaS (Software as a Service).

Some providers offer variations of these services. You might only need one type of service or a little of everything. There are also technical and regulatory compliance issues that need consideration.

Obviously, if you have no idea where or how to start, you’ll need someone who can help you. But what kind of help do you need?

Let’s proceed by talking about the kinds of services cloud brokers offer as these are obviously indicative of the needs of current cloud customers.

What cloud brokers do?

Cloud brokers offer three main types of services.

Cloud?inter-mediation

Cloud inter-mediation services are designed to add value to existing services and improve capabilities. ?Examples of cloud inter-mediation include managing access to cloud-based services, carrying out performance reporting, and establishing stronger security.

Cloud aggregation

As mentioned earlier, some cloud customers may end up subscribing to multiple cloud services; most likely from different cloud service providers. To get optimal return on their various cloud subscriptions, these customers will need to apply data integration and make these disparate systems work together. They will also have to make sure data flowing from one system to another is kept secure. This is where cloud aggregation comes into play.

Cloud arbitrage

This entails finding the best cloud service provider(s) to solve a particular problem. One example is comparing different providers offering data storage services and identifying the one offering the most competitive rates.

Other cloud arbitrage brokers develop new solutions by combining the services of different cloud service providers and then offer them to cloud customers. While there are similarities between cloud arbitrage and cloud aggregation, the former is more flexible and allows the customer to transfer from one provider to another where conditions are more favourable.

Problems a cloud broker can help you solve

Just like with natural clouds, your experiences in cloud computing won’t be all white and fluffy. You’ll also encounter gray and uncertain (or even stormy) clouds.

One major issue in cloud computing is cloud security. In fact, cloud security (or the apparent lack of it) is the one thing that’s really clouding up the sky of cloud computing. But that doesn’t mean the cloud is totally insecure. Besides, there are certain types of information that really don’t require a high level of security. These types you can easily migrate to the cloud.

For sensitive information, you really need to conduct due diligence to make sure your cloud service providers’ data centres are secure enough.

Where exactly will your data be stored? Are there enough provisions for regulatory compliance? How will your data be segregated? Does the infrastructure readily support ?data forensics? Is there a sound disaster recovery/business continuity plan? These are just some of the questions that need clear answers before you sign a contract with a cloud service provider.

Suggested reading: 9 Cloud Security Questions You Need To Ask Service Providers

Also, before you sign, you need to study the SLA (Service Level Agreement) very carefully. Look at the guaranteed uptime. Is it enough to meet your own desired service levels?

Bear in mind that the answers to these questions may be too technical. This is one of those instances when a cloud broker can come in handy. As your trusted adviser, your cloud broker can break down the technical jargon and present everything in a language that you can make intelligent decisions from.

A cloud broker will also be able to study the cloud provider’s security architecture and policies and determine whether they’re sufficient to meet your own security requirements. Basically, a cloud broker will not only help you obtain answers to your questions.

He will also know exactly what vital information to extract from providers in order to ensure that you find the best deal possible.

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Be pound poor and become Penny rich

Energy management is and should be perceived as a long-term investment by organisations. Having said this, the need for all organisations to implement energy management strategies now cannot be overstated as these strategies will save their costs of running the business in future.

Many organisations may shy off from implementing energy efficiency measures in place opting to save the associated costs or to use the cash for other projects that may be perceived as high priority in the short run. This is most likely to occur when cost cutting is a priority. Long-term planning is however critical for energy efficiency programs. Taking steps to improve building management and energy efficiency will and does pay dividends in the near-term and may be a competitive tool in the long-term.

Be energy smart
All energy management projects begin with being energy smart which calls for the understanding of energy usage. Use of Smart Meters that give real time readings of energy usage, can dramatically help businesses understand the benefit which energy management brings to the organisation.

Smart meters also cut the amount of time businesses spend on administration by allowing them to pay accurate bills, based on accurate readings. Some suppliers also support businesses to identify areas of energy wastage/inefficiency and help setting targets for energy reduction that guide behavioural change with regard to energy in the organisation.

Use of technologies that record the energy usage at the water or electricity meters putting data into a system where the users can graph it has made it easy to compare energy consumption in various departments, sites or buildings. Appropriate measures can then be implemented to improve the efficiency.

Partnerships between businesses and energy suppliers
Since the long-term benefits of reduced energy consumption is beneficial to both suppliers and consumers; the responsibility of managing energy consumption is being taken by both. Businesses should work with the suppliers on cost reduction strategies through identifying areas where energy is being wasted and advising businesses on how to save energy. Of key importance when choosing an energy supplier therefore is their depth of understanding of a business’ energy management needs.

Capitalise on government incentives
Businesses should always explore varied financing mechanisms for their energy efficiency programs e.g. government schemes generating electricity and selling it to the grid.

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