These IT projects will boost your business in 2013

If your business isn’t growing, it’s dying. That’s why it’s important to stay on the lookout for new ways to grow your small business. There is one area, though, where small business owners often fail to look for growth strategies: IT. Yes, you can grow your business’ revenue by investing in IT. Small Business Computing.com provides a roadmap, listing several IT projects to help make your business and employees more efficient and productive.

Bring Wi-Fi to your business

A growing number of businesses permit their staff to bring their own electronic devices – everything from laptops to tablets – to their cubicles. The reasoning driving this movement: When people work on laptops and tablets that they know well, they work more proficiently. But allowing your employees to participate in the bring-your-own-device movement doesn’t mean much if your office isn’t prepared with a reliable Wi-Fi network that allows your workers to access the internet, send e-mail and post to social media sites while at their desks. Make installing a powerful Wi-Fi network in your office a top priority for 2013.

Ultrabooks

Ultrabooks are outstanding tools. They’re not as cumbersome as traditional laptops and far more powerful than Netbooks. They can also help your salesforce bring in more business: They can take their Ultrabooks home with them or on the road when they’re traveling to work on reports and presentations. They can run multimedia presentations for potential customers. And Ultrabooks are more affordable than ever today. If you want your employees to reach their full potential, equip them with Ultrabooks.

No more Windows XP

Do you still have computers running the Windows XP operating system? That’s a mistake. As Small Business Computing.com highlights, Microsoft will not provide technical support for this operating system as of early April 2014. The company will also no longer distribute regular security updates for the system as of this time. Running Windows XP, then, means that not only will your employees be working on a decade-old operating system, but their computers will also be highly susceptible to virus attacks. Make the smart move and upgrade to a more current Windows operating system.

Is the U.S. government driving a black market in zero-day bugs?

Stuxnet made big headlines in 2010. That’s when online security experts first discovered this new piece of malware, one strong enough to attack and control the industrial systems used in the nuclear program being developed by Iran. As a newly released story by the MIT Technology Review says, most people today believe the intelligence departments of Israel and the United States collaborated to develop Stuxnet. And that, to many, is troubling news. It’s evidence of a new from of electronic warfare, one in which countries create powerful malevolent software to unleash on their adversaries. And the United States seems to be leading the charge.

A developing industry

What is the long-term impact of malware weapons? The Technology Review story fears that governments, by investing a great deal of research and dollars into creating these virtual weapons, is making an ever-more hazardous Internet. And it appears these fears are justified. Since Stuxnet was unleashed in 2010, it’s clear that governments have invested a lot more money producing malware weapons. No one knows, in fact, how frequently such weapons have been deployed. It’s almost certain many of these weapons have already been unleashed without the public’s knowledge.

A mobile attack?

Even more alarming? Smartphones and tablets are far from safe from this kind of government-created malware. It’s indisputable that consumers are leaving desktop computers and latching onto smartphones, tablets as well as other mobile-computing devices. As this trend gains momentum, governments are focusing their efforts on the mobile market. The Technology Review story says that exploits that focus on mobile software are prized because manufacturers so rarely send updates to their mobile operating systems. As a result these systems are especially susceptible to malware attacks.

An old story?

The Technology Review story ends on this chilling thought: Maybe malware weapons are nothing new. After all, countries are always developing new and more damaging weapons. It ought to come as little surprise, then, that governments are taking to the online world, too, with regards to crafting new weapons. It’s unfortunate, though, that this newest round of arms building is creating a more dangerous Internet.

Internet research made easy

You need to research Einstein’s life for a school paper. You must look into the history of your company’s biggest competitor. The Internet is there for you. After all, the online world is full of just about any stat, study and research paper that you’ll will need to find out about any subject imaginable. But exactly how do you know if the information you’re finding online is actually true? Online research is convenient, but the Internet is also full of half-truths and outright lies. Fortunately, the Lifehacker Web site has come up with a few useful tips for doing accurate research online.

Is that a bias?

No one is free from bias. Everybody has their own strong opinions. These beliefs, though, can alter our online research. For this reason, Lifehacker recommends that researchers first recognize their own biases before performing online research. For instance, if you believe that life starts at conception, you may not be willing to acknowledge studies or opinion pieces taking the opposite side. This can ruin your online research even before you start. Make sure, then, to take what Lifehacker calls your confirmation bias into consideration before you commence scanning the Internet for your research.

Bad information

Once you’re searching online, be skeptical of articles that aren’t backed up with references or scientific facts. Lifehacker says that poorly researched articles, which regularly end up online, are the only things that can spoil your online research faster than can confirmation bias. So make sure you only incorporate articles that come from legitimate sources, such as government agencies, accredited universities and well-respected researchers, in your online research.

Scholarly searches

To discover the current and most comprehensive studies on your subject, you’ll want to expand your search past the usual suspects of Google, Bing and Yahoo! Instead, use customized scholarly searches that can yield more detailed information. Google Scholar and Scirus are powerful tools for academic research. So is PLOS, run by the Public Library of Science, and the United States Library of Congress.

What has caused the demise of the PC?

Is Web site Business Insider engaging in hyperbole when it declared the end of the era of the PC? Maybe. But there’s no question the boom days of the personal computer have ended. Just look at the growing demand for mobile computing. Consumers today are switching to their tablets and smartphones in increasing numbers to access the Internet. That is the primary reason why Business Insider’s editors aren’t too far off in predicting the end of the PC’s computing dominance.

Consumers lukewarm toward PCs

It’s not that people will no longer buy PCs. They will. They just aren’t going to be buying as many. And when they need to check their e-mail messages, update their Facebook pages and search for the phone number of that new Thai restaurant, they’ll be much more likely to punch up the Internet with their smartphones or tablets. Business Insider relies on data from IDC and Gartner showing that PC sales have been flat since 2009 while the quantity of smartphones sold has now overtaken the number of PCs sold.

Tablets are Hot, Not PCs

And what growth that’s coming in computer sales is not from PCs but from tablets. Based on the numbers from Gartner, IDC and Strategy Analytics, tablet sales are now higher than PC sales, too. In a rather amazing result, Business Insider has found that U.S. consumers so love the iPad that they’re buying more than one per household. In July of 2012, 32.3 percent of consumers said their households had two iPads. Another 10.1 percent reported that they had three, while 4.9 percent said they had greater than four.

No young love for PCs

The future doesn’t look any better for PC makers. Business Insider, relying on numbers from Nielsen, found about 40 percent of consumers 13 and older want to purchase tablets in the next half-year. Not as impressive is the number who want to buy PCs. Only 19 percent are interested in computers. And the news is even worse for PC makers when considering young consumers. Business Insider reported that a massive 75 percent or so of young consumers are interested to buy tablets in the next six months, compared to just 30 percent who wish to buy a PC.

Hackers now targeting smart phones

Cyber criminals have long centered on running their swindles on PC users. And they have been tremendously successful in stealing personal data and stealing funds from countless people. Now these cyber criminals are unleashing their malware attacks on smartphones, tapping into another huge potential market of gullible users. This should come as being a surprise to nobody. Smart phones are booming in popularity. And many users treat their mobile devices as miniature computers. They surf the Web, send e-mail messages and bank online using their smart phones. Fortunately, you can take measures to ward off mobile malware. It mostly requires that you employ good judgment when navigating the internet using your smart phone.

Scary Numbers

The security firm F-Secure offers rather frightening numbers: According to the firm, the volume of malware attacks directed at mobile Android devices quadrupled from the first quarter of 2011 to the same quarter in 2012. That’s one among the numerous unsettling statistics regarding mobile malware. CNN Money writer David Goldman, for instance, recently cited an article from security firm Lookout Security that four in 10 smart phone users will click or swipe a suspicious Web Link this year. Goldman also writes that mobile phone cyber attacks have spiked by a factor of six, according to numbers revealed from anti-virus company McAfee.

The Good News

There is some very good news, though. In spite of the surge in smartphone malware attacks, such cyber crimes continue to be relatively rare, particularly if when compared to the frequent attacks on PCs. Goldman writes that McAfee by the middle of 2012 had found about 13,000 mobile malware types. That sounds like a lot. But the same company found more than 90 million forms of malware attacks leveled against PCs. The reason for the discrepancy? First, smart phone code is relatively new. Programmers have learned from the many cyber attacks unleashed against PCs. Secondly, cyber criminals have done so well in attacking PCs, they haven’t had as much incentive to target smartphones and other mobile devices.

Protect Yourself

You can safeguard your phone from mobile malware attacks. Start by getting anti-virus software from reputable companies. Be cautious, though–cyber criminals could create bogus anti-virus software that doesn’t protect your phone but instead sends these criminals your information. Also, make sure to research any app before you download it. You want to be sure that it is offered by a reputable company. Finally, be equally as wary of phishing schemes as you would be while sitting in front of your computer. Never provide your Social Security Number, bank account numbers or other important information in an e-mail. Your bank will not ask for such numbers in e-mail.

Internet trivia for a new year

What do you actually know about the Internet? Sure, you know that the ‘Net helps you view your favorite TV shows, download the greatest hits collection of that hot new band and play word games with contacts who live on the other side of the planet. But did you know the way the Internet actually works? Probably not. Luckily for us, the editorial staff at Web site Business Insider are ready to help. The Web site recently produced a feature highlighting a number of the more unusual facts about the Internet. Here are some tidbits that will help you raise your Internet IQ.

Facebook is King

We know Facebook is huge. But the social network company is not only big. It rules cyberspace. Business Insider quoted data from Hitwise to discover just how big of a player Facebook has grown to be: Facebook accounts for one in every five page views on the Internet. Facebook also, in September of 2012, reached 1 billion users.

The Biggest Data Center is Rising in Utah

Business Insider also mentioned that the largest data center in the world is now being built in Utah. The National Security Agency is behind this center, and when the data center is finished, it will store a yottabyte of data. You might not know what a yottabyte is. But it’s big. It equals 1,000 zettabytes or 1 million exabytes, according to Business Insider.

Streaming is on the Rise

Do you stream movies or Tv programs to your TV, computer or tablet? Even if you don’t, the odds are high your neighbor probably does. Streaming has become one of the Internet’s most widely used features. According to the Business Insider story, quoting statistics from Harris Interactive, greater than 50 percent of U.S. residents are using the Internet to view TV. Streaming video has become a particularly desired service among the younger customers that are flocking to Web streaming. As stated by Business Insider, streaming is a big hit among consumers younger than 35.

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Need a New Laptop: Important Features

What really matters when you’re looking for a new laptop? New York Times writer Sam Grobart suggests that it’s not processor speed or a laptop’s graphics card that counts. Instead, typical laptop buyers – those who want to search the Internet, watch movies, send e-mail messages, and write reports on their machines – examine more down-to-earth measures of a laptop’s worth. In particular, Grobart suggests that consumers look at such mundane factors as a laptop’s weight, screen size, and memory.

Weight matters

The reason why weight is so important might be obvious. Laptops are intended to be portable. The more it weighs, the more stress it will put on your back as you tote it around. Choose a laptop that is less than 6 pounds. Thankfully, most laptops weigh less then that.

Screen size

For those who will be watching a lot of videos or movies, a good screen size to aim for is one that measures 13 inches diagonally. This is the perfect size to watch movies and it is small enough to lug around in most bags.

Memory

RAM, or random access memory, matters when it comes to laptops. Grobart recommends that consumers purchase laptops that come with at least 4 gigabytes of RAM. Laptops that have less than that simply move too slowly. You’ll experience those frustrating delays between hitting a key and something happening on your screen. Don’t be concerned about going above 4 gigabytes, though. Typical laptop users will never need more than those 4 gigabytes. There are certain factors that shouldn’t concern laptop users. One is the processor. Grobart writes that all processors used today are fine for laptops. He also recommends that buyers not worry about battery life, either. That’s because a laptop’s battery life will vary depending on how you’re using your machine. Always bring a power cable with you and plug in. That makes battery life a particularly unimportant factor.

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International Travel and Your Smartphone

You wouldn’t think of traveling around the world without your smartphone. After all, that little device can help you quickly change plane reservations, discover the trendiest new restaurants, and figure out just how busy the highway to your hotel is. However, there’s one problem: Using your cell phone outside of the United States will cost you big bucks.

The pain of international texting

The New York Times’ has a blog called Frugal Traveler and they recently published an article about smartphone costs when traveling internationally. Charges can include rates of $2 to $5 a minute for calls, and receiving data can be up to $15 a megabyte. There are a couple actions you can take to help stop these charges.

Stay disconnected

This seems obvious, the best way to not accrue charges on your phone is to not use it when over seas, but for many of us that is unthinkable. And it may be more difficult than it sounds. Many hotels do not have in-room phones anymore. However, you may be able to use the hotels free Wi-Fi network. But that is only a solution for checking your email, social media sites, and generally having access to the Internet. Something you could do to solve this is set up an account on your phone with Skype or Google Voice so you can make calls. This isn’t free, but much cheaper than the alternative.

International SIM Cards

If your phone allows you to use other providers, your best bet while on a trip abroad could 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 proved helpful while the blog’s author traveled. Both provide you with a main phone number that’s not from the United States.

Business Travel Tools

When you are traveling for business, it can be difficult to be as productive as you are in the office. The Internet connection at the hotel can be inconsistent, and it can be tough to stay on top of your email when you are in business meetings or traveling from one place to another. Luckily, there are several tech tools that can help greatly while you are away from the office. We have highlighted a few below.

GroupMe: Sometimes while you’re on the road you have to communicate quickly with certain groups of employees or partners. You can make this a lot easier with the GroupMe app. This app permits you to create groups from lists of employees. You can then send messages or updates to everyone on these lists with just one text message.

Belkin Mini Surge Protector DUAL USB Charger: With this powerful tool you can instantly charge all of your mobile devices at once. It features three AC outlets and two USB outlets, in addition to being a surge protector. You can see how this would prove useful!

Campfire: If you wish to talk, not just send a quick text, to your whole team, you can utilize the Campfire app. It allows you to set up a chat room with any amount of people you want. Everyone in the group will be able to see all of the messages people are sending. You can even make conference calls with it!

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Antivirus Software: Not As Protective As You Think

Most of us think it’s vital that you keep your antivirus software up-to-date. This is how we can protect our systems from viruses. Recently MIT’s Technology Review published an article that opposes this “given” we have all lived by.

Antivirus Software: Unreliable?

The antivirus software that we have paid for and long trusted to shield our information may not be effective. The technology is running a race with malware programs and malware is winning. More sophisticated and tricky to detect malware comes out every day and this is very concerning to those of us who access the Internet on a daily bases.

Burned by Flame

One of the most complex examples of malware to date is Flame. Flame copies documents, audio, network traffic, and keystrokes made on a computer that has been infected by it. The scary thing is, Flame has been active for a couple years now. During all of this time, no security software has been developed to detect this malware.

An Industry Under Siege

As the Technology Review story says, though, Flame is far from the only malware to slip past antivirus software. Several complex malware attacks in recent years have avoided detection by antivirus software. The story quotes an official with an antivirus firm who labeled Flame as a major failure of the antivirus industry. What’s this mean for you? Only that your computer probably isn’t nearly as safe as you’ve thought. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t install any antivirus software on your computer. Until the security side of the computer industry catches up, antivirus software remains your very best chance of thwarting a virus attack. Just don’t be overly surprised if that antivirus software fails.