Category Archives: What’s New in Technology

Key Technology Trends in Accounting to Watch Out For in 2020

Technology advances continue to reshape industries and businesses – and the accounting industry is no exception. So far, a lot of repetitive tasks are performed with the help of advanced hardware and software. Even for businesses that do not like change, many find themselves making adjustments due to a generation change in the workforce, marketing demands, regulations and client demand. In any case, technology offers strengths once a business adopts new solutions to the accounting processes.

The accounting industry has evolved so much that bookkeeping is no longer just about balancing books; professionals in this field are slowly transitioning into strategic business advisors.

Technological innovations offer inexpensive and efficient ways to run businesses and other aspects of life. Every now and then, there is news on emerging technologies.

Here are some tech trends that are expected to influence the accounting industry in the year 2020.

Cloud-Based Accounting

The internet has enabled the storage and processing of data from remote servers. Small- and medium-sized businesses can now leverage the power of the internet and access data and infrastructure without worrying about the cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware and software services on-site. The ease of accessing data anytime and anywhere helps businesses save valuable time. Such benefits will continue driving more businesses to adopting the use of cloud-based accounting systems.  

Automation

Automating repetitive tasks has helped eliminate manual data entry while saving production hours at the same time. Since technology continues to advance, the accounting industry will see more tasks become automated. This trend can be observed in the growing number of accounting software available for both small and large businesses. Artificial intelligence will also contribute to automation in the industry. This is already evident with the increased development and adoption of robotic process automation.

Social Media

In the early 2000s, social media platforms were mainly used to communicate with family and friends. Today, social media is making an impact in digital marketing. Social media platforms will continue influencing how businesses communicate with their clients.

Apart from reaching out to more clients, accounting firms can also find talent to hire from social media platforms such as LinkedIn.

Big Data and Data Analytics

With advanced data collection and processing, it’s now possible to have access to insights and predictive analysis. Although analytics is not entirely new in accounting, the availability of data analytics tools makes it more powerful. This is important for business owners as it helps to improve decision making as well as understand the overall status of a company with the click of a button.

Cryptocurrency

This digital currency has revolutionized the financial industry with millions of coins present in the market today, including Bitcoin, Ripple and Ethereum among others. This digital currency has taken root so much that it is now accepted as a means of payment. Cryptocurrency has been enabled by blockchain technology.

Blockchain

For businesses, blockchain technology helps maintain a unique history of all interactions with various parties, which is indisputable. Widely known accounting companies like Ernst Young and Price Waterhouse already have people working in distributed ledger laboratories. The blockchain technology will not only lower the cost of reconciling and maintaining ledgers, but it will also provide accuracy of ownership and asset history. 

Remote Working

Remote work settings are becoming common in most industries, and accounting leaders are also adapting this trend. With expectations of more advanced computerized accounting systems as well as cloud-based solutions, it will not be a surprise to have your accountant handling accounting tasks remotely.

In Conclusion

With technology largely affecting how businesses are run, it’s no longer enough for a business to stick to traditional accountancy practices.

As technology and accounting becomes more intertwined, it’s wise for businesses to stay ahead of the curve. The most important way to deal with it is to embrace the technology, learn about new technologies and most importantly, learn new skills. This will ensure that your business remains competitive as you are ready to meet customer demands for faster processes. 

What is Splinternet and Why You Should Care

Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO, made a prediction in September 2018 that the internet will split in two – one part being led by China and the other by the United States. The reasoning behind this involves China’s active monitoring of all internet activities, as well as technological products and services from the country. Other reasons include a different leadership regime, controls and censorship.

Although it’s just speculation, the splinternet phenomenon has been around since the 1990s. Also known as cyber-balkanization, the concept is slowly taking root as governments seek to fence off their internet to create national internets.

How Realistic is Splinternet?

The United States has maintained dominance over the internet since its inception and going public. But in the modern digital landscape, rules and regulations are expected to curve the global internet into smaller networks. The idea is being driven by nationalism as well as concerns surrounding digital colonization and privacy issues.

China is one country known to be taking steps to compartmentalize the internet through its Great Firewall. Other countries that have taken steps to control domestic access to the internet include Russia and Iran. Europe is also taking steps toward reducing U.S. dominance by increasing regulations that require data localization. They have facilitates this with the 2018 introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

In the United States, there is a drive to increase internet fragmentation to reduce the domination of large companies. This is because of the need to increase personal data protection and reduce data control by large companies. With the world becoming more global, we continue to see cases of large companies like Facebook or Apple having more influence as well as centralized power.

Though a small fraction of the internet interactions, this provides a good example of the splintering. With such fragmentation of the internet increasing, it’s bound to have an effect on economic interests.

How a Split Internet Would Affect Businesses

Data has become a critical resource, from influencing purchasing decisions, behavior dynamics, health and other aspects. But with the changing internet landscape, businesses could be affected in one way or another. Businesses have had an easy time operating in a standardized web. But with the unity of the internet shattered, they would have to adjust their planning and metrics to fit into the new environment. For instance, due to China’s domestic internet control, it’s impossible for some companies in the United States to carry out business operations in China.

This situation presents a challenge for businesses – and especially those whose operations are purely internet based. Increased regulation means disruption of operations.

For small companies expanding to other countries, it would be difficult due to the overhead costs of compliance to various regional regulations. As a business, failing to comply with the laws of a different region would subject it to hefty fines.

Be Prepared

Whether this is going to be a reality or not, the fact is there are big changes happening on the internet. The days of an open internet are dwindling with different countries and companies erecting digital walls on the internet every other day.

Unless we have a new set of global rules that enhance openness and public interest, then businesses and consumers will have to navigate complex laws and regulations that will not only affect the economy, but also disrupt seamless communication.

Since data today plays a big role in the digital economy, businesses can’t afford to ignore the possibility of a splinternet. As a business owner, you need to stay steps ahead as it would be a challenge connecting with your customers when caught up in the changes.

Businesses need to know how to follow consumers to new environments – and this could mean a bigger budget is required for development and testing different markets. Given that technological changes happen gradually, it’s advisable to keep tabs on tech trends and adjust accordingly. 

How to Stay Safe with Business Email Compromise on the Rise

Email Compromise, hacked emailAccording to a report by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released in July, financial institutions have incurred more than $9 billion in losses due to Business Email Compromise (BEC) schemes since 2016. With such staggering losses, businesses and even individuals can’t afford to ignore BEC attacks.

What is BEC?

BEC fraud involves cyber thieves posing as company executives or a business contact with the intention to commit wire transfer fraud or obtain sensitive information. The main targets are businesses working with foreign suppliers or a business that carries out regular wire-transfer payments.

To carry out this attack, criminals might pretend to be the company CEO and request that a junior staff member perform a task for them, such as transferring funds. Attackers take advantage of the fact that most organizations don’t have a set procedure to verify instructions received from the top management.

How Attackers Collect Data from their Targets

Cyber criminals use various techniques to carry out BEC fraud, with the main aim of stealing funds from the victims. The techniques used include:

  • Imposter techniques – this can be carried out in various ways. Attackers use a look-alike domain, display-name deception and spoofed emails that appear to come from legitimate addresses.
  • Social engineering – when a target has not set appropriate privacy settings on social media accounts, an attacker can easily collect information that will make their requests sound legitimate.
  • Malware – this enables attackers to have access to sensitive information that makes the fake request sound legitimate.
  • Mining from the Dark Web – here attackers can obtain stolen credentials.

How to Avoid BEC Attacks

It is difficult for conventional security systems to detect BEC schemes. Consider a case in which a transaction is initiated willingly by a legitimate user in response to a request from a legitimate source. Such an email has no payloads such as malicious attachments that can be blocked.

Here are some methods to help reduce the possibility of these attacks:

  • Raising awareness of common attack scenarios or tactics used by the cyber criminals, such as a false domain name that looks almost like the original one, impersonation of a vendor, false sense of urgency or a request for secrecy.
  • Training employees on cyber security risks and implications.
  • Implementing email authentication protocols like Domain-Based Message  Authentication, Reporting and Conformance (DMARC) and email authentication, such as DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).
  • Using layered defense, such as encryption, and virtual private networks.
  • Implementing a multifactor authentication that will introduce a secondary authorization control. This will help stop attackers even when they have access to the target’s credentials.
  • Establishing communication protocols that will allow for a follow-up. For instance, if the person is requesting financial transactions, an employee should call to ascertain the request.
  • Scrutinizing all emails that request for fund transfer.
  • Monitoring incoming email, especially those that use VIP names.
  • Optimizing accounting systems and controls.

Final Thoughts

Apart from taking precautionary measures, businesses also should make sure that their insurance specifically covers BEC attacks, as courts might have different interpretations of policies. Consider the case of Apache Corporation, which lost $7million due to a BEC attack. The judge ruled that since the money was sent to pay a legitimate invoice to the wrong bank, it was not covered by their insurance policy.

Note that a majority of these criminals are from countries that might not have strict laws on cybercrime, making it difficult to have them prosecuted.

So, whether you run a small, medium or large business, or even a personal account, it’s vital that you take precautionary measures against the increasing BEC schemes.

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.

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.