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How hybrid work patterns change end user computing

As part of the slow return to office-based work after the Covid-19 lockdowns, IT leaders have had to address hybrid work patterns. How does IT support people who may choose not to be in the office full-time, or who mainly work remotely?

The idea of having someone trek into the office to have a PC replaced or fixed is hopefully a thing of the past. While the IT department previously had a relatively good idea of the software and hardware required by users, hybrid and remote working means more emphasis is now on collaboration and conferencing tools.

One example of how this plays out for IT buyers is illustrated in a recent article on Computer Weekly’s sister title, MicroScope, by Neil MacDonald, UK and Ireland channel director at HP. MacDonald discusses a collaboration between HP and Poly to build a “hybrid by design” product portfolio, which aims to enhance the quality of peripherals for hybrid work setups.

“Our collaborative effort offers cutting-edge video-conferencing solutions, cameras, headsets, voice technology and software, all designed to empower customers in achieving equitable meetings between remote and in-person participants,” he says.

One example is Poly Voyager Free 60 earbuds, which are designed to ensure clear and uninterrupted communication by effectively minimising background noise.

Hybrid work security

While there is a new focus on collaboration tools, IT teams still need to provide users with access to the enterprise software they require to do their work. Remote and hybrid working means there is a need to ensure teams can communicate easily and connect to corporate IT systems no matter where individual team members are located.

All of these things need to be achieved while IT security chiefs tackle enterprise data leakage and ensuring employees do not import corporate data into unvetted applications or connect to the corporate network in an unsecure manner.

User education and security awareness programmes have an important role to play, as Olivia Rofe, cyber security expert at PA Consulting, explains: “We must ensure all employees are provided with relevant cyber security training on how to work securely from home or alternative out-of-office locations.”

In Rofe’s experience, regular training should be used in a way that allows continuous development of cyber security skills and should include phishing simulations. “The days of leaving security to the IT or cyber team are gone. It is important that individuals understand the role they play in an organisation’s wider security, both in their behaviour and how they do their job,” she says.

Such training needs to work alongside security policies and a strategy architected in a way that reduces the risk of user error leading to a security breach.

Lionel Garacotche, technical office leader for IT cyber security architecture at Airbus Protect, describes three main security scenarios IT teams need to manage. The first is “no trust”, whereby IT assets can be only used with a virtual private network (VPN) and no side communication is allowed. This, he says, needs to be controlled and hardened appropriately.

Second is “partial trust”, which offers a way to provide the user with side activity controlled by a cloud access security broker or endpoint detection and response (EDR).

The third scenario is what Garacotche describes as “whatever”, which provides for bring your own device (BYOD) or uncontrolled IT assets. Here, access is only available to “public” apps or through virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to provide access to internal applications.

The challenge for IT security leaders is that hybrid work does not operate in the same way as office-based work. Rowland Johnson, president of Crest, the international not-for-profit membership body representing the global cyber security industry, warns that IT leaders cannot rely on a security operations centre (SOC) to detect anomalies and threats that come from remote workers. SOCs, he says, work on datasets of what normal traffic and behaviour looks like. Any deviation from this can be quickly identified.

“With work patterns so different and flexible now, there is no clear ‘new normal’, making it increasingly challenging for SOCs to identify normal/abnormal behaviour,” he says.

PC modernisation

Looking beyond the security implications of hybrid working, IT leaders also need to consider the IT equipment in the physical workspace required to support users and the hardware and software needed by employees who may spend only some of their working hours in an office environment.

Many businesses upgraded PCs during the pandemic and have yet to replace them, or are upgrading at a far slower rate. This has led to a decline in the purchasing of new desktop and mobile computing hardware. But remote and hybrid work patterns have resulted in manufacturers tweaking and tailoring products to cater for the greater use of online conferencing and collaboration tools that have quickly become key to employee productivity.

Upgrading older PC hardware is also being helped along by the need for more powerful processors to run artificial intelligence (AI)-powered business applications.

Supporting hybrid work

Global telecoms equipment provider Ericsson is one of HP’s major customers. The PC maker supports a hybrid workforce through a global arrangement covering over 90% of Ericsson’s devices, spanning some 130,000 users in 140 countries. Employees can choose from various laptop models tailored to their roles. Once selected, devices are prepared and shipped to their home or office. The user provides their email, completes multifactor authentication, and, according to Lee Elliot, HP’s Northwest Europe head of offer execution for workforce solutions, the device is ready in 10 minutes.

HP EliteBook models are equipped with 5G capabilities and military-grade encryption to support staff needing to work in any location. Applications are accessed via the cloud and an HP break/fix agreement is in place, so staff uptime is protected with devices simply exchanged for new replacements if required.

Kieren Jessop, research analyst at Canalys, believes artificial intelligence (AI) will drive up demand for more powerful PC hardware: “Roadmaps for integration of on-device AI capabilities have already been outlined, with several products showcased at the HP Imagine event [in October] and other suppliers set to follow suit. Canalys forecasts that adoption of AI-capable PCs will accelerate from 2025, with such devices accounting for around 60% of all PCs shipped in 2027.”

For instance, new Chromebook Plus devices are equipped with more powerful hardware that support features like AI-assisted background noise cancellation and video-enhancing technology for video and audio conferencing. Premium PC manufacturers have also been ramping up the AI capabilities of their devices to support hybrid working.

Printers in a hybrid world

The latest research from analyst Quocirca shows that the changing purpose of the office will continue to focus on collaboration and connection. Quocirca’s Future of work study found that 37% of participants view in-person collaboration as the most important benefit of the office. An obvious conclusion is that IT buyers will need fewer office-based printers.

Quocirca analyst Louella Fernandes believes one of the challenges of creating a hybrid work environment is setting up printers so that anyone who comes into the office can use them with ease. Cloud printing offers a way to simplify printer setup.

In the past, office space would have been organised around large, multifunction devices, which provided central access to print, scan and copier functionality. While these still exist, some office spaces are now making greater use of workgroup or A4 printers that better suit hybrid work patterns.

While printers may be visible on the corporate network, it can often be difficult for users to figure out the location of their nearest printer. Fernandes says 60% of corporate data loss occurs because paper is left in printer output trays. In one instance, she says, someone took confidential printouts to a school as scrap paper for the children to scribble on.

While Quocirca found that only 11% of organisations currently operate a paperless environment, 75% are accelerating paper digitisation initiatives. Although return-to-office policies will help print volumes recover in some sectors, Quocirca believes there is an opportunity for print suppliers to develop products and services around delivering workplace technology that supports hybrid workers.

Evolving challenges in the hybrid workplace

The pace of innovation means new products and services are constantly being developed. Some of these will inevitably gain traction among hybrid workers, especially if the new product provides superior functionality over corporate IT-approved software. AI targeting employee productivity is one such category of software.

The Quocirca research shows that 56% of organisations plan to make use of AI and machine learning. Whether they work in an office full-time or are hybrid workers, AI is likely to lead to the risk that data could be leaked from the organisation or employees may use data in a way that breaches data protection laws.

“It’s always hard to determine what the future will look like, but we know for a fact that remote working will remain. We have to focus on being sure that employees are aware and understand the increased threat level we’re facing,” says Garacotche.

Source: https://www.computerweekly.com/feature/How-hybrid-work-patterns-change-end-user-computing

AI will make scam emails look genuine, UK cybersecurity agency warns

Artificial intelligence will make it difficult to spot whether emails are genuine or sent by scammers and malicious actors, including messages that ask computer users to reset their passwords, the UK’s cybersecurity agency has warned.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said people would struggle to identify phishing messages – where users are tricked into handing over passwords or personal details – due to the sophistication of AI tools.

Generative AI, the term for technology that can produce convincing text, voice and images from simple hand-typed prompts, has become widely available to the public through chatbots such as ChatGPT and free-to-use versions known as open source models.

The NCSC, part of the GCHQ spy agency, said in its latest assessment of AI’s impact on the cyber threats facing the UK that AI would “almost certainly” increase the volume of cyber-attacks and heighten their impact over the next two years.

It said generative AI and large language models – the technology that underpins chatbots – will complicate efforts to identify different types of attack such as spoof messages and social engineering, the term for manipulating people to hand over confidential material.

“To 2025, generative AI and large language models will make it difficult for everyone, regardless of their level of cybersecurity understanding, to assess whether an email or password reset request is genuine, or to identify phishing, spoofing or social engineering attempts.”

Ransomware attacks, which had hit institutions such as the British Library and Royal Mail over the past year, were also expected to increase, the NCSC said.

It warned that the sophistication of AI “lowers the barrier” for amateur cybercriminals and hackers to access systems and gather information on targets, enabling them to paralyse a victim’s computer systems, extract sensitive data and demand a cryptocurrency ransom.

The NCSC said generative AI tools already helped make approaches to potential victims more convincing by creating fake “lure documents” that did not contain the translation, spelling or grammatical errors that tended to give away phishing attacks – their contents having been crafted or corrected by chatbots.

However, it said generative AI – which emerged as a competent coding tool – would not enhance the effectiveness of ransomware code but would help sift through and identify targets.

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the UK’s data watchdog, 706 ransomware incidents were reported in the UK in 2022, compared with 694 in 2021.

The agency warned that state actors probably have enough malware – short for malicious software – to train a specially created AI model that would create new code capable of avoiding security measures. The NCSC said such a model would have to be trained on data extracted from its target.

“Highly capable state actors are almost certainly best placed among cyber threat actors to harness the potential of AI in advanced cyber operations,” the NCSC report says.

The NCSC added that AI would also work as a defensive tool, with the technology able to detect attacks and design more secure systems.

The report came as the UK government set out new guidelines encouraging businesses to better equip themselves to recover from ransomware attacks. The “Cyber Governance Code of Practice” aims to place information security on the same tier as financial and legal management, the NCSC said.

But cybersecurity experts have called for stronger action. Ciaran Martin, the former head of the NCSC, says that unless public and private bodies fundamentally change how they approach the threat of ransomware, “an incident of the severity of the British Library attack is likely in each of the next five years.” In a newsletter, Martin wrote that the UK needs to reassess its approach to ransomware, including by creating stronger rules around the payment of ransoms and giving up on “fantasies” of “striking back” against criminals based in hostile nations.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2024/jan/24/ai-scam-emails-uk-cybersecurity-agency-phishing

Unlocking Maximum Productivity and Efficiency Through Strategic IT Planning

Most modern businesses rely heavily on their IT systems to manage internal processes, coordinate projects, and serve their customers. The integrity and performance of these systems is therefore vital to ensuring smooth business operations, meeting the expectations of customers, and managing relationships with all business stakeholders.

As we discussed previously, IT management and maintenance is vital to the delivery of efficient and reliable digital systems, however it isn’t the only piece in the jigsaw. You also need to ensure that your IT infrastructure is properly aligned with your business objectives, has the ability to scale and accommodate anticipated demand, and offers the digital experience that today’s tech-savvy customers both demand and expect.

4TC Managed IT Services – Proactive IT Services and Innovative Solutions for London Businesses

From managed IT and support, to cyber security and cloud services, 4TC provides the full spectrum of IT services London businesses need to grow and thrive in our digital age. Our mission is to help businesses work more productively and securely, with expertly managed solutions tailored to solve longstanding business challenges.

Partnering with a managed IT service provider grants businesses access to a wealth of technical expertise and industry insights. This allows MSPs to function as strategic partners to businesses, guiding and helping them adopt tailored solutions that meet their needs both now and into the future. In this article, we want to demonstrate how managed IT service providers can help businesses better align their IT with their strategic objectives, and optimise technology to achieve better performance and business efficiency.

Goal Alignment Assessment

At the beginning of an IT partnership, managed service providers work closely with businesses to understand their overarching objectives so that any strategic planning that follows helps drive the business towards its strategic goals.

This exercise will involve extensive consideration of both long and short term objectives, and may involve consultation with multiple stakeholders across the business in order to gain a range of perspectives. Organisational goals might include expansion plans, revenue targets and customer satisfaction outcomes.

The goal alignment assessment will take into account the interplay between business processes and the current IT system. It will consider any dependencies that exist within workflows, and any existing IT pain points that inhibit process efficiency. A technology capability analysis may be conducted, to determine the current IT system’s maturity, and its ability to support the business’s goals going forward.

This vital first step forms the basis for effective strategic planning, and ensures the IT provider has a full, contextualised understanding of the business, its goals and how well these are being supported by its current IT infrastructure.

Tailored Technology Roadmaps

Following on from the goal alignment assessment, managed service providers develop ‘technology roadmaps,’ which set out a phased plan for implementing the IT changes required to achieve the organisation’s goals using technology.

This phase of strategic planning maps technological solutions to specific goals, with great care taken to choose solutions that are appropriate to the scale, nature, compliance needs and budget of the business. Consideration could be given to a wide range of IT elements, including software, hardware, cloud services, cyber security controls and data management systems.

In most instances, a technology roadmap will seek to introduce changes incrementally, in order to minimise disruption, ensure project costs are manageable, and to align the IT strategy with the organisation’s timeline for achieving its goals more broadly.

After taking into account objectives, constraints and other requirements, technology roadmaps developed by MSPs help businesses leverage their IT system to achieve strategic objectives, ensure IT performance is continuously optimised, and move forward with a futureproof technology stack.

IT Resource Optimisation

A key aspect of the strategic IT guidance offered by managed service providers involves ensuring IT assets and resources are being deployed optimally in support of organisational objectives: a practice known as ‘resource optimisation.’

Resource optimisation will often feature an IT audit, a process that seeks to understand the lie of the land in terms of the business’s IT. This audit will aim to expose inefficiencies and redundancies, such as duplicate/overlapping software, underutilised hardware, and manual processes that could be quickly and easily automated.

Through resource optimisation, managed service provider can help businesses eliminate wasteful IT expenditure, introduce time-saving initiatives like automation to improve productivity, and create strategies for IT streamlining to create simpler, more efficient workflows.

Scalability and Flexibility

Ensuring IT systems are able to adapt and scale to meet changing business requirements is a vital consideration in strategic IT planning. Managed service providers can help businesses assess the scalability of their current IT infrastructure, and plan for changes that provide greater capacity when certain growth benchmarks are exceeded.

This aspect of strategic planning is also intimately linked with IT performance. MSPs will assess whether current IT systems have the capacity to handle increases in workload, data volumes and user demands without significant performance degradation. If current performance limitations are found, dynamic resource allocation may be implemented as a short-term option, whilst technology architecture that permits seamless scalability is explored for the future.

If the business is anticipating rapid, dynamic growth in the near future, an MSP can prescribe a range of highly scalable, future-ready IT solutions that can be quickly adapted to fast changing requirements. These include the likes of cloud solutions, virtualisation and modular hardware. A managed service provider can also help the organisation develop a diverse technology stack, designed to aid resilience and flexibility by avoiding the pitfalls of being locked into a single technology platform. This might involve exploring hybrid cloud, or multi-cloud setups as an alternative to fully on-premises hosting or consolidation into a single cloud service.

Security and Compliance Integration

Today, businesses are required to navigate a complex web of data protection regulations and standards, including the GDPR and PCI DSS. Managed service providers can help organisations weave compliance into the fabric of their IT infrastructures, ensuring cyber security measures meet the requirements set by regulators, and that data controls offer an appropriate level of information oversight and governance.

Security and compliance integration will typically begin with a cyber security audit. This exercise will map out existing security controls, seek to identify existing vulnerabilities, and determine how well the current security arrangements meet the organisation’s security needs in the context of its industry and regulatory requirements.

Once the assessment process is complete, a data security and compliance framework can be developed, containing both technical controls and procedural measures for ingraining compliance, and a strong security posture, into the fabric of the IT system. This framework might include data access controls, encryption, firewalls, information security policies and any other measures deemed necessary and proportionate.

By making data security and compliance an integral part of strategic IT planning, managed service providers can help organisations manage risk, keep sensitive data secure, and support reliable and efficient business operations.

Final Thoughts

Optimising the performance of your IT system is one thing, but it’s an altogether greater challenge to ensure your technology remains fast, efficient and aligned with your goals as your business grows and evolves. By partnering with a managed IT services provider, you benefit from IT strategy planning that ensures your technology is able to scale with your needs, adapt to changing pressures, and remains continuously aligned with your business processes and compliance requirements.

4TC Managed IT Services – Uniting People, Processes and Technology 

Secure, stable and optimised IT infrastructure is critical to the success of all businesses in our information age. 4TC helps businesses across London and the Southeast realise their potential through the delivery of expertly managed IT services and support, and solutions that solve business challenges by achieving perfect alignment between people, processes and technology. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!  

Unlocking Efficiency:  The Role of Managed IT Services in System Optimisation

If you’re thinking about outsourcing your IT needs to a managed service provider, you’re likely drawn by the prospect of performance-optimised IT. In today’s dynamic and digitised business environment, you can’t afford for your vital systems to break down, and you need your technology to perform flawlessly so that your business operates efficiently and productively. So how can a managed service provider ensure that your IT never misses a beat and truly delivers for your business?

4TC Managed IT Services – Proactive IT Services and Innovative Solutions for London Businesses

Here at 4TC, our managed IT services, responsive support, and tailored solutions are designed to help London businesses achieve peak efficiency and grow sustainably. We employ a proactive approach across every aspect of our service offering, ensuring our clients enjoy fast, secure and robust IT infrastructure that facilitates maximum operating efficiency. We do this by deploying a number of technologies and IT management best practices, which combine to deliver the IT performance that our dynamic clients have come to expect.

In this article, we’ll provide a brief guide to how an IT managed service provider can help you achieve better business efficiency through IT performance optimisation. We’ll explore the techniques, technologies and practices that form vital ingredients to the delivery of fast, reliable and secure business IT.

Performance Optimisation Strategies

Using Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) software, plus a host of other remote-capable IT management solutions, an IT managed service provider can carry out a range of performance optimisation strategies. These strategies are designed to complement one another, to support a fast, responsive, high-quality end user experience. Here are some of the elements performance optimisation strategies often entail:

Resource Allocation

A managed service provider can monitor and disperse workloads across multiple servers and components. This ensures network traffic flows freely, avoiding the performance pitfalls that can arise when a network component becomes overloaded. CPU usage, memory usage and disk input/output are just some of the metrics that are closely observed.

Load Balancing

Load balancing involves distributing network traffic volumes across available servers, avoiding performance bottlenecks, and ensuring resources are assigned efficiently. A managed service provider can perform this vital performance optimisation strategy by continuously monitoring server health, and regulating and directing network traffic accordingly. If one server is under strain, or suffering issues, inbound requests can be assigned to healthier servers that have the resource capacity to cope.

Network Optimisation

A managed service provider can take a number of actions to ensure seamless and fast cross-network data flow, that maximises the use of available resources. By optimising network configurations, implementing Quality of Service (QoS) policies and, where necessary, prioritising critical data traffic, an MSP can ensure that network bandwidth is managed efficiently, and in a way that supports business critical functions.

Latency Reduction

Latency’ refers to the time delay, or ‘lag’ that occurs as data transits a computer network. Some latency is inevitable, but too much can have a detrimental impact on the experience for end users. A managed service provider can play a critical role in resolving network latency issues, by identifying and resolving the issues at play, which might include inefficient routing and network congestion.

Caching Mechanisms

A managed service provider can improve network responsiveness by deploying caching mechanisms, which make frequently used information readily available to applications and services. These avoid the need to fetch information from source in each instance and help contribute to a responsive and seamless user experience.

Performance Monitoring and Analytics

Performance monitoring tools can be deployed to measure, capture and analyse system performance across a variety of metrics, including response times, resource utilisation, error rates and more. This analysed data can be used to identify trends, forecast future problems and support informed performance optimisation decision-making. Data can also be leveraged for capacity planning purposes, ensuring that necessary provisions can be made ahead of periods of increased demand or anticipated growth.

Scheduled Maintenance

A proactive managed service provider will carry out a comprehensive programme of maintenance designed to foresee and address network issues, and resolve vulnerabilities before they evolve into costly episodes of IT downtime. The following elements usually form the basis of an IT provider’s scheduled maintenance activities:

Patch Management

Security updates, commonly referred to as ‘patches,’ are software updates that vendors or manufacturers release to enhance the security of their products or address discovered vulnerabilities. A managed service provider will usually take the lead in testing, applying and configuring these patches, to ensure software vulnerabilities are resolved in a timely manner that leaves very little time for malicious actors to exploit them. Proactive patch management is a vital component in maintaining a robust cyber security posture, and in sustaining the performance integrity of business-critical software and systems.

Task Automation

The remote management and monitoring software used by managed service providers often enables the automation of routine maintenance tasks such as disk clean-ups and defragmentation. This automation ensures that tasks beneficial to system performance are carried our regularly and consistently, helping to ensure a smooth and responsive user experience.

Hardware Health Checks

By performing regular diagnostic inspections of critical hardware components, including servers, storage devices and networking infrastructure, a managed service provider can help foresee hardware failures, and take the appropriate steps to avert system impact.

Performance Tuning and Continuous Improvement

A managed service provider can make use of the wealth of network activity data at their disposal to introduce a raft of system refinements designed to enhance overall performance. Such refinements might include altering configurations, tweaking setting and even optimizing programme code.

This activity data is continually gathered, allowing system administrators to introduce iterative enhancements on an ongoing basis, ensuring that system resources are consistently aligned with organisational needs, and the changing demands placed on them.

Rapid Issue Resolution

So far, we’ve talked about the proactive elements that constitute an effective IT support and management service, however, it’s important to recognise the vital supporting role played by post-incident support functions. When an IT problem strikes, you need issue resolution that prioritises a root cause fix, and restores critical functionality in the quickest possible time. Here’s how a managed service provider can help minimise downtime and enhance efficiency through responsive support services:

24/7 Helpdesk Support

The best-managed service providers offer 24/7 helpdesk support, backed by competitive response time guarantees. Utilizing ticketing systems, support requests are efficiently managed and tracked from initial submission to resolution. Tiered support structures assign priority ratings to issues, ensuring that critical and highly complex issues receive expedited support. These issues are handled by appropriately qualified engineers to guarantee a swift and lasting fix.

Remote Troubleshooting

IT support personnel make use of remote access tools which enable them to connect to and remotely configure user devices without the need to be physically present. These tools allow the vast majority of IT issues to be resolved remotely, expediting issue resolution dramatically, and minimising downtime and any subsequent lost productivity. Screen sharing allows IT support to view the user’s desktop environment in order to gain a first-hand understanding of the issue present, and diagnostic capabilities allow them to review a wide range of system information, including activity logs, configurations and performance data. These capabilities combine to give IT support teams formidable remote troubleshooting capabilities.

Final Thoughts

By taking a data-driven, proactive approach to network optimisation, undertaking a programme of preventative maintenance, and provide fast, expert support for any issues that slip through the net, a managed IT service provider can offer everything your business needs to operate performance-optimised and dependable IT infrastructure. Give your team the slick, fast technology they need to work effectively, and eliminate the IT outages that are holding your business back by exploring the benefits of managed IT services today.

4TC Managed IT Services – Uniting People, Processes and Technology 

Secure, stable and optimised IT infrastructure is critical to the success of all businesses in our information age. 4TC helps businesses across London and the Southeast realise their potential through the delivery of expertly managed IT services and support, and solutions that solve business challenges by achieving perfect alignment between people, processes and technology. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!  

The 10 Biggest Cyber Security Trends In 2024 Everyone Must Be Ready For Now

By the end of the coming year, the cost of cyber attacks on the global economy is predicted to top $10.5 trillion.

This staggering amount reflects the growing need for cyber security to be treated as a strategic priority on an individual, organizational and governmental level.

As in every other field of business and technological endeavor, artificial intelligence (AI) will have a transformative impact on both attack and defense. Its impact will be felt across every one of the trends covered here.

The Cyber Security Skills Crunch

A shortage of professionals with the skills needed to protect organizations from cyber attacks continues to be a running theme throughout 2024. In fact, the situation appears to be getting worse – research indicates that a majority (54 percent) of cyber security professionals believe that the impact of the skills shortage on their organization has worsened over the past two years. We can expect efforts to rectify this situation to include a continued increase in salaries paid to those with the necessary skills, as well as greater investment in training, development and upskilling programs.

As AI increases in sophisticoation at a frankly alarming rate, we will continue to see more sophisticated and smart AI-powered attacks. This will range from deepfake social engineering attempts to automated malware that intelligently adapts in order to evade detection. At the same time, it will help us detect, evade or neutralize threats thanks to real-time anomaly detection, smart authentication and automated incident response. If cyber attack and defense in 2024 is a game of chess, then AI is the queen – with the ability to create powerful strategic advantages for whoever plays it best.

Next-Level Phishing Attacks

Social engineering attacks involving tricking users into giving attackers access to systems will also increase in sophistication. Generative AI (such as ChatGPT) tools enable more attackers to make smarter, more personalized approaches, and deepfake attacks will become increasingly prevalent. The response to this will largely revolve around organization-wide awareness and education, although AI and zero trust will play a growing role, too.

Cyber Security In The Board Room

In 2024, cybersecurity is a strategic priority that can no longer be siloed in the IT department. Gartner has predicted that by 2026, 70 percent of boards will include at least one member with expertise in the field. This enables organizations to move beyond reactive defense, meaning that they can act on new business opportunities that come with being prepared.

IoT Cyber Attacks

More devices talking to each other and accessing the internet means more potential “ins” for cyber attackers to take advantage of. With the work-from-home revolution continuing, the risks posed by workers connecting or sharing data over improperly secured devices will continue to be a threat. Often, these devices are designed for ease of use and convenience rather than secure operations, and home consumer IoT devices may be at risk due to weak security protocols and passwords. The fact that industry has generally dragged its feet over the implementation of IoT security standards, despite the fact that the vulnerabilities have been apparent for many years, means it will continue to be a cyber security weak spot – though this is changing (more on this below).

Cyber Resilience – Beyond Cyber Security

Two terms that are often used interchangeably are cyber security and cyber resilience. However, the distinction will become increasingly important during 2024 and beyond. While the focus of cyber security is on preventing attacks, the growing value placed on resilience by many organizations reflects the hard truth that even the best security can’t guarantee 100 percent protection. Resilience measures are designed to ensure continuity of operations even in the wake of a successful breach. Developing the capability to recover in an agile manner while minimizing data loss and downtime will be a strategic priority in 2024.

Less Than Zero Trust

The fundamental concept of zero trust – always verify – evolves as systems become more complex and security is integrated into business strategy. Zero trust states that there is no perimeter within which network activity can be assumed to be safe. As the threat landscape evolves, this principle extends beyond the corporate network to the ecosystem of remote workers, partnered organizations and IoT devices. In 2024, zero trust moves from being a technical network security model to something adaptive and holistic, enabled by continuous AI-powered real-time authentication and activity monitoring.

Cyber Warfare And State-Sponsored Cyber Attacks

The war in Ukraine, which looks set to enter its third year, has exposed the extent to which states are willing and able to deploy cyber attacks against military and civilian infrastructure in 2024. It’s a safe bet that going forward, wherever military operations take place around the world, they will go hand-in-hand with cyber warfare operations. The most common tactics include phishing attacks designed to gain access to systems for the purposes of disruption and espionage and distributed denial-of-service attacks to disable communications, public utilities, transport and security infrastructure. Outside of warfare, major elections will take place in 2024 in countries including the US, UK and India, and we can expect an increase in cyber attacks aimed at disrupting the democratic process.

Soft Skills Becoming Increasingly Essential For Cyber Security Professionals

Cybersecurity professionals will increasingly be expected to take on more complex workloads during 2024 as the threat landscape grows ever more sophisticated. This doesn’t simply mean in a technical sense – those with responsibility for countering cyber threats will also find themselves tasked with more complex social and cultural aspects of threat mitigation. This will lead to a growing reliance on soft skills such as interpersonal communication, relationship-building and problem-solving.

Cyber Security Regulation

Governments and organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the risks to national security and to economic growth posed by cyber threats. The potential social and political fallout of large-scale data breaches is also a major factor in the emergence of new regulations around cyber security issues. For example, businesses in the UK have until April 2024 to ensure they are compliant with the Product Security and Telecommunications Act, which sets out minimum security requirements that networked products must adhere to (for example, they mustn’t be shipped with a default password). Implementation of the EU’s similar Radio Equipment Directive has been delayed until 2025, but the topic is still likely to be high on the agenda of legislators throughout 2024.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2023/10/11/the-10-biggest-cyber-security-trends-in-2024-everyone-must-be-ready-for-now/

IT Support Exposed: Ensuring Smooth Operations for Your Company

In the fast-paced world of business, the reliance on Information Technology (IT) has become indispensable. From managing day-to-day operations to fostering innovation, IT plays a pivotal role in ensuring the smooth functioning of companies. Behind the scenes, a dedicated team of IT professionals provides the necessary support to keep the digital gears turning. In this article, we delve into the world of IT support, exploring the critical aspects that contribute to the seamless operation of a company.

The Backbone of IT Support

Proactive Problem Resolution

In the realm of IT support, the best approach is often proactive rather than reactive. Rather than waiting for issues to arise, IT professionals actively monitor systems, identify potential problems, and implement preventive measures. This involves regular system updates, security patches, and performance optimization. Proactive problem resolution not only minimizes downtime but also enhances the overall efficiency of the IT infrastructure. By anticipating and addressing issues before they impact operations, IT support becomes a strategic partner in the company’s success, rather than a mere firefighting squad.

Navigating the Information Technology Transition

As businesses evolve in the digital era, the transition emerges as a defining factor in their ability to stay competitive. This phase of the Information Technology transition involves not only upgrading hardware and software but also adapting to new paradigms in how technology is utilized within the organization. The IT support team plays a pivotal role in orchestrating this transition, ensuring a seamless integration of emerging technologies. Whether it’s migrating to cloud-based solutions, implementing advanced cybersecurity measures, or harnessing the power of data analytics, a well-executed Information Technology transition lays the foundation for enhanced operational efficiency and future growth. This dynamic process demands not only technical prowess but also a strategic vision as IT support becomes a driving force in shaping the technological landscape.

User Training and Education

While IT professionals are adept at navigating the intricacies of technology, not all employees share the same level of expertise. User training and education are critical components of a comprehensive IT support strategy. This involves conducting regular workshops, creating informative resources, and fostering a culture of digital literacy within the organization. When employees understand how to use technology effectively and securely, the likelihood of encountering issues decreases significantly. Additionally, a well-informed workforce can contribute valuable insights to the IT team, aiding in the continuous improvement of systems and processes.

Embracing Remote Support in the Digital Age

The landscape of work has undergone a profound transformation, with remote work becoming more prevalent than ever. In this context, IT support has had to adapt to the challenges of providing assistance to employees scattered across different locations. Remote support tools and technologies have become indispensable for IT professionals, enabling them to troubleshoot issues, install software, and perform system maintenance without being physically present. This shift to remote support not only enhances flexibility for both IT teams and employees but also underscores the importance of robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data across various access points.

Scalability and Future-Proofing

As companies grow, so do their IT needs. A forward-thinking IT support strategy considers scalability and future-proofing as crucial elements. This involves implementing systems and solutions that can adapt to the evolving requirements of the business. Cloud computing, for example, offers scalable and flexible solutions that can grow with the company. Additionally, IT professionals must stay abreast of technological advancements, ensuring that the company’s infrastructure remains at the forefront of innovation. By anticipating future needs and embracing scalable solutions, IT support becomes a strategic enabler for the company’s long-term success.

Balancing Automation and Human Touch

Automation has become a buzzword in the tech world, promising efficiency and speed. However, in the realm of IT support, striking the right balance between automation and the human touch is crucial. While automation can handle routine tasks and streamline processes, the empathetic understanding and problem-solving skills of human IT professionals remain irreplaceable. Companies must find the sweet spot where automation enhances efficiency without sacrificing the personalized support that human interaction provides. This delicate balance ensures that the IT support team remains agile, responsive, and attuned to the unique needs of the organization.

In the intricate dance of modern business operations, IT support emerges as a linchpin that holds everything together. From providing the necessary technical expertise to fostering a culture of digital literacy, IT support is instrumental in ensuring the seamless functioning of a company. By adopting proactive problem resolution, investing in user training, embracing remote support, planning for scalability, and striking the right balance between automation and human touch, organizations can build a resilient IT support framework. In doing so, they not only mitigate risks and minimize downtime but also position themselves for sustained success in an increasingly digital and dynamic business landscape.

Source: https://www.otsnews.co.uk/it-support-exposed-ensuring-smooth-operations-for-your-company/

AI and quantum research at centre of UK science and tech announcements

Artificial intelligence and quantum research were at the centre of science and technology announcements in the UK chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Wednesday.

The government will boost spending on computing power to develop AI by £500mn over two years to bring total planned investment to more than £1.5bn, said Jeremy Hunt.

The increase followed criticism of the £900mn allocated to AI computing in the March Budget as being too modest by international standards, with other countries planning to spend much more. “It’s great to hear that the government will find a further £500mn over the next two years to fund further innovation centres to help make us an AI powerhouse,” said Rashik Parmar, chief executive of the British Computer Society.

At the same time, the government revealed five “moonshot missions” for its £2.5bn national quantum strategy. They include developing UK-based quantum computers capable of running 1tn operations without making any errors — today’s fastest machines are capable of just a few hundred error-free operations.

It also aims to deploy “the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale, pioneering the future quantum internet”. “It is much more than headline pledges, it’s a call to arms,” said Chris Ballance, chief executive of UK quantum start-up Oxford Ionics. “The government is sending a clear signal of the UK’s unwavering commitment to becoming a leader in the quantum revolution.”

Elsewhere, the Autumn Statement provided £121mn to the UK space sector for a variety of infrastructure investments in Earth observation and communication technology. Some of the money, with additional funding from aerospace company Lockheed Martin, will enable Northumbria University in Newcastle to set up a £50mn North East Space Skills and Technology Centre.

The pharmaceutical and biotech industries welcomed the promise of a £520mn investment in life sciences manufacturing from 2025-26, as well as changes to research and development tax credits that the government says will provide relief worth an additional £280mn per year. “Increased flexibility in the tax relief scheme for R&D-intensive companies will make a meaningful difference to company growth, job creation and accelerating the delivery of new medicines to patients,” said Steve Bates, chief executive of the BioIndustry Association.

Looking at the Autumn Statement as a whole, Sarah Main, executive director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said: “I’m encouraged by the ideas that emerged. They show government thinking creatively about new ways to support science in the long term and seeding support across the breadth of the science economy.”

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/bdd127e4-0b6e-4047-b038-74c1324d8073

AI doesn’t cause harm by itself. We should worry about the people who control it

At times it felt less like Succession than Fawlty Towers, not so much Shakespearean tragedy as Laurel and Hardy farce. OpenAI is the hottest tech company today thanks to the success of its most famous product, the chatbot ChatGPT. It was inevitable that the mayhem surrounding the sacking, and subsequent rehiring, of Sam Altman as its CEO would play out across global media last week, accompanied by astonishment and bemusement in equal measure.

For some, the farce spoke to the incompetence of the board; for others, to a clash of monstrous egos. In a deeper sense, the turmoil also reflected many of the contradictions at the heart of the tech industry. The contradiction between the self-serving myth of tech entrepreneurs as rebel “disruptors”, and their control of a multibillion-dollar monster of an industry through which they shape all our lives. The tension, too, between the view of AI as a mechanism for transforming human life and the fear that it may be an existential threat to humanity.

Many are ‘preppers’, survivalists prepared for the possibility of a Mad Max world

Few organisations embody these contradictions more than OpenAI. The galaxy of Silicon Valley heavyweights, including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, who founded the organisation in 2015, saw themselves both as evangelists for AI and heralds warning of the threat it posed. “With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon,” Musk portentously claimed.

OpenAI was created as a non-profit-making charitable trust, the purpose of which was to develop artificial general intelligence, or AGI, which, roughly speaking, is a machine that can accomplish, or surpass, any intellectual task humans can perform. It would do so, however, in an ethical fashion to benefit “humanity as a whole”.

Then, in 2019, the charity set up a for-profit subsidiary to help raise more investment, eventually pulling in more than $11bn (£8.7bn) from Microsoft. The non-profit parent organisation, nevertheless, retained full control, institutionalising the tension between the desire to make a profit and doomsday concerns about the products making the profit. The extraordinary success of ChatGPT only exacerbated that tension.

Two years ago, a group of OpenAI researchers left to start a new organisation, Anthropic, fearful of the pace of AI development at their old company. One later told a reporter that “there was a 20% chance that a rogue AI would destroy humanity within the next decade”. That same dread seems to have driven the attempt to defenestrate Altman and the boardroom chaos of the past week.

One may wonder about the psychology of continuing to create machines that one believes may extinguish human life. The irony, though, is that while fear of AI is exaggerated, the fear itself poses its own dangers. Exaggerated alarm about AI stems from an inflated sense of its capabilities. ChatGPT is superlatively good at predicting what the next word in a sequence should be; so good, in fact, that we imagine we can converse with it as with another human. But it cannot grasp, as humans do, the meanings of those words, and has negligible understanding of the real world. We remain far from the dream of “artificial general intelligence”. “AGI will not happen,” Grady Booch, chief scientist for software engineering at IBM, has suggested, even “in the lifetime of your children’s children”.

For those in Silicon Valley who disagree, believing AGI to be imminent, humans need to be protected through “alignment” – ensuring that AI is “aligned with human values and follows human intent”. That may seem a rational way of countervailing any harm AI might cause. Until, that is, you start asking what exactly are “human values”, who defines them, and what happens when they clash?

Social values are always contested, and particularly so today, in an age of widespread disaffection driven often by the breakdown of consensual standards. Our relationship to technology is itself a matter for debate. For some, the need to curtail hatred or to protect people from online harm outweighs any rights to free speech or privacy. This is the sentiment underlying Britain’s new Online Safety Act. It’s also why many worry about the consequences of the law.

Then there is the question of disinformation. Few people would deny that disinformation is a problem and will become even more so, raising difficult questions about democracy and trust. The question of how we deal with it remains, though, highly contentious, especially as many attempts to regulate disinformation results in even greater powers being bestowed on tech companies to police the public.

The reason algorithms are prone to bias, especially against minorities, is because they are aligned to human values

Meanwhile, another area of concern, algorithmic bias, highlights the weaknesses of arguments for “alignment”. The reason algorithms are prone to bias, especially against minorities, is precisely because they are aligned to human values. AI programmes are trained on data from the human world, one suffused with discriminatory practices and ideas. These become embedded into AI software, too, whether in the criminal justice system or healthcarefacial recognition or recruitment.

The problem we face is not that machines may one day exercise power over humans. That is speculation unwarranted by current developments. It is rather that we already live in societies in which power is exercised by a few to the detriment of the majority, and that technology provides a means of consolidating that power. For those who hold social, political and economic power, it makes sense to project problems as technological rather than social and as lying in the future rather than in the present.

There are few tools useful to humans that cannot also cause harm. But they rarely cause harm by themselves; they do so, rather, through the ways in which they are exploited by humans, especially those with power. That, and not fantasy fears of extinction, should be the starting point for any discussion about AI.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/nov/26/artificial-intelligence-harm-worry-about-people-control-openai

Making The Transition to Windows 11

In our last piece we discussed the withdrawal of updates and support for Windows 10 by Microsoft, which is prompting many businesses to make the switch to Windows 11. In this piece, we give you guidance and insights into making a more seamless transition to Windows 11.

Moving to Windows 11 For Businesses

As discussed in our last piece, it’s possible to transition from Windows 10 to Windows 11 for free! Before making the transition, a key thing to explore is making sure that devices meet the compatibility requirements beforehand.

It’s likely this will not be an issue for your devices, but it’s better to look before you leap! There are certain other requirements as well that can obstruct adopting Windows 11, such as Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 requirements, which may be resolved by manually enabling it on the device if there is an issue.

If you find that any devices are not able to support Windows 11, they will either need to be upgraded, replaced, or have Extended Security Updates (ESUs) purchased from them, which can offer a lifeline of continued security for a price.

When will Windows 11 Support End?

No date has been confirmed as of yet for the end-of-life support for Windows 11, but it’s looking very unlikely that it will be anytime soon. One reason is because Microsoft has not yet released a successor OS, Windows 12 yet, which is due to be released in 2024. Even so, it will be several years until Windows 11 is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Preparing Your Organization to Transition from Windows 10 to Windows 11

Given that the upgrade is free and can be done at the click of a button, making the transition is a simple enough process on the surface. This said, depending on the size, complexity and setup of your organization, there are some important things to consider ahead of and during the transition.

These include:

· Prepare Your Team: Not just notifying the team of the rollout, but also this is an opportunity to help them to take advantage of Windows 11’s new features in their daily work!

· Systematise the rollout with cloud configuration tools: Cloud configuration tools like Intune, Windows Autopilot, and Configuration manager can be used to systematically roll out the upgrade without missing a beat.

· Update your Documentation: Windows 11 will have a different visual layout compared to Windows 10 in some key respects, so if your organization offers step-by-step guides, it will be important to update the processes, terminology and images in them appropriately. · Validate your IT environment with Windows 11: Microsoft offers a free Insider Program that enables you to ensure your software and hardware will work as intended ahead of a rollout.

· Conduct a Phased Rollout: Depending on the size of your organisation, a phased rollout can help to ensure a smoother, less disruptive process that identifies gaps, and implements best practices along the way.

Benefits of Transitioning Your Devices to Windows 11

Here are some of the range of benefits of transitioning to Windows 11 for users and businesses more broadly:

· Elevated Performance and Efficiency: With improved resource management and faster load times, Windows 11 offers better device performance to your business.

· Revamped User Interface: more than skin-deep, the revamped user interface is designed (although not all will agree!) to offer a sleeker user experience.

· Integrated Teams in Taskbar: ensures that your team can connect with colleagues with a single click.

· Enhanced Cyber Security Features: From the ground up, Windows 11 does come with more in-built security features that align with the zero-trust security model, an increasing standard for ensuring better business security.

· Direct Access to Android Apps: Windows 11 offers direct access to Android apps via the Microsoft store and Amazon appstore, which can bring together mobile and desktop experiences for users in organisations using both Android and Microsoft devices.

· Optimised for the Latest Hardware and Software: Configured for the latest hardware and being the most compatible of the Windows OSes with the latest softwares, Windows 11 will correlate to better performance for businesses in both areas.

Need a Hand with Making the Transition to Windows 11?

4TC can help! We can ensure that all aspects of your IT environment are ready for the upgrade to Windows 11, so that your business enjoys a smooth and harmonious transition. Sooner is better than later when it comes down to getting the best out of your business’s security and performance. Get in touch with us today and we’ll be glad to help you to take the next steps.

We Are 4TC Managed IT Services

4TC can support you with all the services you need to run your business effectively, from email and domain hosting to fully managing your whole IT infrastructure. Setting up a great IT infrastructure is just the first step. Keeping it up-to-date, safe and performing at its peak requires consistent attention.

We can act as either your IT department or to supplement an existing IT department. We pride ourselves in developing long-term relationships that add value to your business, with high quality managed support, expert strategic advice, and professional project management. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!

Is Your Business Ready for The End of Support for Windows 10? Here’s What You Need to Know

Microsoft has announced that support for Windows 10 is going to stop before the end of 2025, which means that updates and security fixes will no longer be rolled out by default to business devices that still use this operating system (OS). If your business is still using Windows 10, don’t fret! In this blog we explore what this means for your business, some considerations around security, compliance and performance, and what next steps you can take forward.

Why Businesses Are Preparing to Move to Windows 11

All good things must come to an end, and the same is true for Windows 10. Like other previous operating systems like Windows Vista and 7, Windows 10 will eventually be put to rest in Microsoft’s graveyard of operating systems.

After the cut-off date in 2025, devices using Windows 10 will still work as you’d expect, but there are important consequences to the support cut-off that will become increasingly important for any business that sticks with this OS.

Because security and performance updates will cease to be released following the cut-off, devices will eventually become more vulnerable, unreliable and prone to performance issues over time. With this also being public knowledge, cyber criminals will be poised to try to take advantage of this support cut-off too.

Over time, other software and hardware providers will also stop developing and configuring their products to work with Windows 10 which will gradually increase compatibility issues over time for devices still using this OS.

As you’ll likely know, Window’s 11 is out and will be in support for the foreseeable future. Eventually, every business will need to make the switch to it, so what’s in store?

Windows 11: What’s New

Released 2 years ago, Windows 11 offers several new features including design changes and enhanced performance compared to Windows 10. Much of the changes are design based, featuring a more apple-esque appearance on its menus, the desktop taskbar is integrated with Microsoft 365 tools, particularly teams, and there are improved widgets and snap-layouts that are designed to make multi-tasking easier.

Is There a Way to Keep Using Microsoft 10 Safely?

Yes! Microsoft offers ESUs (Extended Security Update) products for old OSes, usually for roughly around 5 years after their initial cut-off point like the one we’re discussing here. However, these can be quite expensive to purchase for every device, and it is a yearly cost.

What Are the Risks of Sticking With Microsoft 10?

There are a number of reasons why sticking with Microsoft 10 can be risky and sub-optimal for your business, especially if you do not get purchase ESUs. They include:

· Windows 10 will receive less focus from developers, even as we approach the 2025 cut-off

· Businesses will miss out on updates and new features from Microsoft, which will become increasingly exclusive to Windows 11

· The cyber security risks of unsupported Windows 10 devices can lead to financial, reputational and operational losses if a cyber threat causes harm.

· Alongside general cyber security risks, businesses operating unsupported Windows 10 devices may also put their compliance at risk, as they may be seen as not taking reasonable measures to ensure the integrity of sensitive data for example.

What Should My Business Do?

We would ultimately recommend switching to Windows 11, and doing so well ahead of the support cut-off point in 2025. Windows 11 is a free upgrade on Windows 10 devices now, but for some organisations it will be important to plan the change, to make sure the transition is seamless and avoids causing inadvertent disruption.

We will explore making the transition to Windows 11 in our next article to offer some guidance for your business, stay tuned! If you’d like insights and advice tailored to your situation, you can also get in touch and we’ll be glad to help you.

We Are 4TC Managed IT Services

4TC can support you with all the services you need to run your business effectively, from email and domain hosting to fully managing your whole IT infrastructure. Setting up a great IT infrastructure is just the first step. Keeping it up-to-date, safe and performing at its peak requires consistent attention.

We can act as either your IT department or to supplement an existing IT department. We pride ourselves in developing long-term relationships that add value to your business, with high quality managed support, expert strategic advice, and professional project management. Get assistance with your IT challenges today by getting in touch, we’ll be glad to assist you!