Wednesday, October 30, 2019

4 Simple, Easy, Effective Ways to Increase Online Security

ways to increase online security
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

In today’s technological era, all of our most important information exists in cyberspace. This is the case for individuals, small businesses, and transnational corporations alike. A breach of sensitive data can create myriad problems for a company, such as:
·       Damaging the credibility of an organization and making its management look incompetent or careless (a PR nightmare)
·       Scaring away customers who are mindful of online security and privacy
·       Giving competitors an unfair advantage (corporate espionage)
·       Distressing budgets and cash flow due to dealing with the aftermath of a hack
·       In the case of ransomware, directly draining profits
And many more problems that you might be dealing with for a long time.
History has shown that no company is immune to the threat of a cyber-attack. For example, a number of high-profile hacks have happened in the not so distant past.
The Yahoo hack occurred in 2013 and involved over one billion user accounts being compromised, making it the largest data breach to-date.
Hackers have also breached a number of high-profile retail companies such as Target, Sears, Home Depot, and more.
Add to this a long list of cloud-hosting companies such as Cloudflare and Dropbox being compromised, and it’s not hard to see that increasing your online security is now of the utmost importance.

4 Ways to Increase Your Online Security

Photo by Blake Connally on Unsplash

You may be wondering how to prevent a cyber attack. Of course, it is a complex matter involving a large number of variables.

That said, there are some affordable, common-sense actions that any organization can take in order to defend themselves from a significant portion of potential cyber-attacks. Here are four ways to increase your online security.

Use Reliable Detection Methods

When a cyber attack occurs, it’s vital that you be made aware of it as soon as possible. Hacks can often go undetected for weeks or even months. Most companies do not understand this.
To be alerted to intruders opening files in your system, all you have to do is use a free and easy tool called Canary Tokens.

Photo from

Created by online security company Station X, these tokens look like regular files – PDFs, Word Documents, emails, photographs and more. In reality, however, they are hacker traps. When anyone accesses the canary token file, you will instantly be sent an email notification.
Detection is not a preventative measure per se, but it can mitigate further damage once a breach has occurred. Being able to shut systems down or isolate vital infrastructure can help limit the destruction caused by an attack.

Install Anti-Malware Software and Firewalls

One of the most important features that can keep hackers out is a firewall. Your entire network should have a firewall (network-based firewall), as should each device within it (host-based firewall).

ways to increase online security
Photo by Arian Darvishi on Unsplash
Premium versions of most anti-virus programs also provide real-time scanning capabilities that can detect and prevent malware the second it invades your system. Many quality software options exist.

You will have to consult with an expert and decide which program is best for your organization. Some of the most well-known and reputable services include names like Malware Bytes, Avast, and Clam XAV for Mac (no affiliate links here – I’m not an affiliate marketer).
It may be necessary to hire a full-time professional online security expert to customize and maintain your firewall, anti-malware programs, detection methods, and so on.

Conduct Routine Software Maintenance

This might be the most important and simplest solution of them all.
According to the second annual Nuix Black report on online security, most all high-profile data leaks did not occur due to some sophisticated hacking method. Instead, they happened because someone in the company failed to conduct routine maintenance. Simply neglecting to install a software upgrade or patch can have catastrophic results.
The solution, as you might have guessed, is simply to make sure you update all operating systems, web browsers, firewalls, anti-malware programs, and so on as soon as any updates are made available.

Educate Employees On Common Phishing Tactics

Up to 88% of all hackers claim they use phishing tactics to gain information about a target before they attack it, according to the same report. That means that avoiding phishing tactics could decrease the odds of falling victim to a successful breach by as much as 88%.
For employees who conduct any business on your network, phishing avoidance education should be a mandatory part of their training. They must be able to react appropriately to threats such as phishing emails, malicious links, phony sites, and callers impersonating authority figures.

These social engineering tactics are often used by hackers for a reason – they are simple, cheap, and effective. No amount of online security can prevent a naïve employee from giving an intruder confidential information or even direct login credentials.

Implement These Methods Today to Prevent Cyber Attacks

Note that three out of these four methods cost nothing to implement – educating employees, conducting routine software maintenance, and using Canary Tokens. Using these in addition to installing premium anti-malware programs and firewalls and hiring an online security expert will go a long way toward preventing cyber attacks and increasing your online security.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

3 Reasons Crypto Needs Privacy

crypto needs privacy

In 2012, a senate report disclosed the fact that international banking giant HSBC was involved in laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels. Billions of dollars were laundered over a period of seven years, much of that occurring before the Satoshi Nakamoto white paper had been published.

And yet, some might say that private crypto transactions are only for criminals. Really?

As the HSBC case illustrates, criminals don’t need privacy. All they need is a high-profile partner willing to look the other way.

So, who does need private transactions?

You and I do. If we want to be free, safe, and secure, that is.

Privacy in Cryptocurrency and Blockchain

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not really anonymous - they are pseudonymous. While your name may not be tied to every address you ever send BTC to and from, every transaction is recorded in the blockchain for everyone to see. All I need to do in order to tie you to a certain transaction is to verify that one of the public keys in question is associated with a wallet in your possession.

San Francisco Blockchain Week 2018 hosted an important fireside chat about this very issue entitled “The Privacy Hype.” The talk can be seen here:

Alternative cryptocurrencies have devised ways to obscure the details of transactions by default. This is a much-needed feature that protects individual rights and allows cryptocurrency to achieve its full potential as an empowering decentralized technology.

Here are three reasons crypto needs privacy.

1) Crypto Needs Privacy for Protection Against Censorship

The march toward online censorship has taken dramatic strides over the last several years. Often times, this includes stonewalling the financial activities of an individual or organization. Thankfully, cryptocurrency provides for the possibility of preventing such draconian measures.

In a paper published earlier this year, Jerry Britto explains why we need private transactions. He likens private cryptocurrency to cash in that both are untraceable. Without cash, society takes a sharp turn toward totalitarianism, he argues:
“In a world without cash (a bearer and peer-to-peer form of money) all transactions must be necessarily intermediated by financial institutions. Intermediated transactions are by their nature subject to surveillance and control. If third-party financial institutions must be part of all transactions, then they will be privy to the intimate details of everyone’s financial life. They can also choose to disallow certain transactions and potentially even certain persons from transacting.”
If all of us used a currency that allowed for private transactions (like Monero), however, this would not be the case at all. By protecting privacy, currencies like Monero protect individual sovereignty. 

2) Private Transactions Support Individual Sovereignty 

While a surveillance state empowers large organizations and powerful financial institutions, private transactions empower individuals.

An article authored by Abhimanyu Krishnanon of describes the issue quite well:
"Privacy coins are one of the most hotly debated issues in the cryptocurrency market. Unlike many other coins, they rile up all of the powers in charge, from tech monopolies to governments to banks, thanks to their potential to pull the rug out from underneath them and invert the flow of power."
But this is not the primary reason that crypto needs privacy. Rather, it’s a potential side effect. The real reason, as you may have noted by now, is all about power to the people. 
3) Private Transactions Put Power in the Hands of the People

As government whistleblower and privacy pioneer Edward Snowden has intimated when speaking of other privacy-centric coins, privacy and security go hand-in-hand.
Being private means you can rest easy knowing that no one will be scrutinizing your financial activities.

If you’re a political activist living in a nation controlled by an oppressive government, you don’t have to fear your activities being slow-rolled by regulatory authorities. If you’re an independent journalist, you don’t have to worry about having your freedom restricted through financial channels. And if you just want to have full control of your own financial actions, you’re covered there as well, of course.

How do we conduct private transactions? Simple - use a currency that prevents user transactions from being identifiable.

Monero Enables Private Transactions

Monero (XMR) is the original privacy coin and was introduced in April 2014. Monero uses three privacy technologies to hide information about transactions:
  • Ring signatures
  • Ring confidential transactions (RingCT)
  • Stealth addresses
These technologies hide the sender, amount of coin being sent, and receiver, respectively. Transactions on the Monero blockchain can’t be linked to any specific user because all the details of the transactions are obfuscated by default.

Monero is based on the CryptoNote protocol and has a dynamic block size, dynamic fees, and is ASIC-resistant. These features and more make it stand out from the pack of privacy coins.

You can learn more about the specifics of Monero on the official Monero website.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Macy's: A Buying Opportunity

M has an attractive dividend yield of 10%.
M is the country’s oldest and most reliable retailer.
The dividend discount model shows that M is trading just below fair value.
Now is a good time to buy the dips.
Macy's (M) is the best bet in a struggling retail sector. Despite a prolonged downtrend in the share price, there remain reasons to be bullish. The stock appears to be trading at or near fair value and has an excellent dividend yield, so buying dips will be a profitable strategy going forward.
Retail hasn't been doing so well. The number of store closures in 2019 has surpassed 8,200, beating the 2017 record of 8139. The number will likely be higher by year-end as the fourth quarter has only just begun.
There has been some debate about a "retail apocalypse." Some commentators think it's nothing out of the ordinary, some think it's all because of Amazon and online sales, and others think it's a sign of the US consumer struggling.
Given that 90% of all retail purchases happen at physical retail locations, we can rule out the possibility that online shopping has much to do with store closures. According to data from the US Census Bureau News provided by the Department of Commerce:
E-commerce sales in the second quarter of 2019 accounted for 10.1 percent of total sales.
[Want more? Continue reading the full article on Seeking Alpha 👉]

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Bet Big on These 3 Top Blockchain Stocks

3 top blockchain stocks
(Photo by NASA on Unsplash)

Blockchain technology holds the potential to transform almost every sector of the tech industry. The top blockchain stocks will be businesses that leverage this potential effectively, although many have tried and failed.
Companies that have promising blockchain projects in the works tend to be those that already have the existing expertise and infrastructure necessary for the technological demands entailed.
A wave of innovation fueled by blockchain tech is sweeping the globe. What’s the best way to gain related exposure?
Of course, you can always buy and hold cryptocurrency, which amounts to placing a call option on the underlying technology. But doing so requires an understanding of how to hold your own private keys in addition to having a high tolerance for risk and volatility. It’s not for everyone.

What about blockchain stocks? These are companies making investments into practical applications of blockchain technology. Holding blockchain stocks gives you exposure to the tech without having to invest directly in related coins or tokens.
Investing in companies that are pursuing realistic blockchain projects will prove profitable in the long run.
The blockchain allows for transactions that can be verified, secure, transparent, and immutable. The first application of this technology was for financial transactions involving a peer-to-peer digital currency known as bitcoin. But that’s only one potential use for blockchain, and a limited one at that.

It reminds me of a scene from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where Ultron is talking about Vibranium, the strongest metal in the Marvel universe. Ultron notes that after having discovered this revolutionary material, humans did nothing more than make a frisbee out of it (referring to Captain America’s circular shield).
Bitcoin is sort of like the equivalent of a blockchain frisbee. The ability for decentralized financial transactions is great, but there’s so much more that can be accomplished.
To be clear, this isn’t the mania that pervaded the industry during late 2017 and early 2018. During that time, any company that so much as uttered the word “blockchain” in a press release saw ridiculous share price increases at the hands of fevered speculators. And some companies devoted massive amounts of capital to blockchain projects that only lost money in the long run.

Now that the initial high has worn off and things have come back down to Earth, it’s time for a more down to Earth assessment of the potential of blockchain tech and companies that are investing in its development.
These companies are building an economic moat for themselves. By creating new and unique applications of blockchain technology, they are effectively entering into a league of their own, as most competitors have yet to even fathom the paradigm change that has begun.
That’s not to say that competition is nonexistent. Just look at the hundreds of altcoins that have come and gone over the last several years. But there’s a big difference between some obscure crypto startup and a well-established company that is investing in blockchain.
Here are some top blockchain stocks that fall into that category.

Microsoft (MSFT)

top blockchain stocks
(Photo by Tadas Sar on Unsplash)
Microsoft has almost been making too many forays into blockchain to count. Two early concepts involved using blockchain to empower supply chains and to create a fraud-proof digital identity database.

The real mover and shaker for Microsoft, however, has been Azure Blockchain Services, which is part of Azure Cloud Services. Azure is a fully managed service that gives users the ability to create and manage consortium blockchain networks. Basically, it’s intended to make it easier for businesses to build decentralized applications using blockchain technology.
The first distributed ledger to be managed on Azure Blockchain Services is Quorum, created by J.P. Morgan. Azure CTO Mark Russinovich said the following about Quorum:
“Because it’s built on the popular Ethereum protocol, which has the world’s largest blockchain developer community, Quorum is a natural choice.”
This statement doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that the majority of decentralized apps are also built on Ethereum, so by this logic any of them would also have been “a natural choice.” 
Russinovich added the following, though:
“It integrates with a rich set of open-source tools while also supporting confidential transactions – something our enterprise customers require.”

Azure Cloud Services boasts that “95% of Fortune 500 companies trust their business on Azure.” That’s a long list of clients. If they begin adopting blockchain, chances are they will do so through Azure Blockchain Services, and Microsoft will be the main benefactor.


top blockchain stocks
(Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash)
IBM is another company positioning itself to become a top blockchain stock. Their enterprise product involves supply chain management. The company partnered with blockchain company Chainyard to develop the Trust Your Supplier network. Other founding members include Cisco, Lenovo, Nokia, Schneider Electric, and even companies outside the tech sector like GlaxoSmithKline and Anheuser-Busch. This blockchain project helps reduce the risk of fraudulent activity and errors in the system.

Trust Your Supplier uses a unique digital passport to verify the identity of suppliers on its blockchain network, which allows suppliers to securely share information with specific buyers. Through the use of the service, companies can qualify, validate, and manage new suppliers in a faster, cheaper fashion.
IBM has a long list of blockchain-related projects in the works. In fact, IBM may be the single-most prolific filer of blockchain-related patents, as reported in August:
“The Trust Your Supplier network thus joins an array of other blockchain-based projects from IBM. In mid-July, the company tripled the number of blockchain patents secured in the United States since 2018, boasting over 100 active patent families.”

It’s a safe bet that at least a few of those patents turn into something profitable.
For now, IBM already has the Trust Your Supplier network up and running in addition to its “Blockchain as a Service” implementation called “IBM Blockchain.” IBM Blockchain allows customers to build new blockchain networks, much like Azure by Microsoft.

Akamai Technologies (AKAM)

3 top blockchain stocks
(Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash)
Akamai is a tech company that provides an array of digital services to world-class clients. Their areas of expertise include web performance, media delivery, network operations, and cybersecurity. The company is trusted by scores of the top eCommerce sites, banks, asset managers, and video game companies in the world. They claim to have mitigated some of the largest and most sophisticated cyberattacks the world has ever seen.
Akamai is developing a blockchain payment network that can process millions of transactions per second (compared to 40,000 per second for Visa or 7 per second for bitcoin). The solution is intended to solve the biggest problems facing established blockchains, particularly scalability and latency.
The company has partnered with MUFG, the largest cloud delivery platform in the world, to help make this dream a reality. They intend for the payment network to first be available in Japan during the first half of 2020.
Other projects have made similar promises and failed to deliver. If AKAM can make it work, they stand to profit well. They already have the infrastructure in place, and so have a certain synergy with the blockchain. A press release issued by the company in May 2018 provides a good summary of that fact:
"Akamai drew upon its decades of experience in developing and deploying distributed systems at global scale, along with market-leading performance and security services, in building the blockchain architecture. The new blockchain platform offers improved scalability, reliability, performance and security that is unique to Akamai’s Intelligent Platform, which is trusted by the top brands around the world."

The world has been waiting for a scalable blockchain-based payment solution for years. Could Akamai be the first to make it work? Time will tell, and they’re certainly capable of pulling it off.

These Top Blockchain Stocks are Positioned to Succeed

Of these four, I like Akamai the best. The company stands to improve its entire business model by implementing blockchain-based solutions. If they can do so effectively while maintaining the portions of their business that have led them to be successful so far, it’s hard to see them not doing well. And given they already have some of the necessary infrastructure and expertise in place, their odds of succeeding are higher than average.

There’s not much need for discussing downside risk or competitors to these top blockchain stocks. As mentioned, making investments toward creating and utilizing practical applications of blockchain technologies puts these companies ahead of most, if not all, of the competition as of 2019.
I make the qualification of including the current year because I believe that over time all organizations will have to use blockchain tech to remain competitive. For the time being, the companies named above are just a few of the top thought leaders blazing the blockchain trail.
A notable example of an established company failing to deliver on its big blockchain dreams is (see my previous article on OSTK). But that failure came about as a result of poor management decisions coupled with an overzealousness about the usefulness of one particular application of the technology. Most of the companies above have experimented with multiple use cases for blockchain, and none of them are becoming obsessed with it to the detriment of the rest of their business (as was the case with Overstock).
In sum, companies are betting big on blockchain. And it’s wise to bet big on those companies that are pursuing realistic blockchain projects. Whether you want some exposure to blockchain or are just looking for good places to invest in tech in general, you can’t go wrong with being long blockchain stocks like these.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned.