Bring Your Own Device…at Your Own Risk

Do laptops and tablets belong in the classroom?

By Joe Peters
Editor, MindEdge Learning

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a better command of learning and technology than Dr. Patrick Winston, an MIT faculty member who, for nearly five decades, has been on the forefront of machine learning and artificial intelligence. How does he view technology in the classroom? He doesn’t. One of his rules for his Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course is, “No Laptops.”
Granted, Dr. Winston’s preferences do not establish a universal axiom. But if an educator of his renown, working with students on the vanguard of technology, questions the value of such devices while lecturing, then maybe those of us with more pedestrian credentials should take note.
This is not to suggest that technology has no role to play in education. To the contrary, technology has an immense capacity to bridge logistical, financial, and cognitive gaps. Even a Luddite must acknowledge that the Internet provides access to a far greater breadth and depth of information—and far more efficient retrieval of that information—than the stacks of a research library.
However, as we see laptops becoming more prevalent in elementary and middle schools through programs such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), we should recognize the potential for educational distraction as well as benefit.
Not long ago, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a coalition of 36 of the world’s most advanced countries, conducted a study of 15-year-old students who regularly use computers and the Internet at school. The study concluded that those tech-using students tended to underperform on international assessment tests.
While we should be careful about drawing broad conclusions from a single study, these results nonetheless indicate a need for circumspection. But instead of raising a red flag about the use of technology in the classroom, many school districts have gone ahead and bulldozed the flagpole.
What’s notable about many of the scholarly articles addressing BYOD and related programs is that their focus tends to be more on financial considerations than pedagogical ones. Inevitably, the justification for replacing the No. 2 pencil and three-ring binder with a laptop or tablet is a belief that we must start preparing students, even those in elementary school, for the jobs of the future.
In this regard, consider the data point provided us by the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a private K-12 school that serves the children of many Silicon Valley executives. The school attracts the progeny of the country’s technology incubator by being famously no-tech.
Again, a single anecdote does not establish a truth. But perhaps what these executives understand is that today’s software and hardware may bear little resemblance to tomorrow’s workplace. The famed “Moore’s Law” holds that technological capability doubles roughly every two years. If that’s true, then by the time a fifth-grader sends out résumés as a college senior, he or she will be five technology generations removed from the tools of today. Expecting today’s laptops to prepare a 10-year-old for employment a decade hence is like using a World War I-era globe to teach modern geography.

Further, most kids have an intrinsic attraction to the range of today’s computing devices. For many parents, the challenge is not getting their children to use these devices—it is getting them to stop using them. If we’re concerned about making sure our kids are ready for tomorrow’s workplace, relax—most of them are more than capable of learning how to use a new device in very short order.
If today’s educators and parents are embracing classroom laptops with excessive exuberance, part of the fault must lie with those of us in the tech industry who have been clamoring for years about “skills gaps.” Whether you are talking about political leaders being duped by simple phishing schemes or investment professionals struggling with a spreadsheet, the tools of today’s workplace can be overwhelming. But perhaps we technologists have focused too much on the bytes, and overlooked the basics.
At the risk of committing techno-heresy in the eyes of my IT colleagues, let me suggest the fault has not been in the “hard skills” of understanding digital certificates and regular expressions, but rather in the so-called soft skills of communication, adaptability, and cooperation.
The next time you approach an elevator lobby, a bus stop, or some other public setting, make note of how many people prefer to stare at the thing in their hand rather than make even a superficial gesture—a smile, a greeting, or an inquiry about the weather. For all their promise, today’s devices can be very isolating. In a grander context, we should ask whether these resources encourage us to reach beyond our comfort zones, or are they more like a digital cocoon?
As we face the evolution of artificial intelligence, arguably it is more important than ever for us and our children to prioritize the skills between our ears rather than those at our fingertips. As Dr. Winston counsels MIT students annually, in a talk entitled How to Speak: “Your careers will be determined largely by how well you speak, by how well you write, and by the quality of your ideas … in that order.”
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Six Things Every Parent Should Know in the Digital Age

Mom and Dad need to set the example


By Joe Peters
Editor, MindEdge Learning
Occasionally, friends will ask me a question like, “What’s the safest computer to get for my kids?” or “What software will keep them safe?” To me, these questions are like asking, “What kind of tires should I buy to make sure I never get into an accident?” Sure, some tools might be more secure than others, but ultimately what really matters is not what you buy—it is how you use what you have.
That’s why I emphasize to parents that they must set the example. Safe, responsible use of the Internet should be like looking twice before crossing the road or brushing your teeth: a good habit developed at a young age, learned from our parents and enforced by them.
social media apps on a smartphone
You can’t manage it if you don’t know it’s there
Whether you are managing a small family or a multinational conglomerate, the first step to getting a handle on technology is to know what you have. Whether you do that on a spreadsheet or on a piece of a poster board taped to the inside door of a closet, you need to sit down as a family and list every network-capable device you have. If that is too daunting a task, then start getting rid of devices until it isn’t. While you’re at it, make another list of all your online accounts. Your kids should have separate accounts from you. Plan ahead so that you are not sharing an account or creating one carelessly on Christmas morning. Once a month (or so), as a family, make sure all your devices are updated and change your passwords.
Probably the most valuable part of this exercise is that it requires you to talk regularly to your kids about technology. Remember to communicate, not dictate. Your kids will tell you more about the latest trends and apps than any parenting website.
Passwords are still a problem
As you have heard plenty of times, you should have different passwords for every service, and those passwords should be complex. But the task of formulating all those passwords doesn’t need to be overwhelming. For example: make a good base password out of a phrase, not just a word. Try to make it at least 12 characters, including some numbers and special characters. Then for each service, insert the initials of that service into the base. It’s a simple variation, but it will be enough to ensure that even if one of your accounts gets compromised, the others won’t instantly be vulnerable. Kids, by the way, tend to be very good at this exercise, as it indulges their creativity and imagination. Let them run with it.
Social skills should come before social media
Determining the right age for your children to jump into the digital world should be dictated by their ability to negotiate real-world situations properly—not by how adept they are with an iPhone or XBox.
The nature of social media allows kids to choose the people with whom they will associate; most often, those will be people who share their interests, beliefs, and prejudices. Ironically, this fact of online life is more likely to encourage anti-social behavior than genuine human interaction. Think about it: the ability to initiate a conversation, engage others, listen, and speak persuasively but cordially are important human skills. But when kids surround themselves with “like”-minded individuals, they don’t have to develop those skills.
What can you do? Limit screen time. Keep all devices in a central area—never in your kids’ bedrooms. When friends come over, put the cellphones in a bowl at the door. The more you can get kids engaging in genuine social behavior, even if it is just with you, the more they will carry these skills over to their digital lives. Remember, you need to set the example.
It’s not all fun and games
When I was a kid, the most violent video game might involve firing a blip at a pixelated alien invading from space. Today, there is a near-realism to gaming violence. What’s absent, of course, is the real-world consequence of what it means to fire a gun, punch someone, jump from three stories up, or do any of the other things that gamers do dozens of times a minute. While that sparks concern in and of itself, the derivative aspect of such gaming is that kids can begin to treat all online activity as though it is a game. When they respond to some post, for example, they don’t see a human being, just an avatar, another “player” in the social media “game.”
Before you allow your child to play a video game, try it yourself to see if it is appropriate. Learn the video game rating system and follow it. Understand that so-called “teen” games are played by many adults, who can interact with your kids through in-game chats. And many of these games have very adult themes.
You’re not as anonymous, or as temporary, as you think
Services like Snapchat promote their temporary nature: anything posted will disappear in 10 seconds. While 10 seconds is plenty of time for a lot of bad things to happen (such as someone making a screen grab), there’s a larger question that every rational parent needs to ask: What positive impulse, if any, does such a service indulge?
The truth is, there is no guarantee of anonymity on the Internet. Protecting your privacy requires real effort. For instance: just as you use different passwords for different services, you should also use different screen names and, if possible, different email addresses. Never incorporate identifying data, even a ZIP code, into a screen name, and learn how to disable location services tagging. Be especially cautious about geo-tagging any images, because that will automatically incorporate your location into image information.
All that said, you are only as private as your most gossipy friend. Even if you and your child exercise proper restraint, it only takes one “friend” to make a questionable post that undermines your privacy. Kids should understand that colleges and employers often look at social media profiles in making their acceptance and hiring determinations.
There is no app for logic
This may be a blog post about the Internet, but if you want to negotiate the hazards of the misinformation superhighway, it doesn’t hurt to turn the clock back to the days of Aristotle and the study of logic. The ability to distinguish a substantive comment from a spurious one is a timeless skill.
You don’t need to be a philosophy Ph.D. to help your kids in this area. Googling “logical fallacies” can get the ball rolling. After a particular dinner conversation a year or so ago, I purchased a poster depicting the various logical fallacies, and hung it in our kitchen. While my sense of interior decorating may be lacking, it has created a useful talking point in our home.
We’re approaching the second generation of the social-media age, where decisions regarding everything from news sources to afternoon activities can be crowdsourced. While resources such as Snopes and Yelp can be useful in determining what is fake news or where to get good ice cream, it’s not a bad idea to remind your kids that civilization figured out how to negotiate such conundrums long before there was an app for that. The subtle equating of popularity and quality is perhaps the slipperiest of the slopes social media has brought. The more we can equip our kids with the resources to think independently and critically, the more it will pay dividends in all areas of their lives.
Resources
Nearly any time I talk to parents about the challenges kids face on the Internet, I point them to the story of Ryan Patrick Halligan (www.RyanPatrickHalligan.org). While Ryan’s story is a bit dated today (15 years old, to be precise), it remains a sobering tale of how the virtual world can become the real world for kids.
Safe and Secure Online (www.safeandsecureonline.org) and ConnectSafely.org (www.connectsafely.org) are two great resources with loads of advice on how to speak to your kids about Internet use.
If you’re looking for trustworthy information about malware, two reliable sources are Virus Total (www.virustotal.com) and Bleeping Computer (www.bleepingcomputer.com).
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Beware the Cryptojacker!

Hackers may be using your network to mine for digital gold

By Marco Martinez
Editor, MindEdge Learning
News headlines constantly remind us of the volume of cyberattacks targeting major retailers, banks, hospitals, and individuals like you and me. Some of these attacks involve a high level of complexity, but until recently most have been fairly basic—recycled from older malware and repurposed by attackers for different goals. That’s all starting to change now.
You may have heard of ransomware, a type of malware that has ensnared victims worldwide and cost them billions of dollars. You may have also noticed the hype surrounding cryptocurrencies; countless people have bought into the craze, speculating that the values of these digital currencies will rise quickly and make them rich. Well, if you combine the idea of ransomware – and related forms of malware – with the idea of cryptocurrency, you get a whole new and sophisticated type of cyberattack: cryptojacking.
graphic showing cyprojacking concept
Cryptojacking is an attack that combines the malware used for mining cryptocurrencies with malware that allows those mining activities to run undetected. This type of attack allows a hacker to hijack the processing power of a target system (or a collection of systems) in order to mine cryptocurrencies.
Wait up – just what is cryptomining? In short, it’s the process of identifying and verifying transactions involving cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin; miners use powerful computers and software to track these transactions, and in return are paid fees in newly minted cryptocurrency. The process can be lucrative, but it requires a lot of computer power and related resources. And that’s why some unscrupulous miners have resorted to cryptojacking.
The allure of cryptomining stems from the exponential rise in value that many cryptocurrencies have experienced, making some cryptominers quite rich in a very short period of time. This digital gold rush has led to a virtual stampede—including both legitimate miners and criminal organizations—into the cryptomining arena. At the same time, the success of ransomware and the rise in cryptocurrency values has led to the rapid spread of cryptomining malware, much of it adapted from earlier forms of ransomware, across the globe.
Cryptojacking attacks can be initiated in a variety of ways; one common method is through phishing, where a victim is tricked into clicking on a link in an email. Once the link is clicked, the victim unwittingly loads the cryptomining malware code onto his or her browser. In-browser cryptojacking is growing quickly, increasing by 31 percent in 2017. In addition, many ransomware programs have been re-tooled to work in cryptomining schemes.
In addition to in-browser attacks, an attacker can inject code directly into an online ad that is shown on many websites, or into a single website. Attackers may simultaneously use the in-browser, online-ad, and website techniques to maximize mining effectiveness.
Victims of cryptojacking will often notice only a slight degradation in processing power—but organizations can wind up spending significant resources tracking down the reason for their systems’ sluggish performance. These organizations may even end up replacing parts that they think might be broken, not realizing that they are infected.
Cryptomining malware has targeted a variety of different operating systems and cryptocurrencies, using multiple infection techniques and revealing a versatility not typical for a new type of malware attack. And, unlike traditional ransomware, cryptojacking will continually bring in money to an attacker, with relatively low risk. By contrast, ransomware is usually a “one and done,” short-term transaction, where the attacker has to keep moving on to a smaller and smaller pool of new victims.
Given the rapid successes attributed to cryptojacking, and its ability to provide long-term profits for hackers, experts theorize that it will be around for a while. And cryptojackers have plenty of ways to make sure they stay in business.
An attack can be difficult to detect or trace, as the online-ad and website injection techniques do not require the infected script to be stored on a victim’s system. Cryptojackers also like to make their scripts as stealthy as possible, providing the ability to evade antimalware scans. Mining scripts can also re-infect a system and linger for long periods of time. Programs may wait to mine during off-hours, or use just a small fraction of CPU power, so that no alarms are raised. And they can maintain these activities for months, or years, leading to higher electric bills and higher costs to replace equipment that overheats or breaks down from excessive use.
Organizations can use a variety of tools to detect whether IT systems have been infected with cryptojacking malware. Coinhive is the most widely used cryptomining program, with CoinImp, deepMiner, and Crypto-Loot following close behind. Each of these programs has a distinct signature that can be detected and blocked. When in doubt, ask an expert familiar with cryptojacking to find and remove the malware; don’t try to do it yourself, as some mining software will crash a victim’s computer when it detects that the user is trying to remove it.
There are many other mining-program variants that have been appearing on a near-daily basis, so security managers need to be vigilant to protect their networks against infection. Resources such as CoinBlockerLists, maintained by ZeroDot1, contain updated lists of domains that are linked to cryptojacking programs. These domains can be added to a blacklist and denied the ability to access a network.
Network monitoring tools are also effective in detecting cryptojacking malware. Finally, dedicated anti-mining extensions can be installed on browsers and ad-blocking software can effectively block mining programs. These tools should be used in conjunction with the other methods we’ve already discussed.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

To Optimize Your Website, Think Mobile!


If you want to optimize your website for digital marketing, you need to think about SEO, and you need to create compelling content. But most of all, says Jackie LaVana, founder of 126 North Digital Marketing, you need to make sure your site is mobile-friendly. The majority of traffic to sites such as Facebook, she notes, now comes from mobile devices. So optimizing for mobile isn’t just a good idea—it’s absolutely essential.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on digital marketing, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Think Twice About Allowing Your Refrigerator Online


The Internet of Things (IoT) is a most wondrous neighborhood of cyberspace: a place where televisions, refrigerators, watches, and even children’s diapers can all connect to the Internet. (Editor’s note: If you honestly believe it’s a good idea to connect your kid’s diapers to the Internet, you may want to rethink this whole parenting thing.) The IoT is the place where high-tech chic meets consumer convenience—and hey, what could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, the IoT is pretty much crawling with hackers and bots, and security is just a rumor, largely unconfirmed. This MindEdge video may make you wonder why you ever wanted to talk to Alexa in the first place.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

How to Avoid a Pass(word) Fail


Most people know enough not to hand a stranger the key to their house. But a lot of folks don’t take the time or effort to protect their computer passwords—an omission that carries potentially dire consequences. This week’s MindEdge Learning video offers practical tips for constructing a sturdier password, and preventing it from falling into the wrong hands.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s cybersecurity course offerings, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

The Four IT Issues Managers Need to Face

Skills, Security Top the List of Concerns

By Marco Martinez
Editor, MindEdge Learning
Rapid changes in technology are constantly making headlines—and they’re also making headaches for IT departments and company managers alike. Today’s managers face an increasing scarcity of trained personnel, a rise in security breaches, and a host of other IT problems, all competing for their attention. And doing nothing is definitely not an option: IT is no longer just a business enabler, it is a critical business driver, and businesses ignore the shifting IT landscape at their own peril.
Here are the top four IT issues with which managers must contend, if they hope to keep their companies competitive:
the four it issues managers must face
Training and the skills gap. The high rate of technological change has resulted in a workforce that lacks some critical IT skills. According to a 2017 report by CompTIA, the computer technology trade association, there’s a critical and widening skills gap that threatens worker productivity, customer service, and, ultimately, company profitability. Predictably, the biggest gaps are in some of the hottest emerging technologies, including cloud infrastructure and applications, automation and AI, and the Internet of things. To help close the skills gap, companies need to step up their ongoing training programs. Organizations that actively seek out training for their workers will win in the long run: up-to-date skills training provides a tangible incentive for workers to stay with the company, and those skilled workers will end up contributing more to the organization.
Hacking and security breaches. If 2017 seemed, at times, like the Year of the Hacker, 2018 has been no better. In an increasingly connected world—with more personal and corporate information than ever now available online—and with hackers taking advantage of ever more sophisticated techniques and scams—cyber security threats will only continue to grow. And that’s a nightmare scenario for most managers: these days, the value of information far exceeds the value of physical assets for most organizations. Safeguarding that information is an urgent priority, which means that security cannot take a back seat to network performance, as it often did in the past. Ongoing security training for all employees is essential in fostering an organization-wide security mindset. And security training also needs to be coupled with regular assessments that can evaluate the effectiveness of the company’s security program.
Budget cuts. IT departments are constantly being squeezed to deliver, even as many of them are watching their budgets decline. In this environment, managers need to be more strategic about their budgeting decisions. And they should recognize that knowing which solutions to spend money on—and which ones are not worth the investment—may require getting some outside help. Reputable consultants can help in evaluating new IT solutions and prioritizing the ones that can best further the company’s business goals. Consultants cost money, of course. But working with firms that have a track record of implementing new technologies—that is, technologies that can help grow the business—may well prove to be cost-effective in the long run.
The innovation culture. Creativity, when applied properly, will set an organization apart from its competitors. It can also strengthen the company internally when employees are encouraged to share their ideas about improving business and IT processes. That’s why it is vital that managers strive to create a workplace culture that fosters innovation, communication, and teamwork. Collaboration between teams and departments helps eliminate information silos, encouraging better communication. And an organization that rewards innovation will likely retain top talent and spur greater productivity as a result.
This is not an exhaustive list; there are plenty of other IT issues lurking just over the horizon, as well. And, like the ones on this list, they may require making tough decisions and sometimes difficult changes. But coping with change and making tough decisions is what being a manager is all about. Just remember, you don’t have to go it alone: when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask around for some expert opinions. The more information you have, the better the IT decisions you will make.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on cyber security and CISSP®, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Paid Search: Think of It as Your Digital Sales Team


Paid search is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, says CL Tian, the founder and CEO of PINKOA, a digital strategy and marketing firm. It’s kind of like the digital-world equivalent of a corporate sales team, with electrons and algorithms taking the place of—well, people like us.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s course offerings on marketing—soon to include a new course on Paid Search—click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Dude, Where’s My Keyword?

Is SEO as optimal as we think it is?

By Joe Peters
Editor, MindEdge Learning
In December 2000, 20th Century Fox released the inexplicably successful Dude, Where’s My Car?, a motion picture so puerile that the Chicago Tribune suggested audiences would leave the theater exclaiming, “Dude, I can’t believe I sat through that movie!” During that same week, a tech startup named Google released its toolbar extension, integrating its cutting-edge “page rank” search engine into browsers.
A graphic of a web browser with the letters SEO above the search bar.
Google’s subsequent meteoric rise gave us the industry of search engine optimization, whose practitioners soon discovered a principle long embraced by Hollywood: You’ll never go broke giving people what they want.
But now, after almost two decades of instantaneously available information, we’re beginning to see signs that both SEO and the search engines behind it are becoming as dated as stoner buddy comedies.
In the early days of the web, writing and coding for search engines was a straightforward but crude business. Search engine ranking was based mainly on how often a word appeared on a web page. Where it appeared (in a heading, title, etc.) may have had some influence, but search ranking was primarily a quantity-driven metric.
Google, however, took a broader view of things. It recognized that web sites aren’t independent silos—they are linked to each other. Logically, it reasoned that if a lot of sites link to one particular page, that page is probably a good source of information. This insight was borrowed from academia, where the credibility of research is typically measured by how often it is cited in other research.
Of course, the credibility of academic research has come under attack in recent years: in a 2005 paper, Stanford professor John Ioannidis famously claimed that most research findings (but not his, of course) are in fact false. Similarly, netizens are coming to realize that the frequency with which certain information is shared or linked has no bearing on its accuracy.
Burned by the rise of “fake news,” exaggerated memes, and paid advertising, search-engine users don’t seem to trust search results as much as they once did. While the top-ranked results still get the most clicks, recent research shows that the gap between the top and middle results is closing—indicating that users are often clicking multiple links, trying to triangulate good information.
But if SEO really is in decline, the reason may lie not in the technology, but rather in the premise of optimization. It’s possible, even likely, that there is not a single authoritative answer to every query—and even if there is, can you really trust the authority behind it?
Whether you are searching for the function of the intermediate vector boson (that’s a real thing, by the way) or seeking an assessment of the best Ashton Kutcher movies, the truth can depend not only on perspective, but also on time. Which is to say: if you want to find the truth, you need to spend some time looking for it.
To those digital natives young enough to have never heard the tones of a dial-up modem, such an assertion may run contrary to their always-connected sensibilities. However, for those raised on the Dewey Decimal library catalog, the idea of retrieving multiple sources and taking the time to read them with a discerning eye is not so foreign.
In March 2018, a roar of vindication went up from the Internet’s retirement communities when the US Federal Trade Commission released a report showing that users between the ages of 20 and 29 are twice as likely as users over age 70 to lose money in online scams. The blue-hairs of the information superhighway may not be fast, but at least they don’t have to be furious at their own gullibility.
As technology becomes more integrated into the fabric of our lives (in some cases literally), the challenges of optimization will continue to grow. But even as Google et al. seek the Mother of All Algorithms to connect people with information and products, the rest of us should remember that Silicon Valley is under constant pressure to turn a profit.
While the naysayers can post objections on their MySpace accounts, the reality is that technology giants function much like Hollywood studios: their currency is popularity, not necessarily quality. In October 2000, Warner Brothers released Pay It Forward, a critically acclaimed drama about a teacher challenging young students to improve the world. It grossed roughly two-thirds of what Dude, Where’s My Car? made. As much as we have accelerated our information resources today, there remains an axiom perhaps first coined in the days of Gutenberg: what is right not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.
For a complete listing of MindEdge’s courses on SEO and related topics in digital marketing, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.

Make Way for…Robots?

As robotics and advanced automation make their presence felt in the workplace, reactions among their human co-workers may range from welcoming to fearful. We asked several Boston-area humans for their opinions on this emerging issue.

To see the results of MindEdge’s national survey on robotics and automation in the workplace, click here.


Copyright © 2018 MindEdge, Inc.