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Archive for January, 2011

Hackers: They’re back and are coming to get you! Steps to Fight Back

Monday, January 31st, 2011

What’s back? Hacker’s toolkits! There are new hacker’s toolkits out there that are user friendly. So, your computer could be in danger from any number of foes. It could be the kid next door, the person sitting across the table in Starbucks, some computer geek in an internet cafe in India. How do we know this? Symantec released a new report about this. These toolkits are priced anywhere from $40 to $40,000.

So, what exactly do these toolkits do?  They let people who have a little knowledge of coding to design malware to hack your computer. The big difference between these toolkits and the original ones is that these new toolkits use many different attack vectors. With the old toolkits, once you knew the software patch, the malware couldn’t get in. The toolkits exploit the vulnerabilities in a computer. Usually the malware gets in through the web browser and its plug-ins.

Then, the software usually installs a keylogger which steals things like online passwords and turn computers into zombies who infect other computers. Why through the web browser? Since most of the major software holes have been patched up, it has become harder to get malware onto a computer.Signs show that these toolkits are pretty effective. According to PC World, $70 million was stolen from bank accounts using the hacking toolkit Zeus. Plus these kits are often like regular software. They get constant updates, so they have the newest and most potent version of malware.  These toolkits are also attacking multiple software at once, so chances are that one application may be unprotected and the attack is more likely to succeed.

So, what can be done to protect your computer from these threats? Just the usual of keeping all of your system software, virus definitions, etc.. You also shouldn’t use Internet Explorer, but Firefox and Chrome are targets too. [The article didn’t mention anything about Opera though.] You can switch to Linux, but it takes a while to get used to. [I haven’t used Linux, so I don’t have an idea of how different it is. All I know is that it’s different.] You can also install a browser extension, such as FlashBlock(For both Firefox and Chrome), that’ll block any flash code on a website unless you opt to let it run.(YouTube is whitelisted.) Also make sure you’re using a reputable brand of antivirus softarware.

So what do you do to protect your computer from these threats and what do you think about these toolkits?

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Archive for January, 2011

5 Ways to Develop a Killer Brand for Your Small Business and Startup

Monday, January 24th, 2011

As a small business or startup there is a constant challenge of developing a brand for your business.  Unlike large companies like Coke and Apple, small businesses and startups do not have the resources to invest the time, money and effort to build a brand through advertising.  So these businesses are left to rely on my scrappy tactics to develop and grow their brand.  Of course with all of the large, medium and small competitors, it can be difficult to elevate your small business above the noise that is out there.   Here are a few tips that can help your small business build your brand and show that you can be trusted to deliver for your customers:

1. Give Each Customers an Experience: Think about the great brand experiences that are out there today.  There are product experiences like Apple and Zappos.  Then there are city experiences like Las Vegas.  All evoke a certain type of experience when you interact with those brands (yes, I am calling Las Vegas a brand!). So when your business interacts with your customers, treat them to an experience.  What type of experience you may ask?  How about “white glove” treatment from beginning until end where you make every effort to anticipate your customer’s wants, needs and desires.  This is not an easy thing to accomplish, but just making this type of effort will ensure you try to create a good customer experience for your customers.

2. Every Interaction Should Make an Impression:  So this is taking point #1 above and breaking it down.  Think about your customer’s touch points for your business.  Now think about how you interact with your customers at every touch point.  Is it the first time they reach your website? The first time they call your office?  An email inquiry about your product or a meeting at a trade show?  A conversation over Twitter? Now try to aim to make every experience with your customers one that they will remember.  I am not advocating something over the top. I am merely advocating taking special care of the customers at every interaction with your business.  For example, talk to your customer, listen to them, and take the time to say that you value them as a customer. Always remember find a way to go the extra mile to help your customers life a little easier or happier.  That is why every email should be thought out, every entry point to your website considered so you can get into the mind of a customer and make a good impression at every point with them.

3. Help Your Customers & They Will Talk About Your Business: Building on points #1 and #2, if you make an impression and give customers a great experience, you will give your customers reasons to talk about your business, service or product.  What better way to build your brand by having your customers be your brand messengers to potential customers and leads that are out in the community.  That is why the more you go out of your way to build up credibility and trust with your customers by repeatedly beating their expectations, the easier it is for those customers to tell the world about buying from your small business.

4. Promote Your Customer’s Successes:   We have found at Kikscore one of the best ways to help ourselves and our brand is by promoting our own customers.  We have done that by finding every opportunity to promote our customers through various avenues like our blog, on Twitter and by supporting them at every opportunity.  One of ways we have done that is by giving our customers a forum on our own blog to tell their own small business success stories.  What can you do?  Take your customers’ successes and help them tell the world.  If your product, service or company was involved with that success, that is even better for you.

Bottom line: Sell yourself by promoting your own customers!

5. Always Aim for a Consistent Message & Customer Experience: One of the biggest enemies of a strong band is an inconsistent message and uneven customer experience.  Do you treat customers differently?  Is your product simple to use, but your marketing copy and help materials complex and too wordy?  How about your customer service – is it very responsive over the phone, but slow or non-existent on Twitter and Facebook?  The key is to make sure that the way that your customers interact with your business and startup is in a consistent manner across all channels.  This consistency is critical to ensure a brand that does not create mixed messages with customers.  A cohesive and consistent brand is hard to create, but it is imperative to achieve to build a great brand.

While small businesses may not have the same resources as large companies, they do still have the ability to build a strong band without paying a huge sum of money.  But the monetary investment is replaced with a huge human investment in time, effort, messaging and customer service.  That human investment if deployed carefully and deliberately across all parts of a small business or startup can pay major dividends. The trick is studying your business, your customers and the touch points and then developing a branding plan and executing on it.

These are just some of the ways to develop a great brand for your small business or startup.  Let us know if you have any tips in the comment below.

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Archive for January, 2011

Jersey Shore of Business: Is Your Brand Overexposed

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Yes, another blog post about business and t.v.  I’m not an academic, poet or deep thinker.  I work on the biz and I watch my stories.  Over the last year, one of my favorites has been Jersey Shore.  I know I’m not alone.  I think the magic behind the JS is that all the participants in the show are relatable.  In the first Season, they drove crappy cars to a C-class vacation resort.  And they worked in a t-shirt shop to cover their living expenses.  Never would this be confused as a high-class lifestyle.  But growing up in Middle America, driving a Pontiac Grand Prix (or as my wife called it, the “Big Prix”) to the family lake cabin, I related.  I was Jersey Shore. 

Now, Season 3 is here and the Situation is driving a Bentley and not really taking the job at the t-shirt shop seriously.  Snooki is playing up her characterizati0n — acting more and more outrageous and calling attention of the cameras.  Worst of all, Vinny is getting girls.  This is not the same group of people that I related to last year. 

It got me thinking about companies.  Every hugely successful company has a known brand.  And in getting that brand exposed, they eventually overexpose it.  Overexposure, in my opinion, is not easily calculable.  Everyone loves the Fonz, until he water skis over a shark, and then they don’t.  So when do you realize that your brand (or take on your brand is overexposed)?  Here are my thoughts:

1.  People hate your commercials:  A great example is the GEICO ads with the “weeee” pig screaming in the back of a car.  I honestly will never consider GEICO as an insurance provider as long as this commercial is in rotation.

2.  You are known more for your Brand than your product:  Microsoft would be a good example.  You know the logo, the founder, and the word processor, but what about their mobile phones, Xbox product line, Halo or database technology?

3.  People that don’t use your service have an opinion about it:  Howard Stern, if his radio show could be considered a product or service, would be a good example of this.  I’m a huge fan of his.  Listen to him in the car and at work.  Most of the time, it’s about in-fighting with his staff or a great celebrity interview.  But everyone that doesn’t listen to him thinks its about scantily clad women discussing personal matters.

Any other thoughts on whether your brand is overexposed?

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Archive for January, 2011

Your Wifi Network Isn’t Secure Anymore

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Years ago the industry standard of WEP encryption on Wifi networks was forced to evolve when programs that could easily be found with a google search allowed any mischievous individual to compromise a wireless network and steal the credit card information of everyone on it. Everything sent over a WEP network is encrypted with the same password. This single layer of security leaves networks vulnerable to hackers, as the password can be obtained in a matter of minutes through any number of algorithms that guess every possibility for the password. This method of hacking, dubbed the “dictionary attack”, is thwarted on websites that block users after too many wrong password attempts and utilize Captchas.

None of us like squinting at the warped letters and having to repeat forms because we mistook a twisted “t” for an “f”, but it protects our personal and financial information. Since WEP could be hacked so easily, businesses quickly switched to WPA encryption, which uses a constantly changing key for every transmission. The new encryption method almost universally adapted by business owners and lauded by security professionals as being unhackable.  Many old devices only support WEP encryption, leaving their users left behind in the dust. Thomas Roth, a security consultant in Germany, made waves last week when he claimed to hack a WPA network in minutes for less than six dollars, using rented supercomputer power from Amazon’s new cloud computing service.

“People tell me there is no possible way to break WPA,” said Security Consultant Thomas Roth in an interview with Reuters, “Or, if it were possible, it would cost you a ton of money to do so,” he said. “But it is easy to brute force them.”

Amazon Cloud provides supercomputer power not only to small businesses aiming for efficiency, but also to hackers who don’t need expensive equipment or computer expertise to compromise your privacy. After obtaining your password, the hacker may use a Firefox extension called Firesheep to intercept your company’s financial records and intellectual property. Customers logging in at your storefront location are also left vulnerable to having their credit card information stolen while logging in at your brick-and-mortar location. Pages secured with an https:// prefix are protected from the latter.

Roth plans to release his algorithm to the public later this month at the Black Hat hacking conference in DC. In the meantime, security professionals are scrambling to release a new, impenetrable encryption protocol for wireless networks. By releasing the malicious code, Roth could make innocent people vulnerable, but the goal of computer security professionals like himself is usually to find the vulnerabilities before the bad guys do. The Black Hat conference is full of insiders like Roth (last year one wirelessly hacked an ATM to spew cash). The media attention provoked by Roth will hasten the industry to use something more secure than WPA and hopefully minimize the damage to victims.

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Archive for January, 2011

So Maybe I was Wrong…Over 7 Million iPads Sold in the 4th Quarter of 2010

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Just over 9 months ago on this very blog, I proclaimed that the “iPad is iCrap” and wondered aloud why anyone would be so dumb as to purchase one of these new fangled tablet computers.  Well, while I still think that, for me, the iPad is a non-essential gadget…I guess 7,330,000 other people in the 4th quarter of 2010 disagreed with me because all of them bought one! 

Yes, the iPad IS officially another success story for Apple, and yes it DID probably revolutionize the PC market once again for Apple, and oh yea it IS probably the hottest new gadget in the tech industry since the iPhone and iPad.  All of these things may be true but I am happy to say that not a day goes by that I wish I had one!

Another interesting tidbit that I wanted to pass along today that made me realize how massive the Interweb (my fancy name for the Internet) really is: Did you know that 70% of Facebook’s user base reside outside of the United States!?!?  Maybe this is just me being naive or maybe it is because I am one of the last Americans to NOT have a Facebook account, but this really shocked me…I mean to the point where I actually read this sentence again to make sure I didn’t read it wrong.  For some reason I always assumed that Facebook was a mostly America-centric social application but obviously I was wrong again there too!

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Archive for January, 2011

Thanks New York Times for Covering the KikScore Blog!

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

I can not tell you how valuable Google Alerts are for your business or startup.  I was getting ready to go back to work after New Years and I received my regular email for my Google Alerts for “KikScore.” Now I get a lot of emails for the various mentions of “KikScore” across the internet, but I had to do a double take when I saw that we were referenced wholly unsolicited in the New York Times’ You’re the Boss, The Art of Running a Small Business blog.  If you have not read this small business focused blog, its a must read.  The blog offers a very unique insiders view of being a small business owner and includes excellent guidance. One of its contributors is Gene Marks who writes Dashboard and is a nationally recognized small business expert, speaker and small business owner (check out his Quicker, Better, Wiser service).  We owe Gene a special thanks for covering us in his This Week in Business post.  Now if only my hometown once a week delivered newspaper, the Stow Sentry would just cover KikScore!

The lesson learned for us from this coverage are at least three-fold:

1) Focus on Good Content – Keep trying to push out good, valuable content on a topic (for us its small business, startups, entrepreneurship all mixed with pop culture and humor) through various channels including your blog, Twitter, Facebook and sites like BizSugar and you will get noticed by being helpful to the community;

2) Value of Google Alerts – If you have not already done so, every small business and startup should set up Google Alerts for at least your company name, your management team members, your product names and industry relevant terms.  You may even want to set up alerts for your competitors too just so you can keep a watch on them.

3) Say Thanks – It is a small gesture, but once you get covered take a moment to say thank you and acknowledge the writer that covered your business.  This is our thank you to the New York Times and Gene Marks!

Let us know your thoughts on what you have done, when your business was covered by a major media outlet.

Photo Attribution: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid at laughingsquid.com.

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Archive for January, 2011

Advertising Evolves to Become More Effective and Relevant Amidst Privacy Concerns

Monday, January 17th, 2011

If you own a house in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area or any state where door-to-door soliciting is legal, there’s a good chance you’ve had your fair share of canvassers come knock on your door. If the canvasser introduced himself as Mike and tried to say something about a free estimate for windows before you told him to get lost, we’ve probably already met. Like myself years ago, most canvassers are teenagers in high-school, attracted by the commission-based pay and opportunity to work outside. A backlash against door-to-door marketing has grown as disenchanted workers and homeowners accused companies of exploiting unskilled youth labor and invading personal privacy. Minors are barred from canvassing and telemarketing in many states, according to the US Department of Labor

Since beginning college at American University, I’ve left the unfortunate trade of canvassing in favor of unpaid internships that do not induce ego rot caused by constant rejection by cold-call leads. The state of advertising has evolved since, becoming more personalized by utilizing the personal information that most Americans make available online. Cold call marketing, such as through telemarketing and canvassing, is being replaced by personalized ads on the internet. Business owners are no longer left to shoot in the dark. Facebook has pioneered this front by allowing businesses to create ads (using this simple form) that appear to users based on personal information posted in their profiles. Although I’ve discovered a few good bands through these ads, aimed specifically toward me because I like 50+ artists, most are no more relevant than anything I’d expect to hear from a telemarketer. Despite Facebook’s efforts to deliver relevant ads, promotions for Methadone treatment and Doom Metal bands still make their way to bewildered consumers.

Those who have seen Steven Speilberg’s film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report remember a scene where Tom Cruise is immediately identified by ubiquitous retina scanners when walking into a mall, and bombarded with personal advertisements. “Hey, Tom, you really look like you could use a Guinness.”

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Video

With the consistently growing presence of advertisements in our culture, this dystopia may be an accurate prediction of the future for consumers. Is Facebook already crossing the line by utilizing users’ personal information to direct advertisements? Or is this a better alternative to being harassed by telemarketers and canvassers?

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Archive for January, 2011

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills: The Reason I'm not Working on My Small Business Tonight

Friday, January 14th, 2011

As a nights and weekend entrepreneur, every night I have a list of things I need to do to work on KikScore.  Usually I find the time.  But not on Thursdays.  Thursdays belong to Camille, Kyl, Lisa and Taylor — the ladies of RHOBH.  And I can’t be the only guy who thinks the same way.  In fact, there has been more than one drive home where I’ve talked about the show with Raj. 

Now besides being a fascinating study of human (mis)behavior, there are some decent business lessons to be found (at least that’s what I tell my partners so they don’t get made at me).  Here’s a start at what they are:

1.  Own Up to Your Mistakes:  We all know that Taylor talked trash about Kyl to Camille early on in the series.  Ever since, Taylor has been denying it and losing face every day.  Your customers know when you screw up, so instead of making excuses, just own up to it (you’ll be better off in the long run).

2.  Publicity May Not Always Be the Best Thing:  So you’re married to Kelsey Grammer and you want to establish you’re own identity.  Signing up for the RHOBH make sense.  But then it blows up.  Soon the whole world finds out that you’re a dim, manipulative harpy, whose only friends are on her payroll.  Maybe you don’t seek out publicity for your business, and only hope for attention for positive reasons (not because you’re desperate for it).

3.  Don’t listen to Mediums (or Larges).  During a memorable dinner party, Camille brought along her novelty friend, who was the inspiration for the show “Medium” (now cancelled).  In not a surprise twist, Camille’s friend started predicting all sorts of bad things for Camille’s frenemies.  She clearly saw that Kyl’s husband was going to cheat on her.  What the medium missed was the fact that Kelsey was, at that exact time, in NYC cheating on Camille.  Kind of a big miss.  So don’t believe mediums or proformas.

That’s the best I can do…i’ve no got to watch the show.

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Archive for January, 2011

Apparently Facebook and Android do not go well together and other Social Media Risks

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

It’s Facebook. Again. This time it’s a vector for smartphone malware.  According to an article on PC world,  since the Android is more open source than either the iPhone or the Blackberry, it’s more prone to getting malware.  Apparently BitDefender called Facebook the largest mobile malware….Facebook has a lot of problems doesn’t it? The malware gets on the devices through bad links on Facebook, since the malware is platform independent.

So here’s a refresher on Social Media risks.

  • Turns out scams are more common then we think. Twitter accounts get hacked, malicious links get posted and so does Facebook. However, both sites are trying to improve their security.
  • Many people often use the same password for numerous sites. We get it, it’s hard to remember so many passwords. So, write them down on a piece of paper or in a journal(do people keep those anymore?) and stick it somewhere safe.
  • Don’t give too much information out either. Those vacation plans of yours, they might be better written down in an word/excel document and stored on your computer.
  • Don’t post comments when angry! (They get around) And if it’s something really bad, there will be consequences. It’s fine to say something about how your toast was burnt this morning and how you hate burnt toast, but it’s another thing to say something about your company, your significant other, etc..
  • Don’t click on any funny links! See a status  update about how a friend needs money because her car got stolen in Chicago? Call them and check to see if it’s true. Most of the time, it isn’t. (This happened to me once. Turns out she really did need the money.)
  • Make sure your company has a flexible Social Media security policy. Technology keeps on changing, so a flexible policy is a good policy!
  • Keep up to date on the latest Social Media scams and threats. People keep coming up with new ones all the time!

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Archive for January, 2011

DC Area Friends, SmallBiz & Startups – Come to the 28Corridor Tweetup This Thurs #28ctweetup

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I talk to the Swami on my way home nearly every night from Herndon.  No I do not talk to myself or my imaginary friend in the passenger seat (though if I had one, I would imagine I was sitting with Mike Holmgren and ask him when will the Browns return to relevance in the NFL?).  The person that I talk to is the Social Media Swami, Shashi B.  That call often begins on Route 28, right off the Dulles Toll Road and next to beautiful Dulles Airport.  We typically chat about our day, what is going on with KikScore, how Shashi’s daughter (and Kikscore intern) Mitali is enjoying college as well as a host of other things.  It allows us to catch up with each other during the nearly 40 minute drive home to our respective homes in the District and in Maryland.

So it is only fitting that Thursday, Shashi is organizing the first ever 28 Corridor Tweetup.  That would be the same 28 that we drive on every day.  For those not familiar with Route 28 in Northern Virginia, here are some “beautiful” aerial pics!  The “excuse” (as if we need one!) for the tweetup is to get together to welcome the wonderful Lisa Byrne, @dceventjunkie, to Network Solutions  (our co-sponsor from last year’s fantastic Social Commerce Camp). Lisa just started working on Shashi’s fantastic team last week.

As more folks started to tweet about the tweetup, it dawned on us that lets try to get area small businesses, startups, bloggers, nearby airport baggage handlers (bet they have some great stories!) and anyone else together to join us at Ned Devine’s in Herndon, VA for the tweetup.  So please come on out on Thursday.  We would love to see you there.  Spread the word and tell your friends.

By the way here is some extra incentive, if we get more than 30 attendees, the Swami will sing the Lady Gaga song of the crowd’s choice (I hear there are a lot of people voting for Poker Face!”).

Click here for the details on the 28 Corridor Tweetup. The hashtag by the way for Thursday’s event is #28ctweetup.

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