A Better Way to Do Multifactor Authentication with Authentify xFA

xFA can add multifactor security to any web service with a few lines of code. We tested xFA on a small network in August 2014. It has cloud-based components to manage multifactor security, along with apps for iOS and Android.

Price: $19.95 per user per year


Fingerprint authenticators for iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy are expected for the near future.

IBM and Akers, then and now

With the passing of John Akers last week, I was reminded how very different the IBM of today is from the company that I began covering when I first entered tech journalism back in the mid-1980s. Back then, IBM was a hardware powerhouse: key innovations in chip design, the first hard disk drives, PC networking, and more all came out of IBM’s research labs. Back in the 1980s, IBMers were frequent Nobel prize winners. They also wore white shirts and dark suits with rep ties to work. How many of you even know what a rep tie is, let alone seen one lately on anyone in your IT departments?

Almost none of that effort remains in the IBM of today. Hardly anyone gives token ring networks a second thought: Ethernet and its descendents won that battle long ago. Indeed, IBM got out of the PC business years ago when it sold off its assets to Lenovo. The chip designs that IBM invented are now popular in almost every other vendors, including Intel. IBM mainframes now run Linux, in addition to the languages and programs that I was familiar back in the 1980s.

Today’s IBM is all about software. Its Websphere and SoftLayer groups are growth areas for the company: both came out of acquisitions mixed with lots of internal development.

akers-john0001Akers presided over IBM at the peak of its population — some 400,000 people worked for him at one time but that was a major issue and unsustainable. By the time he was forced into retirement in 1993, about a quarter of this workforce was gone and thus began the great transition into a software company.

Despite these layoffs and running IBM during some turbulent times, Akers was the head of IBM when it was leading the PC revolution in corporate America. While he wasn’t in charge when the IBM PC was introduced back in 1981, he did oversee the expansion of the PC’s first decade. At Transamerica Life Insurance where I worked in the end user support department, it was heady times as we bought thousands of PCs for our knowledge workers. While IBM didn’t have the most innovative PCs, they had a solid brand awareness that made corporations initially comfortable with purchasing them.

IBM had some spectacular failures in the PC business back then too: the PCjr, the PS/2 with its proprietary hardware bus, the aforementioned token ring networks, and a misguided attempt to unify PCs with the first digital phone systems. But its presence in the PC business ultimately led to the success of Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Sun, Oracle and thousands of other companies that make up the industry today. The IBM PC was revolutionary at the time, not for what it had inside, but for what it didn’t have: any proprietary IBM technology. It was the first piece of hardware from IBM that could be built by anyone out of common parts, and many of its competitors did exactly that. Had IBM come out with its PS/2 or some other proprietary system in 1981, the PC industry would have had to come about differently. Now look at how cheap you can buy a Raspberry Pi device.

Akers missteps had another important legacy: he began IBM’s transition to a software company. Since those early days, IBM has had dozens of acquisitions including Cognos, Lotus, Tivoli, Rational, FileNet, Internet Security Systems, SPSS, CastIron, and BigFix — many of these were billion-dollar companies that are probably not familiar to you now. Software is now about a third of IBM’s overall revenues, and its hardware business continues to decline.

But while Akers ultimately couldn’t change IBM by himself, he did a great job mentoring many people who did, including his eventual successor Sam Palmisano and Steve Mills, who runs its software group. And now IBM’s head is Ginni Rometty, its first female CEO. I don’t think she wears a rep tie either.

Vine+Twitter: How Ferguson has created the modern newsroom

Ferguson-missouriI have a lot of complex feelings about what is going on a few miles to the north of me in Ferguson, Mo. I have been to this leafy and hilly suburb (an image that you probably wouldn’t get from all the news reports this week) a few times, including last weekend when my wife and I went with a few friends  for breakfast to help support a local diner.

I am not really qualified to talk about the social tragedy, much as I would like to weigh in. Instead, let me share some observations about the way the media has covered events of the past week, tempered by the fact that I live in the metro area and have some local knowledge. Here are some key takeaways for tech folks:

The major television networks can’t get close enough to the action to be effective reporters any longer. Citizen journalists have played a big part in getting the word out as to what is actually happening on the street. One example is Mustafa Hussein who reports for a local Internet radio station. He quickly pressed into service a video camera which made him fleet of foot and being able to maneuver around the demonstrators much more nimbly than network cameramen and satellite trucks. The camera was damaged in his coverage, BTW.

A corollary to the above is that the networks either over or under-cover fast breaking events, and especially ones where they can’t move their resources fast enough to do a decent job. Even our local St. Louis stations have taken several days to figure out where to position themselves during the day and night, whom to interview, and so forth. If you are still trying to track things, a better place is to start with this great Twitter list of people to follow on Ferguson happenings.

Vine combined with Twitter has become an effective distribution mechanism that can rival the AP newswire in terms of timeliness and compelling content. The work of our city councilman (we call them alderman here) Antonio French is particularly exemplary with his frequent posts.  He was a popular social media figure before the riots, but he has more than quadrupled his followers from 25 thousand to more than 110,000 followers in the past week. Of course, vetting the accuracy of these posts can still be vexing. But the immediacy of a six-second video clip is hard to dispute. I must admit that I had ignored Vine until now. My bad.

Reporters are no longer a protected class of observers. The downside of having more citizen journalists are that they are just as much at risk of being attacked by the demonstrators, gassed by the cops, or even arrested (as French and Hussein both were this week). The reporters that were arrested were released without being charged, but still cops need to have more training about how to distinguish and recognize them. (I will resist saying anything more about out the extreme irony of our President chiding the police for arresting reporters.)

Still, a place isn’t just a Twitter hashtag. Even the normally clear-thinking David Carr for the New York Times mistakenly says in an otherwise excellent article, “nothing much good was happening in Ferguson until it became a hashtag.” Au contraire. With all the posts containing #Ferguson, there are still far too few stories about how many of the local businessfolk are trying mightily to survive in the 95% of the rest of the town that looks like any other American suburb.

Network World: Citrix Xen Mobile rates a spot on your MDM short list

xen phone security optionsWhen we reviewed six mobile device management products for Network World back in 2013, Citrix declined the opportunity to participate, but the company has changed its mind with the recent release of Xen Mobile v9.0 MDM. In our testing, we found that the software stacks up nicely against AirWatch and Good Technology, the two leaders from that review, and should be on any IT manager’s short list, particularly if you already use other Citrix connectivity products. (A view of its extensive security options can be seen on the right.)

You can read my review today in Network World here.

Computerworld: Peak vs. Tibbr, two communication tools reviewed

peak activity graphs1If you are trying to have more effective team communications, you are probably looking at products or services that go by names like “social CRMs” or “team engagement tracking apps.” Regardless of what they are called, these apps can connect to a variety of social networks and email accounts and make it easier to manage your communications, track what your team has posted, understand what other team members are working on and improve workflows and productivity by avoiding interruptions or massive amounts of email.

I tried out two of these tools, Peak (shown above) and Tibbr. Both are browser-based: Tibbr also has mobile and desktop clients. You can read my review in Computerworld here.

AT&T Blog: Network Security, The Moving Line of Defense

lock-and-key-icon-thumb355812The days of defending the perimeter are over. Look at what happened to a major retailer in late 2013 as an example. Someone posing as a trusted contractor was able to enter the retailer’s network and do all sorts of damage — to the tune of 40 million compromised customers. This attack occurred because the retailer wasn’t looking at insider threats carefully enough. Indeed, the perimeter has become more and more porous, and network defenses based on this traditional barrier are no longer enough to protect an organization’s business interests and objectives

You can read the post on AT&T Networking Exchange blog here.

ITworld: Data artist in residence: Why your data needs an artist’s touch

jerAs more companies hire data scientists, there is a corresponding trend to hire a new kind of employee that some refer to as “data artists,” whose job it is to tell the stories behind the data in the most accessible and revealing ways. And these folks are taking major roles on product management teams, such as Jer Thorp pictured here. In this story for ITWorld today, I talk about what is a data artist and how Microsoft and Google and the New York Times are making good use of them.