SQL injection hackers caught in FBI credit card “Sting” operation

FBI sting

The good guys won a major battle against cyber criminals involved in various online credit card frauds, including related Database SQL injection attacks, when they arrested two men in an FBI sting.

“The undercover operation prevented potential losses of more than $205 million. The FBI notified credit card companies of more than 411,000 compromised credit and debit cards. The agency informed 47 businesses, government entities and schools that their computer networks had been breached, according to the statement,” said the San Francisco Chronicle.

By the time the sting was over nearly 25 people had been arrested in 13 countries including the United States, Bosnia and Japan.

According to various reports, the operation may have prevented potential losses of more than $200 million.  At least 411,000 credit cards and debit cards were compromised and nearly 47 businesses, government agencies and schools were affected via their computer networks.

Protecting credit cards in the cloud is big concern for a number of businesses wishing to extend their e-commerce capability or move their on-premise operations inside a cloud-based datacentre.  This brings into focus requirements around PCI DSS regulations, which are becoming mandatory.

Virtual Internet delivers services to help customers achieve PCI compliance, including a dedicated account manager who has experience helping and advising customers with achieving PCI compliance.  This may include advice on how to:

  • Streamline IT through security audits and best-practice advice from engineering teams fluent in cloud computing models
  • Undertake a proactive role in understanding the requirements encompassed by new PCI DSS standards in the cloud
  • Use incoming standards to elevate security, IT agility and market flexibility on remotely hosted cloud infrastructure

Recently U.S. banks received warnings from Visa and MasterCardthat a credit card processor was breached which may have compromised more than 10 million credit cards.  However, many analysts point out that simply adhering to PCI DSS standards may not have prevented the breach.

“Employing the right technology, including that which can monitoring and report on end user access and entitlements, deploying and maintaining it properly, and applying security best practices to yield compliance is the most appropriate course of action to protect against these kinds of incidents,” said ZDNet.


Digital omnivores and the devices they use


Recent Internet traffic statistics from Comscore reveal some curious trends in digital device usage when comparing the United States to the United Kingdom.

For instance, in August 2011, the U.K. edges out the U.S. in terms of mobile usage. However, the U.S. leads slightly in terms of tablet consumption when browsing the Internet. Tablets now account for 2% of all U.S. web browsing traffic, largely driven by the iconic iPad. Both the U.K. and U.S. show non-computer device usage accounting for about 7% of all web browsing traffic.

Comscore notes that mobile phones are generally used to consume news throughout the weekday. Tablet usage surges in the later evening hours.

Comscore and others have labeled users "digital omnivores" to describe this multi-device behavior.

"Brands that carry their message effectively across these media touchpoints are best positioned to create long term loyalty and high engagement with their audiences," said Comscore.

Of course, while these numbers are interesting, they also illustrate another point: Both the U.K. and U.S. lag Asian tigers such as Singapore in terms of non-computer device consumption.

Meanwhile, recent Gallup research indicates some additional facts about digital omnivores in the United States, especially when it comes to online shopping.

Consumers aged 13 - 31 are more likely than other generational groups to have shopped online in the last three months. They average about 3.5 times more purchases than other age groups. But, they also spent less than Baby Boomers and are referred to as "fickle fashionistas" or "millienials."

"Since childhood these millienials have sifted through online marketing since they started surfing the web," said Gallup.

They are thus the savviest of all online surfers and a key group to watch as Smartphone and tablet consumption spirals upwards.


Can neuromarketing really increase email clickthrough rates by 400%?

Neuromarketing - Paypal

Is it possible to increase the effectiveness of an email campaign by 400%, including clickthrough and response rates? Well, yes, if you are willing to engage in a new form of market research, which uses customer brain waves to evaluate their true engagement to your brand or message.

PayPal can vouch for this after they hired a company called NeuroFocus to help formulate a coherent global image for one of the world's most visible online payment systems.

Picture one of your web customers with a "brain scan hat" wrapped around his skull as he patiently (or impatiently) clicks around your site and starts adding items to the PayPal shopping cart. Sensors measure electrical signals traveling through the brain, offering clues to positive and negative UI experiences.

Sensor hats can even be worn in daily life for testing purposes, although you may look as though you are on your way to a Star Trek convention.  Response rates, said PayPal, went up from 4% to 16%.

But, the exact details of this strategy are still being kept under wraps. At least according to Fast Company.

NeuroFocus even offer some insights into the fabled Apple brand, including the Ipad, left behind by Steve Jobs.  This is quite ironic, since everyone knows Jobs rejected using focus groups to influence hardware and software design inside Apple.

NeuroFocus said that our brains love curves but detest square or sharp edges.  These are regarded as threats, something that dates back to our ancestors who avoided jagged stones, which could be used as weapons.

This, combined with the sleek design contours and weight balancing of the iPad, help stimulate positive signals in our brain.

"The touch screen, too, is a mental magnet and can induce those hormonal secretions," said Fast Company. The Ipad is hence ‘neuro-friendly’.

This may be one reason that IT managers are falling in love with cloud and mobile dashboards. The slick ability to slide CPU, RAM and hard disk capacity up and down with a just a few keystrokes generates a well-rounded user experience.  The underlying complexity of the hardware is hidden, but no less powerful.

In fact, going back to the PayPal example, one of the features that sent customer brain waves into neurological heaven, was SPEED. Users appreciate the ability to quickly complete an e-commerce transaction with minimum fuss.

In tandem, cloud computing generally offers a fast, smooth 'rounded' experience. Both in terms of delivering web pages during seasonal spikes in activity, and, in terms of quickly provisioning new hardware resources for a company.

A very specific example of accelerated speed in cloud computing is that offered by Content Delivery Networks (CDN).  These networks speed up the delivery of content, including video, no matter what the geographical location of the website visitor.

If your asking 'why now' with regards the increasing popularity of neuroscience marketing, the answer should be fairly obvious, as put forward by Checkout Magazine:

"With the proliferation of advertising in modern society, in its plethora of forms, there is a consensus among some quarters that consumers are growing increasingly immune to traditional forms of advertising and promotion, decreasing their effectiveness as a consequence."




UK users now spend 3 billion hours online. Are you ready?

users spend 300 billion hours surfing online

It's official: The UK is spending most of their time online, over 3 billion hours, with social media taking up the bulk of their attention. Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin, (all driven by cloud computing platforms) are sucking up 800 million hours of your time.

If you are left-brainer who exhibits a natural skepticism towards statistics such as those quoted above, you may be interested to know that Hitwise compiled these stats from anonymous ISP data logs, not user surveys.

About 9% of user time (including yours) is spent on classified and retail shopping sites.

The challenge for IT departments is how to manage these online workloads especially as we approach the volatile shopping season during the Xmas period.

Hitwise Internet usage UK

Hitwise Graph

If you are running dedicated servers in-house, you are probably also battling upgrades, legacy issues and other day-to-day challenges of keeping your department agile, cost-effective and scalable as the end of the year approaches.

Maintaining a 99%+ uptime, while critical, is a massive undertaking for a hosting provider, never mind a small IT unit in a SMB or a larger enterprise.  Do you really want to waste resources supporting internal infrastructure, 24/7?

This leaves IT managers with several choices, although three stand out:

A. Colocation

Colocate your servers to a remote hosting provider who can firewall and protect your infrastructure during the holiday season. Generally, you will not be able to match their expertise and experience in dealing with end-of-year seasonal spikes in activity.

B. Dedicated Servers

Consider new dedicated server options with web hosts like Virtual Internet. Available in Windows and Linux flavors you benefit from absolute control and 24/7 Vital Support. Highly reliable, you can focus on business objectives rather than day-to-day operational issues that attach themselves to dedicated servers.

C. Cloud Servers

Consider the benefits of cloud computing. Affordable, flexible and scalable a VMware or OnApp server allows cloud bursting for both planned and unplanned spikes in online activity during the shopping season. When the spike is over, scale back down in terms of resources and cost.

All three have their advantages, but cloud computing generally tops the leaderboard these days. All the web titans, including Google, Facebook and Microsoft are driven by cloud server technology.

Typically, security, data ownership issues and control may be three areas that concern IT managers, when considering cloud servers offered by hosting companies such as Virtual Internet.

If you are a government agency or G-partner, there may be some valid reasons why you cannot transfer your IT resources to the cloud…. yet. (New federated cloud computing models may soon change this.)

But, in most cases companies should be moving some, or all, of their applications to a cloud infrastructure to both test these new models and acclimatize for a future full migration.

We will leave you with a final thought which puts the comment above in perspective: If users are spending 3 billion hours online, how much time does your staff spend on maintaining, upgrading and patrolling your in-house servers?

IF you could free up their time could you both save your company money and generate new sources of revenue?

Once you have crystallized and answered this thought, we have a feeling you may be giving us a call.


Impatience is a virtue: Why Google loves an instant CDN

CDN is superfast. Google loves this.

“One of the many signals our algorithms use to determine crawl rate is the server response rate as perceived by our Googlebot,” ~ Pierre Far, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google. *

The above makes absolute sense: If your site content does not load quickly you will lose customers to competitor sites. A recent blog post on the Target.com website crash illustrates this point.

Further, the recent release of Google Instant Search which returns page results by up to 5 seconds quicker, illustrates how important this feature is to the worlds top search engine.

Speed affects your search engine ranking

If your site is slow, Google’s famous algorithm will  most likely penalize you by returning your site lower in search engine results.

And, if you cannot deal with seasonal spikes in activity you are not only going to lose SEO rankings on Google, you are also going to lose customers.

As we move into the video age typified by delivery platforms such as YouTube (Google owned), Vimeo  Netflix and HBO you can see why SLOW loading times, or even worse, 404 error pages,  will not be tolerated by nimble website visitors who crave SPEED.

Video delivery platforms choose CDNs

In fact, both Netflix and HBO have in the last several months confirmed this point by turning to Content Delivery Networks (CDN) to speed up access to online video from both a desktop and a mobile phone. Their previous platforms did not measure up on the worldwide web autobahn.

The provider they chose to do this is the same one Virtual Internet offers you: Level 3 CDN.

And, it’s easy to see why this service could save them (and you) from losing customers as we approach the holiday season and Christmas period.

In 1999 users were prepared to wait 8 seconds for a page to load; in 2011 this wait time is now 2 seconds.   In 1999 web pages only weighed 14kb in size and contained only a few multimedia objects.

Today the average page weighs over 500kb and represents a dazzling array of JavaScript, Ajax, Images, CSS, Video and database-backends.

Additionally, the distance between a visitor and the web server they are accessing makes a difference too.  A U.K. customer accessing a 500kb web page on a web server in the United States traditionally suffers from a lower latency and bandwidth speed.

Thus, it’s not only your website visitor who gets upset when the page loads slowly; so does Google. Neither cares about your technical limitations or web server problems. They want results. Instantly!

You therefore have about 3 seconds to present your home page, video and e-commerce products to your customers. Anything more than that and game over. Instantly.

Level 3 CDN speeds up delivery by 70%

The Level 3 CDN attacks this speed issue by providing four solutions. They are simple, effective and easy to understand:

  • CDN provides a faster network
  • Content is moved closer to the customer, no matter what location
  • The technology shrinks the size and weight of a web page
  • It anticipates what page or product the user will click upon.

CDN featuresClick here to see Video

The end result is that your home page will be up to 70% faster than it was before.

Further it also has some other compelling features including the ability to add in additional security between the user and the page he is trying to access.

Oh, and if you think this sounds like a technical nightmare to implement your completely wrong.  The CDN can be activated in minutes without worrying about the underlying technology.   This is a key characteristic of cloud computing in general.

It is simply a matter of deciding how much extra space you require and the budget you are comfortable with.

Review this page to visually adjust your space and cost with regards to a future CDN.

CDN = Higher SEO

The other great thing about our partnership with Level 3 is the continuous improvements they add to the underlying technology to help boost your search engine ranking. This is ongoing.

For instance, they recently teamed up with a company called StrangeLoop to improve one area that affects speed: site code.

In a nutshell, the relationship allows Level 3 to optimize a website, through various automation techniques which translates into faster speeds and higher Google rankings.

“In recent years, there have been a number of studies showing that even incremental changes in page speed can have a dramatic effect on revenues, customer satisfaction and SEO ranking. We’ve seen this played out with companies who have used our product and, as a result, have increased sales by 13 percent and grown their organic search traffic by 10 percent,” said StrangeLoop President Joshua Bixby.

Google recently stated on their blog: “Because the cost of slower performance increases over time and persists, we encourage site designers to think twice about adding a feature that hurts performance if the benefit of the feature is unproven

But, before your marketing department throws up their arms in dismay at the thought of curtailing future rich media landing pages you can remedy this statement right now by employing a Level 3 CDN which is a proven SEO-friendly product.

Who will benefit from a CDN?

If you are one or more of the following, you will find a CDN offers instant value:

  • E-Retailers: If you plan to sell products online during the Xmas season then a CDN is for you.
  • High-impact CMS websites: If you offer a dynamic website with database-backends including popular CMS’s such as Drupal, Joomla and WordPress, then a CDN is for you.
  • Video-centric sites: If you are a  video publisher or forward thinking organization that uses video to highlight product launches or convey a number of specific company messages then a CDN is for you.
  • Application Service Providers: If you are offering dynamic applications (and content) that needs to work seamlessly (and fast) on mobile, tablets and desktops, then CDN is for you
  • Overseas-based website: If your hosting provider is based in another country, then a CDN is for you.  CDN networks are available across North America, Europe, Asia and even Mainland China.
  • Everyone else: If you are a website owner who simply wishes to make your site faster and match the speeds offered by Google Instant, then CDN is for you. In this case, impatience is a virtue!

The future is fast. CDN fast. But you do not need to be left behind, either by losing search engine rankings on Google, or by losing customers to a rival site because the page did not load in under 3 seconds.

Contact your hosting provider to implement a Level 3 Content Delivery Network and match the same speeds that Google offers its search customers. INSTANTLY.