Security Alert: Scammers are holding your phones hostage for ransom

I recently read an article in the Chicago Tribune that was actually reprinted from the  LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-phone-hacking-20130719,0,5710787.story). It described a nightmare similar to what some of our clients have gone through at different times over the past year.

Here is the scenario: all of a sudden (literally) all of their phone lines are taken over by a caller who is posing as a debt collection agency trying to collect on a delinquent account for an “employee”. In none of the cases was the named employee a current employee of my clients. All of the phone lines (in some cases they were SIP trunks, in other cases plain ordinary telephone lines and in two cases they were PRI running over a T1’s for a total of 46 channels) were taken over so that no calls could be received or made. The caller wanted to collect $500 or more dollars immediately. The business could pay- and then they would release the lines. In other cases, IP sets were “spoofed” and the hackers made hundreds of dollars in fraudlent calls that were billed to clients.

Can you imagine how frustrating that is? My clients were enraged. The local police were called – and were not able to do anything about the situation. The FBI Cyber Crimes unit was called – but they could do nothing about it. In each of the cases, other legitimate business numbers were faked (a.k.a “spoofed”) as the calling party.

In each of the cases,  we had to involve the carrier. Out of all of the carriers, SNET reacted the fastest. CBeyond was the most responsive with follow up. With SNET  in about 5 minutes, the nuisance calls were blocked and service was restored. In the other cases, the denial of service took over for a couple of hours. Denial of service attacks ( when hackers install programs on unprotected computers and overwhelm targeted servers) are common in the IP world. It’s a type of attack that is getting more common in the voice world as more companies adopt IP telephony (such as SIP trunks and converged circuits).

There are a few ways to protect yourself.

  1. First and foremost, either install your own Session Border Controller or make sure that your provider has an enterprise level session border controller installed on your circuits.
  2. Make sure that you know how to escalate your case through your carrier.
  3. Ensure that you have their emergency numbers on your cell phone and that you know your account information.
  4. Make sure that you have multiple authorized representatives on the account who can open and escalate trouble tickets.
  5. Know your vendors!  Emergency phone numbers, contact names and emails.
  6. If you are running your own IP equipment, make sure that it is in Stealth DMZ,  behind a firewall, that default passwords were changed and no one (even the most VIP) uses easy passwords.

In addition, the only way that this will be acted on is through involving law enforcement. The FBI Cyber Crimes unit should be notified and the incident should be reported. Helping them will give them necessary information in catching culprits. If you are an IT professional, join INFRAGARD which is a strategic partnership between the Bureau and IT professionals.

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Strategic technology to deliver optimal customer service

Today’s customer requires instantaneous resolutions on the communications channel they prefer, but most businesses aren’t able to fully meet these demands.

Forrester examines the technology updates needed to empower agents and managers to deliver quality customer experiences, every time, regardless of the channel.

To learn the four key solutions that efficient and empowered agents need, download Forrester’s The Strategic Role of Customer Experience Technologies.

Case study: Launching 4,000 video conferencing accounts in 5 weeks

Today’s slate of personal video conferencing systems –when deployed to a critical mass of employees – have overcome the limitations andbad reputation of the past and have significant benefits beyond travel savings:

  • Improved team building
  • Better integration of resources
  • Faster decision making 
  •  Richer interaction

 To demonstrate the capability of video in the modernworkplace, Avaya implemented the SCOPIA desktop to 4,000 users worldwide,including the management team and field sales and marketing teams.

 In the new white paper (sponsored by Avaya) “The Viabilityof Large-Scale Personal Video Conferencing Deployments,” Wainhouse Researchtook a look at the results after two months, analyzing the early conclusionsand benefits after more than 35,000 meetings with 85,000 attendees were held.

Among the conclusions:

    •  
    • “Click-to-connect” conferencingsolutions can enable sales to connect with customers and prospects with aricher, more productive interaction experience.

  • Product development and marketingteams reported that having everyone video-enabled made the teams more cohesiveand improved overall working relationships.
  • Global logistics and supply chainmanagement teams used video to reduce on-site supplier meetings and to makein-person increasingly more productive since relationships can be establishedbeforehand.

To read Wainhouse Research’s recommendations andlessons learned when implementing person video into the enterprise, downloadthe free white paper here: http://bit.ly/VAqloa  

Key Trends Redefining Unified Communications

Defining Unified Communications (UC) has always been a bit of a moving target. And that’s made many people wonder if they really need it.

In the beginning, UC often meant things like being able to see your voicemail and e-mail together on a PC.  Or having software you could put on your PC to control your phone and directory. The operative initials were as much PC as UC.

Now Unified Communications is being redefined. Mobile devices are a big part of what’s bringing about the change. Collaboration technologies are part of it. And so are improvements in the underlying communications infrastructure—IP, SIP, 4G and more.

Here is a quick guide to where UC is now and why these changes are making UC a smart choice for almost any business. Also, to see a good example of UC in action, take two minutes to watch this solutions video located on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gw_mwruTPVk&list=PL61568CCB0826DEE2&index=32&feature=plpp_video

IP and SIP: The “unified” part of UC has always been primarily about getting your phone and computer to work together using the Internet-based IP and SIP protocols. This made it possible to have your PC and your phone on one network. But the bigger benefit was that a phone call itself was now able to be handled as a digital file (i.e., like an e-mail.) Just as you can easily have one e-mail go to multiple addresses, you can have calls go to multiple devices and numbers: business phone, mobile and home phone. Just as you can have dozens of people on an e-mail chain, you can have dozens of people on a conference call—without having to use a conferencing service. Just as you can easily manage different e-mail accounts, you can have multiple incoming lines for different segments of your business—a key way to create a better customer experience.  The benefits are substantial. That’s why sales of IP-based business systems grow in the double digits every year and are a driving force behind the UC revolution.

UC Apps: Everyone loves their mobile phone, in part thanks to all of the mobile apps that are now available. You can use your mobile to check the weather, do your banking, find a movie, etc. Now you can also get a UC app. Avaya has one (see it in action at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iq3duSQFU5o) It lets you tightly integrate you mobile phone and your office system: Manage your office directory. Set up conference calls. Make a call directly from a text. Getting the right app to marry your mobile phone to your office communications system is a major step forward for UC.

Collaboration: This is one of the hottest buzz words in business today. In fact, the terms “unified communications” and “mobile collaboration” are often used interchangeably. They are both all about bringing the right people together with the right information in the right context. “Presence” is a big part of this.  Having presence capabilities let you see at a glance who in your organization is available and how to reach them quickly.

Video: Today, anyone with an Internet-enabled device, a webcam and free software can make a video call to almost anyone else in the world. It’s estimated that more than a third of Skype-to-Skype calls now include video, with peaks as high as 50 percent during the holidays. This rapid spread of video calls in the personal, consumer market is driving the growth of video in business. Also, the SIP standard provides capabilities that simplify how video integrates and connects, opening the way to regular use of video with the same ease as voice and messaging communications. Businesses are also discovering that the smart use of video conferencing can give you new levels of flexibility in partnering, assembling teams and competing for top, full-time talent. For all of these reasons, video is becoming a larger part of the UC equation. We also have a service called iMeet on our website- that makes business class video conferences easy and extremely affordable.

We  have  a wide range of resources on our website www.primetelecommunications.com  that look at all aspects of UC—where it is today, and where’s it’s going.

Adding the Human Touch to Mobile Engagement

A power shift is taking place in the dynamics of customer engagement. And it impacts every company—large and small.

The shift began well over a decade ago with the Internet. This made it possible for customers to go online 24/7 to do research, browse solutions and make buying decisions.  Now the mobile revolution is taking this powershift to a new level.  As Forrester researchers Ted Schadler and John C. McCarthy note in their recent report, Mobile Is The New Face of Engagement; ‘by 2016, more than a billion people will be using mobile devices to engage with brands, information, and each other.”

Using these mobile apps, people can act “in the moment” to check a status, find an expert, receive an alert, make a purchase, answer a question, share an opinion, send a message, etc. This shifts more power from institutions to individuals. It takes the revolution that was started by the PC and the Web, bringing it to an entirely new level.

But this powershift isn’t all one-way. Companies can also take advantage of the powershift to differentiate themselves and maintain the connection with their customer base that is critical to long-term success. In fact, it’s a business imperative for companies doing business on those terms to find  ways to add the human touch to mobile engagement.

Avaya has provided a fascinating analysis of this in a whitepaper that focuses on how this dynamic is playing itself out right now in the insurance industry. (To see the full whitepaper, go to http://www.avaya.com/uk/resource/assets/whitepapers/SVC7067%20Claims%20Processing%20WP.pdf

According to the consulting firm Accenture, nearly half of all insurance policies today are renewed or bought online rather than through agents. As a result, many consumers only interact with their insurance provider when they need to file a claim. When that moment comes, consumers want the convenience of a mobile app, but research shows they also value “concern” from their insurer. They want timeliness, courtesy, promptness and knowledge, but they also want the understanding, empathy and willingness to listen that only another human being can offer.

For insurance companies, this means that personalizing the new mobile interaction channels (e.g. smartphones and tablet PCs) will be imperative. Click-to-call, click-to-chat, co-browsing, one-touch video and other techniques can merge aspects of online self-service with personal live interaction, capitalizing on the best of both worlds.

In words that apply to many industries, the Avaya whitepaper notes that “Today, when alternative insurance options are at every consumer’s fingertips, brand loyalty is of utmost importance… responsiveness and personal interaction at each step of the claims process and at each touch point with policyholders can capture an important opportunity to solidify brand loyalty and, as a consequence, grow their business.”

To read the full whitepaper, go to http://www.avaya.com/uk/resource/assets/whitepapers/SVC7067%20Claims%20Processing%20WP.pdf

Using Mobile Tools to Drive Innovation

Mobile communications and collaboration tools are an inevitable part of the business world. But increasingly, the goal is not just to keep people in touch. It’s to drive more innovation in business processes and customer service:

  • Sales teams getting access to customer history, product inventory, pricing, and logistics information — while in their customer’s office — when they are closing a sale.
  • Insurers using mobile solutions to exchange digital pictures and insurance coverage documents to accelerate claims settlements.
  • Companies providing their customers with mobile apps to streamline access to support information and reduce the load on customer service agents.

To get a snapshot of the state-of-the-art in mobile implementations,  the technology consulting firm Forrester recently conducted a survey of more than 100 top IT and business decision makers. (To see the full report, go to http://www.avaya.com/usa/resource/assets/whitepapers/BCL%20-%20Mobile%20Collaboration%20-%20Mobile%20Solutions%20Connect%20Information%20Workers%20-%20Mar%202012.pdf)

Some of the findings were:

Few organizations have fully deployed mobile technologies across the board, but the majority are at least evaluating and piloting mobile technologies or rolling them out in limited production.

While phone calls and e-mail are still the top mobile applications, access to calendars, the corporate directory access and IM/presence are increasingly what’s driving mobile strategy.

More than one-third of businesses report implementing, or plans to implement, mobile applications for network and systems management, sales force, help desk, or emergency and critical response applications.

According to Forrester, counting on mobility to drive innovation won’t come without effort.  It counsels firms to turn to early adopters—executives, sales team, and field forces—to  be evangelists for the rest of the firm. And back up your strategies with training and communications support. “Assuming that users will flock to new mobile solutions and mandating adoption are tactics that won’t work,” Forrester notes.  “A clear communication of the benefits and advantages of mobile solutions is needed.”

2 Winning Options for Small and Midsize Businesses

Whether your business that has a handful of servers or hundreds of server racks, until fairly recently they were all managed the same way: server by server, one application to one server.

Virtualization has changed all of that. With virtualization, you can allocate applications across servers. You can more easily balance workloads across hardware and better adapt to peak usage and maintenance schedules. In the event of a hardware failure, applications can be quickly migrated to another server in the environment and resume operation. You don’t need redundant hardware—overall savings on hardware and management can be significant, which is why virtualization has been a dominant trend in IT for the last several years.

But there has been one major holdout in the virtualization game: communications. You might have virtualized your other applications, but you kept your communications separate and apart.

That’s because, initially at least, virtualization software—solutions like VMWare’s vSphere and Citrix’s XenServer—could not adequately support real-time communications. They could handle non-real time applications (e.g., voicemail ) but for real time services like call control, conferencing and call center applications the quality was simply not there.

Now that’s changed. Enhancements to virtualization hypervisors have opened the door to fully virtualized unified communications platforms. This is a big deal, particularly for midsize companies.  In the past, midsize companies were forced to choose between single-server communications solutions designed for small companies or much larger, multi-server solutions designed for enterprises—in effect, having to under-buy or over-buy.

Now, through virtualization, the midsize company has a way to move into advanced communications and collaboration, without being forced to over-buy. Midsize companies can buy virtualized modules of unified communications services deployed in turnkey appliances with separate partitions for each service. They can select only the services that they need, and if their needs change, new modules can be activated on the appliance without additional hardware costs.

The Avaya Aura Solution for Midsize Enterprise (ME) is typical of the new unified communications solutions that take advantage of virtualization. It provides a centralized, enterprise-wide architecture for up  to 2400 users (up to 250 remote locations) with common management for all kinds of collaboration—mobile, voice, video, instant messaging and presence—and support for extended applications such as  Avaya Aura® Contact Center, Avaya Aura® Conferencing and AvayaLive™ Engage.

The complete base system is one server. Even with additional application servers for advanced applications, virtualization is a key reason why Avaya Aura ME is up to 16% less expensive per user compared to competitors (based on Avaya internal testing–measured at 400 users).

Faster and less costly than installing everything separately, the solution uses the Avaya System Platform application to simplify the installation and maintenance procedures. System Platform runs multiple Avaya Aura applications on a modified Citrix Xen hypervisor on a Linux platform.

Set-up is streamlined through the use of pre-defined templates (e.g., enter IP addresses once for all solutions) simplifying desktop management and speeding deployment. Overall, streamlined administration can result in 75% less time required for system maintenance.  Virtualization also means significantly less power and cooling required compared to traditional deployments.

Virtualization is not for everyone. That’s why Avaya also offers a non-virtualized solution: Avaya IP Office. On a single server platform, IP Office can grow from serving a handful of users to up to 1000 users at up to 32 locations. It’s designed to be easy-to-administer and deliver desktop communications capabilities right to a smartphone or tablet, including integrated e-mail and voice mail, instant messaging, presence and conferencing. You can meet the needs of individual users in your company by adding targeted software applications designed for office workers, mobile workers, home/teleworkers, customer service agents and more.

So, if you are ready to take the plunge with virtualization, there has never been a better time with a solution like Avaya Aura ME. If you are still more comfortable with a single-server solution that is simple to manage and offers easy growth to up to 1,000 users, Avaya IP Office can fit the bill.  Read “Getting Mobile Collaboration Right: A Guide for Midsize Enterprise” at http://www.avaya.com/usa/solution/mobile-collaboration for more information on these 2 winning options. Be sure to check out our website: at www.primetelecommunications.com !

A Secure BYOD Strategy

Wireless devices are making their presence felt in every business. From smartphones and touch screen tablets to handheld video conferencing tools and traditional laptops, these devices enable employees to perform critical business functions at any time and any location.

That’s why more companies are embracing Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategies, enabling employees to choose the tools and in some cases,  move completely away from devices like desk phones and desktop PCs—both long considered to be indispensable.

But if businesses are not careful, BYOD can quickly turn into ‘bring your own difficulties” inviting a wide range of security issues. The challenge is to balance the need to control access, but not limit employee flexibility or create an onerous management burden for IT.

Organizations know that employees’ personal mobile devices are getting onto their networks, but, based on a recent study by the SANS Institute, only nine percent of organizations surveyed were “fully aware” of the devices accessing their networks, and only 50 percent were “vaguely or fairly” aware.  (Learn more about the SANS study at http://www.sans.org/press/first-annual-survey-webcast.php)

Many mobile devices support 802.1x (an IEEE Standard for port-based Network Access Control), though  often it is not enabled.  Also, many smaller companies without the IT resources find it too onerous to be configuring their network to control access via 802.1x.

One way to solve the BYOD challenge is to centralize management of your access, authentication and security controls. A centralized, standards-based, policy server deployable over any underpinning network infrastructure allows administrators to quickly and easily add devices from a central hub and even assign multiple devices to a single user.

A centralized solution gives you full visibility into who has accessed the network based on a combination of user identity, device type and location. If an employee brings a new device, it can get validated by comparing the user credentials and device attributes against corporate directories. Network access can be limited to all or select resources.

A centralized approach simplifies the process of providing guests wireless Internet access. For large events such as conferences or expos, enterprise staff can administer guest policies in bulk, eliminating the need to manually set guest preferences and rules. To ensure that guests don’t outstay their welcome, these credentials automatically expire at a specified date and time.

Avaya provides a range of centralized security capabilities through its Identity Engines portfolio of security solutions.  Many of these capabilities have traditionally been limited to large enterprise installations, but now much smaller organizations are taking advantage of them implementing them on networks with the Avaya Ethernet Routing Switch (ERS) 3500, a compact Ethernet switch designed exclusively for small and midsize enterprises and remote branches.

What’s the Right Way to Implement Mobile Collaboration?

For small and midsize enterprises, mobile collaboration is a big challenge. One-size-fits-all solutions won’t cut it. You need a system specific to how you do business—your processes, your customers and your brand. Here’s what to look for.

Get started now by taking a close look at how mobile collaboration can deliver overall benefits to your business. Some of the key areas are likely to be:

  • Employee productivity—helping your employees be productive wherever they are working
  • Decision- making—keeping key people in the loop so important matters don’t get delayed
  • Sales and customer service—making it easy for customers and prospects to quickly reach anyone in your organization
  • Work-life balance—providing tools that allow people to be in touch and still have a life

Look for specific bottom line benefits you can realize to generate ROI on your mobility investment. Things like cutting down on real estate costs (by allowing people to work from home either more often or all the time), and reducing unplanned employee absences will directly impact your bottom line.

Consider the different needs of individual employees. While just about everyone in your business can benefit from mobile communications and collaboration, different kinds of workers will find themselves working in different situations more often than others. For example, someone who works from home regularly will have different needs than someone who travels.

Finally, make sure the mobile solution you put in place matches the needs of your business. You want a solution that supports the latest capabilities, including being able to integrate your office communications with smartphones and other devices. But it’s important not to get swept away by the latest twists in technology and end up ignoring critical factors like reliability, scalability and total cost of ownership.

Avaya has posted loads of information about mobile collaboration on its website www.avaya.com/small including whitepapers, buyer’s guides and videos of companies of all sizes who are taking advantage of mobile collaboration today.

How To Not Get Boxed Into a Communications Upgrade

Upgrading to any new technology is rarely a cut and dried decision. You hear about all the new things that are out there, but you also know that change means disruption and may force your business to give up features you now take for granted.

For most IT decision makers, the ideal technology upgrade scenario is to get new capabilities, but hold on to the things they like in their current solution. That’s exactly what Interline Brands did when it upgraded its communications at 130 locations to an Avaya IP Office solution.

A leading distributor and direct marketer of maintenance products, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fl., Interline was able to get a host of new capabilities while racking up huge savings in acquisition, operational and transition costs.

The Interline locations around the world are mostly small distribution centers/storefronts. Many of them used the PARTNER Communications Systems, a solution first introduced in the 1980s that over the years became one of the top selling small business communications systems of all time.

Interline wanted to keep using the PARTNER systems, but accepted the fact they were based on dated technology and no longer being manufactured. Then Interline discovered the best of both worlds: Avaya offers a “version of its best-selling small business IP Office solution that essentially mimics how the PARTNER system worked.  Interline was able to continue using many of the same features as its older PARTNER solution (cutting down dramatically on training and transition costs), hold on to its PARTNER telephones (cutting down on acquisition costs) and still get the benefits of moving up to a new IP-based communications solution.

With 130 locations, Interline also got the ability to administer the systems from a central location. Streamlined administration, together with consolidating existing analog lines at many locations into digital services, cut overall spending and enabled full ROI within three months.

Interline is also benefiting from:

  • One-number access. Calls to an individual’s office number can ring simultaneously on the mobile or home phone so calls are never missed
  • In-building wireless capabilities. A must for warehouse locations
  • Conferencing. It’s possible to quickly set up conference calls with up to 64 people to enable cost-effective collaboration.
  • Automated Attendant. Users can customize caller greetings so key callers receive a personal message and are routed directly to the most appropriate person or team.

To learn more about Interline’s experience and what it can mean for your business, read the case study at http://www.avaya.com/usa/case-for-avaya/customer-stories/interline-brands

For a great resource on upgrading your communications, see the Definitive Guide to Upgrading Your Communications System at http://www.avaya.com/usa/resource/assets/premiumcontent/thedefinitiveguidetoupgradingyouravayacomsys.pdf

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