Friday, 24 April 2009

Get apps from a Cloud, save money!

As small and medium businesses in India struggle to stay afloat during the global economic slowdown, they are opting for relatively cheaper technology options like cloud computing. In cloud computing, users share software over a wide network of computers.

Sumeet Sabharwal, senior vice-president of outsourcing and IT hosting firm Navisite Inc, says cloud computing is a viable Internet model for small and medium businesses across India, especially in the technology hubs in and around the capital and in Bangalore.

"The demand for having a reliable hosted infrastructure has increased over the years in India as businesses are shifting to the Internet from offline facilities. At the same time, users do not want to burden themselves with the cumbersome processes of installations and hardware specifics. They look for solutions that are flexible, to scale and automated from the deployment standpoint, to maximise profit and output," Sabharwal said.

He said cloud computing was "still in a nascent stage in India and users need to be educated. Demand will grow as medium and small business owners realise its financial upside. I think it is the technology of the future for a country like India".

"Cloud computing," explained Sabharwal, a Cornell University alumnus, "is a computer paradigm in which tasks are assigned to a combination of connections. It operates on three basic principles - computer, bandwidth and storage.

"It eliminates the manual tasks of shipping the software to the user and allows users direct access to the software from the net. This network of servers and connections is collectively known as 'the cloud', which is a kind of a platform."

Computing at the scale of the cloud, said Sabharwal, allowed users to access supercomputer-level power. "Using a thin client or other access points like an iPhone, BlackBerry or laptop, users can reach into the cloud for resources they need. For this reason, cloud computing has also been described as on-demand computing."

Cloud computing, where the "intelligent network acts as the supercomputer", is a way to increase network capacity or add capabilities without investing in new infrastructure, new personnel or licensing new software.

"It is a pay-per-use service and cuts business cost by at least 40 percent depending on how the businesses leverage it. At the same time, one can scale up or scale down on the network itself, going by the number of visits to a business site and its growth," Sabharwal said.

"Clouds are of two types - the public cloud, where infrastructure can be shared horizontally depending on areas and geographies of growth - and large private clouds dedicated to big companies, mostly the independent software vendors, retail firms and technology providers.

"Cloud Computing," said Sabharwal, "is also the most effective technology for hosted e-mails for medium-sized corporate firms."

Saturday, 18 April 2009

10 challenges before Tech Mahindra

After over three months of suspense and anxiety, Satyam Computer Services has finally found its new knight in shining armour, Tech Mahindra (TechMa).

The company which suffered a deadly blow on January 7 2009, when its owner confessed to a Rs 7000-crore hole in its balance sheets, can be finally said to be on the road to recovery.

Tech Mahindra's acquisition of Satyam has come as a relief to both the market as well as most Satyam employees. Though worst may be over for Satyam, the deal is not going to be an easy ride for the Mahindra group company.

Embracing Satyam into its fold is not going to be an easy task. Here's looking into the 10 challenges that Satyam-Tech Mahindra deal present for the new management.

Challenge 1: Lack of experience
The factors that could make this integration a complex task are Tech Mahindra’s lack of experience in most of Satyam’s business verticals and issues relating to its own core business.

“Tech Mahindra certainly gets breadth in skills post merger (with Satyam). But what it lacks is depth in terms of client base and leadership in the new verticals that it would get access to after the merger,” said Edelweiss Securities IT analyst Viju George.

Challenge 2: Different business profiles
“The business profiles of both the companies are totally different. While Tech Mahindra earns majority of its revenue from the European market by providing telecom solutions, Satyam is far more diverse in verticals as well as geographies,” said India Infoline IT analyst Rajiv Mehta.

Also according to analysts, though Tech Mahindra has British Telecom's (BT) backing and a strong presence in the US, it is not very well known in markets such as Australia, where it will have to market itself.

Challenge 3: Marrying the work cultures
Analysts also said that integrating a large pool of some 43,000 Satyam employees across verticals that are somewhat unfamiliar to Tech Mahindra would be anything but easy.

Tech Mahindra faces challenge of marrying the work cultures of the two organisations and other human resource-related issues. Though the two companies began operations in the same year, they are said to be characteristically different.

Winning back employees' trust too will be a big challenge. Tech Mahindra will have to stop the attrition both at client and employee levels.

Challenge 4: Facing recession pangs
Tech Mahindra also faces challenges from its own business. The company, which earns three out of every five rupees by serving the UK-based BT Group, is suffering from the slowdown in global telecom markets.

“The single-biggest client, BT, is not doing well and this is going to put a lot of pressure on Tech Mahindra,” said SBICAP Securities research head Anil Advani.
According to an internal communication meant for its employees, the company could not clinch a single deal in March. Tech Mahindra is also believed to have let go about 250 employees in the past three months citing reasons of non-performance. “It had earlier set up two centres for every project as part of its disaster recovery plan. Now, due to cost-cutting, one location is being shelved for each project and employees asked to either shift to other projects or leave,” said another company official. The company had 25,429 employees as of December’ 08.

Challenge 5: Convincing existing customers
One of the biggest challenges for the new management will be to regain customer confidence. Tech Mahindra will have to convince the customers to stay on, and attempt to win back over $300 million worth of outsourcing contracts through competitive pricing.

Two large customer exits reported from Satyam are Telstra ($32 million/year) and State Farm Insurance.

Challenge 6: Legal liabilities
Satyam is facing half-a-dozen Class Action suits filed by shareholders in the US after its disgraced founder B Ramalinga Raju admitted to fudging the firm’s books. It is also fighting a legal battle with UK-based mobile payments services provider Upaid.

Challenge 7: Build new leadership
Another challenge for Tech Mahindra is the new leadership team and the role of top 100 Satyamites who would be retained. The retention of 100 key associates was one of the pre-requisites that Tech Mahindra had to agree to. The top management of Satyam is understood to have shortlisted key leaders.

Challenge 8: Cleaning the balancesheet
The Tech Mahindra management would have a challenging task of cleaning up the balance sheet of the scam-tainted company. The company is likely to be poorer than publicly stated earlier. The big question is by how much. Tech Mahindra has estimated Satyam's revenue to fall to $1.3 billion (Rs 6500 crore).

KPMG and Deloitte are doing the forensic re-statement of accounts, a process that is expected to be a lengthy one. It is expected to take at least six months. The new owner will have to cooperate with over half-a-dozen agencies and regulators probing the scam.

Challenge 9: Liquidity
The deal would pose financial and operational challenges for Tech Mahindra. Analysts say that the company may have to immediately invest Rs 1,000 crore in Satyam for operating expenses.

At the end of the December quarter, Tech Mahindra had $110 million in cash and cash equivalents. Assuming that cash kitty has expanded by another $30-35 million in the March quarter, the acquirer will still have to borrow or raise capital to fund the deal.

Challenge 10: Conflict of interest
Satyam's clients in areas such as manufacturing, auto and engineering services may be concerned. “There may be a conflict of interest among Satyam’s auto clients, considering that the company will now be owned by an auto major, M&M. The same will apply to telecom clients, as BT has a stake in Tech Mahindra and is one of its biggest clients. So, clients will do their own cross-questioning and due diligence on the deal,” said Diptarup Chakraborti, Gartner India’s principal research analyst.

“The next 60-90 days will be crucial to demonstrate a plan for existing Satyam customers. Satyam provides niche work in areas such as auto and engineering services, so clients will be concerned about the long-term plan in that space,” said Sudin Apte, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Why Chinese phones face death

About 250 lakh handsets are expected to be out of service from April 15, as GSM service providers, including Airtel and Vodafone pull the plug on them. These are unbranded Chinese mobiles that do not have IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers and pose a serious security risk.

All mobile phone service users have been directed by the Department of Telecom (DoT) to disconnect these phones. In fact, two deadlines - January 6 and March 31 - have already been missed by the companies. Now they have undertaken to acquire the necessary equipment to track these phones by April 15 and discontinue their services thereafter - a process that is expected to take another 15 days, that is, by April 30.

Here’s why Chinese phones need to be banned.

Cannot be tracked
Under law, all GSM phones are required to have a unique IMEI number that gets reflected at cell phone towers with which, if required, the location of a mobile phone user can be tracked. These Chinese phones, however, do not have International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. In many cases, more than 1000 Chinese handsets have been known to have shared the same IMEI number.

Shows up string of zeroes

Legal IMEI are 15-17 digits long and are unique in nature. This also means that no two cellphones should have the same IMEI. Chinese phones don’t carry 16-digit IMEI numbers. At cell towers these phones show up as a string of zeros, or give out cloned IMEI numbers. That’s why they pose a security risk.

The combination of IMEI numbers, or many phones with the same IMEI number, happens because the number is cloned in lots of 100, 1,000 or 5,000 phones by makers of unbranded Chinese mobile phones.

To check your IMEI no. of your phone, press *#06# on your mobile, the 15-17 digit IMEI no. will show on screen.

Doesn't share user's travel details
The phone service provider can tell your location by tracking the IMEI number from phone towers. It can tell where you went.

If you travel abroad, the foreign service provider knows that you are a visitor and from where you are originally Service providers have many mobile phone towers. During calls, the phone connects to the nearest towers. Even when not in use, the phone keeps contact with the nearest towers

By using signals from at least three of the nearest towers it’s possible to locate a mobile phone accurately. The method, called triangulation, can be used by security agencies to track down any offender using mobile phone.

Used in Delhi blasts?
The security risk from unbranded Chinese mobiles can be guaged from the fact that a number of bombs have been triggered by terrorists by these phones. Mobile phones are part of terrorists’ essential equipment, for getting instructions from their handlers or for passing on information. If they use legal phones, their location can be found by IMEI numbers.

To give an example, after the Mehrauli blast (in Delhi last year) the terrorists melted away without a trace. However, assuming that they had mobile phones, it should have been possible to track them down by zeroing in on all the phones that started to move away from the blast site immediately after the bomb went off. Instead of blindly putting roadblocks across the city, the security forces could have pinpointed all suspicious post-blast movements and caught the terrorists.

Security forces believe that, as it appears in the Mehrauli case, terrorists have taken to these unbranded Chinese phones to mask their movements. Currently, about 7-8 lakh Chinese phones come into the country every month. This figure was much higher before the talk of their ban started - in September 2008, 1.5 million of these phones came into India.

Unbarred entry
Currently, about 7-8 lakh Chinese phones come into the country every month. This figure was much higher before the talk of their ban started - in September 2008, 1.5 million of these phones came into India.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

How hackers break into your PC

For a hacker common methods for finding your IP address is through chatrooms, looking up domain names on a domain name registrar site, or running programmes that can create a log of all valid IP addresses.

In a chatroom, all a hacker has to do is right click on a chat ID and get the IP address. A domain registrar can yield a website’s employees’ names, phone numbers, fax numbers, physical addresses and IP addresses. In ‘social engineering’ a hacker verbally chats up the user and gets his IP address and other important information. Here’s looking into how a hacker can break into a PC and misuse it.

How it works
With the users IP address, a hacker can send programmes to his PC to test the system for vulnerabilities. He can even find bugs, or holes in the software. The file- and print-sharing options allow the hacker to access the user’s hard drive, load any programme on the drive and delete/change any file on his PC.

The hacker may use ‘Trojans’, which pretend to do useful tasks--like playing a video or greeting--but actually help him access info from the computer and/or even take it over. Programmes that allow the hacker ‘backdoor’ entry to a computer are commonly available.

These programmes are used daily and legitimately by many systems administrators for remote systems. Hackers change the names of their programmes to make them look like legitimate system programmes.

Or they create a hidden folder on the user’s computer to keep programmes. The most common way that viruses are spread is through e-mails. Usually, the virus is not in the e-mail itself, but as an attachment.

Cracking passwords
Hackers use programmes to crack passwords. Even a password-protected computer can be broken into and other passwords then cracked.

A password cracker dictionary has common computer terms and phrases, names, slang and jargon, easily typed key sequences (like ‘qwerty’), and phrases one might commonly use as a password.

Programmes to crack passwords are handed out with copies of these dictionaries. A common method for cracking passwords is to get a copy of a system’s password file. It lists all encrypted passwords on the system.

Security breach
A hacker can steal and delete files, load dangerous programs on a PC and involve people in computer crime. He can get your home, office and even bank passwords.

A hacker can even see the screen as the user sees it, watch every move of his mouse and see every word he types.

Often, the hacker is not interested in the hacked system. He just wants to hack into larger systems or send e-mails. A hacker can load a programme onto hundreds of hacked PCs and then direct the PCs to bomb a particular firm’s server with junk mail or problem messages.

Specific measures
The user must keep in mind not to visit chat rooms unless they are closed and he knows the administrator. One must almost never open an attachment that ends in .DLL or .EXE, even if the email is from one’s best friend. The only time one can open such attachments is if he knows what’s in them.

In order outwit script-based viruses; it is adviceable to ask an expert how one can open scripts in Notepad or Wordpad. Then he should get someone who knows Visual Basic to look at it. If the user is not on his PC, but sees its modem lights flash, it means a hacker could be testing for vulnerabilities.

Password protection
A good password is easily remembered, but not easily guessable. It should be kept a secret, never written down and never saved in a file. When a website asks if a password should be saved, always say no. A password ideally should have at least six or more letters, numbers or punctuations.

The letters should be in capitals and lowercase. It should not have four or more letters found consecutively in the dictionary. Here reversing the letters won’t help.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

World's 10 worst passwords

'123456' is the most common password used by people on the Internet.

Obscenities, names of fast cars and even ncc1701 -- the ship number for Star Trek's Starship Enterprise, have made it to the list of top 500 worst passwords of all time.

Compiled by, the list features passwords most commonly used by Internet users.

And topping the list of the most common password is 123456, followed by "password" in second place. Other popular password choices were first names, repeated letters and numbers, pop-culture references.

Even batman, bond007 and cocacola made it to the list, reports the Courier Mail. The website said that almost one out of nine people use at least one of the passwords mentioned on the list, and one out of every 50 people use one from the top 20.

In fact, a study commissioned by digital communications agency @www found that an average adult had as many as 15 passwords to remember.

But 61 per cent of people used the same passwords for as many different accounts as possible in order to make life easier.