Wearables 2.0 - The Rise of Trackers

Courtesy of smartwatchnews.org

Does your Activity Tracker Really Know What Your Health Is?

You see them everywhere. On your friends and co-works belts, necklaces, shoes and wrists. Futuristic bracelets, watches, clasps and jewelry that track your body's vital statistics, daily activities and exercise. But do they work? Are they a help or a hindrance to your efforts to get fit, stay healthy and be injury free, on your way to wellness nirvana. In this episode of Working The Web to Win we will cover the latest craze generally referred to as "activity trackers". We will discuss the pros and cons of many of the top sellers and also delve into the logistics of searching for, buying, and using these fascinating self-spying devices that are taking the world by storm.

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Here is a little history of why I decided to cover this subject. We have written about high tech gadgets (check out Next Tech- The future is Now) for about two years now. Being somewhat of a health nut, I pay attention to anything that might make it easier to stay healthy.  When the first smart watches started to come out in 2013, we knew that this would be a mega trend. Apple had indicated it too would be releasing a smart watch, even though it did not come out till 2015. This announcement created a lot of buzz and drove a lot of new players into the market (like Pebble, Sony and Samsung). 2013 was like the birth of the viable wearable devices. A whole hoard of devices hit the market - wearable cameras, computers, clothing and yes health trackers. Jawbone was one of the very first and we wrote about this first generation of activity trackers in our article called “Ready to Ware” in 2014.

I have used pedometers for many years and I always found them useful. However, I also found that I would break or lose many of them as they were usually attached to my belt. This made them more susceptible to being hit or lost. This article is my way of sharing what I have learned. Also you should know that no one is paying me for my endorsement or opinion.

Courtesy of guardianlv.com
Digital pedometers are not new. Devices that measure and track heart rate go back to the 80’s if not earlier. So what makes all of these new wearable health trackers different? My answer to that is this: They have a higher level of sophistication and track more health related elements, yet they are still relatively easy to use. On top of that, they now have the ability to store your health related data either for personal development or to compete against friends in community support groups. Many will actually interface with other online apps allowing you to enter and track your food and water consumption, thus allow you to measure calories burned vs calories consumed.

Here are important questions everyone should be asking if they are thinking about getting an activity tracker.

Should I get one? If you're trying to lose weight or improve your health, then the answer is yes. The strength of these devices is they provide immediate feedback.  In sports and in health, prompt feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Courtesy of betanews.com
Do they work? Yes, these devices work. Most will automatically track steps, distance, calories burned and even the amount of sleep you receive. Most will let you enter your water intake and the food you eat (providing your calorie count for the day). Many calculate calorie burn based on the intensity of your activities as well as the amount you engaged in. Many have built in databases of the most commonly eaten foods, just to make it easier to enter your consumption data.

Must have items and cost? – You need to know your budget, since these devices range in price from about $20 to well over $600. The most expensive is also not necessarily the best or the right one for your lifestyle. In the $20 to $99 range you will find the semi mechanical pedometers, Chinese imports and entry level name brand devices. The best and easiest to use seem to be in the $50 range if you’re looking for an entry level device.
Courtesy of Fitbit.com
Look at the Fitbit Zip, the Misfit Shine and the Jawbone Up. At the $100 to $200 range, you will find greater sophistication and heart rate monitoring (GPS tracking is available via your smartphone in some models). I like the Fitbit Charge, Charge HR and the Garmin Vivofit/Fit2 and the Jawbone UP2/3. In the $200 to $400 range you’ll find build in GPS tracking in some models.  You will also begin to enter the smart watch arena price range. Here is where additional functionality starts to ratchet up the prices. If you're thinking of going the smart watch route, stick to which every smart phone family you use (Apple, Samsung or Microsoft). Also, this is where sport and exercise specific devices come into play as well. Both Garmin and Polar have a wide variety of specialized exercise trackers that fit this category. 

Must Know Items! A number of these devices need to be paired with a newer smartphone (Android 4.3 or later and iPhone 4 and up). Some also require Bluetooth 4.0. There are several that will work just with your computer if it has Bluetooth. Some use a USB cable to share data (almost all have specialized USB cables for charging) and some come with a Bluetooth dongle to connect your tracker to your computer. Check the manufacturer's warranty, some companies only warranty devices "sold through authorized reseller". This seems straightforward except for the fact that most don't list any or all of their authorized outlets. For example; Fitbit is being sold by many more companies than listed on their website. Companies like Sam's Club and Costco are not listed but they sell their products. Also, their are dozens of eBay and Amazon reseller not listed as well. Don't get caught between Fitbit's ambiguous warranty and the reseller you purchased it from. Find out the return policy and the warranty upfront. One last item to check is the support communities for complaints and product issues. This will keep you from being surprised later on. When you look in Fitbits communities site, you will see many complaints about inaccurate trackers and other problems you would not expect to see from a product you paid 100+ dollars for. Doing a search in Google for reviews and complaints for the product you're researching, will also open your eye's to issue not listed on the company's product brochure or website!

Courtesy of ebay seller - goldenwattle-au
If you need to go cheap there is an option. Many of the inexpensive models only have smartphone apps and don’t have an online portal or computer application. Most of these apps don't have third party compatibility either. Many will only work with a newer smartphone. I found the Fitbit online communities very useful. These online portals help support your effort to achieve improved health or lose weight. Also third party plug ins like MyfitnessPal.com can be invaluable. You lose this in many of the inexpensive models. Also, many of the inexpensive models have smart apps that are harder or awkward to use.

Who Makes the Best Activity Tracker? If you do some research you will find that certain manufactures and models come up over and over again. That's because these products, on average, are the best products on the market today. Many made the top 10 list because the author or reviewer of the device emphasized the aspects they liked most. Aspects like ease of use, quality of the accompanying app, measuring certain activity/health functions (aka heart rate, sleep, GPS tracking), measuring certain kinds of exercise, having third party vendor support and online community support. Fitbit, MistFit, Jawbone, Garmin and Polar show up over and over again, regardless of the price category.

Check out EZVID top 10 fitness trackers video

Where to find products and how to get the best deal. You can buy these activity trackers almost anywhere. Many department stores have them. Most sporting goods stores carry them, but a few of the higher end smart watches can only be had in Apple, or Microsoft stores. This will change, since the evolution of these products is happening at a rapid pace. I also found you can get them on Amazon, EBay and AliExpress.com.

Courtesy of aliexpress.com
You can find coupons for these devices online as well. If you have a specialized discount program or loyalty rewards points at a specific store (like Dick’s Sporting Goods) you can take advantage of that as well. You can find many refurbished and used activity trackers on EBay. Just know that you have zero warranty from Fitbit with this kind of purchase. I purchase a Fitbit Charge (retail $130) for a substantial discount because it was a store return. I paid  $75 for it and I have to say it looked brand new and worked perfectly. Make sure you read the description and the return policy.  Any purchase of this kind needs to be tested right away, so if you have a problem, eBay's purchase policy can take care of it.  I have also purchased several of the no-name Chinese products in the $20 to $30 range as research for this article, and they worked well, although were not as comprehensive or as easy to use as the Fitbit Charge. I also ordered an activity tracker from AliExpress.com, to see if I can buy these products from the world’s largest online eCommerce company in China, Alibaba. It came in as advertised. It took about 35 days to get to my house. The individual vendor on AliExpress.com promised that the delivery to the states would take between 15 and 45 days and thats exactly what it took. However understand that just like eBay, if the manufacturer does not list the vendor as an authorized reseller, you may have little or no warranty except what the seller provides.

How to Choose? Your reason for choosing one of the devices is going to be determined by one of several factors. These factors will include your budget first, followed by whether you're already active or not and then by individual features. Many of my friends who are runners chose activity trackers that were designed for runners by runners. If you’re into swimming, then a water proof model will be very important. If you’re trying to lose weight, then tracking your general activity 24/7 will be the most important thing. As a rule I have found that if you’re the average person just looking to improve your health by understanding your activity, you will choose an entry to mid-level products manufactured by Fitbit, Jawbone, MisFit, Garmin, or Polar. Whereas if you’re already into lots of fitness activities you will choose the upper middle to top of the line Fitbit Garmin or Polar products. If you’re into style and are also looking for a device that does many other things, you should opt for a smart watch. By the way, there are literally over a hundred manufactures of activity trackers today. These are the crème dela crème.

Check out RizKnow Video on his the top 5 picks for 2015 

I have seen some people report problems with some of these devices, although I have not had this issue myself. A quick internet search will bring up YouTube videos sharing favorites and complaints all in the same episode. Some of the items I will warn you about have more to do with expectations than products having major defects. I have heard of inaccurate/inconsistent HR monitoring on devices that don’t have a chest strap. Apps locking up on smartphones and incompatible issues with older smart phones. I have also seen a few complaints about products not being waterproof enough. The truth is this: If you’re buying a $150 device because it has a heart rate monitor, don’t expect it to be as accurate as a $300 device that has a chest strap. If you want it to track every kind of exercise expect to pay more. Here is a list of the top features I recommend having along with a list of nice to have features as well.

A list of must have features.
  • Standard measurements and stats – steps, distance, time, calories, sleep.
  • Alarms to tell you when you reached your goal/s and to remind you to snack.
  • Databases – Type of workouts, food and beverage calories, workout histories, consumption calorie intake history.
  • A top notch, easy to use smartphone app.
  • Community and product support via an online portal.
  • Battery that lasts at least a week. The longer the better.
A list of nice to have features.
  • Inactivity alerts and  alarms.
  • Heart rate monitoring.
  • GPS Tracking w/o smartphone.
  • Smartphone notifications for calls, text and emails.
  • Waterproofing if you swim a lot.
  • Sports specific features if you cycle, swim, box, lift weights etc.….
Modern digital Bluetooth and internet-ready activity/health trackers are much more robust in data collecting and organize than their predecessors. The activity/health picture they provide is much more immediate, useful and motivating than their mechanical ancestors. 

My experience with the Fitbit Charge has been great. I find myself wanting to go for long walks and paying much closer attention to what I eat on a daily basis. I have lost over 15 lbs. in the first 30 days of using my Fitbit Charge. As a health improvement tool it’s great. Many of my friends who use their trackers have also reported losing significant weight as well. I believe these types of devices can provide extra motivation to help you stay on track for weight loss and maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Courtesy of fitbit.com

However, make no mistake. These devices do not do the walking or exercise for you. They will not automatically enter the food you eat or the water you drink. You still need to do that yourself. You still need to pay attention to what the activity tracker is telling you. These devices help by automatically tracking your steps, runs exercise and then automatically calculate your calorie burn. Many will even automatically track your sleep. If you do your part (i.e. walk/run/exercise and record your daily food/water consumption) these devices will give you everything you need to successfully improve your health. The feedback they provide will show you your calorie consumption verses your calorie burn, and this will guide you to a better understanding of your activity that creates your health.

What's the best for the money? – After researching over a dozen articles, watching twice as many videos and looking at about ½ dozen of the activity trackers, I like the Garmin VIVOFit II. I also really like the Fitbit charge. The Fitbit would normally be my first choice except that Fitbit's warranty leaves a something to be desired.  If you’re into a specific sport (cycling, running, swimming, weight lifting, boxing, etc.…) you’re probably going to choose a different model. Also don't worry if, yours is the best. New models will be out every year and everyone will upgrade or buy another model sooner or later.
VIVO Fit II Rated Best Tracker - Courtesy of  Garmin.com

What's next? – These devices are evolving rapidly. I am calling the current generation of these devices "activity trackers 2.0" -  but rest assured that 3.0 is just around the corner. It’s a no-brainer to tell you that the future of fitness trackers is here to stay. The coming year will see prices coming down, features getting better, more features will be added, and portals will get better. HR monitoring will become a standard item in the mid price range, better waterproofing will be added as well. Expect longer battery life to become a major battle ground in the tracker wars.

Here is a list of great products worth mentioning. Top products in the more strict "Activity Trackers Category" (along with their websites) are:
Fitbit - Zip, One, Flex, Charge and Charge HR, Surge
In the Smart Watch Category I have included:

In this article I have discussed the latest batch of smart activity trackers that are showing up on many of the health conscience consumers these days. This article covers what features to look for, how to find one to fit your budget and it makes recommendations for the average user as well as those who participate in various sports and exercise activities. By the way, if you leave a relevant comment and sign up for our free book you will be entered to win a free activity trackers I purchased as a research item for this article. Make sure you leave your name in the comment section as well. The random drawing will be held on June 2nd live, on that day's Working the Web to Win Blog Talk Radio show.

 If you want to learn even more on this subject, tune in to our “Working the Web to Win” radio show on Blog Talk Radio. You may also be interested in our article called More Star Trek Tech, New Year New Tech and New Advances in Telemedicine - Taking Your Medicine Online. You can also search this site for articles on new technological developments by typing in your keywords in the search box at the top left of this blog.  If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, family and co-workers.

If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," please fill in the form below and we will grant you access to download it. Your information is always kept private and is never sold.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success and co-author of Working the Web to Win.”

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Is Google+ Dying as a Social Network?

Courtesy of www.seoblog.com
By Hector Cisneros

A lot of people are asking this Question; is Google+ dying as a social network? You've heard the pundits say, “Google+ is a dead network. Google + is on the way out. Google is dismantling Google +. No one is using it. It’s a ghost town.” Today the naysayers are pointing out that Google is dismantling parts of Google+ by removing key elements of its social network. Well, there is good news, bad news and ugly news coming and in this blog, I will explore and prognosticate on Google’s latest changes as it evolves into something new to fit Google's overall internet strategy.

The Good News

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Well, I’m here to say that although Google+ is indeed undergoing major changes (they are under not going away any time soon. The pundits were wrong before when they said Google+ was a ghost town (unless you believe 300+ million active users constitutes one) and they will be wrong again here ― see my previous article, "The Ghost Says Boo.” Actually, I believe many of the pundits are missing the point with Google+. At Working the Web to Win, we pay attention to any social network that has over 250 million subscribers. We believe in fishing in ponds that have lots of fish, or in this case a large number of subscribers. Google has a different strategy altogether than Facebook, Twitter or any of the other large social networks. Google is the giant Leviathan of the internet and has their tentacles in everything. Google’s main money maker is paid position search and ad networks. Having many web properties provides allows them to leverage network advertising as a value add for their advertisers. Besides, like all large companies, they can and will change things often. This is because the corporate power structure shifts, ushering in a different direction and new mindset. 
management), it’s

Courtesy of marketingland.com
We often compare our marketing system at Working the Web to Win with that of Ulysses S. Grant. General Grant won by overwhelming his adversaries by bringing a greater number of soldiers, weapons, munitions and supplies to the battle. In other words, he beat them with superior numbers. Google has done this as well by having as many web properties in the battle for online dominance.

Business is War

We believe effective Internet marketing is like warfare. Although as marketers, we are striving to make the search engines happy by providing them high quality content that is relevant, timely, useful and entertaining. We also know that this in turn creates ranking based on backlinks, “Likes”, shares and comments provided by web surfers. Winning (i.e., getting on Page One and converting prospects into customers) is based on providing superior amounts of great content.

Courtesy of  www.businessmba.org
Now back to Google+ and why Google is removing functions from Google+. Google+ still has access to all of Google’s properties, via a single profile log in. This includes Google Local and maps, except it now goes through Google Search. Google Search is Google’s main focal point, their hub of the World Wide Web. This makes having all their eggs in the Google+ basket not as important to the overall scheme of things. (If you’ll recall, Google folded Local into G+ a couple of years back.) As every chef knows, the only way to create something special is to play with the recipe. Besides, Google is hardly the only online entity that constantly plays with the mix.  Facebook, Twitter and virtually every other social network on the planet continually play with their mix as well.  The big difference is that while most social networks only have so a limited number of ingredients to work with, Google has control over many.

The Bad news

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Google seems to have abandoned its fight to be the dominant social media player. Even though it has grown its user profile database to over 2.2 billion subscribers, its Google+ active user base is stagnant. In late 2013, Google+ seemed poised to go head to head with Facebook, as reports came out that the Google+ subscription rate had hit 1.01 billion. Today that number is 2.2 billion subscribers. However, it was quickly pointed out that this subscriber list had nothing to do with people using Google+. In 2013. Google had released numbers that substantiated that the active user base was between 300 and 500 million active users, depending on what constituted active.

Fast forward to 2015 and these numbers are being viewed in an entirely different light. In an article by Joshua Barrie, he reports numbers from self-professed “Plusologists Edward Morbius”, that Google+’s real usage numbers are tiny compared to other networks. Here is an excerpt from the Business Insider.com article showing Edwards Morbius numbers:
Courtesy of plus.google.com

  • There are about 2.2 billion Google+ profiles.
  • Of these, about 9% have any publicly posted content.
  • Of those, about 37% have comments on YouTube videos as their most recent activity, and another 8% have profile-photo changes.
  • Only 6% of active profiles have any posted activity in 2015 (18 days so far).
  • Only about half of those, 3% of active profiles, are not YouTube posts.

In other words, 0.2-0.3% of all G+ profiles, about 4-6 million users, have made public posts in 2015.”
Now Edward Morbiuos doesn’t provide any data for other social networks by comparing their active vs inactive users. And there are many Google+ followers that feel this is just a hatchet job on Google+. Either way, these numbers and the recent changes in Google+ cast doubt on what Google’s direction is with regard to social media. Read more:  BusinessInsider.com

Now the Ugly

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Recently, my business partner and I went onto Google+ (see we are one of the 300+ million active user who actually use this social net) to enter a Google Local review on a company page that we had just used. To our surprise Google Local was gone. The way it disappeared was even more troubling. When we clicked on the tab, it vanished. After about an hour’s worth of searching, I found that Google had moved Google Local reviews to Google Maps. Google also created "Google My Business" for businesses to create, verify and market their establishments on Google Search, Maps and Google+. This has added a new layer of confusion to business of adopting Google Local. The main reason I consider this an ugly move on Google’s part is because they gave little or no warning that this was about to happen. Our firm operates with the credo – communication with our clients is paramount. Obviously Google (and most of the other giant web companies) do not. We currently know that Google reviews are an important ranking factor in Google Search. We also know that getting a lot of positive reviews produces those wonderful "rating stars", that show up next to your listing in Google Search. These stars can really help a search user decide to click on your listing, especially if you have a rating of 4 or 5 stars. Moving the cheese (Google Reviews) so to speak and adding another cheese (Google My Business) to the mix, doesn’t help get businesses to adopt the Google model. More importantly, it’s just another example of how Google’s monopoly allows them to do whatever they want without the courtesy of even a note to its business subscribers.

Worthwhile Google+ Facts

Having said all of this, I am still a proponent of Google+. Having 300 million plus active users is still a big number. I am sure the 100,000 cats on Facebook would agree.  There are other good reasons to be on Google+ and the first and foremost is that it is owned by the company that currently dictates most of the playing rules on the World Wide Web. Here are some current stats, about Google+ as provided by DMR Digital Marketing .
Courtesy of  plus.google.com

  • 300 million monthly active users
  • 13% of U.S. businesses use Google+
  • 7 minutes is the average monthly time spent on Google+
  • The average Google visit is three minutes and 46 seconds
  • 22% of online adults visit Google+ at least once a month
  • Ideal length of a Google+ headline for maximum engagement is 60 characters or less

So whether Google has all of its properties shared in Google+ or not won’t make Google+ go away. Google+ still has all the pieces in place to allow you to connect to Google’s many other properties like Search, Google+ Communities, Gmail, Calendar, Photos and Hangout's. Google Search also includes feeds from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many other social nets. Your profiles (one of 2.2 billion today) still connects you to the multitude of Google Web properties (including Gmail, Picasa, Blogger, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Office etc....). Google + has already taken full advantage of Google search. It’s integral to its function. So are many of the other pieces we’ve grown to use to with Google+. The fact that Google has removed Google Local and moved it to Google Maps is not a surprise. This is where it was before it was incorporated into Google +.

The future of Google+'s growth and functionality is directly tied to Google’s profile accounts. This is Google’s control and tracking center. Google+ will continue to be Googles primary social communications medium like Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Anyone who thinks Google is going to kill Google+ as a social network, is just not thinking Big Picture.

In this article I have explored the assumptions made by many news pundits that Google+ is dead or dying. The fact that Google+ is undergoing changes is business as usual on the web. This article has provided three perspectives showing “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” side of these changes. This discussion includes a look at the Googles big picture strategy for social media and the future of Google+ as well.

That's my opinion.  I look forward to reading yours.
If you liked this article, you can find more by typing “Google+ or social networking” in the search box at the top left of this blog. I further recommend reading “The Ghost Says Boo!”, “Internet Marketing: Lessons Learned & Best Practices Part 3 – The Social Media Dynamic,” and “The Evolution of Internet Advertising.” 
If you found this article useful, share it with your friends, families and co-workers. If you have a comment related to this article, leave it in the comment sections below. I hope you have found these discussions useful. Thanks again for sharing your time with me.

If you'd like a free copy of our eBook, "Internet Marketing Tips for the 21st Century," please fill in the form below and we'll email it to you. Your information is always kept private and is never sold.

Hector Cisneros is COO and director of Social Media Marketing at Working the Web to Win, an award-winning Internet marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.  He is also co-host of the weekly Internet radio show, "Working the Web to Win" on BlogTalkRadio.com, which airs every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern. Hector is a syndicated writer and published author of “60 Seconds to Success and co-author of Working the Web to Win.”

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Are You Prepared for the Onslaught of Cyber-Attacks?

It's said the only sure things in life are death and taxes. While this pearl of wisdom has stood the test of time, in the not too distant future, there could be an addition to that list: Cyber-Attack. That's because cyber-attacks on businesses and individuals are up nearly 50% in the past year alone. Where cybercriminals used to almost exclusively target big businesses with deep pockets, now that ransomware has become so prolific, small businesses and even individuals are finding their online assets and machines being hijacked. And why not, since most individuals and small businesses offer little in the way of resistance.

The Cyber Sharks Are Here

Who can forget the opening music to the movie, “Jaws”?  In its day, the novel and subsequent blockbuster motion picture were enough to keep people on the beaches and out of the surf.  But as paranoid as many moms became about letting their kids frolic in the waves back in 1975, 40 years later we should all be hearing the ominous strains of “da-dum, da-dum, da-dum” every time we surf the web.  That’s because while “Jaws” was a work of fiction, the arrival of schools of Cyber Sharks is all too real.

 Courtesy of whatwouldjuliado.wordpress.com
Just like the real deal, there is 100% reliable cyber shark repellant that can keep someone from putting the byte on your computer, tablet and/or smartphone.  While individuals are woefully unprepared to be hacked, many of the devices connected to the Internet of Everything have absolutely no protection whatsoever. Many people access the Internet with their smartphones, tablets and other devices but with no or insufficient protection on them.

Everything from appliances, to medical devices, to automobiles are rapidly becoming web-enabled.  While this provides the public with even more interactivity, it also provides hackers with more ways to get to consumers and businesses. Just as most people make the mistake of thinking their smartphone is a phone instead of a computer that you can talk on, most don’t realize that the average automobile built today has100 lines of code onboard.  Many are now Wi-Fi enabled as well. You don’t have a car with computer onboard. You have a computer that can be driven.  Soon, these computer cars will do most, if not all, of the driving.  So if a hacker can take control of your car, what does that mean for the passengers and driver?  (On a recent “60-Minutes” episode, hackers gained access to the car in which Leslie Stahl was driving, turning on the lights and windshield wipers. So this is not just a hypothetical possibility.)

Who’s Watching Who in Your Smart House?

Photo Credit: consumerist.com
Smart houses and appliances are also becoming more and more commonplace.  They’re also becoming easy pickings for hackers.  If a hacker can crack your home’s security system, this makes breaking and entering child’s play.  Don’t even get me started on what a hacker can do to your web-enabled Nanny Cam.  The same smart TV that you just installed in your living room can be hacked into with ease, since most contain little or no security.   

A February 24, 2015 blog by CNN reported: Earlier this week, we learned that Samsung televisions are eavesdropping on their owners. If you have one of their Internet-connected smart TVs, you can turn on a voice command feature that saves you the trouble of finding the remote, pushing buttons and scrolling through menus. But making that feature work requires the television to listen to everything you say. And what you say isn't just processed by the television; it may be forwarded over the Internet for remote processing. It's literally Orwellian.”
Photo Credit: itproportal.com
What’s really scary is that last year alone, more than 10,000 smart appliances were hacked, according to leading US security firm, Proofpoint.  Once inside your smart TV or refrigerator, hackers can then gain access to other web-enabled devices.  Believe it or not, your refrigerator can then spam your smartphone, laptop or tablet once infected.  Even if your device does come with some semblance of security, unless the protection is updated on a regular basis, it’s only a matter of time before a hacker will prevail.

How Do I Hack Thee?  Let Me Count the Ways

So many smart devices … so little time.  Nearly any device is susceptible to being hacked.  Symantec reported on March 12: All of the devices failed to check whether they were communicating with an authorized server, leaving them open to man-in-the-middle attacks. One out of five devices did not encrypt communications and many did not lock out attackers after a certain number of password attempts, further weakening their security. All of the potential weaknesses that could afflict Internet of things systems, such as authentication and traffic encryption, are already well known to the security industry, but despite this, known mitigation techniques are often neglected on these devices.”

Photo Credit: ilookbothways.com
While Symantec’s report was referring to smart appliances, in October of 2014, the US government told the   FDA to start taking medical device security seriously, citing the same problems that smart appliances were facing.  The next time you go to the hospital for a dialysis treatment or to get your pacemaker checked out, you might like to ask your physician about the inherent hacking vulnerabilities of these devices.

The number of ways that hackers can get into your devices is staggering. Below are some of the most popular tools of the hacker’s trade:
  • Password cracking software, such as ophcrack and Proactive Password Auditor. These are still used, however, social media has made it easier because users give up so much of their personal data today.
  •  Network scanning software (a.k.a., Sniffers) are programs or devices that monitor all data passing through a computer network. It sniffs the data and determines where the data is going, where it's coming from, and what it is. In addition to these basic functions, sniffers might have extra features that enable them to filter certain types of data, capture passwords, and more. Examples are Nmap and NetScanTools Pro and Network analyzer software, such as Cain & Abel and OmniPeek. 
  • Wireless network analyzer software, such as Aircrack-ng and CommView for WiFi. Networks. These are often used in places like StarBucks and other free, Wi-Fi enabled stores and restaurants.
Photo Credit: youtube.com
  • File search software, such as FileLocator Pro and Identity Finder  The Hex Dump (a.k.a., Voodoo). When an electronic device is manufactured, it is programmed with firmware.  Hacking firmware is simply a matter of buying a programmer that can receive the memory dump and transmit it to a computer where the code can be altered.  Then the modified code is transmitted back to the device. 
  • Attacking Defaults. Virtually every piece of hardware on the market comes with a set of standard defaults, including username and password that provide access to the system.  Since most people do not change these default settings, this is the easiest way to exploit a system. Examples are Web application vulnerability scanning software, such as Acunetix Web Vulnerability Scanner and WebInspect along with Network vulnerability scanning software, such as GFI LanGuard, QualysGuard and Exploit software, such as Metasploit. 
  • SQL Injection. While it sounds like a medical procedure, SQL Injection attacks are conducted by entering unexpected entries into a database and then probing the returned error messages to reveal information that can be used to hack the system.  For instance, by entering met characters like #$%^ into a field that processes only alphanumeric information, the database could be tricked into revealing the contents of the database, or in some other way compromise a SQL server. Examples are database security scanning software, such as SQLPing3 and AppDetectivePro.

Photo Credit: huffingtonpost.com
While all of the above-mentioned tactics require a bit of technical knowhow, there are many other hacking programs and devices that can be bought online.  There are also online forums, hacking blogs and clubs that teach hackers the tools of the trade.  There are also annual hacker conventions and hackathons such as the one held yearly in Las Vegas.  If you don’t believe me, simply google, “hacking devices available online.”

The real danger is that the Cyber Sharks have the upper hand since detection, much less prosecution, is hit-and-miss at best.  Meanwhile, hacking continues to proliferate nearly unchecked.  CNN recently reported that in 2014, hackers exposed the personal information of 110 million Americans, roughly half of the nation’s adults.

Photo Credit: northbaybusinessjournal.com
Here is a checklist for businesses  - that can lower their exposure and reduce their risk to cyber attacks. It was created by my business partner, Hector Cisneros. It comes from a presentation he does for business that are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks. (By the way, he’s also available for speaking engagements on this subject.)
  • Get help! Use your vendors for support and to coordinate products. Not all products play well together!
  •  Use a multi-disciplined approach – Network security has many entry ways, including low tech, surveillance, email, text, and social monitoring.
  •  Use a multi-layered approach – You need protection from the Cloud to the firewall servers ― PCs and all smart devices.
  •  Use Traps like “Honey Pots” – Traps should be an integral part of your defense.
  •  You must setup employee policies to minimize your exposure. These policies need to cover proper usage of systems, especially password and social media usage policies.
  • Employee education is a key factor. They need to know the cost both, to the company and themselves.  They also need to know what behaviors are allowed and prohibited.
  • Vigilance is extremely important from the CEO, to the network administrators, to the employees and down to the janitors.
Photo Credit: fbi.gov
  • Regularly check other governments’ site for cyber security threats.
  • Regularly check the website of top companies that provide security solutions for cyber security threats. (i.e., Trend, Symantec, Malwarebytes, MacAfee, etc.)  Get their newsletters.
  • Subscribe to some security blogs to automatically receive current information.  Again look at the top companies cited above.
  • Take the time to read and learn all you can about security and intrusion detection.
  • Scan the news daily for current information on cyber attacks.
  • Find podcasts and webcasts that teach and inform on cyber security and intrusion detection.

Here is a checklist for individuals from a previous article, “The Hack Attack is Back (it also contains more detail so you should check it out):
  • First, find out what your bank’s policies are with regard to your accounts being hacked. Check out about single use credit cards. These are good for making purchases online, especially during the holidays.  Another way is to use PayPal or some similar payment system. 
  • Only use a credit card as the final means of payment. This gives you two layers of protections for
    Photo Credit: myid.com
  •  If you using a debit card to make purchases, stop! Use a regular credit card for store and online purchases.
  • If you don’t currently have an ID protection service, get one. Their annual cost is relatively low and many offer monthly plans. (See “The Hack Attack is Back” for list of providers.)
  •  If you don't have a paper shredder, buy one. They’re generally inexpensive and good ones can be found for under $100.
  •  Speaking of keeping your data secure: Make sure your smart devices (computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.) are password-protected with at least an eight-digit password made up of numbers, letters and some special symbols. 
  • Make sure you keep your all your smart devices current with regards to security updates. If you’re running Microsoft Windows, this is almost a weekly process.  If you love free apps for your tablet and/or smartphone, beware! Many of these apps can compromise the security of that device.
  • Regularly check the FBI and other scam/fraud websites to learn about and lookup current or suspected threats and scams.
  • Last but not least, refrain from visiting websites of a dubious nature. This includes porn sites, warez, free software apps, online first-run movies and music sites.
Photo Credit: dragula.buzznet.com
So the next time you turn on your Smart TV or start your web-enabled car, don’t be surprised if the sound you hear emanating from your speakers goes something like, “da-dum, da-dum, da-dum.”

In this article, I discussed the huge increase in cyber attacks aimed not just at large US corporations, but also small businesses and individuals that have happened this year. The rise of ransomware has made it possible for cyber criminals to be profitable by going after individuals and small businesses. Follow the how to protect yourself list provided to minimize your risk and exposure. There is one specifically for businesses and one for individuals.

If you'd like to read more articles like this one, check out "Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks" and "Working the Web - Is There a Cyber Attack in Your Future?" or enter the words “hacking” or “hack attack” in the Search box at the top of this blog. If you found this article useful, please feel free to share and repost it. I welcome your opinion and comments, just add them to the Comments section below.

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Carl Weiss is president of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning digital marketing agency based in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can listen to Carl live every Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern on BlogTalkRadio.