Monthly Archives: August 2016

Forecasters warn hurricane activity is poised to intensify

Nearing the midway point of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, activity has been relatively muted so far, with five named storm systems taking shape, none of which resulted in significant damage, if any at all. But with the most active period of the violent weather period approaching, many meteorologists believe that the quiet trend could make a 180-degree shift, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Superstorm Sandy came ashore in 2012, according to a newly released forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After initially projecting a 25 percent chance the Atlantic Ocean would produce an unusually low number of hurricanes, the NOAA has since revised that assessment. It now believes that there's just a 15 percent likelihood the season will see fewer named storms than what is typical. Additionally, experts now believe there's a 70 percent chance that 12 to 17 storms will form, with between five and eight substantial enough to be classified as hurricanes. Tropical storms are by definition hurricanes when sustained winds reach a minimum of 74 miles per hour. Back in May, when weather experts made their initial outlook, they forecast a 70 percent likelihood of 10 to 16 named storms.

As of Aug. 17, five tropical storms have developed, each of which was substantial enough to have a name, those being Alex, Bonnie, Colin, Danielle and Earl. Named storms produce wind gusts of 39 mph or more.

Effects of El Nino not as significant
Why do meteorologists think Mother Nature has more in store? Gerry Bell, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center lead forecaster, says it all has to do with the weather phenomenon known as El Nino and it's effects not playing out quite like was projected back in May, among other contributing factors.

"We've raised the numbers because some conditions now in place are indicative of a more active hurricane season, such as El Nino ending, weaker vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds over the central tropical Atlantic, and a stronger west African monsoon," Bell explained.

At the same time, though, atmospheric conditions and ocean temperatures are such that it's highly unlikely hurricane formations will increase substantially.

Emergency planning critical regardless of what forecasters anticipate
Regardless, safety experts acknowledge that homeowners and business owners shouldn't let this deter them from taking precautions. When Superstorm Sandy reached the Tri-state Area back in 2012, it was a Category 2 weather maker, meaning that it wasn't a major hurricane, according to the Saffir-Simpson Wind Scale. Nevertheless, due to its sheer size – spanning almost the entirety of the Atlantic seaboard – Sandy was the second-most damaging hurricane on record. Only Hurricane Katrina was more impactful in terms of insured losses. Katrina was the last major hurricane that has made landfall in the U.S.

"While seasonal forecasts may vary from year to year – some high, some low – it only takes one storm to significantly disrupt your life," warned Joseph Nimmich, deputy administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

He added that everyone should develop plans that lay out the best course of action before, during and after a hurricane. Obtaining important emergency contact information so everyone can be informed of the latest developments is also crucial.

Perhaps nothing is more important for business owners than continuity planning. No one can control the weather, but company managers have the ability to prepare for what Mother Nature throws at them by having the tools and systems in place to keep things up and running when the great outdoors fails to cooperate. Business continuity planning makes recovery possible and helps ensure that productivity stays afloat even when flood waters threaten.

Financial sector ‘highly susceptible’ to cyberattacks

No industry is safe from cybercrime. Even the federal government is hit with a litany of cyberattacks every day, despite the vast number of resources at its disposal. Unsurprisingly, according to a newly released report, America's financial industry is a primary target in hackers' cross hairs.

Financial firms' security woefully inadequate
SecurityScorecard reported the financial industry is "highly susceptible" to the potential for data breaches – a sector that includes investment banks, asset management firms and major commercial banks. Specifically, roughly 95 percent of the 20 most profitable commercial banks headquartered in the U.S. and included in the source's analysis earned a network security letter grade of "C" or lower. The study also discovered that many of those same 20 banks had been infected with malware or a similar malicious program at one point or another.

Sam Kassoumeh, SecurityScorecard co-founder and chief operating officer, said commercials banks seem to be more susceptible to cybercrime due to the frequency of mergers and acquisitions in this space. If two previously separate institutions join as one of their IT environments infected with malware, the virus affects both. But that isn't the only reason why cybercrime is so prevalent in the financial sector.

"Despite major financial institutions spending billions of dollars on cybersecurity annually, this report suggests the financial industry may not be spending those dollars as effectively as possible," warned Kassoumeh.

Furthermore, Luis Vargas, a data scientist at SecurityScorecard, noted that because financial institutions are constantly exchanging information, it's difficult to quarantine transactions, especially after organizations have been compromised. Attackers find their way into IT systems through a wide range of illegal behaviors, including phishing and it's more sophisticated brother spear-phishing. Similar to laundering, phishing involves posing as a legitimate company via email or otherwise in order to trick organizations into revealing sensitive financial data, while spear-phishing is a more targeted version of that process.

"Financial organizations need solutions that assess vulnerabilities continuously and have the ability to see risks and vulnerabilities before a breach takes place," advised Vargas.

Most SMBs hacked this year
Major financial institutions are hardly the only organizations that are under attack. Small-business owners are as well. In a poll conducted by Osterman Research, where IT professionals from over 300 organizations were questioned, over 70 percent of them stated their small- and medium-sized businesses have been affected by malware so far in 2016. Over 40 percent indicated that they were unsuccessful in thwarting at least one phishing scheme, and 36 percent said their IT systems were at some point infected with a virus.

Some of the individuals who responded to the survey worked at businesses in the technology sector. Others included SMBs in manufacturing, financial services and health care.

Regardless of the industry, business interruption is almost inevitable if cybercriminals successfully infiltrate corporate networks. The vicissitudes of life have a way of coming up when they're least expected. The key is having the ability to roll with the punches. Business Continuity Centers provides the necessary tools companies need to keep productivity from feeling the adverse effects through customized strategic planning. Whether the lights go out or IT systems are unresponsive, recovery is possible when in the business-owner batter's box and curveballs are tossed.