What Is MDR and How Will It Transform Security for SMBs?
Managed Detection and Response (MDR) is an outsourced cybersecurity service designed to protect data and assets even when threats bypass standard organizational security controls.
What Is MDR?
The MDR approach to security primarily focuses on protecting against sophisticated malware, ransomware, and advanced persistent threats (APT), which traditional security tools cannot detect. It complements solutions like legacy antivirus, firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems (IPSs), providing a second layer of protection in case attackers breach these defenses.
MDR has two three elements: a software platform deployed in the protected organization, threat intelligence, and advanced analytics techniques and a team of human experts. These experts manage the platform remotely, analyze security data, and use it to detect and respond to threats.
MDR and EDR
Most MDR services are based on endpoint detection and response (EDR) technology. EDR is an endpoint security technology introduced in 2013 and quickly became an essential part of the modern security toolkit.
EDR solutions are deployed on endpoints, such as employee workstations, servers, and mobile devices. They use advanced behavioral analytics to detect suspicious activity on an endpoint, send alerts to security teams, and can automatically block some attacks, for example, by stopping a suspicious software process or isolating an endpoint from the network. Security experts can use the EDR platform to further investigate the incident and contain the threat.
SMB Security Challenges
Small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) are the main driving force of the global economy. However, SMBs face several cybersecurity challenges. For example, most businesses fear cyberattacks could severely impact their bottom line, even putting them out of business.
Unfortunately, cybersecurity breaches are exceedingly common, with over a third of SMBs reporting an incident within the last five years. Unfortunately, some smaller businesses neglect security concerns, believing them to be too difficult to prevent or only a significant issue for large enterprises.
Among the breaches experienced by SMBs, the most common type of incident is a phishing attack. Other significant risks include lost or stolen devices (especially laptops), CEO fraud, and ransomware (which freezes or deletes data to extort a ransom payment). In addition, scammers often use current concerns to trick employees into revealing sensitive information—for instance, some phishing emails exploited COVID-19 pandemic-related fears to breach accounts.
CEO fraud is a decoy that tricks employees into carrying out the instructions in a fraudulent email that appears to be from the company CEO. Often, the email requests an urgent payment for some business purpose.
Summary of the Security Challenges of SMBs
- Many companies and employees are aware of threats.
- However, businesses don’t sufficiently protect their sensitive data.
- Companies lack the budget to implement security measures.
- There is a shortage of cybersecurity experts.
- The SMB sector lacks adequate security guidelines.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many SMBs faced additional security challenges. As a result, companies had to find new ways to provide services to customers and enable employees to continue working during lockdown or isolation to keep their business afloat. Usually, this involved moving to online business operations to support a remote workforce.
However, moving online (i.e., to the cloud) and providing remote access to sensitive corporate applications and data presents additional security threats and requires a new cybersecurity approach.
Why Is MDR Important for SMBs?
When EDR solutions were introduced, they were adopted by many SMBs, because of their ability to identify and stop damaging cyber attacks immediately as they occur. For example, an EDR solution can effectively detect and block new and unknown ransomware attacks, which can cripple an organization that is unprepared.
However, most SMBs who purchased EDR found that they couldn’t operate it effectively. An SMB organization typically does not have dedicated, in-house security staff, and security is taken care of by IT administrators. These IT experts do not have the time and training to learn how to use EDR and properly configure them.
Even if in-house experts can use the EDR system, they typically don’t have time to review all high-priority alerts and react to them. To make matters worse, a global cybersecurity skills shortage means that even if an SMB organization chooses to hire a security team—it might not be able to find suitable candidates, and might not be able to pay their demanded salary.
The natural choice is to outsource EDR to an external provider. This is precisely what MDR offers—an MDR service offers EDR software, together with dedicated security experts who can use it for network and endpoint monitoring, incident analysis, and incident response.
MDR has several advantages for an SMB organization compared to using EDR:
- Lower upfront costs, no need to purchase EDR software and related infrastructure.
- No need to deploy and configure EDR (which is time-consuming and requires expertise)
- Access to skilled security experts who are trained in EDR solutions.
- The provider’s experts have the time to review all relevant security alerts and respond to relevant threats.
- Expert use of EDR can result in a much higher chance that critical incidents will be handled quickly and efficiently, preventing data breaches.
- MDR experts can provide input to the SMB organization, helping it improve security practices to prevent the next attack.
An MDR service can provide the following security benefits:
- Protection against zero-day attacks and evolving attack vectors.
- Protection against sophisticated threats that can bypass existing security measures.
- Preventing critical incidents from escalating into full-blow data breaches.
- Must faster time to recovery, which can have a major impact in case of a breach.
- No need to recruit external incident response services when a major attack occurs. This is costly and also less effective when these services are recruited at the last minute.
Evaluating MDR Services
Here are the most important criteria you should evaluate when considering an MDR service for your SMB organization:
- Read third-party reports about the service’s ability to respond to threats that bypass active security controls.
- Evaluate EDR and other technology provided by the service—prefer a proven platform deployed by respected organizations in your industry.
- Evaluate automated security responses are provided by the provider’s technology. Some MDR solutions can orchestrate existing security tools, for example, automatically defining a firewall rule or reconfiguring network segments to block malicious traffic.
- Understand how the provider performs remote management—for example, what level of access they require to local systems, how they work with cloud environments, and the level of interaction with in-house teams.
- Identify the compliance impact of MDR services. For example, some regulations or standards may limit how you work with an MDR service.
- Evaluate the level of service provided and whether the MDR service is really end-to-end, from monitoring through to detection of incidents, containment, eradication, and recovery. If certain parts of the process are not handled by the provider, consider how you will handle them with internal teams.
- Evaluate threat intelligence and analytics capabilities of the platform, which are key differentiators between vendors.
- Ask the provider about customization options, and whether you can adapt the MDR service to your organization’s specific technical setup and needs.
In this article, I explained the basics of MDR and showed how it can be a game changer for SMB security. In particular, MDR can provide the following unique capabilities that a small business would otherwise be unable to achieve:
- Protection against zero-day attacks and evolving attack vectors
- Protection against sophisticated threats that bypass existing security measures
- Identifying critical incidents and preventing them from escalating
- Rapid recovery from major incidents
- Immediate access to external security expertise
I hope this will be useful as you take your small business’s security to the next level.
Featured Image Credit: Provided by the Author; Vecteezy; Thank you!
Alternatives to Layoffs in Tech: Maintaining a Stable Workforce
The tech industry is volatile and subject to the whims of the market. With the recession that’s predicted to hit the global economy in late 2023, companies everywhere, from small startups to major enterprises, are already taking countermeasures to combat it. Ironically, the most commonly employed countermeasure is large-scale layoffs.
Just recently, Microsoft announced 10,000 job cuts, impacting nearly 5% of its global workforce, as part of “workforce reduction” measures the company is taking. This was soon followed by a similar announcement from Google’s parent company, Alphabet. CEO Sundar Pichai commented on the downsizing, saying the company had “hired for a different economic reality” than what it’s up against today.
During times of economic hardship, it is important for companies to maintain a stable, employed workforce. This is why many businesses are searching for alternatives to layoffs as a method to get through these challenging times. Let’s explore what some of these potential alternatives could be.
A substitute for layoffs is to recruit fewer people each month in the first place. Companies might limit the pace of new recruits and concentrate on keeping their present employees. This is one of the factors that they can adapt to rather than reduce their current staff.
During the height of the pandemic, companies like Amazon, Meta, and Microsoft hired and grew their employee base significantly. In contrast, Apple hired at a more modest rate compared to its peers, adding only 17,000 new recruits between 2020 and 2022. Now that uncertain times are ahead, and we see the consequences of overhiring in the form of mass layoffs. On the other hand, Apple has avoided using layoffs as a tool to deal with these dire circumstances.
The implementation of a hiring freeze is an additional alternative to laying off present employees. This entails putting a temporary stop to all new hiring until the business’s financial situation improves. By doing so, companies can cut expenditures while maintaining the current staff.
Another reason why Apple is not laying off its employees like its counterparts — is that it implemented a hiring freeze in November 2022 to prepare for the turbulent times that are ahead. There’s no news on when the freeze will be lifted, with sources even saying that it could go on until September 2023.
Reducing Working Hours
Reducing the number of hours a worker works each week is one such option that can prove to be beneficial. This enables businesses to maintain their personnel while also cutting expenditures. Employees who are able to keep their jobs but with fewer hours worked may also benefit from it, freeing up more time for other activities.
Reducing hours, not workers, is the right for forward-looking business leaders to institute today. 73 companies in the UK ran an experiment with a four-day workweek. The results showed that managers and employees generally described being more or equally productive in a shortened week. A shorter work week gives employees more time to spend with their friends and family and also focuses on any hobbies or part-time ventures that they wish to cultivate.
Voluntary Separation or Leave
Offering voluntary unpaid leave is another substitute for permanently laying off workers. Although this reduces the number of employees, it also gives them the option to return to their positions later. This is advantageous for the employer and employee because it lets workers take a short break while businesses save money.
Alternatively, companies can also implement a voluntary separation program. This enables employees to willingly leave the organization in exchange for severance compensation. This may be a successful strategy for reducing the workforce while still treating the impacted workers with fairness and compassion. Coca-Cola offered voluntary separation packages to 4000 employees in North America, and it included some major incentives like at least a year’s pay plus a 20% bump.
Focusing on Employee Retention
The most optimal way to avoid layoffs is to reduce employee turnover. High turnover can lead to a constant need to fill available positions, which can be costly and time-consuming. Businesses can decrease the number of unfilled positions and the need to hire and train new employees by putting more emphasis on employee retention and taking measures to improve it. Employers can concentrate on keeping their present staff members by offering them competitive wage packages, flexible work schedules, and opportunities for career advancement.
When to layoff employees?
It’s crucial to remember that laying off employees should only be used as a last resort. Additionally, when layoffs are unavoidable, the business should manage the situation with transparency and empathy. It’s vital to avoid doing bad layoffs or for the wrong reasons. The recent Twitter layoffs are a prime example of a bad layoff, with employees either being informed by email that they have been laid off or finding out after discovering that they have been locked out of their work laptops or communication channels.
Layoffs are not always the best option and can often be detrimental to the organization as a whole. Companies can keep a steady workforce while still controlling expenses and adapting to market changes by thinking about possible alternatives to layoffs. Employers should be aware of their options and carefully consider them while putting the interests of their staff first.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Christina Morillo; Pexels; Thank you!
4 Software Tools Solopreneurs Need in 2023
Solopreneurs may be the pluckiest type of entrepreneur there is. They decide to bring their business idea to life on their own without the assistance of a team. Solopreneurs can start their companies as side hustles to develop additional career interests. Or they may go all in, hoping to reap the rewards of flexibility and autonomy.
While complete control can be a huge benefit of solopreneurship, it’s not a walk in the park. Since owners tackle everything alone, finding ways to streamline all the to-dos becomes paramount. Without essential software tools, tasks may pile up because they’re too challenging or time-consuming to complete alone. Below we’ll dive into four tools solopreneurs can use to make their jobs easier.
1. Legal Document Management Apps
Every business sells something. It could be intangible, such as bookkeeping services. Perhaps it’s something more physical, like a commissioned work of art. Or it’s a mixture where someone receives a finished product, but services like web development are a part of it.
In each case, a solopreneur has something to offer clients. But managing these relationships usually involves legal agreements, including contracts. Without them, it’s hard to hold either party accountable. Contracts spell out expectations for performance and payment, giving each side some protection and recourse.
The problem is that not many solopreneurs have a background in contract law. In addition, organizing all the paperwork associated with binding agreements can get messy. Most will find it easier to use a contract management platform to handle this side of the business. With the right app, the processes behind creating and signing contracts become more efficient. Owners can automate repetitive tasks, secure e-signatures, and gain cloud storage space.
2. Invoicing Software
Solopreneurship doesn’t eliminate the need for invoice management. Whether a business is a large enterprise or a one-person endeavor, it depends on the exchange of money. Funds flow out to vendors and other companies for supplies. More importantly, revenues come in from those purchasing what the business sells.
Money can exchange hands at the point of sale, but many solopreneurs offer services. With this type of business model, revenue usually comes in after the fact. A graphic designer may perform recurring work for six different clients. However, the designer won’t receive payment until each client approves the agreed-upon deliverables. This setup requires invoicing, which can become tedious for any business owner.
It’s even more cumbersome for solopreneurs, who must juggle projects and chase down payments at the same time. A report from the Independent Economy Council found getting paid is one of the top challenges for freelancers. An astonishing 74% of gig workers say they’re not receiving on-time payments. Unbelievably, 59% say they’re still waiting for $50,000 or more.
Yet 38% are still creating invoices from scratch using word processing tools, and such invoices must be tracked manually as well. Invoicing software saves solopreneurs from having to do this. They can reuse templates, track when invoices go out, and determine which payments are late. Invoicing apps streamline the process of following up with late or missed payments and signal the need for tough client conversations. Also, these software tools automatically make deposits into bank accounts and simplify income tax preparation.
3. Task Organizers
Making to-do lists takes time away from doing the work. Even so, it’s a necessary step in the planning process. Solopreneurs who devote their attention to every aspect of running a business will find it difficult to succeed without organization. Spreadsheets and word processing programs might seem like a convenient solution. But these software tools are often too simplistic to meet the needs of a busy owner handling it all.
Project management solutions are great for larger companies because they keep teams in collaboration mode. A business with one person may find project management apps too complex. After all, they’re the only ones tracking tasks, creating timelines, and delivering outcomes. Solutions that organize to-do lists are usually a better fit.
These apps let solopreneurs initiate tasks, categorize outstanding items, and establish priorities. They can see what’s on their plate each day before it begins. If a deadline needs reprioritizing, it’s not too difficult to rearrange. A business owner can immediately see how a shift in priorities will impact the rest of their scheduled responsibilities. Furthermore, task organizers will send reminders of critical deadlines so nothing gets missed.
4. Social Media Tools
Statistical research shows 33% of marketers spend between one and five hours weekly on social media. While this represents the majority, about 23% dedicate six to 10 hours weekly to social media marketing. This time may seem like a drop in the bucket for larger companies, but it can be more significant to solopreneurs.
Sole business operators aren’t relying on the talents of a social media manager to post for them. Marketing, including social media posts, is something they must plan as part of their day. Simultaneously, social media may become like a rabbit hole they can’t escape. A solopreneur’s productivity can take a nosedive if they get too caught up in posting content.
Fortunately, there are apps that can automate posts for owners who want to avoid distraction. Solopreneurs can still engage with their customer base while getting back a portion of their time. Social media software tools let them automatically schedule posts for each week. If business owners have a long-range content calendar, these platforms can execute it. Sudden changes aren’t a problem, as it’s possible to cancel or modify automated posts.
What Solopreneurs Need
Operating a business is daunting enough for owners who have teams to rely on. Those who do it by themselves are, without a doubt, a different breed. They’re not afraid to face challenges, knowing they can learn to handle whatever comes their way. But it doesn’t mean solopreneurs can’t gain advantages from adding specific software to their toolkits. Apps that make everyday processes less of a chore can also make running a solo venture less overwhelming.
Featured Image Credit: by Judit Peter; Pexels; Thanks!
Why the Rise of AI-Generated Content Will Make Link Building Even More Important
Artificial intelligence (AI) has been around for decades, but the release of sophisticated tools like ChatGPT is pushing AI-generated content into the mainstream. Marketers are both curious and nervous — understandably — about what this means for the future of marketing and SEO.
With SEO, the biggest question is how AI-generated content will be ranked in Google, whether it will be penalized, and what this low barrier to entry means for the wealth of content that already exists on the internet.
Some of this remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – high-quality content matters more than ever. And that includes link-building for authority.
The Rise of AI Content
AI isn’t a single technology but a collection of technologies that mimic human decision-making and capabilities. It includes machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP), rules-based systems, and other similar technologies.
These technologies can understand data and continually learn and improve their processes without specific programming, which is what makes them so valuable and adaptable to many different industries.
AI-generated content is a new development that can streamline content creation with automation. The key is that it can enhance the process, however, not replace it.
What Is AI Content Writing?
AI writing tools, such as the popular ChatGPT, use artificial intelligence to generate content. These tools draw on database resources to respond to queries. There are many possible applications for these tools, as highlighted by ChatGPT itself:
According to OpenAI, the AI company that launched ChatGPT, the tool “sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers.” There are several reasons for this, but it’s mainly because the model can be misled by what it knows, not what the trainer knows.
It’s important to remember that AI tools are:
- Not designed for SEO or content marketing
- Not designed to be a link-building tool
- Trained on old data, leading to wrong or outdated information
SEOs need to consider how AI writing tools can enhance content or make the process more efficient. Still, it’s important to understand the possible risks to rankings – and organic traffic – when using AI content.
With several competitors in production — and continuous potential to grow and learn, AI writing tools are likely here to stay. They can be useful, but those who misuse these tools may see problems with SEO.
AI Content and Google
Google is preparing to launch its own AI writing tool, yet the company has spoken out about AI-generated content being spam and against webmaster guidelines.
Recently, Google has been changing its stance to clarify that not all AI content is bad, but content that’s designed specifically to manipulate search ranking is. The official stance is that content created primarily for search engine rankings is against guidelines — because content must be created for people first.
This isn’t a surprise, given that Google has always been interested in providing the best experience for the user, first and foremost.
According to Google’s spam policies, spammy content is content that is “generated programmatically without producing anything original or adding sufficient value. Examples include:
- Text that makes no sense to the reader but contains search keywords
- Text translated by an automated tool without human review or curation before publishing
- Text generated through automated processes without regard for quality or user experience
- Text generated using automated synonymizing, paraphrasing, or obfuscation techniques
- Text generated from scraping feeds or search results
- Stitching or combining content from different web pages without adding sufficient value.
So, whether AI or simply high-volume, low-quality content, the story is the same – Google wants content that’s relevant and valuable to the user.
How Are Businesses Using AI for Content Marketing?
AI writing assistants and tools are nothing new in content marketing and SEO. Tools like Clearscope and Jasper AI are available for content creators, SEO specialists, and brands to enhance their processes. Some of the ways AI is being used for SEO include:
AI tools can be used to automate and analyze search intent and offer insights into relevant keywords to inform content strategy.
ML tools can identify weaknesses in websites to make improvements based on data, not opinion or supposition. This is not enough to replace an expert eye, but it can make the process more efficient and identify gaps.
Topics and Outlines
Creating content outlines and topic clusters can be time-consuming. AI tools help to identify trending topics and present content clusters that are relevant to the target audience, as well as quick outlines to make content creation faster.
Proofreading and Editing
There’s no substitute for human eye editing, but tools like Grammarly can identify errors, spot awkward phrases, and more. This is helpful to streamline the process and reduce the burden on the editorial team.
Coming up with new content ideas can be challenging, especially if you’re producing a lot of content each week. AI-generated content does have some issues with originality since it’s learning from other sources, but it can be helpful in inspiring ideas.
NLP is a big component of AI technology and voice search, which is growing in popularity. NLP tools are helpful for optimizing your website content for voice search to help voice-recognition technology find content more easily.
What’s the trend here? These are all ways that AI can enhance, amplify, or streamline content creation and SEO processes. There’s still a human at the helm, ensuring that the content is still valuable to human users.
What Are the Limitations of AI for Content Creation?
AI content can be helpful if it’s used correctly. Here’s why it’s not enough to plug queries into AI tools and generate content:
No E-A-T Value
As a marketer, you’re no doubt familiar with Google’s E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) guidelines. In December 2022, Google updated the quality rater guidelines with another E, which stands for experience.
Given the possible limitations in database knowledge and context, it’s easy to see why AI-generated content would fall short of E-A-T guidelines. Then, we have Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) pages, which cover topics that can significantly impact a person’s happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.
Google prioritizes high-quality information in these cases, even more than with other topics, since the wrong information can potentially harm a person’s health or wellbeing. In this case, combining E-A-T guidelines with YMYL topics using AI is a recipe for disaster.
Low-Quality Information or Inaccuracies
ChatGPT, one of the most popular AI writing tools, is not connected to the internet. It’s been trained using databases to generate answers. It’s also limited to information prior to 2021, missing out on any updates or discoveries that have occurred since.
Knowing that, it’s difficult to rely on that content as truth – especially with topics that are constantly evolving and changing. The tool can’t guarantee complete accuracy (and never claimed to), so it can’t be trusted to provide the most authoritative information.
In addition, some topics are nuanced and require human understanding and context. Even if the information is accurate, the content generated may be awkward or ambiguous because of this.
Poor Search Results
More AI-generated content has the potential to lower the overall content quality that appears on the search results pages. There’s already a risk of stumbling on incomplete or incorrect information, despite Google’s best efforts to prioritize quality.
On top of that, AI content is continuously learning, but it’s drawing upon its own sometimes-questionable content to do so. It’s essentially like the evolution of a rumor – the truth gets obfuscated a little more with each retelling.
Either the quality of the search results overall will plummet, or true quality content can gain a significant competitive edge.
More Low-Quality Content Saturation
Marketers have already been struggling with a barrage of low-quality content from sites with low authority – that problem is only worsened by AI content. Now, just about anyone can create content without the skills or knowledge to do so successfully and strategically.
The barrier to entry is not only lower, but there’s no critical thinking or experience involved. Anyone can plug “how to groom a golden retriever” or “how to day trade your way to early retirement” into an AI tool and spit out content in a matter of minutes, which will now be competing with thoughtful, well-crafted work from humans.
Does this mean that content creation and SEO efforts will become antiquated? Not necessarily. This is an opportunity for quality content and strategic SEO to come out ahead, with or without the use of AI content tools.
Why Does Link Building Matter More for SEO with AI-Generated Content?
Link building is an essential aspect of SEO. Users can follow links from one destination to another, and search engine crawlers follow links to discover pages and understand site hierarchy.
There are two types of links that matter for SEO: internal and external links. Internal links connect the pages on your site together, while external links (backlinks) are links that others put on their pages to direct users to your pages.
Link building refers to the process of getting backlinks from other websites. When you have a backlink from another page, some of its authority passes onto your page. Google considers it a valuable page, boosting its ranking.
Not all backlinks are created equal, however. Earning backlinks from authoritative sources boosts your content, but shady backlinking techniques have plagued the industry forever – which will now be worse with AI-generated content. Just like link farms and other low-quality linking shortcuts, AI content is proliferating link-building spam.
But Google is also using AI tools for link evaluation – specifically, filtering link spam.
How to Build SEO-Friendly Links to Combat the Rise of AI Content
AI-generated content is creating a buzz all around, with excitement from some and fear from others. We don’t need to fear the rise of AI content, however. As long as you take the right approach to build quality links with quality content, AI can be a blessing in disguise that allows you to stand out even more. Here’s how:
Create Valuable Evergreen Content
One of the benefits of AI content tools is that they’re faster than human writers. That leads to a lot of quick, topical content, but evergreen content? Most AI-driven content creators aren’t focusing on that.
Evergreen content is SEO optimized, continually relevant, and lasting. Lists, ultimate guides, instructional pieces and tutorials, and reference-type content on sustainable topics are great for SEO and naturally build high-quality links.
Guest blogging is a natural way to build links that won’t affect a spam filter. When you write an authoritative, high-quality (as in human-written) piece that’s submitted to a well-known blog or industry publication, you build thought leadership and authoritative content for others to link to.
If you choose to use AI tools to help with content creation, this is one area that should be human-written. The goal of guest blogging is thought leadership, so you risk both your SEO efforts and your reputation if you use a content tool to generate quick content with inaccuracies and no nuance.
Internal Link Building
Though AI content is creating more link spam, internal links are still valuable for rankings. Google can still discover and interpret the content on your website, and with relevant anchor text, you won’t trip a spam filter.
Fortunately, this is something you have control over. You can prioritize different pages on your site with internal linking to demonstrate that they’re high value, guide users to the content that’s most relevant to them, and establish relationships between content.
AI Is a Tool, Not a Replacement
AI writing tools can create more efficient processes for marketers. But just like any other technology, it’s an enhancement, not a replacement. Users who rely entirely on AI-generated content will not only miss out on the nuances of human-written content, but they won’t provide the same value.
Humans still need to be involved in the process, planning content, reviewing accuracy, and ensuring quality with authoritative links.
Featured Image Credit: Ron Lach; Pexels; Thank you!