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The fallout from the Rogers outage continues to be tallied even as Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne prepares to appear before a parliamentary committee sometime this month to answer questions regarding this nationwide disruption that cost businesses thousands of dollars.

It’s been estimated, according to a recent article published by BNN Bloomberg, the Canadian economy took a $142 million hit when a major service outage July 8 affected more than 12 million Rogers’ customers.

 

The system-wide cable internet and cellular network failure, which included subsidiary brands of Rogers Wireless, Fido, Cityfone and Chatr, was blamed on a maintenance update in its core network and in some cases, repairs took several days before all services were fully restored. Rogers has agreed to compensate customers affected by the outage, but many have now been left wondering what the next outage could bring?

 

We asked two local IT experts – Five Nines IT Solutions President & CEO Douglas Grosfield and MicroAge Kitchener owner Robert Jolliffe – to share their thoughts on what businesses can do to ensure they are better prepared for the next big outage.

 

Q. What can business owners do to prepare for potential interruptions?

 

Robert: First, they should determine if they can run their business off their cell phone by hot spotting. During the Rogers outage, some people had their business internet and cell phone both with Rogers, and that left them without a back-up option.  

 

The second thing a business can do, is have two internet connections on your business premises from two different providers. If your business is at a certain size and an extra $100 (or less) a month for a backup internet connection is a negligible cost, the second connection is worthwhile investment. Even if you are not using it, you have the insurance of a back-up connection.  

 

The backup could even be the lowest, cheapest connection available, which will get you through a day or two until your main connection is back up. It’s also worth considering whether one of your connections should be wireless; Starlink is an example of wireless internet connection.  

 

Douglas: Assuming a business is using proper perimeter security devices, most industry standard firewalls will easily support having two ISP connections and will use them in many ways.  You can have them active / passive, meaning if your primary connection fails, all traffic fails over to the secondary connection with nearly zero disruption, and fails back to the primary once it again becomes available. You can also do load balancing or ‘bond’ them such that traffic with different priorities (i.e., data vs voice) uses the appropriate connection and thus has no adverse effect on the other.  Check if your cellphones support dual SIMs; many do nowadays.  You can then have a SIM from more than one cellular provider and ensure reliable communications. An alternative would be to pay for minimal ‘lines’ for key or critical users, at a secondary provider, so that a manual swap of SIMs can get them back in business quickly.  Note that these things mean a different number, but in the short term can provide connectivity and communications.

 

Q. What would be the simplest piece of advice you could offer businesses when it comes to navigating these interruptions?

 

Robert: Have a backup plan. If there's a fire in the building, you have an evacuation plan. If the if power goes out, you know what you're going to do for your business. Treat internet failure the same way.

 

Douglas: Do not allow yourself to believe you are exempt from disruptions like this. Talk to a trusted technical partner about your options and like anything else, take the first step to achieve a goal.  If as a business owner your primary goal is not to protect that business, its clients and staff, its data, and systems, and to ensure the business continues to thrive and grow, then you’re doing it wrong.

 

Q. Do you see further interruptions like these becoming more commonplace and can they be prevented?

 

Robert: They won't become more commonplace, but they will be more severe because more of our society is connected to the internet now.  

The big telecom companies are going to put in more fail-safes, so the likelihood of it happening again is low. But as time goes on and society becomes more connected to the internet the likelihood of it causing disruptions is higher. 

For example, during the Rogers outage many people couldn't pay for things. 

Another example would be grocery stores that have digital price tags on the shelves. They're using this so that they can push price changes out from their head office, electronically across all the stores. So just imagine if you needed an internet connection for that, and all the prices get set to zero and then the internet went out?

 

Douglas: Yes, these companies are in business to generate profit, no surprises there.  Their investment (in the absence of legislation or other government-mandated investments) in the backbone networks and infrastructure, and the security of same, are going to be tightly budgeted and controlled.  Add to this the fact there is little competition and low likelihood of that changing anytime soon, and the communications landscape in Canada is ripe for this sort of disruption.  Toss in external issues such as cyber-attacks, and we can see that our current highly vulnerable national communications infrastructure needs overhauling and investment.

 

Don’t get me wrong, you can protect yourself by doing the right things regardless.  Endpoint protection, firewalls, redundant Internet connections, mobile device security, VPNs, encryption, etc.  All readily available technologies, inexpensive and simple to implement and manage with expert help and advice.

 

Q. Are businesses too reliant on one telecommunications company to deliver their service?

 

Robert: I would say that, yes. If a business only has one internet connection which is connected to an almost consumer grade firewall, then they are too reliant on one company. At first, if that internet connection goes down, that business is okay to go a day without internet. Then they grow to a size where it’s not okay to go a day without internet, but they don't change anything.  There are higher end firewalls that will allow them to mesh two connections, from two providers. So, if the main internet connection goes down, the other one from the other provider kicks in seamlessly. Employees and users on the network won’t even notice a disruption.  

 

Douglas: The communications market in Canada is radically different than in the U.S., for example, where there are far more options. However, having more providers requires subscriber density, meaning how many paying customers per square mile for example, to support the infrastructure.  For example, cellular service across a large geographic area requires mostly the same infrastructure (i.e., towers, networks etc) for 10 clients as it would for thousands or tens of thousands.  Without enough subscribers, it is cost prohibitive. Relying on one provider is very risky and given the simplicity and low cost for redundancy in this space, is both a mistake and a missed opportunity for businesses.  Business as usual when your competitors are not, is a huge advantage and costs very little.  Spread out your risk, eliminate by using proven technology to do so.

 

 

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The increasing frequency of cyber attacks is costing Canada billions of dollars a year and hindering our ability to compete in the global economy, says a new report from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Cyber Security in Canada: Practical Solutions to a Growing Problem finds that cybercrime is an increasing concern for businesses and proposes cooperation between government and the business community to improve security.

 

“A study from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that Canadian businesses are losing over $3 billion a year to cybercrime,” said the Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not technology-savvy security experts committing these attacks. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can now disrupt services or hold data for ransom. What costs a criminal $100 may end up costing a business millions in lost money, time and reputation.”

 

Small businesses are particularly susceptible to cyber attacks because they often lack the financial resources and technical expertise needed to protect themselves. “SMEs comprise 98% of the Canadian economy. Nearly half have been the victim of a cyber attack,” said Mr. Beatty. “Their focus is on recovery instead of prevention. Unfortunately, recovery is often not possible. The average cost of a data breach in Canada is $6 million. Most small businesses would not be able to survive losing a tiny percentage of that figure.”

 

The report’s release comes after the federal government’s 2017 budget included $1.37 million for the fiscal year to continue programs already in place for risk assessment of critical infrastructure but made no direct mention of cyber security. “Government can’t do everything but they need to play a leadership role in securing Canada’s digital landscape for everyone,” said Mr. Beatty. “We need a public-private approach to address this urgent challenge.”

 

The report, released at the Lockheed Martin Canada IMPACT Centre in Ottawa, lays out a path for closer collaboration between government and business on cyber security, including providing incentives for security innovations and developing programs to increase workforce digital literacy. “By creating a stronger, more resilient cyber security framework we can better protect both our businesses and our citizens,” concluded Mr. Beatty.

 

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is the vital connection between business and the federal government. It helps shape public policy and decision-making to the benefit of businesses, communities and families across Canada with a network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade, representing 200,000 businesses of all sizes in all sectors of the economy and in all regions. Follow us on Twitter @CdnChamberofCom.

 

Guillaum W. Dubreuil
Director, Public Affairs and Media Relations
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce

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