Filling in the Data Leaks (Protecting your Personal Stuff)

Living Digitized

The electronic flow of data permeates the fibers of every business. Try to make a transaction without accessing the binary realm – bets are that even the cash register used to ring your favorite morning beverage is accessing electronic data. Today, business survival and success depends on immediate connectivity and data communication.

Living in a digitized world has altered modes of business communication as well. Shooting a quick email off with a pricing quote or sending an answer to a email query are just as commonplace as a client call. Email has evolved into the standard mass communications tool, whether it be message communications or as a document courier. According to Pew Internet Research a mere decade ago, just 15% of adults in the US went online, today that number has jumped to 63%(1).

“On a typical day at the end of 2004, some 70 million American adults logged onto the internet to use email, get news, access government information, check out health and medical information, participate in auctions, book travel reservations, research their genealogy, gamble, seek out romantic partners and engage in countless other activities. That represents a 37% increase from the 52 million adults who were online on an average day in 2000”.(2)

The statistics show that the internet and email flood our very existence. A business enterprise can’t be effective or successful without accommodating its wired clientele. Email is now such an integral part of the work world that a USA Today survey found that given a choice between giving up morning coffee or the ability to use the internet at work, 52% chose coffee(3).

Your Unintentional Data Flow

It’s inevitable that some of yours and/or your company’s data will be transmitted outside the network or personal system. Sharing unprotected electronic documents will ultimately cost you and your business By putting your intellectual property at risk. Think of all the man-hours of work that go into making your enterprise a success: proprietary designs, financial statements, competitive research, and other sensitive documents are all at risk when sent out as an unprotected email attachment.

Leakage of confidential intellectual property can seriously threaten the viability of an incubating contract lead. Unfortunately, email and documents meant for a select group can easily and quickly enter the public sphere. Once released over email, the transmitting flood of data which was once between company and client can fall into the hands of competitors, sometimes even forwarded by potential clients to competitors. Do you want to give your competitors shortcuts to your clientele? Each unsupervised electronic transmittal will poke hole upon hole in a company’s financial fortification.

Who’s Looking at your “Personal Stuff?”

Who’s protecting your small business enterprise’s best interests against these in unintentional information leaks? Certainly not the government, when US President, George W. Bush voiced his bias against email in his address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, saying “I don’t email, however. And there’s a reason. I don’t want you reading my personal stuff.”(4) Nor does Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair and the rest of number 10 Downing Street trust the mass communication tool, instead opting to use sticky notes(5).

These are the drastic, archaic steps backwards those zealously phobic of the digital communications era have adopted. Do you see your business forgoing email for sticky notes? The likely answer is no, as your customers won’t be transitioning to the sticky note 2.0 platform.

A small business enterprise shouldn’t have to succumb to the paranoia of the few and uneducated. A business is most profitable when its channels of communication to its clients are open and accessible. Yet having these channels accessible also opens the flood gates of a small business’ proprietary information. Domestically, intellectual property theft was, according to the FBI, on the increase. In 2005, unauthorized distribution of digital information cost the average company $355,552, a two-fold increase from the 2004 rate of $168,529(6) With the growth of intellectual property theft, the government has allocated some resources to this issue.

In 2004 there were “with the support of Congress, the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section [(CCIPS)] has grown from 22 attorneys to more than 35 attorneys over the past two years. Created in 1991, CCIPS attorneys prosecute intellectual property cases…[they also] develop relationships with international law enforcement agencies and foreign prosecutors to strengthen the global response to intellectual property theft. (7)” A total of 35 dedicated attorneys in the CCIPS in Washington, D.C. are defending U.S. intellectual property rights. Are these resources enough ample resources for the 17.6 million sole proprietorships in the United States(8)? When looking at the growth of dollars lost through intellectual property loss accelerating every year, using government as the sole solution does not seem to be the answer.

Preventing those leaks

Each time a small business entity shares confidential information such as price lists, legal documents, plans and proposals – its reputation and competitive advantage is at stake. The impact associated with a private email or attachment being accidentally or intentionally forwarded can be colossal.

From sole proprietorships to ventures of a hundred employees, the small business enterprise must be able to access the same resources of large scale enterprises. The power to share work without relinquishing creative and innovative control is an invaluable tool. Taking preventative steps by using security software allows small business enterprises to protect their right to profit from their own intellectual property. Securing files is the best means to plugging information leaks

Protection of intellectual property is imperative for success in business. Individuals and small companies need to protect their email and digital assets with the same confidence shared by their larger enterprise business counterparts. Becoming actively aware of your digital assets and its whereabouts allows the individual and small business enterprise to managing the flow of your digital data in a more productive manner than President Bush or Prime Minister Blair’s sticky note solution for their “personal stuff.”

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End Notes:

1.) Lee Rainie, John Horrigan p.59 Report: Internet Evolution, Chapter 4 “Internet: The Mainstreaming of Online Life.” Pew Internet Rearch 25 January 2005. http://www.pewinternet.org

2.) Ibid, 58.

3.) USA TODAY. McLean, Va.: Jul 14, 2005. B1.

4.) Bush, President George W., “Address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors Convention,” 14 April 2005. [http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050414-4.html]

5.) 26 January 2004, [http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/8651.html]

6.) Gordon, Lawrence A., Martin P. Loeb, William Lucyshyn and Robert Richardson, “CSI/FBI Computer Crime and Security Survey” July 2005, http://www.cpppe.umd.edu, 15.

7.) Israelite, David M., Daniel J. Bryant, Brian D. Boyle, et.al, “Report Of The Department of Justice’s Task Force on Intelllectual Property,” U.S. Department of Justice – Office of Legal Policy, October 2004, http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/ip_task_force_report.pdf. 21.

8.) Buscher, Patricia, “Number of Small Businesses Continues to Grow (2002),” U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov

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Act Now on Tax Reform and Save Thousands

I have a friend who’s a tax attorney. He loves to chat. Whether by phone, email, Skype or smoke signals, he’s usually good for three to four calls a week.

I haven’t heard from him since late November.

I called his office in the first week of January to see how he was. His secretary said he was at a tax planning conference.

I tried again last week. Same thing. Another meeting of tax lawyers.

I finally texted him that I had a lead on an urgent tax opinion request. That got me a return call.

The opinion request was mine. He’s on the case.

You see, since the beginning of this year, it seems like all I’ve done is study the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the new law governing our tax code.

There’s a good reason for my urgency… you’re losing money every day of 2018 that goes by that you don’t find out about and act on the new opportunities and threats on the tax front.

If you act now, you stand to save potentially thousands of dollars in federal tax this year. The sooner you act, the more you’ll save.

Here are the top things to watch out for…

Tax Savings for Pass-Through Entities

Pass-throughs are business entities that pay no tax… they “pass-through” their profit or loss to their owners for tax purposes. They include limited liability companies (LLCs), partnerships and S corporations.

Starting on January 1, many owners of pass-throughs will pay no federal income tax on 20% of the profit from their businesses. That’s right, zip, nada. For many people, this could mean a big drop in their effective federal income tax rate.

The rules for this giveaway to pass-through owners are straightforward for people whose taxable income is well into the low six figures. After that, they get more complicated.

No matter how you slice it, however, the new tax law creates opportunities for huge tax savings.

  • Action item: If you’re a lawyer, doctor or other professional in private practice, seek tax advice immediately to see how splitting your business into parts could save tens of thousands on your tax bill.
  • Action item: If you’re self-employed or operate through an LLC or small partnership, cut your personal salary to the bone immediately. That increases your business’s “profit”… the amount from which you can deduct 20% tax free.
  • Action item: Even if you’re employed, consult a tax attorney to see if you’d be better off becoming a consultant. For many, many people, the answer is going to be yes.
  • Bonus tip: Owners of shares in real estate investment trusts (REITs) or publicly traded partnerships (PTPs) pay no tax on 20% of their qualified REIT dividends and PTP income.

Elimination of Key Deductions

The professed goal of the tax bill passed in late December was to reduce tax rates and simplify the tax code. The first was partially achieved – until cuts expire in 2025, at least – but the second didn’t happen. Instead, legislators included a few scattershot attempts at “simplification” that could cost you dearly if you don’t prepare for them.

First, when the press began to refer to the “elimination of SALT” late last year, I thought the Trump administration was going to abandon the Cold War-era nuclear arms treaties between the U.S. and Russia. The truth was better, but for many of us, not by much.

Starting this year, you can only deduct a maximum of $10,000 of state and local income and property taxes (SALT) from your federal taxes. For most people that won’t matter because the standard deduction for joint filers has been doubled to $24,000. But for many people -and not just in high-tax states like New York and California – this will mean an effective increase in federal tax.

Legislators in an increasing number of states are considering ways to get around this, however. You know those inside sections of your local newspaper that cover state legislative issues? Time to start reading them.

Second, the new law eliminates all “miscellaneous” deductions… including those for home office expenses. If you’re an employee who works remotely at your employer’s request, or if you run a small business from home, kiss the deduction for business use of your home bye-bye. In my case, for example, that’s a significant tax increase.

Action item: Find out if your state legislators and city councilors are considering steps to convert income and property taxes into forms that could be deducted from federal income tax. Let ’em know what you think!

Action item: If you work from home, model the tax implications of the loss of the home business-used deduction. You may able to rearrange things to compensate, at least partially.

Bonus tip: Deductions for unreimbursed job expenses, job-search costs, tax preparation fees, home appraisal fees, casualty and theft losses, gambling losses, many investment fees and expenses and losses on IRAs may have been eliminated, depending on upcoming IRS rulings.

Get Ready to Cut Taxes on Your Retirement Income

If you’re not yet retired, and earning the right amount of annual income, I have two action items for you:

  1. If you don’t have one already, open a Roth IRA.
  2. Create a C corporation with your Roth IRA as sole shareholder.

The Five Commandments of E-Mail

A Divine Revelation. I am obligated to communicate a divine revelation I received from God Himself while in a deep trance and dreaming I was on Mount Sinai. Actually, this revelation was given in response to my confession of sin. I was pouring out my heart in anger and frustration because of the continued violation of my e-mail in-box, when the Lord heard my cry and gave me these Five Commandments of E-Mail Etiquette.

I am not even half the man Moses was, so I only got five commandments and a single tablet of stone. This probably will not do much to save the planet, but the world hasn’t followed through very well in obeying the ten commandments given to Moses either. Whatever the case, my mission is simply to pass this information along. You have the responsibility to do with it as you choose. Just remember that in the day of judgment you will be held accountable.

Think It Out. Before you hit that Send button, stop and think! Did you hit Reply to All when you should have only hit Send? Think. The person you met at that conference last year and gave your business card has just sent out a prayer request to every person in his or her address book. Compassionate soul that you are, you wanted to say, “God bless you! I’m praying.” and you hit Reply to all. Now, thousands of people from Labrador to Easter Island are wondering who the heck you are.

And, the absolute only time you should do a mass e-mailing to everyone in your address book is in the case of announcing that you died last week, not to ask for prayer for the bad cold you caught or to forward a message someone forwarded to you.

Check It Out. One word: Snopes. Before you forward that e-mail that asks you sign some petition to keep Christianity from being outlawed by an act of Congress or some such thing, go to the Snopes.com site and check it out. Never in human history has there been such an effective and massive communication vehicle as gullible evangelical Christians armed with half-truths, rumors, outright lies and a computer connected to the Internet. I hear it all every week : A new film is going to portray Jesus as a homosexual, Microsoft is going to give you a dollar for every person to whom you forward this e-mail so you can test their systems, or John Wayne accepted Christ as his Savior right before he died because of a letter he received from a child.

Come on! You have heard stuff like this, too. Do not forward it to everyone you know just because you really want to believe it. Check it out. Most of it is simply not true and most of the rest is a grain of truth hopelessly distorted.

Spell It Out. Write in plain English or whatever language in which you are communicating. when u get 2 cute i hv a hrd time with u. Maybe if you are text messaging and you are under fifteen years of age, that might be appropriate. and i think i will scream if i see another e-mail from someone who has no capital letters. OR SOMEONE WHO HAS CAP LOCKS ON AND MAY NOT HAVE NOTICED!

Cut It Out. Do not get cute with backgrounds, stationary and those little Precious Moments animated angels that spin around on the top of your e-mail messages. It is true that you can put together some very impressive graphics on your new computer. You can have turquoise background with paisley borders and cool silver-tone gothic fonts. Or, that really neat picture of the face of Jesus reflected in a dew drop on a red rose. What you may not realize is that not everyone’s e-mail program is configured like yours and cannot appreciate your work of art. Have you ever tried to open an e-mail like that on a cell phone or PDA? If you have close friends who have told you they enjoy that type of material and you send only to them, that is another story. But do not use it for your regular correspondence, please.

Keep it simple: Black letters on white background in a font that you can read without having to have a chiropractic adjustment afterwards from twisting your head.

Throw It Out. If I get an e-mail with an attachment from someone I do not recognize, I throw it out. I hit delete. Or, if I get an e-mail from someone I do know that always sends some lame, meaningless attachment, I throw it out. Sometimes, I get those PowerPoint attachments that take up more space than on the entire hard drive of my first computer.

And, you know those forwarded messages that have an attachment that you open only to find another attachment to be opened, then another and another? You click down through several layers of forwards to get to a message or attachment whose format by this time is so corrupted that there are fifty blank spaces between every line. After the first click, I throw them out. Do it to me twice and I throw it out before the first click.

I Am Saying This With Love! I am not raging or angry. I only want to remind you that just because your pastor, church friends, relatives or acquaintances don’t say anything to you about your emails, doesn’t mean they like getting the ones that violate these etiquette tips. Instead, send simple, heart-felt and personal short notes. Those are always appreciated.

Why Am I Getting All Those Privacy Emails?

Everyone is getting privacy emails in response to the EU (European Union) enacting GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) for websites. It may feel like a “house on fire” when you also start hearing fearful proclamations about getting your own website in compliance. So let’s take a deep breath and address the reality

Why Website Privacy Laws?

The Internet has been mostly unregulated for the past 20+ years. There has been tremendous growth in companies. 60 Minutes did a segment last week titled “How Did Google Get So Big”. The Facebook relationship with Cambridge Analytica and the transfer of users’ personal data also brought attention to website privacy. The internet is now a booming industry used by just about everyone, so regulation is on the horizon.

A few months ago website owners were scurrying to obtain SSL certificates for their websites and make them look more favorable to users and the Google search. SSL not only changes your website from HTTP to HTTPS but it also offers a level of protection to the web visitor… the consumer.

So now the EU has stepped in with laws that require disclosure of how websites deal with personal data. Again, this is for the web visitor… the consumer. It offers a means of understanding if their personal data is being collected and how it’s being used.

I Don’t Live in Europe — Why Does GDPR Apply to My Website?

Companies are stepping up to the new EU regulations in the US in the form of adopting the GDPR as a matter of practice because it provides assurance to the consumer. People like to know that there isn’t anything nefarious going on with their personal information. If you watched any of Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of congress you probably noticed that many of the questions were about what information is being collected and where is it going. That’s why you’re getting emails from everyone!

What Does GDPR Compliance Look Like?

The GDPR is about disclosure, so adopting the GDPR as a guide, compliance starts with two words “statement and consent”. The best practices are to have a Privacy Statement and to ask for Consent when using your website to obtain information from users.

The Privacy Statement can be drafted from an example page that is in the latest version of WordPress (version 4.9.6). This is new page is a guide and your own website may contain elements that differ from this outline. This new page can then be added to the structure of your website, preferably through a link at the bottom of the website.

To demonstrate consent, a check-box can be added to any form that collects information from a web visitor. Checking the box confirms they are aware they are giving you personal data.

It’s time to get started. Having these pieces of the new regulations in place on your website will signal to users that you are a good steward of the web!