A first-time visitor to Mark Calzone’s Stratford office might be surprised by the minimal amount of peace and quiet outside of his window. Calzone’s Ash Creek Enterprises is located on the second level of a converted two-family house directly opposite I-95, and the constant rush of highway traffic creates a continuous roar of vehicular activity. Every now and then, the noise level is ratcheted up as a Metro-North or Amtrak Acela train zooms up and down the tracks tucked between the Ash Creek Enterprises headquarters and the highway.
“You get used to it after a while,” Calzone said nonchalantly. “Even when I’m on the phone, I won’t even notice it.”
Calzone has more than enough to keep his attention away from the noisy distractions outside. As the president of an IT services provider that is celebrating its 20th anniversary, Calzone is preoccupied with helping his clients stand up to a growing wave of cybersecurity threats.
“Cybersecurity is today’s No. 1 organized crime,” he explained. “They are not shaking down corner stores anymore or selling drugs, because now they are running all of these different schemes. They are using ransomware that they are locking on your machine, or they are hacking your system and stealing information and passwords until, all of a sudden, your bank account gets hit. And they just don’t want yours, but they also want all of those other people you are connected to, in order to see if they can steal their information.”
Calzone added that there is a flourishing black market for cyber miscreants to sell the data that could open up a company to digital larceny.
“A good example would be a corporate email and password on the black market, which will sell for $500,” he continued. “If they have access to a CEO’s email, they have access to financial information and trade secrets. They can go further and get more money.”
Calzone pointed out that many businesses put too much faith in over-the-counter products that can separate a computer network from online gangsters.
“People say, ‘We have firewalls and anti-virus software — aren’t we protected?’ ” he said. “Well, yes and no. Anti-virus stops viruses, but a lot of things aren’t viruses anymore. A big thing is our disaster recovery continuity services that we put in with some additional software, so if the machine gets infected we can roll it back to the pre-infection to five minutes and not take two to three hours to reload your system from scratch.”
And who are the cybersecurity masterminds? “They’re coming from countries that even if we did find out where it was coming from, you couldn’t do anything about it anyways,” Calzone noted.
Calzone observed that the changing high-tech environment mirrored how companies have viewed the value of IT consulting firms.
“Years ago, it was always cost saving. With any type of consulting business, it was like, ‘Oh, it is easier to hire a consultant because it will be cheaper than having an employee and paying their benefits,’” he said. “Years ago, the formula was that for every 20 to 25 employees, you needed one IT person and you needed an IT director, CTO and CIO. Now, you’re talking about having between half a million dollars to 1 million dollars right there. We come in and fulfill that role at multiple levels, so we play that virtual CTO and CIO and we do the desktop support. In the past you were hiring one guy to be your network guy and one guy to be your server guy, one guy did desktop support — we do all of that.”
Most of Calzone’s clients are based in Fairfield County, with some international customers that are headquartered in Connecticut with offices around the world. In addition to his six-person, in-house staff, Ash Creek Enterprises works with a 24/7 help desk center in Pennsylvania and a 24/7 network operations center out of India. Calzone also provides his clients with support from a security operations center, which has been helpful in the cybersecurity effort.
“We have 24/7 monitoring that is watching all of the traffic touching the machine or touching your firewall,” he said. “You will be able to recognize something immediately and trace it back and shut it down from where it is coming from.”
Calzone remarked that the continual evolution of high-tech development has become more pronounced. When the company began mainframes and dumb terminals were considered cutting edge.
“In the past we were seeing big change every five years,” Calzone stated. “Now, you are seeing big change every one or two years.”
But where does Calzone see the IT world moving in the coming years? He acknowledged there has been a great deal of talk regarding a massive migration of data into the cloud within the next five to 10 years, but Calzone is skeptical.
“I still don’t necessarily believe,” he said. “There was a report out recently that said the cloud was not as big or adopted as everyone assumed it would be. There are still a lot of customers out there using older systems that don’t allow them to migrate to the cloud. They can’t even migrate to new hardware at this point.”