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June 21st, 2017

For some businesses, power loss could result in profit loss. Natural disasters such as storms and hurricanes, construction or utility accidents, and other unforeseeable technical failures can put your business’s operations to a grinding halt. Businesses that depend on a continuous power supply to function might endure a slight disruption, but some might not. With an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system, damages caused by power failure can be avoided altogether.

What is an uninterruptible power supply?

An uninterruptible power supply is an essential piece of hardware that protects both your computer and your data. It provides a backup power source in case of main power failures caused by electrical current problems such as blackouts, brownouts, and power spikes.

Smaller UPS units can protect individual computers while larger models can power multiple devices or an entire office. Small businesses can opt for individual UPS units, which should be enough to back up critical computers and other devices that are key to business continuity.

Benefits of having UPS

It’s a known fact that power outages can damage or completely destroy electronic equipment, especially computers. Unexpected computer shutdown can cause great damage to your computer hardware and make you lose unsaved data. A UPS ensures you never experience such a scenario.

Here are other ways that a UPS benefits your systems:

  • Uninterrupted power flow during power surges

When you have UPS, the voltage that passes from the main electrical lines to your devices is consistently stabilized. This protects your computers from power surges, which happen when the voltage in other equipment suddenly rises.
  • Refined and filtered power supply

It normalizes power levels so that your computers are protected against dips and spikes caused by lightning or an abnormal power supply that usually comes from restored power after a blackout.
  • Instant power during brownouts

An uninterruptible power supply guarantees your operations’ continuity. In the event of short-term interruptions, it gives you enough time to switch to a larger, more stable power supply such as a generator. But unlike a generator, it provides instant power to your equipment at the exact moment the power goes out.

Does your business need a UPS?

If you’re purchasing new computers for your small business, a UPS is an invaluable add-on. Businesses that require constant power to function such as hospitals, banks, academic institutions, manufacturing companies, and any business for which storing and processing data are critical tasks can benefit from uninterrupted power.

Determining the type of UPS for your business as well as installing and maintaining it may require the expertise of professionals. We have experts who could provide you with information on properly operating a UPS, replacing its battery, identifying devices that should never be connected to it, and other safety tips. Call us today for advice.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
June 9th, 2017

Security professionals should be beefing up your network security, implementing advanced firewall software, and identifying risks for possible breaches. In reality, they spend a huge chunk of their time troubleshooting issues on individual personal computers (PCs). That workflow is not ideal, but that’s what normally happens in many organizations. At what cost? Read on to find out.

Cost of fixes

According to a survey of technology professionals, companies waste as much as $88,660 of their yearly IT budget as a result of having security staff spend an hour or more per work week fixing colleagues’ personal computers. The ‘wasted amount’ was based on an average hourly salary of IT staff multiplied by 52 weeks a year. Other than knowing how much time is wasted, what makes things worse is that IT security staff are among the highest paid employees in most companies.

The fixes have mostly to do with individual rather than department- or company-wide computer problems that don’t necessarily benefit the entire company. The resulting amount is especially staggering for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) whose limited resources are better off spent on business intelligence tools and other network security upgrades.

Other costs

All those hours spent on fixing personal computers often means neglecting security improvements. The recent WannaCry ransomware attacks, which successfully infected 300,000 computers in 150 countries, demonstrate the dangers of failing to update operating system security patches on time. It should be a routine network security task that, if ignored, can leave your business helpless in the face of a cyber attack as formidable as WannaCry. It didn’t make much money, but had it been executed better, its effects would have been more devastating to businesses, regardless of size.

Profitable projects could also be set aside because of employees’ PC issues. For SMBs with one or two IT staff, this is especially detrimental to productivity and growth. They can easily increase their IT budgets, but if employees’ negligible computer issues keep occurring and systems keep crashing, hiring extra IT personnel won’t do much good.

What businesses should do

The key takeaway in all this is: Proactive IT management eliminates the expenditure required to fix problematic computers. Bolstering your entire IT infrastructure against disruptive crashes is the first step in avoiding the wasteful use of your staff’s time and your company’s money.

Even if your small business has the resources to hire extra staff, the general shortage of cyber security skills also poses a problem. Ultimately, the solution shouldn’t always have to be increasing manpower, but rather maximizing existing resources.

Having experts proactively maintain your IT eliminates the need to solve recurring small issues and lets your staff find a better use for technology resources. If you need non-disruptive technology, call us today for advice.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
June 7th, 2017

While it’s easy to turn a blind eye against hurricane warnings and think “I already have a business continuity plan in place”, it pays to be extremely cautious, especially when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts up to four unusually active hurricanes this year. Needless to say, you simply can’t afford not to hurricane-proof your disaster recovery (DR) plan.

The NOAA forecasts 11 to 17 tropical storms in the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane season has officially begun and is expected to last until the end of November. The four allegedly active hurricanes are presumed to be Category 3, 4, or 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (Category 1 is the weakest and 5 the strongest).

But don’t panic just yet; here are five steps you can take to protect your business during hurricane season.

1. Schedule a DR drill

Despite having a DR plan, many companies don’t test their plan, at least not as often as they should. So if you’re one of those companies, it’s crucial to conduct a DR drill now. A lot can change in the months or years since you have last tested your plan -- systems updates, infrastructure upgrades, employee turnover and more. By scheduling a drill, you’ll be able to make sure everyone knows their roles and that all critical systems are covered.

Note that you should try to perform desktop walkthrough exercises, operational tests, and simulated recovery exercises on a regular basis.

2. Make sure your staff are prepared

All your staff should know what the evacuation procedures are as well as their responsibilities in the DR process. If not, coordinate with HR to make sure everyone in your company understands what the plan of action is for hurricane season. Staff with specific responsibilities need to get the documentation needed to effectively manage their roles in the event of a hurricane.

Set meetings with your DR team and schedule training for new team members. Your DR team should be able to quickly mobilize other employees to the DR site before bad weather hits. Don’t forget to touch base with any providers you are supposed to work with in case of an emergency, too.

3. Secure your backup site

In addition to a secondary location for data storage, your DR plan should also include another backup site so that you can continue your operations. In the event of a hurricane, dedicated space is imperative since your backup sites will likely be occupied with employees.

You should also consider the redundancy of utilities at your DR site, making sure you have enough power feed, fiber carriers, and anything else you’ll need to remain operational.

4. Check for amenities at your DR site

Whether your DR site is in the hurricane zone or in the nearest city, chances are hotels will be overbooked as people fight for a place to stay. This means your staff will likely be stuck onsite around the clock, so you need to make sure there is enough amenities to get them through this hectic period. Is there a place for employees to shower and sleep? Is there enough food and water to last them for at least a couple of days? These amenities will help your staff pull through as they restore your operations.

5. Update your DR plan’s appendix

Your DR plan should have an appendix with contact information, SLAs, and systems inventories information. More importantly, this information needs to be up-to-date; the last thing you need is calling your IT vendor when a server goes down only to reach the wrong number.

Go through all critical information in your DR plan and add any other information as needed. Vendors and shipper's contact information are a must as they will guarantee that you get hardware and power supplies backup without any hassles.

Unlike a fire drill which can be conducted on a yearly basis, your business continuity and disaster recovery plan needs to be tested regularly to meet your company’s changing needs. If you don’t already have a DR plan, or have any further questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
June 2nd, 2017

Due to the recent WannaCry ransomware exploits, business owners are refocusing their efforts on protecting computer networks. Despite that, many leave one key device unaccounted for: their smartphone. The truth is hackers can exploit the technology in your smartphone to conduct malicious acts, and one of the most common is Bluetooth technology.

Google paid a settlement fee of $7million for unauthorized data collection from unsecured wireless networks in 2013. While their intention likely wasn’t theft, many disagreed and called them out for Bluesnarfing, a method most hackers are familiar with.

What is it?

Bluesnarfing is the use of Bluetooth connection to steal information from a wireless device, particularly common in smartphones and laptops. Using programming languages that allow them to find Bluetooth devices left continuously on and in “discovery” mode, cybercriminals can attack devices as far as 300 feet away without leaving any trace.

Once a device is compromised, hackers have access to everything on it: contact, emails, passwords, photos, and any other information. To make matters worse, they can also leave victims with costly phone bills by using their phone to tap long distance and 900-number calls.

What preventive measures can you take?

The best way is to disable Bluetooth on your device when you’re not using it, especially in crowded public spaces, a hacker’s sweet spot. Other ways to steer clear of Bluesnarfing include:
  • Switching your Bluetooth to “non-discovery” mode
  • Using at least eight characters in your PIN as every digit adds approximately 10,000 more combinations required to crack it
  • Never accept pairing requests from unknown users
  • Require user approval for connection requests (configurable in your smartphone’s security features)
  • Avoid pairing devices for the first time in public areas
Bluesnarfing isn’t by any means the newest trick in a cybercriminal’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less vicious. If you’d like to know more about how to keep your IT and your devices safe, give us a call and we’ll be happy to advise.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
May 25th, 2017

WannaCry is one of the few malware campaigns to become a household name. It’s educated countless people on the reality of ransomware and the vulnerability of their data. If you’re still worried about whether you’re at risk, we’ve collected everything you need to know right here.

Ransomware review

Ransomware is a specific type of malware program that either encrypts or steals valuable data and threatens to erase it or release it publicly unless a ransom is paid. We’ve been writing about this terrifying threat for years, but the true genesis of ransomware dates all the way back to 1989.

This form of digital extortion has enjoyed peaks and troughs in popularity since then, but never has it been as dangerous as it is now. In 2015, the FBI reported a huge spike in the popularity of ransomware, and healthcare providers became common targets because of the private and time-sensitive nature of their hosted data.

The trend got even worse, and by the end of 2016 ransomware had become a $1 billion-a-year industry.

The WannaCry ransomware

Although the vast majority of ransomware programs rely on convincing users to click compromised links in emails, the WannaCry version seems to have spread via more technical security gaps. It’s still too early to be sure, but the security experts at Malwarebytes Labs believe that the reports of WannaCry being transmitted through phishing emails is simply a matter of confusion. Thousands of other ransomware versions are spread through spam email every day and distinguishing them can be difficult.

By combining a Windows vulnerability recently leaked from the National Security Agency’s cyber arsenal and some simple programming to hunt down servers that interact with public networks, WannaCry spread itself further than any malware campaign has in the last 15 years.

Despite infecting more than 200,000 computers in at least 150 countries, the cyberattackers have only made a fraction of what you would expect. Victims must pay the ransom in Bitcoins, a totally untraceable currency traded online. Inherent to the Bitcoin platform is a public ledger, meaning anyone can see that WannaCry’s coffers have collected a measly 1% of its victims payments.

How to protect yourself for what comes next

Part of the reason this ransomware failed to scare users into paying up is because it was so poorly made. Within a day of its release, the self-propagating portion of its programming was brought to a halt by an individual unsure of why it included a 42-character URL that led to an unregistered domain. Once he registered the web address for himself, WannaCry stopped spreading.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the thousands that were already infected. And it definitely doesn’t give you an excuse to ignore what cybersecurity experts are saying, “This is only the beginning.” WannaCry was so poorly written, it’s amazing it made it as far as it did. And considering it would’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars if it was created by more capable programmers, your organization needs to prepare for the next global cyberattack.

Every single day it should be your goal to complete the following:

  • Thorough reviews of reports from basic perimeter security solutions. Antivirus software, hardware firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems log hundreds of amateur attempts on your network security every day; critical vulnerabilities can be gleaned from these documents.
  • Check for updates and security patches for every single piece of software in your office, from accounting apps to operating systems. Computers with the latest updates from Microsoft were totally safe from WannaCry, which should be motivation to never again click “Remind me later.”
  • Social engineering and phishing may not have been factors this time around, but training employees to recognize suspicious links is a surefire strategy for avoiding the thousands of other malware strains that threaten your business.
Revisiting these strategies every single day may seem a bit much, but we’ve been in the industry long enough to know that it takes only one mistake to bring your operations to a halt. For daily monitoring and support, plus industry-leading cybersecurity advice, call us today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 23rd, 2017

The WannaCry ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts a victim’s files and extorts them for money, has already affected thousands of machines worldwide. Unfortunately, the success of this attack is just the beginning. According to security researchers, other hackers will probably develop stronger WannaCry variants in the coming months. And if you don’t want your business to become a victim of these attacks, you must take the following precautions.

Update your software The first (and probably best) defense against WannaCry ransomware is to update your operating system. New research from Kaspersky shows that machines running Windows XP, 7 and outdated Windows 10 versions were affected by the ransomware. To check whether your systems are up to date, open your Windows search bar, look for Windows Update, click Check for Updates, and install any major updates.

Also, don’t forget to download the latest security patches for your business applications and security software.

Run security programs Many antivirus programs now have mechanisms for detecting and blocking WannaCry malware; so when you’ve fully updated your security software, run a full system scan.

Keep in mind that antivirus isn’t a foolproof security solution. Instead, run it alongside other security applications like intrusion prevention systems and firewalls.

Use data backup and recovery tools If WannaCry does infect your computers, only a solid data backup and recovery solution can save your business. Before ransomware strikes, periodically back up your files in both an external hard drive and a cloud-based backup service.

External hard drives will serve as your local backup solution for quick recovery times. However, we recommend keeping the external drive disconnected when it’s not being used and plugging it in only when you need to back up files at the end of the day. This is because when ransomware infects a computer, it will usually look to encrypt local backup drives as well.

Cloud-based backups, on the other hand, allow you to store files in remote data centers and access them from any internet-enabled device. When selecting a cloud services provider, make sure they provide the appropriate cloud protections to your files. For example, your backup vendor should provide reporting tools to keep track of any anomalies in your files. Document versioning features are also important. This allows you to recover older versions of a document in case the current version is encrypted.

After your local and cloud backups are set up, perform regular tests to ensure your disaster recovery plan works.

Stay informed Finally, it’s important to stay on guard at all times. WannaCry is just one of many ransomware strains affecting businesses today, and in order to stay safe you need to be constantly up to date on the latest cybersecurity- and business continuity-related news.

For more ransomware prevention tips and services, call us today. We’ll make sure hackers don’t hold your business hostage.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 19th, 2017

For all the talk about server hardware and capacity, none of it means a thing if you aren’t carefully managing the physical space surrounding your server. If you’re worried about getting the most out of your investment, follow these four tips for taking better care of your hardware.

Mount your servers properly

Small businesses are usually forced to prioritize the here and now over long-term planning. Not for lack of caring, it’s just a fact of working on tight budgets and with small teams. This is especially evident when it comes to server planning. When your business first sets up shop, it’s tempting to plug in a server right next to your workstations -- but doing so puts your hardware in harm’s way.

Mounting servers in a rack protects them from the accidents commonly associated with highly trafficked areas: spills, crumbs and tripping hazards. Server racks keep your most essential hardware safe by organizing everything in a space that is more accessible for cleaning and management but less exposed to the day-to-day wear and tear of your office.

Server planning is all about leaving room for the future. When choosing your rack mount, make sure to leave room for the hardware you will need to expand in the future. Unless office space is a serious concern, it’s better to have a half-empty server rack than to be forced to tear the whole thing down and redesign it the moment you need to expand.

Keep servers separate from the main area

Depending on what type of servers you are running, they can create quite a bit of noise. This coupled with the fact that they are comprised of valuable hardware means that you should do everything in your power to keep your servers physically separate from your working space. If you don’t have room for a server room, consider investing a little extra in a secure rack mount with built-in sound reduction.

Never skimp on cooling

Even when your business first opens its doors, server cooling is a crucial consideration. These computers are designed to work at peak capacity and need optimal conditions to do so efficiently. Even if your equipment seems to be performing just fine, too much heat can drastically reduce its lifespan.

Make sure that your cooling solution operates outside the confines of your building’s infrastructure. If the central air gets shut off at night, or if your office experiences power outages, you need a cooling solution that switches over to backup power with your servers.

Keep wiring neatly arranged

For anyone without hands-on experience with server hardware, the number of wires going into and out of your setup is shocking. Getting the whole mess organized isn’t just about cleanliness, it also affects the performance of your current setup and the viability of installing future upgrades. Any time you are installing, removing, or rearranging your server cables, check that everything is neatly labeled and safely grouped together.

Managing any type of hardware comes with dozens of important considerations, and that goes doubly so for servers. The best way to guarantee your IT investments are getting the care they require is by partnering with a managed IT services provider. To learn more about our services, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
May 10th, 2017

If employee training and education isn’t an integral part of your cybersecurity strategy, a recent scam might force you to reconsider. Instead of relying on complicated programming code to steal and destroy data, hackers are increasingly relying on human errors to get the job done. Even well-trained users are falling for the most recent ploy, take a look.

Broadly defined, “phishing” is any form of fraud in which an attacker tries to learn information such as login credentials or account information by masquerading as a reputable entity or person in email, IM or other communication channels.

These messages prey on users who click links, images and buttons without thoroughly investigating where they lead to. Sometimes the scam is as simple as an image with a government emblem on it that links to a website containing malware. Just hovering your mouse over the image would be enough to see through it. But some phishing schemes are far more difficult to recognize.

The Google Defender scam

Recently, an email spread to millions of Gmail accounts that almost perfectly imitated a message from Google. The text read:

“Our security system detected several unexpected sign-in attempts on your account. To improve your account safety use our new official application “Google Defender”.

Below that was a button to “Install Google Defender”. What made this scheme so hard to detect is that the button actually links to a totally legitimate site...within Google’s own framework. When third-party app developers create Gmail integrations, Google directs users to an in-house security page that essentially says, “By clicking this you are giving Google Defender access to your entire inbox. Are you sure you want to do this?”

Even to wary users, the original message looks like it came from Google. And the link took them to a legitimate Google security page -- anyone could have fallen for it. The Gmail team immediately began assuring users that they were aware of the scam and working on eradicating it and any potential copycats.

There’s no happy ending to this story. Although vendors and cybersecurity experts were able to respond to the crisis on the same day it was released, millions of accounts were still affected. The best way to prepare your business is with thorough employee training and disaster recovery plans that are prepared to respond to a breach. To find out how we can protect your business, call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
May 5th, 2017

We are taught never to judge a book by its cover. But in this superficial age, looks are everything, especially for websites. Your website is a customer’s first impression of your business, and if your site has poor graphics, illegible content, and other website no-no’s, that could end all chances of establishing a relationship and driving revenue. Go through these key indicators so you don’t end up in such a situation:

A variety of clean photos Always take photos under professional lighting to really get the best images of your products. When customers are browsing, it’s normal for them to want to see as much detail as possible, so try to include as many photos, from as many angles your prospects might want.

Clear descriptions The last thing you want to do is to confuse your customers. That’s why it’s important to include all of your products’ technical information and dimensions before creating simple and straightforward product descriptions.

Establish policies Returns and refunds are an inevitable part of online shopping. In fact, a large percentage of online shoppers make purchase decisions based solely on how streamlined the returns policy is. Make sure to establish clear policies for returning and refunding items that are easy to find for customers.

About page Customers unfamiliar with your brand need a story they can relate to on your website. In your About Us page, include information on who you are and what you do that sets you apart from the competition. Whatever you write, make it accessible from any page on your site.

Navigation Fix broken links, make navigation straightforward, and remove outdated pages. You can’t sell 404 pages to customers, and if your site doesn’t make it easy to find what they’re looking for, game over.

Design Not everyone is a web design expert, luckily you can always hire one. If your budget is tight, there are DIY site builders specifically geared toward small businesses. Or with a relatively low monthly expenditure, you can hire a managed website provider.

With more revenue originating online, small- and medium-sized-business owners can’t afford to overlook the importance of creating a fully functional eCommerce website. Prior to going live, it’s essential to go through your entire site and resolve any mistakes before consumers see them. For further information on completing eCommerce websites, feel free to call us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
May 3rd, 2017

Keeping your laptop plugged in all the time doesn’t solve your battery problems. It may keep your laptop fully charged for a day, but this practice may do more harm than good in the long run. Luckily, there are quick-and-easy fixes and long-term solutions to help save battery power on your laptop. Here’s a look at some of them.

Manage your laptop’s power settings

Computer manufacturers are aware that battery life is an important consideration for most users, which is why many Windows and Apple computers have settings that help reduce battery consumption. Windows laptops have a Power Plan setting that lets you choose either a standard setting or a customized power plan; Energy Saver under MacOS’ ‘System Preferences’ offers a setting that allows you to adjust display and sleep controls.

Adjust display and system settings

You can also make adjustments to your laptop’s display and system settings to reduce brightness, turn off screensaver, disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (when they’re not used), and trigger the system to hibernate instead of sleep. A “sleeping” laptop consumes a little energy, but a “hibernating” laptop consumes absolutely none.

Use a battery monitor and other maintenance tools

If you think your laptop battery drains unusually fast, access your system’s battery maintenance tool to check its status. If your laptop doesn’t have one, you can download an application that creates a battery health report. That report will include charge cycle count, which determines the number of charge cycles your laptop has; and battery life estimate, which states how much longer the battery will provide power based on its current settings.

Keep your laptop operating efficiently

One way to accomplish this is by managing your web browser usage. Having many tabs opened on your browser drains your battery’s power and reduces your productivity. If you really must have a handful of tabs opened, consider switching to power-saving browsers such as Windows Edge or Opera. When multitasking, close unused apps and programs -- especially those that download files or play media, as they consume the most power. This not only helps reduce battery consumption, but also helps the user stay focused on the task at hand.

Handle your laptop with care

Laptops are delicate and require safe handling and a cool temperature. With the exception of a few models (e.g., Apple’s MacBook Air), many devices are designed with a cooling system that keeps its CPU, graphics processor, and other components from overheating; and not to mention, its battery from depleting fast.

For that reason, handling your laptop with great care ensures longer battery life and better overall performance. When using your laptop on-the-go, make sure you don’t block its vents from circulating air, which means you should never put it on a surface such as a bed or similar soft surface that could prevent its cooling fans from working. And while it may seem harmless -- and appropriate -- putting your laptop on your lap is actually unsafe.

For businesses with remote workers and/or bring your own device (BYOD) policies, a laptop that lasts all day allows employees to be more productive and saves your company from having to spend on new laptops or replace batteries as a result of neglect. For cost-effective strategies on business technology, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware