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Author Archives: Admin

5 Tips for Successfully Working from Home

COVID-19 has forced event cancellations, school closures, and a consideration for remote work where possible. As more companies are sending their employees home to work, we compiled this list of tips to be successful away from the office.

1. Reliable Internet: Nothing is more frustrating than having spotty Internet, especially when you’re trying to work on a big project through a remote access connection to your work computer. Most Internet packages available today will be fine. However, you might need to curb ancillary access of the Internet, like streaming and gaming if you’re trying to do something more than upload and download documents. If your Internet seems slow, shut down and restart your router/modem. This can sometimes speed things up for a while.

2. Good Computer Hygiene: You know that “It’s time to update” pop-up that you’ve been avoiding for weeks? Take the time to update. This is most likely handled automatically by your IT team at the office, but your home system may be woefully behind, curbing your speed, as well as opening up unnecessary security holes. We recommend applying security patches as they are released to keep your computer up to date. Not sure if there are updates available? You can check your computer’s control panel for notifications. You can also try simply restarting your system. Often, the updates will kick into gear.

To maximize effectiveness, watch the number of programs you’re attempting to run and browser windows you have open at any given time. Computers are not great multi-taskers; they will regularly switch between a multitude of processes (the instructions behind your applications) to complete commands. In fact, the number of processors in your system is the maximum number of things your computer can be “working” on at once, so if you’re seeing a drop-off in performance, take a moment to close a few programs that are not actively in use.

3. Connect Securely: In order to protect your business, connect through remote access software or VPN. This will allow you to use your regular work desktop without risking business data in an open atmosphere. Consult with your IT team to review their plan for remote access as well as enterprise-grade antivirus before beginning remote work.

4. Establish a Routine: When you go into the office, you have a clear routine. You come in, grab a cup of coffee, banter with your co-workers for a few minutes, sit down at your desk, and get to business. While it may be appealing to work in your pajamas, try to maintain as much normalcy as possible. Stick with a clear starting time and work schedule. Create an office space so that you’re not just piled up on the couch. Plan to get dressed and ready for the day, just like you’re going into the office. In essence, act like it’s just another day at the office.

5. Over-communicate: You may find yourself feeling isolated pretty quickly when working from home. This is likely because you’re missing out on the short interactions and general banter with your colleagues. We highly recommend setting up a daily touch-base with your team in order to discuss priorities, work through sticking points, and to simply connect with other human beings.

Don’t be afraid to send more progress emails than normal. Utilize messaging apps liberally, and don’t underestimate the power of a video chat or meeting. If an email exchange is getting too long (more than three replies back and forth without solving the problem) pick up the phone.

Working from home can be an efficient way to keep a business running. When done right, you can be just as productive, if not more so, than at the office. Enjoy the opportunity presented by COVID-19 concerns to establish a new work normal, at least for a short period of time.

7 Necessities before Sending Your Workforce Remote

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are considering work-from-home options to facilitate social-distancing and to keep their workforce healthy. However, it’s not as simple as sending your employees home, firing up personal laptops, and getting to work. Here are seven things you need to have lined up in order to successfully deploy your remote workforce.

1. Secure Remote Access: Employees should not have open access to everything on their work systems from their personal computers. This keeps company data protected. In order to be productive through this pandemic, however, employers will need to provide a secure connection utilizing VPN or remote access software. These solutions will mirror the employee’s work desktop without housing all of the data on the individual’s personal system, allowing them to seamlessly continue work.

2. File Sharing Capabilities: While people will be working in isolation, they must still be able to collaborate. File sharing/group editing software will be critical to moving forward on creative or documentation projects through real-time editing, commenting, and versioning. Software like Axcient Anchor & Microsoft Teams/Sharepoint fill this need securely. Axcient will integrate with your file server and licenses are free through June to help during this difficult period.

3. Enterprise Level Antivirus: Basic home-level antivirus is not sufficient, particularly in secured industries. Extend your enterprise-level antivirus to home systems that will have access to your network in order to create an added layer of protection. You may also consider deploying firewalls on top of individual’s home networks to create the same secure connection employees experience in your office.

4. Video Conferencing: Meetings must go on while people work remotely; however, voice-only leaves much to be desired in terms of tone and context. We highly recommend putting in place video conferencing options. You can implement something as simple as FaceTime, or something more feature intensive, like Zoom or GoToMeeting.

5. Messaging Software: You can’t just spin your chair around to talk to your co-worker when working remote, yet it’s not efficient to always pick up the phone. We recommend implementing messaging software like Microsoft Teams or Slack to open communication channels and allow employees to continue to interact quickly and accurately. Utilizing these tools, you can set up one-on-one conversations or set up channels to facilitate team communication.

6. Phone: A strong VoIP solution will allow employees to take their office phone numbers remotely on their cellphones without giving out their cellphone numbers. Office calls will transfer seamlessly to the employee’s cellphones, voice mails will be sent via email, and the employee can dial-out using a phone application to maintain office functionality.

7. Remote Access Policy: Prior to providing access to your employees, put in place a clear access policy that acknowledges that your company monitors whatever they do while connected. Employees should be encouraged to act as if they are on site even while working remotely and reminded that punishments for doing something illegal/against company policy will apply.

The COVID-19 situation is ever-changing. Schools across the nation have been closed and events have been canceled. While it may make sense to keep your employees on-site for now, we believe it’s important to have a plan should you need to close your physical offices. Getting these seven pieces of the puzzle in line will prepare you to take your workforce remote. For assistance implementing these things, contact us today.

5 Reasons Hackers Steal Your Data

As professionals in the IT business, we all have firsthand knowledge that the web can be a dangerous place for anyone, especially if you run a business. The more we analyze security breaches, the more we ask the most crucial question: why? Why do people go through all that trouble to make life more difficult and dangerous for the rest of us?

Well, you can imagine that it differs from hacker to hacker. Just a  few common factors likely end up being the reasons why they do what they do and why they started in the first place. In today’s blog, we’ll take a deep-dive into the villains of our story, and explore some reasons why they do what they do.

1.) Identity Theft

Though you may not realize it, you are more important than you think—well, more valuable, anyway. You might think of you or your company’s value in terms of what is in your bank account, or the assets you may hold. However, you probably carry more potential value that you don’t tap into, such as not opening additional accounts and not maxing out your credit cards.

Consumer Affairs estimates that the average loss for an individual involved in credit card fraud last year was about $2000. That number might seem a bit low to some, but remember that most people only have a few thousand dollars maximum available on their credit card at any given time. Imagine if your company’s credit card was compromised. How much could you be on the line for? Or what if someone opened accounts or took out loans using your stamp of approval? For many of us, the losses could be staggering.

2.) Ransomware

The last few years have taught all of us to fear that word. From small to large businesses, from individuals to local and national governments, no one is safe from these threats. As far as a reason for this type of attack, the answer is simple: hackers identify and attack victims that can give them a good return on their time invested.

When hackers hold an organization for ransom, the victim often ends up paying because they can’t afford to operate too long without productivity. While some sources report that overall ransomware attacks are down, lately, they have become more sophisticated and demand more money to release the “hostage” data or systems.

3.) Mooching Off Your Equipment

Hackers generally have less money and fewer resources than the people they steal from. Sometimes the reason for the attack isn’t just for cash, but rather for access to available operating systems. This type of hacker is looking to take advantage of large servers with massive computing power for activities such as mining Bitcoin. Sadly, they probably don’t plan on giving you a cut. They’ll use your processing power late in the night and stick you with the extra electrical charges. Another reason why you should always check your bills!

4.) Because They Can

You could consider this to be the scariest category of a hacker since there’s nothing that can be done to stop them. They can best be summed up in a quote from Alfred in The Dark Knight when he said; “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money… some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Since a person like this doesn’t have anything other than personal accomplishments as a goal, they can be harder to catch and harder to convince to change their dastardly ways. For example, in one month in 2000, a young man by the name of Michael Calce (who used the handle “Mafiaboy”) took down the systems of CNN, Yahoo, Dell, and Amazon. All are substantial companies with state-of-the-art security systems. What was his grand reason for doing this? To prove that he could. While this is not the most common category of the hacking community, they can still be some of the most difficult hoodlums to deal with.

5.) To Sell Your Information

This is one of the more significant issues today. We live in an era where the greatest currency is information. Once hackers get their hands on information such as credit card numbers, passwords or even patient records, selling personal data on the Dark Web is very straightforward. To make it lucrative, they need to deal in volume. According to some reports, credit card numbers typically sell for around $10 a piece. For the same amount of time and energy it would take to steal your private information, they can accumulate hundreds or thousands of pieces of information by accessing your customers’ records.

The scary part is, once your stolen data is out there for the highest bidder to snatch up, you can be on the hook for damages. Currently, there are dozens of high-profile lawsuits in progress for businesses whose systems were hacked and now private and sensitive data from their clients are exposed for all the world to see… for the right price.

Regardless of the reason hackers do their dirty work, it’s up to us to protect the data we have access to. We just need to update our security systems and stay one step ahead of the criminals. If you don’t feel that your current security measures are up to snuff, give us a call today! We’d be more than happy to assess your current set-up, and show you how you can implement a plan to make sure you won’t be defenseless against those unsavory characters on the web.

The Risks of Cyberattacks with Windows 7

We hope you understand that this article is being written with tears in our eyes. After months of being part of the loud choir warning about the End of Life of Windows 7, some estimates state that up to 32% of all computers worldwide are still using this operating system!

Currently, the most common cyberattacks against small and medium businesses are phishing, malware, denial of service attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, and ransomware. A man-in-the-middle attack is named that way because a hacker wedges a barrier between two parties who are conducting a business transaction. The hacker then becomes the liaison for data swapping, so it is easy to steal sensitive data. An SQL breach involves installing malicious code into a SQL server and then siphoning out the data. And we’ve all heard the latest horror stories on how ransomware is holding businesses, corporations, and even whole cities hostage.

Although the funeral seats of Windows 7 are still warm, the first major attacks and vulnerabilities are already starting to raise their ugly heads. As the OS becomes more and more obsolete and more information is passed from hacker to hacker on the Dark Web, the overall safety of your data becomes less and less.

Count the Costs

Data breaches do a lot more than just cause chaos in your office. Once your system has been compromised, you need to find a way to get your information back, either because you need it to function or because it may contain sensitive information. The 2018 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report calculated that on average, a data breach can cost your company $148 — per record. Many companies have hundreds, thousands or even millions of records!

Besides the costs of just having the records themselves stolen, think of the liability that those stolen records can expose you to. Think about lawsuits if your customers’ personal or financial records become available to the public. If you’re a medical office or happen to have medical files on patients, a hack can put you in hot water with HIPPA violations, which can put you on the line for up to $25,000 for each breached file. Clearly just on a financial level, making sure your company is protected is worth its weight in gold.

The Problem and Solution

So, what exactly are hackers looking for? In a perfect world, they can trick you by either downloading a virus or hooking you with a phishing scheme. However, computer users have become more knowledgeable over the years, so those scenarios have become only minor tools for hackers.

As the expression goes, “Every lock has a key.” Sometimes there are ways to get into your system that were put there by design and sometimes the programmers made a mistake and created a backdoor in the OS without realizing it. Either way, it’s usually only a matter of time before one or more hackers find their way into your system. Once one finds their way in, they rarely keep this information to themselves and often sell it or just give it away.

In a normal situation like this, once Microsoft is aware of the vulnerability, they will create a patch to remedy the problem. A patch is downloaded code that will update the part of Windows where the problem is located. It is always recommended that you download and install patches as soon as they become available.

The End of Life Problem

When Microsoft or any other company says that its software is at its End of Life, it usually doesn’t mean that it will stop working. Rather, it just means that the company will no longer support it. In the case of Microsoft, that means that they will no longer provide security patches or any other updates in addition to not offering support from their techs. Really, it’s just a matter of time before the system becomes obsolete and holes are found in its armor.

Speaking of which, 2 security researchers at Guardicore Labs recently announced that the Barbarians are not only at the gates, they have already entered. According to them, a medium-sized medical tech company was hacked when pirates found a way into their system via WAV files. As we said, it’s just a matter of time before this grows to more and more ways to undermine the system of Windows 7 users.

The Obvious Solution

We’re not going to beat a dead horse on the topic, so we’ll just say that the best way to avoid these problems is by upgrading to Windows 10. But not so fast! Simply upgrading your OS is not going to keep you safe forever. Just because you will then have access to the safety protections that Windows 7 now lacks doesn’t mean it’s a one-and-done situation. You need to make sure that your systems are always up to date. Did you just get a pop-up for a new update? Stop what you’re doing and make sure that every machine on your system is updated. Having just one person put it off can put your whole network in danger.

We understand that there is a big difference between taking care of a single personal computer at home and a whole network of computers and servers at your business. Updates, especially on servers, can often be a time consuming and daunting task. That’s why we’re here to help. If you feel that you need a helping hand in making sure your system is up to date and stays that way, please contact us to see how we can assist.

Microsoft Security Flaws

Life can be ironic, can’t it? We’re not just talking about the “Rain on your wedding day” kind of irony, either. It seems that Microsoft and anyone who works in the tech field — ourselves included — have been harping about how Windows 7 users need to upgrade before its End of Life happened on January 14th. And what else happened on that day?

Well, Windows 7 did meet its End of Life, but the NSA also came out with a warning that Windows 10 — and all other platforms that Windows 7 users were supposed to move to — had a massive security threat. So, how important is this, and more importantly, how does this affect you and your business?

Conflicting Stories

Microsoft has been pretty tight-lipped about this whole situation and has already rolled out a patch, although they’ve only labeled this as an important update, not critical like they have for similar issues in the past. Industry experts feel this can be a way of trying to play down a major issue, making it seem like this is nothing more than a minor hiccup. This might have worked had the NSA not said anything.

The NSA has been notorious at finding exploits in Windows, as well as other operating systems, so they can conduct surveillance without asking permission from software developers. In fact, the famous Wannacry virus was believed to have spread so quickly because hackers found an exploit that the NSA was using at the time. The reason we bring this up is that if the NSA is making this public and not merely keeping it to themselves like before, it must mean that this is a major issue that risks the security of more than just a handful of people. We’ll probably never know the real truth behind the matter, though we can guarantee that there is plenty of information that is not being shared with the general public.

The Windows 7 Connection

Both Microsoft and the NSA made their announcements on January 14th, so it stands to reason that this must have been a known issue for a while. Which begs the question, why didn’t anyone say something sooner? More likely than not, it was probably because Microsoft had been pushing the Windows 10 upgrade for so long that if those who hadn’t upgraded from Windows 7 heard about the gaping flaw, it might have given them an excuse to hold back.

From what it looks like, the issue stemmed from a program that interfaces with digital signatures and determines whether or not a program is legitimate and licensed. Somehow there was a vulnerability in the sequence that opened a door so huge, even the NSA considered it too much of a breach of privacy for individuals and businesses. As far as we know, this was not an issue on machines running Windows 7.

So, I Might As Well Stay With Windows 7, Right?

Not so fast, buddy. Yeah, we’ll be the first to admit that this whole situation doesn’t smell right and was most likely the result of Microsoft trying to save face, but don’t make this is an excuse to stay with Windows 7 if you haven’t already upgraded. Security concerns are a fact of life and having one doesn’t make Windows 10 any better or worse than other versions. Think about your favorite version of Windows and it probably had dozens of issues that needed to be resolved over the years. Yes Microsoft indeed caused this problem themselves and it wasn’t just a way in that hackers devised, but again, that’s to be expected from time to time. Both Microsoft and the NSA said that neither was aware of anyone having been pirated as a result of this vulnerability.

When it comes down to it, here is the hard fact of the matter: although this flaw in Windows 10 wasn’t great, it was fixed quickly, and any other issues or vulnerabilities will be continued to be fixed for the foreseeable future. Windows 7, on the other hand, is dead and is never coming back.

Think of it this way: would you still run Windows 95 on your computer? Chances are your answer would be an emphatic no. And why not? Most likely due to a lack of functionality and security issues. Well, if not Windows 95, why not Windows 98, NT, ME or XP? Probably for the same reasons as for Windows 95.

Although Windows 7 still works and was just recently updated, it’s no different than any other previous version of Windows. Those who still use older versions can be and are hacked regularly. Why? Because they aren’t supported, so hacking them gets easier every day.

Looking Ahead

We understand that if your business still hasn’t updated from Windows 7, there is most likely a good reason besides just being lazy. There are always several considerations to making changes, such as hardware upgrades, data migration, and even software compatibility. For a company that isn’t equipped for all of this, upgrading may be an overwhelming prospect.

If you find yourself in that situation, please contact us to see how we can help your business move forward and stay there. Whether you need a one-time service or perhaps full MSP coverage, our team of professionals is here to help.