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Resources: Cyber Data

Are Cookies Safe

Are Your Cookies Safe?

The holiday season is upon us and we have many things to look forward to — even if this year will be a little bit different than others. This time of year the things that come to mind include: family, holiday festivities, and of course cookies! As a Managed Service Provider, people often ask us, are cookies safe?

But we’re not talking about the kind of cookies your grandma bakes for you. In technological terms, cookies typically pop up on your internet browser. They track and store data in the deep corners of your hard drive. With lots of controversy surrounding cookies, many people don’t know if they’re a good or bad thing. You probably have seen notices regarding cookies on most major sites you visit asking permission to use cookies. This is in response to privacy laws in Europe and in many states to protect people’s personal information and browsing habits. We expect to see these notices pop up more and more frequently as privacy laws become more stringent.

In this article, we delve into what exactly these oddly-named, annoying items on your browser are. And we discuss whether or not you should be worried about them.

What is a Cookie Anyway?

Sweet and tasty cookies have been around since the 17th century. But the type of cookie we are talking about today has been around since the mid-90s. The official name is an “HTTP Cookie”. Designers at the time referred to this as a magic cookie of information. And ever since then, the name has stuck.

But what exactly does a cookie do? Cookies gather information when you browse the internet. They track what you are doing on a particular site or what you are doing while browsing in general. There are multiple forms of cookies so here are the more common types that you’ll run into on the Internet:

Session Cookie

This appears on your web browser when you visit a website and tracks information such as your login, products you view, how long you were on a particular page, and other browsing habits. These are called session cookies because they terminate as soon as you close your browser or move to another page. 

Persistent Cookie

Also known as tracking cookies, these cookies stay active even after you leave a site or close your browser. In general, these will track the sites you’re visiting, but usually have an expiration date in which they become inactive. This is one of the most controversial form of cookies since they track your information outside of their original range. However, there are benefits to these cookies, such as storing your login info so you don’t have to enter your information every time you visit your favorite sites.  

Third-Party Cookies

In general, the cookies on your computer are from the sites you visit. For example, if you visit Amazon.com, Amazon will create a cookie on your browser. Third-party cookies differ in that they attach themselves to your browser even if you’ve never visited their site. This may happen if there is a banner or another form of an advertisement on a site that you visit, even if you do not click on them. Many pop-up blockers disable this feature, although it’s not uncommon to have more than 10 third-party cookies attached to your browser after visiting a site without any sort of cyber protection. 

Should You Worry? Are Cookies Safe?

Cookies are an essential part of the ecosystem of the web, but are cookies safe? Massive amounts of small packets of information are passed around every second, and these packets usually play a role in marketing, sales, or captured analytical data. In general, cookies are harmless, or at most a nuisance. 

You might be surprised by how much of your daily life on the Internet is dependent on cookies. Don’t believe us? Go ahead and delete all your cookies on your web browser and then go about your daily business to see how many sites you now have to log into that were automatically accessed before. You’ll be surprised at how much information you’ll have to put in compared to before. 

Cookies are not as invasive as they used to be. They typically contain tiny kilobits of information that take up almost no space on modern computers. Older Internet users may have been in the habit of deleting their cookies to save space, back when computers had very small hard drives.  

Many browsers automatically block third-party cookies, so the only cookies on your computer are from sites that you’ve visited. Sometimes hackers can use certain cookies to gain access to your computer, and since third-party cookies are often weak entry points they become easy targets. Make sure your firewall and internet security is blocking hackers who might try to sneak in through these pathways. 

Bottom Line about Cookies Safety

So, now that we have a better understanding of cookies, can we conclude that cookies are safe? In short, cookies shouldn’t be an issue in most circumstances and you should be fine when accepting them. The amount of memory they use is a nonissue these days. 

However, few things in life are always straightforward, so there are two caveats. The first issue you should be aware of is that while cookies are mostly safe, there is always the chance that a cookie can be hacked and used nefariously. Second, certain operations do not allow cookies on their systems. For example,  government and medical organizations may require absolute security and prohibit cookies.

If you have any questions about cookies on your system, contact us and we’ll ease your mind. As a Managed Service Provider, we will consult with you on any restrictions your organization is required to have in place. We’ll offer you a solution that will work for you in the long run.   

Remember: there’s always the possibility that the wrong cookie may be bad for your computer or your diet! 

Cyber Extortion: Don’t Be a Victim

We’ve all seen movies where a couple of thugs in trench coats walk into a store, take a look around and say something like, “Nice place you got here, shame if something were to happen to it.” Many people might think the days of extortion went away with the end of mob-run New York and Chicago, but it’s still alive and well on the internet — in the form of ransomware.

To make things worse, as the world has been buckling down with the COVID-19 pandemic, hackers have been working overtime to take advantage of lax cybersecurity. But before we get into how to protect your company from ransomware threats, let’s see how we got here.

Understanding the Problem

For those unaware, ransomware is a form of computer virus that allows a hacker to enter your system and lock you out of every file and program you use. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts, the hackers give you two options: pay them a set amount of money or lose access to everything forever.

Ransomware has been around for decades (and we’ve written many blogs on the topic) but it has proliferated exponentially in recent years. The main reason for this is because it works. Merely stealing your information and then selling it can make them money, but not nearly as much as ransoming that same information to its rightful owner.

Over the course of just a few months (Q4 of 2019 to Q1 of 2020), Forbes magazine stated that overall attacks rose by 25%. Why such a rise? Well, it could have something to do with payouts also rising by 33% within that same timeframe. With that kind of increase, it’s no wonder why hacking is a growing industry.

Ransomware in the Age of Covid-19

When the pandemic started, many people began working from home. For many of us, working from home presents no problems at all, but for others, it creates a whole list of issues that won’t be resolved until their whole department can be back in the office.

This has especially been the case with IT departments. While it’s true that they can do a lot of their work remotely, sometimes they just need to be in the server room to do their job. And don’t think for a minute that hackers don’t know that.

With so many fractured IT departments out there, businesses have been getting swarmed with attacks. For example, the city of Florence, Alabama was attacked just a few weeks ago and said that paying the $300,000 demand was better than having its citizen’s information exposed and for sale.

Even more recently, Honda was attacked by a cybercriminal that actually ended up shutting down production. Ransomware is getting more dangerous by the day.

The New Frontier

The recent pandemic has taught us that we don’t need as many people in the office or even at the factory as we thought we did. Work can be done via automation or with remote workers and keep the business running. That means that our businesses can become even more efficient than ever before. It also means that if a hacker were to get into your system, the damage can be even more devastating.

With the way businesses are depending more and more on technology, your entire business can grind to a halt from a single bad decision someone took when opening the wrong email.

Lighting Can Strike Twice

Imagine your company has been a victim of a ransomware attack and the crisis passes. Perhaps you paid the hacker or were able to gain access to your system again some other way. Now imagine that life has gone back to normal until one day the unthinkable happens: you get hacked again with a ransomware demand.

Sadly, this is not a one-off situation. In fact, not only can this happen to a single business, but it can happen to multiple parts of an organization. One of the most famous examples of this is when a single school is hacked, then multiple other schools in the same district get hit with the same ransomware, one by one.

The reason this is somewhat common in the tech world is that organizations can have similar (or identical!) safety protocols across the board. It’s a lot less work for a hacker to work this way than to go search out other targets every time they want a hit. However, we all know one of the biggest reasons we’re unprepared is because we all think it can’t happen to us. The harsh reality is that’s what all the businesses who were hit thought too.

What Can You Do?

While it’s true that hackers are getting more sophisticated every day, the majority of their attacks are opportunistic. Hackers take the path of least resistance, so if they can enter your system by Carol in accounting falling for a phishing scam, or if your IT department did not update their protocols after a previous attack, they’ll take that route.

That’s where we come into play. By dealing with a company to work on your behalf, you don’t need to worry every time someone logs into your system. And why should you waste all that time? Any effort you put into protecting your system is effort that could have been spent growing your business. By having us go over your current system and helping you implement a better one, you stand a much better chance when the internet goons come for your data.

Telemedicine, TeleMed, & TeleHealth

The current state of business is morphing into something we haven’t seen before. New ideas and procedures are being created every day to keep businesses running and to address these new challenges.

A recent modern convenience is telemedicine. While it’s been around in a limited form for a while, current circumstances have given it a major boost in both interest and development. In this blog, we’ll take a look at how telemedicine works as well as the challenges it can bring to medical practices hoping to take advantage of this new frontier in medicine.

As a Managed Service Provider, we have seen that the current pandemic and quarantine have not only forced a lot of employees to work remotely, it has caused many businesses to meet with people remotely. We have been assisting all types of businesses turn this emergency situation into a better way of doing business.

A House Call Anywhere in the World

While it’s almost always best to see a physician in person, there are a large number of common conditions that generally can be diagnosed remotely. No, we’re not talking about an online symptom checker, but an actual living, breathing doctor who will see the patient via a video call.

These sorts of services would allow the physician to talk directly to the patient, and would then explain how they feel. If the symptoms don’t appear to be anything needing additional testing, the doctor could then make a diagnosis and begin a treatment plan, which might include sending prescriptions to a local pharmacy to be picked up by the patient. If the patient requires additional testing, a referral can be made.

Examples of conditions that are easily diagnosed via telemedicine include:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Earaches
  • Heartburn/GERD
  • Back Pain
  • Anxiety and some other mental conditions
  • Minor infections such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sinus infections
  • Cold/Flu
  • Low-risk urgent care
  • Screening for needed tests

Benefits of Telemedicine

One of the biggest benefits of remote doctor visits is that the patient can get better without getting worse. Hospitals and doctors’ offices are, by their very nature, full of sick people. The more often we go to these places, the more likely we are to catch something, compared to staying at home, that is. Telemedicine is the definition of social distancing.

This particular benefit has become huge this year since many people hope to stay far away from groups of sick people due to fears of COVID-19 — and for a good reason! Not only is this true for patients, but for the people who work the offices, including the physicians. A recent article in The Guardian stated that around 20% of all COVID-19 patients got infected while in a hospital. With many people considering it unsafe to go into the office, it makes sense that they would much rather telecommute to talk to a doctor for the sniffles.

Additionally, everyone involved saves money. For the patient, they don’t have to worry about transportation or taking time off work. The physician doesn’t have to worry about having a large medical space with a large staff, which may result in them charging less for their services to the patient or insurance company. If the insurance company is charged less, they can (hopefully) keep their premiums at reasonable levels. It works out best in everyone’s favor.

Challenges of Telemedicine

Even though telemedicine tends to work out so well for everyone involved, it doesn’t mean the technology and processes needed to set up and maintain this service are automatic. For instance, not everyone owns a computer, especially for older or lower-income patients. Even for those who do have access to a computer, internet access can still be a challenge since telemedicine requires a highspeed internet connection in order to have stable communication.

Beyond the patient’s end, physician’s needs quite a bit of technology to make sure everything runs smoothly. Some might think this would just involve a doctor hopping on Skype or Zoom and having a chat with their patients. However, there are many factors to take into consideration. For example, will this be taking place in a medical office or home office? Will multiple physicians be working together at the same time or just one?

Will this be something done for a few hours every week or will you be routinely communicating with your patients remotely? Do you need to share your screen to show test results or x-rays? How are you ensuring that HIPPA standards are being met?

Depending on how you answer these and other important questions, your hardware and software needs will be drastically different.

The Way to Success

Thankfully, if you’re planning on starting or improving a telemedicine operation, you won’t be the first. What most physicians have found is that it’s best to leave the technical aspect to the experts so they can focus on what’s most important: their patients.

One of the best ways to do this is to contact us right from the beginning. By doing this, there’s no guesswork as to what hardware and software are needed, plus any maintenance and upgrades are routinely cared for. Even the scary parts, like HIPPA compliance, are taken care of so your patients’ privacy is secure and you can sleep well at night.

If you currently have a telemedicine operation or are considering starting one, be sure to contact us sooner rather than later. We will go over your needs as well as give you multiple options to make sure the solution you choose is best for you. By bringing us in to do our job, we’ll give you lots of time for you to focus on your job. And right now, the world really needs you.

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.

When Should I Upgrade My Technology?

When is the worst time to realize you need a new car? When you’re on the side of the road in your old, broken down clunker that just won’t run anymore. Hopefully, you’ve never been there before. Unfortunately, businesses often find themselves in that exact situation when it comes to their computer systems. As businesses are increasingly dependent on technology, it’s ironic that attitudes about their upkeep and replacement remain lax. Why is that attitude dangerous and what can you do to combat it?

Break/Fix Cycles

There’s a good reason why you wouldn’t want to buy a new car, or a new computer system, just as the old one dies – desperation. Either you will buy a replacement that isn’t right for you or one that costs way too much.

Waiting until a computer, server, or another piece is completely unusable is unwise. This can result in going over budget or having to comprise the actual needs just to have someone running. Take the time to develop a relationship with a Managed Services Provider or VAR to plan what you need for a technology refresh. Get a general idea of how long your systems can reasonably last (typically 3-5 years depending on equipment and usage). Create a schedule for replacement on a regular basis, diverting resources to make it less of a burden when replacements are necessary. Do this before you are desperate.

Embracing the Technology Curve

While you don’t want to wait until you have a steaming heap of broken technology, you also don’t want to swing in the opposite direction. Purchasing everything at the bleeding edge of technology guarantees that you will get a version filled with all the bugs that software and firmware updates eliminate over the first months. As with many aspects of life, you must strike a balance. Keep an eye out for any advancements in hardware or software that you (currently or could potentially) use that would make a noticeable improvement for your operations. Then, make a plan for making that purchase. Lean on the guidance of your IT Support professional for the timing that makes sense.

New Options for a New Generation

The amount of tech needed for even non-technical industries is increasing by the year. This can present new challenges for a new era. For example, for thousands of years, contractors have needed hammers, saws, and other tools for physical tasks. Now they need to have tablets for blueprints, smartphones for communication, and desktops for billing and documents. That doesn’t take into account the administrative offices for larger construction companies. If construction companies need all this tech, imagine the changes in other industries as well!

Operating in this new age requires more expense and logistics. Thankfully, there are new options to address these new concerns beyond simply “go and buy what you need when you need it.” That’s exactly where a Managed Services Provider comes in.

Dollars and Sense

With your IT services provider, develop a monthly and annual budget for technology. Scour past spending numbers to determine reasonable, realistic amounts, as well as where you may have excessively spent due to desperation or the desire to be on the cutting edge. We have found that systems typically last about 3-5 years. Craft a budget that makes sense with this particular refresh cycle.

Having a fixed budget in place will avoid surprises when technology spending comes up. In addition, take a look at subscription services for both hardware and software.

Instead of charging one time for software without ongoing updates, products (such as Microsoft Office 365) now charge on a monthly or yearly basis. This allows you to know exactly how much you’ll need to budget as well as ensures you have the most recent version, features, and security updates.

There are similar services that work with hardware. Hardware as a Service (HaaS), allows you to be up to date on hardware needs without having to worry about making large capital expenditures. Just like with software, you can pay a monthly or yearly amount and receive a hardware refresh at regular intervals. In addition, HaaS providers should include maintenance in between upgrades to keep the current systems running in the best condition.

Technology is a part of business that won’t be disappearing. By doing your research and planning accordingly, you can successfully navigate when it’s time to upgrade.