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Another Security Breach?

Yet again, a report of another security breach—this time a report of 5 million Gmail passwords leaked. Approximately 3 weeks earlier, reports indicated that at least 5 U.S. banks were facing coordinated attacks. And prior to that, an alert specified that a major health care provider had fallen prey to attacks.

According to Forbes, “Over the past 10 years, there have been over 300 data breaches involving the theft of 100,000 or more records (that have been disclosed publicly).”1

Protection of your business data, and that of your customers, is critical. Because business data is inherently valuable, it is at RISK from criminals—extortionists, thieves, and the underworld. Not exactly the type of business dealings we want to encourage!

If all businesses adequately protected themselves, data theft would greatly diminish.

Is your business properly protected?

The security needs of each business are individually unique. What safeguards are in place for your business? How effective are they? What security measures can your budget support? Do you periodically review and assess your protection? What changes do you anticipate in the coming years which could affect your security needs?

Data Protection Levels to Consider:

  1. Early Detection – What measures are in place to determine the current threat level and effectiveness of your security? (Monitoring occurrences of failed login attempts and changes in data volume are examples.)
  2. Deterrence– What are you doing, or what can you do, to deter the attempt of data theft? (As an analogy: think of lighting at a business property—which is not as much  theft prevention as it is a deterrent)
  3. Prevention – For illustration, think of the secure fence, locked door, and procedures in place to reduce theft at physical business locations. Since no single element is undefeatable, a business uses multiple levels of prevention to protect its property. Likewise, in terms of data, since no single element is undefeatable, businesses must use multiple levels of prevention to protect data. How is your business data protected? Is your protection effective?

Interested in improving and protecting your business? We have many solutions available. Contact us – we’re here to help. To learn more, click Here

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Business Process Review

Rarely does anyone go to work intending to do a poor job. But, if this is true, why do things so frequently go so poorly?

Perhaps the problem lies less with the employees and more with inadequate business processes. Often the business tools or business processes used by a company are not sufficient for, or are not optimum for, the business in question.

So what is the answer? A Business Process Review! Sometimes the solutions developed during such a review are simple; sometimes they are more involved. The point is, a business can’t afford poor results. The relatively small investment for a Business Process Review will pay for itself many times over in improved accuracy, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

Could your business benefit from a Business Process Review?

Absolutely!  And what might your business expect from a review? Sometimes solution developments involve improved technology usage, sometimes improved process flow, and sometimes improved training. Whatever the case, times change and so must your business.

Business Process Review benefits:

  1. Efficiency – Businesses operate in an immensely competitive environment. Competitors are constantly working to get more done with less. Every business must continue to optimize efficiency.
  2. Accuracy– Do you know of businesses that get things done quickly, only to produce a disproportionate number of errors? No one can afford this! Every sale you make potentially leads to additional sales or it provides incentive for customer to research your competition.
  3. Business Transformation – Business processes must evolve with changes to your business and market. Are your processes and tools up to date?

Interested in improving and protecting your business? We have many solutions available. Contact us – we’re here to help.

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Firmware Updates: Neglected Remedy?

Are you aware that hackers have figured out how to remotely log into some routers and, in turn, into the networks of individuals and businesses? Horrendous!

Is there a defense? Yes, many exploits can be eliminated with a firmware update.

Are you familiar with firmware? Likely you are quite familiar with many aspects of hardware (the physical computer, tablet, smart phone, printer, etc.) and software (the operating system like Windows or Mac, the drivers, and the applications such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Reader).

Perhaps you are not as familiar with firmware. Firmware is the computer code within various electronic devices which allow the devices to function as designed. Computers and many pieces of computer equipment have firmware –equipment such as printers, routers, storage devices, switches, firewalls, etc. Firmware can, and in many cases should be, updated. Does any of your equipment need firmware updates? Very likely! Further, neglecting available firmware updates can be detrimental to the optimal functioning of your computer and related equipment.

How so? Issues which prove problematic may come to light after computer equipment is manufactured. A manufacturer could simply treat the equipment as out of date (or defective), but of course this tactic would not be cost effective. Instead, as long as the equipment is still supported, manufacturers issue firmware updates which remedy trouble spots. (If your device has reached end of life status, the manufacturer will no longer provide updates. We do not recommend using equipment which is no longer supported.)

Typical reasons for firmware updates:

  1. Security – If a manufacturer finds that exploits are a possible threat to the hardware it produces, the manufacturer will normally issue a firmware update.
  2. Reliability – Sometimes errors are made in the initial programming of equipment. These errors may only be evident in certain situations, but they can be a real nuisance to the user. In such cases, firmware updates are often provided by the manufacturer of the equipment in order to correct such errors.
  3. Compatibility – A piece of equipment, when first manufactured, may not have been designed to interface with another particular piece of equipment. If feasible, helpful manufacturers will update their firmware to provide needed compatibility.

Caution is necessary, however. Firmware updates, like all updates, can produce unintended consequences. Larger companies, will off-set this risk by setting up a separate test environment to assess the effects of a firmware update on equipment utilized in the company production environment. Once the update is applied to devices in the test environment with successful outcomes, the firmware update is applied to the production environment. If you do not have the benefit of a separate test environment, careful consideration must be given to mitigate potential risk.

Interested in improving and protecting your business? Contact us – we’re here to help with firmware, software, or any of your technology needs.


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It could happen in an instant!

As they say on TV “It could happen in an instant”.

We recently received a disturbing call from a very concerned individual whose computer was infected by a particularly sinister virus. The individual had received a shocking threat demanding $400 be paid within 40 hours or he would experience the permanent loss of all user data: pictures, documents, etc.

Your response to reading this scenario may be, “Is this actually possible?” Yes.

The computer in question was infected by the so-called “CryptoLocker virus” which is only one example of a type of malware which centers on extortion. How does it happen? In a number of ways, but often the system infection occurs when the computer user opens an attachment to a phony email (an email which looks surprisingly legitimate) and in so doing, installs encryption software.

The scheme is terribly unfair and cruel. Yes, this is extortion. Yes, this is definitely illegal. The perpetrators deal in hard-to-trace payments. These attacks likely do not originate from within the U.S., making them difficult to trace.

For additional information please see the Department of Homeland Security, United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team webpage on this issue:

So what can be done? As always, prevention is your best ally.

 Some important preventative measures:

  1. Antivirus software / Firewall – These systems help to keep out unwanted software and communication. No business would store valuable items unsecured. How are you protecting your critical files?
  2. Backup – Should your computer become infected, you would probably like to be able to recover all of your files without making ransom payments. Make sure that your backup is protected from the crippling encryption attack.
  3. Email Filtering / Caution – As the normal attack vector for this virus is often email, be cautions of email and email attachments. Use technology to help insure safety.
  4. Patches – Up-to-date software is normally more difficult for the bad guys to defeat.

Interested in improving and protecting your business network? We have many solutions available which can be customized to fit your specific needs.

Contact us – we’re here to help. To learn more, click Here


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Been Following The News?

The recent hacking incident at Target serves as a reminder that inappropriate access to a computer network can be very dangerous indeed!

No prudent company would allow outsiders to physically enter and casually wander around its offices— possibly pilfering through sensitive documents and client information and stealing ideas and materials. Instead, protection such as video surveillance, locked doors, and ID checks are all means of securing the physical integrity of a business.

A prudent company must be just as vigilant in guarding its network as it is in guarding its physical place of business.

Is your business network sufficiently protected? Though those who would invade your network can’t be seen in the physical sense, you must not assume such invasions are not a real and present threat! Risks can come from anywhere in the world. Don’t be an easy target.

How, then, can you be sure your company’s network is adequately secured? Just as there are many different methods which can be utilized to physically protect a business, there are a variety of solutions available to protect a business network. No two businesses are the same, and by the same token, all businesses do not require the same exact forms of protection.

There are, however, several solutions common in network security:

  1. Firewalls – Analogous to the physical perimeter protection of your business (Think security fence with attending guard at the gate—allowing clear passage for some and restricting entrance for others). Modern business-class firewalls are powerful and effective and receive frequent updates in order to work effectively.
  2. Internet Protection Software – Protects the endpoints and servers individually (Think locked office door: visitors, having entered the building, cannot go into every office.)
  3. Email Filtering – Overseer of email coming in and going out. (Think of secure mailroom which helps insure that envelopes and packages arriving and departing only contain legitimate mail as it gets rid of anything undesirable or harmful).
  4. Up-To-Date Software/hardware – Responsible software and hardware companies make updates available to their customers. These, of course, must be properly implemented to be of benefit (Think of a physical security team in an office building—identifying areas of security weakness and making recommendations for beefing up protection. Managers must then see that these “fixes” are properly applied).

Interested in improving and protecting your business network? We have many solutions available which can be customized to fit your specific needs.


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What to do? What to do?

We’re often asked, “Should we upgrade to the new Windows 8 operating system?” The answer really depends on the user’s tolerance for change and his/her requirements.

Windows 7 was a logical replacement for Windows Vista. It fixed many of Vista’s shortcomings and provided more features, speed, and security. Windows 7 is easy to use for those familiar with prior versions of Windows; Windows 8 does not lend itself to as seamless a transition for users of earlier versions.

In fact, Windows 8 is a real departure, in many ways, from previous Windows operating systems. Windows 8 was designed around a common user interface applicable for all Windows 8 devices. This common interface allows users to easily jump between a Windows 8 desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or phone. Time will tell whether or not this common interface was a brilliant move. Generally speaking, in our experience Windows 8 is a little faster than Windows 7 and offers some interesting new features.

Many initial Windows 8 users find the interface to be confusing. Instead of a single interface made up of the desktop and integrated start menu, the functions of the start menu are located on a new Start screen which is supported on all Windows 8 computer devices and is touch screen compatible.

Windows 8.1 (free upgrade from Windows 8), was released about a week ago and addresses some Windows 8 glitches, helps to make navigation a bit more user friendly, and offers additional navigation options. An aftermarket start menu can be added to function as a conventional Windows start menu; with this addition, Windows 8 can perform much like Windows 7.

Windows 7 computers and the operating system are still very widely available at this time. Many businesses prefer not to upgrade to the latest version of an operating system and believe that a slightly more mature version will be more trouble free and reliable.

Windows 8.1 Advantages:

  1. Faster – Most people experience faster start-up, shut-down, and overall better Windows performance.
  2. Supported Longer – Windows 8 should be supported for some years longer than Windows 7.
  3. Some Additional Features – Improved search and new features like Start Screen, live tiles, and SkyDrive.

Want to talk about whether Windows 7 or Windows 8 is right for you? Give us a call, and let’s discuss which option best fits your needs.

Interested in acquiring or upgrading computers? We have many solutions available. Contact us – we’re here to help. To learn more, click Here


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A Tale of Two Companies

A true story…

With an auditor expected the following day, Company A planned to back up its computer. In fact, the company had every intention of purchasing a backup drive that very day. Every “t” would be crossed, and every “i” would be dotted in preparation for the audit; that was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, when an attempt was made to boot-up the computer for the workday, the computer wouldn’t start. The hard drive had failed!

Coincidentally, one town over, Company B also experienced a hard drive failure. But Company B had a file storage system which could sustain a drive failure. In addition, the company also had a robust backup system.

Company A lost a considerable amount of data and incurred other expenses due to business downtime. Conversely, Company B lost no data and had no unscheduled downtime as a result of the failure.

What made the difference? Company B used foresight.

A few important considerations:

  1. Unimportant Data – If you don’t back-up because you consider your data to be unimportant, ask: “If my data is truly unimportant, why am I storing it?” Likely your data is not unimportant.
  2. Important Data – It is critical that important data be backed up. All devices will eventually fail. Don’t wait till it is too late.
  3. Backup Systems – They are critical to recovery following a failure. Backup systems are also vital in the event of a multitude of other disasters.
  4. Storage Redundancy – Devices can cost effectively store data and have the ability to sustain some failures, yet continue to work. Couple this with a backup system to give you even more protection.

Interested in improving and protecting your business? We have many solutions available. Contact us – we’re here to help. To learn more, click Here


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Going… Going…

Sometimes companies produce software that amounts to a “home run,” while other times, not so much. Windows XP has been very successful for Microsoft. Windows ME (Millennium Edition) and Windows Vista were not as well received.

Windows XP was first released in 2001—that’s right, 12 years ago! How time flies! The widespread sale of computers with Windows XP pre-installed ended about 2010.

Almost every month since Windows XP was introduced, updates have been maintain or improve security and functionality. Microsoft has announced that extended support for most editions of XP ends 4/8/14 (about 7 months from now). We do not recommend using software that is no longer supported.

So what should you do? Well, that depends. Now is a good opportunity to review your business needs, expected future requirements, and your budget. There are a surprisingly large number of options available. Windows 7, Windows 8 (and soon 8.1), cloud based solutions, Mac, Linux, hosted desktops, and tablets are just a few of the options.

Why Use Supported Software?

  1. Continually, miscreants develop new ways to attack computers – Using unsupported software leaves computers vulnerable (no further security updates).
  2. New software offers new features that were not available in the past – These additional tools offer enhanced features to manage your business and improve productivity.
  3. New software supports new hardware – Newer hardware requires software which is compatible. Compatibility with older software is eventually dropped.

Interested in improving and protecting your business? We have many solutions available. Contact us – we’re here to help. To learn more, click Here


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Threat Landscape

Have you noticed that virtually every week brings yet another report of significant cyber-crime? What are the root causes of this phenomenon? Two factors: sin is widespread, and a good deal of business occurs via computers. We could stop using computers, but incidents of forgery, mail fraud, and paper document theft would surge.

Realistically, what can we do? The answer is simple: become less-likely targets.

Analyses of instances of cyber-crime normally reveal missed opportunities to protect data. The key to avoiding victimization rests in analyzing weak points now in order to prevent harm in the future.

A few important defense mechanisms:

  1. Think From The Perspective Of A Criminal – Consider the attack vectors and how these vulnerabilities can be closed or mitigated.
  2. Protect the Virtual Entrances To Your Business – Network firewalls are one means of this type of protection.
  3. Monitor And Protect Servers & Workstations – This will help stop threats which find their way onto your network or originate from a local computer.
  4. Effectively Filter Email – Messages coming into your network can contain viruses, malicious content, and social engineering threats.
  5. Train Employees – Careful and informed employees should act as the last line of defense.

If you have additional questions on this topic, or you would you like to suggest topics for future Tips, please let us know!

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Strange Noises / Funny Lights

Strange Noises and Funny Lights…what gives?

Notice anything odd about your computer system lately? Hearing beeps, clicks, whines, or seeing funny-colored lights? Wondering if your system is trying to convey a message? As a matter of fact, it is.

Don’t ignore; take action. In some cases, temporary operation of the system will continue despite equipment damage. Your computer system may have sufficient redundancy to temporarily ward off a system disaster. Failure of power supplies, cooling fans, hard drives, etc., may be masked if there is component redundancy.

Keep in mind, indications of trouble are important, and a timely response is often critical. Failure to take action will often result in a true emergency.

Recently, a panicked business called us with a system failure. Unfortunately, the presence of a red indicator light had been ignored over time. Due to design redundancy, operations had continued but eventually ceased altogether. Had the customer contacted us when first noting the indicator, costly and inconvenient downtime could have been avoided.

Be safe, not sorry:

 Report Unusual System Behavior – If you see (or hear) something, say something.

  1. Have Your System Inspected Periodically – Inspections can detect problems which otherwise might go undetected until there is real trouble.
  2. Consider Remote Monitoring – Your IT provider can utilize remote monitoring to help insure that a defect is detected as early as possible.
  3. Prepare For The Unexpected – Make sure your disaster recovery plans are in place.

Give us a call and let us help you determine the best solutions for your needs!

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