5 tips to keep the Cloud cost-efficient

By EDITOR 

As a business owner, it’s essential that you are aware of the hidden costs associated with the Cloud and what measures you can take to keep those costs down. They might be more than what you’d normally pay for at first, but it could add up and cost you two, or even three times more than its worth. Pay the right price for the services you receive, and not a penny more with these five tips:

No standalones
Cloud services come in various shapes and sizes, many of which are standalones that can contribute to rising costs. Opt for a service provider that offers a suite of products that all work together. They are often less expensive than a group of standalone products. Another benefit of working with a provider is that you receive a single point of contact to resolve your issues quickly and effectively.

Experience matters
If you have to integrate a standalone Cloud service into your system, make sure you hire an experienced integration consultant for the job since they will be able to finish the job quicker, thus making it cheaper. Integration mishaps can cause serious downtime which drains a lot of money.

Backups are important
Performing endless backups will definitely waste cloud storage space. That’s why it’s important to examine your Cloud storage data by asking the following questions:

  • How many versions of this data do you need to store for the long-term? The more versions you store, the more it costs.
  • What regulatory demands do you need to meet? Some data may need to be accessible for up to three years, whereas other data can be deleted after 30 days.
  • How quickly do you need to access your backup? If you can wait for a day or two, archive that data to a less expensive service or offline at your provider’s data center.

Remove users
Many Cloud service providers charge by the number of users in your system. By neglecting to manage the list of users, you could end up paying for people who no longer work for you. Implement processes that remove users when they are terminated and consider scheduling a regular audit. Ideally, this should be once every six months to a year, to ensure that your Cloud user list is up-to-date.

Monitor proactively
Ask your Cloud provider whether they can proactively monitor your account to notify you of potential issues before they cause problems. This is especially important if you have a pay-as-you-go license that charges based on resource and storage usage.

Utilizing the right technology resources is vital to your business’s success, and so is knowing how to prevent them from racking up a staggering monthly bill. If you wish to enjoy all the benefits Cloud computing can provide your business without breaking the bank, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

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Important Office 365 Upgrade

By EDITOR 

If you wished Microsoft would streamline its Office 365 ProPlus update schedule, your prayers have been answered. The cloud solution, which includes the Enterprise E3 and E5 plans, will be updated twice a year, rather than three times a year. Here’s everything you need to know about the new ProPlus update schedule.

Why the new schedule?

Feedback has almost always been Microsoft’s impetus to make changes of any kind, and this is no exception. The software giant wanted to simplify the update process and improve coordination between Office 365 and Windows, and the new schedule should handle both of those aims.

This is particularly helpful for those using Secure Productive Enterprise (SPE). SPE was bundled with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus, meaning subscribers had to deal with two separate upgrades prior to the new schedule. Moving forward, things will be simplified as a single update twice a year will suffice.

What else changed?

Microsoft is extending support for ProPlus from 12 months per update to 18 months. This means you can technically update once or twice a year, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

They’ve also changed the following terminology used in their updates:

  • Current Channel → Monthly Channel
  • First Release for Deferred Channel → Semi-annual Channel (Pilot)
  • Deferred Channel → Semi-annual Channel (Broad)

The Semi-annual Channel (Pilot) and Semi-annual Channel (Broad) describe the twice-a-year feature updates and how they will be deployed: the former to be used as deployment testing and the latter for actual deployment to an organization’s users.

When will the first ProPlus upgrade be released under the new schedule?

The first Pilot channel will be available on September 12, 2017, the same day as that month’s Patch Tuesday. The first Broad channel will be available four months later on January 9, 2018, also on a Patch Tuesday.

The second release will bring a new Pilot on March 13, 2018 and a new Broad on July 10, 2018.

Can you skip a ProPlus features upgrade?

While you can in fact choose only to upgrade once a year, you will eventually have to conduct a second upgrade to get the most up-to-date support. Microsoft is giving you two months of overlap in the next update to do this.

So, say your firm deploys the Broad channel in January 2018, but skips the July 2018 upgrade, you would have to upgrade within the two-month span between January 2019 and March 2019 to be eligible for the latest support.

What happened to the ProPlus upgrade for June 2017?

Microsoft released new Deferred Channel and First Release for Deferred Channel upgrades on June 13, 2017. You will have three months to conduct enterprise pilots and validate applications with this upgrade before the final Deferred Channel release on September 12, 2017. The last Deferred Channel will be supported until July 10, 2018.

Changes to the support life cycle of Office 365 ProPlus will ultimately save you time and reduce the hassles of conducting upgrades. That said, it might take some time getting used to the new schedule and nomenclature, so if you have any questions about Office 365 or the new schedule, just give us a call.

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Google ridding MR from search results

By EDITOR 

Modern-day cyber criminals utilize every resource possible to launch attacks, one of which has been publicly available until now. Google had just overhauled its personal information policy, especially for the healthcare industry, resulting in the removal of private medical records from its search results.

If an individual’s medical records were leaked, that could be both emotionally and financially damaging. For example, hackers that use ransomware to extort money from hospitals can gain access to private medical data and hold it for ransom. Whether the ransom is paid or not, they could still release it online, where Google’s search engine would pick it up.

Traditionally, Google had a hands-off policy to search results and rely on its algorithm to do the work instead. In the past, this policy was heavily scrutinized for releasing fake news and other forms of false information. All of this changed when Google combed through the search results and removed private medical information.

Before making potentially sensitive information available on search results, Google now assesses their level of sensitivity using this series of questions:

  • Is it a government-issued identification number?
  • Is it confidential, or is it publicly available information?
  • Can it be used for common financial transactions?
  • Can it be used to obtain more information about an individual that would result in financial harm or identity theft?
  • Is it a personally identifiable nude or sexually explicit photo or video shared without consent?

Ensuring the security of private data is paramount to the success of businesses operating in every industry. Whether it be on-site or online, if data were to fall into the wrong hands, not only could that cause financial and reputational ruin, it could even close down your business for good. If you want to know more about how to keep your data safe, feel free to call or email us!

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Microsoft issues security patch for XP

By EDITOR 

When a Microsoft product reaches its “end-of-life,” the tech developer no longer provides feature updates, technical assistance, and automatic fixes for that product. Support for Windows XP, for instance, ended in April 2014. That said, recent malware attacks have caused Microsoft to continue support for their outdated operating system. Read on to find out more.

More WannaCry copycats
The primary reason why Microsoft reassessed their update policy for Windows XP was due to the success of WannaCry, a ransomware worm that encrypted hundreds of thousands of computers worldwide. Even though the attack did not affect XP computers, Microsoft anticipates increased risk of similar attacks for the outdated OS being developed in the near future.

According to Microsoft’s Head of Cyber Defense Operations Center Adrienne Hall, cyberattacks by government organizations and copycat hacking groups are imminent; and this time, they’ll improve upon WannaCry’s shortcomings. In fact, shortly after WannaCry was stopped on May 12th, other strains with more sophisticated code popped up seeking to exploit the same weaknesses.

NSA leaks
Many security experts also suspect that Microsoft is releasing security fixes for outdated systems because of leaked NSA hacking tools. Over the years, the NSA’s ‘hacking’ department, Equation Group, has been storing cyber exploits in its arsenal. But a group known as the Shadow Brokers found these exploits and publicly disclosed them, which led to the WannaCry outbreak.

Right now, the Shadow Brokers are promising to leak more NSA exploit tools to hackers in the Dark Web who are willing to pay $10,000.

The update
Since a significant portion of businesses are still working with XP, Microsoft believes that their recent security update is the best way to protect all Windows users. The new patch fixes 16 critical vulnerabilities, many of which seem to defend against the exploits leaked by the Shadow Brokers.

Windows 10 users can find the critical update in the Microsoft Download Center. Alternatively, they can simply check for updates in Windows Update, which can be found in the Settings menu. But to install the update for unsupported operating systems, users should visit Microsoft’s security advisory page for tips and download links.

Although Microsoft has extended support for Windows XP, don’t expect regular fixes for outdated systems. As always, the best protection is to use an up-to-date system that’s equipped with the latest security patches.

“Older systems, even if fully updated, lack the latest security features,” said Hall.

If you’re unsure about your Windows security, what operating system you’re running, or how to protect your company workstations, give us a call. Our certified and experienced experts will help keep your business safe from WannaCry and future malware attacks.

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How a UPS protects your business

By EDITOR 

Nature’s unpredictability guarantees that your business will experience several power outages that will affect your operations. An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) ensures your computers and other devices never break down from power failure. More importantly, it ensures you never lose data from unexpected computer shutdowns. Whether you want to avoid the inconvenience of having your operations halted, or just want to shore up your systems’ safety, using a UPS is the way to go.

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.

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Does the CIA have access to your router?

By EDITOR 

There are an exhausting number of cyber security threats to watch out for, and unfortunately you need to add another to the list. A recent leak from the CIA proves that routers are one of the weakest links in network security.

The Wikileaks CIA documents

For several months, the notorious website famous for leaking government data has been rolling out information it obtained from the Central Intelligence Agency. The documents detail top-secret surveillance projects from 2013 to 2016 and mainly cover cyber espionage.

In the most recent release, documents describe government-sponsored methods and programs used to exploit home, office, and public wireless routers for both tracking internet browsing habits and remotely accessing files stored on devices that connect to compromised networks.

Is my router one of them?

According to the documents, 25 models of wireless routers from 10 different manufacturers were being exploited by the CIA. They weren’t off-brand budget devices either; the list includes devices from some of the biggest names in wireless networking:

  • Netgear
  • Linksys
  • Belkin
  • D-Link
  • Asus

Those brands account for over a third of wireless routers on the market, which means there’s a good chance you’re at risk.

After WannaCry used a previous CIA leak to fuel its global spread, you need to worry about more than just being a target of government espionage too. Over the past few years, almost all of these leaks have quickly made their way into criminal hands.

Patching vulnerabilities

Fixing security gaps in hardware is tricky business, especially when they’re mainly used to monitor rather than corrupt. In most cases, there will be no visual cues or performance problems to indicate your hardware has been infected. As such, you should plan on regularly updating the software on your hardware devices whenever possible.

Accessing your router’s software interface isn’t a user-friendly experience for non-IT folks. Usually, to access it, you need to visit the manufacturer’s website and log in with the administrator username and password. If these are still set to the default “admin” and “password” make sure to change them.

Once logged in, navigate through the settings menus until you find the Firmware Update page. Follow the instructions and confirm that the firmware has been properly installed.

The CIA’s router leaks were vague, so we’re not even sure how recent they are. We are fairly certain, however, that all of the manufacturers have since patched the vulnerabilities. Regardless, updating your router’s firmware will protect from a number of cyber security risks. If you’re unable to finish the task on your own, one of our technicians can fix it, as well as any other firmware vulnerabilities, in a matter hours. All you need to do is call!

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How to extend your laptop battery’s power

By EDITOR

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.

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7 tips for avoiding data loss in Office 365

By EDITOR

Microsoft understands the value of your business’s data and the costly repercussions of losing it. That’s why they’ve released a slew of security and compliance tools for Office 365 subscribers. But given the increasing sophistication and frequency of data breaches, Office 365 cloud security solutions won’t be enough to protect your files. You’ll need to follow these seven security tips to truly avoid data loss in Office 365.

Take advantage of policy alerts
Establishing policy notifications in Office 365’s Compliance Center can help you meet your company’s data security obligations. For instance, policy tips can warn employees about sending confidential information anytime they’re about to send messages to contacts who aren’t listed in the company network. These preemptive warnings can prevent data leaks and also educate users on safer data sharing practices.

Secure mobile devices
With the growing trend of using personal smartphones and tablets to access work email, calendar, contacts, and documents, securing mobile devices is now a critical part of protecting your organization’s data. Installing mobile device management features for Office 365 enables you to manage security policies and access rules, and remotely wipe sensitive data from mobile devices if they’re lost or stolen.

Use multi-factor authentication
Because of the growing sophistication of today’s cyberattacks, a single password shouldn’t be the only safeguard for Office 365 accounts. To reduce account hijacking instances, you must enable Office 365 multi-factor authentication. This feature makes it more difficult for hackers to access your account since they not only have to guess user passwords but also provide a second authentication factor like a temporary SMS code.

Apply session timeouts
Many employees usually forget to log out of their Office 365 accounts and keep their computers or mobile devices unlocked. This could give unauthorized users unfettered access to company accounts, allowing them to compromise sensitive data. But by applying session timeouts to Office 365, email accounts, and internal networks, the system will automatically log users out after 10 minutes, preventing hackers from simply opening company workstations and accessing private information.

Avoid public calendar sharing
Office 365 calendar sharing features allows employees to share and sync their schedules with their colleagues. However, publicly sharing this schedule is a bad idea. Enabling public calendar sharing helps attackers understand how your company works, determine who’s away, and identify your most vulnerable users. For instance, if security administrators are publicly listed as “Away on vacation,” an attacker may see this as an opportunity to unleash a slew of malware attacks to corrupt your data before your business can respond.

Employ role-based access controls
Another Office 365 feature that will limit the flow of sensitive data across your company is access management. This lets you determine which user (or users) have access to specific files in your company. For example, front-of-house staff won’t be able to read or edit executive-level documents, minimizing data leaks.

Encrypt emails
Encrypting classified information is your last line of defense to secure your data. Should hackers intercept your emails, encryption tools will make files unreadable to unauthorized recipients. This is a must-have for Office 365, where files and emails are shared on a regular basis.

While Office 365 offers users the ability to share data and collaborate flexibly, you must be aware of the potential data security risks at all times. When you work with us, we will make sure your business keeps up with ever-changing data security and compliance obligations. And if you need help securing your Office 365, we can help with that too! Simply contact us today.

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Protect your data from WannaCry

By EDITOR

This month, ransomware has taken center stage yet again. WannaCry has already infected thousands of users around the world. In true ransomware fashion, WannaCry holds user data hostage until the victim decides to pay the ransom. What’s more alarming, however, is that the global success of this malware will likely spawn even more potent variants. To protect your business from ransomware attacks, consider these tips.

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.

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Choosing a web browser: Which one is safest?

By EDITOR

Managing business-level cybersecurity is no simple task. Tens of thousands of users are finding that out the hard way as they confront the issue head on in the wake of an international ransomware epidemic. Although many cybersecurity strategies require professional IT support, a great place to start is assessing the security of your web browser.

Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE)/Edge

Despite their nearly identical logos, Edge and IE are actually different browsers with vastly different security strategies. Microsoft’s legacy browser, IE, isn’t even fully supported anymore. The most recent version still gets occasional updates, but experts don’t expect that to last for long. If any website or services claims to require IE to run, consider that a possible red flag.

Windows 10’s default browser, Edge, is a different story. This browser uses a technology called virtualization to create safe spaces to open and test links before granting a website’s programming code full access to a computer and user. Edge is based on the same software as IE, and the majority of its security improvements come from scrapping the browser’s customizability. If you’re okay with a fairly inflexible browsing experience, Edge is a good option.

Apple Safari

Safari is to Macintosh computers what IE is to Windows machines. Safari comes pre-installed on OS X and it has a long history of battling malware. Its security programming has been bested a number of times, but usually in research settings. The commonly held belief is that Safari just doesn’t have enough users to make it a profitable target. Apple has a history of responding quickly to malware, but we don’t recommend leaving anything to chance.

Mozilla Firefox

One of the earlier third-party web browsers to gain popularity was Firefox. Unfortunately, it just can’t keep up with the competition. In just one example, all the data from browser plugins is stored in the same location, which means a compromised add-on could easily gain access to the data stored in a password manager.

One of the reasons that Firefox continues to stick around is its commitment to privacy. All the other browsers on this list profit from analyzing (and sometimes selling) your browsing habits, while Firefox has cornered the market on privacy. Security and privacy should never be confused, but if the latter is more important to you and you aren’t installing third-party plugins, Mozilla is an OK option.

Google Chrome

Chrome is used by almost two-thirds of all internet users, and for good reason. Like Edge, Chrome also uses virtualization to create a quarantined space between the internet and your computer. Additionally, Google issues routine security updates to its browser more frequently than any of the others on this list. There is near unanimous consent among experts that Chrome is the safest of all web browsers.

Privacy however, is a whole other ball game. Pretty much every action you take using the Chrome browser is tracked, stored and analyzed. That’s not to say that your email isn’t encrypted or your saved passwords aren’t safe, it just means you have much less control over your internet identity.

Being aware of how your web browser stacks up against its competitors is only a fraction of the battle. WannaCry spread to uninfected systems through a gap in the Windows security framework, and most other ransomware infections prey on human error. What your business needs is a comprehensive security audit. For more information, call us today.

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