Azure virtual machines get a free upgrade

By EDITOR 

Virtualization is difficult to understand. The technology itself is complex, and the industry is dominated by vendors that the average business owner has never heard of. Almost everyone knows Microsoft though, and its virtualization platform just got a big speed boost that won’t cost users a thing — if they know how to take advantage of it.

Azure: Microsoft’s virtualization platform

As a full-service cloud solution, Azure is a secure and flexible data center that businesses of all sizes can benefit from. Azure services include cloud storage, web hosting, and even some customizable AI features. With the help of a trained professional, Microsoft’s platform can provide access to virtual machines, which are fully-furnished desktops users can log into and work from via the internet.

One of the reasons Azure is such a flexible cloud solution is because it can easily integrate with solutions businesses maintain on premises to become a hybrid platform.

Faster virtualization options

Microsoft has been testing a new feature — referred to as Accelerated Networking — for a year and a half, and it’s finally available for all users. Without getting too technical, this upgrade allows Azure to remove enormous computing workloads from its service delivery process.

Any business that uses Microsoft’s cloud service for virtualization solutions can now access up to 30 gigabits per second of network throughput, which means Azure-based virtual machines and applications will be even faster than before.

Do SMBs really need this much speed?

Although the Accelerated Networking feature is free, enabling it requires quite a bit of IT expertise, so don’t expect it to be set up overnight. In fact, for small businesses that pay for tech support per project or by the hour, this upgrade may not be worth it. However, if you’re on an unlimited support plan from a managed IT services provider, you might as well — it won’t cost you anything extra!

With our team as your 24/7 technology resource, you don’t need to understand the intricacies of virtualization. Whether it’s speed enhancements or security optimizations, our team will make sure your solution always gives you the best return on your investment. Call us today to learn more about our virtualization services.

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3 simple and easy cyber-security tips!

By EDITOR 

Data security and privacy should be a top priority in this age of constant and downright dangerous cyber attacks. However, in your quest for ultimate security, don’t forget to implement these non-technical steps to shield your business’s IT resources.

Cover up your webcam

There must be some credibility to doing this if Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, former FBI director, James Comey, and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden all believe their webcams could be compromised. This is not just another paranoid celebrity reaction to ruthless paparazzi, there’s a genuine reason behind it. Kindly take a moment to consider the following scenario: hackers using your webcam to spy on you.

Though it might sound unrealistic, this actually happened on several occasions. Sometimes for purely voyeuristic reasons and sometimes what appeared to be espionage. This is a very real threat with disturbing repercussions. Hackers aim to gain personal information based on your surroundings, deduce your location, as well as spy on the people you’re with, ultimately using this information to hold you ransom, threatening to broadcast your most intimate and vulnerable moments if you don’t pay up.

Fortunately, guarding yourself against such danger is really easy and some painter’s tape over your webcam should do the trick. If you’re not confident about regular tape, you can purchase a cheap webcam cover online or at any hardware store.

Purchase a privacy shield

Think of privacy guards as those iPhone scratch protectors, but with an anti-snooping feature. These are thin covers you put on your computer, laptop or smartphone screen to limit viewing angles. Once installed, anyone trying to look at your screen from anywhere — except straight-on — sees nothing. Privacy filters are commonly used to protect work devices, particularly which display or contain critical files with sensitive data or confidential information. However, less sensitive, personal devices are still vulnerable to ‘shoulder surfing’ — the act of peeking at someone else’s screen, with or without ill intent, which is why we recommend using these protectors on all your devices.

Use a physical authentication key

Requiring more than one set of credentials to access sensitive resources is common sense, and has become standard practice for established online services. With something called two-factor authentication in place, you gain access to your account only after you’ve entered the authentication code, which the website sends to your smartphone once you’ve entered your account credentials. Until recently, two-factor authentication relied mostly on text messages that were sent to mobile phones. But professionals have now realised that phones can be hijacked to redirect text messages.

Moreover, authentication codes can be stolen, or users can be tricked into entering these codes via a convincing phishing website. If you’re looking for authentication services that cannot be hijacked, stolen or lost, your best bet is a USB or Bluetooth key you can carry on your keychain. This means nobody — not even you — will be able to access your account without the physical key. Ultimate security at your fingertips.

If you need help setting up two-factor authentication, or any IT security services, contact our experts and experience true peace of mind as we fortify your data to no end.

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Enlist IT help when installing CPU updates

By EDITOR 

When it comes to security updates, time is usually of the essence. The longer you wait to install a fix from a vendor, the higher the risk of being compromised. But in the cases of the Meltdown and Spectre flaws, you might be better off waiting until a more reliable patch is released. Let’s review what’s going on and what the best course of action currently is.

Unsecured data storage

Spectre and Meltdown are the names given to two hardware flaws that allow hackers to see any piece of information stored on your computer. Although slightly different in execution, both take advantage of a hardware feature that computer chips use to access and store private information. For the last 20 years, security experts believed this information could not be stolen or spied on by malicious software, but that assumption was proven false on January 3, 2018.

Now that the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities are public information, hackers can use them to create programs that steal passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and anything else you type into your computer.

Because these problems are hardware-based, none of the updates will be able to secure the vulnerable storage; they’ll simply prevent your computer from storing anything in it. Currently, there are patches for:

  • Operating systems (Windows, macOS, and Linux)
  • Web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, and IE)
  • Chip firmware (low-level programs installed on the processor itself)

If you’re using an Apple computer, these updates are relatively easy to install. If you’re using a Windows or Linux-based computer, these patches may cause your machine to freeze, reboot unexpectedly, or significantly slow down.

Why should I wait to install the updates?

Intel, one of the chipmakers responsible for the Spectre and Meltdown flaws, has provided contradictory recommendations on more than one occasion. As recently as January 18, Intel recommended waiting for an updated patch, but in the same announcement also recommended “consumers to keep systems up-to-date.”

Experts believe detecting an attack that is based on one of these flaws will be relatively easy and represent an alternative to installing updates that could render your computer unusable.

What should I do?

IT support experts will be able to quickly and easily assess what is the best option for your computers. For example, our team can determine whether or not your hardware will conflict with the current patches, and either install them or set up a detection strategy that will help you mitigate the risks without ruining your computer.

If you need expert IT support for quick responses and ironclad security — give us a call today.

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The risks of auto-complete passwords

By EDITOR 

If you’re disturbed by advertisements and “helpful” suggestions that are based on your internet browsing habits, recent research has found yet another source of online tracking. It’s a sneaky tactic that also comes with serious security concerns. Let’s take a look at what you can do to stop it from targeting you.

Why auto-fill passwords are so dangerous

In 2015, the average internet user had 90 online accounts, a number that has undoubtedly grown since then. This has forced users to create dozens of passwords, sometimes because they want to practice healthy security habits and other times because the platforms they’re using have different password requirements.

Web browsers and password manager applications addressed this account overload by allowing usernames and passwords to be automatically entered into a web form, eliminating the need for users to hunt down the right credentials before logging in.

The process of tricking a browser or password manager into giving up this saved information is incredibly simple. All it takes is an invisible form placed on a compromised webpage to collect users’ login information without them knowing.

Using auto-fill to track users

Stealing passwords with this strategy has been a tug-of-war between hackers and security professionals for over a decade. However, it has recently come to light that digital marketers are also using this tactic to track users.

Two groups, AdThink and OnAudience, have been placing these invisible login forms on websites as a way to track which sites users visit. These marketers made no attempts to steal passwords, but security professionals said it wouldn’t have been hard to accomplish. AdThink and OnAudience simply tracked people based on the usernames in hidden auto-fill forms and sold that information to advertisers.

One simple security tip for today

Turn off auto-fill in your web browser. It’s quick, easy, and will go to great lengths to improve your account security.

  • If you use Chrome – Open the Settings window, click Advanced, and select the appropriate settings under Manage Passwords
  • If you use Firefox – Open the Options window, click Privacy, and under the History heading select “Firefox will: Use custom settings for history.” In the new window, disable “Remember search and form history.”
  • If you use Safari – Open the Preferences window, select the Auto-fill tab, and turn off all the features related to usernames and passwords.

This is just one small thing you can do to keep your accounts and the information they contain safe. For managed, 24×7 cybersecurity assistance that goes far beyond protecting your privacy, call us today.

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Apple in 2018: What should you expect?

By EDITOR 

2017 was a fruitful year for Apple, with the launch of new iPhone models, Macs, and Apple Watches dominating the market. But it’s looking like the tech company is already working on new products that will delight consumers and businesses. If you want to know what you can expect from Apple in 2018, you’ve come to the right place.

Three new iPhones
Just like every year, Apple will likely launch new iPhone models in September. Reports suggest there will be three iPhone models in 2018, and since Apple disrupted naming conventions by introducing iPhone X, it’s anyone’s guess what these models will be called.

However, experts predict the new iPhones will look like the current X model, but in sizes that match the 8, 8 Plus, and a supersized X model. They’ll all be equipped with faster hardware and a TrueDepth camera system that allows users to protect their phones with facial recognition.

HomePod
One device that’s certain to be released early in the year is the HomePod, a smart speaker in the same vein as Google Home and Amazon Echo. The Siri-powered speaker will likely feature automatic tuning, a fast A8 processor, and a six-microphone array to easily pick up commands. Other than playing music, HomePods will answer general questions and communicate with nearby smart devices.

Considering that Amazon and Google currently dominate the smart speaker market, Apple has its work cut out.

AirPods and wireless charging
There’s also talk of updated versions of AirPods, Apple’s wireless headphones. Rumors are far from substantiated, but experts are saying that the headphones may receive a design change and a case that can charge them wirelessly.

Speaking of wireless charging, more Apple devices will likely rely on this technology in the future. In September 2017, Apple unveiled a wireless charging pad that can charge multiple iPhones and Apple Watches. This year, we might get to see larger devices like iPads taking advantage of this technology.

Wearables in healthcare
Those in healthcare predict Apple Watches will become a key piece of technology for the industry. More health-monitoring addons for Apple Watches like EKG readers are now FDA-approved, so we may see more doctors using them to give accurate diagnoses and treatments.

Augmented reality devices
Over the past few months, Apple has also expressed an interest in researching augmented reality (AR) technologies. In fact, leaks from manufacturing facilities indicate that Apple is working on smart glasses that overlay digital information on the physical world. Although it’s still unclear what they will be using it for or if Apple will follow through with their plans, there are plenty of business possibilities with AR.

For instance, it can be used to display line-of-sight prices and details about a product without having to check the price tag or ask a salesperson.

All in all, Apple users have much to be excited about, and if you want to be the first to find out when or if these products will be released in 2018, call us today. Our experts are always tuned into the latest Apple developments to give you an edge over the competition.

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New Windows update for PC vulnerabilities

By EDITOR 

Two newly discovered Windows vulnerabilities, known as Meltdown and Spectre, make it possible for hackers to steal all sorts of confidential information. To resolve this issue, Microsoft has released an update. Continue reading to stay protected.

Issues with Microsoft’s Spectre and Meltdown patches

After the January 3rd announcement of unprecedented security vulnerabilities, Microsoft has been rushing to release security updates for its Windows operating system. At their most basic, these complex vulnerabilities, named Spectre and Meltdown, make it possible for a program installed on your computer to access any information stored on your hard drive, even if it is protected.

These flaws mean that anything you’ve typed into your computer is at risk: credit card numbers, passwords — all of it. But don’t rush off to install fixes just yet. There are a few speed bumps you’ll have to navigate on your road to safety.

Incompatibility issues

According to reports, Microsoft’s patches have caused several problems to some users’ computers. For some, installing the new patches has resulted in computers with older processors to crash more often than usual. Users with newer processors have found their computers struggling to boot up, with some never getting past the Windows loading screen.

As a result, on more than one occasion, hardware and software vendors have recommended that its customers postpone installing the new patches.

Spectre and Meltdown can cause serious damage, but that doesn’t mean anyone should run off to haphazardly attempt computer repair above their ability. Until the process for installing patches has been ironed out, we recommend enlisting help.

Hire a professional

Given the issues on patches, IT novices shouldn’t update their computers on their own. Without adequate experience, you might install the wrong patch and cause even more problems to your computer. Or worse, install one of the pieces of malware masquerading as Spectre patches. Instead, why not call a professional to update your computer and protect your system from Meltdown and Spectre?

Data and network security is no easy task. We offer advanced, multi-layer protection to keep your data safe and sound. Give us a call and we’ll explain how we can help.

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Manage your IT hardware better in the New Year

By EDITOR 

The new year doesn’t have to mean new IT hardware problems. Sure, some headaches are unavoidable, but you can start the year right by giving your computer hardware a little TLC. Let our handy hardware checklist be your guide.

✓ Clean up your computer components
Wipe your monitor with a clean, static-free fabric; remove excess dirt from your mouse’s exterior; and tidy up your keyboard with compressed air. Don’t forget your computer tower! Dust build-up can block your computer’s air vent and affect its performance. Ensure that your workstation is getting adequate ventilation and isn’t directly exposed to sunlight and other heat sources.

✓ Manage your cables
If you’re not giving your computers’ cables the attention they deserve, now’s a good time to do so. Other than wiping the thick coat of dust on computers’ cables, consider using cable management solutions that unclutter and untangle messy wires. These don’t just organize and secure your cables, they also help ensure your PCs run quieter and are less prone to overheating as a result of blocked air vents.

Planning to relocate or upgrade in the near future? Organizing your computers’ cables now makes future relocation and upgrading processes much easier.

✓ Review and update your inventory
Keeping an inventory of all your hardware helps you manage hardware lifecycles and purchases, identify items that are near their end of life, and ensure you avoid duplicate purchases of items already in-stock.

Your inventory list should include all owned and leased devices: PCs and laptops, printers and scanners, tablets and smartphones, and modems and other network hardware. Update all your assets’ serial numbers and keep track of their respective users and location.

✓ Printer maintenance
Clean the interiors and exteriors of your printers, including paper trays, which are sure to have accumulated dirt from years of use. You should also repair and/or replace parts and accessories such as printheads and cartridges that are no longer in good condition. Should you decide to do a complete printer maintenance, check for the latest software updates for your printers and install them immediately.

✓ Implement a hardware policy
This is also a good time to create a technology guideline that your employees can follow to ensure they work efficiently. These guidelines reduce the need to spend on unnecessary repairs, keeping the succeeding year’s checklist shorter. With clear instructions on the proper use, replacement, and storage of your hardware and devices, you’ll be better able to manage your hardware for years to come.

With a more organized IT hardware inventory, you have one less thing to worry about. Want to get more in-depth hardware management recommendations? Call our experts today.

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Tips to protect your smartphone

By EDITOR 

Cyber criminals will always be eyeing your data regardless of where it’s stored. That means even your trusty Android phone or iPhone isn’t safe. In fact, it may be more exposed to security risks than you think. These tips can help increase your mobile’s security.

Set a strong password

Whether your device requires a 4-set or 6-set numerical PIN, a fingerprint, or a facial scan, set a lock that’s difficult to crack. This is not the strongest security measure by any means, but they provide a necessary initial barrier for intruders.

Major manufacturers like Apple and Samsung are innovating their products’ locking mechanisms and you’re doing yourself a favor by using them. To manage your device’s locks, follow these steps:

  • iOS – Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode, enter your passcode, and switch on ‘Require Passcode.’ This is also where you can manage your Touch ID settings and adjust access controls (Recent Notifications, Today View, and more). If you’re using an iPhone X, go to ‘Face ID & Passcode.’
  • Android – Go to the Settings page > Lock Screen and Security to set your passcodes. These feature names may vary per device.

Download applications only from official stores

For iPhone users, download only from the App Store, and for Android phones, Google Play Store. Downloading apps only from these platforms doesn’t guarantee that your phone will be 100% safe from malware, but doing so greatly reduces the likelihood of you downloading malicious programs disguised as legitimate apps.

Even Apple, which used to be the gold standard for software security, is no longer immune to system vulnerabilities. Despite having a strict policy on downloads (iPhone users can download only from the App Store), those with ‘jailbreak apps’ are exposed to a multitude of malicious entities. As a further precaution, download only apps that have high ratings and steer clear of downloads from unknown links.

Check your apps’ permissions

When you download certain apps, you’ll be asked to grant permission for it to access your data (files, contacts, photos, etc.). What most users don’t know is that some of these permissions also gain access to hardware controls such as those found in the device’s camera and microphone. And if a malicious app happens to slip through the cracks, these permissions can serve as a gateway for hackers.

Android and Apple have already improved their respective OS’s mechanisms to control what apps can access, but you can take it up a notch. Follow these steps to manage what apps can access on your phone:

  • iOS – Go to Settings > Privacy to see your apps’ access level. For example, if you tap on Microphone, you’ll see all the apps that have access to your iPhone’s Microphone. If you wish to deny access to it, you can do so by turning privacy off.
  • Android – Go to Settings > Apps, select an app, then tap ‘Permissions.’ From here, you can control every individual app’s access to your devices’ files.

Update apps and security software

We cannot stress this enough: As soon as they become available, download and update your OS and apps’ software.

In exceptional cases where certain versions of an OS are known to have bugs, not patching your device doesn’t make it any less exposed to risk. And here’s why: Most older OS versions have had to be patched because of a software vulnerability, and delaying its update to the latest version doesn’t make it safer. In fact, it’s far riskier to remain unpatched and wait for the next update.

These basic yet critical tips will help keep all your gadgets safe and your business data unharmed by cyber criminals. Boost your devices and your business’s defenses with dependable cyber security from our team — call us today!

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Update your Mac ASAP

By EDITOR 

With new vulnerabilities discovered every day, it’s important for users to keep their computers up to date. The problem is many find this process tedious and sometimes ignore it altogether. But if you’re a Mac user, we urge you to install the latest patch as soon as possible.

Serious bug
On November 28th, security researchers reported a serious bug in macOS High Sierra that allows anyone to easily take control of any Mac computer. Normally, users are asked for their username and password before logging into their Mac, installing a new application, or changing settings. However, this recent bug allows users to simply type “root” as a username, leave the password field blank, and click “unlock” to gain full access.

This means if hackers have physical access to a machine, not even passwords can stop them from getting inside. They could, for instance, log in with “root,” reset the username and password, and enjoy future access to the machine at any time. They could also install spyware with ease and monitor your activity 24/7 without being detected.

The bug was so alarming that Apple released an emergency patch within a day. But even the fix had problems, and when users installed the next major macOS update, High Sierra 10.13.1, the bug reappeared.

Luckily, Apple was quickly made aware of this secondary problem and rolled out a 10.13.2 update on December 6th to completely resolve the issue.

Other threats to Apple security
This wasn’t the only problem Apple had to deal with recently. In October, Apple released an update for Key Reinstallation Attacks (KRACK) — a type of attack that essentially breaks the encryption protocols between a router and a device, allowing hackers to read private messages and steal other sensitive data.

And last week, an iOS 11 update was rolled out to fix glaring weaknesses in Apple’s HomeKit Internet of Things framework, which enables hackers to exploit smart devices like security cameras and door locks.

How to protect yourself
The importance of checking for updates and installing them as soon as possible cannot be understated. Hackers are more active than ever and will use any means necessary to breach your network. Updating your software is the best way to reduce the number of exploitable entry points into your business.

To install updates for Apple devices, open the App Store, and click on Updates. All critical updates should be displayed on the window, but if you don’t see the one you’re looking for, use the Search field to find it.

Even though the potentially devastating High Sierra bug has been fixed, you should consider creating a genuine root user password to prevent others from gaining access to your machine just by typing in “root.”

To do this, open Directory Utility, which can be found in the Users & Groups tab in System Preferences. From there, click on Edit and select Enable root user, where you will be prompted to set a password. And last but not least, make sure you set a strong password.

Protecting your systems is a full-time job, so if you’re not experienced with computers, call us today. We’ll give you the tools and services you need to stay safe from a wide range of cyberattacks.

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2017’s most valuable IT solutions

By EDITOR 

It’s the perfect time of year to evaluate last year’s technology investments and make adjustments for the year to come. Whether 2017 left you with extra cash in your pocket or desperate for a better way to get work done, here’s a roundup of the best IT news from the past year.

Small businesses love the cloud

According to research from IDC, more than 70% of businesses with 10-99 employees took advantage of cloud technology in 2017, and that number is expected to rise this year. This is largely due to IT providers demonstrating that the cloud is just as, if not more, secure than on-premises solutions. The list of possibilities for what can be hosted in the cloud on a small-business budget is getting longer every day — if you’re not devoting resources to this technology, it’s time to jump onboard.

Mobile payments earn users’ trust

Like the cloud, making credit card purchases using a mobile device suffered from a trust deficit in its early stages. For good reasons, consumers have been conditioned to treat IT security with caution, and storing financial information on a smartphone that could wirelessly transmit that information to cashiers sounded dangerous.

However, after two years of availability without any major incidents, the number of users who have used smartphone-based wallets like Apple Pay has doubled. Accepting these payments is relatively simple for small businesses and opens up new business opportunities.

Cybersecurity becomes affordable for SMBs

Ransomware had yet another year of explosive growth, and small businesses were a primary target. Thankfully, managed IT services providers met the increased demand for cybersecurity services with intelligent data backup and network protection solutions tailored for SMB budgets. There will be even more ransomware attacks in 2018, which means you should be investing in more cybersecurity services than you did last year.

The Internet of Things gains popularity

Just a couple years ago, Internet of Things (IoT) devices were novelty gadgets for people with money to burn. Everything was being connected to WiFi networks: egg trays, pet-activated video chats, belts, you name it. But due to more useful applications in 2017, nearly a third of US businesses are now taking advantage of IoT gadgets. Connected thermostats, door locks, and AI assistants make it easy to save money, increase security, and boost productivity.

“Artificial Intelligence” is widely adopted

Although we’re still far from building computers that can truly think for themselves, 2017 was the year that computers got much better at creatively organizing and interpreting data for us. From digital assistants that answer your phones to customer relationship management platforms that intelligently uncover sales opportunities, IT solutions for business are getting significantly cheaper and smarter. Experts predict that more than 30% of businesses will use AI by next year and we recommend you join their ranks.

Technology investments are no different from any other investment. There will always be risks and you should always consult with an industry expert first. When you’re ready to get more value out of your IT, give us a call and we’ll get started on your 2018 plan!

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