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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Windows 10 updates for Fall 2017

By EDITOR

Windows 10’s Fall Creators Update is the next major update that Microsoft will roll out in September. Besides reusing the same “Creators Update” name and focusing on bringing the Windows experience to iOS and Android devices, here are some noteworthy features users can expect.

Timeline
It’s designed to grant Windows 10 users freedom to switch between multiple devices, including iOS and Android phones. Timeline lets you pick up from where you left off if you’re switching between multiple Windows 10 devices. With the Cortana integration, this will even extend to some Microsoft apps on iOS and Android. This useful new feature will be accessible via Window 10’s Task View.

OneDrive Files on Demand
This feature allows you to access all your cloud-based files without having to download them in order to optimize your device’s storage space. What’s more, you won’t have to change the way you work, because all your files — even those online — can be seen in File Explorer, and they work just like every other file on your device.

Cloud clipboard
The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update brings a cloud-powered clipboard that lets you copy information from one Windows 10 device and paste it onto another. And this isn’t limited to text alone either. On top of that, it supports Android and iOS devices if you use Microsoft’s SwiftKey virtual keyboard.

Pick up where you left off
As the name suggests, it basically allows you to start working on your PC and continue working on your phone when you are away from your PC (and vice-versa). Currently, the feature works only between Windows 10 PCs in the Windows 10 Creators Update — but with the upcoming Fall Creators Update for Windows 10, Microsoft will be integrating this capability into your phones as well.

My People
It was originally announced as a key feature in the April’s Creator Update, but will be launched in the coming Fall Creators Update. This feature lets you pin a number of connections to your taskbar — three, in the current Insider preview — and stay in constant touch with them. It defaults to Skype, but you can choose an alternative if you’d like.

These are just a handful of the nifty features users can expect from Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. For more information, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re more than happy to help.

We’ll keep you updated on the latest developments.

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Bluetooth users beware!

By EDITOR

Bluetooth technology helps simplify our daily lives — it allows for hands free communication, a quick and easy way to share content with friends, family, colleagues, and more. In fact, 45 percent of Americans have Bluetooth enabled across multiple devices. This raises the question: Does using Bluetooth leave our doors opened to hacker attacks?

Google paid a settlement fee of $7million for unauthorized data collection from unsecured wireless networks in 2013. While their intention likely wasn’t theft, many disagreed and called them out for Bluesnarfing, a method most hackers are familiar with.

What is it?

Bluesnarfing is the use of Bluetooth connection to steal information from a wireless device, particularly common in smartphones and laptops. Using programming languages that allow them to find Bluetooth devices left continuously on and in “discovery” mode, cybercriminals can attack devices as far as 300 feet away without leaving any trace.

Once a device is compromised, hackers have access to everything on it: contact, emails, passwords, photos, and any other information. To make matters worse, they can also leave victims with costly phone bills by using their phone to tap long distance and 900-number calls.

What preventive measures can you take?

The best way is to disable Bluetooth on your device when you’re not using it, especially in crowded public spaces, a hacker’s sweet spot. Other ways to steer clear of Bluesnarfing include:

  • Switching your Bluetooth to “non-discovery” mode
  • Using at least eight characters in your PIN as every digit adds approximately 10,000 more combinations required to crack it
  • Never accept pairing requests from unknown users
  • Require user approval for connection requests (configurable in your smartphone’s security features)
  • Avoid pairing devices for the first time in public areas

Bluesnarfing isn’t by any means the newest trick in a cybercriminal’s book, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less vicious. If you’d like to know more about how to keep your IT and your devices safe, give us a call and we’ll be happy to advise.

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Reasons to back up your mobile devices

By EDITOR

It makes a lot of sense for electronics firms to pack a variety of functions into mobile devices and expand their usefulness. Instead of confining their use to communications, companies such as Apple, Samsung, and others have turned mobile phones into mini-computers that can serve as a substitute for your laptop, or as a storage device. If you’re using mobile phones as a communications and storage device, backing up now would be a wise move.

Malware on mobile

More than 50% of the world’s adult population use a mobile phone with internet connection, so dangers in these handy devices are to be expected. Scarier than the thought of being offline is being online and exposed to malware.

If you use your mobile devices as an extension of your work computers, backing up is a must. Mobile phones have become as vulnerable to malware as laptops and desktops have, especially if you consider the fact that many professionals and business owners use them for emailing confidential documents and storing business-critical files.

Device disasters

Other than malware, other types of disasters can happen on your device. Because you carry it wherever your go, your device can easily be stolen, misplaced, or damaged. They may be easily replaceable, but the data contained in them may not. Having completely backed up data on your devices helps prevent a minor inconvenience from turning into a disastrous situation.

Backup options

Performing backups in iPhone and Android devices is a seamless process. Their operating systems require only minimal effort from users, and backing up entails nothing more than logging into their Apple or Google account. However, other users have different devices with different operating systems, slightly complicating the process.

Mobile devices’ safety is essential to business continuity plans. So whether your office users are tied to a single operating system or prefer different devices, there are options to back up all your organization’s mobile devices. There are cloud backup services that enable syncing of all devices and that back up files, contacts, photos, videos, and other critical files in one neat backup system. These mobile backup tools are offered on monthly or lifetime subscription schemes, which provides small businesses with enough flexibility to ensure protection.

Mobile phones have become so ubiquitous to how people function that many feel the need to have two or more phones, mostly to have one for personal use and another for business. With all these options on hand, there’s no excuse for not backing up data on your mobile devices.

Our experts can provide practical advice on security for your business’s computers and mobile devices. Call us for mobile backup and other security solutions today.

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Microsoft says goodbye to Windows Vista

By EDITOR

We live in a digital era where innovations are emerging quicker than the speed of light. This means older operating systems might soon be discontinued. Case in point, Microsoft Vista. After a 10-year run, Microsoft is set to discontinue support for Vista users from April 11th onwards. On top of that, key security or software updates will cease as well.

Windows Vista
Launched worldwide on January 30th, 2007, Windows Vista has been Microsoft’s operating system for home and business desktops, laptops, tablet PCs and even media center PCs. This version came with a bunch of new features such as Aero, an updated graphical user interface; Windows Search, a new search function; as well as Windows DVD Maker, a new multimedia tool. Vista aimed to increase communication between machines on a home network, with peer-to-peer technology that simplifies file sharing.

Windows Vista criticism
Not too long after its release, the operating system came under fire from both the users and the press. Initially, Vista aimed to improve the state of security, the main criticism its predecessor — Windows XP — received. There were commonly exploited security vulnerabilities and overall susceptibility to malware, viruses, and buffer overflows. According to Net Applications, Windows Vista has less than 1 percent of global market share in terms of PC operating systems. Despite that, Windows 10 is doing extremely well, boasting over 400 million devices running on it.

Will computers still function properly?
Essentially, yes, but they will be susceptible to viruses on account of Microsoft discontinuing security updates. On top of that, Internet Explorer 9 won’t be supported either, meaning surfing the web with this browser could possibly expose you to even more vulnerabilities. Microsoft also warned users that certain apps and devices would not work with Vista, as software and hardware manufacturers are optimizing services for newer versions of Windows.

What’s the next step for your business?
We recommend that you upgrade to Microsoft’s latest operating system: Windows 10. But before doing so, check the software and hardware specifications of your PCs, since they might not be able to handle Windows 10. If that’s the case, users can opt for a Windows 7 upgrade as an alternative.

Keeping up with the latest technological innovations might be a tedious task, but it’s also an imperative one. To ensure the future of your small- or medium-sized business, you’ll be needing IT that works for you and not the other way round. For more information on Windows operating systems, feel free to get in touch with us today!

 

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