Password Best Practices Keep Your Business Secure

According to an article in the HIPAA Journal, May 2nd was “National Password Day.” You didn’t know there was such a day? National Password Day was declared in 2013 to bring awareness of both the importance of passwords in keeping personal and company data safe, but also about  password risks and best practices to mitigate those risks. Read on to learn about the state of thinking about passwords, and how to better manage login credentials.

 

A Brief History of Passwords

 

Even with biometric methods of identification, and single sign-on technology, passwords are still relevant as the most common way to secure personal and business accounts. Passwords were first developed in the 1960s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to guard accounts against unauthorized access. Incidentally, the first password breach occurred there, too.  More recently, a survey of 2400 respondents in the U.S. and other countries revealed some sobering statistics about password practices.

 

Common Password Practices

 

Using the same password for multiple accounts was a common practice, with 84% of respondents admitting to using the same password for multiple accounts. If a hacker can steal the password to just one account, they can easily gain access to others.

 

54% of respondents relied on memory for passwords, and because of this the passwords can be too short and weak.

 

36% incorporated personal information (family names or birthdays, for example) in passwords to make remembering easier. 

 

33% used only a password, rather than two- or multi-factor authentication, to access their accounts. 

 

Moreover, even when changing passwords, users didn’t change them sufficiently. Instead, they only changed a few characters, with the idea of keeping them easy to remember.  All of these practices can facilitate the theft of passwords by social engineering (email “phishing” or text-message “SMiShing”) attacks, or even brute force attacks. How can thinking on passwords be changed?

 

Best Practices for Password Management

 

First, the article suggests thinking not in terms of passwords but passphrases, multi-character combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols, that are more difficult to guess. Also, the article suggests using password management systems where the list of passphrases is itself protected by a passphrase of at least fourteen characters. Companies can develop clear, enforceable policies for password management, which might then influence how workers handle passwords outside of work, too. 

 

Passwords are still necessary to secure business and personal accounts, and thus need to be unique and strong. For help developing your company’s password policy, contact your trusted technology advisor today.

Cybersecurity Challenges for Small to Medium-Sized Businesses

Cybersecurity, ever a topic for businesses of all sizes, poses special challenges for small to medium-size businesses. Not only can they be special targets for bad actors, but they also deal with tight budgets and at times a lack of understanding of what cybersecurity means. Read on to learn how a small business can meet cybersecurity challenges and build strong defenses.

 

A number of cybersecurity issues are challenging for smaller businesses, according to a CompTIA article. First, just getting started with a cybersecurity plan can seem like a huge task. And what does cybersecurity mean for your business? What mission-critical data and applications need protection? Once your company has decided on your goals, how will you reach them? 

 

Another issue is spending. Often, a small organization’s cybersecurity budget is tight, and the business cannot spend very much on an IT team, or the training to upskill current workers. How much will a third-party solution cost? These and other costs can seem daunting. 

 

Knowledge and understanding of the threat landscape is another challenge. Small or medium-size businesses might think that, being small, they are “under the radar” of cybercriminals. However, they are likely to be the victims of a cyberattack. According to the FBI, small businesses comprised the majority of victims in 2021. Even if the bad actors don’t specifically target a small company, they may use the small company to target larger businesses. Often, the criminals are looking to steal data – credit card and bank account information, customer data, even proprietary business information–from anyone they can. 

 

One of the challenges is complacency; small companies may think they don’t need to learn new skills. On the contrary, they need to adapt to an ever-changing threat landscape. Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated, with  attackers banding together. Previously, hackers may have worked on their own, trying to execute brute force attacks or use bots to take down a website with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.   

 

Cybersecurity Help for Small Businesses

 

So, what’s the solution? The good news is, though cybercriminals are banding together, small to medium-sized companies can do the same. Technology service providers  can help small businesses access threat intelligence and learn from organizations that have been attacked and have recovered. And with help from the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and its various resources, businesses can get information and start acting on that information to develop their cybersecurity plan. What’s more, a company might seek out third-party partners that can help supply the IT talent to improve their cybersecurity posture.

 

Cybersecurity, especially for smaller businesses, can seem like a huge challenge. However, help is out there. To learn more about developing a security plan, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Implementing Your Artificial Intelligence Strategy

The explosion in popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) is hard to ignore, as one of the biggest – if not the biggest–technology trends in 2024 and beyond. How will your business use this technology? Read on to learn about developing a strategy to harness AI’s power.

 

Growth in Popularity of AI 

 

The popularity in and market for artificial intelligence only continues to grow. According to a CompTIA article on AI statistics, the global market is expected to grow to $407 billion by 2027, with a compound annual growth rate of 36.2%. The U.S. market is expected to surpass that, increasing to $594 billion by 2032, growing 19% year over year from 2023 on. 

 

Businesses are at varying states of the adoption/implementation journey. According to the CompTIA report, 22% of firms are “aggressively” implementing artificial intelligence. Another third of firms are implementing AI in a more limited way, and the majority of firms (45%) are still exploring implementation. Even with its popularity, some hesitation exists because of challenges—including the cost of upgrading applications, building out infrastructure, along with the need to fully understand the data that goes into properly training artificial intelligence. 

 

Formulate a Strategy for AI Implementation

 

As with other popular technology, your business needs to consider its goals and how artificial intelligence can help you reach them. Examples of such goals include automation and refinement of routine tasks; enhancement of the customer experience via personalization; analysis of data; and content creation.

 

You’ll also need to consider how to mitigate risks associated with artificial intelligence. Start with security to ensure your staff is trained to follow policy and your proprietary and sensitive data is protected. How will your company deal with hesitation on the part of workers to embrace AI, because of fear of it automating their jobs? What about the quality of data used to train AI’s large language models, data which may include bias? Also to consider is protecting privacy and complying with regulations. The financial cost can include updating applications and building needed infrastructure. These are just a few questions to consider when developing your strategy.

 

Artificial intelligence has shown itself to bring potential benefits to businesses across many industries. For help in developing or refining your strategy, contact your trusted technology advisor today.

Using SD-WAN to Enhance Hybrid Work

n the last several years, remote and hybrid work environments have become common. Many offices have at least a partially remote workforce, and this calls for communications applications that are always on and helping workers to collaborate effectively. To learn about leveraging software-defined wide area networks for seamless communication, read on.

 

What SD-WAN and Why it Matters

 

With remote and hybrid work more common, and teams using popular platforms, seamless Internet connectivity, stability and reliability are essential. Software-defined wide area networking, or SD-WAN, is a cloud-based approach to WAN management that brings together multiple providers to offer the connectivity needed. The infrastructure is in the cloud, eliminating the need for customers to manage and maintain their own. All they need is an internet connection and an appliance at each connection point (remote office). Additional appliances can be added as needed.  SD-WAN uses multiple transports including business-class broadband and networking as well as MPLS already used in WANs, to route traffic effectively for a hybrid workforce. 

 

Software-Defined Wide Area Network offers numerous benefits. First, it reduces capital expense by eliminating the need for companies to maintain on-premise infrastructure. Operational expense is decreased by reducing the need for IT professionals to make trips out to fix problems. Instead, monitoring and troubleshooting is centralized. Like the cloud in general. SD-WAN is scalable, with devices easily added to the network. And by using multiple providers, data is moved reliably to where it’s needed as a result of increased bandwidth.

 

Security Considerations in SD-WAN

 

Readers might be wondering about security.  How can so much data in transit be protected? At first thought, security might be a problem with data being routed to multiple locations. Only by ensuring that the security is fully integrated and traffic is transparent can SD-WAN enhance security, instead of being yet another attack vector.

 

Software-defined wide area networks use the cloud to enhance the communication and collaboration the hybrid office environment requires. For guidance in your company’s SD-WAN decisions, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Trends in Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing is a commonly-used term, but the concept has been in the works for decades. In recent decades, cloud has come into its own as a powerful mode of computing used for businesses large, medium and small. Read on to learn about current and future trends in cloud computing.

 

A Brief History of the Cloud

 

CompTIA gives a brief history of the development of the cloud in an article about cloud trends. The first vision of the cloud, in the 1960s, was put forth by MIT Professor John McCarthy. Cloud computing would offer computing as a public utility, each subscriber paying only for what they use. In the next ten years, machines were linked to a host machine. Internet protocol had proved itself late in the 1970s, and by the 1980s, many more computers were connected to the Internet. By the 1990s, mobile devices became part of the landscape, and were able to access the Internet remotely. The code that helped Amazon to provide its online marketplace led to developing the model cloud. Cloud continued progressing to the point of “powering business operations in some form for nearly every organization.” 

 

The Present State of Cloud Computing

 

Cloud computing is currently experiencing widespread demand, and focusing on efficiency. Edge computing, which may have a major role in the future, is currently decreasing latency (the time it takes for data to travel from its point of energy to its destination, and back again). Organizations can expand their capabilities and retain functionality across locations; this could be vital for Unified Communications. The “anything as a service” (XaaS) model provides multiple services that businesses need to make processes efficient. Desktop as a Service is part of this, providing a virtual desktop that users can access via the Internet. The back-end infrastructure and software are handled by the cloud provider. With remote work still popular, DaaS is still in demand. Artificial intelligence is still part of the picture, automating processes and increasing personalization. Deploying multiple cloud environments, either through multi-cloud or hybrid-cloud can help keep systems running when user demand is high; a backup cloud can take on workloads from other clouds that become overwhelmed. 

 

Future Trends in Cloud Computing

 

Efficiency will continue to be a desired goal in the future. Cloud automation’s role is to eliminate the need for humans to complete rote tasks, allowing systems to run more efficiently. Automation will also help businesses tie together cloud technologies to enhance efficiency. Edge computing will cut down on the use of data centers; instead, data will be handled on peripheral devices. Cloud computing, with its vast data stores, will give quantum computing the power it needs to operate. The cloud will also support artificial intelligence (AI) giving it the vast stores of data it needs for its models. In turn, AI will help with automation of cloud services. 

 

Exciting developments are in the future, though they can be overwhelming. To learn how to capitalize on upcoming trends, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Unified Communications for Business Success

Remote work has existed for decades, but got a big push just a few years ago, with so many away from the office. And some workers are staying remote, part of companies facilitating hybrid work environments. Business telecommunications needs to be up to the task, equipping workers to collaborate and communicate to get things done. Read on to learn more about the benefits of telecommunications technology for a connected workforce.

 

The Growth of Business Communications

 

Remote work has happened for years (the term “telecommuting” was coined more than 50 years ago), and tools for connection and collaboration have grown in sophistication. In the past, telephones have operated independently of the Internet, and other tools like email and conferencing have been separate. The market for Unified Communications has grown in the last few years, and is expected to grow to about $50 billion globally by 2025. Little wonder, considering the business benefits it brings.

 

Benefits of Integrated Telecommunications

 

Integration of modes of telecommunication like Voice Over IP (VoIP) telephony, customer relations management software, and web conferencing can improve communication and collaboration while saving your company money. With Unified Communications, a package of communication tools in the cloud is available with an internet connection. The cloud service provider handles the infrastructure, freeing businesses from the capital expense of purchase and maintenance of hardware. With more workers having the capacity to work remotely, businesses can cut spending on office space (though depending on its needs, a company may choose a hybrid workplace). Ability to connect with new clients virtually can even help you break into new markets near and far. 

 

Enhancement of Customer Experience

 

WIth integration of multiple modes of communication, in-office and remote workers can easily interact with each other, to facilitate a hybrid workforce. Customer relations management software brings up customer information quickly to allow the rep to quickly and accurately handle the call, building customer loyalty. Routing voice mail messages to email means no calls are missed. Videoconferencing can help workers collaborate on projects and share files to complete important work quickly.

 

Considerations for Unified Communications

 

If your company is still in the process of adopting UC, a network audit to find bottlenecks or weak spots is helpful in determining your network’s readiness. With vast amounts of data transmitted, your network needs to have enough bandwidth to handle the traffic. On top of that, data needs to remain safe from loss or compromise. 

 

Unified Communications is a powerful tool for companies with remote workers or a hybrid work environment. For assistance with your telecommunications strategy, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Applications of Artificial Intelligence for Small Business

We hear so much about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and what it can do, as well as cautions about it. But how can it help your business run more efficiently as well as deliver amazing results in customer service? Read on to learn more about harnessing the power of AI for your small-to-medium-sized business.

 

A Brief Summary of Artificial Intelligence

 

Artificial intelligence, or AI, is an enabling technology made possible by machine learning. Machine learning is the process of teaching machines how to react to different data types, based on probabilities. Large language models (LLMs) are trained on huge amounts of data, which makes them able to understand and generate language and other types of content, performing a wide variety of tasks. The data is fed into these models from humans, and this plays a role in the quality of data.

 

Business Applications of Artificial Intelligence

 

Because it is trained on vast amounts of data, AI has the power to automate repeated processes, freeing up time for humans and labor cost for your company. Employees can focus on other tasks while AI works in the background. It has potential to be embedded in customer relationship management software, and to find information about customers based on past interaction. That way, customer service representatives can have the information at their fingertips and serve customers even more quickly. Even outside business hours, your company can continue to serve customers with chatbots that mimic human-to-human interaction. Data analysis is more rapid, and this has implications for cybersecurity. Trained on data from network traffic, AI can quickly detect suspicious activity and help avert a cyber attack. The technology could even provide information that leads to new markets and revenue streams.

 

Considerations for Using AI in Your Business

 

Artificial intelligence is an amazing powerhouse, no doubt about it. However, a business needs to decide how the technology will help reach business goals. If you are a small business looking for quicker data analysis to enhance cybersecurity, for example, AI-enabled technology is a good choice. For communications with customers and within the office, AI can help generate and summarize content–once again saving time.

 

Since AI’s results are only as good as the data training the algorithms, care needs to be taken to evaluate the content, making sure it’s as bias-free and accurate as possible. Moreover, it shouldn’t contain any personally identifiable information, data which can be traced to an individual. Compliance and regulatory issues may come into play, too. Your company may need to overcome resistance from some workers who might fear losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. You will likely need to take time to educate and train workers to see AI as a valuable tool and to use it to best advantage.

 

Artificial intelligence has many money- and time-saving ways to help your business. For more information, contact your trusted technology advisor today.

Cloud Trends in 2024

Cloud Computing, long a fundamental part of digital transformation, is seeing even more changes in 2024 and beyond. From hybrid and multi-cloud to the intersection of artificial intelligence and cloud computing, and the security and compliance implications, digital transformation and innovation will continue. Read on to learn more about upcoming cloud trends. 

 

Hybrid and Multi-Cloud Environments Rising in Popularity

 

Hybrid Cloud environments, wherein some of an organization’s computing resources are in a private cloud and others in a public cloud environment, seem to offer the best of both worlds. Hybrid clouds offer the cost-effectiveness of public cloud, while preserving data privacy by keeping some infrastructure on-premise. The latter can benefit businesses in industries that must comply with data protection regulations. It will be vital for businesses using hybrid cloud to know where business data resides–not to mention your cloud service provider’s regulatory compliance policies. 

 

With multi-cloud architecture, numerous providers are used, and this provides flexible solutions and benefits to fit your business. What your company needs to consider, though, is that additional configuration may be required for the different services to communicate with each other, and how this can impact the experience for end users. 

 

Artificial Intelligence in the Cloud

 

Another trend is the connection between cloud computing and artificial intelligence. What the two have in common is automation. Artificial Intelligence (AI) with its large reservoir of data can help automate and streamline mundane processes and free up time to work on the company’s strategic goals. Artificial intelligence, an enabling technology, can analyze data and provide insights that can lead to even more precise strategy. Cloud and AI can work together to enhance customer experience. Software as a Service (SaaS) will integrate with AI more and more in the coming years. 

 

Security and Compliance Continue in Importance

 

As always, with the advance of technology, security of data and systems and compliance with data protection regulations will always be vital. In the realm of Software as a Service (SaaS), cloud providers will focus on enhancements of security features. Since businesses and entire industries will increasingly need to comply with data-protection regulations. Business owners may want to meet with their providers and learn how these enhancements will aid compliance for the organization.

 

The cloud will continue to be integrated with technology like artificial intelligence. To learn more about cloud trends, contact your trusted technology provider. 

Protect Passwords to Safeguard Personally Identifiable Information

Businesses large and small deal every day with personally identifiable information from customers, employees and additional stakeholders. How do they protect it? While passwords alone are not considered personally identifiable information, they help keep it safe. Read on to learn more about how to manage passwords and keep data safe

 

The Role of Passwords in Safeguarding PII

 

Personally identifiable information (PII) is defined as data that can be linked with or traced to an individual. Such PII includes names, date of birth, address, Social Security numbers and other specific information about a person. Some of it is n-sensitive, part of public records or easily found online. Sensitive PII can include biometrics (used as part of multi-factor authentication, employment and financial records, and bank account credentials. Every business owner handles a great deal of personally identifiable information in the course of doing business. How can they protect it?

 

Passwords authenticate a user’s access to websites (including company websites) that hold personally identifiable, often sensitive, data on employees, customers and more. Employees properly trained in password management can be helpful in safeguarding a company’s data. One key practice, along with developing strong passwords, is refraining from sharing these passwords with others. 

 

Keeping Passwords Private Benefits Your Business

 

The reasons for keeping passwords secret may seem obvious–no one else can get into your accounts, or change your data, or leave it in danger of falling into the wrong hands. If your workers keep their passwords secret, they prevent sensitive information from being leaked to those who can misuse it. Individual workers (and your business as a whole) avoid penalties associated with regulatory non-compliance. By keeping passwords confidential, they avoid being held responsible for misuse. What’s more, with a strong password, they can always access the resources they need to succeed in their work. Even companies with strong controls and policies need to train their workers in password maintenance, making the practices part of the organization’s culture.

 

While passwords may or may not fall under the category of personally identifiable information, they definitely serve to protect it. For help in developing your company’s password policy, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

From Cybersecurity to Cyber-Resilience

Cybersecurity is an ever-present issue, especially in these times of rapid innovation. With this innovation, companies need to remember the importance of protecting systems, devices, networks and data from cyber attack. But what if we all went a few steps beyond, thinking of what to do to deal with an incident while it’s occurring and after it happens. Read on to learn how to work toward making your organization cyber resilient in the face of today’s threat landscape.

Cybersecurity and Cyber-Resilience

The two concepts sound similar, but the difference between cybersecurity and cyber-resilience is the focus. Cybersecurity refers to protecting systems, networks and data from cyberattack, whereas cyber-resilience is about an organization’s ability to withstand and recover from an attack while and after it happens. Both are important, and both contribute to business resiliency. An attack happens about every 39 seconds, according to some sources. Common types include malware attacks, ransomware, and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS), and these attacks can steal data or access to it, or even stall your system. And the effect on your business is potentially devastating; even a short power outage can result in costly downtime. How will your organization not just prevent these hazards, but deal with and recover from them, and stay running and resilient?

Benefits of Cyber-Resilience

The threat landscape continues to expand, with more attacks and the attacks becoming more sophisticated. Considering the rate of cyberattacks already occurring, the probability of one striking any one organization is high. Protecting yourself, as well as having a plan to respond to an attack when it happens, benefits your company in numerous ways. For one, you can continue operating during the disaster and avoid lost revenue. Second, the ability to protect customers’ personally identifiable information increases their trust in your organization. Third, you avoid fines for failure to comply with data-protection regulations. Finally, your business can even achieve a competitive advantage in staying open when others have to close.

Elements of a Cyber-Resilience Strategy

According to a CompTIA article, a strategy will prepare you to respond to attacks and mitigate their damage. A cyber-resilience strategy starts with assessment and prevention, a deep knowledge of your technological assets, and any possibility of gaps that attackers can exploit. Actively implementing preventive measures can help you look out for threats before they become problems. Plans for response and recovery position your company to respond quickly and mitigate damage. Adaptation and flexibility involves knowing that each attack is different and being able to respond at the moment. Finally, education and ongoing training can acquaint workers with possible threats and how to respond. Practice through attack simulations is very helpful as part of training.

Cybersecurity, of course, is still important. Cyber-resilience goes beyond that, to recovering from an attack and keeping the business running. For help with your strategy, contact your trusted technology advisor today.