Category Archives: SMB Technology

This blog covers topics on small business technologies.

Business Continuity in Challenging Times

It is never too soon to consider what your business will do in the event of a disaster–a cyber attack, a natural disaster, or an epidemic. In the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantine, many businesses have still managed to continue operating with employees working from home. These times have been a test of any business continuity plan and have also proved the need to have a plan in place. Read on to learn more about developing and refining a plan for your business in these challenging times. 

Business Continuity Goes Beyond Data

A key element in any business continuity plan is handling data—storage, transmission and protection. Data is the lifeblood of your business, and must be readily available and kept safe from loss and compromise. Questions to consider include whether data will be stored on site, in the cloud, or both; which mission – critical data needs to be readily available; and how that data will be backed up. Also, how do you protect proprietary information with employees working remotely, under varying conditions? With employees working remotely, the risks are higher. If there is a cyber attack, who will handle it, and how? Another consideration is the human element — caring for employees and customers during the on-going quarantine.  

Caring for Employees and Customers

This pandemic–or any disaster–offers an opportunity for companies to become trusted leaders for employees and customers alike. According to CompTIA, one way to guide employees through a disaster situation is to communicate proactively with them. You can share both good and challenging news with them, in order to reassure them. Topics to talk about with them include when your business is likely to reopen and what safety measures will be taken. 

To remain vital to customers, CompTIA recommends a ‘serving’ over a ‘selling’ approach. One idea to consider in your plan is sharing resources (webinars, articles, or checklists) with your customers; these resources can help reduce stress and also to cement your business’s reputation as a trusted partner. Inspire trust by adapting to employee and customer needs, such as tailoring employees’ hours to their most productive times. An idea for serving customers is providing flexible payment arrangements. Long after the emergency and its stresses recede your customers and employees will remember your efforts.

This year’s experience with Covid-19 is an example of why a business continuity plan is needed. For help and developing or refining your plan, contact us today. 

Choosing the Best Cloud Environment for Your Business

Cloud computing, once an emerging technology, is now common, and is proving valuable in this time of remote work resulting from the COVID-19 quarantine. To access data and applications, all that is needed is a computer and an Internet connection. Each type of cloud environment–public, private, and hybrid–comes with its own benefits and considerations. Read on to learn more about what each offers, and to consider which is best for your business. 

Benefits and Considerations of Public and Private Cloud Environments 

While all cloud environments have benefits, your business’ needs will impact which one you choose. Public cloud, often used by businesses, schools, and government organizations, is the least expensive, and is easily accessible. All that’s needed is a computer with access to the Internet. Public cloud, like other cloud environments, is flexible and easily scalable, depending on how much demand your business receives. A consideration is sharing computing resources with other entities, and how much bandwidth is available. Another question to ask your IT professional is security of data during migration to the public cloud, and once it resides there. Private cloud environments, in contrast, can help a company keep its data and applications secure, since the public cloud environment is used exclusively by one organization. For organizations needing to follow data-protection regulations, they might ask about private cloud. Private cloud has the same flexibility as public, with added security. 

Considering a Hybrid Cloud Environment 

A hybrid cloud environment is a combination of on-premise, third-party, public cloud and private cloud, with some infrastructure owned and used by a business, and some owned by a cloud service provider. A company might consider hybrid cloud if it wishes to have some infrastructure onsite for failover in case an off-site data center experiences an outage. If a ransomware attack occurs, locally stored data can be accessed easily. One advantage of off-site resources is access to new features not available on a legacy system. Another consideration for use of hybrid cloud includes the health of your network;is it strong enough to keep from developing bandwidth bottlenecks resulting in loss of productivity? 

For assistance with determining your ideal cloud environment, or looking at a new way of using the cloud, contact us today. 

Keeping Your Network Secure in the Era of Remote Work

Approximately two months have passed since the beginning of social distancing, and working from home has become the norm. Virtual private networks are a way for remote workers to access the business’ system from home and therefore keep working, and these networks need to stay strong and secure. Read on to learn more about maintaining this link between your employees and your business.

Keeping the Network Secure

Because your workers access your network from a variety of locations, there are many more places for malware or other intrusions to enter. In order to prevent unauthorized access, the starting point is training workers to access the network. They will need a strong password that cybercriminals cannot guess. The connection itself will need to be secure, limited to a work-issued computer on the network, one with the most current antivirus and anti-malware definitions. By this time, employees need to understand how to recognize and avoid social engineering schemes such as phishing, and to report any suspicious emails.

Protecting Your Work Equipment

Having up-to-date antivirus and anti-malware equipment is vital, and so is physically protecting work equipment, especially that provided by the employer. If possible, work in a separate office. When not working, equipment needs to be off, and the door locked in order to prevent theft or unauthorized access. Keeping the equipment physically safe increases the chances of keeping it (and the network it connects to) safe from cyber attacks, as well. If an office isn’t available, the worker can indicate that equipment is off-limits by closing the laptop or covering the desktop computer and telephone. 

Physically protecting work equipment, and safeguarding your virtual private network and monitoring its health and safety, are critical to keeping it functioning at its best. To evaluate and improve your network in this time of remote work, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Cybersecurity in Challenging Times

In these unprecedented times, we spend more time than ever on various devices, using them both for work and recreation. As in other difficult times, heroes rise to the occasion. However, so do bad actors, seeking to take advantage of the situation. Read on to learn more about protecting yourself from cyber attacks.

Hazards to Watch For

Cyberattacks are on the rise these days, with bad actors looking to take advantage of the situation, playing both on people’s fears, and their desire to help others. As ever, though, we can protect ourselves using tools along with caution and common sense. Social engineering schemes, including phishing attacks, are used to gain confidential information from unwitting victims or to install malware on their devices. For instance, a person might receive emails that look like ones from credible organizations, and these emails capitalize on fears of COVID-19. Cybercriminals might use “spoofing” as a tactic, making an email seem like it’s from someone you know. It might contain an urgent appeal to buy items for a relative because the “sender” is in quarantine. Other possibilities are ads for items like masks or stories about vaccines and cures for COVID-19. 

Keep Your Network and Your Employees Secure

Many businesses now have employees working remotely, accessing the business’ computer network. The first tool that can help keep the network secure is a virtual private network (VPN) that workers can use to safely access files and applications. Other tools that should be part of the arsenal are current antivirus and anti-malware definitions. Remind workers of common-sense precautions like not clicking on links or attachments. If they receive a strange email that appears to be from a supervisor or coworker, they can call to find out if the email is genuine. If it isn’t, they need to report and delete the email. They can point the mouse arrow over the URL to see if that looks suspicious, and refrain from responding to the email. Just being aware that cyber attacks are on the rise can help workers keep their guard up. An option to test workers’ knowledge of phishing attacks is staging a mock attack to learn which people respond, and in what way.

A great writer said that people need to be reminded rather than instructed, and this can apply to cybersecurity. To learn more about how to keep your network and your employees safe, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Requirements for Remote Office

With remote workers becoming the ‘new normal’ in these strange times, remote office security and communication become increasingly important. Read on to learn more about preparing your employees and business for remote work.

Remote Office Security Best Practices

Let remote workers know they are just as responsible for keeping the network safe at home as at the office. Have them maintain a dedicated work space in their home office, where they do only work, and not personal, computing. Physical security is important too; make sure that other family members, if any, don’t have access to equipment used for work. The remote worker will need to conduct phone calls where any confidential information can’t be overheard. Anything the remote employee prints should be shredded after use. Another good practice is keeping the office door locked if not in use. Logging off is an important practice, even if only leaving the computer for a moment. If the remote employee is using their own computer, it needs current anti-malware and antivirus protection, backup and  operating system patches. A firewall with a subnet for personal vs. business should also be established. Businesses responsible for complying with regulations such as HIPAA have even more stringent security requirements. Learn more about managing a mobile workforce here

Just as you’ve been busy, so have cybercriminals. A common practice is phishing using social engineering. A cybercriminal can send an email that looks like it’s from a government source, providing links to sites that will automatically download ransomware. Remote employees need to be trained how to verify if the email is genuine; if it isn’t, they need to report and delete it. 

Supply Remote Workers with the Right Equipment

In order to succeed working remotely, workers will need access to basic equipment. A computer, of course, is a must, along with phone access. If the worker has their own computer, it will need to be checked and brought up to date with anti-virus and malware prevention. This will prevent any malware that could steal company credentials to sensitive data, or the data itself. Ideally, remote workers can connect to the office network with a broadband Internet connection) via a VPN. As for phones, many businesses are turning to cloud solutions for VoIP and other collaboration solutions.  Many of these turn your desktop or laptop into a virtual phone. As long as the employee has a broadband Internet connection, they will be prepared to take part in videoconferencing as well.

Keep Lines of Communication Open

Thanks to videoconferencing, a manager can–and should–hold regular meetings with those workers comfortable with that type of communication. Whatever type of communication is used, communicate with your workers your expectations for them. Perhaps they are working on the basis of results; they can work whenever they wish as long as the work is done. Let your workers know what to do and not to do on a work-issued computer. Common sense says if you wouldn’t do it at the office, you won’t do it at home, either. That applies to safeguarding the security of the computer and its connection to the company network.

To learn more about what’s required to work remotely, stay in communication with your workers, and stay secure in the process, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Helping You and Your Business Survive and Thrive During COVID-19

In the last month off dealing with COVID-19, many workplaces have shut down their offices. Many employees are working remotely, and meeting via web-conferencing platforms. Read on to learn more about keeping safe, healthy and productive during unusual times.

Observing Basic Health and Safety Guidelines

Although many businesses are closed, some essential services may still be open, and there may be times when customers and employees need to come to the office. If this is the case, heed the 6-foot social distancing guidelines, and wear a mask, if possible. Business can easily be done, however, via email, phone, or online. With remote interaction becoming the norm, new considerations exist, including cybersecurity and access to data among them. 

Keep Your Network Secure During COVID-19 

Difficult times can bring out the best and worst in people. While many people have risen to the occasion and looked to help others, cybercriminals are also at work. One way they aim to attack is phishing emails designed to get hold of personal information. Cybercriminals can even make their emails look like legitimate communications from agencies like the World Health Organization. Certain clues can give away these emails–spelling and grammatical errors, a generic greeting, or an urgent call to action designed to play on real fears. If in doubt about an email, you can point your mouse arrow at the email address or URL, to learn where the message came from. Of course, do not click on any link in the message, but report the message and then delete it. To keep your company’s network safe, consider remote network monitoring and make sure reports know and understand cybersecurity practices. 

Make the Most of Online Tools

Communications and collaboration platforms, like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and LogMeIn, are being used so much more in these times. These tools allow a person to set up a video chat and invite others using a link and communicating when the meeting will start. What’s more, they work across multiple devices like phones and laptops, making them easy to use and support. 

Remember, these are simply tools, and the way you use them is up to you. What are the mission, vision and goals of your business? How will you assign work? An idea to consider is having daily and weekly check-ins with your reports, to find out how they are doing professionally and personally. Before starting a videoconference, make sure the reports know how to use the platform, and in what they prefer to use it. Perhaps they will only want to interact by phone, and not by video. 

Use Communication and Collaboration to Sell

Even though your physical office may be closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t still sell and do business in other ways, and generate revenue. Sales calls and meetings can still happen via videoconferencing, and people can work together via email and phone. Not only that, but social media is even more important now. Consider observing what your people are talking about on social media, and interact with them, answering questions and concerns. Letting your customers (and employees) know your business is here for them is vital in such unusual times. 

Evaluate Your Company’s Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Plans

COVID-19 can serve as a diagnostic tool to learn how well your organization’s disaster recovery and business continuity plans are working. While the epidemic may not affect your business in quite the way a natural disaster would (in that physical infrastructure is not affected), it still has an impact on your network. Can your employees still access data and mission-critical applications securely? Is there enough bandwidth for remote workers to use your systems reliably? Checking in with employees can also help you figure out what is working and what needs improvement. Getting as much information as possible can help you fine-tune your preparation for future disruptions. 

The COVID-19 outbreak compels companies to do business differently. Using available tools like videoconferencing, and limiting in-person interaction, can help your business stay in business. For help with your business in these unusual times, contact your trusted technology advisor today. 

Disaster Preparedness – COVID-19

The World Health Organization provides guidance for businesses and employers about the Coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19. Around the world, officials in government, education, and industry are preparing for a prolonged epidemic. That could include significant shifts to the day-to-day economy–school closures, remote work requirements, and sequestered populations are all possible. Just as we need to be prepared for hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, and fires, the workplace must be prepared for pandemics and epidemics like the coronavirus. Read on to learn about business considerations. 

Enable Your Employees to Work Remotely

No matter where you live or what industry you work in, it’s time now to prepare for telecommuting work from your whole team. Having an emergency telecommuting plan in place before a disaster strikes can keep your business functioning while your employees stay busy in the safety of their own homes.

Make Sure Remote Work Connections are Secure 

What supports remote work is the technology that makes it possible. Remote access software allows you to remotely control a computer from a different location and device (a laptop at home). That way you can access all your apps, files, and information, just like physically sitting at the office. In addition, VPNs (virtual private networks) can provide secure access to sensitive data housed on private networks. Using a VPN, your public Internet connection is encrypted and your online activity is shielded. However, home computers using a VPN to connect to an office network can still present cybersecurity problems—if a unprotected home computer happens to get ransomware, it can adversely impact your organization..

Can Your IT Provider Service you Remotely?

Consider Managed IT Services to keep you systems up and running. Proactive monitoring, and maintenance tools implemented remotely help prevent, protect and troubleshoot systems on premise and remote. MSPs provide comprehensive management, preventive problem resolution, security patch and software update implementation, and a 24/7 help desk design.

Test Your Backups to Ensure They are Fully Automated

If your regular data backup requires you or another employee to physically touch a hard drive, you aren’t fully protected. Fully automated data backup that can be a lifesaver for your business in the face of natural or man-made disasters. Off-site backups are securely transmitted and regularly and redundantly stored in multiple locations to account for the possibility of widespread power failures. In the event of an emergency, remote virtualization can get your business up and running in an alternate location as long as your backups work properly.

Develop a Disaster Recovery Plan 

Although it may seem too early to prepare for something that has just started, preparation is key in dealing with something as significant as coronavirus. Consider signing up with an emergency texting service that can immediately transmit emergency announcements and updated information. Employees should understand their work-from-home responsibilities. Once the emergency is over, everyone should understand their responsibilities for getting back to work in a safe and timely manner.

As your technology advisor we have extensive experience assisting businesses through disasters and we know how to leverage productivity and efficiency tools to keep everyone working in the office or from home. Contact us today to find out how we can help you prepare.

 

Business Broadband Internet and Your Network

Business Broadband Internet is the engine powering the operations of businesses worldwide. From cloud services to Unified Communications, broadband is what makes fast, uninterrupted business operations possible. Read on to learn more about broadband’s benefits and what to consider before upgrading your connection.

The Benefits of Business Broadband Internet

In a nutshell, business broadband is a very fast and persistent connection to the Internet. Broadband connection supports Cloud computing, as well as applications including web-hosting and videoconferencing. The speed of business broadband allows a company to be permanently connected to the Internet, saving a business time and, therefore, money. VoiceOver IP (VoIP) calls are clearer, and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications are more responsive. Not only is broadband fast, it can be more affordable than expected. A variety of options are available to suit any budget, and the most affordable offer high-speed transmissions for the same price or less as older connectivity solutions.

Network Considerations in Using Broadband Internet

Before adopting broadband to fully support business operations, the health of your local network should be evaluated. Your local network needs to be robust enough to handle increased traffic and data. Not only should it be free of bottlenecks, it needs to be secure, without any weak spots through which data can be lost or compromised. Furthermore, permanent access to the Internet can open your network to cyberattacks. A firewall, though not the only mode of protection, can be a start. The standard protections of current anti-malware and antivirus definitions can help, along with constant network monitoring. Whether occurring remotely or on-site, monitoring of your network can help spot weak spots and bottlenecks, and deter cyberattacks before they occur. To determine if your business’s local network is ready for accelerated speed and constant connection, have your network evaluated to determine its health. 

To discuss how business broadband can help you achieve your business’s goals, what solution or set of solutions will work best for your budget, and to get an evaluation of your network’s health, contact your trusted technology advisor today.

Streamline Customer Service with Unified Communications

More than ever, businesses are seeking new communications solutions. Instead of old methods, such as analog phone and private branch exchanges (PBX) and a separate computer network, companies are seeking the benefits of more streamlined, economical solutions. Read on to learn what Unified Communications–and its foundation, VoIP–can do for your business.

Unified Communications Provides Greater Efficiency

More and more businesses are moving into the future, using an Internet-based communications platform. According to research firm Gartner, adoption of Unified Communications (UC) is expected to grow to $167.1 billion by 2025, with an annual growth rate of 16.8%. The foundational technology, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), allows businesses to make telephone calls using a broadband Internet connection, sometimes right from the computer and sometimes with an adapter connected to their current equipment. Other modes of communication, such as chat and email, can be done over Internet connection also, eliminating the need for separate phone and computer networks. Other capabilities include going from chat to video conferencing, and integration with CRM. Employees then can be current on customer service, projects and confident of processes moving forward. 

Considerations Before UC Adoption

With all its benefits, Unified Communications can benefit your organization greatly. Not all solutions are equal, however, and it is wise for a company to evaluate its goals to determine what UC services will work best for them. How will this tool help streamline customer service? Which features are most important to have? How many employees does the business have? This last is a key consideration, for many vendors base their rate on the number of employees using the service per month. Some solutions offer  several different packages while others have low setup costs and can function across multiple devices. Many have services that are scalable, adjusting to times of more or less demand. Also consider customer support as service levels among vendors can also vary. Some vendors advertise high security with multiple layers of authentication and encryption, and availability during disasters and outages. Be sure to evaluate these features, considering carefully the best fit for your company. Be sure to inventory your current network, ensuring it can support unified communications.

Even with many factors to consider, Unified Communications might be just the solution for your business. To evaluate which range of services fits your needs, contact your trusted technology advisor today.

Training Your Employees to Help Avoid Cyberattacks

Commonly, employees are thought to be the “weak link” in combating cyberattacks. What if, with thorough training, your employees become your best resource in fighting attacks like phishing, ransomware and malware, and social engineering attacks? These threats can all lead to your network and data being compromised as well as your business losing revenue and your clients’ trust. Read on to learn more about common threats and how to train your employees to have a role in combating them.

Know the Threat Landscape

Threats to cybersecurity abound, and some of the most common are ransomware and malware, which can get to your network via phishing schemes and social engineering attacks. Ransomware is a type of malware in which files are encrypted and become unreadable, and can only be available again if the user pays money (a ransom) to get a key to get the files unlocked. Malware, in general, is malicious software designed to steal confidential information, insert a virus into the network, or both. Commonly, malware and ransomware enter a network via social engineering attacks such as phishing schemes. A bad actor pretends to be someone the victim knows, and tricks them into giving confidential data. For example, the attacker may pretend to be a fellow employee needing assistance that requires access to the network. Instead of trying to find and exploit weaknesses in the system itself, the criminal tries to find “weaknesses” in the victim–a desire to help others, for example. 

Train Employees to Recognize and Prevent Attacks

There are excellent online and in-person training programs to prevent cyber attacks. This training can be a good foundation in knowing more about the risks and how to prevent them. Training is not just a one-time endeavor; rather, it needs to be practiced consistently. Part of training should involve teaching employees how to recognize social engineering attacks, such as phishing. Clues to a phishing email can include misspellings and grammatical errors in the body of the email, along with urgent calls to action (even threats). One way to assess which employees might fall prey to a phishing scheme is to send a fake phishing email with a link in it, and discover who clicks on the link. 

Aside from recognizing attempts to get into a company’s network, there are other common-sense practices to stay safe. One is effective password management, encouraging formulation of strong passwords initially, and changing them regularly. Also, not sharing passwords with others is a basic rule of thumb. Furthermore, discouraging use of unsecured Wi-Fi (which might be used by employees working outside the office) helps keep your network safe.

To learn more about the existing and evolving threats and how to combat them, contact your trusted technology advisor today.