Fortify Your Data, Physically

Truly optimized security settings and software are beyond the capacity of most business owners. You just don’t have time to tinker with your office IT. Instead, try these quick and easy tips before calling us.

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 hijackedto 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 at 800-421-7151 and experience true peace of mind as we fortify your data to no end.

The Risks of Auto-Complete Passwords

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 at 800-421-7151.

2018: The Year of Social Media

Big-name social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are more interactive and responsive than ever. However, these platforms now have a plan to move another step forward in 2018. Here are the top 5 trends you should watch out for this year.

  1. The boom of Augmented Reality
    The launch of the new iPhones – both 8 and X – last September brought with it an under-the-radar change to the devices. The incorporation of a new chip provides iPhone users with extraordinary augmented reality (AR) experiences. While most conversations about AR focus on the mobile gaming experience, social media platforms will likely find a way to integrate the new technology as well.
  2. Influencer marketing
    Influencer marketing has proven to be the best way forward for companies to connect with younger audiences. Titanic companies such as The North Face, HubSpot and Rolex are great examples of companies which have profited heavily from social media-based influencer marketing. By contrast, companies that opted for traditional strategies struggled to connect to social media users, indicating that influencer marketing is here to stay and blossom in 2018.
  3. All eyes on Gen Z
    The oldest Gen Z-er is 22 years old and is only just heading into the labor market, meaning they’re going to start spending more money for sometime to come. Brands recognize this, and are aiming to shift their social media strategies to appease the newest customers on the market. Investment in platforms like Snapchat and Instagram is expected to grow exponentially this year.
  4. The growing importance of messaging platforms
    A recent study pointed out that over 2.5 billion people use messaging platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Kik to connect with companies. Rather than simply publishing marketing content to profiles and feeds, companies should focus on making it easier for customers to start one-on-one conversations. Therefore, it is more than likely that artificial intelligence, voice assistants and chatbots will all be integrated into messaging platforms for a more personalized user experience.
  5. Digital hangouts go mainstream
    In 2017, video content – including live broadcasts and chats platforms – was more prominent than ever, and live videos were definitely a successful part of it. This means digitally hanging out with friends and colleagues will become a social norm, as evidenced by the video hangout platform known as Houseparty, which boasts of over one million daily users.

With Gen Z-ers becoming a larger part of the buying marketing, companies will utilize social media platforms to their fullest by incorporating a wide variety of targeted methods to capture their attention. These methods involve technologies that were unimaginable only a few years ago, such as virtual reality and augmented reality. Moreover, investments in optimizing messaging platforms and influencer marketing also signals the start of a newer, more interconnected era between businesses and customers.

Small Business IT Hardware Checklist

It’s frustrating to return to the office after a long holiday only to be greeted by a disorganized workstation. If having clean, hassle-free technology is one of your company’s New Year’s resolutions, this technology hardware checklist can help.

✓ 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 declutter 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 at 800-421-7151.

What are Virtual Containers?

Virtual containers have recently gained prominence with the open-source container platform, Docker. It promises to change the way IT operations are carried out, just like virtualization technology did a few years ago. Read on to know more about this revolutionary breakthrough and how it can help your business.

What are containers and why are they so popular?

Virtual containers are similar to shipping containers, which have made the transport of bulky goods much easier.

Prior to the introduction of containers, virtual workstations and servers granted users access to software and computing power across a local network or the internet. This is what has become known as “cloud computing,” as it created entire desktop experiences over the internet.

However, there was room for improvement, as virtual machines are known to take up a lot of system resources.This is because they run a virtual copy of an operating system alongside a virtual copy of all the hardware that the operating system needs to run. Such heavy load on one machine quickly takes up a lot of RAM and CPU cycles, slowing processes down.

Containers improve on the inefficiencies of cloud computing by promising developers that their software will run smoothly, regardless of the type of computer their end users are running.

How do they improve on virtual desktops?

Virtual desktops deliver thousands of applications to meet the needs of your business. These applications also use different languages, databases, and tools. To deploy, configure, manage and deliver these complex machines takes a lot of time and money.

Containers are essentially a better way to package these applications and their components. This technology helps organizations become more consistent and agile by extracting the host’s underlying operating system, meaning applications can be packaged with all their dependencies. This in turn, allows developers to choose the right environments and tools that best suit their projects.

As of now, only a few types of software create and deliver containers, with the most popular being Docker. Container technology had been around for a while before the introduction of Docker, but it was complex to implement and manage. With the popularity of virtualization services, software vendors gained resources to develop and offer simple, user-friendly container solutions.

Although containers have improved enterprise computing as a whole, virtual machines have not been made obsolete, and can still be used under certain circumstances. Regardless, both solutions — containers and virtual machines — can repurpose old hardware to utilize software hosted in the cloud. All you need to get started is an internet connection and an experienced IT professional by your side.

Want to maximize your business potential through virtualization and containers but don’t have an IT professional to consult? Call us today.

It’s Not Too Late to Cash In on 2017’s IT Trends

“Fad” is a dirty word for many small-business owners. Whether it’s what they’re selling or what they’re investing in, business owners need long-term and reliable investments to secure their future. With 2017 in the rearview mirror, we finally know what was a fad and what was a smart investment. See for yourself!

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 More Affordable

Ransomware had yet another year of explosive growth, and small firms and medium sized and 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 at 800-421-7151 and we’ll get started on your 2018 plan!

Do You Really Want The Cheapest Working On Your Company’s Network?

These days, firms and small businesses are more dependent on IT systems than at any other time in history. Because of this, even the slightest technological hiccups in our cyberspace-centered workflow can have expensive, lasting consequences. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this occurred back in 2013, when Amazon went dark for half an hour. Sure, it was a paltry 30 minutes, no big deal, until you consider the megagiant was theoretically hemorrhaging $66,240 every 60 seconds, based on their quarterly revenue.

Of course, your company probably isn’t a staple of international commerce like Jeff Bezos’s beloved brainchild. Because of this, many small business owners think that a downed server or small security breach here and there won’t matter too much for their bottom line. For these unlucky few, IT takes a back seat to more “pressing” issues, and they go the cheap route with their provider. This cost-cutting solution seems like the idea of the year, and will undoubtedly work great for the business – until it doesn’t.

Maybe your long-time technicians fail to notice a piece of outdated equipment, and your server gives up the ghost during peak business hours. Virtually all work grinds to a halt, and your employees are forced to wile away the two hours shooting three-pointers into the trash bins. Add up the two hours of wasted wages for your entire team, the financial cost of missed business, and the much more intangible loss of customer goodwill as they struggle with diminished service on a workday, and you’ll come up with a sum that disabuses any business owner of their illusions about “cheap” IT.

And that’s not even close to the worst-case scenario. Imagine, for a minute, that your technicians assure you, despite the lack of regular monitoring and maintenance, your network is secure. These words of comfort sound nice until the day a team of expert hackers actually attempt to access your systems, and find outdated, ramshackle security solutions in place — basically, a front door left wide open. At that moment, your business becomes a criminal’s playground. They’re free to access financial information and personal data of your customers and employees, hijack your business to send out floods of malicious software and spam, hold nearly every aspect of the company ransom for thousands of dollars, and cause chaos to their heart’s content.

The fact is, fixing problems is a lot more expensive than preventing them. When you cut corners and utilize subpar IT professionals (if any at all), you’re paying for an array of shoddy, Band-Aid solutions that will be applied piecemeal, and usually too late, like a finger plugging a hole in a dam. But when you make a substantial investment in your IT support, you’re investing in the most basic aspects of the future of your company.

Robust network security, dependable computers and servers, consistent Internet access, and other fundamental components of your company network are far from luxury items. These days, technology forms the scaffolding upon which businesses run. If any piece of the operation fails, the whole system suffers, usually accompanied by a fat financial penalty.

There is an ever-growing, endless list of potential technological pitfalls that can have permanent consequences for your business: teams of hackers zeroing in on vulnerable small businesses, rogue employees with a grudge, lost laptops, aging and unreliable hardware, fire, natural disasters, and IT “professionals” that have no idea what they’re doing, to name just a few. As technology progresses, and companies depend increasingly on it to stay competitive, it simply doesn’t make sense to relegate IT to the neglected corners of your budget.

When it comes to business, there’s a lot to worry about these days. A total collapse of your company’s technological infrastructure doesn’t need to be one of them. Invest in a robust, managed IT package from tried-and tested professionals, and leave the worrying to the experts. You can rest assured that our IT team of experts truly has you covered. Call us today at 800-421-7151.