4 Questions You Should Ask Any IT “Expert” Before Letting Them Touch Your Network

As businesses have become ever more dependent on technology, IT services providers have been popping up left and right. They’ve all got different strengths, capabilities and price points to consider. Some charge you by the hour and, while available to address any concerns you may have, they are pretty hands-off. Others are working on your network around the clock but charge more in turn. Many may boast an impressive record when working with a broad range of companies, but lack the experience necessary to understand the ins and outs of your specific industry. Some cost way too much month-to-month, while others try the “bargain bin” approach, but as a result, can’t afford to field the staff needed to respond to issues in a timely fashion.

There’s certainly a lot to consider when looking for an IT services provider for your business. And if you’re not particularly knowledgeable about information technology yourself, it can sometimes feel like you’re going into the process blind.

To suss out whether an IT company will mesh with your business’s workflow and industry specific requirements, it’s important to vet them thoroughly. The key is to ask the right questions. Here are four that will allow you to zero in on any IT company’s priorities and strengths, and help you determine whether or not they are a good fit for your organization.

1.DO YOU TAKE A PROACTIVE OR ‘BREAK-FIX’ APPROACH TO IT?

When your car breaks down, you take it to the shop and you get it fixed. The mechanic charges you for the work done and for the parts, and then sends you on your way. Many business owners consider their computer network to be the same kind of deal. Why not just wait until an outage happens and then call up somebody who charges by the hour to fix it? That way, they imagine, they won’t be paying for “extra” services they think they don’t need.

But unfortunately, unlike your car, when your network is out, you’re losing dollars every single minute. The

cost of a network outage is difficult to overstate – not only will it bring your business to its knees while it’s out, but it’ll frustrate customers and employees and result in a cascading set of problems.

Instead of a “break-fix” technician on hand, you need a managed IT services provider. These experts work directly with your company to optimize your network and its security at every turn, and are available nearly any time to address your concerns. And they’re genuinely invested in providing the best service possible, since it’s in their best interest as well.

2. WHAT IS YOUR GUARANTEED RESPONSE TIME?

We’ve all needed something fixed before and had to wait for hours, days or even weeks before anyone bothered to come by and solve the problem. Don’t let that happen to your business. If a company can’t guarantee a response time, it’s probably not a company you want to be working with.

3. WHAT WILL COST ME EXTRA?

This question is particularly important if you’re looking at a managed services provider (which you should be). The last thing you need is for a crisis to strike, only to discover you need to shell out a bunch of surcharges to get your network back up and running. Make sure the costs and services included are crystal clear before you sign anything.

4. HOW MUCH EXPERIENCE DO YOU HAVE?

As scrappy as the “new kid on the block” may be, you don’t want them in charge of one of the most important aspects of your business. Make sure any IT professionals you do business with have extensive experience not only in IT, but in your particular industry as well. That way they’ll know exactly what to do to optimize processes and keep your data under lock and key.

If you feel that your IT company is not transparent about all of this, it may be time to look elsewhere. Call us at 800-421-7151 today with any questions and you will receive only the most honest answers from account managers who are more than happy to help!

A Quick Guide to Choosing a Mouse

The good ol’ two-button mouse just won’t cut it anymore. They’re unresponsive, uncomfortable, and the cord somehow ties itself up every time you put it in your bag. However, buying a new mouse can be confusing, so if you’re having difficulty picking the right one, here are some things you should keep in mind.

Cable or wireless?

Choosing between a wired or a wireless mouse is a factor you have to consider if you’re planning on purchasing a new mouse. Wireless mice are generally more comfortable since your range of movement isn’t limited by a cable and they’re usually travel friendly. However, they tend to be less responsive, which can be frustrating.

In some cases, wireless mice can also interfere with other wireless devices nearby, and most require batteries, which can create problems when they run out of juice. And, if you use the same mouse for both work and home, you run the risk of losing the tiny USB receiver for your wireless mouse when you travel.

On the other hand, wired mice are cheaper and easy to plug-and-play. The only problem you’ll have to worry about is dealing with tangled wires. So when you’re deciding on a new mouse, think about whether you’re looking for comfort or convenience. Always keep in mind that wireless mice tend to be slightly heavier due to the battery that must be included to keep it running. It may not seem like much, but it will affect the way you work with it. If you have sensitive wrists or are prone to carpal tunnel, you may want the lightest mouse possible.

Ergonomics matters

You’re going to be using the new mouse for a while, so it’s important to choose one that feels comfortable in your hands. When deciding on the right mouse, focus on the size and the grip of the device. The size of the mouse usually comes down to hand size. For example, someone with smaller hands might find larger mice quite unwieldy.

Certain mice can also accommodate different types of grips — fingertip grip, palm grip, and claw grip. Users who want high-precision control of their cursor should opt for a mouse with fingertip grip, those needing comfort should get a palm grip mouse, and if you want both control and comfort, the claw grip mouse is the way to go. Another feature to be mindful of is the side scrolling wheel; this may be beneficial if you work frequently with large excel spreadsheets and pivot tables as this makes navigating through them much easier.

DPI (dots per inch)

Higher sensitivity is necessary for precise mouse movements, especially if you’re editing images, videos, or audio files. Mice with 1200 DPI or greater guarantee finer control.

Although mouse specifications like DPI might be the last thing on your mind when it comes to buying new hardware, your comfort is important. A good mouse with the right fit can make you more efficient and reduce the risk of injury.

If you need assistance setting up the best hardware for your company, give us a call at 800-421-7151. We’re happy to help.

Master Microsoft Excel with these 3 Tips

Digital literacy is all about mastering essential computer skills like navigating search engines and word processors. But one of the most crucial you need to learn is Excel. Check out these tips to be an Excel master.

Pie and Sunburst Charts

Everyone knows that bombarding stakeholders with endless numbers and decimal points is the wrong approach. You need to compile data and develop comprehensive pie or sunburst charts to make life easier for clients and investors.

Here’s how to create a pie chart:

  1. Select your data.
  2. Click on the Recommended Charts tool to see different style chart suggestions for your data.
  3. Click on the Chart StylesChart Filters, or Chart Elements button in the upper-right corner of the chart to personalize its overall look or add chart elements, such as data labels or axis titles.

Steps to create a sunburst chart:

  1. Select all your data.
  2. Click Insert > Insert Hierarchy Chart > Sunburst.
  3. Go to the Design and Format tabs to tailor its overall look.

Pivot Tables

Pivot Tables might be one of the most powerful yet intimidating data analysis tools in Excel’s arsenal. It allows you to summarize huge chunks of data in lists or tables without using a formula. All you need to do is to:

  1. Select the data, which must only have a single-row heading without empty columns or rows.
  2. Click Insert > PivotTable.
  3. Under Choose the data that you want to analyze, click Select a table or range.
  4. In the Table/Range box, validate the cell range.
  5. Under Choose where you want the PivotTable report to be placed, click New worksheet, or Existing worksheet and enter the location where you want to place the PivotTable.

Conditional Formatting

This tool highlights essential information within your dataset. For instance, you’re presenting the latest numbers on project efficiency and you use Conditional Formatting to highlight any number lower than 80%. The highlighted data will capture the audience’s attention, allowing them to identify the bottlenecks in your projects. To customize how the data is displayed, simply:

  1. Select the cell.
  2. Click Home > Conditional Formatting.
  3. Click Format.
  4. Change your formatting preference in the Color or Font style box.

Excel is one of the most commonly used business software on the market, yet not everyone knows how to fully utilize it. If you want to learn more about other handy Excel features, give us a call today at 800-421-7151 and we’ll elevate your user status from beginner to pro with some training!

5 Simple but Effective Cybersecurity Tricks

Can you name five cybersecurity best practices? Most people can’t, and few of those who can, actually follow them. Unfortunately, cyberattacks are far too common to be lax about staying safe online. Your identity could be stolen, or even worse, you could expose private information belonging to your company’s clients. There are many ways you can protect yourself, but this list is a great starting point.

1. Multi-factor authentication (MFA)

This tool earns the number one spot on our list because it can keep you safe even after a hacker has stolen one of your passwords. That’s because MFA requires more than one form of identification to grant access to an account.

The most common example is a temporary code that is sent to your mobile device. Only someone with both the password and access to your smartphone will be able to log in. Almost any online account provider offers this service, and some let you require additional types of verification, such as a fingerprint or facial scan.

2. Password managers

Every online account linked to your name should have a unique password with at least 12 characters that doesn’t contain facts about you (avoid anniversary dates, pet names, etc.). Hackers have tools to guess thousands of passwords per second based on your personal details, and the first thing they do after cracking a password is to try it on other accounts.

Password manager apps create random strings of characters and let you save them in an encrypted list. You only need one complex password to log into the manager, and you’ll have easy access to all your credentials. No more memorizing long phrases, or reusing passwords!

3. Software updates

Software developers and hackers are constantly searching for vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Sometimes, a developer will find one before hackers and release a proactive update to fix it. Other times, hackers find the vulnerability first and release malware to exploit it, forcing the developer to issue a reactive update as quickly as possible.

Either way, you must update all your applications as often as possible. If you are too busy, check the software settings for an automatic update option. The inconvenience of updating when you aren’t prepared to is nothing compared to the pain of a data breach.

4. Disable flash player

Adobe Flash Player is one of the most popular ways to stream media on the web, but it has such a poor security record that most experts recommend that users block the plugin on all their devices. Flash Player has been hacked thousands of times, and products from companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google regularly display reminders to turn it off. Open your web browser’s settings and look for the Plugins or Content Settings menu, then disable Adobe Flash Player.

5. HTTPS Everywhere

Just a few years ago, most websites used unencrypted connections, which meant anything you typed into a form on that site would be sent in plain text and could be intercepted with little effort. HTTPS was created to facilitate safer connections, but many sites were slow to adopt it or didn’t make it the default option.

HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension that ensures you use an encrypted connection whenever possible and are alerted when one isn’t available on a page that requests sensitive information. It takes less than one minute and a few clicks to install it.

If you run a business with 10 or more employees, these simple tips won’t be enough to keep you safe. You’ll need a team of certified professionals that can install and manage several security solutions that work in unison. If you don’t have access to that level of expertise, our team is available to help. Give us a call today at 800-421-7151 to learn more.

Watch Out for this Persuasive Phishing Email

Anglers catch fish by dangling bait in front of their victims, and hackers use the same strategy to trick your employees. There’s a new phishing scam making the rounds and the digital bait is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing. Here are the three things to watch out for in Office 365 scams.

Step 1 – Invitation to collaborate email

The first thing victims receive from hackers is a message that looks identical to an email from Microsoft’s file sharing platform SharePoint. It says, “John Doe has sent you a file, to view it click the link below…”

In most cases, the sender will be an unfamiliar name. However, some hackers research your organization to make the email more convincing.

Step 2 – Fake file sharing portal

Clicking the link opens a SharePoint file that looks like another trusted invitation from a Microsoft app, usually OneDrive. This is a big red flag since there’s no reason to send an email containing a link to a page with nothing but another link.

Step 2 allows hackers to evade Outlook’s security scans, which monitor links inside emails for possible phishing scams. But Outlook’s current features cannot scan the text within a file linked in the email. Once you’ve opened the file, SharePoint has almost no way to flag suspicious links.

Step 3 – Fake Office 365 login page

The malicious link in Step 2 leads to an almost perfect replica of an Office 365 login page, managed by whoever sent the email in Step 1. If you enter your username and password on this page, all your Office 365 documents will be compromised.

Microsoft has designed hundreds of cybersecurity features to prevent phishing scams and a solution to this problem is likely on the way. Until then, you can stay safe with these simple rules:

  • Check the sender’s address every time you receive an email. You might not notice the number one in this email at first glance: johndoe@gma1l.com.
  • Confirm with the sender that the links inside the shared document are safe.
  • Open cloud files by typing in the correct address and checking your sharing notifications to avoid fake collaboration invitations.
  • Double check a site’s URL before entering your password. A zero can look very similar to the letter ‘o’ (e.g. 0ffice.com/signin).

Third-party IT solutions exist to prevent these types of scams, but setting them up and keeping them running requires a lot of time and attention. Give us a call today at 800-421-7151 to learn more!

How to Make Sure You Never Fall Victim to Ransomware

Late last March, the infrastructure of Atlanta was brought to its knees. More than a third of 424 programs used nearly every day by city officials of all types, including everyone from police officers to trash collectors to water management employees, were knocked out of commission. What’s worse, close to 30% of these programs were considered “mission critical,” according to Atlanta’s Information Management head, Daphne Rackley.

The culprit wasn’t some horrific natural disaster or mechanical collapse; it was a small package of code called SAMSAM, a virus that managed to penetrate the networks of a $371 billion city economy and wreak havoc on its systems. After the malicious software wormed its way into the network, locking hundreds of city employees out of their computers, hackers demanded a $50,000 Bitcoin ransom to release their grip on the data. While officials remain quiet about the entry point of SAMSAM or their response to the ransom, within two weeks of the attack, total recovery costs already exceeded $2.6 million, and Rackley estimates they’ll climb at least another $9.5 million over the coming year.

It’s a disturbing cautionary tale not only for other city governments, but for organizations of all sizes with assets to protect. Atlanta wasn’t the only entity to buckle under the siege of SAMSAM. According to a report from security software firm Sophos, SAMSAM has snatched almost $6 million since 2015, casting a wide net over more than 233 victims of all types. And, of course, SAMSAM is far from the only ransomware that can bring calamity to an organization.

If you’re a business owner, these numbers should serve as a wake-up call. It’s very simple: in 2018, lax, underfunded cyber security will not cut it. When hackers are ganging up on city governments like villains in an action movie, that’s your cue to batten down the hatches and protect your livelihood.

The question is, how? When ransomware is so abundant and pernicious, what’s the best way to keep it from swallowing your organization whole?

1. BACK UP YOUR STUFF
If you’ve ever talked to anyone with even the slightest bit of IT knowledge, you’ve probably heard how vital it is that you regularly back up everything in your system, but it’s true. If you don’t have a real-time or file-sync backup strategy, one that will actually allow you to roll back everything in your network to before the infection happened, then once ransomware hits and encrypts your files, you’re basically sunk. Preferably, you’ll maintain several different copies of backup files in multiple locations, on different media that malware can’t spread to
from your primary network. Then, if it breaches your defenses, you can pinpoint the malware, delete it, then restore your network to a pre-virus state, drastically minimizing the damage and totally circumventing paying out a hefty ransom.

2. GET EDUCATED
We’ve written before that the biggest security flaw to your business isn’t that free, outdated antivirus you’ve installed, but the hapless employees who sit down at their workstations each day. Ransomware can take on some extremely tricky forms to hoodwink its way into your network, but if your team can easily recognize social engineering strategies, shady clickbait links and the dangers of unvetted attachments, it will be much, much more difficult for ransomware to find a foothold. These are by far the most common ways that malware finds it way in.

3. LOCK IT DOWN
By whitelisting applications, keeping everything updated with the latest patches and restricting administrative privileges for most users, you can drastically reduce the risk and impact of ransomware. But it’s difficult to do this without an entire team on the case day by day. That’s where a managed services provider becomes essential, proactively managing your network to plug up any security holes long before hackers can sniff them out.

The bad news is that ransomware is everywhere. The good news is that with a few fairly simple steps, you can secure your business against the large majority of threats. Give us a call at 800-421-7151 for more information on how we protect you from ransomware.