How to Handle Those Annoying Auto-Play Video Clips in Microsoft Edge

Video clips that automatically start playing when a web page opens can be disruptive, especially at work. Find out how you can quickly mute them or stop them from playing altogether in Microsoft Edge.

If you regularly use the Internet, you have probably encountered those annoying video clips that automatically start playing when you open certain web pages. Because these clips play without warning, they can startle you. Even worse, they can be disruptive, especially at work. If a clip grabs your attention, chances are you will end up watching it rather than working. And if a clip is annoying, you will likely stop working so that you can find and click the video player’s pause button.

Fortunately, Microsoft Edge has several features to manage auto-play clips. For starters, Edge is designed to automatically silence these clips on background tabs — in other words, on web pages that are open but not currently being displayed. (Their tabs are greyed-out.) Edge also lets you mute auto-play clips on individual web pages as well as stop clips from running automatically on individual websites. All of these features are available in Edge if you are running it on a Windows 10 device and you have installed the Windows 10 October 2018 Update.

How to Mute a Tab

Muting an auto-play clip on an individual web page is known as muting a tab. When an auto-play clip is running on a web page, Edge displays a speaker icon the page’s tab. To mute the clip, all you need to do is click that icon. (Alternatively, you can right-click the tab and select “Mute tab”.) The video will continue to run — you just won’t hear it.

You can also mute a background tab by right-clicking it and selecting “Mute tab”. You might be wondering why you would do this, given that Edge automatically silences auto-play clips on background tabs. When Edge mutes a background tab, the clip will run when you view the page, as it is no longer a background tab. However, when you manually mute a background tab, the clip will be silent when you view the page.

It is important to note that muting a tab is a temporary fix. Once you close the tab, the page returns to the default setting, which means the clip will not be muted the next time you open the page.

How to Stop Auto-Play Clips from Running in a Specific Site

Edge gives you the ability to stop auto-play clips from running in a domain (aka website). So, for example, if you block auto-play clips in the ZDNet domain (, Edge will not allow these clips to run when you view any of the pages in that site.

To block auto-play clips in a specific site, follow these steps:

  1. Open a web page that is in the target site. It can be any page, even one that does not contain an auto-play clip. Edge will extract the domain from the URL.
  2. In the browser’s address bar, click the lock icon next to the web page’s URL. (If you are on a HTTP site, the icon will contain the letter “i” instead.)
  3. Select “Media autoplay settings” in the “Website permissions” section.
  4. Select “Block” from the “Media autoplay” drop-down list, as Figure 1 shows.
  5. Refresh the page.

Although the auto-play clips won’t automatically run, you can still watch them if desired. You just need to click the clip that you want to run.

In Figure 1, note the warning about the possibility that a site might not work as expected when auto-play clips are blocked. If you find that’s the case, you can allow them to play again by clicking the “Clear permissions” button.

How to Stop Auto-Play Clips from Running in All Sites

If you do not want any auto-play clips to run, Edge has a global “Media autoplay” setting you can use. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Click the ellipses button in the upper right corner of Edge.
  2. Select “Settings”.
  3. Choose “Advanced” in the navigation pane of the box that appears.
  4. Select “Block” from the “Media autoplay” drop-down list.

Because Edge provides both global- and site-level “Media autoplay” settings, you can highly customize which sites can and cannot run auto-play clips. For example, you can allow your favorite sites to play clips but block all other sites by configuring the global-level setting to “Block” and your favorite sites’ settings to “Allow”.

How Using E-Signatures Can Help Your Business

Electronic signatures are as legally binding as handwritten signatures. Find out how they can improve productivity and cut down on paperwork.

Governments around the world recognize electronic signatures (e-signatures) as a legal way to sign a document. For example, e-signatures have the same legal standing as physical signatures in the United States, thanks to the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act of 2000.

Many people think that e-signatures and digital signatures refer to the same thing. However, that is not the case. Both e-signatures and digital signatures, though, offer important benefits.

E-Signatures vs. Digital Signatures

An e-signature is the electronic version of a handwritten signature. When you use a stylus to sign your name after swiping a credit card through a retailer’s point-of-sale terminal, you are creating an e-signature. You are also creating one when you enter your name or click an “I agree” button in a website form. An electronic signature creates an audit history. The audit history includes information such as who signed and sent the electronic document, when it was sent, and the party that received it.

A digital signature is a more secure type of e-signature. Besides creating an audit history, it uses public key cryptography to validate the signer’s identity and confirm that the signed document arrived intact. Digital signatures are often compared to fingerprints. Like a fingerprint, a digital signature contains a unique set of data that is used for identification purposes.

The Benefits of Using E-Signatures

All types of e-signatures offer important benefits, including improved productivity. Employees at companies not using e-signatures have to perform a lot of steps to sign and return a document received via email. They need to print the document, sign it, scan the signed document, and email the scanned file back. However, your employees can skip this hassle if they use e-signatures. They just need to electronically sign the document and email it back. This can save your employees a lot of time and effort.

Your employees will also save time when they need to find a signed document. With e-signatures, you can keep all your signed documents in electronic form. Searching through electronic documents is much faster than searching through paper documents stored in file cabinets or boxes.

Another benefit is that you will be better able to track and audit your signed documents. Tracking a physical document through the signing process is difficult. If you do not have a face-to-face meeting to get a document signed, you need to use such measures as registered mail and notary services to track your document’s journey.

With e-signatures, you can easily keep tabs on your documents through the signing process. Comprehensive systems let you track and audit:

  • When the document is created
  • When a notification about the document is sent to each signer
  • When each signer consents to using a digital signature
  • How each signer is authenticated, and whether that authentication is successful
  • When each signer receives the document
  • When each signer applies a digital signature
  • When each signer returns the signed document

Besides better tracking and auditing, digital signatures offer better security. Physical signatures are relatively easy to fake. Digital signatures, though, have built-in tools for proving who signed a document. Plus, signers often need to enter a password to access the document they need to sign.

The Benefits of Using an E-Signature Service Provider

You can create e-signatures on your own. Doing so can be hard, though, especially if you want to use the more secure digital signatures. To avoid this hassle, you can use an e-signature service provider.

E-signature service providers use different systems, but the general concept behind them is the same. You upload a document and specify where a signature needs to go. The service provider adds a signature box and sends the document to the intended recipients. They electronically sign the document and send it back to you.

Some e-signature service providers offer document-building tools. You can use these tools to quickly create basic contracts and forms. Many of them also provide dashboards. With just a glance, you can find out which documents have already been signed and which are still waiting for signatures.

Several e-signature service providers also have options for people to sign documents using their fingers on mobile device touchscreens. Companies that ask customers to sign a lot of forms often find this feature useful. Customers can receive copies of these forms via email or physical mail.

E-Signatures Can Help Your Business

E-signatures are perfect for companies looking to improve productivity and cut down on paperwork. If you are interested in getting an e-signature system for your company, ask your IT service provider to help you find a solution that caters to your specific needs.

3 Ways to Weather a Cloud Service Outage

If you use a cloud service, you will likely see it go down at some point. Discover three ways you can prepare for an outage so that your business stays up and running.

You cannot assume that your cloud services will always be available when you need them. In 2016, many cloud service providers experienced outages, including Microsoft Office 365Google G SuiteSalesforceAmazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure. Even a short outage can be disruptive to your business, so you should take steps to prepare for one ahead of time.

Here are three ways to prepare for a cloud service outage so that your business stays up and running:

1. Make Sure Employees Have Local Versions of Essential Applications

If any of your essential business applications are in the cloud, you should make sure that employees have local versions of those programs on their computers. Otherwise, they will not be able to use those applications if the associated cloud service goes down.

For example, if your employees do not have a local copy of the cloud-based productivity suite that your company uses, you might consider upgrading the subscription to one that includes this option. Alternatively, you could install an open-source productivity suite (e.g., OpenOffice, LibreOffice) on employees’ computers for use when the cloud service goes down.

2. Keep Local Copies of Important Files

It is important to keep local copies of files that employees need to perform essential job functions. That way, employees will be able to access the files during a cloud service outage.

If your cloud service supports file syncing by default, you’ll already have local copies of your files available. Otherwise, you can periodically download your files from the cloud to a secure location on your local network. That way, you’ll always have access to the most recent versions of all your files.

3. Store Your Resources in More Than One Location

To help protect against service disruption, some cloud service providers give you the option of storing your applications, data, or other resources in multiple locations, which are often referred to as availability regions and zones. If the cloud service goes down in one location, you can use the resources in another location to avoid a disruption.

Now Is the Time to Prepare

At some point, one of your cloud services will likely go down, so it is important to have a plan in place. We can help you determine the best way to deal with an outage so that your business stays up and running.

How to Protect Your Sensitive Business Files with Passwords

Protecting a file with a password can provide an extra layer of security for sensitive business documents. Learn how to password-protect your files in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

This can come in handy if you want to, for example, email a report that contains your company’s sales figures or bring it along on a business trip.

Three Microsoft Office apps — Word, Excel, and PowerPoint — offer the ability to password-protect files. As Table 1 shows, this feature is available in nearly all supported versions.

Table 1: Microsoft Office Apps in Which You Can Password-Protect Files

Word for Office 365*Excel for Office 365*PowerPoint for Office 365*
Word 2019*Excel 2019*PowerPoint 2019*
Word 2016*Excel 2016*PowerPoint 2016*
Word 2013**Excel 2013**PowerPoint 2013**
Word 2010**Excel 2010**PowerPoint 2010**
  * Uses 256-bit AES encryption
** Uses 128-bit AES encryption

Before you protect a file, though, you should take the time to come up with a unique, strong password for it. Otherwise, it might be easy for someone to guess or crack it. And if you tend to forget credentials, you might want to keep a copy of the file’s password in a safe location. While not ideal, it beats not being able to open and use the file ever again. The apps do not have the ability to recover or reset a forgotten password.

How to Password Protect a File

Protecting files with a password is a straightforward process. Plus, the steps are easy to remember, as they are basically the same no matter whether your password-protecting a Word document, Excel workbook, or PowerPoint presentation.

To password protect a file, open it in the appropriate app and follow these steps:

  1. Click the “File” tab in the upper left corner.
  2. In the “Info” section, click “Protect Document” if you are in Word, “Protect Workbook” if you are in Excel, or “Protect Presentation” if you are in PowerPoint.
  3. In the drop-down menu that appears, select “Encrypt with Password”.
  4. Enter the password you want to use and click “OK”.
  5. Re-enter the password and click “OK”.
  6. Save and close the file.

When you later open the file, you will be prompted to enter the password you selected.

How to Remove Password Protection

You can remove a file’s password protection at any time. To do so, open the file in the appropriate app and follow these steps:

  1. Click the “File” tab in the upper left corner.
  2. In the “Info” section, click “Protect Document” if you are in Word, “Protect Workbook” if you are in Excel, or “Protect Presentation” if you are in PowerPoint.
  3. In the drop-down menu that appears, select “Encrypt with Password”.
  4. Delete the displayed password (it will be masked with asterisks) and click “OK”.
  5. Save and close the file.

You will no longer have to enter the password to open the file.

New Android Ransomware Spreads Through Forum Posts and Customized Texts

Cyber extortionists have created new ransomware that encrypts files on Google Android devices. Find out how this ransomware infiltrates devices so you can avoid becoming a victim.

A new family of ransomware known as Android/Filecoder.C has been discovered. The initial infection occurs when Google Android device users download a malicious app by means of a link or quick response (QR) code in a forum post. Once on a device, the ransomware tries to spread itself by sending text messages to everyone on the victim’s contact list. Each message is customized with the recipient’s name to make the text seem more legitimate.

This ransomware could become a serious threat if the cybercriminals start targeting broader groups of users, according to security researchers. To avoid becoming a victim of this ransomware and similar variants, it helps to dissect past Android/Filecoder.C attacks to see how the ransomware infiltrated victims’ devices.

The Infiltration

When it comes to ransomware, looking at past attacks can help you prepare for new ones. Here is how the Android/Filecoder.C attacks in July and August 2019 were typically carried out:

To initially get the ransomware onto devices, cybercriminals posted messages in popular online forums such as Reddit and XDA Developers (a forum for mobile software developers). While most of the comments were porn-related, some dealt with technical topics.

The posted messages contained a malicious link or quick response (QR) code. In some cases, the hackers used the Bitly URL shortening service (aka “” links) to hide the links’ real addresses. Other times, the hackers made no attempt to hide the links, which typically ended in “.apk”. Android Package Kit (APK) files are used to distribute and install mobile apps on Android devices. Cybercriminals sometimes hide malware in these files.

People who clicked the links or scanned the QR codes in the forum posts had Android apps containing Android/Filecoder.C automatically downloaded to their devices. When the victims launched the malicious apps, the apps displayed whatever was promised so the victims would not be immediately aware their devices were infected with ransomware. Nor were they aware that the ransomware was sending text messages to the people in their contact lists. The text messages tried to lure the recipients into downloading malicious apps. The messages included the recipients’ names to make them seem more legitimate.

Once the text messages were sent, the ransomware went to work encrypting more than 175 types of files and appending the file extension “.seven” to the original filenames (e.g.,, However, unlike some ransomware, Android/Filecoder.C did not lock the devices’ screens or prevent the devices from being used.

After the all files were encrypted, Android/Filecoder.C displayed its ransom note. The victims were instructed to pay the ransom in bitcoins. The amounts varied, usually ranging from $98 to $188 [USD]. Although the ransom note stated that the victims would lose their data if they did not pay within 72 hours, security researchers found nothing in the ransomware’s code to support that claim.

Be Cautious

Being cautious can go a long way in avoiding becoming a victim of Android/Filecoder.C and similar ransomware variants. For starters, you should avoid clicking links (especially if they end in “” or “.apk”) and scanning QR codes in online forums and similar public venues. Typically, anyone can post messages — including cybercriminals — in forums. Even clicking links and scanning QR codes in a moderated forum can be risky. Forum owners might initially allow all messages to be posted, with a moderator reading them days later or only if there is a complaint.

Similarly, you should avoid clicking links in text and email messages from unknown sources. Clicking links can be risky even if a message is supposedly from someone you know. As the Android/Filecoder.C ransomware demonstrates, hackers know how to hijack text accounts. They are also skilled at hijacking email accounts. So, if a text or email message supposedly from someone you know seems odd, you might want to give the person a call to see if they sent it.

Besides being cautious about links and QR codes, you should be leery about installing apps from third-party sources on your device. It is best to install apps only from official stores like Google Play. Although a few malicious apps find their way into these stores, the risk is much greater if you download apps from third-party sources.

Even if an app is in an official store, you should research the app before downloading it. Reading the app’s reviews in the store and conducting Internet searches on the app might reveal security issues. Plus, you should find out the apps’ permissions. If they seem excessive for the types of functions performed by the app, you should avoid downloading it.

Be Proactive

Besides being cautious, you need to take preemptive measures to protect your device from Android/Filecoder.C. If you do not already have a mobile security solution installed on your device, it is time to get one. Mobile security solutions detect and block known types of malware, including ransomware. Some security solutions even scan apps for suspicious activity before you download them.

Another important measure is to make sure the software on your Android device is being regularly updated so that known vulnerabilities are patched. This reduces the number of exploitable entry points in your device. By default, the Android operating system and any apps you install from Google Play are automatically updated. It is a good idea, though, to make sure the updates are being installed. Plus, you need to make sure that updates for other apps are being installed.

Regularly backing up your mobile device is also important when it comes to ransomware. Although having restorable backups won’t help prevent a ransomware attack, you won’t have to pay the cyber-extortionists to get your files back if an infection occurs.

4 Common Fees When Storing Data in the Cloud

When shopping for a cloud storage service provider, you need to find out what additional fees might be charged in addition to the base rate. Learn about four fees that cloud storage providers often charge.

Over the years, the popularity of cloud storage has increased while its base pricing has decreased. However, like many banks and airlines, cloud storage service providers often charge additional fees beyond their base pricing, which can raise the cost. Thus, it is important to know about the possible additional charges you might incur when storing your company’s data in the cloud. Here are four common fees that cloud storage service providers often charge:

  1. Cloud Seeding Fees

To use a cloud service, you need to get your company’s data into the cloud, which is referred to as ingress. A common way to do this is to use a wide area network (WAN) connection. Typically, cloud storage service providers do not charge for ingress when a WAN connection is used.

However, a business might have a massive amount of data to ingress, and transferring it though a WAN connection would take a very long time. To handle this situation, some providers offer another option known as cloud seeding — a company copies its data onto portable media, which it ships to the provider. The provider then uploads the data into the cloud storage facility. Providers that offer this service usually charge a fee for it because staff members need to manually load the data into the cloud.

  1. Egress Fees

Moving data out of a cloud is known as egress. Common reasons for egress include:

  • Companies need to transfer some of their data to a different region within the current cloud storage service provider’s network.
  • Companies want to move some of their data back on-premises.
  • Companies decide to adopt a multi-cloud strategy, so they want to move some of their data to different providers’ clouds.
  • Companies decide to switch providers, so they need to move all of their data to different providers’ clouds.

Most providers charge an egress fee for moving data. These fees can add up if a company moves data often (e.g., regularly transfers data between regions).

  1. Retrieval Fees

Cloud storage service providers often add retrieval fees when companies access (i.e., read from or write to) their data. Retrieval fees often come into play with tiered storage. Many providers structure their storage services into tiers delineated by how often the data will be accessed. For example, a provider might offer three storage tiers:

  • Tier A for frequently accessed data, which has the highest base pricing but is not subject to retrieval fees
  • Tier B for occasionally accessed data, which has moderate base pricing and moderate retrieval fees
  • Tier C for is rarely accessed data, which has the lowest base pricing but the highest retrieval fees

Selecting a tier without being aware of the retrieval fees can result in higher bills than anticipated.

  1. Early Deletion Fees

Cloud storage service providers that use tiered storage sometimes stipulate that the data stored in the tiers reserved for infrequently accessed data must remain there for a minimum amount of time. This is referred to as the minimum storage duration. For instance, the provider in the previous example might specify a minimum storage duration of 30 days for the data in Tier B (occasionally accessed data) and 60 days for the data in Tier C (rarely accessed data). Companies that delete or move their data sooner than the specified time frame will encounter early deletion fees.

Avoid Being Unpleasantly Surprised

Besides the basic pricing, it is important to know about possible additional charges that you might incur when storing data in the cloud. Otherwise, you might be unpleasantly surprised when your first bill arrives.

However, you should not pick a cloud storage service provider based on price alone. There are equally important criteria, such as the security measures a provider takes to protect its infrastructure and customers’ data. We can help you select a cloud storage service provider that is a good fit for your company based on cost, security, and other measures.

Mac OS Tips for Windows Users

If you are a Windows user and need to make the switch to MacOS, it can seem difficult at first to navigate with the slight differences between the two operating systems. Here is a quick list of shortcuts and explanations for the MacOS system to make the transition easier.

The Dock

Like the Windows Taskbar at the bottom of your screen, Mac has one that is similar called, The Dock. These icons within the Dock function have a few differences. There is a split within the Dock, where apps and shortcuts live on the left side, and document icons are on the right.

Left Side – On the left side of the Dock, are application icons and Finder. To add an application to the Dock, drag any application over or if the application is running, hit Ctrl + Click and select “Keep in Dock” so it will always appear. If you want to remove an application from the Dock to another location, drag the icon anywhere outside and the icon will disappear from the Dock.

Right Side – On the right side of the Dock, are documents and minimized windows. You can drag a document or folder to the Dock and it will stay there for quick opening. You can remove these folders and documents by dragging the icon outside of the Dock. To add a minimized window to the Dock, click the yellow circle in the open window. To restore the window, click on the icon within the Dock.

The Right Click

In Windows, your mouse allows you to right click to get property information, save and print options, etc. However with Mac OS you will notice you cannot right click, unless you turn it on manually. To do this, head over to the System Preferences in the Dock, and select Trackpad. Within the Point & Click section, checkbox the “Secondary Click” and select the drop down menu to complete setup. Now you can right click with options similar to Windows.


There are a few different ways to get the screenshot you need.

To capture the entire screen press Shift/Command/3 (or Shift-Command-5 for MacOS Mojave) on your keyboard and a menu of options will appear. Click “Capture Entire Screen.” Your pointer will shift to a camera icon that you can click anywhere on the screen. You will then be able to find the screenshot on your desktop.

To capture a single window, it is almost the same method as above. Press Shift/Command/4 (or Shift/Command/5 for MacOS Mojave) to have the menu appear. Click “Capture Selected Window” and your pointer will shift to a camera icon. Click the window you want to capture and a thumbnail of the screenshot will briefly appear in the corner of your screen where you can edit or take other actions. You will then be able to find the screenshot on your desktop as well.

To learn about how to screenshot the Touch Bar, portion of the screen, or Menu, click here for Apple’s support on these topics.

Closing Browsers and Programs

When closing a window browser or application (program) in Windows, you can click the X in the top right corner. In Mac OS, there is a red button on the top left but will only close the front most window but the application will still be open. Over time this can slow down your system and create frustration. To close out the application, there are a few methods: On the Dock, there will be a dot underneath all applications that are currently open. You can right click the icon and the option to close will appear. You can also go to the opened application, and head to the top left and select the dropdown and there will also be an option to close out the program.

The Finder

The Finder is similar to Windows File Explorer, where you can find files and folders on your hard drive or network. This is located down on the far left of the Dock. To see the path where the file/folder in question is, go to the View menu and select Show Path Bar. To see how many files are within a folder you are searching for and how much free space is available on your hard drive, head to the View menu again and select Show Status Bar. At the top you will see icons that allow you to change how you view the files. If you select the Icon view, at the bottom right there will be a slider that will allow you to enlarge or shrink the icons.

Cut, Copy, & Paste

Copy and Paste are similar in Windows and Mac where you will select Command/C for Copy, and Command/V for paste. To Cut, you will have to copy first, then hold the Option key while pasting which will cut the selected file.

Learning a new Operating System can feel frustrating, but Mac is designed with users in mind to easily navigate. For more short tips on the Mac OS as a Windows user, go to Apple’s support section here.

Critical Security Vulnerability Allows Hackers to Take Over Cisco Routers

A severe security vulnerability in several types of Cisco routers allows cybercriminals to gain full control of the devices. Discover which routers are affected and what you need to do to patch the hole.

Companies often use routers to connect and control traffic between two or more networks. On August 28, Cisco Systems announced it found a critical security vulnerability (CVE-2019-12643) that affects some of its routers. The vulnerability has been given the highest-possible severity rating in the Common Vulnerability Scoring System because it allows cybercriminals to bypass the login process and gain full control of the routers.

The Affected Routers

The vulnerability affects four types of routers, all of which run the Cisco IOS XE operating system:

  • Cisco 4000 Series Integrated Services Routers
  • Cisco ASR 1000 Series Aggregation Services Routers
  • Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V Series
  • Cisco Integrated Services Virtual Router

The security hole lies in one of the tools that companies can use to manage these routers. Rather than using the routers’ command-line interface to manually manage functions, companies can automate some management tasks with the Cisco REST API application. This application uses a set of RESTful APIs — application program interfaces (APIs) based on the representation state transfer (REST) technology — to automate functions.

The REST API application runs in a virtual service container, which is delivered as an open virtual application (OVA) package. The vulnerability resides in the REST API virtual service container. It is the result of an improper check performed by the code that manages the REST API authentication service.

Even though the vulnerability is in the container and not the operating system, the entire router is at risk. “This is because exploiting this vulnerability could allow an attacker to submit commands through the REST API that will be executed on the affected device,” explained Eugenio Iavarone, a member of Cisco’s Product Security Incident Response Team.

The vulnerability is exploitable when all of the following conditions are present:

  • The router contains an old version of the REST API OVA package (release 16.9.2 or earlier). This file could be on a router without users realizing it because the package came bundled with some releases of the Cisco IOS XE operating system. The bundling practice was discontinued starting with Cisco IOS XE 16.7.1, at which point the OVA package became a separate download.
  • A REST API virtual service container is installed and configured on the router. The Cisco Virtual Manager is used to install and configure these containers.
  • The REST API virtual service container is enabled. By default, it is disabled.

If any of these conditions are not present (e.g., the container is disabled), cybercriminals won’t be able to use the security hole to hack the router.

The Fix

Cisco has fixed the security vulnerability in version 16.9.3 of the REST API OVA package. This package (iosxe-remote-mgmt.16.09.03.ova) has been released and is available for download in Cisco’s Software Download site.

In addition, Cisco has added several safeguards to the next version of Cisco IOS XE. For example, the operating system will prevent the installation and activation of a vulnerable REST API virtual service container on a router. At the time of this writing, Cisco had not yet released the next version of Cisco IOS XE.

Check Your Company’s Routers

Due to the serious nature of the vulnerability, it is important to check whether your network includes any of the affected Cisco routers. If so, you need to make sure they do not have an old version of the REST API OVA package on them. Any old OVA packages should be immediately upgraded to version 16.9.3. We can take care of checking your routers and upgrading their software for you if you do not have the time.

3 Things to Keep in Mind When Flying with Mobile Devices Powered by Lithium Batteries

Most mobile devices use lithium batteries because they are powerful. However, they can be dangerous, which is why the United States and many other countries have aviation regulations concerning them. Here are three things you need to keep in mind when flying with your mobile device.

No matter whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, you will probably take at least one mobile device with you. Most modern portable electronic devices use lithium batteries — either lithium-ion or lithium-metal — because they are more powerful than their dry-cell counterparts (e.g., alkaline and nickel-cadmium batteries). However, lithium batteries are also more dangerous. Besides being very flammable, they can generate a significant amount of heat and even self-ignite under certain conditions.

Due to the dangers, many countries have aviation regulations concerning lithium batteries. For example, in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has several regulations governing what airplane passengers can and cannot do when flying with lithium-battery powered devices and uninstalled (aka spare) lithium batteries. Here are three things you need to keep in mind when you are getting ready for your flight:

  1. You Cannot Put Spare Lithium Batteries in Checked Baggage

The FAA does not allow uninstalled lithium batteries or portable battery chargers that contain lithium batteries in checked baggage. That’s because FAA researchers found that lithium batteries can self-ignite under specific conditions, such as when they are heated to extreme temperatures, short-circuited, or physically damaged. In addition, certain external conditions and internal malfunctions can cause lithium batteries to overheat through a process called thermal runaway — the temperature and pressure inside the batteries’ cells increase faster than the heat can be dissipated. Batteries in thermal runaway can reach temperatures above 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to ignite paper and cardboard.

You are allowed to keep spare lithium batteries and portable battery chargers in carry-ons, as the environmental conditions in the passenger cabin are much more palatable for them. You just need to protect the battery terminals from short circuiting, which can be done by simply covering them with tape or putting the battery in a protective pouch. Even if a battery were to experience thermal runaway due to an internal malfunction, the problem would likely be noticed and dealt with much quicker in the passenger cabin than the cargo hold.

Before you pack your spare batteries, though, you need to be familiar with a few requirements. A lithium-metal battery cannot have more than 2 grams of lithium in it, and a lithium-ion battery cannot exceed a rating of 100 watt-hours. These limits shouldn’t pose a problem for the average passenger, according to the FAA. If you happen to have a larger lithium-ion battery (e.g., a spare extended-life battery for your laptop), you can ask the airline for permission to bring it onboard. With airline approval, passengers can carry up to two larger (101-160 watt-hours) spare lithium-ion batteries. Other than that quantity limitation, there are no other restrictions on the number of lithium batteries you can put in your carry-on, provided they are for personal use.

  1. You Can Put Lithium-Battery Powered Devices in Carry-Ons or Checked Baggage

The FAA prefers that you store your lithium-battery powered devices in a carry-on. However, if that is impractical, you can put them in checked baggage.

If you are going to store a lithium-battery powered device in checked baggage, it is important to take a few safeguards. You need to turn off the device, but before doing so, you should disable any features that could turn it back on, such as an alarm clock. In addition, you need to pack your device so that it is protected from accidental activation and physical damage. For example, if an unprotected device is placed next to a hardcover book in a suitcase, rough baggage handling or turbulence could cause the book to shift and inadvertently turn on the device.

  1. You Need to Fix Before You Fly

Physically damaged lithium batteries can cause fires and other serious problems. Thus, it isn’t surprising that you are not allowed to take damaged batteries on flights, no matter whether they are spares or inside devices.

You are also not allowed to take defective lithium batteries and lithium-battery powered devices with battery safety issues on flights for the same reason. The FAA uses the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Recall List to determine what defective items to ban. For example, the FAA has banned certain Apple MacBook Pro laptops and HP ProBook notebooks based on this list. Apple and HP have recalled these devices because their batteries can overheat and cause a fire. If you have one of these devices, you are required to have the problem fixed per the manufacturer’s instructions before you fly with it.

While most people would agree that banning physically damaged lithium batteries is a good idea, there is no easy way to enforce the ban. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents might notice that a spare battery is damaged when checking carry-ons, but they do not check the batteries inside devices. A device owner might not even realize damage exists, as opening the device to check the battery might need to be done by the manufacturer or an authorized service provider.

Similarly, these is no easy way to enforce the ban on recalled lithium batteries and lithium-battery powered devices. The FAA admitted this in a Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO) report:

“It should be noted that is often difficult to distinguish products that are subject to a recall from those that are not. Many product recalls only affect certain batches of serial numbers of the same product model. Other recalled products carried by passengers or shipped as cargo may have already been repaired or had the defective lithium batteries replaced. Therefore, active screening methods at the point of acceptance or check-in may be difficult.”

So, if your lithium battery or lithium-battery powered device has been recalled and you haven’t had the problem fixed yet, you probably could get away with bringing it on your next flight. But given the seriousness of the potential risks, you probably wouldn’t want to anyway.

Have an Android Smartphone? Beware of Agent Smith

Agent Smith is frightening Google Android users around the world. This malware has replaced legitimate apps with malicious versions on 25 million Android devices. Here is what you need to know.

Around 25 million Google Android devices have been infected with a new variant of mobile malware. Once on a device, it replaces legitimate apps with malicious versions, which has led researchers to refer to this malware as “Agent Smith” — the iconic villain in “The Matrix” movie trilogy who transforms from a system agent (i.e., an AI program) to a self-replicating virus that spreads itself at an alarming rate.

The malicious versions of the apps bombard victims with ads from which the cybercriminals profit. While most of the victims are located in India (15.2 million), there are nearly a half a million victims in the United States and the United Kingdom.

How the Malware Works

Agent Smith is sophisticated malware that works in three stages:

  1. Cybercriminals trick people into installing a “dropper app” from an app store or website. A dropper app is a repacked legitimate program that contains an encrypted malicious payload. Because the payload is encrypted, it is not initially identified as malware by basic mobile security software. The dropper apps are typically weaponized games, photo utilities, media players, system utilities, and adult entertainment programs. Researchers even found 11 apps in the Google Play store that contained dormant code related to Agent Smith. (Google has removed these programs.)
  2. The dropper app decrypts the malicious payload into its original form — an Android installation (.apk) file — and uses known vulnerabilities to install the core malware. The core malware is usually disguised as a Google-related updater or “” file. Plus, its icon is hidden, making it even harder for users to know the malware is installed on their devices.
  3. The malware cross-checks the list of apps installed on the device to the list of apps that the hackers have weaponized. If there are any matches, it replaces the legitimate apps with the weaponized ones.

Although Agent Smith is designed to display fraudulent ads at this point, it has the potential to carry out more dangerous types of activities. The researchers noted that “it could easily be used for far more intrusive and harmful purposes such as banking credential theft and eavesdropping. Indeed, due to its ability to hide its icon from the launcher and impersonate existing user-trusted popular apps, there are endless possibilities for this sort of malware to harm a user’s device.”

How to Protect Your Android Device

To protect your Android device from Agent Smith and other mobile malware, you can take several precautions. For starters, you should not install apps from untrusted sources. Although malicious apps are sometimes found in the Google Play store, it is still safer to download apps from Google Play than third-party app stores and websites.

Another important measure to take is to install operating system, app, and firmware updates as soon as they are available. This will help protect your device from malware that exploits known security vulnerabilities. With the vulnerabilities patched, cybercriminals might not be able to install their malware on your device.

Finally, you should use an advanced mobile security solution. Security software that uses advanced threat detection and prevention technologies will better protect your device against sophisticated malware like Agent Smith. We can help you pick the best mobile security solution for your device.

Fake eFax Messages: A New Spin on an Old Phishing Trick

Hackers are again using fake eFax messages in phishing attacks, but the latest campaign has a new spin. Learn about their latest ploy.

In July 2019, security researchers announced the discovery a phishing scam that involved fake eFax messages. For years hackers have gone phishing using fake eFax messages, but this latest campaign caught the researchers’ attention. They found that it has a new spin. It infects victims with two different types of malware — a banking trojan and a remote access tool.

How the Scam Works

This latest phishing scam begins like its predecessors. Recipients receive an email supposedly from eFax. This fake eFax message tells the recipients they have received a fax. To view it, all they need to do is download the attached ZIP file and open the file inside it with Microsoft Word. However, the ZIP file actually contains a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet instead of a Word document. The spreadsheet contains a malicious macro — a series of commands that the hackers put together for nefarious purposes.

If the recipients open the spreadsheet and enable the macro, the commands initiate a process that results in the Dridex banking trojan and the Remote Manipulator System Remote Access Tool (RMS RAT) being installed on their computers. Dridex is designed to steal bank account credentials. RMS RAT lets the hackers remotely access and manipulate the victims’ computers. For example, they can transfer files, log keystrokes, and tamper with Windows Task Manager and other system utilities.

Having both types of malware installed lets hackers wreak twice as much havoc. It also gives them a backup communication channel in the event that one of the malware programs is detected and removed, according to researchers.

How to Protect Your Business

There are multiple measures you can take to protect your company against this type of attack. For starters, you can train employees on how to spot phishing emails. In this instance, there were several red flags. Although the message sported the official eFax logo, it included spelling and grammar errors. Plus, the message said to open the attached file with Word when it was an Excel spreadsheet.

During the training on how to spot phishing emails, it is important to let employees know they should not open attachments from unknown senders. In this case, a much safer alternative is for employees to view their faxes from the eFax website.

Another measure you can take to protect your company is to configure Excel and Word so that employees cannot enable macros. Macros are automatically disabled by default, but users are notified this has occurred and are given the option to enable them. You can change the macro setting so that macros are automatically disabled without any notification. That way, employees will not get a notification or the option to enable them. Alternatively, if your company uses digitally signed macros, you can select the option that disables all macros except those that are digitally signed.

There are additional measures you can take to defend against banking trojans, remote access tools, and other types of malware. We can go over your options and help you develop a comprehensive security strategy.

Equifax to Pay up to $425 Million to People Affected. Are you Included?

In 2017 Equifax publicly announced that a data breach occurred and exposed personal information of 147 million people. Find out if you’re eligible to claim benefits.

The Federal Trade Commission posted information about the settlement late July on its website and encourages claims to be filed immediately. The credit-check company, Equifax, has reached an agreement with the FTC to offer a cash settlement, or free credit monitoring, and additional cash to those affected by the breach in terms of costs associated to repairing credit, accounts, etc.

To file a claim, go to The deadline to file is January 22, 2020.

To find out if you are eligible to file a claim, go to the eligibility page and enter in your last name and last 6 digits of your social security number.

Claim Benefits

You may choose between two options of benefits:

  1. Ten Years of Free credit monitoring – This includes four (4) years of free credit monitoring between all three major bureaus and up to $1,000,000 of identity theft insurance. An additional six (6) years extra of free monitoring within the bureau (Equifax.)
  2. Cash Payments (capped at $20,000 per person) – This will be awarded to those that can prove losses from unauthorized charges to accounts, the fees associated with your accounts freezing, and any professional fees paid due to the data breach.

Initially, cash payment options were announced at $125 per person but with the inundated amount of claims that are being received, there will be less payout per person as the settlement is capped. $31 million of the $425 million settlement is set aside for automatic $125 payment claims, but may be a lower individual amount according to amount of claims. If you have already filed a cash payout claim and want to change to the credit monitoring option, the administrator will email to all filed claims the option to switch before payouts are issued. Payments will go out to those directly affected and proving costs associated with the breach with higher priority.

If choosing the cash payment option, beware that payouts will not be administered until January 23, 2020 and may be delayed further until allowed by the court. To learn more about the Equifax settlement, visit the FTC Data Breach Settlement page directly.

How to Determine Which IT Policies Your Company Needs

Having too few or too many IT policies can lead to problems. Here is a common-sense approach you can use to determine which IT policies your company needs.

Having too few IT policies can lead to problems. Policies are needed because the rules and requirements documented in them help ensure that a company’s IT resources are being used appropriately, productively, and securely.

Having too many IT policies can also be problematic. Policy overload can make employees feel that they are not trusted or allowed to think on their own, which can cause discontentment. It can also lead to employees not reading the policies, which means they might not be adhering to crucial ones.

To find the right balance, you can use a common-sense approach to determine which IT policies your company needs. This approach is also useful when determining what to include in those policies.

What to Do

Lists of must-have IT policies are easy to find. However, creating IT policies based on a one-size-fits-all list can result in unnecessary or missing policies. A better approach is to first identify the situations in which your company needs documented rules and requirements and then create policies to meet those needs. Common situations include:

The need to comply with laws or regulations that include IT-related requirements. An increasing number of laws and regulations are including IT-related requirements, such as the need to protect people’s privacy and properly secure their personal data.

If your company must comply with any laws or regulations that include IT-related requirements, you should check to see whether they mandate the creation of certain IT policies. For example, if you collect personal information from California residents on your company’s website, California state law requires you to post a privacy policy on that site that lets people know the types of personal data being collected and other pertinent information. Similarly, both the Security Rule and Privacy Rule of the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) stipulate that organizations under its jurisdiction must establish and implement policies to comply with the rules’ provisions. Even if a law or regulation does not specifically state that certain policies must be created, it is a good idea to do so. Having IT policies in place will help ensure compliance.

The need to document and formalize privacy practices.Laws and regulations like HIPAA are impacting most businesses, even those that do not have to comply. They are bringing to light people’s desire to have more control over their personal data and the assurance that their data is being properly handled and secured. If you want to let your customers and employees know that you are serious about protecting their privacy and personal data, it is important to create a privacy policy, assuming the information is not covered elsewhere (e.g., in the policies mandated by HIPAA). In the privacy policy, you can document how your company is collecting, storing, using, and disposing of customers’ and employees’ personal data.

Not sure where to start? We have helped many of our clients write their IT policies and we can help you get your act together as well! It is vital to have set policies in place. Give us a call at 800-421-7151 to learn more.

Windows 10 Mobile Is on Its Way to the Digital Graveyard

Microsoft is ending all support for Windows 10 Mobile devices. Here are some dates you need to remember if you are using this device.

Windows Mobile devices will soon join Palm Pilot PDAs, BlackBerry devices, and Betamax players in the digital graveyard. On December 10, 2019, Microsoft is ending all support for Windows 10 Mobile. It is the official end to the software giant’s failed foray into the smartphone market.

What to Expect

Windows 10 Mobile smartphones and their apps will still work on December 10, 2019, and beyond. However, Microsoft is recommending that customers move to a Google Android or Apple iOS device before then — and for good reason. Once the support ends, Microsoft will no provide feature updates, free technical assistance, or new online technical content for the Windows 10 Mobile operating system. More important, the operating system will no longer receive security updates. As a result, it will not be protected against new mobile malware or new attack vectors, making the operating system more vulnerable to cyberattacks. To make matters worse, hackers often launch new attacks that target unsupported operating systems.

Although Microsoft is ending support for the operating system on December 10, 2019, it is gradually phasing out the Windows 10 Mobile backend services. For example, users will be able to create new device backups until March 10, 2020. Even better, they likely will be able to restore their devices from existing device backups until December 10, 2020. Other services such as photo uploads will also likely continue until December 10, 2020.

The lifecycles of apps on Windows 10 Mobile devices are independent of the operating system’s lifecycle. Thus, it is up to the app developers to decide whether or not they want to continue support for their apps once support for the Windows 10 Mobile operating system ends.

Time to Move On

If you or your employees are still using a Windows 10 Mobile device, it’s time to start looking at alternatives, such as Android or iOS smartphones. We can help you sort through your options and recommend viable alternatives based on your needs.

5 Ways to Protect Your NAS Device from Ransomware

Network-attached storage (NAS) devices are common targets of ransomware attacks. Find out why NAS devices are often attacked and what you can do to protect your storage device and the data in it.

Small and midsized businesses often use network-attached storage (NAS) devices for file sharing, storage, and backups. Because these devices are used to store a large amount of data and are often connected to the Internet, they are prime targets for ransomware attacks. For example, on July 19, 2019, cybercriminals launched ransomware attacks against NAS devices made by Synology. And on July 10, 2019, researchers sounded the alarm about ransomware attacks against NAS devices sold by QNAP Systems.

If your business uses a NAS device, you need to protect it against ransomware and other types of malware. Here are five measures you can take to protect the device and the data in it:

  1. Change the Default Credentials

In both of the July 2019 ransomware campaigns, cybercriminals used brute-force attacks to initially gain access to NAS devices through the administrator account. In brute-force attacks, automated tools systematically try account name and password combinations in hope that default or weak credentials are being used for the administrator account.

To protect your NAS device, you should disable the default administrator account (which is often named “admin”) and create a new admin account with a hard-to-guess account name. (Typically, you cannot simply rename this account.) When you are setting the new account’s password, make sure it is strong and unique. If your NAS device supports two-step authentication, it is a good idea to use it.

  1. Make Sure SSL Is Enabled

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) should be enabled if any employees access your NAS device remotely through a web portal. When SSL is used, the connection is encrypted so hackers won’t be able to see the credentials (and any other data) being transmitted to the device. A quick way to see whether or not the connection is encrypted is to check the portal’s URL. If it begins with “https:”, the connection is encrypted. If it starts with “http:”, you should enable SSL.

  1. Update the Software Regularly

NAS devices include operating system software. Regularly updating this software is crucial, as the updates often fix recently discovered security vulnerabilities. For instance, the ransomware used to attack QNAP Systems’ NAS devices exploits known security vulnerabilities. Although QNAP Systems has released updates that fix those issues, the ransomware victims did not have those updates installed on their NAS devices. Had the updates been installed, the attacks wouldn’t have been successful.

Similarly, it is important to regularly update other applications that are installed on your NAS device.

  1. Back Up the Data Regularly

Cybercriminals are constantly devising new and more sophisticated ways to spread ransomware. So, despite your best efforts to secure your NAS device, a ransomware attack might still be successful. To avoid having to pay the ransom, you should routinely back up the data on your NAS device. Some NAS device vendors even offer a cloud backup service for this purpose.

  1. Take Advantage of Built-In Security Options

NAS devices often include security options that you can use. For example, they might have:

  • An auto-block option. This feature blacklists IP addresses after a certain number of failed log-in attempts. This can thwart hackers’ attempts to use brute-force credential-cracking tools to access the devices.
  • The ability to encrypt the data being stored. Some NAS devices encrypt data when it is at rest. That way, if cybercriminals somehow get ahold of the data, they won’t be able to see or use it.
  • A built-in firewall. NAS devices sometimes have built-in firewalls that will automatically block connections that the devices do not recognize. You can usually customize the firewall’s rules so that you can keep certain connections open but block all other connections.

Don’t Forget about the Network

In addition to protecting your NAS device and routinely backing up the data on it, you need to secure the network in which the device is placed. How to do so will depend on your network’s components and configuration. We can assess your network and create a customized plan to better secure it.

Apple Is Recalling MacBook Pro Laptops Due to Possible Fire Hazard

The batteries in some 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops are overheating. Find out how to check whether your laptop is affected and learn about some other Apple devices being recalled.

Apple is recalling certain 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops due to a potential fire hazard. Apple has received 26 complaints about the laptops’ batteries overheating and causing minor burns, smoke inhalation, and minor damage to nearby personal property, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops were sold primarily between September 2015 and February 2017 through Apple’s website, Apple’s retail stores, and other electronics stores. Around 458,000 were sold in the United States and Canada.

How to Determine If Your Laptop Is Part of the Recall

Not all of the 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops sold are affected. To determine if your device is part of the recall, you need to check your device’s serial number. Follow these steps:

  1. On your laptop, select “About This Mac” from the Apple menu.
  2. On the “General” tab, check to see if the model is “MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2015)”. If that is not the model listed, your laptop is not part of the recall. If that is your model, proceed to the next step.
  3. Write down your computer’s serial number, which will also be listed on the “Overview” tab.
  4. Go to the 15-inch MacBook Pro Battery Recall Program web page and enter your computer’s serial number in the box provided.

If your laptop is one of the models being recalled, you should stop using it. Apple will replace the battery for free in an Apple Repair Center. You can drop off your laptop at an Apple retail store or Apple-authorized service provider. Another option is to mail your laptop to the Apple Repair Center, but you first need to contact Apple Support to arrange it. Apple estimates that it will take one to two weeks to service your laptop.

Before you get your battery replaced, it is important to back up all the data on your laptop. If you need assistance performing the backup, give us a call.

Other Apple Devices Being Recalled

Other Apple devices are also being recalled for various reasons. Here are four other recalls issued in 2019:

  • The keyboards in certain MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro devices are not working correctly. Letters or characters might repeat unexpectedly or not appear at all. Plus, keys might feel “sticky” or respond in an inconsistent manner. For more information about this recall, see the Keyboard Service Program for MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro web page.
  • The display backlight in some 13-inch MacBook Pro laptops works incorrectly or stops working entirely. For more information, see the 13-inch MacBook Pro Display Backlight Service Program web page.
  • In “very rare” rare cases, the Apple three-prong AC wall plug adapter is breaking and creating a risk of electrical shock if exposed metal parts are touched. The adapters are primarily used in the United Kingdom, Singapore, and Hong Kong. For more information, see the Apple Three-Prong AC Wall Plug Adapter Recall Programweb page.
  • The main logic board in certain 13-inch 2018 MacBook Air devices are experiencing power issues. Although Apple has not yet listed this problem on its Exchange and Repair Extension Programs page as of July 1, 2019, an internal memo to repair staff members states that they should replace the main logic board in affected devices at no cost to customers.

5 Common Misconceptions about Hybrid Clouds

The concept of a hybrid cloud is still hazy in many people’s minds. Here are five common misconceptions about hybrid clouds set straight.

Despite being introduced back in 2011, the concept of a hybrid cloud is still hazy in many people’s minds. This is understandable given that there are many misconceptions about what hybrid clouds are and how businesses use them.

Here are five common misconceptions about hybrid clouds set straight:

  1. Hybrid Cloud Deployments Contain Hybrid Clouds

In cloud computing, there are three main cloud deployment models: private, public, and hybrid. This concept is often expressed as simply “there are three types of clouds: private, public, and hybrid”.

Although accurate, the shorter version is a bit vague. As a result, it can lead to an erroneous assumption that hybrid cloud deployments contain hybrid clouds, just like public cloud deployments contain public clouds and private cloud deployments include private clouds.

In reality, hybrid cloud deployments contain both private and public clouds. The private and public clouds operate independently, but data or applications move between them. The latter is a key element in hybrid clouds. If data or application portability is not present, it is simply an environment in which both private and public clouds are used.

  1. Few Companies Use Hybrid Clouds

A common misconception is that few businesses use hybrid clouds — and those that do are large companies. However, many companies of all sizes have hybrid cloud environments. One 2019 report found that 35% of small and midsized businesses and 58% of large companies have hybrid cloud strategies in place. And the numbers are expected to rise. Gartner is even predicting that using hybrid clouds will become the standard.

  1. Hybrid Clouds Are Only for Retailers

Retailers often use hybrid clouds to deal with spikes in IT demand during the holiday shopping season. They run their applications run in a private cloud. When the private cloud reaches its capacity, the overflow is sent to a public cloud. This is known as cloud bursting.

While well-suited for retail operations, cloud bursting is not limited to retailers. Other types of businesses can use this approach to handle spikes in IT demand. For example, a tax preparation service might use cloud bursting to handle the additional workload during tax season.

Plus, businesses in any industry can use hybrid clouds for tiered storage and disaster recovery. In the latter case, a company can set up its primary site in a private cloud and use a disaster recovery service in a public cloud for the secondary site. With this setup, crucial operations can quickly failover to the secondary site if disaster strikes.

  1. Data Management Is More Complex in Hybrid Clouds

People often think that managing data is more complex in a hybrid environment because both public and private clouds are used. However, the public and private clouds do not work in isolation. Thanks to the portability systems linking the two clouds, companies can easily move any amount of data at any time between the clouds.

Companies also have greater control over where data is handled and stored, making it easier to manage and secure the data. For example, they can use a public cloud to store non-sensitive data while storing sensitive data in a private cloud. Doing so lets companies prioritize their security efforts. They can concentrate more of their IT assets on securing the sensitive data, which can help mitigate the risk of noncompliance with regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

  1. Hybrid Clouds Can Be Set Up Following a Standard Template

One of the elements in a hybrid cloud is the public cloud. Companies sometimes use the same public cloud services, which can lead to the expectation that there is a standard template companies can follow when setting up a hybrid cloud.

However, no such template exists, as hybrid clouds are tailor-made. The private cloud must be designed to meet a business’s specific needs. Similarly, the data and application portability systems need to be customized for the business.

We can help you design and implement a hybrid cloud optimized to meet your business’s requirements.

Slack is Now Public. Here’s Why it’s Different

On June 20th, 2019 the popular enterprise software business went public in a non-traditional method through a direct listing. Find out what this means for the $16 billion dollar tech company.

If you work in an office setting, chances are you have heard or have worked with the software sharing platform. This tool allows you to instant message and create separate channels for communication, file sharing, screen sharing, and searchable archive across all devices. A notable competitor of the software giant is Zoom Video Communications who went public this past April.

A Closer Look

Slack is only 5 years old and has claimed 10 million users on a daily basis, used by 65 of the Fortune 100, and in over 150 countries. That’s a powerful claim in the months leading up to the announcement of going public. With a projected growth rate of $590 million for 2020, Slack is gaining a 50% traction of growth when compared to the previous year’s earnings. This projects a strong pattern to continued growth, with estimators projecting almost $900 million in the 2021 fiscal year.

It was reported that Slack suffered a loss of $141 million in the past fiscal year. However, that is not deterring its estimated value rising with about 600 million shares now entering the New York Stock Exchange.

Going Public Through a Direct Listing

Slack went public on June 20th on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker WORK, with its current 600 million shares starting at $38.62 per share. They are currently maintaining their rough value at $37.50 by the close of business on Friday, June 28th. When Slack announced they were going public, they stated it would be through a direct listing instead of the traditional manner. A direct listing means the company will not create and offer any more shares than the existing shares. Traditionally, shares are created in addition to those existing in order to raise money for the company. This means that once public, it’s up to its shareholders if they want to trade their shares. If no one wanted to, there would be none available for trade. With an opening price of $38.50 per shares, $12 higher than originally estimated at $26 per share, puts Slack’s market cap value at $17+ billion.  Spotify was another company to go public through a direct listing and was successful while others like Uber and Lyft saw a loss on their share value through direct listing.

With a powerful entrance into the public stock market, and its CEO Stewart Butterfield’s innovative ideas for the company’s future (which includes the idea to do away with email entirely), Slack won’t be slowing down.

Valuable Lessons Learned from the Massive AMCA Data Breach

Hackers stole the personal, financial, and medical data of more than 20 million patients who had used the online payment portal of a US medical bill and debt collector. Here are some valuable lessons you can learn without having to experience a data breach.

A US medical bill and debt collector, American Medical Collection Agency (AMCA), was the target of a data breach that persisted for seven months. Hackers stole the data of more than 20 million patients who had used AMCA’s online payment portal between August 2018, and March 2019.

By examining this data breach, you can learn some valuable lessons without having to experience one firsthand.

The AMCA Fiasco

When monitoring the dark web marketplace, Gemini Advisory security analysts discovered a database for sale that contained compromised US payment cards with accompanying information such as social security numbers, birthdates, and medical information. Upon investigation, they found that the database was likely stolen from AMCA’s online payment portal.

The security analysts attempted to notify AMCA by phone on March 1, 2019, but they did not get any response from the messages they left. So, they immediately contacted a federal law enforcement agency, which contacted AMCA. AMCA officials then confirmed that they had been breached.

It wasn’t until the beginning of June that patients were notified. Soon thereafter, numerous lawsuits were filed against AMCA and two of its clients Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp. The lawsuits were filed for two main reasons:

  1. Failing to protect patients’ data. The US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) takes a serious stance on the relationship between a US healthcare provider and organizations (aka business associates) that protect health information on the provider’s behalf. HIPAA mandates that a healthcare provider must contractually ensure that its business associates comply with HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, which is why Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are named in many of the lawsuits. Plus, the business associate itself is responsible for complying with HIPAA, which is why AMCA is named in many of the lawsuits.Both Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp have had security problems in the past. In November 2016, one of Quest Diagnostics’ Internet applications was breached. The hacker obtained the personal data of about 34,000 patients. In July 2018, LabCorp was the target of a ransomware attack, which caused the company to take certain systems offline for several days.
  2. Failing to notify patients about the breach in a timely manner.HIPAA mandates that healthcare providers notify patients within 60 days of first discovering a breach. However, AMCA didn’t notify potential victims until June 6, which is about three months after first finding out about the breach.Quest Diagnostics also notified victims in early June. However, the company contends that AMCA did not notify Quest officials in a timely manner. According to the Quest Diagnostics website, they received notification about “potential unauthorized activity” on May 14. But it wasn’t until May 31 that Quest officials found out how many patients were affected and the types of data stolen. The number of victims and the types of data stolen are eye-opening. Around 11.9 million patients had personal information (including Social Security numbers), financial records (including payment card and bank account numbers), and medical information (but not laboratory test results) stolen.Around 7.7 million LabCorp patients had personal and financial information stolen, but not their Social Security numbers since that information was never given to AMCA. Some LabCorp patients were upset that the company didn’t send them notification letters. LabCorp submitted a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filingabout the breach on June 4 and posted information about the incident on its website but did not send notification letters as of July 1. Notification letters might be sent in the future, though. The website noted “LabCorp will take additional steps that may be appropriate, including making any required notifications, once more is known about the AMCA incident.”

The victims weren’t the only ones upset about the AMCA data breach. Two US senators, the attorneys general from at least three states (ConnecticutIllinois, and Michigan), and other officials have launched investigations. The senators, for example, sent letters to Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp demanding to know about their security processes and teams, why the breach was not detected sooner, and how they manage their vendors. The senators sent a similar letter to AMCA.

On June 17, AMCA’s parent company, Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau Inc., filed for bankruptcy as a direct result of the data breach. The company experienced a “severe drop-off in its business”, according to bankruptcy papers. Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp were its largest customers. Like many other clients, they terminated their business relationship with AMCA once they found out about the breach. The high costs incurred because of the breach was another reason why the company filed for bankruptcy.

Lessons Learned

You can learn some valuable lessons from the AMCA data breach:

  • Companies can be held liable for their suppliers’ data breaches. Businesses that must comply with data privacy regulations such as HIPAA and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) can be held accountable for their suppliers’ data breaches. Since data privacy regulations are becoming more common, it is a good idea for businesses to consider this when selecting suppliers.
  • Businesses need to continually monitor their IT operations for suspicious activity that might indicate a data breach is occurring. Unlike ransomware, data breaches are typically carried out covertly. Knowing what to look for and continually monitoring for those signs can mean the difference between having a breach discovered in seven hours rather than seven months.
  • Companies must notify the victims affected by a breach in a timely manner. This is not just a HIPAA requirement. All 50 US states have legislation requiring private and government entities to notify individuals of data breaches if their personal data was stolen. Moreover, poorly handled notifications can exacerbate the impact of the data breach. Promptly notifying victims in a thoughtful manner can help lessen some of the negative feelings.
  • Data breaches are costly. In the bankruptcy filing, AMCA noted that it incurred substantial costs due to the incident, including having to spend $3.8 million to mail millions of notices to patients. It also spent $400,000 to hire IT experts to identify the source of the breach, diagnose its cause, and implement appropriate solutions.
  • Data breaches often lead to lost business — and worse. A data breach can result in losing existing customers, missing out on future business opportunities, and even having to file for bankruptcy or go out of business.

Bad News for Most Everyone Involved

Data breaches are bad news for everyone involved, except the perpetrators. Customers are at risk of getting their money or identities stolen because their personal data is up for grabs. Companies can lose their customers, reputation, and money. Due these serious ramifications, businesses need to strengthen their security defenses as well as have incidence response plans in place. We can help by discussing and assessing your company’s security measures and formulating an effective strategy to defend against data breaches. Call us 800-421-7151 to learn more.

Edit Microsoft Office Files in Google G Suite

Gone are the days of having to manually convert Microsoft Office documents to G Suite files. Find out how you can now read, edit, and comment on Office files in G Suite, without having to convert them.

Although Google G Suite is the leader in the productivity suites market (it has 62% of the market share as of July 1, 2019), Microsoft Office 365 still has a sizeable chunk (38%). As a result, it is not uncommon for G Suite users to need to open Office files. For example, they might need to work with Word files that customers, suppliers, or remote office workers send them.

In the past, G Suite users had to manually convert an Office document to a G Suite file in order to open and edit it. Alternatively, they could use the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides extension in the Google Chrome web browser. In either case, the resulting file was saved and stored as a G Suite file in Google Drive.

Those days are now over. In June 2019, Google rolled out an G Suite update. Once installed, users are able to read, edit, and comment on Office files in G Suite, without having to convert them. The documents are saved and stored in their original Office file type in Google Drive. G Suite users do not need to have Office installed on their computers to use this feature, which Google refers to as “Office editing”.

The ability to open and work with Office files in G Suite will be especially beneficial for collaboration. Both Office and G Suite users can work on the same Office document. As a result, they won’t have to keep two copies of the file (one in each file type) or have to continually convert the file.

Types of Files Supported

The Office editing feature is available in three G Suite apps: Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. The free versions of these apps also have it. The Office file types that can be converted are:

  • Word files (.doc, .docx, and .dot)
  • Excel files (.xls, .xlsx, .xlsm, and .xlt)
  • PowerPoint files (.ppt, .pptx, .pps, and .pot)

Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files older than Office 2007 can be opened and edited. However, they will be automatically saved in a newer file format.

How to Use the New Feature

The Office editing feature is enabled by default, so there is only one task you need to do before using it. You must remove the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets, & Slides extension if it is present in your Chrome browser.

The new feature is easy to use. For example, if you want to edit a Word file that is in Google Drive, you follow these steps:

  1. Double-click the Word file in Google Drive.
  2. Click the “Open with Google Docs” option that is near the top of the preview pane that appears.
  3. Edit the document. When the file is in Google Docs, you will see its file type in the upper left corner, as Figure 1 shows.

All your changes will be automatically saved to the original Word file. If you want to save the edited file as a Google Doc instead, you can select the “Save as Google Docs” option in the “File” menu. Remember that we do not recommend editing files with sensitive personal information in Google Docs ever; there are more secure ways to collaborate. Call us at 800-421-7151 to learn more.

5 Ways You Can Better Protect Your Windows 10 Computer Thanks to the May 2019 Update

More than a billion adults have been the victims of cybercrime. Here are five security-related improvements rolled out through the Windows 10 May 2019 Update that can help you avoid becoming the next victim.

People fear cyberattacks more than physical attacks or robbery — and for good reason. More than 1 billion adults have been the victims of cybercrime, with 800 million of them occurring in 2018 alone.

Taking measures to protect your devices can help mitigate the risk and fear of becoming a victim. The more security measures you implement, the better protected you’ll be. Toward that end, Microsoft keeps adding new and improved security tools and functionality to Windows 10 through feature updates. Here are five security-related enhancements that Microsoft rolled out through the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903) that you might want to take advantage of to better protect your Windows 10 computer:

1. New Password-Less Way to Create and Sign In to Microsoft Accounts

Microsoft believes that passwords are “inconvenient, insecure, and expensive” so it is on a quest to create “a world without passwords”. As part of this endeavor, Microsoft has been providing alternative authentication methods through Windows 10 feature updates and other venues. The Windows 10 May 2019 Update introduces a new way you can set up and log in to your Microsoft account that does not involve using a password.

This is how it works: When you first sign in to Microsoft on a new or reset computer, you provide the phone number that is associated with your Microsoft account. Microsoft will then send you a text message that contains a security code, which you enter in the sign-in screen. Once logged in, you finish setting up the account. Afterward, you need to select and set up an alternative authentication method. For example, you can use Windows Hello to set up biometric authentication (e.g., face or fingerprint recognition).

2. Redesigned “Sign-in options” Page in the Settings App

Microsoft redesigned the “Sign-in options” page in the Settings app to make it easier for Windows 10 users to select and set up an alternative authentication method if desired. Once the May 2019 Update is installed, the “Sign-in options” page — which you can find in the “Accounts” section of the Settings app — clearly outlines the available authentication methods. For example, the indistinct “Windows Hello” option has been replaced with the three main authentication methods available using this solution: “Windows Hello Face”, “Windows Hello Fingerprint”, and “Windows Hello PIN”. Plus, the “Sign-in options” page now includes the “Security Key” option so that you can set up a physical security key (e.g., USB security key) directly from that page.

Besides making it easier to select and set up alternative authentication methods, Microsoft has redesigned some of the supporting processes. For instance, the process used to reset Windows Hello PINs has been streamlined. It is now more like the process used to reset passwords online.

3. Enhancements in the Windows Security App

The Windows Security app lets you view and manage Windows 10’s built-in security tools, such as Windows Firewall and Windows Defender Antivirus. Two enhancements to Windows Security are being rolled out through the May 2019 Update:

  • “Tamper Protection”. This new feature is designed to protect against unauthorized changes to security settings in Windows 10. It alerts you if someone or something (e.g., an app) is trying to change an important security setting.
  • Redesigned “Protection History” page. This page shows the actions taken by the Windows Security app to protect your computer. It now includes information about attempts to access controlled folders but were blocked by either the “Controlled folder access” tool in the Windows Security app or an Attack Surface Reduction Rule. Microsoft also made the information about the threats detected by Windows Defender Antivirus more detailed and easier to understand.

4. Windows Sandbox

You can save money by using free apps from the Internet. However, there is always the risk that the apps contain malware. The new Windows Sandbox provides you with a safe way to test potentially dangerous apps.

When you launch Windows Sandbox, it uses virtualization technology to create an isolated desktop environment, which is called a sandbox. You then install the untrusted app in the sandbox and run it. If the app contains malware, it won’t infect the computer. When you close Windows Sandbox, the app and all its files are permanently deleted. Windows Sandbox is available in Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise only.

5. Better Control Over Who Can See and Hear You

Spyware is a threat to both individuals and businesses. Hackers use it to get sensitive data or images, which they sell on the dark web marketplace. One way cybercriminals spy on their victims is by using the computers’ microphones and cameras.

To help detect spyware, the May 2019 Update adds a new icon that appears when a computer’s microphone is being used. You can find out which app is using it by hovering your mouse over the icon. If more than one app is using the microphone, it will display the number of apps using it.

In addition, you can now specify whether websites can use your camera and microphone if you use Windows Defender Application Guard. When Application Guard is enabled, Windows 10 launches Microsoft Edge in an isolated virtualized environment so that malicious web pages won’t harm your computer. Application Guard is available in Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Enterprise only.

Save Time by Setting Up Rules in Outlook and Gmail

Slogging through numerous emails every day takes time. Declutter your Inbox by taking advantage of Microsoft Outlook’s and Google Gmail’s filtering functionality.

If you are like most people, you receive numerous emails at work. Employees receive an average of 126 emails per day, according to one study. Having to slog through that many emails takes time — time that you could put to better use. However, you’re afraid that if you don’t take the time, you might miss seeing an email that needs your attention.

In situations like this, you can have your email program automatically move, archive, or delete emails so that you do not have to periodically declutter your Inbox. To do so, you just need to set up a few rules. Both Microsoft Outlook and Google Gmail offer this functionality.

For example, suppose you subscribe to several email newsletters that you read when you have the time. You can move them to a folder named “My Newsletters” so they do not clutter up your Inbox, letting you easily see the other emails that have arrived. Here is how to create the rule that will automatically move the newsletters for you in Outlook and Gmail.

Automatically Moving Emails in Outlook

Like most operations in Outlook, there are several ways to create rules. Here is the easiest way if you are moving folders:

  1. Open Outlook and create a folder named “My Newsletters” in the list of folders. (Right-click where you want to put it, select “New Folder”, and enter the name.)
  2. In your Inbox, find one of the email newsletters you want moved, right-click it, and select “Rules”.
  3. In the submenu that appears, select the option “Always Move Messages From: xxxx” (where xxxx will be the newsletter’s display name or email address).
  4. In the “When I get email with all of the selected conditions” of the “Create Rule” window, select the option “From xxxx” (where xxxx will be the newsletter’s display name or email address). Make sure the other two options in this section are not selected since you want all emails from this source moved.
  5. In the “Do the following” section, check the “Move the item to folder” box and click the “Select Folder” button.
  6. In the “Rules and Alerts” window that appears, select the “My Newsletters” folder, and click “Okay”.
  7. In the “Confirmation” window that appears, specify whether you want to run the rule on messages already in your Inbox and click OK.
  8. Repeat steps 2 through 7 for your other email newsletters.

These steps work in Outlook for Office 365 and Outlook 2007 and later.

Automatically Moving Emails in Gmail

To set up the same rule in Gmail, follow these steps:

  1. Open Gmail and create a label (aka folder) named “My Newsletters” in the menu on the left. (Click “More”, select “Create new label”, enter the name, and click “Create”.)
  2. In your Inbox, find one of the email newsletters you want automatically moved. Check the box next to the email.
  3. Click the vertical ellipsis near the top of the page and select “Filter messages like these”.
  4. In the window that opens, you will see the newsletter’s email address or display name in the “From” field. Click the “Create filter” button at the bottom of the window.
  5. Check the “Skip the Inbox (Archive it)” box, as Figure 1 shows. Selecting this option is important. If you do not select it, the newsletters from this source will appear in both your Inbox and the “Read Later” folder, which will clutter rather than declutter your email app.
  6. Check the “Apply the label” box and select the “My Newsletters” folder you created.
  7. Check the “Also apply filter to x matching conversations” box, where x will be how many existing newsletters from that source you currently have in your Inbox. By checking this box, those newsletters will also be automatically moved to the “My Newsletters” folder.
  8. Click “Create filter”.
  9. Repeat steps 2 through 8 for your other email newsletters.

You can do much more with rules. We offer training to help you get the best out of your applications. Email us at We can help you set up more advanced rules so you can save even more time.

Is Your SaaS Data at Risk?

Companies that assume their SaaS provider will restore application data they accidentally lose are risking permanently losing that data. Learn why SaaS providers are not required to restore this data and what you can do to avoid permanent data loss.

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the largest segment of the cloud computing market, with revenue expected to reach $113 billion by 2021. A large part of this revenue will be from businesses. They have wholeheartedly embraced using applications hosted in public clouds, thanks to such offerings as Adobe Creative Cloud, Google G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce, SAP Cloud ERP, and Slack.

Using SaaS applications is popular in the business community because companies do not have to purchase or maintain the applications they are using. The SaaS providers own the applications, which they typically offer on a subscription basis. The providers maintain the applications and the infrastructure on which the programs run. As a result, they are responsible for protecting against data loss due to operational failures such as the infrastructure breaking down. However, the vast majority of SaaS providers explicitly state in their terms and conditions that subscribers are also responsible for protecting against data loss, according to a Forrester report. Specifically, subscribers need to make sure protections are in place so that they do not permanently lose their application data due to events such as data being accidentally deleted, data becoming corrupted, and insider attacks. One crucial protection is being able to restore data from backups.

Most SaaS providers have robust processes in place for backing up and restoring application data in case an operational failure occurs. Although they could potentially use these backups to restore data that subscribers lose due to accidental deletions and other misfortunes, it is up to each provider to decide whether or not to do so. In other words, if a subscriber loses data through no fault of the SaaS provider, the provider is not obligated to use its backups to fulfill the subscriber’s request to restore the lost data.

Some providers choose to offer a data restoration service. However, it’s not uncommon for them to charge a hefty fee, build in lengthy turnaround times, or impose restrictions on what types of data they will restore.

Dangerous Assumptions

Despite the facts, 95% of companies assume their SaaS provider will restore any application data they lose, according to a IDG Research study. Companies that make this assumption are putting themselves at risk. They could permanently lose application data if the provider’s policy is to not restore data that subscribers have lost.

It is also risky for companies to assume that they never will lose any data. Data loss is common. For example, 58% of businesses participating in the IDG Research study reported they suffered a data loss of some kind in the past year. The top three reasons for the loss were accidental deletions, data lost during migration, and inadvertently overwriting correct information with incorrect data — all events that fall under the companies’ responsibility.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Company’s SaaS Data

If your company uses a SaaS application, you need to make sure you will be able to restore both large and small amounts of your application data. A good starting point is to check your service level agreement or talk with your SaaS provider to see whether it handles data restoration requests for subscribers that have lost application data. If your provider offers this service, it is important to find out how long it typically takes, whether there are any restrictions, and the fee.

While a few SaaS providers offer comprehensive restoration services that are fast and fairly priced, many do not. If your provider falls into the latter category or does not offer a data restoration service, your options include:

  • If your SaaS provider offers a restoration service but the terms are unacceptable, you might try negotiating with the provider. For example, you might be able to negotiate a quicker turnaround time or lower fee.
  • Manually exporting application data. Some SaaS providers offer tools that let you manually export application data. However, restoring individual records (e.g., individual files or emails) from exported application data is usually impossible, so you would need to restore all the application data.
  • Using an on-premises backup solution. On-premises solutions designed specifically to back up and restore SaaS application data are available. You purchase the backup software and install it on a computer in your facility, which means you will have full control over the backup and restoration processes. These solutions typically have a user-friendly interface and advanced search capabilities so you can easily find the data you want to restore. Restoring one record or all of them is fast since the backup files are onsite. However, you are responsible for installing, configuring, and maintaining the software. You also need to purchase, set up, and maintain the storage infrastructure that will house the backup files.
  • Using a cloud-to-cloud backup service. With cloud-to-cloud backups, a service provider backs up your SaaS application’s data to another public cloud or a private one. Since this service falls under the SaaS umbrella, the service provider (and not your company) is responsible for purchasing, installing, configuring, and maintaining the backup software and the storage infrastructure. Like with on-premises solutions, the cloud-to-cloud backup services typically feature an easy-to-use interface, advanced search capabilities, and the ability to restore one or many records. However, the restoration process might take a bit longer if the backup files are being stored in a public cloud.

When deciding which option to pursue, it is important to know that on-premises and cloud-to-cloud backup solutions are currently available for popular SaaS offerings like Office 365, G Suite, and Salesforce. However, finding an on-premises or cloud-to-cloud backup solution for less popular SaaS applications might prove difficult, as both markets are not mature yet. In time, though, these types of backup solutions will become increasingly available for lesser known SaaS applications.

We can help you evaluate your options based on the SaaS applications your business is using. With this information in hand, we can devise a backup and restoration strategy that will protect your SaaS application data against permanent data loss. Give us a call at 800-421-7151 to get started.

Running WhatsApp on Your Smartphone? Make Sure It Has the Latest Update

A dangerous security vulnerability has been found and exploited in WhatsApp. Here is what you need to know.

A security hole in the WhatsApp messaging app enables hackers to infect Google Android and Apple iPhone smartphones with malware. The vulnerability was discovered after hackers exploited it to install spyware on the phones of several lawyers and human rights activists. The spyware took over the functions of their devices’ operating system software.

A Dangerous Vulnerability

Security experts are calling the vulnerability in WhatsApp “very scary” — and for good reason. It allows cybercriminals to install malware through the app’s phone call feature. Worse yet, the targeted individuals do not even need to answer the phone to become infected. Plus, the malicious calls often disappear from the devices’ call logs.

WhatsApp has pushed out a patch to fix the vulnerability but is urging users to make sure it was installed on their phones. If you have an Android device, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Play Store.
  2. On the menu, tap “My apps & games”.
  3. Find and select “WhatsApp Messenger” in the list of installed apps.
  4. Tap “Read more” and scroll to the bottom.
  5. Under “App info”, make sure the version listed is 2.19.134.

If you have an iPhone, do the following:

  1. Open the App Store.
  2. Select the “Updates” tab.
  3. Scroll until you see WhatsApp under either “Pending” or “Updated recently”.
  4. Tap “More”.
  5. Make sure the version listed is 2.19.51.

If your device is running a version earlier than 2.19.134 (Android) or 2.19.51 (iPhone), you should update WhatsApp.

Smartphones Are as Vulnerable as Computers

The WhatsApp’s vulnerability and its exploitation highlight the fact that smartphones have become as unsecure and vulnerable as computers, according to security experts. For that reason, it is important to regularly update the apps and operating system software on your smartphone. Taking advantage of automatic updates makes this task effortless. If an app does not have an automatic update feature, you will need to regularly check for updates and manually install them.

Besides updating, it is a good idea to run security software. It can help detect known malware that gets unknowingly installed. Give us a call at 800-421-7151. We can recommend which security software to use as well as provide additional information on how to secure your smartphone.

Nearly 1 Million Windows Computers Have Serious Vulnerability

If any of your business’s computers are running older versions of Windows, you need to make sure they receive a patch that fixes a vulnerability known as BlueKeep. Discover what Windows versions have this dangerous vulnerability and where you can find the patches.

Nearly 1 million computers have this security hole, according to one report. To make matters worse, the proof-of-concept code demonstrating how the vulnerability can be exploited was partially released.

The vulnerability is found in Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2003. It lies in the pre-authentication system used for Remote Desktop Services (formerly known as Terminal Services). This security hole is so serious that Microsoft has even released patches for Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003, which have reached the end of their lifecycles and therefore are no longer officially supported.

Why the Vulnerability Is So Serious

BlueKeep has been rated as a critical vulnerability. One reason for this rating is that it’s “wormable”. This means that “any future malware that exploits this vulnerability could propagate from vulnerable computer to vulnerable computer in a similar way as the WannaCry malware spread across the globe in 2017,” said Simon Pope, the director of incident response at the Microsoft Security Response Center, in a TechNet blog.

Pope reiterated this concern in a subsequent blog, adding that it only takes one vulnerable computer connected to the Internet to provide a gateway into a company’s network. Once inside, malware could spread from the initially compromised machine to other computers, even those that are not online. “This scenario could be even worse for those who have not kept their internal systems updated with the latest fixes, as any future malware may also attempt further exploitation of vulnerabilities that have already been fixed,” said Pope.

What to Do

No matter what versions of Windows your business is running, you should disable Remote Desktop Services if it is not being used. This is true even for Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows Server 2019, Windows Server 2016, and Windows Server 2012 machines — which do not have the BlueKeep vulnerability. Disabling this service will reduce your business’s attack surface.

Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2003 machines need to be patched, even if you disable Remote Desktop Services on them. Here is the information you need to know:

Let us know if you need assistance in checking for or installing the patches to fix the BlueKeep vulnerability.

7 Ways Businesses Can Use Office 365 More Securely

Microsoft Office 365 has become a popular target for hackers. Here are seven measures your company can take to keep them at bay if you are using this cloud service.

Microsoft Office 365 has grown in popularity, which has made it a prime target for hackers. Threats in Office 365 have grown by 63% in the last two years, according to McAfee’s 2019 Cloud Adoption and Risk Report.

Companies subscribing to Office 365 Business and Microsoft 365 Business plans can take measures to use the cloud service more securely. Here are seven measures you might consider taking if your company is using Office 365:

  1. Use Two-Step Verification

More than 7.8 billion online accounts have been compromised through data breaches. These compromised passwords pose a significant threat, especially given the common practice of reusing passwords. A Virginia Tech study of 28.8 million online account holders over an eight-year period found that more than half of those individuals reused passwords or used slightly modified versions of them. Cybercriminals are aware that people reuse passwords, so they often try compromised credentials on multiple accounts using automated attacks.

Therefore, requiring employees to use unique, strong passwords for their Office 365 accounts might not be enough to protect those accounts. Requiring employees to use two-step verification is a much better strategy. With two-step verification, employees need to provide two pieces of information — such as a password and a security code — to log in. That way, even if the password has been compromised, a cybercriminal won’t be able to use it to hack the account. The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agencynotes that this is the best mitigation technique to protect against credential theft for Office 365 users.

2. Use Administrator Accounts Only for Their Intended Purpose

Office 365 administrator accounts should only be used for their intended purpose — managing Office 365, according to a Microsoft report. Employees with administrative access should use separate user accounts for their other job duties. Two-step verification should be set up for the administrator accounts.

Microsoft’s Security Team, which is responsible for securing the company’s internal infrastructure, has a few other recommendations for protecting administrator accounts, including:

  • Using a separate device for administrative operations. Besides setting the device’s security controls at high levels, it is a good idea to not allow administrative tasks to be executed remotely.
  • Creating administer accounts in a separate namespace or forest that cannot access the Internet.
  • Providing non-persistent access by giving no rights to administrator accounts. When privileges are needed, they should be given for only a specific amount of time.

3. Change the Macro Settings

A macro is a series of commands grouped together. Some Office 365 apps (e.g., Word, Excel, PowerPoint) provide macro functionality so that people can use them to automate routine tasks. However, cybercriminals sometimes use macros to spread malware.

By default, macros are automatically disabled in Office 365 applications. However, users are notified when macros have been disabled and are given the option to enable them. To tighten security, businesses can change the setting so that macros are automatically disabled without any notification. When this setting is chosen, users will not get the security notification or the option to enable them. Alternatively, companies that use digitally signed macros can select the option that disables all macros except those that are digitally signed.

4. Make Sure Mailbox Auditing Is Enabled

Office 365 mailbox auditing tracks and records various actions performed by mailbox users, administrators, and delegates. For example, it documents when messages are deleted or moved to different folders. The information in the mailbox audit log is useful for investigating security issues and troubleshooting other types of problems.

Starting in January 2019, Microsoft enabled mailbox auditing by default. Prior to that date, companies had to manually enable it for user mailboxes. For this reason, it is a good idea for businesses to make sure it is currently enabled, especially if they have been using Office 365 before January 2019. When doing so, they can also learn what actions are being auditing and customize the audited actions if desired. Similarly, they can customize the length of time records are kept in the mailbox audit log. By default, records are deleted after 90 days.

5. Disable or Limit Support for Legacy Email Protocols

Businesses sometimes use legacy email protocols (e.g., IMAP, POP) to provide email services to users with older email clients that do not support modern methods of authentication (e.g., two-step verification). In some circumstances, cybercriminals are able to exploit support for legacy email protocols to bypass two-step verification and hack email accounts.

For example, during a six-month study of major cloud-service tenants, Proofpoint security researchers discovered that hackers were using IMAP to hack Office 365 and Google G Suite accounts. They analyzed more than 100,000 unauthorized logins across millions of cloud user accounts and found that about 60% of Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite tenants were targeted with IMAP-based attacks, with a quarter of the attacks resulting in successful account breaches. These attacks went unnoticed because they were designed to avoid account lockouts and look like isolated failed logins, according to the researchers.

Because such attacks are common and hard to spot, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agencyrecommends that companies using Office 365 disable support for IMAP and other legacy email protocols. If certain employees have older email clients that need this support, businesses should limit the use of legacy email protocols to just those users.

6. Block Risky Email Attachments

Cybercriminals like to attach malicious files to emails. Opening the attachments starts a chain of events that can lead to the computer being infected with malware or compromised in some other way.

Word (.doc and .dot) and executable (.exe) files are most often used as malicious attachments, according to Symantec’s 2019 Internet Security Threat Report. Table1 shows other file types that are commonly used.

Table 1. Types of Files Commonly Used as Malicious Email Attachments*

Office 365 provides companies with the ability to block email attachments of certain file types. For example, businesses might want to block emails that contain an attached executable file.

Although Word and Excel files are often used to spread malware, companies do not necessarily have to block emails with those types of attachments. The attack vector in Word and Excel files is often a malicious macro. Changing Word’s and Excel’s macro settings so that macros are automatically disabled without any notification can mitigate much of the risk.

7. Block the Automatic Forwarding of Emails to External Addresses

Cybercriminals who gain access to an employee’s mailbox can configure it to automatically forward the person’s email messages to an external email account. By design, the auto-forwarding process operates silently in the background, so the employee won’t know it is occurring.

Hackers typically auto-forward employees’ emails to steal sensitive data or get the information they need to launch other types of attacks (e.g., Business Email Compromise attacks). To prevent this data theft, companies can configure Office 365 to block any emails being automatically forwarded to external email addresses.

Help Is Here

If you need help in implementing the seven security measures discussed, contact us at 800-421-7151. We can also provide additional recommendations on how to securely use Office 365.

5 Ways the May 2019 Update Can Make You More Efficient When Working with Windows 10

Microsoft has released the Windows 10 May 2019 Update. Here are five enhancements in this latest feature update that can improve your productivity.

On May 21, 2019, Microsoft released the Windows 10 May 2019 Update (version 1903). Learning from past mistakes, Microsoft did not rush to get the update out the door. Instead, it kept the update in the preview stage for a longer time in an effort to discover and fix all the major installation kinks.

To distribute the May 2019 Update, Microsoft is using a phased rollout through the automatic update feature in Windows Update. As a result, it might be several months before it reaches your computer. If you do not want to wait, you can manually initiate the installation process.

Since the May 2019 Update is a feature update, it includes many enhancements to Windows 10’s functionality. Here are five of them that can make you more productive:

  1. Update When It Is Convenient for You

Feature updates take a while to install, which can be a problem if you are busy much of the time. The May 2019 Update includes enhancements that give you more control over the Windows update process. For starters, all Windows 10 users will be able to pause feature updates for up to 35 days. Previously, only users of the Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise editions had this capability. Plus, when you click the “Check for updates” button in the Windows Update page of the Settings app, feature updates will no longer automatically install. You will have the option to download and install them immediately or schedule a time.

The May 2019 Update also enhances the Active Hours feature in Windows Update. You use this feature to let Windows Update know when you typically use your computer. That way, it won’t install updates or perform reboots during that time. The active hours are set from 8 am to 5 pm by default, but you can manually change them. After the May 2019 Update is installed, you will have another option: let Windows Update automatically adjust your active hours based on your machine-usage patterns.

  1. Search Without Cortana Bugging You

In the May 2019 Update, Cortana and Windows Search are going their separate ways. The task bar now has a Cortana button for voice queries and a search box for text searches rather than an all-in-one box.

The separation involves more than just a cosmetic change, though. Cortana and Windows Search are now distinct functions under the skin. As a result, Windows Search behaves more like its old self, before Cortana was introduced. The separation also means the settings to manage Windows Search’s permissions and history have moved. You can find them in the “Search Windows ” section of the Settings app.

  1. Automatically Turn On Focus Assist for All Apps Running in Full-Screen Mode

In Windows 10, a box periodically pops up letting you know that an email, text, or another type of message has arrived. These notifications can disrupt your concentration and even stop you from working since they cover the lower right corner of your screen. Focus Assist lets you block these notifications so that you can work more efficiently.

Up until now, you could either manually enable Focus Assist or configure it to run automatically:

  • During a certain time period each day
  • When you are duplicating your display (e.g., mirroring your computer screen for a business presentation)
  • When you are playing a game that uses DirectX technology in full-screen mode
  • When you are at home

The May 2019 update adds another option to that list. You can now configure Focus Assist to turn on when you run any app in full-screen mode.

  1. Remove More Unwanted Preinstalled Apps with Just Two Clicks

Like most operating system software, Windows 10 comes with apps that either Microsoft or the computer manufacturer preinstalls. Removing the built-in programs you do not want will clear up space on your computer, which can help boost your computer’s performance. When your machine works faster, so do you.

Windows 10 has always let you uninstall a few of the built-in apps from the Start menu by right-clicking the unwanted program and then clicking “Uninstall”. Thanks to the May 2019 Update, you can uninstall even more of the preloaded programs in this manner, including 3D Viewer, Calculator, Calendar, Groove Music, Mail, Movies & TV, Paint 3D, Snip & Sketch, Sticky Notes, and Voice Recorder.

  1. Insert Symbols Quickly

Including symbols such as dashes (—) and plus-minus signs (±) is common when writing emails, reports, and other business documents. However, getting those symbols into documents can be time-consuming because you need to open and click through several windows to find and insert them.

The May 2019 Update adds a quick way to access symbols. You just press the Windows and period keys (Win+.) on your keyboard at the same time and select the “Symbols” tab. You will also find “Emoji” and “Kaomoji” tabs, which let you insert emoticons.

1 Out of Every 101 Emails Is Sent by a Hacker

Does your business receive hundreds of emails each day? If so, there is a good chance some of them have been sent by hackers. Find out how to protect your business from malicious emails.

Most businesses receive hundreds of emails each day — and there is a good chance some of them have been sent by hackers. After analyzing more than 500 million emails sent in 6 months, FireEye researchers found that 1 out of every 101 emails sent is malicious. Spam is not included in this count. It includes only those emails sent by cybercriminals with the express purpose of pilfering money, stealing data, or compromising systems.

The vast majority (90%) of the malicious emails do not contain any malware, but they are far from being benign. They can be just as dangerous as those containing malware.

Hackers Are Using Both Old and New Tricks in Malware-Less Emails

Not surprisingly, around 80% of the malware-less emails were phishing attacks. In this type of attack, cybercriminals try to trick recipients into performing an action, such as clicking a link that leads to a malicious website. Phishing emails are generic so that they can be sent to a large number of targets, which is why the researchers found so many of them.

The remaining 20% of the malware-less emails were impersonation scams. These highly personalized emails try to con recipients into transferring money or revealing sensitive information. Cybercriminals spend a lot of time researching their targets in order to create legitimate-looking emails. Because these emails appear to be normal traffic, it is harder for email security solutions to detect them.

One of the cybercriminals’ favorite type of impersonation email is the business email compromise (BEC) scam. In this type of attack, cybercriminals masquerade as executives, supplier representatives, and other business professionals to con companies out of money. In 2017, hackers stole more than $675 millionfrom US businesses using BEC scams.

While the researchers found that hackers were still using old favorites like the BEC scam, they also discovered a new type of impersonation scam: impersonation emails that led to phishing sites, where login credentials were harvested or malware was uploaded to victims’ computers. By including phishing links, hackers can send out vaguer emails to a larger number of targets. Because these emails still include some personalization, the recipients are more likely to think the emails are from trusted sources and click the link compared to generic phishing attacks. As a result, the email open rate for this new type of impersonation email is similar to that for highly personalized impersonation emails, according to the researchers.

Common Ways in Which Hackers Try to Deceive Recipients

In both the new and old types of impersonation emails, the cybercriminals typically manipulate the entry in the “From” field to trick recipients into believing the messages are from legitimate senders. The techniques include:

  • Spoofing the display name of an email address (e.g., Jane Doe)
  • Spoofing the username (the portion before the @ sign) of an email address (e.g., JaneDoe@)
  • Creating and using a domain (the portion after the @ sign) that is similar to a legitimate one (e.g.,,

How to Protect Your Business from Malicious Emails

To protect your business from impersonation and phishing attacks as well as emails containing malware, you can use the stop, educate, and mitigate strategy:

Stop as many malicious emails as you can from reaching employees. To do so, you need to keep your company’s email filtering and anti-malware tools up-to-date. They can capture many phishing and malware-laden emails. You might even want to explore getting an email security solution that uses advanced technologies to catch malicious emails. In addition, make sure that employees’ email addresses and other potentially sensitive information (e.g., job titles) are not publicly available.

Educate employees so they can spot any malicious emails that reach their inboxes. While email filters often snag phishing attacks, they are not as good at stopping impersonation emails. Plus, most anti-malware software is only effective against known malware strains. Thus, it is important to educate employees about the types of malicious emails they might encounter and how to spot them (e.g., check for spoofed names in an email’s “From” field). As part of this training, be sure to inform them about the risks associated with clicking email links and opening email attachments. Plus, let them know how hackers find the information they need to personalize impersonation emails (e.g., social engineering).

Mitigate the effects of successful email attacks.Cybercriminals keep coming up with new ways to pilfer money, steal data, and compromise systems using email, so your company might fall victim to an attack despite everyone’s best efforts to prevent it. Taking a few preemptive measures might help mitigate the effects of a successful email attack. For example, since obtaining login credentials is the goal of many phishing emails, you should make sure each business account has a unique, strong password. That way, if a phishing scam provides hackers with the password for one account, they won’t be able to access any other accounts with it. Equally important, you need to perform backups regularly and make sure they can be restored. This will enable you to get your data back if an employee inadvertently initiates a ransomware attack by clicking a link in an impersonation email.

The Individual Steps

The individual steps for implementing the stop, educate, and mitigate strategy will vary depending on your business’s needs. We can help you develop and implement a comprehensive plan to defend against malicious emails; give us a call at 800-421-7151 to learn more!

How to Make Text Easier to Read in a Windows 10 Display

Not being able to read text because it is too small is a common problem on Windows 10 computer screens, especially on laptops that have small, high-resolution displays. Learn two ways to quickly solve this problem.

If the text in your Windows 10 computer screen is too small to easily read, you are not alone. It is a common problem in computers that have small, high-resolution displays. Even a person with perfect eyesight will likely have trouble reading the text on a laptop that has a 15-inch 4K display because it is so small.

Fortunately, you now have two ways in which to make text larger and easier to read if the October 2018 Update has been installed on your Windows 10 computer. You can change just the size of the text, or you can change the overall scaling.

How to Change Just the Text Size

The Windows 10 October 2018 Update provides the new “Make text bigger” slider. You can use it to enlarge just the text in Windows 10 systems (e.g., Start menu) and apps. The overall scaling remains the same.

To use the “Make text bigger” slider, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Start menu by clicking the Windows button.
  2. Click the gear icon in the lower left corner of the Start menu to launch the Settings app.
  3. Select “Ease of Access”.
  4. Choose “Display” in the menu on the left.
  5. Move the “Make text bigger” slider until the sample text is easy to read.
  6. Click the “Apply” button.
  7. Close the Settings app.

This feature might not make the text larger in third-party apps. If that is the case, you can check to see if the third-party app has its own option for changing the text size.

How to Change the Overall Scaling

After the October 2018 Update is installed, you still have the ability to change the overall scaling, like you have been able to do in the past. For example, you can change the scaling from 100% to 125%. When you do, all the elements in the display (e.g., text, images) will be larger.

You use the “Make everything bigger” option to change the overall scaling. Follow these steps:

  1. Open the Start menu by clicking the Windows button.
  2. Click the gear icon in the lower left corner of the Start menu to launch the Settings app.
  3. Select “Ease of Access”.
  4. Choose “Display” in the menu on the left.
  5. Select the desired scaling percentage from the “Make everything bigger” drop-down list.

Close the Settings app.

SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS: What’s the Difference?

You have probably seen the acronyms SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS before, but do you know what they mean? Discover what these acronyms represent and, more important, the differences between them.

The IT industry is embracing the shift from ownership-based business models to service-based ones. Vendors are increasingly offering their hardware, software, and other IT products as cloud services rather than selling the products themselves. This is good news for small and midsized businesses, as it typically makes the hardware, software, and other IT components more affordable.

There are three main types of cloud services. They are better known by their acronyms — SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS — than their names. Here are the differences between these three types of cloud services and what the acronyms represent.


SaaS stands for Software as a Service. It is probably the most recognized type of cloud service, thanks to such well-known offerings as Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, and Salesforce. SaaS is popular because all that the service subscribers need to do is open the software in a web browser or client program and start using it. They do not have to manage or maintain the application. Nor do they have to provide, manage, or maintain any of the hardware, networking equipment, or systems needed to run the application.

SaaS is popular for another reason as well. Many free SaaS offerings are available, such as Gmail, Dropbox, and Slack. These offerings help small and midsized companies save money.

The clouds services don’t have to be free to be helpful, though. SaaS subspecialties that alleviate companies’ pain points have been popping up. For example, instead of having to perform and store daily backups, companies can now turn to Backup as a Service (BaaS) providers. A BaaS firm will automatically back up business’s data and store the backup files at its facility. After the service is set up, the business does not need to manage any part of the backup process.


Some companies prefer to own and control their own software environment but not the underlying components needed to run it. IaaS, or Infrastructure as a Service, is designed for situations like this.

IaaS customers are responsible for providing, managing, and maintaining the applications, operating system software, and middleware (e.g., software that integrates two separate applications or systems, allowing them to work together). The IaaS providers are responsible for providing, managing, and maintaining the servers, virtual machines, networking equipment, and storage components. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Google Compute Engine, and Rackspace are a few of the firms that offer IaaS.


There is a common misperception when it comes to PaaS, or Platform as a Service. Some people think that PaaS is only for companies that want to build and test new applications. While PaaS is well-suited for developing applications, businesses can also use PaaS to run existing ones. For instance, companies can move their on-premises database operations to a PaaS provider’s database platform.

With PaaS, companies are only responsible for managing their applications and any data those applications use. The PaaS firm provides, manages, and maintains everything else, including operating system software, middleware, servers, virtual machines, networking equipment, and storage components. PaaS solutions include Microsoft Azure, Oracle Cloud Platform, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Beanstalk.

A Cost-Effective, Scalable Alternative

Despite their differences, the SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS business models have one thing in common: They offer companies a cost-effective, scalable alternative to owning, managing, and maintaining a room full of hardware and other equipment. If you would like more information on how about SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS might benefit your business, shoot us an email at

Watch Out for This Direct Deposit Scam

Cybercriminals are trying to scam businesses into depositing employee paychecks into their bank accounts. Learn about the variations of the scam and what you can do so that your business does not become the next victim.

Most companies use direct deposit to pay their employees. In the United States, for example, more than 80% of workers have their paychecks deposited directly into their personal bank accounts. This is providing many opportunities for cybercriminals to perpetuate their latest scam — trying to get businesses to deposit employee paychecks into their accounts.

Variations of the Scam

Different variations of the direct deposit scam have been surfacing. Most recently, cybercriminals have been posing as employees.

In some instances, the digital con artists use a multi-stage attack. First, they send an email to a member of a company’s HR department asking how to change the direct deposit information for their paychecks. After the HR staff member responds and explains how to make the change, the cybercriminals wait a short while and send a second email. In it, they tell the HR staff member that they tried to make the change as instructed, but it did not work. They then ask the person to make the change for them and include the new bank routing number and account number in the email.

In other instances, the cybercriminals take a more direct approach by sending a message such as:

“I need to change my direct deposit info on file before the next payroll is processed. Can you get it done for me on your end?”

If the HR rep takes the bait and agrees to make the change, the cybercriminals provide the person with the new bank routing and account numbers.

In earlier versions of the scam, the cybercriminals posed as HR staff members rather than employees. The cybercriminals sent emails to employees, instructing them to click a link. The link took the employees to a spoofed (i.e., fake) HR website, where they were asked to enter their login credentials to confirm their identity. The hackers then captured the credentials and used them to access the real HR site and change the employees’ direct deposit information.

The Same Tool

In all the versions of the direct deposit scam, the cybercriminals used the same tool to execute their attacks: spear phishing emails. These emails are similar to traditional phishing emails in that they use a convincing pretense to con recipients into performing an action. However, spear phishing emails take the scam up a notch. Cybercriminals take the time to perform reconnaissance so that they can personalize the email. When it comes to spear phishing, the more personalized the email, the less likely the target will become suspicious and question its legitimacy.

Despite being personalized, spear phishing emails often have one or more of the following common elements:

  • A request to update or verify information. Spear phishing emails often ask the recipients to update or verify account information. For example, as the direct deposit scam demonstrates, the recipients might be asked to change information in financial accounts. Or, they might be asked to log in to a spoofed web page to verify account information, allowing the hackers to steal their login credentials.
  • A deceptive URL. A deceptive URL is one in which the actual URL does not match the displayed linked text or web address. Deceptive links often lead to spoofed websites, where cybercriminals try to steal sensitive information or install malware.
  • An attachment. Hackers sometimes attach files that contain malicious code. Opening these attachments can lead to a malware infection.
  • A spoofed name in the “From” field. To trick the email recipient into thinking the message is from a trusted contact, digital con artists often spoof the name that appears in the “From” field so that it shows the contact’s name.

Don’t Let Your Employees Get Scammed

Some spear phishing email recipients fell victim to the direct deposit scam, but your employees do not have to share the same fate. Educating employees about spear phishing emails and the elements commonly found in them can help staff members spot these types of scams. Employees should also learn how to check for deceptive URLs and spoofed names in an email’s “From” field.

There are other measures you can take as well. You should make sure that employees’ names, email addresses, and job positions are not publicly available. Similarly, you should warn employees of the dangers of posting details about their jobs on social media sites. Limiting the amount of publicly available information will make it harder for cybercriminals to find the details they need to personalize the emails.

It is also important to keep the company’s security and email filtering programs up-to-date. These programs can catch many spear-phishing emails but not all. The more personalized and polished an email is, the less likely it will be caught by these programs.

More advanced solutions designed to catch spear phishing and other types of malicious emails are available. Give us a call at 800-421-7151. We can help you determine the best option for your business.

Don’t Let Your Phone Stalk You

Stalkerware is legal but often considered unethical. Find out what stalkerware is and how it can get on your smartphone.

The idea of someone tracking your whereabouts and eavesdropping on your conversations can be unsettling. Yet, more than 58,000 Google Android users had this happen to them. That’s because these individuals had stalkerware installed on their smartphones.

Stalkerware is not limited to Android phones. It can be installed on smartphones of virtually any make or model. (It can even be installed on other computing devices such as tablets and laptops.) To protect against this threat, you need to know what stalkerware is and how it can get on your phone.

Stalkerware 101

Stalkerware is commercial spyware offered by companies, not cybercriminals. Usually marketed as a solution to track employees or monitor children, it is set up like a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering. Customers pay a monthly fee to access data collected by a client app they installed on the phones they want to stalk. Although legal in many countries, stalkerware is increasingly being considered unethical because of the types of information it collects and how the data is gathered.

If a stalkerware app is installed on your phone, it will collect information on pretty much everything you do. For example, besides tracking the places you visit in both the physical and digital realms, it will log your calls, stockpile the photos you take, and amass the emails and text messages you send and receive.

All this information is sent to and stored on the stalkerware company’s servers. The customer (aka stalker) will have access to it as long as they continue to pay for the service. It typically costs between $16 and $68 per month, according to one report.

While some stalkerware apps will display a visible marker on the phone’s screen to let people know they are being watched, most operate in stealth mode. Several apps even go to great lengths to avoid detection, such as masking themselves as a system service in a phone’s installed applications list. Thanks to tactics like these, stalkerware victims are often unaware they are being tracked.

How Stalkerware Gets on Phones

Although stalkerware is legal, official app stores like Google Play and the App Store typically ban it. (Parental control software and programs designed to find lost phones are not considered stalkerware, which is why you will find them in app stores.) However, an Internet search will quickly reveal websites of companies that offer stalkerware.

The main method in which stalkerware apps get on phones is manual installation, according to security experts. The installation process is pretty straightforward — stalkers do not need to be techies to get the apps working. A few companies will even deliver phones with their stalkerware apps preinstalled to customers who are technically challenged.

The Dangers

Few people will contest that the kind of information gathered by stalkerware can be dangerous. Case studies have shown that it can lead to stalkers harassing, blackmailing, and even physically abusing their victims.

There are also other dangers that aren’t as obvious. Outsiders might see the captured data one of several ways:

  • Since the data gets stored on the stalkerware company’s servers, staff members might access and look at the data.
  • The data might get inadvertently leaked to the world at large. For example, millions of records collected by the mSpy stalkerware app were leaked because the company failed to properly protect its database. The leaked records included call logs, text messages, contacts, and location data.
  • Hackers might breach the data. For instance, Retina-X Studios was breached twice by the same hacker. The hacker accessed and exposed the photos collected by two of its stalkerware apps.

Help Is on the Way

Efforts to crack down on the stalkerware industry are being led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). One action the EFF is advocating is for security software companies to treat stalkerware as a serious threat. Often, that’s not the case. A 2018 study found that most security programs do a poor job of detecting and flagging stalkerware as a dangerous app.

Partnering with EFF, Kaspersky Lab has taken the first step toward cracking down on stalkerware. Previously, its Internet Security for Android software flagged stalkerware apps as suspicious but then displayed a “not a virus” message, which was confusing for users. Now there is no question about the dangers. The software displays a large “Privacy alert” message for any blacklisted stalkerware apps it finds installed on phones. After explaining what the app can do (e.g., eavesdrop on calls, read text messages), the security software gives users the option to delete or quarantine the program. Alternatively, users can decide to leave the app on their devices.

How to Protect Yourself in the Meantime

The EFF hopes that other security software companies will follow in Kaspersky Lab’s footsteps. In the meantime, the best way to protect yourself from stalkerware is to prevent its installation on your phone. Since manual installation is the primary way it gets on devices, there is a simple but effective preemptive measure: Lock your phone when you are not using it.

Smartphones usually provide more than one authentication method to unlock them, so you can use the method with which you feel most comfortable. For example, you might want to use a password or biometric authentication (e.g., iPhone’s Face ID). If you use a password, be sure it is strong and unique — and do not share it with anyone.

If you suspect your phone already has stalkerware on it but your security software does not specifically flag this type of program as a threat, you can check the phone’s activity monitor for suspicious processes.

All It Took Was 52 Seconds for Hackers to Attack a Poorly Secured Server

Researchers set up honeypots to learn how cybercriminals find and attack poorly protected Secure Shell (SSH)-enabled servers. Learn what the researchers found so you can protect your devices.

Companies often enable Secure Shell (SSH) in servers, network attached storage (NAS), and other devices so that users can remotely access them. Security experts highly recommend using public-key authentication with SSH-enabled devices. However, some businesses still use password-based authentication, which leaves these devices vulnerable, particularly if questionable credentials are used.

To see just how vulnerable, Sophos security researchers set up 10 decoy SSH-enabled servers (aka honeypots) to use password-based authentication. The honeypots were set up in Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers around the world, including California, Ohio, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

It took cybercriminals only 52 seconds to find and attack the honeypot in Sao Paulo. Hackers did not waste any time attacking the other honeypots either. It took them less than 5 minutes to find the one in Ohio and less than 15 minutes to find the decoy in California. Overall, cybercriminals made 5.4 million attempts to log in to the 10 honeypots over a 30-day period. On average, each server was attacked 757 times every hour.

What the Researchers Learned

The speed in which the honeypots were found and the sheer number of login attempts confirmed the general assumption that hackers take advantage of automated tools to carry out SSH attacks. First, they run scripts to locate servers connected to the Internet. Then, they try to access those machines by using brute-force credential-cracking tools, which systematically try username and password combinations.

The honeypots recorded the usernames and passwords tried in the login attempts. After combining the login details from all 10 honeypots, the researchers found that “root” and “admin” topped the list of most-tried usernames. This didn’t surprise the researchers because they are the default usernames for many different types of devices. For example, most Linux devices ship with the default username of “root”, while Seagate, Verbatim, and Lacie NAS devices ship with the default username of “admin”.

Similarly, default passwords were frequently used in the brute-force attacks. For instance, hackers often tried “password” (the default password of Digicom routers and Lacie NAS devices) and “ubnt” (the default password of Ubiquiti Networks devices). Many weak passwords were also tried, including those based on keyboard patterns like “1q2w3e4r”.

The bottom line is that cybercriminals know some businesses use password-based authentication with SSH devices. They also know it’s not uncommon for people to leave the default credentials or change the default password to a weak one. So, hackers use automated tools to continuously scan the Internet for SSH-enabled devices and then attempt to access them with brute-force attacks.

What Happens after the Credentials Are Cracked

Besides wanting to learn how vulnerable SSH-enabled devices are when password-based authentication is used, the researchers wanted to know what happens after a cybercriminal compromises a device. To find out, the researchers allowed the honeypot hackers to log in if they used one of the credentials in a designated set of usernames and passwords. Once the cybercriminals gained access, the honeypot stored the commands they attempted to use.

The researchers found that hackers often used the compromised honeypot to launch attacks on other devices. The cybercriminals first made sure the compromised device had a valid Internet connection. If so, they used it to connect to another device. They then exploited the device, using the honeypot as a proxy.

Secure Your SSH-Enabled Devices So They Don’t Suffer the Same Fate

Using scripts and brute-force credential-cracking tools, hackers are able to easily find and compromise SSH-enabled devices. That’s why it is best to use public-key authentication rather than password-based authentication.

If that is not possible, it is crucial that you change the default username and password when you are setting up the device. The password should be strong, and the username should not be easily guessable. Plus, if your device supports it, it is a good idea to limit the number of login attempts. For example, on Linux servers, you can install and use the Fail2Ban software for this purpose.

To find out additional ways to protect your business’s SSH-enabled devices, contact us at 800-421-7151.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Password Manager for Your Business

Using a password manager is an effective way to ensure that employees use unique, strong passwords for online accounts. Here are five questions to answer so that you can find the best password manager for your business.

Having employees use unique, strong passwords for online accounts is a crucial component in companies’ security strategies. However, creating and memorizing numerous strong passwords can be challenging. This often leads to employees using weak passwords, reusing the same password for multiple accounts, and writing down passwords. Thus, many security experts recommend that businesses use password managers.

With a password manager, employees only need to create and remember one strong password — the master password — which is used to open the tool. Once opened, employees simply select the account they want to access. The password manager will then retrieve the account’s credentials from a repository, which is often called a vault. All credentials in the vault are encrypted.

Because of its benefits, the decision to use a password manager is a no-brainer for many businesses. However, the same can’t be said for deciding which one to use, as there are many business-grade password managers on the market. Answering the following five questions can help you determine which password manager will be the best fit for your company.

  1. Where Do You Want the Passwords Stored?

Some password managers store passwords in the cloud, whereas others store them on the local computer’s hard drive. If your employees use multiple devices at work, having a cloud-based vault might be preferable. They will be able to access their login credentials from any computer or mobile device that has an Internet connection. Plus, employees won’t lose all their passwords if they misplace their mobile device or it is stolen.

While convenient, some people are uncomfortable with storing passwords in the cloud because they have to rely on someone else to keep their employees’ passwords safe. Data breaches do occur. For example, OneLogin’s databases were hacked in 2017 and LastPass was attacked in 2015. If you are uncomfortable with cloud-based vaults, you can use a password manager that stores the vault on the local computer’s hard drive.

No matter where you want employees’ passwords to be stored, you need to make sure a strong encryption standard is being used to encrypt them. Ideally, the password manager should use the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).

  1. Is the Password Manager User Friendly?

The password manager you choose needs to be easy for employees to use. Otherwise, they will avoid it and go back to their old habits of creating weak passwords, reusing them, and writing them down.

Besides having an intuitive interface that doesn’t take hours to learn, the password manager should have a random password generator. That way, employees can quickly and effortlessly create unique, strong passwords for their accounts.

Another user-friendly feature is an automated password changer. It can automatically change employees’ old passwords to new strong ones on websites that support this capability. This can come in handy for the initial rollout of the password manager, as employees will likely have many passwords to change at that time. This feature also works well for periodic password changes.

The individuals who will be responsible for administering the password manager should also find it easy to use. For example, an administrative console that has central management capabilities can save them time and hassle.

  1. Do You Want Additional Security Measures?

Business-grade password managers offer a variety of security measures beyond password encryption. Measures that password managers might provide include:

  • Support for two-factor authentication (i.e., employees need to provide another form of verification besides their master password to access the password manager)
  • Employee-initiated password assessments (discovers any weak or reused passwords in a vault, which is particularly helpful if the vault includes passwords that were not created with a random password generator)
  • The ability to track password usage companywide and generate audit reports
  • The automatic closing of an employee’s vault when the person’s device is idle for a certain amount of time
  • A built-in VPN (adds another layer of security and privacy when using the password manager to log in to HTTP and HTTPS sites)
  • The ability to configure and deploy policies (e.g., policies that set requirements for the master password or restrict access to certain Internet sites)

The security measures offered by different password managers will vary, so make sure that the password manager you are considering has the ones you want.

  1. Does Your Company Have Shared Accounts?

Do you have employees who log in to shared accounts? If so, you should look for a password manager that lets you manage shared-account passwords.

For example, suppose you have a cross-functional project team that needs access to certain online resources. You can create a group named ProjectTeam, add the team members to the group, and share the login credentials to the online resources. The login credentials will then automatically appear in the password vaults of the team members.

  1. Do You Want Any Nice-to-Have Features?

Password managers often include nice-to-have features that increase their usefulness. For example, some password managers offer features such as:

  • An account recovery feature if employees forget their master passwords
  • Support for directory services integration so that onboarding, offboarding, and other password management tasks can be automated
  • The ability to generate a portable vault using a USB key
  • A digital wallet that stores payment information (e.g., bank account or payment card numbers)
  • The ability to encrypt and store sensitive files in a vault

Once again, the features offered by different password managers will vary, so make sure that the password manager you are considering has the nice-to-have features you want.

Software Supply Chain Attacks Are on the Rise

Software supply chain attacks are becoming more widespread. Learn what they are and how they occur so you can develop a strategy to help manage the risks.

The statistic is alarming. Software supply chain attacks increased by 78% in 2018, according to Symantec’s “2019 Internet Security Threat Report“. And security experts expect the number of attacks to continue to spiral upward.

If you haven’t heard of software supply chain attacks, you are not alone. It is important that you learn about them, though. You need to understand what they are and how they occur so that you can develop a strategy to help manage the risks.

What Software Supply Chain Attacks Are

The term “software supply chain attack” is not referring to a new hacking tool or the latest class of malware. These attacks have, in fact, been around for years. Rather, the term describes a strategy that cybercriminals use to attack companies. Instead of attacking them directly, hackers compromise the third-party software used by those businesses. This is done before the software reaches the companies’ doors, so the hackers do not have to worry about hacking into the companies’ networks and being detected.

Once the compromised software arrives, the hackers use it to initiate other types of malicious activities. For example, the NotPetya malware that paralyzed companies’ networks worldwide in 2017 was initiated by a successful software supply chain attack.

How Hackers Compromise Software

So, how do cybercriminals compromise companies’ software? The main ways include:

  • Hijacking software updates or update servers. If software update files are sent through unsecured channels (e.g., Wi-Fi networks) or posted on unsecured websites, hackers can replace a legitimate update file with one that includes malware. Malicious software updates can also result from a compromised update server. That is what led to the NotPetya malware attack, according to the security experts who conducted a forensic analysis of the attack. Cybercriminals hacked the server that was used to update an accounting program named MeDoc. The hackers used the application’s auto-update functionality to push malicious updates to the software users on three separate occasions. The updates created backdoors that allowed the hackers to remotely access the compromised computers and install the NotPetya malware.
  • Injecting malicious code into legitimate applications. Cybercriminals sometimes hack into a software provider’s development infrastructure and add malicious code to an application before it is compiled and released to the public. For instance, in 2018, hackers compromised a commercial antivirus program in order to steal South Korean classified military data, according to the Computer Security Resource Center at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is part of the US Department of Commerce.
  • Injecting malicious code into third-party code libraries. Applications often contain code libraries, frameworks, and other components created by third parties. Software can become compromised if a hacker inserts malicious code into a third-party component and then the developers use that component in the software. For example, in April 2019, security researchers discovered that several video games had backdoors due to compromised third-party components.

Hackers are not the only ones compromising software to carry out supply chain attacks. There have been cases of insiders inserting malicious code into programs.

How to Manage the Risks

Admittedly, there is nothing you can do to stop a hacker from inserting malicious code into software when the software is not under your control. That is one reason why software supply chain attacks are becoming more popular among cybercriminals. However, you can take steps to manage the risks.

At a minimum, you should list each application used in your company and its supplier. If you are not familiar with a supplier, do some research to make sure the company is reputable and no red flags pop up.

You might also want to look at NIST’s guide for managing risks in the cyber supply chain. It provides questions to ask suppliers to determine their security risk level as well as best practices to follow to manage the risks. If time is a factor, there are companies like BitSight Technologies and Security Scorecard that will evaluate and rate your vendors based on the security of their networks. However, they charge for this service.

Finally, you should take the basic security precautions (e.g., make sure your security software is up-to-date, perform backups of data and systems) in case you fall victim to a software supply chain attack. You might also want to consider getting a security solution that uses advanced detection methods (e.g., analytics, machine learning) to identify and block attacks. We can provide more information about those solutions if you are interested.

Why You Need Both a Disaster Recovery Plan and a Business Continuity Plan

It’s not uncommon for companies to think that disaster recovery and business continuity plans are one and the same. Learn why both plans are needed.

Tornados, hurricanes, fires, floods, and other natural disasters can destroy a business. Digital disasters like ransomware attacks can be just as deadly.

Most businesses realize that they need to plan for disasters in case one strikes. Disaster recovery and business continuity plans are tools to make that happen. However, it’s not uncommon for companies to think that disaster recovery and business continuity plans are one and the same. While both are designed to help businesses deal with disasters, they are separate documents. To be fully prepared for disasters, businesses need to have both a disaster recovery plan and a business continuity plan.

The Difference between Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

To understand what needs to go into the two types of plans, you first need to understand the difference between disaster recovery and business continuity. To do so, imagine that you are a lemonade shop owner. You loved having a lemonade stand when you were a child, so you made your passion your business. You’ve come a long way from setting up your stand next to a big maple tree so customers could enjoy their beverages in the shade. Nowadays, your customers enjoy their lemonade in a cozy shop that offers free Wi-Fi service and other hi-tech amenities.

Then, disaster strikes. The big maple tree is now in your shop and has added a new skylight to it. You also have a new waterfall feature, thanks to the water gushing out of a damaged pipe in the ceiling.

To stay in business, you will need to recover from the damage caused by the disaster (disaster recover) while continuing to provide customers with lemonade (business continuity). Disaster recovery and business continuity plans provide roadmaps for doing so.

The Disaster Recovery Plan

Disaster recovery plans discuss how to get crucial infrastructures and systems running again after various types of catastrophes. Restoring the IT infrastructure is a large part of disaster recovery in most businesses. However, there might be other types of infrastructures and systems that need to be discussed as well, depending on the nature of a business. For example, if a company’s manufacturing process relies heavily on water, the plumbing infrastructure should be addressed.

Besides identifying who should do what after a calamity occurs, the disaster recovery plan should also identify what has to be done to prepare for disasters. For instance, it should mandate that data and systems be regularly backed up and the backups be stored in several locations (including offsite ones).

The Business Continuity Plan

Business continuity plans discuss how to restore business operations in the event of a disaster. A business impact analysis can help prioritize which business operations to restore first.

Business continuity plans also need to indicate the recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs) for the business operations. The RTO is the maximum tolerable length of time an operation can be down after a catastrophe, whereas RPO is the maximum acceptable amount of data loss (e.g., transactions) after a disaster, as measured in terms of time. In a perfect world, the RTO and RPO would be 0 (i.e., no downtime and no data loss). However, in reality, that is not feasible. Realistic objectives need to be set in the business continuity plan, as the disaster recovery plan needs to detail how the objectives will be met.

Understandable Assumptions

In some businesses, recovering the IT infrastructure is crucial for restoring most of their business operations. That is why some people assume that:

  • Disaster recovery plans only cover IT infrastructures
  • Disaster recovery plans and business continuity plans are one and the same

However, these two documents serve different purposes. As a result, companies should develop both disaster recovery and business continuity plans. If you need assistance with developing and implementing them, let us know.

Hackers Infiltrated Citrix Using a Password Spraying Attack

A group of hackers used a password spraying attack to compromise Citrix’s internal network. Learn what password spraying is and how to defend against it.

If you never heard of “password spraying” before, you are not alone. It is a relatively unknown term — except to cybercriminals. In fact, a group of hackers known as Iridium is extremely familiar with password spraying. It used this technique to infiltrate Citrix.

On March 6, 2019, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned Citrix that an international hacking group had likely accessed the company’s internal network. Citrix found that its network had indeed been compromised. In a blog about the incident, Citrix’s chief security information officer Stan Black noted that the hackers used password spraying to gain a foothold in the network.

At this time, not much is being said about what the hackers stole, except that they might have downloaded business documents. “The specific documents that may have been accessed, however, are currently unknown,” said Black.

Password Spraying 101

So, what is password spraying? It is a different approach to cracking login credentials.

To keep hackers out, accounts are protected by login credentials, which consist of a username — usually an email address — and a password. Most cybercriminals attempt to crack credentials by trying a known email address with a plethora of possible passwords. This is often done with automated brute-force password-cracking tools.

Password spraying takes the opposite approach. Hackers assume that at least one person is using a weak password (e.g., “F00tball “), so they try to find the email address of that person. They pair weak passwords with many different accounts in many different organizations, according to Alex Simons, the director of program management in the Microsoft Identity Division. “For example, an attacker will use a commonly available toolkit like Mailsniper to enumerate all of the users in several organizations and then try “P@$$w0rd” and “Password1” against all of those accounts,” explained Simons.

How to Defend against These Types of Attacks

To defend against password spraying attacks, large organizations sometimes use real-time detection and protection systems. These systems are often out of reach for small and midsized businesses, but they are not defenseless. Password spraying attacks still rely on weak passwords being used. As a result, small and midsized businesses can protect themselves by giving employees the tools they need to create strong passwords and using multi-factor authentication.

An important line of defense for any company is having employees create strong passwords, especially if those passwords are for IT system and service accounts. Trying to memorize many strong passwords, though, can be challenging. Thus, employees might be tempted to use weak, easy-to-remember passwords or variations of the same password for multiple accounts.

To help employees avoid these temptations, businesses can take advantage of password managers. With a password manager, people can easily generate and store strong passwords. All they have to do is remember one strong password.

Another measure to take is to use two-step verification (also known as two-factor authentication) for accounts. With two-step verification, a second credential is needed to log in, such as a security code. This means that even if hackers have the credentials for an account, they would not be able to access it.

If you would like more information about password spraying attacks and how to defend against them, let us know.

How to Choose the Default Apps Windows 10 Uses for Certain Tasks

Having more than one web browser or email app on a computer is common nowadays. When more than one app can be used for a certain task, Windows decides which one to use. Discover how you can make Windows 10 use the app of your choosing.

It is common for people to have multiple apps that perform the same function on their Windows 10 computers. For instance, people might have several web browsers or email apps. Similarly, people often can open certain types of files with more than one program. For instance, they can open PDF files with a web browser such as Google Chrome or a PDF program like Adobe Acrobat.

When more than one app can be used for a certain task, Windows will decide which one to use. However, if you do not like the choice it makes, you can tell Windows the app you want to use. In other words, you can customize the app that Windows uses by default for certain functions and file types. Here is how to make these customizations in Windows 10.

Specifying Default Apps Based on Function

Changing the default app used for certain functions such as web browsing and emailing is easy. For example, in Windows 10, the Microsoft Edge web browser is opened by default when you click a link in a non-browser program, such as Microsoft Word or the Slack desktop app. (If you click a link in a web browser, the new page will open in the same browser no matter which default app is specified.) If you want to change the default to Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or another browser, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start menu.
  2. Select the gear icon to open the Settings app.
  3. Choose “Apps”.
  4. Select “Default apps” in the pane on the left.
  5. Click “Web browser” in the “Default apps” section. Windows will then list the browsers currently installed on the computer as well as the option to look for an app in the Microsoft Store, as Figure 1 shows.
  6. Choose the browser you want to use. After a few seconds, it will then be displayed as the default app.
  7. Close the Settings app.

Specifying Default Apps Based on File Type

Changing the default apps used to open certain file types requires a couple more steps, but they are straightforward. For instance, in Windows 10, PDF files are opened with Edge by default, even if you have chosen a different default web browser. To open PDF files with another program, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start menu.
  2. Select the gear icon to open the Settings app.
  3. Choose “Apps”.
  4. Select “Default apps” in the pane on the left.
  5. Click the “Choose default apps by file type” link, which is located under the “Reset” button. Windows will then compile a long list of file types, which takes about half a minute.
  6. Scroll down the list of file types in the left column until you find the “.pdf” file extension, as Figure 2 shows.
  7. Click the default app listed in the right column. Windows will then list the programs on the computer that can open PDF files. It will also present the option to look for an app in the Microsoft Store.
  8. Choose the app you want to use. Shortly thereafter, it will be displayed as the default app.
  9. Close the Settings app.

In some cases, you will see the message “Choose a default” in the right column, as Figure 2 shows. Clicking that icon typically brings up a message noting that there is no installed app for that file type, accompanied by a link to the Microsoft Store.

Be sure to check out our Webinars to learn more tips and tricks on how to work smarter in Microsoft!

Debunking 4 Common Myths about Complying with Data Privacy Regulations

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects the data privacy rights of European Union citizens, while the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives California residents more control over their personal data. Similarly, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) safeguards the medical information of US citizens.

Regulations that protect people’s privacy and data rights are becoming more common — and so are the myths about complying with them. Here are four myths debunked.

As more businesses try to adhere to these comprehensive policies, more myths about complying with them keep surfacing. Here are four of those myths debunked:

  1. We’re a Small Business, So We Don’t Have to Worry about Compliance

Size does not matter when it comes to complying with most data privacy regulations. For example, regardless of their size, all US healthcare providers, healthcare clearinghouses, and health plan providers must comply with HIPAA. Not surprisingly, health plan providers include health insurance carriers, health maintenance organizations, and government agencies that pay for healthcare (e.g., Medicare). But what people might not realize is that companies in other industries are also included. Any US company that offers but does not administer a healthcare plan to 50 or more employees is considered a health plan provider and thus must comply with HIPAA.

Size does not matter with GDPR, either. All companies that process or hold the personal data of EU citizens must comply with GDPR. However, businesses with under 250 employees have fewer requirements to meet when documenting their data processing activities. This stipulation is likely leading to the misguided belief that small companies do not have to comply with GDPR.

Another factor leading to confusion is that some data privacy laws use factors other than number of employees to determine which organizations need to comply. For example, businesses must comply with CCPA if they conduct business in California and meet at least one of these criteria:

  • Earn $50 million a year in revenue
  • Sell 100,000 consumer records each year
  • Derive 50% or more of its annual revenue by selling consumers’ personal information

So, most small and mid-sized companies that do business in California do not need to comply with CCPA. However, there are exceptions. For instance, a data broker that primarily sells consumers’ personal data would need to, even if it has only a few employees.

  1. It’s Our Cloud Service Provider’s Job to Make Sure Our Data Is Being Handled Properly

Cloud computing is now the norm in companies worldwide, but there is a common misconception among them concerning data privacy laws. Many companies think that cloud service providers are responsible for making sure their data is being handled in a way that is compliant with applicable data privacy regulations. This is wishful thinking.

Company accountability is a key factor in GDPR. It is the business’s responsibility to “ensure enforcement of the privacy principles not only within its walls but also across suppliers with whom it might share the data and subcontractors that might process data on its behalf,” according to GDPR experts. Cloud service providers fall into the latter category.

Company accountability is also a key factor in HIPAA. Although cloud service providers and other types of business associates can come under fire for not properly protecting data while it is in their care, the company is ultimately held responsible for compliance, according to HIPAA experts.

  1. Personal Data Only Includes Items Like Names, Addresses, and Credit Card Numbers

If you ask people to give examples of personal data, they will likely list items such as a person’s name, address, and credit card numbers. However, personal data encompasses much more — and companies that simply assume they know what is considered personal data in a data privacy regulation could find themselves in noncompliance with it.

Unfortunately, there is no standard definition of personal data among the various data privacy laws in existence. Each regulation has its own definition.

For example, in HIPAA, the data that needs to be safeguarded is referred to as “protected health information (PHI)”. It is defined as:

“…information, including demographic data, that relates to:

  • the individual’s past, present or future physical or mental health or condition,
  • the provision of health care to the individual, or
  • the past, present, or future payment for the provision of health care to the individual,

and that identifies the individual or for which there is a reasonable basis to believe it can be used to identify the individual.”

So, PHI includes demographic information that can be used to identify individuals, such as their birthdates, phone numbers, email addresses, license plate numbers, and full-face photos. It also includes health-related data, such as admission and discharge dates, health records, health plan ID numbers, and billing information.

GDPR refers to the information that needs to be protected as simply “personal data”. It is defined as:

“… any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person.”

The GDPR’s definition for “personal data” is more encompassing than HIPAA’s definition for PHI, which is to be expected given that GDPR has a broader scope than HIPAA. However, GDPR’s definition is also fairly vague, so it could be construed to include many different types of data. For instance, physical factors could be interpreted as physical characteristics (e.g., height, weight), while cultural factors could be construed as religious or political preferences.

The question to answer is: Can this particular piece of data be used to identity an individual by itself or in combination with other pieces of information? If the answer is “yes” or “possibly”, it is best to err on the side of caution and take measures to protect it.

  1. It’s All about the Fines

It is true that failure to comply with data privacy regulations can result in hefty fines. For example, there are four categories of violations in HIPAA. The fine for a violation can be high as $50,000 per violation in each category, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per category per year. GDPR fines can also be substantial. The maximum fine is €20 million (around $22.5 million USD) or 4% of a company’s annual global turnover (whichever is greater).

While HIPAA and GDPR regulators have the authority to levy very large fines, they typically do so only for willful, serious violations. The purpose of the data privacy laws is to protect people’s privacy and data rights, not raise money.

In the case of GDPR, the regulators’ main goal is to educate and advise organizations on how to comply with the law. “We have always preferred the carrot to the stick,” according to UK Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

What You Need to Know about Foldable Phones

Foldable phones have been stealing the tech spotlight recently, but are they really all they’re cracked up to be? Here is what you need to know to make up your own mind.

Thanks to new offerings from Samsung and Huawei, foldable phones have been making a comeback. These mobile devices are smartphone-tablet hybrids. Vendors are hoping that they open up a new revenue stream in an otherwise saturated mobile device market.

But are foldable phones really all they’re cracked up to be? Here is what you need to know to make up your own mind.

What All the Hype Is About

The biggest selling point of foldable phones is that they increase the amount of screen real estate yet are still small enough to tuck in a large pocket or handbag. You can use them when they are folded or unfolded.

For example, Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, which is scheduled for release on April 26, 2019, has a 4.6-inch display when the device is folded. Opening the phone like a book reveals a larger 7.3-inch screen inside.

This is by no means the standard size and design of foldable phones’ displays. Because this is the first generation of the product, anything goes. For instance, Huawei’s Mate X, which is expected to be released in summer 2019, has a 6.6-inch display on the front and a 6.38-inch one on the back when folded. When you unfold the phone, they combine to become one 8-inch screen. Equally important, although the phone opens and closes like a book, the larger display is outward facing – like the cover on a book.

Eventually, some designs might prove to be more durable or beneficial than others and become standard on all foldable phones. This might the case when it comes to the phones’ hinges. Both Samsung and Huawei designed new hinge systems for their foldable devices.

Samsung is promoting the durability of its hinges and has even posted a short video on YouTube showing the hinges being tested. For this test, the phones were folded and unfolded 200,000 times, according to Samsung. This is equivalent to folding and unfolding the devices 100 times per day for more than 5 years.

Huawei is touting the sophistication of its hinge system, which it calls the Falcon Wing. According to Huawei, the smartphone and tablet modes transition seamlessly from one to the other, thanks in large part to this hinge. When unfolded, the screen is a perfectly flat surface.

Another notable feature of foldable phones is the ability to open and work with multiple apps on the display at the same time. For example, the Galaxy Fold lets you work on three apps simultaneously, while you can have two apps open in the Mate X.

Why You Might Want to Wait a While

While foldable phones hold great promise, you might want to hold off buying one. The reasons why include:

  • You don’t know what types of issues will crop up because it is the first generation of foldable phones. For example, real-world use might reveal that the polymer screens crease from being folded. Furthermore, it’s unknown what the repair process and costs will be like if problems occur.
  • More vendors are planning to enter the market, which will give you more choices. The list includes companies such as Motorola and TCL. Even Samsung is planning to release two more foldable phones in the near future, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • 5G networks will be more prevalent in the future so you can take advantage of 5G foldable phones. This might be an important point to consider when it comes to the Mate X. Huawei is planning to offer only a 5G version of the phone. Samsung will be offering both 4G and 5G models of the Galaxy Fold. The 5G model is expected to be released later in 2019.
  • The cost of foldable phones is currently high. For example, the price for the 4G Galaxy Fold is $1,980. The cost of the 5G Mate X is €2299 euros (around $2,600 USD). The cost will likely go down over time due to competition and the fact that the foldable phone will no longer be a brand-new technology.
  • Some experts are saying that people should hold off buying foldable phones until the devices have glass displays rather than polymer screens. While flexible, polymer screens are more prone to damage such scratches compared to glass. Corning and other manufacturers are currently working on creating highly bendable glass that could work on foldable phones. Experts predict that it will be available by the time foldable phones go mainstream.

An Important Note about Huawei

Some important information about Huawei needs to be mentioned. Although this Chinese-based company is not well known in some parts of the world (e.g., the United States), it is the second largest smartphone vendor. (Samsung is No. 1.) However, some governments believe that Huawei devices include backdoors that allow the Chinese government to snoop on users, which the company denies. For this reason, Section 889 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act bans US government agencies from purchasing Huawei telecommunications products. Regardless of this issue, Huawei’s Mate X provides a good idea of what to expect with foldable phones, which is why it is discussed here. Its inclusion is not an endorsement of the product.

Are Your Employees Inadvertently Exposing Your Company’s Sensitive Data?

The ease in which employees can now share information coupled with current cultural trends is causing accidental data leaks in many businesses. Learn how to prevent employees from accidentally exposing your organization’s sensitive data.

The number is eye-opening: 83% of companies believe that employee errors have put sensitive business and customer data at risk of exposure, according to a study by Egress. More than 1,000 security professionals at US-based companies participated in this study.

The study also identified the technologies that most often involved in this type of accidental data leak. Email services provided by both on-premises systems and cloud service providers (e.g., Google Gmail) topped the list. Examples of email-based accidents include sending emails to the wrong address (which can easily occur when the auto-completion feature is enabled) and forwarding messages that contain sensitive information.

Other technologies that are commonly involved in accidental data leaks by employees include:

  • File-sharing services (e.g., Dropbox)
  • Collaboration tools (e.g., Slack)
  • Messaging apps (e.g., WhatsApp)

The common denominator among these technologies is that they all are tools for sharing information.

The Perfect Storm and Its Aftermath

The ease in which employees can now share information coupled with current cultural trends is causing “the perfect storm” for accidental data leaks, according to Mark Bower, Egress Chief Revenue Officer and NA general manager. “The explosive growth of unstructured data in email, messaging apps, and collaboration platforms has made it easier than ever for employees to share data beyond traditional security protections,” said Bower. “Combine this with the growing cultural need to share everything immediately, and organizations are facing the perfect storm for an accidental breach,” he said.

The damage caused by this perfect storm could be grim. For example, suppose an employee emails a sensitive file that is not protected in any way to several coworkers for review. One of the coworkers might review the document on an unsecured personal device (e.g., a smartphone), opening up the possibility that it could fall into hackers’ hands. Or, the coworker might mistakenly forward the message to another employee, not realizing that the person should not be looking at the file.

Sending sensitive documents via file-sharing services adds another risk. Some of these services offer a feature that synchronizes files put in a shared folder across all registered devices. If an employee places a sensitive file in a shared folder without knowing that folder’s members, the file might be sent to multiple people who should not be seeing it.

How to Avoid Getting Caught in the Storm

To minimize the number of accidental data leaks caused by employee errors, companies might consider taking some of the following precautions:

  • Document the company’s rules regarding the sharing of sensitive data in a new or existing policy. If sharing is allowed, be sure to specify the conditions under which it is sanctioned and create procedures on how to properly share this data.
  • Provide employee training. After documenting the rules and procedures, let employees know about them. Be sure to discuss what is considered sensitive data and how accidental leaks can occur.
  • Use encryption. Encryption is one of the most effective ways to protect sensitive data that has accidentally fallen into the wrong hands. Various encryption strategies exist to meet different needs.
  • Limit employee access to sensitive data. Employees might not realize or might forget that certain types of data are sensitive. By using access controls, you can prevent them from obtaining and sharing that data.
  • Use a solution that automatically identifies sensitive files and prevents them from being copied into emails or other tools.

Every company should document its rules regarding the sharing of sensitive data and train employees. The other precautions to take, though, will depend on your business’s data, operations, and employees. If you aren’t sure where to start, give us a call at 800-421- 7151. We can explain the different encryption strategies, types of access controls, and other types of solutions so you can make an informed choice.

Hackers Are Hunting for Bigger Game with New Version of Ransomware

Pinchy Spider and GandCrab sound like scoundrels in a super-hero comic book, but they are real-life villains in the business world. Learn how to defend your company against the Pinchy Spider hacking group’s latest tactics and its newest version of the GandCrab ransomware.

Back in January 2018, a hacking group known as Pinchy Spider launched the GandCrab ransomware. It quickly became a dangerous form of ransomware, thanks to the group continually making adaptations to it.

Pinchy Spider has not slowed down in its quest to make GandCrab more deadly. Researchers recently discovered that a new version of the ransomware is making the rounds. Just as important, they discovered signs that Pinchy Spider is trying to catch bigger prey with it.

The Growing Trend of Big Game Hunting

Big game hunting is a growing trend among cybercriminals. To quickly increase revenue, hackers are turning to more targeted attacks of bigger game. For example, instead of sending phishing emails to the masses to spread malware, cybercriminals are using reconnaissance and sophisticated delivery methods to reach specific targets that will yield more profits.

Big game hunting fits well with Pinchy Spider’s “ransomware-as-a-service” business. In other words, it lets other cybercriminals (aka “customers”) use the malware it creates to carryout cyberattacks for a share of the profit. Typically, the hacker group uses a 60-40 ratio to split the profits, where 60% goes to the customers. However, Pinchy Spider is now advertising that it is willing to negotiate up to a 70-30 split for “sophisticated” customers. This change coupled with the fact that Pinchy Spider is actively recruiting hackers with networking, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), and virtual network computing experience is leading security analysts to believe that Pinchy Spider is hopping onto the big game hunting bandwagon.

GandCrab Well Suited for Big Game Hunting

GandCrab is well suited for targeted attacks of bigger game. While most ransomware is distributed through phishing emails, GandCrab takes a different route to its victims. It is distributed through exploit kits. Cybercriminals use these kits to find and exploit known software vulnerabilities in order to carry out malicious activities. In this case, Pinchy Spider created several exploit kits to look for weaknesses in the Java Runtime Environment, Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and other software. If found, the kits exploit the vulnerabilities to launch VBScript, JavaScript, and other types of code that installs GandCrab.

Once the ransomware is installed on a computer, it does not immediately start encrypting the files on it. Instead, it lays dormant while the hackers try to use RDP and credentials they stole from the compromised machine to access and install the ransomware on other computers — preferably hosts or servers — in company’s network. In one instance, the cybercriminals were able to access a business’s domain controller (DC). They then used the IT systems management application installed on the DC to deploy GandCrab throughout the network.

When the hackers have finished infecting the targeted computers, they trigger GandCrab to start encrypting files with an RSA algorithm. GandCrab then demands payment in Dash (a form of cryptocurrency) to decrypt the files. While most ransomware blackmailers demand one payment to unlock the files on all the infected machines, Pinchy Spider and its customers request payment on a per-computer basis, especially if hosts or servers have been compromised.

How to Protect Your Business against GandCrab

Taking several measures can go a long way in protecting against a GandCrab attack:

  • Patch known vulnerabilities by regularly updating all software on each computer in your company, including workstations, hosts, and servers. Patching will eliminate many of the vulnerabilities that exploit kits use to access machines.
  • Make sure the security software is being updated on each computer. Even hosts and servers should be running security software. It can help defend against known ransomware threats and other types of malware attacks.
  • Secure RDP. Hackers like to exploit RDP to access businesses’ hosts and servers, so it needs to be secured. There are several ways to do this, such as deploying an RDP gateway and limiting who can use RDP to log in to the network.
  • Use two-step verification for the service and software accounts on your hosts and servers. That way, even if a password is compromised, it cannot be used to gain access to those accounts. If using two-step verification (also known as two-factor authentication) is not possible, at least use strong account passwords and implement an account lockout policy to foil brute force password-cracking attacks.
  • Regularly back up files and systems, and make sure the backups can be successfully restored. Although having restorable backups will not prevent a GandCrab attack, you won’t have to pay the ransom if the attack is successful.

We can help you implement these measures as well as provide recommendations on how to further protect against GandCrab and other types of ransomware. Give us a call at 800-421-7151 to learn more.

Malvertising Is Likely Coming to a Browser Near You

Cybercriminals are increasingly posting malicious ads on legitimate websites to obtain data and spread malware. Discover how malvertising works and what you can do to protect your business from it.

Cybercriminals do not take holidays off — in fact, they often use them to their advantage. That’s how a group of hackers celebrated President’s Day in the United States. They launched a massive malicious advertising (malvertising) campaign that involved more than 800 million ad impressions on legitimate websites between February 16-19, 2019, according to Confiant security researchers. The ads were designed to trick users into entering personal and financial information in order forms for fake products.

A Serious Problem

Malvertising is a serious problem. Avast notes that it is one of the top five endpoint threats affecting small businesses. That’s because cybercriminals are increasingly posting malvertising on legitimate websites in order to:

  • Obtain sensitive data. Like in the President’s Day campaign, hackers use malvertising to obtain sensitive data, such as payment card or bank account information.
  • Deliver exploit kits. These kits are designed to find known vulnerabilities in systems. If a vulnerability is found, it is used to install malware or carry out other types of malicious activities.
  • Deliver malicious payloads directly. Pop-up ads, for example, can deliver malware as soon as they appear or after people click the “X” button to close them.

The Devious Ways in Which Malvertising Works

To understand how malvertising works, you need to know how web browsers render web pages. When you visit a web page, your browser automatically receives the page’s content so it can display the page. So, for example, when you visit your favorite business news website, all the articles, pictures, ads (malicious or not), and other elements on the page are automatically sent to your browser.

What the malvertising does next depends on whether it includes malicious code. For instance, suppose hackers want to deliver an exploit kit. One way they can do this is to create ads that try to lure you into clicking a link. The ad itself does not contain any malicious code. However, if you click the link, you will be sent to a server that delivers an exploit kit. If the kit finds a vulnerability, it is used to install malware on your device.

Even worse, some malicious ads deliver exploit kits without you doing anything other than going to your favorite website. In this case, the malvertising contains code that automatically redirects your browser to a server, which delivers the exploit kit. The redirection occurs behind the scenes, without you clicking a single link.

How Hackers Get Malicious Ads on Legitimate Websites

Hacking into legitimate websites and inserting malicious ads is a lot of work. That’s why cybercriminals typically pose as businesspeople to get their malvertising online. This ruse is successful because there are many different ways to get ads on websites (e.g., through advertising agencies, using advertising networks) and there is no standard vetting process. The groups involved in getting ads often do not request much information from the people submitting them. Plus, while some groups check ads before accepting them, others do not.

Even if the ads are checked, hackers find ways around the screenings. For example, sometimes they submit their ads with the malicious code disabled and then enable it after the ad is accepted and put online. In addition, hackers often remove the malicious code from their ads shortly after they are posted to make it more difficult to detect and track their attacks.

How to Protect Your Business

While the digital ad industry knows about malvertising and is taking steps to mitigate the problem, it will be awhile before these ads are no longer a threat. Thus, you need to proactively protect your business. Here are some of the measures you can take:

  • Educate employees about malvertising. Be sure to discuss the dangers of clicking links in ads, as the ads might be malicious.
  • Tell employees about the dangers of allowing pop-ups and redirects. Most modern web browsers block pop-ups and redirects by default, but this functionality can be manually disabled. Let employees know this is dangerous since malvertising sometimes uses both pop-ups and redirects. Similarly, let them know they should not enable web content that has been disabled by their web browsers or security software, as it might contain malicious ads.
  • Uninstall browser plug-ins and extensions not being used. This will reduce the computers’ attack surface. For the plug-ins and extensions being used, consider configuring web browsers so that plug-ins and extensions are automatically disabled but can be manually enabled on a case-by-case basis.
  • Update software regularly, including browser plugins and extensions. Exploit kits look for known vulnerabilities in software. Patching these vulnerabilities helps eliminate entry points into devices.
  • Install ad blockers. Ad blockers remove or modify all ad content on web pages. However, they might unintentionally block non-ad content, causing a web page to display improperly or not at all.

We can help you develop a customized strategy to protect your business’s devices from malvertising and other types of cyberattacks.

Security Hole Is Putting Many Containers in the Cloud at Risk

A serious security vulnerability dubbed Doomsday Docker has been discovered. If your business uses containers, here is what you need to know.

serious security vulnerability dubbed Doomsday Docker is putting containers at risk. Cybercriminals can exploit this hole to attack the system that hosts the container as well as all the other containers running on the host system. Most containers in the cloud are vulnerable.

The security hole lies in a command-line runtime tool called runC. Popular container platforms such as Docker and Kubernetes use this open-source tool to generate and run containers. “As far as container runtimes go, runC is used by just about every container engine out there,” according to one security expert.

To exploit this vulnerability, cybercriminals just need to place a malicious container within a container system. The vulnerability will allow that container to overwrite the host’s runC binary code, letting the hackers gain access to the host system and potentially all the other containers running on it. This is done with minimal interaction by the hackers.

Container platform providers are patching their software to fix the vulnerability. We can check to see if your provider has issued a patch and make sure it is installed.

6 Ways to Make Your Passwords Easy to Crack

Passwords are an important line of defense against cyberattacks, yet many people make it easy for hackers to crack them. Here are six mistakes that people often make when creating passwords.

Serious consequences can result from cracked passwords. Cybercriminals might use them to steal money or data from the compromised accounts. Or they might change the accounts’ passwords and use the hijacked accounts for other malicious activities such as installing malware or sending phishing emails.

While no one wants to have their passwords cracked, many people make it easy for cybercriminals to do so. Here are six mistakes that people often make when creating passwords:

  1. Using Repeating or Sequential Characters

Want a password that is extremely easy to crack? Create a password that consists of:

  • Repeating letters or numbers, such as “aaaaaa” or “111111”
  • Sequential letters or numbers, such as “abcdef” or “123456789”
  • A combination of repeating and sequential characters, such as “abc123” or “aa123456”

SplashData’s 100 worst passwords list is full of these types of passwords. In 2018, the company analyzed more than 5 million passwords leaked on the Internet to find the most predictable, easily crackable ones in use. All the examples listed above are on this list. On an average computer, it would take a cybercriminal only one second to crack each of these passwords using a brute-force password-cracking tool, with one exception. It would take 32 seconds to crack “aa123456”, which is still a very short amount of time.

  1. Relying on Memorable Dates

While using your birthday, a family member’s birthday, or another memorable date makes a password easy to remember, it also makes it easier to crack. Hackers know people do this. With a little research, they often can learn their victims’ birthdates, anniversaries, and other special dates. If they cannot find the information on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, they can search public records.

  1. Entering Keyboard Patterns

Although “1qaz2wsx” and “!@#$%^&*” might seem like random strings of characters, hackers know they are keyboard patterns. Hackers also know that people like to use keyboard patterns as passwords, so they check for them. In fact, “1qaz2wsx”, “!@#$%^&*”, “zxcvbnm”, and “querty” are all on SplashData’s 100 worst passwords list.

  1. Creating Short Passwords

Short simple passwords are easier to remember than long complex ones, but they are also much easier to hack. For example, passwords such as “football”, “Donald”, “banana”, and “whatever” take only two seconds to crack using a brute-force password-cracking tool.

Short passwords are dangerous even if you use letter substitution, such as replacing the number “0” for the letter “o” or substituting the “@” sign for the letter “a”. It would still take only three seconds to hack the passwords “f00tball”, “D0n@ld”, “b@n@n@”, and “wh@tever”.

Longer passwords are cryptographically harder to break than shorter ones. However, the long complex passwords that you are supposed to create — that is, long passwords that include mixed-case letters, numbers, and symbols — are hard to remember. As a result, people resort to writing them down or reusing the same password. This is why the US National Institute of Standards and Technology recommends using “memorized secrets” — passphrases that are simple, long, and easy to remember.

For instance, instead of using “football”, you might use “fond of flying footballs”. This passphrase would take more than 10,000 centuries to crack. As this example shows, including spaces is a good practice to follow, assuming they are allowed. Besides making the passphrase easier to enter, spaces make the passphrase harder to hack. It would take 58 centuries to hack “fondofflyingfootballs”. Although not as good as 10,000 centuries, 58 centuries is still a very long time.

  1. Reusing Passwords

People have to remember numerous passwords for both business and personal accounts. With so many passwords to remember, people often use the same password for multiple accounts. In one survey, 60% of the 1,000 participants admitted doing so.

However, cybercriminals know people frequently reuse passwords, so they try cracked passwords on multiple accounts. For instance, they sometimes launch an automated credential stuffing attack in which distributed botnets try using compromised credentials on high-value websites. This testing is done slowly using many different IP addresses to avoid setting off alerts (e.g., three unsuccessful login attempts) that could expose the attack.

  1. Modifying Passwords

To make passwords easier to remember, some people add or delete characters from passwords they are using at other sites. For example, they might use the passwords “cheese”, “cheese001”, and “cheese002” for three different accounts. One research study found that about 20% of passwords are formed this way.

More important, the researchers were able to create an automated cross-site password-guessing tool by applying common password-transformation rules to compromised passwords. If they can create such a tool, chances are so can cybercriminals.

7 Ways to Spend Less Time Dealing with Emails

Business professionals often spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails every day. If you are one of them, here are seven ways you can reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with emails.

In many businesses, employees use emails to communicate with each other, customers, suppliers, and other business associates. And the number of messages being handled is not small. Employees send and receive an average of 126 emails per day.

Dealing that many emails takes time. One study found that business professionals spend more than 25% of their day reading and responding to messages.

Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be the case. Here are seven ways you can reduce the amount of time you spend dealing with emails:

  1. Read and Respond to Emails Only at Designated Times

When you get a notification that an email has arrived, what do you do? If you are like most people, you stop what you are doing and look at the email. However, reading and responding to emails as they arrive can wreak havoc on your productivity. Even just quickly scanning an incoming email disrupts your concentration. It takes people an average of 64 seconds to recover from the interruption and return to their normal work rate.

Instead of reading and responding to emails as they arrive, a more productive approach is setting aside a block of time once or twice a day to go through all your messages. You should also consider turning off email notifications. That way, you can avoid the temptation of taking a quick peek at incoming emails.

  1. Manage Emails with Rules

Most email apps let you set up rules to manage messages. For example, both Microsoft Outlook and Google Gmail let you configure rules to automatically flag messages or move them to designated folders based on who is sending them or keywords in the subject line. Flagging and moving messages to folders can help you prioritize and organize emails.

  1. Make Sure an Email Is Necessary Before Writing It

Before you write an email, it is a good idea to ask yourself, “Is the email needed?” You should avoid sending emails about matters that are not important to business operations. “Nice to know” information can often be provided through other communication channels, such as a company intranet site. Only sending emails about pertinent business matters will save you time since you will be writing fewer emails. Plus, it will save time for others, as they won’t have as many emails to read.

  1. Be Concise When Writing Emails

You likely have gotten them — emails that ramble on and on rather than getting to the point. Don’t be one of those senders. When writing an email, get to the point quickly and keep the message as short as possible.

When a longer email is necessary, consider using elements such as bullets and numbered lists to help organize and call attention to items. If a matter needs to be discussed in-depth or will involve a lot of back-and-forth conversation, you might consider talking to the person rather than sending an email.

  1. Send Emails to Only the People Who Need the Information

When sending a message, you should make sure that you are emailing it to only those individuals who need the information. This is especially important when sending an email to a contact group (aka distribution list). Although entering a contact group in a message’s “To” field might be easier for you, it is better to enter the names or addresses of only those people who truly need the information. It will be one less email for everyone else in the contact group to read, saving them time.

  1. Repeat Important Points in Long Conversation Threads

When replying to a long conversation thread, it is a good idea to reiterate important information relevant to the matter you are addressing. For example, suppose you want to answer one of the questions brought up in a thread about company policies. Rather than say “To answer your question, we …”, it is better to say something like “In regard to the question about whether our company needs a social media policy, we ….”. This will make it easier for the email recipients to quickly understand what you are communicating. It will also save the recipients time, as they won’t have to reread all the previous emails in the thread to find the question you are addressing.

  1. Filter Out Spam

Although email servers filter out a great deal of spam, some messages inevitably make it through to users’ Inboxes. If you often see spam in your Inbox, you might want to filter it out using the spam or junk email filtering system provided by your email app or security software.

For example, you can use Outlook’s Junk Email Filter to move spam to the Junk Email folder. You have the ability to change the filter’s level of protection from the default of “No Automatic Filtering” to a more aggressive setting (“Low”, “High”, or “Safe Lists Only”). You might also create a blocked senders list. When you add a name or email address to this list, Outlook automatically moves incoming messages from that source to the Junk Email folder.

If this was helpful and you feel you may benefit from some other tips, check out the Webinars section of our Vlog for tips on how to work smarter in Outlook! If spam is your issue, give us a call at 800-421-7151 if you need to beef up your email security.

See How Much Power Your Apps Are Consuming on Your Windows 10 Computer

Once the October 2018 Update is installed on your Windows 10 computer, you can easily find out how much power each app and process is using. Here is how to access this information.

Windows 10’s Task Manager has many useful features and capabilities that let you monitor the apps and processes running on your computer. Once the October 2018 Update is installed, it is even more useful. The update adds two new columns to Task Manager’s “Processes” tab:

  • “Power Usage”. This column lets you see how much power each app and process is currently using.
  • “Power Usage Trend”. This column tells you how much power each app and process has used in the past two minutes.

In both columns, the possible values range from “Very low” to “Very high”, letting you know an app’s or process’s power-usage level at a glance. While the values in both columns are useful, the ones in the “Power Usage Trend” column can give you a better idea of how much power an app or process typically uses. Knowing this can be helpful, for example, if your computer’s battery is running low and you won’t have access to a power outlet anytime soon. By closing apps that typically use a lot of power, you can increase your battery’s life.

In addition, the power usage columns might flag when a cryptojacking script is siphoning a computer’s processing power. In this type of attack, cybercriminals steal computers’ processing power to mine cryptocurrencies.

To see the power-usage levels for your apps and processes, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click the Windows button and select “Task Manager”.
  2. If you see the “More details” option in the lower left corner of the Task Manager window, click it.
  3. Maximize the size of the window by clicking the square box in the upper right corner.
  4. Find the “Power Usage” and “Power Usage Trend” columns. They will be to the right of the “GPU Engine” column.
  5. If you do not see these columns, right-click any other column heading. In the box that appears, check the boxes next to “Power Usage” and “Power Usage Trend”.
  6. If you want to sort the apps and processes by the amount of power they are consuming, click the “Power Usage” or “Power Usage Trend” column heading. (By default, the apps and processes are sorted by name.)

If the “Power Usage Trend” column is blank for a particular app or process, don’t worry. When an app or process is launched, its entry in this column will be blank. The entry will populate after two minutes and then keep updating every two minutes.

What Is Digital Transformation and Why Are Companies Pursuing It?

Digital transformation is a popular topic of discussion in boardrooms. Learn what digital transformation is all about and why companies are interested in digitally transforming themselves.

IDC predicts that at least 55% of organizations will be digitally transforming themselves by 2020. But what exactly is digital transformation? More important, why are companies pursuing it?

What “Digital Transformation” Means

If you search the Internet for the term “digital transformation”, you will find numerous definitions of it. The definitions vary widely, so it can be hard to quickly learn what digital transformation is all about.

To understand what is meant by the term “digital transformation”, it is helpful to know what it is not. If a company simply moves applications to the cloud, upgrades its IT infrastructure, or implements some other one-off IT project, it is not digitally transforming itself.

Digital transformation involves more than just adding new digital technologies to business operations. It requires a company’s leaders to rethink how the organization does business at a fundamental level — how they can achieve their business goals by leveraging digital technologies in processes throughout the organization. Sometimes, companies are able to effectively integrate new technologies into existing processes. More often, though, they need to design new processes.

“Digital transformation marks a radical rethinking of how an organization uses technology, people, and processes to radically change business performance,” according to George Westerman, a digital transformation expert with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. “Such sweeping changes are typically undertaken in pursuit of new business models and new revenue streams, often driven by changes in customer expectations around products and services.”

Meeting customers’ expectations is not the only driver of digital transformation. Increasing competition and meeting regulatory requirements (e.g., General Data Protection Regulation requirements) are some of the other drivers. Since customer expectations, competitors’ offerings, regulations, and other business influences are constantly changing, a digital transformation is not something a company does once and then moves on. It is an ongoing process.

Why Businesses Are Pursuing It

Because of its wide-sweeping nature, digital transformation can be disruptive. Plus, it is a never-ending quest. So, why are companies increasingly embarking on the journey? The benefits reaped from a successful journey are enticing. They include:

  • Improved customer satisfaction
  • More efficient operations
  • Improved decision making
  • Increased agility and innovation
  • Happier, more productive employees

Realizing these benefits ultimately leads to better business performance overall and increased profitability.

The Types of Digital Technologies Companies Are Using

While each company’s digital transformation is unique, businesses use many of the same types of digital technologies. For example, they use Internet of Things (IoT) devices and edge computing to collect and process data locally. To respond to customers’ online requests for information, they turn to chatbots. They also use other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) to connect and communicate with customers.

In the past, only big businesses could take advantage of AI technologies because of their cost. However, many cloud-app providers have embedded AI services in their platforms, so small businesses now have access to AI technologies.

If your business is embarking on digital transformation journey, we can help you determine which technologies can help you achieve your business’s goals. Call us at 800-421-7151 to find out how WAMS can begin your transformation.

Still Using Windows 7? Here Is What You Need to Keep in Mind

Windows 7 is still being used by many companies, despite it being in its final year of life. If your business is running this software, here is what you need to consider.

Many companies have not upgraded their computers from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The reasons why vary. For example, some businesses have not moved to Windows 10 because it is incompatible with their existing business apps or processes. Others have not switched because their existing hardware will not support Windows 10. While these are legitimate reasons for not upgrading, there is a new factor that needs to be considered: Windows 7’s end is near.

On January 14, 2020, all support for Windows 7 ends. Using Windows 7 after this date can be risky because Microsoft will no longer provide free security updates or product support. If the computers in your company are still running this operating system software, here is what you need to consider.

No Free Security Updates

After January 14, 2020, Microsoft will no longer provide free updates to fix newly discovered security vulnerabilities in Windows 7. Similarly, it will no longer provide free security updates to Internet Explorer web browsers running on Windows 7 machines. According to Microsoft, Internet Explorer is a component of the Windows operating system, so it follows Windows 7’s lifecycle policy.

This means that your Windows 7 computers and the Internet Explorer browsers installed on them will not be protected against cyberattacks exploiting newly discovered security vulnerabilities. As a result, your business will be at greater risk of data breaches, ransomware, and other types of cybercrime. To make matters worse, hackers often keep track of when vendors stop supporting popular apps. They then launch new cyberattacks that target those apps once the support has ended.

There is another less-obvious risk associated with using unpatched software. Since you cannot protect your Windows 7 computers from new cyberattacks, your company might not be compliant with regulations that govern the protection of sensitive data. Noncompliance can result in penalties, higher costs, and even lost business.

No Product Support

After January 14, 2020, Microsoft will no longer support computers running Windows 7. Nor will it support Internet Explorer browsers running on Windows 7 machines. This means that Microsoft will no longer answer any technical questions or help troubleshoot any problems. The only Microsoft resources that will be available are articles, webcasts, and other free online content that the company has posted about the software in the past.

Your Options

January 14, 2020, is approaching fast. It is a good idea to start planning now instead of waiting to the last minute. Here are your main options if your business is still running Windows 7:

  • Continue to use Windows 7 without any security updates or support. Windows 7 and Internet Explorer will not suddenly stop working after January 14, 2020. The apps will still work, so you can keep using them. However, doing so leaves your business at greater risk of cyberattacks.
  • Purchase Extended Security Updates. In September 2018, Microsoft announced that it will offer Extended Security Updates for Windows 7 (which will include updates for Internet Explorer) through January 2023. The Extended Security Updates will be sold on a per-device basis, with the price increasing each year. These updates will be available for Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise customers that have volume licensing agreements.
  • Upgrade to Windows 10. By moving to Windows 10, you will have free security updates, feature updates, and product support. If you subscribe to Microsoft 365 Business and your computers are running Windows 7 Professional, you can upgrade at no additional cost.
  • Switch to a different operating system. If you do not want to use Windows 10, you can switch to a different operating system, such as Apple macOS.

We can help you make the best choice for your business based on its needs and help you carry out that decision.

How to Use the Clipboard’s History and Syncing Features in Windows 10

The Windows 10 October 2018 Update soups up the Windows Clipboard with new history and syncing features. Here is how to enable and use these features.

The history feature lets you copy and store multiple items (text and images) on the Clipboard. In the past, you could only store one item at a time. The syncing feature lets you store Clipboard items in the Microsoft cloud so that the items will be available for pasting on all your Windows 10 computers.

You can take advantage of just one or both of these features. Before you can use them, though, you must have the Windows 10 October 2018 Update installed. You also need to enable each feature.

How to Enable and Use the History Feature

To enable the history feature, all you need to do is press Win+V to open up the Clipboard window and select “Turn on”. If you are unfamiliar with keyboard shortcuts, Win+V indicates that you press the Windows key and the letter v on your keyboard at the same time.

Once enabled, Windows 10 will automatically place the items you copy on the Clipboard. To paste an item that you copied earlier in the day, you just need to open the Clipboard window, find the item, and click it. The most recent items you copied will be at the top of the window.

You can store up to 25 items on the Clipboard. (Text, HTML, and images are supported.) Each item can be up to 4 megabytes. If you copy numerous items throughout the day, it is important to know that older items are automatically removed. To prevent this, you can pin items, which tells Windows 10 to keep those items on the Clipboard indefinitely.

To pin an item, you simply open up the Clipboard window, find the clip you want to save, and click the icon that looks like a pushpin. (It will be on the right side of the clip.) If you are going to be shutting down your computer, you also need to pin any items that you want to save. The Clipboard history is cleared every time you restart your machine. Only those items you pinned will remain on the Clipboard.

How to Enable and Configure the Syncing Feature

The Clipboard syncing feature comes in handy if you regularly use two (or more) computers, such as a desktop machine when you are in the office and a laptop device when you are on the road. For the syncing feature to work, the Windows 10 October 2018 Update needs to be installed on both machines. Plus, you need to use the same Microsoft account to log in to the computers.

The syncing feature needs to be enabled and configured. When setting up the feature, you will be given two options:

  • “Automatically sync text that I copy”. This is the default setting. If you keep this setting, all items that you copy will be stored in the Microsoft cloud and synced across your devices.
  • “Never automatically sync text that I copy”. If you select this setting, you need to manually open the Clipboard window and select the content you want to make available across your computers. If you often copy sensitive data, this option might be the best choice.

To enable and configure the syncing feature, perform these steps on both computers:

  1. Click the Start menu.
  2. Select the gear icon to open the Settings app.
  3. Choose “System”.
  4. Select “Clipboard” in the left pane.
  5. Scroll down to the “Sync across devices” section.
  6. Move the “Sync across devices” slider to “On” to enable the syncing feature.
  7. Choose either the “Automatically sync text that I copy” or “Never automatically sync text that I copy” option.

Clearing the Clipboard

At any time, you can clear items from the Clipboard. To remove individual items, open the Clipboard window, find the item you want to delete, and click the “x” icon in the upper right corner.

If you want to clear the everything except pinned items from the Clipboard, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start menu.
  2. Select the gear icon to open the Settings app.
  3. Choose “System”.
  4. Select “Clipboard” in the left pane.
  5. Scroll down to the “Clear clipboard data” section.
  6. Click the “Clear” button.

This will clear the items from the Clipboard window and from the Microsoft cloud. If you want to clear pinned items, you will first need to unpin them.

If you have any questions about the new Clipboard features or run into issues using it, let us know.

4 Things You Might Not Have Known about Microsoft Teams

To help facilitate communication and collaboration in businesses, Microsoft offers a solution called Teams. Although it is a relatively unknown offering, its popularity is expected to grow. Here are four things it helps to know about Teams.

Teamwork is a mainstay in businesses. Although it has been in existence since November 2016, it is still a relatively unknown offering. That is expected to change, though. Experts predict that Teams will have the fastest growth of all the available business chat solutions over the next two years, according to a Spiceworks report released in December 2018.

So, it pays to learn about Teams. Here are four things you might not have known about it:

  1. Teams Is Microsoft’s Version of Slack

Like Slack, Teams is a communication and collaboration solution that offers a wide variety of services. The core services offered by Teams include:

  • Unlimited chat messaging and message searches that do not have a size limit
  • Audio and video calling (one-on-one or group calls)
  • The ability to host audio, video, and web conferences with anyone inside or outside a company
  • Built-in Microsoft Office Online apps (Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online, and OneNote)
  • Integration with more than 140 apps and services (both Microsoft and third party)
  • 10 gigabyte (GB) of storage per team for file sharing, plus 2 GB of storage for each team member
  • Screen sharing
  • Channel meetings
  1. There Is Now a Free Version

In July 2018, Microsoft launched a free version of Teams that does not require a Microsoft account. Teams is also included in some Office 365 subscriptions, such as Office 365 Business Essentials and Office 365 Business Premium.

The free version includes the core services just mentioned and a few others. The version provided with Office 365 subscriptions offers several extra features, such as administrative support, advanced security features, Microsoft Outlook, and additional file storage space.

  1. Teams Runs on Multiple Platforms

Teams runs on a variety of devices and platforms. Desktop versions are available for Windows 10, Windows 7, and Apple Mac OS X (10.10 and later). There are also mobile apps available for Google Android and Apple iOS devices. Download links for the free version of Teams can be found on the Get Microsoft Teams for Free web page.

  1. Teams Will Eventually Replace Skype for Business and StaffHub

Microsoft has announced that it plans to replace Skype for Business — a unified communications solution that is part of Office and Office 365 —  with Teams. Teams has already reached “feature parity” with Skype for Business, according to experts. Microsoft has not yet released a timeline for the retirement of Skye for Business. However, it might be coming in the not-too-distant future. On October 1, 2018, Microsoft stopped offering Skype for Business to new Office and Office 365 customers with fewer than 500 users. Instead, these customers are being set up to use Teams. Current customers with fewer than 500 users can continue to use Skype for Business. In addition, Microsoft is continuing to offer Skype for Business to existing and new Office and Office 365 customers with more than 500 users.

Although not nearly as widely used as Skype for Business, StaffHub will also be retired. Part of Office 365, StaffHub enables a manager to set work schedules for frontline employees, which they can then view. Employees can also use StaffHub to swap shifts and chat with each other. Microsoft has already incorporated StaffHub’s capabilities into Teams. The StaffHub mobile app will no longer be unavailable for download after April 1, 2019, and will stop working entirely on October 1, 2019

What Businesses Can Learn from Google’s Hefty GDPR Fine

Google was fined $57 million for not complying with the General Data Protection Regulation. Learn why Google was penalized so you can avoid the same data-privacy mistakes in your company.

Although it has only been enforced since May 25, 2018, companies are already being fined for not complying with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). In January 2019, Google was fined $57 million [USD] by France’s data protection authority, the National Data Protection Commission (CNIL). Google is the first US technology company to be penalized for GDPR noncompliance.

Learning why Google was fined can help you better understand what companies need to do to comply with data-privacy regulations. It is important for all businesses to have this basic understanding because legislation similar to GDPR is being passed in other parts of the world. For instance, in June 2018, the California State Legislature passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). It gives California residents some of the strongest data-privacy protections in the world. CCPA will start being enforced in January 2020.

Why Google Has Been Fined

GDPR was created to provide data-privacy rights to EU citizens and protect them from data breaches. For example, EU citizens have the right to find out the types of personal data that companies are collecting about them, how the data is being used, and where it is being stored. Furthermore, businesses must ask customers for permission to collect and process their personal information. Companies must also make it easy for customers to withdraw their consent.

Two digital-rights advocacy groups made formal complaints to CNIL about Google’s data processing practices, especially when it comes to personalizing ads. Here is what CNIL found when it investigated the complaints:

Information is not easily accessible. CNIL found that is not easy for Google users to learn essential information about the types of data being collected about them, how that data is being used, and how long it is being stored. According to CNIL, the information is excessively disseminated, forcing users to access multiple documents and perform many steps to get it.

Some information is unclear and inadequate. CNIL discovered that, in some instances, Google’s explanations about how it is using the collected data are too vague, which impedes users’ ability to fully understand the purposes for processing that data. Similarly, the types of personal data being collected and processed is sometimes unclear. Plus, Google does not always specify how long it keeps the data.

There is a lack of valid consent regarding personalized ads. Although Google states that it obtains users’ consent to collect and process data for ad personalization purposes, CNIL found that it is not being validly obtained for two reasons:

  • Users are insufficiently informed about the total amount of data being collected and processed to make an informed decision. To personalize ads, Google collects data from many of its websites, apps, and services. However, Google does not tell users the specific sources from which their data is collected and how the various pieces of information are combined to provide personalized ads.
  • The consent is not specific. GDPR mandates that companies get customers’ specific, clear-cut consent to collect and use their personal data for each desired purpose. For instance, if a company wants to collect and process customers’ personal data for the purposes of displaying personalized ads and offering speech recognition services, it needs to ask customers for their consent for each purpose individually. Moreover, customers have to give their consent using a clear affirmative action, such as checking a box. (The box cannot already be preselected by the company.) According to CNIL, Google is not following these requirements. To create a Google account, users must select the boxes “I agree to Google’s Terms of Service” and “I agree to the processing of my information as described above and further explained in the Privacy Policy”. By doing so, users are giving their consent for all of Google’s various data collection and processing purposes (e.g., for ad personalization, for speech recognition services). While users can later configure their settings to stop their personal data from being collected and processed for the purpose of displaying personalized ads, this option is not easy to find. Furthermore, the option giving consent is preselected by Google.

Based on these findings, CNIL fined Google $57 million. The tech giant has already announced that it will appeal the penalty. Even if the appeal succeeds, Google will have likely spent a considerable amount of money and resources challenging the fine. For this reason and others (e.g., less prone to data breaches, increased customer satisfaction), it is a good idea for businesses to make sure they comply with GDPR if they have customers in the European Union.


Although Google Was the First, It Won’t Be the Last

Other well-known tech companies might be following in Google’s footsteps. Complaints have been levied against FacebookTwitter, and several streaming service providers(including Apple, Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube). Complaints and fines are not limited to large tech companies. Any business that processes or stores the personal data of EU citizens is required to comply with GDPR, regardless of its size or industry.

New Ransomware Is Masquerading as Apps and Games

Anatova has gained security experts’ attention. Besides being the first new ransomware in 2019, it poses a serious threat. Discover why it is so dangerous and how to protect your business from it.

A new form of ransomware is disguising itself as apps and games to trick people into downloading and launching it on their devices. Since January 1, 2019, cybercriminals have been using this dangerous ransomware, known as Anatova, to hold victims’ files for ransom. It has been found worldwide, with the largest number of victims in the United States.


How Anatova Works and Why It Is So Dangerous

Anatova typically masquerades as the icon of an app or game to trick people into downloading it. During installation, it requests administrative rights. After the ransomware makes sure it is on a legitimate computer, it encrypts the files on the machine. It also encrypts the files on any network shares connected to the device. Once all the files are encrypted, the victim is presented with a ransom note asking for 10 Dash. Dash is a type of cryptocurrency — 10 Dash is worth around $700 [USD] at the time of this writing. Victims are allowed to decrypt one JPG file for free as proof that the files can and will be decrypted if they pay the ransom.

While Anatova sounds like many other ransomware programs, security experts are warning that it is a serious threat. One reason why Anatova is so dangerous is that uses a variety of methods to prevent detection. For example, it uses dynamic calls that have been designed to not raise suspicion. Similarly, it uses techniques to deter analysis, such as memory cleaning functions.

Even more troubling is that cybercriminals can easily add new functionality to Anatova because of its modular architecture. Thus, they can quickly adapt Anatova to make it more effective. For instance, they might add new techniques to evade detection or new spreading mechanisms. The latter is of particular concern. Currently, Anatova has only been found on private peer-to-peer networks, but researchers believe it could be spread other ways in the future.


How to Protect Your Business

To avoid having your business become a victim of Anatova or another ransomware variant, you need to educate employees about ransomware. Topics to cover include:

  • What ransomware is and how cybercriminals commonly spread it. Besides covering how Anatova is being distributed through downloads, it is important to cover how ransomware can be spread through other methods, such as phishing emails.
  • Warn employees about the dangers of downloading and opening executables (e.g., apps, games) and files (e.g., PDF files) from peer-to-peer networks and the Internet. This is a good time to discuss your company’s policy regarding when employees are permitted to download executables and files and the sources where employees are allowed to get them.
  • Tell employees about other dangerous practices that can lead to a ransomware infection, such as clicking links and opening attachments in emails, especially if the emails are from unknown senders.
  • Stress the importance of avoiding any content flagged as a potential security threat by security software or web browsers, as it might contain malicious code.

Besides educating employees, you need to take other measures, including:

  • Making sure your security software is being updated on every computer in your business
  • Regularly updating the apps installed on your computers so that known security vulnerabilities are patched
  • Making sure you have restorable backups of your data in case a ransomware attack occurs

We can make sure that your business has covered all the bases so that it will be protected from Anatova and other ransomware variants.

Blackmail Emails Are Being Sent to the Workplace

Blackmail emails that were previously sent only to personal accounts are now being sent to business accounts. Find out what the emails are saying so you can be prepared in case you receive one.

In 2018, people were receiving emails in their personal accounts that tried to blackmail them into paying a ransom. People are now reporting that they are receiving similar emails at work.

In the emails, the blackmailers state they have evidence that the recipient has viewed a video on a pornography website because they hacked into the recipient’s computer. Specifically, they claim to have recorded what the recipient was watching and doing while viewing the video by using the device’s screen-capturing capabilities and webcam. The blackmailers then threaten to send the recording to everyone in the recipient’s email and social-media contact lists if the person does not pay the specified ransom.


The Blackmail Emails Are Actually Phishing Scams

The blackmail emails that people have been receiving at work and at home are actually phishing attacks being sent out by cybercriminals. The emails contain several classic signs of phishing scams:

  • Generic greeting. The emails do not include the recipients’ names in the salutation. Instead, they use a generic greeting such as “Good Morning my friend” or no greeting at all. In some cases, the recipient’s email address (or a shortened version of it) is used in the salutation.
  • Generic content. The emails do not contain any specifics about the incidents that were supposedly recorded. For example, they do not mention which websites the recipients were supposedly visiting when the recordings were made.
  • A sense of urgency and fear. To get people to fall for the scam, the emails try to create a sense of urgency and fear by first letting the recipients know that compromising recordings have been made and then telling them the recordings will be shared with their coworkers, friends, and family if the ransom is not paid.
  • Misspellings and grammatical errors. The emails contain misspellings and grammatical errors.

In some of the blackmail emails, the cybercriminals have been including a password that the recipient currently uses or has used in the past as “proof” they have hacked the person’s computer. However, email address-password pairs are often stolen in data breaches and can be easily purchased on the dark web. So, although alarming, the inclusion of a password does not prove the recipient’s computer has been compromised.


What to Do If You Receive This Phishing Email

If you receive a phishing email like this (or any other type of phishing email), here is what you should and shouldn’t do:

  • Do not panic or respond to the email.
  • Do not open any email attachments. In one instance, a blackmail email included an attachment. Opening an attachment could lead to spyware or another type of malware being installed on your computer.
  • Do not click any links in the email. Although the blackmail emails thus far have not included links, cybercriminals continually change their attack methods. Clicking a link could lead to malware being installed on your computer.
  • Follow company policy on how to deal with phishing emails if you receive one at work (e.g., forward it to the IT help desk, simply delete it).
  • Change your password if necessary. If the email includes a password that you currently use, change that password. If you used the password for multiple accounts, be sure to change each instance to a unique, strong password.

Scan your device for malware using your device’s security software as a precaution.

Don’t Let Your IT Policies and Procedures Fall by the Wayside

IT policies and procedures are not “set and forget” documents. Discover why they need to be reviewed regularly and learn some tips on how to do so.

Businesses sometimes create IT policies and procedures and then forget about them. Reviewing IT policies and procedures is important for several reasons, including:

  • Keeping IT systems running optimally. Companies create IT policies and procedures to help keep their IT systems running efficiently and securely. If these documents are not updated to reflect changes made to the systems, problems might arise. For instance, if a company starts collecting additional personal data from customers, it should update its privacy, data governance, and other applicable policies and procedures. Otherwise, the data might not be properly collected, cleaned, secured, used, and stored. This could lead to security vulnerabilities (e.g., improperly stored data) or data integrity issues (e.g., the new data cannot be combined with existing data because of formatting inconsistencies).
  • Complying with regulations. Regularly reviewing and updating certain types of policies is necessary for compliance to some regulations. For example, businesses that process or store the personal data of European Union (EU) citizens must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). One of the main requirements is that companies have privacy policies that tell EU citizens what data it is being collecting about them and how their data is being used, secured, shared, and stored. So, if a business starts collecting additional personal data from EU citizens but fails to update its privacy policy, it could be fined for noncompliance with GDPR.
  • Avoiding lawsuits. Businesses can be held liable for outdated, vague, and inconsistently enforced policies. For instance, a US jury awarded $21 million in damages to a woman who was struck by a Coca-Cola delivery driver who had been talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. The plaintiff’s attorneys successfully argued that the company’s mobile phone policy for its drivers was vague and that Coca-Cola was aware of the dangers of distracted driving but withheld this information from its drivers. As this example illustrates, it is important for companies to periodically review their IT policies to make sure they are clear, current with the times, and consistently enforced throughout the workplace.

At least once a year, you should review your company’s existing IT policies and procedures to make sure they are up-to-date and relevant. This is also a good time to determine whether any new policies need be written. For instance, if you recently permitted employees to use their personal smartphones for work, you can use this opportunity to discuss the need for a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy to govern the use of employee-owned phones in the workplace.

In addition, it is a good idea to test certain IT policies and procedures before the review process if it has not been done recently. For example, you could test the IT disaster recovery plan and procedures by holding a drill. Besides identifying problems with the plan and procedures (e.g., phone numbers that are no longer correct), the drill will allow employees to become familiar the process. This will lessen employees’ stress in the event of an actual disaster, which can lead to a faster recovery time.

If changes need to be made to an IT policy or procedure, you should:

  • Assign someone to make the changes.
  • Make sure the updated documents are reviewed and approved by the appropriate people (e.g., human resources staff, legal team).
  • Share the updated versions of those documents with employees.

Retest the policies and procedures if applicable. Need help keeping your policies moving forward? Give us a call at 800-421-7151.

5 Things to Know If You Are Considering Getting Cyber Insurance

As cyber attacks continue to increase in number and sophistication, more and more companies are purchasing cyber insurance. If you are considering getting this type of policy for your business, here are five things to keep in mind.

Discovering that a hacker just conned your business out of a large amount of money is probably one of your worst nightmares. For one organization, this nightmare came true. In December 2018, the Connecticut-based Save the Children Federation revealed that it fell victim to a business email campaign (BEC) scam the year before. The charity unwittingly transferred nearly $1 million to the hackers’ account.

Fortunately, the charity had cyber insurance, which covered most of the stolen money. The charity ended up losing only $112,000.

With BEC scams and other types of cyber attacks increasing in number and sophistication, more and more organizations are turning to cyber insurance to mitigate the risks and offset the costs of cyber attacks and other Internet- and IT-related liabilities. In the United States alone, the market is expected to grow from $2 billion to $15 billion in the next decade.

If you are considering purchasing cyber insurance for your business, here are five things to keep in mind:

  1. Cyber Insurance Is Continually Evolving

Cyber insurance is not new. Its roots are in errors and omissions (E&O) insurance policies. Around 20 years ago, add-ons were attached to tech companies’ E&O policies. These add-ons covered incidents such as a tech company’s software program bringing down another company’s network. Eventually, the add-ons evolved into separate policies that covered a lot more types of incidents (e.g., data breaches). As the kinds of coverages increased, so did the interest in these policies by companies outside the tech industry.

Nowadays, there are many different types of cyber insurance policies being purchased by many different kinds of businesses. And as the Internet, cyber crime, and IT systems evolve in the future, so too will the cyber insurance policies.

  1. Comparing Policies Can Be Challenging

Cyber insurance policies can be hard to compare because there is no set standard for underwriting this type of insurance. It is up to each insurance company to decide what it will cover and how to market that coverage. As a result, you might find that:

  • Some insurance companies simply add cyber insurance extensions to existing insurance policies. Most insurers, though, have separate cyber insurance policies. Stand-alone policies are usually more comprehensive than extensions, according to experts.
  • Some insurance companies put different types of coverages into separate policies. For instance, they might have a policy covering just data breaches and a policy covering cyber liability. In contrast, other companies offer one policy in which they include all their coverages (e.g., one policy covering both data breaches and cyber liability).
  • A few insurance companies offer different cyber insurance policies for different types of organizations. For instance, they might have separate policies for small businesses, tech companies, and public sector entities.
  • Like other types of insurance, the cost of the cyber insurance depends on many factors beyond the type of coverage provided. For instance, a business’s gross revenue, industry, and data risks are factored into the cost.
  1. Types of Expenses That Are Commonly Covered

Although there is no standard for underwriting cyber insurance policies, they cover many of the same types of expenses. Insurance companies typically cover cyber incidents caused by both internal actors (e.g., errors and omissions by employees) and external actors (e.g., cyber attacks by hackers). Examples of items usually covered include:

  • Lost revenue due to network downtime or a business interruption resulting from a cyber incident
  • Cyber extortion costs (e.g., ransomware payment)
  • The expenses incurred from a forensics investigation of a cyber attack
  • The costs incurred to restore data and systems after an attack
  • The expenses associated with notifying customers and other parties about a cyber incident
  • The cost of hiring a PR firm to minimize a cyber incident’s impact on a company’s reputation
  • Regulatory fines
  • Defense costs to handle lawsuits levied by individuals or businesses adversely affected by a cyber incident or a lawsuit imposed by a government entity (e.g., a state’s Attorney General)
  • Legal settlements from lawsuits

As this list shows, cyber insurance usually covers expenses incurred by the insured business as well as third parties adversely affected by the cyber incident. This is referred to as first-party coverage and third-party coverage, respectively.

  1. What Is Usually Not Covered

There are some costs and types of incidents that are not typically covered in cyber insurance policies. They include the loss of future revenue due to a cyber incident, costs to improve internal IT systems, bodily injury, and property damage.

In addition, it is important to know that a claim can be denied if a company misrepresents its security measures. Businesses are usually required to fill out an application that includes questions about the security measures they have in place. If a company submits a claim and the insurer can prove that the business did not have the specified security measures in place, the insurer can deny the claim.

  1. Where to Start If You Want to Get Cyber Insurance for Your Business

Before shopping for cyber insurance, experts recommend that you start by identifying the following for your business:

  • The types and sensitivity of the data used in your business
  • The kinds of cyber threats your company faces
  • How susceptible your business’s operations are to a network interruption and how much revenue you would lose every day if a cyber incident brought down your operations
  • Whether your business must adhere to any cyber-related laws or regulations (e.g., European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, United States’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and the cost of noncompliance
  • The contracts you have with suppliers and other business associates and what data they are able to access through joint business operations

With this information, you can get an idea of the types and amount of coverage needed. We can help you gather this information so you can get the best cyber insurance for your business.

Just Because a Mobile VPN App Is Popular Doesn’t Mean It Is Protecting Your Privacy

A study of the top free VPN apps available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play revealed that some of them might not be protecting your privacy as promised. Find out what the researchers discovered.

Using free public Wi-Fi networks at airports, hotels, and restaurants is convenient when traveling for business, but it can be risky. If you connect to an unsecured public Wi-Fi network, you run the risk of having hackers eavesdrop on your electronic conversations.

In theory, you can use a virtual private network (VPN) app to protect your privacy and data when using your mobile device within public Wi-Fi networks. In reality, that might not be the case if you are using a free mobile VPN app.

study of the top free VPN apps available in Apple’s App Store and Google Play revealed that most of them have no formal privacy policies or unacceptable ones. Plus, many of them are from obscure Chinese companies that deliberately make it difficult for people to find out anything about them. Equally concerning is that these apps often lack adequate customer support.

How the VPN Apps Were Selected

Researchers at selected the apps to study by searching for “VPN” in the App Store and Google Play for both the United States and United Kingdom sites. ( is a VPN review site run by Metric Labs, an online security and privacy education company.) If a paid app appeared in the search results, the next one was selected. The top 20 VPN apps in each store at each site were listed, giving a total of 80 apps. Many of the apps appeared more than once in the list, so duplicate entries were removed. The end result was a list of the top 30 free VPN apps.

What the Study Found

For each app, the researchers investigated several elements, including the app company’s privacy policies, ownership, and customer support. One of the most concerning findings is that 86% of the apps are provided by companies that do not have any privacy policies or unacceptable ones. In regard to the latter, some of the companies have generic privacy policies that do not include any VPN-specific terms or policies that lack important details about data collection practices — both of which can give users a false sense of security. Other policies note that the companies track user activity and share it with third parties. Several policies even explicitly state that the companies collect and share users’ personal data with China.

Another troublesome finding concerns the companies providing the apps. “Our investigation uncovered that over half of the top free VPN apps [59%] either had Chinese ownership or were actually based in China, which has aggressively clamped down on VPN services over the past year and maintains an iron grip on the Internet within its borders,” said Simon Migliano, the head researcher at Chinese legislation now forces local VPN providers to register with government authorities and obtain a license to operate. This is likely why some app privacy policies state that users’ personal data might be shared with China. For example, the privacy policies for the VPN Master, Turbo VPN, and SnapVPN apps state that “Our business may require us to transfer your Personal Data to countries outside of the European Economic Area (“EEA”), including to countries such as the People’s Republic of China or Singapore.” China’s VPN legislation coupled with the prevalence of Chinese hacking groups makes using VPNs provided by companies with links to this country risky to use.

The study also found that many of the top 30 apps have questionable user support. Specifically, 64% of the apps did not have dedicated websites for their VPN services. Several apps had no online presence whatsoever beyond their listings in the app stores.

Furthermore, 52% of the customer support email addresses specified in the app store listings were personal accounts (e.g., Gmail or Hotmail accounts). When the researchers sent emails to all the apps’ customer support email addresses requesting assistance, 83% of the emails were ignored. The emails were sent from the official address and did not hide the researchers’ true identities.

You can find the details about all the apps investigated in the “Free VPN Apps: Chinese Ownership, Secretive Companies & Weak Privacy” report.

A VPN App Can Be Invaluable If You Pick the Right One

A VPN app can be invaluable if you use your mobile device within public Wi-Fi networks. It can protect your privacy and data if a network is not secured properly. However, when selecting a VPN app, it is important to do research and carefully evaluate the candidates, especially those that are free. If you need assistance selecting a safe VPN app for your mobile device, give us a call.

Reputation Jacking: Another Trick Up Hackers’ Sleeves

Reputation-jacking is on the rise. Discover what reputation-jacking is and why cyber criminals like to use it when attacking businesses.

Cyber criminals have another trick up their sleeves. Besides using phishing emails to steal money and data from businesses, some hackers are now employing an additional technique known as reputation-jacking — using popular, legitimate cloud storage services to deploy malware.

Security researchers at Menlo Labs uncovered a scam that showcases why using this technique is gaining popularity among hackers. In this scam, cyber criminals sent customized phishing emails to employees at banks and financial services companies in the United States and United Kingdom between August and December 2018. These emails used a convincing pretense to get the employees to download malicious files from the Google Cloud storage service.

Storing the files on Google Cloud likely gave the employees a false sense of security — the impression that the files were safe because they were on a popular, legitimate cloud service. Storing the files on Google Cloud also let the hackers circumvent possible security measures at the companies. If the hackers had attached the malicious files to the emails, they probably would have been caught by email security software since the files were Visual Basic Script (VBS) and Java Archive (JAR) files.

Downloading and opening the malicious VBS and JAR files initiated a process designed to infect the employees’ computers with remote access trojans. Cyber criminals use these trojans to gain control over compromised machines so that they can remotely run commands that will let them scout out companies’ networks. Hackers use what they learn to determine the best tools and techniques to deploy to accomplish their ultimate goal, which is often stealing money or data.

The security researchers who discovered the scam noted that reputation-jacking is on the rise. For this reason, it is important to discuss it when you are educating employees about phishing and business email campaign (BEC) scams. Let them know what reputation-jacking is and why hackers like to use it. Be sure to stress that anytime an email urges them to access a file, they should think twice about doing so. The file might be malicious, even if it is located on a legitimate cloud storage service. Call us at 800-421-7151 if it is time for some security training!

How to Customize the Startup Pages in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge

If you have several websites you visit every day, you can configure your browser to automatically open those sites when you launch your browser. Here is how to customize the startup pages in Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge.

Most people have favorite websites they visit daily. If you are one of them, you can configure your web browser to automatically open those pages when you launch the browser. That way, you do not need to open each site every day, saving time and hassle.

To customize the startup pages in Google Chrome, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Google Chrome.
  2. Open the websites you want automatically opened when you start the browser.
  3. Click the icon that looks like a vertical ellipsis. It will be in the top right corner of the browser.
  4. Select “Settings” from the menu that appears. This will bring up the “Settings” web page.
  5. Scroll down to the “On startup” section at the bottom of the page.
  6. Click the “Open a specific page or set of pages” button.
  7. Select the “Use current pages” option.
  8. Close the “Settings” web page.

To customize the startup pages in Microsoft Edge, do the following:

  1. Launch Microsoft Edge.
  2. Open the websites you want automatically opened when you start the browser.
  3. Copy the sites’ addresses into a program such as Notepad or Microsoft Word.
  4. Click the icon that looks like an ellipsis. It will be in the top right corner of the browser.
  5. Select “Settings” from the menu that appears. This will bring up the “Settings” box.
  6. Find the “Open Microsoft Edge with” option.
  7. Select “A specific page or pages” from the drop-down list.
  8. Enter one of the site addresses you copied and click the save button (the button with the icon of a floppy disk).
  9. Use the “Add a new page” option to enter the other sites you want automatically opened.
  10. Click somewhere outside the “Settings” box to close it.

5 Noteworthy IT Trends That Will Affect SMBs in 2019 and Beyond

The IT industry is constantly changing. Because there are so many changes, it can be hard to discern which ones are most important. To help highlight the changes deserving attention, here are five IT trends that small and midsize businesses should know about.

Knowing the direction in which IT is headed can help companies prepare for the opportunities and challenges those changes might bring. However, many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) do not have the time or resources to keep up with IT changes since there are so many of them. Further, it can be hard to discern which ones are most important. To help highlight the changes deserving SMBs’ attention, here are five IT trends they should know about:

1. Data Privacy Regulations Will Become More Common

More data privacy regulations are likely on the horizon. The high rate of data breaches coupled with the controversial data-collection and data-sharing practices used by some companies (e.g., Facebook, Google) are prompting more people to rally around data privacy laws.

Some governing groups have already responded to people’s cries for more privacy. For example, the European Union passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which went into effect in May 2018. A month later, the California State Legislature passed the California Consumer Privacy Act.

SMBs should keep abreast of the data privacy regulations being enacted and check to see whether they need to comply with them. The latter is not always readily apparent. For instance, companies do not have to reside in the European Union to fall under GDPR’s jurisdiction. Any organization that processes or stores the personal data of EU citizens is required to comply with GDPR, no matter it is located.

2. More SMBs Will Turn to Chatbots

To gain and retain customers, a company needs to quickly respond to their requests for information and answer any questions they might have. However, staffing a customer support desk 24 x 7 can be expensive.

One way companies are addressing this dilemma is by using chatbots, which are also known as virtual assistants or virtual agents. These software programs employ advanced technologies such as natural language processing and machine learning to simulate and automate conversations with humans. Chatbots can also help with routine tasks such as arranging meetings and collecting data.

Chatbots are becoming less expensive to purchase. Plus, companies have the option of buying prebuilt chatbots or building their own. Thus, chatbots are a practical solution for SMBs that want to be highly responsive to potential and existing customers.

3. Integrating Cloud and On-Premises Resources Will Become a Priority

With 96% of companies using at least one cloud service, it is safe to say that businesses have whole-heartedly embraced the cloud. However, companies’ cloud resources are not usually integrated with their on-premises resources. This can lead to a myriad of problems. For instance, a manager might want to break down product sales by customer age to analyze the buying habits of different generations. However, he might find that he is unable to do so because the customer data is stored in an on-premises legacy system while the product sales data is stored in the cloud, with no easy way to combine the two datasets.

In 2019, companies will begin to understand the importance of integrating on-premises and cloud resources, according to IDC experts. They predict that it will be a top IT spending priority for half of SMBs by 2021.

4. Companies That Want to Deploy Systems Using 5G Will Have to Wait

In December 2018, AT&T became the first wireless carrier to go live with a mobile 5G service in the United States. Although AT&T was the first, it won’t be the last. Other wireless carriers will likely follow suit.

Businesses are already looking forward to using this fifth generation of wireless networking technology because it is much faster, provides more bandwidth, and has lower latency than its predecessor, 4G. A survey by Gartner revealed that two-thirds of the polled organizations plan to deploy 5G by 2020. Ways they intend to use it include Internet of Things (IoT) device communications, video conferencing, and video analytics.

However, these companies will likely have to wait several more years. Gartner researchers expect that public 5G networks will not be capable enough to meet the needs of organizations by 2020 because wireless carriers will initially concentrate on providing 5G broadband services to consumers. They anticipate that an infrastructure capable of handling companies’ needs won’t be available until 2025 or later. Although companies could conceivably build their own private 5G networks in the meantime, the expense involved would not make it a viable solution for most SMBs.

5. The Proliferation of Data from IoT Devices Will Increase the Need for Edge Computing

Cisco estimates that IoT devices will generate a whopping 847 zettabytes of data by 2021. To handle the vast amounts of data generated by these devices, many companies will need to turn to edge computing.

With edge computing, the data from IoT devices is processed close to the location where it is being generated rather than being sent to a central location for processing. This allows the data to be analyzed and acted on in near real-time. Besides enabling such fast response times, edge computing helps companies significantly reduce the amount of data that needs to be sent to a central location, saving bandwidth.

Edge computing will be so crucial to handling IoT data that Gartner has ranked it as one of the top 10 strategic technology trends for 2019. And IDC researchers predict that, in key industries, a third of SMBs will be using IoT devices and edge computing to collect and evaluate data in near real-time by 2021.

7 Reasons Why IT Projects Fail

Projects frequently fail in businesses. Here are seven common reasons why IT projects fail and how you can avoid these pitfalls.

Having projects that fail is common in businesses. In one 2018 study, the Project Management Institute surveyed more than 5,500 companies and found that 15% of the projects they started failed. And these failures were costly — 9.9% of every dollar invested was wasted due to poor project performance.

Learning from other teams’ mistakes is one way to avoid failed projects. Here are seven common reasons why IT projects fail and how you can avoid making the same mistakes:

  1. Undefined Deliverables

While most project teams define the objectives for their IT projects, some teams do not define the projects’ deliverables. A common reason for this oversight is the belief that objectives and deliverables are referring to the same thing.

While objectives and deliverables are closely related, they are not synonymous. The objective describes what a team plans to accomplish with its project. Deliverables are things (e.g., reports, plans, processes, products) that the team will produce to enable the objective to be achieved. For example, suppose a project’s objective is to replace old printers with ones that will better meet the business’s needs. The deliverables might include a report detailing current and projected printer usage needs, an analysis determining whether it is best to buy or lease the printers, evaluations of at least three printer suppliers, a signed contract, installation of the printers, a training program for employees on how to use the new printers, and so on. A larger project might need separate objectives and deliverables for each phase in it.

Because deliverables often build on each other, they provide a roadmap that the team can follow to achieve the project’s objective. Deliverables also help the team more accurately estimate the time, resources, and funding needed to complete it.

  1. IT Project Too Large

Tackling IT projects that are too large in scope is a common reason why they fail. Large projects require large amounts of time, money, and resources to complete — all of which might be in short supply, especially in small and midsized businesses.

Projects with smaller scopes are typically more manageable and have a greater chance of success. So, for example, instead of undertaking a project to create a set of IT policies, it is better to narrow the scope by having the team create just the acceptable use policy. When that project is done, the team can then tackle the privacy policy, and so on.

It is important to note that an IT project might start out with a manageable scope, but then “scope creep” sets in. For instance, if a team is working on developing an intranet site for employees, having an ever-growing list of “must-have” and “nice-to-have” features might expand the project’s scope to the point where it is unmanageable. While changes to a project’s scope are sometimes necessary, they should be kept to a minimum. Significant changes might necessitate the need for the team to revise its deliverables, schedule, and budget.

  1. Unrealistic Schedules and Budgets

Sometimes, teams do not realize how much time or money will be required to complete IT projects. Other times, they are simply too optimistic.

Not taking the time to get accurate estimates of how much time and money a project will require can result in projects being late and overbudget. Even worse, it could lead to poor-quality deliverables. If a project’s schedule is unrealistic, people might rush to get things done or take shortcuts. Similarly, people might cut corners if a project’s budget is too small.

Having well-defined deliverables will help in the creation of realistic schedules and budgets. It’s important to build in a little extra time and money, though, in case any surprises pop up.

  1. Not involving the Right People

An IT project can run into trouble if the people involved do not have the necessary skills and knowledge. For example, having a technician head a project because he is knowledgeable in the project area can lead to failure if that person has no experience in managing projects or teams. Conversely, if no one on the team is knowledgeable about the latest IT technologies, the team might not consider a technology that could potentially be a good fit for the company.

It is important to make sure that each person involved in the project is capable of completing their assigned role. It is also important to make sure that at least one person on the team has sufficient IT knowledge in the project area. If no one in the company has the necessary know-how, the team should consider bringing in an outside expert.

  1. No Central Repository for Communications

For a project team to be successful, its members must be able to communicate effectively with each other and with other people inside their companies. To do so, they need good communication skills as well as effective communication tools.

Besides holding team meetings, project team members often use email to communicate with each other. While this is an effective tool, the emails are stored in the members’ inboxes, making it hard for other people (e.g., a new team member) to access the information discussed in them. Plus, if a team member forgets to copy the entire team on an email, some people might be inadvertently kept out of the loop.

A better approach is to have a central repository for project communications. This could be as simple as having project members store copies of their project-related emails in a shared folder on the company’s network. Ideally, though, teams should use collaboration software that enables them to communicate and collaborate with each other and that stores their communications and work in a central location.

  1. Not Monitoring and Tracking Progress

It is important monitor and track a project’s progress in terms of deliverables met, costs, and schedule. If a team fails to do so, a small glitch could turn into a big problem later on.

While manually monitoring and tracking a project is possible, it would be time-consuming. A better solution is to use project management software. That way, the team will always know exactly where the project stands and how much time and money has been spent on it thus far.

  1. Not Enough Testing

IT projects often include deliverables such as IT systems and IT products. Failure to thoroughly test these types of deliverables can result in their failure once they are implemented.

The team should not wait until the end of the project to conduct the tests. Testing needs to start early and be done often. This will allow small problems to be fixed before they grow into significant problems that will take much more time and money to fix.

If you have any other questions about upcoming projects you need done, give us a call at 800-421-7151. Our team will make sure your IT projects are executed successfully.

4 Misconceptions about Tech Support Scams

Despite being common, there are many misconceptions about tech support scams. Not knowing the truth can result in falling victim to this type of fraud. Here are four misconceptions set straight.

Tech support scams are common and costly. In 2017 alone, around 11,000 victims filed complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). They reported losing nearly $15 million, which represents an 86% increase in losses compared to 2016.

Even though tech support scams are common, there are many misconceptions about them. Knowing the truth can help you become more adept at recognizing and avoiding this type of fraud. Toward that end, here are four misconceptions set straight:

  1. Tech Support Scammers Always Call

In the past, scammers frequently cold-called potential victims. They often identified themselves as tech support staff from a well-known tech company such as Microsoft. They then spun a tale of how they detected a problem on the person’s computer that should be fixed immediately, which they offered to do.

Nowadays, scammers are more apt to use other means to reach potential victims, including:

  • Pop-ups. When people visit a website, a message pops up that says their computers are infected with malware, have an expired software license, or have some other problem. The visitors are then urged to call a bogus hotline or go to a fake online tech support center to get the problem fixed.
  • Phishing emails. People receive emails that do not mention anything about their computers having a problem. Instead, some other pretense is used to try to get them to click a link. For example, security researchers found that some phishing emails were made to look like notifications from online retailers (e.g., Amazon) and professional social-networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn). Clicking the linking sent people to a malicious website that mimicked the legitimate one that supposedly sent the email. The site then deployed various scare tactics (e.g., pop-up messages saying there is a malware infection) to trick people into calling or visiting a phony tech support center.
  • Redirects to bogus tech support websites. In some cases, malicious ads (or links in other types of web content) redirect visitors to tech support scam sites. According to security researchers, these malicious ads are usually found in questionable websites, such as those that host illegal copies of media and software.
  1. If It’s Free, It Isn’t a Scam

The goal of many tech support scams is to make money. Scammers try to con you into paying for bogus software or services. Having someone notify you, out of the blue, that your computer has a serious problem, which they can fix — for a price — is a classic sign of a tech support scam.

However, you cannot assume the person is legitimate if they offer to fix the problem for free. Sometimes scammers have different goals. For example, they might want to change the settings on your computer so that it becomes part of a botnet. Or, they might want you to install their free software because it contains spyware.

  1. Baby Boomers Are Most Likely to Fall Victim to Tech Support Scams

A common misconception is that Baby Boomers are most likely to fall victim to tech support scams because they are less familiar with technology. However, a 2018 Microsoft study found that Gen Z’ers and Millennials are twice as likely to initially fall for a tech scam (e.g., click a link in a phishing email or call the number given in a pop-up) than Baby Boomers. And the Gen Z’ers and Millennials are five times more likely to lose money to tech support scammers (e.g., pay the digital con artists for bogus software or services).

The researchers attribute the higher vulnerability of Gen Z’ers and Millennials to several factors:

  • They engage in more risky online activities (e.g., use torrent sites, download movies, music, and videos) than the older generations.
  • They tend to be overconfident in their online abilities, causing them to be less cautious and more susceptible to scams. In the study, the Gen Z’ers and Millennials gave themselves high ratings in web and computer expertise.
  • They are more likely to believe that it is normal for reputable tech companies to make unsolicited contact than the older generations. In the study, 33% of the Millennials and 30% of the Gen Z’ers said unsolicited contact was normal compared to 18% of the Baby Boomers and 22% of the Gen X’ers.
  1. It’s Difficult to Defend against Tech Support Scams

Fortunately, the notion that it is hard to defend against tech support scams is a misconception rather than the truth. Besides understanding how tech support scams work, you can take some surprisingly simple measures to protect yourself.

For starters, you should not disable your web browser’s pop-up blocker. Most modern browsers automatically block pop-ups. For example, Google Chrome blocks not only pop-ups but also redirects by default. Manually disabling this functionality might result in you seeing more messages that try to scare you into calling or visiting a bogus tech support center.

Equally important, you should not visit questionable websites. Plus, you should heed the security warnings issued by your web browser and security software. These programs often flag or block content they know or suspect is unsafe. Resisting the urge to visit questionable sites and access flagged or blocked content can help reduce the number of tech support scam pop-ups and malicious ads in your web browser.

Another measure you can take is making sure your email app, web browser, and security software are being updated regularly. These programs are typically configured to automatically update, but it is a good idea to make sure that is the case. With the updates installed, they will be better able to identify and deal with security issues. For example, email apps usually include filtering tools that help weed out phishing emails. The more current the filtering tools, the more effective your email app will be at snagging phishing emails. Similarly, your browser and security software will be better able to identify unsafe content when they are updated.

You also might consider using ad blockers to eliminate the malicious ads that could send you to bogus tech support sites. These programs remove or alter all advertising content on web pages. Some ad blockers replace ads with content, such as news. Others simply leave holes where the ads would have been. However, there is one caveat with ad blockers. They might inadvertently block non-ad content, causing web pages to display improperly or not at all.

There are other, more-advanced measures you can take to protect yourself from tech support scams, such as using advanced email filtering solutions and configuring your DNS to block ads before they enter your network. If you would like to learn about these measures, contact us at 800-421-7151.

How to Stop Those Annoying Website Notification Boxes in Chrome Browsers

Are you tired of having websites asking you if they can send you notifications? Here is how to stop these notification boxes from popping up in Google Chrome web browsers.

If you use the Internet regularly, you have probably encountered them — those pesky boxes that pop up when you visit a website for the first time and it wants to send you notifications.

Although it is easy enough to refuse, having to do so for multiple sites can be annoying. And if you clear your browsing data, you will have to again refuse the notifications for the sites you visit often.

Fortunately, it is easy to stop these notifications from appearing if you use the Google Chrome web browser. Open your browser and follow these steps:

  1. Click the icon that looks like a vertical ellipsis. (It will be in the top right corner of the browser.)
  2. Select “Settings” from the menu that appears. This will bring up the “Settings” web page.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click “Advanced”.
  4. Click the “Content settings” option. (You will need to scroll down a bit more to see this option.)
  5. Choose “Notifications” in the list that appears.
  6. Click the “Ask before sending (recommended)” option. The option will now read “Blocked”.
  7. Close the “Settings” web page.

If you should later want to receive notifications from websites, you can repeat these steps. The only difference is that in step 6, you will need to click the “Blocked” option. It will then toggle back to “Ask before sending (recommended)”. After you perform these steps, you will again be presented with notification boxes.

Office 2019 or Office 365: Which Is a Better Fit for Your Business?

Do you want to replace an old version of Microsoft Office on your company’s computers or add this productivity suite to some new machines? If so, you might be wondering whether it is better to use Office 2019, which Microsoft released in the fall of 2018, or Office 365. Here is what you need to know to make the best decision for your business.

The Fundamental Differences

There are a few fundamental differences between Office 2019 or Office 365:

Office 2019. Office 2019 is an on-premises product that you purchase upfront for use on a single computer. You can use this suite’s apps for as long as you want – whether it is three years or three decades. However, Microsoft will not be offering any upgrade options for Office 2019 in the future. This means that if you want to upgrade to the next major on-premises Office release (say Office 2022), you will have to buy it at full price. (Despite rumors to the contrary, Office 2019 will not be the last on-premises version of Office, according to company officials.)

Microsoft offers three Office 2019 suites available through volume licensing: Office Professional Plus 2019, Office Standard 2019, and Office Standard 2019 for Mac. If you need fewer than five licenses, you can use Office Professional 2019 or Office Home & Business 2019, both of which are licensed for business use.

All these suites (except Office Standard 2019 for Mac) need to run on Windows 10 computers. So, if you are running older Windows versions on your computers, you will not be able to use Office 2019.

If you have Mac computers, you can use either Office Standard 2019 for Mac or Office Home & Business 2019. These suites are compatible with the three most recent versions of macOS, which are 10.14, 10.13, and 10.12 at the time of this writing. The next time Apple releases a new major version of macOS (say 10.15), Microsoft will drop support for the oldest of the three versions (10.12) and support the newest version and its two predecessors (10.15, 10.14, and 10.13). The Office apps will still work on computers running the dropped version (10.12), but the apps will not receive any updates.

Office 365. Office 365 is a cloud service that you subscribe to on a per-user basis. Businesses have many subscription plans from which to choose, based how many employees need to use Office 365 and the apps, services, and other options those users will need. With most of the business subscription plans, each licensed user can install the Office apps on five desktop computers (Windows or Mac), five tablets, and five smartphones. With Office 365, you do not need to worry upgrading because users will always have the most up-to-date versions of the apps.

Office 365 is billed either monthly or annually. You pay a higher per-user fee if you choose to pay each month. When you stop paying, the users’ licenses to run the Office apps expire. The apps that are installed on users’ devices do not immediately stop working, though. They usually continue to work for 30 days thanks to a grace period.

Unlike Office 2019, Office 365 will work on computers running older versions of Windows. Office 365 is compatible with Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7 Service Pack 1, and the two most recent versions of macOS.

Functionality and Support

Not surprisingly, Office 2019 offers more functionality than its predecessor Office 2016. For example, in Office 2019, Microsoft added a text-to-speech feature to Word and funnel charts to Excel.

However, Office 2019 provides less functionality than the current Office 365 apps. The Office 2019 apps do not include many of the cloud- and artificial intelligence (AI)-based features that Microsoft has added to Office 365 apps the past few years. For instance, in Office 2019, Word does not include the Editor feature, even though it is available in the Word app provided through Office 365. This feature uses machine learning and natural language processing to make suggestions on how to improve your writing.

Further, with Office 2019, you will not get any new features delivered through updates. The updates will include only security and stability patches. In contrast, Microsoft will continue to add new features to Office 365 through updates. These updates will also include security and stability patches.

There is another difference in how Microsoft supports Office 2019 compared to Office 365. As long as you subscribe to Office 365, you will receive mainstream support. With Office 2019, Microsoft will provide only five years of mainstream support and two years of extended support.

The Bottom Line

What is best for your company will largely depend on your comfort level with cloud computing. If you are comfortable with using cloud services, subscribing to Office 365 might make more sense. It offers more features and better support than Office 2019. Plus, Office 365 apps work on older versions of Windows. However, Office 2019 is a viable alternative if using cloud services is not a good fit for your business. Contact us at 800-421-7151 if you have any questions about Office 365 or Office 2019.

Small and Midsized Businesses Continue to Be Common Targets in Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware continues to pose a significant threat to small and midsized businesses, according to a Datto survey of 2,400 managed service providers (MSPs). More than half of the MSPs reported that a least one of their clients experienced a ransomware attack in the first half of 2018. Although the average ransom was only $4,300, the attacks cost the businesses an average of $46,800 due to the downtime they caused.

How the Attacks Were Delivered

The Datto study explored how the ransomware was delivered to the small and midsized businesses. It found that the top three delivery methods were:

  1. Phishing emails. Cybercriminals often send phishing emails to employees at small and midsized businesses to spread ransomware. These emails use a convincing pretense to lure recipients into clicking a link or opening an attachment. All it takes is one employee to fall for the ruse to initiate a ransomware attack.
  2. Malicious websites or ads. To deliver ransomware, hackers build malicious websites or post malicious ads (aka malvertising) on legitimate sites. If employees visit one of these sites, code is installed on their computers without their knowledge. The code then kicks off a series of events that can ultimately lead to a companywide ransomware infection.
  3. Web pages often include clickbait — text links (“You won’t believe …”) and thumbnail image links designed to entice people to follow a link to web content on another web page. While clickbait is typically used to increase page views and generate ad revenue, cybercriminals sometimes use it to send people to malicious websites that spread ransomware.

Because all three delivery methods depend on someone performing an action (e.g., clicking a link), it is important for small and midsized businesses to teach employees about the hidden dangers associated with seemingly innocuous actions.

Key Elements to Cover When Educating Employees about Ransomware

While each company will want to customize its ransomware training program to meet the its unique needs, it is a good idea to cover the basics:

  • Let employees know what ransomware is and the methods cybercriminals commonly use to spread it (e.g., phishing emails, clickbait).
  • Discuss the elements commonly found in phishing emails, such as generic greetings, spoofed email addresses, and messages that try to create a sense of urgency (i.e., act now or pay the consequences). If employees know about these common elements, they will be better able to spot any phishing emails that make it through email filters.
  • Warn employees about the dangers of clicking links and opening attachments in emails, especially if they are from unknown senders.
  • Show employees real-world examples of clickbait and let them know the dangers that might be lurking if they are enticed into clicking the links.
  • Stress the importance of avoiding any web content flagged as a potential security threat by web browsers or security software, as it might contain malvertising or other malicious code.

Other Measures to Take

Businesses need take other measures as well, such as regularly updating their computers’ software so known vulnerabilities are patched. Equally important, they need to make sure they have restorable backups of their data in case a ransomware attack occurs.

If you need a security audit or know an area you are lacking, give us a call at 800-421-7151. We can make sure that your business has covered all the bases so that it will be protected from ransomware and other types of cyberattacks.

Why Cryptojacking Is More Dangerous Than Many Businesses Realize


Cryptojacking might not seem as dangerous as ransomware or data breaches since cybercriminals are stealing a computer’s processing power rather than money or data. However, companies that dismiss this threat might be putting their businesses at risk. Cryptojacking malware is becoming increasingly sophisticated, which could spell trouble for companies unprepared for it.

The Changing Face of Cryptojacking

Cryptojacking was born from people’s need for more computing power so they could mine (aka earn) cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Monero. These “miners” typically used website scripts that siphoned processing power from a visitor’s computer, without that individual’s knowledge or consent. When the person left the site, the siphoning stopped.

It wasn’t long before cybercriminals started using these scripts to get computing power for their exploits. Sometimes, they added these scripts to their own malicious web pages. Other times, they hacked into legitimate sites and insert the scripts there.

Since cybercriminals have entered the scene, cryptojacking malware has become more sophisticated. In addition, the hackers are becoming more creative in ways to deliver it.

Take, for example, the cryptojacking malware known as PowerGhost. When it was first discovered in July 2018, Kaspersky Lab researchers found that cybercriminals used phishing emails to gain initial access to a computer. Once the machine was infected, the malware used credential-stealing and remote-administration tools to spread itself to other machines in the local network. To make matters worse, some newer versions of PowerGhost have the ability to disable antivirus programs such as Windows Defender.

Another sophisticated program is PyRoMine, which Fortinet researchers found in April 2018. Besides stealing processing power, it creates a backdoor account with administrator-level privileges, enables the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), opens the RDP port in the Windows Firewall, and makes several other system changes so that the cybercriminals can remotely access the computer at a later time. The program even configures the Windows Remote Management Service to allow the transfer of unencrypted data.

As PowerGhost and PyRoMine illustrate, cryptojacking malware can create footholds in computers that hackers can later exploit. They could, for example, use these footholds to infect the computers with a different kind of malicious program, such as ransomware.

This might already be taking place. Companies infected by cryptojacking malware were found to have a larger number of other types of malware infections compared to businesses that did not experience any cryptojacking attacks, according to Fortinet’s “Quarterly Threat Landscape Report” for Q3 2018. However, this is only circumstantial evidence that cryptojacking leads to other malware attacks, which the Fortinet researchers acknowledged. They noted, “We attempted to establish a definitive causal relationship, and while those tests showed statistically significant results, they fell short of the burden of proof needed for a guilty conviction.” The researchers are planning to further explore this relationship in future reports.

How to Guard against Cryptojacking

In the past, you just had to prevent malicious scripts from running in web browsers to guard against cryptojacking. Nowadays, a more widescale approach is needed, including:

  • Making sure that computers’ operating system software and apps are updated so that known security vulnerabilities are patched. Both PowerGhost and PyRoMine exploit unpatched security vulnerabilities in Windows operating system software to create their footholds.
  • Making sure your security software is up-to-date. This can help guard against known cryptojacking code. It can also help protect computers from other types of malware that might be installed through footholds created by cryptojacking malware.
  • Educating employees about phishing emails and unsafe web browsing habits. As PowerGhost demonstrates, phishing emails can be used to gain initial access to a computer. So, employees need to know the dangers associated with clicking links in emails and opening files attached to them. Similarly, they should be taught about unsafe browsing habits, such as clicking links without knowing where they lead and visiting questionable websites.
  • Using ad or script blockers in web browsers to prevent malicious scripts from loading. There are also third-party tools available that are designed specifically for blocking cryptojacking scripts.
  • Inspecting your website. If your business hosts a website, you might want to make sure that hackers have not placed a cryptojacking script on it.

There are also other measures you can take, such as monitoring your computer systems and network for unusual activity. We can evaluate your business and provide specific recommendations on how to defend against cryptojacking and other types of malware.

Avoid Data Loss in Office 365

Microsoft understands the value of business data and the costly repercussions of losing it. That’s why they’ve released a slew of security and compliance tools for Office 365 subscribers. But given the increasing sophistication and frequency of data breaches, these cloud security solutions aren’t enough to protect your files. You’ll need to follow these seven security tips to prevent data loss in Office 365.

Take advantage of policy alerts
Establishing policy notifications in Office 365’s Compliance Center can help you meet your company’s data security obligations. For instance, policy tips can warn employees about sending confidential information anytime they’re about to send messages to contacts who aren’t listed in the company network. These preemptive warnings can prevent data leaks and also educate users on safer data sharing practices.

Secure mobile devices
Since personal smartphones and tablets are often used to access work email, calendar, contacts, and documents, securing them should be a critical part of protecting your organization’s data. Installing mobile device management features for Office 365 enables you to manage security policies and access permissions/restrictions, and remotely wipe sensitive data from mobile devices if they’re lost or stolen.

Use multi-factor authentication
Don’t rely on a single password to safeguard your Office 365 accounts. To reduce the risk of account hijacking, you must enable multi-factor authentication. This feature makes it difficult for hackers to access your account since they not only have to guess user passwords, but also provide a second authentication factor like a temporary SMS code.

Apply session timeouts
Many employees usually forget to log out of their Office 365 accounts and keep their computers or mobile devices unlocked. This could give unauthorized users unfettered access to company accounts, allowing them to steal sensitive data. By applying session timeouts to Office 365, email accounts, and internal networks, the system will automatically log users out after 10 minutes, preventing hackers from opening company workstations and accessing private information.

Avoid public calendar sharing
Office 365’s calendar sharing features allow employees to share and sync their schedules with their colleagues. However, publicly sharing this information is a bad idea because it helps attackers understand how your company works, determine who’s away, and identify vulnerable users. For instance, if security administrators are publicly listed as “Away on vacation,” an attacker may see this as an opportunity to unleash malware on unattended computers.

Employ role-based access controls
Another Office 365 feature that will limit the flow of sensitive data across your company is access management. This lets you determine which user (or users) have access to specific files in your company. For example, front-of-house staff won’t be able to read or edit executive-level documents, minimizing data leaks.

Encrypt emails
Encrypting classified information is your last line of defense to secure your data. If hackers intercept your emails, encryption tools will make files unreadable to unauthorized recipients. This is a must-have for Office 365, where files and emails are shared on a regular basis.

While Office 365 offers users the ability to share data and collaborate, you must be aware of potential data security risks at all times. When you work with us, we will make sure your business keeps up with ever-changing data security and compliance obligations. If you need help securing Office 365, we can assist you, too! Contact us today for details at 800-421-7151.

Browser Security for Business Data

The internet isn’t for the naive. It’s a wild place of dangerous creatures like polymorphic viruses, ransomware, scammers, and malicious hacker organizations. As  any business owner today would know, data is everything. If you or your employees browse the net unprotected, this valuable resource is threatened by cyber criminals on the lookout for easy targets. One way to protect your business’ data is to secure your browsers. It is easy enough for every small- and medium-sized business to do.

Data stored on desktops, servers and in the cloud, doesn’t make it safe. If anything, it makes it available to anyone who has the desire and capabilities to hack into your system and cause mayhem for your business operations.

One thing you should be doing to protect your data – and your company – is to make use of privacy-protecting browser extensions. Depending on the nature of your business, both you and your employees are likely to be online at least some, if not all, of the working day. What are some of the browser extensions that can make the experience more secure?

Prevent browser tracking

If you don’t like the idea of a third party (reputable or otherwise) being able to track your browsing habits, try installing a tool for private browsing. These programs offer protection against tracking by blocking third-party cookies as well as malware. Some extensions also boast secure Wi-Fi and bandwidth optimization and can guard against tracking and data collection from social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

Blocking adverts

While online ads may seem harmless, the truth is they can contain scripts and widgets that send your data back to a third party. A decent ad blocking program will block banner, rollover and pop-up ads, and also prevent you from inadvertently visiting a site that may contain malware.
Many blockers contain additional features such as the ability to disable cookies and scripts used by third-parties on a site, the option to block specific items, and even options to ‘clean up’ Facebook, and hide YouTube comments. The major blockers work with Google Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and you’ll be able to find everything from user-friendly solutions to more advanced tools that are customizable down to the tiniest degree.

Consider installing a VPN

Unfortunately, browser tracking, malware, and adware are not the only internet nasties that you need to be concerned about. but the good news is that there a number of other extensions that you can download to really get a grip on your online safety. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is something else to consider. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic, effectively shutting out anyone who may be trying to see what you’re doing.

Commonly used in countries where the internet is heavily censored by the powers that be, a VPN allows for private browsing as well as enabling users to access blocked sites – in China’s case that’s anything from blogs criticizing the government to Facebook and Instagram. There are hundreds of VPNs on the market so do a little research and find one that suits you best.

Finally, it goes without saying that having anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your PC, tablet, and even your smartphone is crucial if you want to ensure your online safety.

Is browsing at your workplace secure? Would you like a more comprehensive security system for your business? We can tell you all about it and help your business protect itself from online threats. Get in touch with us today at 800-421-7151.

5 Cloud Security Tips for Business Owners

Cloud computing marketing can be deceiving. When you see an image of the cloud, it’s often a happy, bubbly, white puffball floating delightfully in front of a blue sky background. Its presence is both calming and reassuring, which makes you believe that anything is possible. Security would never be an issue, right? Ask one of the nearly seven million Dropbox users who had their accounts hacked, and they’ll give you a definitive answer. Sure, not every cloud provider has had security breaches, but that doesn’t mean we can take cloud security lightly. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself as a business owner.

Ask your IT provider what cloud security policies they have in place

This is probably the single most important security measure you can take. Find a trusted IT provider and have a candid conversation with them about their cloud security policies.

Ask about Security Training

The number one point for anything security related is user training. A Smart user is 90% of the way there to protecting themselves.  You can have all the browser extensions and ad blockers you want but if the plugins are out of date or compromised it might make things worse.   The content of this document, and all the other emails and blog entries you send out are helping to Train the user.  A Smart user will understand why and how to use the technology to help protect themselves and the company.

Ask where the physical cloud servers are located

When you have “the conversation,” don’t forget to ask about this. Believe it or not, some cloud servers may not even be located in your own country. Wherever they are, it’s wise to make sure they’re located in a safe data center with proper security afforded to them. Otherwise depending on your type of business you may be out of compliance with regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley.Create unique usernames and passwords

Your login credentials represent one of the cloud’s main security vulnerabilities. Think of a better password than “12345” or “football.”

Use industry standard encryption and authentication protocols

AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), IPsec (Internet Protocol Security) and EAP (Extensible Authentication Protocol) are reliable technologies. IPsec is primarily used for a secure VPN connection.

Encrypt data before it’s uploaded to the cloud

Encryption is a must, and can be done by you or your cloud service provider. Should hackers manage to access your data, they’ll find it useless because they can’t make heads or tails of it.

When it comes to trusting the security protocol of a cloud service provider, transparency is key. They should take security seriously, be able to explain their security policies clearly, and be willing to answer any questions. If they can’t do one of these, that’s a red flag telling you to find another vendor.

Are you ready to talk cloud security and transition your business into the cloud? Call us today at 800-421-7151. We’re happy to answer all your questions.

5 Proactive Defenses Against Cyber Attacks

As IT security consultants, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Managed IT services providers (MSPs) such as ours want to provide clients with enterprise-level IT, but that requires that we specialize in overwhelmingly intricate technology. Explaining even the most fundamental aspects of cybersecurity would most likely put you to sleep instead of convince you of our expertise. But if there’s one topic you need to stay awake for, it is proactive security.

Understand the threats you’re facing

Before any small- or medium-sized business (SMB) can work toward preventing cyberattacks, everyone involved needs to know exactly what they’re up against. Whether you’re working with in-house IT staff or an MSP, you should review what types of attacks are most common in your industry. Ideally, your team would do this a few times a year.

Reevaluate what it is you’re protecting

Now that you have a list of the biggest threats to your organization, you need to take stock of how each one threatens the various cogs of your network. Map out every company device that connects to the internet, what services are currently protecting those devices, and what type of data they have access to (regulated, mission-critical, low-importance, etc.). You should never spend more money than the vault of the asset or data that you are protecting.

Create a baseline of protection

By reviewing current trends in the cybersecurity field and auditing your current technology framework, you can begin to get a clearer picture of how you want to prioritize your preventative measures versus your reactive measures.

Before you can start improving your cybersecurity approach, you need to know where your baseline is. Devise a handful of real-life scenarios and simulate them on your network. Network penetration testing from trustworthy IT professionals will help pinpoint weak spots in your current framework.

Finalize a plan

All these pieces will complete the puzzle of what your new strategy needs to be. With an experienced technology consultant on board for the entire process, you can easily synthesize the results of your simulation into a multi-pronged approach to proactive security:

  • Security awareness seminars that coach all internal stakeholders – train everyone from the receptionist to the CEO about effective security practices such as password management, proper mobile device usage, and spam awareness
  • Front-line defenses like intrusion prevention systems and hardware firewalls – scrutinize everything trying to sneak its way in through the borders of your network
  • Routine checkups for software updates, licenses, and patches – minimize the chance of leaving a backdoor to your network open
  • Web-filtering services – blacklist dangerous and inappropriate sites for anyone on your network
  • Updated antivirus software – protect your data and systems against the latest and most menacing malware
  • Physical Access – minimize your risk by restricting physical access to network critical devices such as servers and switches behind a locked server closet.

As soon as you focus on preventing downtime events instead of reacting to them, your IT infrastructure will increase your productivity and efficiency to levels you’ve never dreamed of. Start enhancing your cybersecurity by giving us a call at 800-421-7151 for a demonstration.

Office 365 Stops Billions of Phishing Emails

Sending phishing emails is the most common method hackers use to distribute malware and steal information. In fact, there are billions of phishing emails sent every year, and millions of people keep falling for them. However, if you’re subscribed to Office 365 there’s a good chance that you won’t see harmful messages in your inbox, and here’s why.

Effective anti-phishing solutions must be able to recognize the key elements of a phishing attack, which includes spoofed (or forged) emails, compromised accounts, unsafe links, and harmful attachments. In April 2018, Microsoft upgraded Office 365’s Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) features so it can better detect these elements and prevent a wide variety of phishing scams. These enhancements include:

  • Anti-impersonation measures – ATP will now look for potential phishing indicators in an email, including the sender’s address, name, and links, to identify whether the user is being impersonated. You can specify high-profile targets within your organization, such as managers and C-level executives, so Office 365 can protect these users from email impersonation. Office 365 also utilizes machine learning to analyze a user’s email patterns and flag suspicious contacts that have had no prior correspondence with your company.
  • Anti-spoofing technology – This feature reviews and blocks senders that disguise their true email address. You can even enable safety tips that flag certain email domains that have strange characters. For instance, if your real domain is, a spoofed domain could be Acḿ
  • Email link scanning – Office 365 launched Safe Links, which scans emails for fraudulent links and redirects users to a safe page in case it does contain harmful materials. This feature also applies to email attachments, ensuring you’re protected against all types of phishing scams.

Due to these improvements, Office 365 had the lowest phish rate among other well-known email services between May 1 and September 16, 2018. The company has stopped over five billion phishing attempts and protected users against seven billion potentially malicious links. If you’re looking for a secure email platform, Office 365 is the best option for your business.

That said, it’s not a substitute for good security awareness. No matter how secure Office 365 is, employees still need to be adequately trained to recognize a phishing email when they see one. Hackers are constantly changing their tactics to evade Office 365’s detection systems, so it’s important that everyone is alert at all times.

If you need a well-fortified email service, we can implement and manage Office 365 for you, and include Mimecast for extra protection. We even offer practical security advice to make sure your business, employees, and assets are safe and sound. Contact us now at 800-421-7151.

Keep the Cloud Affordable with These Tips

Small and medium sized businesses and firms globally are adopting cloud technologies. However, there are hidden costs that some business owners might not be aware of. They might not seem like much at first, but those costs could eventually snowball. Follow these five tips to keep the cloud from breaking the bank:

No standalones

Cloud services come in various shapes and sizes, many of which are standalone platforms with rates that increase over time. Opt for a service provider that offers a suite of products that all work together. They are often less expensive than a group of standalone products. Another benefit of working with a cloud provider is that you receive a single point of contact to resolve your issues quickly and effectively.

Experience matters

If you plan on integrating a standalone cloud service into your system, make sure you hire an experienced integration consultant to facilitate a smooth transition. Integration mishaps can cause serious downtime and cost a lot of money.

Backups are important

Unnecessary or inefficient backups will waste cloud storage space. Examine your cloud storage data by asking the following questions:

  • How many versions of this data do I need to store long-term? The more versions you store, the more it costs. This is known as Recovery Point Objective or RPO which is determined by looking at the time between data backups and the amount of data that could be lost in between backups.
  • What regulatory demands do I need to meet? Some data may need to be accessible for up to three years, whereas other data can be deleted after 30 days.
  • How quickly do I need to access my backups? If it can wait for a day or two, archive that data to a less expensive service or offline at the provider’s data center. This is known as RTO, or Recovery Time Objective, which is the target time you set for the recovery of your IT and business activities after a disaster has struck.

Remove users

Many cloud service providers charge by the number of users in your system. By neglecting to manage the list of users, you could end up paying for people who no longer work for you. Implement processes that remove users when they are terminated and consider scheduling a regular audit. Ideally, this should be once every six months to a year, to ensure your cloud user list is up-to-date.

Monitor proactively

Ask your cloud provider whether they can proactively monitor your account and notify you of potential issues before they cause problems. This is especially important if you have a pay-as-you-go license that charges based on resource or storage consumption.

Utilizing the right technology resources is vital to your business’s success, and so is knowing how to prevent them from racking up an overwhelming monthly bill. If you wish to enjoy all the benefits of cloud computing without breaking the bank, give us a call at 800-421-7151 and we’ll be happy to help.

Is CRM Software Essential to your Business?

The right technology investment can lead to business success. With customer relationship management (CRM) software at the helm of your sales and marketing efforts, you can nurture long-lasting business relationships and improve your bottom line. If you need more convincing, we’ve compiled five more reasons why your business needs CRM.

Grows with your business

The ol’ Rolodex may have been useful for managing a few clients, but you’ll need a much better solution if you plan to maintain relationships with hundreds, possibly thousands, more. CRM scales with your business, meaning it can handle larger data sets and more clients as you expand your sales operation.

Organizes your data

CRM software acts as a central database for all your sales records and transactions. This means important customer information can be retrieved in just a few clicks rather than by rifling through thousands of documents, sticky notes, and disorganized cabinets. And since CRM is hosted in the cloud, sales data, customer interactions, and other actionable information are available for the entire company.

Improves customer service

Your sales team could be the most persuasive individuals in the world, but this means nothing if they can’t recall anything about their clients and their preferences. When your sales staff follows up on leads or existing customers, CRM will automatically retrieve contact history, past purchases, and customer preferences from your client database and display them on a single page during the call.

Armed with detailed customer information, sales representatives will be able to recommend products and services that meet the client’s needs. So instead of struggling through a sales call, marketing employees can focus on delivering a professional sales pitch.

Streamlines your sales funnel

CRM comes equipped with workflow management functions, supporting your sales pipeline in a number of ways. For example, you can configure your CRM to send instant follow-up emails when a lead visits a particular product page. You can even use automation to track where certain leads are in the sales pipeline and delegate the task to one of your sales closers.

Analyzes sales data

With real-time sales information, business managers can track marketing campaigns and adjust their strategy accordingly. For instance, you might notice that click-through-rates for promotional emails and company newsletters are higher during Tuesday afternoon than Friday night. Having this information can help you focus your marketing efforts and message to generate more leads.

In addition, you can use CRM to analyze customer calling activity, market demographics, lead conversion rates, and key performance indicators to influence future business decisions.

Understanding your customers can put you several steps ahead of the competition. If you need to manage contacts, eliminate time-consuming procedures, and improve your sales performance, CRM is the perfect business solution.

Contact us today to find out whether CRM is the right fit for your business.


What is App Virtualization?

Small- or medium-sized business (SMB) owners may be overwhelmed by their company’s IT demands. Fortunately, virtualization services are giving them a fighting chance to stay on top. Some technology vendors even recommend app virtualization services because many SMBs use it. Learn if it’s right for you by understanding the basics.

What are non-virtualized apps?

To understand app virtualization, first you need to understand how non-virtualized apps are installed.

When you install an application like Skype or Slack onto a computer, the installer program puts most of the files required for the app to run on your hard drive’s Program Files folder. This process is usually fine for personal use but may become problematic if you install similar apps on your device.

For instance, if two similar apps are installed on the same file destination, there’s a chance that they might conflict with each other and inevitably crash. Likewise, if you uninstall a program without knowing that it shares important files with another application, you run the risk of breaking the other one.

The solution to this is app virtualization.

What is app virtualization?

App virtualization involves running a program in an environment separate from the physical server, allowing you to run programs that are normally incompatible with a certain operating system (OS). In other words, virtualized apps trick your computer into working as if the application is running on a local machine, but in fact, you’re actually accessing the app from somewhere else.

Advantages of app virtualization

App virtualization offers numerous advantages for SMBs, including:

  • Quick installation times and less money spent on local installation
  • Allowing incompatible applications to run on any local machine. For instance, if your laptop is dated and can’t run the latest apps on its own, you can lighten the load on your CPU by accessing virtualized apps instead.
  • Mac users can run any Windows apps if your company’s local server runs Windows OS.
  • Applications on your computers won’t be in conflict with each other since virtual apps are installed in a separate location.
  • Upgrading is easy because your IT team won’t have to upgrade applications in individual desktops, they just have to upgrade the virtual application within the company’s local server.
  • Applications can be accessed from any machine, allowing your employees to work from home or on the go if they choose to.

Things to consider

Before you start deploying app virtualization solutions, you need to have a stable network connection so users can smoothly stream apps. Note that some apps like antivirus programs are difficult to virtualize since they need to be closely integrated with your local OS.

Virtualizing a workplace is no easy task, and that’s where we come in. If you’re convinced that your company can benefit from app virtualization, get in touch with our IT experts today.

Be Aware of these 4 Types of Hackers

Hackers come in all shapes and sizes. From kids wanting to gain notoriety on the internet to political groups trying to send a message, the motives for a cyberattack vary widely. So how can you protect yourself? It all starts with getting to know your enemy a little better. Here’s a profile of four different types of hackers.

Script Kiddies

Skill-wise, script kiddies (or skids, for short) are at the bottom of the hacker totem pole. Their name comes from the fact that they use scripts or other automated tools written by others. Most of the time, script kiddies are young people on a quest for internet notoriety. Or, more often than not, they’re simply bored and in search of a thrill. Many never become full-time hackers; in fact, many script kiddies end up using their skills for the greater good, working in the security industry.

Though lacking in hacking know-how, script kiddies shouldn’t be dismissed so easily, as they can cause businesses much damage. In May 2000, for instance, a couple of skids sent out an email with the subject line “ILOVEYOU” and ended up causing a reported $10 billion in lost productivity and digital damage.


Hacktivists are primarily politically motivated, and they often hack into businesses and government systems to promote a particular political agenda or to effect social change. These so-called “hackers with a cause” steal confidential information to expose or simply disrupt their target’s operations.

If you’re a small- or medium-sized (SMB) owner, don’t think for a second that you’re immune to hacktivist attacks. This is especially true if your company is associated or partnered with organizations that are prime hacktivist targets. Or, if your business provides services that can be seen as unethical, you may targeted by hacktivists as well.


When a hacker breaks into digital systems or networks with malicious intent, they are considered a cybercriminal. Cybercriminals target everyone from individuals to SMBs to large enterprises and banks that either have a very valuable resource to steal or security that is easy to exploit, or a combination of both.

They can attack in a number of ways, including using social engineering to trick users into volunteering sensitive personal or company data, which they can then sell in underground markets in the dark web. They can also infect computers with ransomware and other malware, or use digital technology to carry out “conventional crimes” like fraud and illegal gambling.


Perhaps the scariest type of hacker is the one that lurks within your own organization. An insider can be anyone from current and former employees to contractors to business associates. Oftentimes their mission is payback: to right a wrong they believe a company has done them, they’ll steal sensitive documents or try to disrupt the organization somehow. Edward Snowden is a prime example of an insider who hacked his own organization — the US government.

Now that you know what motivates your enemy, and you think you might be a target, it’s time to secure your business from the different types of hackers out there. Get in touch with our experts today to learn how.

Forget These Disaster Recovery Myths

Disaster recovery (DR) isn’t what it used to be. Long gone are the days when a DR solution cost over a hundred thousand dollars and relied predominantly on tape backups. Cloud computing has dramatically changed the DR landscape. Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions about DR. Here are a few of the myths that no longer apply.

Tape Backups are the Best DR Solution
Backup tapes are physical objects that deteriorate over time. Don’t believe us? Try listening to a cassette tape from the ‘90s. Over time, tape backups become distorted and stop working. Deterioration is slow and may only affect some files in the early stages, so don’t settle for a mere cursory check. Tape backups are not the best for DR solutions, but they are an excellent price for offline storage. Super DLT Tape II can store up to 600GB of data and has a shelf life of 30 years if stored in the right environment; much longer than any backup medium.

Aside from backups in your office, another set of tape backups needs to be stored outside your premises. In case a natural disaster damages your office, not all your data will be wiped out. But if your storage space isn’t safe from the elements, this could also be a problem.

BUT,  a cloud backup solution is a much better DR solution.  The backups are always available,  online and ready when you need them for the disaster.  The right DR solution can get you back online in minutes, while the tape backups take much longer to restore data.   A Tape backup is not a good DR solution. Unlike tape backups, a cloud-based backup saves you time. Data is automatically backed up online, and you don’t need to spend time managing boxes of tapes. Your time is better spent on your assigned tasks, not IT management.

The RTO you want will be too expensive
Recovery time objectives (RTO) are essential to any DR plan. You need to get everything up and running again as quickly as possible to avoid serious losses. In the days before the cloud, a swift recovery time could cost you well into six figures. Today, cloud and virtualization solutions have made this much more affordable, and faster than ever before.

Most DR providers can back up your critical data in an hour or two. And if you ever need to recover it, most services can do so in less than a day. That’s the power of the cloud. And when it comes to DR, it truly has changed everything.

Disaster recovery is for big business, not SMBs
The cloud has made this valuable service affordable for businesses of all sizes. From dental offices to small retail operations, SMBs can now take advantage of the best DR solutions on the market. Advances in IT and the cloud have eliminated the obstacles of complexity, costs, and insufficient IT resources.

We hope that by dispelling these myths, we’ve demonstrated to you that disaster recovery is more affordable and efficient than ever. If you’d like to learn how our DR solutions can safeguard your business, send us a message at or call us at 800-421-7151 and we’ll gladly fill you in.