Your business runs on data, but so do the cyber criminals

Your business runs on data, but so do the cyber criminals who want to steal yours

One very painful truth about running a business is that you possess data that is attractive to criminals. There is no avoiding that reality. You have data. They want data. It is an ongoing challenge to maintain data security as cyber criminals’ efforts evolve and change on a daily basis. The wall that kept you safe last week may have holes in them today. Keeping up with the latest threats is a specialized field that in-house IT support likely doesn’t have. An MSP can provide the support you need in the face of ransomware threats and other malware. Also, an MSP can provide 24/7 monitoring.

Speaking of data security, brand damage isn’t the only issue with data security breaches. In many cases, there are data protection laws that regulate how you secure personal information. In specific industries there are federal, state, and even overseas regulations that set standards for data protection. How you choose to protect data may be out of your hands. MSPs have the experience and knowledge to address compliance management. For example, there are a number of data protection laws (HIPAA, FERPA, CA Privacy Act, GDPR, FTC Safeguards Rule) out there that not only provide penalties if a data breach occurs, but also mandate specific protocols to better ensure your data is protected. Avoiding a data breach isn’t enough. Some of these protocols can be quite demanding and some require periodic testing and are subject to audits. Samples of the types of requirements mandated by some of these laws may include.

  • Designating one individual to oversee data protection and security
  • Conducting a risk assessment – This means analyzing what data you possess , where it is stored, and in what ways it is vulnerable.
  • Creating safeguards to address all potential areas of vulnerability
  • Designing and documenting tools to secure your data and tracking access
  • Tracing the location and security of all data whether it is at rest or in transit.

Not only do you have to set up protocols, you may have to prove they are operative and be subject to audits. All of this can be extremely distracting to a small business.

Another area related to data security is the issue of backup and recovery. So much can go wrong. There is nefarious activity: criminals actively trying to break into your data and steal it. There is human error: individuals taking actions that accidently delete or damage data. And of course, hardware can fail and software can have bugs. And, if not done correctly, backups may be infected and be of little value.

An MSP can design backups that are continual and are protected at an offsite location.

More importantly, it isn’t enough to know your data is safe if something happens. Your business is dependent on using that data. Losing a day of access can cripple your business. That means planning for recovery in case something happens. How will you transition to another mode of data access? Your customers expect 24/7 availability. An MSP can develop recovery plans that work to ensure your operations see minimal disruption in the event of a failure.

Strategic IT planning for your business

Strategic IT planning for your business

One thing that the best MSP can do is become a strategic partner. Your expertise is your industry, business, or profession. Trends and innovations in technology aren’t your focus. However, your business can benefit from some long-term strategic planning in terms of the technology you will deploy to remain competitive. New technology will offer new opportunities. An MSP who has experience in your industry can become a partner. After taking the time to learn your business, your goals, and the competitive field in which you operate, an MSP can take a seat at the table of your business planning. At the highest level, this is where a skilled MSP becomes a significant asset as your business grows and faces new market challenges.

Additionally, An MSP can help with other parts of your IT infrastructure to protect your data as well as facilitate more effective collaboration internally as well as with clients. Here are three examples.

Backup and recovery

Another area related to data security is the process of securing your data in the event of theft, a hardware or software issue, or even a natural disaster that cuts access to your data’s physical location. Backing up your data needs to involve a lot more than running nightly backup to an external drive. That may be ok for your home laptop, but it doesn’t cut it if you want to protect your business data. An MSP can support continual data backup to offsite locations. This means at any point there is a system failure or breach, all of your data remains secure at one or more distant locations. Backup also includes recovery. Having your data safely stored in the event of a disaster isn’t enough. Your business will need continuing access to that data. An MSP can develop recovery plans that work to ensure your operations see minimal disruption in the event of a failure. Also, clean backups are critical for avoiding the consequences of a ransomware attack. Poorly handled back procedures can leave your data vulnerable,

Cloud Services

The decision to use cloud services is closely related to data security and cybercrime. Locating all of your data and software applications physically in your own location may seem like the safest thing to do, but that may not be correct. If you utilize cloud storage, you can maintain access to that data from any location. If a natural disaster or other emergency limits access to your physical locations or disables it, your business and employees can access the data from anywhere. Also, the cloud offers economies of scale. To maintain sufficient capacity to meet peak times, maintain all of the necessary hardware and software, and monitor it 24/7 involves considerable in-house labor and capital expense. Migrating to the cloud means you share those fixed costs with others. An MSP can handle selecting and designing a cloud solution most appropriate to the needs of your specific industry and business.

Unified Communications

Unified communications is a service that pulls together the different channels your employees and clients use to collaborate, sell, communicate, etc. Unified communications systems have many moving parts. Encryption, data security, ease of use, cross platform support as well as other support services can create a communications system that works for everyone, no matter what channel they choose to be using.

Like it or not, you business relies on technology

Like it or not, your business relies on technology

Technology isn’t just something used by Silicon valley firms and large corporations. Even the smallest start-up is now reliant on technology and the virtual marketplace. A business cannot function without operating in the digital world. At the very least, it means having a website, a social media presence and an online database of customers and prospects. Most likely it means conducting business online, which means you’re responsible for the security of client data: names, credit cards, addresses, and probably more information. Much of that information may be personal Information that you have an obligation to keep secure. That duty brings along many challenges because cyber criminals and even benign human error could mean that data is compromised. Data breaches can bring litigation, possible regulatory sanctions, and very importantly, damage to your brand and reputation. Because so much rides on the stability and security of your digital infrastructure, serious attention has to be paid to data security protocols. The problem is, tech is a complex and specialized field that most small businesses owners have little time to focus on. And spending time trying to understand and maintain an IT infrastructure means siphoning off attention to the operation of your business. That is why a Managed Service provider can be a lifesaver for a small business.

A Managed Service provider is an IT consultant that can provide some or all of the support you need for your IT infrastructure. They can provide help with specific issues–migrating data to the cloud, setting up new software and hardware, designing data security protocol, etc,. They can also become a strategic partner. That means they team with you and learn your business goals and plans and help you understand how new and existing technology can help your business expand. They can use their expertise to guide you to new technologies and digital applications you might not be aware of.

Also, you can sign a service contract with an MSP. At the most basic level, a service contract will mean that if you need emergency tech support, you have priority. Otherwise, you will be at the bottom of the list if something goes wrong.

Finally, let’s consider strategic planning. Your business isn’t static, It will grow in volume, it will expand its product and service lines, and it will move into entirely new, unfamiliar markets. There may be new technologies and applications out there that you are unaware of. If you overlook them and your competitors don’t, you can begin to lag behind. You need long-term strategic planning in terms of the technology you will deploy to remain competitive. New technology will offer new opportunities. An MSP who has experience in your industry can become a partner. FInd an MSP who will partner with your business and learn your operations and your future plans. In that way they don’t just support the IT you have now, they become a key voice in strategic planning for future growth.

How Can an MSP Keep Your Business Safe?

How Can an MSP Keep Your Business Safe?

Are you a small- or medium-sized business that is in need of a more complete, dependable IT solution to support your business than you presently have? When your main focus is running your business, everything else becomes an afterthought. Other support operations tend to take a backseat. However, your business depends upon a reliable, stable “always running” IT infrastructure and you probably find that isn’t always the case. Even if you have an in-house staff, it isn’t large enough to put out fires and handle strategic planning and provide 24/7 support when something goes wrong. That is why many businesses large and small rely fully or partially on the support of a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

So what are the typical services available from an MSP? There are many different types of support that can be provided to clients. In this e-guide we will break them down.

Managed IT Services

This is the overarching set of services that define the purpose of an MSP. Generally, a business will sign a service level contract with an MSP for a set of defined IT services for a period of time. One advantage typically derived from such an agreement is that the contract provides that you get 24/7 emergency support with priority. Typically, if you have a crisis and call a provider, the non-contract clients take a lower priority. This can mean longer down times and those mean revenue losses. Also, your contract with an MSP means that you can do a better job predicting your IT expenses into the future, and predictability is always a benefit for any enterprise.

Cyber Security Services

One specific area of expertise that everyone needs, no matter how small the business, is up-to-date, ongoing protection against data theft and cyber crimes. An MSP can bring a depth of knowledge that is difficult to create in-house. Ransomware and data theft are rampant. Cyber criminals attack businesses of any size ( in fact, small ones can be more vulnerable. And smaller businesses often don’t have the deep pockets to recover from the revenue losses of a cyber attack). This is a very specialized sector of IT management where businesses frequently choose to use the services of an MSP because of its complexity. Also, keeping up-to-date with the latest malware, and handling 24/7 monitoring can be very labor intensive if done in-house.

Compliance Management

  • There are a number of data protection laws (HIPAA, FERPA, CA Privacy Act, GDPR, FTC Safeguards Rule) out there that not only provide penalties if a data breach occurs, many of them mandate specific protocols to better ensure your data is protected. Avoiding a data breach isn’t enough. Some of these protocols can be quite demanding and some require periodic testing and are subject to audits. Samples of the types of requirements mandated by some of these laws may include.
  • Designating one individual to oversee data protection and security
  • Conducting a risk assessment – This means analyzing what data you possess, where it is stored, and in what ways it is vulnerable.
  • Creating safeguards to address all potential areas of vulnerability
  • Designing and documenting tools to secure your data and tracking access
  • Tracing the location and security of all data whether it is at rest or in transit.

An MSP can be a critical resource in designing these safety measures and ensuring your company is in compliance and remains so. Handling compliance issues and audits can be a big distraction when you are trying to run your business and drive revenues.

Passwords They seem to have been with us forever

Passwords: They seem to have been with us forever.

As we continue to suggest things you can do to protect the integrity of your company and customer data, here is a blog that covers an old level of security that we still rely on everyday. That protection is the password, so let’s talk about bedding up your employee’s handling of passwords.

Password hygiene – Passwords remain the most common everyday tool to ensure only authorized personnel have access to secure material. The issue is that passwords need maintenance and attention to be effective. Here are some common problems to avoid. And again, this requires a routine employee training program.

  1. Passwords that are too simple
    Simple passwords are easy to remember but easy to crack. Words, in any language, are not ideal either. That is why many sites require a mix of letters, characters, and numbers. And yes, some people are still using Myname123.
  2. One universal password
    Sometimes people find it difficult to remember multiple passwords for various files and applications, so they use a single good, strong password everywhere. This renders the good password virtually pointless and also increases the amount of damage that can be inflicted in the event that one ‘good’ password is compromised.
  3. Unauthorized password sharing
    Generally done with benign intentions, employees often share passwords for convenience or to expedite handling the sharing of data. Not good.
  4. Writing down passwords
    Sometimes, people follow all password best practices but find it difficult to remember complicated passwords and then write them down on a piece of paper or worse still, make a file containing all the passwords and store it in their email or computer. This is almost like giving away the keys to your property to a burglar.
  5. Forgetting to change passwords to change passwords or revoke access.
    This is an issue where the staff is busy and turnover is high. Managers may fail to remember to change the passwords once a staff member quits, leaving company data vulnerable. This is especially likely in a small company where there may not be a centralized IT staff that oversees data security and access.

Remember, having a password is not sufficient. Having the right kind of password and following good password hygiene is.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) – When a password isn’t enough, the next step to improve security is MFA. MFA layers a second authenticator (e.g. another code, picture) etc.) on top of the password requirement. The idea is that if a password is being used by someone not authorized to do so, they won’t be able to provide the second piece of information. Consumers almost always encounter it when accessing financial services sites, but MFA is becoming more common across the board. If you use a credit card at a gas station, that request for your zip code after you insert your credit card is an example of MFA.

Prying eyes: Keeping your data safe

Prying eyes: Keeping your data safe

Even the simplest business possesses data that is proprietary and confidential. Customer and prospects lists, sales data, and personal data about customers such as their credit cards, names, addresses, birth dates. Maybe even medical information or social security numbers. If any of this data is compromised, you could face legal and reputational consequences. It is important you stay vigilant in making sure this data is as safe as it can be from cybercriminals.

If you have extremely confidential data, it may be important to use methods to address physical access. Should your server rooms be key-coded or require biometric access? Access codes for physical entry to a room are relatively simple to install. However, passcodes are pretty easy to steal or they can be shared by employees. In addition to limiting access they can also identify when and who accessed a secure location. One step beyond passcode entry is biometric authentication. Examples of biometric tools are fingerprint, iris or facial recognition. The advantages to these are clear. They cannot be easily stolen and for the user, there is no passcode to remember or a keycard to lose. An MSP can provide guidance about how to go about installing a biometric authentication system to secure specific locations.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is one excellent tool out there that can protect against one of the most common tricks criminals use to get into your data banks. That tool is employee training about phishing emails and fake websites. Phishing emails, the emails that trick you into opening a link that has been corrupted, remain a tried and true method for cybercriminals. What is the best defense? Employee training on how to avoid falling into the trap. The simplest maxim to remember? If in ANY doubt, don’t open a link. If there is any reason for suspicion, delete the email and forget about it. Also, look at the email address of the sender. Is it legitimate or is it misspelled or have a few extra characters or numbers that aren’t familiar.

What about the usage of passwords? Passwords can be hacked and stolen. there is another tool available to make passwords safer. You can make passwords more secure using multi factor authentication(MFA). MFA is pretty simple. It requires a second level of verification to prove that the password is being used by the individual authorized to use it. Examples of MFA are ATM machines that require a card AND a password. MFA very commonly requires the user to submit a code that is sent to another platform. (You’ve probably encountered this one if you use online banking)
Also, update your software. Immediately. Whenever you get an alert to update anything. Do it then. Don’t put it off until tomorrow because this update may have been released to address a recently discovered threat. This is a very simple thing to do and will offer significant protection. Additionally, your Managed Service provider may offer clients a subscription to day zero alerts. These are texts or emails that are sent out whenever a new virus or vulnerability has been discovered.

Among those firms who take risk management seriously, there is a growing awareness of the need to consider some manner of insurance to protect against the costs of cybercrime. When all else fails, and your data has been breached, how can you protect your business financially? Standard commercial property insurance policies do not generally include provisions for the damages from cybercrime. In a growing number of commercial policies, they are specifically excluded. As a result, executives who recognize the catastrophic damage that a cyberattack can inflict on their business are looking at cyber insurance to transfer the financial losses to a third party. However, there are some pretty deep weeds to get into when looking for a cyber insurance policy. Just for one example, some policies may create requirements and security standards you must meet before an event will be considered a covered loss. A Managed Service Provider can offer guidance into whether this is an avenue to explore.

In conclusion, there are several tools that you can use to protect your data from cybercriminals. They range from the very simple to the highly sophisticated. Your MSP can be of help in adopting any or all of these tools. From providing employee training all the way to biometric solutions.

Four Basics to follow for Everyday Data Security

Four Basics to follow for Everyday Data Security

One of the biggest questions we get from clients and prospects is “What can we do to protect ourselves from cyber attacks?” It is a sensible concern. A cyber attack that freezes operations or seizes data can ultimately shut a company down for good. There are some basic, simple things you can do to protect your company and there are more sophisticated tools available. In this blog, we look over a spectrum of 4 things you can do to improve your data security, from the simple to the high tech.

  1. Employee training – It may seem so simple, but training your employees on an ongoing basis about their role in cyber security may be the best thing you can do. Why? Because well-meaning people do things when they get near a computer that can be very risky.

Simple things like forbidding the use of external storage devices being brought to the workplace. One of the more notorious data breaches occurred because a subcontractor employee–who had access to a large corporation’s IT infrastructure–found a thumb drive in the parking lot and plugged it in to see what was on it. Beyond that, simple phishing scams are still very effective at tricking people into opening nefarious websites. Ask your MSP for guidance on creating ongoing training programs that explain phishing scams and similar tricks and instruct everyone how to avoid them. Do it on a regular basis. It is easy to forget and let your guard down.

  1. Software updates – This one is also basic, but it carries a lot of value. Each time you receive a notice about a software update, stop and do it then. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. These updates not only provide new, improved features. They often provide fixes to vulnerabilities in the software or address threats and viruses that have developed.

  1. Zero day alerts – Zero Day alerts are kind of like a neighborhood crime alert. You are busy running your own company and your time is not spent tracking the latest threats developing out there in the cyber world. Your MSP may offer text or email alerts about new threats and how to protect yourself from them.
  2. Finally, there is a more complex, after the fact, security precaution you can take. Cyber insurance. Cyber insurance may be able to cover some or most of the losses incurred as a result of a security breach. It won’t defend your data proactively, but, should the worst happen, it may provide protection against loss revenue and damages. Standard commercial property insurance policies do not generally include provisions for the damages from cybercrime. In a growing number of commercial policies, they are specifically excluded. As a result, executives who recognize the catastrophic damage that a cyberattack can inflict on their business are looking at cyber insurance to transfer the financial losses to a third party. However, there are some pretty deep weeds to get into when looking for a cyber insurance policy. Just for one example, some policies may create requirements and security standards you must meet before an event will be considered a covered loss. A Managed Service Provider can offer guidance into whether this is an avenue to explore.

    So there you have it. You have to protect your organization from the threats and consequences of data losses due to a security breach.

5 ways to make passwords more effective

5 ways to make passwords more effective

You should be using an array of security tools to protect your business data. Some can be highly sophisticated, but there is one tool that we all still rely on heavily to secure access to our business systems and data. The password. But they can be hacked and shared. As long as we still rely on them, are there things we can do to make them more effective?
Yes. There are two main areas where you can improve the security of passwords. One is improving the security of the password itself, the second is multi-factor authentication.

First, there is the password itself. This is often known as password hygiene. Good password hygiene includes

Passwords that are too simple

Simple passwords are easy to remember but easy to crack. Words, in any language, are not ideal either. That is why many sites require a mix of letters, characters, and numbers. easy to And yes, some people are still using password123.

One universal password

Sometimes people find it difficult to remember multiple passwords for various files and applications, so they use a single good, strong password everywhere. This renders the good password virtually pointless and also increases the amount of damage that can be inflicted in the event that one ‘good’ password is compromised.

Unauthorized password sharing

Generally done with benign intentions, employees often share passwords for convenience or to expedite handling the sharing of data. Not good.

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Writing down passwords

Sometimes, people follow all password best practices but find it difficult to remember complicated passwords and then write them down on a piece of paper or worse still, make a file containing all the passwords and store it in their email or computer. This is almost like giving away the keys to your property to a burglar.

Forgetting to change passwords or revoke access

This is especially an issue where the staff is busy and turnover is high. Managers may fail to remember to change the passwords once a staff member quits, leaving company data vulnerable. This is especially likely in a small company where there may not be a centralized IT staff that oversees data security and access.

Remember, having a password is not the solution. Having the right kind of password and following good password hygiene is.

Benefits of Using VoIP Technology

Benefits of Using VoIP Technology

More and more businesses are implementing Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP technology because of its versatility, flexibility and cost-effectiveness. With new developments in this technology, the scope of its applications is widening. It is becoming more than just voice communications technology. That is why businesses of all sizes are migrating at an increasing rate. Here is a short list of some of the benefits.

Versatility/Flexibility: There are many VoIP service companies that have been working feverishly to enhance the use of this technology. They are bundling up other communication applications into a single unified communication platform to increase the efficiency for businesses. This means all modes of communication such as voice, fax, video, web conferencing and emails can be utilized, using a single software application. The ability of this application to convert voice into an email or fax into an email can bring a tremendous amount of efficiency to business operations. You don’t need to sign up for a separate service for a telephone or video conference. An incoming phone call can be received on a mobile phone and regular phone simultaneously. That means there are fewer missed important phone calls, and less wasted time on ‘phone-tag.’ An employee can receive an important fax on a laptop while sitting in an Internet café or within range of a Wi-Fi hot spot, and can redirect it to an associate within minutes with a few keystrokes. The list of benefits goes on.

Reduced cost: There are many ways VoIP can lower communications cost thus significantly enhancing the revenue. Here are some of the financial benefits of implementing VoIP.

  1. Cost per phone call: Making long distance or international phone calls using landlines or mobile phones can be very expensive. Charges incurred at per-minute rate can add up quickly. When you conduct business from multiple locations VoIP applications allow you to make calls from PC to PC that are free if they are within the same network. That could be significant to eliminate long distance charges if two locations are hundreds of miles apart. You can also pay a low monthly flat fee and make an unlimited number of calls, including international calls. This means much less usage of your mobile phone-minutes.
  2. Operational costs: You don’t need separate networks for data and voice communications. Everything can be done using the data network. Specially designed phones with VoIP technology can be managed right from your desktops. There are a few things at work here. First of all, you have the potential to be eliminating traditional “phone” lines, usually a significant monthly fixed cost, in addition to the per minute usage costs. Paying per minute remains a major issue if you do any international calling, or have offices located in other countries, where per minute rates may not have dropped like those in the US. Another operational cost that goes away are the labor costs involved in moving employees from office to office. Reconfiguring numbers and phones can still require physical changes. Even if they are only software changes, there is a cost to pay the technician who handles these reconfigurations.
  3. Infrastructure cost: With this technology your infrastructure cost is greatly reduced. For example, you have to pay more for the telephone extensions using traditional PBX and key systems. Using VoIP allows you to run those extensions right from your computers. Dual-mode phones can be used with this technology after making minor configuration changes. That allows the user to switch the use of a dual phone from cellular to a local Wi-Fi environment, reducing the need to carry a regular phone and a cell phone. That means fewer devices to manage.

Summary: After our discussion, the significance of implementation of VoIP can’t be overstated. Every business strives for better revenue. This new technology offers many ways to cut costs and bring efficiency by unifying all modes of communication onto a single platform. Efficiency and lower costs are always synonymous with greater revenue. Get in touch with a Managed Service Provider and ask them how they can bring you on board with this great technology called VoIP.

BYOD: Why is This Concept So Attractive to Employees?

BYOD: Why is This Concept So Attractive to Employees?

Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, to work was an idea a few years ago that is becoming a reality very fast. To use your personal smartphone, tablet or laptop for work seems increasingly natural. Employees are embracing this concept without any serious reservations. As more and more business activity becomes technology driven, to have electronic gadgets right by your side all the time make sense. According to a survey conducted by Logicalis about 75% of employees in high growth markets such as Brazil and Russia and 44% in developed markets bring their own devices to work.

Let’s examine all the factors causing people to want to use their own devices at work.

  • Familiarity: This may be the most relevant reason for someone to bring their own tablet or laptop to work. It may be the operating system, web browser, or other apps on their devices that they know so well and feel comfortable using.
  • Convenience: Companies have been providing their employees mobile phones for business use for a few decades. Now those employees have to carry two phones, since everyone also has a personal phone. This duality is a nuisance. It is hard enough to care for one mobile phone and now they have to worry about two of them. The reality is that companies expect employees to be in contact 24/7, so company devices can’t just be used at work. They have to be carried home, out to the store, etc. If the employees have a choice they would much rather carry just one phone, their own, enabling them to be reachable by family and friends anytime. Also, it could be cheaper if their company offers to share the cost of using their device for business.
  • Productivity: Convenience can also result in better productivity. Having fewer devices means fewer distractions. Fewer distractions equals less wasted time. Saving time is always good for productivity.
  • Personal contentment: It makes employees feel good to be able to use their own devices at work. Higher employee morale is very important for any organization. Happier employees are more likely to work hard. A positive environment is also a factor in lower turnover. So, if an employer gives its employees the liberty to bring their own devices to work it may have more satisfied workers.
  • Conclusion: People in the workplace are using their own devices so they can accomplish more in less time. It makes them happy to have their personal devices at work, and it makes them feel good about their job if they are allowed to use the devices that they are familiar with.