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January 12th, 2017

2017january12_security_aCyber security is something you hear about a lot these days. Sometimes it’s thrown around to scare business owners, other times it has proven to be a cautionary tale, one that small businesses can learn from to fend themselves from online threats that can leave devastating impact. What’s certain is statistics don’t lie, and as much as you’d like to believe your business is safe, the worst could happen at any time. Because antivirus software alone can only do so much to protect your business, managed services has become the solution. To make our case, here are several statistics that prove you need managed services from a technology provider.

The numbers

Small businesses are not at risk of being attacked, but worse, they’ve already fallen victim to cyber threats. According to Small Business Trends, 55 percent of survey respondents say their companies have experienced cyber attack sometime between 2015 and 2016. Not only that, 50 percent reported they have experienced data breaches with customer and employee information during that time, too. The aftermath of these incidents? These companies spent an average of $879,582 to fix the damages done to their IT assets and recover their data. To make matters worse, disruption to their daily operations cost an average of $955,429.

The attacks

So what types of attack did these businesses experience? The order from most to least common are as follows: Web-based attacks, phishing, general malware, SQL injection, stolen devices, denial of services, advanced malware, malicious insider, cross-site scripting, ransomware and others.

Why managed services?

Managed services is the most effective prevention and protection from these malicious threats. They include a full range of proactive IT support that focuses on advanced security such as around the clock monitoring, data encryption and backup, real-time threat prevention and elimination, network and firewall protection and more.

Not only that, but because managed services are designed to identify weak spots in your IT infrastructure and fix them, you’ll enjoy other benefits including faster network performance, business continuity and disaster recovery as well as minimal downtime. One of the best things about managed services is the fact that you get a dedicated team of IT professionals ready to assist with any technology problems you might have. This is much more effective and budget-friendly than having an in-house personnel handling all your IT issues.

Being proactive when it comes to cyber security is the only way to protect what you’ve worked hard to built. If you’d like to know more about how managed services can benefit your business, just give us a call, we’re sure we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
January 11th, 2017

2017january11_business_aThe new year is well upon us, and with it comes an equally new IT budget. Judging by the advancements in computing technology, many 2017 business wish lists probably include powerful onsite servers, workstations, and the Internet of Things. But as tempting as these purchases may be, it’s important that you don’t dismiss an old yet essential IT resolution: disaster recovery.

DR isn’t a huge investment A common misconception about disaster recovery is that it’s a large, bank-breaking investment. Expensive secondary data centers, networks, and server maintenance usually come into mind when a business owner is confronted with the idea of business continuity. And while that may have been true in the past, establishing a strong disaster recovery plan today is as simple -- and as cheap -- as going to a cloud-based disaster recovery provider and paying for the data and services that your business needs. Subscription pricing models are actually incredibly low, meaning you can have minimal downtime while still having enough to invest in new tech.

Onsite backups just won’t cut it Although you might feel secure with a manual backup server down the hall, it is still susceptible to local disasters and, ultimately, does very little in minimizing company downtime. When disaster recovery solutions are hosted in the cloud or in a virtualized server, restoring critical data and applications only take a few minutes.

Business disasters can be man-made, too Even if your workplace is nowhere near frequent disaster zones, cyber attacks and negligent employees can leave the same impact on your business as any natural disaster can. Setting a weak password, clicking on a suspicious link, or connecting to unsecured channels is enough to shut down a 5-, 10-, or even 50-year-old business in mere minutes.

Sure, installing adequate network security is a critical strategy against malicious actors, but last year’s barrage of data breaches suggests that having a Plan B is a must. A suitable disaster recovery plan ensures that your data’s integrity is intact and your business can keep going, no matter the malware, worm, or denial-of-service attack.

Downtime will cost you A business without a DR plan might come out unscathed after a brief power outage, but why risk the potential damages? Either way, downtime will cost your business. First, there’s the general loss of productivity. Every time your employees aren’t connected to the network, money goes down the drain. Then there’s the cost of corrupted company data, damaged hardware, and the inevitable customer backlash. Add all those variables together, and you end up with a business-crippling fee.

So, if you want 2017 to be the best year for your business, make the smart choice and proactively take part in creating your company’s business continuity plan. Your business will be in a better position financially with it than without it.

Keep your business safe, recover from any disaster, and contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
January 10th, 2017

2017january10_socialmedia_a“What’s your Facebook name?” is not a question you’re often asked when someone needs your contact details. In the first place, Facebook messaging isn’t everyone’s voice call app of choice, especially for group conversations. As of now, Skype rules that arena, especially for business communications. However, once the social media giant has put the finishing touches on its desktop-capable group voice calling, you can expect to hear “What’s your Facebook name?” a bit more. It might even become the norm.

No one gets left behind

In group chats, there’s always that one person who gets the joke last, or reads it last, and so feels left out. With Facebook’s group video chat, this never has to happen as every participant in the group can be connected at the same time. The functionality is still in the “small test” phase, which means certain details are still being ironed out. When it fully launches, though, expect a considerable portion of Facebook Messenger users to consider moving their Skype group video conversations to Facebook.

Potentially compelling benefits

Since introducing its audio calling capability in 2013, Facebook has worked hard to keep up with the competition. Facebook’s introduction – and potential domination – of desktop group video calling might signal the end of times for Skype and other players. For one, Facebook and social media user growth hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. Moreover, most users of internet telephony might inevitably see the advantages of using a single platform for their social media activity and online communications.

Possible user reservations

Users who prefer a communication tool that creates zero distractions in their chats might not opt for Facebook when conducting group video conferences. Facebook is, first and foremost, a social media platform, which serves as a springboard for important news updates, personal anecdotes, and funny cat videos. Not everyone will prefer all those distractions while in a business meeting.

Those looking for a clean communications tool might find the wealth of content a bit overwhelming. In addition, employees of small companies in need of a free communications tool might not immediately warm up to the idea of surrendering their Facebook profile as an official point of contact.

If there’s anything Facebook has proven, however, it is the ability to improve upon previous versions by adding or removing details to enhance user experience. Users may not always be pleased with the updates, but that hasn’t slowed down the billion-user company’s popularity. If the newly introduced desktop group video calling function proves efficient, Facebook might persuade even more users to lean towards its messaging tool.

With many options to choose from, the only thing left for people to do is discern which platform best serves their communications needs. For advice on which VoIP platform is best for your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
December 29th, 2016

By Larry Velez, co-founder and CTO

There is a subtle but profound paradigm shift occurring in technology. Cloud-connected hardware is becoming the preferred standard, replacing self-contained hardware. It’s the Internet of Things and it’s happening in just about every industry across consumer and enterprise solutions. Whether it’s firewalls or smart Wi-Fi, thermostats or automobiles, hardware manufacturers are connecting these devices to the Internet because of the convenience and added control it offers.

Cloud-connected hardware, such as the Meraki firewall we use for our customers, brings mobility and can save organizations the costs associated with managing or configuring hardware. Another example, fairly new to the consumer market, is smart Wi-Fi. Traditional Wi-Fi routers were self contained with setup and configuration done manually by connecting to the device. This new generation of routers are controlled by cloud software with an interface that’s easy for people to manage unlike self-contained routers which are designed for IT people. The software updates automatically to better protect against security breaches and can act as a website filter providing parental controls at the network level similar to some enterprise router solutions. An added benefit is that groups of cloud-enabled devices are often designed to “talk to each other” so you can configure them from the same interface.

Although, we are a long way from one app that interfaces with all the smart home devices we need to manage an entire home, as the technology evolves they will likely be be grouped by ecosystems, such as security, online shopping and entertainment, so we will need fewer and fewer apps to manage our lives. Over the next year or two, the competition will continue to heat up between companies like Google, Apple and Amazon to be the preferred ecosystem for the Internet of Things experience.

We are still in the early days of the Internet of Things, and there are valid concerns about bringing the cloud to so many devices without an accepted security standard.

For instance, in October, Dyn, a company providing critical Internet services was breached and many Internet of Things devices were hijacked bringing down large swaths of the Internet itself, including Netflix and Twitter.

In a recent NPR report, security technologist Bruce Schneier talks about how vulnerable the Internet of Things is because there is currently no government regulation around these devices, and he fears it will take a disaster for that to change. “Right now, unfortunately, these devices are being sold by the millions, they’re not secure, and bad things are going to happen,” he says.

Those risks have not seemed to affect sales of the hottest gifts this season, Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, both cloud-connected devices. While consumers are always quicker to lean toward convenience, when companies do the benefits-risk assessment, it seems like convenience is beginning to win out over fear of data security for them, as well (and the connected companies, like Dropbox and Google, are doing a really good job of assuaging people’s fear about the risk).

In spite of the “Wild-Wild West” stage of this emerging technology, Schneier is optimistic about the Internet of things: “The Internet of things has enormous promise. The Internet thermostat I bought gives me great control over my heat and air conditioning when I am away from home, and I save a lot of energy. It’s good for the world. It’s good for the environment… We make our trade-offs, and we take our chances. These things are important, but by and large we’re talking about the edges of what are really interesting and exciting technological devices.”

December 29th, 2016

Some time around August 2013, the email system of Yahoo was attacked and the records of more than 1 billion users were stolen. Information included names, birth dates, phone numbers and passwords which were encrypted with an easily broken form of security. Now they are for sale on the Dark Web.

The breach was much worse than originally reported, and even the most loyal Yahoo users are starting to lose faith in the ability of the service to protect their data and are considering deleting their accounts altogether. There are several steps involved with backing up your contacts and emails so they are accessible to you once you close your account, and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols does a great job of outlining the process. In the meantime, here are a few quick steps you should do today to protect your Yahoo account.

1. Change your Yahoo account password on Yahoo services such as Yahoo Mail or Flickr. This can be found on your Yahoo account page under Account Info, click on Account security, then choose Change password.

2. Turn on two-step verification.

3. Click “Disable security questions” on the Account Security page if you still have them since Yahoo’s security questions were also cracked. Then, disable all of them.

This is a great time to review the strength of your passwords and how you manage them. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts; if someone breaks into any of your accounts, all those accounts with the same password are at risk.

Here are some tips for generating secure passwords:

  • Make a random 2 to 4 word paraphrase that does not include any elements from your name, organization, address or any information associated with you
  • When generating your own password, it should contain upper and lowercase letters, punctuation, a number and be a minimum of 14 characters long
  • Change your passwords every 3 to 6 months and don’t reuse them
  • Do not store your password list in the cloud, such as on Google Docs or Dropbox
  • Consider a two-step verification on services that provide it

It can be difficult and time consuming to manage dozens, if not hundreds, of unique online passwords. There are several password management solutions that can help you both generate and manage secure passwords for your online accounts. For instance, Lastpass offers free and premium password generation and management services (although it does not generate passphrases). With Lastpass you only need to remember one master password to access the other passwords it encrypts and stores for you. (For an overview of how best to manage the passwords along some tools for storing your passwords, read Sinu’s blog: How secure is your password.)

According to Vaughan-Nichols, “Yahoo has another login authentication option called the Yahoo Account Key. With this, instead of entering passwords every time you login to your Yahoo account, you’ll get a notification on your Android or Apple device.”

As is the way of today’s world, bad people are trying to capitalize on Yahoo’s misfortune through phishing attacks. If you get an email saying your Yahoo account may have been hacked and it asks you to click a link to re-secure your account, don’t click on it. Yahoo’s official emails have the subject line: “Important Security Information for Yahoo Users” and will look like these examples from Yahoo.

Whether you have a Yahoo account or not, this is a good time to review your passwords, set up two-factor authentication and make sure you are using unique passwords – or better yet, passphrases – for each account. As you find a balance between convenience and security, we suggest moving the balance point as far toward security as you can and consider using a password generation and management solution to make your online life easier and more secure.

Topic Security
December 28th, 2016

2016december28_security_aPopcorn Time is taking ransomware to a new level of devilish trickery by asking victims to give up two of their friends for a chance to rid their own computers of the virus. In cyber security this level of diabolical blackmail represents a new and scary trend for hackers. For more information on how Popcorn Time works and what you can do to keep it off your system, keep reading.

Ransomware is nothing new. Cybersecurity miscreants have been taking advantage of online users for years by requiring payment to "unlock" a victim's computer. What Popcorn Time does differently is give users the option to spread the virus to two other victims in the hopes that they will pay the ransom -- a tactic that promises to double their money at the expense of your sense of morality (and at the expense of your friendships as well).

The Cost of Popcorn

When you inadvertently download this ransomware, you will be met with a screen that explains that your files have been hijacked/encrypted, and that to get them back you will need to pay one Bitcoin for a decryption key that they keep stored remotely. The Bitcoin fee is usually more than $700, a hefty price to pay during any season but particularly difficult for those infected during the holiday season.

Spread the "Holiday Cheer" and Hope they Bite

What makes Popcorn Time unique is the option victims have to take their cost away by allowing the ransomware to affect two of their friends for a chance to get a free decryption code. Of course, it works only if both friends pay the ransom, which leaves you looking (and feeling) like the Grinch.

Avoiding Popcorn Time this Season

The easiest way to avoid downloading ransomware is to stay off of sites that might contain questionable files. However, this is nearly impossible for modern users, and many hackers are getting good at making their files look legitimate. Limit your exposure to potential ransomware by keeping your software up-to-date and your computer protected with a security program from a reputable company (for example Norton or Symantec). If you need to learn more about how to avoid running into ransomware while you're online, give our professional cybersecurity consultants a call. We'll keep you away from the popcorn this season.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
December 22nd, 2016

2016december22_business_aMany businesses and enterprises have long struggled with the drudgery and difficulty that is data analysis -- especially data analysis in a cloud-based system. AWS (Amazon Web Services) may have just the solution to that problem. A new app, known as “Glue,” offers the opportunity for businesses to clean up data to help analytics run more smoothly. Learn more about how AWS accomplishes this, right here.

Data analysis can be an extremely profitable arm of your business, if undertaken carefully. Much of what people consider to be data analysis for a business is actually just digital clerical work, which makes the process even more frustrating and time-consuming than it needs to be. At its core, AWS’s Glue is an app that automates this tedium, which is often referred to as ETL (extract-transform-load).

Third-party software already exists to help with this task, but the service from AWS is one of the first cloud-based alternatives to come to market. Glue is designed to work with businesses that have their own on-premises data centers and infrastructures in addition to working with AWS frameworks. In fact, if a business makes changes to on-premises data, Glue can be set up to trigger jobs and update the data in the cloud so users always have access to the most up-to-date information for use and analysis.

Essentially, AWS extracts various types of data from a wide array of sources and analyzes it, ultimately homogenizing the data to fit the business's existing database. This eliminates a great deal of work because the extremely tedious task of importing data is often done by hand. Handing this burden over to AWS allows businesses to focus on the real analysis work; saving effort, time, and money in the process.

Every day, data becomes more and more integral to building a successful company. And with such a heavy burden placed on this facet of business, falling behind on the technology that makes it possible is an expensive mistake. If you’re hosting large amounts of data on-premises or in an AWS database, contact us today about how you can eliminate costly ETL processes.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
December 13th, 2016

hackerscybersecurity-170px-01As 2017 rolls in, the threat of more formidable cyber attacks looms large. Hackers and the cyber police will spend a lot of time outsmarting each other, while consumers of technology, individuals and businesses alike, anticipate the best security plan that can guarantee they sleep soundly at night. When it comes to defending against cyber-attacks, forewarned is forearmed. Here are some of the threats we predict in the coming year.

Increased threats on cloud technology

Cloud service has numerous benefits to businesses. They make data storage, collaboration, and processing more efficient; they enable employees to work faster; and they help operations flow smoother. Cloud technology’s popularity is expected to rise well into the next few years, but as demand increases, so does the dangers presented by cyber attackers.

Ransomware will be more complex

Ransomware incapacitates computer systems by locking down files and preventing access for ransom. In its 2016 Threat Predictions report, security software company McAfee predicts a peak in ransomware attacks next year. Although they also predict it to recede by mid-year, damages to vulnerable cloud-dependent infrastructures can be great and costly. Most alarming in the prediction, however, is that in the coming year ransomware attacks will be more complex due to new elements.

Ransomworms, which use advanced victimization techniques to mine further data within an already compromised network, are expected to put an even crueler spin to an already formidable malware. Doxing, on the other hand, affects avenues such as social media and any place where sensitive, easily identifiable information can be extracted to serve the ultimate purpose of extorting money. Yet another wicked ransomware to watch out for is Backup Deletion, which destroys the very mechanism that can otherwise help you recover from a compromised system or files: your backup data.

More threats to IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled devices

It is also predicted that 2017 will see attacks made on IoT-powered devices, which will make life harder for those who depend on technology that makes life easier. It targets medical devices and Electronic Medical Records, “connected cars”, basic domestic tools, and tech-driven wearables, such as smartwatches and fitness trackers. The danger posed by this intrusion is fully capable of corrupting information stored in your devices.

Advanced cyber espionage

Cyber espionage is by no means a novelty. In 2017, it’s expected to hold sway in cyber-threat prevention measures as it becomes even more complex. It encompasses all sectors of society, including individuals, private organizations, government institutions, and entire countries. Perpetrators will have the means to bypass networks by attacking firewalls and wreak havoc in their victims’ network. Fret not, for there will be measures in place to detect this threat also in the coming year.

Hackers are one of the most cunning criminals to have ever existed. While the cyber-police and the defenses they put up are no slouches, threats to security systems can still make technology-dependent individuals and businesses quiver. Although damaged networks can be repaired, compromised privacy restored, and stolen data returned, the amount of damage that hackers can cause might be irreparable and/or result in a significant dent in your IT infrastructure and budget. The value of a network security system makes itself known when you least expect it, which is why security should be a top priority.

Are your systems protected from these predicted remarkable feats of hacking? Call us if you want to discuss security services that are best for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
December 12th, 2016

instagram-170px-01Did you know that your thousands of Instagram followers are a goldmine for potential sales? Yes, they are, but you can’t make the most of this goldmine by simply switching your posts’ filters from Clarendon to Valencia on a regular basis. Turning your Instagram followers into customers requires more than just a finely curated set of photos; it calls for marketing-savvy strategies that can engage current followers and attract potential customers. Here are 5 ways you can make that happen.

Ensure your posts are shoppable

This simply means providing a convenient path in which your followers can buy the products posted on your page. With a shoppable Instagram tool, you can direct users to your online shop where they can make an actual purchase. Instagram is, arguably, not the best ecommerce platform to use if you depend on clickable media, but if you know how to tweak the app to your advantage – and provide an attractive presentation of your products – you can turn likes into sales.

Give away discount codes or coupons

Entice followers to engage with you and share content with incentives such as discount codes or coupons. You can do this by running contests with an interesting concept, cool prizes, and a sharing or voting element that encourages participants to share your content with their friends. Better yet, engage followers by tapping into user-generated content via photo contests, resulting in free promotion for your brand.

Come up with a strong call-to-action (CTA)

Instagram doesn’t exactly have the most mobile-friendly CTAs, but don’t let this prevent you from sending followers to your sales page. Whether it’s telling them to go to the link on your bio or simply incorporating a shoppable Instagram feature on your page, specific instructions on how to buy or know more about your product can spell the difference between making a sale and getting ignored.

Post frequently and make the most of all available tools

Post photos using stylish filters, create snappy and quirky videos, or let your followers take a friendly behind-the-scenes peek at your organization using the Stories feature. Come up with a catchy and relatable caption that encourages participation and engages your core audience. Also important: using hashtags on your posts. Any business Instagrammer worth his or her salt knows that a simple hashtag can pave the way for other users to reach your content and, ultimately, buy your product.

Last but not least…

Create captivating content

Remember that Instagram is a visual platform, and as such, users are enticed by striking images rendered in flattering filters, vivid colors, and clear messages. Although other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are excellent mediums for promoting products, the image-oriented nature of Instagram brings in a wealth of opportunities for promoting your brand. Aside from coming up with likeable posts, crafting a clear and concise caption can lead to a winning Instagram marketing campaign.

With some creativity, visual flair, and a well-defined strategy, these tips can help shape your Instagram feed as an attractive online sales generator. If you need further advice on how you can make the most of your social media presence, contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
December 6th, 2016

2016december6_business_aOne of the biggest innovations in business and technology is marketing automation. Previously reserved for well-funded enterprises, marketing automation is now accessible to small businesses, thanks to affordable cloud solutions. In fact, there are five explosively profitable benefits to automating some of your most mundane tasks. Check them out here.

Instant responses to email requests

If a customer or prospect sends your business an email via your website or a "Contact Us" form, any delay in response could ultimately cost you a client. But if you have a marketing automation plan in place, you can customize automatic email responses to respond to these leads as soon as an email is received. This lets potential customers know either the information they requested or that you will be responding in more detail soon.

Stop leaving voicemails and start closing deals

There’s a reason most people prefer to communicate via email: Keeping in touch over phone can be tough if both parties are always busy. An automated system solves this by logging when you’ve contacted leads and automatically emailing them about follow-up times. The call, email, and its response are all logged in your CRM and calendar without a single minute wasted entering mundane information.

Inbound lead assignment

When you have phone calls, emails, and meetings piling up, it’s hard to keep track of which customer goes where and who is working with them. With marketing automation software and tracking, customer service representatives are automatically assigned to inbound leads based on specialities and demographics so they can begin working on building profitable rapport right away.

Give and you shall receive

Potential clients and leads get dozens, sometimes hundreds of business emails every day. You need something to set your business apart from the rest. By offering valuable content such as “How to” guides and “Total Cost of Ownership” tools in exchange for contact information, you can provide prospects with content they actually want.

All it takes is a web form and some creative writing that ultimately leads visitors back to your products and/or services. Your automation software delivers content to anyone who provides contact information, and it downloads metrics that can be tracked and analyzed by your solution.

Never type another phone number again

Networking events mean new contacts and new leads. Although that used to mean thick stacks of business cards, cutting-edge marketing tools make it possible to take a picture of contact information and automatically convert it into a cloud database. Call-ins, scanned business cards, and received emails all get organized into a single digital rolodex with recommendations for whom to contact, and when is best to do so -- without one minute of tedious data entry.

Every business owner knows that automating mindless tasks is a worthwhile investment. But not everyone knows just what sort of tools are available to help you cut down on wasted work. Our team specializes in using technology to add value to your business, and we believe that if you’re not utilizing any of the solutions above -- that’s the best place to start. Get in touch with us today to make your marketing technology work for you.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business