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August 7th, 2014

Security_Aug05_AThese days, the security of various technology based systems is constantly being called into question. From attacks on mobile devices to ever increasing types of malware, many businesses are struggling to stay on top of their security. One of the best ways to help ensure your systems are secure is to be aware of common security issues. To that end, here are five common ways your security can be breached.

1. You are tricked into installing malicious software

One of the most common ways a system's security is breached is through malware being downloaded by the user. In almost every case where malware is installed the reason is because the user was tricked into downloading it.

A common trick used by hackers is to plant malware in software and then place this software on a website. When a user visits the site, they are informed that they need to download the software in order for the site to load properly. Once downloaded, the malware infects the system. Other hackers send emails out with a file attached, where only the file contains malware.

There are a nearly limitless number of ways you can be tricked into downloading and installing malware. Luckily, there are steps you can take to avoid this:

  • Never download files from an untrusted location - If you are looking at a website that is asking you to download something, make sure it's from a company you know about and trust. If you are unsure, it's best to avoid downloading and installing the software.
  • Always look at the name of the file before downloading - Many pieces of malware are often disguised with file names that are similar to other files, with only a slight spelling mistake or some weird wording. If you are unsure about the file then don't download it. Instead, contact us as we may be able to help verify the authenticity or provide a similar app.
  • Stay away from torrents, sites with adult content, and movie streaming sites - These sites often contain malware, so it is best to avoid them altogether.
  • Always scan a file before installing it - If you do download files, be sure to get your virus scanner to scan these before you open the apps. Most scanners are equipped do this, normally by right-clicking on the file and selecting Scan with….

2. Hackers are able to alter the operating system settings

Many users are logged into their computers as admins. Being an administrator allows you to change any and all settings, install programs, and manage other accounts.

If a hacker manages to access your computer and you are set up as the admin, they will have full access to your computer. This means they could install other malicious software, change settings or even completely hijack the machine. The biggest worry about this however, is if a hacker gets access to a computer that is used to manage the overall network. Should this happen, they could gain control over all the systems on the network and do what they please on it.

In order to avoid this, you should ensure that if a user doesn't need to install files or change settings on the computer, they do not have administrator access. Beyond this, installing security software like anti-virus scanners and keeping them up to date, as well as conducting regular scans, will help reduce the chances of being infected, or seeing infections spread.

3. Someone physically accesses your computer

It really feels like almost every security threat these days is digital or is trying to infect your systems and network from the outside. However, there are many times when malware is introduced into systems, or data is stolen, because someone has physically had access to your systems.

For example, you leave your computer on when you go for lunch and someone walks up to it, plugs in a USB drive with malware on it and physically infects your system. Or, it could be they access your system and manually reset the password, thereby locking you out and giving them access.

What we are trying to say here is that not all infections or breaches arrive via the Internet. What we recommend is to ensure that you password protect your computer - you need to enter a password in order to access it. You should also be sure that when you are away from your computer it is either turned off, or you are logged off.

Beyond that, it is a good idea to disable drives like CD/DVD and connections like USB if you don't use them. This will limit the chances that someone will be able to use a CD or USB drive to infect your computer.

4. It's someone from within the company

We have seen a number of infections and security breaches that were carried out by a disgruntled employee. It could be that they delete essential data, or remove it from the system completely. Some have even gone so far as to introduce highly destructive malware.

While it would be great to say that every business has the best employees, there is always a chance a breach can be carried out by an employee. The most effective way to prevent this, aside from ensuring your employees are happy, is to limit access to systems.

Take a look at what your employees have access to. For example, you may find that people in marketing have access to finance files or even admin panels. The truth is, your employees don't need access to everything, so take steps to limit access to necessary systems. Combine this with the suggestions above - limiting admin access and installing scanners - and you can likely limit or even prevent employee initiated breaches.

5. Your password is compromised

Your password is the main way you can verify and access your accounts and systems. The issue is, many people have weak passwords. There has been a steady increase in the number of services that have been breached with user account data being stolen. If a hacker was to get a hold of say your username, and you have a weak password, it could only be a matter of time before they have access to your account.

If this happens, your account is compromised. Combine this with the fact that many people use the same password for multiple accounts, and you could see a massive breach leading to data being stolen, or worse - your identity.

It is therefore a good idea to use a separate password for each account you have. Also, make sure that the passwords used are strong and as different as possible from each other. One tool that could help ensure this is a password manager which generates a different password for each account.

If you are looking to learn more about ensuring your systems are secure, contact us today to learn about how our services can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
August 6th, 2014

BCP_Aug05_AMany businesses are constantly facing a potential disaster. It could be a major fire that wipes out your business, or something as simple as accidentally deleting an important spreadsheet. Regardless of the severity of the potential disaster, businesses need to be prepared and one of the best ways to prepare is to back up your data. In the first part of this article we covered four tips that can help. In this article, we take a look at the next four tips to help ensure your data is backed up.

5. Automate your backup

It can be tough to actually remember to back up your files, especially if your business is busy. Therefore, you could look into an automated backup solution. At the very least, you should set a schedule as to when backups are conducted and set what is being backed up. While this isn't a full automation, a schedule will help.

If you are using solutions like the cloud or NAS (Network Attached Storage), you can usually automate the process by selecting which files and folders to back up and when. The software that powers these solutions will then do this automatically.

Ideally, your backups should be carried out automatically to ensure your data is available should you need it. But you should check periodically to ensure that your data is actually being backed up. This is especially true if you are backing up other systems, as there have been cases where employees have become frustrated by the backup process and simply turned it off. The business owner, thinking their data was being backed up would be in for a bit of a shock when systems crashed, if this was the case.

6. Back up your backups

Redundancy of your backups is just as important as actually backing up your data. You should keep a backup of your backup in case something happens to your original backup. While this doesn't have to be carried out as often as the 'normal' backup, this should be done on a regular basis.

In order to really ensure backup redundancy we recommend that if your main backup is kept on-site, then the secondary backup should be on another storage medium that is kept off-site.

7. Don't forget data stored on non-physical drives

What we are referring to here is the data stored on different services like your email, social media, and non-physical locations. This is especially true if you say have you own servers. It's highly likely that there is data stored on these services as well, and should they go down and you haven't kept a backup, you may lose important information.

Essentially, think about critical data that is used in the company, but isn't physically kept on computers. It may feel like this is going a step too far with backups, especially for businesses who use email services like Exchange and Gmail. However, while the chances of these systems going down are incredibly rare, it could still happen. Therefore, you should conduct a monthly to bi-yearly backup just to ensure that data is there somewhere should something happen.

8. Test your backups

Finally, it is beneficial to actually test your backups from time-to-time to ensure that they are not only working but the data is actually recoverable. If you do a trial run on recovering your data, you can get a good idea of how long it will take to retrieve this information when you actually need to recover it. You can then take steps to optimize this and let the relevant people know.

Also, testing is a good way to discover any problems, e.g., if someone has disabled backups, or one solution isn't working. This will ensure that your data is there when you need it.

If you are looking to integrate a data backup solution, contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 30th, 2014

SocialMedia_July28_AOne of the main ideas behind LinkedIn is that the network is a virtual venue for people to share their thoughts, ideas, and observances with other like-minded users. Earlier this year the company introduced a new feature to their platform that allowed a select few users to create blog posts directly on LinkedIn. Now, the company has decided to open this up to all LinkedIn members.

About LinkedIn's new publishing platform

Like other social networks, LinkedIn allows users to publish posts on their profile which are then visible to other users. In the past, there was a limit as to how long the posts could be, which influenced how users shared the content they generated. Most would simply copy and paste a link to their content into a post on their LinkedIn profile.

In an effort to make sharing thoughts, ideas, expertise, etc. easier, LinkedIn has implemented the long-form post. This feature allows you to create longer content, such as blog articles and opinion pieces, and post this directly on LinkedIn. In other words, you can now use LinkedIn as a blog which is shared with your connections.

If you create long-form content, this could be a useful way to get posts out to an even wider audience than through your blog. This is because when you publish a post on LinkedIn, it becomes part of your overall profile, with the post being visible under the Posts section of your profile. New long-form posts will also be published and shared with all of your contacts automatically.

This means that you could technically increase the overall reach of your content, especially if the content you produce is useful to your LinkedIn connections.

Writing long-form content on LinkedIn

If you would like to start publishing long-form content using your LinkedIn profile, you should be able to do so by:
  1. Logging into your LinkedIn profile.
  2. Pressing the pencil in the box that says Share an update…
Note: This update is still rolling out to users, so you may not be able to produce long-form content just yet. If you don't see the pencil in the Share an update… box, you will need to wait for a few weeks, or until you get an email from LinkedIn saying the feature is ready for you to use.

If you do see the pencil icon, click on it to open the long-form post screen. It looks like most other Web-based publishing and writing platforms with the usual formatting buttons and text field where you input the content.

You can write your article directly on this page, but many choose to write using a program they are comfortable with and then copy and paste into the text field. If you want to add images to your post, you can simply click where you would like the image to slot into the content and select the camera icon from the menu bar above the text field. Select the image and hit Submit. You can then resize the image by clicking and dragging on it.

Saving and editing your content

Once you have finished writing we strongly recommend you hit the Save button at the bottom of the text field. This will save the content to your profile, but will not post it. This means you can edit the content before publishing. To do this, click on Preview which will open your post in another window, allowing you to see what the post will look like on your profile.

While in Preview mode, be sure to check the spelling and grammar, along with the overall formatting. If you spot anything that needs to be changed simply switch back to the editing tab on your browser and make any amendments.

When you have finished writing, formatting, and editing you can then hit the Publish button. This will then publish the content on your profile and share it with your connections.

If you have content that you think your connections and colleagues would benefit from reading, then this new LinkedIn feature could prove to be useful and should be considered as a larger part of your overall content strategy.

Looking to learn more about LinkedIn and how you can leverage it in your business? Contact us today to see how we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
July 30th, 2014

An eWeek report highlighting the results of a recent Manta survey of small businesses owners indicates that “40 percent of small business owners say having access to business files and apps while on vacation reduces stress because they know everything is still running smoothly while they’re away.

Manta, a small business service directory and search engine, surveyed 1,105 members of their small business community. The report shows that small business owners love their freedom and are optimistic for 2014.

While it can be challenging for any professional to maintain a balance between personal and business life (see Sinu blog,  “Riding the Lion: Admitting the Fears Behind Entrepreneurship”), according to the survey 72% of small business owners say “having their own company brings more freedom and independence than working for someone else.”

Read more…

Topic Articles
July 30th, 2014

According to a recent ZDnet article, Microsoft has warned of an end to tech support for certain key products, including Windows 7, Office 2010 SP1, and Windows Server 2003. “Mainstream” support for Windows 7 is scheduled to end January 13, 2015, while support for some key products will end as early as October 14, 2014. (For a full list of the Microsoft products reaching the end of support in over the next six months, click here.)

Read more…

Topic Articles
July 30th, 2014

recent blog in the Harvard Business Review does an excellent job of echoing our philosophy here at Sinu: business technology should be seamlessly aligned with the long-term goals of an organization and should drive value by supporting employee productivity and company profitability.

“IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” by Robert Plant, an associate professor of computer information systems at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, writes that there are two schools of thought right now with business executives – those who use technology to drive value and those who still see it as a data center. He goes on to suggest that when CIOs (and, I would add, anybody leading IT efforts in an organization) free up some of the time they spend on day-to-day IT management, then they can focus more on creating and implementing strategies that use technology to drive the company forward.

Read more…

Topic Articles
July 30th, 2014

By Larry Velez, Sinu founder and CTO

I have often repeated Malcolm Gladwell’s statement from the Outliers that it takes 10,000 hours to master anything. Gladwell claims that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. There is an interesting article in Entrepreneur (7/8/14) that analyzes that theory. It references a recent Princeton study that challenges the overarching principle, however, the report goes on to admit: “There is no doubt that deliberate practice is important, from both a statistical and a theoretical perspective. It is just less important than has been argued… For scientists, the important question now is, what else matters?”

According to the Entrepreneur report, Frans Johansson, author of The Click Moment, argues that “deliberate practice is only a predictor of success in fields that have super stable structures. For example, in tennis, chess, and classical music, the rules never change, so you can study up to become the best.”

But for business owners who face ever-changing challenges and opportunities (and not bound by a set of constants), I would argue that the “what else matters” question can be answered by discipline, documentation, and balance. I believe you can improve productivity and profitability through your business process, employee training, and encouraging an infrastructure that allows them to practice the skills they learn.

So with the demands of day-to-day operations, how can your organization incorporate a culture of deliberate practice in order to become a better business?

Try to create a set of “rules” for success that never change. This means really thinking about what the goals are and how policies and guidelines can be created that would always point toward that goal. Developing and following a set of accepted “rules” can help boost productivity and morale and it sends a message that your organization values time, efficiency, and practice.

The goal is to have self-reinforcing rules in place for your entire organization in order to create an ecosystem of guidelines that is as closed as possible. In chess every piece has absolute rules and all the rules fit together with almost no exceptions. Your business will never be as well defined as a chessboard – but the closer you can get, the more expert your team can become on what the rules are and how to succeed and contribute toward the greater success of the company as a whole.

Practice makes perfect, but only when you know what to practice and can practice the same way every time. If there is a strong culture of practice in place, your organization will run more smoothly and will be better prepared to take advantage of opportunities that arise in an ever-changing marketplace. That’s the balance – the “what else matters.”

Topic Articles
July 24th, 2014

Productivity_July21_AERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning, is often seen to be the domain of large businesses. However, with numerous new software solutions being released on a regular basis, small to medium businesses are quickly realizing the power of these back office automation and management tools. While it is true not all businesses will need it, there are several indicators as to when you should implement ERP.

There are several common business situations that indicate your business may be ready to implement an ERP solution. Here are 5:

1. Your business is entering the growth stage

If your business is experiencing a period of growth of profits, sales, and employees, chances are high that the number of systems and processes you use and require are also growing. If not managed properly, you could see a significant slowdown in growth due to inefficient processes.

By integrating an ERP solution, you can avoid this largely because these systems allow you to manage processes from a central location and provide you with the right resources when you need them. Essentially, they provide the platform that can support the systems and processes that enable healthy growth.

2. You have a tough time accessing business information

Companies without ERP often see employees wasting time tracking down important information. Think about the time you need to spend looking for accounting data. Is it available at the click of a button, or do you need to search for it across different locations?

If you are spending more time tracking important information than actually using it, you would do well to look into an ERP solution. It can centralize information and make it much easier to access when you need it, thereby increasing your overall productivity.

3. Finance and HR processes are becoming harder to manage

Companies with a small number of employees or customers can likely get by without specific software to help track relevant information and can use spreadsheets instead. But as soon as you see growth, you will quickly find out that spreadsheets simply won't cut it and managing Finance and HR related activities and information will become an uphill struggle.

If your teams rely on paper or other base information to develop reports and fill orders, you could see labor costs shoot up, possibly becoming your biggest expense. By integrating an automated solution like an ERP, you can cut back on these costs and make your employees' jobs more manageable.

4. Databases contain double entries and errors

When each department uses their own software to keep information, it can become impossible to manage it all and ensure that all systems contain not only the same information but are up-to-date. When different departments have different information for the same client, person or function you are going to see inefficiencies and errors made.

These mistakes and the time spent correcting them can result in increased wages, decreased productivity, and even potential loss of sales. By implementing an ERP, you can ensure that everyone is accessing the same information which is not only correct but also up-to-date.

5. There are numerous processes carried out on different software and systems

It is common to see many businesses invest in different software and systems for different functions and departments. In many cases, this can lead to high overhead and management costs which in turn can eat away at profits.

Many ERP solutions are developed to support a variety of business processes and departments. What this equates to is one solution that covers all aspects of your business. This is almost always more affordable than multiple systems. The same can be said if you need to add new employees. With traditional systems this means investing in new software licenses. However, with ERP you can usually add a user for a low monthly cost, or even no cost at all - depending on the solution you integrate.

If you are looking to learn more about ERP and how it can be implemented in your organization, contact us today and discover what might turn out to be a successful solution for increased profits and productivity.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Productivity
July 24th, 2014

BusinessValue_July21_AWhen it comes to the technology in your business, it can often be a challenge to keep it running smoothly and working effectively. Frankly, many small business owners simply can't keep up and their business can suffer as a result. To avoid this, one of the smartest things you can do is outsource your IT to a Managed Service Provider (MSP).

What is an MSP?

When small to medium businesses look to outsource the management of their technology, many turn to a Managed Services Provider. These service providers function as partners in the management of a business's technology and often assume responsibility for managing, installing, and monitoring all, or at least a large part, of your tech on your behalf.

Because many of these IT partners are focused on technology services, they can often provide technology services equal to, or better than, hiring an in-house IT team. Beyond that, most IT partners offer services at a fixed monthly rate, thus allowing your business to effectively budget for IT expenditures.

5 Ways an IT partner can help

Aside from stabilizing costs and offering powerful IT solutions, there are many ways an IT partner can help your business. Here are 5:

1. Provide stability and direction

Technology is always changing, and the number of services and solutions available is simply staggering. Do you go with Windows, OS X, or Linux for your operating system? What about servers? Do you want cloud services? If so, which? Simply picking the right solution for your business requires an IT expert.

IT partners know technology and take the time to get to know your business needs and goals. From there, they can help pick and implement the best solutions that will support your current demands and provide the necessary IT platform on which you can stably expand your business.

2. Allow you to focus on your core business function

Anyone who is not an IT expert but has been thrust into the role of managing technology quickly comes to realize that technology management and implementation is a full time job. What this means in many small businesses is that someone has to give up time focusing on their main role to focus on technology. This inevitably results in a loss of overall productivity.

By outsourcing your IT, you and your employees can focus on core business functions, without having to worry about pressing technology issues and staying up-to-date with tech developments. This results in an overall increase in productivity.

3. Help you learn how to leverage technology to meet your business goals

To many, new technology like the cloud, advanced databases, and web languages like HTML and CSS are simply too confusing. They may even be downright scary! When people feel overwhelmed by technology, they will often not be able to use it in the best possible way or they will shy away from it. This can lead to decreased productivity, unused technology, and a wasted investment.

Many IT partners don't just install and manage systems, they also take the time to ensure that employees are comfortable with them and understand how to use them. This increases overall tech buy-in and can in turn reduce wasted investments, saving you money in the long run.

4. Enable you to use the latest technology

A common complaint of many who work in small to medium businesses is that the technology systems in the company are old or slow. This is largely due to the fact that many businesses operate on thin margins and simply cannot afford to update systems or integrate new ones.

IT partners offer their services to many different companies and therefore need to ensure that they are using the latest technology. Because most of these services are offered over the Web, they can pass along the features and updates to your business without you having to invest in new technology.

Beyond this, many MSPs offer full-service solutions that include picking the best technology for your business. They can install systems based on your budget and also manage them, ensuring that systems remain up-to-date and fully support your business needs.

5. Ensure compliance

Many industries like healthcare, education, finance, and real estate, require that businesses comply with strict regulations regarding technology and its use. Some governments even require that all businesses meet privacy regulations, making it difficult for businesses to know what the requirements are and if they are actually compliant.

IT partners also operate in these industries and are compliant. This means that they can often ensure that your business and systems are also meeting regulations.

If you are looking for an IT partner who can help your business get the most out of your technology, contact us today to learn more about our managed services.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

July 23rd, 2014

BCP_July21_AOne of the most important tasks a business can do is to back up its data. It's really a matter of when you will lose important data, not if, and if it's not backed up there is a good chance it will be gone forever. In an effort to avoid this, it is worth taking your data backup seriously. To help, we have come up with a list of eight data backup tips.

1. Pick the backup solution that works best for your business

When it comes to backing up the data on your company's computers and systems, most companies consider five main options:
  • Internal hard drives - You can either use another hard drive installed in your computer or partition an existing hard drive so that it functions as a separate drive on which you back your data up. This is a quick option, however should your computer or the hard drive fail - two of the most common computer failures - then you will lose this data.
  • External hard drives - These drives are essentially separate hard drives that you connect to your computer via a USB or other connection. Many of these drives allow for one touch backup and can be configured to back up data at certain times. While these can be useful, especially if you want to keep data backups easily accessible, they are prone to the same potential failure as internal drives.
  • Removable drives or media - For example, USB flash drives, DVDs, etc. These are great for backing up work you are doing at the moment or for transferring small files from one machine to another. These options are limited by smaller storage sizes however, so backing up even one computer will likely require multiple disks or drives.
  • Cloud-based backup - This is the act of backing up your files to a backup provider over the Internet. Your files are stored off-site and can be restored as long as you have an Internet connection. For many businesses, this has become the main form of backup employed, largely due to cost and convenience - files can be backed up in the background. The biggest downside of this backup option however is that you do need an Internet connection for it to work and you will see more bandwidth being used, which could result in slower overall Internet speeds when files are being backed up.
  • NAS - Network Attached Storage, is a physical device that has slots for multiple hard drives. You connect this to your network and the storage space on the hard drives is pooled together and delivered to users. This solution is like a mix of cloud-based and external backup, only the device is usually in your office. While it is a good backup solution, it can get expensive, especially if you have a large number of systems to back up.
There are a wide variety of backup solutions available, so it is a good idea to sit down and figure out which are best for your business. The vast majority of companies integrate multiple solutions in order to maximize the effectiveness of their backups and spread the risk of losing data around a bit.

2. Split your backup locations

Despite all of the backup options available, you can narrow these down to two categories, the fact that the backups are kept in two locations:
  • On-site - Data backup solutions that are kept in your office. This could include internal hard drives, or NAS, and more. The idea here is that the data backup is kept in your office. Some like USB drives may leave the office, but the main idea is that they are used primarily in the office.
  • Off-site - Data backup solutions are stored off-site, or out of the office. The best example of this is cloud-based backup where your data is stored in a data center, most likely in another city. Another example is backing up to hard drives and storing them in a secure location outside of the office.
In order to ensure that your data backups are available should you need them you could split up the locations where they are kept. Should you keep all of your backups on hard drives in the office and there is damage to the premises, you could see your data disappear. One of the most effective strategies is to have one set of backups on-site, and another off-site which will ensure that should there be a disaster in one location, the other will likely be safe and you will still be able to access your data.

3. Establish a standard naming and filing system

Have you ever seen how people organize their hard drives? Some like to use folders and subfolders that are organized neatly, while others tend to throw files into one general folder. The same can be said for they way files are named - there's just so many differences.

Because of these differences, it can be difficult to back up and recover files properly. We recommend that you pick a naming and file system that every file and folder will follow across all systems. This means backups will be quicker, you will be able to see what is new, and you will spend less time organizing files.

Beyond this, an efficient naming and organization structure goes a long way toward making it easier to find files and recover them should your systems go down.

4. Determine which files need to be preserved

While it may be tempting to back every file and folder up, in an effort to maximize efficiency of your solution, it is better to not back everything up. We aren't saying don't back anything up, but you should take time to identify what files and folders are to be backed up. For example, screenshots that have been uploaded to the Web may not need to be kept.

The same can be said for non-work related files. While these may be important to your personal life, they likely aren't to the business so should not be backed up onto your business backups.

Look at each file and folder and see if it has something to do with business decisions, or is in anyway tied to your business. If it is then it is probably a good idea to keep it.

Stay tuned for the next four tips coming soon. If you would like to learn more about data backups in the mean time however, please contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.