Blog

July 24th, 2017

More firms are using the Internet of Things (IoT) to create new business opportunities. For instance, companies that install smart sensors can automate data entry and monitor their inventory. However, if left unsecured, IoT devices also give hackers an opportunity to breach your network. In order to keep attackers at bay, we advise you take the following precautions with your IoT devices.

Set passwords Many often forget they can set passwords for IoT devices. When this happens, they tend to leave their gadgets with default passwords, essentially leaving the door open for hackers. Make sure to set new and strong passwords -- preferably with a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols -- for each device connected to your network. Then, use a password manager to securely keep track of all your passwords.

Disable Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) UPnP is designed to help IoT gadgets discover other network devices. However, hackers can also exploit this feature to find and connect to your IoT devices. To prevent them from getting to your network, it’s best to disable this feature completely.

Create a separate network When you’re dealing with IoT devices, it’s wise to quarantine them in a separate network unconnected to your main office network. By doing this, user gadgets will still have access to the internet but won’t be able to access mission-critical files.

You should also consider investing in device access management tools. These allow you to control which devices can access what data, and prevent unauthorized access.

Update your firmware If you want to keep your devices secure against the latest attacks, then you need to keep your IoT software up to date. Security researchers are always releasing security patches for the most recent vulnerabilities, so make it a habit to regularly check for and install IoT firmware updates. If you have several gadgets to secure, use patch management software to automate patch distribution and set a schedule to check for updates monthly.

Unplug it Disconnecting your IoT devices from the internet (or turning them off completely) whenever you don’t need them significantly reduces how vulnerable you are to an attack. Think about it, if there’s nothing to target, hackers won’t be able to make their move. Turning your IoT devices on and off again may not seem like the most convenient strategy, but it does deny unauthorized access to your router.

Unfortunately, as IoT devices become more commonplace in homes and offices, more hackers will develop more cunning ways to exploit them. Getting into the above mentioned security habits can protect you from a wide variety of IoT attacks, but if you really need to beef up your security, then contact us today. We have robust security solutions that keep your hardware safe.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
July 18th, 2017

Workplace Analytics is a program that helps managers determine staff productivity levels using data gathered from their email, calendar, documents, and other applications within Office 365. Previously, Microsoft’s MyAnalytics allowed only employees to view their individual data, but with this updated version, managers now have access to this data, too.

How it works

Now available as an add-on to Office 365 enterprise plans, Workplace Analytics extracts behavioral insights from data gathered from Office 365 email, calendar, documents, and Skype. This means that any data an employee types into their email and calendar -- whether it’s on the subject line or the main content itself -- can be used to indicate their productivity status.

The program has an overview dashboard that provides specific information:

  • Week in the Life provides an overall view of how the entire organization spends time and how members collaborate
  • Meetings shows the amount of time spent in meetings
  • Management and Coaching gauges staff-manager one-on-one meetings
  • Network and Collaboration takes a look at how employees connect to colleagues

What does it aim to do?

Workplace Analytics aims to address what, according to Microsoft, are businesses’ most common challenges: complexity, productivity, and engagement.

Using Analytics data, managers and human resources departments can form productivity strategies for the entire company. If, based on Workplace Analytics data, a majority of your employees are spending 60% of their time attending meetings and not enough time doing creative work, they can come up with a strategy that reduces meeting time and focuses more on productive tasks.

It also identifies how employees collaborate with internal and external parties. Suppose one of your sales staff frequently communicates with certain contacts. By using Workplace Analytics data, the employee’s manager would be able to determine whether this particular collaboration pattern is helping the employee hit sales targets or whether he or she is missing out on other more critical contacts. Also, based on this info, managers would be able to determine which employees are most likely to meet or exceed their targets and set company-wide standards accordingly.

Data gathered by Workplace Analytics also allows managers to determine an employee’s level of engagement (i.e., whether the organization’s collaboration patterns are good for the company) and whether workloads are fairly distributed among workers and/or departments.

Is it useful for small businesses?

Large corporations have been using Workplace Analytics, but small businesses can also benefit from it. For one, the data used to provide the insights are all based on data generated by employees themselves -- how much time they spend on meetings, whom they frequently communicate with, and how much time they spend on productive tasks.

Aside from letting managers examine their staff’s working behavior, Workplace Analytics also provides an overall look into what happens at an organizational level. If you want your organization to harness the capabilities of Workplace Analytics and other Office 365 tools, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Office
July 13th, 2017

The WannaCry ransomware, which infected 200,000 business globally and made over $100,000 in ransom payments, is said to be one of the worst cyber attacks in history. However, a new ransomware strain named Nyetya is shaping up to be a more formidable security threat. It has already affected businesses globally, and security firms and researchers believe it to be stealthier and more sophisticated than WannaCry.

Worse than WannaCry

Nyetya is deemed worse than WannaCry mainly because it spreads laterally, meaning it targets computers within networks and affects even systems that have been patched. Because it also spreads internally, it needs to infect only one device to affect several others within a single network.

Cyber researchers trace its origins to a tax accounting software called MEDoc, which infected 12,500 systems in Ukraine. Since the initial infections in June, it has spread to thousands of networks in 64 countries. And although it hasn’t spread as fast as WannaCry, it might have a wider reach soon because it uses three attack pathways to infect a system. It hasn’t made as much money as WannaCry, which is why cyber researchers are concluding that the attacks are not economically motivated.

Don’t pay the ransom

Cyber security firms and researchers strongly recommend affected businesses to avoid paying the ransom. According to them, paying the ransom would be a waste since the infected user won’t be able to receive a decryption key to unlock their files or systems. This is because the email provider has blocked the email address on the ransomware message.

Although it operates like a ransomware -- locking hard drives and files and demands a $300 ransom in Bitcoin -- it functions more as a wiperware that aims to permanently wipe out data and/or destroy systems. So far, it has affected big-name multinationals in various industries, including Merck, Mondelez International, and AP Moller-Maersk, among others.

Perform backups and update outdated security patches

The only way businesses can be protected is by performing backups and staying on top of patch updates.

It’s safe to say that in case of a Nyetya attack, there’s no chance of getting back your data. In such a scenario, you would have only your backup files -- whether on an external storage or in the cloud -- to fall back on. But backing up is not enough; you should also ensure that your backups are working, which you can do by testing them regularly. Given the nature of Nyetya, you should also make sure that your backups are stored off-site and disconnected from your network.

Like its predecessor, Nyetya exploited vulnerabilities in unpatched Microsoft-run computers. As a business owner, make it a part of your cyber security routine to update your systems with the latest security patches, or risk having your files or systems permanently corrupted.

As a business owner whose operations’ lifeline depends on critical files, your backups are your insurance. If your systems’ network security needs another layer of protection, get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
July 11th, 2017

Everyone wishes there were more minutes in a day. Between repetitive emails and seemingly endless meetings, it’s hard to find time for important tasks. Thanks to the increasing affordability of enterprise-level IT however, SMBs can start getting at least half of those problems under control with email automation.

What is email automation?

Usually included in customer relationship management (CRM) software, email automation centers around the idea of combining your business data into emails to customers and prospects. This allows you to draft templates with placeholders for names, addresses, and other variables that the platform will match with individuals from your email list.

Even better however, is personalizing how and when your emails go out to clients. Automatically inserting customer data into an email is great, but it still requires that you draft the content that surrounds it and hit Send. Email automation grants you the ability to create templated emails that are automatically merged with client data and sent when certain conditions are met.

Examples of email automation

To really get an idea of how valuable this solution is, it’s important to see what it looks like in action. Say you own an eCommerce site that sells complementary goods, like golf clubs and golf balls. You could create a campaign wherein anytime someone buys a set of clubs, pre-written emails automatically go out one month later on how high-quality golf balls improve your handicap.

You’re not limited to two-step workflows either. Take a look at this example:

  • Step 1: Send a personalized email with a special offer on golf balls for existing customers.
  • Step 2: Send a follow-up based on how customers interacted with the offer email:
    • If a customer cashed in the offer, send a thank you email.
      • Step 3: Follow it up with a similar offer three months later.
    • If a customer visited the promo page but didn’t convert, send a promo email for another type of product, like golf bags.
      • Step 3: Follow it up with either a thank you email or another promo for golf clothes.
    • If a customer didn’t even open the email, send a survey email asking about their interests.
      • Step 3: Follow it up with email campaigns based on what they selected.
Email automation means there’s no need to micromanage your customer relationships. As long as you define the path to purchase for high-volume products, you can program workflows to nurture customers and prospects automatically.

For as little as a couple hundred bucks a month, your customer outreach campaigns can compete on the same level as your corporate counterparts with little effort from your team. Add in an expert IT provider and you have the ability to blow the competition out of the water. To learn more, contact us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
July 10th, 2017

Facebook has numerous built-in features to help small- and medium-sized businesses thrive. But chances are that most business owners are taking advantage of only just a few. With Facebook’s audience reaching 1.8 billion users monthly, it’s vital for your business to leverage the right tools to enhance growth. Here are four features you should start using right away:

Audience Insights tool This free tool is designed to help businesses learn more about their target audience. Audience Insights takes the guesswork out of identifying your customers by providing data such as geography, purchasing patterns, and even the Facebook pages they like. You can also use your existing customer database, Facebook page, or email list to learn more about your clients. Audience Insights help save a lot of time and money by determining whom you should advertise to.

Facebook Product Shops This allows you to sell your products directly from your Facebook page. After following these instructions, you can set up your product shop in just a few clicks. You can choose whether you want buyers to purchase directly on Facebook or whether you want buyers to complete checkout on your website. Consider running ads using the data gathered from the Audience Insights tool to target ideal customers and increase sales.

New Facebook Ads Facebook’s advertising platform offers endless combinations to create the perfect ad. It features numerous placement options that go beyond the traditional newsfeed. There are two new ad destinations that could help you reach new audiences:

  • Facebook Messenger ads - deliver a highly personalized experience by providing an opportunity for you to chat with prospective customers. You can answer questions or schedule appointments from the Messenger app.
  • In-stream video ads - despite being relatively new, this prime advertising space allows businesses to deliver 5-15 second mid-roll video ads within live and non-live videos on Facebook.
Facebook Live marketing Due to its rising popularity, businesses are looking for ways to incorporate Facebook Live into their social media marketing strategies. Here are a couple of tips to optimize Facebook Live usage:
  • Livestream pre-scheduling - this tool creates and pre-schedules Facebook Live streams, thereby boosting anticipation for your videos and prompting viewers to mark their calendars if they want to tune in.
  • Merge it with your Product Shop - this feature can be used on your Facebook page only if you’ve set up your Product Shop. When you mention your products in a livestream, you’ll be able to tag your products in the video, allowing viewers to access your Product Shop directly from the video.
In order to surpass your competitors, you’ll need to not only establish a strong online presence but also know how to leverage Facebook to your business’s advantage. If you’re interested in adopting a social media marketing strategy, feel free to give us a call or send us an email!
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
July 6th, 2017

Businesses are always looking for ways to cut costs without sacrificing growth. For the longest time, many believed that they had to purchase workstations with its own processing power, RAM, and hard drive. But thanks to virtualization, companies can save money and get the computing processes they need with thin and zero clients.

What are thin and zero clients? Thin clients are stripped-down computers with minimum processing power and memory. They rely on a basic operating system and a network connection to access a more powerful system where almost all computing processes take place.

Zero clients work the same way. The only difference is that there’s no local storage or operating system installed on the device; all the software, storage, and processing power sits on a server until you need it. This setup makes it ideal for cutting costs, and here’s why.

Reduced hardware costs When it comes to upfront costs, thin and zero clients are the obvious choice. Conventional desktops start at $300 per user, while thin clients can go for as low as $90 per user. And since they have no hard drive or other moving parts, lean devices tend to be more durable and have a longer lifespan than their traditional counterparts.

Simplified IT management Another benefit of thin clients is that they can be managed from a server. Suppose a new software update was released. Instead of manually downloading the patch on each computer, you can simply install the update on your server and roll it out to all thin clients. Apart from upgrades, you can make backups, security configurations, and application deployments in the data center. This quickens setup, reduces downtime, and increases employee productivity.

Minimized security risks Thin clients also help you avoid costly malware attacks and data breach incidents. Your employees and poorly managed endpoints are the biggest vulnerabilities with traditional desktops. Thin and zero clients reduce these problems by limiting direct access to the operating system. This prevents employees from copying sensitive data to removable media and installing software, malicious or otherwise.

If your thin client is damaged or corrupted, you don’t have to worry about your data, as it’s originally stored in an impenetrable server.

Decreased energy consumption Because processing is done locally, traditional desktops generate a lot of heat and require more power, which results in huge power and cooling bills at the end of the month. By contrast, thin and zero clients consume only 4-6.5 watts of power, almost 1/50th of thick client requirements. What’s more, they require little to no cooling, allowing you to enjoy significant cost savings.

When looking for cost-cutting solutions, thin and zero clients should never be overlooked. The reduced hardware costs, power bills, and security risks are just too good to pass up. But if you’re still unsure about this technology, give us a call. We’ll assess your tech needs and determine whether or not thin or zero clients can help you succeed.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
June 29th, 2017

If you wished Microsoft would streamline its Office 365 ProPlus update schedule, your prayers have been answered. The cloud solution, which includes the Enterprise E3 and E5 plans, will be updated twice a year, rather than three times a year. Here’s everything you need to know about the new ProPlus update schedule.

Why the new schedule?

Feedback has almost always been Microsoft’s impetus to make changes of any kind, and this is no exception. The software giant wanted to simplify the update process and improve coordination between Office 365 and Windows, and the new schedule should handle both of those aims.

This is particularly helpful for those using Secure Productive Enterprise (SPE). SPE was bundled with Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus, meaning subscribers had to deal with two separate upgrades prior to the new schedule. Moving forward, things will be simplified as a single update twice a year will suffice.

What else changed?

Microsoft is extending support for ProPlus from 12 months per update to 18 months. This means you can technically update once or twice a year, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

They’ve also changed the following terminology used in their updates:

  • Current Channel → Monthly Channel
  • First Release for Deferred Channel → Semi-annual Channel (Pilot)
  • Deferred Channel → Semi-annual Channel (Broad)
The Semi-annual Channel (Pilot) and Semi-annual Channel (Broad) describe the twice-a-year feature updates and how they will be deployed: the former to be used as deployment testing and the latter for actual deployment to an organization’s users.

When will the first ProPlus upgrade be released under the new schedule?

The first Pilot channel will be available on September 12, 2017, the same day as that month’s Patch Tuesday. The first Broad channel will be available four months later on January 9, 2018, also on a Patch Tuesday.

The second release will bring a new Pilot on March 13, 2018 and a new Broad on July 10, 2018.

Can you skip a ProPlus features upgrade?

While you can in fact choose only to upgrade once a year, you will eventually have to conduct a second upgrade to get the most up-to-date support. Microsoft is giving you two months of overlap in the next update to do this.

So, say your firm deploys the Broad channel in January 2018, but skips the July 2018 upgrade, you would have to upgrade within the two-month span between January 2019 and March 2019 to be eligible for the latest support.

What happened to the ProPlus upgrade for June 2017?

Microsoft released new Deferred Channel and First Release for Deferred Channel upgrades on June 13, 2017. You will have three months to conduct enterprise pilots and validate applications with this upgrade before the final Deferred Channel release on September 12, 2017. The last Deferred Channel will be supported until July 10, 2018.

Changes to the support life cycle of Office 365 ProPlus will ultimately save you time and reduce the hassles of conducting upgrades. That said, it might take some time getting used to the new schedule and nomenclature, so if you have any questions about Office 365 or the new schedule, just give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Office
June 27th, 2017

When we write about how antivirus software isn’t enough to keep you safe from malware, it’s not just scare tactics. There are so many ways hackers can break into your system that antivirus solutions will never catch. For a real-world example, look no further than the router exploit kit recently leaked from the CIA.

The Wikileaks CIA documents

For several months, the notorious website famous for leaking government data has been rolling out information it obtained from the Central Intelligence Agency. The documents detail top-secret surveillance projects from 2013 to 2016 and mainly cover cyber espionage.

In the most recent release, documents describe government-sponsored methods and programs used to exploit home, office, and public wireless routers for both tracking internet browsing habits and remotely accessing files stored on devices that connect to compromised networks.

Is my router one of them?

According to the documents, 25 models of wireless routers from 10 different manufacturers were being exploited by the CIA. They weren’t off-brand budget devices either; the list includes devices from some of the biggest names in wireless networking:
  • Netgear
  • Linksys
  • Belkin
  • D-Link
  • Asus
Those brands account for over a third of wireless routers on the market, which means there’s a good chance you’re at risk.

After WannaCry used a previous CIA leak to fuel its global spread, you need to worry about more than just being a target of government espionage too. Over the past few years, almost all of these leaks have quickly made their way into criminal hands.

Patching vulnerabilities

Fixing security gaps in hardware is tricky business, especially when they’re mainly used to monitor rather than corrupt. In most cases, there will be no visual cues or performance problems to indicate your hardware has been infected. As such, you should plan on regularly updating the software on your hardware devices whenever possible.

Accessing your router's software interface isn’t a user-friendly experience for non-IT folks. Usually, to access it, you need to visit the manufacturer’s website and log in with the administrator username and password. If these are still set to the default “admin” and “password” make sure to change them.

Once logged in, navigate through the settings menus until you find the Firmware Update page. Follow the instructions and confirm that the firmware has been properly installed.

The CIA’s router leaks were vague, so we’re not even sure how recent they are. We are fairly certain, however, that all of the manufacturers have since patched the vulnerabilities. Regardless, updating your router’s firmware will protect from a number of cyber security risks. If you’re unable to finish the task on your own, one of our technicians can fix it, as well as any other firmware vulnerabilities, in a matter hours. All you need to do is call!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
June 23rd, 2017

As machine learning, digital storage, and analytics software get more advanced, data is becoming more valuable than ever. Even businesses that don’t rely on data to operate are starting to find ways to get more value out of their information. Microsoft’s newest platform is an excellent example of that -- and it’s free!

What is Power BI?

Released in the spring of 2016, Power BI is Microsoft’s business analytics platform. Regardless of whether or not data is stored within a Microsoft platform, connecting Power BI to a database allows you to create detailed graphs, charts, maps, and more. For example, if you upload sales records, dragging and dropping two columns is all it takes to map out where your product sees the most demand.

Recently, Microsoft announced a brand new feature for business owners who want to get more value out of their software subscriptions. The Office 365 adoption content pack collects information about how your employees use Microsoft productivity software, and feeds it directly into Power BI’s analytics. There are four types of insights you can work with:

Adoption

These metrics give you visibility into how much each O365 platform is being used. You may be paying for OneDrive accounts for the entire organization, only for Power BI to reveal that less than a quarter of your team is using it. Compare enabled users and active users to get a clearer picture of your investments.

Communication

You can also see exactly how employees are using communication solutions. If nearly everyone on the team is accessing Skype for Business from a mobile data connection, it might be time to reduce your investments in cellular-based minutes.

Collaboration

Microsoft has several collaboration platforms, and without proper guidance, employees are likely to use the easiest one rather than the best one. Power BI shows you how much time users spend time in their own Word, PowerPoint, and SharePoint documents compared to the time they spend in documents from colleagues. This shows you which platforms encourage the most collaboration and which ones are struggling.

Activation

- The activation insights give you under-the-hood visibility into which versions of O365 users are running, and what devices they use to access them. That may seem like trivial information, but it can have huge impacts on cyber security.

Power BI comes in three different plans: Desktop, Pro, and Premium. Best of all, both the Desktop plan and the Office 365 adoption content pack are totally free. If you like what you see, consider enlisting us to set up and optimize either a Pro or Premium Power BI deployment -- we’re only a phone call away!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
June 21st, 2017

Power outages caused by utility failure, accidents, and natural disasters such as storms, flooding, or earthquakes are inevitable. There’s very little you can do to prevent any of these from happening, but you can avoid the consequences to your business by using an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS).

What is an uninterruptible power supply?

An uninterruptible power supply is an essential piece of hardware that protects both your computer and your data. It provides a backup power source in case of main power failures caused by electrical current problems such as blackouts, brownouts, and power spikes.

Smaller UPS units can protect individual computers while larger models can power multiple devices or an entire office. Small businesses can opt for individual UPS units, which should be enough to back up critical computers and other devices that are key to business continuity.

Benefits of having UPS

It’s a known fact that power outages can damage or completely destroy electronic equipment, especially computers. Unexpected computer shutdown can cause great damage to your computer hardware and make you lose unsaved data. A UPS ensures you never experience such a scenario.

Here are other ways that a UPS benefits your systems:

  • Uninterrupted power flow during power surges

When you have UPS, the voltage that passes from the main electrical lines to your devices is consistently stabilized. This protects your computers from power surges, which happen when the voltage in other equipment suddenly rises.
  • Refined and filtered power supply

It normalizes power levels so that your computers are protected against dips and spikes caused by lightning or an abnormal power supply that usually comes from restored power after a blackout.
  • Instant power during brownouts

An uninterruptible power supply guarantees your operations’ continuity. In the event of short-term interruptions, it gives you enough time to switch to a larger, more stable power supply such as a generator. But unlike a generator, it provides instant power to your equipment at the exact moment the power goes out.

Does your business need a UPS?

If you’re purchasing new computers for your small business, a UPS is an invaluable add-on. Businesses that require constant power to function such as hospitals, banks, academic institutions, manufacturing companies, and any business for which storing and processing data are critical tasks can benefit from uninterrupted power.

Determining the type of UPS for your business as well as installing and maintaining it may require the expertise of professionals. We have experts who could provide you with information on properly operating a UPS, replacing its battery, identifying devices that should never be connected to it, and other safety tips. Call us today for advice.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware