VoIP: A New Dimension in Communication for SMBs

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

VoIP: A New Dimension in Communication for SMBs

Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP is about a decade old technology that is gaining popularity among individual subscribers and businesses. In conventional systems, phone calls are made using telephones or handsets that are connected by phone cables. These calls are routed using the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) carrying a signal from one telephone to the other. But instead of connecting telephones to the phone cables through phone jacks in the walls, VoIP uses the internet where phones can be connected to broadband devices, adapters or PCs using broadband. With this system, voice is converted into a digital signal and carried over the Internet. Let’s take a look at all the options that are available to make calls using VoIP.

Make Calls from a PC: Using this platform a call can be placed from your PC. Your computer is connected to the Internet via broadband. A specially designed software app allows you to place and receive phone calls right from your PC. When deployed, this software displays a dial pad. You can dial a number using a mouse or keyboard. You will need a headphone or speaker to hear and a microphone to speak. When your PC is connected to a phone or another PC on the other end, you can talk like you would on a regular phone. The software with video capabilities will let you see each other (you and the recipient of your call) if it is a PC to PC call and both computers are equipped with cameras. In this case you don’t even need a telephone handset.

Make Calls using a regular phone: You can make phone calls with a regular phone using VoIP technology, but for this you will have to have a service, such as Vonage, that provides VoIP access. You can subscribe to their service for a monthly flat fee or a per-minute rate. Your regular phone can be plugged into an adapter which is then connected to a broadband device. Some services will allow you to make calls within their service network only. But there are other services that will let you make calls anywhere. That means you can call local, long distance, international and through mobile devices.

VoIP telephones: There are VoIP service providers that provide special phones. To use these phones you don’t need an adapter. Their telephones are designed to work with your broadband device. You can connect this phone directly into your broadband modem using an Ethernet cable and use the phone like any regular phone.

Companies providing VoIP services are focusing on providing unified communication platforms that will include phone, emails, faxes, videos and voice mail capabilities. Their goal is to deliver these capabilities that can be used by all means of communication including handheld devices.

The Role of MSPs: Managed Service Providers or MSPs can help businesses with the installation of hardware and software, enabling VoIP technology. This will also organize their communication networks by integrating those networks into their IT infrastructure. Now SMBs can eliminate another worry (management of their communication systems) by outsourcing their IT services.

SMBs: It is Hackers v. You – Don’t Let Them Score

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

SMBs: It is Hackers v. You – Don’t Let Them Score

Selling stolen IDs and other personal data is a lucrative trade for hackers. They are always looking for sources where vital information is stored. As a small to midsize business you store your client’s personal information, collected from different sources, on your computers and servers. Your Point-of-sale (PoS) terminal and some website transactions can be completed by use of electronic banking, credit cards or debit cards only. Your customers have to key-in their pins or passwords to make payments. That information has to be saved. Also, depending on the kind of services or products you provide, you may be collecting Social Security numbers, addresses, driver’s license numbers and DOBs of your clients. Information that personal is as important as it can get. Any source of that information is like a gold mine for a hacker. All this means only one thing for you: A data security nightmare.

Here are the channels hackers can use to break into your IT infrastructure

  • Your website: Hackers have become very sophisticated in cyberattacks on websites. They can access specific information by targeting websites that have the information they are looking for. For example, if they want only financial information about their victims, they can use tools that will fish for the websites that carry that kind of information. Implementation of web-based applications has made it easier for cybercriminals to connect to your website database. They are able to find the loopholes and hack into systems. They can then access your customer’s personal information, allowing them to steal from your clients by committing credit card and bank fraud. Or they can just sell your client’s info on the Internet.
  • Your computers and servers: Your computers and servers are treasure-troves of information. By sending malware into your systems they can steal your admin passwords, and then login to your servers and other network devices. These hardware devices are the ultimate prize for cyber thieves because these devices not only hold important information about your clients, they also have all the information about your business and possibly about your vendors and associates. There is nothing about your business that these hackers don’t know. Imagine how devastating this attack can be.
  • Mobile devices used by your employees: If you are one of those entities that allow their employees to use their mobile devices to conduct business, you have another security dimension to worry about. You don’t know how secure their mobile phones, iPads, laptops or tablets are. You don’t know how hard or easy their passwords are to crack. Breach of security into those devices will lead hackers right into your networks where they can steal data at will.
  • Unsecure Wi-Fi network: Most businesses keep their Wi-Fi networks well protected, but unsecured Wi-Fi is an open invitation to cyber criminals. If your Wi-Fi network is not secure, hackers are one step closer to breaking into your systems without even trying.
  • Your PoS systems: PoS systems are the prime targets for hackers who want to commit financial fraud. Cyber thieves know that PoS systems that come with preloaded software can be hacked using an unsecured Wi-Fi network. This fraud has a direct impact on an individual’s finances because a hacker can make unauthorized credit card charges quickly and move on before anyone realizes what happened. Ruined credit can take years to mend.
  • Your emails: Email is another venue that hackers use to infect computers with malicious software. They send viruses that replicate themselves in the host computers, performing various tasks such as denial of service to the users of your systems, spamming your contacts and accessing data without authorization.

Summary: After reading this article you probably feel like you are in cyber warfare with hackers and your IT infrastructure is the battlefield. You are absolutely right. Hackers are relentless and they are devising new methods all the time to steal from businesses. But this is one fight you can’t let them win. Protecting client data is not just a moral obligation. You are legally bound by the privacy laws to protect this information by all means. Breach in data security can ruin your reputation, and the financial liability to meet legal obligations may become too much to sustain.

So how do you fight this war in which you have to make certain that there is only one winner? Outsource your IT managed services to professionals who will monitor your networks 24/7 from a remote location. Your in-house IT management team may be able to fix problems, but it is important that proactive solutions are in place in case there is data loss as a result of a breach. Managed services can create solid data backup & recovery plans that will have your systems up and running quickly, so you can reduce downtime and protect your revenue.

Business Disaster: What Threatens Small Businesses the Most?

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Business Disaster: What Threatens Small Businesses the Most?

There are many threats to the integrity of a small business, and not all of them are as dramatic as a cyberattack or a hurricane. Every small business needs to do a risk assessment to determine all the threats that exist that could bring harm. External threats are the ones that get the the most attention. These can be big snowstorms or hurricanes that bring down power lines and network connections. They can also be man-made. A power outage due to a grid failure, or an act of terror. Also in this category are phishing scams, cyber attacks and data theft from external sources.

All of these are the ones that make the evening network news, and every business needs to plan how to handle them. However, there are some internal threats that can be just as serious, but are far less attention getting.

For example, human error. Stolen data can occur because someone forgot about changing their passcode, or they left a smartphone containing critical data on the bus. These aren’t nefarious acts, but they can still have serious consequences. Have you looked at how you might wipe clean a lost phone? What about the person who forgot to do a backup the day before a server failed?

Another area where human error can occur is a technical oversight. Perhaps an overworked tech who did not recognize the existence of a single point of failure in your IT infrastructure. To learn how outsourcing some tasks such as proactive management and security audits can solve these problems, see “Outsourcing Isn’t a Dirty Word: Meet Managed Services, Your IT Team’s New Best Friend – Managed Services”

Data Protection and Bring Your Own Device to Work

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Data Protection and Bring Your Own Device to Work

BYOD refers to a firm’s policy of allowing employees to use their own personal phones, tablets and laptops for all their work applications.This is a pretty common policy, and it has many benefits, but it brings along risks. How are you addressing these risks?

Here are some of the issues raised by BYOD

  1. A lost device – If you issue company phones, you have the ability to remotely wipe the unit clean if it is lost or stolen. With employee’s personal devices, do you still have that ability. If not, your data is at risk.
  2. Software updates – Is the employee responsible for updating all the software and virus protection programs on their own devices? If that responsibility transfers to them, you are at the mercy of their willingness to keep track of such tedious tasks. If you accept responsibility for it, do you have the in-house staff to handle all the extra work?
  3. Back ups – with data being entered on many different devices, something must be done to ensure back up procedures are routinely followed.

In short, BYOD is probably an unavoidable approach to device management. It is unrealistic to expect people to carry around 2 different phones or tablets 24/7. But BYOD means extra work for the in-house staff of a small business. To learn more about these risks and a more affordable, comprehensive approach to BYOD Management, see our e-guide “Now you see it, There IT…Stays”.

Everyday Human Error Can Affect Data Protection

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Everyday Human Error Can Affect Data Protection

Are you under the impression that data loss is all about putting up firewalls to protect against evil cyberattacks? Some of the biggest sources of data loss include sloppiness, human error, and just plain forgetfulness.

What are some of the unglamorous things that we do everyday that leave us vulnerable?

Passwords
Old or easy passwords are a good first example. Employees set up simple passwords that are easy to crack. More importantly, employees may share passwords, and many often fail to create new ones on a frequent basis. Both of these represent critical breakdowns of good data protection practices.

Emails
Another significant problem caused by bad judgment is the tendency of people to open phishing scams. Almost everyone now knows about the Nigerian who wants to send money to your bank account, but many new scams come along every day and people fall for them. This is such a serious source of virus infection that some companies now deliberately send out their own phishing email to teach workers not to open anything from an unknown source. (The employee who opens one of these gets a pop up screen that tells them they’ve been tricked and then offers guidelines for identifying bad emails.)

Browsing the Web
Bad websites. Yes, everyone has policies about internet use at work, but that doesn’t mean people pay attention and don’t visit places they shouldn’t. Most significantly, a lot of those “sites they shouldn’t visit” are far more likely to be infected than CNN, Ebay or Amazon!

Losing Your Belongings
And finally there is just old-fashioned forgetfulness. Phones left on a bar stool.Or the bus. Sigh. There isn’t much more to be said about this one.

To learn more about the risks that your employees pose to your business’s data integrity, see our e-guide “Now you see it, There IT…Stays”.

Disaster Recovery Plans: Do You Have One?

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

Disaster Recovery Plans: Do You Have One?

Disaster recovery and business continuity plans are issues that almost all small businesses fail to think about. More frequently, they decide they haven’t the resources to address such “unthinkables.”

If your business was down for 1-2 days or more, what costs would you incur?

  1. Lost revenues and lost productivity. These are obvious. You won’t make the money that you would have if you remained open. This is especially true if you provide a service. Services are inherently tied to time, and time cannot be re-created. Sure, you can work extra hours next week, but it won’t be a service provided at the time it was expected. However, even if you provide a product that can be purchased next week instead of today, a customer didn’t get it when they most wanted or needed it.

    There are other far more serious consequences of business downtime than just unsold goods and services. There are the intangibles that can’t be so easily measured but have long-term consequences.

  2. Helping the competition – You give your competition a real edge. Present clients and potential ones may go to a competitor while you are down. Not all will return. Your competitors now have ammunition against you to use in sales pitches.
  3. Employee frustration – Employees will carry the burden of the extra hours and stress of helping get things back together. That can lead to a lot of frustration, which, if things don’t get back to normal quickly, can damage long-term productivity. Most importantly, it can damage the respect they have for management (that means you). In general, they will recognize that you didn’t have the foresight and wisdom to anticipate the need to create disaster recovery and continuity plans. How can that not damage their trust and support for the company and you?
  4. Negative brand reputation –Your customers will also wonder how you couldn’t have cared enough to make plans to handle trouble. Think of the negative way a customer sees it. The event suggests a company that doesn’t think ahead. A client is not “off base” to feel angry that you didn’t care enough to make plans to support him if a disaster hit. Also, if you can’t handle disasters well, what else aren’t you handling properly?

These are just a few of the reasons everyone needs to consider disaster recovery. To learn more, see our e-guide “Staying Alive: The Definitive Guide to Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery for Small Businesses”.

Outsourcing? Really. Its OK: How it can save time and money

By | Uncategorized | No Comments
 
 
Outsourcing? Really. It’s OK: How it can save time and money
 
Almost by definition, small business owners and entrepreneurs cringe at the concept of outsourcing. Those who start their own companies like the control and autonomy it provides them. Unfortunately, that preference for control and autonomy may have some bad side effects when it comes to IT.
 
Small business don’t have the resources to fully support all of their IT infrastructure needs. The present in-house staff is most likely very busy putting out day-to-day fires. One statistic suggests 65% of IT budgets go to nothing more than keeping the lights on. In short, staff is busy making sure the printer works or reloading a PC infected by a virus after an employee fell for a phishing email. This means that small firm’s expenditures on IT are not improving operational, efficiency, or enhancing productivity or competitiveness.
 
There is an alternative. Managed Service Providers are outside consultants you can bring in to handle the day-to-day tasks, so your own IT resources can be used more productively.
 
How might an MSP supplement your IT efforts?
  1. 24/7 operations center – Small businesses can benefit from, but simply cannot afford 24/7 internal monitoring of their IT infrastructure. Many of the issues that become costly business disruptions, such as hardware, software, and applications failures are completely preventable if they’re detected and addressed early enough. It is a reality that your systems run 24/7, but you can’t support a 24/7 IT staff. A MSP, however, can use economies of scale to provide around the clock monitoring of your IT operations.
  2. Disaster recovery and business continuity plans – Small businesses have limited resources, so if there were to be a serious business interruption or data loss, they could be completely out of luck. However, risk assessments and continuity plans are likely outside of a small business owners field of expertise. A MSP can be brought in to design a complete solution.
These are just 2 ways that a small business owner can benefit from passing along IT support to an outside source. In both cases, small business owners don’t lose any control of the key parts of the business operation. Instead, the distractions of IT support are moved along to an expert, while the entrepreneur focuses on what she does best: running her business. We’ll talk in another blog about other benefits of outsourcing IT, but in the meantime, see our e-guide “Outsourcing Isn’t a Dirty Word: Meet Managed Services, Your IT Team’s New Best Friend – Managed Services”.

Run your Business, not an IT Company

By | Uncategorized | No Comments
 
 
Run your Business, not an IT Company
 
You went into business because you have an interest and expertise in some particular product or service. You began the firm to offer that product or service, but a dirty little problem came along with that new company. IT requirements. You need equipment, and you need networks, and printers, and data storage to keep the company up and running. As a consequence, you’ve become responsible for managing something you probably don’t care very much about or even understand especially well.
 
Managed Service Providers can be a solution. A small business can off load a variety of IT tasks that are becoming a distraction to everyday business operations and strategy.Here are just two examples.
 
Software updates and security audits: Your present in-house staff may be spending most of its time fixing everyday problems. As a result, they may have to delay vital security measures, such as applying tested security patches or updating virus software programs. Working with a MSP will eliminate much of the work overload that leads to system or security vulnerabilities.
 
An end user help desk: If you have any in-house staff, they are probably well-trained and very qualified. Are their skills being wasted on all the little daily issues of cranky printers and broken keyboards? MSPs can offer an end user help desk that can handle all those calls that pull your own staff away from larger efforts that can enhance productivity and move the business forward.

What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 
What is the Cloud: A Simple Analogy
 
You use the cloud and don’t even know it. Do you go to Amazon and create a wishlist? Do you have an email account on Yahoo? That is cloud computing. All your emails are stored on Yahoo servers somewhere. They are on physical servers, of course, but they aren’t on your laptop. The advantage is that when you spill your coffee onto the laptop keyboard, you haven’t lost all your emails even if you never backed up your hard drive. (If you haven’t, shame on you, by the way.)
 
Here is a simple analogy to explain how the cloud works and why it might be a very useful part of your business model. Picture the small, very cramped office space of a little start-up. You and a few coworkers sit in tight quarters with messy desktops buried in mounds of papers, files, and pizza boxes. There is absolutely no room for storage. (Throw the boxes out yourself. There are limits even to cloud technology) It will be a long time until you can afford a larger office space. Your building manager offers to rent you an empty file cabinet in the basement. Although the basement space is shared with other tenants, only you and your team have keys to this locked cabinet where you will store all those piles of paper. Your rent is relatively cheap compared to other tenants, since you’re only paying for the cabinet, and not the larger lockers they have leased.
 
Suddenly, those once covered desktops are clean, leaving space to work. More importantly, the papers are all nearby, each of you has a key, but they are safe from everyone else in the building or outside. They are also safe from spilled coffee and pizza crumbs. You’ve avoided the dramatic jump in fixed costs required to find bigger office space, when all you needed were several feet of filing cabinets. Even better, the money saved is put back into the core goal of providing a product or service to a customer.
 
The cloud does the same thing. You rent only the space you need, it is safer from hackers than your on-site server will ever be, secure from thieves, and protected from accident-prone employees. Unlike the rest of us, cloud service providers don’t have coffee cups near their keyboards or forget to do monthly backups. In short, the cloud provides scalable storage without large incremental leaps in fixed costs you really can’t afford.

Loss of Data: Causes and Prevention

By | Uncategorized | No Comments

 

 
Loss of Data: Causes and Prevention
 
The adoption of technology from the simplest of matters to the most complex problems has rendered us heavily dependent on it. We love paying our bills minutes before they are due. We enjoy seeing loved ones face-to-face on our computer screens. We can access and print our extremely sensitive records from government and financial websites in a matter of minutes instead of waiting for the mail for days. The time and resources that technology saves are invaluable, but this convenience has a very ugly side. This convenience brings costs, which could include irreparable financial, professional, and social damage. The technology that is designed to make life easier can also wreak havoc when criminals use it to breach secured, personal information. So how do we tame this beast called ‘breach of data security’?
 
Background: The gravity of the problem: To look for a solution, we first need to understand how serious this problem is. Breaches in data security and loss of data could spell imminent demise for many small companies. According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss resulting in ten or more days of downtime have filed for bankruptcy within a year. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately and 43% that have no data recovery and business continuity plan go out of business following a major data loss. In the past, small- to medium-businesses (SMBs) thought that data security problems were reserved for large corporations, but cybercriminals are finding out that SMBs are more complacent in securing their data thus making themselves easier targets. More importantly, the lightly guarded SMBs can provide backdoor access to the large entities hackers really want to hit. Fewer than half of the SMBs surveyed said they back up their data every week. Only 23% have a plan for data backup and business continuity. That is why the number of cyberattacks on SMBs has doubled in the recent past.
 
Causes of lost data: Loss of data can be attributed to two factors.
  • Breach of data security: As we discussed above, theft is the main reason for loss of data. Hackers can get into networks by installing their own software hidden inside emails and other Web content. They take over PCs and networks and then access files containing personal information. They can then use that information to empty people’s bank accounts and exploit data for other purposes.
  • Human error and employee negligence: Humans still have to instruct technology to perform as desired. Examples of negligence include unattended computer systems, weak passwords, opening email attachments or clicking the hyperlinks in spam and visiting restricted websites. Fortunately, this type of loss of data is easily preventable, but it is just as detrimental and can bring your business to a halt. Downtimes can be very harmful to your business continuity and revenue.
Five ways to minimize data loss
  1. Enforce data security: More than technology, this is the management of human behavior. SMB management must communicate data protection policy to the entire staff and see to it that the policy is adhered to. Rules and policy must be enforced very strictly regarding the use of personal devices. Tell employees to create passwords that are hard to crack and change them frequently.
  2. Stress the consequences: Rules are only good if there are consequences for not following them. Define what those consequences mean for the both the individual and the organization.
  3. Mobile device management: Mobile devices may be the weakest link in data security. “Mobile device management” refers to processes that are designed for the control of mobile devices used within the company. Devices tapping into company systems are identified and monitored 24/7. They are proactively secured via specified password policies, encryption settings, etc. Lost or stolen devices can be located and either locked or stripped of all data.
  4. Snapshots: Fully backing up large amounts of data can be a lengthy process. The data being backed up is also vulnerable to file corruption from read errors. This means sizable chunks of data may not be stored in the backup and be unavailable in the event of a full restoration. This can be avoided by backing up critical data as snapshots.
  5. Cloud replication and disaster recovery services: For SMBs who consider data backup to be too costly, time-consuming and complex there is an answer. The Cloud provides a cost-effective, automated off-site data replication process that provides continuous availability to business-critical data and applications. Cloud replication can often get systems back online in under an hour following a data loss.
To conclude our conversation, it is very important to understand the causes and consequences of data loss. Be proactive and minimize the likelihood of a data breach and data loss, so you can stay in business without interruption. Make sure you have a solid data recovery and business continuity plan so you don’t become another statistic about small firms who didn’t make it.