Marriott says 500 million Starwood guest records stolen in massive data breach

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Marriott says 500 million Starwood guest records stolen in massive data breach

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Starwood Hotels has confirmed its hotel guest database of about 500 million customers has been stolen in a data breach. The breach occurred in 2014 but it was only identified last week. The cost of this breach will be massive: both with government levied fines and the qualitative loss of reputation.

Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen to Your Business

  1. When you acquire or merge with another company, always do a security risk analysis and network assessment BEFORE merging. Simpatico can do this for you.
  2. This has highlighted that even the biggest organizations with the biggest budgets can go YEARS without realizing their breached. Simpatico can do this for you today.
  3. Do you know if your company’s and employee’s information is on the dark web? Simpatico can do this for you.

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Can You Really Afford Not to Have a Backup Plan?

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According to Symantec SMB, 50% of SMBs admit to having no backup and disaster recovery plan in place. 41% of those surveyed confessed that they had never even given much thought to implementing a disaster recovery or business continuity plan. If you are one of them, then you really need to think about whether you can afford the status quo. Answering these questions will help you decide.
 
1. How often is employee productivity and customer accessibility or service stalled each day from a downed network or system?
 
2. How much downtime can your business truly afford and what kind of backup or recovery solutions are in effect when systems are unavailable?
 
3. What level of IT support can be accessed? Can it be accessed quickly enough to minimize damage? Are you confident that your business can either be back online or be able to access lost data with minimal disruption, no matter what?
 
4. Is your most critical data frequently backed up? Is the data on the personal laptops, iPads or Blackberrys of employees backed up? Are all backups stored in a location off-site and quickly accessible in the event of theft, fire or flooding? Are you using any custom installed software and is the supplier still in business should this software need to be re-installed or updated? Are account details, licensing agreements, and security settings somewhere on record, and is it duplicated off-site?
 
5. Are your systems truly protected from theft, hackers, and viruses? Are passwords to sensitive data changed whenever employees leave the company or business unit?
 
6. When was the last time you tested backup processes to ensure they are working properly? How quick were your back ups?
 
Answering these questions will help you understand if you are needlessly bleeding money every day by subjecting your business to the high hourly rates, service charges, trip fees and wait times of on-call IT support. If you are an SMB, you don’t have to fear technology failure. A trusted MSP can help you resolve these challenges in a more effective and efficient manner.

Understand How Data Losses Happen – In Order to Prevent Them

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Small business owners are often worried about data loss. Rightly so, because data loss has the potential to wipe out a business. We have identified the most common forms of data loss so you can see how they fit into your business and assess the risks related to each of these pitfalls.
 
1. Human Error – Human error – by way of unintentional data deletion, modification, and overwrites – has become much more prevalent in recent years. Much of this is the result of carelessly managed virtualization technology. While virtualization and cloud computing have enabled improved business continuity planning for many businesses and organizations, humans must still instruct this technology how to perform. The complexity of these systems often presents a learning curve that can involve quite a bit of trial and error. For instance, a support engineer may accidentally overwrite the backup when they forget to power off the replication software prior to formatting volumes on the primary site. They will be sure to never do that ever again, but preventing it from happening in the first place would be more ideal.
 
2. File Corruption – Unintended changes to data can occur during writing, reading, storage, transmission and processing – making the data within the file inaccessible. Software failure is a leading cause of data loss and is typically the result of bugs in the code. Viruses and malware can also lead to individual data files being deleted and hard drive partitions being damaged or erased.
 
3. Hardware Failure – Storage devices may be at risk due to age, or they may fall victim to irreparable hard-disk failure. Viruses and hackers can also potentially shut down a hard drive by inserting undeletable malicious code and huge files via open, unprotected ports. If these malicious programs cannot be deleted, the entire hard drive may have to be reformatted, wiping out all the data.
 
4. Catastrophic Events/Theft – The threat of catastrophic events such as fire, flooding, lightning and power failure is always a concern. Such events can wipe out data in a millisecond with no warning. Theft is also a data loss risk that companies must address. While advances in technology like anytime/anywhere connectivity, portability and the communication/information sharing capabilities of social media and crowdsourcing have revolutionized business – the risk for theft is even greater due to this increased accessibility. More people are doing daily business on their laptop, iPad and mobile phones. They are also carrying around portable media like thumb drives, USB sticks and CDs. Physical theft of any of these devices can spell big trouble.
 
Data loss is as unique as the various sources from which it comes. The key is to identify the areas in which your business is weak and work towards a mitigation plan for each one of them. An MSP can act as a trusted partner in such cases, holding your hand through the process of safeguarding your data.

Six Steps to Better Data Backup and Quicker Recovery

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Think Quicker Recovery Time, Not Quicker Backup – While incremental backups are much faster than executing a full-backup, they also prolong recovery time. In the event of data loss, a full restore will require loading the most recent full backup and then each incremental backup tape. Having too many incremental backup tapes not only adds time to this restoration process, but it also increases the probability of not recovering all of your data. A tape could be lost, unintentionally skipped over, or contain corrupted data. Be sure to focus on optimizing the restore time to ensure faster data recovery. A quicker recovery time should be the main objective, not the need for a quicker backup process.

Maintain Sufficient Backup History – Within the blink of an eye, current data files can become corrupted and inaccessible. This will necessitate the loading of an earlier data backup that is clean of corruption. Many smaller companies make the mistake of failing to keep a sufficient backup history.

Be Sure to Backup Essential Data AND Applications – Some businesses don’t feel the need to backup all data, but be sure essential databases, documents and records are backed up frequently. Don’t overlook applications that are critical to day-to-day business operations either. Many companies fail to backup applications, only to realize when it’s too late that they don’t have access to the original installation disks when they’re trying to recover from data loss or an outage.

Have Off-Site or Online Backup – Some businesses backup data simply by moving essential files to tapes or external hard drives that are then stored somewhere onsite. But if they’re kept onsite, what happens if a fire, flood or other natural disaster takes out not just your server but your backup tapes and drives? Onsite backups can also be susceptible to theft. Having secure off-site, or even online backup, is simply the smart thing to do to ensure quick recovery when trouble comes to town.

Fix Broken Access Controls on Your File Server – Many businesses have folders with confidential data residing on a file server with overly permissive access controls. Why take the risk of having a disgruntled – even former – employee access and misuse this data when access can be limited to only those in the company who need it?

Be Sure to Test Restores – It happens time and time again. Business owners think they have a data backup plan in place. Tapes are changed diligently each day and everything appears to be backed up and good to go. However, it turns out the backups haven’t been working for months, sometimes even years, right at the very moment they’re needed. Either the backups had become corrupt and useless or large segments of data were not being backed up. This happens often. Don’t let it happen to you.

Seven ‘Must Haves’ for Your Small Business Website

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Your website represents your business and so building and maintaining it need to be of primary concern to you as a business owner. We often find business owners struggling with their websites saying things like: “My website looks great, but I am not able to convert” or “I invested so much into creating my website, but I don’t get many hits.” These things are very common pains faced by businesses, especially small business. If you aren’t sure where to start your site improvement project, this post will get you rolling in the right direction with seven key areas you need to pay attention to when it comes to your website.
 
1. Content – Make sure your site has a significant amount of content and that the content is relevant and meaningful. Having the right amount of good content adds value and appeals to your target audience. Don’t fill the site with jargon and keywords just for the sake of it, lack of relevant content won’t help you improve your conversion rate.
 
2. Testimonials – Nothing has more impact on your prospects than them hearing about your product/service from their peers. So make sure your site showcases testimonials from your satisfied customers.
 
3. Social Media Icons – Social Media, when done correctly, it is a great medium to enhance your brand presence online. Get on popular social media networks and invite your website visitors to join you there – that way they will hear more about you from your fans at the social network.
 
4. Contact Information – Tell your web visitors how to get in touch with you. They shouldn’t have to search the entire site before knowing how to contact you. Provide your contact information/contact form very clearly for them to use.
 
5. Tracking – Incorporate a web-site tracker that helps you track the leads that come in from your website. You can use services such as Google Analytics that are free and provide you basic details such as number of hits, location, time spent on pages, etc.
 
6. Loading Time – Web visitors today have little patience and lots of choices. So, it is important that your site loads quickly, otherwise they move on to the next search result.
 
7. SEO – Search engine optimization is a key factor in determining the ROI of your website. Make sure your site is optimized for search engines so that it shows up when your prospects search for you.

Mitigate Costly New Technology Risks for Continued Stability and Profitability

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Partnering with a managed service provider (MSP) is one new approach being used by many companies like yours. Experienced MSPs have access to newer tools that reduce costs by automating many routine in-house labor intensive processes. Break-fix is labor intensive, and labor is one of the most expensive operating costs within your IT infrastructure. The new innovative tools that can be provided by MSPs generate real productivity increases and mitigate the risk of network failure, downtime and data loss from human error.
 
MSPs deliver a trusted foundation for your team and your customers. Some of the services and tasks offered include:
  • Remote Desktop Management and Support
  • Predictable Management of Critical Patches and Software Updates
  • Fractional Resource Availability of Best-In-Class Expertise – scaled to your needs
  • Implementing and Testing Backup and Disaster Recovery Processes
  • Performance of Inventory and Audits of Computer/Network/Software
  • Enforcement of Network/Security Policy
  • Monitoring of Network/Operating System and Alerts
  • Updating Anti-Virus Software and Detecting Spyware
Erase any misconception that managed service providers are nothing more than “outsourced” tech help priced to displace your in-house IT technician or team. The new MSP has defined new methodologies and technology partnerships to offer valuable preventative services that proactively locate and eliminate threats before a bigger problem arises.

 
 MSPs today put considerable effort into understanding the operational and business needs of SMBs to develop and deliver a set of specific services that align technology with the SMB’s business objectives. This is the reason you hear managed services often referred to as “partners.” A present day MSP offers quantifiable economic value, greater ROI and decreased total cost of operation by streamlining costs and eliminating unnecessary lost productivity, revenue, and avoidable on-site IT consultant fees, in addition to eliminating the need for costly hardware/software repairs or replacement.

Is your Business Safe from Virtual Threats?

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Did you know that 50% of small business owners think their businesses are too small to be targeted by the thieves of the virtual world? Contrary to popular belief, 72% of hacker attacks often happen to smaller firms – firms with less than 100 employees! So how prepared is your SMB? Here’s a checklist to help you find out how vulnerable you are to these attacks.
 
1. Do you have Antivirus protection? – An antivirus software program can protect you from threats that originate from emails such as phishing and virus attacks. However, the most striking fact is that 61% of small businesses don’t install any antivirus software! If you are one of them, then it’s time to change!
 
2. How sturdy is your Firewall? – A good firewall system protects your computers from the variety of threats that exist in the virtual world. Examples include harmful cookies, viruses, worms and other such malicious programs used by hackers.
 
3. Do you use a Spam filter? – Using a simple spam filter for your emails keeps junk out of your inbox. The bonus to having a good spam filter is that your employees save time, as they are not distracted by irrelevant emails, but the major perk here is that the potential virus and phishing threats are lessened as spam emails are unlikely to be opened.
 
4. Do you do backup your data regularly? – Agreed – backups don’t really protect your data, but they are the only way to recover it if data loss does happen. So, be sure you have a regular and reliable backup plan in place – and it is actually being deployed.
 
Data loss can prove very costly—especially to SMBs, sometimes even resulting in them having to close down. Prevention is certainly better than a cure in such cases.

Is That Email a Phishing Scheme?

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Research has revealed that over half of all users end up opening fraudulent emails and often even fall for them. Phishing is done with the aim of gathering personal information about you, generally related to your finances. The most common reason for the large number of people falling for fraudulent emails is that the phishing attempts are often so well-disguised that they escape the eyes of a busy email reader. Here are a few tips that help you identify whether that email really came from your bank or is another attempt at defrauding you…
 
1. They are asking for personal information – Remember, no bank or financial institution asks you to share your key personal information via email, or even phone. So, if you get an email where they ask for your ATM PIN or your e-banking password, something’s a miss.

2. The links seem to be fake – Phishing emails always contain links that you are asked to click on. You should verify if the links are genuine. Here are a few things to look for when doing that:

  • Spelling – Check for the misspellings in the URL. For example, if your bank’s web address is www.bankofamerica.com, a phishing scheme email could misspell it as www.bankofamarica.com or www.bankofamerica-verification.com
  • Disguised URLs – Sometimes, URLs can be disguised…meaning, while they look genuine, they ultimately redirect you to some fraudulent site. You can recognize the actual URL upon a mouseover, or by right clicking on the URL, and selecting the ‘copy hyperlink’ option and pasting the hyperlink on a notepad file. But, NEVER ever, paste the hyperlink directly into your web browser.
  • URLs with ‘@’ signs – If you find a URL that has an ‘@’ sign, steer clear of it even if it seems genuine. Browsers ignore URL information that precedes @ sign. That means, the URL www.bankofamerica.com@mysite.net will take you to mysite.net and not to any Bank of America page.
3. Other tell-tale signs – Apart from identifying fake URLs, there are other tell-tale signs that help you identify fraudulent emails. Some of these include:
  • Emails where the main message is in the form of an image, which, upon opening, takes you to the malicious URL.
  • Another sign is an attachment. Never open attachments from unknown sources as they may contain viruses that can harm your computer and network.
  • The message seems to urge you to do something immediately. Scammers often induce a sense of urgency in their emails and threaten you with consequences if you don’t respond. For example, threat of bank account closure if you don’t verify your ATM PIN or e-banking password.
Finally, get a good anti virus/email protection program installed. It can help you by automatically directing spam and junk mail into spam folders and deactivating malicious attachments.

How Much Does Downtime Really Cost Your Business?

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Many SMB owners think IT downtime only costs them a few productive hours, but there’s a lot more at stake when your systems go down. Customer satisfaction and loss of brand integrity are just two of the key losses apart from the more evident costs such as lost productivity and a temporary dip in sales.
 
Here’s a few other ways downtime can hurt your business:

1. Customer Loss – Today’s buyer lacks patience !important; They are used to getting everything at the click of a mouse, at the tap of a finger. Suppose they are looking for the kind of products/services that you offer and your site doesn’t load or is unavailable—even if temporarily– you are likely to lose them to a competitor—permanently.

2. Damage to Brand Reputation – Customers are now using Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and blogs to vent their bad brand experiences. Imagine an irate customer who doesn’t know if their card was charged on your site, or not, due to a server error. If it’s your bad day, they could probably be using Facebook or Twitter to share their bad experience, and it could be viewed by hundreds of people, causing irreparable harm to your brand image.

3. Loss of Productivity – When your systems don’t work, this can have a direct impact on your employees’ productivity. Consider a research firm of 200 employees where they primarily rely on internet connectivity to access the knowledge base. If the server hosting the knowledge base is down, there’s a total loss of at least 1600 work hours for one day.

4. Overtime, Repair and Recovery, Compensatory costs – In the above case, imagine the overtime wages the business would have to incur if they were to make up for the work loss they faced owing to downtime. In addition, there’s always the cost of repair—the money the business would have to shell out to fix the issue that caused the downtime and get the server up and running again.

In some cases, businesses would have to incur additional costs to make customers happy. These could include giving away the product for free or at a discount, or using priority shipping to make up for a delayed order.

5. Possible Lawsuits – Businesses could also be at the receiving end of lawsuits. For example, a downtime that has an impact on production, delivery or finances of the customer could invite litigation.

6. Marketing Efforts Rendered Useless – Consider a pay-per-click advertisement that shows up for the right keywords on Google, or an extensive e-mail campaign that your business engages in. However, when the prospect clicks on the link, all they see is an error message – Isn’t that a waste of your marketing budget?

The bottom line—one natural disaster, one technical snag or just one power outage has the power to put you out of business – both virtually and in reality. It’s probably time to think about how you can mitigate the threat of a possible downtime and whether your MSP can act as an effective and efficient ally in this battle for you.

Five Ways Your Business Can Improve Its Search Engine Rankings

By | Business, Google

 

In an age where most business happens online, not showing up in Google search results can really hurt you. While there’s no real shortcut to showing up consistently on web searches, there are a few quick fixes to get your site to show up on your potential customer’s search results…
 
1. HTML tags – Important HTML tags include the title tag, meta description and meta keywords. Make sure each page of your website has appropriate HTML tags. The title tag of each page should be unique and relevant to that particular page.
 
2. Alternative text images – Ensure that most of the images on your website have alternative text tags. Alt tags are basically descriptions for images. By adding relevant alternative tags to images, you are allowing search engines to recognize them, which will improve the likelihood of your page showing up in search results.
 
3. File hierarchy – How simple is your HTML file hierarchy? Check to see if your website’s pages are logically situated and avoid too many unnecessary folders. For example: ‘NFL=>Teams=>PittsburghSteelers’ is a better folder structure than ‘NFL=>Teams=>NFCEast=>PittsburghSteelers’, because here ‘NFCEast’ is redundant and only serves to push the Steelers page deeper down the order. This complexity makes your site less likely to show up on search results for people searching for Steelers websites.
 
4. Sitemap – A sitemap acts as a navigational guide for your visitors as well as search engines. Does your website have one? If not, then it’s time to put up a site map on your website.
 
5. Content quality – Read your website content to determine its quality. Is your content written for search engines or actual visitors? Is it stuffed with keywords? Does it truly add value to your audience, or is simply there to fill up the page? Answer these questions and make sure it has value for your audience. Value for your audience translates to better search engine rankings.