As you have probably heard by now, credit reporting company Equifax revealed last week that its databases were hacked in a large-scale breach affecting millions across the US, UK & Canada. While no hacking event is ever good news, some are easier to ignore than others – this isn’t one of them. The sensitive nature of the exposed data now requires immediate action for all those even possibly affected.
The short version: Equifax is one of the three main organizations in the US that manages & calculates credit scores. To do that effectively, they have access to almost every piece of financial data for adults in the country, plus pretty much anyone who’s lived/worked in the US. We’re talking social security, tax file numbers, drivers’ license, credit card numbers…the important stuff. On September 7th, Equifax disclosed the breach, stating that hackers had repeatedly gotten in through a vulnerability in the web application from mid-May to July of this year. Since then, there has been a lot of conflicting information floating around the internet. I have gone through and tried to decifer the best course of action to recommend…
The best action now is to protect yourself against fallout:
- Go to:
http://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com(dead link) to see if your data may have been affected. There was some news that this site was delivering random results, but Equifax announced it has been corrected. I have tested it myself and it seemed to be working now. That being said, it’s safest to assume everyone with a credit history has been impacted.
- Claim the Equifax free year of credit monitoring & identity theft insurance (if you’re a US resident). If you’re not eligible, consider sourcing your own. As the hacked data will continue to circulate for some time, consider extending your credit monitoring for a few more years.If you are wary of trusting Equifax with protecting your credit (They dont have a very good track record at this point!), you can instead look at services such as Lifelock to freeze and monitor your credit reports.
- Keep a close eye on your finances and accounts. Check for notifications of new credit applications, monitor your statements and bills, and immediately report any suspicious activity or sudden change in billing.
- Change all your passwords to be strong, unique and long (you should be doing this anyway!). Now that the hackers have your passwords from the Equifax site, the stolen data may give hackers a free pass into the rest of your bank accounts, email and personal information.
- Add two-factor authentication where possible. This is when an account demands a second layer of authentication before allowing access or changes, like a 6 digit code texted to your phone in order to log in. Even if a hacker has your password, they would need to also have your phone in order to get logged in.
- Finally, and probably the MOST EFFECTIVE mitigation for this issue…Consider freezing your credit report. Check out a very nicely written article HERE about how to do this. Freezing your report makes it harder for identity thieves to open accounts under your name, as access is completely restricted until you choose to un-freeze. You will have to unfreeze your reports if you ever wanted to get a loan or similar, but how often do you really do that?
You’ve seen all the ads for Hosted Exchange services such as Office 365, Intermedia, or Rackspace. You’ve probably even jumped online to see what all the fuss is about. But is Hosted Exchange a necessary upgrade for your small business? The answer is yes. It’s more than a refreshed set of tools, it’s an efficiency and productivity powerhouse. Here are 7 spot-on reasons why small business owners should upgrade now.
1. Data security is built in
Hosted Exchange was created with data security at its core. The built-in compliance and security protocols mean your cloud storage is safe, and you can control access so your valuable data remains exactly where you want it. Storing your mail data in the Exchange cloud keeps it safe in case of emergency.
2. Ditch the licensing drama
Software version differences can be a real nightmare in a small office. Not every system can do the same things, and half the time, they can’t even open the same files. It quickly becomes a hodge-podge of workarounds and lost time. Office 365 Apps as an Exchange add-on includes 5 licenses per user to all of your favorites Microsoft Office Apps with free upgrades for as long as your subscription persists.
3. Mail storage for real people
Not everyone lives in the land of inbox zero. In fact, most people tend to leave messages in their inbox forever. Occasionally we’ll do a quick clean up, but only when the alert comes in that the mailbox is full. Meanwhile, new emails from customers may be bouncing away with the old ‘mailbox full’ message. Eek! With hosted Exchange, your employees can communicate without worrying about storage space.
4. Better time management
Every person in your business is juggling meetings, emails and contacts – usually across multiple platforms. Hosted Exchange brings all those elements together, integrating seamlessly for more efficient time management. Contacts updated via mobile while offsite are automatically updated across all connected devices. Meetings scheduled in an email are added instantly to the calendar. You can even access files from any device, edit on the run and then back in the office, simply pick up where you left off.
5. Predictable costs
Forget about planning (and delaying) those costly upgrades. Hosted Exchange has small business covered. You can choose a plan based on your unique needs and change at any time. You can even add or decrease the number of users as you scale and streamline. It’s so easy to fit Hosted Exchange into your monthly budget while knowing you’ve got the very best and latest in small business software.
6. Work on the go
The days of fiddling with private network and security settings are over, thanks to hosted Exchange. You don’t even need any special IT skills or extra software. Users can now securely access their files from home, during their commute, or in meetings for on-the-fly impressive presentations. Got an internet connection? That’s all they’ll need to squeeze productivity out of every day.
7. Stay up and running with no downtime
A whopping 25% of small businesses shut down permanently after flood, fire, crash or cyber-attack. With hosted Exchange, all your data is stored in the cloud with built-in backups for redundancy. No matter what happens, your data will be there, letting you stay up and running – and always ahead of the pack.
If you are ready to take your business software to the next level, give us a call at 515-422-1995
Online banking has boomed in the past few years to become the new norm. Branches are out and apps are in. Half the time when you visit a branch, you’re steered towards a computer for a DIY transaction – with optional assistance. But is internet banking really safe? You’re always told to keep your financial details private, but now also to jump on board the online banking train – talk about a push/pull scenario! The good news is you CAN bank safely online with a few simple precautions.
Always type in the website address
Many attackers will attempt to trick you into clicking a fake link to your bank website. Usually sent as a ‘phishing email’, they’ll claim there’s a problem and ask you to click through to your bank and correct it ASAP. The link points to a fake website that looks almost exactly like your real bank site and is recording your private account info. 2-factor authentication isn’t even a 100% guaranteed protection against this. You can avoid scams like this simply by accessing your bank by manually typing in the website or using a bookmark.
Avoid public computers and networks
Jumping onto a PC at the library or mall might seem like a quick and easy way to check your account, but public computers are often targeted by scammers. In just a few moments, they can install keyloggers to record usernames, passwords and other private data, then sit back as all future user details are emailed to them. The same problem applies with free, unsecured Wi-Fi. You’re better off using an ATM or a data-enabled smartphone.
Use a strong password with 2- factor authentication
Create a unique password for your online banking, something you’ve never used anywhere else. Mix up words, numbers and symbols to create a complex password that can’t be guessed easily. Avoid giving attackers a head start with data they can find on Facebook, like kids names, pet names, birthdates, etc and really think outside the box. And of course, never write it down anywhere near your wallet, phone or computer. If remembering is likely to be an issue, you might like to consider a secure password manager app like Lastpass. Many banks will also help boost your security with two-factor authentication, sending random codes to your phone (less secure) or a special LCD device they provide (more secure) to verify any activity.
Check page security before entering data
Finally, take a micro-second to spot the small padlock icon before you enter any data. You’re looking for a padlock appearing as part of the browser itself, not just an image on the webpage. It will be either in the bottom corner or next to the URL. The address will also start with httpS:// instead of http://. If you don’t see these things, the page is NOT secure and you shouldn’t log in.
Need some help securing your system against scammers? We can help. Call Us at 515-422-1995
Most small businesses rely on email as their preferred form of communication. Either internally or externally to clients, customers and suppliers, email is the go-to format we’d be lost without. Our love affair with it is no surprise – it’s quick, simple and provides a paper trail. But its convenience doesn’t always mean relaxed. In fact, poor email communication can hurt your reputation and cost you customers. Here’s how to be smart with your business email:
Get a better e-mail service: Too often I see companies using e-mail addresses from gmail, yahoo, or even aol.com. Custom domains (the part after the @) are so common these days, that many consumers will interpret this as less professional than it could be. I believe that one of the first things a business should do is establish a solid brand, and with that comes an appropriate domain name, website, and e-mail. Believe it or not, it does not cost very much to own the rights to a custom domain, on the order of $10-$20 annually. You can register it (or we can do it for you) through any number of domain registrars, but our favorite is namecheap.com. Once you have that custom domain, you can use it to create an e-mail address that represents what you want your clients to see like yourname@, sales@, help@, or anything really. Finally, you need to choose a host for your e-mail. The domain registrars will often offer cheap or even free basic e-mail. That could be enough for some people, but we recommend a much more robust technology called “Microsoft Exchange”. In years past you would need to purchase and maintain an expensive server to have Exchange email. But, these days you can purchase a ‘hosted exchange’ inbox on a per month basis, for relatively low cost. We currently charge about $15/mo for this service. Once you have this Exchange mailbox, you can enjoy the benefits of real-time synchronized email, calendar, and contacts between all of your devices, sharing with other members of your domain, and even spam filtering that is much more effective and secure than what you get with free services such as Gmail.
Manage your inbox: Your inbox is only for items you still need to access. Once you’re finished with an email, you should delete it or archive it. If you were to imagine your inbox as physical letters, you’d never let it grow to a 6-foot high stack of chaos. Instead, you’d either throw them out or do the filing. It’s not hard to identify which ones to keep for reference, so create inbox folders to sort them accordingly. As emails arrive and are actioned, move them to the relevant folder or the delete bin. Certain email systems such as POP and IMAP can really choke when your inbox gets too large, so better systems such as Microsoft Exchange can really be a benefit here.
Write professional messages: Stepping across the line from casual to careless is easy if you skip the basic elements of good business writing. Grammar will always be important and the sentence structure of your language hasn’t changed. All email programs include a spell-checker, many of which draw attention to errors immediately, so there’s really no excuse. Typing in all CAPS is seen as yelling, and breaking your text into paragraphs makes your message so much more readable. One last thing before you click send, quickly glance over your email to make sure your tone is appropriate and no mistakes have snuck through.
Embrace the subject line: Many emails are missed because the subject line was empty or meant nothing to the receiver. Writing these attention-grabbing nuggets can be tricky, but if you simply summarize the message, you’ll do fine. Just remember to keep them under 5-8 words so they fit on mobile displays.
Be smart with attachments: Keep attachments small – under 2MB – as they can clog up the email server. For larger attachments, share the file location as a link using cloud storage. When you’re sent an attachment you’d like to keep, save the file and then delete the email. And as always, be careful with unexpected attachments, especially from unknown senders. It’s more important than ever to scan all attachments with an antivirus before opening. Here is another situation when Microsoft Exchange can really benefit you. With Exchange you usually have the ability to send and receive much larger attachments, and even have them scanned for viruses or suspicious attachments BEFORE they reach your computer.
Keep your CC/BCC under control: The carbon copy (CC) and blind carbon copy (BCC) let you send the email to additional stakeholders, more as an FYI than anything else. As a rule, use BCC if you’re using an email list or privacy is an issue. But before you add extra people to the email, make sure the email IS relevant to them. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a pointless email chain!
Call us at 515-422-1995 for help with your business email.
Woah, who slammed on the brakes? Your computer used to speed through startup and let you open almost everything at once, but now it’s struggling to crawl along! Everything takes so much longer or crashes without warning. Something isn’t right. If it’s gotten so bad that you’ve found yourself drooling over the idea of a new computer, even though your system isn’t that old, we’ve got some good news: you can get your whizzy speeds back with a little TLC.
Computers generally start slowing down within 12 months, but it’s not because their parts are broken. And it’s not because they’re faulty. It’s not even because you have so many browser tabs open that you lose count. Slow computers have a number of causes, but the most common ones are easily fixed.
Whenever your computer is turned on, it’s running programs in the background. You didn’t start them and they may not be essential to operation, but off they go anyway. You can’t even see some of them, they don’t have windows or anything to look at. A good example is your antivirus program. You don’t need to see it all the time, but you know it’s running in the background, protecting you.
Over time, more and more programs might slip into the background and casually suck up your resources, like iTunes helper, Acrobat updater, Cortana listening, Skype or Spotify. We can speed up your system by setting these background programs to run only when you need them, or remove them completely.
How do you improve last year’s version of a program? Add more features! The problem with this is the applications become bloated with features you may not need (or even know about), but that keep needing more and more resources. Each time the developers review their programs, they assume you’ve bought the latest and greatest computer and can run whatever they release.
This means a slow computer can sneak up after an auto-update. You may not even know the update happened, just that your computer is suddenly making you very unhappy. Eventually, your system grinds to a halt. We can remove unused applications or increase your computer power as required.
Slow hard drives
Your data is stored on a part called the hard drive. It’s usually a mechanical type that works like a record player, with a spinning platter and a ‘needle’ reading it. If your data is spread out across lots of places on the platter, the hard drive head ‘needle’ has to go backwards and forwards thousands of times just to retrieve a single file. Unsurprisingly, that takes more time to bring up your file. We can optimize your data to give the hard drive head a break, but an even better solution is to upgrade to an SSD. That’s a Solid State Drive that stores data in memory chips, like your USB drive, and has no moving parts. Without the physical need to move a hard drive needle, your computer can access data much faster.
Unfortunately, once your computers starts slowing, for whatever reason, the problem only gets worse. The background programs will continue to multiply, the bloat keeps coming, and the hard drive begs for relief. Rather than buy a whole new system though, it’s completely possible for your current computer to go back to being lightning fast – and for a fraction of the cost.
Would you like us to give your computer a new lease on life? Give us a call at 515-422-1995
By now you know that the cloud isn’t going away any time soon. In fact, cloud computing has become a natural step in business growth, thanks to the numerous (and continually growing) benefits. More and more applications are coming out in web-based form and staff are exceptionally comfortable with this type of change. So when is the right time to move your business computing to the cloud?
Many businesses are facing this question now that cloud computing has become a mainstream norm. After all, you’ll be able to roll out new apps in days, not weeks, and nobody ever says ‘no thanks’ to increased security and efficiency. Like any strategic business decision though, timing is everything. Here’s how to assess your need before you make the switch:
1. Age of servers and workstations
If your workstations and servers are reaching their end of life and a large capital investment is coming up, you’ll be able to minimize the expense by moving to the cloud. You may even be able to skip certain upgrades completely. Your staff will still need devices to access the cloud data, but you’ll have a lot more flexibility in your choice and they won’t need to be as powerful. This can be a huge cost saving made in just moments.
2. Need for remote and mobile access
Many businesses are growing while on the move, with a mobile workforce needing to access files from anywhere at any time. This could range from moving around the one location, between offices or even working from home. Forget frustrating connections and lost productivity, cloud computing allows staff to work securely and efficiently from any location with internet access.
3. Current support setup
If your business currently outsources all your network management, you’re perfectly suited for the move to cloud computing. Network maintenance and monitoring becomes a non-issue, handled 24/7 as part of your cloud service. Network efficiency just keeps rising too, as your cloud provider is always improving their systems. You’ll find problems are fixed before you knew they existed, and server downtime becomes a thing of the past.
4. Need for predictable IT costs
If it feels like IT costs can spiral out of control at times, challenging your budget and patience, cloud computing will seem like a dream come true. When you make this shift, you’re moving from a capital expense to an operational one – server and system replacements are no longer your concern. You’ll be able to budget for IT costs in advance, knowing no blowouts are hiding around the corner. Monthly costs are known and (usually) capped based on what you use, leaving your cash flow much relieved.
Today’s cloud computing is more advanced, secure and priced more competitively than ever before. At its core, cloud computing is purely about doing things better, and it can have a massive impact on your profits, productivity and even staff satisfaction rates. If your business requires a robust, always available infrastructure with easy monthly costs, it’s time to take a serious look at your cloud computing options.
We offer a variety of cloud services to help your business. Give us a call at 515-422-1995 to discuss how we can improve your business IT.
Digital cameras are great, and thanks to smartphones, we have one with us almost all the time. We’re taking more photos than ever before, and building a lifetime of digital data. But despite the enormous value of these photos and videos, most people don’t have a backup. It’s time to shine a light on this essential task and make it a regular habit before those precious memories are gone forever.
If you asked someone what possession they’d save from a house fire, most would say photos, and they’d make a point of grabbing a frame or album on the way out. But with digital photos, you don’t need a fire to lose everything, they could simply disappear in the blink of an eye with hardware failure or theft. There’s no warning, no smoke alarm, and without a plan already in place, no chance to recover the data. It’s time to get set up with a true backup system.
Is one copy enough?
You might think saving your information to an external hard drive or flash drive is enough. You’re right, it’s better than nothing, but since the data is stored in only one place, this isn’t a backup – it’s just storage. That drive could fail at any moment, perhaps from age, malfunction or plain old theft.
Often enough, that drive even becomes lost over the years, put somewhere ‘safe’ and promptly forgotten! And with the way technology is moving, accessing that data in 5 years might even bring up compatibility issues – some newer computers don’t even have CD/DVD drives, yet hundreds of thousands of homes would still have photos stored on a disc.
You might have your extra storage drive as backup and keep a copy on your computer. This is a better solution, and how most people store their data, but it still isn’t enough. While you’re protected against device failure, that house fire is going to take both copies up in flames. Thieves would probably grab the external drive while they’re bundling up your computer too, so again, you’d be left with zero copies. It’s close, but it’s not a true backup system.
The rule of three
We subscribe to the backup rule of three. Just reading this may sound like overkill, but tech is fragile and device failure is a constant risk. We recommend keeping one copy on the computer/device, another on an external drive, and a third copy as last resort tucked safely away in the cloud. The cloud backup can be fully automated so you don’t even need to worry about remembering to do it. If the day comes that you need your data back, it’s ready and waiting in perfect condition. Cloud technology also means your data is far away from any potential fire or flood, it’s secure and with the right provider, guaranteed against loss.
There’s a saying in the IT industry: “There are two kinds of people: those who backup, and those who have never lost all their data”. No matter what the cause of your data loss, it always has a deep impact, particularly when it comes to precious data. While re-creating some homework or the family budget might just be inconvenient, there’s no way to recreate photos once they’re gone. It’s a loss that hurts for a long time, but it’s also so very avoidable.
If you value your data, give us a call at 515-422-1995 to implement a well-rounded backup system.