Remote Workforces Deliver Business And Employee Benefits

When considering the employee and employer benefits of working remotely, businesses are wise to change. The alternative could make your outfit less competitive.  

To put into perspective how radically our culture has changed, try this exercise: pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and write out a half-day’s worth of emails rather than send them electronically. You’ll probably get a cramp in your hand, and what’s more, your productivity will tank.

Remote Working Coronavirus

At first blush, the exercise demonstrates our reliance on electronic devices and real-time communication. But on another level, it shows that thought leaders are wise to embrace technological advancements as they emerge. Remote workforces rank among the more innovative trends of the business landscape today.

“To remain competitive in today’s work-from-anywhere environment, companies will need to invest in responsive technology infrastructure and enhanced virtual collaboration tools, as well as training and tailored performance management and incentive strategies for remote workers,” says Emily Rose McRae, director of HR at the Gartner Research Group.

This shift away from in-house staff to people working from home or on the road once earned mixed reactions from industry leaders. But the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted businesses across the globe to find a way to have employees work from home until the health crisis passes. Employers and employees alike are discovering this advancement could be mutually beneficial.

Mutual Benefits of Remote Workforces

The health crisis has motivated businesses to shift to Cloud-based systems as a short-term measure. But HR departments may want to take the opportunity to scan the workforce landscape, because work-from-home expectations are expected to surge and affect hiring in the near-future.

“By 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30 percent due to Gen-Z fully entering the workforce,” says Gartner. “Organizations without a progressive remote-work policy will be at a competitive disadvantage for attracting and retaining talent,” according to Gartner.

Here are the reasons why the global trend toward remote productivity is well-received by management and staff:

  • Commute & Stress Reduction: No one can dispute the fact that commuting to the office adds unpaid work hours. Sitting in traffic or being packed into commuter rails tends to be an unpleasant way to begin and end each day. Employees and employers share this stressful routine. Remote work platforms such as the Cloud and Microsoft Teams allow all parties to sit down with a morning beverage and log on from anywhere. No hustle, no bustle, no extra hours, and no commuter expenses.
  • Talent Without Borders: Before the massive cellphone footprint, people used landlines with rotary dialing, and long-distance was expensive. In those days, it was common to pay a premium just to call someone in the next state over. But just as your cellphone can connect you to people far outside your region without added expense, so can the Cloud. When projects are conducted in Microsoft Teams via a Cloud-based network, your remote talent pool expands exponentially. A skilled person 1,000 miles away can secure a job they are qualified for, and employers gain access to talent otherwise unavailable.
  • Reduced Infrastructure: An increasing number of organizations that do not necessarily require a brick-and-mortar footprint. These outfits can eliminate that cost in some cases. Other operations can reduce office space expenditures. With remote workforces, less can be more.
  • Live-Work Lifestyles: Millennials and the Gen-Z crowd tend to see work and life more closely aligned than previous generations. Offsite positions allow employees a preferred professional lifestyle.

To stay competitive, industry leaders may want to consider the long-term benefits of embracing remote workforces. For help setting up your Cloud system, call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Business Continuity For Uncertain Times

It’s always a good idea to have a business continuity plan in place, especially in the midst of an epidemic like COVID-19.

If it becomes necessary for your employees to work from home – either due to a government order or your own determination that it’s what’s best for the safety of your employees – you need a plan in place so that your business can continue to operate at the highest functionality possible. The time to make such a plan is now.

According to ready.gov (the disaster-preparedness site from the Department of Homeland Security):

The ability to run both office productivity and enterprise software is critical. Therefore, recovery strategies for information technology should be developed so technology can be restored in time to meet the needs of the business. Manual workarounds should be part of the IT plan so business can continue while computer systems are being restored.

In order to enable your employees to work remotely, be sure your team has access to the following:

  • Cloud-enabled applications and systems
  • Reliable internet connection
  • Work cell phones
  • Computer with all relevant applications installed and up-to-date (Office, CRM, etc.)
  • Access to a messaging service like Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.
  • Business VoIP (voice over internet protocol) system

Need help making sure your team is ready to work remotely? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

7 PC Myths Costing Your Business Money

Evaluating your business technology budget? These 7 PC myths could be costing you a lot of money. From slow computers to hacker vulnerability, see how to fix it.  

Slow Computers

Think you’re saving money by keeping those old PCs running in the office? Think again. An Intel study found that using a business PC that’s older than five years costs the business nearly $700 a year in repair and maintenance costs alone. What other costly PC myths are draining your technology budget?

Myth #1: A Slow Computer Has a Virus

Slow computers are productivity killers. If you have slow PCs, studies show that the average employee loses 40 minutes a day due to downtime. That’s on top of 29% reduced productivity due to slower processing.

For many years, office workers have proclaimed, “it’s got a virus”. But the truth is there are many reasons that computers slow down over time. And your technology solutions partner will have many troubleshooting techniques in their tool belt to speed up slow work stations.

So if the virus scanner turns up nothing, know that you have options. Here are just a few things you can try:

  • Clearing caches and history
  • Rebooting if you haven’t rebooted for a few days
  • Closing programs and re-opening (not a good long-term solution)
  • Reducing the number of start-up programs
  • Checking for conflicting malware protectors

Myth #2: Macs Don’t Get Viruses

Who knows where this one started? Truth is, Macs are just as susceptible to malware as PCs. Whether you’re a Mac business or a PC business, you need a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

Myth #3: Letting Your Battery Run Down Before Charging to Extend Battery Life

This was true on older devices. Leaving a laptop docked on a charger would kill the battery life.

But if you have business laptops, tablets and phones that are less than five years old, this is no longer the case. Devices with lithium-ion batteries do not suffer this fate. On top of that, Microsoft, Apple and Android now use machine learning to track charging habits and avoid straining the battery.

Myth #4: Our Business Is Too Small to Be Targeted by Hackers

Actually, over 50% of cyberattacks happen to small businesses. They’re often less prepared. And they may be complacent, thinking what are the chances they’d attack us?

Most cyber attackers don’t go for the big score. Attacking 10 poorly protected small businesses versus one better protected medium-sized business will yield a higher ROI for the hackers.

Myth #5: Consumer PCs and Business PCs Are Interchangeable

This is especially untrue now. With so many people doing most of their computing on their phones, home computers haven’t needed to advance much beyond the technology of 10-15 years ago.

Instead, manufacturers have focused on the business market, where businesses demand faster processing and greater capabilities. For this reason, the fact is, if you’re buying PCs for business, make sure they can handle business computing.

Myth #6: RAM Is All That Matters

RAM, random access memory, is important for speed. More RAM means less buffering. But a computer is a lot more than RAM. It has an advanced CPU (processor) that uses that RAM most efficiently.

Otherwise, your computer is just a lot of muscle without the brains to use that muscle wisely.

Myth #7: No Need to Replace Computers that Still Work

We already mentioned how much time employees waste on slow computers. That payroll waste and downtime isn’t the only thing you need to worry about when trying to use computers beyond their shelf life of up to five years.

Older computers are also more susceptible to viruses. Eventually, they can’t support current operating systems. Microsoft stops supporting older OS after a while, leaving them open to attacks.

Newer operating systems often also have better productivity tools that streamline business operations. And they’ll work more effectively with new programs you want to install.

For more on keeping your technology up to date and secure, call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

 

Modern Phishing Email and Article Headlines That Fool Even Tech Professionals

Learn more about the kind of email phishing headlines that end up fooling the smartest tech professionals, and how you can better protect your business.  

Phishing Headlines

Any tech professional worth their salt understands the damage wrought by unsuspecting users clicking on links inside “phishing” emails. It’s not surprising when tech-challenged individuals end up getting sucked in by today’s social engineering attempts. However, some of the headlines used by hackers manage to fool a lot of experienced IT pros.

Emails aren’t the only place where tech professionals show their vulnerability. Messaging portals in spaces like Facebook and LinkedIn have become prime targets for scammers, especially as traditional email providers step up their protections. In fact, both platforms had the highest success rate for phishing scams when they were included in an email subject line at 28% and 55%, respectively.

How Do Experienced Tech Professionals End Up Getting Fooled?

It’s hard to imagine how the people charged with keeping company systems safe end up ensnared in these schemes. Security-minded individuals become so comfortable in their knowledge of suspicious emails and technology in general that it makes them less careful. They’re prone to quickly scanning and clicking emails and messages without absorbing the information. It’s already too late by the time they realize their error in judgment.

What Makes a Phishing Headline Successful?

Phishing email headers that include words like “Request,” “Follow-Up,” and “Urgent/Important” tend to have a higher click rate, especially if it seems they come from a colleague or high-level executive. Victims often feel compelled to respond quickly out of fear of not delivering on job expectations. They also worry about costing the company money by failing to follow through on requests related to finance and payments.

The manipulation of that social element can have the same effect on tech workers. They’re more likely to respond quickly to a request that seems to come from a company vice-president. No one wants to be the person preventing them from getting back to company business.

Let’s look at some of the headlines used to fool regular users and IT professionals.

  1. Requests for password changes
  2. Deactivation of Microsoft Office email service
  3. Setting up employee raises for HR
  4. Document sharing using a secure server
  5. Lack of internet service due to scheduled server maintenance.
  6. Address needed for FedEx delivery
  7. Locked company Twitter account
  8. Complete steps for Google service
  9. Error with Coinbase
  10. Closed company bank account

How Can Businesses Upgrade Their Current Phishing Protections?

There’s no one step a business can take to prevent someone from falling for a phishing scam. It pays to use a multi-pronged approach to blocking and dealing with suspicious emails and websites targeting company workers.

Tools like SPAM filters, mock phishing practice scenarios, and web filters to block malicious websites should be a priority. It also pays to encrypt sensitive company information, making it harder for employees to share the data with anyone. That goes double for telecommuters who must log into company systems remotely from different devices.

Businesses should initiate company-wide security initiatives and enforce them consistently. Make sure IT employees understand – their expertise doesn’t leave them immune to these types of attacks.

For more on keeping your network secure, call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Five Golden Rules For Data Privacy

Your data and privacy deserve respect. Here are five golden rules for keeping yourself, your business, and your employees secure.

Limit Who Has Access

Keep information on a need-to-know basis. The more people that have access to a particular folder or file, the greater the risk of a data breach or exposure. Your employees should only have the information they need to perform their work.

Use Secure Passwords and Multi-Factor Authentication

If your business uses easy-to-guess passwords or doesn’t have rules in place regarding password complexity and expiration dates, it’s time to make a change. Implement your own rules and requirements for password management, or use a management tool that provides effective security while simplifying the process for your employees. Multi-factor authentication (MFA), which can be enabled via SMS or email, is an added layer of protection.

Implement Consistent Backups

Your data isn’t safe unless it’s backed up. Back-ups protect valuable information from accidental or malicious deletion and overwrites, hardware or software failures, and even cyber attacks. Backups should happen as often as makes sense for your business’s needs – but more often is better. And follow the rule of three: Three copies of data, on two types of media, and one offsite storage facility.

Protect Your Physical Space, Too

Picture an average workstation: Passwords written on sticky notes, USB drives sitting out in the open, unattended or unlocked computers displaying sensitive information. If your offices feature these common oversights, educate your employees about the simple steps they can take in their physical space to secure your company’s data and privacy.

Stay Informed

As technology rapidly evolves, so do threats to your business’s data security. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and use an IT provider that has your back. For more on keeping your business secure, call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

 

Are Public Charging Stations A Security Threat?

Here’s a new cyber threat to worry about: Juice Jacking. Read on to learn what about juice jacking and how to prevent yourself or employees from becoming a victim.

Juice Jacking

What Is Juice Jacking?

One common feature of modern smartphones is that the power supply and data stream pass through the same cable. When you plug your phone in to charge, hackers could theoretically access your phone through the same cable and inject malicious code or steal your personal information.

Your USB connector has five pins. However, it only uses one of those five pins to pass-through power for charging. Two additional pins are used for transferring data. So, when you charge, you could also be opening a port for passing data between devices.

We have only seen unconfirmed reports of juice jacking happening in the real world, but engineers have demonstrated how it is possible. In theory, threat actors might hide a device in a public charging station at airports or hotels. It’s a big enough concern that the District Attorney’s office in Los Angeles recently put out a warning to travelers to avoid using public USB charging stations.

The FBI put out a warning about a device that’s small enough to fit inside a USB charger that can steal keystrokes from wireless keyboards. Another device hidden inside a USB charging station accesses your video display. It then records a video of everything you do, which might include passwords, accounts numbers, or PINs.

How To Prevent Juice Jacking From Happening to You or Your Employees

We’ve been warning people about the potential danger of using public Wi-Fi stations for years. Hackers can set up Wi-Fi hotspots in coffee shops and other public places then intercept data as it’s sent back and forth to your device. Now you can add public charging stations to the list of potential problems.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them. You just need to take basic security precautions to stay safe.

  • Avoid using public USB charging stations or plugging into unfamiliar computers.
  • Instead, use an AC power outlet and your own charging device. No data transfer is going to take place when you’re using an AC outlet and your charger.
  • Consider external batteries, power banks, or wireless chargers if you need a charge on the go.

You should also avoid the temptation to plug into a USB charger you find left plugged in somewhere. It may be waiting for you to plug in and infect your device.

For iOS users, you can also use USB Restricted Mode which allows charging but prevents data transfers under certain circumstances. You’ll find it by going to Settings > Face ID & Passcodes (or Touch ID & Passcode) > USB Accessories. For Android users, USB data transfer should be disabled by default. If you want to check to make sure that’s the case, plug in your phone in a safe place, click on the notification and check USB Configuration options.

Questions about keeping safe from cyber threats? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Homeland Security Issues Rare Warning To Firefox Users: Update Now Or Risk Attacks

If your small business is using any but the latest, just-patched version of Firefox, you need to update now. That directive comes from no less than the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

Whether you use Windows or Mac, older versions of Firefox for desktop contain a critical vulnerability that allows attackers to take control of a user’s entire operating system. This nightmare scenario is already playing out, hence the urgent warning from Homeland Security.

From CISA:

Mozilla has released security updates to address a vulnerability in Firefox and Firefox ESR. An attacker could exploit this vulnerability to take control of an affected system. This vulnerability was detected in exploits in the wild.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) encourages users and administrators to review the Mozilla Security Advisory for Firefox 72.0.1 and Firefox ESR 68.4.1 and apply the necessary updates.

Mozilla itself says: “We are aware of targeted attacks in the wild abusing this flaw.”

To upgrade your Firefox browser:

  • On a Mac: launch Firefox and click About > Firefox and click the “Restart to update Firefox” button.
  • On a PC: launch Firefox and go under either Options > Firefox Updates or Options > Advanced > Update to update Firefox.

The version you want to be running is Firefox 72.0.1 and Firefox ESR 68.4.1 or higher. Firefox browsers for mobile devices are not known to be affected.

Need help upgrading your system? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Reminder: Windows 7 Losing Support Today

If you use Windows 7, you need to be aware that Microsoft is ending support for your operating system today – January 14th, 2020. Now is the time to upgrade to Windows 10.  

Windows 7 is an operating system that still has plenty of users – in fact, it was only earlier last year that the market share for Windows 10 moved past Windows 7. Impressive, considering that Windows 10 was released in 2015. But nothing lasts forever in technology, and Windows 7 is no exception.

With Microsoft ending support for Windows 7, the operating system will become much more difficult to keep up and running effectively. Worst of all, a loss of support means Windows 7 will be more vulnerable to security threats.

What Does “Loss of Support” Mean?

There are several things that will happen when support ends for your Windows 7 operating system, including:

  • Loss of tech support. Right now, if something goes wrong with your Windows 7, you can contact Microsoft and get somebody to help you with the problem. They can run you through troubleshooting steps and try to get things going again. But when support ends, you won’t have the option of contacting Microsoft about it.
  • No more software updates. Microsoft is always working to improve their operating systems – at least the ones they currently support. But once they stop support, they stop putting resources into improving an OS. That means there will be no more updates to make Windows 7 secure and stable.
  • Loss of security. This is the big one. There are always people out there looking to compromise Windows operating systems, even ones as old as Windows 7. When you lose support for your OS, it means that Microsoft will no longer be trying to identify threats and upgrade your OS to defend against those threats.
  • Loss of compatibility. Over time, the software you rely upon will stop working with Windows 7, effectively spelling the end of your computer’s functionality.

Fortunately, getting support for your OS is easy enough – you just have to upgrade to Windows 10.

Need help upgrading your system? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Consumer Advocates Warn: Don’t Abbreviate 2020

Some scams are complicated. This one is not.

Luckily, the solution is equally simple: don’t abbreviate 2020.

The reason? Scammers could easily alter a date reading 1/1/20 to read 1/1/2000, 1/1/2021, or even 1/1/2099.

Ira Rheingold, the executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates, says scammers could use this method to attempt to cash an old check or establish an unpaid debt.

“Say you agreed to make payments beginning on 1/15/20. The bad guy could theoretically establish that you began owing your obligation on 1/15/2019, and try to collect additional monies,” Rheingold told USA Today.

“In the future, post-dating could be a problem too. For example, a check dated 1/1/20 could become 1/1/2021 next year, possibly making the uncashed check active again,” Rheingold says.

The solution, again, is simple: write out the full date. Instead of 1/18/20, use 1/18/2020 or January 18, 2020.

Want to know more about protecting your business from fraud? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

Chrome Users Need To Update Now

If users in your organization use Google Chrome, there is a high chance that several of those systems are creating an opportunity for hackers to install malware. Google recently identified a major security flaw with its Chrome browser that impacts Windows, Mac, and Linux-based devices. Although Google has released a security patch to correct the security vulnerabilities, the patch fixes two separate problems.

Security Vulnerabilities

One of the security vulnerabilities Google identified is Chrome’s audio component. The other vulnerability is tied to the browser’s PDF library. Both allow unwanted modifications or corruptions to memory data. This allows hackers to elevate privileges on the device or within applications installed on the device. If someone is able to gain administrative access to a system or software on a system, the individual could make unwanted changes or wreak havoc on the device’s operating system. There is also a high chance that a hacker could install malware or execute malicious code on the device.

Version

The version of the browser that fixes the security issues is 78.03904.87. Although the Chrome browser may be configured to automatically update itself in the background upon launch, it is a good idea to manually check each device. The browser can be manually checked by selecting the Help menu and then “About Google Chrome.” If there is an update available, the browser will automatically search for it and find it. The browser’s version will also be displayed in the “About” section. If the listed version is 78.03904.87 or later, then the device has received the necessary security patch.

If there are problems with the browser updating, it may need to be removed from the system and reinstalled. Some organizations have an automatic process to uninstall and reinstall applications from the server once the devices connect to the organization’s network. Reports can be run to see which systems still have outdated versions and technicians should manually check those systems to diagnose why automatic updates are not going through.

Other Considerations

A system that is not receiving automatic updates from Google Chrome may have other issues. Technicians should check for the following:

  • Is the anti-malware program up to date and running correctly?
  • Is the OS receiving approved updates and are these updates installing?
  • When was the last time the system pinged the network?
  • Has the system been restarted recently?
  • If the system has been disconnected from the organization’s network, how long has it been offline?
  • Has a malware scan recently been run? Were any malicious items identified and removed?
  • Are there are any suspicious executables or unauthorized programs installed?

Sometimes wiping a system and completely reinstalling the OS are the best courses of action. Signs that a device may be too infected, corrupted, or outdated include the presence of unauthorized or suspicious applications, more than 100 pending OS updates or a previous update date that is more than a month old, and an anti-malware program that will not update or run a scan correctly. Before wiping a system and reinstalled the OS, a technician should check for and back up any user data that may be installed on the device’s hard drive. However, the data should be carefully scanned for any malware infections prior to transferring it back onto the system.

Have questions about vulnerabilities within your system? Call us at 678-389-6200 or contact us online

 

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