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VPN Security: Trick or Treat?

If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably  seen pretty aggressive advertising for VPN services. On paper, they seem like something that can give you anything you would want in your online browsing in terms of security and access.

Continuing our Cyber Security Month series of articles, we’ll be covering this apparent modern miracle of internet browsing. As businesses increasingly move to a digital work environment, web security is more important than ever. With that in mind, is VPN security a true treat…or just a trick?

VPNs: As Sweet as Free Candy

Before we get into the benefits of VPNs, we should probably explain what they are. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. They essentially create a tunnel for your web browsing by giving you a (usually) local server to log into. This then provides access and  directs your web traffic. Not only is the information to and from the server encrypted, it appears as though the server is browsing the sites, not you.

This can be beneficial for you as a browser. Even if someone were spying on your personal connection, they would only see you connecting to a single server, not the specific pages you visit. You can also make it appear like you’re browsing from another location by changing the IP address. Because of this, you can view sites like Netflix and see content not available in your own country. Additionally, you can avoid internet censorship in countries that tend to have more restrictive regulations, like China.

These services are generally low in cost, especially if you purchase longer subscriptions. Actually, there are several options that offer basic services for free and only charge for premium options. Wow! This all sounds great! So, is there any catch?

VPN Security: A Razor in Your Apple

Everyone wants digital security, but just like with anti-virus software, a single program will never keep you fully safe.  Many users  don’t understand the natural limitations of VPNs, putting too much faith in them, particularly free versions.

For starters, no matter what the ads tell you, VPNs do not give you 100% security on the web. While someone spying on your network may not be able to see what you’re doing, the websites you visit sure do! If the site uses cookies, they attach themselves to your computer, not your IP address, so they can still affect you. Also, you don’t know what sort of security protocols the sites you visit have. In fact, VPNs can give you a dangerous sense of security when you should always be vigilant. For example, if you visit a nefarious site and give them your credit card information, your VPN can’t help. Even if you send your information to a legitimate site, your VPN is  powerless if that site gets hacked.

Another issue is VPNs increase the size of a hacker’s target. In the past few years, hackers have put more energy into breaking into larger targets to increase the payoff. Why steal the fish when you can steal the fish market, so to speak? VPN services provide a juicy target since access to those servers means having the browsing information of many users. This exact scenario took place in 2019 when NordVPN servers were hacked, leaving any and all traffic accessible for a period of a few months! If that happened to one of the biggest names in the game, think about how safe you could be!

Stay Safe at Home

While VPNs are far from a perfect solution, the idea behind them has some merit, namely in that by hiding and encrypting your connection, it makes it that much more difficult to have your data compromised. There are still ways to improve on this technology, though.

One of the best ways is to use a virtual office. This entails a complete virtual desktop provided to anyone with the credentials to log in. This can include everything from productivity software (such as MS Office) to actual data storage. This is a much more secure option for a variety of reasons. First of all, you log into one specific, secure system versus going from website to website. Also, this is a dedicated solution, allowing you to login with full confidence knowing who is handling your connection and data. Lastly, virtual offices are often administered by actual human beings, not just software, allowing any and all threats to be addressed in real-time.

While VPNs make your internet browsing safer, that’s like saying eating five pieces of candy instead of six prevents diabetes. If your business plans on doing any sort of remote or virtual connection, take a look at a virtual office. Don’t leave the setup and administration to just anyone. Contact us today to see just how quickly and safely you can get your employees connected without relying solely on tricky VPN security.

October is National Cybersecurity Month and password security is a big part of that! Cybersecurity is so important and appropriate to discuss considering how scary it is out there! As we regularly cover, hackers are getting more advanced by the day, despite security measures improving by leaps and bounds. Of course, no monster is all-powerful and there are ways to protect yourself against these dangers.

In this article, we’ll be discussing a feature that we all use (and abuse) every day: passwords. How insecure can this security feature be and what can you do to protect yourself and your business?

A Necessary Evil

We don’t think that there’s anyone out there that actually enjoys creating and using passwords. After all, they’re just another barrier between you and your data. However, that barrier is exactly what’s going to protect that data from the outside world.

Password Security Struggles

Since many of us struggle to remember passwords, we end up making a lot of common mistakes. These include:

We’ve all been told that we should avoid these mistakes ad nauseum, but why?

A Real Monster

When you think of a scary beast like Frankenstein’s monster, what gives us the chills? The sheer physical strength that can break down any door you hide behind. There are software programs that work pretty much the same way, using Brute Force Attacks.

These attacks are codes/programs that test possible password after possible password using random combinations of letters and numbers until something works. Dictionary Attacks operate along the same lines, using all the words in the dictionary instead of just random letters and numbers. Passwords that are too short or too simple feed the success of Brute Force Attacks.

One recent program could crack any 8-character password in less than six hours! Once a hacker cracks that password, they then have access to anything that shares that password. If you use that password for business purposes, the payload is even bigger.

Is Your Password Worth It? 

Although cyber pirates still buy large lists of passwords and other stolen data off of the Dark Web for quick hits, they’ve shifted in the past few years focusing on more time and effort on fewer but larger targets. These attacks may take up more of the hacker’s valuable time, but it brings in massive returns.

Naturally, there’s only so much you can milk from a single victim, but a company or organization has much deeper pockets and a lot more to lose. Think about the amount of cash in your personal bank account versus what your company may have at any given time. On top of that, think of all the resources your company has at its disposal that may be vulnerable in the event of an attack.

Fixing the Problem: The Password Security Silver Bullet

We’d be lying if we said there is a cure-all solution to the problem of password hacks because there isn’t any. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re completely vulnerable either. Below are a few ways to keep your password as safe as possible:

  1. Change your passwords regularly — In theory, a hacker could get your password correct eventually. If you keep changing it on a regular basis, you’ll keep them guessing, even if they got the old one correct. On average, we recommend changing passwords every 1-3 months.
  2. Get creative — The best defense for a dictionary attack is not to use words in the dictionary. Either create nonsensical strings of characters or use a combination of words that wouldn’t appear in any standard dictionary. Also, consider using upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and special characters. As a general rule, the more difficult a password is to remember, the longer it would take for a software program to guess.
  3. Don’t reuse passwords — Having to remember multiple passwords can be a pain. For some of us, we have to use over a dozen passwords before we finish our first coffee! This recommendation keeps as much information as safe as possible if one of your passwords is compromised. Think of a ship or submarine with multiple compartments — if one springs a leak and fills up, close a door to mitigate the damage. If all of your passwords are the same, one lucky guess could bring your digital world crumbling.

Bring in a Champion

As hard as you might try, there’s only so much you can do to protect yourself and your company from threats to your password and overall security. Plus, keeping your system safe can be a full-time job in this world, and you already have one of those.

Instead of trying to fight this monster single-handed, consider bringing in the help of a professional monster killer! Our experienced team is more than happy to swoop in and assist your company with the strongest cyber protection on the market, including password management. Even if your walls have already been breached, we can help in the cleanup and future protection.

If you aren’t thinking about virtual office scalability right now, you should be. Thanks to a microscopic virus, everything changed in an instant, including the business world. While we know that things generally fluctuate over time, markets rarely change so drastically without some leading indicator.

So, what does this mean for you? No doubt, you’ve already found your employee needs changing quickly. While some businesses are seeing consistent falls, others are picking up speed quickly or fluctuating month by month. As such, your employee requirements may be changing over time. Adding, removing or changing employee roles can often be a major hassle, wasting time and resources in the process.

If you’ve been following our series this month, you know that we’ve been focusing on virtual offices mobility and security. In this article, we’ll be focusing on how virtual offices can help to keep your operations as scalable as possible.

Virtual Office Scalability: Quick Review

A virtual office is a system where all of your office technologies are cared for and stored in a cloud-based service rather than using on-premise servers. It allows seamless access, wherever you are, while maintaining security. They work well because, depending on your industry, few (if any) of your employees really need to work in a physical office all the time.

Under a true virtual office setup, all of your programs, communications and storage operate like you’re at the office regardless of device. Since your MSP still monitors the network, they maintain a safe atmosphere and can quickly resolve any issues.

Pre-COVID Operations

Most businesses fluctuate in their employee needs over time, with many designed to be seasonal. But what happens if you need to hire, replace, move or eliminate employees in a hurry. The short answer to that has typically been “You can’t” or “These sorts of things take time.” After all, you need to find them a place to work, equipment to work on and, of course, software licenses depending on their role in the company. In addition to this, you have to worry about the maintenance and upkeep of both their physical workspace and equipment.

As a result, bringing on new hires, replacing people who have left, or scaling up and down quickly becomes a major burden. You either end up holding on to a bunch of technology just in case or scrambling every time you hire. But not scaling effectively can cost you even more in the long run in terms of lost productivity and opportunities. It’s a bit of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” proposition.

A Brave New Solution for a Brave New World

Virtual office is the answer to any scalability challenges. To understand just what we’re talking about, let’s use a made-up, real-world example.

Let’s say there’s a company with 50 employees. The owner realizes that the sales, marketing and accounting people have no need to actually be in the office to do their jobs, especially under current circumstances. So, they sent all of them to work at home using their own devices. Remote servers handle the computing rather than the systems themselves, eliminating concern over the speed or age of computers at home. The typical VPN security concerns also go out the window. As long as they have a stable internet connection, they are good to go!

A little while later, the owner decides that they need to ramp up staffing to prepare for busy season.  Said owner gives their MSP a call, explains the situation, and the technician sets up all the new licenses needed within the hour. Simple as that! Instead of having to wait to provision and deploy hardware, IT can handle any scaling seamlessly.

Virtual Office Scalability, Taking Advantage of the Opportunity

While 2020 quickly changed our idea of what a normal office is, it’s really been a long time coming. Companies have been migrating to similar solutions for almost a decade with varying degrees of success. However, with current technology and infrastructure, it’s never been easier to implement a virtual office solution like this.

If you’re struggling with a piecemeal system you rushed together earlier this year or if you are looking for a way to make your technology more scalable, contact us today! Virtual office scalability is something all companies should be actively maintaining. We can show you how affordable a virtual office can be and just how quickly it can be in place. If there is any silver lining to this interesting year of ours, perhaps it’s the kick in the pants we needed to move our businesses into the future.

In our last article, we discussed the security benefits of using a virtual office. In this blog, we’ll cover how a virtual office can help to make your job easier and more enjoyable.

Let’s face it, you can have a beautiful corner office — but it’s still an office. Very few normal human beings enjoy being stuck in an office let alone commuting to one everyday. Thankfully, it seems that physical offices are becoming sparser these days for a wide variety of reasons.

Virtual Office: Why Consider Mobility?

Many of you reading this might have been skeptical about the idea of a mobile office. Back in the 1980s, mobile working meant having a giant word processor, dot matrix printer and wired car phone. Compared to what we have available today, that seems more like a nightmare than progress. Today, you may be concerned about how you can effectively manage your employees in a remote environment.

For the past decade or so, more businesses have been moving to mobile workers. This allows for flexibility, creates an always-on (or always-accessible) workforce, and eases national recruiting. Once the recent pandemic hit, much of their day to day operations continued without consequence. Those that hadn’t considered mobility were quickly forced into finding a way to send employees remote. Since we don’t know how long the current crisis will continue or what the future may present, the current COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of why it’s best to consider creating a virtual office.

If you can work from home or on the go, you’re free from the office and can work wherever, whenever. Have a doctor’s appointment? Keep up with your clients, so you don’t have to take personal time. Did last night’s weather make the roads unsafe? Run your reports from your home office while not putting your life at risk. It’s no secret that employees who have the option to work from anywhere are happier employees who often stay at their company longer.

Virtual Office: An Office In Your Pocket

Here’s an important question: why do you go into work all? Some people have to be at a location to do a specific task. For example, you won’t find too many jobs as a carpenter working remotely. If a particular job requires that a person be on location, there isn’t much you can change.

However, many of us come into the office every day just to sit at a computer and use commonly available software to do our job. Other than meetings (that can usually be an email) or for workplace gossip at lunch, there’s no reason you have to go to that office to sit at that computer. If a portion or all of your workforce fits into that category, why bother wasting all that money on a large workspace? Many companies find that even if a few employees have to be in the office, they can still cut down the size and location of facilities significantly. It’s not uncommon to see a company with 100+ employees using an office with less than a dozen offices or workstations.

A Real Solution

Up to this point, we’ve only talked about this concept of a mobile office in the abstract. What exactly is a mobile/virtual office?

You can log on to any system mobile, desktop, laptop or otherwise and have the same exact experience as you would have on your desktop computer. All of the apps are there, in full functionality, all with single sign-on and secure multi-factor authentication.

Besides being as secure as a bank vault, this style of a virtual office gives you the ability to work at any location on any device. Just a generation ago, no one could have dreamed of this kind of freedom or flexibility! Start your day off on your desktop, run a quick errand while connecting to your smartphone, sit on the back porch with your laptop, then end your workday lounging on your tablet—all while connected to the “office.” What happens if your device gets lost, damaged, or stolen? Nothing. Your data isn’t stored on the device itself and logging in requires multi-level authentication, which we routinely monitor.

While it’s true that other types of systems have existed in the past that allowed remote access to systems, they were rather clunky, slow and nonsecure.

Bring your operation into the 21st century! If you can move some or all of your workforce into virtual offices, now is the perfect time. Contact us today to see how we can quickly get your operation virtualized and running at peak efficiency—anytime, anywhere!