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Is your Virtual Office Secure?

Many companies have found themselves forcing employees to work from home throughout the pandemic and now as we navigate hybrid learning environments. This trend has been a long time coming, but it seems like we’ve progressed more in the last six months than the previous 20 years combined.

Pandemic or not, remote working will be the future for many of us if it isn’t already the case. This month, we’ll be going over various reasons why you may want to consider making a move to a virtual office. In this article, we’ll be discussing a reason that’s near and dear to our hearts: security. 

Virtual vs Physical Office 

When some of you hear the term “virtual office,” you’re probably thinking of someone at home on their computer, all their work online. While that’s true, it’s important to understand that what we’re talking about is more specific than that.  

A proper virtual office allows someone to actually go to work in the most literal way possible without even stepping foot in a building. All the software and data that your employees would need would be available after logging into your system, often via a login on your company’s webpage. Once inside, your employees can literally do anything they need to do. They would be remote clients of every software your company uses, including accounting packages.  

A Safe Solution 

Virtual offices are one of the safest ways for your company to do business remotely. The biggest reason for this is the lack of any software on your employees’ own computers. Even if their computer gets hacked, there’s nothing on the hard drive that would belong to the company. In addition, since the employee is logging into the system, unless someone is literally behind their shoulder, there is no way for them to see what they’re doing.  

Much of the time, hackers get information based on the connection between your computer and the server you’re communicating with (the website’s hosting server). You could think of it like being wiretapped — the person listening in can get all the information you’re sharing with your friend on the other line. With a digital office, you’re basically entering a digital building, doing all your business inside, then leaving for the day.  

What a Digital Office Is Not 

Some of your smarties reading this article might be thinking, “Oh! They’re talking about a VPN.” While VPNs and virtual offices share some similarities, there are a few important differences. For one, VPNs work by encrypting your communication between you and the website you’re visiting. However, once you’re in contact with that website, you’re still vulnerable. What if the site uses cookies to track you or if their servers have been compromised? That VPN won’t do you a lick of good. 

Also, VPNs are often used on a network. It’s true that the entire network will be better protected with a VPN than without one, but if one device on the system gets infected, your entire network is defenseless. Even entire VPN services have been hacked in recent months, leaving millions of customers vulnerable. 

Let’s use the example of your child opening an infected email. If you’re using a virtual office, none of your company’s files, passwords or any other type of data will be in danger. The only way to access that information is to have the credentials to enter the entire system.  

This might make you think that gaining access is just as easy as someone stealing your password. However, entering the virtual office would require a password in addition to multi-factor authentication that would be monitored by your MSP. While any system could theoretically be breached, this form of accessing the system is about as ironclad as you can get these days.

A Smart Solution 

Of course, we’d be lying if we said that virtual offices are an impenetrable castle wall that would be 100% safe. Even with physical castle walls, it isn’t just the bricks and mortar that protect that people inside — it’s the design, workmanship and upkeep that stop the enemies from rushing in. 

Understanding how a virtual office works, best practices in its implementation and maintenance is what will decide the quality of your system in the long run. This sort of workspace can be complicated to set up and get used to, but once your company works this way for a short while, the peace of mind you have will make you wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. 

Naturally, with something this important, you’re going to want a company that knows what they’re doing from years of practical experience, not just from learning by watching a YouTube video on the topic. Especially when putting all your eggs in one basket (so to speak), you better make sure that basket is made from galvanized titanium covered in diamonds. Well, maybe not literally, but you get the point. 

Our team has been working with virtual offices (in whole or in part) for decades. We know what needs to be done and understand the very real danger of not doing it right the first time. If you’re finding your workplace become more and more sparse with your employees working remotely, don’t wait to call us today. We’d be happy to go over your specific needs and help develop a solution that will make your virtual office a secure workplace.  

So, you may be wondering why the break-fix model doesn’t work. Grandpa always said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While we love Grandpa, that truism isn’t always true. Just like the customer is always right and other similar expressions, simply because people have been saying something forever doesn’t make it correct.

Still wondering why the break-fix model doesn’t work?

Break-fix fails: waiting to take action when something breaks before you fix it can end up being costly and disastrous in the long run. Where do we find the balance between upgrading routinely and only replacing when you have no choice? Also, what does this have to do with this series’ theme of hiring an IT tech?

Break-fix Model: Let’s Break the Cycle

When a company grows and gets larger, certain things that used to seem important get pushed to the back burner. Some companies may even change their model and service style after rapid growth and incorporate the break-fix model. The break-fix model is also sometimes used due to having lower resources. These are usually issues that don’t have immediate ramifications. Unfortunately, this often includes technology, such as computers, servers or copiers, as well as software. While there’s no built-in self-destruct date on these machines or programs, just because you can use something doesn’t mean that you should use it.

Many of us have computers that we may have used for close to a decade. But have you ever had a computer suddenly die on you? Or what about needing a software upgrade, but your hardware can’t handle it? These have happened to all of us at some point. While it might be an inconvenience on a personal level, it can be devastating for a business. Equipment going down unexpectedly can mean a massive loss of productivity or worse, loss of precious data.

Despite this, many still choose to rely on replacing equipment only when it breaks. This puts you at the mercy of whatever the items costs the moment you need it. You might be able to find a sale, but more than likely, you’ll end up paying the full retail price. If you choose to replace all equipment of a regular schedule, you can end up getting volume discounts.

Let’s use some general numbers here. Suppose a workstation costs $1000 per employee.If you have 25 employees that $25,000 to replace all the workstations. If you buy everything at once, you’ll end up getting a volume discount. In this case, we’ll go with a 20% discount. That would be a savings of $5,000 to replace equipment that you would already have to replace anyway — or $5,000 wasted in purchasing one by one. Not only that, but you would have no idea how much you would be paying on a monthly or yearly basis if you replace one by one. One month you could be paying $0 and the next $5,000.

Not So Easy Break-fix!

Naturally, there’s a lot more involved in replacing equipment that signing a check. For starters, when would you need to replace the hardware? Where would you purchase it? How are you going to negotiate the volume pricing? What kind of equipment do you actually need? How do you budget this out? Who’s going to go to swap out the equipment? What do you do with the old equipment once it’s replaced?

Your IT department or outsourced MSP typically handles these concerns. While the equipment in question is crucial to operations, you most likely don’t have someone with the qualifications or bandwidth to figure all of this out. That’s what an IT professional does. This is a reason that it doesn’t make financial sense not to have some sort of IT tech.

Spending Dollars Can Make Sense

As we’ve already mentioned, holding out to make purchases only when they’re absolutely necessary can end up costing you a ton in the long run. It’s logical to make sure you have someone consistently addressing your IT needs before there are issues. In the first article in this series, though, we showed how it makes the most financial sense to consider using an MSP over an in-house IT tech or a whole department.

Beyond the factors of salary, insurance and other expenses related to that employee, you also have to consider how an MSP can save you money in different ways. For example, you wouldn’t be their only customer, which means that their purchasing power is much stronger, giving you a better volume pricing. While you may only need 25 computers, that MSP might be purchasing 100 between you and their other customers, so they can negotiate a much better discount.

Also, a good MSP will replace all hardware and software not up to standard at the beginning of your contract. While this might seem like a financial shock at first, it saves you in the long run. If your MSP knows every single piece of your equipment, then future upgrades or repairs will be fast and within budget.

Another great advantage is being able to budget. Replacing your equipment only as it breaks can lead to extreme un-budgeted fluctuations in your IT expenses. When you hire an MSP, you know what you’ll be paying monthly and yearly.

Break Free from the Cycle

If you’re tired of being stuck in the same old break-fix cycle: contact us today! We pride ourselves on helping our customers not only spend less by preparing for the future, but making sure there aren’t any gaps in productivity. Our experienced staff will go over your current system in detail. Then, they’ll create a comprehensive plan that makes sense for your business. We’ll make sure that that the only cycle you’re involved with includes your success!

So, you’re working on drafting an IT professional job description. This series covers the most important factors to consider before you hire an in-house IT tech or team. Our last article reviewed the hidden costs of hiring an IT Professional. Now, we’re talking about what IT actually does besides ask if you turned your computer off and back on again.

Depending on the size of your organization, work in IT can be complicated and time-consuming. Let’s go over the major job responsibilities of IT professionals beyond tech support and equipment maintenance.

Vendor Management

Outside organizations most often provide your Internet, copy machine, phone system, and computer equipment. When they break, need maintenance, or require warranty replacement, the IT person interacts with the vendor. Oftentimes, they’re responsible for communicating between multiple vendors that frequently point fingers at each other. The IT person spends a great deal of time sorting out the underlying issues, determining what’s really wrong, and implementing a fix. If they can’t fix the problem themselves, their effort goes to convincing a vendor to help.

Keeping Up with the Technologies

While many of us might be preoccupied with what our favorite celebrities are up to on any given day, IT personnel are keeping themselves informed on what’s going on in the world of tech outside their organizations.

Software

Remember when you bought software and it stayed exactly the same until you went to the store and bought the newest version? These days, software updates happen regularly, sometimes multiple times a week. However, since various companies often make the programs, they tend not to play well together. This means that your IT techs need to understand what the updates are, what benefits they could bring, as well as when and how they should be implemented, if at all.

In addition, they’re consistently looking out for new software that might be better than what’s currently in use.

New Tech

Sometimes it’s best to completely scrap a system and start over. For instance, while there may be improvements you can make to enhance your telecom system, perhaps you should upgrade to a pure VoIP communication system. If you’re still running servers on-site, perhaps it’s time to think about a virtual office. If your hardware is over three years old, it’s time to start planning for a refresh. An IT person must remain on top of all technology and know about the new innovations that will make your business more efficient.

Security

This is the elephant in the room right now. Cyber threats are not only growing by the day, but they’re also changing. Being up to date is no longer an issue of merely updating your antivirus software.  Unfortunately, many of the attacks we see are the result of someone falling asleep at the wheel. Hackers are continuing to innovate new ways to get to their targets cause damage.

The best way for IT professionals to make themselves useful in this regard is to not only update software and the network but to educate the rest of the company on ways to keep from being the accidental cause of a data breach. This crisis prevention is one of the most important and proactive jobs for a successful IT professional.

The Sad Truth

You may have noticed the number of duties in this article outside of fixing broken technology. If it seems like way too much work for one person, that’s because it is. To fulfill all of the responsibilities of a responsible IT professional, you would need to have multiple people with a variety of skill sets. Of course, this adds to the expense of a department that’s supposed to help you keep costs down and simplify operations.

For this and other reasons, many companies turn to MSPs for their IT needs. You have access to a team of professionals that not only have the expertise needed to do the job of an in-house IT department, but also have the time, opportunity, and personnel to stay up to date on the latest developments.

Do you find your business needing more assistance with your IT? Have you thought about hiring an IT professional or outsourcing those duties? If the answer to these questions is yes, then contact us today to see how we can maximize efficiency while giving you one less headache to worry about. With our decades of experience, you’ll find yourself on the cutting edge in no time!

We’ve all seen movies where a couple of thugs in trench coats walk into a store, take a look around and say something like, “Nice place you got here, shame if something were to happen to it.” Many people might think the days of extortion went away with the end of mob-run New York and Chicago, but it’s still alive and well on the internet — in the form of ransomware.

To make things worse, as the world has been buckling down with the COVID-19 pandemic, hackers have been working overtime to take advantage of lax cybersecurity. But before we get into how to protect your company from ransomware threats, let’s see how we got here.

 

Understanding the Problem

For those unaware, ransomware is a form of computer virus that allows a hacker to enter your system and lock you out of every file and program you use. Then, out of the goodness of their hearts, the hackers give you two options: pay them a set amount of money or lose access to everything forever.

Ransomware has been around for decades (and we’ve written many blogs on the topic) but it has proliferated exponentially in recent years. The main reason for this is because it works. Merely stealing your information and then selling it can make them money, but not nearly as much as ransoming that same information to its rightful owner.

Over the course of just a few months (Q4 of 2019 to Q1 of 2020), Forbes magazine stated that overall attacks rose by 25%. Why such a rise? Well, it could have something to do with payouts also rising by 33% within that same timeframe. With that kind of increase, it’s no wonder why hacking is a growing industry.

 

Ransomware in the Age of Covid-19

When the pandemic started, many people began working from home. For many of us, working from home presents no problems at all, but for others, it creates a whole list of issues that won’t be resolved until their whole department can be back in the office.

This has especially been the case with IT departments. While it’s true that they can do a lot of their work remotely, sometimes they just need to be in the server room to do their job. And don’t think for a minute that hackers don’t know that.

With so many fractured IT departments out there, businesses have been getting swarmed with attacks. For example, the city of Florence, Alabama was attacked just a few weeks ago and said that paying the $300,000 demand was better than having its citizen’s information exposed and for sale.

Even more recently, Honda was attacked by a cybercriminal that actually ended up shutting down production. Ransomware is getting more dangerous by the day.

 

The New Frontier

The recent pandemic has taught us that we don’t need as many people in the office or even at the factory as we thought we did. Work can be done via automation or with remote workers and keep the business running. That means that our businesses can become even more efficient than ever before. It also means that if a hacker were to get into your system, the damage can be even more devastating.

With the way businesses are depending more and more on technology, your entire business can grind to a halt from a single bad decision someone took when opening the wrong email.

 

Lighting Can Strike Twice

Imagine your company has been a victim of a ransomware attack and the crisis passes. Perhaps you paid the hacker or were able to gain access to your system again some other way. Now imagine that life has gone back to normal until one day the unthinkable happens: you get hacked again with a ransomware demand.

Sadly, this is not a one-off situation. In fact, not only can this happen to a single business, but it can happen to multiple parts of an organization. One of the most famous examples of this is when a single school is hacked, then multiple other schools in the same district get hit with the same ransomware, one by one.

The reason this is somewhat common in the tech world is that organizations can have similar (or identical!) safety protocols across the board. It’s a lot less work for a hacker to work this way than to go search out other targets every time they want a hit. However, we all know one of the biggest reasons we’re unprepared is because we all think it can’t happen to us. The harsh reality is that’s what all the businesses who were hit thought too.

 

What Can You Do?

While it’s true that hackers are getting more sophisticated every day, the majority of their attacks are opportunistic. Hackers take the path of least resistance, so if they can enter your system by Carol in accounting falling for a phishing scam, or if your IT department did not update their protocols after a previous attack, they’ll take that route.

That’s where we come into play. By dealing with a company to work on your behalf, you don’t need to worry every time someone logs into your system. And why should you waste all that time? Any effort you put into protecting your system is effort that could have been spent growing your business. By having us go over your current system and helping you implement a better one, you stand a much better chance when the internet goons come for your data.

This month we’ve been discussing the value of updating your current technology. We are using Medical Offices as our example, but in reality, this information is important to all small businesses. In this week’s blog, we will discuss the pitfalls of sticking your head in the sand by being resistant to change.

Let’s assume that everything we’ve said about upgrading your technology resonated with you, and you agree 100% — now what? Well, decisions have to be made. What kind of hardware will you be using? What about the software? When do you plan to make changes, and what’s your budget? Do you plan to hire new people for this undertaking or do you plan to use a vendor? But perhaps the most crucial question of all is, who will make the final decision?

While this might seem like an odd question, the truth is that many offices don’t have a go-to person for these types of decisions. Or maybe the person who is currently in charge of this may be too busy, too distracted, or not the best person to do so.

Who is your Decision Maker?

One of the biggest problems with a lot of medical practices is that they often don’t work like your typical business. While most traditional companies might have an owner, a president, or simply a manager, this isn’t always the case when it comes to doctors.

Medical practices, like attorney firms, typically use a partnership model where they may have more than five or six doctors who own the business and are in charge of making most of the larger decisions. While it’s true they often use office managers, these position holders usually handle the day-to-day operations and aren’t given the authority to make decisions for large purchases or contracts. But even if there’s only one person at the top, the decision may still not be an easy one to make.

A Question of Qualification

There is no doubt that doctors are qualified to do their jobs. Few professions require as much education and experience before they can start their career path. Even so, that expertise does not extend to understanding technology in their offices. Why is it that someone with the skills to cut you apart then put you back together can look like a deer in headlights when confronted about server clients, cloud systems automation, and WANs? Probably because this was never a taught to them in their years of medical school.

But in defense of these physicians, there is a lot more to IT than simply understanding computers. For instance, understanding budgeting is an essential part of any IT desision. Even if you have the money, just buying everything there is does not a good IT system make. Having a thorough understanding of the specific needs — including future needs — of the office is crucial before spending a single penny.

In addition, healthcare systems are some of the most difficult to set up and manage because of strict government regulations regarding patient privacy. While there are plenty of great software programs that can help the office run smoothly, HIPPA compliance should be at the front of your mind before implementing anything. Sadly, it seems that many software programs (and even operating systems) don’t go out of their way to answer whether or not they are HIPPA compliant, so you need people who can find out that information to help you make the correct decision.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s no secret that technology is moving at breakneck speeds these days, so if you’re not making efforts to keep up, you can fall behind in a blink of an eye. New solutions for storage, operating systems, and security are being developed almost daily. Also, there may be a need to upgrade systems for other reasons, such as when it’s becoming clear that your needs are growing or evolving.

Again, this process is difficult for any business but much more so in a medical environment, mostly because of HIPPA compliance. This may either lead a practice to fall out of compliance or choose to forgo upgrading in general to avoid a situation like that, even at the expense of efficiency. A major reason for this is a lack of guidance, with people having a very specific specialty being unaware or unsure of what needs to be done to upgrade.

This can cause major problems down the line as the most common solution to this problem tends to be a piecemeal replacement process. A computer here or a printer there may seem like a reasonable way to get things done, but the fact is that it ends up costing a lot more than making regular replacement of all outdated equipment at once. Additionally, it can make migrating files and systems much more complicated in the future since all these different pieces of equipment will be running various operating systems or in other ways be non-uniform.

If you find yourself in this situation, it could lead to security breaches, lowered employee morale, and downtime that will lead to a loss of efficiency. If the problem started because there wasn’t a single person taking charge, it would be a lot more difficult to resolve these issues.

A Streamlined Solution

The best way to get your office on track is to make a formal decision as to who handles IT across the board. While you may want input from the various departments, a single, qualified person should be pulling the lever on these decisions.

Since medical facilities tend to be such busy places, many have chosen to go with an outside vendor to provide these IT services, such as us. From our experience, when having a single person or group meet with us to address the needs and current status of the office, we’re able to quickly work out a solution. Not only are we able to make sure that the needs of everyone in the office are met without all the hassle usually needed to maintain such a system, but that system ends up being well within their budget.

If you find yourself being the person responsible for making these decisions, contact us to see how we can be of service. You’ll be amazed by the positive atmosphere you can create with just a few changes to your IT.  But don’t worry — we’ll let you take all the credit!