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Cyber Extortion: Don’t Be a Victim

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.

The current state of business is morphing into something we haven’t seen before. New ideas and procedures are being created every day to keep businesses running and to address these new challenges.

A recent modern convenience is telemedicine. While it’s been around in a limited form for a while, current circumstances have given it a major boost in both interest and development. In this blog, we’ll take a look at how telemedicine works as well as the challenges it can bring to medical practices hoping to take advantage of this new frontier in medicine.

As a Managed Service Provider, we have seen that the current pandemic and quarantine have not only forced a lot of employees to work remotely, it has caused many businesses to meet with people remotely. We have been assisting all types of businesses turn this emergency situation into a better way of doing business.

A House Call Anywhere in the World

While it’s almost always best to see a physician in person, there are a large number of common conditions that generally can be diagnosed remotely. No, we’re not talking about an online symptom checker, but an actual living, breathing doctor who will see the patient via a video call.

These sorts of services would allow the physician to talk directly to the patient, and would then explain how they feel. If the symptoms don’t appear to be anything needing additional testing, the doctor could then make a diagnosis and begin a treatment plan, which might include sending prescriptions to a local pharmacy to be picked up by the patient. If the patient requires additional testing, a referral can be made.

Examples of conditions that are easily diagnosed via telemedicine include:

 

Benefits of Telemedicine

One of the biggest benefits of remote doctor visits is that the patient can get better without getting worse. Hospitals and doctors’ offices are, by their very nature, full of sick people. The more often we go to these places, the more likely we are to catch something, compared to staying at home, that is. Telemedicine is the definition of social distancing.

This particular benefit has become huge this year since many people hope to stay far away from groups of sick people due to fears of COVID-19 — and for a good reason! Not only is this true for patients, but for the people who work the offices, including the physicians. A recent article in The Guardian stated that around 20% of all COVID-19 patients got infected while in a hospital. With many people considering it unsafe to go into the office, it makes sense that they would much rather telecommute to talk to a doctor for the sniffles.

Additionally, everyone involved saves money. For the patient, they don’t have to worry about transportation or taking time off work. The physician doesn’t have to worry about having a large medical space with a large staff, which may result in them charging less for their services to the patient or insurance company. If the insurance company is charged less, they can (hopefully) keep their premiums at reasonable levels. It works out best in everyone’s favor.

 

Challenges of Telemedicine

Even though telemedicine tends to work out so well for everyone involved, it doesn’t mean the technology and processes needed to set up and maintain this service are automatic. For instance, not everyone owns a computer, especially for older or lower-income patients. Even for those who do have access to a computer, internet access can still be a challenge since telemedicine requires a highspeed internet connection in order to have stable communication.

Beyond the patient’s end, physician’s needs quite a bit of technology to make sure everything runs smoothly. Some might think this would just involve a doctor hopping on Skype or Zoom and having a chat with their patients. However, there are many factors to take into consideration. For example, will this be taking place in a medical office or home office? Will multiple physicians be working together at the same time or just one? Will this be something done for a few hours every week or will you be routinely communicating with your patients remotely? Do you need to share your screen to show test results or x-rays? How are you ensuring that HIPPA standards are being met?

Depending on how you answer these and other important questions, your hardware and software needs will be drastically different.

 

The Way to Success

Thankfully, if you’re planning on starting or improving a telemedicine operation, you won’t be the first. What most physicians have found is that it’s best to leave the technical aspect to the experts so they can focus on what’s most important: their patients.

One of the best ways to do this is to contact us right from the beginning. By doing this, there’s no guesswork as to what hardware and software are needed, plus any maintenance and upgrades are routinely cared for. Even the scary parts, like HIPPA compliance, are taken care of so your patients’ privacy is secure and you can sleep well at night.

If you currently have a telemedicine operation or are considering starting one, be sure to contact us sooner rather than later. We will go over your needs as well as give you multiple options to make sure the solution you choose is best for you. By bringing us in to do our job, we’ll give you lots of time for you to focus on your job. And right now, the world really needs you.

In last week’s blog, Can VoIP Help Your Business, we took a look at the pros, cons, and the ease of VoIP installation, and concluded that, yes, most likely it can help your business. Today we’ll do a deeper dive into the benefits you will see by switching to a VoIP Phone System.

We can’t, however, talk about the current popularity VoIP is having without bringing up COVID-19 and the restrictions it has caused across the country. Due to the pandemic’s quarantine, many employees from all kinds of businesses were directed to work from home, if they were lucky enough to keep their jobs, that is. This sudden crisis caused businesses to scramble and create new ways for those employees to communicate with their managers and clients. At first business owners were skeptical about this arrangement. Up until now, it has always been easy to monitor the work of employees, but how can we know what they’re doing if they are working remotely?

Suddenly webcams flew off the shelves and many suppliers ran out completely. Laptops were also being scooped up, and new cellular contracts were signed so employees would have ways to stay in touch with their office. It’s the cell phones that bother us. As you know all too well, the average cost of a cellular contract is between $40 and $80 dollars per month. More usually, with hidden fees and penalties if you use too much data. And who hasn’t done that?

On top of those costs, you have to buy the phone! Sure, sometimes they’ll throw in the phone, but, if not, you’re looking at $600 to $1,000 for each phone. Possibly more if you’re investing in something suitable for work. This is where a lot of businesses were hit hard in the pocketbooks. And, unnecessarily so, if you ask us. There’s got to be a better way!

And there is! Let’s take a look at some of the key reasons VoIP is such a hot topic right now:

Easy Installation

IP phones are virtually plug-and-play. There is no need to run separate phone lines – your VoIP phone connects to the same network cable your PC runs on. Or, for some applications, you can even use it through WIFI. The phones are easy to maintain and should last years with normal usage.

Telecommuting

VoIP technology is extremely portable, and it easily allows users to connect to your system from their office or at home. It’s even easy to connect if your employees travel abroad. Your employee’s dedicated phone number is linked to them wherever they choose to work.

Conferencing

With standard phone systems, you’ll often end up paying an additional service fee for hosting multiple callers when you set up a conference call. Those days are over when you switch to a VoIP system.

Scalability

VoIP systems allow you to add or delete lines as your pool of employees grows or shrinks. You only pay for what you use, and phones are easy to add, delete, or move. You can also use your desktop computer, your smartphone, or laptop to make and receive calls through your browser or a special app.

Additional Features

There are many features VoIP offers that can help small businesses, such as; customizable call forwarding options, customizable greetings, automatic call transfer, voicemail transcription to email, detailed usage reports to help control costs, and an updatable customer contact book. There are also instant messaging and video chat functions you can use, and you can even set-up an automatic phone recording that may help resolve customer issues in the future.

You’ll also get advanced call center functions. With state-of-the-art analytics, you can track the usage of your staff and calculate the amount of time they’re contacting your customers. Cloud-based phone systems are proven to be reliable and secure.

The Cost

The monthly and yearly cost of using a VoIP system is much less than using a conventional phone provider. Not only does daily use cost less, but long-distance calls are also cheaper when using VoIP phones. The typical savings over older phone systems is 40% or more. The reason for this is, with traditional phone systems, a call is made by switching the path through a series of physical exchanges until it reaches its destination. The more exchanges you need to complete the call the more it may cost. And those exchanges need a lot of upkeep.

With a VoIP system, your voice is turned into a data packet with an identifier, and sent through your existing network, through the cloud, and into the network of your destination.

To get set up you need to get your network checked, purchase the phones, and find the best monthly contract that fits your needs. And the good news is we can help you with all of that.

A very recent study just reported that, due to the COVID-19 quarantine, 15.2% of all small businesses that closed their doors will not re-open. We don’t need to tell you that the main reason most of them won’t re-open is because of a lack of funds. When it comes to running a business, you’re always looking for ways to cut costs. And, as you can see, VoIP phone systems are definitely cost savers. Watch your budget and don’t become a statistic.

Contact us today and find out if a VoIP phone system is the kind of technology you’ve been waiting for.

At a business lunch a few months ago. Someone told us about a technique he likes to use during his daily employee meetings. At the beginning of their meetings, he has all attendees take turns telling everyone something good that happened. It can be something personal, professional, a joke, anything that shines a positive light on something worth sharing. They started this tradition long before the woes of 2020. It has become even more important recently as it starts off every meeting on a positive tone. We don’t need to tell you that this year hasn’t been the best one yet. We also don’t want to focus on that. While brainstorming this week’s blog topic, we thought, why not expand the tradition and share a positive note for small businesses. So, here’s our “Something Good.”

Backbone of America

Statistically, more people work for small businesses than corporations in America. We are truly the lifeblood of the economy. While it may feel like we’ve been taking a beating between being closed/restricted for COVID-19 purposes, and now, in many places, to protect against riots and looting, small businesses will be needed to bring the nation’s economy back. The first half of 2020 likely didn’t live up to your optimistic strategic plan, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for the year. Now is the time to begin digging-in and preparing to make something of the second half of the year, no matter what comes down the pike next.

Treat this as an Opportunity

Recently, we blogged about the 9 things you should do while your business is down. Those are all still relevant, but we want to dive in a bit more on one of these: determine your next offering. There has never been a better time to reinvent yourself.

We’re Here to Help

Many of our clients rely on us to help with their business growth goals through technology and strategic planning. As you’re determining your next move in driving forward or re-inventing yourself to fit the new world order, we are ready to assist, whether you’re looking for hardware, software, business advice, or a listening ear. Together, let’s make this the best comeback year anyone dreamed possible.

Over the past couple of months, everything has changed. Many of these changes will have ongoing impacts on our businesses. As we begin to see businesses looking toward their futures again. It’s time to take a look at the state of the union. Particularly where things stand with technology, communication, and the workforce of the future.

Shifts in Communication

A popular meme at the beginning of this pandemic said, “we’ll now see which meetings really could be emails.” While we have seen our clients tighten up their communication by shifting to chat platforms like Teams, we’ve noticed an even greater shift toward video communication. In fact, webcams flew off the shelves so quickly that some are still back-ordered. More practical video conferencing ushered in new etiquette expectations for surviving the new workplace, and we expect continued heavy use of video conferencing moving forward. Many offices have seen it is a much more efficient, yet personable way to gather teams together. See the whites of people’s eyes, and check-in on both a personal and productivity level. We highly recommend gathering with your teams on video chat daily. Twice a day if possible. Even as people return to the office. Maintain these meetings to sustain connections, particularly if you have a hybrid workforce with some in office and some remote.

A Note on Web Cams

Webcams are a fantastic lens into your employees’ and clients’ worlds; however, hackers also love to access webcams. They’ll install a backdoor virus on your system through social engineering, a link you clicked, or they could be phishing for information. Then use the stolen info to turn on your webcam without your permission or your knowledge. We recommend limiting the platforms that have permission to utilize your webcam, as well as utilizing a webcam cover when you’re not actively on camera (a sticky note or opaque tape will even work in a pinch).

Rising Safety Concerns

Nefarious hackers are taking advantage of the confusion, frustration, and fear surrounding COVID-19. Social engineering attempts are on the rise as they use COVID-19 related “news” to lure people into giving up their information. People working from home traditionally don’t have enterprise-grade firewalls and anti-virus protection. If you continue to work from home during and post-pandemic, bear in mind these seven necessities.

You also need to consider where the pandemic ranks on your disaster-preparedness planning. Prior to this event, you probably hadn’t considered what would happen if you had to scramble to get all of your employees working remotely or how to keep business operational in a curbside pick-up-only world. Now’s the time to make sure you document your plan. Write down what you did well this time, and what you would change should something like this ever happen again. We have no excuse to enter another pandemic unprepared. Next time, businesses should be able to continue much more smoothly.

Events in Motion

Many industries live and die by their conferences. Some have chosen to cancel in-person meetings for the foreseeable future, while others have pivoted to online platforms. An online event cannot take the place of everyone meeting up at a bar for networking or cruising the tradeshow floor looking for your next business investment. However, we highly recommend embracing the growing virtual event culture.

Lunch and Learns can be moved to webinars. Training events can be moved to streamed sessions. In-person casino nights can translate to online bingo games and video karaoke. We may have gone a little too far with that last one, but the point is, when the world changes we need to embrace the technology. Connections do not have to suffer due to diminished in-person events. You just have to choose the right platform and continue to move forward, which is something we can help you with technologically. 

Where is the workforce heading

A recent Gallup poll indicates that between March 13 and March 30, the percentage of people working remotely increased from 31% to 62% due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that people are starting to return to offices, 60% would prefer to continue to work from home. Employers who create adaptable work environments will be more likely to keep their top employees and maintain a positive work environment than those who make rigid demands to bring everyone back to the office. Flexible and remote work is the future, whether business owners want to admit it or not.

On the plus side, there will be less need for high overhead office space, upkeep, and on-site framework. On the other hand, employers will have to make a significant investment in culture, productivity tracking, and cloud infrastructure to ensure their teams remain productive. Now is the time to set your remote work policies, determine who and how people can work from home, and create your technology roadmap to keep your remote and on-site workforce on the leading edge.

A Note About Perfect Attendance Culture

Regardless of how you decide to handle remote work globally, decide what you want people to do when they are sick. A traditional “we’ll rest when we’re dead, as long as you still have a pulse come to the office” mentality is not going to work moving forward. First, it’s bad for the health of all of your employees. Second, some individuals are going to be more sensitive to hearing coughs and sniffles in the office; which will impact how often they, in turn, call in sick, or if they’ll leave for greener pastures with more flexible policies. Third, this strange time has provided a glimpse of the potential impact of communicable disease.

It’s time to truly believe and enforce the “if you’re sick, stay home” philosophy. Thankfully, remote work means staying home doesn’t halt all work if an employee feels up to it; but be sensitive to the importance of rest. Put in place a clear policy of when you expect people to stay home when they can work from home (minor illness, family member illness), and when you expect them to take legitimate sick time.

The Bottom Line

We are anxious for everyone to get back to work in however they feel safest. Maybe continuing to work from home, bringing in a skeleton crew, or hitting things full force with your entire staff. Regardless of your path forward. We know that adjustments need to be made to ensure your technology, culture, and strategy are ready for this new-age. May this state of the union point you in the right direction.