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Plan Your Technology Refresh

You spend your whole life up to date with every new singer and song. Then, one day, you realize that you don’t recognize anything on the radio, and they don’t make music like they used to. You start to avoid the new stuff only listening to things from your college days.

While in your personal life this attitude might work for you, in the business world, this could be devastating, especially when it comes to your network. We live in an age where virtually all companies utilize technology. If you consistently hold on to older technology, you could find yourself going the way of the dinosaurs.

The March of Progress Waits for No One

There are certain technologies you can use for a decade or more while others become outdated within weeks. Of course, how and when a technology becomes obsolete varies depending on a variety of factors. For the sake of this discussion, we will use two different terms: Functional obsolescence and absolute obsolescence.

Absolute Obsolescence occurs when it’s physically impossible to use the technology. For instance, a computer without a modem or ethernet port would make connecting to the internet impossible. Utilizing a line of business application that runs solely off floppy disks also falls in this category.

Functional Obsolescence is a bit different. This is when something technically works but is not advisable. An example of this would be using Windows 7 after January 20, 2020. Although possible to use, you’re asking for your system to be hacked and files compromised due to security holes. When it comes to software, utilizing older software often limits its functionality. Think of trying to create a .docx file (current MS Word format) while using Word 97 (only capable of .doc). It’s like trying to get blood out of a stone.

Keep yourself informed about end dates. Be proactive with update schedules to make the prospect of upgrading less of a burden. Be aware of when certain parts of software will no longer be supported so that you can plan for a transition. This will make normal operations significantly smoother, as well as make it easier to recover should you ever experience a data loss event.

Perception is Everything

Besides the explicit risks of using obsolete technology, we need to consider perception. Using updated technology displays success and professionalism. Perception is worth its weight in gold when it works in our favor. In certain industries, there is massive competition between individual providers and customers can have very little reason to choose one over another, so this perception is critical.

There’s a reason why companies who invest in new technology often spend good money to advertise it to the public. Unless a potential customer is familiar with the expertise and reputation of your company, they rely on signals like your technology. Using noticeably out of date technology can leave a negative impression and make them think twice before doing business with you.

The Bottom Line

A generation ago, using computers was a luxury. However, that is no longer the case. From web designers to lumberjacks, just about every industry requires technology to some extent. Instead of trying to fight it, proper planning and implementation can make this fact of life work in your favor.

Consider it time to plan a technology refresh. Since everyone is in the same boat, there are plenty of options to accommodate even the most tech-illiterate user. Subscription services have become an immensely popular option for software, making sure that users always have the most current versions. For those that have an idea of how often they need to replace their hardware, Hardware as a Service (HaaS) programs may be your best bet. You pay monthly or yearly for not only maintenance but also for the eventual replacement at a set interval, taking the guesswork out of upgrades.

But when it comes down to it, much like the rest of life and business, balance is key. You shouldn’t make new technology your center of focus, but try not to be stubborn about upgrading, either. Remember, while you may be comfortable rocking out to the oldies, there’s still plenty of value in what’s new and fresh.

When is the worst time to decide you need a new car? It’s probably when you’re on the side of the road in your old, broken down clunker that just won’t run anymore. Hopefully, you’ve never experienced that before. Unfortunately, businesses often find themselves in that exact situation when it comes to their computer systems. As businesses are increasingly dependent on technology, it’s ironic that attitudes about their upkeep and replacement remain lax. Why is that attitude dangerous and what can you do to combat it? 

Break/Fix Cycles 

There’s a good reason why you wouldn’t want to buy a new car, or a new computer system, right when the old one dies – desperation. Either you will buy a replacement that isn’t right for you or one that costs way too much. 

Waiting until a computer, server, or another device is completely unusable is unwise. This can result in going over budget or having to compromise the actual needs just to get someone running. Take the time to develop a relationship with a Managed Services Provider or VAR to plan what you need for a technology refresh. Get a general idea of how long your systems can reasonably last (typically 3-5 years depending on equipment and usage). We recommend you create a schedule for replacement on a regular basis. In doing so, you’ll be able to divert resources to make it less of a burden when replacements are necessary. It’s best to plan this out before you are desperate and end up making rash decisions that could end up costing you more than you bargained for. 

Embracing the Technology Curve 

While you don’t want to wait until you have a steaming heap of broken technology, you also don’t want to swing in the opposite direction. Purchasing everything at the bleeding edge of technology guarantees that you will get a version filled with all the bugs that software and firmware updates eliminate over the first months. As with many aspects of life, you must strike a balance. Keep an eye out for any advancements in hardware or software that you (currently or could potentially) use that would make a noticeable improvement for your operations. Then, make a plan for making that purchase. Lean on the guidance of your IT support professional or team for timing that makes sense. 

New Options for a New Generation 

The amount of tech needed for even non-technical industries is increasing by the year. This can present new challenges for a new era. For example, for thousands of years, contractors have used hammers, saws, and other tools for physical tasks. Now they use tablets for blueprints, smartphones for communication, and desktops for billing and documents. That doesn’t take into account the administrative offices for larger construction companies. If construction companies need all this tech, imagine the changes in other industries as well! 

Operating in this new age requires more expense and logistics. Thankfully, there are options to address these new concerns beyond simply “go and buy what you need when you need it.” That’s exactly where a Managed Services Provider or IT team comes in. 

Dollars and Sense 

With your IT department or services provider, develop a monthly and annual budget for technology. Scour past spending numbers to determine reasonable, realistic amounts, as well as where you may have excessively spent due to desperation or the desire to be on the cutting edge. We have found that systems typically last about 3-5 years. Craft a budget that makes sense with this particular refresh cycle. 

Having a fixed budget in place will help you avoid surprises when technology spending comes up. In addition, take a look at subscription services for both hardware and software. 

Instead of charging one time for software without ongoing updates, products (such as Microsoft Office 365) now charge on a monthly or yearly basis. This allows you to know exactly how much you’ll need to budget as well as ensures you have the most recent version, features, and security updates. 

Technology is a part of business that won’t be disappearing. By doing your research and planning accordingly, you can successfully navigate when it’s time to upgrade. 

 

From a technology standpoint, there’s never been a better time to be alive. Chatting with people for free all across the world or opening your front door at home while in a business meeting, it seems that our interconnected world has unlimited possibilities. Sadly, that can go really wrong when people with less than pure motives take advantage. Viruses and other threats are on the rise, and there is one word whose very mention sends shivers down the spine of mortal cybersecurity professionals everywhere: ransomware.

Ransome is so frightening because of how quickly it is becoming a major issue across all systems worldwide and how devastating it is for businesses. Today, we will be discussing this threat and what you need to do to keep it out of your business.

Know Thy Enemy

What exactly is ransomware and why should you care? Like other computer threats (think viruses or trojan horses), ransomware has a colorful name that aptly describes what it does. In fact, it’s exactly what it sounds like: someone holds your data or computer access hostage until you pay a ransom. Depending on the circumstances, this can range from a relatively small sum to well over $1,000,000.

These attacks rarely occur on their own. Most often they are part of an email phishing scheme. As criminals have become more and more sophisticated, attacks like these — that only suckers used to fall for — are becoming common even among seasoned professionals.

The Rise

Ransomware has grown to by one of the top cyber threats your company faces. To put this in perspective, in 2018, we saw a 300% increase in ransomware attacks from the year before. So far in 2019, we’ve seen even more attacks than all of last year.

Why the increase? Frankly, because it works. While the ransom can be quite high, most hackers consider the size of the company and value of the data. In most cases, they set the price cheaper than manually restoring the data, so many companies just pay the ransom and hope if they don’t have a proper backup. The FBI recommends not paying so as to not encourage the hackers, but they also recognize that this may actually be the only option for many organizations without the proper security protocols in place.

(In)Famous Status

Ransomware has been popular in the news lately because hackers are targeting governments of all sizes, in addition to businesses.  For instance, in the state of Florida alone, seven municipalities have been victims. In April, the city of Tallahassee paid $500,000 to get access to critical systems and data after an attack. They paid for the attack by diverting funds from employee payroll. The city of Riviera Beach paid over $600,000 in Bitcoin for a similar attack in May after an employee fell for a phishing scam!

National governments are also falling victim! The government of Ecuador said that have seen over 40 million attempts to hack into their system. A few have been successful, resulting in expensive ransoms.

What Does This All Mean?

Saying that “ransomware is here to stay,” would be a massive understatement. However, there is a bit of good news about this. While ransomware itself is a relatively new threat, it uses old standbys to enter your computer in the first place. Ransomware affects your system after hitching a ride on another threat, such as a virus or phishing attempt. Think of it this way. In the past few years, zika, a dangerous virus passed on by mosquitos has been on the rise. Because it’s transmitted by a known pest, we can use the same precautions we’ve always used against mosquitos to prevent infection. This would include repellent, avoiding standing water and wearing long clothing.

Similarly, the best way to avoid ransomware is to protect your network against many of the same threats we’ve always faced with computers. This means being proactive and keeping your system safe before the ransomware can have access to your vital data. In the event of a breach, you also need to have a viable back-up to seamlessly rollback before the attack.

How well does your current system protect you from ransomware and other cyberthreats? Contact us today to prepare you for this very real and rising threat.

Do you remember driving your first new car? You drove that old clunker of yours for years, and now you’re in a sleek and shiny brand new car! It rides and handles so smoothly you wonder why it took you so long to give in and get rid of the old one.

Windows 7 is now, believe it or not, that old clunker you’re still driving.

If you’re currently using Windows 7, you know its days are numbered. The current target date of Windows 7 End of Life is slated for January 2020. While you could technically upgrade to any newer version of Windows, upgrading to Windows 10 is going to be your best bet — as long as your systems can handle it.

While many people (and IT departments) are afraid of change, this can actually be a great opportunity to enjoy new, improved, and added features. Today we’ll be discussing some of the major benefits of upgrading to Windows 10.

One of the major reasons for not upgrading is because the current system has all the features that an individual or company needs. However, keep in mind that Windows 7 originally came out in 2009, and a lot has changed in ten years. Features that we never would have imagined before have now become a regular part of our daily lives, and even if you don’t currently use any of them, you can certainly see how they might benefit your company. Let’s take a look at some of the new features that are bundled with Windows 10:

Cortana

While having a conversation with your computer may have seemed like something that could only exist in Captain Kirk’s reality, both Apple and Google have had virtual assistants available for years. Cortana works in a similar fashion as Siri or Alexa, in that you can use your voice to have her perform a large range of commands. She will keep track of the user’s habits and internet viewing choices while creating a desktop environment that is customized to their preferences, such as news articles that fit their interests.

App Store

There are apps for everything, and by creating their own app store, Microsoft now allows Windows users to have access to a wide range of free and paid applications that can be used for any imaginable purpose, both personal and business.

Virtual Desktops

This is a feature that is new to Windows, but Apple users have been enjoying for years. This feature allows the user to seamlessly change gears to have programs or files specific to a task immediately available with the click of a button.

Improved Screen Capture

To share information we are expected to take screenshots of various projects. With older versions of Windows, you would literally have to take a full screenshot, meaning that the recipient would see everything that was open on your screen. Of course, the results looked unprofessional. The only way to remedy it would be to edit the picture after the fact. With Windows 10 you can capture only what you need, and get moving onto other important tasks.

Speed

Everyone knows that having better hardware can mean a speedier computer experience. But the truth is that software — and especially the operating system behind it — plays a large role in how quickly everything moves. The difference in speed can be seen in overall general performance, but it is especially notable during startup.

When we think of lagging computers, the startup sequence is the worst waste of time, since we’re just sitting there waiting to get to work. Not only does Windows 10 show a major difference in startup time compared to other versions of Windows, but in many cases, it even has a better startup time than a Mac of the same hardware specifications.

Security

When push comes to shove, this will be the major deciding factor. Let’s get the obvious part out of the way: if you don’t upgrade your system by January and you’re using Windows 7, there will be no more support, upgrades, or patches. It will only be a matter of time before hackers can completely exploit your outdated security measures.

Even if Microsoft did continue to support Windows 7, the updated features in 10 blow the old security features out of the water. One of the major upgrades is Secure Boot which will only let you load programs that are signed off by Microsoft or the hardware manufacture. If a third-party program were loaded on for whatever reason, (from an unknown email attachment, or a found thumb drive, for example), it wouldn’t be allowed to run. In addition, there are robust ransomware and virus protection features built right into the OS. Other features, such as Microsoft Passport, Microsoft Hello, and Device Guard add further levels of protection.

While it would still be a good idea to use a separate protection system, Windows isn’t nearly as helpless as it once was. It should be noted, however, that these new features work very well on the induvial computer level only. Extra protection should still be installed on servers, printers, and other business hardware that connect to the internet.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we want to upgrade or not — the end of the Windows 7 world is upon us and we need to be prepared to run our computers without fear. All it takes is trading in your old clunker for the shiny new model, and no one complains when they drive their new car off the lot!

We’ve talked about some of the more common threats that all businesses need to be careful of, but how dangerous is the web and how much of a risk is the current landscape?

Today we’ll talk about a few of the most widespread threats that need your attention.

Windows 7 End of Life

When it first came out, Windows 7 was very popular and it still is. Now, when we say popular, that isn’t an exaggeration. According to some estimates, nearly 70% of all PCs are still running Windows 7! When support officially ends in just a few short months, that’s going to leave a lot of people open to attacks.

In case you weren’t aware, the single largest reason for upgrading is security related. So, when Microsoft stops updating security on these systems, it’s just a matter of time before your system becomes an easy target for hackers.

Marriott’s Data Breach

Don’t think hackers only target little old ladies on 15-year-old computers. It appears that Marriott Hotels, one of the largest chains in the world, is going to be fined the equivalent of $123 million for a breach that exposed the private information of over 332 million customers. Even though it can be argued that the hotel chain was the victim, they are the ones who are responsible for what happens on their servers.

What makes this even scarier is that while the company spends quite a bit on their security, they still didn’t detect the breach for nearly four years. This goes to show that the amount spent on a security system doesn’t mean anything unless it is well implemented and monitored.

LockerGoga

This year, one of the biggest trends in ransomware is the targeting of specific industries. Why is this so scary? Well, the most dangerous enemy is someone who knows how to hit you where it hurts most. In the case of LockerGoga, this particular software is designed to cripple manufacturing firms, specifically, by causing their automation systems to go offline. This disruption is key to the firm’s efficiency. As of this writing, LockerGoga has already affected industrial manufacturing facilities in two continents, nearly shutting down production completely. And it also seems that hackers are upping the ante, demanding ransoms in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Heartless Hackers

While not excusable, it’s still understandable why someone would want to hack business: money. But if you’re a medical or charitable organization, you should be fine, right? Not so fast! For reasons that are not always clear, this year has been especially difficult for data breaches in this sector. In Europe and Asia, tens of thousands of records have been compromised for organizations range from charities for abused children to HIV clinics. Here in the US, at least 145,000 individuals who were seeking treatment for addictions at various facilities had their information stolen from a single server in April. One would think that even hackers would have some sense of decency, but as the saying goes, “There’s no honor among thieves.”

Your Staff is your Biggest Risk

We all know that Hackers and other criminals are working hard, finding ways to break into your business. But their job gets more difficult if your employees are trained in the dangers of cybersecurity. Employees who open the wrong attachments on emails cause about 70% of all malware infections. Up to 50% of your sensitive data, along with your client’s data, can be breached through your employee’s smartphones, tablets, and laptops. And don’t get me started on poor password management.

Not Even Your Donuts Are Safe

Earlier this year, Dunkin Donuts experienced its second hack in six months. In this case, the information wasn’t that sensitive — mostly related to their DD Perks program — but it just goes to show that very little information can be considered untouchable. What is odd about this particular instance is that the information went right onto the Dark Web for the highest bidder to purchase. This may not seem like a problem until you read between the lines. This information contained usernames and passwords, which wouldn’t matter unless someone really wanted that free cup of coffee you earned. However, since many of us reuse the same username and passwords for various accounts, it could be just a matter of finding out what other services you use — or even which bank you do business with — before the thieves gain access to your most critical information.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a safe world. It seems that at every corner someone is trying to breach computer systems to mine any tiny morsel of value. The most important lesson we can learn is to not let your guard down. As a business owner or someone who works within an organization, don’t feel that there’s something special about you or your system that would make you invulnerable or unattractive to a potential data pirate. As long as there is a single penny to be made, it seems that someone is willing and able to jump at it.

Invest in the best cybersecurity you can get. Don’t be the next company to have your data sold on the Dark Web.