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The State of the Union: Where Technology Stands Coming Out of COVID-19

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.

You’ve probably grown tired of hearing the words “adjusting to the new normal.” Unfortunately, though, there’s really no other way to say it. This pandemic has permanently changed our work environment, whether you’re already back in the office or remain in quarantine for several more weeks. We must create a new normal for how we work, manage network security, and maintain productivity across a more widespread team. For example, a client earlier this week asked with their employees working from home, how are they supposed to ensure HIPAA compliance? What if someone innocently leaves the computer screen open, or takes a note with a patient’s name and walks away from the notebook? Here’s how we recommend redefining work parameters to create the greatest opportunity for compliance and security in all work situations. 1. No personal systems. If you allow your staff to utilize their personal systems to work, store company data, and interact with customers, you’re just asking for a data breach. First, you have no control over that system. You can’t log in to perform updates, ensure it has the latest virus definitions, or wipe it if they left the company or were terminated. Second, they are probably not running the strongest virus protection, intrusion prevention, and monitoring. Supply systems that meet minimum standards. Some companies have sent employees home with their work equipment. As long as it’s properly documented, this is a safer bet than letting someone go rogue (intentionally or unintentionally) on an un-managed personal machine. 2. Clear Expectations. There is a difference between working from home and lounging on the couch in your pajamas getting work done. If you’re expecting people to be effective remote workers, set clear expectations for their work setup and communicate clearly. For example: 3. Signed Employee Agreement. Whether you expect remote work to be a temporary situation or believe it’s a permanent shift, put in place a clear remote worker agreement. It should lay out all of the expectations that we listed above. If you’re expecting employees back in the office, reiterate the temporary nature of the arrangement. If it’s a trial, state that. Working from home is one of those things that seems really appealing at the beginning, but depending on the worker, it may or may not be effective. As the employer, you want to maintain the option to bring them back into the office, if necessary. 4. Regular Communication. We recommend touching base via video at least once a day and having one other scheduled touchpoint – video, phone, email recap, something that is scheduled and required for each and every employee, whether they’re on-site or remote. You cannot underestimate the power of water cooler conversation throughout the day, so you need to find some way to replace that in order to keep your employees engaged and effective. One of the ways we do this is by opening each meeting with a “good thing.” Every team member shares something good (personal/professional) happening in their lives. When you’re in the thick of it, sometimes it’s hard to come up with something good; but it sets a positive tone for the meeting and allows you to get to know a little bit more about your staff. We also encourage shenanigans more than usual. Perhaps set up a chat feed for funny memes, allow people to use filters on their video calls, just something that brings a little levity and lets people connect outside of their daily tasks. 5. Effective Administration. Ultimately, adapting to this new normal is all about effective administration. Have the right policies in place, communicate the standards and expectations, follow-up with your employees, partner with an MSP that specializes in creating secure, remote workspaces. Together, we’ll continue creating this new normal. As this COVID-19 crisis drags on, we’ve noticed a few new habits amongst our clients. Some have taken this opportunity to get their business in order and prepare for a resurgence. Some are just gritting their teeth and holding on. Nearly all of them have increased their time on social media. In addition to typical surfing, we’re seeing dramatic increases in people filling out those pesky Facebook quizzes about their first loves, childhood homes, mother’s maiden names, and other little-known facts. These quizzes seem innocent enough at first; however, they are a hacker’s dream. In fact, most of these quizzes are planted by hackers in hopes that people fill them out, innocently reveal their security question answers, and create an easy target to breach. Here are a few tips to keep safe.
  1. Just say no. We know we sound like a Debbie-Downer here, but it’s safest to just avoid Facebook quizzes altogether. Let’s paint the picture. Recently, there was a push to post your graduation photo and year “in support of 2020 graduates.” This sounds like a cute idea, but there’s a dark side. Hackers now have three pieces of information that are common security questions: where you went to high school, what year you graduated, and your high school mascot (they can easily look this up based on the information provided). Your support of graduates just opened you up to hacking. Sure, this doesn’t give up your username and password, but hackers might already have this information based on some previous phishing attempt or breach of a major database (think Target, medical records, or social media profile leaks). Now, they have the secondary layer of protection to your personal data. Alternatively, they use this information to create fake Facebook profiles that appear believable. Then, they send a bunch of friend requests to your existing friends and use it to harvest their personal data when they accept.
  2. Pretend everything you post is public. Regardless of your privacy settings, pretend that Facebook is a wall in the grungiest bathroom on your last road trip. Is this information that you would like posted on that wall? When you excitedly shared about your daughter’s first car, you revealed her security question information. You nostalgically told a story about your childhood neighborhood, there was another security question. It doesn’t matter if your profile is private or not. Hackers will find away.
  3. Give Fake Security Question information. If you just cannot refrain from taking these Facebook quizzes or posting, give fake information for your security challenge questions. For example, if the security question asks where you met your significant other, put something completely incorrect. Make sure it’s something that you will remember, but it shouldn’t be something that hackers could find published online.
Social media opens up privacy concerns that we’ve never had to consider before. We recognize that there is no turning back and becoming a recluse isn’t an option. Through this crisis and beyond, take every precaution you can to protect yourself, protect your business, and protect your identity.

As professionals in the IT business, we all have firsthand knowledge that the web can be a dangerous place for anyone, especially if you run a business. The more we analyze security breaches, the more we ask the most crucial question: why? Why do people go through all that trouble to make life more difficult and dangerous for the rest of us?

Well, you can imagine that it differs from hacker to hacker. Just a  few common factors likely end up being the reasons why they do what they do and why they started in the first place. In today’s blog, we’ll take a deep-dive into the villains of our story, and explore some reasons why they do what they do.

1.) Identity Theft

Though you may not realize it, you are more important than you think—well, more valuable, anyway. You might think of you or your company’s value in terms of what is in your bank account, or the assets you may hold. However, you probably carry more potential value that you don’t tap into, such as not opening additional accounts and not maxing out your credit cards.

Consumer Affairs estimates that the average loss for an individual involved in credit card fraud last year was about $2000. That number might seem a bit low to some, but remember that most people only have a few thousand dollars maximum available on their credit card at any given time. Imagine if your company’s credit card was compromised. How much could you be on the line for? Or what if someone opened accounts or took out loans using your stamp of approval? For many of us, the losses could be staggering.

2.) Ransomware

The last few years have taught all of us to fear that word. From small to large businesses, from individuals to local and national governments, no one is safe from these threats. As far as a reason for this type of attack, the answer is simple: hackers identify and attack victims that can give them a good return on their time invested.

When hackers hold an organization for ransom, the victim often ends up paying because they can’t afford to operate too long without productivity. While some sources report that overall ransomware attacks are down, lately, they have become more sophisticated and demand more money to release the “hostage” data or systems.

3.) Mooching Off Your Equipment

Hackers generally have less money and fewer resources than the people they steal from. Sometimes the reason for the attack isn’t just for cash, but rather for access to available operating systems. This type of hacker is looking to take advantage of large servers with massive computing power for activities such as mining Bitcoin. Sadly, they probably don’t plan on giving you a cut. They’ll use your processing power late in the night and stick you with the extra electrical charges. Another reason why you should always check your bills!

4.) Because They Can

You could consider this to be the scariest category of a hacker since there’s nothing that can be done to stop them. They can best be summed up in a quote from Alfred in The Dark Knight when he said; “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money… some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Since a person like this doesn’t have anything other than personal accomplishments as a goal, they can be harder to catch and harder to convince to change their dastardly ways. For example, in one month in 2000, a young man by the name of Michael Calce (who used the handle “Mafiaboy”) took down the systems of CNN, Yahoo, Dell, and Amazon. All are substantial companies with state-of-the-art security systems. What was his grand reason for doing this? To prove that he could. While this is not the most common category of the hacking community, they can still be some of the most difficult hoodlums to deal with.

5.) To Sell Your Information

This is one of the more significant issues today. We live in an era where the greatest currency is information. Once hackers get their hands on information such as credit card numbers, passwords or even patient records, selling personal data on the Dark Web is very straightforward. To make it lucrative, they need to deal in volume. According to some reports, credit card numbers typically sell for around $10 a piece. For the same amount of time and energy it would take to steal your private information, they can accumulate hundreds or thousands of pieces of information by accessing your customers’ records.

The scary part is, once your stolen data is out there for the highest bidder to snatch up, you can be on the hook for damages. Currently, there are dozens of high-profile lawsuits in progress for businesses whose systems were hacked and now private and sensitive data from their clients are exposed for all the world to see… for the right price.

Regardless of the reason hackers do their dirty work, it’s up to us to protect the data we have access to. We just need to update our security systems and stay one step ahead of the criminals. If you don’t feel that your current security measures are up to snuff, give us a call today! We’d be more than happy to assess your current set-up, and show you how you can implement a plan to make sure you won’t be defenseless against those unsavory characters on the web.

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.