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VPN Security: Trick or Treat?

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

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

VPNs: As Sweet as Free Candy

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

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

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

VPN Security: A Razor in Your Apple

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

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

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

Stay Safe at Home

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

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

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

In today’s age, we all must be cyber aware. The average American today has access to more than 10 Internet Connected Devices in their household. Most have at least 2 computers and 2 smartphones. Across the world, an estimated 30 billion+ devices connect to the Internet. This connectivity generates massive potential for advancement; but in turn, creates a paradise for hackers. This is nothing new. Hacking has been on the rise since the dawn of connected technology. And here’s the problem. Most businesses have maintained the same security protocols for just as long. The theory is that what they’ve done so far has worked, so why is there any reason for change? Here are the seven reasons why technology is more dangerous than ever before: Side Note: Why focus on cybersecurity now? October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. For the past 17 years, during October CISA and partners have focused on cybersecurity. Follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn for more tips and tricks throughout the month. 

Let’s Be Cyber Aware About Ransomware

The first computer virus was introduced in the 1970s. It took over systems by replicating on the hard drive until the user didn’t have system space to operate. It was actually built as an experiment and had no malicious intent/implications. Today, viruses aren’t child’s play or experiments, and the most dangerous one takes over the hard drive completely, encrypting every piece of data. If you’re connected to a network, it can then infiltrate the servers and start encrypting there. If your data backups are also on that network, you lose all access to a clean backup.  The only way to get this data back is paying the ransom (not recommended under the vast majority of cases), or working with an IT company to revert back to a clean data/decrypt the files based on the specific ransomware in play. Either way, you’re spending a lot of money and time to get back what’s yours to begin with, your precious data.

Part of Being Cyber Aware is Knowledge of Phishing

Phishing emails at one time were super easy to spot. The Nigerian prince desperately needed to send you money if you inputted all of your personal information. Since then we have become more cyber aware, but phishing attempts have improved. Today, phishing attempts are a whole lot smoother. The perpetrator researches enough to identify your boss, then sends an email under his/her name asking you to discretely transfer money or send identifying financial information. Unless you’re looking at the exact email address it’s coming from (typically spoofed by one or two letters in the domain), all of a sudden you’ve transferred $40,000 into an unknown person’s account thinking it’s your CEO. You won’t think anything of it until you speak with your CEO later and realize that is wasn’t really them. These honest mistakes cost companies hundreds of thousands of dollars every year with very little recourse to get the money back where it belongs. Some experts say that employee mistakes cause nearly 92% of breaches.

Insider Threats

As more people work remote, particularly with the urgency of the past six months, businesses have lost tight control on their data, increasing the threat of malicious insiders. While we want to trust every person working for us, that one disgruntled employee who decides to store a copy of the customer data before putting in his two-week notice, could wreak havoc on your business when they decide to work for your closest competitor. Virtual Office solutions can alleviate a lot of the pain this could cause and allow you to keep every piece of data exactly where it belongs.

Data Leaks and Password Practices

Malicious insiders can cause these leaks, but they’re also the password leaks from major players that you hear about frequently. You may be wondering how a LinkedIn password breach can really hurt you in the long run (after all they really just gain access to your professional resume). 53% of people admit to reusing their password on multiple accounts. Hackers rely on this. They can sell the password or utilize that password to hack much more dangerous things, like your banking institution. Our best recommendations: use complex passwords, don’t reuse passwords, use a password vault to keep track of all your passwords, and implement two-factor authentication wherever you can.

Become Cyber Aware About Cryptojacking

Cryptocurrency is a hackers’ favorite payment method. It is untraceable and extremely valuable. Beyond requiring cryptocurrency for the vast majority of ransomware attempts, some hackers infiltrate a system and use it to mine cryptocurrency without the user’s knowledge. They get in utilizing a malicious email link or through malvertising (advertising that carries nefarious code). A user may recognize slightly slower performance, but they more than likely never know that someone is using their system to mine cryptocurrency. Some codes also spread throughout networks, so that hackers can maximize their financial gain using someone else’s resources.

IoT Hacks

As we connect more devices to the Internet, particularly those items in our homes – stoves, cars, Alexa or Google – we open another target for hackers to infiltrate our lives. They may canvas homes through your connected camera system or baby monitor, install viruses on your stove or vehicle that impact performance, or begin speaking to y0u randomly from your device. IoT can be safe, but you must make sure you’re utilizing as many security precautions as humanely possible.

Hacker Advancement

The greatest advantage for hackers is they have become more sophisticated and educated overtime, and the good guys haven’t been able to keep up. If you’re relying on internal IT or an MSP without security expertise, your team is most likely behind on the threats and not implementing everything they need to keep your staff safe. They should implement things like phishing tests, employee education, dark web scanning, hosted back-up solutions, crisis planning, multi-factor authentication, and professional-grade permissions control for administrative privileges to keep you safe. If you’re unsure of your security level with your current IT solution, contact us.

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

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

Virtual Office: Why Consider Mobility?

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

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

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

Virtual Office: An Office In Your Pocket

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

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

A Real Solution

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

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

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

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

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

Hacking, Phishing, Ransomware, and over-all Data Breaches are on the rise. It seems that every advancement we make with data security, hackers are able to find a way through.

In this blog, we will discuss the importance of keeping your data secure. While we are using Medical Offices as an example, this information crosses over to almost every industry. If you use cloud storage, proprietary software, and store personal data, this blog holds valuable information for you.

Your Clients Put Their Trust in You

Medical professionals are not only entrusted with caring for the health of their patients, but also for keeping their information private. Given that, it’s no wonder why physicians must be some of the most trustworthy people in our communities.

However, on the other end of the spectrum are those who actively look to take advantage of the information that medical practices and hospital systems have accumulated over the years. But why are medical records so valuable and what can be done to protect them?

Richer Than You Think

Medical databases are among the top targets for hackers with more and more breaches taking place each year — but why? CBS News reported that while a social security number may be worth $1 and a credit card number $110 on the dark web (average numbers), a single medical record can be worth a whopping $1000 or more!

The reason for the value is that your medical records typically have more personal information than any other source out there. This may include your social security number, address, phone number, banking information, and a lot more. With so much at play, it’s no surprise why hackers are starting to focus more on these records than any other.

Who Bears the Responsibility?

Everyone in the healthcare industry in the US is aware that HIPAA prevents sharing medical information except under particular circumstances. But what if that information left your hands and was spread involuntarily? Although it may be a gray area, there’s still the strong likelihood that the medical office could be held liable, at least in a civil court — especially if they haven’t done everything possible to avoid the hack. Don’t forget that data breaches cost the healthcare industry upwards of $6 billion per year.

How to Protect Your Patients — and Yourself 

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are often used by the medical industry to help avoid such situations. One way we do this is by helping these customers when it comes time to update ICD codes, (International Classification of Diseases). This can be tricky since HIPAA approved systems aren’t always the easiest to upgrade. Not only is the computer update important, but the people updates are as well.

Also, there is plenty for your MSP to do in helping you avoid HIPAA violations. For instance, any device used that contains or has access to patient information needs to be encrypted. In 2016, one iPhone that was lost at a single facility ended up created a $650,000 fine. Remember: it’s not your fault if the device is lost or stolen, but it is your fault if you failed to encrypt the information beforehand.

In a similar vein, when you dispose of older devices, you can’t just toss them in a dumpster and go about your day. These devices must be wiped clean, often in a way more substantial than just deleting records. While that might be acceptable if you want to dispose of your personal devices, those who understand computers can quickly get access to files that weren’t properly deleted. A good MSP can make that happen as part of their standard service.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Where you store your data is also a major part of data security. As we previously mentioned, some medical practices have used standard cloud storage and paid a heavy price when data was easily breached. While it’s true that cloud storage is easy and often a more inexpensive option, you have far less control over the information and the security of that data if it is out of your hands. Unless you use a top-of-the-line service, your data will be vulnerable as weaker services make prime targets for hackers. After all, why go after an individual when you can get data from thousands of companies at once through a cloud service?

Even if you decide to go with local storage, who has access to your data? With the genuine value of these records along with the absolute risk of liability, if things go sour, you need to be very careful with whom you allow access to the database. MSPs make sure that not only will your information be safe, but that the people who oversee your databased have all the proper education and certifications to avoid any problems down the line.

Bottom Line

Let’s get real for a second here. Medicine and medical technology are advancing at breakneck speeds. Would most people feel comfortable with a physician who hasn’t been to a class or conference since graduating from medical school? Of course not!

Data security is exactly the same. As hackers become more and more advanced, MSPs must stay one step ahead of them to protect our clients. That’s why we make it a point to continually train our team on new security options and protocols.

If you don’t have a robust security plan in place for your office or business, don’t wait to give us a call. Every moment you’re not protected is a moment of opportunity for a pirate to rob you over your clients’ trust and confidence.

If your organization is starting to fall behind over a lack of attention to your IT, contact us today. Our expert team will be more than happy to evaluate your needs and help you implement and maintain the most reasonable and secure solution. The only thing you have to lose is sleepless nights.

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.