Tag Archives: Cloud

Natural Disasters Can Destroy, But Your Data Is Safe If It’s In The Cloud

02 Nov 17
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This past hurricane season has brought some of the most harrowing, widespread destruction the southeastern United States has ever been forced to weather. But, despite the enormous, tragic cost of these natural disasters, the people of these communities persevere. In the wake of widespread wind damage and flooding, communities have banded together. Thousands of volunteers and neighbors are working as one to rebuild and find the way forward. There is no doubt, however, that the havoc wreaked by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will produce aftershocks that will echo through affected areas for decades.

To anyone who turtled up in their attic in the middle of the storm or just saw a picture of the wreckage in the news after the hurricanes departed, the physical damage caused by the storm is obvious. What’s less obvious is the effect these storms have on the futures of the survivors, the reverberating impact that cuts thousands of life plans short and forces individuals to completely change their course in a cruel reversal of fate.

“Forty percent of small businesses don’t survive these events,” said Russel Honore, the previous Joint Task Force commander for Hurricane Katrina. The electrical grid is knocked out for days, and businesses are forced to close the office for what they hope is a temporary period due to flooding.

Each day that a business can’t provide service, it’s bleeding money — a cost that many businesses, especially the little guys, can’t absorb. So, they close for good, their buildings go up for lease and those who were once the heads of promising young businesses are now unemployed, in the market for a job in a city up to its neck in water.

Just as common is a business that finds its central data structures wiped out by physical damage. Following a hurricane, most businesses near the storm should have little trouble cleaning up and remodeling following nasty flooding, but if their servers, computers and network infrastructure have been wiped out, it’s a completely different story.

Oftentimes, a catastrophic loss of data will shutter a business for good. A 2010 report by technology research firm Gartner Group stated that 43 percent of businesses went belly-up almost immediately after a “major loss” of data, while 51% shut down within just two years. That leaves a measly 6% survival rate for businesses that suffer company-wide data loss.

These are scary numbers, to be sure, but there is good news: Businesses that migrate their data to the cloud are at significantly less risk of losing vital data. This is not only because your typical cloud service will back up your up-to-date data with several levels of redundancy, but because most cloud services are actually more secure than their on-site counterparts in general.

And make no mistake, businesses with on-site data are susceptible to loss far beyond physical disasters like hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes or solar flares. Don’t forget the risks disgruntled employees, freak accidents and, especially, hackers pose to your precious data. While it’s true that all of these risks still exist with cloud-based services, they’re much reduced. A 2012 Alert Logic report stated that “on-premises environment users actually suffer more [hacking] incidents” than cloud-based users, while also being subjected to “significantly more brute force attacks.” When you think about it, this makes sense. With your entire system backed up on a number of off-site locations, it’s much more difficult for hackers to encrypt the entirety of your data and hold it for ransom.

That said, not every business absolutely needs the cloud to stay secure. Certain business models need on-site structures for various reasons, and a few find it more cost-effective. Still, the cloud is definitely something that any savvy business owner needs to examine closely as a potential option. It could mean the difference between flourishing in the next fiscal quarter and going under.

The ONE Thing You Must Do to Keep Your Data Safe in the Cloud. Is Your IT Guy Doing This?

26 Jul 17
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How secure is your data? Cloud data storage is becoming a massive industry in this country, and many businesses and other institutions are putting their data into the cloud. Some of this data is pretty harmless. Other stuff — like hospital records, banking information, or company payrolls — are prime targets for bad actors. Is the cloud storage tradeoff worth it?

The short answer is yes, but only if your IT guy is encrypting your sensitive data.

Every cloud storage company you talk to will claim to take top-of-the-line security measures on behalf of your data. But that, in a nutshell, highlights the problem with cloud storage. Your data is entrusted to a third party for safekeeping. It’s possible that they’d do everything in their power to safeguard your information. But bad things, like ransomware, phishing, or just plain going out of business, do happen. And when they happen, it’s not the cloud storage company whose data is on the line; it’s yours.

Even if that doesn’t occur, let’s be honest. Most of the major cloud storage companies are based in the United States, the U.K., or France, where they could be subject to NSA snooping (or questionably legal surveillance from any other government entity). Despite the best efforts of many storage companies to  prevent government intrusion, your data could still be at risk, even when it’s locked up tight.

This brings us back to encryption, which is the hands-down best way to protect your data, period. It’s just like locking sensitive data in a box, with a password needed to reopen it. Even if someone gets ahold of the box, if they don’t have the password, there’s nothing they can do with it. There are a lot of encryption tools out there and you’ll want to make sure that you have the right one for your specific needs. If you ever need a recommendation, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask! We’ll be happy to provide you with the specific recommendation (free or paid) that fits your needs.

In addition, most cloud storage companies protect your data with their own encryption, but this isn’t as secure as encrypting your own information. That’s because the cloud storage company has the encrypted data in its possession, but it also has the keys to that data. If someone can get in, they can probably get the information they want. And a disgruntled employee — or just a hapless one — can also provide hackers access to the system through good old-fashioned human engineering.

If the cloud storage company is compromised (and it happens quite often), will your data be secured or unsecured? Well, if you’re encrypting your own data before uploading it, then the bad actors will open up the safe to find … a bunch of locked boxes. Pretty frustrating, right?

On the other hand, if you’ve trusted the cloud storage company to take care of everything, you’re going to have a bad day.

As you can tell, it makes sense to have your IT guy encrypt everything that gets put on the cloud before it gets there. But remember, just as your cloud storage provider is vulnerable, you can be vulnerable as well. It’s less likely that bad actors will target your company specifically, but if they want your data bad enough, they’ll go to great lengths to get it.

Many people have a misconception that these criminals will just use a magic program to crack your encrypted files. Decryption does exist, but it requires a lot of time and processing power. It’s far more likely that hackers will target your email or other aspects of your system and try to find out the encryption codes that way. And never forget that people are the weakest part of your IT security. Educate employees so they aren’t vulnerable to phishing scams, downloading questionable software, and visiting the wrong websites.

4 Must-Have, Low-Risk Cloud Solutions

05 Apr 17
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Let’s face it, your business has more competition than ever. And they’ll eat you alive if you fall behind in today’s technology “arms race.”

Maybe your network needs greater security. Or you haven’t yet taken advantage of new cloud-based apps that help your team get more done in less time. Today, the action is in the cloud. And if you don’t know what’s out there, it’s just that much easier for competitors to pull ahead.

To help you stay on top, here’s a quick survey of four ways to put the cloud in your corner, along with examples of each.

Network Security

As devices on your network become more diverse and mobile, monitoring them in real time is absolutely critical to averting cyber-attacks. A good network-security tool probes for weak points and alerts you to potential threats. It can employ both hardware and software technologies. And today’s environment demands a bevy of checkpoints, from access control to WiFi-intrusion monitoring.

But how do you protect against threats that evade your monitoring efforts? Due to the recent spread of “fileless” malware, no antivirus program is 100% “bullet-proof.” However, you should be able to find basic software protection for around $40 per user. Look for features such as e-mail security, data loss prevention, network segmentation and behavioral analytics. And ideally, it scans quickly, takes up little space on your devices and may even be able to recover files encrypted by ransomware.

Collaboration

Giving your team the right cloud collaboration tools can be almost as good as giving them steroids… (Except, of course, it’s legal.) With the wide array of apps available today, the trick is finding the best one – or the best combination – for your company. Top contenders include Asana, Slack, Teamwork, Trello and Google Drive. These and similar apps can improve efficiencies in areas like project and task management, team communications and collaboration, brainstorming, document processing and storage, and more. And with cloud collaboration, you’re no longer restricted to bringing aboard talent from your local area alone.

Contracts & Accounting

Contracts and proposals that get bogged down in logistics can hurt monthly revenues. Is your sales team still asking customers to sign and fax back important documents? If so, they’re losing precious minutes every day. Then there’s the cost of storing and managing physical files. It all adds up. It’s no wonder so many companies now use electronic signature apps, such as DocuSign, Adobe Sign and RPost. They’ll let you manage the signing of important documents entirely online, and will encrypt and store files for you. Some are even court-approved and create a full audit trail.

For small business accounting, industry veteran QuickBooks, now with an online version, and upstart Xero can help you keep the books with relative ease. They both offer a clean, intuitive UI and affordable pricing with a comprehensive set of features. And, of course, being cloud-based, they can be accessed from a variety of locations, adding flexibility to your workforce.

If you’d like to know how well your company is (or isn’t) taking advantage of today’s cloud, contact us.

Cloud Computing: Good, Bad & Ugly

18 Jan 17
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When a network of IT gadgets like routers, DVR machines and closed-circuit TVs can take down hardened, well-provisioned Internet giants like Twitter, Spotify and Amazon – as happened last October – you’ve got to think twice before moving your data to the cloud.

Yes, a move to the cloud can yield big payoffs in terms of cost savings, increased efficiency, greater flexibility, collaboration for your workforce and more. Yet there is a dark side. It would be naive to think otherwise. Your choices about whether and how to use cloud technology in your network merits serious consideration.

So, just what is “the cloud”?

Instead of constantly buying new equipment and software, cloud computing allows you to pay for just what you need. Just as with a utility company, you get software and storage on a monthly basis, with no long-term contracts. Chances are, most of the software you now use is cloud-based. You simply access it on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Similarly, you can store data in the cloud, where it can be easily accessed when you need it. This reduces the need to buy and manage your own backup gear and software, thus reducing overhead. Yet, as with any major decision, it’s critical to be aware of both the benefits and pitfalls of putting your company’s data in the cloud.

The Pros

There are three major advantages offered by cloud computing:

  1. Scaling up or down can be done without major investment or leaving excess capacity idle. It also enables your entire workforce to get more done, where and when they need to.
  1. With data and software in a shared cloud environment, staff can collaborate from anywhere. Everything from HR to accounting, and from operations to sales and customer relations, can be managed from diverse and mobile environments, giving your team greater power to collaborate effectively.
  1. Disaster Recovery. Typically, data stored in the cloud can be easily retrieved in the event of a disaster. It also augments local backup and recovery systems, adding protective redundancy.

The Cons

While the cloud offers obvious benefits, it also increases your company’s potential “attack surface” for cybercriminals. By spreading your communications and access to data beyond a safe “firewall,” your network is far more exposed to a whole bevy of security concerns. Many of them can be addressed with these three best practices:

  1. Social Engineering Awareness. Whether you go cloud or local, the weakest link in your network is not in your equipment or software; it’s in the people who use them. Cybercriminals are aware of this fact. And you can count on them to come up with an endless variety of ways to exploit it. One day it’s a phone call ostensibly from your IT department requesting sensitive data, the next it’s an e-mail that looks official but contains malicious links. Make sure your employees are aware of and trained to deal with these vulnerabilities.
  1. Password Security and Activity Monitoring. Maintaining login security is absolutely critical any time you’re in a cloud environment. Train your staff in how to create secure passwords and implement two-factor authentication whenever possible. Take advantage of monitoring tools that can alert you to suspicious logins, unauthorized file transfers and other potentially damaging activity.
  1. Anti-Malware/Antivirus Solutions. Malicious software allows criminals to obtain user data, security credentials and sensitive information without the knowledge of the user. Not only that, some purported anti-malware software on the market is actually malware in disguise. Keep verifiable anti-malware software in place throughout your network at all times, and train your employees in how to work with it.

Navigating The Cloud: Gold Mine…Or Minefield?

24 Aug 16
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Is the cloud a good fit for your company or not? On the one hand, taking full advantage of today’s cloud capabilities could be key to becoming a top player in your market. On the other, without proper oversight, just one cyber-break-in could bankrupt your organization…

Feeling a little confused, or perhaps even overwhelmed, about your company’s cloud options?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. In this article we’ll help you unravel your choices so you can make the most out of this game-changing technology.

To really take full advantage of the cloud, there are (at least) three things to consider:

  1. Whether to use a public or private cloud network – or both.
  2. Which cloud-based apps deliver the best value for your organization.
  3. How shared servers can help you save time and cut costs.

So just what is a “public” versus “private” network, or cloud? Simply put, a public cloud serves many organizations, while a private cloud is proprietary to just one. We’ll cover each so you can more easily navigate the pitfalls and possibilities each one presents.
Which Is Best For Your Network: Public, Private…Or Both?
One advantage to using a public cloud is that you can start using it in just minutes. It allows you to easily scale up or down, as your business needs change. And, with pay-per-use pricing, you only pay for what you need.

However, compliance with government regulations often can’t be achieved in a public cloud. Also, public networks don’t offer the same degree of control that a locally based private network can provide. And in a public cloud, you never know who you’re sharing a server with.

All that being said, a hybrid cloud may be your best model. For instance, compliance-controlled work can be handled in a private network, while less restricted tasks can be done over a public one.

Cloud-Based Apps: Microsoft Office 365 vs. Google Apps For Work

You’ll find countless cloud-based apps for business. However, Office 365 and Google Apps For Work are two of the most popular cloud-based productivity suites in the market today. Both allow you to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations on your own, as well as in real time with team members. They also provide video conferencing and cloud storage. Here’s a quick rundown:

Storage – At a paltry 30GB, the storage you get with the basic version of Google Apps For Work pales in comparison to the 1TB you get with the Office 365 Business Essentials plan. Yet, moving up a notch to the Google Apps “Unlimited” plan gets you unlimited storage, beating Office 365 hands-down.

Collaboration – Both Google Apps For Work and Microsoft Office 365 make real-time collaboration with team members in different locations easier than ever. Due to its simplified features and web-based origins, Google Apps may be easier to work with. However, users accustomed to Microsoft Office may prefer the more familiar feature set of Office 365.

Then There’s Amazon…

Amazon-shared servers allow you to grow and shrink your web presence with demand, easily store and retrieve data from a super-reliable network of worldwide data hubs and deliver content at blazing speed – all at minimal cost.

While Amazon has led the field in this new type of service, companies like Microsoft, Google and IBM, as well as niche players like Rackspace, SalesForce and Oracle, have all jumped into the fray.

Each offers a varying range of toolsets that can make your network more productive and reduce overall operating cost.

Navigating your computing choices in today’s cloud-driven world can be complex. And it isn’t getting any simpler as the field rapidly evolves. Not sure what to do? We can help!

Is it Time to Go to the Cloud?

26 Jan 16
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It’s a commonly asked question: Should we get a new server or go to the cloud? The answer differs, depending on who’s trying to sell you their services. So what’s the answer? Is there just one answer?

If you’ve maxxed out your old server and it’s coming to its life’s useful end, you have an important decision to make. Buying a new server and staying with a private cloud may be beneficial for a majority of businesses, but sometimes a public cloud may work best.

There’s one story, the word-on-the-street benefits of the cloud:

  • increased business efficiency and agility
  • save on IT costs
  • employees can access your company data easily wherever they are
  • easy file sharing, collaboration and conferencing
  • eliminate file backup worries
  • free storage
  • works from any device
  • cloud users enjoy higher revenues* according to a survey by accounting software provider MYOB

All true, the above benefits of the cloud may be best suited for:

  • startups
  • very small companies
  • virtual company
  • company with global locations
  • businesses with high internal IT costs
  • businesses who require mega computing power

But wait—here’s another story to consider. Most small and medium-sized businesses who make up the core of our country’s free enterprise system-the manufacturers, the service companies, the product distributors—these types with existing application housed on their old servers–are smart, savvy, and not switching to the cloud. They instead choose to buy new servers.

Why would they NOT choose the cloud? Didn’t the media world determine it was all-around cheaper and better for companies? The answer for a large segment of the business population—and possibly you—is no.

It’s a cost and ROI story. Established companies running their own applications are finding that migrating them to the cloud and operating them using cloud based applications is in fact too costly when all is said and done—oft times more expensive than the current situation. Companies who were surveyed and did so found that it came in at roughly the same price to switch over—about $100 per month per user. That was the 2013 price for a business to switch over its current infrastructure to one that is cloud based.

So what is the answer for you? Do your cost comparisons, start small and try some free and low cost cloud tools to get your feet wet, and use some free trials to see what may be to your benefit. And let TechnoAdvantage give you a cloud analysis to see if it’s right for you. You may find that the cloud is just too high in the sky so you’ll want to keep yourself grounded with good internal server and outside support from a company like us. Either way we’re here to help you make the wise choice for you.

What can hosted workspaces do for your business?

16 Dec 15
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As our culture continually evolves more and more toward mobility and flexibility with the use of tablets, smartphones and notebook computers, business is happening all the time, everywhere, in places we never would have dreamed. Companies are implementing BYOD (bring your own device) policies to make it easy for their employees to maintain a productive pace after they leave the office. And there’s a growing trend emerging to make it work to a company’s advantage.

The concept of a hosted workspace involves a desktop environment situated on a remote server that provides a “virtual office” where employees’ own personal devices can be used to do business seamlessly and relatively safely. Users have easy access from their various devices, from virtually anywhere they may be—inside or outside the office.

It provides a nice little setup giving users a way to interact and work with all of a company’s data, applications and programs just as they would a traditional desktop computer environment—but without the stationary, cumbersome, and costlier machines anchoring them to workstations.

The hosted workspace means that, as a business, you are saving on equipment costs and the constant software upgrades that go along with these conventional setups. Hosted workspaces work and grow with you no matter what the size of your company.

If you fear less security with a mobile environment, your fears are unfounded. The opposite is actually true. Hosted workspaces are proven more secure—providing built in security features, including virus protection and secure cloud server storage for your data. And if you think about what you could lose should your security be breached in a traditional office computer environment, you’re looking at what can be a devastating loss.

So for many businesses, hosted workspaces offer the best advantages that mobile technology has to offer, while keeping your employees nimble and efficient—to do business anywhere. We think that’s a pretty cool idea. Contact us here to find out how TechnoAdvantage can help you craft your own hosted workspace.

Is Cryptovirus back as a worm?

03 Sep 15
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19798163_s (2)Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does—it seems likely there is a new variant to the Cryptolocker virus—that insidious virus known to encrypt all your files and hold them ransom for $300. This new strain may or may not be Crypt, but it was reported recently to have been able to replicate to other workstations and begin encrypting user folders, though many IT peers do not believe that capability exists as yet.

Whether it is possible or not, it’s something to watch out for. The affected business not only was infected across multiple workstations, but also its server by way of mapped drives. The victim in this case saw a web page open at the workstation with a threatening hijack message and links to download the solution that unlocks the user’s data.

Its evil authors no doubt immediately began working on this new poison once researchers from FireEye and Fox-IT were able to reverse-engineer the virus and provide a solution to Cryptolocker’s victims in May of this year. Of course, half a million people had already been affected and 1.3 percent had paid cash to free their files from the criminals—to the tune of $3 million.

Following the forum discussion about this new case reveals that the most likely source of this virus may actually be a flash-based ad on a compromised site that many people in the office could have accessed. It is possible that someone shared a link containing the virus, or perhaps everyone had a program installed already that popped up an embedded ad that was clicked on.

No matter whether the new strain is able to actually replicate to other stations or not, this is a good reminder to take every measure available to safeguard your files. Number one, add this virus’s file names to your file screens: *.aaa and restore_. Two, backup always! Three, get legit anti-virus and monitoring software. Four, patch your workstations. Five, contact the team at Techno Advantage for help selecting the right cloud-based or on-premise backup and storage solutions.

Need more help deciding how to protect your business from a malware attack? Contact a Techno Pro today! And watch this blog for updates on any new malware. We want to keep you informed.

The Legal (And Smart) Way to Spy on your Competitors: Business Intelligence

04 Aug 15
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It used to be that Business Intelligence (BI) was reserved only for large corporations with IT budgets to match. But with the advent of the cloud, the growth of software-as-a-service and more competition overall, BI is now within reach for small businesses too, and they’re reaping the benefits.

One 2013 study done by Oxford Economics reported that more than half of firms having sales under $100,000 planned to use BI within three years—representing an increase of 43%. While that offers optimism, you should be careful before embarking on a BI plan. In an article published by Computer World, Gartner research stated that between 70% and 80% of business intelligence projects fail.

So take your time to find out some key indicators of its advantages for your business. Understand, first, what it means, second, what it can do for your business, and third how you can execute it successfully.

What is Business Intelligence? Sounds very James Bond, but a little less thrilling. BI is a software technology that focuses on finding trends in varied sets of data to deliver intelligence you can use to make smart business decisions. It’s facts, figures, data analysis generating reports and charts and other helpful insights you can put to work for you.

Some larger software giants like Microsoft and Intuit have developed solutions for small businesses, giving you the opportunity to leverage this market without a huge investment—and without employing a full-time data expert to use it.

Three top solutions you’ll want to explore and compare are Tableau, Birst, and QlikView. All have user-friendly platforms and each has nuances you’ll want to discover for yourself. But know that BI is an involved process no matter what software you use. So before you step into it, it’s best to define the business need you’re trying to solve, and then determine if you have the operational data required to pull from.

Ready to gather more intelligence on taking advantage of IT in your business? Contact TechnoAdvantage today!

DON’T OPEN THAT RÉSUMÉ SO FAST: THE LATEST SCARY TREND IN RANSOMWARE

23 Jun 15
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YOUR COMPUTER HAS BEEN LOCKED. Now you must pay ransom to an unidentified thief in order to unlock your computer system and gain access to your own data or lose it forever. This might be the worst message to ever have come across your computer screen. If you become its victim, the only way around it is either, 1) pay them, or 2) reformat your computer, and restore data from a backup (if you have it). There’s no easy way out—they lock your drive so you won’t be able to “hack” your way back in, and this is not only local drives, but they can affect mapped drives as well, so if you have a data drive on a company server that everyone uses, that one can be hijacked too.

You’ve just experienced CryptoWall, a new and highly destructive variant of ransomware—a malicious software that infects your computer and holds hostage something of value to you in exchange for money. With CryptoWall, thieves use asymmetric encryption, where the decryption key is different from the encryption key and is not stored next to the encrypted data. This forces victims to pay the thief a ransom for the decryption key to unlock the data. It is so insidious as to encrypt your data with RSA-2048 standard, which makes decryption just about impossible within the given timeframe the infection hobbles you with—usually 48 hours.

And now criminals have refined their malware yet again through the use of exploit kits to spread their poison deeper and wider. This time, with seemingly innocent looking résumés.

How it works:

A hacker sends a zipped file or corrupted word document appearing to be a résumé of a potential hire. When opened, it encrypts the entire contents of the computer and possibly network drives. Information on how to pay a “fee” to decrypt your files is then presented on the screen. After some time, the “fee” may double or you cannot retrieve the files at all. Criminals may demand $500 or more to lift the restrictions on your hostage data.

What can you do to prevent an attack?

  • First, be aware and help spread the word. Our best line of defense against this type of crime is to prevent its occurrence in the first place, and help as many people as possible be aware of the threat and how to avoid it. Share this blog post.
  • Second, train your staff not to open any résumés that come as zipped files—delete the emails immediately. Make sure anyone who hires people knows not to open these emails. Continue to make intelligent decisions about which email attachments you open. If you have an email that you question, contact an IT manager.

Prepare for the worst

  • Always back up your files. There are many excellent and reliable backup services out there. There are similarities and differences so it’s important to find the one that best suits your business’s needs. Compare costs, performance and security levels, among other things, and of course, how they do with disaster recovery. 

What can you do if you become a victim?

  • If you ever think you have clicked on one of these emails, shut down your computer immediately (hold the power button for 6 seconds) or unplug from the network immediately and contact your IT manager.

 

Be informed and share!

The team at Techno Advantage will help you select the right cloud-based or on-premise backup and storage solutions.  Give us a call to discuss which option is right for you. We also offer a backup software option for businesses. Need more help deciding how to protect your business from a malware attack? Contact a Techno Pro today!  And watch this blog for updates on any new malware. We want to keep you informed.