How Managed IT Services Can Help Your Business Save

You may have heard the term managed service, but do you know how it can help your business save?

In its most simple form, managed service means that the service you’re purchasing is maintained by the vendor. Ideally this means that the vendor is taking steps to proactively keep your service up and running, monitoring to make sure it is and reacting when problems arise. Typically the service provider is being proactive instead of only reactive. Instead of waiting for you to call and report a problem, they should already be working on it. Alternatively you could look at it as your IT company installing updates and maintaining backups instead of leaving it to you.

Businesses in all industries are benefiting from managed services by saving money, time, resources and even their reputations. By partnering with the right company your business can be further ahead on the road to success!

Save Money

Typically managed service providers work on a fixed monthly fee. While the specifics may vary by company, generally everything is included including your ongoing maintenance and support issues. Sometimes hardware repairs are also included and even some projects like setting up new computers or migrating servers.

Gone are the days of variable bills from your computer support company. You’ll receive your all you can eat service at a prearranged price without any surprises. Finally you can budget for your IT expenses and have a predictable result.

This frees up money that could be used for other business investments like marketing, staffing, education or process improvement.

We help you succeedSave Time

Your managed service provider can respond to issues faster than your brother’s nephew’s next door neighbor. Monitoring allows the provider to know about problems often before you find out about them. Imagine being able to sleep soundly at night knowing you have a team working to safeguard your business. Specialization in the staffing at the MSP helps them resolve issues quickly and the incentive is on keeping your computer network running instead of increasing billable hours.

Have you ever thought about trying to solve something yourself for fear of getting a big bill from the IT company? Not only can you save money with managed service, but you can save time and stay productive by letting the specialists solve the problem and not worry about getting a big bill. When your employees can quickly report a problem or ask for advice when they need it, they can stay on task.

Many managed service providers have support available 24/7 which also means less sitting around and waiting.

Save Resources

Trying to fix things in-house is hard for most businesses. Sure, you might have a knowledgable person on your staff that thinks they can solve every problem with the help of Google, but chances are they don’t have formal training or the processes to really support your business. They probably have another job they were hired for and they are more productive at than stabbing in the dark trying to put out fires.

Your managed service provider has a team of experts. This means the right specialist can be assigned to help prevent issues regularly and resolve issues should they arise. Your staff can work on the things they are specialists in and will have to go back to the dog ate my homework excuse for missing project deadlines.

With proactive services included your team can arrive every morning and get right to work knowing that they have the proper resources to effectively complete their duties.

Save Reputation

Utilizing managed services can help your business gain a competitive edge. No longer will outdated equipment be slowing your team down and turning off prospective buyers. Instead the business consulting services included can help your business use technology to improve customer relations and the proactive services can make sure your team and office technology runs like a well-oiled machine. This will help lead to a more positive reputation for your business.

With all the time, money and resources you’ll be saving you can work on growing your business.

Ready to take your business to the next level? Contact us today to schedule a free business evaluation and find out how our process can deliver predictable, problem-free results for your business.

Importance of Secure Passwords

I recently wrote about password managers and some of the benefits of using a program to manage your passwords. Password managers help keep you secure and I can’t imagine not having one for all the passwords we have to manage.

Deciding to go it on your own and not use a password manager? Here’s a few items to keep in mind.

Bad guys are everywhere and are constantly looking for ways to get access to systems. They may not even care so much about the data on your computer or system as they care about using your identity to get to the bigger fish or use your systems to launch a distributed denial of service attack (where they use a lot of individual systems to overload some other system) like what happened a few weeks ago.

hackernews

Let’s face it. Passwords are everywhere. That IP camera you bought and thought you’d just plug-in so you could watch your dog while you’re at work; It has a password. Did you change the password before putting it online? Did you look at its out of the box security settings? What about that network printer that magically lets your print from anywhere? Or that network attached storage?

We live in an Internet of Things where everything from our thermostat to our garage door is connected to the Internet. Any one of these devices could be compromised and be a way into your network or your other accounts. Most of these devices need a password somewhere. It might be on the physical device or it might be to get access to the service that the device is connected to. Either way we can’t afford to reuse passwords between devices or services because if one gets compromised it opens the door for everything to be compromised.

businessman in blue room with doors open

We need to use complex passwords because computers can scan through entire dictionaries or lists of words in minutes. Putting two words together doesn’t make them secure. You have to come up with things that aren’t based on lists of words that others (including computers) are going to easily find.

Sadly, the most common passwords used today, in 2016, are still 123456, password, 12345678, qwerty, football, baseball, welcome, abc123, mater, letmein, login, etc. Think you’re getting smart by using passw0rd? Not so fast, it still makes the top 25 most used passwords. While changing a few letters is an improvement, I think the bad guys have figured out that we often switch the i’s and o’s to 1’s and 0’s. Plantr0n1cs and D1g10m are not great passwords, although either would clearly be better than anything in the top 25 frequently used passwords.

fimcpig

Bottom line: a password manager will let you create discrete passwords for each site that are not based on dictionary words or if they are, they include enough other random numbers or characters to make them secure. For example, here’s some random passwords generated by Apple’s Keychain Password Assistant:

  • OEM57(alkyls
  • Elvis80_belt
  • star68*mauve
  • king394]lungremember

The good thing about these possible passwords above is that if you type it a few times you’ll probably remember it eventually. Even better are passwords that are really random, but there is little chance of us being able to remember them:

  • rworehahkikt
  • demeojnircuv
  • M8{X’G}VQgJy
  • FCV”6bK”&eMS

Please help keep your employer’s systems and your personal accounts secure by using complex passwords and not repeating passwords or password patterns. We must stay vigilant!

Managing Passwords

Passwords can be a pain. There is a battle between having a password that can be easily remembered and one that can’t be guessed or otherwise hacked.

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How many of us have ever used the same password over and over again on multiple sites? I can say that I used to be guilty of this. I’m not letting those of you who may have a slight variation of the password for various sites off the hook either though. MyPassword becomes MyFacebookPassword or MyGooglePassword or MyApplePassword. While you might get a point or two for not using the same password, as soon as an attacker (someone you don’t know OR someone you do know) figures out the pattern they are going to have access to MyBankAccountPassword too!

worst-passwords-1

Fortunately there are tools out there that will help you manage and keep up your passwords. Your managed service provider or computer support company might have a tool that they use and support, so check with them first. Here are some things a password manager should be able to help you with:

Generating secure passwords: Let’s face it, you can only think of so many memorable passwords. Looking around the office for clues for what to use for your next password, you might end up with something like my1stiPad or 1BIGflower. While these might be better than my dog’s name or my kid’s date of birth, they are fairly easy to brute force (or crack by a computer). A good password generator will quickly and easily generate a password like Zulu268@reft or even better something like 4;EUWVG9JFJFkV!

password-security

Remembering your secure passwords: Now that you’re creating passwords that are harder to memorize you need to be able to track all the different passwords you’ve created. This is an obvious feature.

Automating login: When you have hundreds of unique passwords you’re not going to want to go through the effort of finding the password each time you want to sign in to facebook. Fortunately, most password managers have plugins or extensions for popular browsers to automate login. When the password is saved with the website or URL, you can generally fill the password with one or two clicks and you don’t even have to leave the browser.

Phishing protection: Because the password manager is going to make sure you’re actually on the correct page (or at least website) and not an imposter, it helps protect you from providing your credentials to hackers who have made a fake login page for the site you’re trying to reach. (Note that nothing is 100% effective, but this is a big step in the right direction and when combined with other security can yield very effective protection.)

google-phishing-study

Automating saving passwords: Just like it is possible to automate login, password managers will prompt you when you’ve manually typed a password to enable you to quickly save the password. This helps get your passwords into your application.

Auditing your passwords: A great feature of 1Password is the security audit which contains a number of features itself:

  • Watchtower maintains a database of sites that may have experienced a vulnerability and it identifies those passwords that should be changed as a precaution.
  • Weak passwords which don’t meet the recommended complexity (something like password or 1234).
  • Duplicate passwords shows passwords that have been used for more than one website. It’s not recommended to reuse passwords because if Netflix or Amazon gets breached you don’t want the attackers getting into your bank. Likewise, you don’t want one vulnerable bank account to allow access to your other bank accounts (at a different bank using the same username and password).
  • Old passwords that haven’t been changed in a time period like 6-12 months, 1-3 years and over 3 years old. There are differing opinions on how frequently you should change your passwords, but let’s just say that after three years it’s probably time for a change.

Secure storage of sensitive or important information like credit cards, bank accounts, driver licenses, social security numbers, software licenses, etc. Most password managers have the ability to hold these types of data and other items including secure notes. When combining the auto filling capabilities of the password application and storing your credit card or address information it is now easier to check out when purchasing items online.

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Mobile access: We all need to be able to access our passwords and other sensitive information when we aren’t in front of our computers. Most applications provide mobile applications or mobile websites where secured information can be accessed.

Sharing: While we need to be careful who we share passwords with, it’s an unfortunate reality that other people sometimes need to access sites using our credentials with our permission. We don’t want to simply email the password in plain text to someone as this would allow our secure password to be viewed by others. Some applications have the ability to securely share a single password or an entire folder/vault with those that need access.

 

If your technology company doesn’t provide a managed password service, or you are looking for something for use outside of business hours, we recommend looking at 1Password. It’s available via a few different methods including one time purchase, families, teams and individual licenses.

1Password Logo

Slow Internet or Slow Site – Part 2

In the first part of this post I detailed how we actually get on the Internet and started detailing how you might have to drive to your favorite restaurant in another city.

The Internet is actually very much like getting to these retail locations and restaurants. Much like driving to downtown Los Angeles, you have some choice over the freeways you take. Much like driving into downtown Los Angeles, there is a chance (or certainty) that you’re going to hit some traffic along the way. Much like we use our GPS or routing app to select the best freeway, our ISP has tools to send your traffic on the best route. If we need to get to Phoenix, hopefully they aren’t going to send us there via Chicago.

Speedtest from Fast.com showing 150 Mbps.

Speedtest from Fast.com showing 150 Mbps.

When we feel that the Internet is slow, we need to get a bit more specific in order to troubleshoot this. One of the first things we will likely want to do is run a speed test on the connection. While this test is subjective to its own set of limitations, it can be a good indication of where problems might be. Two sites that I use are fast.com and speedtest.net. Fast.com is powered by Netflix and it works on any device and works as soon as you go to the page. It also gives you a single measurement. Think of this like taking your temperature. Speedtest.net gives you a bit more information about the quality of your connection to their servers. Most ISP’s have their own test that measures the speed on their network, which is most relevant if you’re concerned about your local connection to their network.

If these tools show the speed is what we are expecting, i.e. what we are used to seeing on a good day, then it seems that our Internet connection is working fine. If the tests are abnormally below our standard speed or what we are expecting, it might indicate that something in your connection is congested (much like I-5 in Los Angeles). If you’re in an office with other users, it is possible that other users are downloading large files, watching 4k videos on YouTube or binge watching their favorite shows on Netflix. Business or enterprise class networking devices will have reporting abilities to show what connections are being utilized.

In the event that speed tests are showing good results, but you’re having problems accessing a site or the site is slow, the problem could be with the site you’re trying to connect to or the road the traffic is taking to that destination. It might be best to try and contact the company of the site you’re trying to reach or find out if it is slow from another location that uses a different Internet connection (typically in another area or state). We can also work with the ISP to try and identify issues, but once the traffic leaves their network they can’t control it.

Your IT managed service provider should be able to monitor the ongoing Internet usage and see troublesome signs indicating that additional bandwidth is needed or controls need to be put into place to conserve the available bandwidth for business activities.

Slow Internet or Slow Site?

I always get a good chuckle when someone comes running into my office to tell me that someone called and says, “the Internet is down” or “the Internet is really slow.” I understand what they are trying to say and I can even understand their choice of words, but an important part of the sentence is missing. What’s missing is the word “connection.” You see the Internet is a connection of computers, so while my computer or your computer may not be connected to the Internet at this given instance the Internet as a whole continues to function.

At it’s simplest form, most small business and consumers don’t actually get on the Internet. Instead, we call up our local provider (Charter, Frontier, etc.) and order a connection to their network. In turn, their network is connected to some other networks. Those other networks are connected to other networks and so on. This is effectively what makes up the Internet – a bunch of connections between different carriers. There is a good chance that your Internet Service Provider (or ISP) is directly connected to Netflix and Google because they are top frequently used sites and a lot of bandwidth is consumed with these sites. On the other hand, there is a pretty good chance that the site that you access for many of your business applications (let’s think something like salesforce) isn’t directly connected to your ISP. Chances are that your ISP has to go through another provider or at least go to another portion of the country to connect to your service’s provider.

You might be starting to get an idea of the number of companies, networks or hands involved in getting a webpage to load. Below is a graphic to try and depict the path your traffic might take to get to major sites and minor sites.

Diagram showing how computers are connected on the Internet.

How we get to various sites is a lot like how we travel or drive to different places. If you want to go to Costco, Five Guys or Chick-fil-a, there is a good chance you have one of these in your town and you can get to it fairly quickly. However, there’s also a chance that one of these places doesn’t exist in your town and you might have to drive to the next town or city. Now, imagine that favorite restaurant you have that only exists in one place or a few limited locations. Let’s assume that I’m in southern California, but I want to go to Cracker Barrel. I can’t easily get there for breakfast. I could drive out I-10 and find one near Phoenix or I could drive out I-8 and find one in Yuma. For your favorite single location restaurant (not in your local town) you can imagine how far you’d have to travel to get it.

In part two we will discuss the similarities between how the Internet works and how you drive to your favorite restaurant.

Personal Computer Recommendations

While we professionally manage computers and workstations in enterprise and small business environments, we are frequently asked for recommendations for personal computers for home use. While needs can vary greatly, I will try to provide some standard recommendations for the typical environmental. Gamers, video editors and other types will probably not find our suggestions sufficient and higher end configurations are definitely available for those in the need.

First up, if you still aren’t feeling ready for Windows 10, it is possible to get a new computer with Windows 7, but you will have to look at business grade computers which may cost more than the computers you see featured in the Sunday advertisements. You typically can’t purchase these computers at the local electronics or big box store and they must be ordered direct from the manufacturer or from another online retailer. (Note, while we provide computers to our managed business customers, we don’t typically sell personal computers like you will find at retail outlets.)

Processor/CPU: The lowest priced computers are going to have some likely underpowered processors that we would stay away from. You’re going to be best served with an Intel Core i3, i5 or i7. An i3 will be sufficient for most users who just need to surf the web and do some occasional other tasks. The i5 and i7 are going to be faster and give you more processing power. If you’re shopping for a computer at Costco, you’ll likely get a great value, but you’re normally going to see higher end configurations. Our typical business configuration is an i5. Advanced users who frequently edit video or photos are going to want higher end machines with additional processing power.

RAM or Memory: Don’t accept anything less than 4 GB, and more is better. Our typical configuration has 8 GB of RAM and 16 GB for power users. This is the easiest thing to upgrade, so you can buy a PC with 4 GB and then purchase additional memory separately or even at a later date. You can purchase additional memory at Crucial.com.

Hard Drive (Storage): In business applications, we go with a solid state drive because it increases performance of the computer dramatically. The same is try for personal use, however personal users will frequently want to store more data than in business. (In business we store all files on servers where they are accessible to multiple users, backed up, etc.) If you aren’t planning on storing lots of pictures, music, videos, etc. a 256 GB SSD may be sufficient, but most users will want at least 500 GB or 1 TB of storage. Purchasing that much storage as solid state may be cost prohibitive. Most desktop computers will come with a 7200 RPM drive, but some lower end models may try to get by with a slower (5400 RPM) drive. The slower drives are the standard in laptops, so upgrading to SSD will make an even more noticeable improvement in those cases.

Bottom line, you have to figure out what your needs are here. One possible workaround is to have a solid state drive as your primary drive and use online storage or a second/external drive for your pictures, music and videos that take up lots of space. One caveat to be aware of: many online backup programs (like Carbonite) won’t let you backup an external/USB drive on their personal plans. It can also be a bit of a pain dealing with two drives, so most users will accept the tradeoff of a larger (non-SSD) drive.

Operating System (OS): The operating system should be 64 bit. Lower end models may still try to get by with 32 bit Windows, but you should stay away from those models. As most of the models have switched in the past few years to 64 bit, it has become less prevalent to indicate this in the heading so you might have to dig into the details to make sure you see x64 or 64-bit somewhere in the listing about the OS. For personal use, the home versions of Windows are sufficient, but they are missing some features critical to even small businesses. As mentioned above, you can still get computers with Windows 7 Professional. On the plus side, they generally come with a Windows 10 license to make upgrading down the road.

There are a few other features we are concerned about when trying to remotely manage or maintain computers, but for personal use this should help you narrow down devices on your shopping list.

What is Malvertising?

Malvertising is not new, but it is being used more and more to deliver malware (things like viruses) to computers. Malvertising uses advertising networks to deliver malicious content. This allows malware perpetrators to have their infections on popular pages like yahoo.com and msn.com. In fact, malvertising has advanced to the point where in many cases your computer can get infected simply when you visit a page with malicious advertising. You don’t even have to click on the link! This is called a drive by download.

The most common way that attackers are able to gain access to your computer is through out of date software. Vulnerabilities that allow bad guys to gain access to your computer are frequently found in popular software programs like Adobe Flash and Java. Typically as soon as the software makers learn of the weakness they work to resolve the issue and release a patch or update. Unfortunately, from the time the vulnerability is discovered by the bad guys until the time that the software is updated on your computer, you are vulnerable to becoming compromised.

Ransomware, where your computer or files are locked and you are forced to pay a ransom to get them back, is also on the rise and frequently used with malvertising to infect victim’s computers. Without a backup, your only option frequently is to pay the ransom or face losing everything on the computer. You’ve likely hear of high profile companies that have been forced to pay ransoms to get their systems back up and running.

For a visual explanation, check out this Malvertising & Ransomware infographic from Malwarebytes. For more information, you can read more from Malwarebytes.

It is imperative that your computer is updated daily. We have invested in tools that check daily to ensure that the latest software is installed on computers we maintain. You likely don’t have this same level of protection on your computer if it isn’t being professionally managed, monitored and maintained. To protect your unmanaged computer (or your home computer) you will need to install updates as soon as your computer prompts you. To make things easier, you might want to utilize Ninite Updater to detect third party software on your computer that needs to be updated. You’ll still have to tell it to update, but with a single click it will be able to update multiple applications.

Christmas & New Year’s Schedule

Christmas is almost here and New Year’s is right behind that. Once again want to make sure that you are ready for the holidays.

Our holiday schedule is as follows:

Thursday, December 24th – Closed
Friday, December 25th – Closed
Thursday, December 31st – Closing at 12 Noon Pacific
Friday, January 1st – Closed

Forgot to order that last minute gift? Traffic will be horrible out there, but you can still order from Amazon with one day shipping or you might be lucky enough to live in an area with free same day or two hour delivery. Cutoff times vary so don’t wait. Still need some gift ideas? 

We will have someone on call during this time that will be responding to voicemails that are left in the technical support mailbox. Call (951) 894-8809 and follow the instructions for technical support. Messages that are left in individuals voicemails will not be returned until Monday the 28th or later and should not be used for requesting technical support at any time.

Is your office ready for the holiday? Here are some things to consider before next week. We may have already taken care of some of these things for you. If you’re not sure please make sure you have communicated any necessary changes with us.

Are your phones set for holiday hours?

If your system is setup to route based on time of day, holiday hours should be programed so calls are not ringing empty stations. If your calls route to an answering service, the service should be notified of your change in schedule. If your phone routes to an auto attendant or IVR that may need to be updated with an appropriate message specifying when you’ll be returning calls. Finally, you may want to make sure you have an option for emergencies. This could be an extension that forwards to the answering service or an on-call employee’s cell phone.

Out of Office Notifications

It may be appropriate to set an out of office notification on your email if you correspond with others who may not be aware you’ll be out of the office for an extended period. It may be necessary to update your voicemail message too. With Digium’s Switchvox system it is possible to program a separate message to play during a company or user specified time frame.

Door Locks & Security Systems

Do your doors unlock on a schedule? It might not be the best idea to have the doors unlocked when no one is going to be around. Please verify that your schedule has been set accordingly to have the doors remain locked. With key fob systems you can also ensure that only necessary personnel have access during the holiday.

Your alarm monitoring or on site security company should also be notified of your closure.

What equipment can be turned off?

Program your thermostats for the holiday. Make sure that the one covering your server or network closet (which should be dedicated) is set to continuously cool as needed. We generally do not recommend turning off computers unless you will not be using them for a full week. Servers and all networking components should be left on at all times.

Preparing for Thanksgiving Holiday Closing

It’s almost Thanksgiving and we want to make you aware of a few things coming into the holiday week. We will have limited staffing due to employees traveling for the holiday. Here is our holiday schedule:

Wednesday, November 25th Closing at Noon Pacific
November 26th-27th Closed

We will have someone on call during this time that will be responding to voicemails that are left in the technical support mailbox. Call (951) 894-8809 and follow the instructions for technical support. Messages that are left in individuals voicemails will not be returned until Monday the 30th or later and should not be used for requesting technical support at any time.

We are grateful for the opportunity to work with you and look forward to many prosperous years to come. Thank you for supporting us as we continue to grow to better serve you.

Is your office ready for the holiday?

Here are some things to consider before next week. We may have already taken care of some of these things for you. If you’re not sure please make sure you have communicated any necessary changes with us as soon as possible.

Are your phones set for holiday hours?

If your system is setup to route based on time of day, holiday hours should be programed so calls are not ringing empty stations. If your calls route to an answering service, the service should be notified of your change in schedule. If your phone routes to an auto attendant or IVR that may need to be updated with an appropriate message specifying when you’ll be returning calls. Finally, you may want to make sure you have an option for emergencies. This could be an extension that forwards to the answering service or an on-call employee’s cell phone.

Out of Office Notifications

It may be appropriate to set an out of office notification on your email if you correspond with others who may not be aware you’ll be out of the office for an extended period. It may be necessary to update your voicemail message too. With Digium’s Switchvox system it is possible to program a separate message to play during a company or user specified time frame.

Door Locks & Security Systems

Do your doors unlock on a schedule? It might not be the best idea to have the doors unlocked when no one is going to be around. Please verify that your schedule has been set accordingly to have the doors remain locked. With key fob systems you can also ensure that only necessary personnel have access during the holiday.

Your alarm monitoring or on site security company should also be notified of your closure.

What equipment can be turned off?

Program your thermostats for the holiday. Make sure that the one covering your server or network closet (which should be dedicated) is set to continuously cool as needed. We generally do not recommend turning off computers unless you will not be using them for a full week. Servers and all networking components should be left on at all times.

Carbonite