How to Destroy Data Properly

How to Destroy Data Properly

When we accidentally delete something, it feels like the end of the world. If a client file or new presentation is deleted, you may have to start again. Oh no! Yet deleting files is not as permanent as you may think. When it comes to destroying data properly, you’ll want to take a more thorough approach.

Deleting items, or “trashing” them, doesn’t permanently remove them from computer memory. While the data is still stored on your device’s hard disk, it’s possible someone could restore that deleted data.

Data does reach a point at which it’s no longer useful, and you are no longer required to maintain it. Nevertheless, it may still be valuable to cybercriminals. Bad actors can use names, addresses, credit card numbers, banking accounts, or health data. You need a policy to destroy paper records, magnetic media, hard drives, and any storage media.

Your obligation to protect customer and staff information extends to properly destroying all identifying data. Installing a new operating system isn’t going to do it. Encryption doesn’t do the job if the cybercriminal can figure out the password.

Some industries require you to prove you have correctly destroyed all data. Even if you have no compliance standards to meet, carefully dispose of any computer-related device. Whenever you are recycling, discarding, or donating an old computer, disk drive, USB stick, or mobile device, make sure the data is already properly deleted or destroyed. Otherwise, criminals could get their hands on confidential business information.

Fully, Safely Destroying Your Data

So, what do we mean by “properly” destroyed? You know about shredding paper documents. You can actually do the same with some devices. You might send the computer or device to a company with a mega-shredder. When compliance matters, keep a record of the chain of custody of the data throughout the process.

Overwriting the data, often called zeroing, is another solution. No data is properly deleted until it’s written over – that’s where the information is hidden under layers of nonsensical data and cannot be retrieved through disk or file recovery utilities. Think of this as writing three new books over the top of the pages of an erased book rather than just ripping the pages out.

With magnetic devices, you can neutralize the magnetism (degaussing) to break down the data. This scrambles up the data beyond recovery. A strong degausser will turn the device into a shiny metallic paper weight. An ultraviolet erase could be necessary for some erasable programmable memory. You might also need to perform a full chip erase.

If you’re really committed to destroying data, physically destroy the device. There’s the shredding solution, or you might actually pay to have the device smelted or pulverized.

Other Components to Destroy with Data

Don’t forget proper disposal of printers, too. Run several pages of unimportant information (maybe a font test) before destroying a laser p6rinter. With an impact printer (if you still have one!), you’d want to destroy all ribbons, too.

One last element you might think about? Business monitors. You’ve probably seen a computer screen with information burned onto it. Before donating or recycling a monitor, inspect the screen surface and destroy the cathode ray tube.

Now, that’s what we call being thorough about properly destroying data. Need help with proper disposal of computer data or equipment?

We can help. Contact our experts today at 504-323-7111

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Avoiding Growing Pains — Tech Tips for a Thriving Business

Avoiding Growing Pains — Tech Tips for a Thriving Business

Maybe you started your business in a basement or home office. It was just you at the beginning. Then, your service or product gained traction. The number of staff grew, and you moved into an office. It’s amazing how far you’ve come. Better still, your business continues to grow. It may be time to consider some of these tech tips to help your thriving business.

 

#1 Upgrade to Business-Grade Cloud Services

Perhaps you’ve been relying on free software from Gmail, Outlook, or Dropbox. Who can argue with free email, calendars, collaboration and file storage right? Well, it may be time to upgrade to the business versions of the software your team relies upon.

Move from Gmail to Google Apps, or Outlook to Office 365, or Dropbox to Dropbox Business. For a small monthly fee, you gain business-grade features.

The basic Google Apps offers business email, video and voice conferencing, secure team messaging, shared calendars, 30GB cloud storage and document, spreadsheet and presentation creation. Plus, you gain greater security and administration controls. Right now, a disgruntled employee could refuse to give up control of a business account.

You’d be out of luck. With Google Apps, your business would control all accounts and could simply reset the password.

Or Dropbox Business provides added storage space and user activity and sharing auditing. Unlimited file recovery and version history make recovery easier. A remote wipe feature protects files on a stolen device). 

#2 Revise your backup strategy

A consumer grade backup setup was enough when you were only dealing with one computer. Now that you have many computers, it’s worth enhancing your backup strategy.

With 3-2-1 backup, your business has a minimum of three backups. Two would be onsite (but separate from one another) and the other offsite. We recommend the cloud. Having your backups in a unified location helps efficient recovery if disaster strikes. With cloud backup, your data is encrypted for storage in the cloud. You can set parameters for how often data is backed up and confirm that it is backing up correctly. Then, if something does go wrong, you can access essential data from anywhere, anytime via the cloud.

#3 Consider Cloud-based Accounting Services

Traditional small business accounting software requires a large database on the desktop computer. As more people need access to the database, the problems start. With multiple people accessing the accounting software:

  • The network can slow when people try to access it remotely
  • Changes can’t be made while someone else is in database
  • Data can get mismatched depending on who has the “newest” version

Cloud-based accounting packages address these challenges. With online accounting software, it’s easy for your business to scale. Business owners can connect to the data from any device with an Internet connection. Plus, in the event of a disaster, productivity won’t suffer as the information is safe and secure on the cloud.

#4 Outsource your IT

Your expanding technology allows you and your staff to do more than ever before. Great. But it also takes extra resources to monitor, manage, and secure it all. By outsourcing IT, your business gains IT expertise. Meanwhile, your in-house IT team can focus its efforts on driving growth.

Outsourcing IT also provides long-term cost savings by reducing downtime, cutting infrastructure costs, and improving security to avoid costly cyber-attacks.

Keep your business growth in check with an eye out for value-adding initiatives.

Want to know more about the benefits of any of these tech tips? Give us a call at 504-323-7111.

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Has Your Email Been Hijacked?

Has Your Email Been Hijacked?

A common complaint by many users in recent months has been spam emails appearing to come from their own accounts. Despite not knowing why, reports of friends, family, and contacts receiving spam email that appears to come from them has worried many people.

Some have had their accounts suspended or shut down by their service providers as a result. For many, this experience can be highly disruptive. It’s a problem that can cause many issues in both your professional and personal life.

The key to defense is learning how these attacks happen, and figuring out what you can do to protect yourself and your contacts against them.

Hackers Using Your Email Against You

Scammers that send out spam messages are continually looking for ways to make the process faster, cheaper, and more efficient. It’s the best way in which they can make more money every day by scamming unsuspecting victims for even more cash.

One of the most efficient ways they do this is by hijacking ready-made, trusted email accounts like your own. Hackers have several tools at their disposal to attempt to hijack your accounts.

Some of the principles which make email fast and easy to use means that details, such as those in the ‘from’ field, are easy to fake. A hacker might change the information supplied to make it appear as if the email comes from anyone.

There’s not much you can do to defend your email against such an attack. However, you can work to verify that an email, even one you expect to receive, does come from the person you believe it to. If your email provider flags up an incoming email as ‘suspicious’, or ‘untrustworthy’, it may well be.

Stolen Credentials

Hackers often buy large bundles of email addresses and passwords from the dark web. Leaked emails are often put up for sale following hacks of major companies and service providers.

The value of these details comes from passwords being unlikely to have been changed, the details attached to them are trusted, and often get hackers access to additional services too.

How To Detect an Email Intrusion

It can take a long time before you’re aware that malicious hackers are using your details. You might even be the last person in your contacts to know.

The first sign to look out for is a large number of unexpected emails in your inbox. These are likely to be replies to emails you never sent in the first place. Out of office, automatic responses, people complaining about spam, and people responding to the email as if it were genuine may all come to you first.

Keep a close eye on unexpected emails appearing suddenly in either your inbox or outbox. A hacker may be spear-phishing someone that you do business with or trust. By acting as you, using your address and details, they may be able to divert payments or confidential information to their accounts instead.

Protecting Yourself Against Hackers, Attackers, And Hijackers

Sometimes your computer might have been compromised to give hackers access to your services. Malicious software may have infected your machine to steal data and infect your contacts.

Take extra care to change your passwords if you believe your email has been accessed by hacker. Use a different, more secure password for your email than you do for every other service. Your email account is often the key to accessing many of the services you use most.

Run a virus scan and maintain security updates if you think your computer could have been infected. Have your machine and services looked at by a professional if you believe there is a risk your data is being used.

If you think your email could have been hijacked, or your details used elsewhere, give us a call at 504-323-7111 to clean up today.

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What Hackers Target In Small Businesses

What Hackers Target In Small Businesses

Hackers today have many ways to attack small businesses and business owners. Many attempt to use technology to send malware, viruses, or phishing attacks; or use information to con owners and employees into handing over more information than they should.

One or more of these techniques can be combined with gaining physical access to steal from vulnerable firms. Identifying precisely how criminals target businesses and what they deem most valuable can help to protect from the most devastating attacks out there.

Remaining vigilant and informed is one of the most vital things you can do as a business owner to protect your assets and reputation.

Extortion

Different types of attacks tend to rise and fall in popularity. Fifteen years ago, computer worms were the most common attack that businesses faced. Security software wasn’t as advanced or as widely used at it is today. Computer worms were, at the time, an exceptionally low-cost and efficient way to inflict the maximum amount of damage for minimum cost.

Today ransomware has seen an unfortunate boom in popularity. This technology aims to encrypt the target’s files on their personal computer. This technique denies the victim access and charges a large fee in exchange for the key to retrieve the victim’s own data.

The attack has worked so often because it requires minimal effort and can be used again and again. Many businesses have no option but to pay because the data is worth far more than the ransom demand the hackers have made.

The best defense against ransomware attacks, in addition to strong online security, is an up-to-date offsite backup — one that is tested to work reliably.

Targeting Customer Records

One of the most important things for your firm to take care of is your customer data records. Records which include names, dates of birth, and other personally identifying details. These details are extremely valuable to hackers or criminals who, either use them personally or sell them on to someone who will.

Many regions have strict laws and guidelines about how this information must be stored, accessed and protected. Failing to follow these can result in severe penalties that could devastate any company.

Targeting Financial Information

Like personal information, a small business must take extreme care when storing customer financial information. Sensitive details such as credit card or banking information are a key target for hackers looking to steal money fast.

The impact on your business reputation following a breach of financial data will be severe and devastating. Even a simple mistake can require years of advertising and great PR to repair. Many firms have failed to recover after losing the trust of their customers.

Social Engineering

Most firms today run good IT security packages to protect against online attacks and other forms of malware. Attackers often know to take their methods offline to achieve the best results.

Whether posing as a supplier, customer, or interested party; attackers can seek to gain information that you may be less than willing to hand over to a stranger. Small businesses can often be used to gather information on vendors and suppliers they do business with in order to attack them too.

Be particularly cautious of the information you provide when discussing business with individuals you haven’t spoken to before.

Keeping Small Business Safe

Each of these targets and attacks are just some of the most popular and hard-hitting attacks out there now. The list is forever changing, and the methods we use to protect against them always needs to change too.

Some can be defended against with great security, backups, and software. Others, such as social engineering, need you and your staff to stay up-to-date and remain vigilant about the major attacks affecting small business today.

If you need help tightening your businesses security, give us a call at 504-323-7111.

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Preparing Your Business Tech to Start the New Year

Preparing Your Business Tech to Start the New Year

The start of a new year is a challenging time for businesses. It can be a good time to reflect on the wins and losses of the previous twelve months. It’s also an excellent time to take stock and evaluate what your business needs to go forward.

IT demands move at a staggering speed, meaning last year’s tech may not fit next year’s needs.

The new year can bring major change to both the business and the environment it operates in. Regulations, contract terms, and seasonal spending habits mean that adaptations have to be made for continued growth.

A smart business knows how and where to incorporate flexibility to win more business and adapt to a new environment. As we move into the new year, there are fundamental questions we should ask about our IT to ensure we are ready to tackle the next twelve months too.

Is Your Hardware Still Up to The Task?

Businesses are often challenged by their client’s demand for files that seem to continually increase in size and resolution. The storage needed to handle, use, and archive these enormous files appears to grow at a near exponential rate.

Every device today is capable of capturing more data at a higher resolution than ever before. Huge data needs have become the new standard.

The expectation of bigger and bigger data is only set to continue as we progress into another new year. Many clients expect, or demand, exceptional quality from professional services and with a fast turnaround time too.

These competing demands put as much strain on network hardware and computing power as they do physical storage. One of the most important things a business can do when reviewing IT demands is to ensure there are no bottlenecks in the productivity pipeline.

Is Your Backup Reliable and Ready?

Almost every business in the modern day has learned enough to put a backup in place. Whether simply transferring files manually to USB storage, copying documents over to a local server, or saving media to the cloud. However, not every business is testing their backups. Fewer still are testing them reliably.

A backup is only as good as what we know can be reliably restored from it. Cases have emerged where big-name firms had famously believed they were backing up successfully for months or years, only to find out their backup was failing when they really needed it.

Whether impacted by missing assets, unable to transfer files, or affected by corrupt data, an untested backup may be as useful as not having any backup at all. A critical goal for the safety and reliability of any business should be to have dependable backups that are tested at regular intervals.

Is Your Compliance Still Up to Date?

Nearly every business in the world has compliance and regulations standards it must adhere to if it is to keep its position in the marketplace. These may be industry specific such as medical or automotive certifications, or regional protections such as data protection regulations.

Requirements for each of these areas change regularly. It is up to each firm to keep on top of both changes to rules and changes to the firm which may impact them.

Changing IT can often impact certifications in a big way. Many feature rules which affect storage, processing, or altering the way in which data is used; it’s essential to check your usage against strict requirements relevant to your business.

While time-consuming and difficult, these checks require a strong knowledge of both the rules and your IT system. The penalties for failure can be severe and crippling. It is a critical area of the firm you can’t afford to get wrong.

If you are looking to boost your business in the new year, check up on your systems and technology, or dust up your certifications to the latest standard: there’s never a better time than now.

Give us a call at 504-323-7111 to get your new year off to a flying start.

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Marriott Hotels Exposed 500 Million Customer Records. Make Sure Your Business Doesn’t Suffer the Same Fate

Marriott Hotels Exposed 500 Million Customer Records. Make Sure Your Business Doesn’t Suffer the Same Fate

Up to 500 million travelers could be compromised as hotel chain Marriott International have announced a security breach in their guest database. Analysts recently alerted the firm to a vulnerability that has granted hackers access to the hotel chain’s systems since 2014.

The firm announced their Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program was compromised for an extended period which left customers vulnerable. The exploit exposed critical guest information which included names, addresses, passport numbers, and dates of birth. Marriott also announced an unknown number of customers had encrypted credit card details stolen in the attack.

If you have been a member of Marriott’s Preferred Guest Program or a customer of Marriott hotels in the past, you should take steps today to ensure your data security. By doing so, you can protect your finances, prevent identity theft, and defend your data from attackers looking to exploit an opportunity.

Secure Your Data

Changing your Marriott password should, of course, be the first step to protecting your accounts. Even more importantly, sites where that same password may have been reused should be updated with new credentials too. Hackers commonly try details stolen from one site to access popular services and pages. We encourage everyone to use a password manager to store their details for safe use in the future. A good password manager enables unique, random, and strong passwords to be used with ease for every single website.

While we can’t stop hacks on systems outside of our control; we can defend our other accounts from being accessed by criminals.

With secure password management, attacks on your business services or related accounts from a single hack are made impossible.

Performing Damage Control

The damage to the Marriott International brand following news of the leak will be undoubtedly huge. At a minimum, they have lost the trust of their customers worldwide. Asking customers to leave their personal and financial details again to pay for goods and services will be no small feat.

News of the hack made front page news as it broke, further damaging the firm’s reputation among potential future customers too. As a result of a simple security attack, Marriott International will be forced into damage limitation to keep customers returning to the brand. This is why business security matters to us; when done right it’s cheaper by far.

The total cost of this latest attack won’t be known for years to come. The firm is vulnerable to lawsuits worldwide, in some cases liable for financial losses, and required to purchase identity monitoring and security services for affected customers. Business owners can learn from Marriott’s costly lesson.

Stopping an Attack in its Tracks

Marriott’s security breach was recently discovered, hitting the headlines just this week, but the firm admitted unauthorized access took place since 2014. This means the firm had a security hole for four years that they were unable to detect or patch.

For a firm of any size, this should be unacceptable. As business owners, we shouldn’t accept security vulnerabilities that leave our records, finances, or services open to hackers. As customers, we shouldn’t accept our data being treated so carelessly. The recent Marriott hack underlines the need for businesses to maintain constant network monitoring, regular security updates, and a lockdown on data access.

Protect Your Business and your Customers – Any business can find their systems vulnerable to attack at some point. Whether waiting for updates, a newly released zero-day hack, or malicious employee; responsible firms take steps to limit their liability.

As a rule, staff accounts should be locked to only the systems the regularly need to access. Similarly, customer data should only be open on an as-needed basis when a legitimate requirement exists. These steps, alongside systems and data monitoring, prevent a small-scale attack resulting in an enormous data breach. Strong security enables customers to place and maintain their trust in a brand they can keep coming back to again and again.

If your business could use a security update to protect against a Marriott style attack in the future, give us a call today at 504-323-7111.

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