Security Patches — The Better Way to Update

Security Patches — The Better Way to Update

Security Patches — The Better Way to Update

Updates often come at the worst moment. You go to shut down your laptop to rush to a meeting, and you get a “Windows is updating. Do not power off” message. Argh!

Or you leave your desktop to go to a meeting and come back to find your computer has restarted in your absence. Those unexpected bug fixes and performance improvements lost you all your unsaved work.

You know updates are important. They help patch security flaws. These are the vulnerabilities that hackers love to exploit. Updating helps you keep business documents and data safe. Software updates can also add new, useful features and remove outdated ones. Plus, keeping software and systems up to date is good cyber citizenship. Security patches protect from attacks that could also impact employees, customers, and partners.

Updating is a pain but oh so important

The WannaCry ransomware attacked hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries. Among those infected were the UK National Health Service, FedEx, Telefonica, the Russian Interior Ministry, and more, all because people (and companies) weren’t keeping their computers updated. The later Petya ransomware preyed on the same vulnerabilities, despite the publicity around WannaCry and Microsoft having already released a patch.

Still, people don’t bother updating. According to a Skype survey, 40% of respondents didn’t update their machines when prompted, almost 25% required a second prompt. Nearly 45% worried that installing the update would weaken their computer’s security.

And keeping Windows up to date isn’t enough. Cybercriminals aren’t stopping there, so you can’t either. You also need to be patching third-party applications such as Java or your Adobe suite. More employees are also bringing their own devices to the workplace. Overlooking security updates for these entry points is like leaving a window wide open and expecting criminals to walk by.

Equifax’s failure to update a Java virtual machine proved costly. Hackers accessed over 145 million credit reports in 2017. The company lost more than $5 billion in market cap, and the CEO lost his job.

Businesses need a better way to keep your software security patches current. Here’s help.

Keeping security patches current, conveniently

Avoid the inconvenience of the “Update Now” interruption by setting up automated patching. Patching all your computers or different device types can be time consuming.

Determine when downtime won’t be as disruptive, and schedule patches for that timeframe. This lets you update an entire department when they aren’t there, or patch individual computers around the employee’s schedule. For instance, if your accountant comes in only on Tuesdays, you wouldn’t patch that computer that day.

This approach also creates a consistency your employees can plan around, which allows them to manage all security updates without you having to lift a finger.

To do this, you can outsource the patching to a managed service provider (MSP). The MSP installs remote monitoring and management (RMM) software to manage all security updates without you having to lift a finger.

The RMM software gives your IT partner visibility into your business technology. They’ll track your hardware, software, and network environments to keep ahead of issues. This sets your business up to respond faster to any events.

Using the RMM, the MSP can automate software patching and OS updates to reduce the hassle. The RMM can be cloud-based or on-premises (requires onsite hardware investment).

Conclusion

Automating or outsourcing software updates can improve your security and compliance. Your employees enjoy new features, extended support, and access to the latest technology. A reliable, secure system can improve stability, speed processes, and drive increased productivity.

Get expert help determining patching priorities, or partner with an MSP to install RMM and monitor and resolve issues remotely. Give us a call at 323-7111!

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To Backup or To Archive? ’Tis The Question

To Backup or To Archive? ’Tis The Question

Hamlet worried about whether to be or not. You may be more preoccupied with whether backup or archiving is better for your business. You know you need to secure your data, but how? This article examines the different benefits of both options.

Back in the day, businesses kept important information on paper. They stored important records and notes in nearby filing cabinets for easy access.

When there were too many files to close the cabinet drawers any longer, someone would do a big clean out. Older, important documents would get boxed for the basement or other storage area. They might still be needed for tax, or compliance, or other reasons. But you didn’t need those files readily accessible any longer.

A similar scenario is true of digital business data. You can back it up to recover from hardware failure, cyberattack, or disaster event. Or you might archive the data for space management and long-term retrieval.

Deciding Between Backup and Archive

When it comes to the right form of data storage you’ll need to weigh:

  • the period of time you need to keep the data;
  • what protections from loss or illicit access your method offers;
  • whether the data can be easily restored or retrieved;
  • how accessible, searchable, and quickly available the data will be;
  • any industry or compliance standards that need to be met.

The backup is a copy of your data. On a regular basis you’ll make a copy of the business data to provide you with a starting point in the event of a disaster. You’ll decide how often to backup based on how often the data changes and the importance of data currency.

Backing up data, an operating system, or application files, doesn’t delete the originals. However, your older backup may be deleted when you make the new copy. If not, the backup can have another use. It can allow users to go back and review or recover earlier versions.

It’s not a bad idea to have several backups. We recommend the “3-2-1” backup strategy. You’ll have three copies of your business data. One would be on the cloud, the other two on different devices (e.g. on your local computer and on a backup drive).

Archiving puts a copy of business data into long-term storage. This is the data equivalent of moving that box of files to the basement. Typically, the archived version becomes the only available copy of that data.

The archives’ permanent record of data may prove useful in future legal disputes. Archived data is often tagged to enable streamlined search down the road. Moving information to archive can also improve processing speed and storage capacity.

While a backup may be overwritten, archived data is generally not altered or deleted. In fact, it’s often physically disconnected from the computer or network. So, you’ll turn to a backup to restore your data if necessary, and to archives to retrieve information data.

Key Takeaway

Both backup and archive can prove useful. It’s not going to happen every day, but entire digital archives can be lost if a server is drowned by a flash flood. All the paper backups can be burnt to cinders in an electrical fire. That external hard drive could be stolen or crushed by falling debris in a hurricane.

It’s best to avoid having a single point of failure. Both backing up and archiving business data is a smart precaution. Ensure business continuity by preparing for the worst. Our computer experts can help you backup, archive, or both. Start securing your business data with our support today! Call us at 504-323-7111.

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Failure is Not an Option: Getting Rid of Single Points of Failure

Failure is Not an Option: Getting Rid of Single Points of Failure

You might think that your business is going to be OK even if a single device goes down. After all, there are other devices your people can use. It’s not as if the entire system is going to fall like dominoes. Or is it? Get rid of single points of failure to make one vulnerability doesn’t take down your network.

A single point of failure (SPOF) can be a design, implementation, or configuration weakness. Star Wars fans will already be thinking of the Death Star’s ill-designed thermal exhaust port. That was the SPOF Luke Skywalker exploited. 

Yet, cybercriminals don’t need the Force to target IT fatal weaknesses. SPOFs for technology include:

  • Having only one server that runs an essential application. Without that server, your employees can’t use that particular business tool.
    • Solution: Plan for the worst with built-in server redundancy. Have multiples of any hardware that is business critical. Migrate to the cloud so you can continue accessing applications, software, and storage.
  • Power outages can wreak havoc on computers and devices operating your network.
    • Solution: An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) device can help prevent intermittent power interruptions to your computers, switches, and modems. Cloud solutions reduce the risk of this problem too. Employees can continue to access data and software working at different locations.
  • Your physical location could also be the SPOF. What if road closures, fire, floods, or a violent storm prevent you from being able to get to the office? Without a backup, you’ll struggle for business continuity.
    • Solution: Pool computer resources in the cloud (servers, storage, applications, and voice services). This provides continued access anywhere, anytime, and often from any device.
  • Sorry to say it, but your people could also be your fatal weakness. Perhaps you have one or even two in-house IT experts who know everything about your technology. But, what do you do if they both quit? Or one is sick and the other is on vacation when something goes wrong?
    • Solution: You can’t have every person become a subject matter expert on all aspects of IT. So consider outsourced IT.
  • You can’t get online without an internet connection. Yet you’re reliant on an external provider for that access. Planned downtime for maintenance is easier to plan around. Still, unexpected issues can cause the internet to go out.
    • Solution: Have a backup solution to pick up the slack if the main connection goes down. A router that supports having a 4G modem, for instance, could be a good failover.

 

Failure is Costly

Having one device out of commission is frustrating, but not necessarily the end of the world. But, when the damage wrought by a single weakness spreads business-wide, you could face serious consequences. 

Downtime for systems failure or data breaches can be:

  • Expensive — In addition to potential overtime for IT staff remedying the situation and possible revenue losses, your company may also face fines.
  • Time consuming — your people must adapt to a new reality while IT resources are spent trying to get back to business as usual.
  • Reputation damaging — any disruption to business as usual could undermine customer trust and prompt churn.

 

IT professionals understand the danger of SPOF. Avoid weaknesses that can lead to systemwide failures or loss of business information. Partner with computer specialists who can identify and eliminate these vulnerabilities at your business. Contact us today at 504-323-7111!

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6 Target Areas to Reduce IT Costs

6 Target Areas to Reduce IT Costs

Your business is always looking to reduce costs. Looking at the information technology budget line items is headache inducing. So much money spent in one area, and there’s so little you can do about it! But is that really true? IT expenses may not be as fixed as you think. Take a look at these target areas where you might reduce costs.

#1 Software

Your business likely pays to license software such as Microsoft Office 365 or Adobe Photoshop. Reviewing these software agreements, you can often find cost savings:

  • You may be able to renegotiate a subscription if the provider wants to move you onto to a new offering.
  • You may find that you are paying for software that your employees are no longer using much. Maybe you can reduce or remove it.
  • Perhaps the pricing has changed, and there are now better plan options available.
  • There may be an open-source software alternative to save acquisition and maintenance costs.

#2 Hardware

Your current hardware may be underused, need refreshing, or have lost productivity. Look for opportunities to run applications on less expensive devices, or link together several computers to replace expensive server equipment. Standardizing platforms can also significantly reduce IT costs while providing consistency.

#3 Cloud Computing

One way to cut IT infrastructure costs is to move to the cloud. You may be able to run software on the cloud for a fraction of the cost. Moving data backup to the cloud to replace an on-premises server can also cut costs, not to mention the utility savings from not having to power the replaced components.

Even if you’re already in the cloud, you can explore whether you are on the best available plan for you and consider:

  • Are you paying for more storage or resources than you need?
  • Are you taking full advantage of mobility and scalability features?
  • Are you duplicating on-premise and cloud-based services?

#4 Internet Services

Your employees need to be online; you’re not going to cut out internet services. However, you may be able to control costs:

Should you buy modems or routers instead of renting them from your provider?

  • Consider the internet speed in your plan. Do you need that level of service?
  • Is slow internet speed costing your company money when, in fact, you’ll be more efficient with an upgrade?
  • Are you able to bundle services to find cost savings?
  • Are you in a position to renegotiate your plan?

 #5 IT Staff and Services

Avoid infrastructure costs and the hiring expenses of onsite IT staff by outsourcing. Often your business can pay a set monthly fee or go on a pay-per-use model to gain services such as:

  • IT help desk support
  • security
  • disaster recovery
  • backup

#6 Utilities

Don’t overlook the costs involved in powering your IT components. Review your utility bills to identify trends. Can you save money by turning off equipment? Is there a better plan available with a competing service? Should you renegotiate the terms of your existing plan?

Time for a Technology Audit

Ultimately, the best way to identify specific areas to cut your IT budget is a technology audit.

Your IT needs are always changing, and the technology evolves, too. Many businesses add expensive components or systems with “room to grow.” New tools get added on as needs arise. Your use of certain technologies may expand or shrink.

An IT expert can provide an overview of all the software and services you use, and of bills related to your IT budget to find areas to streamline or cut altogether. It may seem counterintuitive to pay money in an attempt to save money. However, an outsider’s perspective can provide fresh insight into the “way things have always been done” and help you see new opportunities for consolidation.

We can help you meet your budget goals. Contact us today at 504-323-7111!

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Handle with Care: Sending Data Securely

Handle with Care: Sending Data Securely

In our digital economy, we send and receive information quickly online. The Internet offers immediate communication with colleagues, clients, vendors, and other strategic partners. Yet we shouldn’t prioritize convenience over data security.

What data do you send in a day’s worth of emails? Sensitive data you send might include:

  • personally identifiable information (PII);
  • credit card or payment card information;
  • attorney–client privileged information;
  • IT security information;
  • protected health information;
  • human subject research;
  • loan or job application data;
  • proprietary business knowledge.

The problem is people sending without thinking about the security of the transmission. One way to gauge the need for security is to consider how you might send that same information via the postal service. Would you put that data on a postcard that anyone could read? Or would you send a sealed, certified mailing and require the recipient’s signature?

Transmitting data on the Internet in plain text is like the postcard – anyone can read the information. And before you think that no one can actually see your data in transit, think about where you are sending from. Your office network may be password protected and secure, but what if someone waiting for their coffee at Starbucks opens the message using the free Wi-Fi network?

Anyone can intercept communications on open networks with the right tools. This type of cyberattack is common enough to merit its own name: a “man-in-the-middle” attack.

So, how can you stay safe when sending sensitive data?

Embrace encryption. Encrypting the data is like sending that sensitive information in a locked box. Encryption encodes the information to add a level of security. If encrypted data is intercepted, the scrambled data is unreadable by unauthorized users. Only a user with the correct decryption key can access the text.

Encryption also provides additional confirmation that the information is coming from a reliable source.

Your business should also require Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) for sending and receiving large or numerous digital files. You may have heard of FTP, but this file transfer protocol is not encrypted. SFTP is the secure version of FTP, as it encrypts the files in transit. If a nefarious entity does intercept the files, it won’t be able to read them without the decryption key.

Specifically, encourage your employees to:

  • use encrypted email only (common providers such as Gmail and Outlook support it; others require third-party apps or services);
  • encrypt files before sending to the cloud (in case accounts are breached or services hacked);
  • never open business communications on unsecured Wi-Fi networks;
  • keep good track of laptops and other portable devices and use drive encryption in case – with encryption, a lost laptop or stolen thumb drive is more secure, and criminals will have a difficult time stealing sensitive information, too;
  • control data access – grant permission to view, edit, or send files with sensitive information only to users who need that data for their jobs.

Managed service providers help your business decrypt how to send its sensitive information. Turn to experts in cloud services and IT security to learn how to securely send and receive data.

Contact us today at 504-323-7111!

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Do Macs Get Viruses?

Do Macs Get Viruses?

Many Apple owners believe their Macintosh computers are immune to viruses. Apple itself has run ad campaigns promising its computers “don’t get viruses”. And those who have owned a Mac for years, decades even, are particularly prone to believing. After all, nothing’s happened to them yet. Regrettably, Macs do get viruses, and the threat is growing.

For a long time the argument was that cybercriminals didn’t bother to develop Mac viruses. There weren’t enough users to justify the effort. Instead, they’d focus on the lower hanging fruit – PCs running Windows.

Yet Apple’s market share is on the rise, and it’s increasingly common to see Macs in the workplace, especially in creative industries. Plus, there’s a widespread assumption that Mac users are a smart target as they are likely to be better off. So, while Macs remain harder to infect (installing most software requires a password), there’s often a greater payoff.

The research reflects the reality. In 2017, for instance, the iPhone OS and Mac OS X placed #3 and #6 in CVE Details’ top 50 ranked by total number of distinct vulnerabilities. Apple TV and Safari also made the list at #17 and #18, respectively. In 2017, Malwarebytes also reported it “saw more Mac malware in 2017 than in any previous year”. By the end of 2017, the cybersecurity firm had counted 270% more unique threats on the Mac platform than in 2016.

Finding Apple’s Weak Spots

It’s obvious then that bad actors are no longer steering clear. They are actively looking for ways to exploit Macs.

A common approach is to use Trojans. Named after a gift wooden horse that hid an army, Trojans look like something you would want to install. So, Mac users happily enter their passwords to download that application and open the gates to the cybercriminal.

In 2011, for instance, a Trojan called “Mac Defender” took advantage of people’s desire to protect their computers. The fake program appeared to be anti-virus software. Once the users installed it, they’d get an onslaught of pop-up ads encouraging them to buy more fake software.

Trojans get through the gates because you let your guard down. You are taken in by that supposed note from a long-lost friend. You think you want to see that pic of that famous celebrity. All it takes to stop this type of attack is suspicion of everything you might install or download.

A business would want to educate its employees about the importance of:

  • clicking on emails with care;
  • validating the source of any files they plan to open;
  • checking a website’s URL (being especially wary of those with less common endings such as .cc or .co);
  • questioning any promises of Ray-Ban sunglasses for 90% off or the latest iPhone for $29.99.

A new threat comes from within the Mac App Store, according to Thomas Reed, a Mac security researcher. When a user tries to install an app on a Mac, a Mac OS program called Gatekeeper checks the file’s code signature. The signature helps certify the app is valid. However, Reed found that cybercriminals could buy a legitimate certificate from Apple, or steal one and trick users. Users would install masked malware that could infect legitimate programs and evade detection.

Key Takeaway

Apple is always working to protect its users from malware. It has measures in place, and user caution can make a big difference, too. Still, it’s not true that Macs are completely safe.

Find out what you can do to protect your Macs and guard against threats. Partner with a managed services provider to gauge your security levels.

Call us today at 504-323-7111!

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