Island Hopping: Not Always a Good Thing

Island Hopping: Not Always a Good Thing

The phrase “island hopping” conjures up positive images. You might think of cruising beautiful sandy beaches on a tour of tropical islands. Too bad cybercriminals have given the term a new, less pleasant spin.

Island hopping is an increasingly popular method of attacking businesses. In this approach, the cybercriminal targets a business indirectly. The bad actors first go after the target’s smaller strategic partners. So, vendors or affiliates, who might not have the same level of cybersecurity, become stepping stones to hop.

Attackers might hack into smaller businesses handling the target’s HR, payroll, accounting, healthcare, or marketing. Then, they take advantage of the pre-existing relationship to access the final destination.

Humans are trusting. Cybercriminals exploit that. With island hopping, attackers leverage the trust established between strategic partners.

It’s quite simple: attackers gain access to Company A and send a counterfeit business communication to Company B. Company B, knowing the sender, is less likely to question a download link or opening an attachment.

After all, it’s not coming from a stranger; it’s a message from perfectly pleasant Jenny at Company A. You may have in the past already shared logins to various sites/portals, or passwords to unlock zip files.

The Rise of Island Hopping

This is not a brand-new form of attack. In fact, it’s named after a military strategy which the United States used in World War II to establish a stronghold in the Pacific Islands.

Perhaps the best-known island-hopping cyberattack was seen in the United States in 2013. Retail giant Target was the aptly named target of a point-of-sale system breach. Hackers stole payment information from 40 million customers. The first “island” in the planned attack was Fazio Mechanical Services. The heating and refrigeration firm suffered a malware attack shortly before Target’s breach. Fazio’s hackers stole email credentials needed to access the retailer’s networks.

As enterprises continue to strengthen their cybersecurity, it’s predicted that island hopping will gain momentum. According to Accenture’s Technology Vision 2019 report, less than a third of businesses globally know how strategic partners secure their networks. A majority (56%) rely on trust that business partners would uphold security standards.

Preventing Island Hopping

You may be one of the islands to hop or the attackers’ final destination. It depends on your business size and industry. Either way, your business is vulnerable to malware attack, infected systems, or a data breach. Plus, if you’re the stepping stone, you’re likely to lose the target company’s business, too.

How do you prevent island hopping? First, secure your own networks and systems:

  • Follow best practices to detect and identify vulnerabilities and reduce risk.
  • Educate your employees about the dangers of business communication scams.
  • Raise awareness of phishing schemes and social engineering.
  • Require two-factor user authentication.
  • Change all default, generic, or predictable passwords.
  • Keep security up to date (patching and system upgrades are mandatory).
  • Control who can access your networks and servers.
  • Protect all endpoints (including employee devices in a Bring Your Own Device workplace).

When it comes to cyber island hopping, your business doesn’t want to be a layover or the final destination. Keep your cybersecurity borders tight to avoid unwanted visitors.

Want to make your business inhospitable to island hoppers? Work with a managed service provider. They can help assess cybersecurity, provide a plan to reduce risk, and upgrade technology. Let us support your efforts to fend off unwanted tourists.

Give us a call on 504-323-7111.

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Are You Sick of Ongoing IT Issues?

Are You Sick of Ongoing IT Issues?

Like a persistent cough or muscle strain that won’t go away, many IT issues prove ongoing. Every time they come back you think about getting an expert’s opinion. Then, the cough fades, you can walk freely again, or your computers are back up and running. You keep on going. Until the next time. If you’re sick of ongoing issues with your IT, look to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) for help.

There are many IT ailments that can negatively impact your ability to do work. Let’s consider some of the particularly common ones, and why an MSP is the right prescription.

#1 Network and Internet issues.

Business is done online these days. Not being able to connect to the network and slow connections are frustrating. Without the Internet, how can you do your job? You can’t even check and send emails! Let alone access team documents or enter data into cloud-based accounting software. A lagging network also slows down application and data loading time. It may only be a few moments of thumb twiddling. But add that up over several times a day and multiple by employees. You’re looking at a decrease in productivity that adds up.

An MSP has the know-how to survey the IT environment for what’s causing these frustrations. When there’s a problem, they’re at the ready to resolve it and help improve reliability.

#2 Repeated malware infections.

This can mean a couple of things. First, you don’t have effective system and application protections in place. These attacks shouldn’t be able to make it through the door in the first place. With the right firewalls, anti-spam, and protections, you should be able to keep your system on lock down. You don’t have to do this yourself. Your internal IT team has a lot to manage and monitor. Gain expert backup with an MSP reviewing your security protocols to keep the bad guys at bay.

Secondly, educate employees about the dangers of social engineering. Don’t let them keep falling for the pretexts and downloading malicious files. Also, ensure passwords are strong enough to avoid adding another point of entry. 

#3 Printing problems.

Many businesses are printing less today, but we’re not done with hard copies entirely. So, when a printer starts whirring, spinning endlessly, or can’t connect, efficiency halts. Know that printers sold at big box stores are consumer grade quality. Avoid printer frustrations with solid business-class printers (which your MSP can identify).

#4 Application overload.

Maybe some of your employees prefer Dropbox. Others rely on their free Gmail accounts. This hodgepodge of options can cause chaos. Staff have difficulty remembering the passwords to all of the accounts they need. So, they simplify, and that makes their accounts more hackable. 

Upgrading to business-grade versions of important applications is easier with an MSP. They’ll help identify the software that best addresses your business needs.

#5 Aging technology.

You’ve had your current computers for ages. They are slower than you’d like, but you don’t have the time to look for something else. Plus, you can’t imagine having to learn something new. You’re too busy. But aging tech is more likely to fail, which could prove catastrophic if you don’t have the right systems backup.

MSPs know IT. Based on your individual business needs, they can suggest a plan of attack to update the IT and keep it secure. They can also provide backup strategies to prepare for the worst and recover quickly.

Basically, a managed service provider has your back when it comes to IT. Work with experts who focus on technology day in and day out. You’ll typically save money and gain time to spend innovating in your field.

Gain a competitive advantage with the support of an MSP. Give us a call at 504-323-7111 today!

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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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Stop the Inbox Insanity: Tips for Better Email Management

Stop the Inbox Insanity: Tips for Better Email Management

A staggering 269 billion emails are sent every day. Your business is receiving only a small fraction of those emails. Yet your staff likely feel as if at least 269 of those are coming their way daily. In fact, the typical employee in 2018 received 90 emails and sent out 40. 

Email is a powerful tool. But its help with doing business ever faster creates added business pressure. Consider these five strategies for better email management.

  1. Don’t start your day with email. Many people do. It’s how they set up for the day. However, beginning the day with a cup of coffee and clicking through your inbox, can backfire. Many of those emails become items on your to-do list. You put off important tasks from your day responding to other people’s requests. Plan your day around your business needs first. Even knock off some of the more important tasks, before diving into that inbox!

 

  1. Think twice about checking email constantly. It’s tempting to open emails as soon as they arrive. But, you only want to tackle your inbox when you have the time to take action. If you open an email planning to get back to it later, you’ll likely forget. When you have to revisit an email to remind yourself what it’s about, you’re doubling the time you spend on that message. Avoid interrupting your momentum by turning off email alert notifications and phone badges. Instead, set regular times to read and respond to accumulated emails.

 

  1. Write clear, concise emails. Avoid contributing to a colleague’s inbox chaos. Provide as much relevant information as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean writing a War and Peace-length email. Focus your message for your audience, anticipate questions, and answer in that email. Starting the message with an informative subject line can make a big difference too.

 

  1. Save time with reusable messages. You often end up answering the same questions over and again. Create templated emails that you can have at the ready to provide relevant details. Depending on your email software, this capability may be built in or you may need to add a plug-in.

 

  1. Use filters and folders to sort email. Learn how to use automatically filter your messages into the appropriate folders. For example, if the email is from accounting@yourbusiness.com then send it to your “Accounting” folder. This can save hundreds of hours a year. The better your folder system, the less time you’ll spend looking for specific emails the you need them. In Outlook, you can also set up a filter to change the color of email for different senders. Your boss could be red, and you’d know to handle that one first. Also save time by setting up strong filters for junk and spam. Unsubscribe from mailing lists that you don’t need any longer. Cleaning out the clutter can make your inbox much less overwhelming.

Email is an essential tool in business today. Don’t let it become a drain on your energy and attention. Make the most of the time you spend in your inbox with smart strategies for email management. 

Need help selecting the right email or setting up useful mailbox management tools? Give us a call at 504-323-7111.

 

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When is Your Business Ready to Move to the Cloud?

When is Your Business Ready to Move to the Cloud?

By now you know that the cloud isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, cloud computing has become a natural step in business growth, thanks to the numerous (and continually growing) benefits. More and more applications are coming out in web-based form and staff are exceptionally comfortable with this type of change. So when is the right time to move your business computing to the cloud?

Many businesses are facing this question now that cloud computing has become a mainstream norm. After all, you’ll be able to roll out new apps in days, not weeks, and nobody ever says ‘no thanks’ to increased security and efficiency. Like any strategic business decision though, timing is everything. Here’s how to assess your need before you make the switch:

Age of servers and workstations

If your workstations and servers are reaching their end of life and a large capital investment is coming up, you’ll be able to minimize the expense by moving to the cloud. You may even be able to skip certain upgrades completely. Your staff will still need devices to access the cloud data, but you’ll have a lot more flexibility in your choice and they won’t need to be as powerful. This can be a huge cost saving made in just moments.

Need for remote and mobile access

Many businesses are growing while on the move, with a mobile workforce needing to access files from anywhere at any time. This could range from moving around the one location, between offices or even working from home. Forget frustrating connections and lost productivity, cloud computing allows staff to work securely and efficiently from any location with internet access.

Current support setup

If your business currently outsources all your network management, you’re perfectly suited for the move to cloud computing. Network maintenance and monitoring becomes a non-issue, handled 24/7 as part of your cloud service. Network efficiency just keeps rising too, as your cloud provider is always improving their systems. You’ll find problems are fixed before you knew they existed, and server downtime becomes a thing of the past.

Need for predictable IT costs

If it feels like IT costs can spiral out of control at times, challenging your budget and patience, cloud computing will seem like a dream come true. When you make this shift, you’re moving from a capital expense to an operational one – server and system replacements are no longer your concern. You’ll be able to budget for IT costs in advance, knowing no blowouts are hiding around the corner. Monthly costs are known and (usually) capped based on what you use, leaving your cash flow much relieved.

Today’s cloud computing is more advanced, secure and priced more competitively than ever before. At its core, cloud computing is purely about doing things better, and it can have a massive impact on your profits, productivity and even staff satisfaction rates. If your business requires a robust, always available infrastructure with easy monthly costs, it’s time to take a serious look at your cloud computing options.

We offer a variety of cloud services to help your business. Give us a call at 504-323-7111 to discuss how we can improve your business IT.

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Build Better Meetings

Build Better Meetings

Business meetings can be a double-edged sword. Often they are as likely to rally staff and build momentum as they are to halt progress and kill productivity.

Productive meetings are key to keeping team members on track and everyone on the same page. A poor meeting is as harmful to the progress of a project as losing multiple members of staff.

Finding the balance is important for good business. There are tools and techniques to make sure that your meetings are not standing in the way of your business.

Streamlined Scheduling

One of the biggest hurdles to planning a meeting can be simply booking a space. Finding an available room, with the right equipment, in a time and place which everyone can agree on can be a logistical nightmare. Repeated emails back and forth to agree on the venue alone can consume hours out of the day.

There are technical tools available to help. Outlook’s scheduling assistant can be a great place to start. The office package is designed to help you find a time and place convenient for everyone.

The software is a key, but underused, component within Office 365. Simply adopting a scheduling assistant can cut down meeting planning from hours to minutes.

With everyone fully connected and on the same page, every meeting is improved from the first minute. The scheduling assistant can be found under New Items > Meeting in the Outlook home tab.

Bringing in Outside Help

Of course, not all meetings are internal affairs. Often, a successful meeting involves staff members from third-party organizations, clients, and consultants too.

This is a prime area for technology tools to help. Tools such as FindTime and Doodle.com both serve as scheduling assistants to arrange suitable times and locations to coordinate meetings with multiple parties.

The process is simple, each party selects available or desired times to meet. This process is done independently and based on priorities for each user. When everyone has added their input a mutually convenient slot can be found for everyone.

With modern technology there’s no reason to spend hours, or even many minutes, wrestling over when and where to meet. Using the tools as they are designed cuts out a huge amount of overhead cost from meeting planning.

Idea Capture

The most common complaint staff have about business meetings is the lack of available participation. Many show up, yet just feel like audience members.

When staff members feel their contribution or input to projects isn’t valued, it can lead to a dramatic drop in morale and much deeper issues within the firm.

Tools such as GoWall.com are changing meetings for the better and giving staff members a bigger voice. The site provides attendees with the resources they need to contribute to meetings without disrupting the flow.

The idea behind GoWall is very simple and highly effective. While concepts are communicated as part of a presentation or ongoing conversation, participants are free to contribute to an “idea wall” in real time. This shared wall contains ideas, contributions, and notes from all participants that add to the conversation.

Since ideas are shared between all participants, everyone can be inspired to contribute. This deceptively simple idea helps all members to feel they have a chance to have their voices heard and their contributions valued.

Worthwhile Meetings

Meetings can be a difficult topic in some workplaces. Some firms have had historic failures and huge losses in productivity as a result of too many meetings running far too long. In some environments, formal meetings have all but been banned already.

Using modern technology solutions, we can put the productivity back into meetings. Cut out the wasted time and get to the points that matter. With these simple yet highly effective tools, we can build meetings that create productivity instead of hampering it.

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