How to plan for IT disasters

February 13th, 2015

BC_164_BDisasters, whether man-made or natural, can happen to anyone. While most people will admit this, a lot of us still have the mindset of “it won’t happen to me.” However, according to one study, storms and extreme weather alone have personally affected one-third of small business owners. And that doesn’t include other disasters such as earthquakes, fires or theft. So if you don’t want your business disrupted in the event of a catastrophe, it’s time to prepare for the worst. Here are a few ideas to get started with a business continuity plan that will ensure you are ready.

The difference between disaster recovery and business continuity

While it’s easy to overlook the differences between a disaster recovery and business continuity plan, there are actually some key variations you should be aware of.

Disaster recovery is the restoration of business operations and IT infrastructure after a disaster has already occurred. Business continuity, on the other hand, is focused on maintaining business operations and profits throughout a disaster. While disaster recovery is mainly focused on the slice of time immediately following a disaster (how you replace your equipment and restore IT infrastructure asap), business continuity looks at the bigger picture - the continuity of the company as a whole. It ensures you can run your business and maintain profits during the process of recovering from a catastrophe. It generally includes a disaster recovery plan as part of it.

Creating your business continuity plan

The first step in creating your plan is to identify which of your IT assets are vulnerable to disaster. To do this, you need to ask yourself some important questions, starting with what might happen if you were to lose the functionality of a specific asset for a day, a week or even longer. Answering this question will help you identify your most critical IT assets; the ones that are integral to your business operations.

Here are some other important questions to ask when drafting your business continuity plan:

  • What is the purpose of my business continuity plan?
  • What disasters can affect my IT infrastructure?
  • What are my key business areas?
  • Which different business areas, assets and departments depend on each other?
  • What is the longest amount of time I can go without functionality of IT assets?
Once you can answer these, it’s time to start planning. Write down your thoughts, and then contact an IT provider like us for assistance. We’ve helped countless businesses just like yours prepare themselves in order to remain operational throughout catastrophes. We can also help you identify potential problems that you may not have thought of.

Need help creating your business continuity plan? Contact us today to see how we can help you stay running and turning profits when disaster hits.

Published with permission from Source.

February 12th, 2015

SocialMedia_Feb12_BIf you thought your Facebook feed already contained enough pictures of funny cats and other wacky memes, then you’re in for a treat. Fueled by increasing consumer concern about the impact of social media usage on individual privacy - which has already led to the growth of self-destructing image sharing apps like Snapchat - a new arrival on the app scene wants to take things in a different direction to guarantee your privacy. Its secret tool? Cat photos - specifically, bombarding Facebook with lots and lots of them.

But there is more to it than that: the team behind social messaging app Wickr aren’t looking to post images of our furry friends just for the fun of it. In fact, the feline factor is just one feature of the app, known as the Wickr Timed Feed. Wickr actually promises to offer greater security and privacy controls than similar apps like Snapchat - but whereas Snapchat simply lets you set your images to self-destruct once they have been seen by the recipient, Wickr takes an alternative approach.

As well as allowing only pre-approved friends to see your photos within your Wickr feed, the app lets you share each photo through Facebook and control which of your friends can see it. So where do the cats come in? Well, when you first share to Facebook, no-one will see your photo - instead, they’ll see a decoy image of a funky-looking cat. However, Facebook users then have the option to click through to Wickr and, if they are one of up to 151 people you have pre-approved to have access to your real photo, it will be unlocked and the cat will disappear - at least, until the photo automatically self-destructs 24 hours later, as do images on your feed in the Wickr app itself.

If it all sounds a bit like security overkill, then that’s probably because it is. Sharing Wickr photos to Facebook also sounds a little cumbersome, and even more so the process for unlocking a cat-guarded photo, and this could have an adverse effect on widespread take-up of the feature. But it does address genuine concerns surrounding the far and often uncontrollable reach of images and information we post online. What’s more, it appears to be a way to prevent Facebook from claiming ownership of the photos we upload - as much a concern for professional photographers and companies using Facebook for marketing purposes, as for individuals using the platform to keep in touch with friends. Wickr claims that, because the cat photo is all that will be publicly visible unless the bona fide picture is unlocked, that will be the only thing to which the social network could claim to have ownership or reproduction rights.

Whether it catches on or not, the emergence of apps like Wickr is telling of the growing pressure for the usability of social media networks to be balanced with protection for their users’ privacy. It acts as a reminder to businesses to be aware both of potential issues with usage rights for corporate images shared online, and of the need to keep consumer concerns about data misuse in mind when designing social media marketing strategies.

To learn more about how to effectively put social media to work for your business, get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Social Media
February 10th, 2015

Virtualization_B_164Virtualization...the very sound of the word may have you excited about the new opportunities it holds, or your heart pounding in fear of a foreign technology that sounds far too scary. Whatever the case, virtualization isn’t going anywhere. Thousands of businesses are taking advantage of its ability to cut costs and free up office space. If you’re thinking about taking your first step into the exciting world of virtualization, read on. We have some tips that will make the transition easier.

The key to successful virtualization is to not virtualize too much too quickly. Choose one or two items you’d like to test out, and then give it a go. By only focusing on virtualizing a few assets, you’ll be able to accurately measure how much your business is benefiting from virtualization.

Once you’ve decided to make the jump into virtualization, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Don’t virtualize for the sake of virtualizing

If you have 20 PCs running on an older operating system, but they are still producing results you’re happy with, it may be best to save your money and hold off on virtualization until you really have a need for it.

On the other hand, if you’ve been thinking about buying a new server, it may be smarter to consider getting a virtual server instead since the need is already there.

Understand the risks and challenges of virtualizing individual assets

Server, desktop and application vendors have unique and evolving licensing rules concerning virtualization. With vendor licensing audits becoming more and more frequent, you may be in for a major financial penalty if you’re not following the rules.

It’s been reported that one company saved $4 million in hardware expenses through virtualization. However, they lost $52 million for not remaining in compliance with the software licenses.

Try virtualizing more than one asset

If you start out only virtualizing your server and it doesn’t show immediate benefits, that doesn’t mean you should just give up on virtualization completely. The fact of the matter is that virtualization does save businesses millions of dollars every year in IT expenses, giving them a productivity boost in the process.

You can virtualize many physical assets of your business besides servers. This includes applications, laptop hardware, operating systems and more. All the virtualization process does is deliver these assets to you via the internet instead of having the physical product in your office. So if the server virtualization doesn’t work for you, maybe virtualizing another asset will.

Or it could simply be that your IT service provider is the real problem. Maybe you haven’t found the right virtualization vendor that works best for your business. The only way you’ll ever find out is if you don’t give up the first time you encounter a failure.

For more information about virtualization and how to effectively integrate it into your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from Source.

February 6th, 2015

BusinessValue_Feb6_BNowadays, the advancements of mobile technology emphasize just how crucial mobile marketing is in boosting any company’s profitability. People are increasingly using smartphone devices for everyday tasks, from checking the time to making online payments. As a small business owner, you might want to adjust accordingly, and jump into the whole mobile approach to reach a wider audience. To get you started, here are four tips to promote your business on mobile devices.

Use QR codes

As far as mobile marketing tools go, QR coding is among one of the most powerful. With QR codes you can set up announcements about special events, coupons, newsletters, updates on your latest products, etc. Your potential customers can simply scan the QR code with their mobile devices and see what you have to offer.

The real benefit of QR codes is they can be put virtually anywhere to lead people anywhere online. Imagine putting a QR code on a T-shirt and having it lead to an online coupon for special deals. While the possibilities for placing QR codes are endless, it’s probably not very useful to put them somewhere that doesn’t make sense, like on a street billboard; people can’t scan your QR code while they’re driving.

Buy Facebook mobile ads

Facebook currently has over 700 million active mobile users. Even if that number’s not increasing at the moment, it’s still huge. Many businesses that are competing online have a Facebook page and advertising plans already. But with the majority of mobile visitors on Facebook, all your content and ads should be easy to read and engage with.

Facebook mobile ads display better than normal ads on the right column on Facebook’s news feed. If you don’t make use of this feature, you might be missing out on a large audience.

Make your website responsive

Back in the old days all websites were static, meaning that content was fixed unless you edited the HTML files. Later came the dynamic website, where content was changeable once you refreshed a web page. Now we have responsive websites, which conveniently adjust themselves to different browser sizes or a mobile device’s screen size.

Responsive websites are the future of the web. Imagine how high the bounce rate is likely to be if a potential buyer visits your website on a mobile device, scrolls around to read your content with difficulty, gives it up as a bad job and finds your competitor’s website that is mobile-friendly. That’s why your business website is better off on a responsive design.

Mobilize your E-mail

There are many up and coming marketing tools, but email is still one of the best ways to get great results for businesses. As with Facebook, most people check their emails on a smartphone or tablet. Make sure your message reads well on mobile devices, or your customers might ignore and delete it or, even worse, unsubscribe from future emails.

There are plenty of mobile marketing tools out there. Before implementing them get in touch with us to find the best solution that works for your business.

Published with permission from Source.

February 5th, 2015

VoIPGeneral_Feb05_BOne of the most important factors for a successful business is communication. With the advancement of technology over recent years, Voice over Internet Protocol has been devised to respond to people’s needs. Yet even with VoIP’s huge plus for convenience, the system is always vulnerable in the eyes of skilled data thieves. For business credibility, there’s nothing worse than having your secret deal with a potential buyer being eavesdropped upon. So how can you prevent this from happening? Deploying these strategies can help secure your VoIP system.

Encryptions and Passwords

In most cases your VoIP system might not be using any encryption to protect the conversation from prying eyes and ears. It is prudent to set up encryption that will ensure privacy and repel third parties from eavesdropping on your calls. An attacker would have to break encryptions in order to listen in.

Keep in mind that strong passwords will decrease the risk of the call being intercepted. Once you start using VoIP, immediately change the default password to a strong one. For security purposes, if you’re an administrator you should never use default passwords.

Review your Hosted Services

Many VoIP service applications run on commercial server operating systems from an external party. Ask the host provider about which services are enabled and which are disabled. You should only enable the ones you need. Treat this with the same care as you would normally devote to encryptions and password security.

VoIP Firewalls and Security Layers

Deploying a firewall specially designed for VoIP traffic can help protect your system. The firewall limits types of traffic and closes the session once the call disconnects, therefore shutting down the gates to possible abuses. It also identifies unusual calling patterns and watches out for signs of attack.

But using a firewall alone is not enough. Applying security layers around the server is a way to improve authentication and add protection when users exchange messages. Consider adding endpoint security as an additional layer for authorization by blocking devices until they pass security checks.

Implement Strict Security with Users

Security matters in the workplace, and employees shouldn’t take it lightly. Establish ground rules when using VoIP. Assign each user with appropriate access in a restrictive manner, depending on their needs. Ask users to report any abnormal signs of threats. Also, be on the lookout for strange activities within your VoIP system and try to familiarize users with the techniques data thieves use to attack VoIP connections.

Concerned about your VoIP security status? Get in touch with us and see how we can help.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic VoIP General
February 3rd, 2015

Browsers_Feb03_BMost of us use various types of web browsers to access the Internet on a daily basis. Sure, there are a number of different browsers out there to choose from, most of which are effective enough. But an ordinary browser may not live up to the expectations of tech experts, who require extensive functions at the ready. Recognizing this need, the ex co-founder of the Opera browser has unveiled Vivaldi, a brand new tool to browse the Internet. Read on to find out more about the origins of Vivaldi and how it may benefit you.

What is Vivaldi?

Back in 1994, Jon Von Tetzchner and his team developed the Opera browser, aiming to serve each user’s individual requirements. However, when the company diverted from its initial purpose, Von Tetzchner left Opera and decided the time was ripe to design another browser, Vivaldi.

Packed with various features, Vivaldi focuses on the needs of power users and on those who want to gain more from their browsing experience. Vivaldi is a Chromium-based application and has similar features to its predecessor, Opera. This is a clear attempt by Von Tetzchner and his team to continue remaking what they believe Opera should have been.

As well as the usual components that other browsers possess, Vivaldi packs in a number of functions that could be very useful for the kind of user who works with a lot of content, keeps a lot of tabs open and spends a lot of time on the Internet.

The Features

Here are some neat functions Vivaldi offers to its users. If you make the most out of these tools they might just work wonders.
  • Speed Dial - Vivaldi adopts the speed dial function from Opera. If you’re a fan you’ll realize it makes website navigation so simple. Speed dial allows you to organize websites based on your interests all on one page; e.g. News, Sports, Health, Tech.
  • Tab Stack - opening too many websites at once? Couldn’t find what you wanted under all those excessive tabs? Tab stack lets you arrange those messy tabs by adding multiple tabs on a single one. Simply drag and drop the tabs to your desired spot.
  • Quick Command - another powerful feature for power users. Quick command is an option for keyboard and shortcut users. You can customize and execute various settings such as opening tabs, bookmarks and other features with the keyboard.
  • Notes - taking notes from your favorite website has never been easier. With this function you can easily jot down what’s on your mind while browsing. Notes automatically remember which site you were browsing and allow you to add tags for future reference.
Despite being in its early stages of development, Vivaldi has many advantages and boasts impressive features for high-level users. Its efficiency in the long run remains to be seen. However, with the current functionality Vivaldi provides, it is a browser that all tech savvy users should consider.

Do you want to learn more about the best Internet browsers for your business? Contact us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Browsers
January 30th, 2015

Productivity_Jan29_BWe all know technology is evolving rapidly - at times it can feel like software companies release a new update each week. It can be exhausting to keep up. But when it comes to business, technology is either helping your company to succeed or holding it back from doing better things. To make life easier, here are four ideas on how to use technology to keep costs down and staff productivity up.

Work together from anywhere

With the onset of Cloud technology, it’s now possible for your employees to work easily from anywhere - be it Bangkok, Belize or Boston. With Cloud-based suite products, employees can log on from remote locations and access company files. All they need is a web-enabled device.

Cloud-based technology also makes it easier than ever for your staff to collaborate. While one employee is in a coffee shop in Vancouver and another is at a desktop in your office, they can both be editing the same document at the same time. This makes it easy for your staff to remain on the same page, both literally and metaphorically, which in turn boosts both productivity and profits.

While many SMBs use public Cloud applications like Google Drive, Dropbox and Evernote, private pro-level options are available, which come with more security and more features.

Keep all your data in the Cloud

The fact is that searching through spreadsheets for information stored in bloated data sets can be a huge waste of time. By having all your data in the Cloud, all your information will be in one place. So when you’re looking for that critical client receipt for your taxes, you’ll know where it is immediately.

Thanks to its remote access and collaboration possibilities, the Cloud also gives you and your staff easy access to all of your data wherever in the world you are.

Identify bottlenecks and upgrade your technology

Facing the facts about your current technology is key to increasing productivity. Yes we know you love your tablet from way back in 2008. You even named her Susie, after your niece, because they’re both so darn creative. But let’s face it, Susie is old now and is slowing down your business. She’s served you well, but it’s time to upgrade.

And desktops aren’t the only technology that can slow you down. There are also unreliable internet connections, obsolete software and outdated email providers. The list goes on…

The solution is to take a careful inventory of your current IT technology and see what’s keeping your business from reaching its true productivity potential. After you have your list, update your technology accordingly. Then create a plan to regularly upgrade your IT resources, so your employees are never being slowed down.

Outsource your IT

As the old saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Whether you have a part-time contractor or a fully-staffed IT department, the mere presence of tech staff onsite in your workplace can be a distraction. When you’re focusing on sales or setting up meetings with potential clients, a knock at your door from your IT colleague - because he or she has just discovered a glitch in your system - can take you out of the flow of the task at hand.

On the other hand, outsourced IT departments are proactive in preventing technical issues from popping up in the first place. They’ll fix problems without you even knowing they existed, and without distracting you from your core work. All of which means a great boost to your day-to-day productivity - and therefore profitability.

Want to know more ways IT can enhance your company’s productivity? Contact us today to learn how.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Productivity
January 29th, 2015

Security_Jan28_BMost of us have suffered the horrors of a computer virus at some point, and we know the damage that can be caused by these security infections. Our work gets disrupted as IT systems go down and, if we’re really unlucky, sensitive and valuable data might be lost or even leaked. But there’s a silver lining to most viruses, worms and other such malware, in that they can at least be tracked down and removed. Well, not always - enter the invisible Poweliks, which even your most sophisticated anti-virus software might not be able to protect you against. So, what do you need to know and how can you protect yourself?

What is Poweliks?

Security firm Symantec describes Poweliks as a trojan horse that performs malicious activities on the compromised computer. But it’s no ordinary trojan - unlike the majority, which infect your computer with malicious files, Poweliks is a silent and invisible threat that hides away in the memory registry of your system. It’s not entirely new for a virus to seek to cover its tracks by making itself "file-less" but, in contrast with Poweliks, most are wiped when you restart your computer and its memory is cleared. Worse still, Poweliks hijacks the legitimate processes and applications running on your network, inserting its code into them where it can largely evade detection.

First discovered back in August 2014, Poweliks has therefore created something of a headache for firms behind conventional security solutions like anti-virus software. Symantec and others have admittedly managed a number of updates to their protection in response to the threat posed by Poweliks. But although very minor records of the presence of the trojan are left behind by way, for instance, of registry logs, the signs of its destructive presence are much lower key than the computer world is used to, meaning Poweliks is unlikely to show up on most system scans.

Poweliks has links to Kazakhstan, the home of two servers the malware connects to once it is up and running from within your computer. The servers in Kazakhstan then send commands to the bug to tell it what to do next. In theory, this then makes way for the tool to be used to download other undesirable programs that could infect your system without your knowledge. It could equally be used to steal and disseminate data from your network.

How can I best protect myself?

As well as the anti-virus updates that have gradually been released - but which are still likely to have only a limited impact on threats of this type compared with those of the past - a number of Poweliks removal guides are now available online. Nevertheless, prevention as ever, remains better than cure. One method reported to have been employed in the distribution of the Poweliks infection is embedding it in a Microsoft Word document, which is then sent as an attachment to spam emails, and which the attackers hope your curiosity will lead you to open. Among the senders that these spam messages have masqueraded as being from are the United States Postal Service and Canada Post. Of course the best advice remains to be suspicious of any and every email attachment you open, particularly if you weren’t expecting mail or it's from someone you don’t know.

Should I be concerned?

In fact, revisiting your everyday security precautions is probably pretty good advice all round, since experts predict that this type of threat is likely to become ever more common as attackers seek to exploit the techniques of Poweliks in order for their infiltration to remain unnoticed for as long as possible. Sure enough, a number of copycat threats have already been detected by security specialists as of the start of 2015.

General awareness around web sites you choose to visit is also recommendable in particular, since others have also reported the bug making its way onto their systems thanks to so-called ‘drive-by download attacks’ - whereby simply visiting a malicious web site is enough to trigger the infection, and actively downloading a file isn’t even necessary. As a result, organizations may wish to consider more comprehensive filtering of internet access, or at the very least reactive blocking of known malicious sites, in order to prevent employees from inadvertently infecting a company network.

To find out more about IT security solutions and protecting your technology from attack, contact us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Security
January 22nd, 2015

socialmedia_Jan20_BIn today’s digital world, social media has become a vital tool that effectively helps accelerate business development and the relationship-building process between different organizations. And with solid communication being at the core of business development, let’s take a look at how social media can help drive partnering processes for the better.

In most cases, a business development manager already has an idea of the kind of company with which to partner. Their next step is to contact that company via a phone call or email. However, this can be an unreliable way to reach out, especially when your potential partner has never heard of you. Social media speeds up this process by identifying the best person to contact, as well as determining if you have any mutual connections.

Simply put, social media lets you understand the background of different companies and gives you an idea of the different players involved, before you even engage in a dialogue. With this in mind, let’s take a look at four ways you can utilize information available on social media to enhance your business development success.

  1. Social media is an extra pair of eyes Social media allows you to see first-hand what potential partners, competitors, and customers are doing, which is a major asset when it comes to your business development and performance. This can also reveal business-relationship possibilities or even warn where it is best to stay away. It’s crucial to position yourself and your company as industry experts by sharing mind-blowing content as well as highlighting recent successes.
  2. There’s no universal message in social media The way people behave and connect across different social media platforms varies, therefore it is important to adjust accordingly. For instance, you might use Twitter to promote ongoing marketing campaigns, share content, and direct customer service requests. You may use Facebook for larger marketing initiatives, such as showcasing a company’s culture and resources. It’s important to remember that there’s no universal rule to utilizing social media and that it is beneficial to be flexible. Think about what your individual goals are and work out which social media platform is the best avenue to explore.
  3. Leverage employee relationships If you’re looking to connect with an individual in a specific company, make it a habit to check and see if anyone in your company has a pre-existing relationship with that person. Social media channels like Facebook and LinkedIn make it fairly easy to spot mutual connections, so it is a good idea to get into the habit of checking. Whether you ask your colleague to help make an introduction or to arrange a meeting, a mutual connection gives you the competitive edge in effective business development.
  4. Use social media as a touchpoint Social media is not only essential to business development, but also complements other more traditional practices, such as when you’ve sent an email or voicemail to a business prospect that has gone unanswered. It’s understandable that people get so busy they can delay, forget or pass over an inquiry, but instead of passively waiting for a reply, why not make it standard practice to follow up separately via LinkedIn or other social media platforms? This way you can build additional opportunities with potential partners, increase the likelihood of a response, and even forge a future business relationship.
The fundamentals of business development are strong relationships with a partner or companies with a good reputation, who will have a positive impact on your business, such as marketing an initiative collaboratively. Social media can get this whole process started, so the next time you’re looking to contact a business prospect or potential partner, start by visiting their social media channels to get the heads up to help you in your quest.

Looking to learn more about the benefits of social media in business? Contact us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Social Media
January 14th, 2015

Security_Jan12_CThe scale of the recent security breaches at Sony, which led to the cancellation of The Interview’s theatrical release, can make the company’s problems seem beyond the realm of the average small business. But the security mishaps that created the circumstances for the hack are as applicable to modest local and regional companies as they are to multimillion dollar corporations. These three tips will take you back to security basics and help avert your own big-screen drama.

Don’t let basic security habits slip

Our modern-day instinct tells us that the answer to potential security breaches is to install new layers of antivirus software, firewalls and further encryption systems. While these are all worthy additions to your company’s armor of security shields, they will do little to help if good old-fashioned protective habits are allowed to slide.

Instill a disciplined, security-conscious mentality in your organization, and keep the messages simple so that staff remember and follow them. Focus on regularly changing passwords and keeping them secret, being vigilant about avoiding unexpected links in email messages, and limiting network access for the likes of external contractors to that which is absolutely necessary.

One of the ways hackers made their way into the Sony network was by tricking administrators into thinking they had a legitimate need for access: teach your staff to be careful, and praise cautiousness even if it turns out access is warranted. Encourage staff to flag up potential security lapses, and make sure they know that reports will be followed up and loopholes closed.

Take a flexible and agile approach to IT

IT changes, and so do the ways best suited to keeping it safe. This means it is vitally important to keep your IT systems up to date, and where necessary to do away with outdated practices that could leave your business technology exposed. This involves more than just ensuring that your network is running updated antivirus software to catch the latest bugs and worms - it means staying abreast of emerging methods to mitigate potential threats from hackers worldwide.

All of this uses staff and resources that your small business might not have - which is where outsourced managed services come in. Using a managed service provider as an add-on to your own IT team can give you extra flexibility and the ability to keep abreast of industry security developments, even when you lack the time to do so yourself.

Equally, know when it is time to ditch data - think of emerging social networks like Snapchat, which set messages to self-destruct after a set time, as your cue to make your data retention policy less permanent, particularly in relation to email. If you no longer have a business need or a regulatory requirement to retain information, then delete it - in the process you can limit the possible damage even if the worst should occur and you fall victim to an external attack.

Backup, backup, backup

The last thing you want in the event of a security breach is for it to hit your day-to-day operations - the potential damage caused by the hack itself is likely to give you enough to worry about. But that is exactly the situation Sony found itself in after its latest hack, with its email system down and staff forced to return to the days of pen, paper and even the fax machine.

As well as ensuring alternative means of communication remain open to your business in the aftermath of a possible attack, it is also vital to make sure that you retain access to the information most critical to your work. Regular, secured backups help ensure that, whatever happens, the show is able to go on and your firm’s productivity and revenue are not unduly hit. Engaging professionals to undertake your backups on a managed service basis also means this can happen routinely and without fail, while you stay focused on running your business.

Want to learn more about how to reduce your IT network’s vulnerability to attack? Get in touch with us today.

Published with permission from Source.

Topic Security