Small Businesses Going to the Cloud: Three Top Considerations

Used with the permission of http://thenetwork.cisco.com

A look at the issues small companies need to make sure they address before jumping into cloud computing.

Small businesses, of course, can save a ton of money and gain a lot of efficiencies by going to the cloud. But getting there isn’t necessarily that simple. Fact is, one size does not fit all. “A startup marketing company, for example, may take a very different path from an established medical practice,” says Igal Rabinovich, CEO of IT Help Central, a White Plains, NY consulting firm. Here are some key considerations to take into account before making the move.

Create a migration plan.

Best is not to make the change willy-nilly, particularly if you think you’ll be moving many applications to the cloud. That means having a roadmap for how you’ll proceed, introducing applications one at a time and testing each one before deciding to go ahead with it and then moving onto the next. You also need to include a training period for employees to learn how to use each application.

The length and complexity of your plan, of course, depends on the number of applications you have, the size of your business and how distributed your workforce is, according to Ron Braatz, president of LiftOff Learning, an IT consulting firm. Introducing, say, an e-mail system to a highly distributed workforce would take longer than it would for a company where everyone works in the same office.

A plan can do more than help your move to the cloud go smoothly, however. It can also provide a larger strategic boost. Jill Billhorn, vice president, small business at CDW, a Vernon Hills, Ill., IT consulting firm recalls a fast-growing client, an exercise business that was opening up locations at a rapid pace. At first, the approach was to launch new venues and bring IT staff in on the plan only shortly before opening. “It ended up that IT had to spend much of their time putting out fires as a result,” says Billhorn. Eventually, the IT group decided to start scrutinizing the expansion plan for the following year and form a blueprint for introducing appropriate applications. As a result, as the business grew, they were able to operate more judiciously and effectively, and that helped overall expansion, according to Billhorn.

Using a plan also puts you ahead of the pack. Only 35% of small businesses have developed a written strategic roadmap for the adoption of cloud computing, according to a survey, recently conducted by CDW.

Think about reliability.

Whatever you’re using the cloud for, chances are it’s important to the functioning of your business. So you want to make sure you have access you can rely on. Take Roper DeGarmo, president of Signature Personal Insurance, an insurance brokerage in Mission, Mo., who started using cloud applications eight years ago and now employs everything from e-mail to client data storage systems. According to DeGarmo, who, until recently ran his business from home, his cable connection worked well until later on in the day when more people started using the Internet after returning from work. He ended up adding a DSL connection for Internet access at those times. “Having a fast connection is obviously great, but if the connection has stability problems it can wreak havoc with file uploads and online services,” says DeGarmo.

You also need to make sure your service providers have adequate backup precautions. For example, if you’re using a phone system, make sure the service automatically will be rerouted to another telephone line if the servers are down. “Always ask the question, what happens if you go down, how will it impact me,” says Rabinovich.

Rabinovich, in fact, suggests small businesses think twice before putting certain mission-critical functions in the cloud. ” I always ask clients, if the capability is down for a couple of hours or couple of days, what will that mean for your business,” he says. “If the answer is, you won’t be able to function, you might not move that application to the cloud.”

Look at the legal issues.

For starters, scrutinize the fine print. Example: A cloud provider may waive liability in case of lost data. Depending on your industry, you also may need to make sure you’re compliant with regulations governing data. If, say, you operate in Europe or have European customers, you’ll need to consider the EU’s Data Protection Directive, which regulates the processing of personal data, according to Keith Broyles, a partner and specialist in intellectual property at Alston & Bird, a law firm in Atlanta. You also need to be aware of where your data will be hosted. The reason: If it will be on a server outside of the U.S. and there’s a problem, depending on your contractual provisions, you could wind up ” not getting the benefit of U.S. laws,” says Broyles.

Then there’s the matter of your exit strategy. “You want to be mindful that there’s going to become a point when the relationship between you and your cloud vendor ends,” says Todd McClelland, who also is a partner at Alston & Bird. For that reason, you negotiate your exit strategy upfront, rather than dealing with it when you’re about to pull the plug.

The upshot: going to the cloud has many benefits. For best success, however, you need to arm yourself with as much information as possible before jumping in.

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Get smart about security

used with permission from HP Technology at Work

Congratulations, you’ve taken every step to secure data on your networks and PCs against increasingly malicious worms, Trojans and viruses. But don’t rest easy. All infrastructure elements, including printers, servers, storage, Wi-Fi networks and cloud computing are just as susceptible to surprising security threats. Forget them and your sense of security is nothing but a dream.

Whether they’re criminals looking to blackmail your business, technically savvy vandals getting their kicks, revenge-minded former employees or even competitors, hackers all have one thing in common: they want to disrupt your business operations for money, other gain—or simply for fun.

So, what can you do? Read on for some valuable tips to bolster your overall IT defense. Combined with regular and diligent employee training and education, these pointers can help you better spot and prevent disruptive security attacks.

Mobile dos and don’ts

More than large companies, small businesses are issuing or implementing bring-your-own device (BYOD) policies regarding smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. The ubiquitous nature of such products can cause companies to assume that their business information safely resides on them. Wrong.

Your IT department is responsible for protecting company data, regardless of where it’s housed. What to do? For one thing, businesses must set firm policies about what data are allowed on employee-owned devices. It’s also wise to weigh the relative safety of available smartphone operating systems and perhaps require data to be stored on an approved server or in the cloud.

Safe and secure storage

Servers and storage devices also present a unique set of security challenges. Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, for example, can overload those running web applications and compromise network bandwidth, memory, CPU use and hard-disk space. Solutions like the HP ProLiant G8 servers deliver comprehensive data and client protection and security.

Working without wires

Wi-Fi networks aren’t immune from sabotage-minded attackers, either. Consider these dangers:

  • Weak personal identification numbers (PINs) allow the ability of any user to access any wireless network at will. A laptop-equipped troublemaker sitting in your parking lot might be able to hack into your important data this way.
  • Security gaps allow wireless users to snoop on each other’s networks.
  • Operating system flaws provide easy backdoor access to a single computer—or even up to an entire network.

Easy first steps to securing your network include simplifying network management, implementing clearly defined BYOD security policies and making rogue Wi-Fi access more difficult with services like HP TippingPoint networking security solutions.

Consider the cloud

True, the cloud improves server, storage and network access and is less expensive than physical systems. But with easy data-access comes serious confidentiality concerns. Careful monitoring, strict access control and encrypted data are among the best security measures, along with the use of a private, rather than a public enterprise cloud.

IT infrastructure aside, simple password security is surprisingly often overlooked in developing an overall security plan. Increased password complexity, and the use of single sign-on and other technologies, is essential.

Staying one step ahead of cyber criminals demands detailed development of security policies and processes. Proactive businesses that develop comprehensive security plans better ensure their own safety, integrity, reputations and bottom-line profitability.

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Data growing pains?

used with permission from HP Technology at Work

Virtualization. Like other technology buzzwords, some users work this term into business conversations without really understanding its meaning or how its strategic application can streamline operational efficiencies, improve resource allocation, enhance network security and reduce costs.

It’s worth learning. Careful evaluation of existing non-virtualized environments is the most vital first step toward choosing the best virtual server and storage solutions for any given environment. This evaluation should be done with an eye on present and anticipated computing and power requirements, as well as the number of existing and future users.

Growing data storage requirements are always a major concern of large corporations and institutions. But “big data” has become an issue for small businesses, too. Varying operating systems, a growing number of applications and the increased use of mobile, BYOD and other technologies threaten to overwhelm existing physical server and storage solution capacities.

Rather than allocating resources toward upgrading aging servers or buying new ones—the ‘ol “throwing good money after bad”—more IT and other administrators see the benefits of “going virtual.” Indeed, Acronis’ Global Disaster Recovery Index found that 21 percent of surveyed small businesses planned to adopt virtualization last year, a number most likely to increase in 2013.

Additional virtualization benefits include enhanced network performance, lower maintenance costs, streamlined and centralized management capabilities, improved disaster recovery, and the flexibility to easily accommodate additional users and applications. The buzz surrounding virtualization is well deserved. But what does that aforementioned network evaluation consist of? How do you get from Point A (physical storage environment) to Point B (virtualization)?

Ask yourself the most pertinent questions:

  • How many physical servers do you have? What functions do they perform? How many do you need?
  • How many users do they serve? Are you experiencing any issues with your current servers? Are you looking to streamline any business processes?
  • What percentage of your resources is underutilized? By how much?
  • What are your present and anticipated storage requirements? How much of your existing infrastructure can you virtualize?

As server hardware and storage solutions become increasingly clogged with users accessing a growing number of applications to perform business processes, system responsiveness can lag on various days at different times. Asking these questions while conducting component inventory and performance metrics helps determine the amount of virtualization needed.

Virtualization improves application and process access through pooling, sharing and clustering on an as-needed basis. It also reduces the need for physical solutions and their related operational and ownership costs.

Generally speaking, the best candidates for the virtualization of hardware and storage solutions are older servers requiring frequent upgrade costs, infrequently used servers, and multiprocessor servers dedicated to single-processor applications. Applications such as those in a development or test environment, those using a single processor and those with low use rates/frequent idle times are best offloaded onto virtual storage solutions.

Ever-increasing storage requirements, irrespective of business or industry, call for migration to a virtualized infrastructure. Massive file sharing, increasingly sophisticated applications and the ever present danger of costly downtime from technician mistakes or cyber attacks further underscore the need.

HP’s Converged Infrastructure systems bolster network performance, decrease maintenance and save money. These systems comprise a wide variety of server and storage solutions in addition to delivering the virtual bandwidth required to handle massive amounts of data. HP ProLiant servers, running VMware and Microsoft® Hyper-V® virtualization software, help optimize performance, simplify management, speed deployment and reduce risk.

HP Converged Storage virtual solutions bolster ROI by eliminating physical, logical and management boundaries, leveraging such technologies as deduplication, compression, metadata search and object APIs for cloud applications.

Similarly, HP Storage for Server and Client Virtualization utilizes scale-out designs with clustered architectures for optimal performance under unpredictable mixed and heavy VM workloads. Hardware-assisted thinning converts legacy storage and cuts capacity requirements by 50 percent, while enabling the deployment of new VMs in seconds. These innovations are able to cut management overhead by as much as 90 percent.

Simply stated, before the introduction of virtualization technologies, businesses had to operate separate servers for incompatible, platform-specific applications. The result? Massive hardware investments and maintenance costs. In a virtualized environment, a single server can run multiple operating systems while supporting a variety of business applications. The question is no longer whether to virtualize, but rather when.

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What is Network-Attached Storage?

You may find yourself hitting snags when it comes to maintaining and storing increasing amounts of data for your business. One solution to these problems is a network-attached storage device.

Network-attached storage (NAS – usually pronounced “naz”) is used to increase storage capacity on a network. A NAS device’s sole purpose is to store and provide access to files. It is a self-contained unit that typically consists of multiple storage drives in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) configuration. Configuring a NAS device is simple and makes your data easy to manage.

Advantages of Network-Attached Storage

Efficiency. A network-attached storage device is a self-contained unit that runs an independent, specialized operating system and has its own IP address. Because of this, a NAS device does not rely on your server’s processing resources. This enhances the overall performance of your network.

Data Protection. A NAS device protects your data via a redundant array of independent disks (RAID), which replicates data across multiple drives. This configuration considerably minimizes the risk of data loss.

Data Sharing. Multiple users can access data on a NAS device, regardless of which devices and operating systems they use. This is especially useful if your business has multiple locations and requires centralized data storage. Users can access data with Windows Explorer in the same way as it would access any other drive. Users can also access data with a web browser.

Cost. You can host multiple terabytes of data on your network using NAS technology for far less than the cost of hosting data on a traditional fileserver. Additionally, the prices of quality NAS devices have fallen considerably in the past few years – making them an even more viable option for your data storage needs.

NAS increases the manageability of your data while decreasing the cost of hosting it. A NAS device is a reliable and versatile option for storing, sharing, and – most importantly – protecting your files.

We leverage this type of device as part of our NetRescue solution as a great replacement for high management, error-prone tape backups. Learn more about our NetRescue solution, and all of our offerings here http://www.nmgi.com/services/netcare!

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7 Advantages of Managed IT Services

by Chase Moritz, Heartland Technology Solutions

Many small to mid-sized organizations are turning to Managed Service Providers (MSPs) to help alleviate some of the strain on their internal IT resources, or take over the management of their network all together.

There are quite a few benefits to partnering with an MSP, from improved reliability to a better understanding of assets, which are all valuable in their own right. These are a few that top the list for most organizations considering some form of Managed IT Services…

So, first of all, what is ‘Managed IT Services’?

A quick Wikipedia search turns up the definition: “Managed services is the practice of outsourcing day-to-day IT management responsibilities as a strategic method for improving operations.”

A managed services provider (MSP) is defined as “…typically an information technology (IT) services provider, who manages and assumes responsibility for providing a defined set of services to their clients either proactively or as they determine that the services are needed.”

  1. 24/7 Monitoring & Proactive Maintenance: As it stands right now, most businesses don’t have a way to monitor their network 24/7/365 and be notified immediately when a potential problem arises. This can be an invaluable feature because the earlier an issue is realized, the earlier it can be resolved. 24/7 monitoring allows for most issues to be realized and proactively resolved before they become major problems resulting in significant downtime.
  2. Budgeting: Planning for technology is difficult because things can change in a moment’s notice if a computer or server crashes. When that happens, budgets are busted on unplanned repair services. With a fixed monthly cost, Managed Services allow for businesses to better budget for their service costs as well as preparing for upgrades. Most MSPs have repair and service work already built into the contract, along with the ongoing maintenance already taking place.
  3. Comprehensive Reporting: Insight into the activity on your network is vital to determine how you will allocate your budget for the future and knowing what your employees are doing online. Without this reporting, you have no real way of knowing what issues have been resolved, where issues occur more frequently, or which areas of your network need to be shored up. Most MSPs can provide in-depth reporting on error messaging, problem remediation, and user activity and should offer at least a bi-annual review of these reports so that you understand what is happening on your network.
  4. Staff Availability: Whether your business has an internal IT staff or someone with split duties within your organization, you have a resource dedicated to handling the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep of your network.

    If that person is a dedicated IT person, they probably don’t have the time to do what needs to be accomplished because they are constantly putting out fires. If that person has split duties (IT and Accounting or Operations, for example) they don’t have time to fully focus on either of their duties in order to accomplish what their primary job entails.

    A basic Managed Service package allows your IT person to focus on what really needs to be done instead of the day-to-day maintenance and allows your split resource the ability to focus on their primary job, instead of worrying about the technology working properly.

  5. Efficiency: With the toolsets available to MSPs, issues are immediately reported and acted on and by not having to put out “fires” after they have caused noticeable issues or downtime, end users can have more streamlined and efficient experience. With proper planning and notification, patches and updates can be scheduled in a way that there is no disruption to the end user during working hours.
  6. Knowledge Base: When working with an outsourced technology company of any kind, one of the key benefits is being able to access their broad range of knowledge on more than one area of focus. They have an entire staff available to tackle just about any issue that may arise as well as advise or take on any project that needs to be implemented.  A good technology provider invests in its staff to ensure that their engineers have the most recent certifications for the services they offer and vendors they work with.
  7. Improved Security: Security is a common concern among most business leaders and having up to date security protecting your network is arguably the most important aspect of a business’s technology. Managed Service packages generally offer a solution to monitor your Firewall, Anti-Virus, and apply the latest updates and patches to ensure that your network is as secure as possible.
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7 ways to make your PC last longer

used with permission from HP Technology at Work

A primary concern for most business owners is how to get the most bang for your buck. When you’re purchasing expensive technology, this becomes an even more valid point of consideration.

Buying computers is one of the larger investments you have to make in order to effectively run a business. To avoid surprise crashes and loss of data, it’s not recommended to hold onto a frequently used computer for more than four to five years. However, there are things you can do to help prolong its life span and enable it to perform better over time, saving you money in the long run.

Keep it clean

Dust, dirt, food and other particles tend to accumulate in the crevices of keyboards, mice and monitors. If not removed, these particles can scratch hardware components and eventually build up enough to cause overheating, shortening the life of your computer. To avoid this, make sure to dust and clean your computer and its accessories on a regular basis. Compressed air is a great way to get small particles out of keyboards and tight cracks. Read Cleaning Your Desktop PC for more detailed information on how to clean a desktop, some of which can also be applied to notebooks.

Keep it dry

PCs and liquids do not go together well. Never drink or rest water, coffee, soda or anythingliquid near a desktop or notebook. A spill could mean you’ll be buying a new one much sooner than you had planned. For a little extra insurance and protection, HP offers optional HP Accidental Damage Protection Care Packs.

Give it space

This tip applies mostly to notebooks. The nice thing about them is that they’re portable. On business trips, it can be tempting to set them down on a hotel pillow or bed while you’re casually answering emails or doing research. But soft, padded surfaces do not allow airflow into the ventilation holes underneath the notebook, which leads to overheating. To limit this risk, make sure you always rest your notebook on a cool, solid surface, allowing air to travel underneath it.

Protect it

Viruses could be the biggest threat to the health of a notebook or desktop. One of the very first things you should do when you buy a new computer is install anti-virus software. Some popular, effective applications include Microsoft Security Essentials and McAfee. Make sure you also take advantage of HP Protect Tools, a suite of security tools available on many HP PCs that lets you manage security for all of your business desktops and notebooks from one central point.

Give it more memory

Painfully slow processing is a sign that your computer may be starting to fade on you. Add extra RAM (random access memory) to relieve the strain of an overloaded machine. Once it stops relying on hard disk memory, your computer’s performance will become exponentially faster. Check out HP’s EasyBundle for an easy way to upgrade your notebook’s hard drive.

Keep it uncluttered

All of the programs that you don’t currently use on your computer are taking up valuable space. Getting rid of them will improve performance and save memory. Most PCs have a “disk cleanup” function that will delete “unseen” files and empty caches. You can also go through your files manually and remove anything you haven’t been accessing.

Choose it wisely

There are many things to consider when purchasing a computer. If you’re looking for a desktop or notebook that can stand the test of time and endure harsh environmental conditions, an HP Elite PC may be your answer. All Elite products must endure 115,000 hours of durability testing to prove they’ll be able to give you many years of reliable service.

Unfortunately, no matter how well you take care of it, the reality is that no computer can live forever. To decrease your risk of a catastrophic crash, make sure you don’t wait too long to buy a replacement. After several years, most computers start to display glitches and show signs that they could be struggling. To be on the safe side, you should plan on replacing your desktops and notebooks about every four years.

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8 tips for working securely from wireless hot spots

used with permission from Microsoft at Work

Wireless (also known as Wi-Fi) hot spots, are changing the way people work. These wireless local area networks (WLANs)provide high-speed Internet connections in public locations (and at home). You can access them with a wireless-ready mobile PC, such as a laptop, netbook, smartphone, or any other mobile device equipped with a wireless card.

Hot spots range from paid services, such as T-Mobile or Verizon Wireless, to free, public connections. Hot spots are everywhere, including coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, bookstores, airports, trains, and hotel lobbies.

Many of these places will inform you that they have a hot spot for wireless Internet use and will tell you how to access it, including providing you with a password, if necessary. You can also use a directory to find a hot spot near you.

Are Wi-Fi hot spots safe?

Public hot spots all have one thing in common—they are open networks that are vulnerable to security breaches. Because they do not encrypt data, your passwords, email messages, and other information can be visible to hackers. That means it’s up to you to be aware of wireless hot spot security and to protect the data on your PC or mobile device. In this article, we cover a few Internet security tips to make working on wireless networks in public locations more secure.

1. Disable your Wi-Fi adapter

When you’re not at home or at work, it’s a good idea to turn off your laptop or notebook’s Wi-Fi capability when you’re not using it. Otherwise your computer might connect to a malicious hot spot without your realizing it. Many laptops now have a Wi-Fi hardware button you can use to disable your Wi-Fi adapter. If yours doesn’t, you can disable your Wi-Fi adapter using your operating system.

Windows 7

  1. Click Start, click Control Panel, and then click Hardware and Sound.
  2. Under Devices and Printers, click Device Manager.
  3. In the list, click Network adapters. Right-click your wireless card, and then click Disable.
  4. Follow the same steps to enable the adapter.

Windows Vista

  1. Click Start, click Control Panel, and then click System and Maintenance.
  2. In the System and Maintenance window, click the Device Manager icon.
  3. In the list, click Network adapters. Right-click your wireless card, and then click Disable.
  4. Follow the same steps to enable the adapter.

2. Try to choose more secure connections

Use a virtual private network (VPN)

It’s not always possible to choose your connection type, but Internet security is critical. When you can, opt for wireless networks that require a network security key or have some other form of security, such as a certificate. The information sent over these networks is encrypted, and encryption can help protect your computer from unauthorized access. For example, instead of using a public hot spot with no encryption, use a virtual private network (VPN). If your business does not have its own VPN, you can download and install free VPN software. The security features of the different available networks appear along with the network name as your PC discovers them.

Protect your email with https

One way to protect your email messages in public is to select the https or other secure connection option in your email account settings (if your email provider supplies one). This option may be called always use https, more secure connection, or something similar. Even if the email provider you use has a secure network, after you log on to your account on a public network, your information is no longer encrypted unless you use a more secure connection. An https connection, for example, which includes encryption, is more secure than an http connection.

3. Make sure your firewall is activated

A firewall helps protect your PC by preventing unauthorized users from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. It acts as a barrier that checks all incoming information and then either blocks the information or allows it to come through. All Windows operating systems come with a firewall, and you can make sure it’s turned on.

Note: Some antivirus software includes its own firewall. If your antivirus has a firewall and it is turned on, you do not need to turn on Windows Firewall. Having two firewalls turned on is not recommended.

Turn Windows Firewall on:

Windows 7
Windows Vista

4. Monitor your access points

Chances are that there are multiple wireless networks anywhere you’re trying to connect. These connections are all access points, because they link into the wired system that gives you Internet access. So how do you make sure you’re connecting to the right one? Simple—by configuring your PC to let you approve access pointsbefore you connect.

Configure access points

Windows 7: Windows 7 takes the guesswork out of connecting to hot spots because it automatically prompts you to approve new connections. In addition, after you approve a connection, you can assign it a profile for future use.

Windows Vista: Windows Vista takes the guesswork out of connecting to hot spots because it automatically prompts you to approve new connections. In addition, after you approve a connection, you can assign it a profile for future use.

5. Disable file and printer sharing

File and printer sharing is a feature that enables other computers on a network to access resources on your computer. When you are using your mobile PC in a hot spot, it’s best to disable file and printer sharing—when it’s enabled, it leaves your computer vulnerable to hackers. Remember, though, to turn this feature back on when you return to the office.

Disable file and printer sharing

Windows 7

  1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
  2. Click Network and Internet, and then click Network and Sharing Center.
  3. Under Change your network settings, click Choose homegroup and sharing options.
  4. Under Other homegroup actions, click Change advanced sharing options.
  5. File and printer sharing, select Turn off file and printer sharing, and then click Save changes.

Windows Vista

  1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
  2. Click Network and Internet, and then click Network and Sharing Center.
  3. Under Sharing and Discovery, click the arrow next to File sharing, click Turn off file sharing, and then click Apply.
  4. Click the arrow next to Printer sharing, click Turn off printer sharing, and then click Apply.

6. Make your folders private

When the folders on your mobile PC are private, it’s more difficult for hackers to access your files.

Make a folder private

Windows 7

Windows 7 not only makes folders private by default but also requires passwords for shared or public folders. As a result, you’re already covered! But if you want to double-check that a folder is not public, simply right-click the folder in question, and then click Share with to see whether it is private or public. If it is public, turn Public folder sharing off. Here’s how:

  1. Click the Start button Start button, and then click Control Panel. In the search box, type network, click Network and Sharing Center, and then, in the left pane, click Change advanced sharing settings.
  2. Click the chevron chevron button to expand your current network profile.
  3. Under Public folder sharing, click Turn off Public folder sharing (people logged on to this computer can still access these folders).
  4. Click Save changesAdministrator password If you’re prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

Windows Vista

Windows Vista not only makes folders private by default but also requires passwords for shared folders. As a result, you’re already covered! But if you want to double-check, simply right-click the folder in question and select Properties. On the Security tab, you can review the set permissions.

Repeat the steps above for each folder that you want to make private.

7. Encrypt your files

You can protect your files further by encrypting them, which requires a password to open or modify them. Because you must perform this procedure on one file at a time, consider password-protecting only the files that you plan to use while working in a public place.

Encrypt folders or files

Windows 7
Windows Vista

8. Consider removing sensitive data from your portable computer

If you’re working with extremely sensitive data, it might be worth taking it off your portable computer altogether. Instead, save it on a corporate network share or on a password-protected site, such as Windows Live SkyDrive, and access it only when necessary. This way, you have multiple safeguards in place.

A few simple precautions can help make working in public places more secure. By selecting the best wireless Internet connections and adjusting settings, you can enjoy more productive and safer work sessions—no matter where you are.

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Firewalls: Don’t skimp on your business’s security

by Chase Moritz, Heartland Technology Solutions

In this installment of our “Is Consumer Grade enough for your business?” series, we’ll take a look at firewalls and the differences in the protection they provide your business.

Security is quite possibly the most important concern for any business. You need to know that your critical data – both internal data and customer information – is secure. If that information is hacked or accessed by the wrong person, you may be opened up to a world of legal and financial trouble.

Security

On the most basic level, Consumer Grade firewalls or routers have no intelligent scanning of incoming data. That means that they are only looking for very specific threats as they attack your network: they aren’t scanning everything as it comes through – which is standard on even entry-level Business Grade firewalls. If viruses or malware are disguised to any degree, they will be able to penetrate a Consumer Grade router/firewall into your network and begin to cause harm.

On a more technical level, hackers can easily break through a Consumer Grade, or home, firewall to access a business network and data, as detailed in this recent Security dark Reading article. (One of our engineers was once able to hack into his church’s firewall/router – all he had to do was google its default settings! Of course, they were right there watching him do it, but someone with more malicious intent could have done the exact same thing.)

Reporting

There are features available on most Business Grade firewalls that allow for deeper insight and reporting. For instance, SonicWall offers a service called Application Intelligence & Visualization that allows monitoring and detailed information, in real time, on the apps being used on the network and which apps are using the most bandwidth. Administrators are then able to make adjustments on the fly to provide the more important apps more bandwidth, instead of those that aren’t business related (i.e. Facebook, Online Gaming, Pandora, etc.)

Service

Business Grade firewalls and security solutions come with business grade service and support. A business IT provider is not going to be much help if a Linksys router goes down, leaving your network wide open. With a Business Grade solution, though, there are certified professionals who can quickly diagnose the issue and provide a solution in a timely manner, either remotely or on-site. If you have ever had to call for help with your home router, you know how frustrating it can be to get support.

Business security is one thing that you definitely do not want to take lightly. A consumer level firewall simply does not offer the protection needed to keep your company’s online reputation clean. Everyday numerous email servers are placed on a blacklist because their user accounts are compromised by malicious code. Getting onto a blacklist means your outgoing emails will be rejected by clients and partners and it can take weeks to get off the list. Having a proper business firewall in place can make the difference between weeks of profitability or weeks of work trying to get back on track.

If you need to increase or improve your network’s security, let us know. Our technicians are well versed in developing a solid solution for organizations of any size.

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We Lost a Client Today

NMGI is a managed service provider (MSP) for private and public sector clients from Boston to Honolulu. We have many different businesses that depend on us for their infrastructure, network security, off-site data storage, remote access and business continuity requirements.

We were fired today by a client because their network was working smoothly and they thought we were no longer needed. For over three years we managed, nursed, coddled and fine-tuned this client’s total network infrastructure, making sure everything was running smoothly and ensuring maximum client uptime and operating efficiency. So it’s really strange to get fired for doing an excellent job. [Read more…]

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Watch out for fake virus alerts

used with permission from the Microsoft Safety & Security Center

Rogue security software, also known as “scareware,” is software that appears to be beneficial from a security perspective but provides limited or no security, generates erroneous or misleading alerts, or attempts to lure users into participating in fraudulent transactions.

How does rogue security software get on my computer?

Rogue security software designers create legitimate looking pop-up windows that advertise security update software. These windows might appear on your screen while you surf the web.

The “updates” or “alerts” in the pop-up windows call for you to take some sort of action, such as clicking to install the software, accept recommended updates, or remove unwanted viruses or spyware. When you click, the rogue security software downloads to your computer.

Rogue security software might also appear in the list of search results when you are searching for trustworthy antispyware software, so it is important to protect your computer.

What does rogue security software do?

Rogue security software might report a virus, even though your computer is actually clean. The software might also fail to report viruses when your computer is infected. Inversely, sometimes, when you download rogue security software, it will install a virus or other malicious software on your computer so that the software has something to detect.

Some rogue security software might also:

  • Lure you into a fraudulent transaction (for example, upgrading to a non-existent paid version of a program).
  • Use social engineering to steal your personal information.
  • Install malware that can go undetected as it steals your data.
  • Launch pop-up windows with false or misleading alerts.
  • Slow your computer or corrupt files.
  • Disable Windows updates or disable updates to legitimate antivirus software.
  • Prevent you from visiting antivirus vendor websites.

Rogue security software might also attempt to spoof the Microsoft security update process. Here’s an example of rogue security software that’s disguised as a Microsoft alert but that doesn’t come from Microsoft.

Example of a warning from a rogue security program known as AntivirusXP.

For more information about this threat, including analysis, prevention and recovery, see the Trojan:Win32/Antivirusxp entry in the Microsoft Malware Protection Center encyclopedia.

Here is the legitimate Microsoft Windows Security Center:

Screenshot of legitimate Microsoft Windows Security Center.

To help protect yourself from rogue security software:

  • Install a firewall and keep it turned on.
  • Use automatic updating to keep your operating system and software up to date.
  • Install antivirus and antispyware software such as Microsoft Security Essentials and keep it updated. For links to other antivirus programs that work with Microsoft, see Microsoft Help and Support List of Antivirus Vendors.
  • If your antivirus software does not include antispyware software, you should install a separate antispyware program such as Windows Defender and keep it updated.
  • Use caution when you click links in email or on social networking websites.
  • Use a standard user account instead of an administrator account.
  • Familiarize yourself with common phishing scams.

If you think you might have rogue security software on your computer:

Scan your computer. Use your antivirus software or do a free scan with the Microsoft Safety Scanner. The safety scanner checks for and removes viruses, eliminates junk on your hard drive, and improves your PC’s performance.

Get help from a Microsoft partner. If you have trouble removing the software yourself, you find experts in your area.

Check your accounts. If you think you might have entered sensitive information, such as credit card numbers or passwords into a pop-up window or at a rogue security software site, you should monitor your associated accounts.

If you suspect that your computer is infected with rogue security software that is currently not detected with Microsoft security solutions, you can submit samples using the Microsoft Malware Protection Center submission form.

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