I used to be one of the guys who always stayed on top of technology and had to have the latest and greatest phone every year! I remember getting iphone 4S before it was available to public! It took me a few years to realize that I dind’t need a new phone every year because the new features in the new phones are not all that exciting anymore. Not too many ground breaking features came out from Iphone 5 to 6 or from Iphone 6 to 7. My new rule of thumb is to skip 1 generation! I will be moving from iphone 6S+to 8S+ whenever that comes out. I can justify the upgrade based on the new features and my battery life will be degraded by that time.
If there is one thing most small businesses can agree on is that time equals money. Small business owners are in a position where they have to be a jack-of-all-trades, often spending most of their day wearing different hats. This is the nature of the small business and while expected is not always the best use of time. In order for a small business to be successful and remain competitive in an industry, there must be designated time for the owner to focus on growing and building the business. In many cases small businesses fail as a result of being unable to handle emergencies or other situations that are simply beyond the control and expertise of the owner. Leveraging Managed IT Services can help.
Any business that relies on technology, which covers almost every business operating today, can benefit from managed services. Managed services providers understand that not every business has the ability to pay for an internal IT department which can be very expensive yet necessary to ensure all aspects of technology are supported. Without this backup, many small businesses find themselves in a position where they have to foot a very expensive bill to recover from a disaster or emergency. In other situations, using out-of-date or ineffective technology is simply a waste of both time and money on the part of the small business.
Here we look at how small businesses can make the most of their time and money by hiring a managed services provider.
- Focus on running the business- One of the major benefits of outsourcing your technology needs is that the owner and employees of the company can focus 100% on their individual duties to keep the business moving in the right direction. This is the most valuable use of time for all parties involved, instead of hours or even days lost when trying to deal with technological issues that in house employees are not trained to handle.
- Offer expert advise – There are many small businesses that simply do not know what they need to improve the functionality of their business. The old adage, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” does not apply in all cases. By consulting with a managed services provider you may discover areas of your business which can be improved that you previously thought were working “just fine”. Expert advice may be able to help you improve the efficiency of your business while positioning you better within the industry.
- Support when you need it – Managed IT Services Providers are not only there in the event of an emergency or recovery, but also provide monitoring which can invaluable in preventing problems before they can impact the business.
It is important for every small business to carefully examine their technical needs in order to see what services will be most beneficial to the company. Managed IT Services Providers can offer services that not only reduce technology costs over time but also improves functionality which in turn saves time. When this balance is achieved a small business is in the perfect position to thrive and grow.
Part 1 of a series of blog entries all about IT Security in the Modern World of Computing
By Autress Lowe III
What is IT Security?
When you think of IT Security, what do you think of? For most people, IT Security usually stops at a password, be it the PIN code to unlock their phone, or the password to the Wi-Fi. But IT Security isn’t just a four-digit PIN code, it’s a network of systems that all work together seamlessly to create a secure working environment.
The first part of any Cybersecurity solution, however, is a password. It’s the most basic form of protection there is. Nowadays, we have a plethora of password solutions to fit any user or business’s needs.
To start, we have our basic “password”, a usually 8-26-character alphanumeric sequence of letters, numbers, and special characters, i.e. “P@55W0rd!”. These passwords, while difficult for a normal user to guess, are extremely susceptible to brute force hackers and social engineers who may come across a user’s password in a multitude of ways, from dumpster diving to simply watching you enter it from over your shoulder. A password is a last line of defense, one that should always be supplemented with additional security measures.
Passphrases, on the other hand, are much longer strings of passwords, usually a short sentence or two. While they are much more difficult to crack, they still suffer the same vulnerabilities that normal passwords have.
The little cousin of passwords are Single-Use passwords. These are much more effective than your traditional password or passphrase, requiring a user to receive a new password directly from an IT administrator each time they wish to logon, making traditional attempts to hack a thing of the past. Mostly banks use this, using what are known as Transaction Authentication Numbers, or TANs for short.
Even further estranged we have the time synchronized password, where the user has a small device that displays a password that changes every minute or so.
We also have biometric security methods, such as retina and fingerprint scanners. While difficult to crack, they have a high error rate, meaning a user could potentially be locked out of their own system because the scanner doesn’t recognize their fingerprint. They are also rather easy to spoof, and once a fingerprint or retina is “cracked” (or otherwise duplicated), it renders the entire system ineffective. After all, a person can’t change their fingerprints. Yet.
Envaulting technology relies on a company or user’s network and a USB drive to work. Think of it this way: the computer is a lock, and the USB thumb drive is a key ring. Once connected, the USB searches for a key somewhere else on the network, to unlock the computer. With this security measure, your data is only accessible on-site, and connected to the network.
We also have drive encryption, where a user can partially or fully encrypt their hard drive, requiring a password of some form to access the information. Encryption works by taking data and scrambling it in such a way that only someone with the correct information and hardware can read it. In basic form, we have old school cryptography, like shift codes where you take a word like “Apple” and change each letter so it reads “DSSOH”. Only someone with the proper key (or a basic knowledge of shift codes) could properly read the information. Real drive encryption works in a similar manner, only the key is a lot harder to guess than “shift each letter by three”.
As an additional step, the user can place the certificate that stores the passwords (and by extension, the prompt to logon) on a thumb drive, making the data inaccessible without that USB Key and the correct password.
Keep in mind, obtaining a password, whatever the type used, is often not the first step in cracking a system. The first step is gaining physical or digital access to the system. Following appropriate security procedures such as requiring your employees to wear ID badges with their face and badge number and an embedded RF chip can go a long way towards IT Security, preventing unauthorized access to your network by stopping would-be hackers at the front door.
Armed with all your passwords and a bogus ID, a hacker can also be denied access to your system if there is someone stop or deter them. That’s where a dedicated IT Team or MSP comes in handy. MSPs are a low cost, high ROI method of protecting your valuable information by not only deterring would be criminals, but by also managing your suite of security protocols and solutions, taking some of the burden off the end-user. With a team in place dedicated to the security of your business and personal information, as well as managing the changing of passwords and security protocols, a business can stay up-to-date on the latest security features as well as keep their information safe without taking precious time and resources away from your company’s true goals.
Hardware and Software
Of course, where would your Cybersecurity team be without a decent anti-virus and firewall in place. These chaff filters work by taking known threats out of the equation. A user properly protected is highly unlikely to be attacked by an outdated virus.
A firewall works by preventing outside, unauthorized access to a user or company’s internal network, serving as a gatekeeper between it and the outside world. Without one of these, your IT Team would have its hands full solving problems and preventing intrusions that they would otherwise never have to deal with.
This brings us to the most important part of any IT Team: UPDATES! No IT Security Solution is perfect; they usually have a few exploits scattered here and there. But developers and IT Professionals alike are constantly patching their software, getting rid of exploits that would have otherwise taken complete systems offline or resulted in the loss or corruption of precious data. If your IT Security team fails to keep your systems update with the latest firmware and software patches, your leaving your system vulnerable to enthusiastic hackers who see out-of-date software as a jackpot.
In Part Two of IT Security, we’ll discuss what kind of threats the modern world faces in the Age of Information, and how they work.
When determining the affordability and ROI of engaging with Managed IT Services Providers, small business owners often find themselves in a position of trying to balance a limited budget while making sure they have the proper tools to grow their business. It is a challenge many business owners face, in that they recognize the need for additional products or services that will allow their business to continue to thrive. However. funds may be in short supply to achieve these goals. This is especially true today, when small business owners find financial institutions less willing to extend credit in the current economy.
Faced with this challenge, many small business owners are forced to make difficult decisions as to where they can afford to spend money to improve their business. One of the areas in which business owners are on the fence is whether or not hiring a managed services provider is something they can afford. In some cases the cost is not worth the benefits, however there are many situations where cutting costs will end up costing you more money in the long run. Here are a few reasons why managed service providers may be more affordable than the alternative.
Technology – In order to be competitive in this day, small businesses must remain up-to-speed with current technology. The amount of money invested in this area can be quite large, making it necessary to ensure you have someone in your corner who can help manage and support the technology used in your business. While the average person is becoming increasingly well versed in the use of basic technology, there remains a need for experts in the industry to ensure your business can stay up and running on a daily basis as well as in the event of a natural or man made emergency.
Internal IT – Larger corporations have the budget necessary to support an internal IT department that provides expertise and support of the technology used by the company. Small businesses do not have the same resources and often find themselves either without backup or paying a high price when they have to bring in an outside expert.
Services provided by MSP’s- When a small business enlists the help of a managed service provider, they will agree to a contract which covers specific services at a specific price. This allows the the small business owner to see upfront what they are paying for and how it will work in the budget. Some of the services provided by msp’s include; computer and server support, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, remote network monitoring and technology evaluation and planning. Depending on the business these services can be customized to meet the specific needs of the client, making it possible to reduce costs in certain areas.
There are many reasons why a small business owner might feel managed services providers are not something they can afford. Unfortunately the services provided are often not realized until there is an emergency, where small business owners quickly discover the amount of money spent to “fix” a problem or recover from a disaster is much more expensive than planning for it in the first place. In this case it is not a matter of if you can afford manages services, rather if you can afford NOT to have them.
Information Technology services are essential to the success of every organization, large or small. With increasingly competitive business environments, CEOs and small business owners are under great pressure to maintain a highly qualified staff and to make sure their technology is obtaining a better ROI than their competitors.
These goals are not easily achieved, particularly for young or small businesses with less financial resources and time available. Having your own successful information technology department can eat up too much of the company’s budget and time resources, and eventually cause a loss of its competitive edge. These disadvantages of maintaining an in-house IT department are why companies of all sizes have turned to using managed service providers to either assist their existing IT department or become their virtual IT department, handling all of the technology involved in keeping their businesses running at optimal levels.
The benefits of using a managed IT services solution are numerous, but the top 5 benefits of managed services for business include:
- Benefit from the expertise of a specialist, without having to spend time and financial resources training your staff to become experts
- Decrease your technology risks with Managed IT Services. Your company doesn’t have to worry about losing and trying to replace trained staff members, or about repairing, implementing or replacing complex technology solutions with Managed IT Services
- Enjoy access to the most up-to-date, sophisticated technology solutions without having to invest in expensive equipment.
- Experience ultimate control over your business technology without having to manage an IT department. This gives you the time you need to focus on what you do best: your business functions.
- Reduce stress and improve efficiency of your staff. When you make good use of Managed IT Services resources, your staff isn’t tied up with IT concerns and they have more time to focus on tasks that are productive for the business.