Top 5 questions to ask when choosing a Managed IT Service Provider

  1. Does the service provider have experience in my industry?

Choosing a service provider that already is familiar with your requirements will save you time and money. They will already be versed in how to build and maintain an IT platform for your applications. You will not have to spend time educating them on your needs.  In fact, they will most likely be familiar with the application software vendors you are currently using and any special requirements they may have.

  1. Does the service provider have depth and strength on staff?

One-man shops might be a good fit for very small clients, but generally you want to make sure that the vendor you choose has multiple engineers that can service your account. The common practice is to assign a primary engineer to an account, but what happens when this person is unavailable due to an illness or vacation. Make sure the vendor you choose has multiple resources to service your account. Also, make sure that the vendor has an experienced staff. How long have been with the company? How long have they been working in their current position? I used the word experienced, not certified. Don’t be fooled by certifications because they do not guarantee competency. Any greenhorn can come out of Jr. or Sr. college with multiple certifications but are not competent until they have years of work in the field dealing with real world issues.

  1. Does the service provider have a local presence?

While many issues can be easily resolved remotely, there will always be a time when on-site assistance is required. It helps to have someone in close proximity especially if the problem is causing system downtime. Response time is very important.

  1. Does the service provider have flexibility in their service offerings?

Many managed service providers believe that one size fits all. While I agree, that certain standards should be met like managed firewalls and cloud backup, the unique needs of each client should be considered. Make sure that you chose a provider who is willing to spend time understanding your requirements and is willing to quote you an offering to meet your particular needs rather than trying to fit you into their standard offerings.

  1. What are the lines of communication I have with my Service Provider?

The old saying “Two heads are better than one” apply. While you will most likely be given the cell phone number of your assigned engineer, what happens when they are out of pocket. Make sure your service provider will provide you will a list of contacts. At a minimum, the provider should have two contacts that manage your account, the assigned engineer and an account manager or project manager. That way you are assured of getting in contact when the problem is urgent. In addition, you have at least two resources staying on top of your needs.

 

Importance of Network Security Audits and Assessments

You wouldn’t want to fly on a plane that hasn’t had its regular safety inspection. Or miss an annual trip to the doctor — would you? Similarly, periodically assessing your IT security is an important part of your organization’s preventive maintenance plan.

Security is mostly an invisible attribute. We tend to set it up and then forget about it. But each of us has our blind spots, causing us to miss things. Our infrastructure changes over time, possibly opening it up to new vulnerabilities. And new methods of attack are invented daily, so what was secure yesterday may not be secure today.

Just as every car comes with a list of scheduled maintenance items, your IT organization should have a list of security features to audit on a periodic basis. You can do many of them yourself, but there’s no substitute for having an independent expert occasionally check for your blind spots.

Why undertake periodic assessments?

There is a long list of reasons why you want to do periodic assessments, and an equally long list of reasons why you should. An increasing number of organizations are bound by governmental regulations that dictate what security measures you should have in place and how they should be audited. HIPAA, PCI, FISMA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley all dictate how to secure different types of data and the systems that manage it. They also require regular security posture assessments, though they vary on specific requirements and time frames.

If you’re not actually bound by any of these governmental regulations, you still might want to use them as resources to help guide your own IT security practices. ISO 27002 is a good generic security standard, and we discussed the value of FISMA to every organization in the Q4 2006 issue of The Barking Seal.

There are many benefits to doing periodic assessments beyond simply complying with government regulations.

Undertaking regular assessments can help you to:

  • Find out whether your security has already been compromised. You might not know unless you look, and you will sleep better at night if you know.  Stay on top of the latest security threats — with new attacks coming on the scene every day, you could become vulnerable even if nothing has changed since your last assessment!
  • Make sure that your staff is being vigilant by maintaining a focus on IT security.
  • Increase awareness and understanding of security issues throughout your company.
  • Make smart security investments by prioritizing and focusing on the high-importance, high-payoff items.
  • Demonstrate to your customers that security is important to you — this shows them that you care about them and their data.

Current State of Ransomware

Current State of Ransomware [Read more…]

10 Basics to protect yourself from Ransomware

10 Basics to protect yourself from Ransomware

1. Understand the Threat: Crypto ransomware works by encrypting certain, sensitive files types and then forcing the victim to pay a ransom to gain access to a decryption key for the data. With nearly all types of cryptoransomware it’s virtually impossible to recover data without paying for the decryption key. Sometimes even paying the ransom won’t decrypt the files. You need to ensure your infrastructure is adequately secured, and be able to explain to your employees why it’s essential they have the technologies and policies in place to protect themselves.

2. Educate Users: It only takes one bad decision by a user to unleash a costly ransomware attack. Ransomware is often delivered as a Trojan, through malvertising, or through a phishing email. Prevention isn’t possible 100% of the time, but in many cases attacks can still be stopped if users are educated about what to look for.

3. Teach Users Not to Phish: A recent security brief showed that up to 50% of users will fall for a phishing attack in 2016. The key is to teach users to not open emails from unknown senders with attachments or links – and how to spot suspicious emails even when they look like they’re from known senders. Instruct users on spotting expressions or greetings the sender wouldn’t normally use as clues to something “phishy.” If all else fails, real-time anti-phishing protection can often block even zero-day phishing attacks.

4. Maintain Layers of Anti-Ransomware Technology: Reliable, cloud-based antimalware can prevent nearly all ransomware attacks, but it’s important to remember that new delivery vectors are being released constantly, so no endpoint security solution alone will offer you 100% protection. Additional security layers like firewalls, Windows OS policy restrictions, and having proper back-ups in place will all help to secure your environment.

5. Patching and Plug-Ins: Keeping applications like Adobe Reader, Java, and other plugins up to date greatly reduces security vulnerabilities and prevents browser and application vulnerabilities that may bypass your antimalware defenses. Ad and pop-up blockers also greatly reduce user error, stopping users from inadvertently clicking fake dialogs that download ransomware.

6. Use Windows Policies to Block VSS: Blocking access to Volume Shadow Copy Service will help stop ransomware like CryptoLocker from trying to erase file backups. By creating a blocking policy for the  VSSAdmin executable, any attempt to access or stop the service will result in the action being blocked.

7. Disable Windows Script Hosting: VBS scripts are used by malware authors either to cause  disruption in an environment or to run a process that will download more advanced malware. You can disable them completely by disabling the Windows Script Host engine which is used by .VBS files to run.

8. Filter .EXE Files in Email Servers: If your email gateways have the ability to filter files by extension, you should consider denying emails sent with .EXE files, or denying emails sent with files that have two file extensions, the last one being an executable (“*.*.EXE” files). This is a common threat vector for crypto ransomware.

9. Always Have a Back Up: Nothing is more effective at mitigating a crypto ransomware attack than being able to instantly restore data from business continuity backups. Ransomware such as CryptoLocker can even encrypt networked drives. Having offline air gap or cloud back-ups with multiple copies of each file makes it virtually impossible for extortionists to infect backup data while offering benefits to clients.

10. Stay Current on Ransomware: It pays to keep up with ransomware developments. Some ransomware strains have been cracked, but these are limited successes. Ransomware, like all malware, will continue to evolve. You need to monitor this evolution: which strains are most dangerous and who is being targeted. The more informed you are, the better you can protect yourself.

Is your data safe?

Only if you have a plan to keep it that way.

While most people think of Disaster Recovery Plans related to fire or weather related events, there are more frequent and more ominous events that could cause you to make damn sure your data is backed up and ready to restore.

But, just having data backed up locally is not enough. Unfortunately, despite best efforts to prevent malware and ransomware from attacking your network, it is still possible to get infected. Ransomware, like Cryptolocker, can corrupt you data and render it useless. Most of these attacks typically come in through email attachments. Your options are to pay the ransom or restore from backup.

This is where offsite backup becomes so important. If all of your backups are local to your network, then chances are they are corrupt also. Offsite backups are not locally attached to the network so they are safe. 

In my 31 years of doing this, I have seen where restoring from a recent backup saved the day. Unfortunately, I have also seen where backups were poorly managed and a good backup was not available. It is tough to tell a business owner that their data is gone. The impact on their business can be devastating. There are instances where companies have been forced to go out of business simple because they could not recover their data.

Backup systems have to be managed. They are simply to important assume that they are backing up the right data and in a routine and consistent manner. They should be configured to send an alert if even the slightest thing goes wrong during the backup process.

A comprehensive backup and restore plan is a must in today’s environment. And, offsite backup should be part of the plan.

 

 

 

Top 10 reasons to upgrade to Windows 10

The Start Screen is Dead, Long Live the Start Screen!

Windows 8’s foray into the Start screen was, for all intents and purposes, a failure. Still, compared to the old Windows Start feature, the Start menu, the Start screen was at least a break from the same old same old.

We understand, go ahead and let your Start screen hate flow.

Windows 10’s solution is to combine the Start screen and Start menu. It’s a pretty good compromise. It retains Windows 8’s modern style while restoring the Start menu’s essential functionality and familiarity.

The new Start menu is colorful, resizable, and ultimately configurable. Best of all, you’re not stuck in one mode or the other, if you use a touchscreen or simply prefer the old Windows 8 style, you can still use the new Start menu in full-screen or tablet mode.

Whether Microsoft’s new Start menu is the big hit we all think it will be, remains to be seen. The Windows-using masses are likely to embrace it, but it’s still going to take time to win the hearts of everyone.

Less Control Panel, More Settings

The Control Panel, which has remained more or less the same since Windows 95 is also changing, and that’s really more of a revolution than evolution. The Control Panel is a staid part of old Windows, and over the years has grown unwieldy under the sheer weight of its own importance.

The new “Settings” are definitely a breath of fresh air. They’re not so much different than the “PC settings” found in Windows 8 except they’re gaining more prominence and more of the Control Panel’s responsibilities.

Once Microsoft has completed this overhaul, you should expect to control the computer completely with the new settings. It might be premature to say that the actual Control Panel will die out in the very near term, but the writing is certainly on the wall for it.

Notifications: A More “Charming” Use of Space

What operating system, mobile or desktop, doesn’t have a notification center feature by now? Windows, that’s who, but that has changed with Windows 10.

The new Action Center replaces the much-loathed “Charms” (yes, the Charms are finally gone) and also provides a quick way to access system settings.

Granted, a notification center on Windows may seem pretty ho-hum, but this is the first time the system will actually consolidate notifications into one single location, meaning you won’t miss any more messages and important alerts.

Virtual Desktops

Windows 10 will also be the first version of Windows that will sport multiple desktop workspacesor as they’re often more commonly known, virtual desktops.

Linux distros, OS X, pretty much anyone with a desktop operating system that matters has virtual desktops. So this is exciting in an “it’s more than about time” kind of way.

Cortana

Cortana is billed as a Windows virtual personal assistant. Maybe this is one of those eye-rollers because Android already does this so well with “Ok Google” and Apple’s Siri has things coveredon iPhone and iPads, but the idea of at least being able to interact with your desktop computer using only your voice is a concept that has eluded PC users for a long time.

Cortana first appeared on the Windows Phone platform but Microsoft is now migrating it over to its flagship OS. We’ve covered how to use and configure Cortana if you’re thinking about trying it out for yourself.

Aero is Back (A Little Bit)

There are reports that Microsoft is bringing back Aero, news which was celebrated by Windows 7 users everywhere. To be honest, Windows 10 has a significant uptick in transparent effects, but it’s still too early to say for certain whether Aero will ever return in full.

Still, the return of at least some transparencies is a sign that Microsoft is finally starting to relate to its user base in more meaningful ways.

One of the biggest problems Windows 8 introduced was the fact that Microsoft basically removed most of the stuff that people actually liked and used in Windows 7 – the Start menu, the Start button, glass-like transparent effects – so the fact that Windows 10 now appears to have partly embraced its Windows 7 roots is promising.

Compression and Smaller Installations

Here’s one of those things that might have missed all but the most serious Windows followers.

Windows 10 will feature not only a smaller installation size, but also incorporates a more efficient compression algorithm, meaning your files will be smaller (1.5 to 2.6 GB, depending on your version), so you’ll be able to store more of them in the same amount of space.

Microsoft says it has been able to thus far shave 4 GB to 12 GB off of Windows 10’s installation size, and with today’s modern processors dripping with power, feel it’s a great time for users to start using compression.

Since your computer is probably more than well-equipped to handle the little bit of extra CPU overhead compression requires, you end up with more storage space for your buck, and who doesn’t want more room on their hard drives?

Direct X 12 Means Gamers Will Like It

Direct X 12 is the most significant improvement in Microsoft’s venerable gaming API since probably the introduction of Direct X itself.

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The main goal of Direct X 12 is to reduce driver overhead, meaning that gamers will likely experience better performance on their existing hardware, which is another thing – if your graphics card is fairly recent but not bleeding edge new, you will still be able to use Direct X 12, that is to say, you will probably not have to upgrade one of the most expensive components in your computer.

Best of all, Direct X 12 will come installed with Windows 10 by default, which is the strongest indication of any that Microsoft is doing everything it can to change the perception that Windows 8 gaming sucks or that it is a “catastrophe.”

It’ll Be a Free Upgrade for Existing Windows Users

Despite the recent annoyances we’ve had with the Windows 10 upgrade application and tray icon, the fact that Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for existing Windows users is a big step forward for Microsoft.

It’s essential that Microsoft get Windows 10 installed on as many Windows computers – past, present, and future – as possible. If this is to be last big, mainstream Windows release, as some are predicting, then we can assume that at some point in the future, nearly everyone will be using it.

Microsoft Seems Like They’re Starting to Get it

There are other things happening that are gaining attention such as the new Edge browser,intended to replace the aging, much maligned Internet Explorer; improved performance on older hardware; and a new, improved Windows Store and app experience.

The Windows Store now sports a cleaner, more streamlined interface.

Moreover, once Microsoft perfects its Continuum feature, it means that you will be able to seamlessly transition from a keyboard/mouse setup to a touch one or even use your Windows Phone like a computer. Thus, if you use a hybrid device like a Surface, then when you detach it from its base or keyboard, it will automatically switch to full-screen tablet mode, and vice versa.

Microsoft has further plans to take this a step further with Windows Phone, which will be able to dock with a keyboard, mouse, and display, making it an ultra portable but powerful computer.

5 Important Benefits of Going Paperless

1. Save Money

Using paperless storage saves a business the cost of purchasing filing cabinets and renting or leasing additional storage space. As established companies with a great many documents have found, transferring to cloud storage can save thousands of dollars a year.

2. Better Organization

Even the best filing system cannot match the organizational options and capabilities offering by online document storage websites. Paperless storage enables you to sort files by name, type, date modified and many other criteria. It is also extremely easy to find any given file on the cloud at any time.

3. Improved Security

A good cloud storage website will always have a high level of security, not just for stored files but also for files being moved or copied from storage to a business computer and vice versa. Online security is much more secure than a simple padlock or combination lock and will protect your valuable information from being accessed by an unauthorized third party. It is also much easier to change the password for an internet-based storage site than it is to change a physical locking system on a filing cabinet.

4. Ease of Access

Anyone who is authorized to access documents stored online can do so from anywhere in the world. What is more, a mobile device as well as a computer, makes it easy for a person to view important files on the go. Storing files online also makes it easy for a business to work in collaboration with branch offices and/or independent contractors located in a different city or even a different country.

5. Loss Prevention

It is all too easy for paper documents to be lost or damaged in a natural disaster such as a flood, earthquake, fire, hurricane or tornado. However, documents stored on the cloud cannot be harmed by any of the above-mentioned disasters. If your business has important files that you cannot afford to lose, then keeping a copy of these files online is highly recommended. While you may still need to store paper copies of these documents, you can rest assured that they will not be gone forever if disaster strikes.
Any human resource company that is looking to increase efficiency and save a considerable amount of money will find that a paperless document management system is the best option. Such a system is secure, easy to organize and update and surprisingly affordable. In fact, a company can even upgrade or downgrade the amount of online storage spaced used as needed, as most online storage companies offer convenient packages that make it easy to adjust storage space without having to move or copy files.

Three Key Benefits to Managed Services

1. Predictable Monthly Cost. Managed service agreements provide a fixed monthly charge for IT services rather than unexpected hourly charges.

2. Goals are better aligned. Both the service provider and the customer now have common goals under Managed Service arrangements. Both do not want any problems or downtime.

3. Better Security and Efficiency. Since the service provider has now committed to a fixed monthly charge, they will do whatever it takes to make sure the customer has zero problems. This includes ramping up security as part of the agreement to insure that malware does not penetrate the network. Monitoring software is installed on each device to proactively deal with potential problems before they become serious. Under the old break fix arrangement, a single malware intrusion could result in a very large unexpected hourly bill.

Managed service agreements provide clear benefits for both parties involved. They create a stable and predictable working relationship as well as providing for superior service.

For more information about flat rate managed service agreements please contact me at 601-264-1606 or kenny@nbtol.com.

Why your Network Security needs to be Managed

According to a study carried out by Panda Labs, based on 1.5 million users, 95 percent of companies have anti-virus installed on their networks. Yet 72 percent have had malware on their networks. Many users are infected without knowing it. This means that traditional protections are not enough for meeting small business security needs. Malware has become more complex and much of it goes undetected.

What is needed in today’s environment is Endpoint Security or more specifically Managed Endpoint Security. The ingredients include:

> Anti-virus/Spyware
> Anti-Spam
> Firewall
> Intrusion Prevention
> Centrally managed quarantine
> Content filter
> Real time alerts
> 24/7 Monitoring

Malware is coming at you from all directions. Putting one simple lock on the door isn’t going to protect you.

In addition, simply putting protections in place and not monitoring them 24/7 will not work either. Things get turned off accidental or fail on occasion. Security is not a “set it and forget proposition”.

More and more devices(Endpoints) are being brought into the workplace every day. A comprehensive and centrally managed approach is required to deal with the challenge.
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