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The scary facts about data security

Last month, I attended a special breakfast event on Data Security. The event included talks from data security and counter-terrorism specialists. Working in IT, I am constantly aware of the importance of keeping data secure. In addition to networking with other IT professionals, I wanted to educate and broaden my knowledge and understand of data security.

Technology has changed how organisations operate. From bricks and mortar to the digital age, technology has brought many advantages. However the disadvantage is the vulnerability of an organisation’s data, to potential misuse and cyber-attacks has increased substantially. The event gave me a useful and disturbing insight into how there is a general lack of knowledge and failure, to grasp the size and nature of cyber-attacks that can occur both internally and externally. In addition, there were some other interesting points that interested me, which included:

  • 80% of data stored by organisations is unstructured data (data not contained in databases).
  • Most security vulnerabilities are found in third-party applications.
  • Portable devices or end points (laptops, smart phones) hold 28% of organisational data.
  • Human factors need to be taken into consideration in data security.
  • CEOs’ are now being held more accountable for data losses in their organisations.
  • Cyber-attacks are regarded as a Tier-1 threat to National Security by GCHQ. This is the highest level of alert!
  • Different cyber-attacks range from espionage from other countries to commercial competitors.
  • Cyber-attacks are real and present a clear and present danger to UK plc!
  • The UK Government has a website providing advice on cyber security, which can be found here http://www.cpni.gov.uk/

Securing data is a complex puzzle requiring a multi-layered approach. This requires a complex solution of products, procedures, human awareness and clearly defined written policies. In addition, solutions must be specifically tailored and integrated effectively, to address the security needs of customers, whilst balancing usability. Tailoring is important, as organisations will have different security requirements, depending on different factors such as IT infrastructure setup, organisational structure, environment and geography.

Data Security is not only important to protect an organisation’s reputation and brand, but also the national infrastructure, and the threats posed by cyber-attacks must not be taken lightly!

Guest blog by IT Enthusiast and Technical Professional Ben Cross of Liverpool Direct (part of Liverpool City Council)

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World Backup Day 2015

World Backup Day LogoWhat would you do if you lost everything?

That’s the question being posed on World Backup Day 2015; a global movement to emphasise the importance of keeping a second copy of all your important files.

For our customers, every day is World Backup Day – as you would expect when your IT is in the safe hands of an award-winning official Microsoft SME Cloud Partner.

But for those who don’t have this contingency strategy in place, this is a great opportunity to evaluate:

  • Which files are crucial to the successful continuity (and let’s face it – profitability) of your service provision?
  • What are you already doing about backing them up now, and
  • What should you be doing to minimise the irreversible damage that occurs when your hard drive fails?

If your data isn’t backed up, once it’s gone it’s gone, and losing your files is way more common than you’d think. One small accident or failure could destroy all the important information your business and livelihood depends on.

In fact, research has shown that 60% of companies that lose their data will shut down within six months of the disaster whilst 93% of companies that lost their data for 10 days or more due to a disaster filed for bankruptcy within one year of the disaster. (Source: National Archives & Records Administration).

The good news is backing up is straight-forward once you’ve set up the backup process. There are a number of different methods – depending on how you want to backup your data and how safe you want to keep it. It’s just a matter of taking the first step of recognising the value of your data.

For more information download our free leaflet on backup advice or fill in the contact form to find out how we can help you manage your backups.

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Cybercrime: Is your business at risk?

Computer Virus 293% of companies who lose data for more than 10 days file for bankruptcy less than a year later.*

This could be the sobering reality you face if you don’t take responsible, proactive steps in order to defend your livelihood against hacking and other forms of cyber-crime.

Beyond putting the right technology in the right place, let’s look at how you can mitigate against…

Phishing Emails

Promising special offers or making false claims about bank statements or tax records, phishing emails typically tempt between 60 and 90% of employees to ‘click here’, which can have catastrophic consequences for your business.

Action you can take:

  • Teach your employees to be vigilant for bogus emails and not to click anything they do not fully trust – banks do not send emails asking people to verify login details!
  • Carry out regular phishing assessments or “cyber-attack drills” by regularly exposing your staff to various realistic attacks but in a controlled environment.
  • Have in place a process to report phishing emails and who to notify in case they’re clicked purposely or by error; ideally to be carried out within 15 minutes.

Data Thieves

Encrypting your data ensures that if someone were to get their hands on your computer, they wouldn’t be able to easily access your files or get hold of your personal data.

Action you can take:

  • On certain versions of Windows encryption is a pretty simple process and on other systems there is software available to enable this.
  • Ensure all of your files including documents, photos, music, bookmarks and anything else you may need are backed up and readily available in case you become “locked-out” and are no longer able to access them on your computer.

Password Hackers

Last year ‘123456’ headed up a list of the 25 most common passwords. Choosing a password like this is the IT equivalent of putting out a welcome mat and leaving your key in the front door. Strong passwords are at least 8 characters long (longer is better!) and contain a combination of numbers, symbols and letters.

Actions you can take:

  • Don’t use the company name or even the name of the program you are using (e.g. Photoshop123).
  • Don’t keep your carefully-chosen words the same for all accounts. Think of something memorable but with different variations for each, and store them away from your PC.

Network Infiltrators

Free Wi-Fi or other kinds of wireless or shared networks in places like coffee shops, hotels, conference rooms and on public transport can be used by anyone – making them the perfect hunting ground for hackers.

Actions you can take:

  • Read the Terms and Conditions of wireless networks before logging on.
  • Think ‘safety first’ and turn on all the security protection open to you.
  • Don’t login to sensitive sites (such as your online banking) when using a public wireless network

Virus Spreaders

‘Code Red’, ‘Slammer’, ‘MyDoom’… Viruses so infamous they’re classed as the most destructive of all time. Specific viruses come and go but the key to surviving them all is the same – be vigilant. Protect yourself and your assets.

Actions you can take:

  • Keep your internet security software up-to-date and switched on at all times.
  • Apply the latest Microsoft updates to your Windows operating system as soon as possible
  • Install and apply the latest manufacturers’ updates for all your software programs.
  • Trust your gut. If an attachment, email or website doesn’t feel safe, it most likely isn’t.

The PC Support Group provides expert advice on all matters relating to cybersecurity. Contact us on 0845 2233116 to discuss your IT strategy, and how we can bring our world-class managed service provider benefits to your organisation.

*Source: National Archives & Records Administration in Washington

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Mastering the Cloud for Business in Five Easy Steps

cloudIn today’s business world, you and your workforce need to be able to access your computer systems at any time in any place from any PC, laptop or mobile device.

You need the flexibility to match your IT needs to your business and the marketplace, and you certainly shouldn’t be investing in expensive server hardware or software for the privilege.

That’s why Cloud Computing makes absolute sense for any SME interested in a dependable IT solution that costs less when business is slow and only adds extra cost in line with your business growth.

Putting it simply, Cloud Computing means you can store and access the data and programs that are critical to the success of your business over the internet instead of your computer or company server. This includes your documents, emails, customer information, business applications and other assets.

If Cloud Computing with its flexibility, accessibility and affordability sounds like an IT solution you’d like to explore, here’s how you can master the Cloud for business in five easy steps:

  1. You Need Guaranteed Internet Connectivity: If you cannot connect to the internet, most Cloud Computing solutions simply won’t work. Since, in most instances, you use the Internet to connect to both your applications and documents, if you don’t have an Internet connection you can’t access anything. Also, web-based software can require a lot of bandwidth, as do large documents. If you’re suffering from a low-speed connection, it might take seemingly forever just to change from page to page in a document. If you cannot guarantee regular, sustained access to the internet, Cloud Computing is not for you. There are, however, some hybrid solutions that might be perfect for your business. Speak impartially to our experts at The PC Support Group about what your other IT options may better meet your needs.
  2. Transition to Microsoft 365: Microsoft Office 365 is a Cloud-based service hosted by Microsoft themselves. It brings together familiar Microsoft Office desktop-based applications with Cloud-based business email, shared calendars, instant messaging, video conferencing and file sharing. If you’re already familiar with Microsoft Office tools such as Outlook and Word, Microsoft Office 365 can be a smooth transition to using Cloud technology. One of the key benefits, especially if you’re a business that does not have an internal network, is the ability to share calendars; to message each other and to access the system via the web. If you already operate on an internal network you can still benefit through reduced support costs; reduced licence replacement costs; improved security and improved resilience. Learn more here.
  3. Define your IT Strategy: Cloud Computing is one of the world’s leading enablers for business. It brings overseas marketplaces closer to your doorstep; supports agile and paperless working, and makes running a virtual team a reality – saving you overheads like business premises and utility bills. Discuss how and where Cloud Computing will fit into the ‘bigger picture’ for your growth strategy with one of our experts who can explain and recommend options for all different sizes and styles of business and make sure that common pitfalls are avoided. At The PC Support Group we can provide various Cloud-based solutions and Non-Cloud solutions and so can provide you with the best independent advice
  4. Future-proof Your Business: Be careful when you’re choosing a Cloud Computing vendor that you’re not locking your business into using programs that are the exclusive property of their developers or publishers and bound by specific formats and licensing agreements. Also make sure that you can add and subtract Cloud Computing users as necessary as your business grows or contracts.
  5. Trust a Managed Service Provider: You’ve opted for Cloud Computing; you’re all set and ready to go. Now what? Too often, computing solutions are implemented and only revisited when something goes wrong. A Managed Service Provider will monitor your Cloud Computing set-up – taking pre-emptive action to mitigate against potential problems and ensuring your set-up continues to run at its optimum. Not convinced you need ongoing support? What would you have done if any of these IT disasters had befallen your company? The PC Support Group is proud to be one of the top 500 Managed Service Providers in the world.

Got a question about Cloud Computing for your business, contact us today.

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Switching IT Support Companies… The Why and the How…

New support contract photoIf any of these sound like they might apply to your IT Support Company… then it might be time to consider switching to a new provider and starting afresh with a new business relationship

  • “… we never used to have problems but since we/they got bigger….”
  • “… it take ages to get through by phone and even then it’s often an answering machine or someone that just logs the call…”
  • “…we have no way of knowing if and when they have completed a task…”
  • “…why are we always at the end of the queue?”
  • “…I have to assume our data back-ups are working, no-one ever tells us…”
  • “… they never seem to be able to just fix stuff. There’s always an excuse …”

I’m sure you can add more scenarios to that list! I think that covers the WHY.

So now the HOW…

If there is a problem – first try to resolve it amicably – especially if you are locked in to a contract. If those discussions fail, then you will probably want to seriously consider making the switch.

Check the conditions of the contract with your existing IT support company. You may find you are tied in for a set period and you may also have to give notice a number of weeks or even months before the end of that period. Make sure that if you switch you don’t get tied in again.

Before choosing a new IT support supplier, think about what did/didn’t work for you with your current one. Take a look at the list above and add your own thoughts about how your support company struggled to cope with your needs

You may be the person responsible for choosing a new IT Support Service… but it’s well worth canvassing the opinions of all the IT users in your workforce. What frustrations have they been encountering with the current support service? What do they think would make for a great relationship with a new supplier? Is there any immediate work or any improvements to the system that are needed? You can then use all this feedback in selecting a new IT support company.

Take all your thoughts and the comments from your workforce and craft them into questions to ask when interviewing alternative IT support providers.

So…. You’ve found a new IT Support Company. They’re approachable and seem proactive and professional. Their testimonials speak volumes about their customer service, and you really like the thought of switching to them because they ticked all the boxes when you interviewed them.

A smooth handover can help create the foundations of a long, happy partnership.

Take backups of all your data if possible …

If your IT support company maintains your website and network for example, some of your website files, shared documents, etc might actually be stored on computer equipment owned by them. At the very least, they are likely to have high-level access to your systems.  If your IT Support is provided by an unethical company with whom your relationship is quite poor, they may change vital settings – giving them the ability to lock you out of your own business IT! In effect, holding your data to ransom. So ask for all the access passwords and information about where things are stored before you give them the cancellation notice.

Help the new IT Company to hit the ground running…

If you don’t already keep documentation on your IT network… now is a great time to pull it all together – it can really pay off in terms of helping to minimise any level of disruption. This should include as much of the following as possible: network diagrams, usernames, passwords and log in addresses, plus software and hardware inventories. Also ensure you know where all your original software disks are. Do you have a support log? If you can let your new IT Support company have sight of this, they’ll be able to identify the main recurring issues you’ve been facing. They might even be able to suggest some better, and permanent solutions.

Will your outgoing IT support provider work with the incoming one to help smooth the handover? If they will (and ethical ones should) then this is an excellent way for the new team to understand how your systems work. Be aware that this may be hard to arrange and that you may have to pay the outgoing company for this extra help.

Be prepared – it’s almost inevitable that there will be some level of disruption – but remember that it will be very much worth it when you end up with an IT support company you can truly rely on.

And finally….

Once you have switched suppliers, change passwords so your old support company cannot access your systems.

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5 IT Health Checks To Keep Your Systems Secure

Close-up of stethoscope on laptop keyboardYou may have read the news that Sony’s PlayStation online store was recently compromised.

It’s news that further illustrates just how important it is to protect data given how vulnerable it can be – even for massive corporations like Sony.

The company immediately said the problem had lasted only two hours and there was no sign of any damage, or more worryingly, data theft.

All of the data stored on our computers and electronic devices can be vulnerable if we are not careful, but there are a number of ways we can go about protecting our IT devices and more importantly – the information stored on them. Here are five of them.

1) Encrypt Your Data

Encrypting your data ensures that if someone were to get their hands on your computer, they wouldn’t be able to easily access your files or get hold of your personal data. On certain versions of Windows it’s a pretty simple process and on other systems there is software available to enable this.

2) Use Strong Passwords

Let’s face it, there’s no point encrypting your data if someone can just turn on your computer or laptop and log straight in by guessing your secret code. So you need to use a strong password that is at least 8 characters long (longer is better!) and contains a combination of numbers, symbols and letters that will make it more difficult for someone to gain unauthorised entry. So take some time to come up with a password that’s unique to you and meets these criteria.

3) Secure Your Network

Are you regularly using insecure or shared networks? What about when you are out on the road, at airports or in hotel rooms? You can never be absolutely sure who is sharing the same network. Even your home wireless network can be used by others to gain access to your equipment. So if you spend a lot of the time online via a wireless network, make sure you are using all the security measures available to you. And if you don’t trust it – don’t risk it.

4) Avoid using the cloud to store sensitive information

Yes, using cloud technology has made it easier for all of us when it comes to storage limitations and easy access to our files from remote locations. But it also presents its own dangers when it comes to storing valuable information. Rather like storing all of your valuables in one place in the home, if the worst does happen, you have nothing to fall back on. So if you have crucial and sensitive information be careful which cloud service you use, always have your own backup or in the most sensitive situations consider whether the cloud is right for you.

5) Update your Operating System

Operating systems are constantly updated to stay in tune with technological advances, as well as fixing vital security holes which may have appeared since your last update. So when you have a notification that a new update is ready to be installed, don’t ignore it. You can even turn on the “automatic updates” feature that operating systems provide, so you won’t even have to lift a finger when the time comes.

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The 10 worst cloud computing outages in 2014

Cloud systems are generally very robust but they are fallible. As we look forward to ushering in the New Year – let’s take a look back at what are probably the 10 Worst Cloud Outages of 2014

cloud

  1. Dropbox Goes Down … 10th January – Within 3 hours the service was back up and running!
  2. Gmail Interrupted… 24th January – This outage lasted less than an hour, but it did raise questions about Google’s ability to handle cloud outages.
  3. Basecamp Attacked … 24th March – Hackers attacked project management application Basecamp and shut it down for about 2 hours when they submitted bogus Basecamp requests to flood the Basecamp network.
  4. Adobe Creative Cloud Made Unavailable …. – May 14th and 15th – Photographers, students and small and medium-sized business could access the cloud-based creative services for a 24-hour period.
  5. Internap Outage … May 16th – Hybrid Internet hosting solutions company Internap (INAP) suffered a data centre outage. At least 20 Internap customers lost service, including streaming video platform Livestream.
  6. Joyent’s East Coast Data Centre Fails… May 27th – When the Cloud services provider data centre shut down the company said the minimum downtime for customer instances was 20 minutes, and the maximum was 149 minutes.
  7. Evernote Targeted by Hackers … June 10th  - This Evernote outage lasted at least 10 hours when a massive attack (DDoS) against Evernote servers left many users in the dark.
  8. iCloud Outage Affects 0.1% of Users… July 14th – When iCloud Mail stopped working, Apple said the incident ultimately affected 0.1 percent of all iCloud Mail users.
  9. Google Drive Slows Down… October 14th  – Since this incident, when Google Drive went down for several hours, Google said it is focused on making “continuous improvements” to its cloud storage and file backup service.
  10. Microsoft Azure Storage Services Outage Affects Users Worldwide -This is the most recent cloud outage of 2014, lasting roughly 11 hours, but it but could it be the last one of the year? Microsoft is said to be already taking steps to prevent another cloud outage from happening. Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jason Zander has apologised to Azure Storage customers for the outage and pointed out that his company is investigating the incident. “When we have an incident like this, our main focus is rapid time to recovery for our customers, but we also work to closely examine what went wrong and ensure it never happens again”

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Is this iPhone alternative the latest “must-have” piece of kit?

nophoneYou know how it is.

You shut the door behind you and even before you’ve got the key out of the lock, you’re checking your pockets to make sure your mobile phone is safe and sound.

It’s a sad fact, but so true for many smartphone users today who just can’t bear the thought of being separated from their handset – or indeed the urge to stare blankly into a screen at regular intervals.

This could all be about to change, however, with the arrival of the “noPhone”.

This rectangular-shaped piece of black plastic (not completely dissimilar to a certain popular brand of smartphone) has been described as a new way of helping you manage your app addiction – despite being unable to send a text or make any calls.

The brainchild of a group of friends from the Netherlands and America, the idea came about after a night out socialising.

“A thin, light and completely wireless design, acting as a surrogate to any smart mobile device, enabling you to always have a rectangle of smooth, cold plastic to clutch without forgoing any potential engagement with your direct environment.”

Creators Van Gould, Ingmar Larsen and Ben Langeveld said the noPhone came about as a “satirical security blanket” which makes a statement on our present addiction to technology.

“On a night out we stare at our phones and occasionally look up from our screens to order another round, which is the norm nowadays,” they explain.

“However, after we created the project the response from people actually wanting to purchase the NoPhone was overwhelming.”

And despite being just a redundant, phone-shaped object the “device” is proving popular thanks to a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, raised nearly £9,000 by using the rather catchy description; “Never again experience the unsettling feeling of flesh on flesh when closing your hand.”

So what do we know about the noPhone and how does it compare to other models on the market?

Well, not only will it never distract you at concerts or disrupt your visit to the cinema, some of the most impressive features include its very own “selfie” feature (a mirror stuck to one side of the phone), a 0-megapixel camera, infinite battery life as well as being waterproof and shatterproof if dropped from a great height.

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Why should IT Support be part of your business strategy?

Q. Why should IT Support be part of your business strategy?

A. Because your whole business may depend on it!

enterprise3

  • If you sell online through your company website or even just use email to receive orders or send quotes then downtime due to IT failure most certainly means lost sales and revenue
  • Unplanned IT support can be a quite hefty expense you hadn’t planned for!
  • Attempting to secure an IT expert to call out at short notice to fix a serious problem can be a problem in itself.
  • A serious data loss incident could put you out of business altogether
  • Slow or unreliable computers mean slow productivity and frustrated staff

 Q. What difference will IT Support make?

A. You will be able to plan properly, set a realistic support budget, prioritise the most important areas and anticipate future needs.

  • Ensure the people working on your IT support have full understanding of your business objectives so that they can evaluate where your IT systems fit in and how they will need to evolve.
  • Like insurance, IT Support can save your business from much larger losses if disaster occurs.
  • The right IT support can give you a distinct advantage in your market, bring overall cost savings and improve your business efficiency, ultimately helping to make your business more successful

Q. Should I outsource IT Support?

A. There can be many advantages to think about, including…

  • The salary for just one full-time member of IT support staff could be anything upwards of £25k, but outsourcing can be a small fraction of the cost of in-house staff.
  • Outsourcing means you don’t have HR issues, holiday and sickness cover to deal with and can afford you access to more Engineers, a greater range of skills and often for longer hours than an in-house team.
  • If the outsource team doesn’t perform you can quickly and easily change it. Changing in-house staff isn’t so simple.

Q. I’m not sure about being tied into a Support contract – what should I do?

A. Look for an IT Support Company that doesn’t tie you in because…

  • As your business changes, so will your IT Support requirements and it’s important to keep on top of this.
  • You may decide to move to a new IT Support company if you outgrow the one you are with or they don’t perform

Most businesses these days rely on IT and support is too important to leave to chance. As a bare minimum you need somewhere to go when problems occur. Good business IT Support is about more than just repairing faults or ‘troubleshooting’. The more diligent, like The PC Support Group, perform regular preventative maintenance on your IT systems, help you plan for the future, install new equipment and provide monitoring of back-ups and anti-virus amongst other things. Look for evidence that they provide great customer service.

Truly great IT Support can definitely help take your company where you want it to go.

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5 Warning Signs That It’s Time To Upgrade Your PC

upgradeimageYou only bought it a couple of years ago, so it can’t be time to upgrade your PC just yet.

Can it?

Well, for a start, it was probably much longer ago than you think that you purchased your latest desktop, and even so, there are no cast-iron assurances that your hardware will stand the test of time year-after-year.

Unfortunately for your wallet, technology runs in cycles. What was considered “mod” and revolutionary five short years ago (you know, 2009) might just be well past its sell-by-date.

Like any diagnosis, discovering you have a problem early can help you when it comes to finding the cure and limiting the damage.

So, if you’re sensing a little sluggishness or noticing some nasty noises, it could be a warning sign that all is not well with your computer.

Here are five signs it’s time to upgrade.

1) It runs infuriatingly slow

When you’re sitting waiting for what seems forever for your computer to spark into life, this is a strong sign that your PC is not up to the job. There is a chance that a clean-up will improve things but modern software will stretch older PCs to their limits.

Whatever the cause, a slow computer means less productivity (and more anger!).

So you need to ask yourself, as a business, are you sure you can you afford that?

2) Unexpected noises

A loud groaning noise from your fan or hard drive is a pretty good indicator that hardware failure is imminent.

So if you’re not in a position to upgrade just yet, at least take these noises as a warning and make sure you have a backup of all your important files.

3) Repairs are costing you a small fortune

Computers are rather like cars, there are so many individual components that have the potential to go wrong at any one time and they suffer from wear and tear.

So, if you find yourself constantly making-do and mending, it may be time to bite the bullet and opt for a new PC all together.

4) Continual Crashing

Fortunately most ”blue screens” aren’t fatal and you can simply re-boot your PC with little harm done. But if crashes are occurring with concerning regularity it might be time to ask why.

Constant crashing is usually either a sign that you have a virus or it’s a pretty good sign that the computer is running up against the limits of its ability and an upgrade is the only solution.

5) You’re out of space

If there’s not enough room for software to run properly and your demands exceed the systems’ specifications, then put simply – you need a new PC.

It’s no good just trying to manage a space or memory crisis on a day-to-day basis, so you need to think about your long-term requirements and planning for the future is key.

You need to ask yourself, will the software you are buying now be able to run on your patched up PC in 12 months time?

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