Tips and Tricks

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Here Data, There Data, Everywhere…

Without a doubt, you work hard to protect your corporate data.  It is the lifeblood of your company.  Whether competitive information about your products and services, or personnel and payroll data, a breach can cost your business everything.  And so far you’ve done an effective job of protecting your data.

 

But nothing stays the same.  We’re continuously forced into paradigm shifts from external factors.  One of today’s biggest challenges is the growth of mobile devices in the workplace.   Exacerbate that problem with your secure (hopefully) corporate WiFi network.  What often results is your highly protected corporate data begins walking out the door inside employees’ smart phones and tablets.

 

Even if you exclude the possibility of employee-initiated data theft, your corporate data is moving around everywhere.  A lost or stolen device can easily result in a hacker accessing that data.  If configured for mobile network access, that thief may also have access to your network.

 

Then when things seem complicated enough, in steps BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).  Many businesses are beginning to encourage (or require) their employees to work from their own desktop, laptop or mobile devices.  While a popular way to reduce the cost of business, particularly among sales departments, this practice further complicates the process of protecting your corporate data.

 

So what is a company to do?  Fortunately, these issues have already been addressed by other companies around the world.  One benefit of being a small-to-medium sized business is being able to learn from larger companies’ investments.  And as those solutions are replicated on a massive scale, the cost of implementation drops dramatically.

 

BizTek would like to assist you in addressing these potential nightmares.  One of our IT Consultants can meet with you to determine your best course of action.  There are numerous ways to protect your corporate lifeblood and we can help you navigate to the right decisions.  Give us a call today!

 

Making your technology seem invisible…

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Tips and Tricks

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Managing Your Firm’s Password Security

If your organization hasn’t taken a good look at password security lately, you should.  Your corporate data is only as secure as the weakest password.  Anyone that works at a Fortune 1000 company can tell you that the strength of their passwords are managed, along with the frequency of changing them.  This article is designed to provide you with an overview of best practices.

 

Password Enforcement

Most password policies can be automated using a domain controlled server.  Once established, your policies will be enforced without any human intervention.  BizTek is happy to assist you in this process.

 

Password Strength

Policies should require a minimum password length (eight characters is typical but may not be appropriate).

 

Policies should have requirements on what type of password a user can choose, such as:

  • The use of both upper- and lower-case letters (case sensitivity)
  • Inclusion of one or more numerical digits
  • Inclusion of special characters, e.g. @, #, $
  • Prohibition of words found in a dictionary or the user’s personal information
  • Prohibition of passwords that match the format of calendar dates, license plate numbers, telephone numbers, or other common numbers
  • Prohibition of use of the organization name or an abbreviation

 

Password Duration

Policies can require users to change passwords periodically, e.g. every 90 or 180 days.  Systems that implement such policies should prevent users from picking a password too close to a previous selection.

 

Unlike computers, human cannot easily delete one memory and replace it with another. Consequently changing a memorized password is very difficult, and most users resort to choosing a password that is easy to guess.

 

If choosing between the two, requiring a very strong password and not requiring that it be changed regularly is often better. However, this approach does have a major drawback: if an unauthorized person acquires a password and uses it without being detected, that person may have unauthorized access to your network for an indefinite period of time.

 

Common Password Practice

Password policies often include advice on proper password management such as:

  • Never share a computer account
  • Never use the same password for more than one account
  • Never tell a password to anyone, including people who claim to be from customer service or security
  • Never write down a password
  • Never communicate a password by telephone, e-mail, text or instant messaging
  • Always log off before leaving a computer unattended
  • Change passwords whenever there is suspicion that they may have been compromised
  • Operating system password and application passwords should be different
  • Passwords should be alpha-numeric and include a symbol

 

Password Generation

Strategies can be utilized for passwords that can be easily remembered, while meeting the strength requirements.  Symbols and numbers can be replaced for letters in memorable words, e.g. Gun$m0ke, An!ma1Hou$3.  Or phrases can be utilized, i.e. “A penny saved is a penny earned” = Apsiape.  And combinations of both, i.e. Ap$!ap3.

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Tips and Tricks

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Managing Personal Passwords

Password Management Tools

Today there are a growing number of password management tools that can manage the myriad of passwords that you have to keep up with.  Many are free, some with premium versions available, and all are doing more and more the same things.  Frequently you can even import passwords from one tool to another.  Having been around for years, they are proving themselves to be secure and easy to use.

 

Some of the most popular password managers:

  • LastPass
  • Dashlane
  • RoboForm
  • PasswordBox

 

Typical features

Password Generation – Based on your settings, the password manager will randomly create and retain a strong password for new sites; options may include number of characters, symbols, numbers, upper and lower case.

Password Vaulting – Your passwords are maintained securely and automatically available (& inputted) when you return to the site.  Your access to the vault is protected by one single master password.  Obviously, this master password must be one that you can remember, and one that is difficult to crack.

Biometric Access – Some password managers will allow, or (optionally) require, fingerprint based authentication.

Browser Agnostic – Most password managers can be used with almost any browsers.  So you can switch from Internet Explorer to Google Chrome to Firefox.  Some even support Opera and Safari.

Form Filling – Rather than constantly inputting your name, address, company name, email address, your password manager can insert this information for you.  You can even set up your credit card information and checking accounts to eliminate the hassle of ordering online.

Portability – Some password managers will synch your information between multiple devices, all requiring the same master password.  This is helpful when going from desktop to tablet PC to smart phone.

Password Strength Monitoring – Many of the password managers will automatically inform you when you have passwords that are too weak.

 

If you are not currently using a password manager, you probably resort to writing down each of your passwords, or using the same password over and over.  Obviously, either of these methods is what the hackers are looking for.  Crack one password and they can take over your digital life.

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Tips and Tricks

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Still Using Windows XP?

Some of our clients continue to use the Windows XP operating system, in spite of the fact that Microsoft ceased supporting this OS last April.  That means no more updates and security patches.  It is hard to believe that this OS has been around for 13 years… a venerable dinosaur by technology standards.  Still, 24% of all PC users are refusing to give up XP (“from these cold, dead hands…”).  Some have even asked Microsoft to develop an XP2, but they have no reason to go backwards.  They are busy rolling out Windows 9 in early October, which is the third OS delivered since XP.

So what’s so wrong about sticking with XP?
First, there are the security concerns.  Traditionally, hackers have taken advantage of the “end of life” support of operating systems.  They recognize that if they identify any weaknesses in XP’s armor, they can plunder at will without fear of Microsoft coming to the rescue.   And given their target market is currently 24% of all PC users, there’s much to be gained.

Second, XP’s initial replacement has been around since October 2009.  So any XP machines currently running are a minimum of 5 years old.  And up to 13 years old.  Most IT professionals recommend businesses refresh their PCs every 3 to 4 years.  This not only maintains current technology, but avoids the expense and frustration as PCs bogging down from bloated hard-drives and aging parts.  If you are running any XP machines, you have certainly gotten your money’s worth.

Finally, as mentioned earlier, Microsoft is not going to return to the XP operating system.  The good news is that Windows 9 will bring back the beloved Start menu.  They will continue to add features that enable a user to switch seamlessly between their desktop and mobile devices.  They will be introducing Cortana to the desktop (Microsoft’s version of Siri).  All this is to say that, like it or not, your choices going forward are to leave behind XP, in favor of the newer Windows, Apple or Android operating systems.  It is just a matter of how long you hold out, and the longer you do, the more difficult it will be to make that conversion.

As someone that recently converted from Windows 7 to 8, I can tell you that while it takes some getting used to, the change wasn’t traumatic at all.  But moving from XP to Windows 9 would most likely be.

Posted in: Security, Tech Tips for Business Owners, Tips and Tricks, Windows 7, Windows 8

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Strained eyes too common an occurrence at work

Does your work require you to stare at a computer screen for hours at a stretch? If so, eyestrain may become a serious problem. A current story by the everon small-business blog says that workers connected to their computers can face a host of problems, from watery eyes to headaches, increased sensitivity to light and difficulty focusing. The good news? Avoiding eyestrain is actually quite easy, even if you have to stare at the monitor for eight hours. The everon blog offered some simple techniques for reducing the negative effects of eyestrain.

20/20/20 Rule

What’s the key to avoiding eyestrain? Employees merely need to follow the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, employees need to turn away from their computer screens for 20 seconds. They should take a look at an object or image that stands at least 20 feet away. This surprisingly simple exercise will help keep eyestrain at bay. And it can make employees more efficient. And, best of all, everon found several worthy apps which can remind employees of when it’s time to take an eye break.

Workrave

Workrave received high marks from everon. This app will send a message onto employees’ computer screens telling them when it’s time to take a short eye break. The program will also suggest specific exercises for workers. A more advanced app is EyeLeo. This app will blank employee computer screens when it’s time for their short breaks. Then an animated leopard will guide employees through quick eye exercises.

The Coffee Break App

There’s also the Coffee Break app, though it’s limited to Apple. This app will steadily darken your screen as a reminder your break is coming up. When the break arrives, your screen will be totally dark, and it’s time for you to step away from the computer. Of course, not even Coffee Break can make you give your eyes a rest. That’s up to you. Here’s hoping you don’t skip those important eye breaks.

I’d love to hear about any similar apps that you’ve ran across.  Please, share them below.

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These apps make sharing your screen on a tablet a breeze

This has turned into a tablet world. And why not? Consumers can use these nifty and highly portable devices to watch movies, surf the Web, listen to online radio and send and receive e-mail messages while on the go. It’s little wonder that tablet sales have eclipsed the sales numbers of traditional laptop computers. But that doesn’t mean that tablets are perfect. Many users have lamented that these devices falter when it comes to sharing screens with other people. But this, too, is beginning to change, thanks to several high-end screen-sharing apps for iOS now available. Miguel Leiva-Gomez, a writer with the smallbiz technology Web site, took a look at three of the best. Start using these apps and you’ll soon be sharing screens with ease, even on a tablet.

Join.me

The join.me app comes in free and “pro” versions. To use this app on the iOS operating system, you’ll need to spend about $20 a month for the “pro” version. But as Leiva-Gomez writes, the investment is worth it. The software allows users to share all their screens with co-workers, and it does it without a steep learning curve. It’s exceedingly simple to use. The program also comes with other bonus features, including instant chat capabilities, Internet calling and file sharing.

Air Sketch

Leiva-Gomez says that this app will turn your tablet into a whiteboard with such features as multiple pages. Users can use images from their own libraries as the background of their whiteboard and they can make use of one of five different drawing tools. Users can also use Air Sketch to open PDFs. The application displays everything in real time, creating an environment well suited to collaboration.

Conference Pad

Though it’s a relatively simple app, that doesn’t suggest that Conference Pad isn’t also a strong one. Leiva-Gomez writes that that this app is especially promising in the case of zooming in on documents and PDFs. As he writes, users can perform this without giving up any image quality. The application also is an intuitive one, made to be easy for new users to master.

Now, I know that the iPad isn’t the only tablet on the market and trust me, I’m a big fan of the others.  But, that’s another blog post.  So, for now, have you heard any any other great screen sharing tools?

Posted in: Technology and How it's Used, Tips and Tricks

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These IT projects will boost your business in 2013

Your New Year’s resolution was to grow your small business in 2013. How is that resolution faring? If you’re struggling to increase your small business’ revenues so far this year, it might be time for you to turn to your IT department. That’s right: Your IT department provides the technical expertise to make your small business even more efficient. That, in return, can raise your employees’ productivity and improve your business’ bottom line. Here are a few tech projects that Small Business Computing.com recommends for small business owners who want to see their businesses grow in 2013.

OnsiteWi-Fi

A growing number of businesses allow their employees to bring their own electronic devices – everything from laptops to tablets – to their cubicles. The reasoning driving this movement: When people work on laptops and tablets that they know well, they work more efficiently. But allowing your staff to participate in the bring-your-own-device movement doesn’t mean very much if your office isn’t equipped with a reliable Wi-Fi network that allows your workers to access the internet, send e-mail and post to social media sites while at their desks. Make setting up a powerful Wi-Fi network in your office a priority for 2013.

Invest in Ultrabooks

Your employees can do more when they can tote laptops to meetings with clients. Traditional laptops, though, are too cumbersome. And small Netbooks are often too slow and limited. Ultrabooks, though, are a different story. These laptops are both small and light enough to be portable, and powerful enough to enable staff members to display multimedia demonstrations and reports to prospective customers. A great way to see your business grow is to give your employees more options for snagging new customers. Ultrabooks are one of these options.

No more Windows XP

A surprising number of businesses still have computers running the Windows XP . This is unproductive. To begin with, Microsoft will no longer support this 10-year-old operating system as of April 8, 2014. Which means that Microsoft will no longer be sending monthly security updates for the system. In addition, newer versions of the Windows operating system, especially Windows 7, are simply more efficient. Give your employees a better chance of finishing their projects faster — upgrade from Windows XP.

Also slated for EoL (End of Life) is Windows Server 2003 and Office 2003.  Don’t wait until the last minute! Not only are these products going out of support, which makes them at a much higher risk from malicious attacks, but they are also much more cumbersome and less efficient than their newer counterparts.  Essentially, they should pay for themselves with productivity boosts.  Ask me to prove it and we’ll sit down and go over the options.  I can be reached at the number listed at the top of the page.

Posted in: Malware, Security, Technology and How it's Used, Time Management, Tips and Tricks, Windows 7, Windows 8

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Manners matter when you’re sending e-mail

E-mail can become overwhelming. It clogs our inboxes and slows us down. Sometimes, we pound out responses as fast as possible to clear out our inboxes, giving little consideration to whatever we are actually writing. This is unfortunate. There is a certain etiquette that we should all follow when sending e-mails. If we forget to mind our manners, we could end up being disparaging or confusing the recipients of our e-mail missives. Here, then, is a peek at some e-mail etiquette essentials.

Brevity can be off-putting

When someone receives an e-mail message that only says “yes” or, even worse, “no,” they might wonder if you’re a bit ticked at them. After all, that’s a very short reply. When sending e-mail messages, be sure to add a little more meat to help make your recipients feel better. Rather than just answering “yes,” you could start to add a, “Thanks for asking” or a “Hope you’re doing well today.” That can make a big difference. And if your message is brief simply because you’re typing it on a smartphone or tablet, make a special e-mail signature that conveys to recipients that this is the reason for your short message.

Always reply

When your inbox is back logged, it’s easy to let some messages languish without response. You’re simply short on time. However, not responding to an e-mail message from a co-worker, friend or family member is fairly rude. Even if you can’t yet address the actual question in an e-mail message, make sure you send back a simple reply explaining that you’re overwhelmed with other tasks but will get to the request as quickly as possible.

Slow down

We receive a lot of e-mails every day, it’s tempting to pound out replies and send them back without proofreading and editing them. After all, that takes away at least some of your e-mail mess. However, this can also result in messages filled with typos, something that’s more than a bit off-putting. And if you don’t proof your messages, you might unintentionally forget to attach that report or photo you are promising. That’s frustrating for recipients.

Be polite and don’t shout

PR firm Ragan recommends you remember your basic offline manners when generating e-mail messages. This means including those magic words in your messages, “please” and “thank you.” All too often, in the rush of writing and sending e-mails, we neglect these niceties. Ragan also warns against shouting in your e-mail messages. To those who don’t know, “shouting” means typing in all capital letters. This looks extremely annoying on the computer screen.

I’d love to say, although I cannot, that I have all of these mastered.  And as far as the number of messages received each day goes, I’m way up the list.  It’s always nice to write an article like this… you know, it acts as a reminder for the author as well.

Posted in: Managing Your Inbox, Tips and Tricks

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Internet research made easy

You need to research Einstein’s life for a school paper. You must research the history of your company’s biggest competitor. The Internet is there for you. After all, the online world is loaded with just about every stat, study and research paper that you’ll require to learn more about any subject imaginable. But exactly how do you know that the information you are finding online is actually true? Online research is convenient, but the Internet is also full of half-truths and outright lies. Fortunately, the Lifehacker Web site has come up with a few very helpful tips for doing accurate research online.

Bias alert

Before starting your online research, Lifehacker recommends you face your own biases. All of us have biases, and these can destroy the neutrality of our online research. Say you believe that evolution is the truth and intelligent design is fantasy. If you’re not thorough when researching, you’ll gravitate to studies and research that supports your existing beliefs. That will skew your final research. As Lifehacker says, it is essential to give equal consideration to studies that don’t support your already held beliefs.

Bad information

Once you’re searching online, be wary of articles that aren’t backed up with references or scientific facts. Lifehacker states that poorly researched articles, which regularly end up online, are the only things that can wreck your online research faster than can confirmation bias. So be sure to only include articles that come from legitimate sources, like government agencies, accredited universities and well-respected researchers, in your online research.

Scholarly searches

When searching for online information, it’s OK to begin with popular search engines like Bing or Google. However, when you want detailed information, it’s time for you to rely on more customized searches of journal articles and reference items. Try such engines as Google Scholar, Scirus and PLOS for scientific and scholarly resource that can supply more meat to your research.

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Looking for a printer for your small business? Here are some tips

Business owners prefer to believe that paper will soon be a thing of the past. Not surprisingly, we send most of our correspondence through e-mail today, right? Then there’s texting and social media. When it comes to storing documents, it’s far better to keep them in the cloud. That way, companies don’t have to clutter their offices with reams of paper and printouts. Even so the unfortunate fact is that small business owners today aren’t entirely free of paper.

Can’t turn away business

Fortunately, writer Paul Mah with Small Business Computing.com recently took a look at the factors that small business owners should consider before they purchase a printer. Think about these tips before making your next printer purchase.

All-in-one?

First, you need to decide if you need a multi-function printer. Such printers, as their name suggests, do more than simply print. Additionally they scan, photocopy and fax. Such printers make sense for businesses that perform these other functions. But these printers, because of their many functions, are often more expensive. If your business rarely faxes or makes photocopies, a machine dedicated solely to printing will make more sense.

Laser vs. Inkjet

What makes more sense for your small enterprise, a laser printer or an inkjet printer? You’ll need to consider several factors in making this decision. Does your business print a lot of documents? Then you might consider purchasing a laser printer. These printers are more pricey. But they produce crisp and clean copy, and they are also sturdier, better able to withstand large demand. But suppose your small business only needs to print documents occasionally? Then an inkjet printer tends to make more sense. These printers are less costly than are laser printers. Technologies have improved enough so that the documents they create look more professional than in the past. The downside? If you do print too much, you’ll spend lots of money on replacement cartridges. As Mah writes, finding the right printer for your organization is far from a hopeless task. With simply a little bit of research, you’ll find the right machine for your small business and its specific printing needs.

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