Cybersecurity: The Basics That Keep You Safe

Cybersecurity is one of those subjects that, when we talk about it, many people nod knowingly yet do nothing about it. Why? Why do we always put it off? I can only surmise that we believe it’ll happen to the next person but not us. Yet accidents and unfortunate events happen to everyone. 

The first commandment of cybersecurity is simple: It starts with you.

My rules for essential cybersecurity are simple, inexpensive, and only require one element: that you actually implement them and don’t put it off until digital chaos takes over your personal computer or network.

The Basics

 It’s inexpensive and mandatory. Invest in a reliable firewall and well-known anti-virus protection. Test both to make sure they are working. And test them at least monthly. If there is a Rule No. 1 in cybersecurity, this is it.

Back It Up and Remove It

OK, you’ve heard the need for backing up. But it’s actually a bit more demanding than what you hear. Back up every day to a reliable online service.  Make this procedure automatic so that you don’t have to think about it. This is probably the No. 2 rule in cybersecurity. But online backup is insufficient. You want a hard copy backup, too, and don’t leave it in the same location as your main computer or network. Why? Things happen, including fire, theft, flood and any act, divine or otherwise, that can ruin the backup.

But there’s an even more important reason for a hard backup. If you become a victim of ransomware where your valuable data, including that online backup, turns into gibberish, you’ve got severe problems. (The online backup doesn’t know that the backup is infected, too.)  An off-site, hard backup will provide “clean” data up until your last hard backup. You might lose days, even a week (yes, hard copy every day or at least every week), which will be a problem, and it is not a death sentence. 

Password Protection

Here’s my two-decade mantra: Don’t choose obvious, everyday words and don’t use the same one for all your logon passwords. A password that combines letters, numbers and symbols works best. Most important: Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. It’s simple, takes only an extra few seconds but significantly improves your security.

It’s My Sister’s Flash Drive

So? Be cautious about using anyone’s flash drive. Never use one until you’ve scanned it to ensure that it’s virus-free. 

Hot Spot Convenience

Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Most people now have a smartphone, and you can enable it to act as your personal and secure internet connection. Public Wi-Fi raises the possibility that someone can hack into your system while you’re sipping that cappuccino.

Hard Drive Safeguards

Encrypt your hard drive. Newer operating systems offer default encryption, so there’s no excuse. Fortunately, the latest hard drives won’t slow down your computer, and if someone steals your laptop — your office — it’ll make it more difficult to tamper with your data. 

Cyber Insurance

If you have a business, it’s probably the kind of coverage you want to buy. It will protect you against business liability if someone breaches your network and obtains access to your customer or client list. Talk to your insurance agent. Remember, general liability coverage generally does NOT cover cyber issues. 

Looking for cybersecurity services? Request a consultation and our team will find a custom solution to fit your business’s needs!

10 Easy-to-Follow Rules for Working at Home

The coronavirus has changed the national work landscape because, for many, working from home has become the new normal. Here are 10 time-tested rules I’ve learned from years of avoiding my office or talking to clients’ employees who weren’t making that daily trek to work.

1. Don’t Vacuum the Living Room

Don’t laugh. It’s shockingly easy and tempting to putz around and do some housekeeping “just for 15 minutes.” You wouldn’t vacuum at the office, and those 15 minutes add up. The biggest damage that occurs is disrupting the work rhythm and flow.  Set work hours at home just like you would at the office.

2. Take Lunch

Don’t have lunch at your desk or computer. Taking a break from work, especially staring at a computer screen, will keep you sharp.   During lunchtime, finish reading the newspaper, chat with those at home, talk about a topic that is unrelated to work, or call a friend. You’ll return to work refreshed.

3. Get to Know Your Tech Person

If you’re unsure of who handles the tech issues in your company, now is the time to introduce yourself. Become familiar with tech support and how they handle IT problems. Remember that your tech person is probably facing an avalanche of demands. Learning what the protocols are for help now will save you from a panic attack if the system begins to misfire. If you haven’t had a “tuneup” for your computer, do it now before problems develop. Suggestions include making sure that you (or your tech person) have applied all Windows updates, ensuring that anti-virus and anti-malware software is operational, and being on the lookout for phishing emails. The hackers are ready to go.

4. I Got This Idea For a Book

Don’t we all? You might never have a better opportunity for self-learning to improve yourself for that future advancement or just for fun. You can do it formally through a MOOC (massive open online course) or self-education. If it’s job related, take this to the bank: You’re going to appear so much smarter than when you left.

5. Stay Fit

Maintain a fitness regimen.  At home, you’re not even walking across the parking lot to get into an elevator. Hate exercise? Try walking. My friend says, “Easy, free, and is the perfect no-excuse way to stay trim.” He always reminds me that “The worst workout you ever had is better than the best workout you never had.”

6. Conference Call Mania

Conference calls are skyrocketing. If your calls don’t have video, it’s impossible to “read” body language. Don’t incessantly talk over your coworkers. Wait for that definitive pause before speaking. It helps to jot down what issues you want to discuss in bullet fashion, starting with the most important. Be sure to use your “polite” tone when talking. Watch the sarcasm and humor. They can’t see your face.

7. Dress for Business

OK, you can be more casual, but looking like you just crawled out of bed is a no-no. A recent viral video shows an attractive young woman on a call, and her male friend bounds into the background wearing underwear. Take a minute and examine your background or consider how to prevent anyone from disrupting the call, whether it’s a spouse, child or pet.

8. Yes, Dear

Being confined at home, especially with family members, lends itself to becoming crabby. The best solution is to have a separate room or space as your at-home office. Sometimes it helps to take a brief pause outside to get a fresh start on those daily tasks. 

9. No Attention Span?

Most people struggle with this, but Toggl saved my friend. It’s a time tracking app operated by some smart techies in Estonia. They have a free version, but he opted for the paid version with extra features. It tracks your time in the increments you set. My friend works in sets of 25 minutes with five-minute breaks.

10. Don’t Spill the Wine

It’s easy to reach for the liquor cabinet. Don’t if it’s during working hours. A simple tip: Don’t drink when the sun is up. (And don’t cheat by pulling down the shades.)

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5 Steps to Hiring Your IT Dream Team

It’s the change we hate to make, and we only do it out of necessity. No one out of the blue decides to switch their primary doctor, change their life insurance policy or hire a new IT team to handle your business’s valuable information data.

In the IT world (unless you’re a startup, seeking help for the first time), looking for an IT expert is an inescapable sign that something went awry. And now it’s time to find a new IT team.
I remain mystified that even astute business people fail to follow a stringent criterion for bringing in a new IT partner. Your IT team holds the combination to your digital vault and often becomes embedded in your business. You might not notice it until a crisis occurs, but they’re there in the background until, of course, you have an emergency and begin screaming for support.
The checklist for hiring a new firm isn’t complicated. However, it demands that you pay thorough attention to detail. Here are five suggestions that provide you with a reliable plan in finding that IT dream team that will respond expertly and swiftly to your IT needs.

References, Please.

It’s amazing how often we enter an agreement with a vendor and never ask the seemingly perfunctory and vital question: Can you give me several references? Call the references, don’t just send them an email. It’s interesting what you might learn in a chat, plus if a question pops up that you hadn’t considered, you can ask and receive an immediate answer. Ask for three references and ensure they are diverse.  You don’t want the standard three references they’ve been using for years. Ask for a long-term client and a former client. If a former client speaks well of the firm, that’s a valuable sign.

Define Pricing and Future Increases

Your contract should act as a financial document. This is where you agree to price and growth. This implies an increase (or decrease) in price because of potential expansion. It also helps to avoid negotiating about this issue later. 

Contract flexibility

We all know the feeling of satisfaction when you start with a new vendor or client. Honeymoon time. But sometimes the relationship heads south later, and this is where the contract becomes essential. Make sure you know where you filed the agreement, either digitally or in a drawer. (Surprising how many times companies scramble to find it.) How flexible is the contract? Did you lock yourself in for three years or is there an exit clause? Sometimes in a business relationship, it just isn’t a fit. This often happens because of expectations versus the amount of services provided for the fee. It could also be nothing more than personal chemistry. Be sure that you review all the options that have leeway for a change if needed. (I always suggest doing everything possible to please the client, but occasionally a separation is the only answer.)

About That Support, You Promised

This is where the specifics come in, not in the contract, but in practice. You must ask these questions to clarify your expectations and ensure that your IT consultant fulfills what they promised. These include: 

  • How will you handle support?
  • Who handles the support, one individual or a team?
  • How do you ensure that my tech knows (or will learn) about my business and will provide a reliable and affordable IT strategy?
  • What’s the “real” response time compared with the stated one?
  •  Will someone really be there 24/7? We hear this frequently. Ask them what happens if you call at 10 p.m. (You might consider running a test on the response time at an off-hour or weekend.)

The Final Test

Ask the potential IT firm what makes them unique and why you should hire them. You’ll probably recognize the “pat” answer or the elevator speech. So how do you discern what’s real and what is a rehearsed reply? Ask for specifics, and don’t be afraid to request those examples from companies in your industry.

After two decades of confronting IT problems for companies of every size and across a broad swath of industries, one element still surprises me. The lack of thoroughly investigating the new IT firm remains commonplace despite the importance of digital information, which is the backbone of every company. Following these tips, focusing on the effort of an interview with a diverse set of potential vendors and concentrating on what you believe are a long-term solution is paramount to keeping your IT operation running smoothly.

If you’re ready to get started, request a consultation and we can help you identify your business needs.