Technology Trends in 2020

Staying in-the-know about tech innovations is essential if you want to stay on top of your industry’s trends. A convergence of factors has IT and infosec professionals abuzz, indicating 2020 is the year several advancements will reach an inflection point and change the ways businesses operate.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the top tech and information security trends of 2020 and which are most relevant to your industry.

Pay Attention to These 11 Technology Trends in 2020

Experts agree: These 2020 tech trends hold the potential to alter the way businesses and consumers interact — internally and with each other:

  1. 5G and Faster WiFi
  2. Computer Vision
  3. Voice Applications
  4. Safer API-Based Systems
  5. More Functional Internet-of-Things
  6. “Flatter” Organizations
  7. Mobile Payments
  8. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Security
  9. Mobile Apps
  10. Blockchain Developments
  11. The Always Connected PC (ACPC)

1. 5G and Faster WiFi

5G internet has hovered in the public lexicon for a few years. Yet 2020 marks a turning point for the “fifth generation” of wireless technology, with U.S. cellular carriers promising infrastructure with lightning-quick download speeds, more device connections and command latencies in the milliseconds (basically imperceptible to the eye).

The implementation of 5G across the next few years will not be without its hiccups, though. The overwhelming majority of today’s devices cannot connect with 5G’s unique high-frequency radio towers, requiring significant IT hardware and software updates. Plus, only a handful of cities nationwide currently host such 5G towers, serving as beta sites for all major carriers to test their deployments.

In 2020 and beyond, more mainstream 5G will unquestionably trigger additional IT ecosystem developments all organizations must address, including:

  • Internet-of-things suited bandwidth: The proliferating amount of interconnected devices — from computers and smartphones to wearables, robots, smart vehicles and more — requires larger and larger bandwidth figures to keep devices communicating properly.
  • Updated firewalls: Businesses looking to embrace a 5G network will also need to rework current firewall throughput. Many current firewalls will be unable to support the data speeds and flows unleashed by 5G.
  • Stronger edge computing: 5G also improves the business realities of edge computing, namely with its emphasis on local cell towers and local data processing and trafficking to reduce latency.

2. Computer Vision

As its name suggests, computer vision enables machines and equipment to “see” using autonomous cameras. Computer vision cameras are a central piece of technology to many security and operational enterprise advancements, such as the following:

  • Business offices and buildings, for enhanced security and around-the-clock “smart building” entry and exit monitoring.
  • Manufacturing/production centers, where computer-vision cameras have increased in popularity to spot defective products or components before moving onto next-phase production.
  • Warehouses, for enhanced sorting, picking and packing functions, among others.
  • Autonomous cars, including freight trucking and last-mile delivery vehicles poised to change supply chain logistics.

The expanding adoption of computer vision cameras comes with an important question, though. Enterprises using these sight-enabled machines and equipment must reconcile the mounting IT ethics behind gathering 24/7 visual data, particularly regarding facial recognition. Organizations must set up transparent computer vision policies, including gathering employees’ and even consumers’ consent about the technology’s usage and highlighting its ethical business case.

3. Voice Applications

Over a third of Americans use voice assistants. Industry projections say that by 2022 over 50 percent of households will have and use a voice assistant, both within their smartphones and through household and car-integrated devices.

This tremendous user uptick will push businesses to prioritize voice applications in several ways:

  • Office usage uptick: In 2020 and beyond, employees will start to expect voice assistants at work just as much as they do at home. From adjusting office lighting to booting up technology, scheduling meetings, reading emails and searching the internet to enhanced office surveillance and controlling other connected network devices, worker tasks and activities will become more reliant on voice technology.
  • Increased “ask” apps: The rise of voice content means organizations will begin shaping digital content for voice search. Brands like Purina’s “Ask Purina” are ahead of the curve here, creating a voice-exclusive application where dog owners can ask breed-related questions, from ideal diets and exercise routines to in-the-moment health questions, all using a familiar voice assistant.
  • Fewer wake words: Currently, popular voice devices require a “wake” word to activate (e.g., “Alexa” in the question, “Alexa, what’s the weather today?”). Wake words let the assistant know you’re talking to it and not, say, yourself. Advancements in voice technology will allow you to speak to assistants more naturally, without the triggering wake word to conduct a search.
  • Enhanced voice assistant personalization: Further voice assistant developments in 2020 will allow devices to understand who’s speaking and therefore deliver responses based on individualized voice profiles. Separate voice profiles can, for example, allow assistants to read your correct schedule for the day and not your coworker’s, or save your correct payment or account information.

4. Safer API-Based Systems

APIs, or application programming interfaces, allow different pieces of software to communicate with each other in a safe, standardized way. APIs are central when building proprietary software, evolving into microservice architecture, as well as transferring your enterprise data to vital business or service partners.

Already, we’re seeing an explosion in API integrations across industries, particularly in banking and fintech. Other technologies also require APIs to function. Yet, for the average business, utilizing APIs safely has another important onus: As more employees and customers use more devices with more apps, they’ll simply expect those devices and apps to communicate with one another.

This expectation puts pressure on businesses to ensure their own software programs, products and services integrate seamlessly with others, and that those underlying data connections are safe. Such API security priorities we’ll see in 2020 include:

  • API gateway controls, improving traffic authentification, so you know who’s requesting your data, where and for what purpose.
  • Tighter API data delegation, helping prevent ominous third-parties from requesting your data, as well as exposing hacks and breach attempts.
  • Expansion of open authorization protocols, which allows users (i.e., your employees or your customers) to give permission for their data to be used by other apps and services without handing over their accounts’ passwords.

5. More Functional Internet-of-Things

The internet-of-things buzzword gets tossed around frequently in the business world. In 2020 and beyond, we’ll see its power come into fuller effect — often working without human oversight — to 24/7 connect the burgeoning amount of autonomous and smart devices businesses will use to execute core functions.

internet-of-things

Take, for example, delivery logistics. Within the next decade, we may see computer-vision-enabled warehouse bots connect with your ERP to receive a new customer order, then pick the corresponding order’s SKU from warehouse racks. That bot then moves the item to the packaging station, which is wrapped by an autonomous machine. Soon, the order is loaded onto an autonomous vehicle driving it to a local distribution center where drones pick it up and conduct last-mile logistics, dropping it at the customer’s door.

This end-to-end order management is enabled only by the internet-of-things, which harmonizes data and edge devices and lets your business use new equipment to its fullest.

6. “Flatter” Organizations

The past decade’s software advancements allow organizations to practice greater data visibility and oversight than ever. Tools like ERPs, CRMS and other resource planners assist departments, letting employees quickly and conveniently find the information they need to execute their work without bothering employees in other departments for data access.

As technology allows ever greater data and process transparency, we’ll see organizations subsequently turn “flatter.” Defined by reduced informational and managerial hierarchies, flat organizations trim bureaucratic red tape to improve the speed and proactivity of decision-making. Managers will no longer be relegated to constantly approving workloads, task routes and resolutions, since employees are empowered to make these decisions — and those decisions are easily identified and tracked in a horizontal, enterprise-accessible logs.

7. Mobile Payments

In the next decade, businesses must pivot to keep up with the times, embracing prominent payment trends like:

  • The accelerated use of mobile wallets (e.g., Apple Pay) over cash and card transactions.
  • Voice-recognition transactions, including voice command-led online purchases, as well as voice-based two-factor authentication.
  • Mobile fintech portals providing a “one-stop-shop” look into a user’s complete financial portfolio (bank accounts, investments, mobile payment history, etc.).
  • Mobile alerts for purchases, account notifications and order updates.

8. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Security

Today, most AI and ML cybersecurity programs still reside in the “supervised learning” world. Tomorrow, though, AI and ML will continue its progression into the unsupervised learning space:

  • Supervised Learning requires a computer program or piece of software to come with programmed directions, or parameters, guiding how it works and what it can — or can’t — do. In short, supervised programs need to be told how to track and compare new data.
  • Unsupervised learning programs, though, do not need pre-programmed data examples or parameters. These applications can identify data patterns on their own, then alert relevant people when manual data reviews or actions need to be performed.

This transition to autonomous data supervision allows business cybersecurity teams to automate an unprecedented amount of network and device security activities. In particular, AI and ML security programs will be better able to:

  • Identify new or unauthorized network access and similar security risks.
  • Track endpoints and devices better, particularly with the growing number of devices enabled by the internet-of-things, which increases threat vectors.
  • Trigger alerts for security updates or maintenance needs.
  • Create smarter usage habits, authentications systems and data encryptions bolstering security defenses.

9. Mobile Apps

2020 will also bring major changes and consumer trends affecting mobile applications.

The current app ecosystem still predominantly relies on mobile-app devices, typically a computer or smartphone. However, mobile app developments in the next decade will be influenced by many of the IT advancements on this list — plus a few extra goodies, including:

  • Growth of the instant app: Many smartphone owners know the frustration of managing low storage space on their mobile devices or using apps that take up too much room even on unencumbered phones, tablets and wearables. Instant apps offer an alternative, letting users access a smaller version of an app without actually installing it on their devices. Instant apps have grown in popularity in the past few years, with many thought leaders predicting a new, widening rollout of app brands and developers producing instant versions of their most popular applications in 2020 and beyond.
  • Voice-enabled personalization: Many business apps will adapt to match the growing popularity of voice search. In some cases, organizations may even deploy voice-specific applications to answer user queries or provide specific services. Organizations may also begin implementing voice-controlled security and authentication for in-office devices and programs alongside these voice deliverables for consumers.
  • 5G connection capabilities: 5G’s quicker data delivery and almost non-existent latency means apps won’t have to work as hard to perform core functions. This preserves your mobile device’s battery life and extends the usability of your apps, plus also introduces a mobile platform finally functional for in-depth augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) apps that congested all previous networks.

10. Blockchain Developments

Blockchain had its biggest year yet in 2019. Major companies — from IBM to Walmart, FedEx to Facebook and more — committed to blockchain developments for various pilot — and often proprietary — programs, adding legitimacy to the decentralized ledger technology. Many hope to use blockchain beyond its transaction recording and management origins, though, expanding it for dual security and service-related offerings:

  • Internal blockchain business advantages: Internally, blockchain offers improved tracking for physical and non-physical enterprise assets. Blockchain ledgers can be used across the supply chain to identify production problems or proper recall points for goods, to bolster vendor compliance, trigger proof-of-delivery transactions or track system or network log-ins.
  • External blockchain business advantages: Outside your business’ walls, blockchain technology can help manage more secure vendor payments, contracts and business partnerships by triggering payment or settlement transactions after the ledger notes a complaint or sees goods have been delivered. Blockchain data ledgers are also more secure and transparent, given their decentralized setup and encrypted framework that cannot be altered.

IT trends in 2020 will likely embrace blockchain as a transaction-tracking and management system for goods and services across its clients, suppliers and vendors. Many will need to create ledgers addressing the tool’s top pain point, though: interoperability. Currently, blockchain-designed programs are unable to share its information with anything outside itself (a.k.a. other transaction-management systems or even other blockchain ledgers), preventing the tool from reaching its full potential.

11. The Always Connected PC (ACPC)

Always Connected PCs are the next generation of computers as we know them. Boasting the same processing technology as today’s top smartphones, but placed inside a laptop or computer’s hardware, the ACPC presents a range of capabilities no other device does, including:

  • 24/7/365 web access: As their name suggests, an ACPC should always have access to the web via both LTE and WiFi connections, even when you close up the computer. Most recently, a Lenovo-Qualcomm partnership announced its plan to produce 5G-connected ACPCs for 2020.
  • Qualcomm processor chips: A smartphone-mirroring microprocessor allowing integration with a Windows 10 operating system.
  • Extensive battery life: In some units, developers claim 20+ hours without the need to charge.
  • Ultra-lightweight: Allowing laptops to be portable and user-friendly without sacrificing functionality.

Early models of the Always Connected PC were not without their flaws, though. Many users experienced issues loading and running a handful of 64-bit apps on their laptops, including some popular Microsoft Office programs. Next-phase ACPC models produced in 2020 and beyond will prioritize these bit-version incompatibility snafus, with producers like Lenovo stating their commitment to providing a fully synchronized, true-to-its name breed of computer.

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How to Educate Employees About Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity awareness among your employees could save your business. Security breaches could lead to leaks of sensitive data, loss of business and financial ruin. You cannot bear the burden of protecting your company alone or with only one or two techs. Every one of your employees must know their roles in protecting the company from cyber threats. Through training and awareness, you can help protect your company from cybersecurity threats.

Why Is Cybersecurity Training Important?

You don’t need to personally be a cybersecurity expert to know that keeping your company’s data safe is vital to your operations. In fact, the team member at your company who will bear much of the responsibility for data security is your human resources (HR) director.

The HR department focuses on hiring and training, and you need to make cybersecurity an integral part of job training. By taking advantage of HR’s ability to engage workers in the training material and keep them updated with new policies, you can more effectively educate your workers about cyber threats. Unlike the IT department, HR can implement training methods that will help employees to retain more information and see why education is useful.

1. Having More Employees Creates More Openings

Security threats to your company increase the more employees you have. Those extra workers add to the number of emails sent and received in addition to the number of computers and vulnerable devices you have. Onboarding training and continual updates help to create a human firewall between your company’s information and security threats.

2. Your Employees Are Targets

The criminal people who send out fake emails to attempt to steal information target your employees specifically. Often, those targeted have control over finances or tax information, such as payroll personnel, although anyone can receive phishing emails. You need to train your workers to recognize fake emails and websites to avoid sending information to those who will misuse it.

3. It Decreases Successful Phishing Attacks

Training your workers helps prevent attackers from having success with their phishing emails. In fact, training reduces the chances of phishing attack success by 20% with each session. Making your workers aware reduces the chances your company will become a victim of a scam.

What Is Cybersecurity Awareness Training?

Cybersecurity awareness training helps workers understand the threat the company’s data faces and their roles in protecting it. At the end of each course, each worker must know what they need to do to keep your business’s information safe and why protection is essential. When workers have this information, they can feel empowered in protecting the company instead of powerless to prevent a data breach.

1. Add a Mandatory Cybersecurity Training in Onboarding

As soon as you hire a worker, they need to recognize their role in the company’s cybersecurity. As part of the onboard training, include measures of what you expect the employee to do to protect the company’s data. By working with HR, you can ensure that every worker at your company has security in mind from their date of hire.

2. Avoid FUD Training and Enforcement

Older training policies that created fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) are not as powerful as training that uses positive reinforcements. Punishments for failing to adhere to the security policy can cut into workers’ productivity levels, especially when those penalties involve taking away internet or email access.

Instead, encourage workers to embrace security measures. Positive reinforcements are more effective than FUD measures. Use rewards for finding phishing emails or spotting potential security openings in access to information. Having everyone working together will make finding problems easier while giving the employees a role in the company that feels good to fulfill.

3. Create a Culture Focused on Cybersecurity

Every aspect of employee education on information security needs to build a culture that takes cyber threats seriously. The more deeply involved your employees are in the culture, the more likely they will be to remember the rules they learned in training.

To ensure everyone stays on top of your company’s cultural expectations, assign someone in each department to act as a cybersecurity cultural liaison. This person will guide employees in their department in upholding strong security to protect your company’s information.

Routinely Educate About Top Cybersecurity Threats

Threats to your company’s data can take many forms. Hackers use a variety of methods to try to steal login information, passwords and sensitive company data. To get this information, they specifically target your employees. Social engineering, such as phishing schemes, caused 93% of the data breaches in 2018. To avoid having your company become another statistic, you must keep your workers updated on the latest threats your company’s information faces.

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing is a common ploy in which a disreputable person sends an email out that looks like it comes from a well-known company or a person the recipient knows. For instance, workers may get phishing emails that look like delivery companies asking for the person to click a link to verify login information.

Toward the end of the year, when companies’ payroll departments finalize W2s to send out to workers at the end of January, IRS scams reign. In these phishing emails, the payroll employee may get an email that looks like it comes from the company’s CEO or CFO or the IRS asking the employee to send W2 information back. The sender then has social security numbers, names and home addresses for anyone the recipient replied about.

If a worker doubts whether someone in the company sent an email, they should phone that person directly to verify the legitimacy of the message.

2. Spoofing Websites or Email Accounts

Spoofing uses a slight variation on a website or an email address. These fake addresses may look close to their correct counterparts. For example, the sender may be a spoof if it reads from john@copmanyxyz.net instead of the correct john@companyxyz.com.

3. Malware

As its name suggests, malware is harmful software that a cybercriminal installs on a victim’s computer. Often, it happens when an unsuspecting person clicks on an email link or downloads an attachment. This software can then access the victim’s computer, including their email program, passwords and company information. From the victim’s email, the criminal can send out emails that appear to come from the victim. Some cybercriminals use this email to receive verification notices when sending illegal wire transfers. Because no one in the company saw the emails about the transfers, no one notices until the money disappears.

4. Ransomware

Ransomware is a variation on malware. Like malware, it can access a victim’s information on their computer. The twist to ransomware, though, is the program can lock away that information through encryption. The cybercriminal then holds the data for ransom, refusing to release it or threatening to destroy it if the victim does not pay. Also, like malware, ransomware can happen as quickly as clicking an email link or opening an attachment. With proper training, though, your workers will be able to recognize ransomware emails and not allow the criminals to fool them.

Make Cybersecurity Everyone’s Issue

From their initial onboarding, all your workers need to know that cybersecurity is their concern as much as it is the concern of your technology experts. Everyone’s device has the potential to open the door to cyberattacks, and only through a collective effort can you prevent them.

With a consulting company taking care of your IT, you have the entire company working toward maintaining your computers instead of just two or three IT professionals. With such concentrated effort and the expertise of a larger group, you can keep your company’s data safer than if you tried to do the work yourself.

Enforce Specific Technology Guidelines

When training workers and outlining the rules, they must follow, be specific. Don’t just tell workers to use better passwords but show them how to make them better. The more details you give to your workers, the better they will understand the technology guidelines you present to them.

You also need to enforce the guidelines. Whether you choose positive reinforcement to reward proactive workers or reminders to increase their caution levels if they forget, make sure your workers know the expectations. You should also schedule security reminders for employees to change passwords and logins and to check their computers.

1. Never Provide Login Credentials

Stress the importance of your workers never sharing login credentials even if the email appears to come from someone in the company. The same holds for credit card information and social security numbers. If an employee thinks a coworker sent the email, they should contact the sender by phone or talk to them in person to verify. You could also establish a policy of only sharing such information when talking face to face. This rule will also prevent them from accidentally giving away information to phone scammers who may use it to steal company data.

2. Use Strong Passwords

Always have your workers use strong passwords and store them written on paper in a locked location. Do not allow workers to save their password in a word document or email on their computer. These places are vulnerable to hackers.

The passwords your employees use should be sentences that replace some letters with numbers of symbols and use both lower- and upper-case letters. Single words are too short and easy for hackers to guess. The longer the password, the safer it will be from those who may try to crack it.

Additionally, for every program your employees access, they must have separate, secure passwords. A password manager can make keeping track of this information easier.

3. Regularly Scan Your Computer for Viruses

Just having antivirus software on your company computers will not help if the workers turn off scanning or do not have automatic updates. The same holds true for operating systems. Operating systems frequently have security protocols in their regular updates that improve protection from attacks. Still, you won’t take advantage of these changes if the machines have not updated.

Require your employees to set their virus blocking software and operating system to update automatically. Doing so will ensure the software has information on the latest threats and the means of protecting the computer from them.

Additionally, require that any peripherals pass through a virus scan before the workers use them. Viruses can enter a computer or network from a download someone brought on a thumb drive from home or another office. Scanning such devices can prevent an attack on your company.

4. Use Multifactor Authentication

Multifactor authentication sends a code to a person’s phone, email address or app whenever they try to log in to a site or server. The user then enters the code they got to verify that someone else did not steal their information. This two-factor authentication makes it harder for a third party to take login information and use it because every login must get verification from the user.

If the user receives a code but did not attempt to log in, they know to change their login information immediately because someone has tried to use it fraudulently. This type of verification offers higher security for the system against hackers because it dramatically reduces their chances of successfully logging in with a stolen username and password.

Perform Cybersecurity Exercises

Everyone has experienced a fire drill. This activity lets building occupants practice what they would do in the event of a real fire but without the threat. You should take the same approach to test the training of your workers when it comes to cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity drills enact the events that would typically happen if your company had a data breach. These events let you see how well your employees respond. By learning what works and what doesn’t in a safe exercise, you can make improvements to your company’s cybersecurity practices and training to be ready for an actual event.

1. Make a Plan

Before conducting the drill, have a plan available. You need to outline who employees should contact, what they should do and how long the process should take. During training, communicate everyone’s role in the plan.

2. Make the Drills Mandatory

Make the scheduled cybersecurity drills mandatory to ensure full compliance from everyone in your company, from the CEO down to the interns.

3. Learn From the Experience

Use each exercise as an educational moment. All employees need to learn what to do and not just turn to the company owner or IT professional and ask them what they will do. After each drill, host a mandatory training session to review what went right, what went wrong and how to fix problems.

PCS Makes Cybersecurity an Easy Process

Don’t let your business fall prey to cyber threats. Using cybersecurity training best practices for all your employees will provide your company with greater protection than just alerting certain workers. Focusing on your cybersecurity does not require you to get an IT degree or to have a full department of experts. Instead, you need to educate everyone in your business on safer practices and find a partner to help you keep your data safe. That’s where the experts at PCS come in.

We offer customized IT solutions so that you can have more time to focus on your core business. If you want to learn more about how PCS can help improve your business’s cybersecurity, contact us for a quote.

Ransomware Protection

With most of the world now connected to the Internet, malware has spread to more computers across the globe. One of the most troubling and costly trends in recent years has been the rise and spread of ransomware, which is a type of malware that renders a user’s files unreadable until they pay a ransom.

Ransomware attacks have increased in the last year, affecting 621 entities between January and September of 2019. Ransomware attacks can occur when a company doesn’t have adequate security measures in place. In some cases, an attack will start from one compromised computer and spread to other computers on the company’s network. During an attack, a company’s files and data can suddenly become locked down. The individuals or organizations behind the attack often demand a ransom before it will free the company’s data.

As attacks of this nature increase, companies across the business, government and medical sectors are wondering how to prevent ransomware from taking root on computers and spreading across networks.

Protecting Your Business from Ransomware

During the second quarter of 2018, the typical ransomware payout was $36,295. Due to the high-cost nature of recent ransomware attacks, businesses have grown concerned about their online security. Each time you update a set of security programs and install the latest patches, a new round of viruses are being written to bypass security. Many of the recent cases of ransomware attacks have started with one machine and moved to connected computers on the same network. Ransomware often goes undetected, at least initially, even by some of the savviest computer users.

Knowing how to detect ransomware is crucial for all companies that hope to stay competitive in the increasing online economy. In most industries, system problems that last just a few hours can cost a company thousands of dollars. When ransomware spreads across a company’s computer system, it becomes difficult for IT techs to contain and remedy.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts a user’s hard drive and makes all files unreadable until a ransom amount is paid to the entity behind the attack. A ransomware virus will generally infect a computer in one of two ways: through a drive-by download or from a phishing email.

In a drive-by download scenario, a person might visit a website that appears legitimate, only to have the browser overtaken by a prompt that offers a false dilemma, such as asking the user to confirm the download. If the user presses “no” or “deny,” the threat actor uploads the ransomware to the user’s computer anyway.

With phishing email, a user receives a message that appears to be from someone they know or a company they work with. The email might ask the user to visit a website to provide more information. If the recipient clicks on the link, a similar situation to the drive-by download can occur, where a popup appears and takes over the computer, locking out the user.

How Does Ransomware Work?

Once a ransomware virus downloads itself onto a computer, the virus makes files on the machine un-viewable. The virus can also spread to peripheral drives and other computers on the same network. When a ransomware virus infects one computer on a company network, the whole entire company could effectively have its system breached, pending the isolation and removal of the virus in question.

Ransomware is accompanied by messages that inform the victim that computer files and data will not be readable until a ransom amount has been paid. The virus keeps the files in an unreadable state by encrypting different file types with strange extensions, such as .xyz, .locky, .vault, .zzz, .petya, .ttt, and .aaa. Even if the ransom amount is paid, the files might remain unreadable. Often times, the ransom goes up to a higher amount.

U.S. law enforcement agencies advise against paying ransom to the threat actors behind these attacks because doing so can encourage further ransomware hits. Instead, victims can try decryption software, which can sometimes unlock affected files, making them viewable again. Scan the affected computer for malignant attachments and return the system to an earlier state, if possible. Backing up an operating system when it’s virus-free makes it easier to restore the machine in the future, if necessary.

Ransomware Targeting Businesses

In its August 2019 report on ransomware attacks, antivirus firm Malwarebytes tracked a 363 percent increase in incidents over the prior year. The rise in recent ransomware attacks on businesses has spurred a 34% increase in cyber insurance since 2017. The fact that threat actors have cost businesses thousands of dollars in the span of months is an indicator of the growing sophistication of the viruses in question. As such, IT techs must be knowledgeable about how ransomware targets businesses in today’s online environment.

Individuals were once seen as soft targets by the entities behind ransomware-type viruses. In recent times, however, threat actors have stepped up their efforts to target companies and large corporations. The idea here is to infect the machines of one or several staff members at a target company and spread the virus onto other machines in the company’s network.

How Does Ransomware Spread Across a Network?

When ransomware is initially encountered on a network computer, the virus targets the company’s domain controller to spread itself across the network. This is done with a self-enacting PowerShell script, which decodes and opens a reverse shell that allows the threat actor to penetrate the first in a sequence of network computers. The domain controller then duplicates the virus onto other machines in the network. Such viruses will typically enact a number of tasks, such as the suspension of system files and the execution of pre-installed infections.

Some of the worst cases of network attacks have started on the machine of an unsuspecting company employee who opens an email or clicks on a link that immediately overtakes the machine. Often times, the individual will initially try to end the program and only report the matter after it becomes obvious that files cannot be opened or that an unknown extension file cannot be ended in Task Manager. By the time the matter is reported to IT staff, the ransomware will have spread to numerous other computers on the company’s network.

Company networks tend to be more vulnerable when certain computers within the network are older and lack the capacity for today’s more advanced security patches. A ransomware virus might download on to one of these machines and then spread to other computers on the same network. Ransomware can also spread across a network when infected files are shared between colleagues on a company cloud server.

Recent Ransomware Attacks

During the first quarter of 2019, ransomware attacks saw a 195-percent spike over the prior quarter. During that same period, ransomware attacks on individuals dropped by 33 percent. The shift has marked a change in tactics among threat actors, who have recently grown more emboldened to target larger businesses.

In 2018, the FBI received 1,394 complaints about ransomware attacks, which were estimated to be responsible for $3.6 million in losses for the parties affected. However, such figures have not taken into account the number of computer users that have not reported such attacks to the authorities. The true number of ransomware victims, both knowing and unsuspecting, is expected to be far higher.

The healthcare industry has been a frequent target of ransomware attacks. In its 2018 report on Internet crime, the FBI noted 337 cases involving hospitals, companies and people in the public and private healthcare sectors. The attacks resulted in $4.7 million in losses.

Between June 2018 and June 2019, companies within the U.S. were the target of 53 percent of the world’s ransomware attacks. Canada came in second at 10 percent, followed by the U.K. at nine percent with Brazil and Italy each with seven percent of global ransomware incidents.

How to Prevent & Detect Ransomware

There are things companies can do to help prevent a ransomware attack. Remind employees to be cautious with any emails they receive. If they can’t verify that an email is from a particular organization or individual, encourage them to report it. It’s also a good idea to be careful when visiting websites and to ask employees to double-check the URL before they click “enter.”

One way for employees to verify that a website is the real deal before they visit it is to have them search for the site on Google, rather than click through an email or type in a link.

It’s also important for a business to back up files and data regularly. Duplicate all of your company’s data on external drives. Once copied, disconnect the external drive from your computer. Perform this step every day, if necessary, to avoid the loss of any critical data.

If you think that ransomware has downloaded onto a network computer, turn off the machine and report the incident to your company’s IT department. Check other company computers to see if the virus has spread.

To stop the virus, IT techs will quarantine the first computer and run diagnostic tests. The computer should not be reconnected to the network until it’s either virus-free or restored to an earlier back-up version. In some instances, IT might need to wipe the computer and reinstall everything.

To keep your company safe from ransomware attacks in the future, hold training sessions frequently. During these sessions, have IT techs cover all the basics of ransomware prevention with your team members. The topics covered in these sessions should go into detail about the warning signs, such as seemingly innocuous or friendly emails and the links contained within such messages.

Have your workforce undergo testing to ensure that they know how to identify potential threats. Your IT team might design a fake phishing email and send it across the network to see whether all of your company’s rank and file and informed enough about ransomware to pass the test.

Contact PCS to Protect Your Company’s Data Today

The rise of ransomware has followed the general pattern of malware viruses. As security systems grow tighter, threat actors work harder to bypass security patches and system firewalls. Every time that a new patch is devised to protect computers from existing threats, cyber thieves and hackers are working on their next round of attacks. Consequently, ransomware could make its way onto your company’s computer system. if the people on your workforce do not how to prevent ransomware from taking root on the company network.

Of course, not all companies know how to deal with the spread of ransomware. Regardless of the markets you serve, your team should ultimately be able to focus on its own areas of expertise while working and interacting online and via cloud servers without fear of viruses, hijacked files and ransom messages.

At PCS, we provide data backup and protection services for small businesses, schools, hospitals, insurance agencies, accounting firms, and various other companies. Contact us today to learn more about how our services can protect your company from ransomware attacks.

Posted in IT

Should My Business Be Using the Cloud?

Today’s businesses require larger and larger computing infrastructures. At the same time, companies are looking to smart-size and trim overhead. Since the early 2010s, the new option of cloud computing has allowed businesses to scale down their computer arsenals and handle more tasks online. The benefits of cloud computing help both large business operations and smaller business processes.

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a type of on-demand computing service where a third-party provider manages your company’s software and storage. With cloud computing, you can outsource vital computing tasks and minimize the size of your in-house operations. There are three basic types of cloud computing services available for today’s businesses:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a cloud service model where an entire business computing infrastructure is handled remotely at the server end. IaaS is an ideal option for any large company that wishes to smart-size its in-house staff departments and outsource IT tasks to an offsite third party. IaaS is also the preferred choice of smaller businesses that wish to keep their in-house computer arsenals to a minimum and save money on IT-related costs.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud service model where a third-party cloud server manages a company’s computing platform remotely. With PaaS, the server handles various aspects of a computer platform, including networks, servers, operating systems, software, middleware and more. PaaS is ideal for businesses of all sizes that wish to trim or eliminate their in-house computing platforms.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Software as a Service (SaaS) is a cloud computing model where you can subscribe to a software program and have it operate on a third-party server. SaaS is a good option for any company that wishes to minimize its in-house computer network and avoid the technical aspects of software maintenance. With SaaS, you never have to take time out for software updates or to synchronize various in-house devices for compatibility because all updates are universally adaptable and pre-tested for bugs.

You can further modify the aforementioned computing services by choosing between three basic types of cloud models:

  • Public: With a public cloud model, a third-party provider handles all of your cloud services. As a subscriber business, your company would pay for the service on a month-by-month or year-by-year basis, scaling up and scaling down as necessary.
  • Private: With a private cloud model, you would build your own cloud with the help of a software program. You would control the cloud and therefore be responsible for the programming, maintenance, upgrades and software installations.
  • Hybrid: In a hybrid cloud model, your operations would be split between a public and a private computing model. The hybrid model option is one of the most significant benefits of cloud computing for small businesses that need to adjust slowly to online operations.

A company could easily switch from one cloud model to another during the course of its development.

The Challenges of Using the Cloud

The business benefits of cloud computing are numerous, but challenges could arise if you do not carefully navigate the transition process. Here are 12 common hurdles you could encounter when you transition to cloud computing.

1. The Learning Curve

When you first make the switch to cloud computing, it can be difficult to adjust your business infrastructure to this virtual realm unless you go with a platform-as-a-service (PaaS). With PaaS, your involvement is prescriptive and therefore something you can scale up or down and roll out at your own discretion. This way, your business can implement process changes as you are ready for the changes throughout the PaaS transition.

2. Bumpy Transitioning

Adapting to a cloud-based infrastructure involves a period of transition. If you have a large workforce with differing tech skills across departments, or a smaller team with varying levels of abilities, certain segments of your workforce might have difficulty switching to cloud-based processes. Therefore, you might need to retrain your staff and prepare for larger training or workflow challenges, especially if your company is giant and micro-compartmentalized. A smaller company might navigate the transition more quickly because you can potentially train all staff on the new processes and procedures at the same time and move through any points of confusion faster.

3. Uncertainty About Your Needs

To fully assimilate to a cloud-based infrastructure, you will need to have a clearly defined business objective. If you sign on for a cloud service, it will change your business operations. Therefore, you must be determined to actively engage your business in the migration process. At the same time, you should choose a service that will help your company navigate the process of migration.

4. Trust Issues

If you are new to the cloud, you might have reservations about its structure. Will it be safe and secure? Will your workforce be able to adapt when all is said and done? Will the cloud provider be able to maintain its uptime and provide technical support when necessary? In 2019, the answer to these questions is yes, providing you choose a reliable service.

5. Time, Volume and Security

For companies that are long-entrenched in the formats of paper documents and local hard discs, the concept of having everything digitized and remotely accessible can seem daunting and riddled with security issues. However, the benefits will be tenfold in terms of the space you will save once you have moved your business to a secure cloud server. You can cut down on the volume of physical file storage and save time finding and accessing files when and where you need them. For a small business, this accessibility increases your capabilities, and for larger businesses, this also streamlines processes across entire teams and increases your employee’s abilities to get things done.

6. Going Overboard

When you first make the switch to a cloud-based business infrastructure, it is important to only make as many moves as your company can handle at a time. If you go full-transition on day one, the change could be confusing and cost you buy-in — especially if you have a large team with varying degrees of tech knowledge.

7. Sufficient Space and Backup

If your company comes to rely exclusively on cloud computing, you will need to rearrange your workspace to accommodate this new setup. Depending on the size of your company, this might entail having access to several ISPs and sufficient redundancy, both remote and local, for backup in the event of a mass outage. You will need to restructure your budget to cover these fail-safes.

8. Miscalculated Costs

Some companies miscalculate upcoming business costs in advance of a major change. The common mistake is to look at things from a cent-per-service model without considering how this could multiply over the course of a month or year. A safer way to determine costs and benefit from the switch is to take stock of your least-used in-house services and possibly subtract them from the list of services you migrate to a cloud server. Moving only certain parts of a business to the cloud, like email, can benefit smaller companies that might only have one office. Moving the entire business to the cloud can help larger companies that have employees that travel frequently or work in many different locations.

9. Radical Modifications for a Cloud Service

If you radically restructure things to conform to a cloud service, it could be a case of too much change with too little preparation or foresight. On the other hand, if you are unwilling to adopt any aspect of your business to accommodate the cloud-based model, you could end up missing out on the benefits of making such changes. The solution is to adopt modestly at a slow but steady pace.

10. Security Assurance in a Cloud Setting

If you have concerns about the security of a cloud server, you can always hire a third-party analytics firm to examine the server’s security. The firm could then offer reports on the degree to which the server is foolproof. This way, you can judge if you are making a safe choice when you subscribe your company to a cloud server.

11. Leasing vs. Owning

If you are ready to move your computing infrastructure to a cloud server, you should compare the benefits of leasing versus acquiring. If you subscribe to a cloud at a fully leased rate, the costs could be higher in the long run than if you simply acquire and finance the storage. Granted, leasing makes it faster and easier to implement cloud, but it could be more cost-effective to acquire.

12. Considering a Hybrid System as You Transfer

When you move your company computing to a cloud server, the lengthiest task will involve transferring your company records. The task could be especially cumbersome if your records are long and yet not even cloud-ready. As you embark on this task, you should have an interim plan to ensure your company runs smoothly until the records are fully cloud-based. Consider implementing a hybrid system to navigate the lengthy transition between local and cloud-based computing.

Why Businesses Should Make the Switch

Although some companies are wary of using the cloud, the benefits of cloud computing far outweigh the risks, especially when working with an IT company like PCS to make the switch. Businesses of all sizes can save money and trim overhead when they sign onto a cloud server. Here are nine advantages of cloud computing for business operations.

1. Scale Up and Down

If your company engages in online commerce, the fluctuations in traffic might be hard to accommodate if you run everything in-house on local system software. When you run your businesses operations via cloud-based system software, it could be a whole lot easier for your team to scale up and down to meet market demand on a season-by-season basis.

2. Maximize IT Processes While Reducing Costs

With cloud computing, you can reap the benefits of a large, in-house IT department at only a fraction of the cost. Cloud computing makes it possible to smart-size your company down to a team of workers who can handle the majority of business operations on a remotely implemented software system. You would no longer need to invest in a vast arsenal of computers and peripheral devices or hire a separate team of workers to maintain such equipment.

3. Implement and Deploy With Less Overhead

Once you hire a cloud server for your computing needs, system updates will be rolled out instantly on the other end, allowing your team to proceed with business unabated. Overall, this setup is far more efficient than most in-house IT departments, where system updates can cause compatibility issues with assorted network devices. With cloud computing, system updates are universally compatible with all connected PCs, laptops and mobile devices.

4. Easily Set Up a Multi-Region/International Infrastructure

If your company is spread across multiple regions, nations and continents, a cloud-based system could make it far easier to roll out updates to your computing infrastructure. Each software system and version update would be implemented on the server end, allowing your staff to log in from any location with internet access.

5. Enjoy Infinite Storage Regardless of Physical Space

Once you have the entirety of your company records stored on a cloud server, you could do away with paper files and operate a more compact business operation. If your company headquarters is large, the space that was once reserved for filing cabinets could be rearranged for other uses. Alternately, you could move your operations to a smaller, less sprawling set of office spaces and trim your monthly rent expenses. Theoretically, you could even run a large company from out of your home once you have all the computing and data storage handled on a cloud server.

6. Expand Your Team in Far-off Territories

For smaller businesses, one of the greatest cloud computing benefits is how it allows you to expand your workforce into other territories. If you operate from a single location, you could hire people in other cities, states and countries and have them work for your company as telecommuters. When you hire a new employee, he or she could simply log into your cloud-based business database and work on projects from a PC, laptop or smartphone.

7. Utilize an Easy-to-Manage Disaster Recovery Plan

In a local storage-only company infrastructures, system crashes and data loss can be costly and disastrous for any business. When you run everything via the cloud, you could organize a more readily accessible disaster recovery plan. All your data could be remotely stored on two or more remote servers for instant access and retrieval. If a major power outage affects your area, you won’t have to worry about brownouts frying your motherboards and computer devices because your computing system will primarily exist in the virtual sense.

8. Take Advantage of Instant Software Rollouts and Data Backup

Tasks such as system updates and database backups can be time-consuming for any business. With a cloud server, you can leave those tasks to the techs on the server end and devote more in-house hours to productive tasks. Best of all, there is less risk of update failures or incompatibility because all software updates are pre-tested at the server end for universal compatibility with modern-day computing devices.

9. Utilize Flexible Payment Options

For startup businesses, cloud computing is a far more affordable option than in-house tech because you can start with minimal services and scale up as your company expands. This stands in marked contrast to the pre-cloud model for new businesses, where you would need significant startup capital just to launch. With cloud computing, you could keep your overhead as low as possible and order more services as your business becomes more profitable.

Choose PCS for Cloud Computing Services Today

If you are thinking of moving your large or small business to the cloud, choose a service with maximum security and customer support. At PCS, we offer cloud services that are designed to be scaled up or down according to the needs of a given month. Contact us today for more information and to request a quote.

Posted in IT

Psst! It’s Phishing that’s the Danger

Pronouncing the word — Phishing — might provide a verbal stumble (it’s “fishing”), but it creates mayhem for everyone who uses a computer or digital device, often with devastating results.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is the illegal practice of trying to trick someone into opening a malicious email, then interacting with them to benefit the intruder and harm the recipient. Invaders try to gain access to your usernames, passwords and sensitive information.

Who Is Targeted by Phishing?

Everyone is a target, from small-business owners and government employees to students and retirees. If you have an email address, you’re at risk. There’s even a subdivision called Spear Phishing that directs attacks at senior leadership and high-profile candidates ranging from corporate executive to major nonprofits and government leaders.

What Happens When You Click the Link

The most common result is that you’ve released malware that harms your computer. It allows the intruder to gain access to private information such as usernames and passwords. But it can get worse. Some intruders will shut down your computer and force you to pay a ransom to regain access. It’s ransomware, the ultimate digital blackmail.

Why Phishing Works

Phishing is everywhere because of our digital world, with emails as a prime example. In 2017, hackers sent about 269 billion (that’s billion) phishing links and expect to reach 333 billion by 2020.

Phishing is a fear monger, which allows it to work so effectively. It occurs with delivery notices (FedEx, UPS, etc.) voicemails, coupons, false invoices, faked accounts and late health club notices. The idea is simple; create fear or tension in the recipient and get him to react. By creating this emotion, many people click on a link — what do you mean I owe the IRS?  If even one person in your organization or company clicks on the link, the invader can compromise and devastate your entire network.

Are Small Businesses & Organizations Safe From Phishing?

No. Remember it is software programs (powered by artificial intelligence) that are searching for computers. They don’t know if you’re a mom-and-pop or a billion-dollar corporation. Sometimes, they’re not after your information but your clients’ or customers’ data.

Help. How Can I Protect Myself From Phishing?

No perfect method exists, but you can minimize entry with these actions:

  • Question every mail. Sometimes you can tell if it doesn’t seem quite right.
  • Question every pop-up. Don’t let a pop-up tantalize you into action.
  • It’s amazing how people are afraid to ask an administrator or technician simple questions about security.
  • Hover over the link. You can often tell something is “fishy” about it.
  • Never send an email confirmation.
  • Question every attachment. Many journalists will NEVER reply to an email that has an attachment. They want to remain virus-free.
  • Security systems are constantly changing. You can only protect yourself by having the latest security updates and a strong malware program and following common-sense security rules. If you have an organization or business, you must ensure that your IT tech not only understands your network but that he is familiar with the most recent security protocols.
  • When in doubt “go old school.” Use what I refer to as “high-speed voice technology.” If the email is from someone you know and it looks fake, pick up the phone and call them to verify.

Contact us PCS for help managing your network security and protect your company’s data today.

Posted in IT

Case Study: Working with Other Tech Firms

An IT Plan When Your Company Expands

 

What made this PCS client unusual is that they are a highly skilled tech firm in their own right. They had deep expertise in audiovisual systems integration, event staging and AV managed services. “You might assume that they would have an attitude that says, ‘We can do this,’ referring to their own skill set,” said the PCS team member who was the lead on the account.

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But they understood two fundamentals about business: The first was that the client didn’t try to shoehorn their expertise into another technical area, and if they did, they knew the effort would drag their staff into an area that was not their core competence. While they had talent in their field, they did not have network or workstation experts, the precise reason they ultimately brought in PCS to help.

The other reason is the spigot analogy. They didn’t have to maintain a standing IT staff with demand hours that might fluctuate. By bringing in PCS to handle the workflow, they didn’t have to worry about whether they suddenly needed one technician or five to service their growing pains. PCS had the ability to handle the need. If they took charge of IT functions in-house, they would have to hire extra employees. The firm had a plan and was confident that they would grow. Of course, what they didn’t know precisely was the pace of that growth.

What gained PCS an initial approval stamp was a short-term project completed on time and within the agreed-upon budget.

They turned to PCS when a previous IT partner was incapable of managing their growth while providing timely service.

The client’s growth pattern panned out as predicted. They grew from two offices to three and 80 employees to 135.  

At day’s end, PCS’s team leader said this client had a firm grip on current needs but was incapable of anticipating future changes with a crystal ball that gave a point-by-point checklist. “What made it work was involving us at the beginning of their strategic planning so that we could both create and implement the IT component of their expansion plans.”

PCS estimates that they saved the firm more than $100,000 in annual IT costs. “As they grow, that figure will increase, but the high standard of our service to them will remain the same,” said the PCS team leader.

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Case Study: IT Support for School Districts

A School District’s Report Card

 

When a New Jersey school district started to face a growing deficit, auditors who examined the systemwide expenditures recognized that the time was ideal for a review and restructuring of its IT department.

The school district called in PCS for an assessment, and the project started with a small, initial step and a single technician. “The technician assigned to the project was a highly skilled person who demonstrated an exceptional work ethic and had the social skills to make it easy to work with,” recalls the PCS partner who directed the team.

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After a short trial period of three months, the school system expanded PCS’s project responsibilities, ultimately replacing eight staff members with four technicians.

People ask the inevitable question: How can 50 percent fewer technicians manage and excel compared with a workforce that was twice its size?

“PCS has an entrepreneurial spirit,” says the team leader. “We’re not on staff, which means we are more vulnerable for replacement, and that keeps us on our toes.”

The other qualities that helped PCS obtain and keep the contract were the depth of its team’s skill set and continuous training.

“As an independent IT service, we have a formal and informal screening process before we hire and send someone out to the client,” the team leader said. “Many companies that hire in-house refer to the new person as their ‘IT guru,’ and yet the individual is only average — or in some cases, below average — as an IT technician. But because that tech might know more than the person doing the hiring, the organization hires them. And it all seems good until the problems begin.”

PCS also understands because they’re not on staff, it is mandatory that their teams remain more responsive to trends and to constantly seek greater efficiency in an organization’s IT system. “Unless you’re always looking to improve, your work effort becomes stale,” said the team leader.

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Case Study: Non-Profit IT Support

Stabilizing the Merger of Statewide Non-Profits

 

A statewide non-profit came to PCS with IT problems related to growth and the merger with other like-minded organizations. The merging organizations had a similar goal: helping to stabilize people’s lives, getting them on their feet and then entering society as a “whole” person.

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But in those combined efforts, the IT collided in a mini-crash. How do you meld all the IT components into a unified IT system with a fully integrated network and internal IT support speaking the same language? In short, the mergers were more than growing pains. They had about 17 different units that need integration, and the organization grew from several hundred people to a staff of more than 1,400. And the inability to smoothly integrate all these components threatened a logistics nightmare.

On the surface, most of the units had an IT person available. But the scale of the integration was beyond their skill set. “An IT person who manages a basic network might be fine for everyday problems that arise, but this merger, both complicated and costly, required a team from PCS and a consulting engineer to pull it off,” said one PCS staffer who worked on the project. “It was the proverbial pieces of the puzzle that you had to put together, ensure they stayed together, and you had to do it with the clock running.”

The usual expected time for the integration of all the networks should have been several months. PCS completed it in a month.  It continues as an outside consultant to the non-profit when network-wide issues arise that need that “next level” of expertise. “We always help our clients but resolving issues, in this case, was even more satisfying because of the good these non-profits do on behalf of their clients,” said a PCS executive.

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Case Study: Manufacturer IT Solutions

An IT Meltdown — Literally

We often use the word “meltdown” to indicate a lack of control, but seldom do we witness it in real life, especially in the IT world. But a Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of plastic components for the food industry had a “real life” meltdown when IT issues arose, culminating in the mountings to their storage system overheating, crashing their entire network. It was a critical problem that occurred at their corporate headquarters but affected several operating plants in different states.

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The meltdown resulted in a two-day loss of manufacturing for the plants before the company could restore their IT network.

“That was a huge loss of time, money, workers hours and delivery schedule because of the failure,” said Anthony Mongeluzo, PCS CEO and president. “They had a full-time administrator on staff, but the complexity of the problem, the replacement of physical infrastructure and the extra technicians that could have sped up the restoration process was lacking. It’s easy to say, ‘all hands on deck,’ but if no one has the specific skill set necessary, you need more than willingness before you can return to normal operations.”

After that painful episode, the manufacturing company brought in PCS to evaluate their IT environment. PCS implemented an initial upgrade and a complete overhaul of their infrastructure that would result in a large virtualization project.

The manufacturer was so pleased with the results that they called PCS in to help integrate their IT network with a newly acquired printing company.

“Acquisitions of companies that might be using a different platform for their IT can be devilishly difficult,” Mongeluzo said. “Some of the secret lies in the prep work before you go live, but you don’t want a team handling it that’s never done it before. There are dozens of ways to go wrong before you flip that final switch.”

The integration went off smoothly, and the manufacturer decided to add a full-time PCS technician stationed at the corporate offices.

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