Take it From Facebook: You Need a Cybersecurity Action Plan

Picture this:

Years from now, you’re sharing a holiday with your family. After overhearing you reminisce and discuss how unpredictable the beginning of the 2020s was–and hopefully how wonderful the rest of the decade was–a child in the family looks up from their tablet and asks you:

“So, were you there for the great Facebook blackout of October 2021?”

Okay, you got us; we’re exaggerating. A kid wouldn’t ask that, and the chances we will be discussing this month’s six-hour Facebook outage in a decade is improbable. However, any time a significant internet player experiences such a sudden, long-lasting interruption, the situation is ripe for an examination, especially because October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. It’s like they knew!

It also goes to show how quickly the stories (real & fake) will travel, especially if you have an outage. Nobody wants this type of PR!

Why Did Facebook Go Down?

(A) Were the Facebook platform and its owned subsidiaries hacked by an outsider cybersecurity threat?

(B) Was it an inside job due to Facebook’s continued legal and ethical struggles perpetuated by a company whistleblower?

(C) Was it just a stunt to celebrate the coincidence of October as the month dedicated to cybersecurity awareness?

(Spoiler: we think that last one is highly unlikely.)

Here is what we do know, a few weeks after the event:

On Monday, October 4th, 2021, at around noon, the Facebook outage began. Most of the social media juggernaut’s services–including internal company communications and systems–were down due to “networking issues” until approximately 6:08 pm EDT when services finally resumed. Until then, curious internet sleuths–like the team here at Beacon IT Services (BITS)–monitored sites like DNSChecker.org with curiosity, speculating on what caused the tech giant’s DNS routing information to go missing.

The following day, Facebook engineers revealed that a “configuration issue” with their data centers caused their DNS servers to go down. As far as we know, this wasn’t the result of a “hacker,” disgruntled employee, or a strange tribute to National Cybersecurity Month. The issue occurred during the everyday upkeep of the company’s backbone connection between its data centers.

Yep. It was an accident. And frankly, it could happen to anyone.

Facebook was not the only online platform affected. Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and the virtual reality platform Oculus suffered from Facebook’s downtime. As a result, thousands of businesses across these platforms lost advertising revenue over the six-hour outage, which also hurt the businesses that rely on Facebook for advertising and services. The outage had a domino effect that interfered with much more than your ability to scroll through your Facebook timeline.

Coincidentally, the popular live-streaming platform Twitch (owned by Amazon) suffered from a leak of confidential information just days later, on Wednesday, October 6th. How strange that another huge internet presence had a problem on the heels of Facebook’s outage! This time, it wasn’t just an unlucky maintenance accident, but a real breach caused by an outside source.

These incidents demonstrate that the web is constantly bombarded with cybersecurity threats and technical mishaps across all industries and platforms–including the major internet players.

“Whoa, if even Facebook has issues, then my website is doomed!”

You can stop that train of thought right here; there’s no need to panic! Yes, this kind of situation can happen, even to the big players. Of course, prevention is the best medicine, but recovery is what’s critical. How well are you prepared to get your business back online if a cybersecurity attack happens to you? Your preparations now can determine if a future outage will last for minutes, hours, days, or weeks.

What’s the cybersecurity action plan for your business? Is your team ready to jump into the fray and solve the issue at a moment’s notice? Do you need some guidance?

BITS can help with that! Not only can our managed IT services help to mitigate serious security issues from occurring in the first place, but you can count on us to be right there if anything were to happen. We’ve seen, and handled, most every client issue over the years, stemming from servers to intranets and everything in between.

When your web presence is in jeopardy, you want a team on your side with the know-how to get you back online as fast as possible. Discover why BITS provides peace of mind for handling unfortunate maintenance accidents and cybersecurity attacks from malicious sources. Contact us to discuss your IT concerns and let our experts do the heavy lifting to prepare a dependable security foundation for your business.

By | 2021-10-20T08:24:52+00:00 October 20th, 2021|BITS Team, Cyber Security, IT Services|

Avoid A DIY Disaster: Call in the Pros for Your IT Needs

flaming computer vs. girl smiling with working laptop

We get it: when you’ve got a problem, the temptation to handle it yourself is strong. It’s why there’s a whole do-it-yourself (DIY) industry, devoted to giving you the tools you need to get the job done on your own.

And it’s so satisfying and fulfilling, isn’t it? Fixing your house and putting together a new piece of furniture are great DIY projects. So it’s easy to say, “I can fix it”, when your computer, network, or something else in your information technology (IT) setup needs attention, right?

Here’s the thing about IT DIYs though: Don’t.

Okay, if your computer is having a problem, do the old “turn it off, turn it back on” trick. This certainly works, sometimes. Beyond this, it’s just not worth it. Do IT right and turn to IT pros that solve these issues daily, like the knowledgeable and helpful experts from Beacon IT Services (BITS). It will save you valuable time AND money.

Two of our experts—Lead IT Support Specialist Caleb Pruitt and Account Executive Kevin Lackey—share some common issues they’ve dealt with firsthand. These seemingly easy-to-solve problems can quickly go awry and cause serious trouble for your business and network.

burning cityscape

This is what happens when you try to DIY your IT issues.

3 Examples of Why You Need an IT Pro

1. Setting Up and Monitoring a Firewall

Woman frustrated by computerSetting up a firewall is a must for enhancing your security. By filtering traffic and stopping outside users from accessing your network, it can keep you and your data safe. But setting up the firewall can be a real challenge: it needs to be set up to protect against a wide variety of threats, including phishing attempts, ransomware, viruses, and more, and updated to keep up with fast-evolving cybersecurity threats. Ensuring that your firewall works as intended and to its fullest potential requires the expertise of a dedicated IT team.

Even more importantly, you need someone to monitor your firewall. Otherwise, your not really protected because no one is handling alerts in a timely manner when intrusions or security issues occur. “It’s like having an alarm system but leaving your door wide open,” explains Caleb.

2. Migrating Your Email Server

email icon“Email migrations are not for the faint of heart,” says Kevin. And between maintaining and updating your passwords and logins across multiple servers and managing the transfer of data for everyone in your organization, he’s got a point. There are a lot of details to consider, especially to maintain business continuity.

Still, you might think you can handle it all yourself. After all, many servers, like Microsoft Office 365 seem like they’d make things easy. But the truth is there’s plenty that can go wrong. For example, Office 365 only backs up your data for 30 days at a time. So if you need to dig up an old email for reference, or to support a legal issue, you may not have it archived. Again, why not make sure all the configurations are set up to take advantage of technology and optimize the outcome?

This is another great time to ask an IT Pro for help, like the BITS Team, to provide back-ups and other security measures – for around $4 per employee.

3. Cleaning Out Your Hard Drive

Distressed man looking at computerYou’ve got hundreds, thousands—more even—of files saved. Your hard drive is filling up fast, and soon you’ll be out of room – and your business will come to a screeching halt. Surely, deleting some files and clearing out space is something you can handle yourself, right?

Not so fast.

There are a couple of pitfalls here. You could accidentally turn off your anti-virus software and expose yourself to viruses and scammers. Or you could accidentally delete some file(s) that you need, and if you haven’t backed up all your data effectively, then that file is gone forever. Even worse, you could end up inadvertently deleting a file or program that your system needs to run properly. We’ve seen it happen: a client deleted an essential Windows file while trying to clear space, bringing their entire system to its knees.

So don’t take the risk. Contact BITS for help. Or even better, have them sync your network to the Cloud so you can have all the storage space you’ll ever need and never have to worry about running out of space.

Maintain Your Network with BITS

You can trust BITS to solve just about any IT issues that come up. We’ve been doing this for 20 years. But more importantly, the constant maintenance and updates you get from managed services professionals mean that most problems won’t arise at all. “Think of BITS like your auto mechanic,” says Caleb. “If you bring your car in for regular maintenance, you can count on it to run smoothly. But if you try to fix problems yourself or just neglect them, you lose that peace of mind, and more often than not, it’ll create bigger issues in the long run.”

Or, as Kevin explains: “We try to be the SPF to prevent the sunburn, not the aloe to soothe it. We want to keep the fires from even starting, but if they do, we are already in front of it… and it’s much easier to put out.”

In other words, whether you have an IT issue that needs resolution or you’re looking for a partner that protects you from challenges and disruptions down the road, you should contact Beacon IT Services (BITS) today. You’ll regret trying to fix that problem yourself, but you won’t regret choosing BITS.

Client Spotlight: W. Schillig – “BITS Keeps Us On Track”

When it comes to business, you never want there to be any downtime that can get in the way of delivering for your customers or getting the job done. And when your business is spread across the globe in multiple time zones, it’s absolutely essential that your network is reliable and working all hours of the day and night.

“If somebody from one of our factories in Germany calls us at 3 AM, our computers and servers have to be running,” says David Most, Vice President of Sales with W. Schillig. Fortunately, David and his team don’t have to worry about service outages because they partner with Beacon IT Services (BITS).

 

W. Schillig sofa

What Doesn’t BITS Do For Us?

W. Schillig logoSince its establishment in 1949, W. Schillig has been delivering high-end, European style home furnishings. With U.S. operations based out of High Point, N.C., the company specializes in modern, contemporary sofas and furniture produced with high-quality German engineering. In addition to selling beautifully designed finished pieces to customers and retailers, shoppers can also personalize their items with more than 70 design options and dozens of choices of color and fabric.

With factories located throughout Europe and Asia and a distribution base throughout the U.S. and Canada, the people of W. Schillig absolutely rely on their computer technology to keep them connected with their customers and each other.

Several years ago, it became apparent that W. Schillig’s IT provider wasn’t delivering on all of their needs. “They just weren’t available enough,” says David.

They decided to give BITS a try. It started with just a few small projects, but upon discovering the dedication, tenacity, and follow-through of the BITS team, the partnership quickly grew. Today, BITS covers the majority of W. Schillig’s managed services needs.

“What doesn’t BITS do for us?” David says. “They handle just about everything: hardware purchases, programming our machines. It goes from installing a new server—which BITS did last week—to helping us turn on the computer and put in the right password. I don’t even know everything BITS does for us because it’s seamless. If someone is having an IT issue, they just call BITS and it’s taken care of.”

A Remote Working Superhero

Mel Gonzalez

BITS came to W. Schillig’s aid in a major way in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wanting to keep safe and socially distanced, W. Schillig’s employees quickly transitioned to remote working using laptops but quickly discovered their VPN wasn’t quite up to the increased workload. Tasks that should have taken minutes suddenly took an hour.

Then, while addressing a separate issue, BITS IT Support Specialist Mel Gonsalez heard about the slowdown. Mel discussed the issue with David, explaining that if they connected their laptops to workstation terminals, employees would be able to work as quickly and efficiently as if they were sitting at their desks. David was skeptical at first, but Mel quickly convinced him.

“Mel explained everything and told us what we needed to do to speed up our processes,” David says. “Within a few days of that conversation, we took action and hooked up our terminal system. Now our people can connect and work at a better pace. Some of our key programs even function better. It was a big deal and saved us so much time and frustration. Mel is kind of a superhero for our company.”

KeeW. Schillig sofa and roomping the Ship in Motion

Of course, Mel isn’t the only BITS team member who’s gone above and beyond for W. Schillig. David explains: “BITS’ brand is really all about the people. The people make the brand. And BITS has great people, very proactive.”

For David, it’s that dedication, as well as a talent for clear communication, that sets BITS apart.

Recently, a BITS team member contacted David to let him know that W. Schillig’s server might need replacing. “He said, ‘Your server is over 10 years old, and you could have a situation if you don’t replace it,'” David says. “He really made the situation simple and clean for us. We aren’t IT specialists, so that explanation was hugely helpful.”

As a result of that conversation, the server was replaced and the new server is running better than ever. That kind of proactive problem solving that characterizes BITS’ work gives David the peace of mind to focus on his business and not worry about IT.

“Our ship is in motion. It has to keep going forward,” he says. “If one thing breaks, the ship slows down. BITS keeps us on track. And that’s critical.”

No Worries, We Got IT

Interested in finding out what BITS can do for you and your business? Contact us today or request a free audit. We can’t wait to get to work for you.

By | 2021-01-15T09:02:08+00:00 January 15th, 2021|System Administration, Computer Related, BITS News, BITS Team, IT Services|

IT’s Better Together: Meet The Team Powering Your Business

 

No matter the size or scope of your organization, success is always the result of a team effort. Where talented and driven people come together with a common purpose, amazing things happen. The Beacon IT Services team (BITS) is no different. Coming from a range of experiences and with their own wealth of knowledge and skills, every member of BITS form the kind of IT services team that you’ll come to trust with any project, large or small.

What’s more, this team can integrate itself into your organization so seamlessly that they’ll feel like a part of your own team!

With a group as close-knit and dedicated as BITS, you won’t encounter the frustration of some larger companies that run you around from one IT tech to another before bringing you a solution. With us, you’ll get to put names to faces, build relationships, and trust that whoever fields your IT-related questions is capable of addressing your needs quickly and effectively.

Learn more about how our culture of collaboration and teamwork can bring you unparalleled IT support, and get to know a few of Beacon’s talented IT professionals! You’ll be seeing us around!

Mel GonzalezMel Gonzalez – IT Support Specialist

With a combined IT experience of nearly 10 years, Mel has seen it all. A self-professed math fanatic, Mel combines two of his passions to bring BITS’ clients a first-class service experience. First, his love for solving complex problems means he welcomes a challenge and is eager to rise to the occasion. Second, his desire to continue learning means every new experience only improves his ability to meet those challenges. Working with BITS means you’ll bring Mel’s extensive experience, quick thinking, and lifelong passion for creative problem solving to your team!

“We have so many clients with so many different needs, systems and configurations. By sharing knowledge, we are always getting stronger. We examine previous challenges we’ve had with other clients, apply that knowledge and develop a solution for you quickly.”

Dustin Shives

Dustin Shives – IT Support Specialist

Dustin came to Beacon after a 15-year career in the healthcare field and is currently finishing his bachelor’s degree in systems administration and cloud computing from WGU. While moving from healthcare to information technology might seem like a big change, Dustin doesn’t see it that way.

“At Beacon I get to keep that sense of teamwork and personal interaction that I enjoyed in healthcare. In a hospital, you have your CNA’s, nurses and doctors. Here, you have your level-one technicians, level-two technicians, system administrators and so on, but you’ve still got to have the teamwork. If you don’t have a team, if you don’t work as a team, you won’t create that common goal for your patient or client.”

Marissa ScaramuzzoMarissa Scaramuzzo – IT Support Specialist

As her father, John Scaramuzzo, cofounded Beacon when she was two years old, you might say Marissa is one of Beacon’s longest-running team members. Growing up alongside the business brought her close to computers at a young age, and her passion for technology has only grown now that she’s a bona fide BITS member. In addition to studying web design and computer sciences in high school and college, Marissa has also learned a great deal from her fellow BITS members. For Marissa, it’s this built-in culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration that sets BITS apart.

“Much of my IT knowledge comes from what Beacon’s Finest have taught me. For each person on your IT team, chances are you’ve added at least one unique skill to your repertoire. Our communication and comparing notes is crucial because it allows us to gain a larger, more detailed picture of the problem so we can better determine how to resolve it.”

Caleb PruittCaleb Pruitt – IT Services Manager

Encouraged at a young age to pursue law, medicine, engineering, or architecture, Caleb first trained as an architect, but he always knew he was made to work in information technology. Now, as BITS’ IT Services Manager, Caleb combines nearly a decade of experience and a lifelong love of technology to bring your institution the rapid and quality IT support your institution depends on to run smoothly.

As IT Services Manager, Caleb does a bit of everything: day-to-day business management, tech support work, system administration, office administration, and more. Caleb takes great pride in his fellow BITS team members and their ability to share knowledge and coordinate efforts.

“At bigger companies, your tier-one technician may only be able to help with passwords or something like that. They read off a list of solutions to a certain point and then they pass you off.  Here, our tech support and system administrators openly collaborate and a lot of knowledge transfer occurs, so our specialists are strong in all areas. Any one of ours would wipe the floor with a tier-one technician somewhere else. You won’t be working through some major hierarchy that takes days and days to resolve. Based on our metrics, we resolve 95% of all calls on the day we receive them.”

Make Our IT Team Your IT Team!

BITS is the IT team you can trust to keep your workstations and computer networks protected and running at peak capacity. Quick, responsive, and experienced, we make sure our clients stay operational and informed, 24/7. From managed IT services to threat prevention and data recovery, BITS provides peace of mind and the technical know-how to keep your business humming.

We’ve been helping our clients manage their IT since 1998: we’ve been there through IT’s history and evolution, and we can help you ready your business for the future.

Contact us today to discuss your IT needs, or request a free audit. We look forward to introducing our team to yours!

By | 2020-11-18T06:51:32+00:00 November 18th, 2020|BITS News, BITS Team, IT Services|

Take a Rest, We Got IT: What Your IT Team Does When You’re On Vacation

cup of coffee with milk being added

It’s 8:44 AM.

You wanted to sleep in later, of course, but it was still nice to not wake up to the sound of your phone alarm buzzing. You go to the kitchen and make some coffee, then sit down on your couch, enjoying the quiet. You just breathe.

Of course, cancelling the big vacation was a bummer, but you needed the time off. But as your head clears, a worry crosses your mind. Will everything be OK without you? You grab your phone, hover your thumb over your email.

Then you stop. You can relax. You’ve got a good team. You trust them. And you also know that even while you’re taking your much deserved rest, your information technology partner – your IT team – is still hard at work, keeping your network and infrastructure running so your business can keep doing business. So pour yourself a refill of coffee, and get comfortable, while we take a look at what your IT team does while you are on vacation.

They’ll Maintain Your Operating System

inflatable pink flamingo in poolOne of the key things your IT team does while you’re out: maintaining your operating system. Ensuring network connectivity, monitoring and adding bandwidth as needed, optimizing your data backup solutions, providing necessary system updates to ensure your customers have the best possible user experience, your IT team does it all.

More importantly, they monitor your system 24/7, so they can catch any potential issues before they arise and cause problems. That means no disruptions to your business, no inconveniences for your customers, and no panicked phone calls from the office while you’re taking it easy.

They’ll Connect You to the Cloud

man lounging with laptop computerOf course, you may not be able to help yourself: you go to work everyday, and even when you’re off, there’s one or two things you need to take care of yourself. Fortunately, with the right IT team working behind the scenes for you, it’s easy and seamless, all thanks to the cloud.

Your IT team will set up cloud networking and data storage solutions for your system. That means your whole network can be accessed from anywhere, and you can log on from anywhere you can connect to the internet, be it your couch or the pool or anywhere. Furthermore, your IT team will monitor your cloud network, keeping an eye out for any possible disruptions, so you have one less thing to be concerned about.

They’ll Keep Your Network Secure

Speaking of concerns, don’t let any worries about security wake you from your mid-day vacation nap. Your IT team is working hard to keep your network and data secure, whether you’re connected to the cloud or on a private network.

The team will get your system set with the best protections and defenses, with a fully customized firewall to protect you from network breaches, viruses, and phishing attempts. Their regular inspections will locate and correct any vulnerabilities in your system, and the team keep an eye out for any irregularities, ready to spring into action if anything goes wrong.

And if you go a little too deep into vacation mode and forget your passwords while you’re out? Your IT team can help you get logged back in, too.

 

woman floating on inflatable pink flamingo

Don’t Worry: Beacon Has Got IT

So to really rest and make the most of your time off, it’s clear that a trusted IT partner is a must: you need Beacon IT Services (BITS).  We’ve been helping our clients manage their networks, protect their data, and keep their businesses running day and night through spring, summer, fall, and winter for more than 20 years (and lots and lots of vacations).

Contact us today to discuss what we can do for you, or request a free audit.

Adjusting Your Business for a Digital Transformation

Change and uncertainty have been constant themes for nearly every business since the start of 2020. It’s hard to find an industry or sector that has not had to navigate at least some small-scale transitions due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many business were prepared for a pivot to an online-heavy operational model. But, many more were not.

There’s no shame in the realization that your enterprise may not have been immediately ready to adopt a more digitally oriented business model. It’s hard to predict a once-in-a-century global crisis. But, now that you’re in the thick of it, what can you do to ensure that your operation is optimized for the new economic reality we are all experiencing?

Let’s discuss some keys for a successful ramp up to digital business operations.

digital transformationThe Ongoing Digital Transformation

The coronavirus had definitely provided the impetus for a digital transformation in many industries. But, the truth is, the transformation has been going on for a while now. Around 70% of businesses were expanding their digital capabilities in one way or another when the pandemic struck.

Not everyone was hitting their transitions out of the park, however. In fact, a full-scale digital transformation is hardly assured of success. According to research by the consulting heavyweight McKinsey & Company, less than one-third of organizations undertaking a large-scale technological upgrade succeeded in improving performance over a meaningful period of time.

There is good news for small business owners, however. Businesses with fewer than 100 employees were 2.7 more likely to report a successful transition compared with organizations with 50,000 employees or more.

So, what can you do to maximize the success of your business’ digital transformation? Our friends at McKinsey offer these five suggestions:

  1. Provide capable, digital-savvy leadership
  2. Build for a workforce of the future
  3. Empower and encourage your team to work in new ways
  4. Upgrade to digital tools for day-to-day business operations
  5. Communicate frequently via traditional and digital channels

Let’s explore these in more detail.

Digital-Savvy Leadership

If you are running a successful small business, you obviously have a capable leadership team in place already. That said, if you’re looking to improve your digital infrastructure, you’ll likely need some help with the “digital-savvy” part of leadership. This probably means looking outside of your organization for help.

You can go about it in one of two ways. You could create a “chief digital officer” position and hire an experienced manager for the role. The other options is to engage a knowledgeable and trustworthy IT firm to help you through the transition.

Either way, you’ll need to empower and smooth the way for your C-suite hire or the IT team you contract. Which means consistent communication to support their efforts. More on this later.

workforce of the futureBuilding a Workforce for the Future

An investment into new technology is great. But, it won’t make a difference on its own. You’ve got to have employees who know how to use and make the most of your new digital tools.

Getting your team to explore and utilize new tools is easier when you have a few employees who can act as integrators and early adopters. Look for members of your team who know the technical aspect of your business and understand the potential impact of the tools and technologies you are looking to add.

Empowering Your Employees

Change is difficult. Period. It’s human nature to keep on doing things the same way we always have. To grease the wheels of change, you need buy-in from your team.

One way to get a positive reaction from your charges is to solicit input about specific ways that new digital tools can help support their work. This sets the right tone during the planning part.

Once new processes and tools are put in place, it is imperative to reinforce the new behaviors. One way to do that is by providing continuing education opportunities. Another one is to encourage employees to explore, take risks and fail with their new tools.

Adding the Right Digital Tools for Day-to-Day Operations

Through their research, McKinsey identified three important considerations when adding new digital tools:

  • the application should make information accessible throughout the entire organization,
  • the application should empower your employees and your business partners to easily reach data-driven insights,
  • standard procedures should be revised to include the new digital tool

loud speakerCommunicate, Communicate, Communicate

As said before, internalizing new ways of working is not easy. But, if your employees understand the impetus for the changes being made, and the direction in which these changes are taking the company, they are more likely to successfully adopt their new digital tools and procedures.

To that end, it’s important to get your team together in-person to discuss your digital optimization plan before it gets going. As the changes are rolled out, continued check-in conversation between employees and their managers can help to keep implementation on track. Periodic communication from management via email or remote company town halls (via Zoom, Slack, etc) providing updates throughout the process will keep your team up to date on developments and help them keep track of progress.

Priorities for a Digital Transformation

Now that you understand the keys to a successful digital transformation, how should you proceed? We asked our team of IT experts for advice. Here’s what they said.

Make a Plan

This sounds obvious. But, how many businesses had to scramble to get business operations online when shutdown orders came down in mid-March? This reaction wasn’t unusual. IT needs often get de-prioritized unless something major goes wrong.

The rush in March, necessitated by COVID-19, made resources and equipment scarce. It’s can still be difficult to track down needed equipment, like laptops and servers.

For a smooth transition, make a plan before the need arises.

Decentralize Your Network

Cloud computing and applications are a smart and financially manageable way for small businesses to move their operations online. There are other advantages to decentralizing your business network. For one, you minimize the risk of your network going down from a single point of failure. For example, if your on-site servers go down, a cloud backup can keep your network operational while the problem is addressed.

Boost Security

Whenever you add points of access to your protected network, be it from cloud applications or from your workforce working remotely, you provide more avenues for cyber attacks to reach you. That doesn’t mean you should hunker down and shut out the digital world. It does mean that you should take the necessary security precautions.

Increase Bandwidth

Logic dictates that if you’re going to be relying on more digital processes, you’ll need to bolster your digital resources. This includes everything from ordering more laptops for your remote employees and upping your internet connection to implementing a more robust firewall and increasing your network monitoring capabilities.

Beacon Knows Digital Transformation

Need a reliable partner to help you through your digital transformation? The BITS team is here for you. Get in touch today to discuss your digital operations goals.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:01+00:00 May 20th, 2020|BITS Team, IT Services|

Document Storage Solutions for the Work-From-Home Era

working from homeLast month, as many businesses were amending their operations to function in a global pandemic, we wrote about managing the transition to remote work and what small businesses needed to do to make the new arrangement possible. If there’s one positive arising from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that many of us have been forced to learn the skills necessary to function in the 21st century economy. In the last several weeks, tens of millions of employees have become intimately familiar with video conferencing, VPNs, online collaboration tools, cloud-based document storage and more.

We’re more than a month now into our new normal. Hopefully, your transition to remote work was a seamless one. More likely, your team probably hit a few hiccups along the way. You don’t just unveil a whole new way of doing business without some speed bumps.

One major hurdle for the newly initiated remote-work businesses has been how to store, share and manage sensitive records and information via the web. The big concern is how to do all those things while maintaining tight security protocols. Strangely appropriate, April also happens to be the National Records and Information Management month. So, this topic arises at just the right time on the calendar.

Rising Cyberthreats During COVID-19

cyber criminalYour business’ transition to remote work isn’t happening in a vacuum. In the digital environment there are always threats. And, as we’ve covered in previous posts, criminal activity online is growing every year. The COVID-19 pandemic that’s driving more and more businesses to operate on the web is simultaneously presenting more targets for hackers to exploit.

Cybercrime reports have spiked four-fold in the wake of the global spread of coronavirus, according to the FBI.

“There was this brief shining moment when we hoped that, you know, ‘gosh cyber criminals are human beings too,’ and maybe they would think that targeting or taking advantage of this pandemic for personal profit might be beyond the pale,” stated FBI Deputy Assistant Director Tonya Ugoretz  on a recent online panel hosted by the Aspen Institute. “Sadly that has not been the case.”

Cybercriminals have used COVID-19 themes to go after everything from hospitals and health care systems to wind farm operators. They’ve crashed private – but, unsecured – Zoom calls (Zoombombing) and targeted private email addresses with phishing schemes.

As a result, it’s not surprising that 7 out of 10 organizations reported in a mid-March survey by Adobe that they expected to increase their investment in cybersecurity solutions.

So, what should you, as a small business, be doing to secure your digital environment?

Work-From-Home Solutions

There are a few basic things your business needs in order for your work force to be able to work from home with any efficiency. For starters, your team will need access to and the ability to collaborate on company documents. You will also need to back up the work your employees complete on their company-issued equipment at home. And, of course, you’ll need to protect all of these cloud-based interactions from anyone who might have less than pure intentions.

Secure shared drive

So, let’s start with the company’s shared drive – the library of all your essential documents, from client work and purchase orders to business expenses and marketing materials. Many businesses rely on on-premise servers to house their company shared drive. But, with a network of employees working from their home offices, there is less need to have your document storage on site.

And, there are advantages to a cloud-based solution that’s tailored for remote collaboration. A cloud storage platform, like Microsoft’s OneDrive, allows a team of employees to work on the same document, simultaneously, while maintaining the same working version of the file. The file is also protected through encryption, both while it is being worked on and when transmitting to the cloud. And, there are additional helpful features like data loss prevention, file restore and intelligent discovery.

Beacon, itself, has recently transitioned to a cloud-based shared drive to help our team of employees working from home.

Data Backup

It’s easy enough to backup the data on your employee workstations when they’re in office. It doesn’t have to be difficult to back up your remote employees’ machines when they’re not physically connected to your network. A great solution for centrally enabled data backup is Veeam Backup & Replication. This is another resource we’ve deployed in-house.

cloud securityCloud security

Most cloud applications are created with security features built-in. Still, it’s important to implement protocols and promote habits that further protect your enterprise.

Cybersecurity best practices call for the use of VPNs (virtual private network) for all employees working from home. With cyber attacks on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is advised that businesses make sure they are updated to the latest versions of their VPNs and all patches are applied.

Multifactor authentication is another helpful security measure. Password protecting your company workstations and all remote applications ensures that your company resources stay safe, even if a phishing attack compromises an employee’s credentials.

Lastly, training your remote employees on how to spot phishing attacks and other security exploits can further reduce the risk of a successful cyber attack.

Beacon Knows Remote Work

Roughing your way through a transition to remote work? The BITS team can help you smooth the way. Give us a call, we’re here to help.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 April 23rd, 2020|System Administration, BITS Team, IT Services|

Work From Home: Transitioning to the New Reality

As little as two months ago, working from home was considered a job perk. Or, maybe even a recruiting tactic for prized new hires. Despite telecommuting becoming more and more accepted in office parks around the country, the custom was certainly not a taken-for-granted benefit.

A lot has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic has erupted and caused worldwide disruptions to everyday life and work. As more shelter-in-place orders come down from governor’s mansions, working from home has become a mandated reality for millions of people all across the world.

For the immediate future, telecommuting is no longer a job perk… it’s a job necessity.

If you’re a business that embraced working from home long before the spread of coronavirus became an international crisis, kudos — way to stay ahead of the game. Hopefully, your transition to a telecommuting workforce has gone smoothly and easily.

That said, before the onset of the pandemic, accommodating telecommuting for employees never registered as a top-level concern or need for many small and medium-sized businesses. With the new, social distancing reality setting in, you might be finding yourself scrambling to take your business virtual.

What do you needed to successfully complete this abrupt transition? Let’s discuss a few essentials.

Hardware

First and foremost, you’ll need the right equipment if you want to enable your team to manage their work responsibilities remotely. That means laptops.

Why laptops? Because it’s impractical to expect your employees to unplug their desktop setups and transport them to their makeshift home offices. It may also be inadvisable to allow your employees to utilize their own personal computers for work purposes.

Unless you have every employee’s personal computer checked out by an IT professional, you have no way of knowing how secure their machines are. As such, you could be leaving your businesses exposed to unacceptable levels of risk.

So, company laptops — set up and secured by knowledgeable IT staff — are the first items you’ll need to procure.

The bad news here is, many businesses are rushing to stock up on laptops, for the same reasons you are. Some suppliers are running three-week backlogs on orders. A lot of laptop manufacturing capacity resides in China — the first country to be hit with the pandemic. Production has slowed to a crawl across almost every industry.

The good news? China now appears to be heading for a slow recovery. The Chinese government is allowing manufacturing facilities to re-open and resume their production. Provided there are no big setbacks, the laptop backlog may be easing in the near future.

In addition to laptops, the other hardware your employees will need are phones and reliable internet connections. There isn’t much you can do about internet service at your employees homes. However, you can make sure their phones are secure and properly configured to handle sensitive company correspondence and information by having your IT team provide assistance.

VPN

So, now that your employees have their laptops, phones and reliable internet connections, you’ll need to enable your team to access company resources — email, databases, shared drives, etc.. And, you’ll also need to protect your business from potential breaches by digital criminals.

The best way to do that is via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN enables secure and private transmission of data over the internet. It’s like a private tunnel on a busy road, to which only you and your employees have access.

You’ll need to purchase a VPN license for every remote employee on your team. There are many VPN providers out there. For help selecting the right VPN service for your business, check out this guide from Digital Trends.

Remote Desktop

Another resource you may need to enable for your remote employees is a remote desktop connection. This allows your team to access their workstations from their home computers/laptops.

It’s a good bet that there are resources and information on your employee workstations that they may need to access in order to manage their day-to-day duties. In addition to documents and databases, your team can also access applications loaded on their workstations from home. This is helpful if you rushed deliveries of your newly purchased laptops to your employee homes. The laptops are

Secondly, remote desktop works both ways. Not only can your team access their workstations from home, your IT team can also access your employees’ computers remotely when they require help. This provides “hands on” assistance for any troubleshooting issues when your employees can’t simply hand their machine off to an IT staffer.

Guidelines and Best Practices

Transitioning your business to remote work can be a jarring process for you and your team. There’s no doubt that there are new routines and protocols to adjust to. And, not everyone has experience utilizing the new tools they’ll be asked to use.

To assist the transition to the new reality, it’s helpful to have a common set of guidelines and best practices for your employees to follow. To that end, it’s important to undergo a comprehensive assessment of your business processes and go through all the new steps you’ll be asking your employees to take. This exercise will help uncover problem spots before you begin your work from home program, and make the transition smoother and easier.

Beacon Knows Remote Work

Coronavirus has forced many businesses into new dynamics. If you need advice to assist with your transition to remote work, we are here to help. Get in touch with our team today.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 March 25th, 2020|BITS Team, IT Services|

Groundhog Day: 5 Re-occurring Issues Plaguing IT Pros

The jobs of IT professionals are hard enough.

Forget for a moment that they operate in an industry where the rate of change is accelerating exponentially – Moore’s Law states that computing capacity doubles every two years. Put aside the fact that the threat environment which they are paid to counteract increases in complexity every year, also exponentially. Nevermind that such a breakneck pace of innovation requires a continuous learning and updating of best practices and organizational policies.

These are not the most difficult issues IT workers face. The thing that makes a career in IT the most challenging is… us – the end user.

experiencing IT problemsDespite all the hard work and effort that goes into keeping the digital infrastructure of a business, government or non-profit organization secure and operating at peak performance, almost any user can bring down a network (knowingly, or unknowingly) in nearly no time. Worse, when something does go wrong, the assumption tends to be that it’s the IT guy’s fault if an email account won’t refresh or the internet connection becomes inaccessible.

Now, to be fair, it is perfectly legitimate to feel frustration if an indispensable work tool ceases to function. What isn’t fair is ignoring the fact that our own actions and work habits often contribute to the technology problems we experience.

What are some of the most frequent sources of frustration for IT folks? Let’s take a look.

The Groundhog Day IT Issues

We talked to our IT team leaders to learn more about the issues they run into most often. Here are a few of the repeated behaviors they tend to observe:

Minimizing the scope of a computer problem

If, for some reason, a program on your computer shuts down unexpectedly, it’s not a huge deal – provided you can easily recover the work you were doing. Still, a check-in with your IT team is the prudent course of action.

But, if your machine begins a pattern of unusual behavior – like, slower than usual running speed, or a series of unprompted re-starts – ignoring the issue could lead to much bigger problems.

All of our schedules are busy, and none of us have enough time in the day for the work that needs to be done. So, the rush to get past an immediate computer issue is understandable… but, it’s still the absolute wrong mindset.

There’s no telling what the root cause of your problem could be without investigating.  It could be as simple as a failed update. Or, it could be as nefarious as someone attempting to hijack control of your company-issued laptop.

You won’t know. But, your IT team will. Reporting the problem ensures that you’ll have the best possible user experience with your laptop and it also protects your organization from potential hacker exploits.

Non-IT/unqualified personnel troubleshooting problems

The only thing worse than not reporting a computer problem is trying to fix it yourself when you don’t know what you’re doing. Even if you fancy yourself a computer expert, you don’t necessarily know all the programs, systems and protocols in place on your company computer. If a problem requires more than a simple re-boot, your IT team is in the best possible position to resolve the issue promptly and properly.

Ignoring updates/restart prompts

Updates are needed to keep your computer up to date with all the latest security patches. But, too many of us hit the “Cancel” or “Ignore” button when the restart prompt pops up.

Yeah, it’s annoying and mildly inconvenient to have to stop what you’re doing in order to accommodate an update you didn’t know you needed. But, the upside is often an improved user experience. And, you get to avoid the downside – your machine being an open vulnerability for hackers.

phishing Success of phishing scams and other social engineering exploits

Unfortunately, people are always the weakest link in any digital security setup. We don’t mean to be, or want to be, for that matter. But, that doesn’t stop the immense volume of social engineering exploits hackers deploy each and every day.

Phishing or spoofing scams – where bad actors trick you into providing login access or personal information – work all too well. And, it’s not just the least experienced computer users who fall for these tricks. These types of hacks can be extremely sophisticated and difficult to spot.

Under-investing in needed equipment

This behavior has less to do with everyday employees and more with the managed approach to maintaining an organization’s digital infrastructure. Too often, investment into the required equipment lacks a systematic process.

A business may upgrade its servers or network switches one or two at a time, whenever they find a good deal or a sale. Or, an organization might make a new purchase when something breaks or exceeds its warranty. However, such a piecemeal approach results in network components of different quality, age and capability. And that’s not a great recipe for reliability or peak performance.

handsHow to Help Your IT Team

So, what can we do to make their lives just a tad easier? Following the below suggestions can help you win a few more friends in the IT department.

Treat company hardware/software as a business asset

Remember, there’s a lot of work that goes into keeping your work computer functioning as it should. Plus, there’s a difference in technical requirements between your workstation and your personal laptop. So, you can’t treat your work computer just like you would your personal one.

Don’t troubleshoot above your pay grade

You might be tempted to go down a rabbit hole and figure out a solution to your computer problem on your own. But, why? That’s not the best use of your time. And, you might end up making things worse. Let the professionals handle it.

Follow prescribed policies and protocols

Your IT team spends time developing and maintaining policies and protocols that keep your business infrastructure safe and your workstations operating efficiently. Trust your team and follow their advice.

Training & vigilance

Security training is a great way to increase your ability to spot phishing and spoofing attacks. Take advantage of your security training program, if your office has one. And, if it doesn’t, ask your IT team how to best get up to speed on the latest threats.

IT equipmentInvest in needed equipment proactively, not reactively 

If you ask, we bet your IT team has a vision for how to best maintain and procure the equipment it needs to support the organization’s digital infrastructure. Get that vision formalized into an official plan. This will provide a long-range investment and procurement strategy and ensure that your network will perform as needed now and in the future.

Beacon Knows IT

Want to know how well your digital network is adapted to the demands of your business? Find out by requesting a free audit by the IT experts at BITS.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 February 20th, 2020|BITS Team, IT Services|

What to Give Your IT Team for the Holidays

IT professionals are tasked with a very important job: protecting their companies’ digital infrastructure and digital assets from all threats and intrusions. It’s a big job. And, often, it’s a thankless one. After all, in many cases, the only interactions co-workers have with IT staff is when something is wrong.

Internet down? Call the IT guy, pronto.

Restarting your laptop for the fourth time this week for some generic updates? Ugh, the IT department is so overbearing.

An application isn’t functioning properly on your desktop? Must be the IT guy’s fault. What’s so hard about keeping dozens of workstations working in perfect condition, anyway?

Cartoon man frustrated by a malfunctioning computerIn our hyper-busy work culture, interruptions to our daily routines are often received less than enthusiastically. But, in reality, it isn’t the IT guys fault if a network cable goes bad and temporarily shuts off your internet access; or, if the app you’re using wasn’t coded for your off-brand browser. And the IT department certainly can’t be blamed when you ignore a prompt to run software updates on your machine for the gazillionth time in the last month and your laptop freaks out and literally won’t let you log on.

At root of the problem is a simple difference in understanding of the technology we all use on a daily basis. While it’s the IT professionals’ job to know the ins and outs of the high-tech tools we all rely on, the rest of us are merely equipped with just enough knowledge to use these tools effectively.

Let’s face it, we’re not going to solve the disconnect between your rank-and-file employees and your IT team any time soon. But, what smart business owners and executives can do is equip the IT team to minimize avoidable problems and reduce their exposure to the wrath of the rest of your staff.

So, with this being the holiday season, and in the spirit of giving, here are a few suggestions of what to get your IT team to help make their jobs just a bit easier.

IT Guy’s Holiday Wish List 

Tiny shopping cart with two presents resting on a laptop keyboardKeep in mind that these gifts are not just for the IT team. The below recommendations won’t just make their jobs easier. They can help to make your business more secure, efficient and effective.

Unified Threat Management (UTM) Solutions

If you’re looking for a way to optimize your IT department’s capabilities, a do-it-all device or virtual service that combines antivirus, anti-malware, firewall, intrusion prevention, virtual private networking (VPN), web filtering and data loss protection can go a long way. For small businesses with small IT teams, UTM makes a ton of sense, as it simplifies the management of all digital security elements.

UTM solutions offer great protection from coordinated attacks that target different aspects of your network simultaneously. They are also attractive for businesses that operate in highly regulated industries, like healthcare or law, as they are designed to be compliant with legal requirements such as HIPAA, CIPA and GLBA.

To be fair, there’s a downside to UTM’s greatest appeal. Concentrating all of your security operations in one place makes your UTM device/service a potential single point of failure. When you put all your security eggs in one basket, hackers just need to bypass that one basket in order to breach your system.

That said, simplicity is a valuable commodity.

Security Training

Want to make your IT team really happy? Teach your employees to better recognize phishing attempts, spoofing exploits and other hacks that can potentially expose your business network to bad actors.

There is strength in numbers. If everyone on your team understands the digital security threat landscape, everyone can participate in keeping your digital assets safe.

Remember, it’s the human element that’s the weakest link in a secure network, not the technology. Practice and repetition can reduce the chances that one of your employees is fooled by a social engineering exploit.

network cables

New Hardware

Running your network on old equipment makes your IT team’s job harder. It’s slower, requires more maintenance and, in many cases, is less secure than the newer generation of security tech. Take stock of your current setup and identify the oldest, weakest link. Better yet, consult with the head of your IT team and see what he or she recommends.

New servers, storage equipment and network gear are all great investments for your digital infrastructure. Besides, new toys make everyone happy.

Beacon Knows the Holidays

From all of us at Beacon, to all of you out there, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons. And, if you need a little more help rounding out your network security in the new year, we are certainly here to help. Give us a call.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 December 12th, 2019|BITS Team, IT Services|
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