Connect Everywhere: Why You Need a Reliable VPN

So. Here we are. Still working from home. (Well, many of us.) Still not back to normal.

(Not going to reiterate everything that’s going on. You know what’s up. And if you’re reading this in the future and have no idea what I’m referring to… well… you’re very lucky.)

So yes, here we are, and here we stay. One thing to learn from everything happening now is that you need to be prepared for anything. Even if you’ve been able to get through 2020 largely unscathed, the general chaos and disruption right now should illustrate the need to be adaptive and ready to roll with whatever comes next.

Empty office

When it comes to your business, that means being ready to work from anywhere. What you need is a way for you and your team to access your business’s network form anywhere, while still offering the same level of cybersecurity that you’d get connecting directly in the office. That way you’ll be able to carry on your work without interruption, no matter what the universe decides to throw at us. (And as we’ve seen, it can throw a lot.)

A virtual private network (VPN) can provide what you need. And SonicWall is one of the most trusted VPN providers in the business.

Here’s what you need to know.

What Is SonicWall?

SonicWall is a technology company specializing in appliances and devices that primarily provide cyber security and remote, wireless access.

What Does SonicWall Offer?

SonicWall offers a number of useful products and services, including firewalls, cloud security, and content filtering. They also specialize in remote access and VPNs.

So what’s a VPN, again?

A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network. It allows for the security and function of the private network while allowing users to access the network anywhere. In other words, it’s the technology that make remote work possible and safe.

SonicWall offers a number of VPN options, so businesses can find the version that will work best for them.

What Can It Do For My Business?

Simply put, a reliable VPN will allow your team to work from anywhere. With just a laptop computer and wi-fi connection, they’ll have secure access to your servers and network wherever they choose to connect, allowing them to seamlessly accomplish their work without needing to be in the same space.

Man working outside on a laptopThat means that even when everyone may not be able to be in the same space (like is happening now), they can still work and collaborate like a team. Your business will be able to run without interruption regardless of how your team may be scattered. Some VPNs even allow easy and convenient access via smartphone operating systems, offering even more flexibility for you and your team.

A VPN also provides useful and essential security measures to keep your data and business secure. Many VPNs require user authentication (via passwords, digital certificates, or even biometrics) to access so only authorized users can access your network, in addition to a host of other security measures.

Do I Need a VPN?

If you have a team working for you and you want to make sure you can continue to run and function under any kind of changing circumstance, then we’ll say, yeah. You do. Definitely.

The fact is, even if you have gotten through the current pandemic moment without having to shut down your office or working space, you simply don’t know what’s coming in the future. Not to fear-monger (really) but the next world changing event may separate your team and provide a new need for remote work. And even when you aren’t navigating worst-case scenarios, a VPN offers your team unparalleled flexibility in how they collaborate.

For example, a team traveling to meet clients no longer has to put off other work or rely on people back at the office to access important data. Instead, they can access via the VPN and pull up the information and files they need directly.

Or how about when you wake up at 3:40 AM with the solution to the problem you’ve been working on suddenly in your head? Do you wait until you get to office hours later and discover you’ve forgotten your epiphany, or do you log in via your VPN, solve the problem, and lay back down for a few more hours of restful sleep with a feeling of real accomplishment?Man working on laptop at home.

How Do I Get a VPN?

Well, that’s where Beacon IT Services (BITS) comes in. We’ve been working with SonicWall for years, providing VPNs for our clients along with a host of other services. We even use a SonicWall VPN ourselves. We can get one set up for you and your business so you can begin working from anywhere.

So don’t wait for the next big moment. Be prepared, and contact us today to get started.

By | 2020-09-24T10:44:05+00:00 September 24th, 2020|System Administration, Other, Cyber Security, 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.

What’s Hot in IT? New Programs to Keep Your Data Cool

hot day on the road

 

Whew! It’s the height of summer and it is HOT. Take your breath away hot. Cook an egg on the hood of your car hot. Don’t go outside unless you can jump in a pool hot (or at least dip your toes into a kiddie pool in your backyard).

In other words, it’s a good time to stay inside. And while your inside, cooling off with a glass of something cold and refreshing, you can think about a different kind of heat, like what’s generating interest and excitement in the world of information technology services.

So what is hot in IT these days? Cyber security is always a major trend. And as COVID-19 continues to move more business online, anything that can keep your business and your data safe are a high priority.

Beacon IT Services (BITS) is always on the lookout for new programs and innovations that can help protect our clients. “Security is still the name of the game in managed services,” says BITS account executive Kevin Lackey. “We continually research new security services / security stacks for our clients to ensure we can stay in front of any potential issues or threats. There are literally hundreds of options, but we try to tailor which offerings are 1) beneficial to our specific set of clients and 2) can be incorporated with our systems.”

Lately, two new products that will help our clients improve their security have got us particularly excited. Here’s a look:

Auvik: Network Monitoring

Auvik is a networking monitoring solution that allows managed service providers (MSPs) to monitor entire network infrastructures, including data centers, workstations, physical servers, and more. With it, administrators can manage multiple clients from a single parent account. From that parent account, they can then add two-factor authentication for all accounts, allowing for an ample security upgrade.

Auvik also provides a dashboard for administrators with a centralized view of overall network performance for enhanced maintenance and can detect connected devices within the network and establish a secure inter-network connection. This allows for easier and more efficient troubleshooting. Plus, it easily integrates with variety of workflow and business tools like Microsoft Office.

All in all, Auvik ensures that managed service providers like BITS can effectively monitor their client networks and keep them running with maximum efficiency.

Huntress: Intrusion Detection

Keeping networks secure from hackers requires constant vigilance, but Huntress software is valuable tool for keeping them out – and getting rid of any who may have found a way in.

While many hackers use their own knowledge of antivirus and preventive security systems to get past firewalls and establish a foothold in a network. They can implement hard-to-detect malware that only runs when a user logs in or even only the user executes specific processes.

Huntress is specifically designed to seek out those footholds and provide a means to correct them. It integrates with existing security measures, and gives managed service providers like BITS detailed reports on security compromises it finds along with detailed instructions for fixing the issue.

The result is a significantly more secure network without significant extra costs: a win-win for managed service providers and their clients.

BITS Will Connect You with the Best and the Latest in IT

Of course, knowing what’s hot in IT is only helpful if you’ve got a partner to implement it. BITS can be that partner for you and will implement the IT innovations that make sense for your business and its needs. From hot new programs like Auvik and Huntress to other established programs like Proofpoint, IronScales, and KnowBe4, we are poised to offer and deliver the solutions that make a difference.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you, or request a free audit. No need to step outside: our remote IT will help keep your online business running and secure, no matter how hot it is outside. Cool.

The History and Evolution of Managed IT Services

History: we’ve lived through it, and more is being made every day. And while what’s happening in IT services may not seem quite as dramatic as what’s happening in the rest of the world, there’s no doubt that the industry is rapidly evolving in ways that will change how IT business is done going forward.

And it’s not just that the way IT services are handled: it’s in the increasing need for every business to have a robust online presence, and with that, the need for trusted managed IT service providers. So how did we get here? As always, to get a sense of where we are going, it’s worthwhile to take a look back.

From “Break / Fix” To Managed Services 

For a long time, the dominant model for IT services was “Break / Fix.” A business would have their system set up, then when something went wrong, they’d call up an IT team to come fix it. Sure, that meant lots of downtime while they waited for the team to address the issue and big bills to fix major problems. But at the time, companies either weren’t relying as heavily on technology in their day to day business, or least they didn’t believe that they did.

As times changed and technology advanced, it became clear to many companies that technology was absolutely essential to their operation. The long down times and significant work (and income) reductions that came with the “break / fix” model were simply unacceptable. Still, it wasn’t feasible or practical for many companies – especially small businesses – to have their own full-time IT expert. So managed IT services were born.

In the managed IT services model, companies contracted with outside team of IT experts to monitor their technology and fix any issues that arise as soon as possible. This meant that companies no longer had to worry about crashing systems or email being down, but could also leverage more sophisticated and complex technology. The IT team would even update a company’s technology and systems to be up-to-date.

A New World of IT

Today, more business than ever is conducted online. Cloud computing gives companies access to levels of data storage and online collaboration that would have been unthinkable (or at least unaffordable) just ten years ago.

And with so much more happening in that cloud space rather than on hard drives, cyber security is even more essential as well. Fortunately, managed IT services can also put systems in place (like multi-factor authentication) to prevent data from being stolen, exploited, or tampered with.

So it’s no surprise that companies are increasing the resources they give to IT: data shows that 44% of businesses plan to increase their tech spending this year.

And more changes are in store.

Soon, 5G technology will likely transform the digital landscape again, increasing the speed and capacity of online systems while decreasing latency (the time it takes for data to travel between devices and cellular towers- practically, the delay between your action and a site’s response). Soon, people from across the world will be able to collaborate together as though they are in the same room.

The power of 5G technology, along with other revolutionary innovations like the Internet of Things (IOT), could change everything about the way we do business and live our lives. It goes without saying the “break / fix” model wouldn’t fly in this new world. Every business that wants to stay competitive will need a trusted IT team of experts to manage their technology and ensure their cyber security.

And a business that doesn’t adapt to this new world of IT? Well, they’re history.

Take Control of Your Future

Fortunately, a trustworthy IT partner isn’t hard to find. In fact, you’ve got one right here: Beacon IT Services (BITS). 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 managed IT needs, or request a free audit. Your future begins today.

By | 2020-06-25T11:49:34+00:00 June 25th, 2020|System Administration, Computer Related, 5G, IT Services|

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|

Windows 7 End of Life: Managing the OS transition

Windows 7 logoFirst, let us begin by paying our respects to a hard-working piece of software. The Windows 7 operating system first became available to consumers in October 2009. Since that time, the OS has supported millions of business and personal computers, offering Microsoft users an alternative to the less-popular and more-problematic Windows Vista.

But, every beginning must have an end. And, that end came to pass just recently. On January 14, 2020, Microsoft ended its standard support of Windows 7, opting instead to focus its service around the next generation OS – Windows 10.

What does that mean for users who still rely on Windows 7? Let’s find out.

Impact of Windows 7 End of Life

Microsoft has been notifying users of the Windows 7 expiration date for a while. But, that doesn’t mean everyone has taken notice. And, even if they have, not everyone has taken steps to upgrade their operating system in time.

That’s not completely surprising. For a business, an OS upgrade requires effort and planning to service every single workstation. There’s both an expense and a potentially significant time commitment. So, it’s completely understandable if some small or medium-size business owners have pushed the task down their priority list.

After all, it’s not like your computers will just suddenly stop working.

That said, delaying an upgrade can have significant consequences. Consider the fact that in the modern age cyber security threats are growing at an increasingly alarming rate. Even with the latest security tools, there’s no guarantee that you’ll escape someone’s attempt to penetrate your network and hijack your data.

Chances of repelling an attack are even lower when you’re using out-of-date or unsupported software. Cyber criminals are not dumb – they tend to go after the easiest targets. And, post-January 14, 2020, that includes users of the Windows 7 operating system.

If You’re Sticking with Windows 7…

woman thinking in front of a laptopDespite the warnings, some of you may decide the push your luck and continue on with Windows 7. The good news is, you’re not out there entirely on your own. You can still purchase extended support from Microsoft.

However, that support is going to cost you. And, that cost is going to more than double the following year. Microsoft is consciously implementing an aggressive cost structure for Windows 7 extended support in order to motivate customers to ditch the old system and upgrade. Eventually, though, that support is going to end, too.

So, while you’re mulling your upgrade options, here are few suggestions for keeping your business network protected:

Update to the latest Windows 7 service pack

If you’re going to run unsupported software, you might as well have the latest version with the latest security patches. That should keep you in relatively good shape for the very immediate future.

Encrypt your internet traffic

This requires purchasing a VPN (virtual private network) service. What is a VPN? Simply put, a VPN connects your network traffic to another secure server somewhere else in the world, and routes your traffic using that server’s internet connection. Here’s a good article that goes into more detail.

Delete unknown/unused software

You really should do this anyway. But, it’s even more important if you already have an existing weak link. Removing unknown or unused software limits the potential avenues of attack for intruders.

Activate two-factor authentication

Again, something to consider as a best practice. Two-factor authentication requires users to go through two stages of secure entry into a network, database or application. This doesn’t have to be two passwords. There are a number of authenticating factors. You can learn more about them here.

cyber securityUse a password manager

Most users create passwords they can easily remember. In many cases, these passwords are easier to crack for hackers using sophisticated password-cracking scripts. A password manager can help mitigate this problem. Not only will it track all of your login information, it will also generate passwords that are harder to crack.

Educate yourself and your employees about ransomware

Knowledge is key to success, right? The more educated you are about common cyber attack tactics, the more securely you can operate your business. But, you’re also only as strong as your weakest link. That means that your employees have to know as much about cyber security as you do.

Beacon Knows Operating Systems

Whether you’re considering an OS update, or you’re hanging on with Windows 7 for a little while longer, Beacon can help you keep your business infrastructure secure and operating at peak potential. For help assessing your network security, request an audit from our dependable team of IT professionals.

By | 2020-09-22T12:27:02+00:00 January 30th, 2020|Computer Related, 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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