4 Network Security Facts for SMBs

As the operations of small and medium sized businesses become increasingly digitized, so too does the risk of having catastrophic breaches of their networks. While this is a relatively new concern for SMBs, it is a serious one as hackers shift their focus away from the better protected networks of large companies toward easier targets. If network security has occupied a low ranking on your company’s priority list, here are four facts that can set you in the right direction.

1) Threats to your network exist both inside and outside of your business – External threats to company networks often succeed due to mistakes that are made by people inside the business. These mistakes include losing devices that allow illicit access to the network, opening malware laden email attachments, and creating easily hacked passwords such as “admin”. The first step toward mitigating these risks can be taken by simply educating your employees on how specific actions can make the network vulnerable to outside attacks. If employees are using personal devices to access the network, setting terms of use and enhancing network security measures on the devices should be undertaken immediately.
2) Wireless networks can be extremely vulnerable to outside attacks – While most businesses use secure networks, the use of the default access codes that are programmed into the routers provides a low barrier to entry for hackers. Instead, program your own pass codes and if available, enable an encryption algorithm.
3) Your email system is under constant attack – According to numerous studies, over 80 percent of unsolicited emails contain malware or links to corrupted sites. One of the best ways to fight back in this battle is to install anti-virus and anti-spam programs to prevent potentially dangerous emails from showing up in your employees’ inboxes.
4) No network is bullet-proof – The hackers who present outside threats to your network are constantly evolving the sophistication of the weapons used to attack business networks, meaning that there is always a chance that well-crafted malware can slip through your defenses. Mitigating this issue requires the implementation of additional defenses inside the networks, such as tiered access, as well as the development of protocols to handle network breaches.

While there was a time when SMBs could fly under the radar as hackers targeted larger companies, those days are gone. If you haven’t taken steps to protect your business’ network, the time to start is now.

5 Advantages of Public Cloud Computing

Cloud computing can be divided into three subsets; public, private and hybrid. Oftentimes, businesses wading into cloud computing start with the public cloud model, which presents a variety of operational and budgetary advantages. These advantages include:

* Pay per use billing – Rather than making outright purchases of software, hardware, and other resources, businesses pay for the time that services are used. Paying in this manner allows for businesses to implement the best solutions available without being burdened with purchasing resources that may be used for a limited time.
* Access to the latest versions of software, hardware, etc. – One of the disadvantages of using a private cloud format is that, once capital investments are made, the technologies tend to stay in place as newer versions are introduced. Public cloud service providers, which can recoup capital expenditures via pay per use billing, are much faster at making new versions of hardware and software available to their clients.
* Economies of scale – Public cloud companies have a size advantage that enables economies of scale at a level that isn’t feasible for the vast majority of businesses that build private clouds. The savings generated from these economies of scale combined with pay per use billing result in an extremely affordable provision of services, especially when compared with the alternatives.
* The ability to cost-effectively ramp projects – Being able to access project-related resources for pennies on the dollar enables companies to do feasibility testing and take on projects that might otherwise be too expensive to launch. Minimized risk/reward ratios resulting from a lower cost basis enable businesses to explore and exploit a broader scope of opportunities, thus improving their chances of success.
* Battle-proven data security – Cloud service providers are well aware of the bull’s-eye on their backs in terms of cyber attacks, as hackers continually attempt to gain entry to these target-rich networks. To provide the highest degree of data security for their clients, cloud service providers prioritize the hiring of the best cyber security minds in the business and dedicate substantial percentages of their operating budgets to protecting their clients’ data.

With the advantages delivered by the public cloud model, businesses can become more cost-effective while simultaneously improving their competitive position. Additionally, public cloud services can be easily integrated with the private cloud model when business conditions call for it.

How to Avoid 3 Sources of IT Problems for Businesses

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As the sophistication of network infrastructure becomes more complicated, seemingly on a daily basis, more small and mid-sized businesses are contemplating the outsourcing of this work to IT service providers. This transfer of duties to an outside firm with the expertise to manage a growing network can deliver loads of benefits, but there are also problems that can arise in this type of arrangement.

Here are 3 sources of IT problems for businesses and how to avoid them:

* A misunderstanding of the other party’s expectations – These types of misunderstandings can occur for a variety of reasons including the definition of job duties, billing, and differences in opinion of how to achieve stated objectives.
* Modifying a project – Once terms have been agreed and a project is put in motion, making modifications can add significantly to the duration and cost of the project.
* Going with the lowest bid for the project – A bid that is significantly lower than the bids from other IT service providers, like in any other type of work, is low for a specific reason. The possibilities include using low-wage personnel, the integration of cut-rate equipment, and/or the possibility that the job will not come close to agreed upon objectives.

All of these potential issues can be avoided with a high level of communication between the parties. By defining expectations, the objectives of the project and exactly how the project will be run from start to finish can help to avoid 3 of the most common sources of IT problems for businesses.

What Does Your Website Have to Do with the Chinese Army?

If the recent report released by the Pentagon is any indication, the cyber war between the United States and China is hotter than ever. The headline quote from the report, which confirmed the years-long suspicions of many network security specialists stated, “In 2012, numerous computer systems around the world, including those owned by the U.S. government, continued to be targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military”.

The report added that the purpose of the cyber attacks is to gain access to sensitive information and intellectual properties from industries related to defense programs in the United States. Further accusations include the Chinese military’s backing of and involvement with one of the most notorious assemblage of hackers in the world, known as the “Comment Crew”, which over the last 7 years has stolen data from over 140 organizations and businesses across a spectrum of 20 industries.

So, to answer the question, “What does your website have to do with the Chinese Army?”, if you’re running a retail operation that sells apparel, probably not much. On the other hand, if your business has anything to do with the military complex in the United States, your business may be more at risk than you think. Whether your business is supplying an incremental piece of the puzzle for military-related domestic travel, the bulk of the technology behind a missile guidance system, or something in between, there is a chance that your research, data, and intellectual property may have the attention of outside groups that don’t necessarily have your business’ best interests in mind.

The Benefits of Unified Messaging for Your Business

Unified messaging is the result of the integration of voice, text, email and fax messages into a single interface that can be accessed via email, cell, or smartphone. Having a single location for these types of messages has many advantages including:

  • Access to different types of messages through a single interface – With the wide variety of message types that can be received in the course of doing business, having a single interface for all communications can eliminate the need for accessing related materials using different devices. This also allows the user to view a clear timeline on the order in which information was received rather than flipping back and forth between devices.
  • Improved user efficiency – With the gathering of all communications in a single location, united messaging users can view and analyze multiple messages related to a single topic, deal, presentation, etc., without running the risk of overlooking a vital piece of information that is stored on a different device. Efficiencies may also be realized in sharing, replying to and forwarding messages.
  • Improved collaboration – With a single unified messaging location, team members can collaborate while looking at the same interface, which can literally get everyone on the same page.
  • Remote access – With an increasing amount of business being done with smart phones, being able to access multiple message types on a single screen can be a huge advantage versus going back and forth between interfaces. This is particularly true due to the smaller screen size of smart phones.

Your employees, whether there are in the office or out in the field, will receive different types of messages throughout the day. By integrating these message types into a single interface, unified messaging can make your employees more efficient and productive, which can add to your bottom line.

The Workings of Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have become an extremely popular method of attacking websites and is a favored weapon of the “hacktivist” group known as Anonymous, which has used the practice to take down the websites of the CIA, the Department of Justice, the FBI and a variety of United Kingdom government websites to name a few.

In a DDoS attack, the targeted website is flooded with requests for information or other inquiries from hundreds or thousands of different computers to ultimately render the server system for the targeted website inoperable. This type of attack, unlike viruses or malware, is not intended to benefit the group behind the attack and is instead used in many cases to make a statement against the targeted site.

Anonymous, for example, has waged DDoS attacks as a form of protest against the entities that sponsored the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) as well as the FBI for its role in the shutdown of the file-sharing site MegaUpload. Unfortunately, there is little to protect a website that is targeted for a DDoS attack without making a substantial investment in server capacity and other types of infrastructure that may or may not ever come into use.

Companies can, however, take action to prevent one of the most common forms of a situation that results in a Denial of Service; that of an explosion in traffic that overwhelms servers due to an event or other circumstance that that drives loads of traffic to a site. The key in these situations is to make preparations in advance of a big announcement or other event to handle the increase in inbound traffic with load balancing tools or additional server capacity to be able to capitalize on the opportunity of new visitors finding the site.

Why Small Businesses Should Consider Outsourcing IT Needs

Outsourcing IT needs for small businesses has several advantages over the alternatives of relying on in-house people to handle issues and/or building an in house IT department.

These advantages include:

* Delegation of IT services to sharpen the focus of the business – Multi-tasking is part of the territory for small business owners but many of the aspects of tending to the company’s network infrastructure can become a distraction from the focus needed to reach goals and objectives.

* Focused use of resources – Outsourcing IT services allows access to resources on an as needed basis. This availability enables a business to deploy sophisticated initiatives using skill sets that may only need to be accessed for a short period of time, rather than dedicating resources toward in-house hires.

* Lower expenses related to IT – Once IT demands exceed the knowledge level of in-house employees a business can hire a full time IT staff, which adds to payroll and requires desks, phones, computers, etc. Outsourcing IT provides the less expensive route of employing services only when they’re needed.

With an intensifying competitive environment, small businesses need to focus their strengths and resources on execution, operating efficiency, and reaching short and long term objectives. Outsourcing IT enables this kind of laser focus by removing the time consuming aspects of managing a network while also allowing for additional resources to be allocated toward moving the business forward.