Notable features of Windows 10

Over the years there have been many versions of Windows such as Windows 8, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. Windows 10, the latest update from Microsoft, has many unique features that distinguish it from its predecessors. While the previous versions ran mainly on laptops and desktops, Windows 10 is designed to run on tablets equally as well. One of the best features of this update, which is also known as Spring Creators Update, is that takes very little time to install – just under thirty minutes. While the previous updates used to take a lot of time, this new version is very time effective.

Notable Windows 10 Features

Windows 10 has many other distinctive features that are very useful for many small businesses.

Cortana on Desktop

Windows 10 brings voice-controlled digital assistance in the form of Cortana to computers. Now you can interact with or give commands to your computer without lifting a finger. You don’t need to type – just tell your computer if you want to launch a PowerPoint presentation, need a specific file, or want to look at specific photos. Your PC can do all this while you work on, say, an interdepartmental email.

Timeline

Timeline has replaced the Task Viewer icon beside the Windows taskbar. This new feature allows the user to view the activity history of their desktop. If you are looking for a file that you were working on last week, Timeline will help you find it quickly. Just click on the Task View button on the taskbar, and you will be able to see all your open files and applications. It is a convenient way to see what applications are running. Windows will display photos, folders, and documents according to the date that they were last used.

Privacy

Another security feature of Windows 10 is the new Windows Diagnostic Data Viewer. This feature allows you to view the amount of information that Microsoft can access from your computer. You can keep your data safe by fine-tuning privacy settings which concern application usage, browser history, web permissions, and connected devices.

The Start Menu is back!

In the previous update the Start Menu was eliminated, but in Windows 10 we can see its revival. The bottom left shows the Start Button, and when you click on it, two panels appear side by side with the left side showing the most used applications. The right side displays a list of live tiles that you can resize, reorganize, and customize. There is a power button at the top similar to Windows 8 for features such as Standby, Hibernate, and Shut down.

Nearby Sharing

Another simple feature that makes office work so much easier is Nearby Sharing, which you can enable from the Control Panel. Select the computer you want to send the file to and then click on the Share button in the Photos app or the Edge browser. The computer will receive a notification asking it to accept or decline the file. This ensures that file transfers can happen without unreliable network folders, beat-up USB devices, or empty email messages.

Snap Assist

In this update, the Snap View feature has also been updated which allows users to open multiple windows side-by-side without being limited by your screen’s resolution. This feature also suggests different apps that you can open to fill the available space.

Swift Pair

This feature allows you to connect to a Bluetooth device within the desktop’s range. You will automatically receive notifications whenever there is a connection opportunity. With Windows 10 you can use wireless headphones to make a call or try out a wireless keyboard by just clicking connect.

Microsoft Edge

The new browser called Microsoft Edge has replaced the old Internet Explorer. This browser has many impressive features such as Cortana integration, which allows you to pull up contextual information without having to search through emails. It has an annotation tool which lets you write anything and share it with your friends on social networks without leaving the browser, and PDF support which makes reading easier by improving the layout of long articles.

Tablet Mode

Windows 10, unlike Windows 8, makes a clear differentiation between tablets and desktops. In Windows 8, if you happen to be using a mouse and keyboard, by default, you will be in desktop mode.

Action Center

The Action Center in Windows 10 has been expanded to allow easy access to frequently used settings such as tablet mode and Wi-Fi connectivity. It also shows all essential notifications as soon as your computer receives an update.

Windows 10 has many impressive features which were missing in the previous update. It is faster, provides invaluable security protection and makes multitasking much easier. Update your computer today to enjoy all the benefits of this new operating system.

Is Your Company Compliant with California’s “Shine the Light” Law?

Recently, several big class-action lawsuits have been filed in California over whether adequate notices are being given to consumers when their personal information is sold. With the major controversy surrounding Facebook and the use of its users’ personal information during the 2016 presidential campaign, the public has become more aware and informed about this topic.

California Shining the Light

A recent Newsweek article reports that data brokers typically try to stay below the radar so as not to draw attention to what they do for a living. This may be partly responsible for the fact that over half of all Canadians and Americans say that they do not know exactly what happens when they give their name, address, phone number and email address to a website or company.

Recent lawsuits use California’s Shine the Light Law (S.B.27) to object to how these marketing companies use all our data. The lawsuits allege:

“The company failed to properly identify a method for obtaining a disclosure as to how the company shares its customer’s personal information.”

With the publicity surrounding these lawsuits, other consumers are taking notice and filing their own suits, many of them class-action suits. Before deciding whether to file or not, it’s important to know exactly what S.B.27 is and how it works.

Overview of S.B. 27

According to S.B. 27, certain companies must disclose how they share their customer’s information each time a customer asks for it. Each time a company receives a request from a customer wanting to know how the company has shared their information with marketers, they must provide the information. This only covers the previous twelve months. In addition, S.B. 27 only allows consumers to make these requests in cases where the customer was not given access to the company’s privacy policies containing opt-out notices.

In order to be compliant with S.B.27, a company must create a privacy policy that includes opt-out rights, and provide that to their customers in an acceptable manner. It’s important for the consumer to fully understand the privacy notice and how they should proceed with opting out if desired. Many consumers are claiming that they were not notified about how their personal information is being used and who it is being sold to.

Who must comply?

Not all businesses must meet the terms of S.B. 27. Those affected will have these four things in common:

  1. 20 or more employees
  2. Business relationships with customers in California
  3. Have in the past, shared a customer’s personal info with other companies for the purpose of marketing
  4. The incident must have taken place within the previous calendar year

There are some businesses who are exempt from the bill’s requirements. These include:

  • Financial organizations subject to certain provisions of S.B. 1, the California Financial Information Privacy Act.
  • Those administering business-related disclosures to third parties. For instance, administrative or customer service personnel who do not use the information for their own direct marketing needs.

Rights of each individual under S.B. 27

Consumers have the right to be notified by the business using a designated contact method such as email, phone, and regular mail. In the notification, the company should outline how it shares the personal information of its customers with other businesses for the purposes of direct marketing.

Notifications can be completed in any one of several ways:

  • A customer service representative from the company may contact customers who request this and go over their full policy for sharing customer personal data with third-party marketers.
  • Customers may view the company’s privacy policy by visiting a store or branch and asking to see it.
  • Customers may be directed to view the privacy policy statement by visiting the company’s website. The website must clearly show a link to “Your Privacy Rights” or “Your California Privacy Rights”. The privacy notice can be posted on the company’s website or on another web page that includes all this information. The disclosure must include wording that clearly indicates that the information is being given at no cost and is updated regularly with any changes to the law.

Consumers also have the right to request the following information each year from any California company they do business with:

  • Customers can contact the company to find out whether they implement and comply with S.B. 27.
  • Customers can request information about how to opt-in or opt-out of information sharing. The company is then responsible to notify the customer free of charge and in writing about opting in or out of sharing personal information.
  • There are additional requirements for a business that does not provide their consumers with the opt-in and opt-out information. This information must also be provided free of charge in writing or by email.

Companies are required to go into some detail about exactly what customer information they are sharing. They must provide:

  • Names and addresses of all third parties that obtained personal information during the preceding year from the business for direct marketing purposes.
  • Exactly what information they shared, i.e., the customer’s name, address, phone number, birth date, etc.
  • They must ensure that the customer understands what type of business they’re private info has been sold to. For instance, in cases where an individual might not readily recognize the business name, the company must provide examples of the types of products and services the third party vendor sells.

For those who wish to contact one or more companies to ask about how their personal information is being used, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has drafted a letter that can be used to request this information from any company.

The Penalties for Failing to Comply

There are legal remedies provided under the law when S.B. 27 is not properly followed. If a company fails to respond to a disclosure request, the customer is entitled to recover a civil penalty of up to $500 per violation. If the court decides that the company was willful, reckless or intentional in not adhering to S.B. 27, those filing lawsuits may be able to get $3,000 per incident. In some cases, the plaintiff’s attorney fees are also included in the award. A suit should be filed within 90 days of learning that an individual’s personal information was bought or sold without the person’s knowledge.

Your Small Business Needs a vCIO to Manage These 10 Technology Priorities for 2018

If you’re the owner or CEO of a small business, then you’re probably already functioning as the Chief Information Officer (CIO) as well. Most small businesses can’t justify paying for both. This means you have to take time from your priorities to manage your technology, ensure that it’s secure and decide what IT solutions to use. It’s not as easy to do this as it was in years past, simply because of the fast-evolving nature of technology, and the increasing incidence of hacking and data breaches.

vCIO

But, did you know that you can “hire” a Virtual CIO (vCIO) at a fraction of the cost of hiring a CIO?

What is a vCIO?

A virtual CIO is a technology service provider who serves as your CIO. They help you develop an IT Strategic Plan, with up-to-date resources to ensure security, productivity, and efficiency. Rather than hiring your vCIO, you pay for the service on an on-demand basis.

This frees you from the daily worry about technology and whether it will run as it should. It also frees up your limited internal resources and allows your employees to concentrate on their core responsibilities.

A vCIO Will:

  • Gain an understanding of both your business and your technology infrastructure and make sure your IT is aligned with your business goals.
  • Help you with IT budgeting and cost control strategies to achieve your priorities and avoid unnecessary costs.
  • Analyze any inefficiencies in your existing IT infrastructure and centralize/consolidate resources and operations to promote considerable financial savings.
  • Advise on Organizational IT Design and replace outmoded processes so you can pursue market opportunities and overcome business challenges through updated, value-based technologies.
  • Effectively incorporate technology into your operational processes and ensure security at all times.
  • Develop and IT Strategic Plans that aligns with your budget.
  • Learn about your competition, and what new IT solutions they are using.
  • Interface with your managers and users to ensure that you meet your IT goals.
  • Identify and evaluate the impacts of your technology decisions.
  • Conduct ongoing evaluations to assess your IT needs and provide service performance metrics.
  • Manage technology needs for specific projects, whether they are new ones or ongoing.
  • Deliver monthly updates to your management, provide Quarterly IT Summaries that reveal the condition of each component of your network, and prepare other reports as required.
  • Provide procurement assistance to ensure you get the best prices on hardware and software.

Your Virtual CIO Will Help Your Achieve These 10 Technology Priorities for 2018.

 Cybersecurity

Security is an essential factor for any organization, and small businesses like yours are the biggest target for hackers today. Risk assessment, data protection, training awareness, and third-party security practices are necessary to ensure maximum security and protection. Continuous diagnostic monitoring is required to view your network, identify risks, quantify attacks and/or breaches, and mitigate them. Digital forensic tools are especially important for companies that require regulatory compliance and incident management. Identity and access management is a security practice that enables only authorized individuals to access resources to comply with security and compliance requirements. These are crucial elements for any business. Your vCIO will manage all these and other cybersecurity requirements for your business.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

Disaster recovery and business continuity refer to your organization’s ability to recover data after a disaster occurs and when IT services are shut down or compromised. Both practices involve the process of backing up data and preparing policies and procedures to implement in the event of a disaster. Your vCIO will confirm your business can stay up and running no matter the IT disaster, manmade or natural.

Mobile Workforce Technologies and Solutions

With the BYOD (bring your own device) trend, organizations are using mobile devices more than ever. Your business is competing in a mobile, technology-driven economy, and you must rely on your mobile workforce to ensure customer satisfaction and product/service innovation. The right mobility solutions ensure secure and simple access to data, tools, and applications from any location. Your vCIO will help you consider applications, support, ownership, security, and communication issues and policies that will ensure your mobile workforce is always productive, and your data is secure.

Cloud Computing, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Virtualization

Software as a Service utilizes a cloud-computing infrastructure to deliver a single application to your employees no matter their location. This is opposed to relying on the traditional one application per desktop. Cloud services are available to your employees via the Internet from a cloud provider’s servers and used instead of your company’s own on-premises servers. Virtualization refers to the creation of virtual servers, desktops, storage devices, applications, and computer network resources. You can virtualize your entire IT infrastructure or just specific aspects of it. Cloud services and virtualization provide easy, quick, scalable access to resources, applications, and services, and simplifies your overall IT infrastructure to promote efficiency.

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)

Enterprise Resource Planning involves the use of business management software that combines a variety of integrated applications to store and manage data for all aspects of your business operations. It includes product planning, manufacturing, marketing, inventory management, shipping, invoicing, accounts receivables and payables, and more. Software as a Service Enterprise Resource Planning (SaaS ERP) supports remote hosting of business IT services. It’s also known as Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (Cloud ERP).

Strategic IT Planning

Strategic IT planning focuses on your organization’s specific needs and how to best use technology to meet them. IT is a strategic capability to be used and integrated into planning and projections with consideration of future IT innovations and business growth. Your vCIO will work with you to determine how technology will help you achieve your business priorities and prepare guidelines and policies that support your vision with the right IT solutions.

Networking: Data and Voice Communications

Data communications refer to the electronic transmission of information for storage and processing, while voice communications refer to systems such as mobile devices and VoIP systems. Your vCIO will help you implement the best communication solutions to keep your organization connected and up and running.

Legacy Application Modernization/Renovation

Legacy application modernization is the process of refactoring, re-purposing, or consolidating legacy software programs to align with a company’s current needs. This enables you to benefit from the advantages of new development without the risk and cost of replacing legacy systems.

Business Intelligence and Analytics for Big Data

Business intelligence, or BI, is a term that refers to a variety of software applications used to analyze an organization’s raw and big data (massive amounts of data). Business analytics is the process of exploring and investigating an organization’s data with emphasis on statistical analysis. This is becoming more important for even small businesses today. They are relying on software solutions like Microsoft Power BI (Business Intelligence) to transform data and create interactive reports to help them analyze data to reach their goals.

Shared Services

Many parts of an organization use the same services and resources. Shared services involve the consolidation of business services and resources used by multiple parts of an organization. For example, with service portfolio management, organizations can define and manage services and resources. By incorporating automation, virtualization, advanced analytics, and other digital technologies into your operations, you can streamline processes. These technologies also may enable you to make better decisions and improve the quality of customer interactions.

By taking advantage of the services a virtual CIO provides, you’ll enjoy all the benefits of a CIO without the added costs. Your vCIO will protect your important data, help you get the most from your technology budget, provide customized reports and recommendations, and ensure you meet the technology challenges of 2018 and beyond.

Is Your Backdoor Open? You’ll “WannaCry” When the Hackers Get In

Dangerous cyberattacks have been released by a group of hackers known as The Shadow Brokers. These exploits will lock up your data for good – no ransom, no return.

encryption backdoor

But this isn’t all they do – they’ll also leave behind a parasite that lets them “hang out” inside your computer, infect others, and re-enter through a backdoor.

What’s really scary is that these attacks are getting past traditional next-generation security measures. In 99 percent of the cases, security researchers found that these threats bypassed security tools.

EternalBlue (the worst-ever recorded ransomware strike): In February 2018 EternalBlue was ported to all Windows operating systems. By exploiting a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, EternalBlue allowed the dangerous ransomware virus WannaCry to propagate and infect 230,000 computers.

EternalChampion and EternalRomance are two other exploits that were also reported at the same time EternalBlue was.

And then there’s EternalRocks, also known as MicroBotMassiveNet, which is a computer worm that infects Microsoft Windows. It uses seven exploits that were developed by the NSA and unknowingly leaked to hackers. As a comparison for you, the WannaCry ransomware program only uses two NSA exploits. Experts tell us that EternalRocks is much more dangerous.

EternalRocks installs the Tor anonymous network to conceal Internet activity. Your server then downloads EternalRocks to your computers. To avoid detection, it calls itself WannaCry. But unlike WannaCry there’s no kill switch.

EternalBlue and these other exploits use a backdoor implant tool to infect your systems. Plus, EternalRocks is self-replicating worm and leaves the back door open via DoublePulsar so that other hackers can load malware on your computer.

Backdoors leave you exposed to a multitude of cyber threats.

A backdoor is a port or malicious application that provides access to a server or network. It provides hackers with unauthorized remote access to your network by exploiting security procedures and authentication. Backdoors can be used for cybercriminals to gain remote access to your computers.

Backdoors work in the background and are hidden. They are much like other malware viruses and, therefore, difficult to detect.

A backdoor is one of the most dangerous types of computer parasites. It gives a criminal the ability to perform any possible actions on your computer.

The attacker can:

  • Spy on what you do,
  • Take over your files a user,
  • Install additional software or malicious threats,
  • Control your organizations’ entire PC system,
  • Implement keystroke logging and screenshot captures,
  • Infect files,
  • Encrypt your data, and
  • Attack other hosts on your network.

Plus, the parasite can work automatically on its own and do what the hacker wants.

A backdoor not only allows the hacker to access your computer and network, but it also lets them come back and enter your system again and again.

Backdoors are complicated for system administrators to deal with. In most of the cases, it’s very difficult to find out who is controlling the parasite. In fact, all backdoors are really hard to detect.

Before they can find out how hard it will be to block the hacker’s access, system administrators have to figure out the methods hackers will use. There are so many exploits now that makes this a very difficult, if not impossible task.

Plus, some of these backdoors can’t be detected because of the way they’re designed.

Even if your admin changes passwords when an attack is discovered, backdoor utilities can be programmed to give the hacker repeat access to your system.

They do this via computers on your IT system that don’t log on to the network very often. Because it appears that no one is using the machine, your system administrator doesn’t detect that a hacker is actually using it.

There’s another kind of backdoor utility that lets the hacker return to the network within a short period of time. This way they don’t have to find a vulnerability to exploit in order to gain access. But if your system administrator does detect them, they’ll just take the time to look for another vulnerability. As you can see, this can be a constant battle.

Password cracking is the most-used method of backdoor hacking to breach network security.

The hacker locates your accounts that use weak passwords. These are accounts that aren’t used often. The hacker creates an access point by changing the password. When the system administrator searches for the fragile accounts, the ones that have weak passwords, the passwords have already been changed won’t be visible.

Backdoors can degrade your Internet connection speed and system performance. They prevent you from removing them by hiding in files. Plus, there are no uninstall features to delete them.

There are 5 ways backdoor threats can get in:

  1. You can accidentally install them on your computers. Sometimes they come attached to phishing emails or file-sharing programs. They look safe and can trick you into opening and executing them.
  2. They get installed by viruses like spyware or Trojans without your knowledge. Then they infect each profile for those who use that compromised computer.
  3. They can be manually installed by malicious insiders who are authorized to install software on your computers. Then the backdoors can spread by exploiting remote systems with security vulnerabilities.
  4. Some backdoors come with applications, including legitimate ones. Once the hacker gains access to a computer and access to the software installed on it, they have the authorization to take control and infect the software.
  5. Backdoors can infect a computer by exploiting software vulnerabilities. They work just like computer worms and automatically spread without you knowing it. You won’t be alerted by warnings, setup wizards or dialog boxes when this happens.

What can you do to protect your business from backdoor threats?

Backdoor parasites are extremely dangerous and must be removed from the system. It’s essential that you contact your Technology Solutions Provider so they can do the following:

  1. Block external access to all Server Message Block ports on the public internet.
  2. Patch all Server Message Block vulnerabilities.
  3. Block access to C&C servers (ubgdgno5eswkhmpy.onion) and
  4. Install a DoublePulsar detection script.
  5. Make sure to use an up-to-date analytics tool to monitor for insider threats.
  6. Monitor your system for any newly added scheduled tasks.

 Contact our cybersecurity experts. We can “shut your backdoors.”

Using Yoast SEO to Write Effective Meta Descriptions

The term, “meta description” may seem foreign to some but we all see these descriptions each time we search for something online. The meta description can contain up to 320 characters and should be an interesting summary of what your website is all about. It shows up in the search results as those first few words/lines that explain the essence of your website or post.

Yoast SEO Descriptions

How Meta Descriptions Work

Each time we type a search term in the browser, a number of results will come up. For each one, there’s a 320 character description of the site or page. People usually decide which site to click on based on what these meta descriptions say. That means it has to be snappy and fresh. The wording needs to grab your attention. It has to sound enticing. Think of it as a short, but powerful sales pitch. Potential customers are far more likely to visit a site that sounds unique, interesting or entertaining than one that sounds boring.

Though search engines make it clear that there’s no direct advantage from writing good meta descriptions, there is a very strong indirect benefit. If you’ve written a good meta description, then this will improve your click-through-rate (CTR). As visitors click-through to your site, the search engine uses that information as a way of determining that your site was aptly and well described. This will improve your position in the search results.

It is important to point out here that Google will not always show your unique meta description. Sometimes they generate their own description of your business based on factors like the search term and type of business it is. This is where keywords come into play. Most business owners now understand at least the basics of keywords and how they work. If your content is well-optimized, then it should reflect that by serving as a great meta description.

Google changes the way their search engine works at times and this can certainly throw a wrench in all your good plans. However, that should not stop business owners from doing sound keyword research and creating unique content with those keywords. It goes without saying that keyword stuffing is bad and should be avoided at all costs. Always observe the current standards for keyword density in a page of text, which usually runs around 2 to 2.5 percent.

Yoast Free or Premium?

Yoast offers a free and a premium SEO service. With the free service, you get one keyword for each page of content. The premium service allows five keywords for each page. The premium service also does a readability check using the Flesch Kincaid test which measures the grade level of your writing. Since the world wide web is filled with people from all backgrounds and educations, Flesch Kincaid usually recommends writing copy that would be easy reading for a third to fifth grader.

Use short concise sentences. Avoid big words that are not readily understood unless you are writing technical information for a specific audience, like IT experts. Try to use action verbs instead of passive verbs. Use subheadings and catchy taglines. Whatever you can do to make your site more attractive, unique and fun, will help. You can count on getting more traffic and higher conversion rates.

How to Use Yoast SEO to Write Meta Descriptions

If you don’t write a unique meta description, Yoast will produce one. Usually, it simply takes the first three lines of content on your page or post and uses that. If you’d like to edit that, then click on the “edit snippet” button. This opens the snippet editor. There are fields there to edit the SEO title, slug and meta description. As you type, your new meta description will show up. You can make changes until you feel it’s just right. The snippet editor has an orange bar at the bottom that will become green once you’ve typed enough information.

Many site owners use the first few lines of content on their page or post as the meta description. If your site has good, professionally written content on it, then there’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you feel you could improve the text, then, by all means, do so. If you can get the hang of this and really write powerful meta descriptions, it can greatly improve your click-through rates.

How to Write a Superb Meta Description

Once you’ve decided that this is something worthwhile that could improve your bottom line, it’s important to put your best foot forward. In order to write effective meta descriptions, you may need the help of a good copywriter. Copywriting is all about utilizing words to persuade searchers to click on your page. With only 320 characters or about two to three lines of text, it’s important to make every word count. Below are two writing examples to show you the difference between professionally written text and that of an amateur.

Good Meta Description:

Apple

https://www.apple.com/

Discover the innovative world of Apple and shop everything iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and AppleTV, plus explore accessories, entertainment, and expert device support.

The above meta description from Apple does contain some good keywords but it doesn’t feel awkward or forced. It’s informative. It’s also important to note that this meta description was written using the older rules where 155 characters were the rule. Today, we’re seeing longer snippets that contain more information to help searchers decide what to click on.

Bad Meta Description:

Mary’s Bakery

https://www.marysbakery.com/

Get some good donuts and cakes at Mary’s Bakery located in downtown Minneapolis. We cater and deliver. Our baked goods are tasty and made with quality ingredients.

Though the above meta description does contain some valuable information, it’s boring. The shop owner wastes valuable space here to tell consumers where they’re located. This is something that many searchers will not care about in their initial search. Use this space to talk about delicious pastries, cakes, and donuts. Talk about your award-winning cupcakes with buttercream icing. This is how you get people to visit your site and look around.

Caution!

Be sure that your meta description accurately describes your page or post. Yes, the wording can be flowery, powerful, strangely attractive, etc. But it should also be truthful. If you make promises you can’t keep, then searchers will quickly hit the “back” button. This can cause your site to fall in the search listings.

As mentioned above, avoid keyword stuffing. Just about all web visitors today understand what keyword stuffing is and most don’t like it. The reason? Keyword stuffing makes a section of text read awkwardly. It is typically not well-written content and it doesn’t make sense to your human visitors. Remember to write your meta description for humans, not for search engines.

Instead, focus on writing interesting descriptions and unique content for your human visitors. In the end, search engines will not be purchasing your products and services. Humans will, so cater to their needs, wants, desires, whims—and you’ll be rewarded with higher click-through rates and stronger sales.

Hey You – STOP Giving Your Time Away For Free!

Technology has made it possible for you to get more done in less time. Are efficiency and productivity always a good thing?

Freelancer

Technology and telecommute: Two fabulous words that start with the same letter, and one is very much dependent on the other. The “tele” in “telecommute” certainly isn’t short for “telepathy” – though imagine how telepathy would impact professional relationships! On second thought, don’t.

The professional world changes and evolves, of that, there is no question. No longer is physical presence a requirement for staff, as more organizations migrate to a distributed workforce. What has become clear in the last decade is the location is no longer as important as the output. The focus on productivity is essentially a focus on the individual and catering to the needs of the one for the benefit of the whole. This individual-centric mentality seems counterproductive, but it’s quite the opposite. It would be impossible to cater one office building or workplace to the needs of many individuals for whom environmental factors differ. One requires silence for concentration, while another works better with loud music playing. Does one wear headphones? This is one option, but if this method stifles even one professional, the sacrifice may not justify the means.

One practice that more Americans are embracing is freelancing: individuals contract themselves with a person or organization to offer their time, skills and expertise in exchange for money. The person remains an independent contractor, and the organization is released from any legal obligations, like payroll taxes or insurance benefits. This is a cost-effective way for a business to meet their needs without taking on the full responsibility of onboarding.

There are estimates that more than a third of Americans participate in independent contract agreements. In fact, according to the Internal Revenue Service, over 10 million Americans rely on freelancing for more than half of their total income stream. That translates into more than 10 million Americans essentially being their own brand, running their own organization, and being a one-person operation while managing all sales, marketing, and accounting tasks. By the way, “accounting” also means handling their own payroll and other practices a business would otherwise task a Human Resources department to oversee. These freelancers operate like sole proprietors and CEOs of a business and take on great responsibilities to manage their time efficiently.

In juggling these processes, are freelancers losing time due to inefficiency? Lost time directly results in lost earnings. The best thing a freelancer can do to protect their time is finding the right combination of technology to help maximize productivity and minimize downtime. The great news is, with the incredible technological advancements in recent years, there is a huge variety of productivity apps available for this exact purpose.

Running your own business can be time-consuming, and you don’t have time to waste! Here are apps to help.

Apps to Get Paid

You have a multitude of options for processing payments now. From to to to, small business owners have a variety of apps catering to simplified payment processes, whether the purpose is sending or accepting a payment.

  • Due is a free problem solver when it comes to the need to process payments online. With a simple user interface, Due boasts encryption for secure data and transactions.
  • You’ve seen Square, the little white square box that plugs into a tablet or smartphone and uses a data connection to process a transaction. Square is limited to the transaction process, but they also offer Square Register for a point-of-sale system.
  • Start a Wave! Wave is like an all-in-one solution for tracking sales and expenses, processing payments, keeping track of payroll and customer invoices, you name it. The app is free to download, but like with any other transaction-based solution, there are fees for credit card processing.
  • FreshBooks has a name much like its well-known competitor but approaches payment processing with a “Fresh” outlook. Freshbooks acts much like a basic accounting platform with built-in functionality for transactions, but the invoicing and customizable reporting are a nice feature, too.

Apps to Get Organized

If only one app could do it all for you: email, scheduling meetings, maintaining files, the list goes on. Actually, the way you need to look at an app isn’t if the app can do it all for you, but if it can do it well! Sometimes, all you need is a little integration – and more apps are recognizing this need.

  • Basecamp has long been an industry darling for businesses: Collaborating, setting up projects, connecting team members, and offering a centralized location to chat about the projects but also a one-on-one privatized chat option for less public matters. Email communication and built-in customizable notifications are a great feature, too!
  • Slack is a far more economical option than Basecamp, but keep in mind that you get what you pay for. High on communication and organization, Slack is what most newer platforms were designed after. Slack is idolized by techies and creatives alike, but for freelancers and small business owners that have another focus, Slack may not be the best solution.
  • Asana is right there with Slack, offering the lower entry price point for a collaborative option, and even integrates with Slack if there is ever the need for both.

Apps for Communication

We already mentioned Basecamp and Slack, which offer exemplary communication tools in a collaborative workspace, but there are other apps to increase productivity with a focus on communication for freelancers and small business owners.

  • For small teams or large groups, Fuze offers real-time communications with voice, messaging, and perhaps its strongest offering, high-definition video conferencing.
  • The famous G Suite: The go-to suite of apps for productivity for professionals everywhere. From email to document storage, from calendars to shared documents, and integrated with Hangouts, the video conferencing solution, Google’s G Suite has earned its reputation. With the lowest entry price point around, seamless integration with Microsoft’s Office 365, and the simple user interface everyone has already been using for years now, what else is there to say?

Apps for Automation

Find ways to automate processes and require less of your hands-on attention.

  • If you use Gmail or Outlook for email and scheduling meetings, to is a fantastic free solution for arranging meetings in a single email. No more back-and-forth emails on what times work on which days – install the extension and grant access to your calendar!
  • Microsoft Flow is an amazing automation tool that lets a user automate processes using connectors for integrated apps. Establish your parameters, and voila!
  • Zapier is a simplified Microsoft Flow and has a cult following that sings its praises. Zapier follows much of the same practices as Microsoft Flow, so check both out and see which works better for your needs.

Who doesn’t love a little extra help? There’s always room for more when you’re running the show on your own. While the ideal answer is to clone yourself, the reality is there’s only one you. Try a few of the apps here to give yourself a hand. Spend less time on the workflow and more time on the work you’re getting paid for – in billable hours!

The Top 12 Time Management Apps and Tools

Today’s app market offers the full range of apps for personal use and for work. Everyone seems to be trying to complete household chores and tasks at work with the highest level of efficiency.

Time Management Apps

Time has become a valuable commodity that we never have enough of. In response to these needs, developers are coming up with all-new and really cool apps that have the features you’re looking for. You can get to-do list apps, reminder apps, and apps for file storage or note-taking. With the right apps on your phone or computer, you can improve your daily performance and get everything completed much faster. This leaves you plenty of time for relaxing and watching a great movie on Netflix. Below, we reveal our top 12 time management apps.

One: Focus booster

Feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks you have to get done today? There’s an app for that. It’s called Focus Booster and it was designed based on the Pomodoro Technique. Using this technique, you can complete more chores each day and it also helps relieve the stress you may feel due to your busy schedule. Helps eliminate procrastination.

Two: Remember the Milk

With so much information coming at us each day, it’s easy to forget the small things like stopping by the dry cleaners. Remember the Milk is compatible with your computer, Outlook, Gmail and mobile devices. Whether you just need to remember a grocery list or you want to share tasks with your team, this is an easy-to-use app that will help you avoid forgetting something important. It’s pretty straightforward to use. Simply enter a task, due date, priority and other pertinent information, then you’re all set. You can even break tasks down into sub-tasks and assign them to other people. It syncs with all your devices.

Three: Rescue Time

Are you using your time well each day or running around in circles? Rescue Time runs in the background, tracking how much time you spend on certain tasks each day. You’ll get a detailed report on all your daily activities. This lets you see where you could be wasting precious time each day. It’s available for smartphones and computers.

Four: Toggl

This unique timer app is advertised as so easy to use that you’ll actually use it. It works with individuals and teams. This time tracker is often more accurate than time sheets and other software of this type. It enables employees across many different industries to become more productive. Get accurate records of time spent on any project.

Five: Evernote

Evernote is a popular productivity app that has been around for a few years. It was originally used by college students for note-taking in class. The developers have continued to add unique features so that today you can capture, organize and share notes. It allows you to clip pages from the web and everything can be stored in one place. Evernote has added other products to its line including Evernote Business with Spaces. This program works about the same but allows a team to collect, store and share ideas. Create notes, add tables and attachments, use handwritten notes, and even add audio recordings.

Six: Dropbox

An old favorite but still the most reliable program for saving, editing and sending large files. This app is free and most people already know how it works so there’s less of a learning curve. Dropbox is available for laptops, mobile devices, iPad and other devices, so you can access and share files whenever and wherever you need to.

Seven: Mind42

This mind mapping tool has become a favorite of users and is considered one of the best on the market. It is browser-based so there’s nothing to download. This is a great productivity app that helps you get organized by showing you a diagram of what you need to be focused on. You can brainstorm, create a to-do list, organize things and share your map with others.

Eight: SyncBackFree

From 2BrightSparks, SyncBackFree is a great little tool for backing up and copying files in Windows. The app is truly free, plus it’s ad-free. There’s no registration or payment required. The app also claims that they do not collect demographic info about its users. You can schedule backups to occur at regular intervals. They also offer a SyncBackPro and SyncBankSE for enterprise clients. Files can be copied in both directions. Unicode is enabled for non-English file names.

Nine: Pocket

We all get side-tracked while surfing the web. You might be searching for information about a new project and find photos or news stories you’d like to read. Pocket gives you a place to store these items until you have time to go back and check them out. The app is available for iOS, Android and for computers and mobile devices. You can store any type of content and the app works with or without an internet connection.

Ten: MyLifeOrganized

This task management app helps users target the most important tasks. It automatically creates your to-do list and highlights those items that require immediate attention. Track your progress, focus on specific goals and achieve your objectives with MyLifeOrganized. The drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to rearrange tasks in list form or as a tree. This app can be used at work, at home or for special events like a wedding, business trip, or party. Simply enter tasks and due dates, along with a few other pieces of information and MLO automatically generates a smart list of all the actions you need to complete.

Eleven: Launchy

Launch all your files, folders and documents with this simple app. You don’t need to go to the start menu, desktop or file manager to open your favorite programs. Launchy has been named the best application launcher by major publications.

Twelve: Focus@Will

Developers of Focus@Will claim that users can increase their productivity by up to 400 percent. This is the perfect solution for those who get distracted easily while studying or working. The app combines music with neuroscience to boost productivity. Those with a touch of ADHD will find this app very helpful.

New Data Breach Laws Mean More Trouble When You Get Hacked

The recent surge in cyber theft and hacking has everyone worried. With each new cyber breach, consumers realize just how vulnerable we all are. After the Equifax hack of September 2017, state legislatures began proposing new laws that would tighten data security.

Data Breach Notification

For those working with an MSP, the burden often falls on them to increase security so that breaches simply don’t take place. Though this concept is good in theory, MSP’s sometimes struggle to find the right balance between convenience and stronger security for cyberspace.

New Proposed Legislation

The American Bankers Association believes that during 2018, at least half of all states will develop tougher data breach laws for the financial services industry. One of these bills receiving more attention originates in New York, the home of many prominent financial institutions. Experts believe the new bills being developed for New York could become a model for other financial providers. These bills could even affect federal laws.

The new legislation will be designed to stop the onslaught of huge, expensive data breaches, such as JP Morgan Chase, Sony Pictures, and Equifax. Many believe this type of legislation is way overdue.

The bill being developed by legislatures in New York is called the “Stop Hacks and Improve Data Security Act” (SHIELD Act). It will require that any organization that handles financial or sensitive information produce clear examples of their safeguards. It would also require all banks, credit reporting agencies, brokerages and insurance providers to develop better security measures. In addition, the new laws will apply to anyone who deals with the personal financial information of consumers.

The bill will contain phrases like “clear examples of safeguards” that force organizations to provide proof of their security measures. Many experts believe these “safeguards” might include all administrative, technical and physical security measures taken by any company that deals with the private information of New Yorkers.

Though MSPs are already gearing up to offer higher levels of data security to their customers, the problem of data security falls back on each financial services company. Consumers are outraged when corporations the size of JP Morgan Chase and Equifax don’t take data security seriously enough. This outrage can spawn expensive lawsuits.

Keys to Success

Though MSPs will begin offering more robust data security plans, it’s important to remember that the burden falls back on each business. In this day and age, you simply can’t rely on a third-party vendor; the stakes are too high. Your company could be sued by anyone who loses their personal and banking info to hackers. For this reason, most businesses have a small team of IT pros on premises that communicate regularly with their MSP.

Your own IT department should be fully engaged with your MSP. They should understand exactly what security measures have been put in place and how this system is protecting your data. They should be involved in program upgrades. They can also work inside your business to organize monthly security briefings for employees.

Consider Hiring Security Experts

Though most MSP’s offer a comprehensive group of security services to help protect your data from intrusion, many top banking, and financial institutions are going one step further. They are hiring security experts whose only job is to ensure that all data is safe and secure from hackers. Companies that specialize in providing data security plans follow a strict regimen of protocols. They conduct regular security risk assessments. Their team will come out to your company on a regular basis to train employees. And this is so important to your overall security plan working.

Risky employee behavior is responsible for over half the data breaches. Every day in companies all over the world, employees make mistakes that could spell disaster. They commonly share passwords, ignore prompts to install patches, click on suspicious links in emails, and use weak passwords. Employees need better training in order to know and remember to utilize all company data breach policies.

Are You Doing Enough to Stop Hackers?

Though many MSP’s are fully up to date on the policies and procedures for greater cybersecurity protection, it’s important to decide for yourself whether their security measures are strong enough. If your company handles the financial information or healthcare information of others, basic data security programs may not be enough.

Ransomware attacks are on the rise. Cyber thieves break into your system and hold your data hostage until you pay the ransom. Many company owners are not sure whether their data is safe from these attacks. The days when anti-virus programs and firewalls were adequate to protect data are over. Your company will require the highest level of protection in order to remain safe. Remember that cybercriminals never rest. They’re always on the lookout for new ways to steal names, addresses, and banking information.

The Revolution in Technology

Today’s cloud technology allows everyone to take their work with them wherever they go. In addition, consumers can access that information on a laptop, phone, or iPad. Though all these new advancements in technology are fun and convenient, they do present a unique challenge for security experts. Regular security risk assessments can determine whether your employees are leaving important data right out in the open for criminals to find.

HIPAA guidelines require that a normal SRA include a basic inventory of where and how sensitive data is being used. These assessments are available for financial institutions as well. They are a great way to get the big picture about how sensitive data is transmitted, stored and accessed, whether using email, text messages or mobile devices. Most security experts believe that a comprehensive Security Risk Assessment is a great place to start.

Better Documentation

Lastly, good solid documentation of all security policies is required. All employees should know and understand the security policies and procedures used by their employer. Each software upgrade should be documented.  Any events that might affect your organization’s data security should be documented as well. Any time an employee is terminated, your company should have a very specific procedure that it follows to avoid an angry employee from stealing data.

Changing the Way We Do Business

The new cybersecurity laws may change the way we all do business each day. Though some of these laws will be cumbersome and inconvenient, the alternative is much worse. It’s important to remember that the new cybersecurity legislation is meant to protect us from hackers and data loss. Consumers want to go back to feeling safe again when they do business online. And that’s the goal of these new laws.

Whether you decide to select security experts who have the skills and tools to address all types of data breaches or continue on with your MSP, the game has to change in order to stop hacking and cyber crimes. Each employee should feel personally responsible for doing their best to protect data. Your MSP and IT department must work together to build the strongest fortress possible for your sensitive information.