Can Your IT Company Handle Your Business Growth?

Business Growth

A healthy, growing business is almost always a good thing. Still, expansion brings with it certain responsibilities on your part.

If your business is growing quite quickly, it’s important to understand that large changes or adjustments may need to be made. This could mean hiring more employees, starting to provide employee health insurance, advertising more and spending more on marketing services, or obtaining more physical office space.

Business Growth

One area that you certainly won’t want to ignore as your business expands is your company’s information technology provider.

Many businesses who start small assume they can keep their IT provider as they grow. However, it’s important to realize that some providers aren’t equipped to handle larger businesses — those who often necessitate sprawling networks and extensive security needs.

To determine whether your company will soon require new IT services, consider the following questions about your current IT provider.

How familiar are they with your specific industry?

Often, when you’re just starting out, you’ll hire an IT provider who handles information technology services for a broad range of industries. Without a doubt, working with these types of providers will help your growing business by cutting costs. At the same time, you’ll still have your IT taken care of.

But as your business grows, you’ll want an IT provider with unique expertise in your industry. Niche IT providers who specialize in IT for hospitals, transportation services, or optometry offices, for example, are much more likely to provide you with better-quality service and improved security.

They are knowledgeable about and regularly brush-up on industry standards. They keep up with new and cutting edge technologies in your industry. And most of all, they are constantly aware of common security threats (and solutions) to businesses like yours.

Do they service other companies of similar size?

Take a look at who else your IT company serves. Are there any clients who match your company’s size? If so, do you believe those companies would also necessitate the same amount of attention and security as your company?

Even if your current provider services a company comparable to your size, if that company is a greeting card business and you own a chain of dental offices, you may have more to think about than just size. Namely, you’d have personal medical information within your network and a unique and crucial need to avoid breaches, scams, and possible liability catastrophes.

How often do you require troubleshooting services?

Are you already in near-constant communication with your IT provider for recurrent outages, network errors, slow-downs, and other problems?

Certainly, troubleshooting is one of the reasons you have an IT provider in the first place. However, the best providers should be able to set-up a network that requires infrequent service.

Moreover, preventable errors that happen once should not happen again. The downtime that results from problems in your network will inevitably hinder your business’s success. Moreover, as a company that’s growing, things will only get worse if you do not improve your service now.

How have they handled network problems to date?

When you have needed to make a service request in the past, what’s been your current provider’s track record?

Consider how easy they are to get in touch with. Are you able to speak with your own account manager or at least a representative who’s knowledgeable about your business?

How fast is your request handled? If it’s an emergency, such as a security breach or a system failure, how fast do they respond? If it’s a routine question or small system error, how fast do they respond?

Larger businesses need IT providers who know their business and are at-the-ready when a problem occurs. In fact, you should have a direct line to call when problems arise — one that answers to a live person.

Furthermore, as a growing business, you’ll want to anticipate that future problems will inevitably be more calamitous, especially when left unhandled for even a day or two. As your business expands, your IT provider must be immediately responsive, fully capable of handling any problem, and prompt in their service calls.

Have they presented a plan for accommodating your company’s growth?

First of all, have they taken notice of your company’s growth? A quality IT company will come to you first, noting that your company has been expanding and ideally, presenting a plan for your extended IT needs.

However, even if it’s you who needs to take the knowledge of your company’s expansion to your IT company, you’ll want to look for signs that they have a plan in mind to accommodate your anticipated needs.

They may, for example, suggest that you move from an as-needed payment plan to a monthly or yearly management plan. Many of the best IT providers who handle a range of company sizes will have at least these two options for their clients. When moving to a managed plan, you’ll be able to request assistance whenever necessary, paying a flat rate for their on-call care.

Find an IT Company Who Will Help Your Business Flourish

If, by evaluating the questions above, you’ve determined that it may be time to hire a new IT company, this certainly doesn’t mean that your current provider is entirely insufficient. It simply means that you’ve outgrown them, which in turn means that it’s time to move on to a more capable provider.

Taking the time to assess and realize your business’s extent of growth and possible outgrowth of an IT provider is an important step in your business’s expansion. Hiring an IT provider with adequate resources and capabilities to handle your expansion will ensure you’re fully prepared when it comes to your information technology — a foundational element that is, today, an invaluable component to businesses of all kinds.

Plan The Perfect Microsoft Office 365 Migration

Plan The Perfect Microsoft Office 365 Migration

Plan The Perfect Microsoft Office 365 Migration

If you’re trying to figure whether Microsoft Office 365 is right for you, then migration should be one of your primary concerns.

When it comes to a cloud-based suite like this, migrating to Office 365 from your current IT environment is no small task.

That’s why you have to be sure you know what you’re doing.

Before we get to the 6 steps you should follow for a perfect Office 365 migration, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what it actually is…

What is Microsoft Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365 is a subscription-based service that enhances Microsoft applications like Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Excel with the flexibility and accessibility of the cloud.

There are two primary ways that this platform breaks down – the web-based and premium desktop versions:

Web-Based Microsoft Office 365

The web-based Microsoft Office 365 Business provides users with online (browser-based) access to all their range of favorite Microsoft Office apps:

  • Word (word processing)
  • Excel (spreadsheets)
  • PowerPoint (presentations)
  • Outlook (email)
  • OneNote (note-taking)
  • OneDrive (file hosting and synchronization with 1 TB of storage)
  • Access (database management, for PCs only)

Premium Office 365

The Premium desktop-based alternative gives users a range of enhanced and advanced features:

  • Exchange (mail server and calendaring management)
  • SharePoint (website building tool to share, organize, store and access information)
  • Teams (a tool for collaboration, meetings, chat, and communication)
  • Planner (task and teamwork management)
  • Invoicing, booking and business intelligence tools
  • Customer relationship management functions
  • Yammer, Microsoft’s social media platform that enables users to collaborate and connect with each other

However, that’s really just the beginning as to how the many tiers of Microsoft Office 365 plans break down…

What Microsoft Office 365 plans are there, and what do they cost?

As a flagship offering from Microsoft, Office 365 comes in many shapes and sizes. So many, in fact, that you might not know where to begin.

The following list breaks down the many primary plan types offered for Microsoft Office 365, what they include, and how much they cost.

For each plan, these prices refer to a per-user basis, per month. To figure out what it would cost you, simply count the number of users you need to add from your business, and you’ve got your monthly cost – that’s easy to compare against your IT budget.

Exchange Plan 1 – $4.95 USD per user per month
Essentially just the email client aspect of the much larger Microsoft Office 365 platform, this plan includes:

  • Secure corporate email
  • 50 GB of inbox storage per user
  • Sent messages up to 150MB
  • All inbox management features available – sharing calendar dates and contacts, out of office messages, web-based email support.

SharePoint Online Plan 2 – $8.95 USD per user per month
Primarily designed as a file sharing and storage plan, this plan features SharePoint and OneDrive, as well as:

  • Unlimited personal cloud storage
  • Real-time co-authoring of files in the Microsoft suite of apps
  • Centralizing and indexing of the user’s content in libraries and lists with metadata records management, and retention policies
  • SharePoint mobile capability
  • In-Place Holds that allow users to preserve content from edits or deletion

ProPlus – $12.95 USD per user per month
In addition to Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access (PC only), Publisher (PC only) and OneDrive (1TB storage), this plan includes:

  • Web-based and desktop versions of the above Microsoft applications
  • Skype for Business client (service not included)
  • Licenses for an unlimited number of users

Enterprise E3 – $21.95 USD per user per month

Including all the applications, services and features of ProPlus, this plan also provides:

  • File storage and collaboration with OneDrive and SharePoint
  • Additional apps and services listed under the Premium suite above, such as Microsoft Teams, Yammer, and Stream (providing users with the ability to stream video to team members and other contacts)
  • Email hosting with 100GB of inbox storage and custom email domains
  • Unlimited personal cloud storage
  • Online video conferencing for up to 250 attendees
  • Online meetings for up to 10,000 attendees through Skype Meeting Broadcast or Microsoft Teams live

Business Essentials – $7.95 USD per user per month
An even more business-focused plan, this offering includes:

  • Mobile installation of Office apps (up to 5 devices per user)
  • Outlook email (50 GB of inbox storage per user and sent messages up to 150MB)
  • OneDrive for Business (1 TB of cloud storage per user)
  • Microsoft Teams
  • HD video conferencing
  • Yammer collaboration software
  • Office online (browser-based suite of Office apps)
  • Planner (project management platform that allows staff to plan projects, assign tasks, share files and communicate)
  • Microsoft Flow (workflow automation app that allows users to automatically configure notifications, sync files, collect data without having to code the process)
  • PowerApps (app development platform that allows users to build business-specific web and mobile apps)

Business Premium – $14.95 USD per user per month
In addition to the complete desktop and online Office 365 suite of applications (Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Teams, OneNote, Access [PC only], Publisher [PC only], Sharepoint, and OneDrive), this plan offer includes:

  • Business management and CRM tools – Outlook Customer Manager, Bookings, Invoicing and MileIQ
  • The range of online services offered in lower-tier plans like ProPlus and Business Essentials

Business – $20.00 USD per user per month

As the most commonly recommended plan for businesses, Microsoft Office 365 Business includes everything Business Premium has to offer, plus:

  • Enhanced security features such as attachment scanning and link checking for email, Information Protection Policies that add controls over how info is accessed, and data backup features that keep your information accessible
  • Device management features, fully integrated with iOS, Android and Windows, that allow for simple deployment and management of Windows on your mobile platforms

So that’s what these plans include – but obviously, that’s not all you need to know to make your decision.

There’s another key question…

What about Microsoft Office 365 migration?

Now that you know more about Microsoft Office 365, you may be interested in seeing what it can do for your business firsthand.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

If you’re not already using Microsoft Office 365, then you have to figure out how to migrate to it. Migrating from one business technology to another isn’t necessarily a simple process.

Before starting on the step by step process, make sure you have these three key aspects of prepared:

List of Users

Keeping careful track of how many users you have and what they need to do will make migration much smoother than it would be otherwise. The last thing you want to do is overlook a user here or there and find they can’t access the system after launch because there weren’t enough licenses or log-ins arranged.

Temporary Passwords

While you sort out the details of your new Microsoft Office 365 environment, it’s smart to work with temporary passwords. That way, it’s easy to test the environment without issuing official credentials and log-in info.

Domain Registrar Information

This is especially important for Microsoft Office 365 migrations – why? Because email is a central facet of Office 365. In order to ensure seamless changeover between your previous email client and Microsoft Outlook, you’ll need complete information on your domain registrar.

The 6 Step Process To Microsoft Office 365 Migration

Planning makes all the difference between a successful migration and a disastrous one.

Follow these steps and take your time to execute an effective migration:

Plan ahead.
When preparing for your migration to Microsoft Office 365, it’s important to plan efficiently and thoroughly.

The best way to achieve this is with an actual meeting with those who are involved in the process. You should talk through a number of key factors both in the migration, such as:

  • Why are we choosing to migrate?
  • What benefits do we expect to gain from migrating?
  • How will our infrastructure change during migration?
  • How will the user experience change after migration?
  • How will we train staff members on using Microsoft Office 365?

This is an especially vital step because, if you don’t have answers to these questions, then you probably aren’t ready to migrate.

Knowing how to answer these questions means that you can avoid common pitfalls and hit the ground running with your new IT environment.

Furthermore, you’ll want to make sure your entire staff understands what migration means for their work. What kind of downtime will they encounter, what are the benefits they will have access to once it’s complete, etc.

Plan for your infrastructure.

The new Microsoft Office 365 environment will be built on the foundation that is your infrastructure, so you better make sure it is up to the task before you start.

Infrastructure-based considerations should include:

  • Bandwidth: You should assess your bandwidth to zero in on exactly how many concurrent client machines are connected to the network at any one point in time.  In theory, your bandwidth should be able to support at least that many concurrent machines running Microsoft Office 365, which dictates that necessary network segments and connections you’ll need.
  • Hardware: Migration is a great opportunity to take stock of your hardware. For example, in your new environment, will you need a server dedicated for Skype for Business? That depends on how heavily you plan to make use of it. This is the type of question you need to answer (and do something about) before you migrate, and not after.
  • Software: As Microsoft Office 365 provides virtually all the software you could possibly use, there isn’t too much to take stock of in your old environment.
  • However, if you and your staff currently use mail-enabled applications that you’re fond of, or that are so specific to your business and industry that you’ll need them post-migration anyway, then you need to make sure they are compatible with Exchange Web Services.

Equip yourself with a deployment tool.

The good news is that you won’t have to handle much of the migration process all on your own. Microsoft offers a Deployment Readiness Tool to help users plan out the many aspects of a successful migration – primarily, environment discovery.

This tool can analyze and gather info on your IT system’s Active Directory and domain settings, helping to take stock of your Exchange, SharePoint, End User environment and Skye for Business settings. In addition to the app-based features, the Deployment Readiness Tool will also log your network configurations and settings so that they are carried over in migration as well.

Furthermore, Microsoft also has an Assessment and Planning Toolkit. While it is not designed specifically for Office 365, it is useful for discovery and inventory of cloud services and applications. If you’re migrating from a cloud-based or hybrid environment, the Assessment and Planning Toolkit will likely be a useful aid in determining what you need to keep track of.

App-specific planning.

While much of Office 365 will migrate seamlessly from one version of Microsoft Word or Excel to the next, there are a couple of Microsoft apps and service that will require further attention when you migrate:

  • Sharepoint: Prior to connecting to Sharepoint, there are a few steps you’ll need to take through the Administration Center. Primarily, you’ll want to double check global site collection settings, Internet, Intranet, and Extranet settings, user profiles, and MySite.  In each of these cases, you’ll want to be sure that their settings match those of your current environment. The default settings in Sharepoint may not match your current ones, so take the time to verify before you start sharing business data.
  • Skype For Business: If you and your staff intend to use Skype For Business, particularly public Instant Messaging, then you’ll need to make sure your staff knows how.  Specifically, Windows Live is supported for public IM in Skype for Business, but Yahoo is not. Furthermore, this is separate from on-premises IM. In both cases, your staff will need to know how it works in order to get the most out of it. If you intend to use public IM, you may need to migrate from Yahoo entirely.

Lay out the end-user experience.

Once you’re done migrating, you’ll want your staff to be able to hit the ground running, right?

Then make sure they can actually do so before you start the migration. This means making sure the browsers they use are supported for web-based office 365, and the operating systems they use are supported for the suite:

  • Supported browsers: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome
  • Operating systems: Microsoft Office 2010, 2007 SP2, 2008 for Mac, Office Web Apps

It’s time to migrate.

Now that all the groundwork has been done, you’re ready to migrate.

Remember, there’s no rushing this process. If you want it to be effective, and if you want your new Microsoft Office 365 environment to work as planned, then be patient and follow the steps carefully.

Is Microsoft Office 365 right for you?

Depending on what you do for business, how large your organization is, what your budget will allow, Microsoft Office 365 may or may not be the right choice. Only you can decide for sure.

If you do believe that Microsoft Office 365 will have a positive effect for you, then make sure to carefully plan your migration. Regardless of whatever benefits it may bring you, a poorly planned migration is not worth the trouble it causes.

Did You Know That Java 8 Now Requires Licensing Fees?

JAVA Licensing Fees

JAVA Licensing Fees

Java and JavaScript still the most widely-used languages in business, outpacing C# and Python by a relatively large margin in a recent survey by Cloud Foundry. These flexible, cloud-native languages represent 57-58% of businesses that responded to the study, with Python only being used in about 25% of businesses. Java and JavaScript, along with C++, continued to show market growth through the end of 2018, unlike some other languages whose share continues to decline. With the strong user base and growth for Java, it’s not surprising that Oracle has decided to consolidate several different models into a more streamline licensing agreement. While this has been discussed since mid-2018, as of January 2019 organizations that want to continue receiving support for Java may need to revise their licensing agreement to incorporate the paid model. See how this could impact your continued usage of a programming language that continues to gain importance in the business world.

Building Flexibility Into Business Systems

Being able to reference multiple languages helps businesses retain the flexibility and agility that they need to be relevant in today’s fast-paced business world. With startups claiming niche markets, established businesses and enterprises need access to well-known and widely used languages such as Java and C++. Even though Java has been around since “Green Team” developers at Sun Microsystems released it 1995 after a multi-year marathon of programming, it is still revolutionizing the way we interact with digital devices. As the invisible force behind many of today’s most complex solutions, Java has been building flexibility into business systems since the mid-1990s. Java is a platform independent, meaning it can run a variety of different operating systems which creates a highly extensible base language.

Creating Cloud-Native Practices

Businesses are continually looking for ways to drive innovation as a way to differentiate from their competitors, and cloud-native languages such as Java will help drive these initiatives into the future. Says Cloud Foundry Foundation CTO Chip Childers: “Cloud-native practices enable developers within large companies to pick the language that best supports their functional needs—and our research shows that the most commonly chosen languages for cloud-native application development are Java and JavaScript”. While more than 25 languages were noted by respondent companies, the majority were only used by 1-2% of businesses, unlike Java which was prevalent in close to three-fourths of the organizations. It would not be surprising for there to be consolidation within the various platforms as organizations look to bring consistency to their overall development practices.

Java’s New Licensing Model

While Oracle’s July 2018 announcement caused many organizations to rethink their Java usage, it’s clear that the platform is still required for development. The particular version that was impacted is Java SE (Standard Edition), Java SE Advanced, Java SE Advanced Desktop and Java SE Suite. These licensing options will be consolidated down to two paid models starting in January 2019: Java SE Subscription and Java SE Desktop Subscription. Each version is a monthly subscription that includes public updates for Java SE 8 or later, with terms available from one to three years. This shift will impact all users of commercial-grade Java, although customers of older Java SE models will not be forced to make the switch. While moving to the new model is not mandatory for non-commercial use, business users will require a license according to Oracle’s new licensing policies.

Business users do have a few decisions to make as their model shifts:

  • Server-based deployments will use a processor-based metric such as CPUs to calculate license requirements, starting with an Oracle-licensed server and the number of cores and the processor core factor into the calculations
  • Desktop deployments use a Named User Plus-based metric to make the calculation of ongoing licensing costs

Businesses who opt out of the paid model, should not expect to receive additional Java SE critical updates after January 1, 2019, a situation which can easily place business operations at increased risk of breach or failure.

Review Use of Java in Your Business

If you have significant usage of Java SE in your business, it’s time to launch a full review to determine whether you need to upgrade or renew licensing agreements with Oracle. Determine whether your business is fully compliant with new Java SE requirements based on your current and estimated future usage on servers or desktops. You could find that it is more cost-effective to make a switch to the new Java SE licensing models based on your current business requirements and maintenance agreement. Reviewing future development needs is also an important part of your analysis. If you plan to reduce overall Java use in the next few years, that could dictate the term of the negotiated agreement. You could also look for ways to incorporate a sliding scale based on estimated future usage.

Even though the language is now more than two decades old, there is no indication that the usage of Java is declining in the near future. As long as this flexible platform provides the link between computers and other digital devices, developers will continue to use and value this agile platform for business development.

UEFI Rootkits

UEFI Rootkits

UEFI Rootkits

Whether you are a cybersecurity expert or not, there are some security risks that every business leader needs to be aware of—and UEFI rootkits definitely fall into that category. These nasty computer viruses are uniquely dangerous to your computer systems because they do not get wiped out when you reformat your hard drive or reinstall your operating system. Instead, they stick around in your computer’s flash memory and pop right back up again when you try to start using the machine. It is important that everyone be aware of UEFI rootkits to minimize their spread and limit the damage they can do to your systems.

UEFI Basics

To understand what makes UEFI rootkits so difficult to deal with, you first need to understand the basics of how modern computers are set up. You have probably heard the term BIOS before. The basic input/output system was the firmware used for decades to start your computer up, among other functions. But in recent years BIOS was replaced by Unified Extensible Firmware Interface or UEFI. UEFI is also used to boot up your operating system, among other tasks. Because it needs to be able to start up everything else, UEFI resides in your flash memory—the same place that the UEFI rootkit resides once it infects your computer.

What UEFI Rootkits Do

The genius of the UEFI rootkit is that it is placed in the one area where you are unlikely to get rid of it using normal security measures. It infiltrates your UEFI on your flash memory. The specific location of the virus is ideal to keep it coming back again and again. The antivirus does not find it. Even wiping the hard drive does not touch it. Only a very targeted effort to remove it from your UEFI will eliminate the problem from your machine.

The Challenge of Getting Rid of a UEFI Rootkit

For most computer users, the basics of security begin with running antivirus and antimalware products. But the majority of these products will not even look at your UEFI, which means they are not going to find a UEFI rootkit. The next step, which is typically considered quite drastic, is to wipe your hard drive and reinstall your operating system. Almost every computer virus can be eliminated by taking this step. Once you wipe the hard drive, you wipe out the virus. Yes, you have to go through the inconvenience of reinstalling everything—which can be very inconvenient, depending on what your business computers have installed and the kind of work you are doing. But it is usually a surefire way to eliminate a virus.

What can be so frustrating for businesses is that even taking the drastic measure of wiping and reinstalling does not solve the problem. You can even swap out the hard drive and install a brand new hard drive. When you consider that applying all of these fixes could take days for companies with tens or even hundreds of computers, you can appreciate how maddening it would be to have the problem persist.

What Can Businesses Do to Prevent UEFI Rootkits?

There are a few things that businesses can do to prevent these nasty viruses from showing their ugly heads:

1. Educate those that need to know.

Whatever IT staff you have, even if it is just a computer-savvy employee that keeps things going smoothly, should be educated on UEFI rootkits. When people know about them, it becomes much easier to address the problem. If you have taken the normal steps to eliminate the virus and it keeps popping up, you could have a UEFI rootkit problem on your hands.

2. Consider getting new hardware if you do not have Secure Boot capabilities or something similar.

Secure Boot is a solution used on modern computer systems to prevent unauthorized access to the firmware. It requires that anything attempting to make a change to the computer’s firmware have a security code to make changes. If it does not have the security credentials, no changes can be made. Older machines do not have Secure Boot capabilities.

3. Verify that your Secure Boot configuration is properly set up.

Secure Boot is not a fix all. It does need to be properly configured to work as intended. Make sure that all of your Secure Boot systems are properly configured to prevent anyone from accessing your firmware when they should not.

Tech Education: What Is Microsoft Office 365?

What is Microsoft Office 365?

What is Microsoft Office 365?

 

The ability to work anywhere used to be limited to freelancers and writers, but today’s professionals need the flexibility to be productive regardless of their physical location. Microsoft Office 365 provides the full-featured suite of services that businesses need to scale quickly and focus on core growth. While Office 365 may call to mind basic programs such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, there are far more software apps available that allow you to create custom solutions by department and quickly add or reduce your licenses as needed. See why Microsoft Office 365 is the choice of millions of businesses throughout the world.

Integrated Apps: Superior Experience

Designed to help you grow your business, Microsoft Office 365 provides your teams with simple collaboration internally as well as with customer and external vendor partners. This is ideal for organizations with multiple locations that need the ability to share calendars or documents in real time. Chat functionality is built in, as well as version control that works across mobile and desktop applications. What’s better — users are able to install the apps on up to five devices, making it easy to always stay in sync.

 

 

Apps included in Office 365 include:

  • Word
  • Excel
  • PowerPoint
  • Outlook
  • OneNote
  • Teams
  • SharePoint
  • Exchange Online Protection
  • Access (PC only)
  • Publisher (PC only)

Each application is fully managed and supported by Microsoft, with 24/7 phone and online support as well as their uptime guarantee of 99.9 percent so your software is always available for use by your team.

Cloud-based Storage You Can Trust

Each Office 365 subscription level also includes 1TB of storage in Microsoft OneDrive, an extremely secure solution for cloud-based business data storage. OneDrive allows you to send links to files in a secure location instead of attaching the files directly to your emails, and your devices will always be up-to-date with the most recent versions of documents — allowing for quick edits on the road. Patches are applied on a regular basis

Easy Access to Tools for Building Your Business

Your time is important, which is why Microsoft has created this integrated approach to business productivity and operations. From chatting with remote staff members to collaborating across devices with customers in other parts of the country, you’ll find all the key services that you need to build your business without the overhead of internally managing the licenses or support. From mileage tracking and protection against unauthorized access to your company’s confidential information, Microsoft Office 365 has you covered.

When you’re able to focus on the key tasks associated with business growth and are spending less time on administrative background work, you may be surprised at the high level of value you are able to deliver back to your company on a weekly basis.

Microsoft Data Breach Highlights Need for MSP Collaboration and Security

Microsoft Outlook Data Breach

Microsoft Outlook Data Breach

A recently announced a data security breach of Microsoft’s Outlook.com product has many wondering how to work with MSP customers to understand the scope and impact.

What Happened to Outlook.com Data?

It appears that the breach occurred when a support agent’s access credentials were compromised. Support agents are customer service representatives that handle technical issues and complaints. That led to unauthorized access to a portion of the accounts on Microsoft’s web email service from January 1 to March 29, 2019.

The hack apparently affected Hotmail and MSN users in addition to Outlook account holders. In an email to users, Microsoft noted that, “This unauthorized access could have allowed unauthorized parties to access and/or view information related to your email account (such as your e-mail address, folder names, the subject lines of e-mails, and the names of other e-mail addresses you communicate with), but not the content of any e-mails or attachments,”

Microsoft also said that the hackers were able to access content on about 6 percent of users.

Is That the Complete Scope of the Breach?

Not necessarily.

“At this time the impact of this particular breach is still under investigation,” noted Swinburne Charles of Checksum Systems, a Toronto IT services company. “However, overall it would not surprise any security expert that far more users were affected. The mere fact that the Microsoft support engineer’s credentials were affected so long would imply that the perpetrators had unfettered access to millions of email addresses and could have simply ‘botted’ their way around those mailboxes, scraping information such as name, email address, mail subject, and message body.”

Phil Cardone of Radius Executive IT, a Boston-area IT company, pointed out that Microsoft support technicians do not have access to end-user protected data. “This breach could have been much worse if the hackers had destructive intent and compromised the integrity of the Microsoft Office 365 environment,” Cardone said.

“The impact of this attack shows how vulnerable we all are to hacking,” added Anthony Buonaspina of Long Island, New York-based IT support company LI Tech Advisors. “Even through no fault of our own, our information can be compromised by a lapse in security by some individual at a company that maintains our information. It’s scary that these types of hacks can happen without our knowledge and we may or may not even get notified for months after an attack.”

What Should I Do If I Have an MSN, Hotmail or Outlook Account?

In cases like this, it’s important to take precautionary steps, whether or not your account is affected.

“Users should continue to employ safe email practices, keeping an eye out for an increase in phishing emails designed to solicit a response,” said Sarah Ober of Washington, D.C.-based IT company Intelice. “Attackers gained access to email addresses of contacts and had visibility into subject lines of emails, which could be used in targeted attacks.”

Buonaspina, Cardone and Charles all urged users to change their passwords immediately. Charles noted that companies “should not skimp” on deploying two-factor or multi-factor authorization for systems and applications. Cardone encouraged global account administrators to firm up security on Office 365 tenant accounts and using Office 365 Secure Score to assess and provision as many precautions as possible.

Is This Attack Like Other Ongoing Breaches or Is Something More Significant about This One?

“This attack is like many other ongoing breaches where soft passwords or internal security procedures are lax, allowing for security breaches like we see with Microsoft,” Buonaspina said. “What’s more significant about this one is that it undermines our trust in a major corporation. If they can’t get it right, how the hell are smaller, less security-minded companies supposed to keep their data and their clients’ data safe?”

Ober noted the need for end-user vigilance. “One concerning part about this breach was that it involved compromised credentials of a Microsoft support technician, and lasted for multiple months before being remediated,” she said. “It highlights the importance for all support staff to be vigilant with their own chain of security, as it is only as strong as the weakest link.”

“This attack went after the back-end system infrastructure versus the actual end-user experience,” Cardone explained. “A typical breach may affect day-to-day interactions between people and organizations, whereas this attack could have affected the structural integrity of the Microsoft Office 365 system infrastructure. This could have been much worse than it was.”

What Exactly Does A Managed IT Services Company Provide?

Managed IT Services Company

Managed IT Services Company

Running a business requires a great deal of focused attention. Unfortunately, when your technology team is spending a great deal of time dealing with login problems, software licensing, cybersecurity and more, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for growth activities and strategic thinking. As businesses grow, many organizations find that it makes sense to work with an IT managed services company to maintain a high level of security and staff productivity that would be nearly impossible using only internal assets. These technology partners provide best-in-class tools and support that can scale with your business as you expand. Here’s an overview of the type of services that many of these technology partners provide.

Day-to-Day Operations

Technology teams often refer to “death by a thousand cuts” — which is what happens when you have dozens of people relying on you to provide technical support for your organization. Everything from computers that refuse to reboot to conference rooms where the projection isn’t working all come into your help desk. This can overwhelm the individuals in IT and also cause a productivity loss for the staff members who are waiting on a response or support. IT managed services providers are able to step into this gap and solve a variety of simple challenges, including:

  • Retrieving lost files or folders
  • Resetting passwords
  • Issuing software licenses (based on pre-set business parameters)
  • Troubleshooting network connectivity
  • Rebooting servers

These are only a few of the “Help me now!” requests that technology professionals receive on a daily basis, and all of these options can be resolved remotely by a friendly technician from your IT managed services provider.

Creating or Refining Cybersecurity

Ensuring that your business information stays safe is a primary directive for today’s organizations. With many companies storing personal financial and health information for clients or staff, cybercriminals are enjoying access to data from organizations of all sizes — especially those businesses without a robust security posture. Staying current with the latest threats takes time and attention, and can be challenging for technology staff members to juggle with other priorities. When you work with a managed services provider, you have easy and immediate access to cybersecurity professionals who are able to review your current processes, make recommendations for improvement and then even help with the implementation of those suggestions.

Long-Term Technology Strategies and Budgeting

Even things that you might think of as integral to your business can be supported through a trusted IT managed services provider. A good technology partner may have access to dozens of business models and be able to make recommendations for your business based on a broader scope of understanding. Your external IT team can help with research on new vendor partners, negotiating better pricing on software due to shared buying power and even help create budgets based on the unique needs of your business.

Advanced Backup and Disaster Recovery

Should the unthinkable happen, it definitely pays to be prepared. There are any number of reasons you might have to restore operations from a backup, but without a proactive backup and disaster recovery process in place this can be a big challenge for businesses. Massive fires, flooding or other natural disasters claim thousands of businesses every year, as those businesses are unable to restart operations after a disaster. Cyberthreats or data loss could also spell doom for your business, especially if the loss leads to an extended period of time without access to your business data. With an IT managed services partner, you’re gaining access to advanced backup and disaster recovery software and protocols that will help protect your business in the event of an emergency — and help you restart operations quickly. More than 96% of businesses with a disaster recovery solution in place continue operations, but the same cannot be said of those without the forethought to create a comprehensive plan.

There are hundreds of scenarios where an IT managed services provider can help support your business. The bottom line is that you are gaining access to a deep bench of qualified professionals who are solely focused on helping make your business successful. Whether you need immediate assistance with help desk support or longer-term strategic advice, IT managed services providers serve a vital role in today’s business world.

5 Things You Need To Know About the End of Windows 7 Support

Windows 7

Windows 7

Windows 7 has had a great run, but Microsoft has decided that it’s finally time to retire the platform. Windows 7 isn’t being deprecated by customers as quickly as Windows would like, with more than 38% of all PCs still running the aging OS. It seems that businesses like to hang onto an operating system once it becomes stable, because even Windows XP still owns 3.3% of the market share after support ended in April 2014. Windows 10 is still the top operating system for PCs, but it’s only a few basis points above the much older Windows 7.

As Microsoft enters the final stretch for offering support for Windows 7, there are 5 things you need to know to keep your PCs stable and operating in peak condition.

1. Windows 10 Offers Better Security

Cybersecurity is one of the topics on everyone’s mind in the technology field, and Windows 10 offers additional security measures you won’t find in the older OS. Ransomware, in particular, is being targeted to computers running older operating systems such as Windows 7, because there’s the perception that updates and patches may not be put into place. Windows 10 has a significantly more advanced end-to-end defense stack than you’ll find on Windows 7.

2. Get Ready for Windows as a Service

Another key benefit of migrating to Windows 10 is the speed of releases. While Windows 7 and previous operating systems from Microsoft had an extended release schedule, the team behind Windows 10 will be pushing out updates approximately every 6 months. What’s more, the updates each have a limited lifespan of support, a move to encourage businesses to shift to a more frequent schedule of updates. This requirement can be a burden on an overtaxed technology department, especially when Microsoft is expecting the updates to be completed at least every 18 months.

3. Are Your Business Applications Compatible?

Organizations that put off an upgrade to the newest in Microsoft’s operating system lineup may be doing so due to a concern about lack of compatibility with current business applications. Turns out, this is definitely a consideration, as some organizations are having to roll back their Windows 10 upgrade due to interoperability issues with line-of-business applications. Application compatibility is an important consideration any time operating systems are upgraded, so Microsoft is providing free assistance with app compatibility as part of their upgrade program.

4. You May Need to Refresh Your Hardware

You may find that older PCs are not hardy enough to handle the requirements of a newer operating system. While it will make your upgrade journey more complex, it’s best to ensure that you’ve got the best possible start with computers that will handle the additional computational load that Windows 10 requires. This is one of the steps where it is helpful to get a second opinion from a trusted service provider, as upgrading and then determining that your legacy equipment won’t handle the new business apps and systems could require labor-intensive and expensive rework. The load from Windows 10 is not extremely heavy, but it could burden older systems.

5. Need Extra Time to Upgrade?

Of course, there’s always the option that you can pay your way into a few more years of Microsoft support for Windows 7. While Microsoft isn’t recommending this option, it could be viable for an organization that is deeply rooted in the Windows 7 ecosystem — at least for the short term. The need to upgrade eventually is inevitable, but this extension on the January 2020 deadline may allow businesses to have a more orderly migration than rushing to get in under the wire. If you’re ready to upgrade the majority of your hardware and have a legacy application or two that is incompatible with Windows 10, there’s always the option of running a virtual machine with Windows 7 until you’re able to patch or rebuild your incompatible software.

Whether you’re going to stick it out or ready to make an upgrade, you’ll need to keep in mind the age of your current fleet of PCs as you carefully weigh the costs and benefits of taking this step. What is most important is that your team has the support that you need to make decisions as well as the technical support in the event of any bumps along the road.

13 Effects That You Can Apply to the Apple Messages App

Apple Message App

Apple Message App

Back in 2018, Apple once again upgraded the iMessage app to include new messaging effects. Apple added these effects to enhance the messaging experience for iOS users. There are 13 different effects that you can use to add an attractive feature to your messages when using iOS 12 or later on an iPhone or an iPad. The bubble effects will also show up on iMessage for Mac.

Let’s look at the special effects that you can apply in the Apple Messages App.

How to Access the iMessage Effects

First, with messages open, enter some text. Type an easy message such as “Hello”. Then, force-press the blue arrow to the right. The effects screen appears. The effects screen is divided into categories that are posted at the top of the screen:

  1. Bubble effects
  2. Screen effects

Bubble Effects

There are four bubble effects:

  1. Slam: Stamps the bubble down and makes the entire screen ripple
  2. Loud: A giant bubble that shakes then settles
  3. Gentle: A tiny bubble that subtly slips into place
  4. Invisible ink: Covers the bubble in an animated blur  the blur disappears once you swipe the message.

Screen Effects

There are nine screen effects:

  1. Echo: The Echo duplicates text that floods the screen of the recipient.
  2. Spotlight: The incoming message is highlighted by a spotlight.
  3. Balloons: Ascending balloons burst onto the recipient’s screen.
  4. Confetti: Multi-color confetti sprays down from the top of the screen.
  5. Love: An expanding heart pops out of the message.
  6. Lasers: Lasers with sound effects shoot from one of the screen to the next.
  7. Fireworks: Multi-color fireworks explode from the center of the screen.
  8. Shooting stars: A starburst shoots from the left on the screen, blowing up as it reaches the right side of the screen.
  9. Celebration: Fireworks and other celebratory effects spread out across the screen.

Once you’ve decided which effect you want to apply, touch the blue upward arrow to send your message with the effect. You can also press the ‘X’ to return to the message screen.

By adding these effects, you can enhance your iMessage experience.

Why Is ITSM Important For Local Business?

ITSM

ITSM

With today’s businesses moving a large portion of their information technology operations to the cloud, having holistic IT services management is more important than ever before. Making this shift provides organizations with an unprecedented level of flexibility, and cloud solutions are generally more affordable. However, you may find that you’re introducing a greater level of complexity as you bring on additional integrations and cloud-based solutions. Having a trusted IT services management partner allows you to focus on the core growth of your business while shifting the bulk of responsibility for IT operations to your services management team. See how making this move helps local businesses thrive.

What is ITSM?

Information Technology Services Management (ITSM) goes by a variety of different titles. You may hear this referred to as managed services, IT outsourcing, IT consulting and more — but it all boils down to finding a partner with the technical expertise to support your organization’s IT operations. Internal IT teams often retain responsibility for setting strategy and oversight, while the more tedious daily processes and larger integrations are moved offsite to your partner’s teams. This allows you access to a broader team of professionals with expertise in a variety of different platforms, infrastructure setups and methodologies.

How Does ITSM Help My Local Business?

As businesses grow, their technical challenges become increasingly complex and are often more than one or two IT professionals can handle internally. Working with an IT services management organization allows you to reduce inefficiencies in your business and reduce the workload on key technical staff. You’ll find enhanced operational efficiency and reduced operating costs, along with a vastly improved customer experience for your internal users and customers. With an external review of your software implementations, you are likely to enjoy enhanced access control and governance of your crucial business systems. Your IT services management professionals are also able to help bring consistency to your process and automate them whenever possible. You’ll find that your teams are able to collaborate more fluidly — both internally and with your customers or vendors.

What Types of Services Does an ITSM Offer?

The wide scope of the landscape — where there are thousands of solutions for each IT project — simply requires knowledge that is too broad for a single, small team. ITSM helps your local business by helping weed through some less-than-ideal solutions to find exactly the options that are right for your business.

This could include providing a range of platforms and services:

  • Cloud-based storage
  • Backup and disaster recovery procedures
  • Antivirus and anti-malware solutions
  • Office 365 and productivity software licensing and implementation
  • Active monitoring of your network for data breaches
  • Remediation and resolution management
  • Help Desk support
  • Software Integrations
  • Universal control dashboards
  • Threat assessments and staff training
  • WiFi and endpoint management

These are only a few of the solutions that a full-service ITSM partner can provide for your organization.

Will an ITSM Team Understand My Business?

Sure, it might take your technology professionals a bit to get up to speed on your specific core competencies and the challenges that your organization offers, but these individuals are accustomed to working with a variety of organizations and will quickly learn what makes your business unique. Plus, they’re able to leverage all of their knowledge of past engagements to help see what works, what doesn’t — and how to make the most out of the teams that are available. Your IT services management team will look across the organization at people, processes and technology in order to help visualize your work and understand where changes can be made to wasteful processes.

If your organization is embarking on a digital transformation project — or even if you’re simply trying to get your technology team out of the weeds with daily help desk requests — ITSM offers some true benefits for your business. You can increase the agility and responsiveness of your business while ensuring that daily business processes are interrupted as little as possible. See how ITSM concepts can help provide the cement that you need between your business and technology teams to lead your organization into the future.