Manage Your Risk – Know Where Your Data Is

In Florida, a healthcare provider was recently charged with a lawsuit in light of a data breach. The results of their case mandated these specific precautions:

1. Security awareness and training programs for all employees
2. Training on laptop use and security
3. Additional security, including GPS tracking, on all laptops
4. New password rules, and full disk encryption on all equipment
5. Physical security upgrades at all offices
6. Updated written security policies and procedures

But wait! Aren’t these the security measures all organizations with sensitive personal data need to take in the first place? It’s 2014 and security breaches are everywhere. But do you know where your data is?Network Security

Where are the big gaps?

With hackers moving at the speed of light, “gaps” can be anywhere.
• Employee data – personal, financial and health
• Customer credit card data that is kept for “convenience”
• Passwords may be weak and vulnerable
• Shared data – perhaps with a consultant, or an outside marketing or IT service firm
• Confidentiality promises in contracts with clients
• Road warriors using public Wi-Fi – with personal devices
• Archived data, often forgotten, in the bowels of your computers

More than 50% of small and mid-sized U.S. businesses have had at least one data breach. Hackers want confidential data they can sell and they know how to get it.

What to do?

• Well, let’s start with the six steps listed above. Training employees is no. 1: what is personal information, how to recognize phishing emails – even from friends – and how to keep personal and business email separate.
• Security software – and hardware, like firewall devices – must be continually updated.
• Passwords are a classic weak link – insist on new ones every 90 days. (If you have too many, use a password manager program.)
• Lock up all servers, encrypt all data, prevent USB downloads when no one is looking, and explain to employees why these steps are needed.
• Update Data retention/destruction policies and get rid of obsolete, potentially dangerous, data and files.

Clare Computer Solutions is an experienced IT Consulting firm that can help your company control and protect its valuable data.

This is a “guest post” written by Charles Wilson at RiskSmart Solutions, which provides Risk and Insurance Management Services.

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Section 179 Deduction Can Help Your Business Purchase Hardware/Software Before the End of 2014

Section 179There are government incentives for the purchase of capital equipment such as hardware and software before the end of 2014. Please visit the Section 179 Website and consult with your tax specialist prior to purchase.

The Section 179 Deduction has just been announced for 2014 and the current deduction limit is $25,000 plus an adjustment for inflation. This means businesses can deduct the full cost of qualifying equipment from their 2014 taxes, up to $25,000. The equipment must be purchased and put into use by midnight, 12/31/2014.

Clare Computer Solutions can assist you with a recommended implementation plan for upgrading your equipment, infrastructure and software applications. We are here to help you and help you save money.

Contact us or call 800 339 0690 ext 148 for a FREE 2015 IT budget consultation about what your specific company may require and then refer to the Section 179 website for more information about available incentives for your business: http://www.section179.org.

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Today’s CEOs Seek Agility in Business

Due to a number of factors, things move faster than ever in the modern business climate. Every day seems to bring some new wrinkle, or some new innovation that briefly brings a competitive advantage to a company or industry, and everyone has to scramble to catch up.  How can a business position itself to be an innovator, or agile enough to close the gap quickly when innovation in the industry changes the landscape?Strategic Thinking

Here are three things to consider that can enable a business to become more nimble.

Focus on Business Intelligence

Identify the key performance indicators on the business and track them constantly. Compare the results against known industry standards regularly and empower someone in the organization to address problem areas.

Use technological tools to ease in the gathering, presentation and interpretation of the performance data and build that process into the business DNA. There will be times when the analysis of the date doesn’t call for any urgent action, but when something is awry, it will be discovered sooner rather than later.

Build an Agile Business infrastructure

Inelegant IT infrastructures and inefficient communication within an organization are roadblocks to achieving agility.

Modern business communication takes multiple forms – phone, instant messenger (IM), email – and different users have preferences. Use technological tools to make it easier for everyone to communicate in the ways they prefer, and other tools to organize ongoing discussions and projects.

Virtualization and cloud computing provide a great way to add agility to the IT infrastructure side of things. With these technologies, new servers can be added quickly and easily, and provide a way to recover more quickly if key elements of the infrastructure fail.

Continuous Evaluation and Improvement

If business moves fast, technology moves even faster. An agile business is always staying informed on emerging technologies, and having discussions to determine which will provide benefits and when they should be adopted to realize those benefits. By making this a constant background practice, decisions can be made quickly from fresh, current data.

Tweaking a corporate culture, and implementing the systems required for Business Intelligence can be a challenge, and often required skills that aren’t already in the organization. Clare Computer Solutions can help your company evaluate what will need to be done to position your company for quick action, and provide the agility to grow your business!

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Cloud Services Present Interesting Choices for Businesses in 2015

Cloud DecisionsIt wasn’t that long ago when “cloud computing” seemed like a futurist’s dream, but now it’s a reality.  Has it fulfilled its promise of great reduced costs and increased business agility?  The answer is: “Yes, no, and sometimes”.

When cloud computing is a good fit, it works very, very well, and for this reason, it looks like the future will continue to develop cloud-based technologies.  Two things the cloud does really well, and has led to wide spread adoption, are data backup and email.

With regards to data backup, it’s been a common practice in businesses of nearly any size to back up important data, and at some point remove those backups from the main premises.  It just makes sense – any disaster that might harm the place of business would likely harm the backups and negate their value in business continuity. Hand carrying backups on media (tapes, CDs, DVDs) got the data away from the premises, but exposed it to other perils (electromagnetic damage, theft, etc), so uploading data backups to a data center in the cloud is a really convenient solution, and often, is the first foray into the cloud for many companies.

With email, many companies’ needs are fairly modest, but they found out long ago that “popping” mail from their ISP as not a good solution. So, they purchased and maintained an email server, and it became part of the on-premises network infrastructure.  When hosted email services became available, many companies jumped at the chance to discontinue having email served from on-premises equipment.

Even with data backups and hosted email, however, companies soon learned that some thought has to go into the move to cloud computing.  It’s not nearly enough to look at monthly service rates and pull the trigger.  Here are some things every company must consider when evaluating cloud services for their business:

Bandwidth and redundancy for Cloud access

“Cloud” usually means Internet access, but not always – there may be private connections to cloud resources that don’t involve the internet per se. Regardless,  care must be taken to ensure there is adequate bandwidth to use applications through the cloud, and steps should be taken to provide an alternate connection if the primary connection fails for any reason.

Migration Costs

Some businesses were “born in the cloud” – their IT infrastructure was cloud-based from the beginning.  But if a company is going to migrate services to the cloud, there will be costs for setting up the cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and for the project of migrating data and processes to the cloud.  There will likely be some consulting costs as well, to map out the transition and choose the appropriate services for the business.

Return on the Investment

The notion of ditching capital expenditures and paying nominal operating expense fees every month is part of the allure of cloud computing.  But remember to factor in the costs of migration and the expected fees as your company grows – when, exactly, will you start saving money? And is there a tipping point there you might stop saving money in the future?

Like any technological innovation, cloud computing has the potential for very real benefits. And like any technological innovation, it has specific applications in the real world.   It’s definitely worth investigating – and an IT Consulting firm like Clare Computer Solutions can help your company navigate the choices.

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Preventive Maintenance Works for the Legal Profession, Too

This is a guest column from Terrence Church of the Walnut Creek Law Firm Brown, Church and Gee. We’re featuring this article because it really illustrates the point that it’s better to prevent problems than fix them - a notion Clare Computer Solutions has long espoused.

If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then why do businesses only call an attorney when the legal floodwaters are approaching nostril height?

One reason may be that management didn’t see the need. It’s easy to get used to the water lapping at your chin and lose sight of how close that is to serious consequences. Another is simply fear of a big bill. Different reasons yield the same results: fewer options at higher cost.

Part of the issue is, the legal profession has historically done a poor job of presenting attorneys as effective team members rather than hired guns. Large enterprises know the value of prevention – that’s why they have legal teams that are involved in every aspect of the business as a normal part of the firm’s internal risk management strategy. Smaller enterprises can do the same by embracing a new legal services paradigm.

Having a trusted legal advisor on your management team is an effective cost-saving practice. Many (if not most) of the legal problems that get business owners clamoring for a lawyer can be foreseen and prevented by someone on the inside who knows what to look for.

This represents a significant shift in the legal services paradigm. It can be an uphill battle for smaller enterprises who may not see the value of an embedded legal advisor. But experience shows that the best time to have a lawyer is before you know you NEED one. To the untrained eye, legal storms can appear seemingly out of nowhere. A trusted legal partner can often see clouds forming far out on the horizon and help steer the ship to safer waters.

If you like to stay ahead of problems, rather than fight fires all the time, why not apply this thinking to your firm’s risk management and legal strategy as well?

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On Premise, Cloud, Hybrid and MSP Solutions: 2015 Will Be a Key Decision Year For Many Companies and IT Departments

As companies examine options for the cloud, on premise and hybrid solutions and management of their IT they should rely on the expertise of an established IT Consulting firm

(SAN RAMON, CA) Clare Computer Solutions (CCS), a professional services firm providing IT solutions for companies in the San Francisco Bay area since 1990 wants to help companies understand the advances in technology that their businesses will be faced with in the next two years.   Technology advances such as Cloud computing have changed the technology landscape and created new types of computing models.  According to Gartner, Hybrid Clouds and Hybrid IT: The Next Frontier, “the majority of private and community cloud services will evolve to hybrid services by 2017.”

As storage and bandwidth prices continue to fall, Cloud-based services are being considered by companies that want to shift IT costs from a capital expense to an operating expense, reduce IT departments, maintain less equipment, and focus fully on their core responsibility—growing their business.

Companies are faced with whether they should opt for a hosted or an on-premise solution – and whether to build up their IT department, utilize a managed service program (MSP), have IT services outsourced entirely or to create a hybrid approach. “We work with clients to create a model that best suits their needs. But first they need to assess their business needs and infrastructure before making a decision,” said Brad Mendonsa, CEO, Clare Computer Solutions.

Clare Computer Solutions (CCS) is offering a FREE 1 hour IT budget consultation until 12/31/14 to help plan an implementation program and 10% off of the first six months of CCS’s Managed Service Provider (MSP) NetCentral service until 1/31/15.

For more information about CCS visit www.clarecomputer.com or call (800) 339-0690 ext 148. Visit our events page (www.clarecomputer.com/events) to attend an educational event about technical and IT topics to broaden your knowledge base.

About Clare Computer Solutions (CCS)
Clare Computer Solutions has been providing high quality IT Network Services and Network Support to Bay Area companies since 1990. CCS has installed over 2,400 multi-user networks and serviced many more. Clients represent diverse industries including: healthcare, manufacturing, construction, insurance, service industries, legal, hospitality and more throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. The company is based in San Ramon, California.

Our Services
We have experience in deploying solutions utilizing technology from Microsoft, Novell, Citrix, VMware, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and many other industry leaders. Our long-term relationship with these manufacturers ensures considerable depth of knowledge in these products, and how they interoperate. What this means to our clients: solutions are deployed quickly and correctly.

Our Process
CCS strives for seamless integration and high touch customer service from the most highly certified and trained team possible. Clients are kept informed with monthly reports and netcentral_logo_webquarterly reviews. From our detailed invoices to our process, clients regularly report that they appreciate our level of detail and transparency when it comes to their business. Our internal performance guidelines ensure that we continue to perform at peak level to service all of your IT needs.

Our Mission
CCS is a technology partner committed to our client’s future by listening, strategizing and implementing cost effective technology solutions. We are an extension of our client’s business and are interested and committed to their long-term success. We ensure that your technology supports the vision, experience and the passion that is the basis of a thriving business.

Our Vision
We are dedicated to becoming the premier technology solutions provider in the Bay Area by following these three tenets:

• Listening to our clients and understanding their needs
• Becoming our client’s trusted advisors
• Following best practices, policies, and systems which create greater responsibility and accountability to the client and to each member of our team.

Visit: www.clarecomputer.com

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Circle of Life Applies to Technology, Too

The toaster my family used at home in the 1960′s was fundamentally the same as the toaster I use in my house today. I’m sure there are some internal improvements from the 60’s model in my modern version, but had the one from 40 years not worn out, I’d still be using it. The mechanism for making toast (applying heat from heated coils to bread then popping it up when done) hasn’t changed a bit!

The same cannot be said for Information Technology (IT).  In IT, change is so constant, and so rapid, that products become obsolete within a few years.

In 1965 (when my childhood toaster was new!), Gordon Moore, the founder of Intel, said that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. This became known as “Moore’s Law” and it still holds true. Given this fact, andITProjectMgmt the benefits of increasing computing power, it makes any computer over two years old practically a dinosaur.

Advances in software are almost as fast. Each new version of software is designed to take advantage of the most modern chipsets and hardware, so a modern office has to face the challenges of keeping its IT infrastructure up to date. In fact, it’s common for software vendors to emphatically declare older version of their products unsupportable. These announcements usually come in the form of “end of support” or even “end of life’ statements.

Does this mean the software stops working on End of Life date? No, it just means the company that wrote the software has ceased to provide support, whether in the form of user incident support, or software patches.  This is significant, and there are a couple of good reasons why.

Security

One thing maybe even Gordon Moore didn’t anticipate is the way networks communicate with each other – the internet has made almost every device a piece of a huge worldwide connected network. And the information highway that brings so many benefits also provides a path for the modern version of highway bandits. Too.  Security is a concern for everyone.

Software companies devote considerable resources to mitigating any vulnerabilities that are discovered with their products, and deliver those fixes in the form of “patches”. Some enhance the products’ feature, but many are vital to prevent cyberattacks. When a product reaches its “end of life” – no more patches are written.

Interoperability

Everything works together in a company’s IT Infrastructure. And, like any chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. Software (or hardware) that remains in service past its useful life may cause interoperability issues with other products designed for more up to date environments. For example, if your company bought a new accounting software, but your server is running Windows NT (End of Life 12/31/2004), it can’t be expected to even run, much less provide the value it was designed to deliver.

Next up for obsolescence: Windows XP (end of life 2014) and Microsoft Server 2003 (end of support mid-2015)

It’s not practical or even advisable to cycle out every device with a transistor every two years, of course. But maintaining an IT Infrastructure that will enable a company to truly realize the power of technology requires a plan to refresh technologies in an organized manner, before they become that weak link in the network.

Clare Computer Solutions provides CIO-Level IT consulting to enable firms to keep their IT infrastructures up-to-date and running optimally year after year. Contact us today to future-proof your network!

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Disasters Strike Without Warning – Prepare Your Business Now

The recent sizable earthquake in Northern California nearly coincided with the anniversary of the historic 1989 Loma Prieta quake. It was a stark reminder of how unpredictable and unexpected a natural disaster can be. How prepared is your business to resume operations if your place of business is damaged, or access to it is cut off?

For many companies, the sum total of their disaster recovery plan is backing up their data.  This is important, but let’s look at this a little deeper.

Data Backup

Data backups are extremely important, but their value depends on several factors.  Data AND images should be backed up regularly, and backups should be stored locally (for quick recovery for very local issues) and offsite (for issues that affect the availability of the place of business). In this day and age, hand carrying backups offsite in the form of DVDs, tapes or other media is not a “best practice”.  Automatically uploading data and images to a secure facility that is outside your geographic region is much better.

Company Communications

If any sort of disaster renders your business facility unusable for any length of time, there needs to be a plan to contact company employees and, depending on the duration of the effects of the disaster, customers and suppliers.  This means the principals of the company would need up-to-date phone contact information for all the employees stored in a place that would not be affected by the loss of the facility. For larger companies, a “phone tree” arrangement could be set up where the principals can each contact a certain number of key employees, each of whom would be charged with contacting others.

Resumption of Operations

There are disasters so large in scope that quick resumption of business operations is not feasible, but an earthquake that closes a road, or a flood or fire need not prevent this. If the business is not dependent upon on-site manufacturing equipment, then employees might be able to quickly resume operations remotely.  This is where data and images backed up offsite can make a huge difference.

Updates and Drills

For a plan to be effective, the information needs to up-to-date.  How many of us have an employee list that’s missing new employees and has employees who have left the company?  There needs to be a commitment to keeping the vital Business Continuity information up-to-date AND disseminated to key personnel.  Similarly, a plan is not much good without trying it out.  In times of crisis, people tend to react to their level of training. Make sure everyone know their role in the plan, and conduct regular drills to ensure everything works!

It’s hard to pause from the day-to-day activities of a business to design and implement a Business Continuity Plan.  Clare Computer Solutions can help your company ensure that vital company data will be available in the event of a disaster.  Contact us today to get started  – earthquakes don’t give much warning!

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How Savvy Computer Users Can Help Reduce Cyberthreats

Cyber SafetyOur Information Age has greatly transformed our lives, but like every technological panacea, there’s a downside.  Easy access to information also means the need to protect that information from “cyber criminals”.

Network administrators are constantly struggling to lock down network access and protect sensitive data, and it’s a daunting task – high profile data breaches affect about half of the residents in California, according to a recent report.

Just as disruptive to businesses are infections from viruses, worms, and ransomware.

Even with every technological tool in place to mitigate these threats, it’s important that computers users become aware of how their actions can help prevent infection.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

Use Strong Passwords

Hackers use tools that can automatically and quickly try passwords to access your computer, and through it, all the systems you access to do your work.  The more complex the password, the less likely these hackers can “brute-force” their way in.  Passwords should be at least 8 characters in length, and be a mixture of upper and lower case alpha characters, numerals, and “special” characters.  Do not use combinations that obviously connect to you, like your name, address, birthday, etc.

Be a Cynical Email User

Many of the latest threats require some action by a user to enable the malware – these are often links in emails, or attachments.  Business email tends to have a look and feel that is familiar, so be suspicious of any email that’s unexpected, or out of the ordinary. Be very careful about launching attachments – malware can be hidden in all kinds of files.  Cryptolocker, a notorious Ransomware, often was hidden in an apparent PDF file attachment to an email that looked like it came from UPS. If you want to track a shipment, go to the carrier’s website to do so.

Be a Cynical Web User

Be aware that some websites are infected with Malware that may be launched when you visit them. Avoid reaching websites via links in email – they don’t always go where they seem to pointing. Be as cynical as you are with email – if a company’s website looks “wrong” somehow, don’t click on any links there, and doublecheck the URL – by a Google search, or even calling the company.

Situational Awareness

This always boils down to developing habits that involve situational awareness. Try not to lose sight of the fact that threats do exist, and look before you leap.  You will develop a sense of what looks right and what looks suspicious – and in doing so perhaps save yourself and your company a lot of trouble!

Clare Computer Solutions has helped many companies “lock down” their networks against a variety of threats – we can help you, too. Contact us today to have the first conversation towards a more secure IT environment.

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Proper IT Network Support Takes a Team

Think about how important your company’s Information technology is to the day-to-day operations. Think of all the parts that make up the IT infrastructure in a modern office: Servers, workstations, phones, printers, tablets, switches, routers, software, and cabling. Now think about who’s in charge of keeping all this working. In many companies, that responsibility falls to a single IT person.

Let’s assume your company was able to locate and hire a very capable individual for this position. Let’s assume this person’s experience and breadth of knowledge includes all of the technologies listed in the precious paragraph.

Those are daring assumptions – most companies hire someone who knows most of those things pretty well, and has experience with most of the problems that are the most likely to occur. This arrangement can work well for awhile.

But, we are talking about a human being. However dedicated and handy this person is, he or she will need to go on vacation once in a while – preferably without wearing a beeper at the beach.  And this person will suffer from the same seasonal illnesses that we all encounter – the cold, the flu, and the like. Can you see the weakness in this system?

What if you could hire a team of IT experts  – increasing your firm’s IT support coverage by a factor or 3, 4 or more, with less cost than hiring even one more person? This is what a Managed Services Provider (MSP) can bring to the table.

Consider these benefits of a Managed Services Program for IT:

Deeper Experience and Skillsets

Given the complexities of a more office’s IT Infrastructure, you can’t expect one person to know it all. You can expect that out of a team of IT experts, however.

Better Coverage for Personnel Issues

If your IT person wants to take that much-needed and long-awaited vacation, you will know your company is prepared to handle anything that comes up.

Better Quality Control

There’s nothing a second set of eyes on your company’s technology to ensure that everything in the network is tuned to perfection. An MSP will also have proven tools and procedures for maintaining that IT infrastructure, because they handle so many of them. They know how to properly document assets, budgets, refresh schedules, patching schedules, license renewals and all the other things that help prevent problems in a network.

Better Communication

An MSP will be conversant in both technical and business communications. They can help a business make decisions based upon both technical needs (and wants) and the company’s strategic goals.

Your company’s network is too important for any one person to manage. An MSP is the economical, efficient way to use state-of-the-art methods to realize the power of technology. Clare Computer Solutions has been provide Managed Services for even longer than the term has been around.  Contact us to today and join our team!

Posted in Business Technology, Changing Technology, IT Consultants, IT Consulting, IT Network Management, IT Network Services, Managed Service Provider, Network Maintenance, Tech Tips | Leave a comment