Network Security Starts With Your Corporate Culture

The speed at which technology changes makes it difficult to stay current on threats to your company’s Information Technology and network security is at the forefront.

There is a temptation to deal with cyber-threats as a one-off cure.  Are hackers trying to get into your network? Buy a firewall. Are viruses causing problems? Install anti-virus software. But it’s not that simple.

To effectively protect your company from cyber-attack, security needs to be ingrained into the corporate culture. Technology alone won’t be enough — security best practices have to be part of the way in which every person in your business works.

Here are some ways to achieve this:

Think Security from the Top Down

Security cannot permeate the corporate culture if the top management doesn’t practice what they’re preaching. For example, how can you enforce the need for strong passwords, if management has simple passwords, stored on a post-it under a keyboard?

Put Someone in Charge of Network Security and Empower Them

Many industry best security practices are designed to be implemented and updated for all users through a single management console. Allow your IT staff to set up proper policies, and enforce them for all users.  Create levels of access based upon need – the rule of thumb is, nobody should have access to more of the network than they need to do their jobs.

Educate and Train

Many cyber attacks (especially ransomware) are unwittingly enabled by network users. Does everyone on the network practice security best practices when using email or the web? Do they know how to avoid infected sites, and spot email phishing attempts? Do they know about phone scams designed to draw out sensitive information?  They should – and all new hires will require the same training.

Assess and Improve Regularly

Security is a process, not a project. Your network needs to be regularly assessed for security vulnerabilities as do your business processes, preferable by an outside third party company. New employees will need to be properly trained on the corporate security culture, and existing employees will need periodic training refreshes.

Once everyone in the company is on the same page and of one mind when it comes to security, it will be much harder for hackers, script kitties and other cyber-criminals to disrupt your business. A cyber-attack, such a ransomware infection, can be catastrophic to your business – investing in some tools, training and consulting is a wise move. Clare Computer Solutions can help your company be prepared to avoid cyber crime, on a technical level and also on a user level, with ransomware awareness training. Contact us today to get started.

Don’t Ignore Your Desktops In Disaster Recovery Plan

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. An event that renders your office unusable qualifies as a major disaster, and dealing with that should be a major focus of your disaster recovery (DR) plan. Having a server fail would have a widespread adverse effect on your business too, so there should be schemes in place to mitigate that risk on your business.

What about the desktop computers in your office?

In today’s business world, workers use a variety of devices to do their jobs – computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

But for most office workers, the desktop computer is where they do most of their work, and despite the proven wisdom of having important data centrally located, a lot of important data is still being stored on those desktop machines.

What constitutes a disaster for a desktop workstation?  Here are two common examples.

Hardware/operating system failure – Desktop machines have steadily improved in quality and come down in price for years, but they still fail. One unfortunate side effect of the lower price of these devices is, it often isn’t worth the trouble to spend much time trying to fix one when it breaks.

Workstation becomes infected by malware – The variety of ways a computer can become infected with malware has grown both in number and sophistication over the years, and despite anti-virus or anti-malware programs, sometimes a desktop machine becomes unusable due to infection, and getting rid of the infection may become more costly than replacing the machine.

Regardless of the lower out-of-pocket costs for a replacement workstation, the loss in productivity while purchasing and setting up a new machine, and the cost of data lost forever all affect a company’s bottom line. An office with say, 50 desktop users is likely to have one or more machines acting up at almost any given time. What can be done to mitigate this?

Desktop backup and imaging is very cost effective. In this scheme, software backs up all the desktops’ images (usually to a local Network Attached Storage device). Then, if a user’s machine gets infected, the machine can be re-imaged to a backup dated prior to the infection. If a desktop machine fails completely, that backup image can be used to set up a replacement machine, in less time than starting from scratch.

There are all types of disasters, and thankfully, technology exists to minimize the effect they can have on your business. Clare Computer Solutions is managing hundreds of desktop machines protected in this way, and we have seen it pay for itself time and time again. Contact CCS today to get your workstations covered by image backup.

Insist on Transparency From IT Service Providers

One of the things companies struggle with if they choose to outsource part or all of their IT service is the fear of losing control. Having a third party managing a company’s IT should not mean relinquishing control of, or visibility into, the IT infrastructure, however.

The relationship between a company and third party service providers works best when information flows freely and easily between the two parties. Therefore, it’s important that the client understand what the provider is doing on their behalf, and have ready access to information about the network.

On the other hand, the whole reason for outsourcing aspects of IT management is to shift focus towards the core business and let the 3rd party handle the ongoing support of the company’s IT. So how can a useful balance be struck? Here’s how a successful client/provider relationship should work.

Access to Network Management Dashboards

Service providers may take responsibility for clients’ networks, but they don’t actually own them. It makes sense for the owners to be able to view the status of their network – even if it’s in a “view only” mode.

Access to Network Login Credentials

There’s no justifiable reason why management personnel for a company would not have access to the network login credentials. It’s a safeguard against the provider going out of business, or if the business relationship becomes strained.

Monthly Network Health Reports

Even if outsourcing the IT service relieves the burden of day-to-day network management, the IT Infrastructure is a vital part of the business and management needs to be aware of the health of that part of the business through monthly metrics. And management needs to read those reports and understand them.

Periodic Strategic Reviews

The information contained in a quarter’s worth of monthly reports is extremely valuable. From this, trending data can indicate what parts of the IT infrastructure will need to be replaced or upgraded and when. Company goals set by management can also factor into the IT road map and enable the company to ensure their technology will meet their needs as they meet their growth goals.
When the relationship between a company’s management and their IT staff (whether it’s in-house or outsourced, or a mixture) is a partnership with common company-focused goals, then the company can truly leverage the power of technology to compete in the marketplace and prosper.

Clare Computer Solutions has long advocated this approach with our NetCentral managed service program, and our clients wouldn’t have it any other way. Contact us to get started with your free assessment.

4 Tips to Control IT Costs at Your Business

One of the keys to success for any business is to control costs. Technology can help reduce costs through added efficiency and agility, but sometimes companies find it a challenge to control the costs of their IT department itself. Here are some tips on controlling those IT costs.

Keep Infrastructure up-to-date

and control your IT costs working lifespan, network devices need to be maintained by applying security patches, operating system updates, software updates and anti-virus updates. Much of this can be automatic, but care needs to take to ensure an update does not adversely affect installed software. One vendor’s update may have an effect on another vendor’s installed applications, so evaluation of updates and patches is a recommended practice.

Cycle Out Aging Equipment

This does not mean just replacing machines that fail. One of the things that make IT costs go up is the emergency replacement of broken network components. Modern network infrastructures can be monitored to detect signs of impending failure so that action can often be taken before it becomes a problem that affects business productivity.

In addition, equipment and software have a lifecycle, so companies can save costs by making an orderly technology refresh cycle part of their ongoing IT maintenance. Often, this can be done in phases, so that the cost of keeping the network modern is spread out and becomes a consistent and manageable part of the IT budget.

Be Prepared for Trouble

Better management of the IT infrastructure will reduce costs of unexpected downtime, but preparing for the unexpected is also wise. Loss of production due to a server crash, data loss, or other disasters (big or small) can make IT costs soar. Create a disaster recovery plan Invest in technology to enable your company to get back up and running quickly when something unforeseen happens. Back up your company’s data and store backed up data locally, and in the cloud. Backup images too – these can be used to quickly deploy a virtual version of a downed server.

Be Strategic

Companies that successfully use technology as a competitive advantage make IT part of the corporate culture and growth plans. They understand that technology isn’t just a set of tools for the day to day operation – technology can transform the business and its operations and provide a true competitive advantage. As you make your business plans and set goals for the next year, or two, or five, consider how technology can help your company run more efficiently, achieve agility and be a leader in your market.

Managing IT Costs for Business

Why doesn’t every company follow these 4 tips to control their IT costs? Usually, it’s because they’re too busy with running the business. This is where an IT consulting firm can have a huge impact. Engage the services of an IT consulting firm (like Clare Computer Solutions) to implement and maintain these 4 steps, and your company will fully realize the power of technology (and control those IT costs!)

Strategic IT Planning Allows Patching & Updates

A network consisting of components purchased over the course of several years? With strategic IT planning, your company is able to maximize the value it gets from its technology.

Strategic IT Planning

The downside of the speed at which technology changes is how rapidly it becomes obsolete.

In a business IT infrastructure, this rapid obsolescence can be damaging. A company does not want to find out their servers are not compatible with the latest version of their line-of-business application, for example, or discover that an office is full of PCs with an operating system no longer supported by the manufacturer.

Document IT Assets

Networks tend to grow in increments over the years, depending on need, and many companies simply don’t know what they have. The first order of business is to inventory the network –hardware and software. There are tools you can use to do this, but everything should be documented in detail. This process may also uncover any unlicensed software in use – something you want to stay ahead of.

Assign End-of-Life Dates

Sometimes, the network “discovery” tool can also find out when each device was put into service and from there, it’s relatively simple to make some determinations on when to consider assets are at their “end of life”.  Servers will tend to have a longer life than PCs – 6 or 7 years in some cases. Operating systems and productivity suites usually have well-publicized scheduled for the end of their support.  PCs are considered “old” when they get past 4 years – at that point, repairs on them might cost more than the machine is worth.

Make an IT Budget

With a good list of network assets and their expected lifespans, it’s possible to build orderly company-wide technology refreshes into the company’s IT budget. This will provide several important benefits:

  •  Cash flow is predictable
  • Downtime is reduced
  • Network technology is always up-to-date

Sometimes, it can be hard to make the time or allocate the expertise to do these three steps. Businesses know they should do it, but find it hard to make this part of their normal business process. This is where a Managed Service Provider (MSP) can help, and the cost of the service is more than offset by the benefits listed above.

Clare Computer Solutions has years of experience helping companies keep their technology up-to-date and running smoothly. Contact us today to get started.