3 Tricks to Make Business Traveling a Breeze

3 Tricks to Make Business Traveling a Breeze

Traveling is usually just part of the job for many business professionals—whether it’s a two-hour car ride a few cities over or a six-hour plane trip several states away. Whatever the case is, traveling has the potential to be a major pain in the behind.

Something as simple as forgetting to pack a charger can turn what should have been a decent business trip into a horrible and awkwardly disappointing voyage where your only entertainment is the airline magazine or the shopping catalogue. Yikes.

While forgetting to pack certain life-sustaining items or taking one wrong turn too many is unavoidable at points, there are ways to minimize the potential for a wayward business trip. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.

It might seem like overkill, but if you take the time to create a legitimate traveling checklist, you’ll never have to do it again. And you’ll be so much better off as a result. On this list should be everything you absolutely cannot go a day without—like contact solution—or items you can never be a city away from, like an inhaler. Add things to this list that you’ll need no matter where you go, like a toothbrush, a couple pairs of underwear, and a phone charger. Once you have a basic foundational list of must-haves, you can tailor the rest of the list to the specific area you’ll be journeying to. A swimsuit may not be applicable to the trip up to North Dakota in the winter.

Are you looking for a surefire way to ruin any trip? Then know absolutely nothing about where you’re going. If you want your trip to run smoothly, then you need to be prepared, and the only way this is going to happen is if you do a little research. See what the weather is like, how far away your hotel is from your meeting place, and how much it will cost you to rent a car versus call a taxi. If you’re a heavy traveler, it might be a good idea to create a short questionnaire for yourself, save it on your computer, and then fill it out every time you go out of town. How you answer these questions should help you determine what you’ll need to add to your must-have checklist, as well as how to prepare yourself financially and logistically.

The more organized that you are, the more of an opportunity you have for a better experience. To do this, purchase a small binder, section it off by tabs, and insert a sheet protector in-between each tab. You can have a tab dedicated to directions—to the airport, to your hotel, to your destination—and you can have a tab dedicated to reservations, agendas, local information, and anything else you might need to know or have. Every time you go somewhere, print this information out and slip it into a sheet protector. This will save you from trying to locate required documents that are buried under a loads of luggage and fast-food wrappers or from forgetting valuable documents altogether. There’s nothing worse than holding up the line at the airport because you have to basically unpack your entire suitcase to find your itinerary code.

Be prepared and don’t be afraid to make lists. It’ll take the stress out of traveling and you’ll feel comfortable knowing you have all your essentials. If you forget a scarf, oh well. If you forget your medication, major problem. And the more you travel (whether by ground, air, or sea) the smoother things will go. You’ll become familiar with airports, with the highway system, with the rules of the ocean. You’ll be a master traveler in no time, and if you already are, hopefully these tips will help make things even easier for you.

IT Security Solutions to Keep Your Remote Office Safe

IT Security Solutions to Keep Your Remote Office Safe

Working remotely is becoming more prevalent in the modern workplace, which means IT security solutions have to cater to employees who work from home, a cafe, a hotel, an airport, etcetera. Keeping your remote workers safe can be a daunting task, and should never be taken lightly. When your employees are outside of the office, you don’t know what networks they’re connecting to, how safe their connections are, or if their devices are secure.

Enter the managed service provider. With up-to-date IT security solutions designed to keep even the furthest employee safe, you won’t have to worry about an attacker crawling into your network again.

Let’s take a look into how best to keep those remote employees safe.

Utilize Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Hackers floating around or bots waiting to exploit a vulnerability won’t be able to squeeze into your connection if you’re using a VPN. TechHive explains why you should use a VPN and explains it as a secure tunnel between your PC and destinations you visit on the internet. If you have employees working from out-of-office, make sure they’re set up with a proper VPN to make sure nothing sensitive gets into the hands of someone sinister.

Working with a managed service provider that has proper IT security solutions in their offering is your best bet when it comes to setting up and maintaining a VPN for your remote workers.

Re-do those passwords
Ah, the most common of them all. Password hygiene. It should be of no shock at this point that using passwords like 123456 or “passw0rd1” should be absolutely avoided at all costs. These are among the most simple passwords to hack, and all it takes is one breach to allow your company data into the wrong hands.

To keep your network secure with remote employees, small businesses should require their teammates to use random passwords containing at least 12 characters, including numbers and special characters (e.g. @, !, $, etc.), says Intuit in their piece on how to keep your network secure.

Avoid public WiFi
For the remote employee, working from home sometimes isn’t a great option. Maybe they don’t have an office space at home, or they get easily distracted. Perhaps they have roommates, pets, or kids that make focusing entirely too difficult.

Or maybe this remote employee is simply traveling to a conference or taking their laptop with them on their family vacation.

Whatever the reason, these staff members are probably frequenting cafes, airport lounges, or whatever free hotel WiFi they can get their hands on.

The bad news is, public WiFi is like a public restroom that doesn’t get cleaned or attended to regularly. It’s just there for emergencies, and shouldn’t be used to transmit any kind of company data. Because there are no passwords or security requirements, public WiFi can easily be hacked. It’s also a breeding ground for viruses and other types of malware.

According to the Harvard Business Review’s article on why you should stop using public WiFi, there are dozens of online tutorials showing hackers how to compromise public Wi-Fi, some of them with millions of views. This means even amateur hackers are using public WiFi to test out their skills, and your data is the prize.

Negligence and accidental risks
Even when your employees are working from home using a secure VPN or remote desktop, there can be other risks that need to be considered. Children and pets can be a surprising threat, says MinuteHack in their article about security for remote workers. Think about it: a parent leaves their laptop unattended while getting a refill of coffee from the kitchen. Curious little eyes see a screen with enticing images, and before you know it, keys are being pushed and (if the laptop has touchscreen capability), the screen is being poked over and over again. Looks like an innocent situation until important documents have been deleted, suspicious links have been clicked, random files have been downloaded, and on and on.

Make sure your employees ALWAYS lock their computers, even if stepping away for a moment. Even a cat could wander onto the keyboard and cause some damage. Why take the risk? Teaching employees good security habits can make all the difference.

Now that we’ve covered some of the ways to keep your remote workers safe, it’s time to take a hard look at your security practices. Don’t let everything you’ve worked for fall into the hands of an attacker because of Kevin’s cat.

How IT Consulting Makes Business Expansion Easy

How IT Consulting Makes Business Expansion Easy

When you think of business expansion, does IT consulting come to mind? Probably not. There are so many other factors when it comes to expanding your company that IT is likely at the very bottom of your priority list.

But what if we told you that utilizing the right managed service provider and their IT consulting services could save you heaps of time and money? Chron’s report on growth strategies in business says that some common growth strategies include market penetration, market expansion, product expansion, diversification and acquisition. Regardless of what growth strategy you’re considering, partnering with the right IT company is critical.

Let’s examine how exactly IT consulting will make your business expansion dreams come true.

Technology Solution Engineering
In this digital day and age, technology makes the world spin. If you’re thinking about expanding your business, you need to make sure your new location is prepared to run efficiently right off the bat. Take this advice from Entrepreneur in their article on key steps to a growth strategy: if you don’t have a tangible plan, you’re actually losing business—or you’re increasing the chance of losing business to competitors.

By partnering with a managed service provider, you’ll have the right technology solution for your new location. And not just any random collection of computers, printers, and phones. A thought-out, structured solution that is engineered exactly for your business. This means you’re only paying for what you need to run your new location with maximum results.

And if you’re considering acquisitions, you won’t have to worry about the existing infrastructure bringing down your bottom line. With professional IT consulting and solution engineering, you’ll be able to keep what you need, replace what’s not working, and continue to watch your business grow.

Project Management
According to American Express’s article on growth strategies small business can use, small business owners have to wear many hats. A large project can seem very daunting on top of everything else, but with the right managed service provider, it won’t be something you have to worry about. Regardless of how you’re expanding your business, you’ll have experts managing the technology to make sure nothing goes awry.

Onsite Implementation
When the time comes for a new location to be outfitted or an acquisition’s existing infrastructure to be replaced, the right managed service provider will handle all of the onsite implementation. No longer will you have to deal with boxes of cords and equipment being dropped at the doorstep and left with unreadable instructions for you to figure out.

Because you made the choice to have your IT engineered specifically for your company’s needs, implementation can be seamless and quick. And if it’s not? Not your problem. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Technology Business Reviews
Once things are up and running, you aren’t left high and dry. It’s not like that used car you bought from that weird guy in college, the one that ran fine when you test drove it but suddenly fell apart the moment you paid for it. And when you tried contacting that guy? He was nowhere to be found, of course. After all, the car wasn’t his problem anymore, right?

That situation won’t happen when you partner with a managed service provider and utilize their IT consulting services. You’ll receive technology business reviews to make sure everything is running to your satisfaction, and if it’s not, you can voice your challenges and walk away from the meeting with a plan to fix them.

Another perk of technology business reviews is getting to see exactly how well your technology infrastructure has been doing. It’s easy to forget about all the digital worker bees behind the curtain, but they deserve some recognition every once in a while. And it feels good to see your staff happy, your equipment running smoothly, and everything going well.

Telecommunications Review
When expanding your business, you might acquire a new location, build a new place, or decide to target a new market. Whatever your expansion strategy is, a thorough telecommunications review always comes in handy. According to LinkedIn’s report on telecommunication expenses, small and medium businesses are exceedingly affected by public high rates and a low quality customer service from many of the major telecommunication companies.

You may be spending way more than you need to be on your phone and internet service, and only professionals with industry experience can truly evaluate what your business needs are. So let your managed service provider go to bat for you, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

7 Questions to Ask a Managed Service Provider

7 Questions to Ask a Managed Service Provider

Every business, from small to large, should have a managed service provider (MSP). The benefits that come from partnering with an MSP and the headaches that are avoided make the investment well worth it. You’ll be able to scale to meet demand, receive cloud computing expertise, have the proper technology to meet your needs, and benefit from the right privacy and security regulations, among many other perks, according to this article on the benefits of partnering with an MSP.

But how do you know which MSP is right for you and your company? We’ve compiled a list of seven important questions you need to ask when you’re looking to partner with a managed service provider.

How do you deliver and charge for managed services?
This question is basic, but you need to make sure you fully understand how the service will be delivered and what you’re paying for. The gold standard for MSPs is usually a flat rate that never changes, unless you add a new project or new services. Be careful of MSPs that wiggle around this question, or say it will change from month to month. You may end up paying a lot more than you expected, and no one likes unexpected charges at the end of the month.

What is your recommendation regarding hardware and software?
A legitimate MSP will come take a look at your existing hardware and software and lay out a plan for anything that needs replaced, fixed, or updated. The goal of an MSP should be to work with what you have and act as a true business partner, not try to nickel and dime you to death. If you have a couple computers that need replaced in order for the MSP to successfully support your network, that’s normal. If an MSP comes in and wants to replace everything, from printers to routers to software, without first auditing the infrastructure you DO have, steer clear.

What accreditation and certifications does your company have as an MSP?
It’s always smart to vet your options when it comes to partnering with a new company. You don’t want to sign an agreement with an MSP that isn’t certified in some of the basics, such as CompTIA’s A+, Network+, and Security+; various Microsoft certifications, like MTA and MCSA; and server infrastructure certifications like MCSE.

What is your business data security policy?
The number of U.S. data breach incidents tracked in 2017 hit a new record high of 1,579 breaches, according to the 2017 Data Breach Year-End Review released by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and CyberScout. The review indicates a drastic upturn of 44.7 percent increase over the record high figures reported for 2016.

In this day and age, you HAVE to make sure your company’s data is protected. With hackers seeking financial gain by holding your information ransom, you’ve got to ensure the MSP you partner with has a solid data security policy. Ask how they’ve tested their security plan and how they monitor risks for your company. If you sense any type of hesitation or confusion, move on. Risking your data for an inexperienced MSP isn’t worth it.

What happens if the engineer assigned to you leaves the MSP?
This one should have a clear answer. Engineers at legitimate MSPs should be cross-trained, meaning that even if the technician you’ve been dealing with moves away, you’re still being supported 24/7 by experienced staff members. There shouldn’t be any lapse of service or lack of monitoring because one technician leaves the MSP. Ask how many technicians the MSP has on payroll, if there are plans to hire more, and what the strategy is if one leaves unexpectedly.

Do you have experience working within our industry and with our size of company?
You need to make sure the MSP you chose has ample experience with your industry and the size of your business. If you’re a one-man-shop and the MSP you chose only works with enterprise-sized companies, you can bet that all of their solutions and experience will not apply to you or your company. You need to feel confident that your MSP understands what kind of challenges you face on a daily basis, and will be there to support you 100%.

What processes do you deploy to ensure our organization is compliant?
Compliance challenges are common in the workplace, especially as the laws change and develop. Protection of the customer’s privacy is a hotbed issue, and if you operate any kind of business that deals with health records or credit cards, you must be compliant or face fines and penalties. For example, HIPAA violations are expensive. The penalties for noncompliance are based on the level of negligence and can range from $100 to $50,000 per violation (or per record), with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million per year for violations of an identical provision. Violations can also carry criminal charges that can result in jail time, according to True Vault. Make sure you ask what steps your MSP will take to assist you in meeting compliance laws, whether it’s HIPAA, PCI, or whatever other compliance law you need to meet.

As you can see, asking the right questions will pair you with the best MSP for you and your business. As CIO says in their article on how to get the most from a managed IT services provider, companies should resist the urge to go with the lowest-cost provider in favor of partners that understand your business and can help you achieve strategic goals. So take these questions and make the right decision for yourself and your company. You’ll be glad you did.

4 Ways Cyber Security Companies Protect You From Attackers

4 Ways Cyber Security Companies Protect You From Attackers

When you take the smart step of partnering with one of the many cyber security companies out there (most commonly in the form of managed service providers), you get the peace of mind that your company and data are protected from attackers.

But HOW exactly do cyber security companies shield you from harm? And why should you chose to bring one into your business? We’ll explain.

Cyber security companies make sure everything on your network is up-to-date and patched to the most recent version.

This is important because ransomware searches for vulnerabilities in your software and operating system to find a way in and carry out its malicious plans. The WannaCry ransomware discovered a security hole in the Windows operating system and used it to spread across networks.

Vulnerabilities can be found in anything, like your email client, internet browser, server, and nearly any other software that connects to the vast internet. Vendors issue patches for their software very regularly, which your cyber security company will install as soon as possible. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Want an example of what harm waiting can do? Microsoft had issued a patch for the vulnerability a month before the WannaCry attack, but unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of computers hadn’t installed it.

And if you’re using an outdated operating system that is no longer supported, a responsible managed service provider will make sure you’re aware of the danger and likely recommend a viable replacement so they can fully protect you.

Cyber security companies can minimize your attack range.

A managed service provider will try to plug the holes in your network as best they can. All major operating systems need to be fully protected with an advanced firewall, especially if they’re being used inside office walls. Your managed service provider will ensure the firewall is always turned on, and only open ports that your company absolutely needs.

With that being said, a cyber security company will turn off operating system features and software that you don’t need and could pose a risk. It could include file-sharing services and browser plugins like Flash and Java, which are rife with security holes, according to TechCo’s article on how your favorite browser plugin may be a major security threat.

Another measure that your cyber security company may take involves keeping some staff members on a limited account as opposed to an administrative account. By not using an administrative account for everyone, you’ll be successfully limiting the access of the malware in the unfortunate case it does strike.

Cyber security companies will monitor and manage your trust.

Attackers often use phishing to deliver ransomware. Phishing is a type of scam that involves targeting victims with legitimate-looking messages that contain malicious links or infected attachments. Since the targets think the email comes from a trustworthy source, they’ll download and open the attachment, which will then deliver the ransomware.

Your managed service provider will monitor the emails you receive, and advise you to not open any attachments unless you’re absolutely certain of the source. In case there’s any doubt, always train your staff to verify the authenticity of the message with the sender.

Another tip: always be very wary of certain file formats, including Microsoft Office documents (.doc, .xls), executables (.exe, .bat), and compressed archives (.zip, .rar). Cyber criminals commonly use Word macros to perform ransomware attacks.

The good news? With proactive monitoring from your cyber security company, you can rest easy at night knowing you’ve got a team of professionals protecting your data.

Cyber security companies have a solid and tested backup plan.

A legitimate cyber security company is always prepared for the worst. While there have been certain scenarios where ransomware encryption has been successfully reversed at no consequence, for the most part, nothing short of paying the attackers will decrypt your files. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

That is exactly why you should have a managed service provider that keeps solid backups of your files. If you want to take matters into your own hands, external drives can work well, but they’ll be useless if they’re connected to your computer when it becomes infected. Sorry.

Cloud backups can be a solution, but always make sure you and your managed service provider are aligned. Ransomware can go through all your local drives and encrypt their content, whether they’re on your hard drive or in the cloud. Ask your cyber security company if they have experience with protecting the cloud.

Lastly, a good cyber security company will make sure your archive shared folders are sealed. Certain breeds of ransomware will scan your network and find unmapped shared folders and encrypt their content too.

All in all, partnering with the right managed service provider (that has a cyber security offering) is your best bet to protecting your company from digital invaders. Don’t wait.