Should You Pay for a Ransomware Attack?

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Getting hit with a ransomware attack is never fun, your files get encrypted by cybercriminals and you’re left having to decide: should we pay to get them back? It’s a scene that’s played out across the world with plenty of businesses saying ‘yes.’ Here’s what you should consider if you’re ever in this situation.

Do you trust them?
Besides the fact that they’re criminals holding your data hostage, how confident are you that they’ll send the decryption key? Most attackers demand you send the payment via untraceable Bitcoin, so you have no recourse if they take it and run. You’re also equally trapped if they decide they asked too little and come back with increasingly higher demands. If they do send the decryption key, be aware they still have access to your systems and can hit you again at any time until your network is disinfected. Businesses don’t exactly want their breach publicized either, so many don’t admit to paying the ransom, whether it went to plan or otherwise.

Can you manage the impact?
Best case scenario, you can wipe the affected drives and restore from a clean backup without paying the ransom. You might even decide the encrypted files aren’t that important and simply let them go, or even wipe a whole laptop or workstation. The attacker will usually give you a countdown to motivate a payment, with a threat of deletion when it hits zero. If the data isn’t that valuable, or you have confirmed backups, this urgency has no effect. There are also new types of ransomware like KillDisk which can permanently wipe your entire hard drive or even network.

How much do they want?
Cybercriminals rarely send out global attacks with set amounts, instead, they prefer to customize the ransom based on how much they think you can pay. Large corporations and hospitals are hit with very high demands, while small business demands are more modest. They may be criminals, but they’re smart people who know your financial limits. They’ll also consider how much similar businesses have paid and how quickly, then expect you to follow suit.

Are your backups good?
Many businesses are discovering too late that their backup systems aren’t robust enough to withstand this type of attack. Either they’ve become infected too, they weren’t up-to-date or they backed up the wrong data. It’s worth doing some quick checks on your backup processes as even if you have to take the system down for a day as you recover, you’re still light years ahead of those without them.

What’s your policy?
More and more often, businesses are adding ransomware to their disaster recovery plans and having predefined actions mapped out. Seemingly simple inclusions like who has final say over the payment decision can stop chaos in its tracks. Employees and management alike can then approach the situation calmly, ready to make the best decisions for the business.

Stay safe in the first place
Ransomware is showing no signs of slowing down. As more businesses keep them funded the cybercriminals are steadily launching new attacks and making it their full-time job. Most attacks come via phishing emails – those emails that trick employees into clicking a link – and they can be extremely convincing. While training helps people spot them, it’s no guarantee. Using business-class spam filters can catch many of these types of emails before they land in your employee inboxes so that triggering a ransomware attack becomes something that happens to other businesses, not yours.

Secure your data systems now, I can help! Call me at (828) 290-8237.

What’s Best for Your Computer: Shut Down or Sleep?

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Most homes are trying to reduce power costs by turning off lights and appliances, but do the same rules apply to computers? After all, it requires more than flicking a switch on your way out the door. Some people believe you should shut down after every use to save wear and tear, others believe you should never shut down your computer – ever. Others simply want to make sure the pages and apps they left open are still there waiting for them. So, who’s right and what are they really doing?

Back when computers were clunky behemoths that took a long time to start, you’d go nuts at the person who shut it down when it was your turn. If you have an older computer, maybe you still do.  Modern computers actually have two options for their downtime: Shut down or sleep.

When it shuts down, the system goes through and closes any open programs (often prompting you to save first), then gradually cuts power to all components. It’s a methodical process that seems quite fast to us but is actually made of 100+ intentionally ordered steps. If there’s a sudden blackout or you hold the power button until it turns off, it means the steps aren’t followed and damage is possible. The second option is to put your computer to sleep. This can be triggered by an automated timeout or a user click. Your system uses a special type of memory called RAM to hold all your running programs exactly as you left them but use minimal power. The hard drive stops spinning, the graphics card lets the screen go black, and even the system fan slows to become almost silent. When you wake it by moving the mouse or pressing a key, it ‘wakes’ again almost instantly.

Reasons to Shut Down

A switched off computer isn’t drawing power which is a tick for the environment. But shutting down is about more than saving power. It can sometimes give improved stability over a machine that’s been running for days/weeks. This is because every time you shut down, you give your computer a chance to clear out all temporary junk files it’s been carrying in memory. It also triggers various health checks on startup that may otherwise be missed, important routines like checking for updates or scanning for viruses. It’s certainly more convenient to spend an extra minute booting up than lose everything to a cyber-attack. For older computers or those under heavy strain like gaming or video editing, shutting down also provides a necessary chance for the components to cool down.

Reasons to Sleep

Speed is the big selling point here. You can literally sit down and start working where you left off without the delays of bootup, finding your program, opening your saved files, scrolling down… it’s all right there and ready. You can even tell it how long to wait before putting itself into sleep mode, just in case you get called away and forget. Windows updates still run in the background, so that’s okay, but it’s important to note that your computer might get stuck waiting for a reboot that never comes.  Those pending updates may stack up, ineffective until it either forces a reboot or becomes unstable enough that you give in to a restart.

The best method is….

Since the whole point of having a computer is that it’s ready to work when you are, I recommend shutting down at night at least once a week when it’s definitely not in use but using sleep mode during the day. Updates will get all the rebooting they need, memory is refreshed for the new day, and you’ll get the best of both worlds – speed and stability.

I can help your computer boot faster, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

How to Survive A Hard Drive Crash: What You Can Do Today

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There’s been a massive digitization of the population, which despite keeping everyone entertained and connected, comes with one gaping flaw – a hard drive crash could wipe out your data in an instant. Nobody’s immune, grandparents routinely rock the latest smartphones and post on Facebook. Nearly all schoolwork is done on computers or tablets, ebook sales far outstrip their paper cousins, and photo printing is a rarity. Unless there’s a physical requirement like putting a photo into a frame, all our data is staying digital.  People’s entire lives, their memories, and work are on personal hard drives, yet a large majority of households have no backups.

If you’ve ever lost your data or had your computer stolen, you know the panic and rage that follows…turning the house upside down, hoping desperately to find that USB stick that maybe your data was copied to, once upon a time…before collapsing onto the couch as it sinks in: there’s nothing left.
While hopefully your hard drive is still in good shape, surprise failures do happen. The mechanics don’t last forever, and even brand-new drives can be blitzed by a power surge. Theft is always a risk, as is user error like deleting files accidentally, or even getting hit by a nasty virus that destroys or holds your files for ransom. That last one is tricky. Most households are using apps like Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive as their backup, thinking if their hard drive crashes or gets stolen, they’ll just download the files from there. Unfortunately, those very handy apps are no help if you’ve been hit with ransomware. Almost instantly as the malware encrypts your local files until you pay up, those sync apps upload the infected versions – for your convenience. Older, safe versions of the files no longer exist, because these apps are designed to give a constant mirror of your drive, not a backup.

Stop for a moment and think about what you’d lose right now if your hard drive failed. What’s on there? Household management files like tax info, warranties you’ve scanned in, photos of your children or grandchildren, videos of first steps and school plays, maybe even your wedding video? While some losses are merely inconvenient, like recreating your budget or rebuilding your recipe collection, other losses are heartbreaking.

What You Can Do

Backing up at home used to be something only tech geeks did, but like everything cool, it’s gone mainstream. I recommend a 3-2-1 approach: 3 copies of your data, with 2 local at your home and 1 offsite.

Typically, this means keeping your regular hard drive where your data is now, one copy of precious files on a backup USB drive, and one that automatically uploads to the secure cloud as you add new files. That way, the USB drive protects your data if your computer dies, and the cloud copy protects you if something happens to the computer and your USB drive, like fire, flood or theft. It’s a good idea to make sure you unplug that backup USB drive afterwards and pop it into a drawer, as connected devices can easily become infected during an attack or stolen during a break-in.

Two of these methods require you to actually pay attention, which is where many households struggle. It’s a rare home where someone takes the time to sit down each week and carefully run a backup. Not that it’s tricky, but unless you’re one of those geeks it’s pretty boring and not a high priority after a long day! That’s why I recommend a cloud backup solution for many people.

You’ll be able to retrieve files at will, without having to roll back your entire drive, and know your solution has caught even the smallest file change without you needing to flag or mark it in any way. Even better, because it’s in the cloud, you can access your secure backup from anywhere. Left a work file at home? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup. On vacation and need to check a detail or show off a photo? No problem, it’s in your cloud backup. .

If you’re ready to protect your data before you lose it, give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

Fake Invoice Attacks Are on the Rise – Here’s How to Spot (and Beat) Them

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Businesses around the world are being struck with a cyber-attack that sends victims a fake invoice that looks real enough to fool to most employees. It’s an old scam that used to see bills faxed or mailed in, but it’s made its way into the digital world and instances are on the rise.

Chances are you’ve already seen some of the less effective attempts, like an email advising your domain is expiring, except it’s not from your host and your domain is nowhere near expiration. These new attacks are more advanced, in that they look completely legitimate and are often from contractors/suppliers you actually use. Logos are correct, spelling and grammar are spot on, and they might even refer to actual work or invoice numbers. The sender name may also be the normal contact you’d associate with that business, or even a co-worker, as cybercriminals are able to effectively ‘spoof’ real accounts and real people. While it’s worrying that they know enough about your business to wear that disguise so well, a successful attack relies on you not knowing what to look for, or even that fakes are a possibility. With that in mind, here are two types of invoice attacks you might receive:

The Payment Redirect

This style of fake invoice either explicitly states payment should be made to a certain account, perhaps with a friendly note about the new details, or includes a payment link direct to the new account. Your accounts payable person believes they’re doing the right thing by resolving the invoice and unwittingly sends company money offshore. The problem usually isn’t discovered until the real invoice from the real supplier comes in or the transaction is flagged in an audit. Due to the nature of international cybercrime, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to recover the funds even if you catch it quickly.

The Malware Click

Rather than go for the immediate cash grab, this style of attack asks your employee to click a link to download the invoice. The email may even look like the ones normally generated by popular accounting tools like Quickbooks, making the click seem safe. Once your employee has clicked the link, malware is downloaded that can trigger ransomware or data breaches. While an up-to-date anti-virus should block the attack at that stage, it’s not always guaranteed, especially with new and undiscovered malware. If it does get through, the malware quickly embeds itself deep into your systems, often silently lurking until detected or activated.

How to Stay Safe

Awareness is key to ensuring these types of attacks have no impact on your business. As always, keep your anti-virus and spam filters up to date to minimize the risk of the emails getting through in the first place. Then, consider implementing a simple set of procedures regarding payments. These could include verifying account changes with a phone call (to the number you have on record, not the one in the email), double checking invoices against work orders, appointing a single administrator to restrict access to accounts, or even two-factor authorization for payments.

Simple pre-emptive checks like hovering the mouse over any links before clicking and quickly making sure it looks right can also help. Like your own business, your contractors and suppliers are extra careful with their invoicing, so if anything looks off – even in the slightest – hold back on payment/clicking until it’s been reviewed. Fake invoices attacks may be increasing, but that doesn’t mean your business will become a statistic, especially now that you know what’s going on and how you can stop them.

I can help increase your security. Call me at (828) 290-8237.

Why Do Computers Break?

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We know computers always break at the worst possible time, but what exactly prompts that failure? It’s easy to think it was something you did since you were using it at the time, but while your online gaming frenzy might cause a temporary crash, normal user actions are rarely the cause of a broken computer.

Physical Damage

Accidents happen, but they don’t always mean you need to buy a new computer. As an electrical item, liquid spills are a big problem. This could be anywhere from a spill on the keyboard, going overboard with the screen cleaning spray or even a flood that reaches the computer. Laptop users need to be especially careful when choosing their work surface, as cafes and kitchen tables often have small puddles left behind. If you’re lucky and the liquid didn’t fry the circuits, ongoing corrosion is still likely, as is stickiness to gum up the internal parts. Similarly, a dropped computer isn’t going to be happy, nor is one that’s been knocked around. Even a light thump of frustration can cause loose cables, disconnections and internal damage.

Age

Computer parts have an expected lifetime, especially moving parts like fans or mechanical hard drives. Some computers can run 24/7 for up to a decade, while others can be barely used but fail within warranty. When age is the issue there are usually early warning signs like extra noise or slowing down, but the actual ‘break’ generally happens when you go to turn the computer on, perhaps after a crash or overnight – either it makes a valiant effort before giving up, or nothing happens at all. Sometimes lasting age is the luck of the draw with how it was manufactured, and quality does play a big part in how long it can keep churning.

Power Surges

We like to think electricity is a constant stream that never varies, but computers are particularly sensitive to both surges (too much electricity) and brownouts (not enough electricity). You might notice the lights dimming or flickering during a brownout, or glowing just a tad too strong during a surge. These variations never last long, and they’re not something you can control unless it’s just your house (it’s worth checking with your neighbors), but they can easily break your computer. A surge protector can guard against mild increases in voltage, but brownouts and strong surges will still cause damage.

Heat

Overheating is a big contributor to premature computer death. Some computer parts run hot and need plenty of cooling to keep them working. You might not feel it from the outside, but internal components can rapidly build up heat that needs to go somewhere. When your airflow vents get blocked with dust or pet hair, the temperature continues to increase until components literally bake themselves to failure. At set temperatures, the computer will automatically switch off to try and cool down, however the more often this happens and the higher the temps, the more likely your computer is to die.

Hard Drive Failure

Your data is stored on a hard drive, and if you’ve got a mechanical hard drive (most people do), it works a bit like a record player with a spinning ‘platter’ and a needle that reads it. Small bumps, liquid, age, surges and overheating can all trigger hard drive failure. Along with making your computer unusable, hard drive failure means your data is also lost. While sudden breakage might leave you surprised, take note of any strange noises or repeated crashes and back up your data in advance.

Like a car, your computer needs to be serviced. I can check your computer both physically and its software to make its running right and will keep on working for you. Give me a call at (828) 290-8237!

How Refurbished Computers Save You a Bunch (and Get You a Better System)

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Refurbished computers are almost like an insider secret – you can get great system specs for a fraction of the price. It’s how many families are meeting their back to school needs and upgrading their old systems, complete with warranty.

There’s one hot tip these people know: a refurb is NOT the same as used. You’re right to avoid those 2nd hand computers you see on Craigslist because there’s a reason that person is selling it! It’s probably slowed to a crawl, making weird noises or flat out broken in a way you’d never discover until too late. Refurbished computers are the complete opposite. They’re computers that have been given a new life, usually with a comprehensive repair, or sometimes they’re brand-new computers that were returned with a small problem like a hard drive failure, so they swap it out and sell it at bargain prices. Occasionally, the computer was even returned simply because the buyer changed their mind, but it’s still essentially brand-new (it might still be in the box!).

Quite often, refurbished computers start their life as business machines, built to the latest specs with business-grade components. When the budget or lease says ‘replace the computers’, that’s what the business does, whether the computers need it or not. There’s nothing wrong with them and they’ve likely been babysat by a corporate IT department who kept them in great condition. These can be excellent machines that are still plenty fast for home use, both desktops and laptops. Plus, because business-grade components are more durable than the consumer ones, the entire system has been built to last longer and perform better, often up to several years without a problem. Rather than send these machines to landfill, they are tested and installed with a clean operating system.

What are the benefits?

  • You save a LOT of money: You get yourself a great computer that’s been set up and had the hardware tested, for significantly less than the cost of buying new. Add in the fact that when you score a refurbished business computer you’re also getting more durable, higher-quality components that will last you for years longer than the off-the-shelf consumer model, it’s a clear win. I always recommend that when you see a refurbished deal that you really like to act fast – it won’t sit around long!
  • Covered by warranty: A warranty is included with most refurbished computers, giving you value plus peace of mind. It’s your guarantee that buying refurbished was a great decision. Problems can happen with any computer you purchase so check the length of the warranty before you buy. Many have a full year warranty same as a new computer..
  • You’re saving the environment: Fewer machines end up in landfill and fewer resources are used for unnecessary manufacturing. When you consider each computer requires a certain amount of precious metals to be mined, plastics to be created, packaging created from multiple materials and all the associated flow on effects of shipping, refurbishment is the right choice for the future. While you might not personally see the environmental impact of your decision to buy refurbished, rest assured the planet appreciates it!

Are they reliable?

Some people think that refurbished computers are more likely to break, when in truth, in some cases they’re actually more reliable than brand new. Manufacturers have an expected failure rate, a percentage of computers that go straight from the factory to buyers who discover their expensive new system is dead-on-arrival or breaks within weeks. A refurbished computer has already stood the test of time and it performed without missing a beat. By the time it’s gone through our checks and repairs (both required and pre-emptive), a refurbished computer is  often better than new.

If you need help finding a new computer, give me a call at (828) 290-8237!

3 Essential Steps Before You Fire an Employee

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Your employees need access to your various business accounts so they can do their job, but what happens to those passwords when you fire them? Nobody likes to think of firing their employees, or why you’d need to, but nonetheless, it’s a responsibility every business owner must face at some point. While your accounts team will no doubt be on top of stopping their paychecks, it’s important to take the same proactive stance to strip their system access.

Most of the time, the former employee leaves under good terms and you’ll wish them well. If you’re lucky, they’ll even manage hand-over to their replacement so your productivity losses are minimal. Other employees may leave your business reluctantly or in a storm of anger and suspicion. While you’ll have very different feelings about the two scenarios, the risk to your business remains high until action is taken. Here are 3 steps you can take to protect your business from retaliation and other password-related disasters.

Limit access to a need-to-know basis

You might be surprised how often a new employee is presented the entire business on a platter when their actual job requires little more than a computer login. Accounts, strategy, customer details, industry secrets…all those sensitive aspects of your business that have made it a success – exposed. A better policy is to limit access to only what the employee needs to do their job. It also helps keeps them from being overwhelmed, confused or tempted if the situation ever turns sour. Likewise, take a few moments to delete old or temporary accounts that are no longer required, as you never know when a hacker or disgruntled employee will squeeze through the gaps.

Change passwords fast

On average, it takes at least a week before passwords are changed after an employee is fired, if at all. Unfortunately, this is the one type of delay your business can’t afford. In 2017, an ex-employee from the American College of Education held their entire email system to ransom for $200,000 after an unhappy exit. Stories of others stealing client databases are also common, especially as they leave to start their own business or work for a competitor. It’s not just full-time employees either, contract and part-time employees such as social media managers and customer support email specialists often have access to more of your business than you might imagine. Recent rulings make it easier for business owners to prosecute former employees who access their systems, however as we know, it only takes seconds to login and wreak absolute havoc. Knowing you can force those bad eggs into a lengthy court case is poor comfort considering the extent of damage you’ll likely endure. The best option is to change passwords fast – even before your employee knows they’re fired. This lessens the chance of revenge attacks and opportunistic access.

Use a password manager

If you have good password manager like LastPass, reducing your risk becomes mostly automated. You’ll be able to keep your logins in a central vault that only you can see, and share based on business roles/need. There’s even an option to share passwords without letting employees see them in plain-text. Instead of writing passwords down somewhere and manually entering them each time, they’ll be able to connect securely with a click. Plus, you can revoke the share at any time. If their role changes or they’re fired, you can use the dashboard to see who is having access to what and add/revoke at will. If you’re not sure what that employee has been up to, you can also generate reports of their history.

I can help you set up password management and lock down your network. Call me at (828) 290-8237.

3 Internet Habits To Keep Kids Smart and Safe

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How can you make the internet a safer place for your children? It’s a common concern as all parents want their kids to be protected and happy whenever they go online. It’s relatively easy to supervise and monitor the very young ones as they stare delightedly at the Disney Jr site, but the risks increase greatly as kids get older and more independent.

You’ve probably heard the term ‘cyber safety’ before, but safe internet usage goes beyond reminding them not to talk to strangers. With the evolution of the internet and the way it’s now woven seamlessly into our lives, the focus needs to be on ingrained habits. That means ensuring your children have the tools and predefined responses to online events so that no matter what happens, they’re not placing themselves (or your family) at risk.

Setting up these habits is easy, and begins with three basic understandings:

Downloads are a no-go

Most kids can’t tell the difference between a legitimate download and a scam/malicious link. It’s not their fault, the online world is full of things that will trick even the most savvy adult. The difference is that kids tend not to take that extra moment to check exactly where that link is pointing, question whether it’s too good to be true, or even read what they’re agreeing to. They want to get back to what they were doing, and if something pops up, their first instinct is to click ‘yes’ – purely so it goes away. Unfortunately, that single ‘yes’ may have just opened the doors to malware and viruses that will ruin their computer. Set a family rule that they need to ask permission for all downloads (and an adult will check it first), and to never click a popup. When you’re called over to give download permission or check a popup, talk through exactly what you’re checking and why. As your child matures, get them involved in this process so their safe habits extend outside the home.

Critical thinking is a must

Most youngsters think the internet is a magical place and can’t imagine their life without it. To them, the internet is on the same level as oxygen! With that acceptance though, comes unwavering trust that the internet would never lie to them, never trick them and never hurt them. While we adults know better, it’s only because we already view the internet with a certain level of distrust. The best way to keep kids safe is to teach them to approach every aspect of the internet with critical thinking. That includes teaching them to question the motives of other people online. Is that person really a kid? What do they really want? Unfortunately, all kids do need to be aware that predators use the internet to target and lure children. Ensure your children tell you immediately if a stranger makes contact. Along with this stranger danger, teach them to identify what marks something as suspicious, and what they should avoid. If they come across anything inappropriate, they should shut down the computer and come straight to you.

The internet is forever

Kids have an overwhelming drive to contribute to the internet, they don’t think twice about recording a video, jumping in a chat room or onto social media. The world really is their playground! But what they don’t understand until they’ve been burned, is that anything they upload, write or say is on the internet forever.  Even if they delete it or use a platform where content self-erases, someone can still screenshot and send it right back out. Many cyber-bullying cases are based around this exact type of blow-back. Once your kids know that everything they post is permanent, they’ll be more likely to pause and think.

If you need help to secure your computer and help keep your family safe – give me a call at (828) 290-8237.

Are You Backing Up the Right Way?

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The 31st of March is World Backup day and it’s a great time to put a backup in place. Businesses are losing huge amounts of data every day, purely because ‘backing up’ is stuck at the bottom of their to-do list. So this is your reminder, that even if you only do this once a year when the calendar tells you to, it’s time to flip that to-do list and make it happen! But how? What’s the easiest, most effective way for your business to backup?

You’ve probably heard of file backup by a number of names: Cloud Sync, Cloud Backup or Cloud Storage. They’re all similar enough to be confusing and meaningless enough to be anything. Here’s what they mean and which one you need today.

Cloud Sync

Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, etc are services that sync up with a single folder on your computer. They mirror it. When a file changes in one, the sync service rushes to change it on your computer too, so they are always the same. Cloud Sync services are hugely flexible for remote employees, or even those squeezing in a few quick tasks while riding the train to work. They’re ridiculously easy to use, require no training, and the free tiers are enough for most individuals. This all sounds amazing, right? Except…when things go wrong, they go wrong big time. Accidentally deleting a file means it disappears from the Cloud Sync drive – almost immediately.

Overwriting a file does the same thing, and if an employee makes edits to the wrong file, then those edits are there to stay. If disaster strikes and your local copy becomes corrupted (or ransomed), well you guessed it, the corruption is uploaded too. While some Cloud Sync services now offer a 30 day backup option, you may not notice the file was missing within this time.

Cloud Sync services are fantastic for productivity and accessing files on the go, but they simply can’t be relied on as your backup tech.

Cloud Storage

Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, etc are massive buildings full of storage drives that work just like your local hard drive, except you access them securely via the internet. In fact, when you use a cloud sync app like Dropbox, they’re actually sending your data to one of these locations. While the sync services have a constant back and forth connection between the storage center and your folder, and as explained above aren’t good for backup, you have another option. You can access cloud storage on a per/GB basis yourself and upload your entire backup as desired. It won’t update with changes on your local network, but it will be safe from disaster. When you need to retrieve a file, you simply login and download it.

Your backed up data is secure, protected against disaster, and always available to you. However, because it relies on you/your employee to handle the backup plan and manually take care of the uploads, this is a high-risk solution. Unless your employee is scouring your network each day/week/month for changes to files and uploading them with fervent dedication, chances are this plan won’t work. I recommend an automated or outsourced solution so you can get on with business AND be protected.

Cloud Backup

Carbonite, Backblaze backup, Crashplan, etc might not be names you’ve heard before, but they work in the background to monitor changes to files on your computer or network and make sure you’re backed up. You can roll back individual files or whole drives, and even select from earlier backups, not just one. Like sync services, they use cloud storage centers with extra-high security and redundancy so that your data is always there when you need it. Even better, neither you nor your employees need to worry about when it was last done.

The One You Need

Let’s take a moment to talk planning. I recommend starting with the 3-2-1 strategy. This means having 3 copies in total, 2 of them locally such as on your computer and an external drive, and another offsite in the cloud. Using this strategy keeps your business operating when data disasters occur and is an investment in your uptime.  We can help get you set up with the 3-2-1 method, including selecting the best cloud service for your needs.

Need help with your backup? 3-2-1… Call me at (828) 290-8237!

Why Spam is a Small Business Nightmare

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15 years after the world united to crack down on spam emails, we’re still struggling with overloaded inboxes. All that unwanted email continues to flood the internet, much of it targeted to small businesses, and the impact goes wider than you might think. Here’s the full breakdown of how modern spam works and how it’s hurting your business.

What is spam? Generally speaking, spam is any unwanted message that lands in your email, comes via text, social media messaging, or other communication platform. It might be sent to your main business account, for example your ‘contact us’ email, or direct to your employees. Most of the time, spam is annoying but relatively innocent messages from another business inviting you to buy/do/see something. They’re newsletters, reminders, invitations, sales pitches, etc. You may know the sender and have a previous relationship with them, or they might be a complete stranger.

Why you’re getting spammed. Maybe you or your employee signed up for a newsletter or bought a $1 raffle ticket to win a car. Perhaps you got onto the mailing list accidentally after enquiring about a product, not knowing that simply getting a brochure sent through would trigger a spam-avalanche. Often there’s fine print that says they’ll not only use your details to send you their marketing, but they’ll share your details with 3rd parties so they can send you messages too. That single email address can be passed around the internet like wildfire, and before you know it, you’re buried under spam. Sometimes, and more than we’d like to think, your details are found illicitly, perhaps through a hacked website for example, like the recent LinkedIn leak. More often though, your email is simply collected by a computer ‘scraping’ the internet – scouring forums and websites for plain text or linked emails and selling them as prime spam targets. It’s easy to see how individual office employees receive an average of 120 emails daily, over half of which are spam!

More than annoying. We all know spam is annoying, but did you know it’s also resource hungry? Your employees are spending hours each week sorting their email, assessing each one for relevance and deleting the spam. Too often, legitimate emails from clients and customers get caught up and are accidentally deleted. Add in the temptation to read the more interesting spam emails and productivity drops dramatically. On the other side of the business, your email server might be dedicating storage and processing power to spam emails, occasionally to the point where inboxes get full and real mail is bouncing out. While most spam is simply an unwanted newsletter or sale notice, there’s also the risk that any links may be a cyber-attack in disguise. After all, one click is all it takes to open the door to viruses, ransomware, phishing or other security emergencies.

How to stop the spam. The 2003 Can Spam Act (a global set of anti-spam laws) requires all marketers to follow certain rules, like not adding people to mailing lists without permission, and always including an ‘unsubscribe’ link.  So firstly, make sure you’re not accidentally giving people permission to email you – check the fine print or privacy policy. Next, look for the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. If the spam is from a legitimate know company use this link. Unfortunately, not all of them include the link, or they hide it somewhere impossible to see. Do not click unsubscribe on an email from a company you do not know. The worst spammers take that ‘unsubscribe’ click to confirm that your email address is valid/active and then sell it on. There are various types of spam filters on the market, often bundled with your email, that can help curb the amount of spam you receive.

Talk to me about your anti-spam protections. Call me at (828) 290-8237.