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Keeping Your Information Safe: WiFi Tips for Secure Remote Work

By Jerry Horton, Technology Director

Having WiFi at your house makes the work at home life many of us are living right now more convenient than days of ethernet or–perish the thought–dial-up. But WiFi by its very nature comes with its own security risks. Make sure your work is secure by practicing safe WiFi usage.

Understanding WiFi

A WiFi network connects devices together using radio waves, as opposed to a physical medium such as cable or fiber. Whereas fiber is immune to hacking (outside of physically splicing a device into the fiber strand), WiFi is comparably easy to hack because it’s a radio transmission designed to remotely connect multiple devices simultaneously. Once someone is “inside” the network, it becomes easy to gain access to any equipment sharing that network – allowing hackers to control devices, steal data, and implant viruses where and how they see fit.

A Cautionary Tale

In October 2016, the entire Eastern seaboard lost internet for 16 hours in what is called a distributed denial of service attack, which disrupts service by consuming all available bandwidth to knock users offline. Called the Mirai botnet, the attack was initially designed by an undergraduate student at Rutgers trying to profit off of Minecraft players. The botnet–somewhat more successfully than anticipated–implanted malware in all manner of wireless devices it encountered and proceeded to transmit and clog traffic. Any unsecured devices are susceptible to this kind of compromise.

Methods of Securing WiFi

You may be familiar with networks using open authentication. As the name implies, this method allows a device to join a network as soon as it sees the SSID – Station Set Identifier without requiring a password. 

Another method is WEP – Wired Equivalence Privacy – which has somewhat fallen out of favor as it offers minimal security, but is still available on most routers. WPA – WiFi Protected Access – encrypts traffic, making it a bit more secure than WEP.

WPA2 is the best WiFi option because it uses algorithms and advanced encryption systems to make traffic on the network harder to infiltrate and disrupt. Don’t worry if you feel like you’re floating in alphabet soup–we nerds love our acronyms.

Getting to Work

Cyber criminals, like most criminals, are looking for low hanging fruit. If you’re working remotely with access to sensitive information, don’t use an open public network, because these are highly unsecured. 

Disabling automatic connections to WiFi on your devices will give you more control over what networks they access. Always use a VPN – Virtual Private Network – when connecting to a business network from any remote location such as your local coffee shop. Your IT team should ensure you have this precaution in place.

Never operate as an administrator of your device when joining a business network remotely; use personal user credentials with lower clearance levels to limit the information available to potential hackers, and encrypt any files stored locally on the device. 

When securing your personal WiFi network, use WPA2 and a long, unique password. If you’re not tech savvy, not to worry; router manufacturers are making your life easier with prebuilt passwords at different security levels. Visit the router manufacturer’s website for directions on how to make security changes; most devices are managed from a web app where you can personalize your network settings.

Tips from the Experts

For personal devices, we recommend turning on your local firewall, installing an anti-malware program, and investing in a VPN software and network. When browsing the web, if a site offers multifactor authentication, turn it on. 

Multifactor authentication consists of one of four things – something you know (password or PIN), something you have (token), something you are (biometrics), or somewhere you are (geolocation). And of course, never give out your account passwords to anyone, including (anyone claiming to be) IT personnel – anything they need to access, they can access without asking your credentials.

To Cloud or Not To Cloud?

To Cloud or Not to Cloud? That is the question!

Download Jerry’s latest white paper here and learn about different cloud models. Is on-premise, hybrid, or Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) right for your business?

Cloud White Paper

Communication and Collaboration using VoIP

By: Kurt Sack, VoIP Technician

Landline phone systems haven’t only become a thing of the past in our homes. More and more companies are modernizing their communications technology too. With the growing use of cell phones and the greater speed and reliability of the internet, businesses across the world are taking advantage of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

It has also become very apparent amidst the COVID-19 epidemic that companies with a VoIP solution in place had more flexibility in moving employees to work remotely and put call menus in place to streamline customer calls.

What is VoIP?

VoIP is a type of hardware and software that allows the use of a high-speed Internet connection to communicate voice, video, and data. It turns analog data (i.e. your voice) into packets of digital data, which can then be transmitted through internet cable lines.

As a business communications tool, VoIP can be a cost-effective way to encourage collaboration within an organization, as well as with customers and clients. Through a wide range of applications, VoIP also enhances the collaboration experience between employees and clients with tools that help manage projects, as well as facilitate mobile communication. Capabilities can include virtual call centers, auto attendants and more, allowing businesses to flex big communications power.

Virtual PBX on the cloud

Networks Plus is a leading provider of VoIP services for businesses. We use a cloud-based system called Virtual PBX, also known as a hosted VoIP or hosted private branch exchange (HPBX), that is accessible over a network in the cloud. By utilizing a hosted system, companies experience savings through the elimination of installation, operation, software, hardware, and maintenance costs.

More than one-third of businesses today – large and small – are using a VoIP phone system. In recent years, Networks Plus has received a growing number of requests for VoIP and we expect about half of all businesses will make the switch to some sort of VoIP or HPBX phone system over the next five years.

When switching to HPBX, the business leases or buys the phones and pays for their internet connection.

HPBX allows multiple call appearances on one line. Each individual phone–or seat–has the ability to host up to three calls at one time. The phone can be located anywhere there is an internet connection, which allows transferred calls and voicemail. Each phone has a seat charge.

Networks Plus Basic Seat

  • For breakrooms and spaces where there is not always a user present
  • No voicemail
  • Can only take or place calls

Networks Plus Standard Level Seat

  • Includes voicemail
  • Includes Find Me/ Follow Me (call forwarding)
    • Set your desk phone to ring a certain number of times before the call is automatically transferred to a mobile phone – beneficial when in and out of the office frequently
  • Ability to have voicemails sent in an email as a .wav file, allowing you to get them wherever you are.

Networks Plus Premium Seat

  • Mobile phone or desktop computer can become your phone by downloading our softphone app
  • Turns your device into an IP based phone
  • Allows for continued connection to the system – ability to transfer calls, park, etc.

Benefits of Networks Plus HPBX

  • No fly-by-night 3rd party solution here. Networks Plus HPBX switch is owned and operated by our parent company, Blue Valley Technologies, who has been in the telecommunications business since 1956.
  • Lower setup and maintenance costs than traditional phone lines
  • Free long-distance calls
    • Note: There is an additional charge for international calls
  • Easier to install, configure, and maintain
  • Highly scalable technology, with intuitive remote work capabilities
  • Adapter available for fax lines
  • Versatility of Features
  • Customer communication is enhanced
  • Increases collaboration between employees across multiple office locations

When VoIP services first rolled out, one of the greatest disadvantages was the requirement of a reliable internet connection. Today, most locations have a fast and stable internet, making VoIP a more popular option. About 90% of Networks Plus customers find our Virtual PBX to be a good solution. There are, however, some instances in which we would not recommend using a HPBX.

Those include businesses where:
  • There is not reliable Internet service
  • It’s not feasible to rewire
  • There is a four-pair wire, which was category 3 or lower. VoIP requires an eight pair conductor wire.
  • There are no internet jacks or internet wiring in the areas you want your phones

You also want to consider security when considering VoIP. Any time your business connects to the internet, there is risk involved, however secure encryption can protect your voice data. Networks Plus has a team of cyber security experts to ensure your data is safe.

10 Virtual Experiences to Enjoy with Your Family

By: Angie Armstrong, Director of Marketing & Business Development

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Networks Plus team has been walking the ‘social distancing’ walk of working from home, home schooling our children, and keeping everyone entertained while staying at home. Of course, this is all on top of keeping our clients connected and running smoothly!

So, while we are feeling the same levels of stress as the rest of society, we thought we would share a bit of the fun times we have had during this era of social distancing. And what better topic for a group of technology folks than to share some great virtual experiences we’ve had over the last 30 days!

Below, some of our team members share the virtual experiences they’ve enjoyed.

Google Earth

Submitted by Candace Wright, CEO
For the world traveler: Google Earth offers endless 3D views and voyages. Simply go to earth.google.com to spend hours exploring the world from your own home. Grab your favorite drink and let this feel like a mini vacation.  

NordicTrack with iFit

Submitted by Jake Schulte, IT Manager
For the biking fanatic: Jake and his wife recommend hitting the virtual trails with NordicTrack Studio Bike with an iFit subscription. They enjoy biking all around the world virtually without leaving their home.

Louvre Museum

Submitted by Adam Boyle, Business Consultant
For the art enthusiast: Adam recommends taking an online virtual tour at the well-known Louvre museum in Paris. His favorite has been the “Egyptian Antiquities” tour. Check it out here.

Field Trip Penguins

Submitted by Kelly Fleming, Office Administrator
For, well, everyone: Who doesn’t enjoy watching a penguin visit other animals at an aquarium? This link and several others are featured on Chicago Tribune’s article “Field Trip Penguins and More: 5 Visits to Chicago Zoos, Museums During the Coronavirus Pandemic”.

Virtual Garden Tours

Submitted by Angie Armstrong, Marketing & Business Development Director
For the garden devotee: While Angie hasn’t quite developed her green thumb just yet, she has been audience to a few virtual garden tours as she studies how to get said thumb developed. She recommends this site that features “8 Stunning Virtual Garden Tours Around the World”.

Eagle Cams

Submitted by Kelly Gillespie, Business Consultant
For the outdoorsman: Kelly, a true outdoorsman himself, has been spending most of his free time mushroom hunting as of late. But, when stuck inside due to rain, he has been enjoying the bald eagle cams featured on hdontap.com. He tells us to be sure to check in on “Glenda and Grant Bald Eagles” in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee as they have a new fuzzy white chick they are caring for!

Virtual Disney World

Submitted by Brad Jepsen, Master IT Engineer
For the adrenaline junkie: Brad and his family have enjoyed taking rides at Virtual Disney World during their quarantine. You can check it out here.

Roblox

Submitted by Paul Facey, Advanced IT Technician
For the wannabe farmer: Paul’s family has had quite the adventure raising chickens on ROBLOX. Unfortunately, they reported in that their flock had been turned into chicken nuggets and stolen by another player, which had all of us in stitches!

Sea Monsters Roller Coaster Ride

Submitted by Katy Schoening, IT Technician
For the adventure seeker: It’s no surprise that our adventurous Katy would enjoy this roller coaster ride. This 360-degree experience on YouTube is bound to scare your socks off!

San Diego Zoo & Story Time

Submitted by RJ O’Donnell, Advanced IT Technician
For the whole family: RJ and his young daughter have enjoyed many zoo cams, but highly recommend the San Diego Zoo cam. This one has become their favorite because of the multiple cameras and variety of animals.

He also wanted to share that since his daughter is a huge fan of Disney’s, Frozen, she also recommends attending story time with Josh Gad, the voice of Olaf, on Twitter.

From all of us at Networks Plus, we wish you all much health and happiness as we navigate through these trying times.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay connected.

Webinar Replay: Important Considerations & Communication Tools for Remote Workers

Did you. miss our latest webinar? You can find our recording here on Important Considerations & Communication Tools for Remote Workers.

Don’t Get Hacked at Home: A Guide to Secure Remote Work

By: Adam Boyle, Business Consultant

The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us working from home offices. While it’s a critical step for keeping ourselves and others safe from contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus, cybercriminals look for any way to exploit weaknesses in systems. Protect your computer, your data, and your company from cyberthreats by taking precautions and employing security best practices while working remotely.

Hackers play on fear

Cyber criminals use fear tactics to try to manipulate you into taking an action that grants them access or information they can exploit. Mounting uncertainties and the unknowns about the COVID-19 pandemic typify the exact scenario hackers will use to send phishing or spearphishing emails.

Even though your environment is different, take the same precautions you would at the office about opening emails, clicking links, and downloading files. Remember that hackers use a sense of urgency to pressure you to take an action. Cybersecurity is a frame of mind, and the most powerful thing you can do is slow down and think. Call up a co-worker to verify a strange email or request. Be suspicious of unexpected emails. Double-check with the source before downloading any attachments.

Additionally, hackers are designing malicious websites disguised as information sources about the spread of the coronavirus. Some sites are showing up on Facebook designed as sophisticated live feed maps of the spread of the disease with real-time updates. But the sites are embedded with malware, which will slow your computer.

Use verified sources

Use trusted sources. Don’t click on Facebook links. Stick with verified sources like government and news channels. A few verified sources include:

  • Kansas Department of Health and Environment
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • World Health Organization

We are all under higher levels of stress than normal. Be aware that stress can make us more vulnerable to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Having awareness and taking precautions will go a long way toward keeping you safe.

The best way to access the server at the office while working from home is by a virtual private network, or VPN. It passes through your company firewall with a secure tunnel that lets you work with files and systems on your workstation at the office just like you were there.

At Networks Plus, we use and trust LogMeIn as a secure remote access. It allows users to securely access their computer desktop as if they were sitting in front of it. Users can store, share, and collaborate on files with one click, and even print documents from a remote computer to the nearest printer.

Keep software and applications up to date

Hackers not only exploit fear, they exploit system weaknesses. Make sure your computer is safe and secure by updating all operating systems, applications, and software when patches are released.

Set updates to happen at night so they don’t interrupt your workflow. Just don’t forget to install them.

Your security and firewall should work from anywhere

Computers taken off premise to a home office don’t have to adhere to firewall rules set up at the office, because those rules are bound geographically. Setting up managed DNS (domain name system) on work computers makes the rules specific to the device, and they apply no matter the location of the computer.

Managed DNS works by redirecting web traffic through a cloud-based, DNS security solution. That means businesses can enforce the same web access policies and regulatory compliance when employees are working remotely. Even better, it stops the vast majority of threats before they come near the network or endpoints. At Networks Plus, we recommend Webroot Managed DNS.

Consider new protection measures

There are promising new cyber security developments called real time threat detection that go a long way toward keeping users safe from computer malware, ransomware, viruses, hacking, and all kinds of systems exploitation.

Real time threat detection works by using artificial intelligence to detect user signatures. The threat detection monitors how employees use their machines on a daily basis. If the program detects something suspicious or unusual, it will notice the anomaly and send an alert to the monitoring team so threats can be stopped in real time.

For example, if an employee who uses their computer on a daily basis but never accesses the security feature suddenly goes in and starts making advanced changes, real time threat detection would trigger an alert.

Real time threat detection also scans PDF files for malicious content before the user opens them. It’s the next generation of antivirus software, and we expect it to grow in usage quickly. At Networks Plus, we recommend a program called Sentinel One real time threat detection software.

Call Networks Plus for help

Cybercriminals never back off, even when the world is in crisis. Don’t let the transition to remote work put your systems at risk. Give us a call and let us help you keep your systems and business safe.

Setting Up for Successful Work at Home

By: Kelly Gillespie, Business Consultant

The impact of COVID-19 has touched virtually every aspect of our daily lives, disrupting social interactions, family life, communities, careers, and how we do business. Many schools and universities have shifted to online learning for the remainder of the school year. Many companies suddenly have most–if not all– their employees working from home for the first time. In an overwhelming time as this, here are simple ways employees can set themselves up for telecommuting success.

Set Up Your Workspace

While we don’t know for certain how long social distancing may be necessary or required, set up your home office space in an area that is dedicated solely for work for as long as remote working is necessary. This should be a place you are able to focus and feel comfortable, with minimal distractions. If you will be video conferencing, consider your background as well.

Establish A Routine

When you’re working from home – and especially during a shelter-in-place order – it’s easy to fall away from a regular routine, from waking at a specific time to even getting out of your pajamas. Professionals who have been telecommuting since long before Coronavirus was a household word recommend waking early and getting fully ready for the day, as if you were going to an office building for your work day. Doing this not only physically prepares you for the day, it helps set you up mentally to take on your work tasks.

If you’re able, keep your routine and schedule the same or similar to your pre-telecommuting days. Structuring your day at home in the same way you did at the office may help keep you focused and on task. There is also something to be said for feeling that sense of normalcy and stability in a time when things feel “off” and uncertain.

Plan Your Day

For those fortunate enough to have flex in their work schedule, identify when you’re most productive and plan your day accordingly. If you have children home with you at this time, schedule a two hour “quiet time” in the middle of the day for reading, napping, or screen time so you can focus on work.

Plan tomorrow’s meetings, tasks, and lunch today. Things may come up that require a shift in plans, but if you plan ahead you are more likely to have a clear expectation of what needs to be accomplished that day. And if lunch is planned, you won’t waste time looking through your pantry and refrigerator deciding what to eat.

Remember to also plan breaks in your day. It can be easy to get distracted with laundry that needs done or other home chores when you’re working from home. If this is a distraction for you, plan 5-10-minute breaks in your daily calendar and schedule those types of tasks. This allows you to focus on work during the appropriate times, knowing you have time planned to get those things done later.

Stay Connected

Schedule regular check-ins with colleagues via a video platform. The face-to-face communication is a good way to stay connected as a team and keep each other informed. Stay on task and on time, but allow for a bit of the social chatter that you would normally have when in office together. Working from home can be isolating, but especially so during a shelter-in-place order.

Employees with Children

For employees with kids, some of the above won’t be feasible. It is important to have a schedule, or at least a framework, and establish routine for your day and theirs. In addition to the tips above that you are able to adopt, here are a few more ideas.

Manage Expectations

You likely won’t be able to work a regular 8-hour day. You may have to break your day up into early morning hours before the kids get up and/or at night after they go to bed. When planning tomorrow’s tasks today, list your top priorities and tackle those first. Be sure to also communicate with your employer and coworkers that your kids are home, too.

Plan Supervision-free Activities

Arrange virtual playdates for your kids to Facetime grandma so she can entertain them by reading a book, dancing, or playing games. Here are ideas for activities kids can do with minimal supervision.

A solid foundation to success when working from home lies in the systems, connection, and security measures the company has in place. At Networks Plus, we’re here to make sure you and your team are set up securely for success.

Tools to Keep Your Business Going in the Isolation Age

By: Jerry Horton, Technology Director

America has entered into relatively unknown territory – social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and businesses struggling to maintain operations when their staff may need to work from home. These are trying times for all of us, to be sure, with challenges that we have rarely, if ever, been faced with previously. While there are difficulties, for most businesses, remote work can be accomplished with a bit of planning, technology, and good old American ‘can-do’ attitude! The purpose of this article is give everyone some hints, tips, and (of course) technology advice to make sure that you and your staff can overcome the hurdles for remote work and help America ‘flatten the curve’.

Communication, communication, communication… 

Businesses, no matter what the products and services they produce, run on a constant stream of communication. While it is certainly true that email has become a common way for business communication to occur, it is simply a small part of the day-to-day exchange of information that actually drives the business. How many meetings do you have? How many times a day do you pick up the phone or pop into someone’s office to discuss project details? How many impromptu hallway or coffee break conversations occur to solve a problem? Needless to say, these are all essential to the communication chain inside a business. Moreover, we humans are a gregarious lot and, in general, don’t function very well in isolation; this means that your business will not function any better than your staff can. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a plethora of technologies right at your fingertips to make remote communications the next best thing to being there.

Chat 

Chat programs have been around for a long while; Internet Relay Chat or IRC was pretty much one of the first widely adopted Internet applications. Any business that has multiple offices probably already use some version of chat to keep communications near real-time between a widespread staff, so chat is one of the first things you need to implement. However, not all chat is created equal or even close to being secure. Most ‘free’ or commercially available chat programs, such as Facebook Messenger or Yahoo Chat, should be avoided as a business tool. It would be surprising if you haven’t read about the privacy issues with Facebook and Yahoo, but suffice it to say that personally identifiable information (which you are required by law to protect for most businesses) is not at all safe over these types of platforms, let alone your business processes and intellectual property. In short, when it comes to using public chat platforms, DON’T. So, what then can you do to take advantage of chat as a business tool?

If you are using Office 365 with the right licensing, the problem is already solved for you! Teams is an Office 365 application which is specifically built to keep your staff in communication via chat, collaborative file sharing, and audio/video meetings. Teams is designed specifically to be secure as it is configured out of the box to be an internal communications platform – assigned specifically to your license and not available to the outside world. If you have Office 365 Business Premium or Essentials (Enterprise versions, as well), congratulations! You already have access to Teams and might need no more than an hour or two to configure it and hit the ground running. If you aren’t sure, contact your professional IT consultant to assist you.

There are other chat servers available, many of them open source (low to no cost to acquire), but they do require an onsite server and a fair amount of work to make them operational and secure. If you don’t have one in place already, your best move is to set up Microsoft Teams using Office 365.

Telephone  

Many of you might be rolling your eyes and saying ‘Duh, Jerry…’ but having someone’s home phone or cell phone number simply isn’t enough to run a business. How do you answer incoming calls or transfer them? If your customer service representatives are on the phone already, how do you know which of them are on the phone, who is available, and how the call flow will work? Most businesses have a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) phone system to handle all of these tasks; unfortunately, most PBX systems don’t deal with remote stations well at all, often requiring very expensive remote cabinets to extend their reach beyond the walls of your business, not to mention the fairly high cost of additional phone lines to run those cabinets and the costly handsets. What to do?

The best technology answer to this is to replace your PBX with a hosted VoIP system. VoIP is tailor-made to support remote/home offices with some fairly minor configuration and relatively inexpensive equipment. However, if you don’t have one yet, it may be a while before you can get one installed and operational (that is a typical 6-8 week timeframe), so the most efficient path would be to contact the vendor for your PBX to see if you have other options in the meantime. That being said, you can use Teams to help facilitate a temporary way of using a combination of cell/home phones, presence information, and even the built-in telephony features of Teams to make a functional, if not flawless, way to keep in touch with your customers and vendors.

Video meetings 

This is another that should be no surprise to anyone who has sat in on a webinar or web demonstration within the last 5 years. Full motion web meetings are a great way to get work done and minimize the feeling of isolation. The great news is that web meetings are probably the easiest thing to accomplish – all you need is a web browser, web cam and microphone (built into every laptop made for the last several years), and a good Internet connection. GoTo Meeting and Zoom are great commercial platforms that even offer free accounts (with significant limitations, sure, but it is an easy way to get started). Of course, Teams is also a fabulous way to get this done without any external accounts. I know that it may seem as if I am shilling for Microsoft here, but the truth is that Teams is purpose built to answer most of these needs.

Ok, we can all ‘talk’ now, but what about getting the rest of the business working? 

Actually, communications are typically the most difficult part of remote work, so you’ve already done a lot of the hard work. That being said, let’s talk about the ideal way to set up remote work for your staff. You may or may not have some of this in place, so in the interim, focus on what you need to acquire or configure.

Remote access 

Seems as if this should be simple, right? Just set up a workstation that people can access from the outside world and you are done, correct? In a word, NO.

Unfortunately, making sure you can connect to internal resources securely is the very first concern you should have, but it is also fairly easy to solve. Most modern business-grade firewalls have the ability to set up an SSL-VPN. This is the simplest method of remote access to network resources and is typically very quick to implement once you answer a few simple questions:

  • Who needs access?
  • How many need access at the same time?
  • Where do they need to access from?
  • What do they need access to?

The answers to the first three questions will help you design a secure remote access policy and ensure that you have enough licenses to get the job done. The last question is a bit trickier. If you are running some simple line-of-business applications, the solution may be to just add a bit of extra memory to your server and bandwidth to your Internet connection. It may not run perfectly, but it will get the job done. If, however, you have high security concerns or complex applications, the answer is much murkier and will require some planning and possibly a fair bit of expense to suit the needs of your business. Contact your professional IT consultant to help you get these answers turned into action.

If you are using cloud-based applications, such as Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics, Adobe Creative Suite, or even Quickbooks Online, a lot of the hard work of remote access is already done for you, although you may need to modify how and where you store files for everyone to work on (hint: if you have Office 365, it is simple).

The hardest part of setting up a good, secure remote access solution is the remote computer itself. Many companies provide laptops – a perfect remote work solution – or require certain software and configurations to be made on personally-owned computers to facilitate remote access. If you don’t have a bunch of laptops sitting around with the right configurations, this is going to be tough, but you aren’t out of luck yet!

First, most of the major manufacturers ramped up their production of laptops as the outbreak of Coronavirus began, so there is an available supply from Dell, HP, and Lenovo, to name a few. Some manufacturers may have leasing programs available as well if you are only needing a short-term supply.

Second, many software vendors offer cloud-based versions of their applications, so a simple phone call or email to your software vendor may be all you need to get the ball rolling.

In summary, this is a trying time for all of us in so many different ways. Even if you have never thought about operating without being dependent on the traditional brick-and-mortar, many businesses can be converted to telecommuting remote work with a little planning, team effort, and (yes, there will be some) expense. To recap, below is a short list of what you will need to set up a workable remote office:

  • A sufficiently sized Internet connection at both the office and remote ends. Talk to your professional IT consultant and ISP for the best advice.
  • A communication plan to keep your staff in the loop, provide project teams and workgroups working seamlessly, and keep external communications with customers and vendors flowing.
  • A business-grade firewall that supports enough SSL-VPN connections to support the number of remote workers you will have connected simultaneously.
  • Laptops or tablets capable of running your line-of-business applications.
      • If you will allow your remote users to operate their personal computers in your business environment, set a minimum standard for hardware and security configurations.
  • Convert applications to a cloud-based version if it is practical and cost-effective.
  • Prepare your internal servers for remote access. This may require additional hardware and configurations to ensure the highest level of security.

From all of us at Blue Valley Technologies and Networks Plus, please stay healthy and safe. Together, we will all get past these times of trial and come out stronger!

Why multi-factor authentication matters for your business

By: Brad Jepsen, Senior IT Sales Engineer

A single lock on a home is not enough to protect loved ones and the valuables inside. That’s why we use deadbolts, security systems, cameras, and other layers of security as fail-safes.

That same principle applies to valuable data, personal information, and proprietary business information. If it’s worth securing with one lock, it should have other layers of protection too.

At Networks Plus, we recommend any computer system connected to the internet use multi-factor authentication. Multi-factor authentication is exactly what it sounds like: a security measure that only grants access after two or more credentials are verified.

The best firewalls, antivirus software, and other security technology can’t protect you if a hacker has your password. That’s why multi-factor authentication is such a vital part of business security protocol.

Three types of multi-factor authentication

Implementing multi-factor authentication looks different between companies depending on the systems in place, user workflows, and other variables. Most multi-factor authentication is two-factor, which simply means two credentials are required to gain access.

Many software companies offer multi-factor authentication built into their program, it’s just a question of activating or customizing those controls. This includes most email services and social media platforms.

Other systems and software may need third-party protection from an app or security program to be fully secure.

Authentication generally falls within three categories:

  1. Knowledge: The user enters secret information such as a password, a pin, a combination, or a code word.
  2. Possession: The user possesses a device such as a mobile phone, key, smart badge, or security token (a portable device that can generate a unique pin from the originating server).
  3. Identity: The user is authenticated by fingerprint, retina, voice, or some other physical characteristic.

Combining security with efficiency

One of the most common reasons businesses don’t implement multi-factor authentication is the fear of bogging down efficiency in their processes. It’s an understandable assumption: does another step means additional time and lost productivity?

The authentication technology now available is designed to be convenient. It’s not a choice between keeping your data secure or keeping workflows moving. You can have both.

The marriage of efficiency and security comes with apps that are tied to your systems. Secure login can be as simple as a push notification directed to a mobile phone that allows the user to verify they are logging in with the tap of a finger.

For example, LastPass is a web extension that lets your team store and access encrypted passwords online. We’ve found it to be a useful and easy-to-use tool for many of our Networks Plus clients.

Another useful system is Duo Security, a multi-factor application that protects logins and helps verify the device security of users who are logging in from offsite.

These are just two options–there are countless more that are customizable based on your business needs and security preferences.

You don’t have to multi-factor alone

When evaluating multi-factor technology or any security measure, determine:

  • How much risk your company is willing to accept.
  • The cost to implement a workable solution and whether it fits your budget.

If you’re not sure where to start evaluating the risks your company could face, give Networks Plus a call. The cybersecurity experts on our team can help you figure out the level of protection you need and make sure it works for you.

Networks Plus is IT that’s personal.

Put the PRO in productivity with Microsoft 365 Teams

By: Karron Swift, Senior IT Technician

Office work is increasingly not in one office anymore. With staff working remotely, on the road, and in multiple locations, working together while working apart can be a challenge.

That’s the exact situation we faced internally at Networks Plus. With four locations and technicians who spend most of their time assisting our partners onsite, we needed a streamlined system that allowed us to work collaboratively and communicate effectively, no matter where we happened to be.

That’s why we started using Microsoft 365 Teams. Now it’s a central hub for everything we do, including:

  • Hosting online meetings
  • Hosting webinars
  • Communicating with messaging threads
  • Scheduling meetings
  • Project management
  • Building forms
  • Developing surveys
  • Making presentations
  • Screen sharing
  • Sharing content and files

Teams is all in one

Microsoft 365 Teams meeting hosting is similar to Webex, and GoToMeeting, with comparable project management functions to Slack. However, we’ve discovered its integration with the rest of Office 365 tools such as Outlook, Excel, Word, and Powerpoint takes streamlined and functional workflow to the next level.

After using Teams internally within Networks Plus for a year, we started helping our partners onboard their systems to use the platform about six months ago. Since then, we’ve been hearing about increased productivity, enhanced communication, and collaboration that doesn’t depend on being in the same room.

Using Teams is easy

At Networks Plus, we’ve found the user interface for Teams to be easy to navigate and organize.

Projects and communication categorize intuitively by team. Most partners we’ve worked with choose to organize teams by department, but it’s flexible to any structure you prefer.

Making changes to documents, organizing tasks, customizing the interface, and tracking activity is as simple as a click.

Maximizing Office 365 for your team

If your company has a business or enterprise subscription to Office 365, Teams is already included in the suite of products available to you. It’s accessible as a web app, desktop app, and for mobile. This allows your team to access the platform anywhere they have internet or cell service.

There is also a free version of Teams available outside Office 365 that includes tools like unlimited chat and search, video calling, up to 10 GB of team and personal file storage, and connectivity with Microsoft Office.

Networks Plus can help you integrate Microsoft 365 Teams

Whether you need Teams training, consulting on how to transition your organization from your current project platform, or serving as the systems admin for your company, Networks Plus can help.

Tell us your needs and we’ll get you up and running and more productive!

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