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Beat The Heat!

Beat The Heat! How The Dog Days Of Summer Can Wreak Havoc On Your Technology

The dog days of summer are here, and it’s hot out! Homeowners and business owners alike are bracing for their upcoming power bills as they run their air conditioners around the clock trying to keep cool. But for many business owners, it’s not just about keeping your team cool – it’s also about keeping your technology cool.

Every piece of technology you use is susceptible to heat damage. Sometimes they overheat due to internal issues. Maybe they’re processing a lot of data. Or maybe the internal cooling system isn’t enough. But they can also overheat due to external issues, such as high summer temperatures, inadequate air conditioning, or being left in vehicles on a hot day.

If heat overwhelms your systems, it has the potential to knock out your business. If computers go down or servers can’t run efficiently due to heat, it can be a costly disaster. The average computer is built to work in external temperatures of 50 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Laptops and tablets can handle 50 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Every business should be aware of just how much damage heat can cause. For example, heat can damage individual components in your devices. There are records of graphic cards bursting into flame as a result of overheating and heat-related electrical issues. These components are designed to withstand high heat, but they can only take so much.

Heat can also disrupt productivity. It’s one thing if your business is warmer than usual and you have fans running. It can make work harder. But heat slows down devices. They cannot run as efficiently and, as a result, programs and apps will struggle to run. In some cases, they might not be able to run at all because they require a certain amount of data processing that is negatively impacted by too much heat.

If your systems are disrupted or damaged, you can also lose critical data. Heat can damage hard drives and solid-state disk drives, leaving you without access to your data. Sometimes, with proper cooling, this data can be recovered, but if the heat and damage persist, the data may be unrecoverable if you don’t have a backup.

What’s the next step? Every business needs to fully understand its cooling needs. It’s one thing to cool people working in an office. It’s something else entirely to cool a server room. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Does your business have adequate and efficient air conditioning?
  • Does your technology (such as a computer or server room) have adequate air conditioning?
  • Have you educated remote or mobile employees about the dangers heat can cause to their laptops and tablets if they are left in a vehicle?
  • Do individual devices have adequate cooling (have employees complained about weird app slowdowns)?

On top of this, it’s critical to ask questions about your data security needs:

  • Do you keep all of your data on-site?
  • Is your data protected from natural disaster or outside intrusion (have you invested in cyber security)?
  • Do you have a plan if your data is damaged or lost?
  • Do you routinely back up your data to the cloud or another off-site solution?

You never have to compromise your data or your business. There are countless solutions on the market today to help you protect your most valuable assets – and even to help with your technology cooling needs. As you navigate the dog days of summer, remember you have options. Contact your local business consultant for more information at consulting@networksplus.com. They can help you ensure the longevity of your technology and keep your data safe.

Password Managers & Why We Need Them

By: Paul Facey, Advanced IT Technician
Let me start off this little article with a few questions for you to ponder:

  • How many passwords do you have?
  • Do you consider them complex?
  • Are you using the same one (or variation of one) over and over?
  • Do you constantly forget them and need to reset them, wasting time and generating frustration?
  • Do you have any passwords stored under your keyboard?
  • Are you using your web browser to store your passwords? (GASP)

If any of the above questions made your heart beat a little faster, then this post is for you!

What is a password manager?

Gone should be the days of weak passwords or writing down passwords and putting them under the keyboard, or even worse, on a sticky note on the side of the monitor.

A password manager is simply an application that allows users to record passwords in a secure environment and then access those passwords in a convenient manner. Depending on the password manager, passwords can also be shared between users for sites and applications requiring shared access.

How does it work?

Password managers are usually an application or browser plugin that each user has installed on their system that records user logins and passwords. Most web browsers include a basic password management system, however these systems lack in both security and features that significantly improve the user experience.

What does Networks Plus recommend?

Networks Plus has partnered with LastPass – a leading Password Management and Multi-Factor Authentication provider to offer LastPass Password Management.

The LastPass Password Management system offers a robust tool set that enables both users and administrators to securely create, use, and manage credentials across a large collection of sites and platforms.

Some the features of LastPass Include:

  1. Web based and browser plugin based management. Users can access the password manager from any location with an internet connection. This includes the office, home, and mobile.
  2. Policy management forces users to create and use password that meet minimum complexity levels and remind users if passwords are getting old and need to be updated.
  3. Password sharing allows multiple users the ability to share passwords and even create groups for shared passwords. Users that no longer need access to the credentials can simply be removed from the group.
  4. The LastPass Phone App seamlessly integrate. This way if a user’s mobile device is damaged or replaced, MFA codes and account logins can be quickly pulled down again on a new device.
  5. Scoring and reporting features alert your admins when users are using good complex passwords or are using the same password repeatedly at multiple sites.

Most importantly…

  • No more sticky notes or passwords under keyboards.
  • No more passwords of 12345
  • No more using the same password at every site because it is easy to remember
  • No more constantly resetting passwords because users cannot remember what they are

So, there you go! And remember, if you could relate to any of those questions at the beginning of this article, it might be a good idea to reach out to us and see how we can help you protect your businesses’ passwords. Reach out to consulting@networksplus.com or give us a call at 800.299.1704.

Want to learn more about why it is so important to protect your passwords? Check out this article at toolbox.com – https://tinyurl.com/5946ejys

Using Microsoft 365 Without MFA In Place? You Are At Risk.

By: Brad Jepsen, Master IT Engineer/Sales Engineer

If you use Microsoft 365 products and you don’t have MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) enabled in your organization yet, you are at heightened risk of user accounts getting compromised.

I can’t say this more plainly – if you do not have MFA in place and a cybersecurity incident hasn’t happened to you yet, it is only a matter of time before you fall victim.

What is MFA for Microsoft 365?

MFA increases the security of user logins for cloud services beyond only using a password. With MFA for Microsoft 365 users are required to take a second step to sign in. This step comes after the user has correctly entered their password and can either come in the form of a text message or an app notification on their phone.

What’s my risk if I’m not using MFA?

  • A single password is not enough, regardless of how complex it is.  Hackers have ways to crack passwords.
  • Phishing emails appearing legit can lead end-users to hand over their login credentials to the hacker.
  • If your data is compromised in Microsoft 365, it then gives the hacker access to everything saved in the software, including emails and data in OneDrive and SharePoint.
  • Non-Compliance.  Depending on your industry, MFA may be one component of compliance standards.
  • If your credentials are compromised, hackers can send emails directly from your account.  For example, the hacker could send phishing emails to your customers with ransomware and other types of malware.
  • Your business reputation.  You don’t want to have to answer to questions from your contacts/customers about why you don’t have safeguards in place to protect both your business and theirs.

What are the cons of MFA?

  • You may have concerns about setup costs.  Some may believe that it’s too expensive to set up or you just don’t have the time to do it.  While cost is always a factor to consider, setting up MFA does not require a lot of time.  The protection you get from MFA significantly outweighs the costs.
  • End-user training.  Yes, by enabling MFA you are requiring all users to learn an additional step to log in and it’s less convenient.  However, within a few days users will have an understanding and the login process will only take a few additional seconds.

The majority of today’s data breaches are a result of compromised credentials.  We strongly urge our partners to take action now to implement MFA to protect yourself and your customers.

For any further questions about protecting your data and/or enabling MFA for Microsoft 365, please reach out to your Business Consultant at consulting@networksplus.com or Technical Support team at support@networksplus.com.

Brad Jepsen

Customer Portal

How to Sign Into the Networks Plus Customer Portal:

Visit: Go directly to the website networksplus.myportallogin.com, or click on the “View Ticket” link in your generated service ticket email from Networks Plus.

The following sign-in options are available for the Networks Plus customer portal. Please note, the email used to long onto the customer portal needs to match the email address under the contact in ConnectWise Manage. If you are having issues signing in, please contact us at support@networksplus.com for assistance.

  • Microsoft – Allows users to sign in with their own Microsoft Credentials
    • Note: This must be a cloud-based Microsoft account. This could be Azure Active Directory, a personal Microsoft account, or Microsoft 365. On-premises Active Directory is not supported. The first time a user logs in with this option, they must grant consent for access to their basic Microsoft profile information, including name and email address.
  • Google – Allows users to sign in with their own Google Credentials

User Permissions Options

The “Users” screen is where portal administrators can define permissions and create new users for their Customer Portal. Users automatically sync from Manage. To log in to the Customer Portal, each user must be created as a contact and associated with a company in ConnectWise Manage. Only Active users are displayed in the portal. Use the search feature to quickly locate users by first name, last name, or company.

By default, all users listed under companies in ConnectWise Manage have a role of “Standard User” assigned to them, meaning they can log into the portal, submit tickets, and look up tickets. If an admin requests additional access, that change must be done within the Admin portal.

Watch the full tutorial here.

Looking at Ordering New Business-Grade PCs or Servers in the Next Year? The Time to Order is NOW.

By Kelly Gillespie

If you have tried to order business-grade electronics lately, you may have noticed there are slim pickings out there in some categories. This is due to a shortage of processors and other electronic components. The IT and cybersecurity industries aren’t the only ones that have been hit. Everything from gaming consoles to the auto industry has been affected.

So, what has caused this shortage and when will it end? The answer to that question is not too complicated, but it does have layers.

As of January 14, 2020, any computer running Windows 7 still functions, but Microsoft no longer provides technical support for any issues, software updates, or (what we consider the biggest issue) security updates or fixes for businesses. This means any business with Windows 7 PCs now has unlocked doors and windows to their IT and cyber networks. Unfortunately, many of these businesses waited until the last minute to replace their laptops and desktops. That meant millions of PCs being replaced globally from late 2019 to early 2020.  Computers were being put on backorder and stocks started to run low.

In addition, Windows Server 2008 went end of life the same month. So, now servers needed to be replaced as well. Server stocks were being depleted not quite as fast as the PCs, but the components still needed to be made to keep up with the demand. This puts even more strain on the PC and laptop markets already struggling to keep up.

Now, don’t forget to layer in the global pandemic that slowed manufacturers to a crawl at best, and shut them down for weeks (if not months) at worst. The shortage of parts only got worse. On top of manufacturing facilities unable to produce at full capacity, shipping was also limited as facilities struggled to keep their workers safe and healthy.

So, what about now? In a nutshell, the industry has not fully recovered just yet. Computers and other electronics are still in short supply. If you want to replace your systems later this year or even early 2021, the time to start ordering is now. It is not uncommon for us to see certain equipment backordered for up to 6 months.

What can you do to ensure you are sticking with your life cycle plan for your system over the next year? Contact your business consultant here at Networks Plus and we will work together toward your timeline and finding the right options for your business. Email us at consulting@networksplus.com and we will set up an appointment to discuss your priorities over the next year.

For more information on affected industries, you can visit this article: What’s causing the chip shortage affecting PS5, cars and more? (cnbc.com)

World Backup Day – A Great Time To Take A Look At Your Backup Practices

By Adam Boyle, Senior Business Consultant

We have all been advised to perform tornado and fire drills at least once a year, but when is the last time you took a hard look at your backup practices. And are you checking these practices regularly? March 31st is World Backup Day and is a great reminder to get your annual data check-up on your calendar.

Here are some simple steps to follow for your annual check-up:

  • Know where your data resides. The more places data exists, the more likely it is that unauthorized individuals will be able to access it. Quiz your employees and consider using data discovery tools to find and appropriately secure data.
  • Control access to your data. Once you have defined every place your data lives, it is time to limit your employees’ access to specific data they need to perform their jobs. This isn’t a matter of whether or not you trust your employees, it’s a matter of keeping your data as secure as possible. Any administrative privileges should be kept to a very small number of trusted and qualified staff.
  • Define how you are protecting each data point. Go through the practice of documenting how each data point is protected. It is so important to remember that just because some of your data may live in the “cloud”, it does not mean it is backed up. Microsoft makes no guarantee on backing up your data and clearly states that it is the user’s responsibility. In fact, 75% of companies that use applications like OneDrive, SharePoint, Outlook, Calendar, and others experience a data loss incident every year – and most of it is unrecoverable. The good news is, there are solutions that can back up your data in these applications. (Shameless sales plug – YES, Networks Plus can help you with this.)
  • Decide on the amount of downtime you are comfortable with for data that resides on your business server. If your business has evolved over the past year, this too may have changed. Have the discussion on whether or not your leadership is comfortable with your current backup solution. How many times a day do you feel you need to back up? Discuss with your trusted IT provider on whether or not you are needing instant recovery and get a plan in place.

Not sure where to start? No problem. Give Networks Plus a call and we can take these steps off your plate, or help your team learn how to walk through them.

Get additional resources here: 3 Reasons to Backup Your Saas Data & Cost of Downtime.

Microsoft Zero-Day Exploits

By: Jake Schulte, IT Manager

This week Microsoft detected multiple zero-day exploits being used to attack on-premises versions of Microsoft Exchange Server in limited and targeted attacks. In the attacks observed, the threat actor used these vulnerabilities to access on-premises Exchange servers which enabled access to email accounts, and allowed installation of additional malware to facilitate long-term access to victim environments.

Before panic sets in, it’s important to note that Exchange Online is not affected.  If you’re currently using Microsoft 365 services through Networks Plus and using Exchange Online – no action is needed.

Microsoft released patches for multiple on-premises Microsoft Exchange Server zero-day vulnerabilities being exploited by a nation-state affiliated group. The vulnerabilities exist in on-premises Exchange Servers 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019.

To minimize or avoid impacts of this situation, Microsoft highly recommends that you take immediate action to apply the patches for any on-premises Exchange deployments.  To patch these vulnerabilities, you should move to the latest Exchange Cumulative Updates and then install the relevant security updates on each Exchange Server.

Microsoft published a blog providing an overview of the attack and a link to the security updates that were released. You can view that information here: Microsoft Blog – New nation-state cyberattacks. 

How To Enable Remote Work Without Exposing Your Entire Business To Cybercriminals

A record number of businesses said goodbye to the traditional in-office work model in 2020. They embraced the remote work model as they adapted to the new COVID-19 reality. It was a huge shift that came with many challenges, and some of those challenges are still felt today.

One of those challenges was – and is – cyber security. Businesses wanted to get their remote workforce up and running, but there were a lot of questions about how they would keep their newly remote employees secure.

So, how can you enable remote work while keeping your business and your employees secure? How do you keep cybercriminals out? The answer is multifaceted. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cyber security — that would make things much easier! But there are several steps you can take to help your remote team stay productive while keeping the cybercriminals out. Here are three things you need to do:

  1. Skip the public WiFi. This is Cyber Security 101. Never use unsecured, public WiFi, especially when working. For remote employees who have the option to work from anywhere, using public WiFi is tempting. It’s just so easy to access, but it comes with huge risks, including the potential to expose your device to intruders.
    Thankfully, there are plenty of options to help keep employees connected without having to worry about snoops. The most popular is the VPN, or virtual private network. VPNs allow remote workers to securely access the Internet, even through public WiFi. VPNs are ideal for remote workers who need to routinely access your network.
    Another option is the personal hotspot. This is a portable WiFi access point, usually paired with data service through a telecom like Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile. It gives remote workers flexibility to work anywhere they can get high-speed data service. Because the remote worker is the only person on the hotspot (and should be the only person), there is less worry about hackers snooping for your data.
  2. Have a strong device policy. When it comes to cost-cutting, it can be appealing to let employees use their own devices while working remotely. Avoid this, if possible. The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach has its benefits, including keeping costs down, but the security costs could be massive, especially if an employee gets hacked or misplaces crucial data. In short, BYOD can get complicated fast, especially for businesses unfamiliar with the BYOD approach.
    That said, many businesses work with an IT services company or managed services provider to create a list of approved devices (PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) that employees can use. Then those devices are loaded up with malware protection, a VPN, and other security solutions. So, while employees may be using a variety of devices, they all have the same security and other necessary software in order to perform their duties.
    The best device policy, however, is to provide employees with work devices. This ensures that everyone is using the same hardware and software, and this makes it much easier to keep everyone up-to-date and secure. It takes a little more effort logistically, and it has a higher up-front cost, but when it comes to keeping your business secure, it’s worth it.
  3. Don’t forget about physical security. While a lot of businesses are focusing on digital security right now, they’re not putting a similar focus on physical security. They may have a team of people working remotely spread across different neighborhoods, towns, states or countries. This mobility comes with the risk of device theft or loss.
    If employees will be carrying their work devices with them for any reason, those devices should be kept nearby at all times. That means never leaving work devices in vehicles or unattended at a café or airport (or any location). Never leave a device where it has the potential to be taken.
    It’s also important to remind employees to not only keep their doors locked but also keep work devices out of sight. You wouldn’t want to set up a home office in a room facing the street outside while leaving the windows open and the door unlocked, because you never know who may walk or drive by. Just as cybercriminals are always looking for ways to break into your network, criminals are looking for opportunities to walk away with high-value items.

The way we work is changing, so we must be prepared for whatever happens next. Implementing these three steps will give you a starting point, but they aren’t the end point. Work with an experienced MSP to get the most out of your remote work approach. Many businesses will not be returning to the traditional in-office model, so the more steps we take to secure our businesses and our remote teams, the better off we’ll all be.

2021 Trend Report

Join our panel of experts from the views of consultanting, technical and leadership perspectives as we forecast IT trends for 2021. We will be discussing: How to prepare your company for, dare we say, the unexpected? And, how to keep your company flexible & secure in today’s climate.

This will be interactive, so bring your thoughts, questions, comments and concerns for your business.

Watch the replay here.

The Dangers of Expired User and PC Accounts

By: Paul Facey, Managed Services/Advanced IT Technician

It’s that time of year where many of us are working on building new habits, getting organized, and starting the New Year off on the right foot. If you are looking to clear out clutter in the new year, we urge you to look beyond what is filling up your cabinet spaces. Clutter in your network could cause you some serious vulnerabilities, especially when it comes to expired user and PC accounts.

So, what are the risks associated with not disabling or removing expired accounts? Let’s first dig into the basics:

What is considered an “account”?

An account is generally a paired set of information (usually an ID and password) that is used to control access to something. For our purposes, it gains access to data in an organization. Most users are aware of user accounts. What users may not be aware of is that not only do users have accounts, but the PCs they are working on have additional accounts as well (this is especially true in an Active Directory Environment). When a computer is functioning in an Active Directory environment it is constantly verifying itself to domain controllers (servers) just like users do to ensure it has permission to access data and resources.

Why is this important?

Account maintenance is an often-overlooked part of organizational health and maintenance that can lead to data breaches. If a user leaves an organization, or a system has retired the accounts for that user, the system should be disabled or deleted as well. If those accounts are left active, that is an easy opportunity for an attacker to try and compromise those accounts and gain access to company data. Attackers can have “all the time in the world” to try and compromise these accounts as they are no longer in use and can go unnoticed for extended periods of time.

How do we prevent or limit this?

  1. Physical account management when a user departs or a system is replaced. The account should either be disabled or deleted at this time. For users it is recommended they be disabled and moved to an isolated “no-permissions group” for a period of time, then deleted once it is confirmed the account no longer contains any useful data.
  2. To protect the organization, the administrators or IT team should be conducting periodic audits of all accounts (user and system accounts) to identify old or stale (not frequently used) accounts to determine if they should be disabled or deleted.
  3. Account policies should be deployed that enforce password age, account lockout, and other security features. This ensures that even if an account is forgotten, it can no longer be accessed after a set amount of time. This way, if an attacker is attempting to compromise an account they will be locked out after a set number of attempts. This is a recommended practice for active accounts as well.

Account management is only one piece in the overall goal of protecting your organization and data, but a vital one. Each organization should define its needs and security goals, then implement the action steps whenever possible. The Networks Plus Team is standing by to assist your organization in evaluating and implementing these measures, and to help make your organization and data as safe and protected as possible.

Want to read more on this topic? Paul recommends you check out this article from InfoSecurity Magazine.

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