An old virus gets a new shot at virtualization

January 21st, 2017

2017January20_Virtualization_AVirtualizing your desktops comes with a number of benefits, one of which is improved security. Unfortunately, nothing perfect lasts forever, and the virtualization industry is facing a frightening new form of malware. Although this threat is nothing more than a facelift on an old virus, it is just as dangerous as it was the first time it made headlines. If you’re utilizing any sort of virtualized desktop, you need to be fully aware of this new development.

What is it?

Back in 2012, a brand new virus called “Shamoon” was unleashed onto computers attached to the networks of oil and gas companies. Like something out of a Hollywood film, Shamoon locked down computers and displayed a burning American flag on the display while totally erasing anything stored on the local hard disk. The cybersecurity industry quickly got the virus under control, but not before it destroyed data on nearly 30,000 machines.

For years, Shamoon remained completely inactive -- until a few months ago. During a period of rising popularity, virtualization vendors coded doorways into their software specifically designed to thwart Shamoon and similar viruses. But a recent announcement from Palo Alto Networks revealed that someone refurbished Shamoon to include a set of keys that allow it to bypass these doorways. With those safeguards overcome, the virus is free to cause the same damage it was designed to do four years ago.

Who is at risk?

As of the Palo Alto Networks announcement, only networks using Huawei’s virtual desktop infrastructure management software are exposed. If your business uses one of those services, get in touch with your IT provider as soon as possible to address how you will protect yourself from Shamoon.

On a broader scale, this attack shows how virtualization's popularity makes it vulnerable. Cyber attackers rarely write malware programs that go after unpopular or underutilized technology. The amount of effort just isn’t worth the pay off.

Headlines decrying the danger of Shamoon will be a siren call to hackers all over the globe to get in on the ground floor of this profitable trend. It happened for ransomware last year, and virtual machine viruses could very well turn out to be the top security threat of 2017.

How can I protect my data?

There are several things you need to do to ensure the safety of your virtual desktops. Firstly, update your passwords frequently and make sure they’re sufficiently complex. Shamoon’s most recent attempt to infect workstations was made possible by default login credentials that had not been updated.

Secondly, install monitoring software to scan and analyze network activity for unusual behavior. Even if legitimate credentials are used across the board, accessing uncommon parts of the network at odd hours will sound an alarm and give administrators precious time to take a closer look at exactly what is happening.

Ultimately, businesses need virtualization experts on hand to protect and preserve desktop infrastructures. Thankfully, you have already found all the help you need. With our vast experience in all forms of virtualized computing, a quick phone call is the only thing between you and getting started. Call today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

January 20th, 2017

img-calendar-170px-op1Knowing your friend’s schedules comes in handy when you’re trying to arrange a reunion, and the same can be said for businesses. Through calendar sharing, employees can simultaneously arrange meetings, prioritize projects and set schedules for contacting customers. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Recently, Microsoft made changes to its calendar sharing function that might make things a little simpler. Here are some of them:

Simplicity Users’ first impression of the new model is that it’s much simpler. To share your calendar, simply click the Share option in the calendar menu bar and then enter the names of people with whom you wish to share. With a few clicks, you can decide who gets to see your schedule and how much of it they can view. On top of that, you’ll be able to nominate users who create appointments or accept meeting requests on your behalf - when the update rolls out in early 2017.

What sharers get to see Once a user accepts a sharing invitation, the calendar is then added to the set they open. The invitation needs to be accepted using an updated client in order for the embedded instructions to be properly processed. Depending on how much you're willing to share, the calendar allows you to either show full details of your schedule or just certain parts of it.

Mobile devices included Besides the new sharing interface, this model extends into mobile devices where Outlook for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile will be able to view and edit shared calendars for the first time. And because calendar events are time-sensitive, changes will be executed and synced immediately, ensuring that your calendar is always accurate.

Immediate synchronization is available for OWA and mobile clients. For Mac users, Outlook continues to use periodic synchronization. This is used to share calendar information with users outside of your Office 365 tenant.

Updates: Outlook for Mac Known as the black sheep of the Outlook family, implementation features of Outlook for Mac generally differs from the way things are done in other clients. Fortunately, Outlook for Mac’s calendar sharing function is being upgraded, with changes that include:

  • Intuitive UI to match other Outlook clients, including the addition of an Accept button to simplify calendar sharing invitations.
  • Shifting away from the Mac-specific local linked calendars, roaming shared calendars reads data from Exchange Online to ensure the same set of shared calendars are visible across all devices.
  • Immediate synchronization will replace periodic synchronization.
Even the tiniest details -- calendar sharing included -- have the potential to greatly impact the outcome of your business. If you have questions or concerns about managing various aspects of Office 365, feel free to get in touch today.
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Office
January 19th, 2017

2017January18_Android_AGoogle Now has been around for years, but the service still doesn’t have the name recognition of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Considering that it is delivered on nearly every new Android device, it’s a crime that it doesn’t get more use. For a crash course in some of Google’s best AI-powered voice-commands, take a look at five of our favorites.

Before you can start playing with Google’s AI, you need to turn on the service. On your Android device, press and hold the home key at the bottom of the screen, then swipe upwards. This will open the Google Now interface. Tap the search bar at the top of the screen, then the Google icon on the left-hand side of the search bar.

From there, tap the three stacked lines in the upper left corner of the screen, followed by Settings, and then Voice. Once you’ve toggled the “From any screen option,” saying the phrase “Ok Google” any time your phone is unlocked will prompt it to start listening for a command. Turn it on and try some of the examples below!

Tip #1: Reminders

Google Now can certainly help with information discovery, but what about when you just need a little help managing your calendar? The phrase “Remind me to [action] + [time]” is all you need to set a quick reminder before you have a chance to manually add it to your calendar.

And if you’re not sure when you need to be reminded, ask Google to set the notification based on location. “Remind me to buy eggs next time I’m at Safeway.” If you have location services turned on, your phone will prompt you next time you're near the store.

Tip #2: Anything involving your clock app

Whether you want to “Set an alarm/time for [time]” to achieve productivity goals, or you need to know “What time is it in [location]” before calling a client in another time zone, Google Now can essentially perform any task from your native clock app with a simple request.

Tip #3: Convert/calculate anything

As the business landscape becomes more and more globalized, we’re constantly calculating currencies, units of measurement, and simple sums. For example, “What is X dollars in euros?” could help you easily convert the price of an invoice, or “How many kilometers are in X miles?” could shorten the time required to calculate how much material you need to order for a new product.

Tip #4: Retrieve documents from Gmail

Searching Google from your desktop, you may have noticed that important documents from your email account occasionally show up at the top of a search page. That’s because Google can recognize official documents such as flight itineraries, hotel receipts, and utility bills. Just say “Show me my flight to Phoenix” and Google Now will pull it up immediately.

Tip #5: Basic phone commands

The majority of the applications that came with your phone can receive voice commands. “Take a photo,” “Open acme.com,” “Turn on Wi-Fi,” and “Open Salesforce1,” are just some of the ways you can minimize the time you spend tapping your phone.

There are dozens more, and while such small tasks may seem silly, they represent a fundamental shift in the way we interact with our technology. Smartphones should help you do more, but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s just a waste of time. Spend a few moments tinkering with your Google Now and give us a call today to find out more.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic android
January 14th, 2017

img-windows10-170px-op1In the past year, Microsoft was heavily criticized for forcing the Windows 10 OS update on PC users. After thousands of customer complaints, the tech giant vowed to make changes and appease disgruntled end users. With the new year are signs that the firm is finally tending to these problems. Here are some of them:

A patch and a glitch away Users couldn’t escape the glitches in the frequent Windows 10 updates, which caused an array of problems such as frozen systems, broken webcams, and even PCs being unable to secure an Internet connection. In light of the patching dilemma, Microsoft is offering more options to defer updates. In fact, a leaked preview shows a new option to pause updates for up to 35 days via a switch in the Settings menu.

OneDrive placeholders Since the launch of Windows 10, many users have eagerly awaited Microsoft to re-introduce this beloved feature to the operating system’s built-in OneDrive cloud storage service. In Windows 8.1, placeholders (aka Smart files) allowed users to see all their OneDrive files, whether or not they were stored on the device. Making its return in Windows 10 File Explorer when using OneDrive, the feature shows user files stored locally as well as on the cloud.

Owning up to the update fiasco Not only is Microsoft addressing the various complaints it received, but it’s also owning up to some of them. Just before Christmas, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, Chris Capossela, admitted that the company had gone too far when it tried to get Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10. This referred to Microsoft’s decision in early 2016 to change the design for the user prompt for its Get Windows 10 app, the software responsible for scheduling upgrades. The user prompt was altered so that clicking X to close the window causes the user to unknowingly agree to a Windows 10 upgrade. This change puts Microsoft in direct violation of its own user experience guidelines for developers on dialog box design.

“Within a couple of hours of that hitting the world, we knew we had gone too far,” recalled Capossela. “Those two weeks were pretty painful and clearly a lowlight for us.” It was then that Microsoft reversed its decision on tweaking the pop-up, so clicking on X would dismiss the upgrade.

It seems that 2017 is the year that Microsoft will start listening more to its users and addressing their complaints. Maybe: Hopefully this renewed strategy will benefit users sooner rather than frustrate them later. Contact us and we’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest Microsoft updates.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Windows
January 13th, 2017

2017january12_security_aCyber security is something you hear about a lot these days. Sometimes it’s thrown around to scare business owners, other times it has proven to be a cautionary tale, one that small businesses can learn from to fend themselves from online threats that can leave devastating impact. What’s certain is statistics don’t lie, and as much as you’d like to believe your business is safe, the worst could happen at any time. Because antivirus software alone can only do so much to protect your business, managed services has become the solution. To make our case, here are several statistics that prove you need managed services from a technology provider.

The numbers

Small businesses are not at risk of being attacked, but worse, they’ve already fallen victim to cyber threats. According to Small Business Trends, 55 percent of survey respondents say their companies have experienced cyber attack sometime between 2015 and 2016. Not only that, 50 percent reported they have experienced data breaches with customer and employee information during that time, too. The aftermath of these incidents? These companies spent an average of $879,582 to fix the damages done to their IT assets and recover their data. To make matters worse, disruption to their daily operations cost an average of $955,429.

The attacks

So what types of attack did these businesses experience? The order from most to least common are as follows: Web-based attacks, phishing, general malware, SQL injection, stolen devices, denial of services, advanced malware, malicious insider, cross-site scripting, ransomware and others.

Why managed services?

Managed services is the most effective prevention and protection from these malicious threats. They include a full range of proactive IT support that focuses on advanced security such as around the clock monitoring, data encryption and backup, real-time threat prevention and elimination, network and firewall protection and more.

Not only that, but because managed services are designed to identify weak spots in your IT infrastructure and fix them, you’ll enjoy other benefits including faster network performance, business continuity and disaster recovery as well as minimal downtime. One of the best things about managed services is the fact that you get a dedicated team of IT professionals ready to assist with any technology problems you might have. This is much more effective and budget-friendly than having an in-house personnel handling all your IT issues.

Being proactive when it comes to cyber security is the only way to protect what you’ve worked hard to built. If you’d like to know more about how managed services can benefit your business, just give us a call, we’re sure we can help.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Security
January 12th, 2017

2017january11_business_aThe new year is well upon us, and with it comes an equally new IT budget. Judging by the advancements in computing technology, many 2017 business wish lists probably include powerful onsite servers, workstations, and the Internet of Things. But as tempting as these purchases may be, it’s important that you don’t dismiss an old yet essential IT resolution: disaster recovery.

DR isn’t a huge investment A common misconception about disaster recovery is that it’s a large, bank-breaking investment. Expensive secondary data centers, networks, and server maintenance usually come into mind when a business owner is confronted with the idea of business continuity. And while that may have been true in the past, establishing a strong disaster recovery plan today is as simple -- and as cheap -- as going to a cloud-based disaster recovery provider and paying for the data and services that your business needs. Subscription pricing models are actually incredibly low, meaning you can have minimal downtime while still having enough to invest in new tech.

Onsite backups just won’t cut it Although you might feel secure with a manual backup server down the hall, it is still susceptible to local disasters and, ultimately, does very little in minimizing company downtime. When disaster recovery solutions are hosted in the cloud or in a virtualized server, restoring critical data and applications only take a few minutes.

Business disasters can be man-made, too Even if your workplace is nowhere near frequent disaster zones, cyber attacks and negligent employees can leave the same impact on your business as any natural disaster can. Setting a weak password, clicking on a suspicious link, or connecting to unsecured channels is enough to shut down a 5-, 10-, or even 50-year-old business in mere minutes.

Sure, installing adequate network security is a critical strategy against malicious actors, but last year’s barrage of data breaches suggests that having a Plan B is a must. A suitable disaster recovery plan ensures that your data’s integrity is intact and your business can keep going, no matter the malware, worm, or denial-of-service attack.

Downtime will cost you A business without a DR plan might come out unscathed after a brief power outage, but why risk the potential damages? Either way, downtime will cost your business. First, there’s the general loss of productivity. Every time your employees aren’t connected to the network, money goes down the drain. Then there’s the cost of corrupted company data, damaged hardware, and the inevitable customer backlash. Add all those variables together, and you end up with a business-crippling fee.

So, if you want 2017 to be the best year for your business, make the smart choice and proactively take part in creating your company’s business continuity plan. Your business will be in a better position financially with it than without it.

Keep your business safe, recover from any disaster, and contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic business
January 11th, 2017

2017january10_socialmedia_a“What’s your Facebook name?” is not a question you’re often asked when someone needs your contact details. In the first place, Facebook messaging isn’t everyone’s voice call app of choice, especially for group conversations. As of now, Skype rules that arena, especially for business communications. However, once the social media giant has put the finishing touches on its desktop-capable group voice calling, you can expect to hear “What’s your Facebook name?” a bit more. It might even become the norm.

No one gets left behind

In group chats, there’s always that one person who gets the joke last, or reads it last, and so feels left out. With Facebook’s group video chat, this never has to happen as every participant in the group can be connected at the same time. The functionality is still in the “small test” phase, which means certain details are still being ironed out. When it fully launches, though, expect a considerable portion of Facebook Messenger users to consider moving their Skype group video conversations to Facebook.

Potentially compelling benefits

Since introducing its audio calling capability in 2013, Facebook has worked hard to keep up with the competition. Facebook’s introduction – and potential domination – of desktop group video calling might signal the end of times for Skype and other players. For one, Facebook and social media user growth hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. Moreover, most users of internet telephony might inevitably see the advantages of using a single platform for their social media activity and online communications.

Possible user reservations

Users who prefer a communication tool that creates zero distractions in their chats might not opt for Facebook when conducting group video conferences. Facebook is, first and foremost, a social media platform, which serves as a springboard for important news updates, personal anecdotes, and funny cat videos. Not everyone will prefer all those distractions while in a business meeting.

Those looking for a clean communications tool might find the wealth of content a bit overwhelming. In addition, employees of small companies in need of a free communications tool might not immediately warm up to the idea of surrendering their Facebook profile as an official point of contact.

If there’s anything Facebook has proven, however, it is the ability to improve upon previous versions by adding or removing details to enhance user experience. Users may not always be pleased with the updates, but that hasn’t slowed down the billion-user company’s popularity. If the newly introduced desktop group video calling function proves efficient, Facebook might persuade even more users to lean towards its messaging tool.

With many options to choose from, the only thing left for people to do is discern which platform best serves their communications needs. For advice on which VoIP platform is best for your business, contact us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Social Media
January 7th, 2017

2016january6_webandcloud_aIt’s a new year, and it’s time to start thinking about what information technology will look like in 2017. That could mean anything from forecasting the costs of adopting new technology to upgrading your products to better integrate with new trends. Whatever it may be, we’re putting down our predictions for how to get the most out of 2017’s web services, right here.

#1 On-premises servers will survive another year

Cloud adoption will most likely continue its stellar rise, but that doesn’t mean it will be hard to find affordable service for your in-house server or data center. Based on a recent survey of companies that utilize cloud services, nearly half will continue operating some sort of on-site data management in response to perceptions of security or compliance concerns. We may not believe those worries are well-founded, but that does mean hybrid clouds will continue to be a popular option.

#2 Fewer headlines about machine learning, but more services

Because machine learning requires so much data and processing power to solve everyday problems, an increase in cloud services and vendors in 2017 will also mean an increase in machine learning. But “AI” is so 2016, and consumers will soon tire of it. If you’re selling a service that utilizes this technology, you might want to rebrand it. And if you’re looking to use it internally, definitely don’t pay 2016 prices.

#3 Voice commands will get better

With the proliferation of cloud computing and high-speed internet connections, analyzing voice commands is much easier than when it took place in localized environments after hours of training software to recognize your speech patterns.

Although better voice command technology may not mean much for running a business, big vendors like Amazon releasing development kits and application program interfaces does mean you have the opportunity to make your products and services more accessible via popular consumer technology such as Alexa.

#4 The Internet of Things (IoT) hasn’t peaked yet

Marketing experts are just as certain that consumers are feeling oversaturated with references to machine learning as they are that IoT hasn’t yet reached its full buzzword potential. If prices of connected devices come down, and their functionality improves, you can bet “IoT” will be one of the most profitable keywords of the year. If this technology doesn’t integrate with your products or services, there’s significant potential for its rise to stardom to make in-house business automation a whole lot better.

#5 Containers won’t just be a fad

As a subset of virtualized computing, containers unshackle applications from the constraints of single operating system compatibility. And with several vendors jumping into the market in late 2016 (such as Amazon Web Services), it’s a trend that we’re fairly confident will grow next year.

The market for web services may seem too fickle to gamble on, but as a small business owner, you don’t have much of a choice. Technology is essential to reaching new customers, operating efficiently, and remaining competitive with your business rivals. If you’re ready to start the new year with a new outlook on these technologies, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Web & Cloud
January 6th, 2017

2016december26_hardware_aSo you've got the next big thing in technology sitting in your office: a program you customized for your business or a hardware you came up with on the side. When is the right time to license your product for outside sale? Read further to learn the ins and outs of licensing and why the best decisions for your business can often be contrary to common sense.

There is a fine line between successful licensing and a failed attempt. You certainly don't want to risk selling prematurely, when the software doesn't yet have enough appeal in a large market to succeed. On the other hand, you don't want to "lose" the market altogether by selling the sale rights to someone else who will “overtake” the product.

Questions to Ask Before you Commit to Licensing Anything

Before you make the decision to take your hard-earned product and send it to the masses through licensing, consider:

The value of your new product and its potential

If you believe you have a truly unique software, it may be best to keep it under wraps and exclusive to your company. However, if it is a product in a highly competitive area wherein technology changes quickly, it may be worth thinking about how best to capitalize on the changing market.

Its fit on your business market

If your software is a time management program and you run an internet security firm, there's a chance that you may have to spread yourself thin to market the new product and maintain your own business focus. In this case it might be smart to find a company to license your product that is more aligned with the product's purpose.

The levels of licensing

It is possible to allow a company to license your product on a non-exclusive basis, which will allow you to maintain control of the product in some form. The decision to pursue licensing of a software or hardware should be made carefully.

If you need advice on what to do with a new software or piece of hardware created by your business, give us a call. We can help you maximize the benefits of your design.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Topic Hardware
January 5th, 2017

2016january4_virtualization_aWe’ll just go ahead and say it: cloud migration is a smart business move and we highly recommended it. The potential for greater efficiency, more manageable storage capacity, and cost savings are all but guaranteed. Virtualization, however, is not a walk in the clouds. It often involves a complex process that requires time and money, so if you’re considering a large-scale migration to Amazon Web Services, read on to be prepared.

Preparation for migration

  • Is everyone within the organization on board with this major move? Are your employees adequately equipped with knowledge about the cloud? And, since large-scale transfers involve big data, would your security framework be able to deal with potential security threats during the transition? Can your company handle the inevitable expenditure that goes with investing in the cloud? These are just some of the points you have to consider when preparing for large-scale migration.

Reasons for migration

  • One of the most compelling reasons to virtualize tech capital is the need to meet your business’s increasing demand for efficiency, which could lead to greater profitability. Other reasons could include change of organizational leadership or a shift in business structure that necessitates storage recalibration. Regardless of your reasons for migrating to the cloud, you as a business owner should have a clear understanding of why you’re doing it, and make sure everyone understands why it is so important.

Size of resources to be moved

  • Using Amazon Web Services’ cloud storage gives you the benefit of eliminating the costs of buying your own storage infrastructure and it introduces an element of anywhere-anytime access to your business’s data and/or applications. That said, you must consider how much you’ll be transferring, and use it as your basis for moving. Knowing the amount of IT resources you’re freeing up lets you allocate more cost-effectively and allows your technology staff to focus on more innovative pursuits.

Migration requirements

  • Which specific data, servers, or applications need to be migrated? Does your company need large-scale migration, or can it survive on moving only a small part of your resources to the cloud? Perhaps, a subsidiary could survive without having to be moved to the cloud. When migrating to the cloud, you’d be remiss not to think of these tiny details.

Impact to the business

  • Temporary downtime is something you have to be ready for. You might need more time or you might need to consider alternatives for the brief interruptions that come with migration, and of course budget can be a major factor in your decision to move. You can save your business from unnecessary obstacles by first assessing its ability to handle these situations.
Recalibrating the management of your technological resources for scalable storage solutions in a cost-saving platform is not without its challenges. Your business and its stakeholders’ call for greater efficiency cannot be ignored. After considering these factors for a large-scale migration, you might realize that despite a few minor bumps, the benefits to your organization will far outweigh the projected costs, and that there’s nowhere to go but up (in the cloud).
Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.