Microsoft Windows XP and Office 2003 both go out of support on April 8, 2014. We are advising all clients to start planning now for the transition. When the software goes out of support, you will stop receiving security updates, and although your systems will still work, you'll be out of compliance for the Massachusetts Data Security Law as well as many other industry-specific security regulations.
This change is part of the standard Microsoft Support Lifecycle, but the countdown is now getting serious.
Now is the time to take a look at your technology inventory and identify systems that will need to move to Windows 7. As a general rule for businesses, we advise that if a system is three or more years old, it is generally better to replace the entire system than simply installing a new operating system. Although Windows 8 is also available, for most business applications we are currently recommending Windows 7.
Plan to develop a migration schedule during the month of September, so you'll have plenty of time to phase in new systems at a reasonable pace before the April deadline.
On July 31, 2013, with short notice, Massachusetts introduced a new tax on computer software services (in addition to tobacco and fuel taxes). While it has been widely reported as a “technology tax”, please note that this tax only refers to a narrow set of tasks that largely fall outside the scope of the work that Ekaru performs for you.
What’s taxable: The “modification, integration, enhancement, installation or configuration of standardized software”. The DOR has clarified that the tax is intended to apply to services that modify, enable or adapt “taxable prewritten software” to meet the business or technical requirements of a particular purchaser and to operate on the purchaser’s computer system. (Source: Mass Technology Leadership Council). In general, Ekaru does not customize prewritten software.
What’s NOT Taxable: Troubleshooting, repair, maintenance, training, cloud storage, disaster recovery services, web hosting, email hosting, data migration, installation of hardware, reinstallation of software, domain registration, work with open-source software, virus removal, etc.
There is widespread opposition to this new tax, seen as a “gateway” tax for all professional services, and difficult to interpret. We are closely following new information as it becomes available. If you already have tax-exempt status, you will not be affected by these changes.
To learn more about this new tax, read what Tom Hopcroft, President of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council has to say and follow the Mass TLC's Policy Page.
One of the questions we get every once in a while when we're quoting new systems is why is our recommendation is more expensive than what the user see's in the latest "big box" retail sales flyer. Sometimes users will think they can get the exact same system for less, and when we review things closely, this isn't the case.
Our philosophy at Ekaru is that we work with clients to support any technology they choose for their office, but when we make recommendations for purchase, we will recommend business class systems, customized for the clients use requirements.
So, what does this mean and what are the differences? The "same" computer may cost hundreds of dollars more depending on what's inside of it.
1. Operating system - For a business with a server, the "professional" version of the operating system is needed and this results in about a $100 difference. With Windows Anytime Upgrade, Microsoft has made it easy to upgrade if you make the mistake of getting the consumer version of the operating system, but we'll recommend the right fit the first time. Another big thing to watch for right now, is that if you go to the big box retailer to get a system it will be loaded with Window 8, which may not be compatible with all your applications you have right now.
2. Processor - Is it an AMD or an Intel Processor? If Intel, what type? Intel processors run from i3 to i7, and depending on the features, you may see around a $150 price range (or more). We take the applications you run into consideration when recommending a processor.
3. Microsoft Office - The very low price you see in a sales circular probably doesn't include Microsoft Office. Depending on the version of Office you need, this may add $200-$300 or more to the cost of the system if pre-installed (or more if you add a retail version later).
4. Monitor - does the system include a monitor or not, and if so, what size and resolution is it. This may account for $100-$200 (or more) of the total cost.
When you actually compare "apples to apples", you'll see that PC pricing is basically determined by the specifications of the system, and the PCs are built on commodity components. We've listed the major highlights above, but there are also differences in drive size and speed, and other things like video cards, etc. Run through the specifications line item by line item, and you'll see there isn't much variation in price for the SAME systems.
March is the anniversary of the Massachusetts Data Security Law which went into effect March 1, 2010: 201 CMR 17.00: Standards for The Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth. The anniversary is a good time to refresh your team about the requirements!
The goal of the law is to help prevent identity theft and we all have a role to help.
Here are the eight technology requirements included in this law:
1. Secure user authentication protocols including:
(i) control of user IDs and other identifiers;
(ii) a reasonably secure method of assigning and selecting passwords, or use of unique identifier technologies, such as biometrics or token devices;
(iii) control of data security passwords to ensure that such passwords are kept in a location and/or format that does not compromise the security of the data they protect;
(iv) restricting access to active users and active user accounts only; and
(v) blocking access to user identification after multiple unsuccessful attempts to gain access or the limitation placed on access for the particular system;
Use of STRONG passwords is required (uppercase letters, lower case letter, numbers, and symbols) and NEVER put your password on a post-it by your monitor, or under your keyboard or anywhere else that's easily accessible!
2. Secure access control measures that:
(i) restrict access to records and files containing personal information to those who need such information to perform their job duties; and
(ii) assign unique identifications plus passwords, which are not vendor supplied default passwords, to each person with computer access, that are reasonably designed to maintain the integrity of the security of the access controls;
If an employee doesn't need access to personal information to do their job, make sure they can't get to it. This is very important if multiple users share a system.
3. To the extent technically feasible, encryption of all transmitted records and files containing personal information that will travel across public networks, and encryption of all data to be transmitted over a wireless network.
Do not email personal information. Instead use SSL transmission of data to secure web sites.
4. Reasonable monitoring of systems, for unauthorized use of or access to personal information;
Are logs routinely checked? There are several great tools to help you decipher server logs to get the information you need.
5. Encryption of all personal information stored on laptops or other portable devices;
Laptops MUST have encryption technology. Other portable devices such as flash drives must also be protected. Backup tapes (if used) must be encrypted.
6. For files containing personal information on a system that is connected to the Internet, there must be reasonably up-to-date firewall protection and operating system security patches, reasonably designed to maintain the integrity of the personal information.
7. Reasonably up-to-date versions of system security agent software which must include malware protection and reasonably up-to-date patches and virus definitions, or a version of such software that can still be supported with up-to-date patches and virus definitions, and is set to receive the most current security updates on a regular basis.
Do you know if your security patches and Antivirus definitions are up to date?
8. Education and training of employees on the proper use of the computer security system and the importance of personal information security.
Users often break basic rules for “convenience” so they can get their work done faster. Ongoing education is needed!
In your next team meeting, review these requirements and make sure everyone understands the importance of compliance. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations web site. Give us a call if you'd like us to review your site security with you.
One of the things we strongly advise our clients to get on board with is proactive monitoring of all their systems with our managed services. With this service, we monitor all systems for a long list of parameters including Antivirus software updates, Security Patch updates, system performance and when capable, S.M.A.R.T monitoring of hard drives.
S.M.A.R.T definition from Wikipedia:
"S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; often written as SMART) is a monitoring system for computer hard disk drives to detect and report on various indicators of reliability, in the hope of anticipating failures. When a failure is anticipated by S.M.A.R.T., the user may choose to replace the drive to avoid unexpected outage and data loss."
Recently, Brian rescued a client's system when he received a SMART alert that the hard drive was showing signs of failure. Rather than waiting for the drive to fail, and potentially risking the client's data, we went ahead and initiated the the process to replace the drive. The system was still under warranty with Dell, but the problem was that the drive hadn't failed yet, so initially they wouldn't proceed with the warranty replacement, and Brian replaced the drive.
Brian didn't give up, though, and wrote to Dell:
In regards to hard drive replacement policy, Waiting till the hard drive FAILS is NOT a good policy for Helping customers. In our case we use remote monitoring and management software that is extremely reliable and efficient at reporting errors, and when is a SMART Error you need to take notice.
We have provided our services and resources to take care of YOUR Customer and ours By acknowledging that an ERROR from SMART needs attention and should never be taken lightly we purchased an identical replacement drive, was able to quickly and efficiently save the customers data and get them back up and running with no loss.
Any customer regardless of how many computers they purchase, from 1 to 10,000 are equal.
Waiting for the hard drive to fail is like closing the Barn doors after the horses have run off, it's too late.
I have been a PC/Server tech for over 20 years and I know how hard it is to repair an intermittent problem But when reliable monitoring tells you there's a problem, there is a problem. Computers know 2 things. 1's & 0's.
And as you know if one of them is out of place.. problems happen. People can hide what their problems are, computers can't. Preventing a Problem from happens before it happens is GOOD for Business for Both of us.
I hope you would consider replacing the hard drive, I see the Man. Date is either 6/2012 or 8/2012 and the SMART reporting started to show a problem on 01/28/2013 04:25 AM.
I have the Hard drive ready to ship.
Help Desk Tech
Dell eventually stepped up and honored a parts replacement of the hard drive and shipped back a drive. Being proactive saved the aggravation of a failed system and potential data loss. Even with an almost brand-new system, a hard drive can fail (in fact, if you think about a disk spinning at 7200 RPM, it's a miracle that any hard drive can work!). Hard drives are the most common failure point in PCs, and proactive monitoring is definitely advised.
One of the services we provide to our clients is spam filtering. The goal is to stop the spam BEFORE it gets to the mail server so it doesn't wind up on the users' desktop, laptop, iPad, smart phone, etc.... Each month when we do the reporting and roll up the numbers, it's amazing how much volume there is. Overall, around 80% of all email traffic is flagged as spam. For some of our clients, this means blocking out tens of thousands of messages a month. I looked at our own domain yesterday, and in February, over 10,000 messages were blocked or quarantined, including 348 emails containing viruses.
One of the frustrating things is that with all the sophisticated algorithms involved with the spam security filters we put in place, some spam still gets through. Just yesterday we heard from two clients who reported receiving a spam message that to any human reviewing the email, the disposition should be obvious, but to a computer scanning thousands of messages with respect to certain algorithms, a few get through. In both cases, we saw "Breaking News" emails where for one user, the server logs showed that one email got through and seven were blocked in the past week, and for the other users, one got through, and 65 were blocked/quarantined. In this case, we can see that the filters ARE working, but they are not 100%. For a message with carefully crafted language, the initial emails typically get through, and it isn't until the volume of identical messages is detected that the rest get properly dispositioned as spam.
It's annoying for all of us that these spam messages just keep coming to us, but at least with good filtering, the vast majority are stopped.
A few years ago, Microsoft made the operating system upgrade process a LOT easier by introducing the "Anytime Upgrade" process. Windows Anytime Upgrade lets you compare features, select the upgrade, and the entire process only takes as little as 10 minutes. Here is a link from Microsoft with a very short video that describes the process.
A common situation we run into is that a user has purchased the "home" version of an operating system, only to find out later that to connect to a server domain, run certain applications, or run in "XP Mode", they need the "professional" version of the operating system. The different versions of the operating system provide different capabilities that aren't always obvious at first. In the past, this would require a full new installation of the operating system, but "Anytime Upgrade" makes this a lot more simple and saves time.
You can open Windows Anytime Upgrade by clicking on the Start button (Microsoft logo in the bottom left hand corner of your screen). In the search box, type Anytime Upgrade, and then in the results click on Windows Anytime Upgrade. Note that you can only switch from a 32-bit version to another 32-bit version, or a 64-bit version to another 64-bit version, and the upgrade isn't available with some versions of Windows such as Ultimate.
Did Santa bring you a new Kindle Fire, iPad Mini, or Microsoft Surface for Christmas? If so, probably one of the first things you wanted to do was connect to your home wireless network. To connect, you'll be asked for a "key", which is a code that lets you in (and keeps others out). The common dilemma is that users have set up a wireless network a LONG time ago, recorded the key, and stored it in a "safe place", only to be stumped when you look for it again. The problem is that after you program the key into your laptop or other portable devices, your system "remembers" it, so you end up forgetting.
Don't worry! They key is easy to retrieve. If you have a laptop connected to your wireless network, select the wireless icon in the lower right hand portion of the screen. "Left click" on your mouse to view the wireless networks. (Right-clicking allows you to "troubleshoot problems" and "Open Network and Sharing Center").
After you select the wireless networks icon, you'll see a list of all the wireless networks nearby, including the one you are connected to (in this case, the list is blanked out for privacy and only the first one is showing.) "Right Click" on your network and select "Properties" to view the properties of your network, including the wireless key.
In the "Properties" window, under the "Security" tab, you'll see the "Network Security Key" listed, with characters hidden. To see the actual key, check the box to "show characters", and you'll have your key!
So if the encryption key that you wrote down two years ago is in a "safe place" somewhere, rest-assured you'll also find it stored electronically here. No need to rummage through all your files!
If you're a superuser on Windows 7, you may feel a bit lost on Windows 8. Bob has enthusiastically been using Windows 8 for a few weeks now, and he recommends getting re-familiarized with the good 'ol keyboard shortcuts. These are the standard shortcuts that work across all Microsoft Windows platforms, such as Ctrl+P to print, etc.
The new interface for Windows 8 marks a major change in how Windows has looked for over the past ten years. You can arrange your icons any way you want, and rest-assured, everything is still there. You may be confused at first when you look for "Documents", but don't worry, all your documents are still there.
Using keyboard shortcuts can help you get around until you get used to how to do things. There are 23 new keyboard shortcuts for Windows 8. The new word is "charms". The old conventional start menu is gone, replaced by the new Charm Bar - this is the universal toolbar in Windows 8. All the standard Windows shortcuts also work. For the entire list of Windows shortcuts, visit the Microsoft web site. A couple of useful shortcuts:
Windows logo key +start typing: search your PC
Windows logo key +C: open the charms
Ctrl+plus (+) or Ctrl+minus (-): zoom in and out
Esc: Stop or exit the current task
ALT+F4: Close the active item
The people most familiar with Windows 7 may be the most lost, and beginners will probably be most comfortable with the graphical interface, but don't slow down! Start exploring, and tell us what you think!