Technology Advisor Blog

eMail Security - Sending Encrypted eMail

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/27/11 11:15 AM

eMail EncryptionAlthough email typically has a layer of security protection in the form of a password, users need to be aware that emails sent "in the clear" (not encrypted), CAN be intercepted and read by other parties using available tools.

To address this threat, the new MA Data Protection Law which went into effect March, 1, 2010 requires "Encryption of all transmitted records and files containing personal information that will travel across public networks".

There are many solutions available, but the one we typically recommend to clients is Voltage SecureMail. This is an easy solution because the email recipient doesn't need to purchase or install any software on their end. 

Although it's a bit of a pain to go through the extra step of encryption, this is a necessary precaution when sending any protected or sensitive information.  You can send eMails directly from Microsoft Outlook, or log into a web interface.  We typically advise clients to develop a process where they send a preliminary email to the recipient with some simple instructions to let them know a secure email will follow.  This helps non-tech-savvy users know what to do.

To see how it works, view the Voltage SecureMail demo.

If you'd like to give it a try, sign up for a free trial.

To learn more about the new MA Data Protection Law - 201 CMR 17.00: STANDARDS FOR THE PROTECTION OF PERSONAL INFORMATION OF RESIDENTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH - read full regulation from the mass.gov web site.

Tags: email security, Encryption

Getting Started with Excel 2010 - Simple Formulas

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/23/11 10:37 AM

Many of our clients are pros at Microsoft Excel, but for the beginners, the program can be intimidating.  If you're just getting started, here are a few simple tips and formulas you can use.  We actually get a lot of questions from beginners, so this post is for you! 

Formulas are the workhorse of Excel. When you enter a formula into a cell, Excel will calculate the value for you.  In a simple example, suppose you sold cables for $12.95 a piece for a week and you wanted to know the daily totals, the weekly total, and the daily average. 

Of course you can use a calculator to get the answer, but Excel is a LOT faster, and worth the effort of learning.  Also, after you program in the formulas, you can change your input values and quickly see the new result.Microsoft Excel Simple Formula

To start, enter the days of the week into Excel and the quantities sold per day.  Then, to calculate the daily total, use the formula =B2*12.95.  This formula multiples whatever value is in the cell B2 by 12.95 to give you the daily total.  (Addition = "+", Subtraction = "-", Multiplication = "*", Division = "/".)

Next, you can copy the formula into the other daily total cells.  You don't need to edit the formula, because Excel knows the cell reference is "relative" - meaning if the formula is pasted to the cell C3, the number to multiple is B3.  (Note you can also make a "fixed" reference, but we're not covering that in this post.)Microsoft Excel SUM

Next, to calculate the sum of a column, use the formula:  =SUM(C2:C6).  Note that after you create the open parentheses, you can simply drag your mouse over the cells. 

Finally, to calculate the average of a column, use the formula:  =AVERAGE(C2:C6)

The final worksheet shows the daily totals,Microsoft Excel Sample Worksheet the total quantity, the total sales, and the daily average.

Sometimes the hardest part of using a new application is just getting over the hump of getting started.   

Tags: Microsoft Excel, Beginner, formula, SUM, AVERAGE

Going Paperless - Electronic Signatures

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/16/11 9:19 AM

describe the imageIf your office is going paperless, one of the things you'll need to deal with is how to handle documents, such as contracts, that need to be signed.  The good news is that electronic signatures can now be easily handled over the Internet.

One of the products we highly recommend is EchoSign - www.EchoSign.com.  Using EchoSign, you can upload an electronic document (Microsoft Word, PDF, etc) or fax in the document if you only have a paper copy.  Next, you enter the recipients signature with a note and then just hit "send".  The application handles the collection and storage of the signature so you don't have to store everything on site.

Electronic signatures have generally been legally recognized around the world for many years.  The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act(E-Signature Act") became effective in the US on October 1, 2000.  Since then, online electronic signatures on commercial transactions and most other agreements have an equal legal status to a written signature.

EchoSign can be integrated with Salesforce.com and its currently used by over 3,000,000 businesses and business people. 

Tags: Going paperless, electronic signature, digital signature

Have you ever received SPAM email from yourself?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/12/11 3:26 PM

This sounds like a funny question because who would ever send themself a spam email?  What you really received is a "spoofed" message.  It's actually easy to alter an email to change the "from" address to make it appear that it's coming from someone else.  Basically a forgery.  (This is one of the reasons that if you use a spam filter, you shouldn't necessarily safe list your own address.)

Typically, spoofed messages are an attempt to get ads and phishing exploits through spam filters.  You may see that the message is from a familiar sounding name, and then open a message you wouldn't ordinarily open. In a phishing message, someone pretending to be someone you do business with is actually trying to steal your secure information (account number, password, etc).

We typically advise clients to set up an SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record which is an email verification system that checks the true source of an email.  This is a code set up in your DNS records that tells the world what the legitimate sending server is for your domain, and mail servers will reject other mail.  Keep in mind that if you use an email marketing tool like Constant Contact, you'll also need to add this information to your record (or your legitimate emails will appear to be spoofed.).  This will help prevent your good name from being exploited in spoofed messages.

For any incoming mail, always use caution and know that the sender may not be who they say they are!

There's no such thing as 100% protection for any threats on line, but having an SPF record is another layer of defense thats worth a few moments to add to your aresenal.

Tags: eMail, spam, DNS, SPF record

DNS - What you don't know CAN hurt you!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/2/11 10:32 AM

Twice in the past month we received panicked calls from clients - "Help! Our email stopped working and we can't get any emails!" It turns out in both cases, the problem was the result of someone making updates to a web site and making unintended changes to DNS. 

While it's not important for users to know what all the tech jargon means, its VERY important to never make changes that you don't understand.  DNS stands for Domain Name Service.  It's the database of addresses that make the Internet work.  If you type www.ekaru.com into a browser, it's the master directory that tells your computer what IP address to find us at ("A" record").  If you send an email to info@ekaru.com, then a different IP address is used to find us ("mx" record").  Your computer understands IP address, not names.

Your domain name registration establishes the legal ownership of your domain name.  You should double check that the registration is in the name of your company or an owner of the business, and not any other employee or outside consultant.

Your name servers tell the world where your IP addresses are stored, so people can find you when they look up your domain name.  The most common mistake we see, is that when people make changes to their website without understanding how DNS works they often change their name servers without realizing that the "mx" records will break and mail won't be delivered.  It's ok to change name servers, but you must then copy your custom DNS records from your old name servers.

As a general rule, NEVER make changes to DNS unless you 100% understand what you're doing.  If someone else is working on your web site, make sure they understand your DNS records before giving them access to your registration.

By the way, the tool we use to check DNS records (and highly recommend!) is www.dnsstuff.com.  It's the first place we look when we get a call from a customer who can't access their email when their Internet access is working fine.

Tags: DNS, web site, e-Mail

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