Technology Advisor Blog

Cybersecurity During the Pandemic and Stay at Home Orders Impact on Small Business.

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/13/20 2:14 PM

Cybersecurity and the Impact of Work from Home on Small Business

For those fortunate enough to be able to make the move to work from home during the pandemic, the rapid change has been a lot to handle.  Cybersecurity threats increased sharply while users are adjusting to a new way of work.  Last week we hosted security expert Jay Ryerse, CISSP, of Connectwise to speak to our community about the impact on small business.  Ekaru wants the cybersecurity culture of our community to transcend the office walls to protect you, your family, and your business.

Here are a few of the key take-aways from his presentation, and the full video is linked below.

  • Prior to COVID-19, remote workers make up only 3.2% of the entire workforce and 44% of companies had policies that don't allow remote work.  All of that changed overnight!  The current pandemic is unprecedented.
  • Malware is round on 45% of home office networks
  • Cyberattacks now cost small businesses $200,000 on average, putting many out of business.
  • A new ransomware attack occurs every 14 seconds
  • 46% of SMBs have been targeted by ransomware
  • In cybersecurity, what you don't know will hurt you
  • Trust your team, but verify!

The return to the "new normal" will be just as challenging for businesses.  Some states are already re-opening, and it will be a long time before we get some semblance of normalcy. 

Work from home is likely to be a big part of our future.  Many affordable and secure solutions are available for smaller businesses to make the shift, and Ekaru is here to help.

Contact us to schedule a risk assessment to better understand the impact of COVID-19 and cyber threats to your business.

The full recording of the webinar is now available:

 

Tags: small business, cybersecurity, work from home

Get a Custom Zoom Background in 3 Easy Steps

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/7/20 11:50 AM

Zoom - With Custom Background - Beach-3Zoom meetings have become so popular these days that the word has become a verb!  There are many great collaboration tools (GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, etc), and Zoom has emerged as a crowd favorite with huge growth resulting from their popular free version.  

If you've been on a call, you've probably seen someone with a fancy custom background - a scene from a beach, a view from space, or some other fun background (or maybe a serious one like a company logo).  If you'd like to give custom background a try, it's easy!

Zoom - Start VideoFirst, a couple of notes on using video in meetings.  When you start your Zoom meeting, you'll see that video is "muted" by default.  Just click on the video icon in the lower left to turn on the video. 

Ekaru-Webcam CoverI like to use a web cam cover on my laptop so my camera is also physically covered when not in use.   Your laptop may already have a built in cover.  I like the extra peace of mind that I can control camera access.

As for custom backgrounds, If you've got a working webcam, getting a custom background is easy!

1.  Choose Virtual Background - Zoom - Choose Virtual BackgroundClick on the little arrow to the right of the video camera icon, then select "Choose Virtual Background"

2.  Upload Your Background Image - Zoom - Select the Virtual BackgroundClick on the "+" icon to add an image or video  (I have a few already loaded).  You can pick your favorite vacation photo, your company logo, or go on line to find some images.  

3.  Select the Virtual Background - pick the one you'd like to use for the current meeting.  Also, a heads up that that will be the default image for your next meeting, so if you're going on a virtual happy hour, you may want to change back at the end of the meeting so it doesn't load by default during your management meeting the next morning.

A few tips on video image quality - The Zoom virtual backgrounds work quite well even without a green screen.  For best results, a solid color wall behind you works best and don't wear colors that are in the virtual background image.  Why?  A lot of computing is needed to subtract your real background and display the virtual one.  If you match the image, your computer will get confused.  We received a help desk call this week from a user who reported a "fuzzy" image - she was actually blending into the background.  Test drive different images for the best results.

For more advanced troubleshooting, Zoom has some detailed info on technical requirements - https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/210707503-Virtual-Background

A few tips on Security - Security is always on our minds.  Zoom has been in the news for security issues.  A few notes on security to stay safe on line:

  • Use unique meeting codes for all meetings
  • Set a password
  • Use the Green Room function to know who's online
  • Don't record meetings unless you have some important reason to do so.
  • If you're the host, know how to mute users and end the meeting quickly if you need to.

One of the nice features of Zoom is that virtual background are "native" to the application.  You don't need any extra software.  For example, if you want to try this with GoToMeeting, you'll need an add on like ManyCam to do the same thing.  Its easy, but it requires an extra step.

Have some fun on your next meeting!   

 

Tags: cybersecurity, work from home, Zoom Meeting

Beware!  COVID-19 Safety emails Deliver Malware Instead

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 5/6/20 5:13 PM

Safety Measures Deliver Malware InsteadCyber criminals are working overtime to take advantage of the disruption and confusion caused by the pandemic.  The FBI reports a four fold increase in cyber threats recently and its more important than ever to stay alert, and talk to your team about cybersecurity.  The most common attack vector these days is eMail, and an unknowing employee may click on the wrong link thinking they're getting important safety information.  Think before you click!

Check out the infographic for more information on what to look out for, and please share with your team.

20 Seconds to better email hygiene:

  1. Watch for overly generic content and greetings - Cyber criminals will send a large batch of emails. Look for examples like “Dear valued customer.”
  2. Examine the entire "from" address - The first part of the email address may be legitimate but the last part might be off by letter or may include a number in the usual domain.
  3. Look for urgency or demanding actions - “You’ve won! Click here to redeem prize,” or “We have your browser history pay now or we are telling your boss.”
  4. Carefully check all links - Mouse over the link and see if the destination matches where the email implies you will be taken.  (But keep in mind some advanced hackers have ways even to hide the true destinations!)
  5. Notice misspellings, incorrect grammar, and odd phrasing - This might be a deliberate attempt to try to bypass spam filters.
  6. Check for secure websites - Any webpage where you enter personal information should have a url with https://. The “s” stands for secure. (But keep in mind some advanced hackers can hide behind encrypted sites!)  
  7. Don't click on attachments right away - Attachments containing viruses might have an intriguing message encouraging you to open them such as “Here is the Schedule I promised.”

It takes just ONE employee to click on a bad email to cause a lot of potential harm to your business.  Ask us about affordable ongoing cybersecurity training, testing, and simulated phishing tests to help keep your organization safe!

Tags: Cybersecurity, email scams, cybersecurity, work from home

Work From Home - Stay Safe On-line with Strong and Unique Passwords

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/24/20 4:59 PM

PW-Manager-EkaruCybercrime instances appear to have jumped sharply since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FBI. The bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) reported last week that it’s now receiving between 3,000 and 4,000 cybersecurity complaints each day, up from the average 1,000 complaints per day the center saw before the pandemic. 

There are many types of threats, and many ways to stay more secure, but one simple thing is to use strong and unique passwords, facilitated by a password manager.

Can you memorize 50-80 different passwords?  The average person may use 50-80 applications that require passwords (or more!).  Each password should be strong and unique.  A strong password contains uppercase and lowercase letters, with numbers, and symbols.  The longer the password, the better.  In addition, a different password should be used for every site you visit (banking, business applications, social media, etc).  The problem is that the average person simply can't remember that much information, and what ends up happening is corners are cut.  If one site gets breached and your password ends up on the Dark Web, if you use that same password ten different places, hackers can do "credential stuffing" to gain access to other accounts.

Beware of Social Media quizzes on line.  Answering fun questions about your high school mascot, year of graduation, etc can also be used by hackers.  If you rely on dates and places to compose your passwords, they may easily be cracked.

Get a Password Manager.  With so much change pushed upon us suddenly, one simple thing you can do to gain control is to use a password manager.  A password manager assists in generating and retrieving complex passwords, potentially storing such passwords in an encrypted database or calculating them on demand. This makes it easy to store passwords securely, and you'll be able to change passwords and "remember" them.  

 

Tags: cybersecurity, remote work, work from home

Is Work From Home Causing You Back Pain?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/22/20 10:13 AM

Work from Home - Ergonomics - EkaruWith the current pandemic, so many workplaces have been disrupted.  For those of us fortunate enough to have jobs that we can work from home, the hasty move to a home office has typically resulted in a less than ideal work environment.  For a week or two, we can all manage with working from the kitchen counter, but with longer shutdowns, it's time to pay more attention to a proper work set up.   

Over time, an improper work environment can result in:

  • back pain
  • neck pain
  • shoulder pain
  • eye strain
  • wrist pain - carpal tunnel syndrome can be caused by repetitive motions like typing, and can become severe enough to require surgery.  
How you sit matters!

If you've ever worked at a large corporation, you've probably gone through some ergonomics training.  At a small business, you probably didn't get formal training. 

Workplace ergonomics aims to reduce risk factors that lead to musculoskeletal injuries and allow for improved human performance and productivity.

Things to think about:

  • Your monitor should be at eye level directly in front of you.  
  • Arrange your lighting to limit glare.
  • Your chair height should be adjusted so that your knees bend at about a 90 degree angle and your feet can rest of the floor or a foot stand.
  • Your keyboard height should be adjusted so that your lower arms are approximately parallel to the floor when typing.   Your shoulders should be relaxed.

Some of the other things we recommend:

  • Set up a second monitor if you can.  Staring at a 14 inch laptop all day is not ideal for your eyes, and two monitors will greatly enhance your productivity.
  • Attach a real keyboard to your laptop.  It will be a lot easier to type all day.
  • Get up and walk around every 25 minutes, and do some stretches. Your body needs movement.
  • Consider a table top converter from VariDesk to create a stand-up work environment.  This will enable you to raise and lower your desk throughout the day.  I've been doing this for years, and I've noticed improved back health.  

Looks like work from home will be the new normal for a while.  Take some time to pay attention to your work environment to stay as productive and healthy as possible.

For more work from home tips including security and technology recommendations, visit www.ekaru.com.  

Tags: small business technology, remote work, work from home

10 Tips to Keep Cybercriminals Out While Corononavirus Keeps You In

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/13/20 4:02 PM

10-Tips-Keep-Criminals-Out-During-Coronavirus-EkaruOver the past several weeks, Ekaru has helped many businesses in the greater Boston area set up remote offices.  As businesses scrambled to set up a remote workforce, the initial focus was on business continuity - trying to continue operations after leaving the physical office.  Now as employees have settled in, security needs attention.  Major events like the Coronavirus pandemic create new opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit, but smart defense doesn't let them.  These tips can help keep systems and data safer in uncertain times.

  1. Get the facts.  Stay away from the rumor mill and use information from reliable sources to make business decisions in chaotic times.  There's been a big increase in emails for fake news, health information, and cures.  Go direct to trusted websites for information.
  2. Think twice before clicking links.  Make sure staffers are on the lookout for suspicious links that can lead to ransomware.   It's very easy for scammers to "spoof" a link that looks legit, but takes the user to a different location.  In fact, many dangerous emails don't even look suspicious until they're studied closely.  
  3. Be suspicious of unexpected attachments.  Ensure users only open attachments from proven, trusted sources no matter how "official" that attachment looks.  Attachments can hide computer code that can harm your system and lead to security breaches.
  4. Automate compliance.  Have one less thing to worry about by choosing a dynamic web portal system that keeps track of everything.
  5. Protect those passwords.  Encourage safe password practices like using a password manager and not writing them down on sticky notes.  The MA Data Security law requires strong passwords that are stored in a safe way.  No one can simply memorize the 50-80 passwords that typical users require these days.
  6. Beware of strange networks.  Make staffers aware of the dangers of logging in from insecure public and home WiFi networks and how to use them safely.    Watch for accidentally connecting to the wrong network, and make sure your network has a strong password, especially if you live in a crowded area.  When you click on the wireless networks symbol on your computer, you can see all the networks around you, and guess what - all of those people can see your network too.  Make sure your network is protected by a strong password.
  7. Use two-factor authentication.  An extra layer of security keeps passwords and data safe.  Typically you'll be prompted to enter a random numeric code generated on your smart phone after entering your password.  If anyone gets your password, they can't access your systems without the extra code.
  8. Keep an eye on the bad guys.  Monitor the Dark Web to watch for company data so a problem can be addressed before it becomes a crisis.  This is an early warning system that can save you from a lot of risk.
  9. Stay current on threats.  Work with a partner that's on top of today's challenges.  Awareness goes a long way to help protect your network.  
  10. Ask for help.  Consult a security expert to plan effective strategies and get innovative solutions.  There are many great options that are budget friendly.  Too many small businesses are intimidated by security.  Learn about your options.

With modern technology, we can work together to stay productive during this pandemic.  With all the disruption and anxiety, cybercriminals are sadly taking advantage of the situation, but with a focus on security, you can help protect your business.  Download the infographic.

Tags: small business, small business technology, cybersecurity, remote work

Videoconferencing from Home - What you need to know

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/8/20 10:58 AM

Videoconference

Many workers are taking business meetings from their living rooms or kitchens these days due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Non-essential businesses were ordered to close, and encouraged to continue operations remotely when possible.  Many small businesses have gotten very creative to find new ways to operate and survive the crisis.   
 
Traditional telephone conversations and email enable workers to conduct business remotely, but only with limited collaboration. Video communication, on the other hand, makes it possible for you to talk directly with the people who matter most without missing all of those non-verbal cues that mean so much. With videoconferencing, you can enjoy the benefits of face-to-face interaction, no matter how far away you may be.  Beyond the productivity enhancements, video also helps satisfy the social interaction many workers start to crave when working from home.

Here's what you need to know about video conferencing:

What you need: 

There are may popular business tools for remote meetings such as Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and more.  At Ekaru we use GoToMeeting because it's integrated with our phone system, but there are many other choices.  The person who hosts the meeting will need the application, and the other participants can join without purchasing anything.  You'll also need a camera and microphone (or headset).  Most modern laptops have a camera and microphone built in already.  All participants also have the option to dial into a phone number as well.  If you have a desktop computer, you can get an inexpensive webcam with built-in microphone.  These are very easy to install.  

Dress Appropriately:
It's usually appropriate to dress a bit more comfortably when working from home, but don't over do it.  It may be fun to joke about working in your PJs, but it doesn't signal a professional work ethic.  Maintain your company's culture and dress code, and tailor your appearance for the person you're working with.  A check in call with co-workers is pretty different from a sales presentation to a prospective customer.
 
Get over your fear of being on camera:
Video calls work best when everyone gets on.  If you're not used to being on video calls, it can be intimidating to be on camera, but the calls work much better when there's full participation.  You'll have the opportunity to preview your video before sharing.  Also, learn how to quickly mute your video should you ever need to.  It's ok to be awkward on your first few calls.  Give it some time and you'll be more comfortable.
 
Lighting:
Experiment a bit with lighting to look your best.  You'll always be able to preview what you look like before connecting, and continue to view while you're on the call.  Watch for too much saturation with direct sunlight, and too little lighting which just looks depressing.  You'll want good lighting to be able to see facial expressions.
 
Arrange an appropriate background:
If you have space in your home for a home office, that certainly makes it a lot easier to find a place to join a video call.  But if you don't have the space, and have to juggle multiple people working from home, its ok to use another location - maybe a kitchen table or sofa.  If you work from a bedroom, adjust your camera to keep the bed out of view.  Also, make sure the background isn't too distracting and put away personal items that may be embarrassing.  During the current crisis, its ok if your background looks like a home, and sometimes the personal touch leads to some new connections like meeting a pet.  Try to set up in a area where other family members won't be caught by surprise on camera.  It's a good idea to let others know in advance that you'll be on a video call.
 
Make introductions:
Anyone joining the call should introduce themselves.  In the event that some people can't connect by video, its important that they announce themselves when joining the call.  A good rule of thumb is to follow the etiquette you'd follow if you're all in the same room.  It would be pretty awkward for someone to sneak in to a conference room, hide in the corner, and secretly listen to a meeting.  That's the equivalent of joining a call and not introducing yourself.
 
Limit your distractions:
Remember you're on camera, and its just as rude to be checking your phone or email while someone else is talking as it would be in an in-person meeting.  I like to make sure my own video is always showing on my screen so I always remember I'm on camera.  It's very disrespectful to not give the person talking your full attention.
 
Know how to mute (fast!) and end the meeting:
A good rule of thumb is all users should be on mute except when they're speaking.  This will cut down on background noise.  I've been on calls when a participant picked up a call phone call and started talking to another person, oblivious to the fact that everyone else on the call could hear.  (Note that the host can mute a participate if needed).  If an emergency comes up, get familiar with both the audio AND video mute button.  Also, at the end of the meeting, be sure to fully exit.  This is especially important for the host!  You won't want to be sharing your video and desktop for the rest of the day!
 
Security:
Zoom usage has spiked twenty-fold in the past weeks, and many security concerns have been in the news, including a warning from the FBI. If you use Zoom, use unique meeting codes, a password to protect the meeting, and don't record the meeting.  We also recommend covering your camera when not in use.
 
We're all wired to adapt.  For those of us who have jobs that can continue remotely, this is a blessing, and make the most of it.  Get creative and try to be your best every day.  

Tags: small business, Managed Services, remote work

Supporting Local Small Businesses During COVID-19

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/6/20 11:37 AM

Checklist - Ekaru

Over the past two weeks, Ekaru engineers have closed over 1,000 tickets as we helped local businesses transition to work from home and remain as productive as possible. 

Information Technology is classified as an "essential service" and Ekaru remains fully available to support our community, while following social distancing protocols.  Please refer to the list of Covid 19 Essential Services that are exempted from the Massachusetts emergency order. 

Ekaru is fully configured to work through situations like this.  We have previously established a disaster recovery plan and leveraged technology to maintain full functionality to work remotely.  We are also fully committed to mitigating the risk of exposure to and transmission of the virus.  

Please call for urgent support issues, and email for non-urgent issues.  Most support calls that we would have gone on site for will now be handled remotely, and for urgent issues that require an onsite visit, we'll follow protocols from the CDC.

Here are some of the things our engineers have been working on:

  • Helping our clients with transitioning to work at home, including access via LogMeIn, VPN, or access to VoIP phone systems, as well as online tools such as remote meeting / conferencing tools.
  • Helping advise our clients on ways to reduce the risk of accessing corporate information from likely very insecure home systems not protected by approved security antivirus, without up to date security patches for operating systems, and possibly infected with malware.
  • Educating our clients on, and protecting them from, the new Corona virus scams, fake websites, and phishing emails by malware creators to take advantage of the current situation. So, in addition to human virus issues, there are cyber-virus infections related the COVID-19.  One staffer opening a map of Coronavirus cases from a phishing email or a healthcare worker’s cracked password could give cybercriminals the ability to deploy ransomware to shut down critical systems right when we need them the most.  
  • We are also mostly all working at home ourselves and trying to do as much as possible remotely to avoid having to do onsite visits, but still keeping systems up and running.

We're here to help.  If you have any questions, please let us know.   Every situation is unique and we're here to support you. 

Here are some links to additional resources:

Videos:

3/27/2020 - Video - How to Spot a Phishing eMail

3/27/2020 - Video - How to Launch a Video Call

Blogs:

4/3/2020:  VoIP Telephony - e911 and Staying Connected During the COVID-19 Crisis

4/3/2020:  How to Get the IT Management Services You Need During the COVID Outbreak 

4/2/2020:  Three Tips to for Working Remotely to Help Your Team Stay Productive

3/27/2020:  COVID-19 Remote Work Tips

Together we can all work through this crisis.  

 

 

 

Tags: Managed Services, remote work

VoIP Telephony - e911 and Staying Connected in the Covid-19 Crisis

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/3/20 3:37 PM

VoIP Phone - Ekaru IT ServicesVoIP (Voice over IP) telephony ensures effective communication and business continuity in times of crisis, as many of our clients have seen over the past few weeks.  Unlike traditional phone systems that are tied to an office location, VoIP phones can be used anywhere. 

Over the past few weeks we've helped clients all over the Boston area and surrounding suburbs to set up productive work from home environments.  The handset can simply be moved from the office to home, or users can use a smart phone app or desktop app to make and receive office calls.  Outbound calls have the business caller ID (even from a smart phone) ensuring a professional presentation, and you'll never miss an inbound call or voicemail.

In this way, VoIP phones can provide an enhanced experience compared to traditional phone lines, but they differ in some important ways.

Unlike the old copper phone lines, a VoIP phone won't work during a power outage or Internet outage.  Very importantly this includes 911 service.  During the outage the system will still be able receive voicemails, or even process simultaneous rings to cellular service, but you would not be able to make outbound calls with your handset.

Another important distinction is that the Enhanced 911 functionality, which includes automatic forwarding of location and call back information in the event of a disruption of a 911 call, would not function properly if the "address" for the phone is still the physical office.  For this reason, if you need to call 911, it is important to stay on the line and provide your address and callback information.

When using your business line from home, if these limitations are of concern, we recommend that you maintain an alternative method to reach 911. 

Note also that you can register additional phone numbers for your system - Direct Inward Dial or "DID" - to associate to users who may permanently be in a home office, and separate addresses can be associated with these numbers.   In that case the Caller ID would be set to the separate phone number, and that can be registered with E911. Also, if you were to move your entire office, the new address would be registered with E911.  

If you need help with any questions about phone systems or setting up a productive remote work environment, call Ekaru at 978-692-4200.

Tags: Managed Services, business continuity, VoiP,

How to Get the IT Management Services You Need During the COVID Outbreak

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 4/3/20 12:18 PM

IT management services

With the large majority of still-open businesses now working remotely, you may be experiencing a sudden need for IT support that you no longer have easy access to. Getting the IT management services and support you need when working in an office is one thing, but getting it when your entire team is spread across any number of locations is a far more complicated matter.

But that doesn’t mean the help you and your team need is beyond reach! The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically affecting the way we all do business. If you’re struggling to find the enterprise IT services and support your team needs to keep itself going, Ekaru can help to extend your reach. 

Here’s how we can provide the IT management services you need during these unprecedented circumstances.

On-Demand IT Support When You Need It

Small to medium-sized businesses are in an especially tough place right now. Not only are they having to quickly adjust to the lifestyle of a remote workforce, but they may also be struggling to equip themselves with the tools and services that were previously only located in the office.  Many companies didn’t have a fully built-out remote function in place at the time of this sudden outbreak.

This is where Ekaru is best positioned to help. Our team of engineers and experts can offer 24/7 and on-demand IT support for all of your remote workforce’s needs. 

Have you run into a tech emergency (like a network that’s suddenly shut down) and need help with damage control to keep operations running? Or maybe one of your employees has run into a roadblock, and you don’t know how to help them through it? With Ekaru, a technology advisor is only a phone call away.

Reliable (and Remote) IT Management Services

Working remotely can introduce a wide variety of challenges. The pace of a remote workforce will take immediate adjustments. You rely on technology for everything as part of a remote team, so if something goes wrong, it can feel like you’re on your own—it’s not like you can ask your co-worker the next desk over for help.

This is why it’s so valuable to have remote IT management services you can rely on. If your laptop isn’t running the company’s preferred software for reasons you can’t pinpoint, then you can call your Ekaru technology advisor and they’ll help you troubleshoot a solution. 

The need for remote technology support is stronger than ever, and you don’t want to spend time on the phone, waiting for someone to pick up; you’ve got enough to do already. When you work with Ekaru, our 24/7 help desk is always going to be there for you when you need us. 

You can also set up scheduled appointments with your Ekaru technology advisor. This will help you rest easy knowing that there’s a reserved time for you to work with us to maintain the status quo, assess how things are going, and preemptively address any issues that could be coming down the pipeline.

The COVID outbreak is changing a lot of things. If your remote workforce is struggling to deal with the transition (and the many technological roadblocks that can rear their ugly head), then get in touch with us today! We’d love to help you get the IT management services, support, and guidance you need to keep your company running at full steam.

Tags: Managed Services, computer support, remote work

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