Technology Advisor Blog

Going Paperless in 2011

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/28/10 10:28 AM

We've worked with many of our clients to go paperless - law firms, accounting firms, medical offices... and now its our turn.  In a classic example of "the cobbler's family has no shoes", we're the last to update.

The first thing we double checked is the IRS requirements for record keeping.  The IRS has actually been accepting electronic records as far back as 1997 as referenced in Rev. Proc. 97-22.  The electronic storage system must "ensure an accurate and complete transfer of the hard copy or computerized books and records to an electronic storage media".  The electronic storage system must also "index, store, preserve, retrieve, and reproduce the electronically stored books and records".  The full document is 36 pages, but the relevant parts for electronic records is covered in pages 9-11 so its not too much to read.

Like many small businesses, we were faced with either adding a new filing cabinet, getting a crow-bar to squeeze in some more paper records, or finally taking the plunge to go paperless.  We set up a Xerox scanner with a good feeder and a combined flat-bed scan capability, and also ran some tests on our backup to double check that our scanned documents were safe.  Without the safety net of paper records, the integrity of our data backup is more important than ever.

We found a local mobile shredding service that will help us clean out the old records after scanning and with a deadline of two weeks, we'll be motivated to work fast!  We're looking forward to starting 2011 more organized than ever!

Tags: small business, paperless, electronic documents, backup

Two Spam Filters are NOT Better Than One

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/23/10 3:14 PM

Have you ever had an important email go missing?  An important customer order that just doesn't arrive in your inbox? Well, the the first place to look is your spam filter.  There's a good chance that the email may have gotten flagged as a "false positive" for spam.  If you check your spam filter, you'll find the message.  As long as you only need to look in one place, it's a quick detour.

The exact numbers vary, but according to a 2010 report from the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG)in the first half of 2010 covering about half a billion mailboxes, spam accounts for 88-92% of all mail. 

With such a high volume of junk, its tough for your one important message of the day to get through properly.

We typically recommend filtering mail BEFORE it gets to your mail server.  We've been working with Postini for years and find it to be an effective solution, but there are many other options.  Filtering spam on your desktop means that spam will still show up on your smart phone and if you filter in multiple locations, it becomes difficult to track the "false positives".  Some people may assume that two filters will help, but it just means more places to look for the false positives.  Problems really pickup when users unknowinglyrun two spam filters.  Perhaps your junk filter is on in Outlook, or you change a setting directly on your mailserver (often controllable by the user in webmail).

Bottom line - select ONE spam filtering solution that's effective and get rid of the spam BEFORE it even gets to your mail server.  Unfortunately, the spammers aren't going away, so its just one more thing to deal with on your computer.  No filter will be perfect, but if you can efficiently check for false positives in only one place, you'll make things much easier for yourself.


Tags: Outlook, eMail, spam

Computer Support Dilemma - How did I get a Virus?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/15/10 8:48 AM

One of the computer support questions we get asked a lot is "If I have Antivirus software installed on my computer, how did I still get a virus?" 

The first thing we'd want to confirm is that you're getting regular antivirus definition updates.  For your Antivirus software to work, you need to constantly get updates for the latest threats.  Years ago, these updates came out once a week, now updates are issued many times a day.  Another thing we'd check for is that typically the free versions of Antivirus software don't have "rootkit" protection - to protect against software designed to conceal adminstrative control of your system - your antivirus software needs to include rootkit protection.  Another thing we'd look at is your operating system - Security patches should be kept up to date, and the newer 64-bit Microsoft operating systems have mandatory signing of kernal-level drivers to help prevent concealed processes, but this isn't fool-proof either.

The latest threats involve what's known as polymorphic viruses that change themselves to avoid detection.  Its like a mutation.  This is how viruses can stay ahead of Antivirus protection and users can do everything right that they're supposed to do, but still get a virus.  Unforunately its basically a game of cat-and-mouse - as the protection gets better, the threats get more agressive.  Bottom line is that you can minimize your risk level with regular antivirus definition updates, up to date rootkit protection, up to date operating system security patches and a 64-bit operating system,  but the risk is still there.

Tags: computer security, computer virus, computer support

Sign of the times - Where are the desktop computers?

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/13/10 8:49 AM

Its been a few years since notebook sales surpassed desktop sales, but a weekend visit to the local Staples store shows how far this trend has gone:  On display were 15 laptops, 3 netbooks, 1 tablet, and off to the side, on a lower shelf, were 3 desktop PCs. 

Two years ago, eweek asked "Is the desktop dead for SMBs?"  We're still seeing a lot of new desktop requests from our small business clients (probably around half of new systems), but it looks like retailers for small business like Stables are shifting more quickly.

Tags: laptop, computer, PC sales

Computer Security - Phishing scams that impersonate the IRS

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/9/10 9:08 AM

Many of our clients have expressed concern after receiving intimidating emails they thought were from the IRS.  Phishing scams seem to come in waves, and the most recent wave we're seeing involves fake messages such as "your federal tax payment has been rejected".  If you look closely at the message, the emails are typically from a random address with a name that doesn't even match the email address. Identity theft is the typical goal of these messages as they try to entice you to go to a web site to enter personal and financial information.

The IRS website explains their policy on email and has a lot of information regarding a wide variety of scams such as fake refund information.  "Generally, the IRS does not send unsolicited e-mails to taxpayers. Further, the IRS does not discuss tax account information with taxpayers via e-mail or use e-mail to solicit sensitive financial and personal information from taxpayers. The IRS does not request financial account security information, such as PIN numbers, from taxpayers."

Rest assured that you are not being personally targeted even though it feels like it because the message winds up in your inbox.  Anyone with an email (phone or fax) can randomly become a target.  The message looks intimidating, but its just a fake.  The messages are specifically designed to get through spam filters because the sender addresses are random (spoofed), and the content contains official sounding language that wouldn't normally be flagged.

What should you do if you get an email like this?  Report the sender by forwarding the suspicious e-mail or url address to the IRS mailbox, then delete the e-mail from your inbox.

Tags: computer security, phishing, IRS scam

How to Create an eMail Signature in Outlook 2010

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/3/10 3:23 PM

In this short video we go through simple instructions for creating or editing a signature in Microsoft Outlook 2010.  Small Business owners can create a professional looking email, with links to social media accounts:  Create an eMail Signature in Microsoft Outlook 2010.

Tags: Outlook 2010, small business, eMail, Signature

Save Windows Home Server! Great for Small Business!

Posted by Ann Westerheim on 12/2/10 8:57 AM

Microsoft has a great gem of a product for small business that's basically "under the radar" - Windows Home Server

Although it's called a "home" server, it's also great for small businesses.  Users can centrally store files, backup of workstations on the network occurs automatically (so you don't have to worry about your employees remembering to backup), and files can be accessed remotely.  This is a perfect fit for smaller offices - a few users who need to collaborate, and don't have the need or budget for a full-blown server.

About a week ago, Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft was planning to remove an imporant feature (drive extender) from the next release.  Although Microsoft is now indicating they'll revisit this decision, yesterday more bad news came out with HP announcing they were going to drop the product line:

Windows Home Server is a product we have highly recommended to several of our small business clients who we provide IT support to.  Although Microsoft has promotional information on their web site for small business,  it really hasn't been marketed to its full potential. We don't want to see this go away!

Tags: small business, backup, Windows Home Server

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