Be Aware – New Ransomware Attacks

A global Ransomware attack is underway, using the same exploit as the previously known “Wannacry” ransomware attack of last month we reported on. Many British and European companies have been affected, with claims of entire networks being down. It is confirmed that a Ukrainian state power company, as well as Kiev’s main airport were the first to report this new cyber attack, with reports that Kiev metro system has completely stopped accepting card payments.

 

According to BBC, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is currently monitoring radiation levels manually, as the automated sensors are Windows-based and shut down.

 

This type of malware works differently than traditional ransomware attacks, as it does not encrypt all files on a system, but rather attacks the way in which your computer finds a specific file, meaning the user is unable to open any file, as the system cannot “find” it.  The code behind this attack was reported to be on sale for as little as $28 USD on forums recently, which, given that the current exchange rate for bitcoin is 1 coin = $3031 CAD, it makes sense why this is such a prevalent and lucrative business.

 

The way in which this ransomware is being deployed is through email attachments disguised at legitimate attachments (ie. Invoice.xlsx).

 

Always implement the following steps in your email workflow:

 

  1. Check the subject line – does it seem out of character or unusual, especially if the sender is known to you?
  2. Double-check not only the name of the sender, but the email address it was sent from. Though the email might be sent by Jane Doe, who you know well, the email might be coming from a spoofed email address which will be apparent upon looking at the email address.
  3. If there is any attachment (with particular attention being focused on macro enabled Office docs and PDF docs), be incredibly wary before opening. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, contact the sender directly by phone to verify it was attached and sent to you, or reach out to your IT Service Provider to scan the attachment.
  4. Rather than follow any link or button to log in to your account (ie. PayPal, Banking, etc.), go to the business directly from the URL bar in your internet browser (ie. Type in www.paypal.com , rather than clicking on a link)

 

As always, Cyber Security involves having a sound anti-virus software, spam filtering service and firewall, but it starts and ends with you – user education is key. For a free Cyber Security presentation by our team of specialists here at Frontier Solutions, feel free to reach out to us at info@frontiersolutions.ca or, alternatively, call us at 403-251-4402.

When Disaster Strikes – What is Your Plan?

When disaster strikes, it is essential for your business to be able to recover IT systems as quickly as possible. Having a robust business continuity plan can mean avoiding potentially huge financial costs, reputation loss, and impact to your employees and customers. Whether it be a natural disaster, terrorism, or simply a service provider outage, it is imperative to have a Disaster Recovery (DR) plan. The City of Calgary learned this the hard way in 2013, when many companies were left totally inoperable for extended periods of time due to major flooding. Since then, DR has become an essential and much-talked about topic for any businesses budget, but what does a DR plan look like?

 

First off, much like a ransomware attack scenario, your business will require the ability to retrieve all data from a specific, healthy point in time. This means having a frequent backup solution implemented, where in the worst-case scenario, you can rest assured that your current data is secured and you can now focus on the physical impact of a disaster.

 

If your physical location is compromised, that shouldn’t mean you can no longer work. We recommend having the ability to seamlessly work remotely; this means access to the same software, files, data, etc. that you would have in your work place without any work sacrifice. Various Remote Access  solutions provide this capability – whether you are in the office, at home, or on a beach, you will have the exact same ability to work. This means, in the case of a disaster, all you need is internet and you will be up and running smoothly.

 

Businesses with a DR plan also provide a level of confidence and comfort to their clients, as they know their data is securely protected and that business will operate as normally as possible. Being able to show a potential customer/client that they can put their confidence in you and that your company has a culture that values availability, could be the difference in new business or a lost customer.

 

It is important to take the time right now to sit back and think “what if…”, and how that looks to your overall business. If you have any questions on the robustness of your DR plan, now is the time to re-evaluate what it means to you, your company, and your clients. For information on creating a secure and stream-lined Business Continuity plan, feel free to reach out to us at info@frontiersolutions.ca or call us at 403-251-4402.

How Are New Customers Finding Your Business?

Obtaining new customers is a difficult task. Marketing, website development, lead generation, digital presence – it can all seem a bit daunting (and expensive). Taking a step back to look at the ways in which potential customers find your business, and how you can improve the process, can give you a much-needed advantage to stay ahead in the playing field.

 

Website

Can a potential customer find your website through a search? Once on your website, what is their experience? Is it an easy to navigate and professional looking site, or is it convoluted and missing information? Putting yourselves in your customer’s shoes when viewing your website can be a sobering experience. Websites are a pivotal part in people’s buying habits, and your website can be the difference of whether they choose you or a competitor. According to Constant Contact, 34% of their survey respondents stated that they were unlikely use a company that did not have a website, and, furthermore, another 45% were dissuaded from buying from a poorly-designed website. Customers want to be able to simply go to your website and find who you are and how you can help them with very little effort. Alongside content, the technical aspect of your website (Link speed, Metadata, errors, etc.) also plays an important role in your customer’s experience.

 

Mobile Friendliness

Next time you are in a public place, take a look around you – notice how everyone is on their phones? We live in a mobile world where a few touches of your screen will bring up anything and everything you could want to know. A simple Google search of a service / product will show all results, reviews, proximity to your current location; you can make an instant decision. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you could be losing out on a massive market. A few simple swipes and a potential customer could have left your non-mobile friendly website and made their way to a competitor. Once you have a solid and professional website that you feel confident in, optimizing it for mobile use is an absolute top priority.

 

Social Media

Are you actively engaging with potential customers on social media? The same study done by Constant Contact showed that 60% of people think it is important for a small business to have a presence on social media. This means they value the idea of small businesses showing who they really are and customers are interested in getting to know your business on a more personal level. Social media opens up the possibility to not only reach customers who your competitors might not have access to (due to their lack of online presence), but also make life-long loyal customers, as you can properly engage with them. Through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, you can also learn what your customers want and get an advantage on shaping your products or service to meet their desires.

 

Data

Perhaps most importantly is having analytics installed to measure and test what is working and what isn’t. Are customers spending more time on a certain website page, blog post, than others? This means it may be a good move to increase the visibility of that specific page/post – perhaps a button on the front page linking to it. Data doesn’t lie and can be used strategically to optimize the entire client / customer experience to be results driven, giving you the upper hand.

 

For a complimentary website analysis, highlighting areas of strengths and weaknesses (along with analyses of your competitors), feel free to reach out to us at info@frontiersolutions.ca

Digital Transformation – Reshaping the Customer Experience

Bad customer experiences can affect nearly every business, portraying your company as disjointed and out of touch. Even companies claiming to have a customer-first culture can sadly miss the mark and, therefore, miss out on the opportunity to leave customers with a “wow” experience.

 

What are the touchpoints with your company for customers? What challenges do they present? In the digital world where customer experience is king, competition is less about lower prices and product features. The dawn of the mobile and social age has brought with it a new power – the power for customers to have ultimate control over who they should be giving their money to, and what they expect for it. A customer will be warded off by a brand that does not align with their own values, or that they have had anything but a positive experience with.

 

Transforming how your business serves customers begins with a few thought-provoking questions. How ready are you with the talent you have to make this transformation? How do you better engage your employees so that they are better equipped to serve your customers? How do you create a culture that is laser focused on customers?

 

The answers lie in Digital Transformation: using technology to adapt, change and find new ways of doing business.

 

One of the main objectives of Digital Transformation is to streamline your business processes by utilizing a Digital work processing system. By making digital changes to your workflow, it enables you and your employees to focus more time and energy into improving the customer experience. The next question to ask yourself is: What are your business challenges? Through the help of Digital Transformation experts, the answer will be “Here’s how technology can solve it.” It is important to realize and recognize that the answer may not lie in “this is how we can improve current processes”, as much as “we need to re think business processes to a more streamlined, customer-based approach”.

 

The idea of Digital Transformation can be daunting, but when carried out methodically and with the right team of people, the benefits to your employees, clients, and business as a whole can be bountiful.

Wannacry Ransomware: Only the Beginning?

The Wannacry Ransomware Incident, by far the most devastating cyberattack ever, has made headlines all over the world, attacking over 150 countries and 200,000 Windows machines. After such a widespread incident we are left with many questions; How did this happen, who is behind the attack, and how can I protect myself? Perhaps most importantly, is this just the beginning?

 

How Did This Happen?

This specific strain of Ransomware took advantage of a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows – it is important to note that it only affected computers that were not securely patched / updated. A security patch was released in March, but machines not recently updated were left vulnerable.

 

Who Is Behind the Attack?

It is unsure as of yet who is behind the attack, with some sources suggesting North Korea

 

Is There More to Come?

This is the question of the hour – and the answer is we simply do not know. It could be that this was just a trial run for something bigger; there is no doubt that this attack was a “success” in the eyes of the culprits. Or it could have been the end of this specific deployment method.

 

According to Mike Gerwing, Technical Services Manager of Frontier Solutions Inc., the best way to prevent this attack and any future attack is through the following steps:

 

  1. Regular Patching / Windows Updates
  2. Robust and frequent backups
  3. Do not open suspicious emails or attachments. If in doubt, call the sender to verify attachments.
  4. Having layered security in place including a sound Virus Scanner, Spam Filtering, and Firewall

 

Whether this truly is the end of this specific strain is essentially irrelevant — there are always up and coming Ransomware attacks, so taking the above precautions will ensure that you are taking all of the necessary steps to not becoming the next victim of Ransomware. Remember: the best tool in Cyber Security is awareness.

The Age of The Virtual CIO Is Here

The Age of The Virtual CIO Is Here – Is Your Business Ready For It?

If you are small to a mid-sized company it is vital that you consider having a Virtual Chief Information Officer (VCIO). A Virtual CIO is the technology quarterback of your business responsible for establishing technology roadmaps. They provide your company strategic IT direction while working within a budget by using checkpoints along the way through reviews and reports on the state of your company’s technology and IT department.

How to Have a Cost Effective Virtual CIO

It isn’t feasible for a lot of companies to employ their very own dedicated Virtual CIO with a salary ranging from $150-250K per year. However, outsourcing a vCIO has it advantages because it is a cost-efficient alternative. Some companies like Frontier Solutions will offer a Virtual CIO component as a part of their overall monthly service.

What Does a Virtual CIO Do?

A Virtual CIO gathers detailed technology information on a company existing IT to see if it is aligned with best practices. From that detailed information, they make recommendations on what a company should be doing. A company like Frontier Solutions acts as the bridge between reporting “what should happen” and then turns around and “makes it happen”. They are an all inclusive service that not only offers detailed reports but then goes ahead and implements the strategy by working very closely with the client over a period of time (anywhere from six months to two years). They have a dedicated network administrator who looks at the system alignment and makes sure that your company’s technology is aligned with Manage Service Provider (MSP) technical standards.

How Often Do You Meet with Your Virtual CIO?

A company willing to invest in technology sees a Virtual CIO as a trusted advisor and is willing to accept their recommendations in the IT strategy solutions they provide. A Virtual CIO will meet with their client on a quarterly basis in addition to having monthly technology review meetings. A Network Health Report, put together by the dedicated service administrator, shows the components of the companies IT systems, processes, and structures. This becomes a road map showing where the company’s technology is in alignment and where it is out of alignment. From that your Virtual CIO will build a strategy and budget for the company. In addition, they will look at trends in their industry or in technology and offer more comprehensive solutions as well as set a time frame for making them happen. They put steps into place in order to get from A to Z and discuss business continuity plans.

Why Have a Virtual CIO?

It is an ever changing and evolving technology world. If you “don’t know what you don’t know” then there is a risk that your competitors “know what you don’t” and are gaining a competitive edge while you are being technology ignorant to what’s available in a particular industry or vertical. A Virtual CIO helps you sort through the technology issues without slowing a business down. They offer technology review, budgeting, forecasting, and information on the business impact of technology. They have discussions surrounding, “Why does your company need to spend $40K for a new server? Why does your company use application X instead of application Y?” A Virtual CIO ensures that your company’s technology is staying on track and that there is no unforeseen hiccups.

Isn’t a Virtual CIO Just IT Support?

No! While some people think a vCIO is closely linked with IT support they do offer different functions. IT support is an expense or company overhead while a Virtual CIO is an expansion tool focused on business growth to help you gain more clients. A Virtual CIO helps you to utilize technology in a strategic way to be more competitive in your market and ensures the investment you are making in technology is sound by giving you a ROI. Instead of just sinking money into “something” it allows you to put together a plan and budget the same as you would for other aspects of IT. For example, if you are going to invest $100K into refreshing your technology where will that leave you in two years? A Virtual CIO helps you to make the right strategic decision by choosing a modular path that can be built on instead of a path that pigeon holes you into a particular direction. You want a plan that helps you evolve but if the direction were to change then it wouldn’t be so rigid that you would have to throw everything out and start over. A good Virtual CIO creates a plan you can tweak on the fly.

Three Benefits to Having a Virtual CIO

Many executives or business owners are more confident managing things like finance and HR than they are with dealing with IT. A Virtual CIO removes the mystery of IT by opening the door so you can look behind the curtain to see what IT is about and how you can use it as a competitive advantage. This gives you a strategic direction that stays on budget and makes you aware of what technology tools are available to ensure that your company is competing, growing, and thriving. A Virtual CIO reduces the risk and fear of being left behind by other companies who “know more” and are using more technology than you to improve the client experience. You want your clients to have a modern efficient way of interfacing with your company.

Criteria for a Good Virtual CIO

A good Virtual CIO is a thought leader that uncovers the next generation of technology; they should be invested enough to investigate, lead, and stay on top of the latest trends but should also have the foresight to see how a business can strategically move forward. They fuel growth by helping a company to differentiate themselves. A good Virtual CIO should have 7-10 years of experience and understand budgets as they are essentially a companies first line of defence when it comes to technology spending. They should know how to create a technology roadmap and use that information to present a case to business leaders on why it is needed for the company to stay relevant in their industry. A Virtual CIO should reduce IT costs as a company is being transformed while developing a strategy that ensures the company technology is in alignment with best practices.

If you are a small to mid-sized company that needs a Virtual CIO to help focus your IT direction but lack the capital to hire a dedicated consultant then outsourcing a company like Frontier Solutions is a great way to incorporate your company needs while keeping you on the forefront of cutting edge technology solutions.

“Hey, all I need is a solution out there that I connect to and then everything else is fine.”

We hear this statement all the time but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There is real value in a secure cloud platform and IT service provider. We don’t just provide the solution in the cloud. We handle the client on-site environment and support the connectivity to the solution. We support the devices that are used to connect to the cloud. Most businesses still have an office space that they operate from where they have computers, printers, scanners, wireless networks, etc… We help to avoid the capital expenditure of replacing servers and expensive Microsoft software on a regular basis. Office 365 in no way addresses the support of that environment, whereas for us, if you’ve got a problem on your local network then we fully support that also.

Choosing the right Technology & IT Support Team

At the end of the day, technology and IT support are a fundamental component of any business. Frontier Solutions is architecting, configuring, installing, and fully supporting the entire solution. We are the one stop shop. Microsoft is a giant with slow moving parts and sometimes you can get stuck in that queue when you really need support. Even if you have a support provider they can end up being the middle man between you, the client, and Microsoft. It’s easy to feel like a small fish in a very big sea.

When you have a problem is the true test of whether you have the right solution in place or not. People are the difference. Frontier Solutions prefers or recommends solutions where we are ultimately accountable and get the opportunity to demonstrate that to our clients. We are their partner. We care about ensuring that their business is always operational. By taking out the middle man, we do everything that we can to ensure that your company is up and running as quickly as possible and best case scenario you are never down.

Microsoft Office 365

As a business owner, one of the more important decisions you make is which office applications and services you use to run your company and the infrastructure and security of that software. One of the more prevalent application systems is Microsoft Office 365. While it would seem like a straightforward investment to make there are some important aspects to consider before diving into your purchase. Should you purchase Microsoft Office outright or subscribe on a monthly basis? Another important consideration is whether you have an administration system in place to manage your storage process? Is Microsoft’s default storage system the right fit? Or is a private cloud solution a better option?

Terry Rowsell of Frontier Solutions breaks down the different options a business owner faces, uncovers the best value for your dollar, and provides some practical advice on what will best fit your business needs.

Microsoft Office 365: What Does it Provide to my Business? 

Microsoft Office 365 comes in a few different varieties and there are various levels that a business can subscribe to. Microsoft’s applications range from Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Publisher and Access. Office 365 plans for business include services such as Skype for Business Web Conferencing, Exchange Online and additional online storage with OneDrive for Business. When you have an Office 365 subscription that includes the desktop version of Office you always have the most up to date version of the applications.

Should I Purchase a Microsoft Office 365 Subscription or Buy an Office License?

To purchase a Microsoft Office License you are looking at an investment ranging from $300-$700 depending on the version you choose. The most recommended licensing option is $500 per User License (i.e.: per person using the product). With the standard open license you get a digital download but there are some serious downsides. One of those downsides is upgrading. This $500 license is good for the version it was purchased for and the downgrade rights (meaning you can downgrade to the previous 2 versions). Most companies stay with the version they purchased for 3 – 4 years and do not usually upgrade with every new version of Office that is released. When they decide to upgrade, they need to purchase a new license for the new version. With Office 365, the upgrades are included as long as you keep the subscription active, so if your company is using Office 2013 and Office 2016 is released, you can upgrade to Office 2016 right away, and that cost is included in the subscription.

Not surprisingly, there is a big advantage to getting a subscription. At its lowest point, subscriptions cost $10 per registered user per month and are readily available for a business. With this subscription, you are always entitled to the latest version of Office 365 that is available.

Let’s Crunch Numbers

Imagine you are a business owner with 30 employees. You would pay $10 per registered Microsoft Office 365 user per month for a total of $300 per month. This works out to $3,600 per year or $10,800 for 3 years cumulative. If you were to purchase that same version of Office outright for $500 per registered user it would cost $15,000.

One thing to be aware of when purchasing a subscription is that Microsoft requires an annual commitment which can be a challenge if your business size changes.

Another route to consider would be a private cloud solution which acts as an SPLA (Service Provider Licensing Agreement) provider of Microsoft Office 365 all while taking care of your business infrastructure needs too. In the case of a private cloud provider, you do not have the one-year commitment and you can change your software needs as your business size changes.

Why you need to choose a proactive IT provider today?

Does your IT support provide a traditional break-fix service? Having someone there to help you out if something goes wrong is essential to any business, but you could save time and money by working with a provider who not only performs those day-to-day functions but also is able to look at problems from a proactive perspective.  You want your provider to say “How can we have prevented this from happening in the first place?” Because even though your IT provider may be able to fix the problem, there’s still downtime associated with every problem that’s experienced. The goal is to minimize a number of problems that you have.

What is downtime? 

Downtime is when you are not able to perform the functions that you need, whether it’s your Outlook not functioning, Word has crashed or your network is down. All the time you can’t use your systems when you need to. This affects productivity, work hours are lost and it costs the business money.

What is a proactive approach?

Having a proactive provider that prevents issues from happening in the first place can have many benefits. Do you want to pay an IT provider for downtime or uptime?

Your IT service should conduct proactive maintenance by running regular checks on the systems. You should look for managed service providers that provide functions such as using a malware protection agent that runs on each system.  It scans the systems after hours to ensure that if there’s malware, which is typically the biggest culprit for causing a computer to slow down, then it’s reported and we respond accordingly to clean up the system and ensure that it’s running efficiently. Your provider should be taking a proactive approach to issues by tracking all reported problems, looking for patterns and acting accordingly. They should also be up to date with all your systems and be keeping your organisation informed if anything is out of warranty, updates are needed or replacements are due.

The advantage of a proactive provider is where your managed service IT provider is approaching things from the perspective of minimizing downtime and minimizing problems is it affords the opportunity to start looking at another thing other than just being in a reactive mode. Therefore you can start looking at increasing efficiencies and scoping for products.  They can look into how they would integrate your IT infrastructure to further increase productivity such as implementing a document management system to improve on what you’re already doing. If you’re constantly in a fire-fighting mode, you’ll never have the opportunity to look at those other options.

it companies

3 Benefits of Outsourcing Business IT Services

it companiesDigital has long since superseded analog, and yet, the importance of IT support services in our lives should not be understated. While many people are pioneering new tools in the realms of software, Internet marketing, online branding, and the cloud (the market for which should reach $79.1 billion by 2018), the experts who make all of this possible are often glossed over.

We all take IT companies for granted — until something goes wrong. The fear of a crash or the need for a constant technological crutch drives some companies to actually form IT departments within their organizations, but the truth is that it’s actually better to outsource these services. Check out three of the most important reasons why managed IT services and business IT solutions are the way to go:

    • Experience: When you outsource your IT services, you have a guarantee that the people helping you with anything from computer crashes to building new software have a ton of diverse experience, which really comes in handy when it comes to complex problem solving. Whereas an insular support team might not have much in terms of frames of reference, a separate company provides the benefits of personal customer service relationships, and outside perspectives and recommendations.
    • Reduce Costs: By using an outside source of IT support, you will cut both the time and financial costs of training, hiring, and keeping IT staff who might not always live up to your expectations. Companies can save up to 20% of process costs when outsourcing administrative and non-core processes. And, by outsourcing, your human resources department, which is indispensable, can concentrate in other areas, keeping you focussed on your core business.

 

  • Reduce Risk: Believe it or not, but outsourcing IT actually reduces risk, as does outsourcing most investments. Consider this fact: 59% of employees stole proprietary information upon leaving their company. Risk is managed for you by external IT companies, since providers have specific industry knowledge when it comes to security and compliance issues.

Make sure that your business is keeping up with the times, or else you’ll get left behind. It’s easier than it sounds. You just have to make sure that you are providing the best possible digital services, with minimal downtime. Partner with your trusty local IT companies to make smooth digital sailing a reality when it comes to all things tech.

Frontier Solutions is Calgary’s outsourced IT solution. Contact us to set up training to educate your staff about malware protection, corporate data security, or to help you with your corporate IT needs.