Month: October 2017

Cisco introduces new AI services

Modern IT systems are generating more data than ever before, and humans can’t keep up. Thankfully, certain tasks have already been offloaded to machines. Even better, Cisco may have a long-term solution to IT management complexities.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are extremely useful in helping us sift through massive amounts of information, and networking behemoth Cisco recently announced that they will be incorporating these technologies with two of their services.

Business Critical Services

This suite of services uses AI-powered automation, compliance, security, and machine learning analytics tools to reduce the complexity of IT systems management. It helps monitor the health of your business services and mitigate risks via automated compliance and remediation audits.

You can also replicate your network to improve reliability between your hardware and software components, and deploy features with automation capabilities.

Cisco High Value Services

This product support model provides network, software, and solution support using advanced analytics and best practices to access infrastructure performance and remediate issues. Cisco aims to improve business continuity and reduce resource constraints with remote monitoring, automated incident detection, and high SLAs.

Some of the services you can expect include software analysis, workflow integration, customer benchmarking, and predictive network analysis.

Using cutting-edge technologies as well as networking and hardware expertise, Cisco is gearing up its attempt to predict IT failures before they happen. That said, we assume it’s only a matter of time before other major developers follow suit, and when they do, you’ll be the first to know.

If you’d like to learn more about how to predict IT failures before they happen, or stay protected and operational when they do, just give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Guest Wi-Fi 101

No matter who they are, people today expect Wi-Fi access when they’re guests of your office. Setting up your Wi-Fi the wrong way can create a tedious experience for them and even expose your confidential information. So what’s the right way to do it?

Never give guests access to your primary Wi-Fi

While giving guests password to your company’s main Wi-Fi might be the easiest way to get them connected, you should avoid this at all costs.

Anyone with a little technical know-how can potentially access everything on your company network, including confidential data. Not to mention, guests’ devices connected to your business network increase the risk of a malware infection or cyber attack since you can never be sure that they’re safe and secure.

Ways to create secondary Wi-Fi for guests

If you router has built-in guest Wi-Fi support (you can check this feature through a quick web search) you could use it to create a separate “virtual” network. This means guests will have access to the internet without connecting to your main company network.

If your router doesn’t support multiple Wi-Fi networks, you can implement a separate wireless access point that bypasses the rest of your network and connects directly to your Internet service provider (ISP) connection.

Both options will keep your guests’ connectivity separate from your company network so you’ll never have to worry about unauthorized persons accessing your company data.

Keep in mind that guest Wi-Fi still uses your ISP connection so you should limit bandwidth usage on your guest network. The last thing you want is a guest streaming videos that slow down the Internet for your employees. With that in mind, you can even have your employees use guest Wi-Fi for their personal devices too. This minimizes the chance of employees hogging company bandwidth for personal use.

Your guest Wi-Fi should only provide outsiders with internet access, nothing more. While proper setup isn’t rocket science, it can be a tedious process. Having said that, if you need a team of experts to take care of it all for you, or simply have questions about how else to leverage your hardware for better efficiency and security, just give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Office 2019 is on its way

As a convenient cloud solution, Office 365 boasts nearly 30 million users. But that’s nothing compared to licensed versions of Microsoft’s productivity suite, which have more than one billion users. Office 2019 was announced in September and it will mean big changes for businesses that want simpler versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and more.

Microsoft Office 2019: release and features

For the past ten years, Microsoft has updated its suite of productivity software every three years. The current version is Office 2016, and in sticking with the schedule Office 2019 will be available for purchase at the end of next year. However, previews of the next version will become available several months before the final release.

According to Microsoft, the newest version of Office will include:

  • The usual Office applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.)
  • Office server programs (Exchange, SharePoint and Skype for Business)
  • Security and IT management enhancements
  • Improved “inking” features for touchscreen usability
  • Streamlined data analysis features in Excel
  • New PowerPoint presentation features like Morph and Zoom

Office 2019 vs. Office 365

The biggest difference between Office 2019 and Office 365 will be price. For the former, users pay a one-time fee to acquire a software license. Once users have a license, they own that version of Office forever (although Microsoft will stop providing support 10 years after the product is released).

With Office 365, users pay a monthly subscription fee and can use applications as long as they don’t fall behind on the bill. Programs included in the Office suite can be accessed online or installed locally (as long as you connect to the internet at least once per month).

Thanks to cloud technology, Office 365 can be updated much more easily than other versions of Office. O365 users will probably have access to Office 2019 features around the same time as its release, possibly sooner.

Much like an O365 subscription, our managed IT services are charged based on a flat monthly rate. We can help your small- or medium-sized business enjoy all the benefits of the cloud. Just give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Microsoft Ignite 2017: What’s new

For Microsoft fans, the company’s biggest IT conference, Ignite 2017, has revealed many exciting updates, especially for teachers, students, and professionals. We’ve gathered information that’ll surely ignite your interest.

Good news for schools and educators

Microsoft recently rolled out Microsoft 365 for Education, which combines Office 365 for Education, Windows 10, Enterprise Mobility and Security, and even Minecraft: Education Edition — a game that teaches kids how to code. This new bundle will provide more advanced tools for learning, increase classroom communication capabilities, and improve security.

Note that Office 365 for Education is already free and this will not change. However, the new Microsoft 365 for Education is equipped with more educational apps such as 3D and data virtualization tools, plus Microsoft Teams. While this makes it more tempting to use, all the goodies come with a cost — a per-user, per-month subscription.

In terms of hardware, Microsoft’s Windows 10 S laptops, which are already aimed at school users, will come with free Minecraft Education, Office 365 for Education, and Microsoft Teams — all for a price starting as low as $189.

What’s new for business people

Microsoft is targeting “firstline workers” such as clerks and sales reps with a new enterprise plan called “Microsoft 365 F1.” This software bundle combines Office 365, Windows 10, Enterprise Mobility and Security, and Microsoft Staffhub to enhance employee productivity.

The company also partners with hardware providers and has come up with Windows 10 S laptops for businesses. These ultra-slim laptops have enhanced security since they only run apps from the Window Store. But the glamor of it all is their wallet-friendly pricing.

HP Stream 14 Pro, Acer Aspire 1, Acer Swift 1, and Lenovo V330 ranges from $275 to $349. The first model is available now, while the rest will be released later this year and in February for Lenovo.

Goodbye Skype for Business

Microsoft officially announced that it will phase out Skype for Business and focus instead on developing “Microsoft Teams,” a communication tool the company launched earlier to compete with Slack.

This is not as dreadful as it may sound, since Skype and Teams share similar architecture, meaning we’ll probably get a better collaboration tool that still retains some of the Skype features we know and love.

New software and gadgets are exciting, yet in reality, not everyone can rush out to buy a new product every time it comes out. A more practical way would be to make use of what you already have. And you can do so with the help of our IT staff; they’ll be more than happy to help you maximize the performance of your current Microsoft software and hardware, or deploy new solutions if you wish. Call us today!

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Re-secure your passwords!

In 2003, a manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) authored a document on password best practices for businesses, federal agencies, and academic institutions. Now retired, the author admits that his document was misguided. Find out why and what great passwords are made of.

The problem

The issue isn’t necessarily that NIST advised people to create passwords that are easy to crack, but it did steer people into creating lazy passwords, using capitalization, special characters, and numbers that are easy to predict, like “[email protected]

This may seem secure, but in reality, these strings of characters and numbers could easily be compromised by hackers using common algorithms.

To make matters worse, NIST also recommended that people change their passwords regularly, but did not define what it actually means to “change” them. Since people thought their passwords were already secure with special characters, most only added one number or symbol.

NIST essentially forced everyone, including you and your colleagues, to use passwords that are hard for humans to remember but easy for computers to guess.

The solution

One cartoonist pointed out just how ridiculous NIST’s best practices were when he revealed that a password like “Tr0ub4dor&3” could be cracked in only three days while a password like “correcthorsebatterystaple” would take about 550 years.

Simply put, passwords should be longer and include nonsensical phrases and English words that make it almost impossible for an automated system to make sense of.

Even better, you should enforce the following security solutions within your company:

  • Multi-factor Authentication – which only grants access after you have successfully presented several pieces of evidence
  • Single Sign-On – which allows users to securely access multiple accounts with one set of credentials
  • Account Monitoring Tools – which recognize suspicious activity and lock out hackers

When it comes to security, ignorance is the biggest threat. If you’d like to learn about what else you can do to fortify security, just give us a call.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

macOS High Sierra gives away your password

A glaring security mistake has been discovered in Apple’s most recent desktop operating system. It’s not the sort of vulnerability that requires complicated malware or IT knowledge; anyone can learn this exploit in a matter of minutes to steal your password. Here’s how to stop that from happening.

What is the bug?

The vulnerability pertains to sweeping changes in how macOS stores files. In the High Sierra update, the Apple File System (APFS) was introduced to make opening and saving files much faster. As an added bonus, APFS also added advanced features like drive encryption.

However, users who add a second encrypted APFS partition to their computer’s drive aren’t keeping their data safe from prying eyes.

Let’s imagine you want to create a separate storage partition for your work files. The data contains sensitive information so you encrypt the drive and add a password.

If in the course of setting the password you were to provide a password hint, High Sierra will display your password when anyone clicks Show Hint when accessing the drive. You can see how it’s done in this 45-second video.

When anyone can retrieve your password in a matter of seconds, encryption becomes completely pointless.

How to fix this vulnerability

Sadly, the update for encrypted APFS drives requires much more than installing a patch. As such, we do not recommend trying to fix this issue without professional help if your encrypted partition has irreplaceable data. It is a complicated process and could result in data loss.

Apple procedures for fixing the issue if you’ve already encrypted a drive include:

  1. Installing the most recent macOS update
  2. Backing up the encrypted drive
  3. “Unmounting” and erasing the original drive
  4. Creating a new encrypted APFS drive
  5. Entering a new password and password hint
  6. Restoring the backup from Step 2 to the updated partition

Apple’s macOS is a great operating system. It is reliable, secure, and user friendly — but like any piece of software, it’s not perfect. Don’t make the mistake of assuming macOS is safe enough to protect your data without outside help. For help encrypting your drives or securing your Macs, call us today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Simple tricks to boost your productivity

When you spend more than eight hours a day staring at a computer screen, it can be easy to lose focus on important tasks. While your device gives you access to some of the most useful applications, an ever-growing number of distractions are vying for your attention. Here are a few tricks for boosting your productivity levels.

Monitor productivity levels
Start by tracking how much work you complete on an average day. Google Chrome Extensions like RescueTime record your most frequently visited sites, and track how much time you spend away from your computer. Running the app will provide you with a productivity rating and a detailed log of how you spend an average day.

If you find out you’re wasting a huge portion of your time on social networking, you’re more likely to make conscious adjustments on how you manage your time.

Get rid of clutter
Another way to increase output is by deleting old files, uninstalling unused programs, and organizing documents into appropriately labeled folders. This makes your work easier to find and improves your computer’s performance.

As for the clutter in your email inbox, Gmail and Outlook both have features that filter out unimportant messages. Simply enable Priority Inbox on Gmail or Clutter on Outlook to get a clean, spam-free inbox.

Block time-wasting sites
Visiting non-work-related websites is a surefire way to hinder productivity. A quick, five-minute break to check your Facebook feed or watch a YouTube clip may not seem like much, but a few of those per day add up to a lot of time.

If you and your employees have trouble staying away from sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, it’s a good idea to block access to them using URL filters.

Of course, if you want your employees to take occasional breaks during the day, you could use apps like StayFocusd or Strict Workflow. These allow you to set a limit on how long and how many times users can visit non-work-related sites.

Stay on track with to-do lists
To-do lists help you break down large projects into manageable, bite-sized tasks. And perhaps the most satisfying aspect is crossing things off the list, giving you and your employees a sense of accomplishment and total visibility of your progress.

There are wide variety of digital to-do lists available today like Google Tasks or Trello. These platforms allow you to set deadlines for small tasks and write clear instructions for each item on the list. What’s more, they’re incredibly easy to use and are great for keeping track of your workflow.

Use keyboard shortcuts
Last but not least, mastering keyboard shortcuts will make it easier to perform simple functions than if you’re stuck looking for them in the toolbar. There are more than a hundred useful shortcuts, but some that you should always keep in mind are:

    • Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V, Ctrl + X – to copy, paste, and cut selected items
    • Ctrl + Z – to undo changes
    • Ctrl + T – to open a new tab on your web browser
    • Alt + Tab – to switch between open windows
    • Alt + F4 – to close the program

For many more like these, take a look at Windows’ list of advanced shortcuts.

These are just some of the tips every user should know to stay productive. If you need more ideas on how to get more out of your technology, call us today. We provide enterprise-level tools and advice that will make your life a lot easier.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Power considerations for computers

Considering that computers won’t be able to run without one, it’s a shame that power supply units (PSU) rarely get as much attention as RAM or graphics cards. When it’s time to install a new workstation, business owners do not fully understand all the variables that go into choosing the correct PSU, and often select a product that is inefficient and more expensive than what was expected. To avoid this, we’ve listed some power supply considerations.

Higher isn’t always better
Many users assume the higher the total wattage, the better the performance of the PSU. While enormous 1800W PSUs are useful for running multiple drives and graphics-intensive applications, they’re unnecessary and often cost you an arm and a leg.

Most computers don’t run at full capacity all the time. In fact, if your computer has mid-level graphics cards, processors, and RAM, 600W is more than enough.

To find out exactly how much you need, online PSU calculators will give you a rough estimate of your daily power consumption. Once you’ve calculated how much wattage you need, you’ll ideally want a PSU that has a slightly higher total wattage limit to provide some headroom in case you want to install additional components later.

Pay attention to efficiency ratings
Highly efficient PSUs tend to have more effective components, consume less energy, and produce less heat, which saves you from huge monthly energy and cooling bills.

The best way to determine whether your PSU is efficient is to look for ones with “80 Plus” certifications. This certification means that a unit is at least 80% efficient, and loses approximately 20% as heat.

Note that higher efficiency ratings equal higher prices, so be sure to weigh the potential energy and cooling savings against the upfront cost of the PSU.

Consider larger PSUs
Although they can be quite cumbersome, larger PSUs are more reliable than lightweight models. Large PSUs are equipped with more advanced internal components and better cooling management. Fans are larger too, which means they can move more air, make less noise, and keep your workstation cool.

Choose your cables wisely
When it comes to cabling, you have three options: hard-wired cabling, partially modular cabling, or fully modular cabling.

  • Hard-wired cables are attached directly to the PSU box. While this setup is cheaper than the other two cabling options, the number of plugs are limited and not suited for customization.
  • Fully modular cabling means all PSU cables are removable, making installation and cabling management easy. These PSU models, however, tend to be much more expensive than other types of cabling.
  • Partially modular cabling takes the best of both worlds, providing necessary cables for the PSU while giving room for other components at a moderate price.

Research the manufacturer
Ideally, your PSU should be provided by a reliable manufacturer that offers reasonable warranties and comprehensive support. Most people tend to opt for Corsair, Seasonic, and Antec PSUs, but you should still take time to research the products.

Look for customer reviews about the specific make and model of your PSU. If that’s not possible, get a hardware technician’s expert opinion.

Choosing the right hardware can be extremely difficult, especially if you don’t have the technical know how. So if you need more guidance about all things related to hardware, call us today. We’re more than happy to answer any of your questions.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

Who are the ShadowBrokers?

The WannaCry ransomware strain was created by amateurs who copied and pasted security vulnerabilities from a famous hacker group. It’s no longer a threat if you have updated your computer, but as evidenced by a recent announcement, the hacker group will continue to release dangerous security exploits for anyone to use.

Who are the ShadowBrokers?

There are several theories about who the members of this hacker group are — from National Security Agency (NSA) employees to Russian operatives — but all these theories are based on unreliable information. All we know for sure is that the ShadowBrokers are using social media to sell a seemingly endless trove of cybersecurity secrets.

What are they selling?

The ShadowBrokers’ first auction was in August of 2016, promising in broken English that the highest bidder would receive security vulnerabilities on par with government cyber weapons. Over the year that followed, the ShadowBrokers used auctions, crowdfunding, and direct sales to release vulnerabilities that all seemed to come from the NSA.

In April of 2017, the fifth release went public and was characterized by one security expert as “the most damaging thing I’ve seen in the last several years.” It included the ETERNALBLUE Windows vulnerability that allowed WannaCry to infect over 300,000 computers in a single day.

The September 2017 release

In a recent announcement, the ShadowBrokers announced a subscription service that will include access to bi-monthly security exploit releases. The first package included an NSA exploit named UNITEDRAKE, which allows hackers to remotely monitor or control a computer running any of the following versions of Microsoft’s operating system:

  • Windows XP
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows Server 2003/2008/2012
  • Windows 7 (if no updates have been installed)
  • Windows 8

The UNITEDRAKE exploit can secretly record audio from your microphone, video from your webcam and anything that is typed while you are logged in. It can also remove itself from the target computer leaving no signs of a breach.

How to protect yourself from ShadowBrokers releases

To date, all the known NSA security exploits and ShadowBrokers releases have targeted older and outdated versions of software. The best thing you can do to protect your computers is keep your operating systems and software applications patched with the most recent vendor updates.

Advanced network monitoring can detect suspicious activity, but that requires a significant amount of time and IT expertise. Small- and medium-sized businesses usually don’t have the resources to handle 24×7 network supervision, but our team can help.

If you need help securing your business and its information from cyber threats, give us a call today.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.

MS redesigns Office 365 web app launcher

Microsoft is improving the way Office 365 users access their apps and files and collaborate with colleagues. With Office 365’s redesigned web app launcher, users get quicker access to the tools they use the most and useful snapshots of their recent activities. Learn how it can make you work more efficiently.

Key changes to the Office 365 main page

The newly added “Recommended” section displays activities — comments, edits, and @ mentions — on recently opened files. This gives users an overview of changes to recent documents.

Underneath the “Recommended” section is the “Recent” document column, which shows the most recent activities, while “Places” displays the SharePoint sites you frequently visit and the OneDrive folders you’ve recently accessed.

Being able to see the edits, shares, and comments on your documents makes collaboration more transparent among users within an organization, and these new upgrades make that possible.

What’s more, you can now search among online documents, web apps, SharePoint sites, and contacts within Office.com without having to open individual apps. For example, when searching for a document whose file name you don’t know, you can type in the name of the author and the results will show you the author’s profile and other relevant files and activities.

Web app launcher enhancements

One of the biggest improvements to Office.com, however, is how apps are displayed in the app launcher.

The main window of the new web app launcher has been redesigned to highlight the most frequently used apps. It will still show all the apps within your Office 365 subscription, but you can pin your most used apps or display all items in the main bar, which makes opening and switching between apps a lot easier.

You can also return to the main page with a single click of the Office 365 button from the App Launcher — no need to minimize or close each app.

Office 365 Gallery

Users aren’t always aware of every application included in their subscription, which is what the Office 365 Gallery is for. Its main function is to provide users with personalized suggestions of applications — and their descriptions — which may be useful to their active tasks. These suggestions include links to mobile and desktop-based versions of the applications they recommend, and resources for learning more about them. To access the Gallery, click “Explore your applications” from the Office.com main page.

Each of the changes in the new and improved Office 365 are aimed at simplifying and personalizing business users’ experiences, and we recommend exploring the tools available to you. Call us to know more about Office 365’s productivity-enhancing applications and features.

Published with permission from TechAdvisory.org. Source.