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Don’t Neglect Surge Protectors in Your Workplace


November 16th, 2017


Businesses use surge protectors every day without thinking about them; however, they are an incredibly important piece of technology that can make the difference between a $20.00 and a $2,000.00 equipment replacement. While uncommon, a power surge can wreak havoc on computers, monitors, TV screens, smartphones, printers, routers, and any device connected to a power supply. Making sure your office devices are properly protected at the outlet is an efficient way to avoid a potential disaster recovery situation.

What is a Power Surge and What Does a Surge Protector Do?

A power surge, also known as a voltage surge, occurs when a power source delivers an increased voltage for more than three nanoseconds. Surges can occur from a wide range of events including lightning strikes, power grid problems, massive static electricity discharge, or a change in the building’s electric flow. A surge protector is a device that diverts extra electricity out through the grounding pin on its plug so that the higher voltage doesn’t reach any connected devices, thus avoiding damage.

Best Practices

It’s very easy for employees to fall into the habit of not using the proper protective practices for workplace devices. However, it is important to use the devices because the minimal upkeep costs mitigate risk for expensive damages.

  • Choose the Right Features: Not all surge protectors are created equal; look for features like indicator lights, a UL rating (just having one rules out poorly constructed models), a clamping voltage under 400 volts, a joule rating of at least 600, and a minimal 1 nanosecond response time.
  • Have Enough Available Outlets and Keep Spares on Hand: Preemptively avoid having employees plug devices directly into wall sockets by making sure the surge protectors in use at workstations, desks, and other electronic devices are at locations that have a handful of free outlets. Keep a few spare surge protectors available just in case.
  • Don’t Keep Splitters in Your Office: Power strips and surge protectors look very similar but have an extremely important difference: power strips are adapters that increase the number of available outlets for electronic devices and do not offer any voltage increase protection. If you have any in use, replace them.
  • Don’t Daisy Chain: Do not connect surge protectors to other surge protectors, as this won’t provide any additional protection. Instead, it’s just more likely to cause a short.
  • Connect Laptops and Smartphones to Surge Protectors: While devices that have their own built-in power source offer a small degree of voltage regulation protection, a surge protector is still necessary to protect these devices while charging spike. A substantial surge can still break these devices.
  • Uninterruptible Power Source Alternative: A UPS device, also known as a battery backup, can be used in place of a surge protector for devices like desktop computers. These will also keep the devices working for a brief time in the event of a power outage.
  • Replace Surge Protectors When Necessary: Some surge protectors have an indicator light that will tell you if the device has broken; replace these immediately. Protectors without indicator lights should be replaced if they are known to have deflected a substantial surge or are several years old.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business keep its computer investment protected from harm.  Contact us today to learn more.

 

 

Problems with Power Loss: Tips for Workplace Computer Battery Backups


November 8th, 2017


It’s inevitable: employees working hard on a time-consuming project and then out of nowhere, the lights start to flicker and the power goes out. Suddenly, those workers express their frustration by pulling out their hair because they’ve just lost hours’ worth of work. In addition to being portable, laptop computers have a major advantage over their desktop counterparts: they can still work when the power goes out. Fortunately, battery backup devices also referred to as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), keep desktop computers running even when the power isn’t working like their more portable counterparts.

What is a UPS?

A UPS is a battery-powered device that resembles a large surge protector designed to provide a continuous flow of electricity to any devices it plugs into. This provides protection from changes in the power flow including surges where too much power comes through, complete power loss when no power comes through, and fluctuations where the amount of provided power is insufficient to keep everything running. In short, UPS devices provide short-term disaster recovery.

Why You Need Protection from the Unpredictable

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to predict when the power is going to fail. Occasionally, a powerful storm might blow through your area which increases the risk that the power will fail, but it’s no guarantee. Your office could experience 100 intense storms and never lose power, but then lose power for hours on a sunny, bright day because a strong wind gust knocked down a power line.

Installing a UPS device between a desktop computer and a power outlet can minimize power loss risk.

UPS Features

  • Types: There are two types of UPS devices: “standby” and “online.” Standby devices will switch on as soon as a power interruption is detected; however, there will be a several millisecond lag so that the computer may or may not avoid shutting down. Online UPS devices run the power to charge the battery and then continuously power the computer from the battery itself. Online UPS devices will not interrupt power until the battery is depleted.
  • Capacity: When selecting a UPS, you need to make sure the UPS is powerful enough to run your computer. Battery life can vary greatly depending on the UPS device capacity and how much wattage the computer will draw. Some devices can keep the computer running for hours, while others only a few minutes. Depending on the capacity, the UPS may serve as a “save now, shut down” backup or provide the ability to continue working.
  • Slots: The UPS has a specific amount of power outlets built in, so make sure it has enough to run the bare minimum. Do not be afraid to let non-essential devices like a second monitor or printers lose power.

Note: While laptop devices don’t need a UPS to keep running during a power outage, they still should be connected to a surge protector when charging to prevent device damage from power flow irregularity.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business find strategies like adding UPS devices to desktop computers in order to increase productivity and avoid potential disasters. Contact us today to learn more!

 

 

New Phishing Technique Hijacks Legitimate Conversations


October 24th, 2017


A new spear phishing technique, being used in a hacking campaign called FreeMilk, takes advantage of a Microsoft Office vulnerability in order to hijack existing email conversations to spread malware to high-profile targets. This new technique phishing technique is particularly bothersome because it hits people where they least expect. Imagine you’ve been having a conversation with a coworker about posting pictures from last week’s company outing. However, when you receive the email from your coworker including the link to the Dropbox account containing the images, you instead receive a link to a malware downloader. This new technique and exploit are being used in a wide scope attack, targeting high-profile targets all over the world.

How It Works

The hacker is spear targeting a high-value target and has decided a direct attack is not the desired course of action. This is likely because the high-value target is well protected. Instead, the attacker aims to steal the email account of a regular email contact, who may not be as well protected through a credential theft technique.

Once the hacker compromises an email conversation on a participant’s account, the hacker can pose as the original sender undetected. Next, the hacker will continue already existing conversations with the intended target and embed links or attach files to trick the target into downloading malware. The hacker can also use the compromised account to target other individuals in the same business network with the goal to spread malware.

Why It Works and Who Should Be Concerned

The strategy works on the premise that the high-value target would not expect a phishing scam to come through a conversation with a trusted colleague. Because of the sophistication and high level of customization necessary to pull off the proxy-attack technique, high-profile targets like C-level executives and government employees are the ones that need to be worried about these attacks as opposed to the general public.

What It Means

The bad news is that compromised account spear phishing attacks mean that phishing scams don’t just come through unrecognized accounts or new conversations with hackers posing as legitimate interests, but from existing conversations with trusted individuals as well. The FreeMilk campaign showcases the need for software-based phishing interception; since IT security is a shared responsibility, the anti-malware, antivirus, browser, ISP, email client, and other involved programs need to be on the lookout for bad links. Additionally, people will need to examine URLs for legitimacy in all conversations.

The attacks also reinforce the notion that software updates are essential. The specific exploit which takes advantage of Microsoft Office vulnerability was patched back in April of 2017. This is another example of how hackers were able to take advantage of a closed security hole that was identified months ago, just because users put off updating. However, even with the patch, the indirect spear phishing technique can be used through other security holes.

The experts at MPA Networks are ready to help your business implement the email tools that will best help protect your business from email intrusions and keep your computers safe through implementing software updates as they come out. Contact us today.

 

 

Alternative Employee Device Security: Fingerprints, Facial Recognition, and Iris Scans, Oh My!


October 17th, 2017


So far, 2017 has been an eventful year for increasing access to password-alternative smartphone and laptop unlocking techniques. Notably, Samsung added Face unlocking to the Galaxy S8 line and Apple introduced Face ID on the iPhone X. Of particular note, facial recognition is a convenient alternative to the traditional password-entry methods because all a device owner needs to do is look at the screen to unlock the device.

Security or Convenience?

However, these password alternatives still require a master password, so they’re really less about increasing security and more about making it more convenient to sign into a device. Alternative unlocking methods greatly range in security potential, so it’s prudent for businesses to determine whether each meets reliability standards.

Face Scanning: The New Front-Runner

Face scanning, as its name implies, uses one or more cameras on the screen-side of the device to “scan” the user’s face to determine if the person is allowed to access the device. Unfortunately, face scanning isn’t off to a great start as users have found easy ways to trick the Samsung Galaxy Note 8’s facial recognition with a photograph of the owner. This is a pretty common problem with two-dimensional facial recognition technology.

However, three-dimensional scanning has a much better track record. The iPhone X uses depth scanning on its various tracking points so a photo won’t fool it. According to Apple, the chance two people will have matching Face IDs is one in a million. Depth-based scanning is also available on Windows 10 PCs equipped with an Intel RealSense 3D camera.

Iris Scanning

Iris scanning is a lot like facial recognition scanning except it uses just the eyes instead of the entire face. Found on phones going as far back as the Galaxy S6, Iris scanning has similar security strengths and weaknesses to facial recognition scanning.

However, Iris scanning isn’t as convenient because it requires a closer view, may not work as well in high-light conditions and can have issues with glasses.

Fingerprint

Fingerprint scanning has been available on smartphones since 2011 and much longer on laptop computrs: it’s the established common alternative to a typed password. It’s reasonably convenient and offers satisfactory security: Apple argues their system has a 1 in 50,000 chance of two people have a matching print. These scanners are commonly used on phones via the “home” or “center” button, while newer phones like the Galaxy S8 sport a scanner on the back of the device.

However, fingerprint scanners have a reputation for being easily fooled. For example, someone could make a “key copy” of the owner’s fingerprint using a dental mold and Play-Doh. While it’s unlikely someone who steals a device through a crime-of-opportunity will be able to unlock the fingerprint, it is an issue for specifically targeted high-value employee devices.

If your business is looking to review its device security practices, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today! We work with businesses throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area including San Mateo County, and all East Bay and South Bay cities.

 

 

Wireless Charging in the Workplace: iPhone Joins Android


October 10th, 2017


Wireless charging in the workplace has the potential to make it easier for your employees keep their arsenal of devices running throughout the day with fewer of those pesky low battery warnings. Until recently, wireless charging hasn’t been as good at increasing productivity as it could be because one of the major device manufacturers has held out on supporting it. Apple has finally jumped on the wireless charging bandwagon with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, which means that a number of devices in your workplace that support wireless charging will likely reach a point where it may be worth it considering investing in some wireless chargers.

A Standard Emerges

One of the biggest problems holding wireless charging back has been a lack of a consistent standard; while some devices work on just about any wireless charger, others are more selective. Now that Apple has chosen to support the Qi standard, the two largest smartphone manufacturers — the other being Samsung — share a supported charging standard for the first time ever. The shared standard means it is now a safe investment for your workplace to get a Qi wireless charging mat for the conference room with the confidence that most of your staff will be able to use it.

The Problems Wireless Addresses

Wireless charging has a few advantages over its wired counterpart:

  • Reduces Port Wear: Outside of dropping your device and cracking the glass, breaking the charging port is the next most common way to disable it. Wireless charging actually gives new life to a device with a broken charging port and reduces wear-and-tear damage on the charging port because it isn’t being used as often.
  • One Charger, Multiple Devices: As Business Insider points out; wireless charging pads can charge more than one device at a time. This means an employee can place their smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, and earphones on the same pad instead of needing four charging cables.
  • Freedom from Easy-to-break Cables: Unfortunately, all that bending and twisting catches up to USB and Lightning charging cables: they tend to break from everyday use. Wireless charging solves this problem by eliminating the entire component.

The Downside to Wireless Charging

While wireless charging is convenient, advances in fast charging technology have made wired charging incredibly quick. For example, the new iPhones can charge 50 percent in 30 minutes and the Samsung Galaxy S8 can go from 0 percent to 100 percent in 80 minutes over fast charge. In order for wireless charging to meet those speeds, both the charging mat and the devices need to share a fast wireless charging compatibility. Therefore, if an employee is in a pinch to recharge a device quickly, a wired connection will be the safer bet.

If your business is looking to find better ways to use technology in the workplace, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today!

 

 

Equifax Breach: What does it teach us about IT security?


October 3rd, 2017


The 2017 Equifax hack is teaching a painful lesson about the necessity of businesses keeping up with software patches for IT security and to avoid catastrophic damage. The hack, which resulted in potentially exposing the financial information necessary to steal a person’s identity for 143 million U.S. customers, could have been easily avoided if the company had applied a patch to fix the exploited software vulnerability. This event highlights the importance of patching software in IT security. Applying an update which takes relatively little time can make the difference between business as usual and potentially bankrupting your company.

What Happened?

According to CNN, Equifax failed to apply a software patch to a widely-used tool called Apache Struts, which the company uses for its online dispute portal. The patch in question addressed an established, known security exploit in the software. Running software without applying existing security patches is widely considered the number one biggest cybersecurity risk for both businesses and consumers because hackers know just where to hit.

Hackers took advantage of Equifax’s lack of speed in applying the patch and had a two-month window to break through the company’s online defenses and steal confidential information. The exact information the hackers stole from each customer varies but included items like Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, addresses, and birth dates — all of which could be used in identity theft.

Why Should My Business Care?

  • A hack can financially destroy your companyAccording to TechRepublic, Equifax is looking at a $20.2 billion price tag for repairing the hacking damage, which is a full $8.3 billion more than the company’s market valuation.
  • Lawsuits may follow: As of mid-September 2017, Equifax is facing 23 class action lawsuits over the hack. One of the lawsuits is seeking $70 billion in damages.
  • Executives may lose jobs: In the case of Equifax, a CIO and a CSO are retiring or otherwise leaving the company because of the security breach.

Patch Software for IT Security: Current Changes as a Solution

Unfortunately for those looking for a quick fix, the solution doesn’t come from the machines, but rather the people who use and maintain them. Major hacks like the one against Equifax are a reminder that businesses need to hold IT staff accountable for patching software: it’s not something done when convenient, but on a regular schedule or as soon as possible.

If your business doesn’t want to end up like Equifax, your IT staff should make patch implementation a priority. Making security a higher priority means paying closer attention to when your vendors and software providers issue updates. Your staff can ease the process by applying automatic patching whenever possible and picking a light workday to run regular updates on all machines.

The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help answer your questions about IT security and how to keep your business safe. Services like desktop support and management emphasize protecting your staff’s devices from security threats through regular patch maintenance. Contact us today! We work with businesses in San Francisco, and throughout the East Bay and South Bay.

 

 

Flash Drives: A Productivity and Security Guide


September 26th, 2017


With proper planning, your business can take advantage of USB flash drive technology to increase productivity, while eliminating most of the medium’s inherent risk. The USB flash drives likely lying around your business offer excellent opportunities to increase productivity and make workflow easier, but also can be a data security breach waiting to happen. Properly used flash drives can be a great tool for your company, while improperly used flash drives are a major source of lost work and data.

Boundless Productivity Benefits

It’s an understatement to say that flash drives are really useful devices. The following list includes just a handful of the ways your business can utilize flash drives in the workplace:

  • Move large files between computers quickly on demand: Flash drives work very well when transferring large amounts of data between devices in cases where shared network connections and credentials are not viable. Using the flash drive means that you can copy from one system and paste to the other whenever it is convenient instead of at the same time, and it isn’t contingent on transfer speed from the local network or Internet connection.
  • Take work with you: Not all employees work on the same device all the time; flash drives are an easy, offline way to move work with you.
  • Make a toolkit: A flash drive toolkit is filled with software your staff may find useful including recovery and portable applications. Alternatively, the toolkit may include installers, patches, and serial code libraries for regularly used software your business uses.
  • Quick-and-dirty backup or recovery: Flash drives can be very helpful when making a quick backup of a computer or transferring data off of a distressed system that needs to be reformatted.

Data Theft: Drives that Contain Confidential Information Should be Encrypted

Flash drives feature a very small form factor which is great for portability; however, the smaller size also makes the devices prone to being lost or stolen. Therefore, any flash drive that is going to be used to store confidential data needs to be encrypted. Your business can purchase an encrypted drive or use specialized software to encrypt a standard drive. However, many encryption software options aren’t very portable or cross-platform friendly because they require software on any device accessing the encrypted drive. Windows 10 users can use the built-in BitLocker system and Mac users can use the Disk Utility application to password protect their flash drives.

Data Loss: Broken Flash Drives

While failure rates aren’t as bad as they used to be, flash drive technology is still prone to failure when improperly used. Live saving, or using a flash drive as the primary data storage location for a frequently updated file, can lead to a higher failure rate as can improperly disconnecting the device. Get the longest lifespan by primarily storing data on the local device and copying it over to the flash drive when done.

Is your business using its IT technology to its best potential? The IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help businesses in San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose, and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area make sure that they are. Contact us today to learn more!

 

 

Screen Mirroring Mini-Guide


September 19th, 2017


Setting up your conference room for wireless screen mirroring is the answer to employees sharing in a collective groan when it’s time to connect a computer or mobile device to show a presentation. While setting up the conference room television or projector doesn’t have the same level of disdain as the office printer, it can still be a major source of frustration when half of your staff is in the conference room waiting for the technology to cooperate.

Screen mirroring allows any presenter, even a guest, to take a BYOD approach to giving a presentation with minimal effort. Not having to fiddle around with running cables and sorting through a “junk drawer” collection of video converters not only saves time but also increases productivity.

What is Screen Mirroring?

Screen mirroring, or screen casting, is when you duplicate the content on a computer or smart device on either a television screen or projector. In the past, someone would connect a computer to a TV or a projector through a cable which the device would treat just like a monitor. However, screen mirroring is different because it replicates the content on the device’s screen instead of treating the presentation device as a second screen. Modern smart devices and computers support screen mirroring, but the main problem arises when trying to find a setup that will support all of the common standards.

The Platforms:

  • Windows & Android Devices
    • While Windows and Android devices aren’t running software from the same companies, if a screen mirroring device supports one it more than likely supports the other. If your office has a smart TV or a smart projector, it might support screen mirroring out of the box for Windows and Android devices. However, if the TV or projector doesn’t have smart functionality, you can add support with a relatively inexpensive streaming device like MiracastRoku or WiDi adapters.
  • Mac Computers & iOS Devices
    • Supporting screen mirroring is very straight-forward, but there’s only one headache-free way to ensure support: connect an Apple TV device to the TV or projector. We’ve previously discussed setting up AirPlay through Apple TV. If you’re not going to use Apple TV, you’re stuck relying on finding a third-party receiver or app that supports AirPlay or messing with network settings every time you want to connect a device.

Device Checklist for Full Support

What your business should do is create a checklist for each of the four main device types and run a test of each to ensure compatibility. First, see which device types you can connect with your existing configuration. Next, determine which additional devices you’ll need to purchase for full support. An example setup could be a Samsung Smart TV paired with Apple TV or a standard LG TV with a Roku and Apple TV.

Streamlining your conference room screen mirroring setup is just one way the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help your business increase productivity. Contact us today!

 

 

The System Is Down: How To Stay Online When Your Service Provider Is Offline


September 12th, 2017


It’s easy to take a functional Internet connection for granted until it’s no longer working. When that Internet connection inevitably goes down, your business could be left scrambling to figure out how to keep working until service is restored. The best solution your business can utilize is to develop an advance plan or an Internet outage backup plan for business continuity in the event of an Internet outage.

Purchase a Secondary Service

The safest and most reliable strategy your business can rely upon to work around Internet outages is to purchase a secondary Internet service. This service doesn’t need to be as high-speed as your main connection and it should be viewed as a safety net. The transition process can be as straight-forward as switching which modem connects to the office router.

Additionally, your business should invest in a different backup connection technology than your main connection; if your main connection comes from cable, try considering a DSL or T-line. If your business runs on a fiber service, your secondary platform can be from a cable provider. However, the secondary provider option may not be the most cost-effective solution for businesses with fewer than two-dozen employees.

Go Mobile (Internet) for an Internet Outage Backup Plan

Mobile Internet connections are another viable continuity option for smaller businesses: a tethered smartphone or mobile hotspot can work as a backup. The mobile option works well for smaller businesses and remote-employees. After all, mobile connections aren’t as fast and can lead to substantial data charges for businesses moving large amounts of data, so it’s not a good option if your business needs to move large files. Your corporation can also look outside of the cellular service providers for dedicated 3G/4G/LTE-based ISPs as an alternative secondary service option.

Nearby ISP Hotspots

If your company works out of a large office building with many nearby businesses you may be able to lean on your neighbors for some extra backup. Some ISPs offer Wi-Fi hotspots over all their rented modems. Then, if your business is on Verizon DSL and experiences an outage, you can use your home subscription to connect to a nearby Xfinity hotspot.

Hit the Street

If your employees need to get back online to handle immediate work, your company’s last line of defense is to lean on public Wi-Fi. You can find these hotspots at local libraries, cafés, coffee shops, and other storefronts. However, this comes with some major potential security risks; your employees shouldn’t come to rely on it with extremely confidential information.

One such risk is that it’s very common for hackers to set up “spoof” hotspots that resemble business hotspots, but are actually designed to steal your information. In other words, you have to make sure local hotspots are legitimate before using them. Keep a list of nearby secure Wi-Fi hotspots your employees can use in the event of an Internet outage. It’s of the utmost importance that this list is devised in advance because there are inherent risks in using another business’s Internet connection.

Never let an Internet outage keep your company from working: formulate an advanced backup plan so that your vital staff can keep working. If your company is looking for help developing an outage plan, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks can help. Contact us today!

 

 

3 Lessons SMBs Can Learn From Retailers On Thanksgiving Weekend


September 6th, 2017


Online retailers are already working on business strategies for the Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday online shopping weekend months in advance. These three days are the busiest online shopping days for retailers, bringing in nearly $6 billion in revenue combined. An online retailer’s worst nightmare on these days, in particular, is to lose business by overloading their platforms and losing customers because of long load times or crashes. SMBs can look at how retailers prepare and manage massive traffic influxes for insight into running a better online presence.

1. Do not launch a new service or platform when you expect to be busy

A robust testing and QA process is a business’s best tool to releasing features like a website update, a new software implementation, or a new hardware system as seamlessly as possible. However, some problems don’t reveal themselves until your business has pushed changes into the wild; in other words, your business doesn’t want to introduce new features that could expose problems at a busy time.

Therefore, it’s better to go with a “soft launch” for new implementations than try to run a high-traffic promotion to show off something new. Introduce new features and sweeping changes at a time when your company expects business to be slow.

2. Sometimes “bells and whistles” need to be dropped to stop from damaging functions

People tend to love “bells and whistles” features because they can take a boring product and turn it into an exciting experience. The more improved visual experience is great until it becomes detrimental to the performance. For example, retailers like Amazon will actually disable some of the rich content features on their product pages over the Thanksgiving shopping weekend, which simultaneously reduces the amount of work the servers complete when generating pages. This allows customers to load pages with minimal delay.

Retailers have to keep in mind the “user experience,” which includes the process of using a service as opposed to focusing on how it looks. SMBs can take this philosophy to heart when approaching technology: provide the best “form” as possible as long as it doesn’t impede “functionality.” A visually striking product preview page won’t do your business any good if customers refuse to sit through a long load time.

3. Don’t be a victim of your own success

Website overloads on Cyber Monday are a particularly great example of how a business can become a victim of its own success, which SMBs should keep in mind when running promotions. Unless a website’s hosting infrastructure is built with scaling potential or uses a CDN, a huge traffic spike can bring the site offline which translates to lost potential business and a negative brand impression.

Retailers typically use performance testing and monitoring strategies to prepare their platforms for massive traffic influxes. SMBs should keep a “ready-to-grow” philosophy in mind concerning their web presence because opportunity can strike at any time. Bracing for traffic spikes is particularly important when running social media promotion campaigns: if your business goes viral, you don’t want to miss out because your website is overloaded.

Whether your business is looking for opportunities to keep up with growth in cloud computing or seeing if new software would increase productivity, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today!