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Digital Sticky Notes: A Time-Saver for Your Entire Team


February 15th, 2017


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It’s a familiar sighting in the workplace: the employee with half a dozen sticky notes attached to their computer monitor. While not the most confidential or elegant solution, these employees are on to something.

Fortunately, technology has stepped in to embrace this practice and increase productivity through digital sticky notes. Teaching your staff how to use this feature helps keep your office not only more organized, but also more secure.

Boosting Productivity and Security

Like their physical counterparts, digital sticky notes have countless helpful applications: They can serve as reminders, cheat sheets, and to-do lists, to name a few.

Employees can create and destroy as many digital sticky notes as needed without wasting any paper. And digital sticky notes actually work better than making notes in a Word or Google doc, because they are continually accessible/viewable when switching between tasks.

Digital sticky notes have the following advantages over physical versions:

  • Content on the notes can be rearranged, edited, and erased at will. Reworking the list does not mean drafting a new note.
  • They serve as excellent interactive to-do listshelping employees stay organized.
  • No physical waste is created when the sticky note is no longer being used.
  • They are more secure because they’re not visible when the screen is off, the user logged out, or the system locked.
  • They come with theoretically unlimited space. Digital sticky notes allow for scrolling when more space is needed.
  • They offer an easy place to store login credentials that all employees in the workplace can access.
  • They provide a simpler platform to manage important, frequently used links than an ever-expanding bookmark list in a web browser.
  • Employees can use simple copy-and-paste commands between programs to add to the sticky note.
  • The notes facilitate email communication between devices and people.
  • They won’t fall or get knocked off the screen.

Sticky Notes with a PC

Windows calls its digital notation program “Sticky Notes.” It behaves similarly to program windows and can be accessed via the Start Menu. Searching for “Sticky Notes” in the search bar may locate the program faster.

Accessing the application will expose all existing notes; if there are none, it will create one. Users can drag and expand these digital notes to any size they deem appropriate. Click the “+” icon on an existing note to make additional notes, and click the “X” icon to delete unwanted notes. Notes can also be color-coded via the “right-click” menu. Power-users may like the available keyboard shortcuts as well.

Sticky Notes with a Mac

Macs also support a built-in digital sticky note solution called “Stickies,” which can be accessed via the “Applications” folder. Users can drag and drop the Stickies to any desired locations and resize the windows by clicking and dragging the corner icons. Employees can customize individual note colors through the “Color” menu and can add shortcuts to media files by dragging and dropping icons over notes as well.

Mac OS even features a handy keyboard shortcut to create a sticky note from highlighted text: “Command + Up Shift + Y.”

Both of these applications are free and included with the computer your employees are already using. Some employees may find digital sticky notes an incredibly valuable tool—but, if nothing else, they will help your team create a cleaner, more secure workplace. If your business is looking to boost its productivity through stronger IT practices, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

 

 

Breathing New Life into Middle-Aged Computers


February 8th, 2017


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Your employees’ computers may not be up to speed anymore after two or three years of use, but in many cases your staff can upgrade or tune up these devices to keep pace with work demands. Upgrades can often be purchased and installed for under $100 a system, offering an inexpensive way to extend the life of a desktop or laptop computer.

Talk with your IT staff or your IT managed services partner to learn more about your options for addressing the classic employee complaint “My computer is too slow.”

Upgrade to Solid State Drives for Faster Loading

Outside of cost-per-gigabyte storage rates, Solid State Drives (SDDs) are a comprehensive upgrade to traditional hard disk drives. If your employees are complaining about long load times when opening programs or accessing files, an SSD upgrade can make a world of a difference. According to the manufacturer Crucial, SSDs are more durable, faster, lighter, and more energy-efficient than their disk-based predecessors.

A few years back, the opportunity cost may have been prohibitive, especially when it comes to your entire staff. But now that prices have dramatically dropped, going SSD makes financial sense.

RAM Upgrade

While CPU upgrades are usually impractical, a computer’s other main performance component often represents a simple, far-reaching upgrade option: RAM. The RAM, or the system’s main memory, handles all the active applications on the system; when it runs out, the computer has to fall back on the far slower HDD/SDD storage. However, the law of diminishing returns applies to this upgrade, and adding more memory than the computer utilizes at a maximum won’t improve performance. Your business may be able to upgrade a few computers’ RAM for free by pulling compatible modules from decommissioned, broken, or unused machines.

Newer Laptops = Fewer Upgrade-Ready Parts

Desktop computers are still the kings of upgrade-ability, but their portable counterparts can’t say the same. The industry is trending toward integrating parts together instead of in a modular configuration, so the RAM and storage may not be upgradeable on some devices. For example, as of 2015, Apple started using soldered RAM and proprietary SDDs, making upgrade-ability and repairs extremely difficult (if not impossible).

Backup and Reinstall Windows/Other Software

This tip applies specifically to Windows devices that are approaching the middle of their lifespan: Back up all important data, nuke the main hard drive, reinstall Windows, and restore all useful applications. Because of the way Windows operating systems work, a part of the code called the “registry” is changed over time with newly installed/updated applications, leading to slower performance. While newer iterations of Windows aren’t affected as badly by this problem, it still exists—and the best way to fix it is to reinstall Windows.

If you’re looking for ways to ensure employee devices keep up with workload demands, the IT experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today to get started.

 

 

Using Snap and Split-Screen Modes for Increased Productivity


February 1st, 2017


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Multi-tasking wizards have a secret: Modern operating systems offer a handy technique for managing multiple windows while maximizing available screen space, significantly increasing productivity. Depending on the OS, this feature may be referred to as “snapping” or “split-screen mode.” The concept, however, remains the same: Users can quickly dock windows on both sides of their screen using simple shortcuts.

Are your employees wasting valuable seconds shuffling back and forth between windows or screens?

This window management trick can make day-to-day work smoother and more efficient.

Modern Display Shifts Make It Possible

Two major changes in our expectations of screen displays created an environment where window docking thrives. The first is a general push to make both application and web content display effectively in both landscape and portrait mode. The second is the widespread adoption of 16:9 monitors in the desktop and laptop world. This combination of factors means that users today can take a single-landscape monitor and comfortably display two applications in landscape mode at once (though it’s worth noting that this method works better on monitors with an aspect ratio wider than 16:9).

Using Windows Snap

Windows 7 first popularized this technique via the “Aero Snap” feature and now uses a retooled version for Windows 10 called “Snap Assist.” The Snap feature is easy to use via a mouse and keyboard shortcut. Mouse users can drag the window against the side of the screen to make the content automatically extend full-vertical and half-horizontal. Windows 10 expands this functionality by displaying a selection of windows to fill the other side of the screen.

The following keyboard shortcuts can then be used based on preference:

  • Ctrl+Up Arrow: Shrink to quarter-screen or expand to full-screen
  • Ctrl+Down Arrow: Un-dock or minimize window
  • Ctrl+Left Arrow: Dock window on the left-side
  • Ctrl+Right Arrow: Dock window on the right-side

Repeatedly pressing either “Ctrl+Right Arrow” or “Ctrl+Left Arrow” lets the user alternate which half-screen segment of their monitor the window occupies, which is extra-handy when using more than one screen.

Split-Screen in Mac OS

Mac OS added this feature in the El Capitan update. To activate this feature on supported apps, click and hold down the green app window corner button, then drag the window to the desired half of the screen. The operating system will display a selection of compatible apps in the free side of the screen; simply click on one to expand it to occupy the available side.

Snapping in Chrome OS

Chrome OS features a similar window management method. Dragging windows to the side of the screen will activate a gray outline that represents where the window will expand in half, quarter, third, or two-thirds orientation. Pressing either “Alt+[“ or “Alt+]” activates left-side and right-side docking respectively.

These tips are even more helpful for employees using dual- or multi-monitor configurations. If your business is looking to increase productivity through IT managed services and IT consulting, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

 

 

An Expert’s Guide to Avoiding Phishing Scams


January 24th, 2017


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Unlike most IT security threats, phishing scams attack the human element instead of the machine element. Phishing scams try to bait a person into exposing confidential information by posing as a legitimate, reputable source, typically by email or phone. Most often, the culprits seek users’ account login details, credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personal information.

By properly educating your employees and following a handful of best practices, your business can significantly reduce the threat of phishing scams.

Here’s how:

1. Treat every request for information—whether by email, phone, or Instant Message—like a phishing scam until proven otherwise.

Meeting any request for confidential information with skepticism, regardless of how trivial it sounds, is your employees’ best defense against phishing scams. Even innocent information like a person’s first car, pet’s name, or birthday can be used to steal accounts through password recovery. Generally speaking, no professional organization or company would ever ask for personal information when contacting you—so any information request of this type is more likely to be fraudulent than real.

2. Familiarize your staff with scheduled emails for password resets.

Many companies use regularly scheduled password reset policies as a security measure; however, hackers can exploit this system to get people to hand over account login information. Your company’s best protection in this case is to familiarize employees with which services actually send out these requests. If possible, enable 2-step verification services, or avoid scheduled password changes altogether.

3. Never click a “reset password” link.

One of the easiest ways a hacker can steal information is to include a spoofed link claiming to be a password reset page that leads to a fake website. These links typically look exactly like the legitimate reset page and will take the “account name” and “old password” information the person enters. If you need to reset an account or update your information, navigate to the site manually and skip these links.

4. Never send credentials over email or phone in communication that you did not initiate.

Many sites utilize legitimate password reset emails and phone calls; however, a person has to go to the site and request it. If someone did not request a password reset, any form of contact to do so should be met with extreme skepticism. If employees believe there is a problem, they should cease the current contact thread and initiate a new one directly from the site in question.

5. Don’t give in to fear.

One common phishing scam emulates online retailers, claiming they will cancel an order because a person’s credit card information is “incorrect.” These scams rely on a sense of urgency to get a potential victim to hand over information without stopping to think. If the account really is compromised, chances are the damage is already done.

6. Report suspected phishing attempts.

Phishing attacks like this typically target more than one person in an organization, whether it be from a “mass-scale” or “spear” phishing attack. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that if one person receives a phishing email, others will, too—so contact both your company’s IT department and the organization the hackers were imitating.

If your business is looking to improve its IT security practices and avoid falling victim to phishing scams and other attacks, contact the experts at MPA Networks for help today.

 

 

Virtual Reality: What does It Mean for Your Business?


January 18th, 2017


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Depending on your industry, modern virtual reality (VR) devices could offer impressive options to improve productivity. The video game industry, for one, has been a major player in pushing VR technology. Despite a handful of flops like Nintendo’s 1995 release “Virtual Boy,” products like the “Oculus Rift” are finally pushing viable VR technology into mainstream use two decades later.

But while video games are responsible for VR’s current popularity, the technology isn’t just limited to games. 

Businesses will be using virtual reality to do incredible things in a virtual space in the near future.

The Teleconference Is Dead, Long Live the Teleconference

VR technology offers immense immersion potential—so much that it can turn a simple activity like a regular teleconference into a “virtual meeting.” Telecommuting workers can stage a virtual meeting, financial services consultants can meet with clients in a virtual space, and so forth. Alternatively, employees who are separated by physical distance can use VR to collaborate on a project. Just about any business can benefit from this.

Interactive, Immersive Training

Imagine being able to give hands-on training to employees using expensive hardware without them physically using the device, or teaching employees to perform tasks that could be dangerous without having to expose them to real danger. VR technology has endless applications in healthcare: A surgeon could practice an operation in advance, and an X-ray technician can learn to use an expensive, delicate machine without having to touch it. Lawyers can let a client who’s never been in a courtroom sit in on a virtual trial to get a better feel for the process.

VR Tours and Demos

VR can also be used to give people tours of your facilities without them needing to physically visit. For example, a biotech firm can give VR lab tours, or a theme park can use a virtual roller coaster to attract visitors. Hospitals can also offer VR tours of their buildings to aid potential patients in deciding where to go for treatment. VR tours are especially beneficial for people with limited mobility.

VR can even be used to give product demonstrations to potential customers. Auto dealers, for instance, can give virtual tours of vehicle interiors, and biotech firms can have interactive how-to demos their most popular products.

According to TechRadar, VR is firmly in its “gold rush stage” of development. If your business is going to take advantage of all these exciting opportunities, it’s going to need the infrastructure and IT capabilities to handle VR’s demands. To better manage your IT services, both current and future, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

 

 

Boost Productivity and Security with Google’s Cloud Applications


January 11th, 2017


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For anyone unfamiliar with the Google Applications platform, Google Docs et al. are a Cloud-based spin on mainstay office suite programs that can help your staff work better together.

With a zero-dollar price tag (compared with Microsoft Office’s hefty annual subscription fees) and the potential to boost both productivity and IT security, Google Docs shines as a collaboration tool.

For many types of projects that require teamwork, Google Docs streamlines solutions to the most challenging continuity and security issues inherent in transferring multiple versions of the same file between staff members.

About Google Docs

Google’s DocsSheets, and Slides applications offer many of the same features as Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, respectively. As browser-based applications, however, they are platform-agnostic, and will work across any device that runs a compatible web browser.

According to CNET, Google Docs does not compete with Microsoft Office feature-for-feature, but instead tries to emphasize the features that are most useful for the typical user. These applications can function in conjunction with existing office suite programs or, depending on your preferences, as a standalone service.

Productivity Perks

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides offer incredible continuity perks that facilitate collaboration in a huge way. Employees share access to files on Google’s applications through a Cloud-based storage platform called Google Drive, where the files update automatically every few seconds to ensure that everyone accessing them sees the latest version. This makes it easy to edit a document before sending it to a client, or use a spreadsheet as a checklist to keep track of progress on a project in real-time.

The Google application suite eliminates scenarios such as accidentally grabbing an old version of a document/spreadsheet and wasting time merging two sets of content into one file. As a bonus, Google’s web apps free up IT staff to work on other projects because they no longer need to spend time implementing Microsoft Office on employee devices.

IT Security Perks

Google’s range of tools offers several benefits from an IT security standpoint. Cloud-based systems like Google Docs reduce the need for employees to transfer files via email, minimizing the risk of spreading phishing links and viruses. And while it may not be the best option for storing confidential information or files, the platform-agnostic nature of Google Docs allows for easy access to shared files on a wide range of device types, including Windows PCs, Macs, Linux PCs, Chromebooks, iOS devices, and Android devices. This flexibility allows IT teams to take advantage of more secure platforms and limit the device pools that could spread malware. 

If you’re looking to increase workplace productivity and security, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today to get started.

 

 

Looking Forward: Cloud Services Costs and Opportunities


January 5th, 2017


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If your small-to-medium business (SMB) isn’t looking at ways to increase productivity through Cloud services, you could be missing out on exciting opportunities. But while the Cloud offers countless opportunities for business expansion, it can also taking up an ever-increasing share of your company’s IT budget. Overall IT budgets may not be growing, but Cloud expenses are; industry shifts indicate a gradual move towards increased dependency on Cloud platforms to run business operations even among small businesses.

Your business should be aware of these shifts, as they could have a direct impact on how your company’s IT budget is allocated in the future. Read on to find out more. 

The Cloud’s Share of IT Budget

According to a 451 Research study, the typical business spent around 28 percent of its IT budget on Cloud services in 2016, which could increase to a projected 34 percent in 2017.

The study argues that the budget adjustment will stem from an increased reliance on external hosting infrastructure, application platforms, online IT security, and SaaS management programs.

While this report implies a budget increase in one area, businesses will be able to recoup part of the cost with a decreased reliance on internal infrastructure like local servers. Additionally, Cloud platforms do a lot of the heavy lifting, so your business will be less dependent on powerful, expensive computers.

The State of IT and Cloud Expenses

Gartner reported that businesses worldwide spent $2.69 trillion on IT services in 2015With IT expenses remaining mostly flat across 2016, that puts total enterprise Cloud service expenses around $750 million annually. The Cloud is a big deal in the business world: in 2016, upwards of 41 percent of enterprise workloads ran in the Cloud, and that number could grow to 60 percent by the end of 2018.

Why Use the Cloud for SMBs?

Simply put, the Cloud offers businesses incredible versatility, flexibility, and agility that’s not available with on-site servers. One of the Cloud’s key advantages is that it can enable a business to become significantly less dependent, if not completely independent, on local servers. Moreover, Cloud servers can scale for extra processing power to handle work in web applications, web hosting, and SaaS platforms that wouldn’t be available if the business had to rely entirely on in-house servers. Finally, the Cloud allows employees easier access to work platforms regardless of their physical location, making collaboration, disaster recovery, security, and data backup much simpler.

Common Cloud Services to Explore

Here’s a list of Cloud services worth exploring for all SMBs:

  • Content Management Systems
  • Customer Relationship Management Systems
  • Data Backup and Archiving
  • Point-of-Sale Platforms
  • Time Clock Systems
  • Productivity/Web Applications

 If your business is trying to decide whether to expand its IT infrastructure into the Cloud or simply maintain current costs via IT consulting, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

 

 

A Primer on Phishing Attacks


December 21st, 2016


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Phishing attacks are a dangerous and devastating method hackers use to steal personal information and accounts—primarily by striking the user instead of the machine. According to the APWG Phishing Activity Trends Report, the first quarter of 2016 saw an explosive 250 percent increase in phishing attacks, meaning both the industry and individuals should be increasingly concerned about these scams.

While security software is getting better at detecting phishing attacks, it can’t stop them all. Here’s the rundown on what you can do to protect yourself and your employees.

What Exactly Is a Phishing Attack?

The goal of a phishing scam is to get a person to hand over private information, usually pertaining to account access credentials, credit card numbers, social security numbers, or other information, that can be used to steal accounts, information, and identities.

According to Indiana University, phishing attacks, or scams, typically present themselves as fake emails masquerading as official sources asking for personal information. Google adds that phishing attacks can also come through advertisements and fake websites.

So, phishing attacks come in several forms. One example of a phishing attack is an email arriving in an employee’s inbox asking them to reset their Gmail account information. Another is an email from “Amazon” saying the account holder’s credit card information didn’t go through for a recent order.

What’s the Best Defense Against Phishing Attacks?

The best thing a person can do to protect themselves from phishing scams is to be wary any time they receive a message asking for personal information. Businesses and organizations can protect themselves by educating their employees and members about what phishing attacks look like, and how to avoid them.

Teach your employees to look for red flags, like an email address that doesn’t correspond to the supposed sender, impersonalized messages, grammatical errors, and/or unsolicited attachments. Equally, watch out for spoofed links that list one URL on the page but redirect to another—and keep an eye out for spoofed URLs that don’t match the real site (e.g., gooogle.com instead of google.com).

Some phishing emails use such highly personalized information that they may appear, on the surface, to be authentic. Don’t let your guard down. Phishing attacks typically use fear to motivate a person into handing over sensitive information with statements like “your order will be canceled” or “your account will be deactivated.” Instead of clicking the link inside the email or responding directly with personal information, go to the real website using a search engine or by typing the URL directly into your browser. If you receive a phishing email related to any of your professional account credentials, report it to IT.

The State of Phishing Attacks

Now that web users are spread out over a variety of operating systems including Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS, it makes sense that hackers would divert more effort to scams that attack the user instead of the operating system. Symantec reported a 55 percent increase in “spear-phishing” scams across 2015. In the first quarter of 2016, CSO reported that criminals successfully targeted 41 organizations in a phishing scam aimed at retrieving W-2 data.

If your company is looking to improve its IT security practices against threats like phishing scams, the IT consulting experts at MPA Networks are ready to help. Contact us today.

 

 

The End of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7: Device Explosions Trigger Full Recalls


December 13th, 2016


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In a rare move, Samsung fully recalled and discontinued production on its previously well-reviewed Galaxy Note 7 model following several verified cases of the devices catching fire. This unexpected turn of events has left a vacuum in the large smartphone and phablet product space. Businesses often rely on these devices to increase productivity on the go, as they are much easier to haul around than a full-sized tablet or laptop.

What’s going on with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7?

Samsung issued two recalls on the Galaxy Note 7, the second of which included phones that were sent out to replace the faulty ones in the first recall.

Essentially, the problem with the Galaxy Note 7 over other faulty device recalls is that Samsung is unable to figure out exactly why these devices are exploding. Samsung initially thought it was a problem with defective batteries from a supplier, but the fires continued with the new models.

This issue is confined to the Galaxy Note 7: Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge. Older Samsung smartphones are not affected. However, Samsung has made the news over defective product problems in the past, including washing machines and microwaves.

Consumer Confidence and Recall Fallout

Because of the safety problems with the devices and tarnished branding, Samsung has discontinued the Galaxy Note 7 product line. The FAA banned Galaxy Note 7 devices from airplanes, even when powered down. According to CNET, 40 percent of people surveyed claim they will not purchase another Samsung phone after this debacle. And while the publication notes that this survey may represent a higher share than reality, there’s no question that the brand has been damaged by bad PR.

The same survey reports that around 30 percent of people will switch to iPhones, while the other 70 percent will switch to a different Android manufacturer. While Samsung’s reputation will certainly take a hit from the Note 7 recall, and Android’s market share will dip slightly, claiming it’s “doomsday for Android” is an exaggeration based on market data.

About Lithium-Ion Battery Safety

Lithium-Ion batteries, which are found in just about every device with a rechargeable power source, are prone to catching fire in overheating, overcharging, and physical damage situations. Issues including swollen and punctured batteries can happen to any phone or device using these batteries. Such problems are, of course, a major safety issue, as the devices can burn people and/or start larger fires.

Galaxy Note 7 Alternatives

Even if your employees love their Galaxy Note 7 devices, they’re not safe to use and should be replaced. Several other viable large-form smartphones on the market can replace most, if not all, of the Note 7’s functionality. Android Community recommends the following devices:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 5 (there was no Galaxy Note 6 model)
  • Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge
  • LG V20
  • Google Pixel XL
  • Xiaomi Mi 5
  • OnePlus 3
  • Huawei P9 Plus
  • ZTE Axon 7

Alternatively, your employees could look at switching to an iPhone 7 Plus or larger Windows Phone device.

For help improving your business IT productivity and guidance in finding the right technology solutions for your company’s specific needs, contact the experts at MPA Networks today.

 

 

Antivirus Software: When One Is Better Than Two


December 7th, 2016


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If your company’s antivirus software is letting you down, you should think twice before installing a second one on a computer: It may actually make things worse.

Multiple antivirus programs working in conjunction on the same device is not a case of “the sum is greater than the parts” but rather “less is more.”

With many viable free solutions like AVG, Avast, and Avira, it can be very tempting to install backup for a paid option. However, the interaction between multiple antivirus programs leads at best to, essentially, nothing. At worst, it will be detrimental to system performance, stability, and security.

Stepping on Toes

The primary reason that running simultaneous antivirus programs on the same device is a bad idea is that the two programs will confuse one another for malware infections and try to eliminate each other. According to PC World, the antivirus scan conflicts can spill out and cause other programs to fail, while making the operating system less stable. Computer users may immediately notice general slowdown and shorter battery life after installing a second antivirus program.

Users may also be plagued with continuous “false alarm” messages after threats have been removed because the act of one antivirus program removing an infection will be seen by the other as a malware action. Therefore, if you’re installing a new antivirus program on a computer, you’ll need to remove the old one first. This includes removing Windows Defender.

Anti-Malware Scanning Software: Antivirus Backup Exists

Backup exists, but it’s not found in additional antivirus programs. Instead, your business can utilize additional programs commonly referred to as “anti-malware” that are specifically designed to catch infections antivirus software misses for improved protection.

The term “antivirus” is a bit misleading because the programs actually protect computers from a wide range of software-based threats on top of viruses including Trojans, rootkits, worms, and ransomware. Antivirus refers to a software security program that runs in the background at all times as an active form of protection. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes, SuperAntiSpyware, and Spybot work through “On Demand” scans, meaning they can be used periodically to clean malware infections.

The Recovery Clause

In disaster recovery situations, your IT staff may need to install a different antivirus program to combat a malware infection that the currently installed software can’t remove. In this situation, the old software will need to be disabled or uninstalled before the new program can get to work.

If you’re looking for better digital security options for your office, contact MPA networks today. Use our experience in IT consulting to your advantage for assistance in both preventing and reducing downtime over malware threats.