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Posts from August, 2016


Are Comatose Servers Draining Your Wallet and Leaving You Vulnerable?

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

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Those old servers your business no longer uses—and keeps running anyway—are more than just a security risk: They’re hurting your firm’s bottom line.

The term comatose server describes a functional server, connected to a network, that sits idle virtually all of the time. If your business is running three servers, there’s a high chance that at least one of them is a “zombie server.” 

30 percent of all servers are comatose. This means that approximately 10 million servers across the planet are sitting around doing nothing productive.

According to the Wall Street Journal, most companies are better at getting new servers online than taking old servers offline. A managed service provider (MSP) can help your business identify inactive servers and dismantle them, both to reduce costs and improve security.

Security Concerns

A comatose server can be a major security risk for your business. Unlike that shiny new server running the latest software, the old one is likely running a legacy operating system necessary to utilize older applications. These forgotten servers are also unlikely to receive security updates. If hackers are looking to break into your business network, they are going to have an easy time breaching an outdated system with established security exploits. Because even though these servers aren’t being used, they are likely to hold important—or even confidential—information.

Wasting Electricity

That’s not all, says the Wall Street Journal. The 3.6 million zombie servers in the United States are also wasting a staggering 1.44 gigawatts of electricity—enough to power every home in Chicago. While your business’s unused servers are just a drop in the bucket compared to the national problem, you’re still looking at a hefty energy bill to keep a dormant server running over time. If we consider that, on average, electricity costs 12 cents per kWh in the U.S., that means running a 850-watt server costs about $890 a year. Two comatose servers wasting energy for five years total nearly $9,000 in electricity expenses—money your business could save just by flipping a switch.

Hunting for Zombies

An IT consulting service can help your business identify and dismantle comatose servers. The process involves identifying every server your business owns and runs, and determining which ones aren’t being used anymore. Some older servers may not be running domain-name-system software, so they may not show up when searching the network directory—meaning you may need to hunt them down manually.

Of course, it’s unlikely that a smaller firm has more than a handful of servers, so creating a server inventory is often as straightforward as looking at the office server rack. Businesses that have a much larger group of servers to work with may need a network scanning tool to find servers. But remember: The savings and security benefits begin as soon as the comatose servers are turned off.

How To Select a Second Monitor

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

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Secondary monitors have incredible potential to increase productivity in the workplace. It might not seem like much, but minimizing, maximizing, and arranging application windows on a single computer monitor can take up a significant amount of time.

Adding a secondary monitor increases the screen space an employee has to work with by allowing them to display more windows simultaneously, and reduces the time they spend shifting between them.

Need to access two full-screen applications at the same time? Both laptops and desktops support dual-monitor configurations on PC, Mac, Linux, and Chromebook platforms.

Best of all, the typical cost of a second monitor is in the range of $100 to $200, so it’s easy to recoup the upfront expenses via increased productivity.

Compatibility

According to Consumer Reports, the first step to take before adding a second monitor is to make sure the device has ample free connection ports. You’ll be looking for an unused HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, VGA, or Thunderbolt port. Modern desktops usually support at least two screens, and nearly every laptop has some sort of video-out connection. Desktop computers that don’t support multiple screens can add this functionality with a graphics adapter upgrade.

The next step is to shop for a monitor that is compatible with the same connection type the computer uses. In many cases, you can easily convert between standards like HDMI-to-DisplayPort or HDMI-to-DVI.

Screen Size

The second display’s size and aspect ratio are dependent on the user’s preferences. In most cases, it’s good to start with a monitor that has the same dimensions as the current one. Some people will gladly embrace a second, much larger screen, while others find different sized monitors disorienting. Laptop users may want a much larger second monitor to compensate for their mobile device’s smaller screen real estate.

Desk space is another major factor in selecting a second screen: Both displays need to fit within the available workspace. Viewing distance is usually not an issue with computer monitors, but it can be if the person sits far from a smaller screen. This tool can be helpful in determining comfortable screen sizes based on viewing distance.

Layout and Orientation

Some people prefer a monitor that can be configured in portrait display mode as opposed to the traditional landscape mode. This seems to be the case especially for employees who often work with images and text content that are more dependent on height-based than width-based screen space. Portrait configurations can also be helpful when working with limited desk space.

Keep this in mind while shopping, as not all monitor stands support this feature. Depending on the user, you may end up with a double landscape, double portrait, or hybrid configuration. 

Regardless of your company’s needs, our team of IT consultants can steer you in the right direction. Get in touch today for more information.

Password Managers and Recovery Strategies

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

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Secure passwords and recovery strategies are an essential part of doing business in the digital age—and password manager programs can help streamline the process.

Password managers store and, often, automate login credentials for individuals across all secured online platforms for easy, secure, and fast access.

Why You Need It

Password-related IT security is an always-hot topic in the tech world; new reports of password security breaches are still hitting headlines with alarming frequency. In June of 2016, hackers hit remote desktop access service GoToMyPC® with a sophisticated attack, causing the company to send out a mass password reset to all of its users. Security breaches like these are a good reminder of why your business should use a password manager.

Everyday Use

Using the same password for every platform is problematic for the obvious fact that hackers can use that one password to break into several accounts. Your best bet is to use different passwords for different platforms—but trying to remember them all can, of course, be a challenge. For services you use infrequently, a password manager can improve productivity by helping you avoid tedious password search and reset processes.

Naturally, the biggest advantage of password manager platforms is that they allow you to easily create and store complex, hack-proof passwords. What do those look like? Here are a few tips: Secure passwords should use 10-12 characters with a mix of capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. And since it’s admittedly difficult for humans to remember 12+ character passwords that look like someone punched a keyboard, a password manager can come to the rescue.

Restoring Secure Access

When it comes to passwords, the best defense is a good offense—but breaches are going to happen. According to PCWorld, password leaks should be treated more like a “when” situation than an “if” situation.

Password managers can help you each step of the way, from locking down compromised accounts to restoring access on all devices so your employees can get back to business like nothing ever happened. After you regain control of the account, the password manager can generate a new, secure password. Additionally, the program will restore access on all of your connected devices by entering the new password in a single location, saving you the time and hassle of re-entering each new password on your work computer, personal desktop, personal laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.

If you’re worried about password security, talk to your IT consulting service. A local MSP can help your business establish and implement secure password practices and manage them with ease. Check out PC Magazine’s list of top password managers for 2016 for a closer look at your best options.

Don’t Forget About Printer Security

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

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There was a time when printers—in your office or home—were considered relatively “simple” office equipment: plug it in, connect it to the local network, and keep the ink fresh, and there wasn’t much else to worry about.

But times have changed.

Today’s business printers—enterprise-level equipment or smaller, multi-function printer/scanner/copiers—include as much document storage capabilities and sophisticated processing power as any other point on the network, another example of the ever-expanding Internet of Things. But while PCs and laptops are almost constantly under the watchful eye of their individual users, networked printers generally sit by themselves for long stretches of time when there are no “jobs” to print.

For many companies, unsecured printers become the weakest link in their network security chain—and a prime point of entry for hackers.

Malicious Mischief, or Worse

Case in point: This past March, a notorious Internet “troll” targeted over a dozen prominent universities around the U.S., hijacking multiple networked printers to print racist material. Colleges were considered an inviting target because printers are often purchased directly by academic departments with little oversight by campus IT management.

Since around 2000, most business-class imaging products have included their own hard drives—capable of storing every document ever printed or copied. A 2010 investigative report by CBS News revealed that “high mileage” used photocopiers—typically available for a few hundred dollars on the resale market—contained un-encrypted hard drives with a slew of easily retrievable data—account numbers on copied checks, pay stubs with personal info, and other valued commodities for any identity thief.

Practicing Printer Hygiene

We’ve noticed many new customers who’ve neglected security on their office printers. Here are a few important areas to keep in mind:

  • Management. Appoint a single person as your printer “administrator”—understanding its functions, instructing others how to operate it, basic maintenance (beyond paper jams or toner changes), and enforcing security policy. Check for stray documents left in the input or output trays at the end of the workday.
  • Protection. Make sure your printers are included in your network firewalls and other security measures.
  • Updates. Unlike computers, manufacturers’ firmware updates are rarely downloaded automatically. Check often for the latest online security patches.
  • Authentication. Require users to be present at the printer during every print job, requiring individual passwords, smart badges, or fingerprint scans.
  • Encryption. Encode both network traffic and documents stored on the printer’s hard drive.
  • Data Scrubbing. As we’ve recommended for computers, make sure a printer’s internal memory is completely wiped clean at the end of its use life.

For more ideas on safeguarding your printers along with the rest of your network, talk with us.

Looking at Data Storage Longevity

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

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Not all storage devices were built to stand the test of time, so it’s important for every business to ensure its data is backed up on a reliable platform.

If you’ve ever needed to reference financial records or court cases from a decade ago, you’ll know how much easy, reliable access to data can boost productivity.

All the work that goes into your storage solution could turn out to be a waste if that 17-year-old CD-R no longer works. But don’t worry—we’re here to help you decide which storage medium is right for you.

USB Flash Drives

Flash drives can last for decades. Their lifespan is determined in read/write cycles instead of in years since manufacturing. If someone backs up data to the USB drive once, stores the device in a safe location, and uses the drive ten years later, the data will still be there. However, it is important to note that flash drives are not a viable storage option when exposed to extreme temperatures, humidity, dust, contaminants, frequent re-writing, and/or improper disconnection.

Optical Discs (CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray)

Optical disc-based storage can be a mixed bag because manufacturing quality varies wildly. Cheaper, off-brand discs are notorious for degrading over just a few years—so, in big picture terms, you’re looking at a lifespan range of between 2 and 50 years. (Not very helpful, to say the least.)

Higher-quality discs made with gold or silver instead of aluminum are much more resistant to corrosion, and can last as long as 300 years. If your business has important data stored on aging, lower-quality optical discs, it’s a worthwhile investment to move that information to a more reliable medium. According to NPR, leaving discs in climate-hostile environments (like in a car over the summer) can contribute to significant wear and tear, so it’s important to keep the discs stored in a cool, dry room away from intense light exposure.

Hard Disk Drives and Solid State Drives

HDD and SSD lifespans are measured in usage versus time since manufacturing, so the devices work well indefinitely for long-term storage as long as they are not used too frequently. According to a widely referenced BlackBlaze study, around 26 percent of HDDs fail within a four-year high-use testing period. Using a server or NAS-based drive to perform constant backups can wear down the device, but both formats work well for periodic backups. One option is to save backup data to an external HDD until it’s full, then put that device into storage until you need to access the data.

No matter which platform you use to back up data, multi-site redundancy remains important. Many businesses opt to use both a Cloud backup and a local, physical backup. Reliable long-term data backups are an important part of the disaster recovery process—and the experts at MPA Networks can help your business devise a long-term data backup strategy that caters to your unique needs.