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IT Disaster Recovery Posts


Network-Attached Storage: Data Backup and Transfer Options for Small Businesses

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

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Network-Attached Storage (NAS) servers are a great asset for small businesses managing data. For the uninitiated, NAS is essentially a streamlined server designed specifically for sharing files between devices.

Because of their simplified nature, NAS devices are typically easier to use and substantially more cost-effective than full-fledged servers.

While most NAS solutions are space-efficient standalone server boxes, some higher-end routers can also be used as NAS devices by attaching an external hard drive. If your office is looking to increase productivity and improve disaster recovery, NAS may be worth its weight in gold.

Easy-to-Use Data Storage

NAS devices work as an inexpensive, easy-to-use data storage option for your business. These devices are so simple to configure that your office doesn’t even need to have a local IT staff to use them. Once configured, accessing the storage can be as simple as using Explorer or Finder as you would with any internal storage device.

Practical Backup and Recovery

In their most practical form, NAS devices can be used as a backup and disaster recovery option for office computers. This way, if a computer hard drive fails or a laptop gets destroyed, your staff can recover recent versions of important documents and files.

However, NAS does not replace the need for Cloud or off-site backups for vital information. An office fire, for example, would wipe out desktop computers and the NAS. Combining both NAS and Cloud backup processes gives your business the best level of protection from data loss.

Faster Information Sharing

NAS is also a viable business continuity option as it does not require Internet connectivity to work. Employees who use multiple devices, such as a laptop, desktop, and tablet, can use the NAS to access the same files from any deviceThese data servers are also excellent for employees collaborating on the same files; gone is the need to use email or Cloud storage to sync or send updates.

Cost-Effective Hardware Comes at a Price

NAS devices aren’t as sophisticated as traditional servers. Designed only to focus on sending and receiving data, they offer substantially less processing power. You won’t be able to use a NAS device to run an email server, for example, or to run any server-based applications. For these, you’ll need to look into server management solutions.

Because of this trade-off, however, NAS devices cost a fraction of the price of a dedicated server. Moreover, your business doesn’t need to worry about wasting money buying too much or too little storage because you can install additional hard drives in the NAS device as needed.

Security Issues

As mentioned above, NAS servers should not be used as a replacement for an off-site, Cloud-based backup. IT professionals often recommend storing important data in at least three locations: two “on-site,” which includes the computer and the NAS, and one “off-site,” like a Cloud service. Additionally, if your business is using NAS storage, you’ll want to make sure it is only visible to authorized individuals. Security in this case could include something as simple as password-protecting the Wi-Fi.

Use our wealth of knowledge at MPA Networks to your advantage to meet your business’s server and storage needs. Contact us today.

8 Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Office Computers

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

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When it comes to your office computers, a little bit of spring cleaning goes a long way. Sure, cleaning office computers can seem tedious. But think of it like preventative maintenance on a vehicle: In the best-case scenario, you’ll never know all the breakdowns you avoided.

Keeping your office computers clean and healthy minimizes your risk of downtime and increases productivity.

Here are 8 tips for your next round of spring cleaning:

1. Update All Software

Run updates and patches for the operating system, commonly used programs, and security software on every system. Program and operating system updates don’t just add features; they’re loaded with security updates that keep your devices safe. Most problems with computer security exploits stem from outdated software that allows hackers to break through established breaches that the developer already closed, so running updates and patches is your best line of defense.

2. Run a Full Anti-Virus Scan

After updating all the software on the computer, run a full anti-virus scan to catch any malicious software hanging out on the device. Active anti-virus protection does a good job of safeguarding the system against infections, but sometimes malware slips through the cracks.

3. Run a Full Anti-Malware Scan

Anti-virus programs go after specific, high-risk malware infections, meaning lower-level malware can still find its way onto your computers. Anti-malware programs including Malwarebytes and Spybot are better equipped to identify and remove malware that the anti-virus misses.

4. Defragment the HDD

Older PCs with traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) may experience load time improvements from an annual drive defragmentation. However, newer Windows systems—and all currently supported Mac OS versions—handle this process in the background, so you don’t need to worry about it. If the computer is running a Solid State Drive (SSD), do not bother with the defragmentation process.

5. Remove Unnecessary Launch Programs

It may seem like every program installed on your computer wants to launch itself at startup—even those you rarely use. Removing unnecessary programs from the system startup can help improve performance and reduce login times. Windows 10 features a handy “Startup” tab on the Task Manager that lets users quickly toggle which programs launch with the system.

6. Check and Create Restore Points

Restore points can be a major time saver in returning a compromised computer to full operation. Restore points reverse most of the damage caused by malware and bad configurations, all with minimal effort. Check whether the computer is already using them, and create one if it isn’t.

7. Run a Full Backup

Backups are like restore points for when very bad things happen to a computer. It’s best practice to make at least two backups of a given computer’s files, and store them in different physical locations. This ensures that in the event of catastrophic loss, all the data saved on the computer up until the backup point is preserved. Mashable recommends verifying if automated backup services like Time Machine and Windows Backup and Restore are actually working.

8. Bust Dust on Desktops

This part of the spring cleaning process is literal. As we’ve previously discussed, excessive dust inside a computer obstructs airflow, which can cause crashes due to overheating and even damage components. CNET has a helpful guide on how to go about the dustbusting process.

A little spring cleaning makes for a more efficient office and stronger disaster recovery. The expert desktop support and management staff at MPA Networks is ready to help your workplace in San Mateo, San Francisco, the South Bay, and other Bay Area cities implement better practices. Contact us today for more information.

Looking Forward: Cloud Services Costs and Opportunities

Thursday, 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.

Antivirus Software: When One Is Better Than Two

Wednesday, 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.

The Benefits of Backups

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

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Even seasoned IT pros have made the mistake of not backing up a device—and panicked after losing countless important files because the device failed. We may know better, yes, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect.

On the flip side, we’ve all breathed a sigh of relief when a recent backup of our computer or smartphone rescued valuable files after a crash. With employees at businesses large and small using more devices than ever, vulnerability is just as high as the stakes.

It’s never too late (or too early) to implement a reliable backup system—so what are you waiting for?

How Often?

This is a question we hear a lot when it comes to backups. The answer, as ambiguous as it sounds, is “right now.” In an ideal world, your business would configure its employee devices to back up on a daily or weekly basis; but, of course, the more often your business can back up data, the better. And while it’s common for smartphones to Cloud-sync whenever they’re connected to Wi-Fi, it’s worth checking your settings right away.

Minimize Data Loss

Regular data backups are an excellent tool for disaster recovery. In the event that a computer’s hard drive is not recoverable, the ability to restore the machine based on a recent backup significantly decreases the amount of data lost in the process. For example, if the hard drive fails on Tuesday morning and the last backup was on Friday afternoon, the employee will lose at most a day’s worth of work from the incident.

Decrease Recovery Downtime

Backups get your employees back to work faster after a disaster. For obvious reasons, it’s easier to recover a computer to a backup point than to start from scratch, and for some problems, restoration can be even more efficient than repairs.

Removing an infection, decrypting data, and recovering a computer that’s been infected with ransomware, for instance, can take days. But if the computer has undergone a recent backup, restoration may take mere hours.

Old File Version Recovery

Every so often an office has to deal with an employee accidentally making a change to a shared file that can’t be fixed. Regular backups are like freezing a moment in time for your business where you can always go back and recover what was lost.

Embrace the Cloud

Take advantage of Cloud storage solutions for a range of benefits—especially business continuity. With the Cloud, employees can, in many cases, share and access their work from any device. If an employee is on a business trip and needs to update or reference a file stored on their office desktop computer, they can access the information through the Cloud platform.

If your business is looking to improve its data backup practices for a more reliable digital ecosystem, contact the experts at MPA Networks today. MPA’s IT Managed Services offerings can help your company implement a backup system that minimizes downtime and protects your data for both peace of mind and pace of business.

A Primer on Common, Helpful Device Adapters

Friday, November 11th, 2016

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In September 2016, Apple announced that the iPhone 7 will not feature a 3.5mm jack—meaning anyone who wants to use standard headphones (or the credit-card scanning Square Reader) will need an adapter.

Only time will tell if removing the century-old socket ends up being a step forward or a huge inconvenience. What we do know is that adapters have a long history of facilitating changing connectivity standards and fostering compatibility between devices.

A working knowledge of the kinds of adapters available in the market can help increase your business’s productivity, not to mention help you and your employees bounce back from disaster recovery situations.

Hypothetical Scenarios

Adapters can save your business substantial time and inconvenience in a pinch. For example, if an employee’s laptop screen stops working, they have the option of connecting the laptop to an external monitor. However, there’s a high probability that the two machines do not share a common connection standard: The monitor may support HDMI and DVI, but the laptop only exports over VGA or DisplayPort. Having the right adapter on hand can get your team back up and running in no time.

Alternatively, if a desktop computer’s Wi-Fi card stops functioning, you can try hooking up an external USB wireless adapter to the device. Problem solved! No matter what the connectivity challenge, adapters can usually come to the rescue.

Here’s a rundown on useful peripheral, display, and network adapters you may want to store in the office:

Peripheral Connectors

  • USB-to-SD: These adapters plug into a USB port and add full-size SD Card compatibility to computers and many smartphones.
  • USB-to-Bluetooth: While Bluetooth connectivity is assured on smartphones, it isn’t on computers. Computers can add compatibility with devices like Bluetooth earphones, headphones, mice, and keyboards via this adapter.
  • Thunderbolt-to-USB/Firewire: This adapter allows a new Mac to work with older USB and Firewire devices like external hard drives and digital cameras.
  • Lightning/USB to 3.5mm: These adapters are available for both phones and computers to maintain compatibility with peripherals like headphones, microphones, and credit card readers.

Display Connectors

  • DVI-to-VGA: These adapters allow computers to connect to monitors and TVs that use the older VGA standard. These can be very helpful when connecting a laptop to a larger screen in the office presentation room. VGA-to-DVI adapters exist as well, but can be expensive.
  • HDMI-to-DVI: These adapters allow computers and monitors with only one type of port to work with each other. Note that HDMI audio will not work over DVI.
  • DisplayPort-to-HDMI/DVI: These adapters allow DisplayPort-equipped computers to work with the more commonly supported HDMI and DVI standards on monitors.

Network Adapters

  • USB-to-/Wi-Fi: These adapters are helpful for adding wireless support to desktop computers without needing to open and install a Wi-Fi card adapter. They’re also helpful for upgrading laptops that use an older wireless standard to a newer one, and can replace broken internal adapters.

Like adapters, managed service providers excel at keeping your business going nonstop and helping to ease technical transitions. Contact MPA Networks today if your business is looking to improve its disaster recovery practices.

Water-Resistant Smartphones Are Here: What You Need to Know

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

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Water-resistance probably isn’t on the feature checklist for your employee smartphones—but judging by how many of these devices meet an untimely end via liquid damage, it should be.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that dropping the device is the number one cause of smartphone damage at 30 percent; however, liquid damage makes up a substantial 18 percent.

Your business can purchase a range of affordable fitted bumpers, cases, and screen protectors as a line of defense, but waterproof cases like this one are much more expensive and bulky.

It’s “Water-Resistant,” Not “Waterproof”

First and foremost, keep in mind that water-resistant smartphones are not waterproof. If you throw the phone in the ocean or a 12-foot-deep wave pool and leave it there for a few hours, it’s going to break. These devices are built to survive the accidental drop in the bathtub or dinner table spill. Water-resistant devices also have different performance ratings. For example, the Samsung Galaxy S7 can survive being submerged under five feet of water for half an hour.

Why Go Water-resistant?

Water-resistant smartphones can help increase productivity by allowing employees more free use of their devices by lessening water-resistant concerns. For example, an employee with a water-resistant phone will have no qualms about answering a call in the rain. Many smartphones also suffer water damage from sweat seeping in during a workout—not a problem with water-resistant devices. Additionally, a versatile phone can help reduce downtime, data loss, and replacement costs when it continues to function even after being dropped in a pool, submerged in spilled beer, or soaked in a bag in the rain.

Current and Upcoming Models

The water-resistant phone is not an especially new concept; the Sony Xperia Z released in early 2013 is considered the first slim-designed water-resistant smartphone. As of mid-2016, CNET recommends the following water-resistant phones:

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 (Edge and Active)
  • Sony Xperia X Performance
  • Motorola Moto G4

While the iPhone 6S doesn’t have a “water-resistant” designation, Engadget reports that the device holds up surprisingly well against liquid damage, even when being submerged. CNN found that while a dunk test still broke the iPhone 6S, it held up for much longer than the iPhone 5. Additionally, ZDNet reports that the iPhone 6S can alert the user if the lightning port is wet, which hints at future water-resistance.

Your business’s smartphone needs can vary, and depending on partnerships, you may be limited to specific devices on a single carrier. IT consulting services can help find the right water-resistant phones for your staff’s needs. Contact us today for more information on how you can keep the rain from coming down on your smartphone parade.

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.

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.

Where’s Your Company’s WISP? Why You Need One NOW

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

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A WISP is one of the most important documents for any company doing business over the Internet—which, in this day and age, is pretty much everybody. Who’s responsible for drafting and maintaining your company’s WISP? Or are you even sure what a WISP is? If not, your company is already at serious risk for additional legal action—lawsuits and punitive fines—following a data breach, whether the result of external hacking or internal human error.

WISP stands for Written Information Security Programessentially your company’s formal road map for safeguarding the privacy of customers’ Personally Identifiable Information (PII), as well as a response plan after a data breach—including customer notification.

WISPs are already required for companies dealing in financial services (the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act) or medical health records (HIPAA). Additionally, most states now have their own laws governing data privacy standards for businesses.

Here in California, the California Data Protection Act (Civil Code Section 1798.80-1798.84) requires businesses to “implement and maintain reasonable security procedures” to ensure the electronic privacy of customers’ personal information—their names combined with any of the following:

  • Usernames/passwords for online accounts
  • Social Security/Driver’s License numbers
  • Credit/debit card numbers
  • Medical history/health insurance records

How Much Is “Reasonable”?

The tricky thing here is that the California law doesn’t define what “reasonable security procedures” really are. And if even one of your customers resides out of state, your company is likewise bound by the corresponding data protection laws in that state—such as Massachusetts, where a WISP is a legal business requirement. At a time when new corporate data breaches seem to grab headlines every month, a formal WISP program for any company—large or small—is just good common sense.

Cover All the Bases

What are the elements of a comprehensive, iron-clad WISP? Here are the essential points to cover:

  • The designated person(s) to administrate the WISP
  • An assessment of reasonably foreseeable risks to security/confidentiality of protected PII data
  • Locations where personal information is stored (electronic or hard copies, as well as access from portable devices)
  • Specific measures to safeguard confidential data (encryption, firewalls, security patches, or more)
  • Ongoing employee data security training, with disciplinary policy for WISP violations
  • Monitoring and review of the program’s effectiveness, annually or as necessary
  • Your company’s official breach response plan

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts offers a good WISP template for small businesses here.

Most importantly, if your company is partnered with a managed service provider or other third-party IT services, make sure they’re on board with your WISP program—that they’ll take time to assist in crafting your initial policy in addition to providing regular enforcement and documentation. We certainly will.