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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.

 

 

Hack of 500 Million Yahoo Accounts Reminds Industry to Increase Security Measures


November 23rd, 2016


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In September 2016, half a billion Yahoo account users received the bad news that their names, email addresses, phone numbers, and security questions were potentially stolen in a 2014 hack.

According to CNET, the Yahoo hack is the largest data breach in history.

In the wake of a major hack like this one, the only silver lining is a powerful reminder for businesses to review their IT security practices. In the case of the Yahoo breach, hackers can use the stolen information to compromise other employee accounts and further extend the reach of the hack. Here’s how they do it, and what you can do to stop them.

The “Forgot My Password” Reverse Hack Trick

Hackers can steal information from many accounts with the information taken from a single account. If you’ve set your Yahoo email address as your “forgot my password” account for other services, a hacker can use a password reset and reminder commands to compromise even more important accounts. Hackers can use stolen security question answers here to obtain other account credentials as well.

The “Same Password, Different Account” Hack

Memorizing a different password for each account is pretty much impossible for the average person. Most people end up using the same password for many accounts. For example, if you own the email addresses “myemail@yahoo.com” and “myemail@gmail.com” and use the same password for both, it’s likely that a hacker who stole your Yahoo password and security questions will try them on the account with the same name on Gmail.

Password Theft Prevention Strategies

Security breach prevention starts with a strategic security plan and a series of best practices:

Account-Specific Logins and Passwords. One way to prevent a hacker from using your stolen username and password on another account is to create site-specific login and password credentials. This is easily accomplished by memory by adding a site-specific prefix or suffix for each account. For example, your Yahoo and Gmail credentials may be “myemailYHOO/YHOOP@ssw0rd” and “GOOGLmyemail/P@ssw0rdGOOGL” respectively. Alternatively, password managers are an easy way to manage login credentials across accounts and generate random passwords.

Secure the Fallback Account. We’ve previously discussed the security benefits of “two-step verification” as an effective way to keep hackers out of your accounts even if they manage to steal your password or security question answers. Make sure all of your accounts that feature a “forgot my password” function lead back to a “two-step” secured email address.

Update Passwords Frequently. Typically, hackers use your stolen information immediately to access your accounts and steal your information. That’s why frequent password changes are often considered a waste of time. However, the Yahoo hack bucks this trend as the information being released in late 2016 came from 2014.

IT security and password protection are an essential part of doing business in the modern digital world. Contact us today for IT consulting advice for better security practices and managed services assistance to help keep your business’s confidential information safe.

 

 

The Benefits of Backups


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


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.

 

 

Massive IoT DDoS Attack Causes Widespread Internet Outages. Are Your Devices Secured?


November 1st, 2016


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As you probably know already, the United States experienced its largest Internet blackout in history on October 21, 2016, when Dyn—a service that handles website domain name routing—got hit with a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack from compromised Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The day will be known forevermore as the day your home IP camera kept you from watching Netflix.

The writing has been on the wall for a while now when it comes to IoT security: We’ve previously discussed how IoT devices can be used to watch consumers and break into business networks.

This specific outage is an example of how the tech industry is ignoring security mistakes of the past and failing to take a proactive approach in protecting IoT networks.

The Outage

The October outage included three separate attacks on the Dyn DNS provider, making it impossible for users in the eastern half of the U.S. to access sites including Twitter, Spotify, and Wired. This attack was different from typical DDoS attacks, which utilize malware-compromised computers to overwhelm servers with requests to knock them offline. Instead, it used malware call Mirai that took advantage of IoT devices. These compromised devices then continually requested information from the Dyn servers en masse until the server ran out of power to answer all requests, thus bringing down each site in turn.

This outage did not take down the servers hosting the platforms, but rather the metaphorical doorway necessary to access those sites.

Ongoing Security Concerns

According to ZDNet, the IoT industry is, at the moment, more concerned with putting devices on the market to beat competition than it is with making devices secure. IoT devices are notably easy to hack because of poor port management and weak password protection. IoT devices are also known for not encrypting communication data. October’s attack wasn’t even the first of its kind: A 145,000-device IoT botnet was behind a hospital DDoS attack just one month prior.

What You Can Do

MacWorld recommends changing the default security configuration settings on all IoT devices and running those devices on a secondary network. The Mirai malware works simply by blasting through default username and password credentials—so users could have protected themselves by swapping the default “admin/admin” and “password/password” settings. There are also IoT security hub devices available to compensate for IoT security shortcomings.

IoT devices can offer fantastic perks for your office, but the security concerns are too important to ignore. If you’re interested in improving network security pertaining to IoT devices or looking for advice on which IoT devices would benefit your workplace, don’t hesitate to contact MPA Networks today.