How to avoid the most dangerous cloud security threats

Cloud computing has revolutionized the way businesses and employees interact with data. It offers many benefits such as increased mobility, improved flexibility, and limitless scalability. But along with those benefits come security concerns that shouldn’t be ignored.

From the threat of data breaches to compromised credentials, your cloud security shouldn’t be that different than the network security procedures you already have in place. In fact, it should be part of your network protection measures. But there are some extra concerns and protections you need to understand.

We’ll discuss some of the top cloud security threats and best practices to keep your business safe.

cloud data

Data breaches

Data breaches are the most common fear businesses have when moving to the cloud. High-profile breaches like Equifax have taught us about the devastating, long-term effects of a data breach – both financially and on your reputation.

Risk of data breach is not unique to cloud computing, but it’s certainly a big concern. Because of the remote nature of cloud infrastructure, the endpoints and pathways your data travels can increase exponentially. Luckily, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of a breach as well as improve your response.

“An incident response team can reduce the cost of a breach by as much as $14 per compromised record from the average per-capita cost of $148. Similarly, extensive use of encryption can cut the cost by $13 per capita.”

Security Intelligence

The numbers above demonstrate the vital importance of having a solid cybersecurity plan that includes multiple layers of security, such as proactive network monitoring, antivirus software, threat detection, data encryption, and firewalls. The most important element, though, is having a team you trust ready and able to respond to a threat the instant it is detected.

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Credential & access management

A major cause of data breaches and other issues is weak access management protocols. This includes problems from poor or compromised passwords to people having access to parts of your network they really don’t need for their work.

Your first step to combat this problem is to put some solid password best practices into place. Start with simple things like avoiding obvious passwords and not using the same password for every account, and add more robust measures like two-factor authentication wherever you need it. With two-factor authentication, users attempting to access your network are required to provide an additional method of identification such as a PIN or a temporary code via SMS or email.

Access control groups are another powerful way to protect your network. By segmenting your data into groups, you can identify the most at-risk data and limit network access to it. That way if one segment of your network is compromised, your entire network won’t be immediately exposed.

Ultimately, your network is only as secure as the people accessing it. Make sure your employees are trained well and often on cybersecurity best practices.

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Related: Five strategies to get employee buy-in for security awareness training

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BYOD devices

The cloud changes the way users are able to interact with data. As a result, many users may want to access work files and applications from their personal mobile devices. This can offer benefits like increased productivity, but it can also open your network up to cyber threats.

“Reliance on smartphones in the enterprise space has skyrocketed in recent years, but it comes at a price. Zimperium estimates that some 60% of enterprise endpoints are mobile devices. In most companies, this means that 60% of endpoints accessing the enterprise have no visibility on them, making them ripe targets.”

Security Boulevard

It’s important to make sure you have a clear bring your own device (BYOD) policy in place and that the policy is communicated to your employees. You don’t necessarily have to ban all external devices because, as mentioned before, they can offer benefits like improved productivity. Your BYOD policy should cover not just what type of devices are and are not allowed but also how those devices are allowed to connect to your network.

Employee training on security best practices can help make this even more effective. Make sure your employees understand the importance of keeping their devices updated and locked, as well as being aware of when and how they are accessing data in the cloud. Accessing it from your office network is one thing, but accessing it from an unsecured public WiFi connection could open your network up to a host of problems.

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Related: The future of BYOD: Statistics, predictions and best practices to prep for the future

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In conclusion

As mentioned above, most of these security threats are not just limited to cloud services. To keep your data secure, you need a multi-layered cybersecurity plan that protects your data in-house as well as in the cloud. From cloud to cybersecurity, make sure you’re working with a trusted IT partner who not only is a cybersecurity expert but also works to understand the way your business operates. Your cloud security solution should never be one-size-fits-all but rather customized to address your unique needs.

How do the largest cloud providers stack up?

Adoption of cloud computing is one of the fastest-growing trends in business today. To stay competitive, control costs, and enhance productivity, the cloud is offering a variety of solutions for all stages of business.

That said, there are a lot of cloud companies offering their services. So it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to start, what you need, and who can serve your best interests. As with any important business decision, research is essential.

Here we highlight four of the largest names in cloud computing – all instantly-recognizable with established histories and reputations. But how do they stack up when it comes to what they can actually offer you?

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At your service

When researching cloud service providers, you’ll see three terms fairly often: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Before you go too deep into your research, it’s helpful to understand these terms.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service

Clients subscribe to a pay-as-you-go service in which they can access storage, network, server, and other cloud-related resources. Users save money on hardware and the service is scalable to their current needs.

Software-as-a-Service

Subscribers use cloud-based applications and work within the cloud versus having to locally install or update applications on end-user devices. As with IaaS cloud computing, it’s a scalable service. Because data is stored in the secure, access-controlled cloud, it is better protected and applications are always current. Mobile users have decided advantages, as applications can be accessed from any internet-connected device.

Platform-as-a-Service

The perfect service for software developers, PaaS provides a platform of tools to develop and test applications in a single environment. Infrastructure requirements are handled for everything needed, including operating systems, server software, security, and backups. The nature of cloud-based development software encourages collaboration, as well as separate testing and production environments. And the high-availability environment can lead to increased productivity.

Azure

Microsoft Azure

Of all of the public cloud service options available, Microsoft Azure is the best known and most widely used. Nearly every computer interacts with Microsoft in some way, so Azure has a large client base. It offers all three popular platform options – IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS and supports various programming languages. It’s ideal for software development, supporting the full range of Microsoft-specific software as well as a number of third-party applications.

While Microsoft Azure is versatile and scalable to specific user needs, the subscription model may seem expensive for some budgets. And despite a fairly easy setup, the number of services available may seem overwhelming at first. There will likely be a training curve for your IT staff. It also doesn’t migrate well to other cloud systems.

While Azure will cover all of your needs, you’ll want to consider your long-range planning and do some additional research before committing.

AWS

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

It’s no surprise that online giant Amazon has invested – and found success – in the fast-growing technology of cloud computing. Amazon Web Services supports IaaS and PaaS platforms and a number of featured services like high-level backups, data transfer, messaging and notification, security management, and encryption.

AWS is a scalable service, so you can use as little or as much as you need. Compared to other services, AWS data storage costs are low. Its application programming interface (API) support means it works well with other software, and the native AWS environment seamlessly integrates various available services.

While simple to manage once running, AWS has a bit of a learning curve when it comes to initial setup and integration. Billing can be confusing because how charges are applied is not always clear. Costs can also sometimes run higher than others depending on what you need.

AWS has a lot to offer and is popular as a result. Still, it makes good business sense to examine its specific offerings and costs to ensure it’s the best cloud solution for your organization.

Google Cloud Platform

Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

Google Cloud employs a robust network to support an IaaS platform with decent pricing, ease of use, and security on a reliable network. While it may fall behind mainstream services Azure and AWS, GCP is a good choice for hosting databases and application data and for managing backups. It employs a global network with a variety of storage types depending on need. With no storage minimums or ceilings, GCP can host as few or as many files needed.

Its web-based console makes management simple. The robust console options might be overload for users simply needing to manage storage. But it’s easy enough to limit your activity exclusively to handling storage tasks.

Google Cloud (not to be confused with Google Drive) receives high marks for security with its API to connect Google Cloud endpoints, plus 128-bit or 256-bit encryption using the Google Key Management Service. It enables two-factor authentication for further protection of data and accounts.

While not the most expensive service, Google Cloud does charge more per gigabyte than AWS or Azure. Support costs for GCP can run a bit high, as well. Service levels range from standard business hours/e-mail contact ($150/month) to extended 24/7 phone support ($400/month).

IBM cloud

IBM Cloud

Once known as IBM SoftLayer and IBM Bluemix, IBM Cloud offers IaaS, PaaS and a wide variety of cloud computing services. Besides the usual storage, networking, data management and security, IBM cloud offers value-added services including analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) management, and VMWare.

IBM Cloud service has a reputation for solid performance and has access to numerous data centers. Its package includes specialty offerings – IBM Watson is one of the more well-known options – and boasts reliable tech support.

Setup is not as straightforward compared to other services, but with good tech support, it’s not an insurmountable hurdle. Pricing runs in the middle of the pack but provides excellent value for those interested in the unique services IBM Cloud supports.

Cloud computing is still growing

These four cloud service providers are counted among the best in the market. Numerous other respected players to explore include Rackspace, Kamatera, Adobe Creative Cloud, VMWare, Red Hat, and Oracle. While offering similar services and pricing, each is unique and may offer specific services well suited to your business needs.

With this in mind, it’s important to research your options thoroughly. It may help to consult with cloud computing experts to determine the best services to support your operation and growth plans.

How the cloud can help make compliance more productive

It’s estimated that approximately 83% of enterprises will be in the cloud by the year 2020. There’s no question that cloud computing, as well as all that’s offered by the technology, is here to stay.

83% of enterprises will be in the cloud by the year 2020

– Forbes.com

However, moving to a cloud environment brings changes that can affect how you deal with compliance.

Before diving into how the cloud has changed to meet compliance requirements, it’s a good idea to better understand the challenges that brought about the need for these changes to begin with.

Challenge: Delineating responsibility in the “shared responsibility model”

Even though there have been significant efforts made by cloud providers to create more awareness of the “shared responsibility model,” providing the needed training and security controls, there are many organizations that still struggle to fully understand, making the same mistakes in delineating the responsibilities.

As a result, organizations wind up with security gaps in cloud assets, all because they assume it is the provider’s responsibility to manage and prevent potential breaches.

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Challenge: Responsibility shift and changing realization of compliance mapping

Compliance objectives and requirements remain constant across all the layers of cloud computing. However, the accountability to create specific requirements on an Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) versus a Security-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform might be totally different. One may require the customer to implement the same, where the other requires the cloud provider to do so.

For example, there are different implementation sets and responsibility models to meet the compliance objectives of an IaaS service compared to a SaaS platform.

Challenge: Compliance and security checks aren’t done until the end of the software production lifecycle

In most situations, compliance and security policies are written on extremely large and complex paper documents. After software production, the security personnel or officers will validate the software in order to make sure it has met the policies, which may often fall a bit short due to delivery time constraints, the pressure to go to market, and not fully understanding the software. The Development and Security team’s relationship is affected, which can then result in the creation of insecure and non-resilient software.

Now that some of the most prevalent challenges are known, it’s important to find out how the cloud has changed to better meet these compliance concerns.

The creation of knowledge and awareness

Modern cloud providers have invested quite a bit of time and money into knowledge and awareness to help users better understand their responsibilities versus cloud providers responsibilities. When a company decides to adopt the cloud for their business, they also need to create a strategy that includes training the teams about the ongoing responsibility shift taking place with the use of the cloud.

A great starting point to learn more about this is the AWS Shared responsibility guide.

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Learn more about the AWS Shared responsibility guide.

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Defining and delineating responsibilities for SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS service models as early as possible is essential for success. When an organization moves to the cloud, it doesn’t mean they no longer have to use methods to secure the data or workloads being moved. Now, cloud providers are spreading this awareness in hopes users will take the proper security measures to safeguard information.

The shifting of compliance and security checks

Thanks to the rise in the adoption of DevOps, there has been a significant impact on how organizations produce software. Due to the change in methodology, compliance and security controls need to be shifted and not implemented closer to the actual production. The conversion of the paper-based security needs and the compliance policies should be used earlier in the process. Beginning early and converting security as code is the solution to help achieve compliance at the cloud scale.

Automation is now required to remain compliant and manage drift

Managing drift within the cloud can be challenging because of the high velocity and ephemeral nature. Using automation, along with the real-time enforcement of various compliance policies is the best way to remain compliant.

With automation, an organization has the ability to enforce various security controls and security policies homogenously in this continually changing cloud ecosystem. The cloud may be further augmented with the real-time enforcement of the set compliance policies. This is something that is absolutely essential if a company wants to remain compliant. The use of in-house automation, along with products, such as Puppet, Chef, etc. can be used together to help manage drift and automate to meet the set compliance objectives.

EaseTech team member

To remain compliant in the cloud, it’s important to stay abreast of these changes as they continue to evolve. If you want to ensure your company or organization remains compliant, then keeping the tips and information here in mind is a must. If you’d like to learn more, additional information about cloud compliance can be found by reaching out to the team at EaseTech.

3 things you need to do before implementing your BYOD plan

Deciding on, and then implementing a BYOD program can be a huge challenge. It may even seem like an intimidating and impossible task. While most businesses are attracted to the cost-efficiency of a BYOD program, there are certain things that must be done to ensure the plan is successful.

Understanding BYOD

BYOD (which you likely already know stands for “Bring Your Own Device“) is something that is becoming more and more common in businesses today. This type of program allows your employees to bring their own, personal mobile devices and use them for work-related purposes. This is in lieu of the company providing them with laptops, smartphones or other mobile devices.

If you are thinking about implementing the BYOD program, but you don’t know where to begin, here’s our short list of what you’ll need.

1

Establish a security policy for all devices

Before you allow your employees the freedom to access your company’s resources from any device, you need to ensure there are stringent security guidelines in place.

Most users are resistant to complex passwords and lock screens simply because they are inconvenient. However, an unsecured device can leave your business’s sensitive data prone to an attack.

To ensure everything is safeguarded, you need to make sure that your BYOD includes the following security guidelines:

  • Set the minimum required security controls for all devices, which includes password requirements and data encryption.
  • Determine where the data from a BYOD device is going to be stored.
  • Determine if your IT department can remotely wipe devices if it is lost, an employee is terminated, there’s a policy breach, disaster situation, or some other issue.
  • Are your employees going to be required to install a mobile device security application, or are workers going to have the ability to choose their own security solutions that meet set criteria?

The strictness of the guidelines that you set will depend on your industry.

Put protections in place against any legal liability

When you introduce devices owned by your employee in your workplace, then it may lead to legal issues. As a result, you need to implement policies that help you avoid problems. Some things to consider include:

  • Rights: What legal rights do your employees and the organization have? Know what these are to create the proper privacy requirements and regulatory requirements.
  • Responsibilities: Do employees who are using a device with a corporate app or data have the responsibility of providing protection for the device? What happens if no steps are taken to protect it?
  • Liability: Will the company be held liable if an action on its part results in private data loss? What liability lies with the employee?
  • Privacy: What are the steps your business is going to take to protect employee privacy?

3

Define specific and concise user guidelines

By creating acceptable use policies, it’s possible to prevent malware and viruses from getting into the system via unsecured apps or websites.

It’s a good idea to talk about the following questions with your IT team or your managed service provider to set up your acceptable use policies. These questions include:

  • What applications can an employee access from their personal devices? Make sure that you clearly outline the types of apps that are allowed and the ones that aren’t allowed.
  • What websites need to be banned while the employee’s device is connected to the business network?
  • What type of company-owned assets will employees be allowed to access on their personal electronic devices? Contracts, documents, calendars, emails, etc.?
  • What type of policies are going to be implemented to keep employees from transmitting or storing illicit materials or from engaging in unrelated activities on their devices?

A tip from companies that have implemented BYOD policies in the past is that if you block the “time wasting” sites such as YouTube and Facebook, it may seem somewhat controlling to workers. As long as employees continue to perform well, there’s no need to implement these types of restrictions.

The best way for you to successfully get your employees excited and on board with your bring your own device program is by working to create a trusting environment. If you implement excessive restrictions, then it may make your workers feel like you are actually infringing on their personal freedoms. Rather than doing this, take the time to let them know about the realities of a BYOD program, and give them the ability and opportunity to use this new freedom responsibly.

Implementing BYOD at your business: now you know

If you are planning to implement a BYOD policy for your business, then using the tips and information here can be extremely beneficial. After all, this type of policy can be extremely beneficial for your company, a well as your employees.

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Keep in mind, you may have to tweak and alter your BYOD policy as you move forward. This is fine, just be willing to measure the success of the plans you have made to determine if changes are needed. By doing this, you will be prepared to ensure your employees have the best possible plan in place and that your company and your workers are reaping all the possible benefits that are offered by the bring your own device policy.

The cloud and your business: what you need to know

When it comes to your business, you know the value of relying on proven practices to get the job done. You also know that there comes a time when a bold, new approach is really needed to improve efficiency and meet demand. Businesses all across the country are moving to the cloud because they know that the cloud will give them a competitive edge of others in their industry.

When it comes to technology, things move at a rapid pace. We put together this guide to help you understand the many benefits of migrating over to the cloud. Learn how the cloud can transform the way you work and give you an advantage over your competitors.

Simplicity

Most businesses rely on technology to manage their daily operations. Managing on-site IT involves software installation and upgrades, security patches, and troubleshooting issues. It is a full-time job that many small businesses cannot afford to employ. Most businesses outsource to busy IT consultants, or they rely on a member of their staff to provide IT support. Either option can cost you time and money and put your business at risk. If you don’t have an IT specialist on staff, cloud-based software can simplify your life.  Choose your provider carefully to ensure you feel comfortable and confident in their ability to handle your needs. Your cloud provider will handle all updates for you off-site. This means you will have a full staff of experts working to make sure you are always up to date and secure.

Minimize downtime

When you rely on technology to keep things going, downtime can be a critical problem. Natural disasters, accidents, or theft can destroy data that is stored only on hard-drives or local servers. According to FEMA, almost 40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster. Cloud storage keeps your files updated and your applications online in the event of a disruption, big or small. The cloud automates backups which remove the risk of human error. If your on-site server goes down, cloud services ensure that your business doesn’t miss a beat. Regardless of the cause, when interruptions hit the cloud helps to minimize downtime and keep your business going.

Mobility

One of the many benefits of the cloud is the ability for employees to work remote. As of 2017, up to 25% of Americans worked from home at least some of the time. Cloud services are a game-changer for mobility. You will no longer have to save files to a USB drive or email them to yourself for later. The cloud allows you to access your files anywhere there is an internet connection. For people who travel often, such as those in sales, the cloud minimizes the stress of working on the go. Never again will you have to worry about leaving behind the latest version of a contract or proposal. As many benefits as there are to mobility with the cloud, there are certain security risks. This is why it is vital to establish written policies about the use of personal devices by employees.

Security

It is a myth to assume that your small business is safe from online threats because of its size. In reality, small businesses are a popular target of online hackers. Businesses of all sizes must work hard to stay abreast of the latest security threats. Your business is not immune to threats like hacking, malware, and ransomware. By housing your data in the cloud you can reduce the effect of any breach. When you use cloud services you can rest assured that your data is in good hands. It is automatically backed up and protected by experts in the field of cloud security.

It is also important to understand how to prevent and respond to cloud-specific security threats. Methods of prevention include employee education, data encryption, access controls, and governance policies.

Affordability

One of the biggest benefits of moving over to the cloud is the opportunity to cut costs. This is achieved by eliminating onsite servers, software, and associated maintenance fees. You can also remove server costs and extend the life of your existing workstations. By moving over to a subscription-based cloud service, you pay only for what you need. This means significantly reduced operational and capital costs, which makes for better IT budgeting.

Flexibility and Scalability

Cloud services come in a variety of options, depending on the needs of your business.

  • In the public cloud data is easily accessible from anywhere.
  • A private cloud is a safe way for businesses to host security compliant applications. For enterprise businesses that are looking for both security and mobility, a private cloud may be the ideal solution.
  • The hybrid cloud combines the accessibility of the public cloud with the security of the private cloud. Applications and data can move across clouds or your data center with minimal downtime. Many businesses prefer the hybrid model because of its efficient use of both private and public clouds.

The cloud also offers the opportunity to scale up or down according to required storage. Unlike on-site servers, which have a finite capacity, you can easily adjust your storage space with the cloud. As your business changes and grows, you can scale the cloud to meet your needs– no more equipment purchases required.

Evolving technology

The cloud came on the scene in 2010, and in recent years it has become clear that the cloud is the future. This is an exciting time to get on board with cloud services. Latest industry trends promise great things for the future of cloud computing. We continue to see rapid advancement in cloud technology. As cloud technology matures, it is on the brink of becoming mainstream in business, the same way that the internet did around the turn of the Millennium.

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Related: IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS: Which should you choose?

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6 Critical Steps to Bolstering Your School’s Network Security

The ongoing revolution in digital technologies has made the learning process easier and more interesting for students of all ages. As your IT environment becomes more mature, however, you need to give some thought to how you will protect your systems and devices from attackers.

Don’t worry. There’s good news, too.

A little bit of common sense can go a long way when following cyber security best practices. Let’s look at some of the most important actions that you can take to make your school’s network more secure.

  1. Antivirus and Anti-Malware Solutions

Teachers are migrating more of their lessons and resources online, which means that your school’s network security is critical. Your network as a whole is becoming a more tempting target for cybercriminals who are looking to make a little profit—or just want to have a little fun at your expense.

For example, “ransomware” applications like the 2017 WannaCry attack lock up your own files and data and refuse to give you back access until you pay a hefty sum to the attackers. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and other nasty software can wreak havoc on your school network, making computers shut down or behave erratically.

In order to keep your network protected, install strong antivirus and anti-malware software that can quickly detect and quarantine suspicious applications. These applications should run scans of the entire network on a regular basis.

  1. Software Updates and Patches

The devastating 2017 Equifax breach, which revealed the sensitive information of 143 million people in the U.S., occurred after attackers entered the company’s network through a security vulnerability with a patch already available for months.

As you add more devices to your school network, it becomes more and more imperative to make sure that each machine has installed the latest upgrades. Patch management software can help you keep track of each device’s status. Additionally, it can alert you to any critical vulnerabilities that need immediate attention.

  1. BYOD Security Policies

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have the potential to greatly enhance the classroom learning experience. However, they also carry great risks when you allow students to bring in their personal devices.

Because the administration has no oversight of how students behave on their own laptops and tablets, you could be opening a security “backdoor” every time that these devices connect to the school’s network.

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Related: They Stole You?

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To guard against the potential dangers of personal devices in the classroom, create and enforce a strong BYOD (“bring your own device”) security policy. For example, students might have to install an app that monitors their Internet activity while connected to the network at school. It’s a small price to pay to bolster your school’s network security.

  1. Third-Party Vetting

Many schools choose to work with third-party IT vendors because they don’t have the in-house knowledge or experience to build a robust IT infrastructure themselves. While this can greatly enhance your capabilities, it can also expose you to additional risk.

Just like students’ personal devices, vendors with inadequate security training may accidentally open a backdoor into your school network. The devastating Home Depot and Target data breaches both occurred due to a third-party vendor with lax security practices.

It’s important to do your research when speaking with potential IT vendors. Once you’re drawing up the contract, make sure that both of you are on the same page by including cyber security best practices in your service level agreement (SLA).

  1. Data Backups and Encryption

Schools represent a highly enticing target for attackers. This is because they possess a great deal of personal and sensitive information about their students and employees. Still, in the event that hackers do break into your network, all is not necessarily lost.

By backing up your data at regular intervals in a separate location, like on a server in the cloud, you can protect it from loss even if your systems are compromised by a ransomware attack. In addition, if you encrypt the data that you store on your on-premises servers, it will be useless gibberish. Even in the hands of the attackers, unless they have the decryption key.

Encrypting your data should be a secondary line of defense if a data breach does occur. Data encryption will help you remain compliant with legislation such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) because the breach only exposed the encrypted information and not the actual underlying data.

  1. Training and Education

The best defense is a good offense, especially in cyber security. All too often, schools and companies have issues with breaches and malware. This can all be because one person clicked on the wrong link or opened a malicious application.

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Related: 4 Ways to Avoid Internal Security Threats

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Students, teachers, and administrators should all be trained to recognize the common signs of phishing emails and other scams. For example, phishing emails usually create a false sense of urgency and have frequent spelling errors. In addition, the email address of the sender is likely incorrect. Links in the body of the email may superficially resemble the correct website, but point somewhere else upon closer examination.

Bonus Step 7: Partner with a Scholastic IT Expert

Everything we mentioned above will take ample coordination and research. It’s a delicate game of balancing the necessary network security components to secure your school and staying within your IT budget.

Luckily, that’s where we can help.

We’re experts in optimizing schools to have the best possible security solutions that work for their needs. Let’s have a chat and explore more of what you’re looking for.

Business IT Expenditures: Where to Spend and Where to Cut

IT spending is always a major concern for businesses operating in competitive markets, but particularly so for small and medium-sized organizations. While it’s often easy to identify the need for cuts, however, deciding where and how to trim an IT budget can be a hugely complex process.

With expert help and some detailed analysis, identifying potential savings can grow the bottom line and streamline internal processes. But a word of caution: cutting in the wrong areas can have the opposite effect.

To help you with these tough decisions, here are a few tips that should help you to minimize business IT spending without adversely affecting customer service or your organization’s operations.

Constantly Negotiate Prices and Contracts

It doesn’t matter how small your business is, if it has IT requirements, there is usually scope for securing discounts and price reductions on essential purchases and contracts. For example, by leveraging your ability to shop around for the best deal, you might be able to secure a cheaper broadband deal. Whether you’re looking at the cost of cloud-based storage or software subscriptions, there is often room for negotiation.

Calendarize all of your contract end-dates, and make sure you look to renegotiate every time. Everything from the price of printer ink to data security subscriptions can be negotiated if you’re organized and determined.

Keep Track of Changing Technologies and Trends

The nature of IT means there is always a new and more efficient way of doing things just around the corner. Evaluate your infrastructure and processes regularly to determine whether or not you’re utilizing the most cost-efficient technologies available to you.

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Related: The Evolution of Cloud Computing

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For example, switching to a VoIP phone system might drastically reduce your telephony costs. Switching to mobile telephony solutions might be the way to go. Perform an annual audit of your technologies and processes, and ask yourself whether or not there is a cheaper, more efficient alternative.

Virtualize Servers

It wasn’t all that long ago that each major business IT application had its own, dedicated server.

As a result, server utilization rates were high, and hardware costs (as well as maintenance costs) were unnecessarily bloated. Now, however, there’s no need to be so wasteful. If you are still using dedicated servers, consider partitioning them so several applications can share resources.

Embrace the Cloud

More and more small businesses are switching to cloud-based applications and storage options in order to save money. If you’re hosting your own software, you’re likely to face significant capital outlay on hardware every time you upgrade or introduce new processes. But by utilizing cloud-based servers and open source software applications, you don’t need to worry about such large, one-off purchases. In addition, you can save money on administration, security and maintenance.

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Related: Transform Your Work Environment with the Cloud

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Outsource What You Can

Outsourcing IT when you’re trying to cut costs might seem a little counterintuitive, but it’s usually far cheaper than hiring new employees and continually training them. With the right outsourcing provider, you can leave issues such as data security, maintenance and repairs in the hands of the professional. Rather than being hit with unexpected bills, you pay a monthly or annual charge — allowing you to budget with a degree of certainty.

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Related: How Businesses Can Save Time with IT

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Cut Things to the Bone

Take the time to audit your IT infrastructure thoroughly. Ask yourself questions like:

  • Are there systems or purchases that just aren’t necessary?
  • Can switching from inkjet to laser printing save you money in the long run?
  • Instead of buying laptops for employees, can you provide cloud services that they can access on their own devices?
  • Can you switch to a cheaper printer paper?

Even the smallest of cuts or changes to your IT spending can add up to something significant over the course of a financial year.

Consolidate Software Solutions

A lot of small and medium-sized companies grow at a rate the incumbent IT infrastructure can’t cope with. In many cases, individuals turn to their own software and hardware solutions in order to carry out their duties. This can lead to a situation whereby several software solutions are being employed to do the same job.

Can you find efficiencies by ditching several cloud storage solutions for just one? Rather than manually merging data from several software platforms that are working independently from one another, switch to one and implement it throughout your business.

Don’t Cut Too Deeply

In most businesses, there are areas of IT spending that should be ring-fenced from major spending cuts. For example, you’ll always need security systems such as antivirus software, firewalls and data recovery. Don’t take any risks with these areas of IT. The costs associated with not having them in place can be ruinous.

Internet bandwidth is another area that you should protect from significant cost-cutting measures. The quality of your broadband connection, and its ability to host all of your IT functions, is crucial to the overall success of your business. Other areas to protect should include training and specialist staffing. However, you may be able to reduce the cost of both by outsourcing your IT requirements.

Get IT Spending Help from the Professionals

Deciding which areas of your IT infrastructure can be cut to save costs can be a minefield. Get things wrong, and it could cause serious harm to your business, and your working relationships. But by consulting with an IT spending and support specialist such as EaseTech, you can be sure you’re getting your budget perfect for your business.

How to Manage Your Business Technology

Modern organizations have a lot to worry about. Of course, there are the day-to-day aspects of actually running their operations. But there’s also a dreaded tool that needs constant maintenance and performance tweaking.

We’re talking, of course, about technology.

Here’s the ultimate truth about technology and business: it’s a broad topic.

Really broad.

That’s why we’re breaking it down into sections. We want to make it easier to decide where to start and how to manage the technology for your specific business.

In the end, you should have a solid understanding of the building blocks of technology management. Ready to go? Start right here.

Sections Covered:

Save Time with IT Outsourcing

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve already got an IT infrastructure in place. You might even have some in-house IT staff, or a go-to “IT guy” that you turn to when things go wrong.

In theory, a few IT guys should do the trick, depending on the size of your organization. They can handle daily issues, like email sync issues or rattling fans. But this type of support isn’t proactive at all – in fact, it’s just a reactive response to issues that are likely to keep happening.

There are many business benefits to outsourcing your IT support, including a more strategic approach to handling the technology of your business. Outsourcing your IT support also allows you to tackle projects and infrastructure modernization strategies.

But how can businesses save time with their IT management?

In short, working with a team of pros allows you to implement better technologies while minimizing overall risk. The outsourced team handles the issues for you, freeing up resources that you can allocate to other areas of your business.

There’s something else to keep in mind – outsourcing your IT support doesn’t mean you can’t keep existing IT staff. If you strategically divide and conquer your IT challenges, you can improve your overall technology posture and get on track to better technology management.

When Do I Need an MSP?

A managed service provider (MSP) is an expert in all things technology. They’re the guys that you turn to for outsourced IT services. But how do you know when it’s time to talk to them?

Start by asking yourself some of these core questions.

  • What are my business goals? — Remember, you’re not using technology for the sake of using technology. If you buy a new server or get a new application, you’re doing it to improve the way your business operates. Start by solidifying your end goals before you contact an MSP.
  • What challenges do I face today? — You don’t have to note every problem that you’re experiencing. However, it’s important to give them an idea of the challenges you face. Maybe your computers are running really slow. Perhaps you’re facing a slew of common PC issues. You could even be facing bigger infrastructure challenges. Ultimately, it’s the job of the MSP to consult with you and nail these issues down.
  • How much can I spend on an IT budget? — This is a tricky one. It’s hard to nail down exactly how much your IT budget should be if you don’t know the technology you need. But if you can ballpark your IT budget, you can work with an MSP to choose a service level package that works to fit your needs.

These 3 questions should help you narrow down when you need an MSP and how soon you’ll need their help. With an MSP on your side, you get guidance from IT experts without breaking the bank.

In other words, it will become much easier to manage your business technology.

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Related: The Time to Switch IT Providers Is Now

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Handling Internal Security Risks

Modern businesses can’t even start to think about managing technology without considering security. There are two types of security risks:

  1. Internal security, which refers to potential risks that happen within the network. That can include malicious users, lost IT devices, social engineering, incorrect permissions, and more.
  2. External security, which is probably what you usually think of in terms of security – hackers, viruses, ransomware, and more.

Internal security risks pose a serious threat to organizations. After all, how can you manage your business and its data if you have to worry about threats coming from inside the network?

The answer is to take a proactive stance to security.

Start by enacting policies to keep your IT devices safe. With a robust security policy in place, you can decrease the chances of data breaches and security violations happening in the first place.

You must also actively work to keep your staff up-to-date on the latest security threats. Be sure to pass along information on how to avoid the top internal security threats. You can also conduct regular tests and audits to make sure that your staff is following security best practices.

Without security protocols, you can face fines, downtime, lost business, a damaged reputation, and more. That’s why keeping security in mind is an essential part of managing your business technology.

Protection Against External Security Risks

External security threats are a great cause for concern for businesses of all sizes. 60% of small companies actually go out of business within six months of a cyberattack.

In other words, they can be devastating. You need to avoid them at all costs.

Managing your business technology means understanding your goals and which of your technology tools will help you achieve them. But in the end, it’s all just a frail house of cards without adequate protection from external threats.

A solid security strategy begins with information – it’s vital to first understand what the threats are and how to stop the threats from attacking your business in the first place.

Protection against these external threats includes a healthy mix of proactive preparation and technology, such as antivirus programs, firewalls, and web filters. Much like internal security risks, it’s still critical to understand how to avoid the top external security threats.

Building an IT Budget

As mentioned previously, it’s really important to set realistic expectations on how you budget for IT expenses. Most companies enjoy slashing the IT budget because of a flawed logic:

Everything works! Why am I even wasting all this money on IT services?”

Or

Nothing works! Why am I even wasting all this money on IT services?”

These concerns stem from both overspending and underspending.

The truth is that IT budgets need to be built around current and future needs and strategy, rather than immediate wants and problem patch-jobs.

Building an efficient IT budget requires you to understand the current state of your IT infrastructure and where you’d like it to be. Of course, along the way you’ll want to focus on ways to reduce your overall IT spending.

In other words, there are things that you should be investing a lot in, and things that you can afford to cut back on. Mastering the IT budget is a critical step in mastering the management of your business technology.

You can always turn to a pro MSP at any point to get expert consultation on the matter.

Industry-specific IT Solutions

Managing technology is a challenge shared by organizations through all verticals, but each industry faces unique challenges. Therefore, it’s important to understand that different IT solutions exist for different verticals – you don’t have to try and shoehorn them in to address your needs.

Here’s an example.

Let’s say you run a private school. You’re in dire need of a laptop to deploy to each student. You’re looking for the best laptop for students.

Is it safe to assume that any laptop will do? Not necessarily.

There are technology partners and IT solutions that fit your specific needs. You may find laptops that come pre-equipped with scholastic tools that can save you money in the long run. But without consulting for industry-specific tools, you wouldn’t ever know about those options.

It’s not just limited to hardware, either. There are services and solution packages specifically designed to speak to your industry. You might find helpful resources on managing industry-specific IT or even helpful tips on how to filter content.

Talk to an MSP to see how they can help you explore and choose the right solutions for your organization. With the right tools at your disposal, you can manage your business technology far more easily and effectively.

Managing Your Business Technology with EaseTech

We’re here to help you implement and master the technology your organization needs to succeed. When you partner with us, we take care of your IT management so that you can focus on your business.

If you want to know more about IT solutions or how we can help you, feel free to reach out to us.

8 Things to Include in the Perfect Disaster Recovery Plan

It doesn’t matter if you’re a small-business owner or part of a larger enterprise – no one is immune to the effects temporary outages and data loss can have on day-to-day operations. So when disasters, security breaches or other catastrophes take place, how does a business effectively recover from them?

By creating a disaster recovery plan (also known as a DRP).

Extended periods of downtime and unrecoverable data loss can be fatal to companies in any industry.

With this in mind, it’s imperative that you establish a DRP now to minimize the negative effects of unplanned outages.

Here are 8 steps you should follow when crafting the perfect disaster recovery plan.

Step 1: Create Recovery Objectives

The main purpose of a disaster recovery plan is to get your business back up and running as quickly as possible during a disaster. Creating key objectives in the form of an established RTO (Recovery Time Objective) and RPO (Recovery Point Objective) will let you set criteria on how quickly your recovery efforts should take.

An RTO sets a deadline to achieve full recovery within the maximum allowable downtime. An RPO measures the possible data loss that your company can afford before suffering catastrophic business consequences.

As you identify and document other objectives, the availability of company resources needs to help identify how conservative or aggressive data recovery efforts should be.

Step 2: Identify Essential Personnel

When designing your disaster recovery plan, you’ll need to identify each staff member, both internal and external, that will be part of your recovery efforts. Each team member and department involved with your recovery efforts should be documented in your DRP with their assigned responsibilities.

It’s important to discuss budgets for both time and resources well in advance to eliminate the need for approvals when purchasing recovery tools or services.

Step 3: Produce Company Infrastructure Documentation

Having a step-by-step walkthrough of your current network configurations will ensure your IT recovery efforts are executed properly. There’s no telling how severe the data loss or corruption will be.

But leaving a blueprint of your current network infrastructure ensures your IT team will be able to properly rebuild and recover your systems. Having a plan to follow gives your IT recovery team a solid head start in reconstructing your infrastructure.

All documentation should be kept both offline and in the cloud. No matter what, it should be easily accessible to the people that need to see it.

5 Cloud Benefits to Give Your Business an Advantage

Step 4: Decide on Data Recovery Solutions

When it comes to choosing the actual recovery method, there are a lot of options for your company to consider. You should decide on the direction you wish to take, whether that’s on-premise, outsourced, or cloud-based DRaaS solutions.

Each method of recovery will have different costs and capabilities to consider, based on the needs of your company. Storage capacity, recovery timeline, and configuration complexity will all be factors that affect your costs.

Step 5: Define Incident Criteria Checklist

Not every outage that your company experiences should be strictly classified as a disaster. However, you’ll want to list the criteria to be used before deciding to execute your disaster recovery procedures.

Every company’s needs are different. Deciding in advance how strict to keep your criteria will help you set realistic goals and manage your data recovery costs.

You don’t want to roll out the red carpet recovery plan for an electricity outage that lasts an hour.

But if an earthquake rattles your office to bits, you probably do.

Step 6: Outline Disaster Response Procedures

Once you identify an incident as a disaster, you will need to have a set of procedures to follow that will allow you to move forward with your disaster recovery efforts. This stage of your DRP is vital to ensuring you meet the RTO and RPO standards you established in the early stages of your objective planning.

Regardless of how automated or manual your recovery processes are, everything needs to be documented to ensure maximum efficiency. As you begin to identify each step of your disaster response protocols, you should make sure there are steps in place to validate the success of your efforts.

In the event of data loss and recovery, you will need to ensure that all files recovered are working and in good order.

Step 7: Perform Regular Testing

Your perfectly laid out disaster response procedures can be totally ineffective if they haven’t been thoroughly tested. Once you create a disaster recovery plan, it is imperative that you run regular testing on each procedure to confirm its effectiveness.

There are several ways to develop secure environments for your testing, regardless if you are using on-premise or cloud-based recovery options. Create a testing schedule for engineers and other essential staff. They can play through scenarios of outages and data loss, ensuring proper preparation in event of a real disaster.

Making the Business Case for Virtualization

Step 8: Keep Your Recovery Plan Updated

As your company grows, so do the needs of your disaster recovery plan. If you have implemented a regular testing schedule of your DRP, you’ll begin to identify necessary changes to keep your plan in line with your company’s recovery needs. You should make changes to your recovery plan as needed and record each change in a log.

As you make staff changes over time, you must train and assign to your new disaster recovery personnel. As you continue to make regular evaluations of your business needs, your disaster recovery plan will continue to adapt over time.

Bonus Step 9: Let the Experts Handle Your DRP

Preparing your company for unexpected outages and data loss is a critical step in sustaining your business. Going at it alone is certainly doable. However, you need to ensure that everything is going to go off without a hitch.

Here’s the good news: There’s no need to go at it alone. We can help you craft your disaster recovery plan and test it to ensure full functionality.

Need help making a DRP? Want professionals to look your DRP over? Have any additional questions about what goes into DRPs?

Let’s have a conversation.