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The Facts About Web Filtering at Schools

Technology has transformed education. Students have access to an endless supply of information, and teachers can leverage online tools to enhance lessons in every subject. However, there are drawbacks to allowing students unlimited use of the web through school-supplied desktops, laptops, and mobile devices.

Here are some facts that you need to keep in mind in order to make smart decisions about web filtering at school.

Web filtering at schools… and the law

When internet access started to become mainstream, schools were excited to have new research options to offer their students. Unfortunately, parents and teachers soon noticed a significant problem:

Unrestricted web-based technology made it possible for children to be exposed to obscene and dangerous content. Many cybercriminals took to opportunity to start collecting confidential data on school-based internet users. In addition, some of the more technologically-savvy students leveraged their school-based web access to partake in illegal hacking.

Congress developed a comprehensive response to these concerns by passing the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000. This law created requirements for web filtering at schools in exchange for participation in the E-rate program. The E-rate program gives educational institutions discounts on web-based technology.

CIPA requirements

If you choose to move forward with web filtering at schools, there are minimum standards you must meet to comply with CIPA. The most critical are as follows:

  • You must provide notice and hold at least one public hearing to discuss implementation of web filtering at schools.
  • You must also create an internet safety policy that covers monitoring the online activity of minors, access to inappropriate websites, safe use of email and other forms of electronic communication, illegal activity, and unauthorized collection and use of students’ personal information.
  • Additionally, you must offer education for students regarding appropriate online behavior and online safety.
  • You must choose software that can block access to obscene images, child pornography, and anything else considered harmful to minors.

It’s important to note that adult staff members are permitted to override web filtering at schools. Sometimes, they’ll need to so that they can conduct legitimate research or complete other appropriate activities.

Choosing software for web filtering at schools

A variety of technology vendors design and implement software for web filtering at schools. As a result, the specific results of a filter can vary. The biggest drawback? Web filters can sometimes block legitimate sources of information, causing problems down the line. For example, students may wish to research breast cancer, but they are unable to access the resources they need because the filter blocks all mentions of the word “breast”.

When choosing a provider and specific software for web filtering at schools, convenience and reliability are paramount. Administrators must install, configure, and maintain the software with ease. Additionally, they should have the ability to easily adjust the configurations as needed.

Most web filtering at schools functions through a combination of category and keyword filters. Ideally, you will be able to fine-tune these as necessary. Naturally, you’ll base this on your audience and the needs of your student population. Consider software that offers multiple access levels, so that teachers can conduct appropriate research without going through a lot of digital red tape.

Finding a school security partner

We’re experienced in scholastic IT solutions that take the burden of selecting, installing, and maintaining web filters out of your hands. Our experts specialize in full-service IT support, so that you can focus on your primary role as an educator.

Want to learn more? Reach out to us – we’re happy to answer your questions.

The 4 Most Common PC Issues (And How to Solve Them By Yourself)

From mysterious slowness issues to the infamous “Blue Screen of Death,” your computer is liable to experience many different problems throughout its lifetime.

The good news is that most of these problems are fairly rare.

It’s only the most common errors and failures that you’ll likely run into, which have already been well-documented with potential solutions.

You don’t need to be an IT genius to solve some of the most frequent problems with your PC. Below, we’ll go over 4 of the most common technical difficulties that you might face, as well as how to tackle each one of them.

1. Your Computer Won’t Turn On

One of the most basic, and most common, issues is a computer that simply won’t turn on. First, make sure that the battery isn’t dead and that the computer is connected to a power supply. If you’re using an external monitor, also check to make sure that it’s working.

Related: 5 Common IT Support Questions, Answered

If your computer turns on and then off again, it’s likely an electrical or hardware issue. Make sure that you’re using the right voltage for the power supply and that there are no electrical shorts inside your computer. Next, try reseating the different components of the computer, such as the RAM and CPU.

2. Your Computer is Slow

Slowness issues can stem from multiple sources, which makes them initially more challenging to deal with. Fortunately, once you know which one applies to your situation, most of these causes are fairly easy to address.

Related: The Top 5 Apps to Boost Your Productivity

The first step is to make sure that it’s your computer that’s slow, and not your Internet connection. Videos and websites that take a long time to load might be due to a slow Internet connection, but applications that are slow to open nearly always indicate a problem with the computer itself.

Both hardware and software issues can be responsible for a slow PC. In order, try the following steps to diagnose the problem:

  • Rebooting your computer
  • Stopping programs from opening on startup
  • Cleaning out or replacing your computer’s fan
  • Defragmenting your hard drive
  • Installing more RAM
  • Replacing your hard drive with a solid-state drive

3. You’re Seeing Weird Behavior

If you notice unusual icons appearing on your desktop, or strange pop-up ads even when you’re not online, then your computer likely has an adware infestation. Adware is one type of malware (malicious software) that can display ads and hijack your web browsing experience by redirecting you to advertising websites.

Related: Webinar | Keeping Yourself Protected from Phishing Emails

There are many different kinds of malware, all of them undesirable. Spyware secretly collects your personal information and activities, while ransomware locks down your files and makes you pay a ransom in order to continue accessing them.

You should deal with any signs of malware as soon as possible by using a dedicated antivirus and anti-malware software program, such as Microsoft Security Essentials.

Related: They Stole You?

4. Your Wi-Fi Isn’t Working

When your Internet connection is on the fritz or keeps disconnecting, it may be due to an issue with your computer, your router, or the internet service provider itself. First, test the connection with another device, such as a smartphone, to see if you experience the same issues; if you do, you can cross your computer off the list of suspects.

If you diagnose your computer as the source of the problem, first make sure that your device is within range and close to the router, and then reboot the system. You may also need to install new drivers for your wireless adapter. Finally, try temporarily turning off your firewall to see if there’s a problem with your security settings.

Frustrated? We’re Here For You

It’s true that you don’t have to be genius to fix your own IT issues. But here’s another truth – you probably don’t have the time or resources to fix these mundane issues over and over again.

What’s the cure?

Partner with a managed service provider that can do it all for you. We offer proactive management services that will keep your device infrastructure running seamlessly at all times.

 

5 Ways to Speed Up Your Computer

Whether your computer has gradually declined over time or it’s recently come to a shuddering halt, its performance has become intolerably slow. Slowness issues may arise from a number of underlying causes, but can almost always be fixed. The five options below are among the most common and effective solutions to the problems of your computer’s poor performance and slowness.

1. Reboot

In many cases, the issues that you’re experiencing are temporary for one reason or another. It’s possible that a program is draining your resources and memory, causing your computer to be slow. A simple reboot will wipe away the current state of your system, including any problems, and start you back at square one.

Related: 4 Business Benefits to Outsourcing Your IT Support

2. Remove Startup Programs

If you’ve had your computer for a while, you may have installed dozens of applications and utilities on it. Many of these programs ask permission to run each time your computer starts up, even if you never or rarely use them. These applications can clog valuable computing resources while they run in the background unannounced.

Related: How Businesses Can Save Time with IT

You can disable programs from running at startup by using the Windows Task Manager, or by removing them from the list of “Login Items” under System Preferences > Users & Groups in Mac OS X.

3. Delete Viruses and Malware

Computers that are experiencing unpredictable crashes and strange messages may be suffering from the hidden presence of viruses and malware.

These programs are installed on your computer without your knowledge or permission and may be used for a number of nefarious activities: tracking your web browsing data, displaying annoying pop-up ads, or even locking down your system and holding your files for ransom.

Fortunately, there are a number of antivirus and anti-malware software tools that can help detect and remove these malicious programs. Microsoft Security Essentials is a free and well-reviewed tool for Windows PCs, protecting your computer in real time.

4. Install a Solid-State Drive

Hard drives naturally slow down with age, and the fix to your slowness issues might be to replace the drive. Solid-state drives (SSDs) are storage devices that have a variety of advantages over traditional hard disk drives (HDDs).

Related: 5 Common IT Support Questions, Answered

HDDs consist of a metal “platter” that spins rapidly when turned on, allowing your computer to access the data. Meanwhile, SSDs store your data on flash memory chips, which retain the information even when your computer isn’t powered on.

SSDs boot your computer faster than HDDs, and can run and transfer files faster as well. In addition, because SSDs don’t have moving parts, your data is more likely to be preserved if the drive is accidentally dropped.

5. Add More RAM

RAM (random access memory) is the main space in which your computer stores, reads, and writes the data that it uses for its computations. It’s often referred to simply as “memory.”

In the event that you run out of RAM, your computer can access data from the hard drive as well, but this is orders of magnitude slower. Think of RAM as an office desk while your hard drive is a filing cabinet down the hall. While you can store more data on the hard drive, it’s not as easily accessible.

Adding more RAM to your computer reduces the number of times that you need to read data from the hard drive, which will often have a noticeable improvement on performance.

Where We Come In

Fixing your own computer is certainly doable, but it’s not exactly feasible if you’re doing multiple.

Computer repair and maintenance can be costly, depending on the problem. You must also consider the time it takes to actually diagnose the issues, and perform the repairs.

Turn to the pros. We can help you proactively manage your device infrastructure to keep your computers running quickly. In turn, it’ll keep you more productive and less frustrated.

5 Common IT Support Questions, Answered

Common IT support questions are a plague for users and IT people alike. It’s typically small issues that annoy us the most, and these are no different.

Why not solve them yourself and save some time?

Here are a few of the most prevalent IT support questions, and how you can resolve them yourself.

Why is my computer so loud?

For the most part, the noise comes from wobbly fans. Whenever they’re not set properly on their axis of rotation, they spin at an angle and clip their surroundings. That’s most likely the noise you’re hearing all the time.

Dust can also cause them to rotate improperly, causing noise. The remedy to it all? Clean out your fans with compressed air (and be careful to not blast the sensitive electrical components). In a worst-case scenario, you can always replace the fans – the installation isn’t hard and they’re inexpensive.

Is this supposed to be there?

If you have to ask, the answer is usually no. Many people often inadvertently download toolbars and other random bloatware programs. Typically, these are bundled in with legitimate downloads (which makes them super annoying to spot and remove).

Related: They Stole You?

The big problem is that people can accidentally download viruses and other malware. To avoid this problem completely, you’ll need to combine proper permissions with robust antivirus/content filtering programs.

Why does my screen look… weird?

Resolution concerns are extremely common in the day-to-day. You might notice that images and applications look a little… off. Sometimes, the problem can be so apparent that you’ll actually have black bars around your display.

Luckily, this one is an easy fix.

  • For Windows: Right-click on your desktop and find the resolution or display settings. From there, you should be able to use a slider that changes the resolution. Your computer will even automatically recommend a size that fits your specific monitor.
  • For Mac: Click on the Finder and locate “System Preferences”. From there, you’ll need to find the option labeled “Displays”. You can then manually adjust your resolution or let the computer automatically detect the best settings for you.

Why can’t I log in?

There’s a fairly good chance you’ve been misspelling your password this whole time. It’s quite common. Be sure to look at which keys you’re pressing to ensure that your password is totally correct.

Another common culprit is caps lock. When you’re stuck in uppercase letters, all case-sensitive computer systems won’t grant you access.

I can’t print! Is the printer broken?

Probably not. Before you take a hammer to your printer, make sure that it’s on and eligible to receive print jobs. Most printers have panels that display error codes, so be sure to look out for those.

Related: The Top 5 Apps to Boost Your Productivity

If your printer is on and functioning, it may be a driver-related issue. A “driver” is the software in your computer that “speaks” to the hardware to make it work. Without it, there’s not a way for the two to communicate and work.

Many times, you’ll need to reinstall your drivers to get the printer working again. It’s not a hard procedure, but it’s known to cause madness in IT people (given enough occurrences).

…But if you’re fed up?

If you’re fed up with dealing with these issues, consider switching your business to a managed services approach. With managed services, you’ll never have to waste your time with trivial IT support matters again.

Related: 5 Reasons to Outsource Your IT

Managed IT support providers give your business proactive solutions that keep these problems from happening in the first place. Not every issue is avoidable, but managed service providers make sure you’re quickly taken care of when they do.

 

What You Need to Know About the Equifax Cybersecurity Breach

It’s happening. Again.

Another major cybersecurity breach is making headlines. And this one is truly unsettling. 44% of Americans are affected by it. That’s 143 million U.S. citizens. What’s worse, the target of the cyber attack was the credit reporting agency Equifax.

The story actually began months ago, but the big news broke last week when we learned the extent of the damage.

Cyber criminals gained access to Equifax data back in May, taking advantage of a web-based vulnerability. Then, as is all too common in these stories, they waited and watched. Over the course of roughly two months, they acquired some alarmingly critical data. We’re talking about names, birth dates, drivers license numbers and social security numbers.

News sources have already hit the credit giant with scathing criticism. For example, Business Insider observed, “Equifax . . . didn’t just have one of the worst security breaches in American history; it also handled the situation like a drunk teenager trying to hide the aftermath of particularly destructive house party.”

Ouch.

Protecting yourself.

First things first. You likely want to know if your personal information was part of the data breach. There’s an easy way to find out.

Equifax has already set up an online tool to let you know if your data was potentially exposed. Just go to www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. Enter your last name and the last 6 digits of your social security number.

If your info is safe, you’ll get the all-clear. If your data might be at risk, you’ll get a vaguely worded warning and an offer from Equifax for one free year of credit monitoring.

Keep in mind, though, that your social security number is with you forever. If your information was compromised, you’ll want to keep an eye on your credit report for several years as cyber criminals may not take advantage right away.

Protecting your business.

Of course, you’re a business owner. Protecting your personal assets is only half the story. You also need to protect your business.

Even if your company is small, there’s still significant cybersecurity risk. 50% of SMBs experienced a cybersecurity attack in the last year. Just because your operation isn’t global doesn’t mean cyber criminals will give you a free pass.

You still need a solid cybersecurity strategy.

The complexity of cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity is a complex, ever-changing field. It would be great if there were a quick-and-easy DIY approach. But this is not one of those things you can easily tackle on your own.

Why?

First, because cyber criminals are creative and persistent. As soon as cybersecurity professionals close all the known security gaps, cyber criminals find another. What it takes to keep your business safe today could easily change next month. Or next week.

Second, because even small networks have more vulnerability points than you might think. There are all kinds of ways to hack into a system. Addressing every possible point of entry requires high levels of expertise and experience.

And finally, because the stakes are high. If you suffer a cybersecurity breach, you’ll lose valuable data and your reputation will take a significant hit. Remember that quote from Business Insider about Equifax? Do you really want to risk folks saying the same kinds of things about your business?

Cybersecurity you can trust.

Our recommendation is simple. Rather than trying to manage your company’s cybersecurity on your own, call in the professionals.

An experienced cybersecurity partner will be able to provide the kind of protection you really need. These experts know how cyber criminals think, they stay up-to-date on the latest threats, and they’re ready to adjust as cybersecurity evolves over time.

Yes, professional cybersecurity comes at a cost. But it’s totally worth it.

If you’re interested in learning more about protecting your organization, the team at EaseTech can help. We have the experience, the tools and the knowledge to cover all your cybersecurity needs.

Plus, we take a down-to-earth approach. Not only do we want you to be safe – we want you to feel comfortable, too.

Give us a call today to find out how we can protect your business from cybersecurity threats.

The Time to Switch IT Providers Is Now

There’s just so much downtime you can take.

It’s one thing to have a workstation that’s working poorly. But when your network or your server takes a hit, and you’re stuck with a US Postal-paced IT guy trying to sort your problems by scratching his head and sucking the last splashes of a soda out of a Wendy’s cup, you may start to think about switching managed services providers.

The folks at Mushroom Networks recently posted an infographic about how detrimental the effects of downtime are on companies and these are interesting highlights:

  • 72% lost data due to internet downtime
  • Nearly eight hours of work was lost for each incident
  • 43% of productivity disappeared

None of that is to forget the customer satisfaction you may lose out of it.

The Other Option

You need IT concerns off your plate. That’s where a managed services provider (MSP) comes in. When you outsource your IT to those with expertise in the field, you’ve effectively put the burden on their shoulders. And the benefits for doing so are substantial.

Ill Communication

Every day, we at EaseTech talk to frustrated CEOs, CFOs, CIOs who are at their wit’s end with the dead air they get from their managed services provider. Communication, like many elements in modern business, is the key to productivity. Workflow screeches to a halt when communication dies. Many managed services providers don’t see this.

At EaseTech, we pride ourselves on our critical communication with our clients. Good news or bad news, we know business owners want problems solved quickly and efficiently so that downtime is avoided and the business runs smoothly.

Follow Up

Part of any good IT strategy is planning and following through. This doesn’t just refer to the “We’ll be there between noon and midnight” promise that never pans out. This is also big picture ideals.

The EaseTech process has been carefully designed to ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. From our initial conversation to analysis of your network, from mapping your new network to the transformation of your workflow, we stand behind our path to controlling the chaos of your system. This is how we walk the walk.

Streamlining Budgets

When you’ve taken the steps to find the right managed services provider, you discover a whole new way to budget your IT expenses. Rather than getting hit with heavy capital expenses for buying new servers, workstations, phones and more, you move your IT to operating expenses. This is true flat-rate IT.

During our mapping process, we help you plan out up to five years of technology that drives you to your business goals. No surprise invoices, no unexpected costs. We help you flatline your IT budget so that you can scale with comfort. And grow with Ease.

Let’s start a conversation.

How to Build a Disaster Recovery Plan for Accounting Firms

Disaster can strike at any moment, and its effects can be devastating to businesses. One year ago Superstorm Sandy slammed into New Jersey and New York City crippling many organizations for weeks, if not longer. With such dire consequences, it’s critical to have a good disaster recovery plan in place in case the worst should happen for you and your accounts.

A solid disaster recovery plan can be divided into three parts: Planning, Storage, and Recovery. Each part is equally important, and each one should have a thorough plan of its own. For accounting firms, it is not just that your data that you need to protect, it is your customers business information that needs safeguarding.

Planning
A solid disaster recovery plan requires everyone involved to know their roles and be ready to execute them at a moment’s notice. Ideally, a plan should be created with partners and vendors as well. Careful consideration for several broad scenarios helps devise plans that are best based on conditions in your area.  Some suggested disaster considerations include: floods, hurricanes, winter storms, local building issues and security threats.

This is the second key aspect of planning for disaster recovery – always make sure that there are redundant channels and oversight. In case the worst should happen, the channels of communication need to be set up so that everyone knows who to call as a primary, and who to get in touch with in case the primary contact person is unable to be reached. Make sure that everyone knows who the person to contact is in case of a major IT issue, and who the alternate contacts are. Maintaining a strong chain of communication can mean the difference between a temporary outage and a major business disaster. Determining primary and secondary communication options should be part of the plan.

Storage
Storing your data securely for a post-disaster recovery is as important as planning. The first step to storing and protecting your data is choosing a backup and storage method and provider. There are many options available for both backup and storage, and choosing the right one is based largely on the needs of the business.

Larger accounting firms with more involved data needs can opt for an in-house solution using their existing IT staff. Smaller accounting firms, or those with more generic data needs, should instead look at one of the cloud backup services or managed backup providers. Whatever option you choose, it’s important to make sure two requirements are met:

1. Your recovery data should be kept in multiple physical locations separated by some distance. Most cloud and managed backup providers already guarantee this level of duplication and redundancy by distributing your stored data across multiple different data warehouses in multiple locations. However, if you go with an in-house or custom solution, it is important to make sure that backups are not all located in the same datastore, and certainly not in the same building as your offices.

2. Your recovery data should also be stored on physical media somewhere in another location, in case a recovery is necessary and an internet connection cannot be established. External hard drives are a fast and cheap method for offloading data. Of course, the best approach to this varies on the type and amount of data.

Recovery 
The process of recovery begins with a good policy of detection and monitoring. Make sure that whatever disaster recovery plan you create accounts for carefully keeping track of your data in case of less obvious disasters – things like fires when you are out of the office, malicious intrusion (either physical or cyber), power outages and the like. The faster you can learn that your data is in danger, the quicker you can react and the easier the recovery process can be.

As mentioned earlier, everyone on your staff should know who to contact in the event of a major disaster. Make sure to inform your staff that their safety is the top priority – if you’ve been backing up your data properly and storing it offsite, losing your equipment in a disaster is only a temporary setback. Make sure you know where your data is and how to retrieve it. Practice full recovery drills several times a year so that everyone on your staff knows what to do – you don’t want to have to add learning an unfamiliar system to all the other post-disaster stress.

Make sure you have a plan about what needs to be recovered first, where all your priority information is, and how to get to it. For many firms, this will be customer-facing data – websites, client login portals, and any information that needs to be accessed by your clients. It should also include your most sensitive business information.

Having a disaster recovery plan can make the time between disaster and recovery much shorter than it would be without one, and the work required to implement one is minor compared to the risk of losing your business. Your business depends on a good plan and your clients are depending on you to ensure you have them covered as well.

To help in the executing of your disaster recovery process for your accounting firm contact Ease Technologies to learn more how we can help. 888-Ease911