Three Reasons To Regularly Test Business Systems

Protecting your business requires more time, effort and energy from your technology team than ever before.

Business systems are increasingly complex, requiring staff members to continually learn and adapt to changing conditions and new threats as they emerge.

It’s not unusual for a single ransomware incident to wreak havoc on carefully balanced systems, and this type of attack can be particularly damaging if you do not have the backup and disaster recovery procedures in place to regain critical operations quickly.

From checking for system vulnerabilities to identifying weak points in your processes, here are some reasons why it is so important to regularly test your business systems.

Business System Testing Helps Find Vulnerabilities
The seismic shift in the way business systems work is still settling, making it especially challenging to find the ever-changing vulnerabilities in your systems. Cloud-based applications connect in a variety of different ways, causing additional steps for infrastructure teams as they review the data connectors and storage locations.

Each of these connections is a potential point of failure and could represent a weakness where a cybercriminal could take advantage of to infiltrate your sensitive business and financial data. Regular business system testing allows your technology teams to determine where your defenses may need to be shored up.

As the business continues to evolve through digital transformation, this regular testing and documentation of the results allow your teams to grow their comfort level with the interconnected nature of today’s systems — which is extremely valuable knowledge to share within the organization in the event of a system outage or failure.

Experts note that system testing is being “shifted left”, or pushed earlier in the development cycle. This helps ensure that vulnerabilities are addressed before systems are fully launched, helping to protect business systems and data.

Business System Testing Provides Valuable Insight Into Process Improvement Needs
Business process improvement and automation are never-ending goals, as there are always new tools available that can help optimize the digital and physical operations of your business.

Reviewing business systems in depth allows you to gain a higher-level understanding of the various processes that surround your business systems, allowing you to identify inefficiencies as well as processes that could leave holes in your cybersecurity net.

Prioritizing these process improvements helps identify any crucial needs that can bring significant business value, too. This process of continuous improvement solidifies your business systems and hardens security over time by tightening security and allowing you to review user permissions and individual levels of authority within your business infrastructure and systems.

Business System Testing Allows You to Affirm Your Disaster Recovery Strategy
Your backup and disaster recovery strategy is an integral part of your business.

Although you hope you never have to use it, no business is fully protected without a detailed disaster recovery plan of attack — complete with assigned accountabilities and deliverables. It’s no longer a matter of “if” your business is attacked but “when”, and your technology team must be prepared for that eventuality.

Business testing allows you to review your backup and disaster recovery strategy with the parties that will be engaged to execute it, providing an opportunity for any necessary revisions or adjustments to the plans.

Whether a business system outage comes from a user who is careless with a device or password, a cybercriminal manages to infiltrate your systems or your business systems are damaged in fire or flood, your IT team will be ready to bring your business back online quickly.

Regularly testing your business policies and procedures and validating your disaster recovery plan puts your organization in a safer space when it comes to overcoming an incident that impacts your ability to conduct business.

The complexity of dealing with multi-cloud environments can stymie even the most hardened technology teams, and the added comfort level that is gained by regular testing helps promote ongoing learning and system familiarity for your teams. No one wants to have to rebuild your infrastructure or business systems from the ground up, but running testing procedures over time can help promote a higher level of comfort within teams and vendor partners if the unthinkable does occur.

What Is The Difference Between Backups And Redundancy?

Chris Myers is a field service technician for Tech Experts.

Modern businesses can generate massive amounts of data in a short period of time. As such, a vital topic of research are ways to project that data.

There are two main categories of data protection: redundancy and backups. These two types of data protection are both very important, but they are not interchangeable.

Both must be understood so that you are not caught unprepared when catastrophe strikes.

What Is Redundancy?
On a single hard drive, data is saved just one time. If that hard drive fails, then that data is lost. In order to prevent this from happening, multiple hard drives are used to store multiple copies of each piece of data.

This setup is called a “RAID,” which stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.

When a single hard drive fails in a properly set up RAID, the other drives change how they operate and continue saving files with very little interruption and no loss of data. In a business such as a doctor’s office where appointments are booked out three months in advance, redundancy can be the difference between a service call with less than thirty minutes of downtime and a multiple day outage affecting hundreds of patients and staff.

What Are Backups?
There are many other ways in which data can be lost, including file corruption, accidental deletion, fire, theft, malware, and more.

Redundancy can protect against hard drive failure, but in cases such as these, it is of no help. For example, if the user accidentally deletes a file, all redundant copies of that file will be deleted.

This is where backups come in. Backups copy your data onto a completely separate storage device.

The most secure backup systems are called offsite backups, because the data is copied to another geographic location entirely. If a user accidentally deletes a file that is backed up, that file can be restored using the backup copy.

However, restoring files from an offsite backup can take quite a long time depending on the amount of data and available network bandwidth. Due to this, many businesses keep another backup on a different device in the same building.

This is referred to as a local backup. Since restoring from a local backups only involve sending the data over the internal network, or even directly copying onto another drive, they can greatly reduce downtime.

So, Which Solution Should You Have?
None of these data protection methods are mutually exclusive and each of these methods has strengths and weaknesses.

With that in mind, most businesses will get the most benefit by having all of them in place because each one fills a gap in coverage left by another.

Redundancy will save data if a single drive is lost to mechanical failure, with very little downtime. However, it can’t protect against almost all other types of data loss.

A local backup will protect against all types of data loss except when both the default and backup locations are lost at the same time. Restoring takes longer than a redundant drive, but is still quite fast.

An offsite backup takes the longest to restore from, but protects against almost all scenarios.

So, the next time you want to impress your coworkers and possibly save the company, ask whether your server or network-attached storage has both backups and redundancy in place.

Five Ways To Prepare For, Respond To, And Recover From A Cyberattack

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

When we asked businesses about cybersecurity threats, breach points, policies, company readiness, and recovery, we were surprised at the responses that we received.

The most frightening response of all was the following: “We have no formal process for assessing readiness to deal with a cyberattack of any sort.”

Hindsight is always 20/20 – how many times has something happened that you could have and should have prevented?

Here are five ways to prepare every company for a cyberattack:

[Read more…]

Data Redundancy And Why You Should Have It

Ron Cochran is a senior help desk technician for Tech Experts.

Data redundancy is the making of an exact copy of the data that you are currently working with, in the event of a hardware failure, theft, or those pesky mistakes where you delete something that you really wanted.

What happens is you will have 1 or more hard-drives used for backups, housing those files that are kept nearly current. You will go through the steps to rebuild or restore the files or programs that were removed, then you will be back at the point you were at before the files were lost.

The above is extremely important when you are working with money or medical records. Let’s say you were working with a customer on their tax returns and your office experienced a power outage, which turns your computer off in the middle of saving data. A short while later, the power is restored and you turn your computer on and open the data to resume where you left off — and you find out that there is no record on your computer of your client and you start to panic.

If you had a redundant data solution, then you could restore the data, but if you didn’t, then you will need to call that customer and explain that they will need to bring all of that data back in so you can enter it into your system again. Now, consider how this customer could begin to think of you and your business.

If you have a safety net, you would follow the steps from your program and, in a short while, all of that data that you lost will be restored and you’ll be back at the point when the power went out, with all of your data intact. There are several different ways you can set up a system backup. One of the ways is to have more than one storage solutions to send data to.

With this solution, you will have more than one drive that is saving that information, which will do a couple of things. It will speed up the read/write times and you take less of a chance of losing more data. It’s always wise to have more than one solution for data recovery. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late and find out that in order to recover the data on your drive it’s going to be thousands of dollars.

You can have an image copy of your hard-drive made one time a day (or once a week or maybe twice a month) with a scheduled back up. You could have an application running in the background of your computer that would take up very few resources as it copies your data to a drive or an offsite storage facility.

We offer quite a few different data redundancy solutions to our clients. Those options range from on-site RAID drives to a cloud-based solution that is off-site. With either option, you can have a data backup or an image of your operating system — or even a direct mirror copy of your hard-drive in real time.

If you are worried that you might lose valuable information, then some sort of data redundancy is probably something you should be actively seeking. If you’re overwhelmed by the options and aren’t exactly sure which method would suit your business best, contact us and we can help you narrow it down, as well as provide a solution.

Backups: Don’t Wait Until It Breaks

Accidents happen. Eventually, something will go wrong and when it does, you are going to want to be protected. Having a backup means more than just having an extra file on hand. It means being able to rest easy knowing that, if the worst should happen, it would not be the end of your business. It means that in the event of a total collapse of your systems, you have a fallback plan. It means knowing that you have already taken care of the largest problem in the event of a crash: recovering files and getting back up to date.

The most common way data is lost is due to a workstation failing due to user error or the occasional spilled drink. If the workstation is not backed up, the files may all be lost. A growing way to lose data is due to viruses and infections that spread throughout the computer and delete, steal, or corrupt the data.

The question people begin to become puzzled with is, “What can/should I backup?” The easy answer is everything. With technology being what it is today, space is cheap. You can sometimes back up an entire business for a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, you can wait for everything to go wrong, replace a dozen devices then try to start recovering all the data lost in the tragedy.

If space does become tight, start to look at things your business cannot function without, such as client information (phone numbers, email addresses, notes about the client), sales and product receipts, Internet bookmarks, anything that cannot be replaced, and anything that takes time to replace.

Backing up the data can be as simple as storing a copy of your important files on an external hard drive that you bring up to date every week. If the worst should happen after a backup is kept, you need only to plug in the backup drive to the repaired or replacement computer, copy the contents over, and continue on with your work. Instead of losing years of data, you only lose a few days.

What should you use to back up your data? In the example above, using a small flash drive or external hard drive, they can usually be damaged or lost quite easily. If the memory device is lost, it poses a problem in that it is unsecured data and can be accessed by anyone that plugs it into their computer. While these devices can be a cheap solution to backing up data, they are far from perfect.

One of the most popular solutions for any business – smaller businesses especially – is online backup. The perk of online backup is there is no hardware or software on site that can be damaged, lost, or stolen. A monthly fee based on how much storage you require is all it takes. Choose the data you want to backup and it will be securely sent to a data center where it is stored. Generally, this can be done automatically which can remove accidental user error from the equation.

In a perfect world, we would all have a backup for our data and a backup for our backup, but even having one backup can sometimes be enough to keep a problematic crash or error from becoming a monumental crisis. If you do not already have a backup in place, you have to ask yourself one thing: if all your systems crashed tomorrow, would you recover?

Is It Ever A Good Idea To Share Your Password?

Luke Gruden is a help desk technician for Tech Experts.

There are times when it can be tempting to share account information or give a coworker access to files and programs to streamline processes. Other times, you might be away from the office and someone may need something on your Windows.

There are many reasons why workers would want to share accounts and passwords that would be in good faith and, on the surface, best for business. Should this be allowed and acceptable in a work setting? The short answer is no, and for several good reasons.

As much as it would seem that sharing passwords and credential information could help workers, this can lead to poor habits and huge security vulnerabilities. All it takes is for one person to write a password down for another person to read it.

It is common for someone using social engineering to go into company buildings and look for sticky notes, note pads, or files on desktops with passwords and account information on them. This way, they have the means to steal company information.
Even worse, it will look like the user account that was used to steal information was the one stealing information instead of the thief.

Another common event at some work places is that some workers will use their coworkers account to do something risky, so if anything happens, the account holder is the one in trouble and not the person borrowing their account.

backupWhen it comes down to the pressures of keeping a job or to work towards promotions, it can be surprising what some people might resort to in achieving their goals.

Sometimes, a person sharing an account might make a mistake and mean no harm, like deleting some important files on accident or click something they didn’t know about in an area of the computer they normally do not have access to.
This would also look like the account holder made the mistakes and not the actual person. There is a reason why certain people have access to certain drives, websites, and programs. Permissions and restrictions should be respected.

Your Windows account and email are your unique fingerprints and they should be protected. Everything you do on a computer is recorded in event logs and possibly on other monitoring systems on the network. Your account information should serve you as well as prove the work you have done.

It may be tempting to share account information, but there are alternatives. If a coworker needs access to a program or website, let IT know.

If the coworker really needs access for their job, then your manager and IT will change permissions to allow them access and they’ll no longer have to ask for your password.

What about if they need to work on files that you are working on? Your IT can setup a network drive and enable access for both you and your coworker so that files can be edited and changed freely without ever logging into each other’s accounts.

There may be many other reasons as to why people may want to share their account information, but chances are, there are alternatives that your IT can implement so that no one’s personal credentials are given out. Keep your account your own and there will be no unnecessary risk or possible security threat out in the open. If you have security or user concerns or would like to develop a permissions plan, we would be happy to help. Give us a call at (734) 457-5000.

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Storm Season Is Just Around The Corner… Are You Protected?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

We’ve just celebrated the first day of Spring, and before you know it, the weather will warm up and tulips will bloom. Of course, we’re also headed into Spring storm season.

If you haven’t already, it is time to prepare for those pop-up storms that occur randomly at this time of year. These unexpected storms often result in everything from ice damage to lightning fires.

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers, and even theft is very real.

One of the most valuable assets for any company is its data. Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot! As a reminder to all of our clients, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster. [Read more…]

Have A Disaster Recovery Plan? Consider An Update

Much of one’s vital information may be stored digitally that its loss could be potentially devastating.

Although we all know the value of backing information up, it’s often not performed as regularly as it should be, in reality.

Think about how you and your business would cope with a natural disaster or hardware malfunction that wipes all of your precious data. Do you have a plan in place to recover it?

Chances are, you do have a recovery plan: it may be shooting your files into cloud storage or backing your data up periodically on USB drives or other external storage.

While such plans are certainly better than nothing, they may not be the current best choice for your needs.

After all, the potential threats to your data security are constantly changing and growing, and in order to protect yourself and your business files, your disaster recovery (DR) plan needs to evolve, too.

Your computer systems and hardware have also likely evolved since the last time the DR plan was created or updated. These changes can greatly impact the efficacy of your current DR plan.
Just as your software needs occasional updating, your recovery plan also needs periodic tweaking to best protect your data.

Set up a schedule to review and adjust your plan regularly, and always give it some extra care when your business undergoes a significant change. You may even consider testing your current plan to identify its strengths and weaknesses.

The important thing, however, is that your business does make updates to how you intend to deal with disaster, so those hurdles can be overcome with as little headache, downtime, and cost as possible.

When Nature Strikes Part 2 – Fire In The Sky

Scott Blake is a Senior Network Engineer with Tech Experts.

Fires in or around server rooms and data centers can ruin your data and put your business at risk. It’s a must to set up fire protocols when you build your room or building.

As I mentioned in Part One of “When Nature Strikes,” the two most important protocols to have in place for any “in case of…” are 1) Have a Plan and 2) Secure Your Data. When dealing with the possibility of fire destroying your server room or data center, you’ll want to make sure you also have Suppression, Containment and Insurance protocols in place as well.

Have a Plan
Disaster recovery plans are now becoming a requirement for many industries. To be prepared, businesses need to locate and define the regulatory requirements of their individual industry, which will also help avoid fines, penalties or negative press associated with noncompliance.

Trying to implement or even design a plan while in the middle of a disaster will only lead to a less than successful recovery. Make sure your team is ready for action and everyone knows what to do. It’s better to be overprepared than have a plan that goes up in flames.

Secure Your Data
Back up your data regularly. Manage a duplicate copy of all data, programming, and company processes at a different physical location or in the cloud. That way, you can continue working at a secondary location if your system crashes. One way to do that is to keep copies of all your data, programs, bare metal backups and virtual machines in data centers in other states.

If you maintain data backups and business software on location, make sure you store them in a fire rated safe. Fire safes can be purchased anywhere from $100 to thousands of dollars for a fully-loaded safe.

SuppressionПечать
Fire suppression systems for server rooms and data centers are essential to the server room itself. A fire suppression system will automatically extinguish a fire without the need of human intervention.

Design standards for fire suppression systems for server rooms and data centers are carried out with strict guidelines as the fire suppression agents used can be dangerous if not designed correctly. Fires within these types of environments are suppressed in two different ways.

Reduce Oxygen – This method uses argon, nitrogen and sometimes carbon monoxide to displace the oxygen in the room. The objective of this method is to reduce the oxygen level to below 15% in the room. By reducing oxygen to this level, it will suppress the fire.

Chemical and Synthetic – Most chemical and synthetic fire suppression agents have some form of a cooling mechanism. These systems use less gas and maintain a higher level of oxygen. However, high doses of any synthetic or chemical agent can be toxic, so making sure your design is correct is absolutely necessary. Synthetic fire suppression systems will deliver its payload within ten seconds.

Containment
A fire doesn’t have to be inside your data center to jeopardize IT equipment. Because radiant heat and smoke from fire in an adjacent room can be enough to damage sensitive network hardware, creating a protective barrier between your server room and the potential fire not only blocks indirect damage, but prevents flame spread as well.

Lightweight, flame-resistant ceramic panels can be used to build fire-safe archive rooms and data centers within larger, standard-construction buildings.

Insurance
Recovering from fire damage is expensive. Business insurance is crucial and it’s not only for physical property. The right kind of insurance will replace lost income as well. Make sure your business insurance policy is up to date and has the correct coverage to support your business in crisis mode.

Make sure you have all of your suppression and containment systems built and installed by certified professionals. Insurance companies will require this in order for you to acquire the policy and even collect on it.

No one wants to get burned after a fire. Again, make sure your company insurance is up to date and has the appropriate coverage needed to rebuild your business.

If you have questions or you’re looking for suggestions on prepping your business for recovery, not disaster, call Tech Experts at (734) 457-5000.

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Why Virtualization Is A Good Idea For Your Small Business

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Server virtualization is the partitioning of a physical server into smaller virtual servers to help maximize your server resources.

In server virtualization, software is used to divide the physical server into multiple virtual environments, called virtual or private servers. This is in contrast to dedicating one server to a single application or task.

Server virtualization provides a small business with almost unlimited storage space. Let’s look at some of the ways that server virtualization could benefit your small business.

Efficiency
Virtualization maximizes server space, which reduces the number of servers needed to store important company data.

Since multiple virtual servers reside on a single physical server, your infrastructure will require less space, saving occupancy costs.

Economy
Virtualization will cut down on your energy consumption, which will lower your monthly bill. Because you’ll need fewer servers, you’ll save on hardware costs, as well.

For a small-business owner, these savings can mean a lot in the long run, especially if energy costs are high.

Disaster Recovery
Fires, theft and natural disasters happen, often without warning.

What would happen to your business if all of your important files were stored on in-house servers that got destroyed in a tornado or fire?

With virtualization, that becomes less of a worry, especially if you conduct regular checks to ensure that your data is being properly backed up.

It is equally important that you take steps to ensure the data can be recovered if necessary and that when recovered, the data is usable.

Virtualization cuts down on the risk that an employee or thief could walk off with important company files, something that can happen if you back up company files on external hard drives.

Business Continuity
Unlike disaster recovery, business continuity is about quickly recovering from things like power outages and server crashes.

These two common occurrences could cost a small-business owner a lot of money depending on how long employees remained idle waiting for power to be restored or a server to be repaired.

With a virtualized server environment, server images are often backed up to the cloud – where they can be enabled in real time and act as a replacement server until resources are restored.

Virtual Desktop
This is a growing trend in the business world. Also known as client virtualization, desktop virtualization separates the PC desktop environment from the physical machine and operates in the cloud.

With virtual desktop infrastructure, employees can access the company network from their laptops, tablets or smart devices.

Virtualization has worked well for large enterprises for a number of years, and now the technology is affordable for smaller businesses.

Choosing virtualization for your company is no small matter. You’ll want to make sure you use an experienced, trusted IT partner to make sure your project goes smoothly.