Should You Monitor Your Remote Workers?

At the end of last year, Microsoft announced it would be adding increased employee surveillance to Microsoft Edge.

The changes mean admins can access compliance monitoring through the browser, such as seeing which files have been printed or copied to USB devices.

Machine learning is being used to increase this visibility of what’s happening to sensitive files. But how will this impact employees? Will they feel that their privacy is being invaded? Will it cause trust issues? And do you think this is an appropriate level of monitoring when people have proved that remote work can be just as productive – if not more – than working from the office?

Our advice would be not to buy into this increased employee surveillance, unless you want to damage the delicate trust you’ve no doubt worked hard to build with your team.

There are other, more open ways to help your people get their work done. For example, there are plenty of tools that help limit distractions like notifications or temporarily block apps and websites to allow better focus. Your employees can choose to activate these to aid their productivity when they need a boost.

You’ll find some within your Microsoft 365 subscription – that means more tools at no extra cost.

If you want some suggestions personalized to your business, give us a call.

Five Things You Should Never Do On A Work Computer

Whether you work remotely or in an office, the line between personal and work tasks can become blurred when working on your company computer. If you’re in front of a computer for most of your time during work, then it’s not unusual to get attached to your desktop PC.

Over time, this can lead to doing personal things on a work computer. At first, it might just be checking personal email while on a lunch break. But as the line continues to get crossed, it can end up with someone using their work computer just as much for personal reasons as work tasks.

In a survey of over 900 employees, it was found that only 30% said they never used their work PC for personal activities. The other 70% admitted to using their work computer for various personal reasons.

Some of the non-work-related things that people do on a work computer include:

  • Reading and sending personal email
  • Scanning news headlines
  • Shopping online
  • Online banking
  • Checking social media
  • Streaming music
  • Streaming videos/movies

It’s a bad idea to mix work and personal, no matter how much more convenient it is to use your work PC for a personal task during the day. You can end up getting reprimanded, causing a data breach at your company, or possibly losing your job. Here are several things you should never do on your work PC.

Save personal passwords in the browser
Many people manage their passwords by allowing their browser to save and then auto-fill them. This can be convenient, but it’s not very secure should you lose access to that PC.

When the computer you use isn’t yours, it can be taken away at any time for a number of reasons, such as an upgrade, repair, or during an unexpected termination.

If someone else accesses that device and you never signed out of the browser, that means they can leverage your passwords to access your cloud accounts.

Store personal data
It’s easy to get in the habit of storing personal data on your work computer, especially if your home PC doesn’t have a lot of storage space. But this is a bad habit and leaves you wide open to a couple of major problems:

Loss of your files: If you lose access to the PC for any reason, your files can be lost forever.

Your personal files being company-accessible: Many companies have backups of employee devices to protect against data loss. So, those beach photos stored on your work PC that you’d rather not have anyone else see could be accessible company-wide because they’re captured in a backup process.

Visit sketchy websites
You should assume that any activity you are doing on a work device is being monitored and is accessible by your boss. Companies often have cybersecurity measures in place like DNS filtering that is designed to protect against phishing websites.

This same type of software can also send an alert should an employee be frequenting a sketchy website deemed dangerous to security (which many sketchy websites are).

You should never visit any website on your work computer that you wouldn’t be comfortable visiting with your boss looking over your shoulder.

Allow friends or family to use it
When you work remotely and your work computer is a permanent fixture in your home, it can be tempting to allow a friend or family member to use it if asked. Often, work PCs are more powerful than a typical home computer and may even have company-supplied software that someone wouldn’t purchase on their own.

But allowing anyone else to use your work computer could constitute a compliance breach of data protection regulations that your company needs to adhere to.

Just the fact that the personal data of your customers or other employees could be accessed by someone not authorized to do so can mean a stiff penalty.

Additionally, a child or friend not well-versed in cybersecurity could end up visiting a phishing site and infecting your work device, which in turn infects your company cloud storage, leaving you responsible for a breach.

At least 20% of companies have experienced a data breach during the pandemic due to a remote worker.

Turn off company-installed apps like backups and antivirus
If you’re trying to get work done and a backup kicks in and slows your PC down to a crawl, it can be tempting to turn off the backup process. But this can leave the data on your computer unprotected and unrecoverable in the case of a hard drive crash or ransomware infection.

Company-installed apps are there for a reason and it’s usually for cybersecurity and business continuity. These should not be turned off unless given express permission by your supervisor or company’s IT team.

Companies Must Address Employees’ Lax Cybersecurity Habits

A third of employees picked up bad cyber security behaviors while working from home, according to Tessian’s Back to Work Security Behaviors report.

Despite the remote workers’ bad security practices, 9 out of 10 organizations prefer the hybrid workplace as COVID-19 restrictions eased. Similarly, 89% of employees want to work remotely during the week.

The firm advises business owners to consider the bad employee behaviors as organizations transition to hybrid workplace models.

As employees go back to the office, businesses need to address changes to employees’ security behaviors since they have been working remotely.

Most employers are wary that the post-pandemic hybrid workforce would bring bad cybersecurity behaviors.

More than half (56%) of employers believed that employees had picked bad security practices while working remotely.

Similarly, nearly two-fifths (39%) of employees also admitted that their employee behaviors differed significantly while working from home compared to the office.

Additionally, nearly a third (36%) admitted discovering ‘workarounds’ since they started working remotely.

Close to half of workers adopted the risky behavior because they felt that they weren’t being watched by IT departments. Nearly a third (30%) said they felt that they could get away with the risky employee behaviors while working away from the office.

However, small businesses placed more confidence in their employees while transitioning to the hybrid workplace.

Over two-thirds of business owners believed that their staff would observe their company’s cybersecurity policies.

Many employees are unlikely to admit cutting corners

The fear or failure to report cybersecurity mistakes was a huge cybersecurity risk for organizations. A quarter of employees refused to report such mistakes believing that nobody would ever discover them.

Similarly, more than a quarter feared reporting cybersecurity mistakes to avoid potential disciplinary actions or being forced to take additional security training.

However, younger employees are more likely to admit cutting corners, according to the Tessian report.

More than half (51%) of employees between 16-24 years old and 46% of those between 25-34 years old were more likely to admit circumventing the company’s security protocols.

“Create a security culture that encourages people to come forward about their mistakes, and support them when they do,” the authors suggested.

Personal devices will undermine the network perimeter in the hybrid workplace

Some of the security threats and challenges experienced when people work fully remotely would be imported into the new hybrid workplace.

While many employees used infected devices for remote access during the pandemic, some would bring them to the hybrid office. Company leaders now have to shift to a new security architecture for good – one that involves zero-trust network access, endpoint security, and multi-factor authentication.

Phishing and ransomware attacks are major challenges in the hybrid workplace

Ransomware attacks were also a major concern for more than two-thirds (69%) of companies who believed that the hybrid work environment would be a target for ransomware attacks. These attacks posed a business continuity threat to targeted companies.

Similarly, phishing attacks concerned over three-quarters of IT decision-makers who believed that credential phishing would only exacerbate in a hybrid workplace.

They believed that employees were more likely to expose company data in public or fall for phishing scams impersonating airlines, booking companies, hotels, or senior executives on a business trip. In fact, “back to work” phishing emails were a concern for 67% of IT leaders.

Phishing was the gateway to ransomware attacks. Consequently, successfully blocking phishing exploits reduces the chances of a ransomware attack.

“Stop phishing, business email compromise, account takeover attacks, and social engineering scams, and you significantly reduce the risk of ransomware,” the report authors noted.

However, bad employee behaviors, such as failing to report clicking phishing links, made it harder to stop these attacks.

Three Trillion Minutes On Zoom (Is That Just This Week?)

Zoom calls… Teams meetings… Google Meets… whichever tech platform your business uses*, do you ever get to a Friday evening and feel a bit “over Zoomed?” Especially if you then have ANOTHER Zoom arranged with friends or family?

According to estimates, over three trillion minutes will be spent on Zoom this year. That’s about 5.5 million years!

As much as they’re a pain when you have them all day, video calls really do help us be productive and get things done while we’re working remotely.

76% of all employees use video calling for remote work, according to some stats we’ve been reading. Three quarters of those say it makes them more productive. 41% of employers believe video calls lead to better engaged teams.

How to feel less “over Zoomed” then… here are three suggested rules that have worked well for us.

1. Do a tech test before every meeting: Check your video and sound are working. Zoom has a test call facility at www.zoom.us/test

2. Never meet unless you have a written agenda: And put the agenda on screen using screen share. This stops meetings from dragging on.

3. Stand up, especially if you’re the organizer: This is good for real life meetings, too. When you stand for a meeting, your body will give you feedback when the meeting’s dragging. Standing desks are a great idea for productivity and keeping energy levels high.

* Side note: Do you remember in the old days (2018) when people used GoToMeeting for video calls? Or the really, really old days (2017) when we used Skype?

Do We Have A Connection Here Or What?

Most businesses are heavily reliant on the internet. Everything is cloud-based and streamed. And it’s especially important now we have more people working from home than ever before.

Without the Internet, those Zoom chats wouldn’t work. We’d spend the day with a mobile phone glued to our ear, and probably with chronic neck ache. Ouch.

So how do you cope if one or more of your remote workers has a poor Internet connection? That can quickly become a frustrating experience for everyone.

Your first port of call would be to run a speed test and then shop around. Find out which providers offer the best speed in their area.

And if they need to, switch. You might choose as a business to financially help them with upgrading their home Internet.

If that’s not an option, then we need to get a little more creative. In extreme cases, you can look at alternatives such as satellite Internet, or a Wi-Fi router that uses 4G.

You can also check their Wi-Fi router to see if an upgrade would be beneficial. And there are things called range extenders that boost the Wi-Fi to reach different parts of their home.

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for or could use some advice on helping your staff get more done from home, call us.

Remote Workforce Or Not – You Can Securely Protect And Back Up Your Corporate Information

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

One of the most common objections heard when talking with businesses about moving towards a remote work strategy is the supposed security risks posed by not having all data contained within the physical confines of the office building.

While this has widely been debunked, the myth still remains. But the tide may be moving in the other direction now that many businesses were forced to move to an entirely remote workforce during the COVID-19 shutdown.

CNBC has reported that 85% of businesses are now operating 50% of their workforce remotely, and with tech giants Twitter and Facebook both reporting plans to move towards a continued remote strategy, the reality is that remote work in a larger capacity is going to become the norm instead of the exception.

Now is the time to prepare for the “new normal” that will become our reality.

Sadly, along with the threat of COVID-19, cyberattacks have grown as attackers realize that home networks are not as secure as corporate networks. However, security and back up firm Acronis shares 5 things that you can do to protect your business data moving forward with a remote work strategy.

Five “must do’s” according to Acronis
Acronis is a leading cloud backup and security provider and one that we recommend widely to all of our customers. They list 5 “must do’s” as you set up your remote workforce, and as always, we are here to help you put these processes in place.

Must-Do #1: VPN – or Virtual Private Network
You have most likely heard of this technology as it has been around for a while. But if not, a VPN will encrypt all data while in transit to protect it from cyberattackers.

Must-Do #2: Keep an eye out for phishing
Hackers are known for taking advantage of highly stressful events and we have seen an increase of COVID-19 themed phishing attempts and we expect this number to continue to rise as businesses reopen.

The best and most reliable way to prevent a phishing attack from affecting your business is through effective employee training. As another protective measure, you can install URL filtering software on your employees laptop or home computer to further reduce the risks of falling victim.

Acronis says, however, that you should always ask yourself if you were really expecting that email before opening or clicking any links contained in the message.

Must-Do #3: Anti-Malware
Virus and malware protection has always been a standard recommendation, but with the wide net that is cast with remote work, it has become even more important that every endpoint that touches your corporate data has this protection installed on it.

Must-Do #4: Patch, patch, and patch
Regardless of your operating system, whether it be Microsoft or Apple, you need to ensure that you are operating under the most recent operating system. Many attacks occur by taking advantage of unpatched vulnerabilities.

Must-Do #5: Keep your password, and your workspace, to yourself
Just because the office location is at home does not automatically mean people can’t access sensitive information when you step away. Limit access to your computer even when you are at home and do not tell anyone your passwords.

Prepare for the future now
There is no question that the future we anticipated at the close of 2019 is different than the one that will ultimately surface.

By making the assumption that remote work will continue to be the norm instead of a return to the standard office environment will help your business be agile and meet challenges head-on.

How To Set Up And Maintain A Secure, Remote Work Environment To Overcome The COVID19 Pandemic

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

“We are in this together.” We can’t say that enough. It’s not you, and I, but US.

Information technology and communications providers are considered essential services in this unprecedented time, and we take our role seriously. We are here to help, and we ask you (no, implore you) to reach out with any technology-related questions as you work to transition from a central office to a remote employee environment.

As you prepare (or maybe you already have transitioned) for remote work environments, many of which will need to be done by the individual who will be working there, we developed this list of 10 things to keep in mind to secure a remote work environment on the fly.

Invest in antivirus software for all employee devices
Yes, technically it is your employee’s devices and these are usually outside of the typical IT circle. But with these circumstances coming about quickly, there may not have been time to follow your normal procurement cycle to get the specific equipment your employees need to remain productive while working from home. That means they will be working from their own device, and they may or may not be as cognizant of your security measures.

So a good rule of thumb is to work to ensure that all employees utilize antivirus software. Many ISPs (Internet service providers) also offer free antivirus software with their service, and we would encourage you to take full advantage. There are several ways you can handle this and we invite you to give us a call to see what will work best for your organization. [Read more…]

Working From Home? Probably The “New Normal”

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

I hope that you and your family (and pets) are safe and sound and doing as well as can be expected. This is an extraordinary time for all of us, and the very embodiment of the ancient Chinese aphorism “may you live in interesting times.” We surely do.

Our team is mixed between working in the office and working from home, and everyone is doing a great job. We initially saw a huge increase in our ticket volume as our client’s teams prepared to work from home but that’s tapered off in the last week to a pretty normal level of activity.

If you had to wait for help, please accept my personal apology for the inconvenience – while we have plans to handle client disasters, I never anticipated something as far-reaching as the current pandemic.

The “new normal”

If the politicians and experts are to be believed, many of the changes we’ve had to make to slow the spread of this virus are going to be around for quite a while, at least until we have an effective vaccine for COVID-19. From an IT perspective, that means more of your team will probably be working remotely. And that presents a new kind and new level of security exposure for your company. [Read more…]

Working Remotely: Changes Amid The Outbreak

Jason Cooley is Support Services Manager for Tech Experts.

It was early March when Microsoft decided to mandate its employees work remotely. Over a month since then, the world has not yet “bounced” back.

It’s still looking like we haven’t seen the worst of things to come. Many industries are closed altogether. Others are running with reduced staff. More people than we can count are out of work and seeking unemployment.

Unless your position called for travel, working remotely wasn’t something many people would consider. However, there is no normal right now, and many people find themselves working from home for the first time.

Not all industries can manage it. There are front liners that have to work. Sure, you can likely do a video appointment with your doctor, but doctors are still seeing patients.

Food service, gas station, and grocery store employees are all critical and in-person jobs that are going to work on a daily basis.

Insurance companies and accounting offices? Their employees are probably very important to a lot of people right now. Their jobs are unlikely to be reliant on a central location.

A computer with web access can be enough to get you through in some situations, and other times, you need access to resources on your corporate network. Different people have different needs. In some cases, people are learning what they need and how to get it as they go.

As someone working in the IT industry, a fair portion of my normal work is done remotely. The only difference is my physical location. I can make calls, remotely assist clients, resolve issues, and carry on like a typical day at the office.

Many are not so lucky. The world doesn’t stop running, and being under quarantine is creating some unique situations. People who have never worked from home suddenly are.

Non-critical business is on hold, but the justice system isn’t on complete shutdown. Different cities and states are still working with its judges to get things done. There are certainly some instances of cities where they have the infrastructure in place to do telecourt appearances. There are others that are trying to put systems in place to be able to operate and hear cases.

While it is likely that some criminal cases will be put on hold, other court matters, like custody cases, can’t always wait indefinitely.

With such uncertainty, some judges are doing Zoom meetings just to make sure that the world does keep moving around us.

Meeting apps like Zoom are being used more and more frequently as people attempt to find ways to host meetings. Skype, Discord, and just about anything else have been used in a pinch to try to make ends meet.

Technology can be daunting, especially when new concepts like virtual meetings or VPNs are introduced.

People trying to use a webcam and mic or remote connection for the first time can get frustrated; it can be hard enough when we’re not facing a global pandemic. Having a technology partner like Tech Experts can ease the transition (and your mind) in these trying times.

There are many things to be learned from this entire situation, though, and many things are sure to change. One thing is for sure: we will all likely be a little more comfortable with the idea of working from home in the future, should we need to.

Benefits Of Remote Monitoring And Management

Michael Menor is Vice President of Support Services for Tech Experts.

Remote technology is so efficient and popular that it’s infiltrating many industries that you’d be surprised to hear about. One such sector is the healthcare department.

Some doctors are taking advantage of the leaps and bounds made by technology to help their patients get back on their feet as easily as possible.

As managed service providers, our primary goal is to use remote technology to help users solve their IT crises. Similarly, doctors can use remote technology to diagnose and treat patients, much like how we do with our own systems.

United Healthcare, one of the largest health insurance providers in the United States, supports what WIRED magazine calls “telemedicine,” a video visit from a doctor who offers consultation services rather than an in-person appointment. As reported by WIRED:

United says it will cover virtual doctor visits offered through NowClinic, Doctor on Demand, and American Well. These platforms connect patients with thousands of doctors—albeit not the patient’s usual doctor—via video chat. These consultations typically cost $40 to $50 a pop, but now that United is covering these visits, members will only have to pay their usual co-pay, making virtual medicine much more affordable for more people. For now, these virtual visits will be available only to UnitedHealth’s self-funded customers, but the feature will expand to most members by next year.

Remote technology is helping more people stay healthy simply by allowing them to access a doctor’s consultation whenever they need to.

This makes it more convenient for not only the patient, but the doctor as well. They don’t have to arrange for an on-site diagnosis and they can avoid contagious sicknesses more easily.

It’s simply a much more efficient way of doing things and allows for more affordable healthcare in general.

In fact, remote technology is such a great tool that any industry can take advantage of its uses, from teaching or training to communicating between other locations to customer service.

Personally, we at Tech Experts perform most of our maintenance remotely. Managed IT companies use remote technology to ensure that a business’s operations continue to run smoothly.

With the assistance of remote technology, Tech Experts can monitor your business’s systems for critical security flaws and administer patches accordingly. This helps us prevent damage that cannot be undone, like a loss of business data or personal information.

The primary reason remote technology is so useful for managed IT service providers is that your business avoids most on-site visits, eliminating the costs associated with them.

This frees up a significant amount from your budget and allows for more effective use of your IT expenses. Every time you opt for remote management and maintenance, you’re saving your business money.

In fact, most issues can be resolved without an on-site visit. Granted, some hardware problems cannot be resolved remotely, so you can’t completely eliminate the costs of on-site visits; however, being able to mitigate them is often more than enough to make a difference.

Here at Tech Experts, we’re happy to see that remote support is breaking free of the stigma of only being used by hackers to control your PC.

It’s finally being embraced as a useful, beneficial tool that all businesses can use to save time and money.

If you have any questions about remote possibilities, give us a call!