Conflicting Views of the Cloud

cloud

Cloud computing is here to stay. Yet, there are still companies hesitant to adopt the cloud. While every business that hesitates migrating to the cloud has its own reasons, one common source of conflict that we’ve seen is the opposing view between the business owner and their IT department.

This difference in view typically stems from the business owner being sold some big promises about how the cloud can revolutionize their operations, whereas IT personnel may be hesitant to relinquish too much control to the cloud. Granted, we have seen situations where the reverse is true, but for the sake of this article, let’s follow the logic of the former.

Benefits of the Cloud Promised to Business Owners
For business owners, the cloud comes with some pretty strong selling points. According toInformationWeek, here are three benefits to the cloud that get business owners excited about adopting the technology:

  • Business leaders see improved speed to market.
  • The ability to rent instead of own, especially as things relate to new ventures that might not be permanent.
  • The ability to rent infrequently used assets (like those for disaster recovery).

For the business owner, all three of these benefits speak to something near and dear to their heart: return on investment. If cloud computing can live up to the marketing promises that spew across a business owner’s desk, inbox, and social media timelines, then they’re going to gravitate toward the cloud and demand that their IT department implement it for business reasons, not technical reasons.

Reservations IT Departments May Have about the Cloud
Herein lies the all-too-common conflict between a business owner’s money-saving decision making and the guarded reservations that an IT administrator might have about making too dramatic of a change to their IT systems. InformationWeek goes on to explain the IT technician’s point of view:

  • Self-preservation: “Why should I support something that’s going to put me out of a job?” Developers obviously don’t feel this way. But folks responsible for racking-and-stacking? Of course they feel threatened by work being done in an Amazon or Google data center.
  • Span of control: Being responsible for outsourced infrastructure makes people feel like they’re getting in trouble for someone else’s mistake when that infrastructure is unavailable.
  • Disbelief: The line of thinking here is, “This is just a fad, it’s not really going to help us, and we’ll go to a lot of trouble for nothing.”

At the end of the day, migrating a company’s IT infrastructure to the cloud is a major move that affects everyone, business owners and IT technicians alike. Therefore, both parties need to be on the same page about the cloud and have a clear understanding about what it can do, as well as why adopting it is in the best interest of the company.

Cenetric is here to help communicate the benefits of cloud computing to both parties. As a managed IT company and a small business, we’re in a unique position to speak to the needs and understand the pain points of business owners and IT departments alike. To have a relevant conversation about cloud computing that takes into account these two perspectives and more, give us a call at (913) 534-8655.

Even Homeland Security’s IT Is Preparing for a Security Storm

Just like any other high-profile entity, a government should place great emphasis on its IT infrastructure. The U.S. government is moving through 2015 with an increased awareness of the state of cybersecurity, and with all of the huge security breaches that happen almost regularly, it qualifies cyber threats as important as other national security threats.

Jeh C. Johnson, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, admitted at the annual RSA Conference that he believes cybersecurity will take precedence in 2015, despite the apparent lack of talent which the agency currently has for it. He states that filling this deficit is going to be important going forward, and that cybersecurity will likely join the ranks of other threats to the safety of the American homeland.

Johnson made it evident that he has big plans for the government’s IT security infrastructure. He explained the function of the National Cybersecurity Communications Integration Center (NCCIC, or N-KICK). This agency is the first step toward creating a place where direct communication between the masses and Homeland Security can occur. Citizens can report threats directly to the center. In 2014 alone, there were around 97,000 instances of security problems from private sector firms, and this number is only going to increase as time goes on. The center has a team that works around the clock to respond and resolve issues as quickly as they can.

This shouldn’t come as any surprise, though, especially considering how technology has practically taken over society. The Internet of Things isn’t helping, either, which brings more connected devices into the mix. This, in turn, puts more networks at risk, and pushes for more stringent security precautions to be integrated. To make matters worse, hackers use more sophisticated and powerful techniques than they used to, like spear phishing. These attacks make it more difficult to see attacks for what they truly are, and have a way of slipping through even the most advanced defenses while remaining undetected. These social engineering threats trick people into giving away personal information, which is a clear distinction from the ordinary variety of hacks.

If the government is concerned over cybersecurity, then your business should also see it as a top priority and be prepared to handle any threat that shows its ugly mug to your network. With so many different kinds of threats out there, it can be difficult to consider solutions that protect you from it all.

This is why Cenetric offers our Unified Threat Management (UTM) solution to small and medium-sized businesses. It comes fully equipped with a firewall, antivirus, spam blocking, and content filtering solution, which will give your business enterprise-level security. Give us a call at (913) 534-8655 to learn more.

Alert: Critical Microsoft Office Flaw Patched

‘Tis the season for technology vulnerabilities and exploits. In addition to Sandworm and Cryptowall 2.0, another flaw has been found in Microsoft Office. This particular threat allows a hacker to gain control of a computer system, making it a dangerous and potentially threatening gamble for your business to ignore it. Thankfully, the issue has been patched, and the fix is now available to the public.

Microsoft issued a security advisory on October 21st stating that the vulnerability, which allows remote code execution, is found in all supported versions of Microsoft Windows, excluding Windows Server 2003. The threat is triggered by opening an infected Microsoft Office file which contains an OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) object. If the hacker is successful, they can potentially gain the same user rights as other users on the PC, making it a very dangerous vulnerability indeed. If hackers are able to access the system, they can delete data, install malware, or other malicious activity.

The patch for this vulnerability was issued earlier this November, so if you still haven’t patched your systems from this threat, it’s important that you do so as soon as possible.

Thankfully, the vulnerability requires security permission from whoever has the administrative privileges on your business’s PCs. This means that if you were to download an Office file from the web, a window will appear asking if you are sure you want to download it. An example of Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) is embedding an Excel spreadsheet in a Word document.

combining files

Officially, Microsoft says that any Office file utilizing an OLE object is vulnerable to being infected with this threat. Here are some tips you can use to protect yourself until you apply the security update.

  • Enable the Windows Consent Prompt: In the observed attacks, the User Control Account interface displays a window with a consent prompt. This appears depending on the privileges of the current user, before the file can be downloaded. Make sure that this feature is enabled, as it can prevent you from downloading infected files before it’s too late.
  • Enable fewer user rights on your systems: The hacker who infiltrates your system will gain the same usage rights as the currently logged-in user. This means that the more user rights they have, the more damage they can do. Either way, the average employee shouldn’t have administrative user rights, as it could lead to them performing unapproved tasks, like downloading unnecessary software and such.
  • Avoid email phishing attacks: In theory, a hacker could convince an unaware user to visit an infected web page which could contain a vulnerable office file. They will typically do this by using links in malicious emails. Keep an eye out for suspicious activity, and never click on a link unless you know where it goes.
  • Avoid downloading files from the Internet in general: Files from the web can contain any number of worms, viruses, malware, adware or other malicious entities you want nowhere near your network.

As always, it’s important that you apply the latest security updates as they are released. Cenetric can take care of this for you remotely and efficiently, so you don’t have to take the time to do so yourself.

Tip of the Week: How to Protect Your Business from 3 Common Disasters

It doesn’t take much to disrupt your company’s network and cause downtime. Whether it’s something major like a natural disaster, or something minor like forgetting your network login credentials, you need to have a plan in place that gets your network up and running as soon as possible.

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Here are three common scenarios that you need to plan for:

Power Outages
Have you ever experienced a power outage due to overloading an outlet, popping a breaker, or a surge? A power outage is an annoying occurrence that can disrupt the work day and cause downtime. A computer system that’s offline can halt the productivity of an entire company, hurting your bottom line. Sudden power outages can also erase any unsaved data, and cause damage to computer hardware.

A Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR) solution is perfect for minor power outages caused by small things like an overloaded outlet, or major disasters that can leave your office without power for an extended period of time. One benefit to a BDR is that it can backup all of your data regularly throughout the day. Another solution to protect your PC from damage caused by power outages, is to use an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to ensure that your hardware will continue to run uninterrupted during a brief outage.

Disasters that Call for the Evacuation of Your Building
For when an actual disaster strikes, it’s good to have a rehearsed evacuation plan in place. This should include designated leaders who are capable of safely evacuating others in the face of panic. If you’re backing up your computer network with tape drives, then taking the drives off-site in the event of a disaster should be part of your emergency plan. BDR is the best solution in emergency scenarios because all your data can be automatically backed up to the cloud, meaning that you don’t have to worry about retrieving tapes in a chaotic office evacuation.

Forgotten Passwords
Trying to guess a forgotten password can be a rather frustrating exercise. What if the IT tech that set up your company’s network was gone the day of an emergency and only they knew the password? Or, what if the person who enacted the password was no longer with the company and they didn’t make the password easily accessible?

To prevent this password scenario for yourself, there are several solutions available to make sure that your passwords are easily accessible. Using a secure password storage services like LastPass or KeePass can help you to quickly retrieve the password. And even better, if your business had Cenetric monitoring their computer network, we can detect problems and resolve password issues remotely. Not all password management solutions are equal though, so if you are really looking to implement something for your business that’s secure, be sure to reach out to us – we can help you pick the right one.

Call us at (913) 534-8655 to set up protections and monitoring to safeguard your office from power outages and other disasters.

Tip of the Week: How to Set Windows to Automatically Reboot

When’s the last time you rebooted your PC or mobile device? If you’re drawing a blank to this question, then you should take the minute or two it takes to reboot as soon as possible (or 15 minutes if you’re still using Windows XP). To a computer, rebooting can be likened to getting a full night’s sleep; without it, performance will suffer.

The Importance of Rebooting
Even the latest desktop and mobile software is prone to bugs and memory leaks. In a memory leak, your RAM becomes overloaded, causing your PC to significantly lose performance and slow down or even freeze up. When your system is rebooted, it’s like you’re resetting all the data that’s overloading the RAM, giving your PC a fresh start.

This is the reason why, after you download and install a new application or update your operating system, you will often be asked to reboot your system. The installation and the updating of new software is an involved process for a computer that requires a lot of resources. If the system isn’t rebooted after a major installation, then it’s essentially like leaving your tools on the floor after completing a major construction project–operations will be slowed down due to people tripping over the tools.

In addition to improved performance, another benefit to regular rebooting is longer battery life. If your system doesn’t have to strain the RAM by processing disorganized data, then your device will require less power to operate.

The chore of rebooting is often neglected due to users not wanting to pause their work. Another common reason why people are hesitant to reboot is because they may operate their PC with several applications and Internet browser tabs open all at once. For these computer users, rebooting means closing every application and every tab, and then having to reopen everything once their computer is back online.

As a best practice, we recommend that you reboot your PC at least once a week and as often as every day. If you do this right before you leave for home, then you won’t have to have your workday interrupted by closing out your programs, and your system will be less prone to crashing. Even with your mobile devices, it’s best practice to regularly reboot them because they too can suffer from an overloaded RAM.

How to Set Your PC to Automatically Reboot
If rebooting is one chore that you don’t want to put on your day, then you can have Windows do this automatically through the Windows Task Scheduler in Windows 8.1. To access the Task Scheduler, go to Control Panel. In the search feature located in the upper right hand corner, type “schedule” and then hit Enter.

From here, you will see listed underneath Administrative Tools a shield icon that says Schedule Tasks. Click on it. You are now in Task Scheduler. To the right of the screen, you will see the Task Scheduler Library, from this menu, go to Create Task…

With the Create Task box open, now go to the General tab. Give your task a name like “daily reboot,” and make sure toselect “Run whether user is logged on or not,” along with “Run with highest privileges.”

Next, click Triggers tab, and then the New… button. From here, you can select how often you want your PC to reboot, and at what time you want it to take place. It is preferable that you choose a reboot time that is after hours. Click OK.

Now, go to the Actions tab and click on the New… button. Make sure the Action is set to “Start a program.” Under Program/script: select the program called shutdown. Now click OK.

After doing all of this, you should be all set and not have to worry about having to manually reboot your PC again.

We would like to point out that part of Cenetric’s remote IT maintenance service includes scheduled rebooting of your company’s workstations after hours. This allows you to come to work every day knowing that needed PC maintenances have been taken care of, and that your machine will be operating at maximum efficiency. Call us at (913) 534-8655 to learn more.

Stop Wasting Time and Money on Unused Software and Applications

Years and years of doing business means years and years of applications and software getting installed on your computer. Before you know it, you don’t use any of them anymore, or they are outclassed by other, more useful programs. Going through each of your systems individually is time-consuming and monotonous. So, what can you do about this?

Taking advantage of a managed service provider who specializes in the IT industry is your best bet. You don’t have time to waste figuring out which applications you need and which ones you don’t. Let Cenetric’s trusted tech professionals help you figure out how best to determine your business’s technical needs.

Cenetric offers our clients software and application management services, meaning you can stop worrying about removing ancient and unneeded software from your systems. Using our enterprise-level remote access tool, we can access your network’s machines and remove unwanted programs and applications. This is what application management is all about: improving your productivity while creating a technology plan that is designed to streamline your office’s operations.

Some benefits of software and application management services are:

  • Increased flexibility: Don’t waste time and resources figuring out for yourself what you should keep and what you should get rid of. We’ll work with you to determine your needs, then integrate the changes for you. Your team can continue working with minimal downtime.
  • Cut operation costs: Your business might be wasting money on unused programs and applications. Take that extra cash and invest in a department that can generate capital, such as your marketing or sales team. Cenetric’s solid, monthly, flat-rate services are easy to integrate into any budget, and we’ll make sure the job gets done right and to your specification.
  • Increased productivity: With programs and software optimized to boost your workplace’s performance, you can rest easy knowing that your business is operating at optimal capacity.
  • Increase customer service quality: By cutting down time navigating through a maze of programs, you’ll be able to provide quick and efficient customer service. Your workstations won’t be bogged down by unused software any longer, and instead of concentrating on what you need to fix within the machine, you can concentrate on helping your clients fix their own problems.

Stop wasting time and money on software and applications you don’t even use. Contact Cenetric at (913) 534-8655 for a free IT consultation, and see what kind of solutions we can offer for you.

How to Jumpstart Productivity with Your Smartphone

smartphoneIt seems as if you can’t go anywhere on the Internet without encountering some security violation, and there’s a lot of discussion concerning how to keep your data safe. Undoubtedly, mobile devices will surely arise in the debate. Without a doubt, mobile devices are capable of vastly improving productivity while out of the office, but is this enough to offset the incredible amount of risk which comes with hopping from network to network?

In an increasingly security-centric industry, Sagacent has looked into the best solutions available to increase your smartphone security while boosting out-of-office productivity. These solutions are readily available and customizable for your business’s needs, making them fairly versatile. An increased focus on mobile management software, plus an adherence to best practices concerning data security, can make a significant difference in the way you combat potential data loss. However, this begs an even greater question. Smartphones can potentially consume the mind and turn into a productivity-sucking black hole, a possibility which IT professionals often dismiss. How can you stay productive with a smartphone when distractions are impossible to avoid?

Smartphones have changed a lot since their inception into the technology industry. They went from bulky chunks of hardware to small devices with four-to-six inch displays in a matter of years, ideal for mobile computing. In fact, some of these devices now contain more processing power than laptops from only a short time ago, further emphasizing society’s focus on increased mobility and efficiency. There’s no doubt that mobile applications available on smartphones are better than those which might have existed not too long ago, but can these improvements create an environment which fosters productivity while out and about?

Smartphones have become something of a necessity for some folks, and are all over the place. It’s not even just adults; all ages across the board utilize smartphones in one way or another, though it might not be the most productive method of using them. According to study by BI Intelligence, the average smartphone user:

  • Plays games 39 percent of the time.
  • Uses social media 24 percent of the time.
  • Uses utility applications 17 percent of the time.
  • Entertainment, lifestyle, and health applications each accounted for three percent, for a total of nine percent.

Overall, the smartphone is in use about 89 percent of the time. This only leaves about an 11 percent chance to use it for work without making some tough cuts in the personal entertainment department. With only an 11 percent open window, you can’t expect a smartphone to provide the same levels of productivity that an ordinary workstation can. Sure, the smartphone is designed for communication, and you can go anywhere with that mobile device, but users shouldn’t by any means consider it a viable replacement for the good old PC.

While the smartphone may not be designed for the purposes of the workplace, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of working with your smartphone when you can.

A Gaggle of Notifications
If there’s one thing that a smartphone does for you, it keeps you notified at all times. One of the most productive ways to use your smartphone for work is to rig it to provide you with the latest developments on your projects. This helps keep you current on the state of your workplace projects. You can also receive email or texts from applications when something of importance needs attention, which will increase your rate of involvement in your company.

Stay Organized
Modern smartphones have the ability to integrate with a variety of cloud-based resources. This helps you stay more informed of developments in your workplace. Some of these functions include syncing with your email and calendar events, and even browsing the Internet. One other powerful mobile device strategy includes using its integrated browser to take advantage of online resources and applications, like Microsoft 365, Evernote, and Google Drive. This sheer overload of technology in the palm of your hand might be a bit overwhelming at times, so it’s best to stay organized and keep a to-do list on hand and current.

It should be obvious that the smartphone isn’t going to be the end-all, be-all solution for your office, but it certainly can help you work more while staying mobile. You probably don’t leave home without it, so why not turn your smartphone into a productivity-boosting machine for your company?

Tip of the Week: How to Set Windows to Automatically Reboot

When’s the last time you rebooted your PC or mobile device? If you’re drawing a blank to this question, then you should take the minute or two it takes to reboot as soon as possible (or 15 minutes if you’re still using Windows XP). To a computer, rebooting can be likened to getting a full night’s sleep; without it, performance will suffer.

The Importance of Rebooting
Even the latest desktop and mobile software is prone to bugs and memory leaks. In a memory leak, your RAM becomes overloaded, causing your PC to significantly lose performance and slow down or even freeze up. When your system is rebooted, it’s like you’re resetting all the data that’s overloading the RAM, giving your PC a fresh start.

This is the reason why, after you download and install a new application or update your operating system, you will often be asked to reboot your system. The installation and the updating of new software is an involved process for a computer that requires a lot of resources. If the system isn’t rebooted after a major installation, then it’s essentially like leaving your tools on the floor after completing a major construction project–operations will be slowed down due to people tripping over the tools.

In addition to improved performance, another benefit to regular rebooting is longer battery life. If your system doesn’t have to strain the RAM by processing disorganized data, then your device will require less power to operate.

The chore of rebooting is often neglected due to users not wanting to pause their work. Another common reason why people are hesitant to reboot is because they may operate their PC with several applications and Internet browser tabs open all at once. For these computer users, rebooting means closing every application and every tab, and then having to reopen everything once their computer is back online.

As a best practice, we recommend that you reboot your PC at least once a week and as often as every day. If you do this right before you leave for home, then you won’t have to have your workday interrupted by closing out your programs, and your system will be less prone to crashing. Even with your mobile devices, it’s best practice to regularly reboot them because they too can suffer from an overloaded RAM.

How to Set Your PC to Automatically Reboot
If rebooting is one chore that you don’t want to put on your day, then you can have Windows do this automatically through the Windows Task Scheduler in Windows 8.1. To access the Task Scheduler, go to Control Panel. In the search feature located in the upper right hand corner, type “schedule” and then hit Enter.

From here, you will see listed underneath Administrative Tools a shield icon that says Schedule Tasks. Click on it. You are now in Task Scheduler. To the right of the screen, you will see the Task Scheduler Library, from this menu, go to Create Task…

With the Create Task box open, now go to the General tab. Give your task a name like “daily reboot,” and make sure toselect “Run whether user is logged on or not,” along with “Run with highest privileges.”

Next, click Triggers tab, and then the New… button. From here, you can select how often you want your PC to reboot, and at what time you want it to take place. It is preferable that you choose a reboot time that is after hours. Click OK.

Now, go to the Actions tab and click on the New… button. Make sure the Action is set to “Start a program.” Under Program/script: select the program called shutdown. Now click OK.

After doing all of this, you should be all set and not have to worry about having to manually reboot your PC again.

Cenetric’s remote IT maintenance service includes scheduled rebooting of your company’s workstations after hours. This allows you to come to work every day knowing that needed PC maintenances have been taken care of, and that your machine will be operating at maximum efficiency. Call us at (913) 534-8655 to learn more.

4 Reasons You Need Instant Messaging

In an age of technology, email, text messaging and meeting requests have taken over day-to-day communication. Efficiency is key to tackling our ever-mounting workload. Finding new ways to introduce efficiency may seem like a daunting task, but a simple changeover to an internal instant messaging program may be the change you’re seeking, with little time or financial investment. Here are 4 reasons you need instant messaging today.

Saving Office Cross-Traffic

Traditionally, if you need an immediate answer from a co-worker or need them to review a document, you will walk to their desk to ask. Along the way, you introduce the possibility of distracting additional (non-involved) parties by your cross-office journey. You may even be tempted to stop and talk to another co-worker on your way back to your desk, decreasing efficiency even further. A simple question posed over instant message can save time and get you back to work on your project without additional distractions for both you and your co-workers.

Reducing Email Clutter

As emails pile up throughout the day, you accumulate more items to read and file. Instant messaging provides a simple, alternate means of communication without the overhead of handling an incoming and outgoing email. This provides an easy, often much-needed boost in efficiency.

Collaborate with an Impromptu Meeting

If your office has employees in multiple locations or if you work with a coworker in a remote office, you may need to collaborate on a project. Instant messaging allows you to pull everyone into one spot to communicate without the need to setup and coordinate a conference call. Built-in applications such as virtual whiteboards and screen sharing allow you to interact with documents or draw out an idea and engage all of the messaging participants.

Improve Multitasking

Often, questions arise during the course of a phone call. If you are on the phone with a customer and need a question answered, you can place that caller on hold and walk to your co-worker’s desk for an answer — or, you can send an instant message and let the customer know you are waiting on a response while you update your notes or provide additional information to them. The time you wait for a response can even be used for relationship building with your customer! This not only increases efficiency, but also increases your customer interaction and in-turn, your customer loyalty.

There are several instant messaging applications on the market. Several have bundle offers with software you may already own. There are also free versions available. For more information on instant messaging programs or how they may benefit your organization, please contact Cenetric.

How To Hide The Windows 8.1 Start Button

The biggest complaint we’ve heard regarding Windows 8 is the change in the Start Menu functionality. With the introduction of Windows 8.1, Microsoft attempted to meet users half-way by offering a start menu that returns the user to the desktop.

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If you are still unhappy with this change, there are several alternatives to hide it and or change it. Below are some of the suggestions that we have:

1. StartIsGone

If you dislike pointless functionality, StartIsGone is a good alternative to the Window 8.1 start menu change.  Available from WinAero.com, this is a small download with no installation necessary.

Hide-Windows-8.1-Start-button-Menuhttp://mcdn.maketecheasier.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Hide-Windows-8.1-Start-button-Menu.jpg

While not ideal for multiple screens, StartIsGone may be a good option for anyone looking to get rid of the start menu.

2. 7+ Taskbar Tweaker

If you’re looking for an alternative, or you just want more options that are not present in StartIsGone, then 7+ Taskbar Tweaker has plenty to offer.

7+ Taskbar is available both as a standard and a portable install. You can choose between these options in the installation wizard, which unpacks the app either to the default address (normally somewhere in the C drive) or to a folder of your choice which you can then move. You will also need to ”Run as administrator” to launch the setup.

This is a great tool that – as the name suggests – enables you to introduce a selection of useful tweaks to your Windows desktop.

Hide-Windows-8.1-Start-button-7-Taskbarhttp://mcdn.maketecheasier.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Hide-Windows-8.1-Start-button-7-Taskbar.png

To use 7+ Taskbar Tweaker to remove the annoying new Windows 8.1 Start button, simply open the utility and locate the group of options labelled ”Other”, which is located in the lower-right corner of the window. All you need to do here to check the ”Hide the Start button” option and the start button will be immediately removed.

Again saying, the results aren’t perfect on multi-monitor setups, and if you hit the “sweet spot” on your desktop, the Start button will again appear, but at least it’s removed from the taskbar.

Meanwhile, if you want to replace the Start button with something a little more traditional, the Pokki tool is ideal. Designed to restore the classic Start menu, Pokki will also allow you to kill the new Start button in favour of adding a compact, Modern-themed replacement.

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