The world is divided into two groups: those who have lost data and those who will. Lately we’ve been hearing more and more news reports of people losing data due to the Crypto virus, and we thought this is a good time to remind everyone of the utmost importance of backups. Here are five tips to protect your company’s digital life.
1. Backup! You must always keep a current copy of your data on another type of storage media like a hard drive or DVDs.
2. Show me my data! Make sure your backups work by doing a test restore on a regular basis. If backing up your company’s data is delegated, ask your IT guy to demonstrate for you that the backups are running EVERY DAY, and that he/she can do a test restore for you.
3. Upgrade NOT! Before performing a system upgrade, back up and then verify your data BEFORE proceeding.
4. Go beyond the backup with business D.R. For businesses with on-premises servers, insist on a D.R. (disaster recovery) solution that will bring back mission critical servers. DR Solutions like Dependable SafeSTOR is the best way to keep downtime to a minimum should an entire server fail or get stolen.
5. All drives that were manufactured in the last six years have SMART alerting but very few people know about it. Monitor all the PCs in your organization, both on premises and especially the notebook computers that are with your travelers. By using a service like St. Bernard Managed Care, you can be alerted a day or two BEFORE a drive crashes. This gives you time to get your recent data off the drive while the manufacturer changes out the drive. Using St Bernard, many DCG clients have gotten their replacement drives from Dell or HP based on our monitoring before their drive failed.
A note about external drives: USB style hard drives are very popular. People rely more and more on cheap external USB drives for document and picture storage. These devices can easily become corrupted, so follow these rules about external USB media:
1. ALWAYS use the operating system’s eject feature or you risk losing or corrupting the disk due to the way Windows and Mac perform delayed writes. Click on the Safely Remove Hardware icon from the system tray/notification area, and click on the “Eject Drive” option for the listed drive that you want to eject.
2. Do not remove USB style hard drives while they are operating. Physical damage and/or data loss could occur.
3. Since a fire is likely to damage your PC and any external drives that are attached to it, don’t count on locally stored USB drives for your priceless data. Send a copy of everything to an online cloud service like Drop Box for Business.
Every day I find myself stuck for new ideas when writing for my company blog. How do I continually generate new, compelling content to maintain an active blog presence?
Generating great content can seem a bit overwhelming, but if you follow a strategy and focus on “teaching” rather than “selling,” you will be on your way!
Refer to this list whenever you are “stuck” for ideas:
1. Make it personal.
First person accounts of how you overcame problems or challenges are tremendously valuable to your readers. Sharing missteps, false starts, pitfalls, etc. provides value that is hard to measure. Company stories, officer/salesmen biographies, public service experience, stories of giving back and charity participation, etc. generate a tremendous amount of readership. Interestingly, the most read, forwarded, and commented on article I ever wrote for the DCG blog was one about how I lost 30 pounds on the 4-Hour Body Slow Carb Diet.
2. Scan the news.
Find news related to your industry and cherry-pick the most relevant or timely info to pass on via your blog.
3. Use Top 10 or Top 5 lists.
These types of lists provide an easy form of communication in a way that is fun and quick to digest.
4. Answer commonly asked questions.
You, your salesmen, or customer service reps know that the same questions are asked over and over about many of your products. The same goes for your business practices. Brainstorm a list of these questions and write a short blog article about each one.
5. Steal ideas.
Well, not exactly. But do you ever notice that when a new idea is “trending,” you will see variations on the same article in the technology section of The Wall Street Journal, Wired, and Engadget? The trick is NOT to plagiarize or steal someone else’s work, but to find inspiration within B2B publications in your industry and present the general information to your clients using your unique perspective and experience.
6. Use Google.
It goes without saying that if you can write about the search terms your SEO campaign is focused on, your site will become more relevant, thus trusted with Google. So search on those keywords to see if any are trending in the news there is other more informational content. Google Alerts is a free service that lets you set alerts for industry keywords. Google sends you trending articles every day that you can use for story ideas. If you see three or four articles on the same topic, you can do a “round up” piece to distill the information for your readers.
7. Case Studies.
Interview a handful of clients and write about ways they are using your products to solve challenging problems in interesting ways.
8. Get Visual.
The blog is a great place to post iPhone-made videos of your facilities or products in action. If there is a training or informational aspect that fits one of your categories, those will work best. Use Fiverr.com to get someone to transcribe all of the video’s audio and post the video with the transcription on the blog. When using images from other sites, get permission or select royalty free images.
9. Focus on Pain.
What are the biggest problems your readers face? Focus on topics that provide “first-aid” to their wounds. Call clients or your sales force to learn what their biggest obstacles or problems are and write about them.
10. Scan industry conference speaker topics.
This is a great way to find out what the big thinkers in your industry are talking about and what your clients are willing to pay for and go see.
I know you have encouraged us to start a company blog, but I have noticed that whenever a company starts a blog, it doesn’t take long for them to give up and quit. Why is that?
Sadly, those companies are not following three simple steps when writing their blogs. “Teaching” instead of “selling” is the new normal in business and the best way to engage and convert prospects to long term clients. Unfortunately many company blogs are selling without teaching.
But blogs can be so tremendously powerful. I have learned that one of the best ways to reach prospects–when they are ready to engage you and are most receptive to your message–is with a corporate blog. DCG enccourages our search engine optimization (SEO) clients to create and maintain a corporate blog because doing so elevates your website in terms of trust and page rank with Google. Timely, relevant blog articles that educate your prospects about your industry, demonstrate creative use of your products, and give lots of value is not only the best way to attract clients, but also a great way support a successful SEO campaign.
Google likes to elevate sites that have logs of relevant content because their goal is to provide searchers with sites that are most likley to have answers the searchers are looking for. Blogs are a fantastic way to do that.
Here are the three basic steps bloggers should follow in order to avoid imminent failure:
1. Set a schedule.
The number one reason companies fail is that they don’t set a blogging schedule and stick with it. One or two articles a week should be a minimum goal.
2. Get help.
It is imperative that more than one person share the responsibility of meeting the schedule. If you are not a strong writer, get one. I collaborate with Dyan from Assistant Match to help me write the DCG newsletter and many of our blog articles. Share the blog project with at least one other employee who will help you with the content generation and timelines.
3. Stick to at least five general topics.
You must define general subject categories that you will write about every month. That is the easiest way to generate new content consistently, since it is easier to notice content in the news, around the office, or at home when you are focused on just a few topics. That’s how newspapers do it. They have a News, Sports, Society, Entertainment section, etc. By way of example, here are some categories and article titles we use on the DCG BLOG:
• It’s Free – Apple’s Splashy iOS7
• Cool Stuff – Fitbit Goes Flexible with Flex
• Tips and Tricks – Stay Current and Secure with Secunia PSI
• Ask the Answer Guy – Is Dropbox Still Safe to Use?
• Security Corner – NSA’s Recommendations for the Most Secure Networks
• IT Talk – Windows XP is Retiring. Get Ready to Upgrade.
So, don’t become one of those companies who have a blog that is as stale and old! Hang in there! Once you’re teaching instead of selling, and blogging about it becomes a part of your work life, the task will get easier and more rewarding as time goes on.
I’ve heard about Micorsoft Office 365, and I’m wondering if you would recommend it.
There are pros and cons to Microsoft Office 365 for mail and office applications, depending on what your needs are. Office 365 is pretty cheap and a good fit for some (albeit with very little or no tech support). But if any problems arise, that lack of tech support can raise the frustration level, and what started out as a cheap solution will soon turn very pricey, very fast. It is for these reasons we have had a number of companies move off of Office 365 and switch back to premise-based servers, and/or move to the DCG PrivateCLOUD hosted exchange offering.
DCG supports conventional premise-based exchange and office installations, Office 365 and the DCG PrivateCLOUD hosted exchange solution, so we have experience with all angles of this question. Regarding Office 365, we have a few clients who are fairly pleased with it. However those clients have not had the need for live tech support when using 365 because their needs are fairly light. The clients that DCG helped move from Office 365 to premise or DCG PrivateCLOUD solutions chose the move in part because of mail delivery and routing problems. The other reason some moved was the added cost of keeping terminated employees’ mail history on the Office365 system.
Meanwhile DCG PrivateCLOUD hosted exchange simulates the experience clients would have if they deployed their own MS Exchange server without the need to pay for hardware, software, or the expertise and labor to keep it all running. When an important message needs to be tracked or investigated, help is just a phone call away. It costs a bit more, but the client gets more with that ever-important and timely tech support.
Here is a snapshot of the pros and cons of Microsoft Office 365:
- MS Office 365 is easily accessible, allowing users to log in from any computer or mobile device.
- Microsoft automatically handles the updates, so you don’t have to; updates to the program are done automatically by Microsoft, as are all data back-ups.
- Office 365 is cost-effective, as it offers inexpensive packages and is accessed via the Internet, eliminating the need for costly infrastructure or technical support people.
- Depending on how many users you have, there are multiple plans offered at different, fairly reasonable price points.
- Accessibility to the program is entirely dependent on Microsoft’s servers as well as your Internet service. If either malfunctions, you’re unable to access your mail.
- Your Internet bandwidth will effect the performance of the application. Slow Internet = slow mail.
- There is no “live” support, so there’s no one to call if there’s a problem with a mail message. There is some application support, but if you have ever called Microsoft, well, you know what that can be like.
- Many have complained about the Microsoft anti-spam agent: Most everything that comes from Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Quest, Charter, or Time Warner gets quarantined. If your clients use “non-business” domains that are part of the large mail services mentioned above, you will spend a lot of time in the Microsoft Defender/Frontbridge anti-spam quarantine, constantly white listing people.
DCG supports clients on both MS Office 365 and DCG PrivateCLOUD Hosted Exchange. Office 365 is ok for those who don’t anticipate needing much support, however those who are in need of support will be more satisfied with DCG’s offering, as it comes with a comprehensive support system.
The beginning of this holiday season brings the opportunity for those of us at DCG to give thanks, not only to our clients but especially to the L.A. Food Bank, an organization that strives to eradicate hunger in Los Angeles County.
In honor of the important work that the L.A. Food Bank does for our local communities, DCG made a donation of $2,500 on behalf of each of our clients.
We’d like to share our awareness of the wonderful and necessary work the L.A. Food Bank does and hope others will make their own contributions during this season in the spirit of giving and gratitude. Please click here to visit their website and learn how you can donate or help further.
Brent, I heard about Cryptolocker in the news this week. Is it true they are asking for a ransom to get your data back?
Yes, Crypto is a huge problem for many, many computer users. Anti-Virus programs detect Crypto by the name Troj/Ransom-ACP, because that’s exactly what it does: holds your files to ransom.
Crypto hits all the file extensions that most people care about, from mp3s to Microsoft Word docs and Excel spreadsheets, to PDFs, and Quickbooks files. The only thing it doesn’t touch are system files and “.exes”—Crypto leaves those alone so that the targeted machine will operate well enough to pay the hefty ransom!
Crypto encrypts everything else with 2048-bit RSA keys that would take what seems like a zillion years to decrypt. Once the infection happens, it can infect files on shared servers. Even a home PC (using a VPN) to access a corporate network can infect every file on the company’s server, and that’s very scary!
Here’s where the ransom comes in: The hackers that made Crypto are getting rich encrypting people’s data and, for $300, selling the encryption key to the victim in order to get their data back. I guess it could be said that these guys are “ethical extortionists,” meaning that in most cases, they DO give the encryption key, so you can get your data back. If you clean the virus off before paying, your files will still be useless; the only way to get your files back in original form is to pay the money. The crooks even give you a convenient web link that, if you click on it, you’ll re-infect yourself so that decryption key will work!
For payment they accept Bitcoin, which is a very interesting new currency that works like PayPal, but with absolutely no paper trail or way to reverse charges—the drug dealers love it. Incidentally, Bitcoin has been covered extensively by Wired and Fortune magazines, and I expect it to get HUGE since it is the closest thing to “cash” you can get without mailing actual cash around. The Crypto crooks also accept MoneyPak cash cards that you can pick up at CVS, RiteAid, or Walmart.
The guys behind Cryptolocker are making huge amounts of money, and the social engineering behind their emails is amazing. They have tricked some of our very sophisticated clients in surprising ways. In each case the person that got tricked was a CEO, CFO or other sophisticated user who is not known for getting tricked easily and not prone to getting prior viruses or other malware. These emails provide enough truth or relevance that make people trust the email enough to open it and therefore infect themselves.
We’ve taken the unprecedented step of blocking zip files from all mail servers because the AV and anti-spam content filters can’t figure it out. At $300 a pop, these guys can invest in increasingly better ways to deliver the malware and encrypt files.
The Crypto virus used to be delivered via zip files attached to emails. We learned Friday that Crypto is now being delivered by “conventional” malware botnets. That means machines infected over the last year are now delivering the Crypto payload. Infection via a botnet is a little different, since the crooks are using the fact that you are already infected with malware as a way to infect you with yet more malware.
This is because most bots—or zombies—once active on your computer, include a general purpose “upgrade” command that allows the crooks to update, replace, or add to the malware already on your PC.
Last week we learned of a new attack vector online. A machine got infected with a ZBOT Trojan originally installed in June. The infection happened when the user opened the email attachment of a fake Dunn and Bradstreet customer complaint. In other words, the ransomware hackers paid the Botnet “owners” to distribute their ransomware to infected machines. This is why the attack vector was not necessarily obvious and might have nothing to do with what the user did this week or last week.
Nearly 100% of DCG clients employ our image based backup product called Dependable SafeSTOR. None of our clients have lost any data because of the Crypto or any other virus problem, but we have had at least three clients get hit with Crypto. The malware encrypts all local data along with every file on any server share that person is connected to. On Friday, we had a company call us that had a user who was storing EVERYTHING on a local machine instead of their backed up server. To get Crypto off her local machine, we had no choice but to send her to CVS to buy a cash card and pay the ransom. She got her files back, but the process is not instant. It takes anywhere from five to 24 hours to get the encryption key while the Crypto guys make sure the payment is good. I think they are extremely busy.
How to protect yourself against CryptoLocker
DCG recommends that, for individual users who don’t have robust cloud based file storage/backup in place, they subscribe to a robust cloud based file sync utility like DCG Infinite Disk, or DropBox for Business.
Individual Windows users should check out Foolish IT, a small utility from John Shaw, CEO and developer of Foolish IT, a computer consultancy based in Outer Banks, N.C. (Yes, it is a really odd URL pronounced “Foolish IT dot com”.)
System admins should consider this comprehensive set of articles from thirdtier.net. The kit includes an article on cleaning up after infection, but more importantly provides materials and instruction for deploying a preventative block using software restriction policies via Group Policies. The articles provide instructions for installing them via GPO on domain computers and terminal servers, as well as non-domain joined machines. They also provide GPO settings that you can import into your environment. See more information and download the kit here.
Prevention, in this case, is significantly better than cure:
- Stay patched. Keep your operating system and software up to date.
- Make sure your anti-virus is active and up to date.
- Avoid opening attachments you weren’t expecting, or from people you don’t know well.
- Make regular backups, and store them somewhere safe, preferably offline.
Make it your task today to search out and destroy any malware already on your computer (use malwarebytes.org), lest it dig you in deeper still.
Technology has infiltrated everything from computers to phones to cars and now…thermostats. If you’re looking to wisely invest in a home temperature control system, the Nest Learning Thermostat by Nest Labs is a smart way to manage your home’s climate. And the “coolness” factor of this device is off the charts!
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that programmable thermostats, if used correctly, can slice $180 off of your energy bill annually. While the unit is pricey at $250, it will pay for itself after only a couple of years.
The Nest knows everything including when we’re home, when we’re not, and what our heating and cooling preferences are, down to the last degree. It programs itself with an integrated motion sensor that helps determine when we’re home or away. It distinguishes between weekdays (when we’re home less) and weekends (when we’re home more). When no one is home, it turns off the heat or air, then flips it back on when we return. Because it’s so in tune with our preferences, it adjusts accordingly so we don’t have to make adjustments ourselves once the Nest has learned our habits. It’s easy to install and is attractive – slim, sleek and elegant, not the eyesore that many thermostats can be.
As technologically advanced as the Nest is, it goes without saying it can be controlled via your smartphone. It’s internal software, which continually updates automatically, partners with apps on your phone which in turn becomes the thermostat’s remote control. I installed one in my own home and it’s been great being able to lock the thermostat in “Away” mode from my iPhone while sitting on the tarmac at LAX.
The fact that the Nest relies on power coming from the furnace and AC unit can be a drawback; if power is lost for an extended period, the Nest may not come back on until you’re there to turn it back on. And if it’s installed in a home that’s not frequently occupied (such as a vacation home), it may not come on with no one there. This can make for a cold homecoming if your vacation home is in a freezing climate.
To dive deeper into what the Nest thermostat has to offer, click here to see cnet’s detailed review.
I’ve just discovered my domain has been blacklisted. How did this happen?
There is most likely a simple answer to this. If your marketing department is sending emails from the company email account to groups that include more than 25 recipients, that’s probably the cause of the blacklisting.
A blacklist is a database of IP addresses that are considered spammers or send messages appearing to have characteristics of spam. For security purposes and to prevent phishing, email servers check for spam offenders before receiving emails and will block, or “blacklist,” those possible offenders if they appear to be spam. Sending messages to groups of over 25 recipients makes you look like a spammer.
Meanwhile, even those who are not spammers often get blacklisted as well. It’s important to prevent this. Using fee- and account-based email services such as Constant Contact(which we use often) establishes the legitimacy of your emails, allows you to send to groups much larger than just 25 recipients, and helps prevent winding up on a blacklist.
There are other advantages to using email marketing tools to send corporate emails. These tools allow you to monitor statistics on your emails such as how many of them were delivered, opened or bounced back, and they offer the opportunity for recipients to unsubscribe.
Stay off the blacklists by either shortening your recipient lists or using email marketing tools. It’s worth it. If you find yourself on a blacklist, call DCG at 213-261-3998 and we will fix it.
It’s been out for a while now, and the reviews are stellar – mostly. Since Apple unleashed its iOS7, millions of users have updated their i-devices and are pretty happy with the cutting edginess of the new operating system. But there are some aspects that drive many users crazy as well, particularly how fast it drains the phone’s battery. Here are some tricks to help you get the best out of iOS7:
Lengthen Battery Life.
One of iOS7′s new features, Background App Refresh, is a convenient feature that constantly refreshes apps running in the background, but it kills your battery faster than ever. To disable it:
1. Go to Settings
2. Select Background App Refresh
3. Switch to Off
You also have the option to turn off each app individually in order to keep other essential features, such as GPS, running in the background.
Another new feature, AirDrop, sucks the life out of the battery and can be turned off by doing the following:
1. Access the Control Center by simply swiping up from the bottom of your screen
2. Double tap on AirDrop logo
3. Switch to Off
Close Apps with a Swipe.
In iOS7, apps are now closed with a quick swipe of a finger (no more shaking icons with little red x’s!):
1. Press the home button twice to reveal all open apps
2. Swipe each app’s preview window upward
3. Watch it disappear and close
4. Press the home button again to return to the app you were originally in
Adjust Names of Text Senders.
When your screen is locked and you get a text, a preview message now appears on the screen with only the contact’s first name and a small portion of their message. If you’d like to see the contact’s entire name when the text appears:
1. Go to Settings
2. Select Mail, Contacts, Calendars
3. Select Short Name
4. Switch to Off
5. Select the option you prefer (First Name & Last Initial, First Initial & Last Name, First Name Only or Last Name Only)
Bold Text for More Legible Type.
In order to make the text under the App icons easier to see:
1. Go to Settings
2. Select General
3. Select Accessibility
4. Turn on Bold Text
(After selecting Bold Text, you will be forewarned that applying this setting will restart your iPhone. You will have the option to cancel if you don’t want to restart the phone.)
Increase Contrast for More Legible Type.
This is another way to make it easier to read type:
1. Go to Settings
2. Select General
3. Select Accessibility
4. Turn on Increase Contrast
Turn Off Control Center Swipe.
The Control Center can now be opened when you swipe up from the bottom of the screen. Convenient for some; annoying for many, particularly when using apps that require a similar action. To turn this feature off:
1. Go to Settings
2. Select Control Center
3. Turn off Access Within Apps
Another new feature, “Parallax,” gives a 3D effect by allowing the wallpaper to pan around while your phone moves. A cool feature indeed, but not for those who easily get distracted or motion sick. To turn off Parallax:
1. Go to Settings
2. Go to General
3. Select Accessibility
4. Select Reduce Motion
5. Turn the switch to On
It’s Apple’s biggest change since the birth of the iPhone. The aesthetically different iOS7, Apple’s free software update from iOS6 for iPhone and iPad, is now gracing the devices of many and, while still struggling with some bugs, is proving quite popular.
Besides an entirely different overall look, here are some of the reasons to make the switch:
Improved Camera: The hugely improved camera app opens much faster, offers easier ways to organize photos, and opens a whole new world of still or panoramic photos, videos, and now square images with just a swipe of the finger. Added filters let you change the contrast, take black and white images, and add other artistic effects.
Sharing via AirDrop: This new feature allows you to securely share photos, videos, documents, and anything else from any app by simply pressing “Share” and choosing who you’re sharing with. The rest is done for you.
Larger Browsing Screen: Surfing Safari is better now that the search bar and navigation buttons are hidden, so you view nothing but content until you choose to reveal the bars and buttons.
Easy-to-Find Settings: The often-used controls such as Brightness, Airplane Mode, and newly built-in Flashlight are now found with one swipe from the bottom of the screen.
Friendlier Siri: Siri’s female voice now sounds more human; and iOS7 introduces Siri’s male counterpart!
Better App Store: It’s no longer necessary to manually update each individual app – iOS7 automatically updates every app thanks to its automatic update feature. And parents of young kids can now search apps by age range to determine age appropriateness.
Easier Multitasking: Switching between multiple open apps is easier than ever. A simple swipe upward allows you to switch from app to app; a swipe with two or more fingers lets you close apps at once, eliminating the prior need to go through and close each app individually. Apps can be used even while they’re in mid-update.
Unfortunately there a few mishaps with the iOS7:
New Aesthetics: While many users are thrilled with the all-new look of, well, everything (text, colors, icons, etc.), many users find the new look hard to get used to.
Risky for Generations Before iPhone 5: While many iPhone 4S owners have successfully made the switch, there are also a lot of 4S users (and rumor has it some 5 users as well) who have struggled with catastrophic bugs after switching and wish they would have waited for Apple to fully debug the new OS. The same can be said for iPads released before the 3. (These are case-by-case situations…every device may or may not make a successful switch.) For those of you using the iPhone 4, DCG recommends that you do NOT upgrade.
Major Commitment: Once you switch to iOS7, there is no turning back. So be sure you’re ready for all the changes.
Slightly Shorter Battery Life: With all the new, fancy effects in iOS7, batteries tend to drain a bit faster unless you turn the effects off.
If you are experiencing any of these issues, DigitalTrends provides easy fixes here: How to Fix iOS 7 Bugs.
All in all, this update is an exciting one with a cool new look and impressive new features. Click here to see all that iOS7 has to offer.
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