Your personal cyber security

Security​There is always something in the news regarding IT security – whether it’s the horrendously scary GO Zeus or remembering to cover your PIN code at the tills, all around us we are being warned about the impact of letting our guard down. But be honest, how many of us still think – It won’t happen to me?

That includes me. Without ever wanting to admit it, my ignorance relating to IT Security plays a part of my total lack of addressing my weaknesses.
 
But these are real threats and there are huge organised groups out there, incredibly smart and devious, that are ready to take advantage of vulnerable and unsuspecting folk. There are probably a million things that you can do to protect yourself, I sure as hell don’t know all of them – but below are some easy top tips to remember to keep you a little bit safer.
 
1. First rule – Don’t ever think ‘it won’t happen to me’. It can. Be vigilant and don’t ignore ‘strange’ things even if they seem small and insignificant at the time. If something looks suspicious, don’t ignore it.
 
2. An old favourite, but be careful when opening attachments or links in emails. If you don’t know the sender, or it looks suspicious – Don’t Click! A little known fact (and not something I am proud of) but I once opened a file from ‘DHL’ – a supplier at the time. I was lucky. My computer was contaminated with a programme that kept taking me to Wowcher or would download 100s of adverts every time I tried to do anything. Like I said, I was lucky it wasn’t something more malicious – but my computer still had to be sent away to get rebuilt and resulted in about 2 days downtime in total. And a lot of embarrassment. But imagine if that spread to the whole business…
 
3. Practice good password management. And that means, changing it regularly, using a good mix of characters, not using the same one on multiple sites. And don’t write them down. Thinking ‘what a nightmare’ to think of strong passwords and then remember them all? Here is a useful site to help you create memorable passwords.
 
 
4. It might sound obvious, but don’t leave your devices unattended. Your computer, tablet, phone etc – if you do have to leave them for any length of time, remember to either lock the keyboard, or lock them away. And this goes for USB sticks and flash drives – if there is something on it that’s valuable to you, then it is valuable. It takes just one opportunist to give you a complete nightmare day.
 
5. Backup Backup Backup!! My brother owns a Business Tech company, and tells me this is one of the most important things to remember. If it all goes a bit wrong and you find yourself with an empty hard drive – your files will be backed-up somewhere. But remember to do it. Mental note to self – remember to back up….
 
6. Be savvy about your browsing, and only use a device that belongs to you, and on a network you trust. Non secure networks will mean your data is vulnerable, and you will need to consider what it is you are doing. Make sure your firewalls are up to date, and if you do sign into your local Costa wifi, select it as a ‘Public’ network.
 
7. You can’t get away from Facebook, Twitter etc etc (I am not ‘with it’ enough to know all the different networks out there, but I am advised that there are many) but don’t forget that these are actually incredibly public, especially if you have not selected the right privacy settings. Therefore, be careful who you ‘link in’ with. If you don’t actually know the person / business you are connecting with, then be aware that they will now have access to a lot of personal information. Not to freak you out, but this will include where you went to school, when you are going on holiday, names of your kids …
 
8. And so to end on another old favourite – don’t ever give personal information to someone over the phone or internet unless you are 100% confident they are who they say they are. And in any case, if they are legit, you will never have to give this information out.
 
Hopefully, I haven’t completed messed you up, and this is just a reminder of what we already know. If you want to know more about how Cyber Security affects you, please contact us HERE with your query.
 
Stay safe people.
 
TER

Remote working? The good the bad and the ugly

In the olden days you’d dial in with your modem to the office network, log in and (very slowly) be able to download and work with files. However, this was unreliable and so slow to be something only used in desperate situations.

USR_Modem

Once ADSL became normal the use of VPN (Virtual Private Networking) became the preferred method of accessing the office network. However, at the same time the size of the files we were using had also grown considerably and before long VPN became slow and tedious to use as well.

With the advent of Cloud based services, such as Office365 and VoIp, the ability to access your data without needing to use VPN’s or other dial-in systems suddenly opened up the ability to detach yourself from the office without huge levels of complexity.

From a business continuity perspective this is amazing – the need for a Disaster recovery centre was removed and as long as your staff had an internet connection they could work. And better still, the outside world wouldn’t even know!

In any case, since the advent of VPN, more businesses permitted staff to work from home. Some companies, such as MoneyPenny and even the AA used this to have a large proportion of their workforce based permanently from home, giving great flexibility to their staff and create significant reductions on staff costs, as well as environmental benefits from reducing the number of vehicles on the road etc.

This however creates it’s own set’s of issues!

Firstly, the member of staff is no longer visible to the rest of the business in the same manner as an office based staff. This means that you have to have high levels of trust that productivity will be maintained. If the staff is more results or task based then this might not matter.

Next, it can get a bit lonely for home workers – factor in how to keep in touch and maintain motivation. Regular team meetings will help as well as social gatherings to help engage your staff.

There are others factors as well, but the last one I’ll mention here is that staff can also misuse this ability and use “working from home” as a way of getting paid for a day when they don’t feel like coming to the office. You will need to consider how you manage this in terms of your company policies.

Now, there are other options too. If you consider that there will be occasions where it is simply not time efficient to get to the office or other practicalities that prevent getting to the office and working from a Starbucks or Costa coffee doesn’t give you the right environment to work in. With this in mind, a number of businesses are creating places where you can work outside of the office.

If you are a Regus customer, or utilise their BusinessWorld service, you can have access to their meeting rooms and workspaces. However, this can be expensive if your needs are a little variable or infrequent.

NearDesk

My friend Tom Ball recently set up a service called NearDesk which (as Tom himself describes) is much like an Oyster for desk space on a PAYG basis. What’s great about this type of space is that it creates nice hubs to go and work and be amongst and around other people, thus preventing the loneliness you may get if working from home.

So some food for thought when considering having a more flexible work force and working environment. As always, if you want to know more, get in touch and we can help you find the best solution for your business.

Office 365 – Everything you need to know!

A little while I wrote a piece about choosing which edition of Office 2013 to get. Judging on the number of questions I get about Office 365 there seems to be some misunderstanding as to what it actually is.

O365 Logo

Many people see it as just a different way of getting the Office desktop software on their computer and paying monthly rather than buying a copy outright.

It’s not. It’s much more than that.

In a nutshell, Office 365 is Microsoft’s collective brand for their SaaS (Software as a Service) or Cloud portfolio. It comprises of a number of different elements, of which the key ones we will explore here.

Exchange Online

This is Microsoft’s Hosted Exchange service – rather than having your Exchange Server on a server in your office this is where your email is provided as a service. Key benefits are no server, no need to worry about backup and very high uptime or availability.

SharePoint with Office WebApps

SharePoint is an interesting one. In some respects it can be considered as a document management system, but really it fits in to the Intranet/Extranet space and allows you to publish documents, shared content etc to both internal and external parties. Additionally, it also comes with Office Web Apps which is essentially a cut down version of Word, Excel and PowerPoint which will allow you to edit documents within the Browser without having to have the applications installed locally, or needing to download the document before editing (which you still can if you want).

Lync

Lync is an internal communication system a bit like Skype except it’s a bit more private. It will link into your Outlook calendar so other people in your directory can see if you’re in based on your diary (it will also change to away if you’re away from your desk for a while) and there is a mobile app that you can have on your iPhone.

Office Professional Plus

The desktop software is the normal Office 2013 we already know. However this is the subscription version and (if you have it) will link in to your SharePoint site so you can access documents on your SharePoint site.

Additionally you can add things like Dynamics CRM online and other applications such as Project Professional and they will integrate in to your overall Office 365 package.

Do I need it?

It often depends on what you want and how you operate as a business. Personally, if you want a nice wrapped up solution that can provide a significant amount of your business technology in one place then I think it’s ideal. If you like running the very latest version of Office and other applications then it’s also ideal from a software lifecycle perspective and allows your entire organisation to be on the same version.

The big catch is that support from Microsoft directly is very limited and rely on Cloud Partners, such as us, to provide the skills in developing, implementing and supporting businesses using 365 as a platform.

If you’re giving it some thought and ready to start moving services in to the cloud then please get in touch to talk about this or any other Cloud services you might be considering.

Amazon Kindle? To e-read or not to e-read?

I am a huge book fan. I love the thrill of buying books, I love the smell (don’t pretend like I am the only one), I love reading the blurb and the first chapter and getting excited about the next in a series. So if books “work” why go electronic? Kindles…what’s the fascination?

Kindle_PW

They are convenient, they are small, slim and have the capacity to store over 1000 books (you’d look nuts trying to haul its physical counterpart around the train station in rush hour!) Some people have complained about not being able to expand the memory (no slot available for a memory card), but, seriously who needs more than one thousand books in one sitting! You can always remove the ones you don’t want and put on new ones. For people that aren’t familiar, you don’t lose what you don’t have on your Kindle at any given time either. Amazon stores them for you like your very own library all accessible at any computer connected up the internet and the great thing about this library is you can be as loud as you want – no one can here you scream!

Anyone that loves a book knows this feeling: you buy a book, you think “ohhh psychological thriller, well this should be pleasingly gory”, you read 4 or 5 chapters no one has so much as grazed their knee and you’re not sure if Susan is actually as psycho as the blurb and reviews make out. Got a Kindle? Skip it and move on to the next book! Bored of a genre? Choose another! Want to read a comic? Read one! Of course you would have needed to have previously downloaded these to the device, but, Amazon has a function called Whispernet and you can get a new book effortlessly in seconds, so there isn’t really an excuse not to have another option. If you were holding a real book you’d be stuck on the train tediously trying to avoid eye contact with everyone whilst flicking between the book and staring at the ad you’ve read a thousand times before!

The main selling point of the Kindle is that the books are cheaper than the physical version. The most expensive thing about the Kindle is the kindle itself. A kindle Paperwhite, the newer version of the original Kindle is £109 off of Amazon. Not an overly expensive purchase in the grand scheme of things.

I did a bit of research to show why financially I think it’s worth having a Kindle – I am going to be comparing the prices of the paper versions and e-versions of The Gone Series by Michael Grant (yes, it is a children’s series, but I love it and we’ll have no judgments here!).

kindle

The above table shows the prices of the e-books bought from Amazon in the left column and the prices of the real books bought from Waterstones in the right. With a saving of £28.50 on the entire series we have claimed back just over 31% of our initial £109 layout for the kindle. So if you are a heavy reader the savings that you could make over 3 or 4 series of books would have rendered the initial price for the kindle void and then from there it’s just total savings! Thank you technology.

Also, Amazon does have a massive library of free, yes FREE, books that are readily available and pleasingly are treated much the same as the best sellers in that they rank in order of downloads and the list in constantly changing. Also www.archive.org stores over 2.5 million books completely free! A huge library and I am confident that there is something to suit everyone. There are other sites out there see http://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=2245146011 for a more extensive list.
Below are a few of the specifications on the Kindle Paperwhite taken from the Amazon websight. I’ve put the link below just in case I have inspired you to take a look.

Patented built-in light evenly illuminates the screen to provide the perfect reading experience in all lighting conditions (This light is amazing at first I was sceptical thinking that it would be uncomfortable looking into a light, but it is great. I think this is a fabulous idea for a person who likes to read a lot and has a partner who likes to sleep a lot. Its just a soft glow of light that only surrounds the Kindle and it beats having to get up and switch the light off). Even in bright sunlight, Paperwhite delivers clear, crisp text and images with no glare. (I tested this in the Cypriot sun. It’s true! I was also sceptical about this… But alas there was no glare!).

Kindle-Paperwhite

New hand-tuned fonts – 6 font styles, 8 adjustable sizes (This is very helpful for those of us less blessed in the eye department, the sizes are a good range and I am sure the sight challenged can make a selection suited to their needs).

8-week battery life, even with the light on (This is a pro and a con. Real books never run out of battery, they can go on for centuries but all in all the battery life on them is not bad at all. I have had mine going strong for 3 weeks and not charged it once, be aware that the 8 weeks above is when you have the light at its lowest and aren’t connected to WiFi etc.).

Built-in Wi-Fi lets you download books in under 60 seconds (It also lets you surf the net, it’s not great and by no means does it stand up next to a tablet or computer when it comes to this, but, this is an e-reader not a tablet or a computer and it works fine enough. Just using the internet connection to view and use the Kindle store is suited very well to the device).

The new Time to Read feature uses your reading speed to let you know when you’ll finish your chapter. This is a new addition on the Paperwhite and is not something on the Kindle Original, I think this bring back a bit of the anticipation that is an enjoyable thing with real books seeing how far away you are from the end and eagerly awaiting that final page, for me personally I think this is a great feature as I can time how long I have on say a train or plane journey and know how far I can get before I have to stop reading, it’s a great feature.

Check out the link below for the full specifications.
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B007OZO03M/ref=fs_cl

Do I think Kindles will replace real books like mp3s have taken over CD’s? No. They aren’t great for reference books or studying. It’s hard to find a page quickly or to go to the index and find a subject. It’s difficult to flick through and refer to the blurb and the cover. There is a search option available but it just isn’t the same. Textbooks and study guides I think will always be better in the physical format. Kindle books seem to have more errors in than real books and although this can be fixed it just doesn’t seem to be a big issue with the sellers. I have found a few too many in a couple of books I have read. Most of us can work out the error, mentally correct it and move on, but I guess I like my books without the errors.

One thing that I really dislike about Kindles, you can’t borrow out a book after you have finished with it. If someone recommends a book they have finished on a Kindle they can’t lend it to you, I suppose you could always buy it from Amazon but it just isn’t the same. Also not all books are available on Kindles so you have to have that in mind when you are looking through for a specific one.

Kindles are great for people who travel a lot, like technology and people that read a lot. They aren’t fantastic for students and they certainly don’t beat the cosiness of a real book. Financially it’s worth investing in a Kindle and as much as some of us won’t like this, they are the future and if we didn’t move forward we’d still be listening to music on gramophones and reading our paper books by candle light.

Give them a go, you’ll be pleasantly surprised

So this Cloud computing thing – What’s it all about?

We are seeing more and more references to Cloud computing these days. It can mean any number of things, but we’ll look at what it means to us and how it can be applied to your business.

Cloud computing is commonly known as the sharing of resources, such as applications or services, via a decentralized network (typically the internet) known as a cloud.

CloudComputingA very obvious example of Cloud computing is something like GoogleApps. Everything you do is web based and the processing power and actual workings are taking place somewhere in the ether (cloud). The servers that provide the service provide the same or other services to other users in other parts of the world and by sharing these resources the cost of delivering the service tends to come down although this doesn’t necessarily make it cheaper.

So how can it fit in to your business?

Some of the main reasons to consider using cloud services these days are:

• Reduce your IT complexity
• Reduce costs
• Increase uptime and reliability
• Business continuity

Here at the Engine Room we use a small number of high quality cloud based services. These include Hosted Exchange, Cloud Backup, Office 365, VoIP and a number of web based systems.

The main types of scenario we find ourselves in is fully Cloud (using Office 365 and other services), or hybrid cloud where some services, such as file and print, is held internally on a server and others, email for example, are provided by a hosted Exchange provider. Which one is for you depends on a number of factors, but typically the distribution and number of users, volume of data and what line of business applications you run.

For the smaller business fully cloud based can make great sense as it removes the need for any complex technology on site, reduced hardware and software costs and lower overall system maintenance.

Cloud-ComputingFor larger businesses the case can be less persuasive for full cloud as your internet connection will be under a lot of pressure, and the cost of bigger connections can get quite serious, so hybrid tends to make more sense. Microsoft have stopped their Small Business Server suite of products (which included file, printing and email) so to replace this a mix of hosted email and local file and print makes sense as the licensing cost of the software for everything in-house can be quite substantial.

Cloud computing is here to stay and like Microsoft Office may ultimately be the only way to get the technology services we need.