Managed Services vs. In-House IT Specialists: The Pros & Cons

Managed Services vs. In-House IT Specialists: The Pros & Cons

Whether you’re a start-up or a small but fast-growing company, the question of how to manage your business’s IT infrastructure will need to be answered sooner than later. Would you prefer to have your own in-house IT specialist? Or does it make more sense to partner with a managed services provider (MSP) to handle all of your IT needs?

Determining which solution is best for your business is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly – but we can help. We’ll break down the roles of both in-house specialists and MSPs, examine what each can offer your business, and discover what their limitations might be. After identifying the pros and cons of both, you will be able to make a better-informed decision about the direction that will best suit your company.

IN-HOUSE IT STAFF

Pros of Having an In-House IT Staff:

• Onsite Availability:  Arguably the biggest benefit of keeping your IT management in-house is the ability to have immediate support whenever you need it. From routine issues to major crisis management, an in-house IT team will always deliver the shortest response time. There’s a certain degree of security in knowing that if there’s a technical issue of any magnitude, you can speak with an onsite IT professional within seconds.

• Business-Specific Expertise:  Over time, an in-house IT specialist will develop a deep knowledge of the company’s internal infrastructure and systems, which better equips them to be able to troubleshoot issues.

• More Control Over Assets:  Some businesses might find it more preferable to maintain greater control over their IT infrastructure. Keeping your IT services in-house allows you to oversee everyday IT operations easily.

Cons Of Having an In-House IT Staff:

• Higher Personnel Costs:  Hiring internal IT staff can become very expensive. In addition to the employee’s salary, you’ll likely be on the hook for their health benefits (at least in part), paid time off, 401k, payroll taxes, and costs/resources associated with training.

• Off-The-Clock Issues:  Let’s assume that your IT personnel works an average of 8 hours a day from Monday through Friday. What about nights, weekends, and holidays? If an unexpected issue should arise when members of your IT team are unavailable to respond, it can lead to a serious loss of productivity due to operational downtime.

• Limited Experience and/or Knowledge of Technological Advances:  In many cases, an in-house IT specialist – while skilled in many areas – may not have access to the best and latest technologies. In the IT support world, ongoing training is absolutely critical. Unfortunately, most small-to-medium-sized businesses aren’t able to support the cost of continual training for their in-house IT team. Occasionally, an internal IT employee may encounter a problem with which they’re unfamiliar. In this case, an outside IT professional may need to be consulted to resolve the issue, which will incur additional costs for the company.

• Lack of Redundancy:  Businesses all too often become overly reliant on a single in-house IT specialist who holds the “keys to the kingdom,” so to speak. All that knowledge residing with one person who can leave whenever they want is potentially catastrophic. Not only is the company risking loss of valuable data should the in-house IT specialist “go rogue,” it’s also setting itself up for an unnecessarily challenging training process for the employee’s replacement in the event of their departure.

• Inability to Implement Best Practices:  Businesses that choose to manage their own IT integration have to bear the costs, maintenance, and support of the software and hardware they will use. Limited budgets for these expenses may prevent the company from using the latest and best technologies, which may in turn hamper overall performance.

MANAGED IT SERVICES

Pros of Managed IT Services:

• Round-The-Clock Network Monitoring and Remote Support:  One of the greatest benefits of partnering with a managed services provider is that you get network monitoring and remote support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

• Calculable Costs:  For a flat-rate monthly fee – often less than the salary of a single in-house IT specialist – you gain an entire team of dedicated engineers with the know-how to manage all your IT needs. Apart from paying for the services you’ve agreed upon, you won’t have to be concerned about incurring additional expenses due to training staff, certifications, ticket systems, or remote monitoring and management. MSPs have already invested in the latest enterprise management software, virus protection software, management servers and workstations, and redundant backup solutions – so you don’t have to!

• Service Level Agreement (SLA):  This legally binding document lays out exactly which services the MSP will provide for you and what your business’s responsibilities in the partnership will be. The SLA assures you that the MSP will deliver maximum uptime, minimum response time, and consistent quality of service.

• Broader Skill Base:  Since they often work with a wide variety of clients spanning many different industries, MSPs are better equipped to recognize and solve more complex and unusual issues than your typical in-house IT specialist. Most problems can be quickly and efficiently resolved remotely. Managed services technicians are continually learning, training, and expanding their knowledge and capabilities, in order to be able to provide you with the most effective and up-to-date IT solutions.

• Vast Array of Services:  MSPs offer a wide range of IT services to meet your business’s specific needs, including (but not limited to) monthly server maintenance, daily server backups, offsite replication, and antivirus licensing/management.

• Shared Access to Modern Technologies and Resources:  Managed services providers often partner with IT vendors to get better pricing and deals. Memberships in IT organizations allow MSPs easy access to resources that might not be available to the general public (including your in-house IT specialists). MSPs typically utilize highly advanced software for monitoring and maintenance – software that would likely be too expensive for a smaller business to afford for their IT functions alone.

• Free Network Consultation and Business Analysis:  The initial consultation – offered at no cost or obligation to you — helps the MSP identify which network solutions could best address your business’s specific needs, based on your current infrastructure and future IT objectives. A reliable provider will strive, even prior to the on-boarding process, to understand your business and determine exactly what your users need to help achieve the company’s goals.

• Scalability:  Managed services providers allow you to scale up to higher levels of service to handle peak demands as your business grows.

• Greater Accountability:  When your IT infrastructure is being managed outside the company, the risk of internal sabotage is greatly reduced, if not eliminated.

Cons of Managed IT Services:

• Up-Front Costs:  Your company’s network applications, internal networking, and software products will need to support cloud integration in order for an MSP to provide their services remotely. Upgrading your current IT infrastructure to cloud-readiness may incur significant up-front costs. While this may be tough on your budget at first, the overall cost savings in the long run more than make up for the initial investment.

• Limited On-Site Availability:  Not having an IT professional onsite may translate into longer response times, which could prove problematic in the event of an emergency. Minimum response time, as defined in the SLA, can assure you that your concerns will be addressed as soon as possible based on the immediacy of the need.

• Minimized Control of Assets:  Compared to keeping your IT management in-house, outsourcing services to an MSP will, by necessity, prevent your company from having total control over your infrastructure. This may be more important to some businesses than others. Ultimately, most companies simply want reliable and secure IT services at a price that fits their budget.

Conclusion

Like any other business strategy, the decision about whether to employ an in-house IT team or outsource IT services to a managed services provider is crucial. Managed IT services may not the be the best option for every organization. If your business has only a few endpoints or computer users, it may make more sense to keep everything in-house. If your company has a much higher number of users, a managed services provider may better be able to offer your business the technology and tools it needs to enhance the company’s network, productivity, and overall success.
If you decide to partner with an MSP, the role of an in-house IT team does not necessarily need to be eliminated. Combining the knowledge of internal IT staff with the expertise of outsourced IT professionals can create a collaborative relationship that ultimately ends up benefiting the business – and isn’t that the point? As a result of increasing cybersecurity concerns, some companies are choosing to outsource the entire security function of their IT, including archiving, data storage, and mobile device management. This hybrid approach allows businesses managing their IT in-house to free up staff to focus on IT projects that will help their company generate revenue.

Whether your business is looking to minimize expenses, boost earnings, streamline processes, or all of the above, your company should consider partnering with a managed IT services provider.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers IT services and solutions to businesses of all sizes and industries. We strive to provide significant value and outstanding service to all of our clients by acting as your business’s IT group. If your company or organization could benefit from managed IT services, please give us a call at 252.329.1382

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Why Your Business Must Take a Proactive Approach to IT

Why Your Business Must Take a Proactive Approach to IT

 

If you’re like most businesses today, you rely heavily on technology to support your daily operations. When your systems stop working properly, productivity grinds to a halt, employees and customers become frustrated, and your bottom line suffers.

A singular IT disaster can set your company back months, decimate your budget, leave staff struggling to pick up the pieces, and seriously risk damaging your reputation. From data loss to network malfunctions, downtime due to IT issues costs businesses in excess of $1.5 million each year in terms of lost productivity and sales.

There are two primary ways of addressing IT support for any business: the reactive approach and the proactive approach.

Some might argue that a reactive approach has its benefits. Common wisdom says that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” If your business is tight on cash, you may be seeking ways to cut expenses — and in general, you don’t see the point in paying for something you might not need.

With a reactive approach to IT support, when something goes wrong you try to get in touch with a technician to come and check your systems, then wait for them to resolve the issue. The problem with this working model is that it can lead to significant downtime. The technician will first need to analyze the problem before they can get to work on it. If updates or replacement hardware are necessary, business operations could be disrupted even further until the upload or order is completed.

Reactive IT support staff often don’t have the right tools in place to keep tabs on the end-user’s experience, instead relying on issues being reported as they crop up. According to a recent study by Forrester Research, 35% of the time IT support first learns about issues when end-users contact the service desk and open a ticket. This is because their support is reactive rather than proactive.

In order for your business to be able to foresee the challenges that may lie ahead, you need to take a more proactive approach to your IT needs. Proactive IT support allows you to better manage your IT budget, secure your data, and avoid some of the major technology risks that your business faces today. 

Through continuous monitoring and real-time analytics, proactive IT support provides excellent insight into your IT infrastructure and endpoints from the end-user perspective. Potential problems are spotted early and resolved before they can jeopardize your business.

Businesses that opt to outsource their IT needs to a managed services provider (MSP) can expect to save time, money, and stress in the long run. MSPs continuously monitor a company’s infrastructure in search of would-be problems and work to remedy those issues before a major catastrophe occurs.

 

WHAT IS REACTIVE IT SUPPORT?

Let’s dive into this one a little bit deeper.

Reactive IT support involves taking measures to correct problems only when they materialize. It’s often referred to as the “break-fix” model. Under this model, a business contacts IT support (whether in-house or an external company) when something goes wrong and makes arrangements to have the problem repaired as quickly as possible. The business is then forced to wait for the IT team to address and resolve the issue, all too often resulting in a great deal of downtime.

The cost of a provider agreement for reactive IT support tends to be lower than a fully managed plan, primarily because this support is implemented on an as-needed basis. If your business already employs in-house staff to provide general IT maintenance, partnering with a reactive support team gives your company access to highly skilled, reliable resources at a budget-friendly price tag. 

Having a variable service agreement means you’ll only be billed for the time that’s spent fixing problems, and this can be a very attractive option for companies with limited financial resources. But there’s a catch.

The time that elapses between detecting a problem and getting it resolved can be hours or days, depending on the specific situation. In that time, significant damage could be done to your system. Since a typical IT project often surpasses its original budget by 45%, fixing an existing problem can be both cumbersome and costly for your business.

 

WHAT IS PROACTIVE IT SUPPORT?

Now, for the good news!

With proactive IT support, you can stay ahead of your technology problems. You don’t have to worry about losing productivity, damaging your company’s reputation, or tanking employee morale. Plus, it’s much friendlier to your budget in the long run!

Proactive support is all about prevention — mending potential problems before they can snowball into much more severe issues. By proactively managing your IT support needs, you can empower your business to do more with its technology. You’ll get more out of your existing systems, establish new solutions in a strategic fashion, and develop long-term plans for business growth.

Key components of proactive IT support involve automating certain processes and monitoring technology assets to further streamline operations and make analyzing and identifying issues in advance considerably easier.

12 Advantages of Proactive IT Support Businesses

Proactive IT support offers a number of decided advantages which can make a considerable difference for businesses. Here are 12 benefits to taking a more proactive approach to your IT needs:

Early Detection of Problems

Through continuous monitoring, your IT support partner is able to identify potential issues before they even occur. Resolving problems quickly prevents them from extending to other parts of your system. More often than not, a problem can be eliminated and maintenance carried out before it’s even detected by end-users.

Increased Productivity

Employees and clients depend on your technology to help them achieve their goals. Software and hardware failures and other IT-related issues cause disruptions that can hamper productivity and foster frustration for all parties involved. Solving issues proactively means less time sitting around waiting for repairs to be completed. Reducing the risk of downtime empowers your workforce to be as productive as possible. Productivity and happiness go hand in hand; giving your staff the right tools for the job creates a more harmonious, happier workplace.

Upgraded Cybersecurity

A proactive IT support team is able to cover every aspect of cybersecurity, from software updates to employee training. They’ll create security plans, protect your network against basic threats, and outline steps to be taken if systems are breached. Managed antivirus and anti-malware programs help keep viruses and malware at bay, while strategic backup procedures ensure that data loss doesn’t occur.

Predictable Costs

Most managed services providers offer their services for a fixed monthly fee which covers ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and updates, making it easier to budget your IT expenditures accurately and strategically. You may pay more in a given month than your would in a variable fee arrangement, but you’ll also incur fewer costs as a result of downtime. When tech problems inevitably arise, you won’t have to worry about an unexpectedly high bill for repairs. Having your systems continuously monitored keeps your infrastructure in good working order at all times. It’s always cheaper to prevent technology failure than it is to clean up the mess afterwards.

Team of IT Professionals

When you partner with a managed services provider for proactive IT support, you have an entire team of certified IT experts at your service, instead of just one or two individuals whose daily grind consists of putting out fires or solving routine problems. These IT specialists recognize how each device on your network plays an essential role in the operations of your company. Having a team in place to keep an eye out for problems and handle them in a timely manner gives even smaller companies the IT support strength of much larger institutions.

Better Decision Making

Before the onboarding process even begins, an MSP will perform a strategic analysis of your IT infrastructure to identify any areas of weakness that could impede optimal performance. Based on automated tools provided by the MSP, you will be able to make informed decisions about your specific IT needs. Having all the information presented clearly in front of you puts you in the driver’s seat, making it easier to see when you need to scale up.

Strategic Planning

From carrying out thorough risk assessments to inventorying your IT assets to updating your software and hardware to align with your business goals, MSPs are fully equipped to handle all strategic aspects of your IT. A proactive strategy allows you to adapt to a changing business environment and meet future challenges head-on. MSPs will work to head off issues that can not only crop up again but worsen over time.

Regular Updates & Patches

Many successful cyberattacks rely on unpatched hardware and software. A proactive update schedule minimizes opportunities for hackers to intrude on your systems. The most recent patch may also add new features that could improve overall performance. Proactive upgrades are particularly beneficial for maintaining older technology that may be more vulnerable to attacks. MSPs can schedule these updates for ideal times, ensuring that servers don’t go offline at inappropriate times.

Regulatory Compliance

Understanding how your company performs in regard to regulatory compliance is a fundamental facet of proactively protecting your company and its data. Regulatory compliance can safeguard your company from unwanted fees and preserve your customers and employees from impending data breaches.

24/7/365 Monitoring

Remote monitoring of your workstations, servers, routers, printers, and other network devices keeps your IT network in good shape at all times. Knowing that a team of skilled computer experts is regularly testing your systems and thoroughly evaluating them for a wide range of potential problems give you and your employees peace of mind. When the team is alerted of an issue, they start working on a fix immediately, often without you ever noticing it. Software problems can generally be fixed remotely, while hardware issues typically require a technician who is physically present on the premises.

Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity

Major events such as fires, floods, hurricanes, and cyberattacks are a hazard to all businesses. A reliable MSP will set up a robust disaster recovery plan for your business and implement software solutions that will keep your business up and running. All data is backed up regularly so that, in the event of an emergency, your most crucial information is completely safe and easily accessible.

Around-the-Clock Help Desk Support

Most managed services providers offer 24/7/365 help desk support as well. Not only does this come in handy whenever there’s an after-hours incident, it also allows your internal IT staff (if applicable) to focus on projects that add value to the business rather than running around troubleshooting everyday problems.

Final Thoughts

Managing the health of your IT systems in a merely reactive way is like managing your own physical health reactively. Like many health issues, most IT issues can be detected by early warning signs that could be picked up through proactive monitoring. By analyzing your business and identifying the gaps, weak points, and strengths, a managed services provider can better determine how to protect your company from emergency expenditures, last-minute crises, unexpected downtime, cyberthreats, data loss, and compliance issues.

When partnering with an MSP, you can count on effective monitoring and maintained functionality of your network, enhanced overall performance of your IT infrastructure, reduce downtime and increased productivity, ongoing support whenever you need it, and more time to devote to your core business.

Taking a proactive approach to IT doesn’t make your problems go away. But it will make them easier to plan for and simpler to manage.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) is the premier managed IT services provider in our area, delivering ideal IT solutions to businesses of all sizes. We strive to provide significant value and outstanding service to all of our clients by acting as an extension of your business’s IT team. If your organization could benefit from the many advantages of managed services, including proactive IT support, give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!

Shadow IT: How Your Company’s Data Is Silently Being Leaked Online

Shadow IT: How Your Company’s Data Is Silently Being Leaked Online

There’s a growing trend creeping into organizations of all industries and sizes: shadow IT. This relatively new term is used to describe any unauthorized cloud applications that employees are using and downloading to perform work-related activities with company data. This can be file-sharing services like Dropbox or survey software such as Zoomerang. The list goes on and on.

Why Do People Use Shadow IT?

When employees are able to find new technologies and solutions that help them do their jobs faster and achieve better results, why wouldn’t they make use of them? Others simply have a set of software and services that they feel more comfortable working with, even if these resources are not company-provided or approved.

The accelerated growth of cloud-based consumer applications has also hastened the adoption of shadow IT. Common applications such as Slack and Dropbox are now available at the click of a button. Companies that embrace a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture — allowing employees to use their personal devices such as smartphones or laptops to perform their jobs — face a greater threat of the unauthorized use of certain applications or software. 

Security Risks of Shadow IT

Three primary types of cybersecurity risks of using shadow IT include:

Data Loss

When employees are able to find new technologies and solutions that help them do their jobs faster and achieve better results, why wouldn’t they make use of them? Others simply have a set of software and services that they feel more comfortable working with, even if these resources are not company-provided or approved.

The accelerated growth of cloud-based consumer applications has also hastened the adoption of shadow IT. Common applications such as Slack and Dropbox are now available at the click of a button. Companies that embrace a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture — allowing employees to use their personal devices such as smartphones or laptops to perform their jobs — face a greater threat of the unauthorized use of certain applications or software. 

Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Errors

Software vendors are constantly releasing new patches to resolve vulnerabilities and address errors found in their products. Typically, it’s up to the company’s IT team to keep an eye on such updates and apply them in a timely fashion. But when it comes to shadow IT, administrators can’t keep all these products and devices up-to-date simply because they’re unaware of their existence and active use.

Compliance Issues

Regulatory compliance is critical for many organizations. There are many standards that businesses have to comply with, from PCI for financial services to HIPAA for healthcare providers. In the event of an audit, your organization could end up facing huge fines, not to mention legal fees and bad PR.

Business Risks of Shadow IT

Outside of security issues, there are also significant risks to your business involved with the use of shadow IT. These include:

Inefficiencies

Even though boosting efficiency is one of the common reasons that many people start using shadow IT in the first place, chances are high that the end result will be the total opposite. Every new technology should be checked and tested by your IT team prior to being implemented in the corporate infrastructure. This is essential to ensuring that new software functions properly and that no software or hardware conflicts exist.

Financial Risks

In a number of cases, shadow IT solutions mirror the functionality of standard products approved by the IT department. Consequently, the company squanders money.

Low Entry Barrier

Anyone with a browser and a credit card can purchase or enroll themselves into applications that integrate with your organization’s critical applications and/or store company data such as client lists, emails, files, etc.

So, What’s The Solution?

There are a number of things your technical staff can do to address the issue of shadow IT use:

  1. Continuously monitor your network for new and unknown software or devices. This can — and should — be incorporated into routine vulnerability testing.
  2. Conduct an audit, encouraging employees to come forward about any shadow IT usage they’re engaged in, promising that there will be no repercussions for their admission.
  3. Once you know what applications are being used, you can set your company firewall to block applications that you don’t want employees to access with company data and devices.
  4. If circumstances exist where an otherwise-unapproved application or software is deemed necessary for use by certain individuals, require these employees to seek approval prior to downloading. Catalogue these sites by user with their login information for each individual. This way, if an employee leaves your organization or is terminated, you will have a record of their access. This could prevent a malicious attack on the user’s part which could ultimately harm your organization, particularly if company data is stolen and sold or given to a competitor.
  5. Create a system for ranking and prioritizing risk. Not all applications outside of IT’s control are equally threatening, but you need to at least be aware of what’s being used in order to determine if they’re a threat to security or a violation of data privacy laws.
  6. Develop a list of approved devices for BYOD use. Make sure that employees understand that only company-approved applications and software can be used in conjunction with their work on these devices.
  7. Create an internal app “store” for all applications that have been evaluated and authorized for use within the corporate infrastructure. If this isn’t possible, make sure your policies concerning approved device, application, and software usage are clearly denoted in a prominent place that’s accessible to all users.

If your organization could benefit from outsourced management of your IT infrastructure, 24/7/365 monitoring of your network, superior cybersecurity services, cloud computing, and onsite support as needed, give DataGroup Technologies a call at 252.329.1382! We’d be more than happy to partner with you!

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How To Minimize The Risk Of A Social Media Data Breach

How To Minimize The Risk Of A Social Media Data Breach

Virtually every organization – businesses, educational institutions, and associations – has employees, students, and members who make use of social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram in their personal lives.

More often than not, businesses themselves have a considerable online presence and draw on social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, in particular, for marketing functions, sales, and client relations.

Organizations that lack a significant online presence but have employees that use social networks have an obligation to ensure that their users and staff members’ identities are safeguarded online.

Many organizations supply their employees with basic information on safe internet practices, with the hope that they will implement these practices at home as well as at work. This offers an ideal opportunity for corporate security teams to lay the groundwork for what actions can be taken in case of a large-scale social network cyberattack.

The goal is to lessen the impact of a breach that’s otherwise out of your control, or to limit its adverse effects.

In this article, we’ll explore five ways to help minimize the risk of a breach on social media networks and other applications.

Don’t Reuse Passwords – But Do Change Them Often

We’re going to presume that you and your team are already aware of how to come up with a strong password, using a succession of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols – and not including telltale tidbits like the name of your pet.

Great password? Check! But wait, there’s more!

Whenever a major social media breach does occur, it may take some time between when the breach first surfaces, when an organization detects it, and when you’re alerted to the fact that your information has been compromised.

If you’re changing your password consistently, you narrow the window of damage opportunity between those monumental events. Even if you’ve fashioned what you believe to be the perfect password, don’t recycle it across multiple accounts. 

Based on surveys conducted by Terranova Security, nearly 80% of users are still utilizing the same passwords on numerous systems. That number increases even more for the younger generation – either they aren’t aware of the risk or it’s possible that they don’t want to have to recall a slew of different passwords.

Regardless, if you’re using the same account-password combination on several channels and one channel is breached, cyberattackers are more likely to be able to infiltrate your other accounts.

Consider Utilizing a Password Management Tool to Preserve Your Passwords

If you don’t want to – or can’t – remember all of those complicated passwords you’ve created, consider making use of a secure password management tool. From a functionality standpoint, a password manager is simply that – a program you login to with one password that stores all of your other passwords.

Think of it, more or less, as a digital wallet.

When taking into consideration which password management tool to use, try to find one that’s well-encrypted and allows for management between a number of platforms and devices. A few of the more prominent password management tools on the market include 1Password, KeePass, and Dashlane.

Implement Two-Factor Authentication

Suppose someone does come into possession of your password – what then? In all likelihood, they’ll appropriate your username in order to gain access to your social network accounts – at the very least – unless you’ve initiated two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication is a security method that provides a computer user access only after they have supplied multiple forms of evidence verifying that they are legitimately the user they claim to be. 

For example, let’s say you’re connecting from a computer or location that you haven’t used before – if you have two-factor authentication set up, the application will send a PIN to your phone which you must then reproduce. If someone has pilfered your password and is trying to connect to one of your accounts, you’ll receive a notification of an unauthorized access attempt.

If it obviously isn’t you who’s attempting to log in from a new source or location, you’ll know that a hacker has moved past the first stage – that is, accessing your password. If that is the case, deny the access, change your password right away, and be grateful you set up two-factor authentication.

Through the use of social engineering or malware, cybercriminals will masquerade as one of the individuals involved in these money transfers to trick the victim into sending money to a bank account owned by the cybercriminal. Once the fraud is exposed, it’s often too late to recoup the money. Scammers are quick to relocate the money to other accounts and withdraw the cash or use it to buy cryptocurrencies.

However, the scam is not always associated with an unauthorized transfer of funds. One BEC variation involves compromising legitimate business email accounts and requesting personally identifiable information (PII), wage and tax settlement (W-2) forms, or even cryptocurrency wallets from recipients.

Steer Clear of Online Applications That Enable You to Log In Automatically Using Your Facebook Credentials

More and more apps are connecting back and forth and enabling users to access multiple channels with a single sign-on (SSO). You’ve likely encountered apps where you can create an account or sign in automatically simply by using your Facebook credentials. Convenient? Smart? Not exactly.

While it might seem like a timesaving method, should your Facebook credentials become exposed, hackers could take advantage of them to access other accounts under your name. Whenever possible, refrain from taking advantage of these opportunities.

The supposed convenience of social media-based SSO is appealing, but bear in mind that if you are compromised on one platform, you could be compromised on another. The more interconnected systems you have, the more you are at risk.

Take Heed When Your Friends’ Social Network Accounts Are Compromised

“Don’t accept any new friend requests from me. My account has been hacked.”

“Don’t click on the link in the message it looks like I sent you on Facebook. It isn’t me.”

You see these kinds of posts in your newsfeed all the time. But those are just the ones we’re aware of for certain. You might have friends or online acquaintances who don’t yet realize they’ve been compromised, and hackers may already be using their accounts to make phishing attempts.

Other times, hackers are merely paying attention to and gathering information that people post voluntarily on social media.

What’s the solution? It’s simple.

Don’t post confidential information on social media! Don’t make mention of your dog’s name on social media then use “What is your pet’s name?” as the security question on your online banking account.

And if your account is breached, let your friends know…immediately! Particularly on social media.

It’s all about creating a culture of information security. By presenting this information to users, organizations can demonstrate that they’re not just preoccupied with their own pursuits, but they’re concerned about the well-being of their employees as well.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including security risk assessments, web and DNS filtering, next-generation firewalls, network security monitoring, operating systems and application security patches, antivirus software, and security awareness training. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to learn more about how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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Smishing & Vishing: What Are They, And How Can You Protect Against Them?

Smishing & Vishing: What Are They, And How Can You Protect Against Them?

A text message claiming to be from Microsoft Support, alerting you about an issue with your computer. An unfamiliar caller requesting that you verify your mailing address and credit card number so you can claim your free prize. An SMS message seeking your confirmation of an Amazon shipment. An urgent voicemail message from the IRS. These are all prime examples of smishing and vishing cyberattacks

Smartphones have become one of the most prevalent methods of contact for cybercriminals. Hackers know how attached we are to our phones and how difficult it can be to ignore the ping of a text message or the buzz of an incoming phone call.

Both smishing and vishing depend on social engineering to dupe victims into surrendering  personal information. Using persuasive and often urgent language, cybercriminals manipulate victims into revealing confidential data such as their bank account and credit card details, passwords, social security number, date of birth, and mailing address.

Victims are confident they’re doing the right thing by supplying this information. After all, the caller is warning them that they could face criminal prosecution from the IRS if they can’t validate their bank account details. And the text message guaranteeing delivery of a free prize states that the offer will expire in one hour unless the necessary bank account details are provided.

It’s important to be aware that cybercriminals set their sights on both individuals and organizations with these strategic smishing and vishing attacks. In many cases, cybercriminals will initially send spear-phishing emails in order to gather information that they will then use to deliver customized text messages and phone calls.

What Is Smishing?

Smishing, a shortened version of the term “SMS phishing,” is a type of cyberattack that utilizes misleading text messages – purported to be from reputable companies – to pilfer confidential and corporate information from users.

With compelling and alarming vocabulary, the text message may seek to threaten the victim with dire consequences if they don’t take action or try to persuade the victim that they would be helping the sender by providing the sought-after information.

Text messages are a particularly attractive technique for cybercriminals, as the evidence bears out the efficacy of the medium. Take into consideration these recent statistics concerning SMS marketing:

  • 98% of all text messages are read and opened
  • 90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes
  • Text messages have a 209% higher response rate than phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages

To further simplify matters for cybercriminals, people generally have a very low awareness of smishing attacks. This unfamiliarity gives rise to a perilous environment where victims don’t think twice about clicking on embedded links, providing personal information, or directly responding to the hacker who’s texting them.

What Is Vishing?

Vishing, derived from the phrase “voice phishing,” is a form of  cyberattack that involves using the telephone to steal sensitive data from a person. Cybercriminals employ slick social engineering tactics to persuade victims to relinquish private information as well as access to bank accounts.

Hackers will frequently adapt the messaging of their vishing calls to the time of the year or try to establish a connection by leveraging trending news stories. For example, during tax season, cybercriminals might leave messages passing themselves off as representatives from the IRS. Additionally, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, hackers have been calling people touting false promises of vaccinations or testing kits, if the victims would merely supply their bank account information and mailing address.

Like smishing, vishing attacks are used to appropriate data from both individuals and organizations. For example, a cybercriminal may check out an organization on LinkedIn and on the company website, gathering details about its leadership and employees, taking note of individuals who might be traveling or attending a conference. With this intelligence in hand, the cybercriminal then makes a string of strategic phone calls and voicemails attempting to prevail upon an employee to transfer funds on behalf of their manager who is traveling and is unable to access the network.

How to Safeguard Your Organization and Employees from Smishing and Vishing Attacks

With such a prominent focus on phishing, spear-phishing, malware, and even CEO fraud, it’s easy to disregard the threat of smishing and vishing. However, these types of approaches are standard methods of attack for cybercriminals who zero in on organizations and their employees.

To safeguard your organization and employees from smishing and vishing attacks, take heed of the following recommendations:

  • Reap the benefits of security awareness training programs that apply real-world examples of smishing and vishing attacks to illustrate how cybercriminals use text messaging and phone calls to perpetrate cyber-fraud.
  • Enable employees to easily report smishing and vishing attacks to you and your team.
  • If your company has a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, it’s crucial to establish rigorous procedures with respect to application updates, password protection, Wi-Fi connectivity, and observing recommended remote and mobile device cybersecurity best practices.
  • Conduct phishing simulations to evaluate and track employee awareness of the dangers of cyber-fraud. Harness this data to tailor your security awareness training and strive to concentrate on areas where your employees require further instruction.
  •  

Bear in mind, your employees are your first line of defense against smishing and vishing attacks. Direct your efforts toward providing employees with security awareness training that’s pertinent, progressive, and practical. When your employees recognize how easily smishing and vishing occur and can comprehend the implications of an effective attack, they’re more likely to keep a closer eye out for potential threats.

Final Thoughts

While no form of cyberattack can completely be prevented, being mindful of the signs can help mitigate the chances of its success. Having solid cybersecurity solutions in place for your organization can further protect against the ever-evolving techniques of cybercriminals.

To schedule a free IT assessment with DataGroup Technologies, please visit our website or call 252.329.1382 today!

The Cyberthreat Landscape Is Changing – How Can Your Organization Minimize The Risks?

The Cyberthreat Landscape Is Changing – How Can Your Organization Minimize The Risks?

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our lives have been upended and a great many things have been put on hold.

The same cannot be said for the cyberthreat landscape. In reality, the contrary is true, as COVID-19 has actually served to intensify security vulnerabilities

Remote working is now the norm – a fact that has broadened the threat landscape – and cybercriminals are working day and night to take unfair advantage of the situation.

As a result, 2020 has experienced a sudden increase in the proliferation of malware, spam, phishing, and credential stuffing attacks.

As reported by Interpol, there has been a 36% increase in malware and ransomware, a 59% increase in phishing, scams, and fraud, and a 14% increase in disinformation (“fake news”).

This, combined with the haste to implement new cloud systems and remote access solutions, has inflated the number of breaches in 2020.

Many organizations believe that, in order to mitigate the risks, they must invest in revolutionary new solutions; but it’s also critical that companies reevaluate security fundamentals such as passwords.

The latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report discovered that an astounding 81% of hacking-related breaches stem from compromised passwords. With slapdash password security being the rule rather than the exception, securing the password layer needs to be a top priority for enterprises.

As remote workers create new accounts and credentials, companies should adopt a layered approach to authentication to make sure that only strong, unique, and uncompromised passwords are being used.

By implementing the five practices detailed here, organizations can manage user access and fortify the authentication layers, thus minimizing the risk of a successful attack:

 

Make Multi-Factor Authentication Mandatory

According to TechRepublic, business email compromise (BEC) is “a sophisticated scam that targets companies and individuals who perform legitimate transfer-of-funds requests.”

Through the use of social engineering or malware, cybercriminals will masquerade as one of the individuals involved in these money transfers to trick the victim into sending money to a bank account owned by the cybercriminal. Once the fraud is exposed, it’s often too late to recoup the money. Scammers are quick to relocate the money to other accounts and withdraw the cash or use it to buy cryptocurrencies.

However, the scam is not always associated with an unauthorized transfer of funds. One BEC variation involves compromising legitimate business email accounts and requesting personally identifiable information (PII), wage and tax settlement (W-2) forms, or even cryptocurrency wallets from recipients.

Educate Your Employees

Security is everyone’s responsibility, and security training helps make people more vigilant. As cybercriminals play upon fears surrounding the coronavirus, it’s critical to advise employees as to how to recognize potential scams, lures, and phishing attacks.

Underscoring how hackers manipulate the pandemic for their own benefit can help make sure that employees pause and think instead of automatically clicking on every link they encounter.

Real-Time Threat Intelligence

Companies need to make use of automated tools designed to continually detect compromised passwords, making certain that they have immediate protection if someone’s credentials should crop up on the internet or the dark web.

Prioritize Password Exposure, Not Expiration

Organizations should rescind the antiquated policy of enforced password resets and only change them in the event that they’re compromised. This minimizes the burden placed on your IT team and, at the same time, helps users select stronger passwords as they won’t have to keep changing them periodically.

Automated Assurance

By assessing passwords on a daily basis, as well as at creation, organizations have perpetual password protection without increasing the IT team’s workload. If an existing password should become vulnerable, the appropriate remediation steps are automated, ensuring that action is taken straightaway without relying on human intervention.

Conclusion

As cybercriminals continue to take advantage of existing vulnerabilities and seek new methods to bypass security measures, IT teams need to adapt accordingly and strive to become more agile in order to defend against these bad actors. Instead of scrambling to incorporate the latest and greatest security tools, organizations need to bolster their cybersecurity strategies and not neglect securing the password layer.

If you’re not 100% satisfied with your current IT services provider, or if you’re looking to free up your in-house IT personnel by outsourcing some of their duties to a team of certified professionals, DataGroup Technologies is here to help. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382!

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How To Identify & Protect Against DDoS Attacks

How To Identify & Protect Against DDoS Attacks

A DDoS attack may be one of the least sophisticated forms of cyberattacks, but it has the potential to be one of the most disruptive and most powerful – and it can be incredibly challenging to prevent and mitigate.

If you’ve ever heard about a website being “brought down by hackers,” it typically means that the site has fallen victim to a DDoS attack. Essentially, hackers have attempted to cause the website to crash by saturating it with an excessive amount of traffic.

To find out how to identify and protect your business against DDoS attacks, read on…

WHAT IS A DDoS ATTACK?

A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack is a malicious assault launched from large clusters of compromised computer systems and internet-connected devices, including computers, cell phones, routers, and IoT devices. This network of devices, collectively referred to as a botnet, is used to flood the targeted website or its surrounding infrastructure with huge volumes of internet traffic – including incoming messages, connection requests, and fake packets. 

The ultimate aim of a DDoS attack is to disrupt the normal traffic of a targeted server, service, network, website, device, or application in order to prevent legitimate users from accessing it. 

A successful DDoS attack can take the service offline for a significant period of time, ranging from seconds to weeks at a time. The impact of such an attack can be extremely destructive to any online organization, leading to loss of revenue, erosion of consumer trust, and long-term reputation damage. Considering the sheer volume of devices involved, these multi-person, multi-device barrages are usually harder to fend off.

DDoS attacks are favorite weapons of choice for hacktivists, cyber vandals, extortionists, and anyone else seeking to make a statement or support a cause. Attackers’ motivations might be to cause mischief, exact revenge, or may even serve as a smokescreen for other nefarious activities, including breaching the target’s security perimeter.

3 COMMON TYPES OF DDoS ATTACKS

DDoS attacks can be divided into three primary categories:

Application-layer (or layer 7) attacks overload an application or server with a large number of requests requiring resource-intensive handling and processing. If the target receives millions of these requests in a short period of time, it can very quickly get overwhelmed and either slow to a crawl or freeze up completely. Size is measured in requests per second (RPS). Examples include: HTTP floods, slow attacks, and DNS query flood attacks. 

Network-layer (or layer 3-4) attacks send large numbers of packets to the targeted network’s infrastructures and management tools. Size is measured in packets per second (PPS). Examples include: UDP floods, SYN floods, NTP amplification, DNS amplification, and Smurf attacks.

Volume-based attacks use massive amounts of bogus traffic to overwhelm a resource such as a website or server. Size is measured in bits per second (BPS). Examples include: ICMP, UDP, and spoofed-packet flood attacks.

HOW DOES A DDoS ATTACK WORK?

Cybercriminals commandeer internet-connected machines by carrying out malware attacks; or, alternately, they gain access by utilizing the default username and password the product is issued with – assuming the device is password-protected at all. Once attackers have infiltrated the device, it becomes part of a botnet that they control. Botnets can vary in size from a reasonably small number of compromised devices – known as “zombies” – to millions of them.

These machines could be located anywhere in the world – thus the term “distributed” – and it’s doubtful the owners of the devices even realize what they’re being used for, as it’s likely the devices have been appropriated by hackers. The botnet can then be used to inundate a website or server with a superabundance of “fake” internet traffic.

Servers, networks, and other online services are equipped to handle a certain amount of traffic. But if they’re swamped with a horde of traffic such as occurs in a DDoS attack, systems can become overloaded. The high volume of traffic being transmitted by the DDoS attack clogs up or otherwise interferes with the system’s capabilities, while also prohibiting authorized users from accessing online services (which is where the “denial of service” element comes in).

HOW TO KNOW IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK

Any organization with a web-facing element needs to consider the amount of web traffic it typically receives and prepare for it accordingly. Large volumes of legitimate traffic can engulf servers, leading to slow service or no service – which could conceivably scare off potential customers. But organizations also have to be able to distinguish between genuine web traffic and a DDoS attack.

Consequently, capacity planning is a vital element of operating any website, with careful consideration given to determining what is an anticipated, typical amount of traffic and what extraordinarily high or unforeseen volumes of authentic traffic might look like. This forethought helps avoid causing interruption of service to users, whether by crashing the site because of high demands or erroneously blocking access due to a DDoS false alarm.

So, how can organizations tell the difference between a bona fide spike in demand and a DDoS attack?

Customarily, an outage brought on by legitimate traffic will only last for a brief period of time. Often the reason for the outage is apparent, such as an online retailer experiencing high demand for a new product, or a new video game’s online servers being flooded with traffic from enthusiastic gamers.

In the case of a DDoS attack, however, there are some unmistakable signs that a malicious and targeted campaign is underway. Oftentimes, DDoS attacks are engineered to cause disruption over a prolonged period of time, which could mean rapid increases in traffic at intervals of time causing frequent outages.

 

Another prime indicator that your organization has, in all likelihood, been hit with a DDoS attack is that online services abruptly slow down or go offline entirely for several days in a row, which could suggest that the services are being targeted by cybercriminals who simply want to wreak as much havoc as possible.

Some of these attackers might be executing an attack merely to cause chaos, while others may have been compensated to target a certain site or service. Still others might be attempting to run some type of extortion racket, vowing to call off the attack in return for a ransom.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE UNDER A DDoS ATTACK

Once it’s become obvious that your organization has been targeted by a DDoS attack, you should construct a timeline of when the issues began and identify how long they’ve persisted, as well as determining which assets like applications, services, and services are affected – and how that is adversely affecting users, customers, and the business in general.

It’s also crucial to notify your web-hosting provider as soon as possible. It’s probable that they will have already recognized the DDoS attack, but contacting them directly may help lessen the impact of a DDoS campaign. If it’s possible for your provider to switch your IP address, this will help prevent the DDoS from having the impact it did previously due to the fact that the attack will be pointing in the wrong direction. Security providers that offer DDoS mitigation services can also help minimize the impact of an attack.

Finally, if you have determined that your site is under attack, notify users about what’s going on as quickly as you can. Consider putting up a temporary site explaining the problem and providing users with steps they can follow in order to continue to use the service. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can also be used to promote this message.

HOW TO PROTECT AGAINST DDoS ATTACKS

Let’s be clear: it’s impossible to completely prevent a DDoS attack. Cybercriminals will continue to attack, and some are going to hit their targets, regardless of the defenses in place. However, there are a few preventative measures your company can take to protect against these types of attacks:

Monitor Your Web Traffic

As previously mentioned, having a clear grasp on what a “regular” level of web traffic looks like, as well as what would be considered abnormal, is critical in helping defend against DDoS attacks or spotting them early.

Keep an eye out for unexplained upsurges in traffic and visits from questionable IP addresses and geolocations, as these could be signs of cyberattackers executing “dry runs” to test your defenses prior to committing to a full-blown attack.

Some security experts suggest setting up alerts that will inform you if the number of requests for access exceeds a certain threshold. While this might not conclusively point to malicious activity, it does at least provide an advance warning that something sinister might be in the works.

Configure Your Firewalls and Routers

Firewalls and routers can play a prominent role in minimizing the damage of a DDoS attack. If configured properly, they can divert fake traffic by identifying it as potentially perilous and intercepting it before it ever arrives.

For optimum results, keep your firewalls and routers up-to-date with the latest security patches, as these systems remain your first line of defense against cyberthreats.

Plan Ahead And Be Ready to Respond

Initiate a rapid response plan, establishing procedures for your customer support and communication teams, not only for your IT professionals. Appoint a group of people within the organization whose duty it is to lessen the impact of a potential attack.

Enlisting the services of a third party to conduct DDoS testing – known as “pen testing” – can help detect your organization’s vulnerabilities, a crucial element of any protection protocol. DDoS testing simulates an attack against your IT infrastructure to see how it responds, enabling you to be even better prepared when the moment of truth arrives.

Consider Using Artificial Intelligence

While advanced firewalls and intrusion detection systems are most commonly used to stave off DDoS attacks, artificial intelligence (AI) is also being used to develop new systems.

These systems are designed to rapidly redirect internet traffic to the cloud for further analysis. Any traffic that’s determined to be malicious in nature can then be blocked before it ever reaches a company’s computers.

Not only might such programs be capable of recognizing and protecting against known DDoS indicative patterns, the self-learning capabilities of AI could also help anticipate and pinpoint DDoS patterns as well.

In addition, researchers are exploring the idea of using blockchain – the technology behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies – to allow people to share their untapped bandwidth in order to absorb the malicious traffic generated in a DDoS attack and render it useless.

Enable Comprehensive Security

Botnets are often built on devices with little to no integrated security features. Many IoT devices – “smart” machines that connect to the internet for greater functionality and efficiency – come with default usernames and passwords which many consumers neglect to immediately change after purchasing the devices.

Secure, unique passwords should be established for all devices connected to the internet, both within and outside the business environment – particularly if the organization encourages employees to use their own devices to perform their duties from time to time.

To further protect all your devices from malware – which, as we have seen, can directly aid in executing DDoS attacks – it’s important to make sure that comprehensive security solutions are being deployed. Make an effort to do some research and commit to cybersecurity solutions for your business that you can trust.

Final Thoughts

Despite the various measures an organization can take to help prevent a DDoS attack, some attempts will still be successful anyway. The fact of the matter is, if cyberattackers truly wish to take down an online service and have enough resources in place, they’ll do everything they can to succeed in their efforts.

However, if businesses are well-acquainted with the warning signs, it is possible to be prepared in the event that a DDoS attack does occur.

Cybersecurity has never been more important. We live in an increasingly connected world which enables cyberattackers to constantly find new ways to carry out digital attacks. Even the most vigilant business owners and IT managers become overwhelmed with the stress of maintaining network security and protecting their data.

DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) offers a wide variety of cybersecurity services to help protect your business from cyberthreats, including next-generation firewalls, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, network security monitoring, operating systems and application security patches, and antivirus software.

If your business could benefit from one or more of these state-of-the-art services, give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!

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Protect Your Business From Spear-Phishing Attacks With These 4 Helpful Hints

Protect Your Business from Spear-Phishing Attacks with These 4 Helpful Hints

Everyone who uses the internet has access to something that a hacker wants. To obtain it, hackers might level a targeted attack directly at you.

Likely objectives may include pilfering customer data in order to commit identity theft, gaining access to a company’s intellectual property for corporate espionage, or acquiring your personal income data in an attempt to steal your tax refund or file for unemployment benefits in your name. 

Targeted attacks, commonly referred to as spear-phishing, seek to fool you into volunteering  your login credentials or downloading malicious software.

Spear-phishing attacks often transpire over email. Hackers typically send a target an “URGENT” message, incorporating plausible-sounding information that’s unique to you – such as something that could have come from your tax returns, social media accounts, or credit card bills.

These schemes often include details that make the sender appear legitimate in order to get you to disregard any warning signs you might detect about the email.

In spite of corporate training and dire warnings to be cautious about who you give your password to, people still get duped by these tactics.

Another byproduct of falling for a spear-phishing scam could be inadvertently downloading malware such as ransomware. You might also be coerced into wiring funds to a cybercriminal’s account.

You can steer clear of the majority of spear-phishing scams by observing the following security measures.

 

Recognize the Basic Signs of Phishing Scams

Phishing emails, texts, and phone calls attempt to trick you into accessing a malicious website, surrendering a password, or downloading an infected file. 

This works particularly well in email attacks, since people often spend their entire day at work clicking on links and downloading files as part of their jobs. Hackers realize this, and try to exploit your natural tendency to click without thinking.

Thus, the number-one defense against phishing emails is to think twice before you click.

Check for indications that the sender is who they purport to be:

  • Look at the “From” field. Is the name of the person or business spelled correctly? Does the email address match the name of the sender, or are there all kinds of random characters in the email address instead?
  • Does the email address seem close, but a little bit off? (For example: Microsft.net or Microsoft.co.)
  • Hover over (don’t click!) any links in the email to scrutinize the actual URLs they will send you to. Do they seem to be legitimate?
  • Note the greeting. Does the sender call you by name? “Customer,” “Sir/Madam,” or the prefix of your email address (“pcutler35”) would be red flags.

Examine the email closely. Is it mostly free from spelling errors and unusual grammar?

Consider the tone of the message. Is it excessively urgent? Is its aim to urge you to do something that you normally wouldn’t?

Don’t Be Fooled By More Advanced Phishing Emails That Employ These Techniques

Even if an email passes the preliminary sniff test defined above, it could still be a ruse. A spear-phishing email might include your actual name, implement more masterful language, and even seem specific to you. It’s just a lot harder to distinguish. Then there are the targeted telephone calls, in which an unknown person or organization calls you and attempts to finagle you into relinquishing information or logging on to a shady website.

Since spear-phishing scams can be so crafty, there’s an added measure of protection you should take before responding to any request that arrives via email or phone. The most significant, preventative step you can take is to safeguard your password.

Never click on a link from your email to another website (real or fraudulent), then enter your account password. Simply log on to your account by manually typing the URL into a browser or access it via a trusted app on your mobile device. Never provide your password to anyone over the phone.

Financial institutions, internet service providers, and social media platforms generally make it a policy to never ask for your password in an email or phone call. Instead, log in to your account by manually typing the URL into your browser or access it via a trusted app on your preferred mobile device.

You can also call back the company’s customer service department to verify that the request is legitimate. Most banks, for example, will transmit secure messages through a separate inbox that you can only access when you’ve logged onto their website.

Combat Phishing By Calling the Sender

If an individual or organization sends you something they say is “IMPORTANT” for you to download, requests that you reset your account passwords, or solicits you to send a money order from company accounts, do not immediately comply. Call the sender of the message – your boss, your financial institution, or even the IRS – and make certain that they actually sent you the request.

If the request arrives by phone, it’s still appropriate to hesitate and corroborate. If the caller claims to be phoning from your bank, you’re well within your rights to inform them that you’re going to hang up and call back on the company’s main customer service line.

A phishing message will often attempt to make its inquiry appear extremely urgent, prompting you to forgo taking the extra step of calling the sender to double-check the veracity of the request. For instance, an email might state that your account has been jeopardized and you should reset your password as soon as possible, or perhaps that your account will be terminated unless you take action by the end of the day.

Don’t freak out! You can always justify taking a few extra minutes to validate a request that could cost you or your business financially, or even mar your reputation.

Lock Down Your Personal Information

Someone who wishes to spear-phish you has to obtain personal details about you in order to put their plan in motion. In some cases, your profile and job title on a company website might be sufficient to inform a hacker that you’re a worthwhile target, for whatever reason.

Alternatively, hackers can take advantage of information they’ve discovered about you as a result of data breaches. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about either of those things.

However, there are certain situations in which you may be divulging information about yourself that could supply hackers with all the data they need to proceed. This is a solid reason to refrain from posting every detail of your life on social media and to set your social accounts to “Private.

Finally, activate two-factor authentication on both your work and personal accounts. This method adds an extra step to the login process, meaning that hackers require more than simply your password in order to access confidential accounts. Thus, if you do end up inadvertently giving away your credentials in a phishing attack, hackers still won’t possess all they need to access your account and make trouble for you.

By taking these tactics to heart, you will be better prepared to avoid common online scams such as spear-phishing attacks.

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12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

The technology small businesses depend on can be the determining factor between extraordinary growth and utter unproductivity. Even within a category as commonplace as phone systems, the possibilities prevail.

Since the arrival of the first commercial VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone system in 1995, businesses have been gradually migrating from standard, landline-based phone systems to state-of-the-art, internet-based solutions.

A widely held misconception is that sophisticated communications technologies such as VoIP are only advantageous to large-scale businesses. In fact, small businesses – startups, in particular – can benefit tremendously from the increased freedom, adaptability, and cost reduction that an internet phone service can provide.

What is motivating more and more companies to pull the plug on their traditional phone systems and link up with VoIP? More importantly, is it the right course of action for your organization? Let’s dive in a bit deeper and find out!

What is VoIP & How Does It Work?

VoIP, short for Voice over Internet Protocol, allows users to make and receive phone calls using a broadband internet connection instead of a conventional or analog phone line. VoIP may not appear any different to its users than a standard analog system, but the way voices are transmitted to the person on the other side of the phone is totally different. 

In traditional telephony, sound gets converted into electrical signals. These signals then get funneled through a network of phone lines. With VoIP, audio gets transformed into digital packets of information. Those data packets then get conveyed via the internet, where the signal is decoded on the other side and changed back into a voice.

This enables you to make and receive voice calls, instant messages, or video calls directly from a computer, a VoIP phone, or any other data-driven device.

 

Key Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

Small business owners are nothing if not ambitious. Executives of companies all shapes and sizes are seeking to boost customer ratings, trigger more leads and sales, increase profits, and make sure that clients have a favorable impression of their brand. VoIP provides numerous benefits that support these chief objectives:

1) Excellent Call Quality

Early VoIP technology was infamous for its weak call quality, frequently dropped calls, and lots of lag. Today, VoIP phone services have evolved in such a way that the person you’re calling, or the person calling you, can’t discern whether you’re using a VoIP or a traditional landline phone. 

As long as you have a fast internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, you can expect VoIP voice and video calls to be crisp and crystal-clear, with no latency issues and no dropped calls. These days, VoIP calls are able to match or surpass the quality of traditional landline networks, even over long distances.

2) Multifunctionality

Along with making and receiving calls, modern VoIP systems also integrate a variety of other communication services such as instant messaging, teleconferencing, video conferencing, file sharing, screen sharing, voicemail, and faxes via email.

The call forwarding feature ensures that whenever a call comes in, it can be patched through to the appropriate person who is best able to handle it – even if that person is outside of the office. With VoIP, a call received on an office phone can be routed to an employee’s smartphone or other mobile device in the field.

Since calls can be directed to anyone, anywhere, at any time, customers and colleagues never have to resort to calling a separate number to get in touch with the desired party. VoIP users can set their status so coworkers know whether or not they’re available to take calls.

With traditional landline phone systems, a business has an allotted number of lines available to receive any incoming calls. When all lines are in use and a call comes in, the customer, colleague, or vendor gets a busy signal. Needless to say, this can be frustrating.

Since VoIP phone systems aren’t tied to a physical phone line, the business has an unlimited number of lines at their disposal. In short, callers will never get a busy signal and their phones will always be directed to a real, live person.

VoIP technology also equips users to review call logs and analyze metrics to better understand how customers are interacting with the business. Useful data such as call volume, average call-answer time, length of calls, behavioral trends, and performance of customer service agents can be collected and analyzed to identify any relevant patterns.

 

3) Flexibility

Conventional phone services impose certain constraints on employees. Businesses don’t always adhere to a 9-to-5 schedule in the office. As well, traditional phones typically link a single phone number to a specific telephone. Employees who are working from home, traveling, or meeting with customers can’t easily access their business phone numbers.

With a VoIP phone system, location is irrelevant. As long as employees have access to the internet and a computer or mobile device, they can call, text, and fax from their business numbers effortlessly. Once they’ve downloaded the app or logged in to the VoIP service provider’s web portal, workers can begin making and receiving calls and faxes on their business phone numbers from anywhere.

When teams have the capacity to work in a flexible and cooperative environment and perform their duties successfully from wherever they are, it leads to greater productivity and business performance.

 

4) Security

VoIP technology is a significantly more secure channel of communication when compared with traditional analog and landline phone systems. Systematic encryption protocols offer end-to-end encryption and fend off any unwelcome data breaches – something you can’t count on with a traditional landline connection.

Phone system security is a major concern for businesses – especially smaller enterprises – as demand for personally identifiable information (PII) has never been greater. Most VoIP service providers employ dedicated professionals to track the platform’s security and validate that all security updates are installed without delay to keep confidential information and customer data protected.

Remote work can pose additional security concerns for businesses. Ensuring that data stays secure, even as employees access that data from a distance and from a number of different devices, can be challenging. VoIP phone services can help alleviate these concerns, at least as it pertains to telecommunications, since providers routinely perform robust security practices.

5) Accessibility

As previously mentioned, VoIP phone systems allow you to make and receive calls from a myriad of devices, including smartphones, as long as you have internet access. This is incredibly beneficial for today’s scattered workforce, as it affords employers a larger talent pool while continuing to minimize overhead.

While the number of remote workers has skyrocketed in the U.S. in recent years, small businesses aren’t always able to make use of this model – procuring additional equipment for home offices and extra phone expenses simply render it impossible.

VoIP technology clears the way for smooth, efficient telecommuting, enabling employees to touch base and collaborate with colleagues, employers, and clients in a variety of practical ways. Remote workers don’t have to resort to using their personal cell phones and phone numbers to make business calls. Instead, they can use the VoIP numbers exclusively assigned to each worker, in conjunction with your business’s intranet, to make calls from your organization, regardless of where they happen to be located.

6) Automated Assistance

Not all small businesses can manage hiring a dedicated employee to field incoming phone calls. An automated assistance (or auto-attendant) feature – built into many VoIP systems – can be programmed to answer simple, frequently asked questions such as locations, regular and holiday operating hours, and other important announcements.

In essence, the auto-attendant feature acts as a virtual receptionist and primary point of contact, escalating and routing incoming calls to the appropriate parties. This helps streamline the customer service experience for both employees and clients.

7) Call Recording Service

VoIP phone systems are capable of recording incoming and outgoing phone and video calls. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. Not only are you and your colleagues able to play back important calls to guarantee that critical messages aren’t missed, you can also archive them for future reference.

In addition, many industries such as healthcare and finance are also subject to compliance constraints, meaning that calls are required to be recorded and maintained. You can use recordings to train new employees, set loftier standards for customer service, and make sure that representatives are measuring up to these standards.

Recorded calls might also come in handy in the event that a customer lodges a complaint against a staff member, or if a customer should mistreat one of your employees.

8) Increased Productivity

Have you ever played “phone tag” with a client, coworker, or vendor? You know the drill: you call them, get their voicemail, they call you back, get your voicemail, and ultimately nothing gets done. This leads to frustration for all parties involved, missed sales opportunities, and can even hamper your organization’s ability to grow.

With VoIP, you can configure phone numbers to ring on multiple devices before forwarding to a voicemail, which helps resolve the phone tag problem and can greatly improve productivity.

By merging team and customer communications into a singular interface, VoIP helps simplify workflows by cutting down on delays and errors. When everybody is on the same page, effective communication is easier to achieve across the board.

9) Cost Effectiveness

Many providers offer unlimited local calls; however, making long-distance calls is also cheaper with VoIP than with traditional telephony. Since VoIP virtual phone numbers aren’t bound to a physical landline phone, your customers and colleagues can call you at the local rate instead of the higher international rate. Your virtual phone number will appear to be within the recipient’s local exchange, even though it isn’t.

When using a VoIP service provider, calls between PCs are essentially free. While calls from PCs to landlines can incur charges, the rates are considerably less expensive when compared to conventional landlines or cell phones.

Teleconferencing and video-conferencing make it unnecessary for employees in the field to return to the office to attend a meeting or address important matters with colleagues. This, in turn, conserves your budget by eliminating unnecessary travel expenses, whether by company car or plane.

With an ever-increasing number of exclusively remote employees, teleconferencing and video-conferencing are able to further reduce costs related to recruiting, retraining, and office space.

Preparing and installing traditional phone lines within a facility can be a costly undertaking, whereas setting up and managing a VoIP system is substantially cheaper. A cloud-based VoIP phone service involves a meager upfront investment in terms of network infrastructure, hardware, and equipment.

Since VoIP subscription fees typically encompass continuing maintenance and any software upgrades, you won’t need to hire additional IT staff to keep your communications system up and running. Your VoIP vendor will automatically install updates and patches to assure that you have access to the latest features.

10) Simplicity

Compared with traditional phone lines, which can be difficult to implement and maintain, VoIP systems are fairly simple to install, configure, and support – even for individuals who aren’t especially tech-savvy.

Certain VoIP software solutions and web browser options can make managing the system even more hassle-free, specifically when adding new users. Web portals make adding, shifting, and modifying systems configurations easier and more accessible.

Nowadays, people have become accustomed to using digital, web-based products that they can try out and master quickly. Since VoIP systems utilize modern software and user-friendly interfaces, managers can train on these systems much more quickly than they could with manual setups. Eliminating the need for physical phones and ongoing maintenance allows managers to focus on developing their teams, rather than addressing troubleshooting questions from bewildered employees.

With no physical hardware required or telephone cables to install, your whole office can be fully operational with VoIP phone services in 24 hours or less. In doing so, your team can freely communicate via physical SIP phones (in other words, you can use your IP network to make calls instead of over telephone lines) or with any device, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets, by downloading the app of the VoIP service provider.

11) Scalability

With conventional landline systems, it’s difficult to determine how many phone lines you’re going to need – particularly when you’re still growing as an organization. When you add more personnel, additional offices, or create new departments, you’re going to need to ensure that your communications system is continuously up to date.

VoIP systems are designed to conveniently scale up or scale down to meet your specific needs. You simply add a new line whenever you add a new staff member. When an employee leaves the company or transfers, it’s just as easy to reassign the existing line or remove it entirely. Adding or removing a number within a VoIP phone system requires little more than a few clicks of the mouse.

There are certain businesses whose products or services are often consumed only during specific periods during the year, such as tax preparation services, call centers, specialty holiday retailers, and florists. While phones are relatively quiet most of the year, when business picks up it can get very busy. This is why many of these companies plan in advance by getting extra phone capacity in the event that it’s needed. While being prepared is important, paying for extra phones that would otherwise be idle most of the year is not a wise investment.

A cloud-based VoIP phone system allows these seasonal businesses to add more lines during peak season to accommodate the increased demand, and return back to normal service during the off-season. Since the business is able to customize its service package as needed, they only have to pay for the bandwidth they need and use – and nothing more. This helps organizations better control expenses and, ultimately, improve their profit margins.

12) Competitive Advantage

It’s no secret that huge corporations dominate the market in many fields these days. In order for small-to-medium-size businesses to compete effectively with larger, more high-profile organizations, they must be able to do whatever it takes to stand out in a crowded field. Simply coming across as being a “big fish in a small pond” can make all the difference to your bottom line. One major way to gain an advantage is by leveraging cutting-edge technological advances, such as VoIP systems.

With voice over IP, your small business can connect with prospective clients at little to no financial cost to the company, communicate with colleagues and clients over long distances, and project an air of professionalism in the way you present yourself. A warm welcome greeting with department selections, call forwarding, and voicemail-to-email features can not only help simplify inbound inquiries but also create the appearance of being a larger, more established organization than you currently are.

When smaller businesses can enjoy the same features and benefits of an enterprise-level phone system in an economical package, they are better positioned to succeed in today’s market climate.

Conclusion

While it’s clear that businesses of all shapes and sizes can reap the benefits that VoIP has to offer, small businesses can enjoy some of the biggest advantages relative to the size of their enterprise.

The IT professionals at DataGroup Technologies, Inc. (DTI) are well-versed in VoIP technology, and are fully equipped to set up your business– regardless of its size – with a state-of-the-art, cloud-based VoIP phone system that will advance your technological capabilities like never before! Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to schedule a consultation with our VoIP experts!

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7 Steps to Securing Your Business Website

7 Steps To Securing Your Business Website

by Cody McBride

Maybe you’re getting ready to launch your small business website, but you’re concerned that your site will be vulnerable to cyberattacks. Or perhaps your website has been live for some time now, but your company’s data was recently compromised by a hacker, and you want to avoid dealing with the same situation in the future.

If you’re concerned about whether or not your company’s website is truly secure, the best first step is to consult with a trusted IT service provider. But even with support from IT experts, understanding a few basic cybersecurity principles is crucial if you’re operating your business in the digital space. Here are a few strategies that small business owners can apply in order to keep their websites secure.

Hire Expert Support

 If you’re new to the world of cybersecurity, you may not know where to begin when it comes to keeping your website safe from hackers and cyberattacks. But you don’t have to figure it all out on your own through trial and error. For instance, if you’re developing custom applications for internal use that will be integrated with your website, you can hire a software developer who can install appropriate security protections. In addition, you can work with a cybersecurity expert if you need further guidance.

You can even keep security at the forefront when you start developing your website. By hiring a WordPress developer with a proven background in cybersecurity, you can rest assured that your website will include features specifically intended to protect your company and your customers. If you’re not sure what to look for when hiring a developer, you can check out their portfolio and case studies from their work with previous clients.

Educate Your Team

 Chances are, you’re not the only person at your company who accesses your website from the backend. If your employees also have access to internal functions for your website, you will need to spend some time educating them on cybersecurity. Virtu recommends implementing and enforcing a strong password policy that requires employees to create long, complex passwords and change them every three months. You can also task a web administrator with creating strict access policies for different functions and train your employees to recognize phishing attempts. And should you ever update the security protections for your website with the help of an IT support provider, hold an additional training session with your employees to make sure they’re in the know.

Install SSL

 If you’re unfamiliar with Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, it’s important to learn a bit more about why your website needs this certification. Sucuri states that setting up an SSL certificate enables your website to use an HTTPS protocol for secure information transfers. This ensures that data like credit card information and other personally identifiable information from contact forms stays protected. If your website lacks this certification, you cannot guarantee to your customers that you are making every effort to keep their information safe. You can add an SSL certification to your website simply by seeking out a hosting service that offers this option for free.

Use Anti-Malware Software

 By installing anti-malware software for your website, you can protect your business from viruses. Today, it’s all too easy to accidentally download malware, and doing so can cause all kinds of problems for your company. You might get locked out of your website or expose your customers to security risks. You can research different versions of anti-malware software and find an option that suits your needs and budget.

Run Software Updates

 When your hosting provider prompts you to update your software, you do not want to push this task to the backburner. Outdated software may have lackluster security protections. On the other hand, newer software will likely include features that make it easier to secure your website. Furthermore, updating your software will give you access to new functions that enable you to modernize your website and run it efficiently. Perhaps you’ve been putting off a software update for a while, but it’s a good idea to take care of this as soon as you have the chance.

Back Up Your Data

 If your website is compromised, your data could be corrupted or even erased. This would be a frustrating situation for any small business owner. But since no cybersecurity protections can completely prevent attacks, it’s a good idea to back up your website’s data, just in case. You may be able to do this by using a cloud solution or by storing your data with hardware. Should a hacker ever gain access to your website, you can at least rest assured that you will not lose access to your own data, and you will be able to get your website back up and running.

Be Aware of Scams

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for hackers to run scams targeted at business websites. And even people who are relatively tech-savvy can easily fall victim to these scams. That’s why it’s important to read up on common scams that are aimed at business websites and talk to your employees about the tactics that these scammers use. For example, if you ever get an email claiming that it is allegedly from your web hosting provider that contains a link, double-check the email address and consider calling your provider to confirm that they sent it to you. Otherwise, clicking the link could enable a hacker to gain access to your website.

Today, the internet makes it easier than ever to run your own business – but this low barrier to entry has also introduced new risks, like dealing with cybersecurity threats. However, your website does not have to be susceptible to cyberattacks. With these tips, you’ll be able to ensure the safety of your business website and keep your data private.

Final Thoughts

Interested in learning more about DataGroup Technologies’ IT services? We’re here for you! Find out how choosing us as your IT partner will provide the support you need to gain a competitive edge in your industry. Reach out to us at 252.329.1382 today or drop us a line here to schedule a quick 15-minute discovery call with our team.

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Guest blogger Cody McBride’s love for computers stems from high school when he built his own computer. Today he is a trained IT technician and knows how the inner workings of computers can be confusing to most. He is the creator of TechDeck.info where he offers easy-to-understand, tech-related advice and troubleshooting tips.

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