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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10 Ways Law Firms Can Benefit From Managed IT Services

10 Ways Law Firms Can Benefit From Managed IT Services

Lawyers and legal firms manage highly sensitive, personal data on a routine basis. As legal cases become more complex and increasingly reliant on functions such as digital case management, customer relationship management, and e-Discovery, it’s more important than ever that legal organizations do everything they can to ensure their data is protected, their network infrastructure is secure, and compliance requirements are met.

In addition to security concerns, the ability to work while on the move and immediate access to case data are key to keeping up in the fast-paced legal environment. Between paperwork, time tracking, filings, and deadlines, law offices don’t have time to waste on computer systems that crash unexpectedly or otherwise drag down productivity.

Many smaller law firms are facing a harsh reality: they simply don’t have the resources to invest at the scale necessary to keep pace with their increasing technology needs and to narrow the gap opened up by larger firms with deep pockets.

Most law firms spend roughly 70% of their annual IT budget on system maintenance. Only the 30% that remains ends up being invested in acquiring new technology. Ultimately, the bulk of their resources are spent “spinning their wheels,” instead of embracing new technologies that could help propel their business.

It doesn’t have to be this way! By partnering with a reputable managed services provider (MSP), law firms can entrust the day-to-day management of their IT infrastructure to a team of highly skilled IT professionals who specialize in working with legal organizations. This frees up attorneys and other staff to focus on the business of practicing law, without having to worry about their network failing them.

10 Benefits of Managed IT Services for Law Firms:

1) Lower Operating Costs

Smaller and larger firms alike have to keep a close eye on their budgets. The cost to employ in-house IT support can easily surpass $100,000 annually. Unfortunately, this support staff is not available 24/7 and is unlikely to possess the depth of knowledge necessary to support different technologies. MSPs give law offices round-the-clock access to an entire team of certified IT experts for a fraction of the cost of internal IT staff.

2) Maximized Productivity & Billable Hours

Whether it’s a forgotten password, server failure, or an app that’s not responding as it should, attorneys and their teams simply can’t afford to experience significant downtime. System breakdowns can be particularly costly, in terms of lost productivity and business disruption. MSPs specialize in Backup and Disaster Recovery (BDR), which is crucial for minimizing downtime and maintaining business continuity. Updating and modernizing a practice’s IT infrastructure can help maximize billing hours by reducing the risk of underperforming applications.

3) Predictable Budgeting

With fixed-fee monthly payment options, law firms can know ahead of time exactly what an MSP is going to charge them. This allows organizations to plan for IT expenses rather than being surprised by unexpected ones.

4) Compliance

The protocols and processes required for law firms to stay compliant can be quite complicated. Legal practices that handle credit cards must comply with PCI-DSS security standards. Attorneys dealing with clients’ medical records are subject to stringent HIPAA regulations. Failure to comply can result in stiff fines and penalties for law firms, as well as an increased likelihood of data breach. Reputable MSPs work diligently to keep all hardware and software up-to-date and in compliance with ever-changing government regulations.

5) Client Confidentiality & Data Security

Since legal practices are routinely entrusted with highly sensitive information about their clients, they know better than anyone else that keeping this data secure is absolutely critical. Undetected malware infiltrations and system hacks put the relationship between attorneys and clients at constant risk. If a security breach should occur, confidential data may be held hostage or distributed in a manner that harms the reputation of law firms or their clients. In the legal community, where reputation is king, this is a worst-case scenario. Managed services providers work around the clock to protect their law firm clients against viruses, alerting them to suspicious activity, and taking immediate action to contain breaches when they occur.

6) 24/7/365 Monitoring & Support

In larger firms, an in-house IT team may be tasked with monitoring environments for threats, handling day-to-day technical operations, and working on achieving the practice’s strategic IT goals. If any of these is overlooked, the firm could end up compromising on security, productivity, or growth. Small-to-medium-sized law firms often cannot afford to employ round-the-clock IT staff, nor do they have the budget to invest in the sophisticated hardware and software necessary to combat dedicated cyberattacks. In either case, it makes sense to enlist the services of a managed services provider. Their dedicated team of IT experts will take full responsibility of monitoring for and controlling any data breaches as soon as they occur. Many trusted MSPs also offer 24/7/365 help desk support for their law firm clients, an added value for an industry in which extended downtime equals lost revenue.

7) Improved Accessibility & Mobility

Since legal professionals perform a large portion of their work outside of the office, they need to be able to access data easily and securely anytime and from anywhere. Important paperwork, documents, and a variety of discovery materials are constantly being added to the existing files. The ability to obtain this information on the fly is crucial for attorneys and their staff. By storing all of the firm’s data in a secure cloud environment, MSPs can give legal professionals fast and easy accessibility to files anywhere they have an internet connection. With a trusted MSP managing their staff’s mobile devices, law firms can also gain integrated efficiency and collaboration while keeping confidential data secure – even if devices are lost or stolen.

8) Level Playing Field

Most smaller law firms aren’t able to afford the in-house IT support services that many larger legal practices maintain. In addition, small practices are unlikely to budget for major system updates or upgrades. As a result, these smaller-scale firms end up lagging on the technology curve. Partnering with a managed services provider gives smaller law firms a competitive advantage, with access to similar technology and often even greater expertise than the large firms enjoy.

 

9) Scalability

Law practices, like any business, are apt to grow and change. With this expansion comes an increased need for upgraded software packages, servers, and desktops, as well as the support system to manage them effectively. Working with a managed services provider gives law firms of all sizes access to the latest technologies and the security measures necessary to operate a growing practice.

10) Legal Application Expertise

Line-of-business (LOB) applications, such as document management systems and cost-recovery systems, are critical to the ongoing success of any legal practice. As the number of LOBs grows, so do the integration challenges tied to these tools. A trusted MSP can engineer these applications to play nicely with standard horizontal applications such as Microsoft Office Suite and Adobe Creative Cloud, helping eliminate a significant amount of frustration and inefficiency. A managed services provider that’s experienced in working with law firms is better able to anticipate potential issues specific to the profession, as well as understand each practice’s operational needs. Outsourcing IT to MSPs allows attorneys to focus on their clients and cases without interruptions or delays due to connectivity issues or backup concerns.

Outsourcing a legal practice’s IT infrastructure to a managed services provider allows attorneys and support staff to devote their time to what truly matters – giving their clients the attention that they deserve. A more focused IT organization can help emerging practices build their client base, assist lawyers with better engaging their clients, and empower firms of any size to compete in the marketplace.

A reputable MSP will take the time to understand a law firm’s business, personnel, systems, and processes and identify its short-term and long-term goals. The service provider will then develop and implement an IT strategy tailored to the practice’s specific needs.

In addition to protecting the firm’s network against cyberthreats, security breaches, and data loss, an MSP provides a variety of other valuable services that an in-house IT team simply can’t match. Legal organizations that choose to work with a managed services provider will gain access to the most up-to-date hardware and software, along with the accessibility and mobility that come with a solid cloud infrastructure. Real-time IT monitoring and support for all network applications and devices, data backup, system upgrades, layered security solutions, and disaster recovery are all key components in an MSP’s repertoire.

DataGroup Technologies has been partnering with legal organizations to provide managed IT services for over 15 years. We understand the unique challenges attorneys and their teams face on a daily basis. Our certified network engineers work with law practices to streamline operations, improve workflow, maximize overall efficiency, and ensure consistent uptime. Our technicians are available to answer your calls for service or support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

If your legal organization has outgrown the capabilities of your in-house IT staff or you’re not 100% satisfied with your current service provider, give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to schedule your free IT assessment!

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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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What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

What Is IT Compliance? Here’s What You Need To Know

Any business that promotes and performs digital services, has an online identity, or uses electronic systems to collect and store data is required to meet certain IT compliance standards.

IT compliance regulations are designed to help safeguard the sensitive data of billions of people worldwide by providing security for consumer data, the regulations to secure it, and regulatory compliance to oversee businesses.

Without IT compliance standards and guiding regulations being put in place and enforced, data breaches are more likely to occur, resulting in the loss of financial and sales data, leaks of clients’ private information, and even drained bank accounts which could sink businesses and ruin lives.

Although many of these regulations are mandatory by law, IT compliance standards also incorporate a number of information security best practices which can benefit your organization beyond merely the specified requirements.

Most of these regulations originated in the mid-to-late 1990s, after the Enron scandal revealed how easy it was for corporations to manipulate data for illegitimate gain. As access to and use of technology for all purposes grew, so did the number of ways in which companies could exploit it. As a result, there are now many regulatory bodies around the world that issue rules affecting technology and all of its uses.

Standards for IT compliance can vary greatly by industry, the size of the business, its geographical location, and even the types of customers it serves.

Specific guidelines are laid out for each rule within the standards so that organizations clearly comprehend how to comply. In order to avoid noncompliance with these regulations, every rule must be followed to the letter.

As such, meeting IT compliance standards demands careful planning, defining policies and procedures, and executing them precisely. Failing to comply with these requirements can cost a company millions of dollars in fines and runs the risk of incurring other penalties as well.

Recent trends – such as Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies and the increasing prevalence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices – have made IT compliance burdensome and bewildering for many organizations. In an effort to achieve and remain in compliance, companies often employ specialized digital tools to continuously identify, monitor, audit, and report adherence to standards.

The role of IT compliance continues to grow, as the electronic sharing and storing of information has an impact on departments such as finance, human resources, and operations – all of which depend on IT services for gathering, disseminating, and reporting data.

Given the amount of data captured and stored by companies today, IT compliance is quite possibly the most important factor in any business.

What Is IT Compliance?

By way of definition, IT compliance is the process of adhering to legal, internal, or contractual requirements for IT systems and processes with regards to the security, protection, availability, and integrity of sensitive data.

Compliance regulations are often centered around the requirements of a third party, such as industry standards, government policies, security frameworks, and terms of agreement with clients and business partners.

In essence, IT compliance involves taking appropriate control of businesses’ or clients’ information, including how it’s obtained and stored, how it’s distributed internally and externally, and how the data is secured.

Being compliant with a particular set of standards means that all relevant aspects of the business required to conform to those standards actually do so, and that the company can definitively prove that fact.

Who’s Responsible for Meeting IT Compliance Standards?

While the framework of IT compliance regulations is established by third parties, companies are responsible for their own IT compliance measures.

Organizations are not only charged with defining, documenting, and analyzing the processes to be adhered to, but also ensuring the availability of information and defining the rules of internal and external communication.

Ensuring that all applicable requirements are implemented in accordance with the rules lies with the individual or department tasked with IT compliance management. This is also where it’s determined which requirements apply to the company in the first place, as well as how they can be implemented in the best way possible. In addition, IT compliance management is tasked with keeping up-to-date on changes in legislation and ensuring that any necessary adjustments to IT are made in a timely manner.

While some companies utilize compliance management systems or software, others may choose to employ a dedicated compliance officer. Both options are intended to ensure proper compliance with and monitoring of the agreed-upon processes and rules.

 

- Benefits of IT Compliance

Avoid Fines and Penalties

Organizations found to be in breach of IT compliance requirements can expect to face steep financial penalties for violations, as well as legal ramifications and other aggressive enforcement actions – especially following a data breach.

Protects Your Business’s Reputation

A single data breach can cause considerable harm to your company’s reputation. It creates the impression that your business can’t be trusted and doesn’t take the appropriate steps to protect the privacy and security of its customers. If customers feel like they can’t trust you with their sensitive information, your business is doomed! By adhering to IT compliance standards, you’re positioning your business to be better protected against data breaches while simultaneously safeguarding the privacy of your customers, clients, employees, and the business itself.

Puts You in Good Company

Many organizations have invested significant time and resources to achieve and maintain compliance with industry-specific guidelines with regards to data security – accordingly, they may be reluctant to partner with organizations that haven’t done the same. Maintaining IT compliance assures prospective partners in your industry that you’ve done your due diligence to secure the data you collect. In doing so, you’re projecting your company as an industry leader when it comes to security and a reputable partner in business.

Builds and Maintains Customer Trust

Modern consumers want reassurance that any personal or financial information they hand over to your business will remain protected. Any proof otherwise will scare away prospects, current clients, and even employees. When your organization proves itself capable of meeting lofty standards concerning digital security and privacy (even those that aren’t specifically required by law), your current customers will feel more secure when using your services and you’ll be more likely to win new business with security-minded customers.

Enhanced Cybersecurity

Any company entrusted with collecting and processing customer information must be vigilant to ensure that this confidential data remains confidential. As you begin to implement various protocols in an attempt to meet compliance requirements, you’re essentially working on shielding your network from intrusions. Most IT compliance standards are merely an extension of basic security protocols. Achieving and maintaining IT compliance can help streamline your processes, decrease the chances of outside attacks, and even deter malicious insider attempts. Complying with industry standards can also help identify any gaps in your existing IT security strategy which might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Common IT Compliance Standards

Every state in the U.S. has data breach notification laws requiring businesses to notify customers in the event that their personal information is compromised. In addition, U.S. companies may be subject to the authority of one or more federal regulatory agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

With respect to IT compliance, every industry has its own set of unique requirements. As such, there’s no single IT compliance standard for all businesses. In some instances, an organization may have to adhere to several different types of compliance regulations, depending on the industries within which the business operates.

Compliance requirements can vary tremendously from state to state, and some apply regardless of whether your business is located in the state. For example, both the California Consumer Privacy Act and the NYDFS Cybersecurity Regulation impose requirements that can pertain to a business in any state, provided that it deals with data relating to these acts.

In addition to federal, state, and local government agencies, any organization charged with protecting data in order to ensure its confidentiality, integrity, reliability, or availability is likely answerable to IT compliance regulations. This last group includes most employers, colleges, and universities.

Businesses most commonly affected by IT compliance – and most in need of setting up a framework for compliance – include financial institutions, retailers, e-commerce, healthcare and health insurance, other insurance institutions, banking, defense, utilities, and credit card issuers. Strict compliance requirements also apply to critical infrastructure in sectors such as energy, government, food, transportation, information technology, telecommunications, and media.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common IT compliance standards to help you determine which regulations may apply to your organization:

Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA)

This government-mandated compliance standard applies to hospitals, clinics, health insurance providers, employers that offer health insurance to their employees, and any organization that stores, collects, transfers, accesses, or otherwise handles healthcare data.

Failure to comply with HIPAA requirements can tarnish a company’s reputation, result in steep fines, and even bankrupt an entire organization.

Key standards enforced by HIPAA include:

  • Maintaining privacy regulations that restrict the disclosure of healthcare information without first obtaining the patient’s consent
  • Ensuring that businesses rigorously secure any files containing electronic protected health information (ePHI) by implementing administrative, physical, and technical structures preventing unauthorized individuals from accessing patient data
  • Implementing a notification system that immediately alerts businesses and patients in the event that a security breach or threat occurs

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)

This set of regulations was initiated by MasterCard, Visa, and other credit card companies in an attempt to minimize financial fraud by better securing customers’ credit card information.

Any business that stores, transmits, or processes customers’ credit or debit card data and payments must act in accordance with the rules governing those practices and operations as outlined in PCI DSS.

Compliance with this standard results in greater transparency and increases the trustworthiness of businesses managing these types of transactions, assuring customers that their financial information is protected and they can safely make purchases. Conversely, failing to adhere to PCI DSS requirements could subject a company to substantial financial penalties.

While this particular compliance standard isn’t government-mandated, it’s one that most businesses are compelled to meet. This is because major credit card companies like Visa and MasterCard require businesses to have PCI DSS validation.

In order to meet the requirements of this standard, businesses must develop robust systems and processes for hosting and protecting customers’ financial information. Monitoring accounts and being constantly on the lookout for potential security threats is one way of achieving this. Another option is to implement granular controls which limit who can access different parts of a customer’s account. Limiting access prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing the account information that can be used to steal customers’ identities.

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX)

In the wake of the Enron incident, U.S. Congress passed this federal law for the purpose of overseeing how organizations handle electronic records, data protection, internal reporting, and executive accountability.

SOX ensures that companies reveal complete and accurate financial information so stakeholders and the general public can make informed decisions before choosing whether to invest in the business. In addition, this compliance standard helps minimize the risk of accounting errors and deter fraudulent practices.

Any publicly traded company or business making an initial public offering (IPO) is required to meet this standard. Company boards, management personnel, and accounting firms are also bound by SOX. Failure to comply can result in stiff criminal penalties.

In terms of network compliance, SOX deals with policies regarding where data is stored, establishing access controls, and the flawless installation of backup procedures.

Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA)

Established in 2002, FISMA establishes a minimum requirement for federal agencies developing data protection plans, promotes certain types of security software and systems, verifies third-party vendors, and accounts for the different security needs of various governmental departments.

Essentially, the act demands that federal agencies treat information security as a matter of national security. While government agencies must adhere to FISMA compliance standards, businesses that work with government agencies may also need to be aware of these regulations. Failure to comply with FISMA can result in loss of federal funding and inability to enter into government contracts.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

This regulation applies to any organization – public or private – that collects and processes the personally identifying information of any European Union (EU) citizen or resident. Any company, regardless of its geographical location, that wishes to do business in the EU or handle the personal or financial data of people from the EU must comply with GDPR standards.

According to the GDPR, organizations must first ask the permission of “data subjects” (i.e., EU citizens or residents) before collecting their personal data. This offers users the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of data collection. If the individual opts out, the organization must delete any previously collected information.

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

Enacted in 1999, the GLBA requires institutions to inform customers of their privacy policies on an annual basis, particularly in regard to how information is shared with certain third parties. Organizations are compelled to give customers the opportunity to opt-out if they don’t wish for their information to be shared. In addition, companies must disclose what measures they’re taking to safeguard the personal data of their customers.

Financial institutions – such as banks, savings and loans, credit unions, insurance companies, and financial advisory firms – as well as accountants, real estate agencies, and universities are all subject to GLBA regulations.

The three “rules” of the GLBA include: financial privacy (how institutions can collect and share private financial information); safeguarding (how institutions must implement security measures to protect client information against cybersecurity risks); and pretexting (this prevents businesses from collecting data under false pretenses).

Final Thoughts

There are a number of challenges associated with IT compliance. Following these tips can help your company avoid the extravagant fines, penalties, and other legal consequences associated with noncompliance:

  1. Educate your employees on all aspects of data privacy and provide them with the tools they need to protect sensitive data.
  2. Provide mobile and remote employees with laptops and devices that contain security policies and prevention mechanisms (such as remote-wipe capabilities) in order to maintain secure access to corporate data.
  3. Put authorization mechanisms in place to limit access to downloadable applications. Only allow downloads of approved software and applications.
  4. Enforce encryption for security and prevent access by devices without secure access.
  5. Utilize only secure and modern cloud storage solutions.

Ensuring that your organization achieves and maintains IT compliance begins with identifying the regulations that apply to your line of business. Drilling down to the areas of interest for your specific organization can help you design and implement the proper compliance frameworks. This can be a challenging and confusing process, especially if you’re inexperienced in these matters.

While it’s possible to manage IT compliance internally, it’s not the best way to go. The process is lengthy and will only serve to distract you from your core business responsibilities. Why go through all that stress when you can outsource this service for just a fraction of your IT budget?

At DataGroup Technologies, compliance is more than a service we provide – it’s woven into the fabric of all of our IT solutions. We can help you build an IT environment that not only supports your business’s growth but meets the necessary IT compliance standards as well.

Reach out to us today at 252.317.0614 or drop us a line here to see how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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Everything You Always Wanted To Know About VPNs (But Were Afraid To Ask)

What You Need to Know About VPNs

What Is a VPN?

A virtual private network, or VPN for short, is best defined as “an encrypted connection over the internet from a device to a network.” Think of this connection as a protected “tunnel” through which you can access everything online while appearing to be in the location of the VPN server you’re connected to. This provides you with a high level of online anonymity, offers an added layer of security, and allows you to access the entire internet without restrictions.

VPN technology is a must for anyone who’s concerned about protecting not just their data, but their identity and location as well. A reputable VPN will secure your internet connection, safeguard your privacy, and keep you protected from hackers or anyone else who might be trying to spy on your online activity.

Initially, VPNs were developed to give businesses a way to connect employees who aren’t physically at the workplace to the company’s network. Connecting remote employees to a central work server allows them to access files and other resources, as well as any confidential information that they may need in a safe, secure environment.

In response to widespread data breaches and other cyber-threats, individuals are increasingly using VPNs to create a secure path as they browse the internet.

How Does a VPN Work?

Before we delve into how VPNs function, it’s important to explain what the term “internet traffic” means. Internet traffic is the flow of data between your computer and the internet this applies whether you’re using a desktop, laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

When you access the internet without a VPN, all of your internet activity including browsing history, downloaded files, online banking details, and passwords can easily be intercepted by other people. This could include your internet service provider (ISP), government agencies, your employer, or even cybercriminals.

When you connect through a VPN, your data is safely encrypted as it travels wherever it needs to go. This means that the data is protected when it goes from your computer to the VPN server, and then to your final destination (whether that’s a website or the server of any app you’re serving). As a result, websites only “see” the VPN’s IP address and not yours. Additionally, your ISP only recognizes that you’re using a VPN but doesn’t get to tag along and keep tabs on where you go or what you do.

The Future of VPN's

As the world adapts to the “new normal” prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations worldwide have been scrambling to safeguard their remote employees. Not surprisingly, VPN software usage has escalated dramatically as the need for remote working rises.

Mass surveillance, corporate tracking, and internet censorship are three other driving forces that will continue to push VPN software usage even higher. ISPs are increasingly restricting access to various websites from adult content to torrenting sites. As people are enlightened to the growing risks regarding data collection and security threats, VPN usage will continue to expand.

Why Should You Use a VPN?

We’ve touched on most of these points already, but a deeper dive will be beneficial to truly demonstrate the benefits of VPNs:

Bypass Online Censorship and Geo-Restrictions

Many countries worldwide censor the internet (or specific websites) because certain content doesn’t align with their government’s political or religious beliefs. If you’re living in or traveling to a country with internet restrictions, you’ll need a VPN to be able to freely and securely browse online. In some areas of the world, basic tasks like Googling or updating your Facebook status are impossible without a VPN. Because your actual location is being “spoofed” when you connect to the internet with a VPN, you can bypass geographical restrictions and gain access to online content that’s otherwise unavailable in your region.

Increased Privacy and Greater Anonymity

Nearly every website you visit tracks your online activity and harvests your data. Advertising networks such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter constantly collect information about you through your internet traffic in order to show you targeted ads. However, it’s important to know that these entities are also free to sell your info to interested third parties. By encrypting your data, these networks will be unable to collect info on you, which gives them less influence over what kind of content you see online.

Your internet protocol (IP) address is a personal identification code that’s unique to your internet connection. It reveals your physical location and is tied to the individual who pays your internet service provider. With your IP address, you’re both recognizable and traceable online, no matter what you’re doing.

The instant you connect with the VPN server, your personal IP address and location are hidden from view. Websites and other parties will only be able to trace your online activities back to the VPN server, not to you personally and not to your actual location. This allows you to surf the web with greater anonymity.

Improved Security Against Cyberattacks and Data Breaches

Hackers and other cybercriminals use a variety of techniques to detect web traffic. They’re even able to hijack users’ accounts on websites that don’t use the HTTPS security protocol.

Public Wi-Fi networks can pose a particular threat to internet users. Individuals connected to the same network can easily tap into your devices, access your data, and steal your personal information while you browse the web obliviously.

When you use a VPN to connect to a public Wi-Fi network, any data you send, receive, or access online is automatically encrypted, rendering it much more difficult to intercept and view.

Knowing that your confidential data such as email logins, bank passwords, credit card info, and images or other files is potentially exposed to hackers and other malicious denizens of the internet should certainly give you pause. A VPN provides an added line of defense against cyberattacks of all kinds so why wouldn’t you take advantage of its capabilities?

Facilitates Remote Work

By necessity, practicality, or some combination of the two, more and more businesses these days are enabling their employees to work from home or abroad. VPNs are often used to securely connect remote workers and vendors, as necessary to the requisite resources, files, and networks that they need. Encrypted connections allow users to interact on the network while ensuring that the company’s data remains private.

A natural byproduct of remote accessibility is an increase in overall productivity for the business. When employees have access to your network 24/7, they’re able to work outside the typical 9 to 5 business hours, from wherever they choose

What a VPN Can’t Do

Prevent Cookies

Ad companies can still use browser cookies to track your path across the internet, even after you’ve left their sites. If this is a concern for you, there are ways to block third-party cookies in every web browser.

Keep You Out of Jail

VPN services are obligated to abide by the laws of the country in which they are officially based. As such, they’re legally bound to respond to subpoenas and warrants from law enforcement when requested.

Dedicated Cyberattacks

If someone targets you specifically and is willing to put forth the effort, they’ll eventually get what they’re after. Having a solid cybersecurity plan in place can help.

Stop Malware or Ransomware

A VPN is designed to secure your online connections and data. It’s not engineered to protect your system from malicious software. Using antivirus and antimalware programs is always a smart move.

Provide 100% Anonymity

Given all the different ways someone can be identified online, a VPN alone won’t render you completely anonymous. With the vast resources of surveillance agencies such as the NSA, it’s likely quite difficult to ever achieve 100% online anonymity. Other methods could result in uncovering your online identity, but a VPN will protect your privacy very well, in most cases.

Speed Up Your Connection

When you’re using a VPN, a lot is going on in the background. Your computer is encrypting and decrypting packets of data, which are being routed through a remote server. All of this takes more time and processing power, which will ultimately affect your internet speed. Because your latency (or “ping”) is increasing, the speed at which you upload or download data will decrease. With higher-quality VPNs, the lag is barely noticeable, whereas others can cause a considerable slowdown. VPN speeds may also be limited by the type of device you’re using, your network, or due to your internet provider “throttling” VPN connections.

Final Thoughts

When the internet was first constructed, not a lot of thought was given to security or privacy. At first, it was merely a cluster of shared computers at research institutions. Computing power was so limited that any encryption could have made functionality extremely difficult, if not impossible. On the contrary, the primary focus was on openness, not on defense.

Today, most of us have a number of devices that connect to the web which are vastly more powerful than the top computers of the early days. But the internet hasn’t implemented many fundamental improvements. Only in the past few years has HTTPS become widespread, for example.

By and large, the responsibility lies on individuals to protect themselves. Antivirus apps and password managers can go a long way toward keeping you safer, but a VPN is a uniquely powerful tool that you should absolutely have in your personal security toolkit, especially in today’s connected world.

While a VPN isn’t an absolute necessity for using the web, it will provide you with better overall security, improved performance, remote access, and greater anonymity.

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 can 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 cyber-threats, including security risk assessments, email security solutions, web & DNS filtering, and next-generation firewalls. Call us today at 252.329.1382 to find out more about how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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What You Should Know About Data Privacy – And How To Get Started

What You Should Know About Data Privacy – And How To Get Started

Data privacy is an issue of significant concern in the digital age, in large part because data breaches keep occurring, revealing the personal data of millions of people worldwide. Even one isolated breach can have profound consequences. Individuals may be subjected to identity theft or blackmail, while companies might run the risk of financial losses as well as harm to public, investor, and customer trust.

It can be difficult to balance the need to utilize personal data for business purposes against an individual’s right to data privacy. In this article, we’ll explore the significance of data privacy, how it relates to data protection, which compliance regulations are centered around data privacy protection, and what you should be aware of when implementing a data privacy policy.

What Is Data Privacy, And Which Data Is Involved?

Data privacy, also referred to as information privacy, centers around how data should be gathered, stored, controlled, and shared with any third parties, along with complying with all applicable privacy laws.

To properly characterize data privacy, it’s helpful to specify precisely what is going to be protected. Several types of data that are customarily regarded as sensitive, both by the general public and by legal mandates, include:

  • Personally Identifiable Information (PII):  Data that could be utilized to identify, reach out to, or track down an individual, or to differentiate one person from another.
  • Personal Health Information (PHI):  Medical history, insurance information, and other private data accumulated by healthcare providers and could possibly be connected to a particular person.
  • Personally Identifiable Financial Information (PIFI):  Credit card numbers, bank account details, or other data regarding a person’s finances.
  • Student Records:  An individual’s grades, transcripts, class schedules, billing details, and other academic records.

More generally, in its “Guide to Protecting the Confidentiality of Personally Identifiable Information,” the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers the following examples of information that might be considered PII:

  • Name: Full name, maiden name, mother’s maiden name, or alias personal identification numbers, such as social security number (SSN), passport number, patient ID number, or a financial account or credit card number.
  • Address Information:  Street address or email address.
  • Personal Characteristics: Photographic images (particularly of the face or another distinctive characteristic), X-rays, fingerprints, or other biometric images or template data (e.g., retinal scans, voice signature, facial geometry, etc.).
  • Information About an Individual That’s Linked or Linkable to One of the Above: Date and/or place of birth; race; religion; activities; geographical indicators; and employment, education, financial, or medical information.

Which Data Is Not Subject to Data Privacy Concerns?

There are two main categories of data that aren’t subject to data privacy concerns:

  • Non-Sensitive PII: Information that is already in the public record, such as a phone book or online directory.
  • Non-Personally Identifiable Information: Data that can’t be used to identify an individual. Examples include device IDs and cookies. (Note: Some privacy laws consider cookies to be personal data, since they can leave traces that could be used in conjunction with other identifiers to reveal a person’s identity.)

Personal Data Protection and Privacy Regulations

Data breaches continue to make the news all too regularly, and the public realizes they’re gradually losing control over their confidential information. Industry research demonstrates that 71% of Americans occasionally or frequently worry about their personal data getting hacked, and that 8 in 10 U.S. adults are concerned about businesses’ ability to protect their financial and personal information.

In light of escalating public concerns, governments are tirelessly working to establish and improve privacy data protection laws. Indeed, the need to confront modern privacy issues and safeguard data privacy rights is a worldwide trend. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most noteworthy law, but a number of nations – including Brazil, India, and New Zealand – have instituted new privacy regulations or reinforced existing regulations to govern how personal data can be collected, maintained, used, disclosed, and disseminated.

Currently, there are a number of prominent U.S. federal privacy laws in effect which obstruct companies from improper transmission of personal data, each designed to address particular types of data. These include:

  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) / Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH): Intended to secure personal health information.
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA): Limited to financial information.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA): Protects children’s privacy by enabling parents to manage what information is collected.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Safeguards students’ personal information.
  • Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA): Regulates the collection and use of consumer information.

 

Data Protection vs. Privacy Protection

Data privacy is closely connected to data protection. Both share the same goal: shielding sensitive data from breaches, cyberattacks, and unintentional or deliberate data loss. Whereas data privacy focuses on guidelines for how organizations may gather, store, and process confidential information, data protection concentrates on the security controls that take into account the confidentiality, integrity, and accessibility of information. Furthermore, data protection typically involves protecting not only personal information but other all-important data as well, including trade secrets and financial information.

Strictly speaking, data protection demands enacting policies, controls, and procedures to uphold data privacy guidelines, such as the following standards outlined in the ISO/IEC 29100 framework

  • Accountability
  • Accuracy and Quality
  • Collection Limitation
  • Consent and Choice
  • Data Minimization
  • Individual Participation and Access
  • Information Security
  • Openness, Transparency, and Notice
  • Privacy Compliance
  • Purpose Legitimacy and Specification
  • Use, Retention, and Disclosure Limitation

How to Get Started with Data Privacy Protection

Merely putting into action one or more data security technologies doesn’t assure that you will bring about total data privacy. Rather, when framing your data privacy protection policies, make sure to observe these best practices:

Know Your Data

It’s imperative to understand exactly what information is being gathered, how it’s being used, and whether it’s being hawked to or shared with third parties. Since various types of PII and their manifestations are unequal in value and some personal data can become sensitive in certain circumstances, you must classify your data by way of a quality data discovery and classification solution.

Take Control of Your Data Stores and Backups

Be sure not to retain personal data without a clear purpose. Establish retention policies and moderate personal data in line with its value and risk.

Manage and Control Risk

Data privacy protection has to incorporate periodic risk assessment. Rather than creating a framework from the ground up, you can implement one that’s already well-established, such as the NIST risk assessment framework defined in Special Publication SP 800-30.

Hold Periodic Training Sessions for Users

Ensure that employees are familiar with the subtleties of data privacy and security. Clarify privacy basics from the outset, specifying which devices can be employed when working with sensitive data and how this data may be transmitted and shared. Occasionally, it’s appropriate to advise personnel that they aren’t permitted to alter other people’s records, whether out of curiosity or for personal reasons, nor are they at liberty to take proprietary data with them when they part ways with the organization.

Final Thoughts

In times past, individuals’ personal data could be gathered discreetly and shared freely – but those days are gone. Now, any organization that collects and utilizes financial, health, and other personal information must manage that data with regards to its privacy.

By applying the best practices detailed above, your organization can establish a baseline privacy structure for becoming a conscientious and principled steward of personal data.

If you need help implementing a data privacy protection plan, DataGroup Technologies can help! Give us a call at 252.329.1382 today!

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Common-Sense Cybersecurity Considerations for Retail Businesses

Commonsense Cybersecurity Considerations for Retail Businesses

The recent holiday shopping season provided a target-rich environment for cyber-criminals. According to the 2020 Trustwave Global Security Report, retail was ranked as the most targeted industry for cyberattacks for the third consecutive year.

A mounting transformation toward a more digital environment – a development attributable in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic – hasn’t made data protection any easier, either.

In fact, as consumers continued to set online sales records throughout the course of 2020, hackers were taking advantage of this swell of opportunities to ply their trade.

Database security has also been a huge area of concern, even for the titans of e-commerce. Earlier in 2020, 8 million customer records belonging to sites like Amazon, eBay, Shopify, and PayPal were exposed as a result of database vulnerability.

All things considered, retailers need to be as prepared as possible for the ongoing surge of cyberattacks. In this article, we’ll take a look at a few key cybersecurity tips that can better equip your retail establishment against cyber-criminals.

Comply with Data Privacy Laws and Regulations

Spurred on by the success of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance program, 42 U.S. states and a host of other countries worldwide have instituted data privacy legislation. Most notable among these is the California Consumer Privacy Act, which went into effect in January 2020. This new legislation alone has given rise to over 50 lawsuits stemming from CCPA violations.

Ultimately, it’s crucial that retailers comply with all privacy regulations that lie within the purview of their operations. Enacting a privacy compliance awareness solution tailored toward retailers can help educate staff on how to work with customers directly, whether online or face-to-face, to better safeguard their personal information. 

Ensure That Employees Understand Your Cybersecurity Best Practices

Employees can represent the weakest link or the first line of defense with regard to an organization’s cybersecurity approach.

On the one hand, uninformed and ill-equipped employees lack the experience to consistently identify and deflect cyber-threats – consequently, they are more susceptible to being duped by phishing scams. These same inexpert employees may also be more vulnerable to having their equipment pilfered or compromised due to easily preventable bad habits.

Conducting risk-based security awareness training programs for retail organizations can prompt employees to embrace a more cyber-secure mentality and enrich information security initiatives rather than thwarting them.

No matter how secure a retailer’s IT infrastructure is or how recently they’ve upgraded their antivirus software, the human factor is a crucial step in protecting against cyberattacks.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication for Card-Based Transactions

On the heels of the 2013 Target breach – one that cost the retail giant a whopping $18.5 million in a multistate court settlement – U.S. retailers took aggressive steps toward implementing the EMV payment system which uses credit and debit cards with embedded chips requiring a PIN or signature in order to finalize the transaction.

Unfortunately, online retailers can’t benefit from the extra layers of security that come with these types of cards. Therefore, it’s essential that they make use of available multi-factor authentication (MFA) options in order to circumvent fraudulent activity.

Customized authentication methods – such as entering a unique alphanumeric code or completing a reCAPTCHA request – can help e-tailers give consumers a seamless, secure checkout process, ensuring peace of mind for both parties.

Analyze Your Site for the Presence of Malicious Code

With chip cards and MFA capabilities helping to impede data compromise at the point of sale, cybercriminals are coming up with new ways to seize users’ personal information during online CNP (card not present) transactions.

Cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs wrote about how bad actors are undermining e-commerce sites with malicious scripts – a practice sometimes referred to as “formjacking.” Krebs mentions a security vendor that reported seeing nearly a quarter of a million such incidents over the course of a single month.

Krebs suggests that retailers who want to ensure that their site is entirely devoid of malicious code can utilize an online source code viewer to securely inspect the HTML code on any webpage without having to render it in an internet browser.

Check Your Point-of-Sale (POS) Terminals and Network

If your retail business operates a physical shopping location, cybersecurity best practices – such as regularly examining carelessly staffed payment terminals at self-checkouts – is critical.

This practice helps verify whether or not skimmers – used to acquire consumers’ sensitive data such as personal identification numbers (PINs) or account details – have been affixed to your machines. It’s also wise to frequently assess your in-store Wi-Fi access point and your network for rogue devices that a hacker may have installed covertly.

Encrypt Your Data and Network

Even if you’ve done everything you can to keep customer data from being compromised, cybercriminals are constantly improving their schemes and techniques. A simple way to keep your data protected is to enable file and network encryption whenever and wherever possible.

When you encrypt the data, it will remain secure regardless of where it dwells – even if cybercriminals can access it. This extends as far as VPN protection for your work-related Wi-Fi network, a vital security layer for anyone interfacing with or transmitting confidential information over that connection.

Establish a Solid Recovery Plan

Even if you take every precaution outlined above, it’s conceivable that a cyberattack could still occur. To avert chaos and irreversible data loss, make sure that your organization has a robust, executable recovery plan at the ready. This type of strategy comprises data backup and system reset details, as well as aligning with internet or hosting service providers.

Final Thoughts

Despite the continuing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, retail businesses can and still will thrive, whether in-person, online, or both. Keeping these businesses cyber-secure is essential for both the organizations themselves and the overall economy.

By following the guidance delineated here, your retail establishment can be better protected against the persistent attacks of determined hackers. But you don’t have to go it alone.

DataGroup Technologies has a proven history of providing state-of-the-art cybersecurity services to its loyal customers. We can help your business as well. Reach out to us today by calling 252.329.1382 or by dropping us a line here. We can help you #SimplifyIT!

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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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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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