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

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

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

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

IN-HOUSE IT STAFF

Pros of Having an In-House IT Staff:

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

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

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

Cons Of Having an In-House IT Staff:

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

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

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

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

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

MANAGED IT SERVICES

Pros of Managed IT Services:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cons of Managed IT Services:

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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Why Your Business Must Take a Proactive Approach to IT

Why Your Business Must Take a Proactive Approach to IT

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT IS REACTIVE IT SUPPORT?

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

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

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

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

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

 

WHAT IS PROACTIVE IT SUPPORT?

Now, for the good news!

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

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

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

12 Advantages of Proactive IT Support Businesses

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

Early Detection of Problems

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

Increased Productivity

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

Upgraded Cybersecurity

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

Predictable Costs

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

Team of IT Professionals

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

Better Decision Making

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

Strategic Planning

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

Regular Updates & Patches

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

Regulatory Compliance

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

24/7/365 Monitoring

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

Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity

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

Around-the-Clock Help Desk Support

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do People Use Shadow IT?

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

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

Security Risks of Shadow IT

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

Data Loss

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

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

Unpatched Vulnerabilities and Errors

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

Compliance Issues

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

Business Risks of Shadow IT

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

Inefficiencies

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

Financial Risks

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

Low Entry Barrier

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

So, What’s The Solution?

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

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

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

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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)

Learning About VPN's

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 cyberthreats, 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 your 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, or 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.

Conclusion

When the internet was first being 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 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 a great deal of 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 cyberthreats, including security risk assessments, email security solutions, web and DNS filtering, and next-generation firewalls. Give us a call today at 252.329.1382 to find out more about how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recognize the Basic Signs of Phishing Scams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combat Phishing By Calling the Sender

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

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

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

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

Lock Down Your Personal Information

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

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

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

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

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

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12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

12 Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

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

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

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

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

What is VoIP & How Does It Work?

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

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

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

 

Key Benefits of VoIP for Small Businesses

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

1) Excellent Call Quality

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

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

2) Multifunctionality

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

3) Flexibility

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

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

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

 

4) Security

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

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

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

5) Accessibility

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

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

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

6) Automated Assistance

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

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

7) Call Recording Service

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

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

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

8) Increased Productivity

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

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

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

9) Cost Effectiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

10) Simplicity

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

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

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

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

11) Scalability

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

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

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

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

12) Competitive Advantage

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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7 Steps to Securing Your Business Website

7 Steps To Securing Your Business Website

by Cody McBride

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

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

Hire Expert Support

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

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

Educate Your Team

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

Install SSL

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

Use Anti-Malware Software

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

Run Software Updates

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

Back Up Your Data

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

Be Aware of Scams

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

 

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

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Are Your Credentials On The Dark Web?

Are Your Credentials On The Dark Web?

Would you hand over your password to a complete stranger to log in to your bank or investment account? What about your email or other cloud service account?

Obviously, no one wants to voluntarily surrender their credentials to crucial accounts such as these. But every day, many users – potentially even your customers or team members – may be doing something equally as perilous.

We’re constantly being admonished not to use the same password for multiple accounts. At the same time, having an ever-increasing number of applications means also managing an escalating number of accounts.

Recalling individual passwords can be a hassle – if not implausible. A password manager can help. Ultimately, though, the most formidable threat of all is credential exposure.

What Is Credential Exposure?

Credential exposure is when a company in possession of your login information is breached – that is, personally identifiable information is publicly disclosed – and the attacker is able to access these account records.

If maintained inappropriately by the company being breached, those accounts can be laid bare, giving the attacker easy access to your login information.

Due to the fact that most applications now default to an email address for the username, and many people reuse the same password across countless applications, it’s not difficult to see how this can swiftly wreak havoc.

All of this may well leave you speculating about what steps you can take to defend yourself from dark web breaches. Here are a few commonsense approaches to keep your assets protected.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication

The first thing you can do to safeguard your credentials is to implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) on any account that supports it. Resign yourself to using that authenticator app regularly – the additional time spent during logins will outweigh the time you’ll spend recovering from a data exposure which results in a compromised account.

There are a variety of free and paid options, including Microsoft’s Authenticator app, which harmonizes with the Office 365 and Azure infrastructure that many organizations are already using. This is the first of many measures to take and should be standard operating procedure in your office. 

Use A Secure Password Manager

While there is a degree of risk connected with storing all your credentials in a single location, the benefit of having the password manager create and remember strong passwords is worth that risk for most users.

In addition, many password managers provide the means to safely share a password with another user, detect who has gained access to a password, and make sure that you are aware of which passwords need to be updated in the event that someone who has previously accessed a password leaves your company.

Perform A Dark Web Scan

There are a number of tools available that can execute a dark web scan – i.e., searching the results of publicly shared data breaches where credentials were exposed. Not only can these resources notify you of any exposures associated with your email account, they can also make you aware of the password which was exposed so that you know to refrain from using that one in the future.

Ensure That Your Product Set Is Secure

You need to ensure that the software you use with your clients is secure. Solutions such as single sign-on (SSO) allow you to access a specific program’s entire suite of products via one secure login, making it easier for you to set up and connect products, as well as manage your account.

Don’t Recycle Compromised Passwords

Lastly, it’s essential to bear in mind: if your credentials have been revealed publicly, you can never use that password again. Once that password is part of a public list – particularly one that’s associated with your email address – you can safely assume that it will also be included in a future attack.

If you use passwords similar to the one that was compromised, you’ll need to change those, too. The risk is too great to even contemplate reusing it; and any other account that uses the same password should be immediately updated as well.

Keep in mind that this isn’t personal. You may not have been the cause of the exposure, but that credential is now public. There’s no indignity in something you can’t control, but taking appropriate action after the fact is the only way to defend yourself going forward.

Final Thoughts

Keep these tips in mind when using and reviewing your login credentials in order to protect your assets from exposure on the dark web. Remember, every precaution you take today is one less risk to manage later.

Are you curious to find out whether your credentials are already on the dark web? We can perform a dark web scan for you! Call us at 252.329.1382 or visit dtinetworks.com today to see how we can help you #SimplifyIT!

 

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An earlier version of this article appeared on the ConnectWise blog.

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Don’t Let Your Employees Become Your Biggest Vulnerability!

Don’t Let Your Employees Become Your Biggest Vulnerability

A couple of years ago, TechRepublic ran a story with the following headline: “Employees Are Almost As Dangerous to Business As Hackers and Cybercriminals.” From the perspective of the business, you might think that’s simply inaccurate. Your company strives to hire the best people it can find – people who are good at their jobs and would never dream of putting their own employer at risk.

And yet, many employees do – and it’s almost always unintentional. Your employees aren’t thinking of ways to compromise your network or trying to put malware or ransomware on company computers, but it happens. One Kaspersky study found that 52% of businesses recognize that their employees are “their biggest weakness in IT security.” 

Where does this weakness come from? It stems from several different things and varies from business to business – but a big chunk of it comes down to employee behavior.

Human Error

We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, some mistakes can have serious consequences. Here’s an example: an employee receives an e-mail from their boss. The boss wants the employee to buy several gift cards and then send the gift card codes to them as soon as possible. The message may say, “I trust you with this,” and work to build urgency within the employee.

The problem is that it’s fake. A scammer is using an e-mail address similar to what the manager, supervisor, or other company leader might use. It’s a phishing scam, and it works. While it doesn’t necessarily compromise your IT security internally, it showcases gaps in employee knowledge. 

Another common example, also through email, is for cybercriminals to send files or links that install malware on company computers. The criminals once again disguise the email as a legitimate message from someone within the company, a vendor, a bank, or another company the employee may be familiar with. 

It’s that familiarity that can trip up employees. All criminals have to do is add a sense of urgency, and the employee may click the link without giving more thought.

Carelessness

This happens when an employee clicks a link without thinking. It could be because the employee doesn’t have training to identify fraudulent e-mails or the company might not have a comprehensive IT security policy in place. 

Another form of carelessness is unsafe browsing habits. When employees browse the web – whether it’s for research or anything related to their job or for personal use – they should always do so in the safest way possible. Tell employees to avoid navigating to “bad” websites and to not click any link they can’t verify (such as ads). 

Bad websites are fairly subjective, but one thing any web user should look for is the presence of “https” at the beginning of any web address. The “s” tells you the site is secure. If that “s” is not there, the website lacks proper security. If you input sensitive data into that website – such as your name, e-mail address, contact information, or financial information – you cannot verify the security of that information, and it may end up in the hands of cybercriminals. 

Another example of carelessness is poor password management. It’s common for people to use simple passwords and to reuse those same passwords across multiple websites. If your employees are doing this, it can put your business at a huge risk. If hackers get ahold of any of those passwords, who knows what they might be able to access. A strict password policy is a must for every business.

Turn Weakness Into Strength

The best way to overcome the human weakness in your IT security is education. An IT security policy is a good start, but it must be enforced and understood. Employees need to know what behaviors are unacceptable, but they also need to be aware of the threats that exist. They need resources they can count on as threats arise so that they can be dealt with properly. Working with a trusted managed services provider or IT services firm may be the answer – they can help you lay the foundation to turn this weakness into a strength.

Final Thoughts

DataGroup Technologies provides businesses of all sizes with security awareness and best practices training. Our goal is to make sure that your staff can identify threats and remain proactive. Knowledge is power, and well-informed employees can serve as a human firewall for your organization. For more information about our security awareness training solutions, please call us at 252.329.1382 or drop us a line here!

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