Weighing the Risks of Using a Free Email Account for Business

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

In 15 years of serving business clients, I have seen free email accounts such as MSN, Yahoo and Gmail get hacked dozens of times.  So much, that I do not recommend using free email accounts for business purposes.  Having said that, some of my clients choose to use these accounts because of the obvious upside: it’s free.  All business owners have to make hard choices about where they are going to spend money and free email can be very alluring.  I respect that-just go into it with eyes wide open.  Know the risks. I want to give you an insider look into why these email accounts are an attractive target for hackers, explain common tricks that we see hackers use to exploit these accounts, and share best practices for decreasing your risk if you choose to use a free email service.

Why Free Email Accounts are an Attractive Target for Hackers

Ironically, the thing that makes free email accounts a hot target for hackers is the same thing that makes them attractive for consumers: they are free.  Hackers know what good data security looks like on the back end and they know very well that it’s not free.  Manpower and sophisticated firewalls are necessary to protect sensitive business data. In this model you are getting what you pay for, so those resources are slim at best.

Tricks that Hackers Use

 Before we go into a recent example from one of our clients, I want to give you a couple definitions:

Phishing: the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Spoofing: the act of disguising a communication, usually email, from an unknown source as being from a known, trusted source. You can usually identify.

a spoofed email by looking at the header of the email.

We recently had a business client with an MSN account that got hacked. The hacker attempted to steal to both money and credit card information by reroute the payment of invoices.  This is a common phishing scheme with hacked email accounts.  First, they identified where legitimate invoices were being emailed out by the company.  Then, followed-up with illegitimate emails explaining a change in their payment processing and requesting that the payer simply “click this link” to pay the invoice. Scary! The hacker’s follow-up email was spoofed so it appeared as though it was coming from the business owner.  The emails could not be found in the account’s “sent items” folder so the business owner had no way of detecting this activity until they were alerted by a payer who called to confirm the change in their payment process.

Best Practices for Decreasing Your Risk of Being Hacked

I want to reiterate that I do not recommend using a free email account for business purposes.  I include this discussion, not to endorse their use but because I know many small businesses use these types of accounts and there are a few ways to decrease the risks.

Password is king! Your password MUST be very strong and unique to the email account! It should not include your dog’s name, your brother’s name, your old phone number, social security number, birthday or any other name or number that is or has ever been associated with you.  It should not even include any word that can be found in the English dictionary.  See below for how to generate long randomized passwords that are easy to remember.

Keep in mind that free email servers are a hot target for hackers, so making sure your password is unique to the email account adds another measure of security. If this one gets hacked, you will minimize the damage to your other accounts and the headache of having to change all passwords for all accounts.

If you get hacked and lose control of your password there are no deep pockets for customer service with free email accounts, so recovering your email is an impossibility.  The only option is to abandon the hacked account and create a new email.  As for the money lost to hacker schemes and headache of notifying your clients to the change in email, you are on your own.

Tech Tip: Generating Strong Passwords-Randomized, Long, Memorable.

An easy way to generate long secure passwords that look random, but are memorable, is to think of a sentence that means something to you, then use it to generate a password.  For example, the key sentence “I ate ice cream daily in Rome in June 2000,” easily generates a 14 digit password: “I8icdiRi6.2000.”  If you can remember or write the sentence, you can remember the password.

If you are using a free email service such as MSN, Yahoo or Gmail for business purposes such as sending invoices, there are more secure options. Your Computer Hero has been providing IT consulting  to small businesses in the Twin Cities since 2004, we have expert technicians on staff to answer your questions and facilitate a smooth transition.  Call our shop at 763-229-4467 today to discuss options.

 

 

Guest Article: Get The Lettuce

As a provider of IT services  and computer repair for the Twin Cities business community we often run across interesting and helpful stories for our clients.  In this guest post, Jennifer Wagner, Downtown Design, teaches through engaging storytelling in her signature style.

I was at a Mexican fast food chain during a very busy dinner rush. It’s an assembly line restaurant where employees build your burrito or other entrée per your requests. It was a really busy Tuesday evening and they were running out of salsa, cheese and lettuce all at the same time. It was a bit of chaos, but the employees in the assembly line were handling it pretty well. But then it happened. The line stopped moving. There was no more lettuce. Lettuce is the last ingredient you can add before paying. Then I hear, “Can someone get the lettuce?” After several people said no because they were too busy, one employee who recognized that someone needed to get the lettuce, cheerfully exclaimed, “I’ll get the lettuce.” Within 15 seconds, there was lettuce and the line started moving again and you could almost hear the dollars accumulating in the bank account again.

It took less time for one person to stop what they were doing and get the lettuce then it did for all the others to say no. All the while the business was at a standstill. It took one person to get the lettuce. Lettuce. Something so simple but yet stopped the business in its tracks.

Imagine if it were that simple to get your business moving and hear the sound of dollars filling up your bank account. Well, it is. That lettuce is digital marketing and we at Downtown Design are willing to get the lettuce.

Marketing your business involves a lot of storytelling and consumer engagement. Regardless of the media used, the most successful websites and marketing campaigns take the audience on a journey and keep them engaged.

The story I told you is true and happened nearly four years ago. For four years I have never forgotten about it and I use the metaphor of getting the lettuce often because sometimes, the solution to a problem is sitting right in front of us but we get so caught up in everything else, we forget to focus on what really matters.

What sets Downtown Design apart is not only are we willing to get the lettuce, we are willing to find it, wash it, chop it up, and prepare it for serving. We sit down with you and identify what problem you’re trying to solve, then we develop the solution and put it in to action. Why wouldn’t you want that for your business?

Are you curious what happened to the employee who got the lettuce? There’s a happy ending for him that you would never guess. If you want to know the rest of the story, give me a call at 612-741-1619 or send me an email at Jennifer@DowntownDesignWeb.com.

Guest article provided by Jennifer  Wagner.  Jennifer is an account executive for Downtown Design a website design, SEO, social media, and digital marketing agency. Jennifer brings extensive experience in brand marketing, storytelling, photography, event planning and public relations to the digital marketing team at Downtown Design. In her spare time, she plays taxi driver to her 16-yr-old daughter and twin 13-yr-old boys who are currently running between club volleyball, baseball training and theater. In her extra spare time, you’ll find Jennifer on the golf course with her husband of 20 years or on the volleyball court. Jennifer was re-elected during the 2018 election and started her second term on the Elk River City Council.  Check us out: DowntownDesignWeb.com

 

 

5 Things That Can Harm Your Computer

A little extra care can go a long way in extending the life of a computer.  Here are five common things that people do to inadvertently cause harm to their computer.  Small changes in these areas can save you money on repair bills and extend the life of your desktop or laptop:

  1. Blocking Computer Vents-The computer’s vents help keep the machine cool and operating at maximum capacity. Placing a desktop computer very close to a wall, or even placing a laptop on your lap can block the vents.  Overheating can cause your computer to shut down unexpectedly and can even damage internal circuitry.
  2. Cleaning With Liquids-Liquid cleaning solutions can get in under the edges of the screen and cause corrosion, while detergents can damage the coating on the screen. Clean the screen safely by use in a dry microfiber cloth, just like cleaning the lenses of glasses.
  3. Pushing the DVD or CD Tray to Close It-The button that opens and closes this mechanism is there because applying force to the delicate parts that make it work may break with excessive or repeated pressure. While it may seem easier and quicker to give it a shove-use the button!
  4. Restarting while Installing New Software or Updates-This is one thing that will definitely create a “user generated” repair bill. Getting impatient and pushing the power button to shut your computer down during updates or software installation is a very bad idea.  Usually, it is just taking longer than expected.  Be patient, walk away for a while and you will likely come back to find your computer humming happily-prompting you to restart once the updates are complete.
  5. Putting Unnecessary Pressure a Laptop’s Power Port– The power port is where the laptop’s power source plugs into the computer. This area can take a lot of ware and tare because of frequent plugging and unplugging. When the computer is plugged in, make sure that the cord is not stretched to the wall or that the box in the middle of the power cord is not hanging in mid-air off a desk or table.  This can put sideways pressure on that port and break the housing that holds the port in place from the inside.

Your Computer Hero has been providing computer repair in Ramsey, MN since 2004.  If you have a computer repair question, we invite you to call our shop at 763-229-4467 or stop into our shop across from Coborn’s in downtown Ramsey.

 

March: Shiny New Gadget of the Month

Tech Gadgets that Improve Productivity, Security or Efficiency in the Workplace

eyeDisk: Unhackable USB Flash Drive

The concept is pretty simple; use your iris rather than a cumbersome passwords. Research has shown that iris recognition is more secure than facial recognition and fingerprint encryption.

eyeDisk is compatible with Windows and Mac. There’s no password to log through ever, you just need to look at a mirror on the side of the device while it scans your iris.

It is scheduled to be released in March 2019 with a starting price of $59 plus shipping for the 32GB version and $99 for the 128GB, prices are likely to go up once the early bird offer ends.

It’s always fun to see what’s next in technology innovation!  Your Computer Hero is an IT consulting company that helps business increase profit by leveraging technology for increased productive, security and efficiency since 2004.  If you are looking for ways to shift your business in high performance gear call Your Computer Hero today at 763-229-4467.

 

Questions that MUST be Answered BEFORE Purchasing a Software Package to Run Your Business

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

In a perfect world, software sales people would be focused on providing the correct and necessary products to move your business into high performance mode.  However, I sometimes see them lining their own pockets by using half-truths to get in the door only to send the business owner on a roller coaster ride of surprise costs and up-sells thereafter.  

Over the years, I have seen these decisions cost business thousands of extra dollars unnecessarily. I want to give you an inside look into the ways I have seen these big money decisions go wrong, explore some common sales traps and arm you with ways to avoid costly mistakes when making software purchases. Due diligence and smart questions to the software sales person will go a long way in mitigating the risks of these purchases and keep a software sales rep working FOR YOU rather then bleeding your business dry with unnecessary costs.

Due diligence on the following three points and getting a knowledgeable IT professional involved BEFORE the software purchase WILL save you an enormous amount of money and headache in these big money decisions:

The specifications of your current server must be weighed against the requirements of the proposed software.

A good salesman will not sell you their package without first asking detailed questions about your infrastructure to support it.  An unscrupulous or untrained one will sell you the package without knowing. Then, when you call them to discuss problems with implementation, they will offer you software as a service (SaaS) for a large monthly fee.  There is nothing wrong with SaaS, as long as it fits your business model and the cost can be justified.  But, if it’s a large additional cost and you still have to keep a local server, other options must be weighed.

In one recent case, a business spent $20,000 on a software suite to run the entire backbone of their operation only to find that their server was under-powered to run the package.  Since these issues were discovered after the initial software purchase, the company was forced to choose between paying a large monthly fee for SaaS or make a major server upgrade, an unwelcome surprise with a huge price tag.

The specifications of your current desktops must be weighed against the requirements of the proposed software.

Similar to the server example, the specifications of each computer that will utilize the new software must be checked against the software specifications.

We are currently working with a company on a large software upgrade that includes the replacement of three desktop computers.  Most of the computers in their network were well able to handle the upgrade while three of them were not.  Since this was discovered in the planning process, the cost of the three desktops could be built into the project budget-no surprises.

When software companies sell the software pre-loaded on a server, understand the specifications of the server being purchased.

Always ask the software vendor if the software can be purchased separate from the server.  If so, make a comparison between the software only and the software loaded server so you know exactly how much you are paying for that server.  In my experience, these servers are very basic models and the markup on them is ginormous.  The perceived value of this is high for the business owner because of the apparent simplicity of it, however you are usually overpaying for the server by several thousand dollars-in some cases, tens of thousands of dollars.

At Your Computer Hero, we keep detailed documentation on our clients’ networks and have highly skilled business IT consultants on staff, which makes this type of analysis relatively simple.  Since 2004, we have been helping business “right-size” their software purchases and avoid these expensive sales traps. Including us in your software purchasing decisions at the planning phase will assure that you avoid surprise costs and expensive nightmares associated with big money software upgrades.   If you are planning a software upgrade, call Your Computer Hero today.

 

Guest Article: Preparing for and Investing in a Dwindling Workforce

As a provider of IT services to the business community we often run across interesting and helpful stories for our clients.  In this guest post, Richard Sontarre, Community Resource Partners, discusses the cause of shortages in the workforce and what to do about it.

Employment variants between Baby Boomers, Gen X’s and Millennial’s can create a unique challenge in hiring, training and team building within your business.

Recent employment data released may cause further concerns over a quality and productivity of our workforce. Minnesota employers reported a record 142,282 job vacancies in Q2 2018, up 15.7% from the same period a year earlier, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). DEED’s biannual job vacancy survey found that the state had 0.6 unemployed people for every job vacancy. The job vacancy rate was 5.2 percent, meaning there were 5.2 openings for every 100 jobs in the state. The number of unemployed people per vacancy was a record low, while the job vacancy rate was a record high. These figures reflect a strong economy and high demand for labor statewide. At the same time, they underscore the need for continued investment in training programs, specifically for Minnesotans on the economic sidelines.

If the number of workers looking to fill positions concerns you, consider this; according to AARP, 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every single day, and this is expected to continue into the 2030s. This means that nearly 7 baby boomers are turning 65 every minute. In Minnesota, the number of baby boomers becoming seniors is expected to double over the next 20 years as an additional 784,000 cross the 65-year mark. In the same time period, our working-age population (16-64) is projected to shrink by about 5%, or 170,000 people. That creates an estimated net loss of 954,000 workers.

As such, significant consideration will need to be given to ideas such as utilization of consultants and contractors, plus investing into your own training and development programs to secure and incentivize available, but under skilled, employment candidates.

Community Resource Partners, specializing in image, branding and operations would like to be a tool in your toolbox of success.

Guest article provided by Richard Sontarre, Richard has been consulting in government and business agencies for over 20 years.  His areas of experience have included lobbying, campaigning, branding individuals and businesses, coalition building and operational analysis.  Richard has worked corporately for national and worldwide corporations in the areas of employee relations, operations, leasing and public affairs. Outside of work Richard is a Head Coach for three high school teams and serves as President and Director of Coaching for a youth soccer club.

 

 

Shiny New Gadget of the Month: February

Moov New Fitness Tracker

At Your Computer Hero, we love technology.  Here is one employee’s pick for best tech gadget:

Moov Now is an odd little wearable in a wearable world where the screen is king, this unremarkable disc does not have a display, yet still contains a huge amount of power.

It’s got nearly all the top elements a fitness tracker should have: months of battery life, step tracking, sleep monitoring, fitness updates, cross training and run coaching.  The best part: it. retails on Amazon for only $55.

The Moov Now may not have all the bells and whistles you would associate with a fitness tracker but the six-month battery life is pretty impressive.  Yes, you read that right: six months.

During those six months you can track your steps, your sleep, your fitness, your running technique and a whole lot more. This may be an unconventional fitness tracker, but it’s a great one.

 

Clean Desk Practices to Keep Your Information Safe

Our cubicles and desks can start to feel like home after a while.  It’s great to add that personal touch to our workspace, but it’s important to not let general cyber-safety practices slide no matter how comfortable we feel in our space.

Don’t Write Passwords on Post-It Notes

Don’t write passwords on post-it notes and stick them to your computer monitor (or under your keyboard.)  Writing down passwords is not a great idea in general, but if you do, make sure no one else can find them.

Lock your computer when you’re away from your desk

This is an important rule.  Leaving your computer open when you leave your desk, even for a few minutes, leaves it susceptible to data theft.  Not only can someone access the network, but they may gain access to confidential employee and client records or company financial information.

Secure portable devices

Make sure laptops and other portable devices are locked in a drawer at the end of the night.  This will prevent theft and unauthorized login.

Clear sensitive documents from desk

Documents containing sensitive information shouldn’t be left on an unattended desk.  Make sure paperwork and USB drives are locked up when not in use.

Shut down your computer workstation at the end of the day.

Turning off a computer not only reduces the risk of unauthorized login, but it can help preserve the life of the computer.  When the computer is on, the hard drive is still active, the fans still run and use electricity.  Turning off the computer allows it to install updates and will make it run faster-think of how often you solve a glitchy computer problem by rebooting.

 

Guest Article: Rapid Growth Through Joint Venture Partnership, Iron Shoe Farm

As a provider of IT services to the business community we often run across interesting and helpful stories for our clients.  In this guest post, Carla Martz, owner of Iron Shoe Farm shares their secret sauce for rapid growth:

In five short years, we have grown a hobby farm for personal sustainability into Iron Shoe Farm, a large supplier of produce for consumers and restaurants in the central Minnesota region.

In 2005, our daughter became severely ill with roto virus: a horrible gastral intestinal infection.  Upon returning home from the hospital, my entire pantry was on the kitchen counter. No soy, no gluten, nothing pre-boxed, only fresh fruits, veggies, and clean protein sources were allowed.  I was horrified and struggling to find local, economical food sources. This is when we decided to pursue our dream of a hobby farm.

In 2013, we finally found our property.  A modest farm with a big red barn nestled on 23 acres just east of Princeton, MN.  It was just the right size for what we wanted to do for our family: raise our own meat, have a garden with produce, fresh eggs daily and a great piece of land to call home.

Our vision began to expand when I was discussing our new lifestyle with my chiropractor and I sold my first quarter of beef at that appointment!  Additionally, this local chiropractor lead me to her source for business referrals, inspiration and networking: a powerful group of local business owners and community leaders who meet weekly to generate business for each other.  This group has been the surprising cornerstone of our marketing ever since.

We have continued to expand the boundaries of our vision as we have learned to create powerful joint venture relationships:

  • We now sell at 3 farmers markets and have over 500 direct consumers.
  • We grow and sell microgreens to 20 restaurants in the Twin Cities metro area.
  • Our big red barn has become a secondary location for Rockwood’s events. It is the first event location on agricultural property in Sherburne County!
  • We have been blessed by relationships with Aegir Brewery and Lupulin Brewery. Their spent grains are a feed supplement for our livestock. This partnership saves us nearly $10,000 annually and is shared with other local farmers. As part of this sustainability effort, I serve on the MN brewers guild sustainability council.
  • We’ve partnered with local photographers to utilize our property for on-site mini-sessions.
  • We’ve created partnerships with local master gardener programs and school systems, including University of Minnesota (UMN) students to fulfill their internship hours for course work on “Sustainability in Poultry Raising,” and “Living on the Land” series with UMN Extension.

One of the most important things I have learned in business: I cannot do everything myself!  The most rapid and cost-effective growth can be achieved through joint venture relationships.  This has been the key to our rapid growth and success at Iron Shoe Farm.

Guest article provided by Carla Mertz, Owner of Iron Shoe Farm just north of the Twin Cities. Iron Shoe Farm is a woman owned, Minnesota Grown farm; providing Hereford beef, chicken, heritage and mangalista pork, muscovy duck, Mighty Microgreens, and vegetable produce. We pride ourselves on providing a quality food source for the local communities in Sherburne, Wright, Anoka, Hennepin and Mille Lacs Counties and work with the executive chef in over 20 area restaurants.  Visit us at: www.ironshoefarm.com

 

Shiny New Gadget Of The Month: January

XY4+ Tracking Device

At Your Computer Hero, we love technology.  Here is one employee’s pick for best tech gadget.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you never had to  waste time looking for missing items-keys, cats, children-again?  This cool tech gadget  gets two thumbs up!

  • FIND YOUR LOST ITEMS Whether you’re looking for your keys, wallet, luggage, or making sure Snuggles doesn’t escape the fortress, this tiny yet powerful bluetooth key finder and tracking device easily secures to whatever you don’t want to lose.
  • EASY TO USE ANDROID & iOS APP – You can use the XY Find It app to see where your item was last spotted, and then make your XY4+ ring so you can track it down without even seeing it. But what happens if you lose your phone? Just press the XY logo to make your phone ring – even if it’s on silent!
  • GET NOTIFIED BEFORE THINGS GO MISSING – XY’s KeepNear technology alerts you when you leave important things behind, or when lost items re-enter the range of your phone. You can even setup a specific area for, say, your kid or Snuggles, and if they leave that area, you will get an alert.
  • 2X RANGE, 4X VOLUME, 5X BATTERY LIFE – The XY4+ key tracker is four times louder, has double the range (300 feet), and an incredible battery life of up to 5 years compared to other tracking devices on the market.