About Jenna MacLennan

Nerdy Talk: How to Communicate with Your IT Guy to Save Money and Get it Fixed Fast…And How He Should Respond.

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero 

I am going to give the answer right here in the first sentence: As calm as possible, explain the facts of the problem in the simplest, most non-technical terms Sound simple?

The reality is, amid a frustrating and costly technology failure, good communication is usually the first thing to exit the building.  This is normal and expected!  Any IT professional worth their weight will be able to skillfully navigate through communication under pressure-this is the “art” of our business, the rest is mostly science.  In the remainder of this article I am going to share the five communication principles that I expect our Tech Heroes to employ under pressure to help them stay laser focused on finding and fixing technology problems fast.  I have developed them through 15 years and over 16,000 conversations about technology problems.

Principle #1:  Get over it!  Blustery talk on the part of a frustrated technology user comes with the territory, stay calm.  IT problems stop workflow and cost money. This can be extremely frustrating and can raise the ire of even the calmest CEO.  The IT professional must weather the storm of this frustration and stay focused on gathering facts and solving the problems.  Becoming offended or emotionally involved in the problem does not make for good IT problem solving.  Stay Calm! From the moment the conversation begins, listen intently for facts, and get to work!

 

Principle #2: Respect! Respect the client’s IT knowledge.  Company CEO’s have all levels of IT knowledge.  Some have vast IT knowledge but hire a consultant so they can remain focused on other things, while others do not want to tackle even the simplest IT problem.  Either way, the client’s attitudes about the problem and depth of interest in the solutions must become part of the communication and solution.

 

Principle #3: No Nerdy Talk! Keep all talk in layman’s terms.  Everyone understands plain English.  No technical terms, it confuses people and reeks of pride-violating principle #2.

 

Principle #4: Stay Out of the Rabbit Holes! Understand the difference between theories and facts.  Often, a frustrated potential client will call after investing their own time and energy in an attempt to fix their technology problem.  The client will usually share a couple of theories about what is causing the problem  or how to fix it.  These theories are often plausible, they’re always informative, but they also contain some of the biggest time wasting “rabbit holes” to efficient problem solving.  Questioning should be directed at facts: “What error message are you seeing?”, “What exactly do you see when you turn on your computer?,” etc.

 

Principle #5: Stay relevant!  When a CEO says, “I don’t want to know anything,” there is still relevant insight to be gained from the technology failure that will help them run their business. “I don’t want to know anything,” means they don’t want to know how to fix the technology problem.  They certainly want to know if there is something they can do to avoid this problem in the future such as having different software, different hardware, or different training for employees.

 

The communication gap between IT professionals and non-IT professionals is so cliché, it has become the fodder for many good jokes in our culture.  Our goal at Your Computer Hero is to take the art of communication seriously and hone our ability to gather relevant facts that lead to efficient fixes for our clients.

 

 

 

  

June: Shiny New Gadget of the Month

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

One of the most annoying things about running a business is keeping track of all those receipts!  Here’s where Doxie Go SE, the portable scanner, comes in.

Scan your paper documents, receipts or photos, and send them to your computer or cloud service in a split second. Doxie Go SE is compact, lightweight and doesn’t take up more space than a rolled up magazine, so you can bring it with you anywhere. Its rechargeable battery will last you for up to 400 scans per charge.

Don’t have a computer with you? Not a problem for Doxie Go SE. No drivers are required – just insert your document and scan. Doxie Go SE will save the scans on its expandable SD card or send them straight to your e-mail or favorite cloud app.  Doxi Go SE retails for about $150.00 on Amazon.

 

Don’t Be a Sitting Duck! 7 Security Measures Every Small Business Should Have in Place Now!

Small businesses are under attack. Right now, extremely dangerous and well-funded cybercrime rings in China, Russia and the Ukraine are using sophisticated software systems to hack into thousands of small businesses to steal credit cards and client information, and swindle money directly out of bank accounts. Some are even being funded by their own government to attack small, virtually defenseless businesses.

 

Don’t think you’re in danger because you’re “small” and not a big target like a J.P. Morgan or Home Depot?

 

Think again. 82,000 NEW malware threats are being  released every single day and HALF of the cyber-attacks occurring are aimed  at small businesses; you just don’t hear about it because it’s kept quiet for  fear of attracting bad PR, lawsuits and data-breach fines.

 

In fact, the National Cyber Security Alliance reports that one in five small businesses have been victims of cybercrime in the last year – and that number is growing rapidly as more businesses utilize cloud computing and mobile devices, and store more information online.  You can’t turn on the TV or read a newspaper without learning about the latest online data breach, and government fines and regulatory agencies are growing in number and severity.

 

Because of all of this, it’s critical that you have these 7 security measures in place:

 

1.Train Employees On Security Best Practices. The #1 vulnerability for business networks are the employees using them. It’s extremely common for an employee to infect an entire network by opening and clicking a phishing e-mail (that’s an e-mail cleverly designed to look like a legitimate e-mail from a web site or vendor you trust). If they don’t know how to spot infected e-mails or online scams, they could compromise your entire network.

 

2. Create An Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) – And Enforce It! An AUP outlines how employees are permitted to use company-owned PCs, devices, software, Internet access and e-mail. We strongly recommend putting a policy in place that limits the web sites employees can access with work devices and Internet connectivity. Further, you have to enforce your policy with content-filtering software and firewalls. We can easily set up permissions and rules that will regulate what web sites your employees access and what they do online during company hours and with company-owned devices, giving certain users more “freedom” than others. Having this type of policy is particularly important if your employees are using their own personal devices to access company e-mail and data.  If that employee is checking unregulated, personal e-mail on their own laptop that infects that laptop, it can be a gateway for a hacker to enter YOUR network. If that employee leaves, are you allowed to erase company data from their phone?  If their phone is lost or stolen, are you permitted to remotely wipe the device – which would delete all of that employee’s photos, videos, texts, etc. – to ensure YOUR clients’ information isn’t compromised? Further, if the data in your organization is highly sensitive, such as patient records, credit card information, financial information and the like, you may not be legally permitted to allow employees to access it on devices that are not secured; but that doesn’t mean an employee might not innocently “take work home.” If it’s a company-owned device, you need to detail what an employee can or cannot do with that device, including “rooting” or “jailbreaking” the device to circumvent security mechanisms you put in place.

3. Require STRONG passwords and passcodes to lock mobile devices. Passwords should be at least 8 characters, randomized and contain lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols and at least one number. On a cell phone, requiring a passcode to be entered will go a long way toward preventing a stolen device from being compromised. Again, this can be ENFORCED by your network administrator so employees don’t get lazy and choose easy-to-guess passwords, putting your organization at risk.

 

4. Keep Your Network Up-To-Date. New vulnerabilities are frequently found in common software programs you are using, such as Microsoft Office; therefore it’s critical you patch and update your systems frequently. If you’re under a managed IT plan, this can all be automated for you so you don’t have to worry about missing an important update.

 

5. Have An Excellent Backup. This can foil the most aggressive (and new) ransomware attacks, where a hacker locks up your files and holds them ransom until you pay a fee. If your files are backed up, you don’t have to pay a crook to get them back. A good backup will also protect you against an employee accidentally (or intentionally!) deleting or overwriting files, natural disasters, fire, water damage, hardware failures and a host of other data-erasing disasters. Again, your backups should be AUTOMATED and monitored; the worst time to test your backup is when you desperately need it to work!

 

6. Don’t allow employees to download unauthorized software or files. One of the fastest ways cybercriminals access networks is by duping unsuspecting users to willfully download malicious software by embedding it within downloadable files, games or other “innocent”-looking apps. This can largely be prevented with a good firewall and employee training and monitoring.

 

7. Don’t Scrimp On A Good Firewall. A firewall acts as the frontline defense against hackers blocking everything you haven’t specifically allowed to enter (or leave) your computer network. But all firewalls need monitoring and maintenance, just like all devices on your network. This too should be done by your IT person or company as part of their regular, routine maintenance.

 

If you have questions or concerns about implementing any of these critical security measures, call our shop to schedule a security assessment. We help our client sleep at night knowing that they have done all they can to prevent security breaches.

 

 

VoIP Phone Systems: Cost, Dependability, Sound Quality and Features.

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Last month’s most interesting project was the installation of a VoIP phone system for one of our clients.  The business owner was frustrated with the lack of features on his aging traditional phones but reluctant to move to VoIP because he believed the sound quality would not be as good.  After we did a thorough evaluation of his existing infrastructure, he decided to go ahead with the install.  The process highlighted some interesting perceptions business owners may have about VoIP, so I thought it would be a good topic for this month’s newsletter. 

In this article I want to define what VoIP is, explore the cost, dependability and sound quality when compared to traditional phone lines as well discuss why many companies are now switching VoIP phone systems.

What is VoIP?

VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. The VoIP Phone is essentially a specialized computer that connects through the same lines as your internet.  It is an alternative to traditional telephone network that runs over a copper wire infrastructure that has been in place in America since Alexander Graham Bell started building the network in about 1900.

Cost, Dependability and Sound Quality

Initial cost of a VoIP phone system will include the phones and installation-prices vary widely depending on the phone features and the size of the network but when compared to traditional phone systems often can save money, especially if existing phones are in need of an upgrade.

Dependability and sound quality are tied to the bandwidth, firewall configuration and wired data connectivity.  When we install these systems, as with any upgrade that will put demand on the existing infrastructure, we do an initial site survey to make sure your network will support the data traffic from the phones and give you the results you are looking for.   If upgrades are needed to the infrastructure, that is part of the initial planning.

There are 3 primary reasons why people switch to VoIP phone systems: Features & Function, Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery.

Features and Function-VoIP phone systems offer a much wider range of features that traditional phones do not.  Some features include:

  • Find me/follow me routing
  • Voice Mail to Email Transcription
  • Hold Music of your choosing
  • Bandwidth utilization and inbound/outbound call detail reports
  • Coaching Tools
  • Conferencing
  • Auto-attendant
  • Call Screening
  • Do Not Disturb

Business ContinuityFind me/follow me routing allows calls to be forwarded to your office.  Additionally, since your phone is essentially a computer, it can be treated like a laptop.  Your office phone can be used anywhere you are by taking it with you and plugging it into an Ethernet jack.

Disaster Recoverywith VoIP phone systems, the only equipment that is at the office are the headsets, if those are destroyed, phone services can be accessed via the cloud so there is no need to worry about disaster recovery. If something should happen to your office, employees can continue working from anywhere, numbers can be rerouted to cell phone or another headset and voicemails will still be in the cloud or on email.

Is VoIP right for your business?

If you are thinking about replacing aging phones, are frustrated with your current phone system or believe your business would benefit from the many features of a VoIP system, give our shop a call at 763-229-4467.  We would be happy to answer your questions.

 

 

Tech Tip: Answering Security Questions

Answers to security questions must be memorable to you, but they don’t have to be true.

Today online banking, creating new email accounts, health insurance applications and the like often require security questions.  The trouble is, your mother’s maiden name is not a secret. For most, a simple search on Facebook reveals the answer to this security question. Since your credit score may be at stake if someone hacks your bank account, it is worth considering carefully how you may answer these questions.  Think of a memorable alternative to the true answer. For example: If your mother had 5 siblings with maiden name Olson, your answer could be “Oliesixpack.” Since your favorite pet is probably also featured on Facebook-think of a similar unique and memorable alternative for this.

 

4 Tips for Creating a Risk Free Email Policy

As a means to keep in touch, email is both a must-have resource and a costly liability. Keeping inboxes free of spam and malicious software is just one part of the battle — it is also important to lay down some ground rules governing the use of email in your organization. That’s why every company should have an up-to-date email policy that teaches employees to use company email safely.

#1. Draw the line between business and personal use                            

Though it might seem obvious, one of the first things your policy should make clear is that business email accounts are meant for business purposes only. Many employees don’t think twice about using their business email addresses for personal communications out of convenience. But allowing this can lead to security compromises and reduced productivity.

#2. Make it clear that all emails are company property                             

Since business email addresses are provided by the company and meant for business use, every email sent and received using these accounts are the property of the company. This means employees shouldn’t use company email addresses for sending personal emails since these accounts are owned and monitored by the business.

#3. Train employees to identify phishing scams                                               

Email is the number one delivery channel for social engineering scams. Although the clear majority of them will be picked up by any enterprise-grade spam filter, there are always a few that make it through. These tend to be the most dangerous ones since they’re often targeted towards specific victims and involve impersonation of a colleague or superior.  Provide regular training to help employees identify these scams and report anything suspicious immediately.

#4. Align email policy with your brand                                                      

Your email policy isn’t just about setting strict rules pertaining to security, use, and accessibility. As your go-to channel for conversations with customers, it also plays a key role in your brand. To that end, your policy should provide clear guidelines to help maintain brand consistency and a high standard of customer service.

Although not always included as part of a formal email policy, consider including a section offering guidance on things like etiquette, forwarding, and response times. For example, employees should ideally feel obligated to reply to both internal and external emails within a specified time frame.

 

Guest Article: When a DREAM is bigger than a DIY

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, Justin and Jenna Bakken, owners at XtraMile Construction link their daily work life in construction to the big dream they are pursuing by building an entrepreneurial center for impoverished youth in Guatemala.

by Justin and Jenna Bakken, XtraMile Construction

Have you ever seen a DIY (do it yourself) video and left feeling empowered?  The vision, the urge to create was so strong. The dream kitchen was so close, you could see the family meals being shared and countless parties being hosted. You only needed to take that intrusive wall down to open up the space. Maybe add a window for more natural lighting, install new cabinets, replace the wood floor, add a trendy backsplash, a few strokes of paint, and of course top of the line stainless steel appliances!  Motivated, you fuel that dream and it gets way bigger than the simple DIY project. Yet, undeterred you embark on a journey.  Perhaps, a few short hours, days, or even months later you come to the realization that this dream kitchen was a job for a team, a group of skillfully suited people?

The truth is, big projects and big dreams need teams of people to be completed or come to life. Being in the field of construction, I (Justin) have often noticed after a project comes to a close, the contractor or project manager get all the praise. What many people don’t see are the hours of hard work by skilled tradesmen. Yes, the contractor needed people skills to sell a job, he needed vision, and an ability to bring together dedicated, hardworking, skilled individuals to complete the dream. Yet, the dream and the kitchen came to life because of everyone who worked on the project.

What does your dream look like? We started dreaming after backpacking around Guatemala for 3 months for our honeymoon. Over the course of our travels we have spent about 2 years in Guatemala. Each time we returned  we  had the privilege to volunteer our time by helping at local churches, meal programs, rural schools, and orphanages. We have many dreams, one is to create a dream and entrepreneurial center for youth living in poverty.  We will be providing a safe and fun environment, where youth will be equipped to think big and create businesses to better their lives and communities. Now, we are surrounding ourselves with driven and generous people who want to make a difference in the lives of others. One day we will have reached and changed the lives of thousands of youth, but it will not have happened without the help and expertise of hundreds of people.

Dream big friends, whether it is to impact your community or to create that Pinterest worthy kitchen! Just remember when to go the extra mile in your DIY endeavors and when to call us at XtraMile construction. Check out XtraMile Construction at:    www.xtramileconstruction.com

 

 

May: Shiny New Gadget of the Month

Tech Gadgets that improve productivity, efficiency and security in the workplace.

512GB  MicroSD cards: Samsung and PNY

A great way to increase the internal capacity of your portable device

The thought of packing the equivalent of nearly 1,000 CD-ROMs on something barely bigger than the average human fingernail would have been unimaginable only a decade ago.

Now storage companies like Samsung, Sandisk or Integral are slowly pushing 512GB microSD cards in the market, fueled by demand from mobile devices.

PNY is one of the latest to do so with the Elite. At  $125 it is comparable in price with other products in the same category but far more expensive than the 400GB SanDisk Ultra which is about half of the price for three quarters of the capacity.

The 512GB card, the highest commercial capacity available,  allows you to dramatically increase available storage on your smartphone, great for 4K footage of field visits or business videos.

 

Storm Season Is Just Around the Corner…Are You Protected?

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Storm season is coming! If you are like most people, you are probably thinking “it will never happen to me.” But if it did, how long would it take your business to get back up and running?  One of the most valuable assets for any company is its data.  Hardware and software can easily be replaced, but a company’s data cannot. This is a great time make sure you are prepared for those powerful storms that roll through Minnesota in the spring and summer, often resulting in everything from lightning strikes to tornado damage.

During this time of year the threat of fire, flood, severe storms, water damage from office sprinklers and even theft is very real.  As a reminder to all of our clients and friends, here are some simple things you should do to make sure your company is ready for any natural disaster.

  1. Back Up Your Data Remotely! Everyone knows that data should be backed up on a daily basis, but many people still use in-house backup systems that will get damaged in a natural disaster or fire, and can easily be stolen. We recommend backing up all data to an off-site location, and we offer this as a service to our clients.
  2. Use A Quality Surge Protector With Uninterruptible Power Supply Battery. A high-quality surge protector combined with an uninterruptible power supply battery backup will go a long way in protecting sensitive electronic equipment from surges and other electronic irregularities that can destroy your computer’s circuitry.
  3. Make Sure Your Servers Are Off The Floor Or In The Cloud. If your office gets flooded, having your equipment off the floor will prevent it from being completely destroyed. Server racks can be purchased and installed very inexpensively.Or consider moving your critical server equipment to the cloud and be protected no matter the weather!
  4. Have A Disaster Recovery And Business Continuity Plan. Every business should have some type of plan in place for continued operation after a disaster. Would people know where to go? Who to call? How to log in and access data remotely? Hopefully you’ll never need it, but having a simple plan will make you sleep a lot easier at night knowing you have a way to continue to operate when disaster strikes.

If you have questions or concerns about the security of your company’s data in the event of a natural disaster or emergency, we have developed this special report to help small business owners think through 10 essential disaster planning steps.

10 Disaster Planning Essentials For Small Businesses

Don’t lose everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve in an instant! This report will reveal important planning strategies you should have in place now to protect yourself from common data-erasing disasters including natural hazards, human error, cyber criminals, hardware failure, software corruption and other IT failures.  Download your free report instantly here.

 

 

 

Don’t Panic! Identifying Social Engineering Scams Before It’s Too Late.

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

Last week I got a call from “Verizon” stating that there was a problem with my account and my service would be disrupted if I did not take action right away.  The automated voice invited me to simply “Push 1” to be connected to a representative to take care of the issue.   I have seen more people then I care to count get taken advantage of in this type of situation and I know exactly what happens next.   A friendly, legitimate sounding, voice will ask for my Verizon account number and answer my questions about the problem, furthering trust and credibility then WHAMMO!-“I will need  is a credit card to secure this and make sure there is no interruption in your cell phone service.”-This is how easy it is to be swindled out of sensitive credit card information by a social engineering scam.

Social Engineering is the use of deception to manipulate individuals into divulging confidential or personal information that may be used for fraudulent purposes.

Simply planning ahead will go a long way in  helping you identify and respond appropriately to a social engineering scam.  Here are  a couple of  things to consider:

Don’t Panic! These types of scams are designed to push your panic button, so you aren’t thinking clearly.  Disruption in cell service (such as Verizon) or any other service related to running a business can easily throw many business owners over the top.  This is no secret to scammers!  If you are in panic mode-pause, stay calm and keep a logical head.

Hang Up the Phone and Verify!  If a call like this sounds legitimate enough that you are tempted to divulge sensitive information on the spot, it only takes a few minutes to hang up and verify the claim with a second source.  In the Verizon example above, I logged into my Verizon account with my own password and found that there was no problem at all.  There is always a way to verify the legitimacy of a call like this with your own information.  Furthermore, legitimate companies are aware that many scams develop around their brand name.  So, they steer clear of practices that make customers uneasy, like making automated  robocalls when there is a problem.

We have been providing computer repair and IT services to small businesses in the Twin Cities since 2004 and it seems like the variety and sophistication of scams increases by the day.  We field many calls each month from clients who wonder about different scams they have come across.  Don’t hesitate to call us if you need an opinion on a suspicious phone call or email-we will be happy to offer you logical steps to verify the legitimacy of any call or email that produces panic or requests sensitive information.