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What Every Business Owner Must Know About Hiring an Honest, Competent, Responsive and Fairly Priced Computer Consultant

Don’t Trust Your Company’s Critical Data and Operations to Just Anyone! This Business Advisory Guide Will Arm You With 21 Revealing Questions You Should Ask Any Computer Consultant Before Giving Them Access to Your Company’s Network

Choosing the wrong computer consultant to support your network can be incredibly frustrating and expensive, and could end up costing you in downtime, data loss and expensive repair bills, not to mention the headaches and frustration!

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Read this guide and you’ll discover:

  • The “dirty little secret” of the computer repair industry that most people don’t know and will never be told by their IT guy (knowing this ALONE could save you from wasting tons of money and untold aggravation when outsourcing your computer support).
  • 21 revealing questions that will help you instantly spot an unethical or grossly incompetent computer repair/support technician in minutes.
  • 4 costly misconceptions most business owners have about computer maintenance and repair, one of which you will need to know about BEFORE even picking up the phone.
  • Viruses, worms, spyware and hackers: what you need to know to protect yourself.
  • 5 mistakes to avoid when choosing a computer consultant.
  • Why “cheap” or “lowest price” computer repair shops aren’t the bargain they initially appear to be.
  • The one surefire sign that you should run – not walk – away from a computer support firm.

Gain Instant Access to Your Free Report Here!

5 Critical Questions When Considering a Server Upgrade

Executive Briefing By Bill MacLennan

CEO at Your Computer Hero

February at Your Computer Hero, was a month filled with server upgrades. It has caused me to reflect on the value of keeping and maintaining a local server versus migrating to cloud based exchange services. As with most things IT related, there is no one size fits all solution. These are expensive upgrades, so it is important to carefully weigh each of the following factors when deciding to upgrade the local server or migrate to exchange hosting: number of users, staff turnover, up front cost, internal staff to manage ongoing changes, existing network assets, control.

How many computer users does the company have?

The first thing to consider when deciding whether to upgrade that local server or migrate to exchange hosting is the number of users you have. With exchange hosting, you pay per user per month. The general rule of thumb is this: if you’ve got twenty-five or more users, it’s more cost effective to have your own server.

Having said this, there are larger companies who use exchange hosting because the factors mentioned below.

How often does staff turn over?

Hosted exchange is more expensive and more of a headache if you are adding and

subtracting users all the time. If there is somebody on staff who can manage these transitions, it helps.

Is the large upfront cost of a local server upgrade feasible, given the long-term savings?

Let’s consider that company with 25 users. For exchange hosting, this company will pay about $250 per month, that’s $9,000 over three years. By contrast, the server will cost about $6,000-$8,000 up front and last about seven years. Over the seven year period the company saves $12,000.

But, be prepared, the server option will require more up-front admin time for installation and working out the bugs. Microsoft does not convert perfectly…not ever. This is the way Microsoft has always been, so there are always a million little fixes that can become a headache for a few weeks after any server upgrade.

What other network assets are already in place?

We did a recent upgrade where the company has a server dedicated to encrypting certain files as they go in and out. This system works seamlessly for the user and was a considerable investment for the company. Moving to exchange hosting would require that they scrap this server, pay monthly for the encryption service and end up with an inferior user experience. Not worth it! So, we went with the local server upgrade.

It is also worth mentioning that, with exchange hosting, some companies will need a local server for accounting software and as a file server. So, this can make a big difference in the solution that fits best.

Control?

It is important to note that migrating to hosted exchange will give you less control than maintaining a local server. All things considered, some business owners are willing to live with this. But, it’s a deal breaker for others.

Server upgrades are expensive and complex. Our expert technicians can help you weigh the options and come up with a solution custom tailored to your business needs. Call our shop today if you are thinking about a server upgrade or migration to exchange hosting.

3 Big Reasons Why Business Owners are Avoiding the Windows 10 Upgrade

Executive briefing By Bill MacLennan,

CEO at Your Computer Hero

 

Microsoft stopped regular support for Windows 7 on January 16th, 2020. If you are still running the Windows 7 operating system, you have been notified. Perhaps you even clicked off that Windows 10 upgrade notification and…nothing happened. It’s easy to put off. Perhaps it doesn’t seem like an urgent matter, or it seems like the upgrade will cost too much or maybe there is proprietary software to consider and the upgrade will cause problems. Either way, next week, next month or next year, I am going to get a panicked phone call from a business owner who got hacked because they didn’t upgrade a computer on their network. That doesn’t have to be you. Let’s avoid that terrible  and costly situation.

Reason #1: The Computer Didn’t Start on Fire and No One Stole Your Data Today

It’s hard to be proactive. If you could see the dark corners of hacker-ville where the lurkers are already combing the Windows 7 operating system triple-time for vulnerabilities, you would move fast. The pop-up notification from Windows that says it’s time to upgrade should be taken seriously.

Does this mean that a hacker is going to get right in today? Not necessarily. But, the vulnerabilities are there. The Windows 7 operating system, like every operating system, contains flaws. Hackers find these flaws and exploit them. They do it all the time. That is why Microsoft sends out a steady stream of updates and upgrades for the software it supports.

Since Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows 7 and patching those flaws, users  still using the software are vulnerable. The situation is akin to having no anti-virus program on your computer. You have anti-virus for insurance, safety and backup. The anti-virus identifies viruses and catches them, preventing them from coming in. No anti-virus program = no protection. Similarly, no Windows 7 support = no protection.

Reason #2: Perceived Cost

Upgrading to Windows 10 doesn’t have to cost that much. BEFORE beginning the process, each computer should be assessed for it’s capacity to handle the Windows 10 upgrade. This type of analysis does not take long. If computers are under-powered to handle the upgrade, it is possible to put in new hard drives or more RAM. We also have refurbished computers that are a budget friendly option. A few simple upgrades can buy five to six additional years for a computer. And, they run like brand new. I have always been a fan of refurbished computers, they are cheap and they work great.

Reason #3: Proprietary Software that Only Runs on Windows 7

Some businesses have computers that run proprietary software that CAN’T handle the upgrade to Windows 10. This can seem like a tricky problem for business owners. We address this situation in one of two ways. Either, we take these machines off the network altogether, or we isolate them on the network. This way, you can still run older programs but they never see the internet. These machines aren’t going to be regular computers that can be used day to day. They have to stay isolated.

If you are putting off the upgrade to Windows 10, I strongly urge you to call our shop and talk to one of our Computer Heroes today. They can answer your questions and walk you through the upgrade process while being sensitive to your budget and any special situations you have with your particular network.

 

The only constant in the technology industry is change.

~Marc Benioff

 

9 Quick and Powerful Technology Lessons for Decision Makers

Executive Briefing by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

The IT industry is complicated. Unfortunately, money wasting pitfalls and surprise costs can often be part of the IT landscape. In 2019, I wrote nine executive briefings with practical and very powerful lessons for business owners. The executive briefings are designed help decision makers save money and headaches by arming them with relevant, critical IT knowledge. We will continue to offer executive briefings on a monthly basis in 2020. They are on the front page of our newsletter and blog each month. Watch for them! They are short. And, they are packed with tips and tricks on how to navigate the complicated IT landscape.

Our web site blog ( www.yourcomputerhero.com) displays these 9 quick and powerful technology lessons from 2019. Titles include the following:

  1. Purchasing Software: Don’t get burned
  2. Weighing the Risks of Using a Free Email Account for Business
  3. Storm Season…Are You Protected?
  4. VoIP Phone Systems: Cost, Dependability, Sound Quality and Features.
  5. Nerdy Talk: Communicating with your IT guy. Save money. Get it fixed fast.
  6. Ransomware Attack: Is Your business at Risk?
  7. Is There Ever a Good Reason to Click on a Link on an Email from an Unknown Sender?
  8. Deadlines, Costs & Risks with Windows 7
  9. Beware of the Dirtiest Trick in the IT Industry: Admin Password Piracy

 

If you did not catch these articles in our newsletter last year, check them out on website.  A little knowledge can save a lot on technology related headaches and expenses.

 

We are looking forward 2020, another year of serving the small business community by preventing and solving your IT problems!

Do You Know What Your Employees Are Doing Online?

If You Don’t, You’re At Risk!

A Two Pronged Approach

To reduce the risk and minimize non-productive activities, business owners are utilizing a two pronged approach: (1) Implementing an Internet Acceptable Use Policy (IAUP) and (2) installing a monitoring system to restrict and police employees’ online activities.

 

An IAUP is nothing more than a written agreement that sets out the permissible workplace uses of the Internet and e-mail.  In addition to describing permissible uses, an IAUP should specifically set out prohibited uses, rules of online behavior, and access privileges with penalties for violations of the policy spelled out, including security violations and vandalism of the system.

 

Not only does an IAUP reduce wasted hours on the net, it can reduce bandwidth and equipment needs, as well as shield you, the business owner, from possible sexual harassment and other lawsuits arising from your employee’s inappropriate use of the web.

 

An IAUP Is A Good First Step, But It’s Only Half The Battle Won

Unfortunately, not everyone follows policies, and some accidentally will violate your AUP. To ensure company policies are being followed, businesses are choosing to monitor all Internet activity initiated by their employees using a web content filtering software (or hardware).

Tools available today, that make monitoring of employee Internet usage simple and easy. Most companies choose to regularly monitor summary level activity like hours connected to the web, number of sites visited, and illegal or banned sites visited by the company while leaving detailed transaction reviews as necessary on a case-by-case basis.

And if someone complains that this is a violation of their privacy, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s not only legal but good business.  After all, they are using your company assets and if employees are focused on productive work and minimize personal use of the Internet, you’re likely to never need to address their Internet usage. Just be sure to include a clause about Internet monitoring in your IAUP and have your employees sign the agreement.

 

Beware of the Dirtiest Trick in the IT Industry: Admin Password Piracy

Executive Briefing for Small Business Owners by William MacLennan, CEO at Your Computer Hero

Who does your Admin Password Belong To?

I recently got a call from a panicked business owner who was losing money by the minute because his computer network was down.  His usual IT company told him no one would be able to respond for two days…TWO DAYS!

The IT company informed the business owner that he could have shortened the timeline if he had a maintenance contract. Really???? This IT company was their go-to company for several years! Additionally, over the years, the business owner lost track of his admin password. He expected to be able to be able to retrieve it from their trusted company in a pinch.  The IT company was not forthcoming with the password. However, they kindly offered to come out for a four-hour discovery session to recover the password. Give me a break! I scheduled a meeting with this business owner for later that day and he had his admin password within thirty minutes…no charge.

I know it’s a little grinchy for the Christmas season, but this kind of dirty business really hits a nerve with me. It gets to the core values that drive me and our business. There is a reason the word “hero” is in our name. It stands for: Honesty to a Fault, Every Client Matters-large and small, Response time matters, On Budget.  I constantly preach this to our staff.

Now lets turn our attention to a couple of points that are imperative for business owners to arm themselves with when dealing with any IT company:

First, keep control of your admin password!

You should know that the IT industry is unregulated.

Therefore, you must be an educated buyer of IT services.

In 15 years of business, I have seen a lot of clever scheming around control of the admin password. I have seen business owners surrender control of their admin passwords through contract. I have seen “helpful” volunteers withhold the admin password from it’s rightful owner.  And, everything in between.

In my opinion, the number one question any buyer of IT services should ask is, “How do you handle the admin password?”  If they aren’t straight forward or give some reason why you (as the owner of the data and network hardware) can’t know it or have it any time for any reason, run away!

At Your Computer Hero your admin password and other network documentation is always kept in a secure location. It is made available to you in a timely manner, upon request. Period.  Since the business, hardware and data all belong to the business owner, so should access to it.  It’s a pretty clear-cut issue.

Second, let’s talk about the maintenance contract.

In the above example, we can see that the IT company is using this unfortunate circumstance to strong arm the business owner into a maintenance contract. Again, I believe that this type of maneuvering can never lead to solid, long term business relationships.

Let me start by saying that there are a lot of benefits to having a maintenance service in place for your network. It assures that security patches and updates are always done in a timely manner. Additionally, it can catch and prevent costly downtime.  However, in my experience, business owners are all over the map on how involved they wish to be with their own networks.  For most, it is better to have a maintenance service for security purposes and avoid the costly downtime situation. But, it is not for everybody.  The critical downtime situation is certainly not the time to discuss the importance of maintenance.

If you, or someone you know has been in a situation where they have lost control of their admin password for any reason, please have them call our shop. We’d like to introduce ourselves, retrieve your admin password and start a long term relationship built on trust and integrity.

 

Deadlines, Costs & Risks with Windows 7

by Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

It’s decision making time again. Microsoft is forcing businesses to upgrade to Windows 10. As with any technology upgrade, it is wise to gather a few critical details before jumping into a major upgrade like this. So, in this article I want to give you the relevant information to guide your planning for the transition. Most of all, I want to help you uncover any hidden costs and avoid expensive surprises while adopting the new Windows 10 operating system.

 

Deadlines and Cost with Windows 7

As of January 14, 2020 the only people who will receive support for the Windows 7 operating system are those who are willing to pay for it, and it’s not cheap. For Windows 7 Pro you will pay $50 per machine for the first year, the second year jumps to $100 and the third year it will double again to $200 per machine. Microsoft will completely phase out support for Windows 7 after the three years.

 

Risks: Why does Microsoft Support Matter

Since Microsoft produces the most widely used operating systems, hackers are constantly trying to find holes in it. Therefore, ongoing Microsoft support is critical. They routinely push out updates and patches that shore up vulnerabilities found in the software. This is why there is a huge security risk in continuing to use an operating system that is no longer supported. I believe there is even some risk in continuing on the paid extended support. Since Windows 7 is no longer in focus, Microsoft may be late in pushing out critical updates or understanding vulnerabilities.

 

What’s Involved With Moving to Windows 10

You may recall the transition from Windows XP to Windows 7. Many people tried to adopt the new operating system without much thought our planning.   Unfortunately, some people ran into huge surprise costs when it wouldn’t work. In most of these cases, it wasn’t the software.  The computers were under powered to accept the upgrade. That is also going to be true with the new Windows 10 operating system.

 

Two important things to consider when planning for the transition to Windows 10:

Age of Computers: You may run into trouble if your computers are 5 or 6 years old. It is critically important to assess each computer in your network before you start the migration to Windows 10.

 

Mechanical vs. SSD Hard Drives: The biggest change we have seen in the computers in the past several years is the transition from mechanical hard drives to the faster solid state (or ssd) hard drives. See pictures below. The new Windows 10 operating system will definitely work better with the solid state drives. Since the ssd’s have come down in price considerably, it may make sense to replace computers rather than upgrade them.

 

If you have not yet made the transition to Windows 10, it may be something to consider as you look at your fourth quarter spending for 2019. Give our shop a call, our technicians are equipped to help you with the planning and implementation of the new Windows 10 operating system.

Is There Ever a Good Reason to Click a Link on an Email from an Unknown sender? 

By Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

 I received a very tricky email the other day.  It appeared very official, stated it was from American Express, and asked me to violate one of my sacred rules for email hygiene by asking me to kindly “take a moment to confirm I received my card,”  offering two links, one to confirm online and the other to confirm through an ap.

Never, Never, Never trust a link in an email unless:

  • I know the sender personally
  • I am expecting the email
  • I have inspected the senders entire email address for validity.

After investigating the email and contacting the fraud department at American Express, I have concluded that it is a legitimate email. However, in a climate where phishing and social engineering scams are growing increasingly savvy, it amazes me that a large company would send out such an email.  Most don’t.

Therefore, I continue to advise against ever clicking on these links or any other link in an email like this, no matter how legitimate it may seemYou have little to gain and much to lose if it turns out to be a scam.  If it is a matter of activating a new credit card, there is always a phone number that comes with the actual card.  Card confirmation may be required, as the subject line in the email indicates, but clicking a link in any email like this is certainly not.  Please beware of ANY email you receive that appears to be from a large company that asks you to click on it.

Having said this, let’s explore a few basic characteristics of scam emails as we commonly see them today.  Again these scams grow more sophisticated and legitimate looking by the day.  I think it makes sense to share what I look at with these, I have included a screen shot of an obvious scam for reference here.

The #1 Tool in the scammer’s toolbox is GETTING YOU TO PANIC! It is not always what you see in an email, but what you feel.  Scammer’s know that your ability to reason goes down exponentially when you are emotional.  If they can find your panic button, it will lead to you divulging private information like your social security number and/or credit card numbers.  If you are panicked by something you see in an email, stop immediately, take a breath and fact check using another source.

You can see in the “Capital One” example that the subject line says, “Account Locked #80485612857’” this is designed to get you panicking.  This also applies to scammers who may call on the phone.  The latest has been another wave in scammer phone calls where the caller announces that there are warrants for your arrest.  Don’t get swept away in panic.  Always, always, always verify any statements made over the phone or email with another source.

A couple more points of interest on the Capital One example:

  • Always note the entire email address.in this case it’s funstomp.online@georgia.gov.  If I go to Capital One company the URL is actually capitalone.com, not “georgia.gov,” and not “funstomp.online.”  There is obviously something fishy here.
  • You will also often see misspellings or grammatical errors in these types of emails.
  • One last point of interest is the simplicity of the email format and the use of the logo.  The logo looks a little pixilated in the email, like it was copied from the website and pasted into the email.

The above 3 points are pretty obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of people who get duped, probably because of the emotionally charged nature of emails like this.

If you ever have a question about the legitimacy of an email, or if you are inundated with scam emails like this, we can help you by enabling email filtering and security software.  Our tech heroes are standing by to answer your questions.

 

 

Ransomware Attack: Is your business at risk?

By Bill MacLennan, CEO of Your Computer Hero

I get a lot of questions from business owners about ransomware attacks, as I should, the statistics about the cost of ransomware attacks on businesses is nothing short of terrifying.  Here are some statistics you should be aware of regarding ransomware attacks:

 

  • A new organization will fall victim to ransomware attack every 14 seconds in 2019, and every 11 seconds by 2021 (Source: Cyber Security Ventures)
  • Ransomware attacks have increased by 97% in the last 2 years. (Source: Phishme)
  • 34% of business hit took a week or more to regain access to their data. (Source: Kaspersky)
  • In 2019, ransomware from phishing emails increased by 109% over 2017 (Source: Phishme)
  • Ransomware generates over $25 million for hackers each year. (Source: Business Insider)

 

Definition: Ransomeware; noun: ransomware; noun: ransom-ware

a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money is paid.  Usually, a program is deployed on the system that encrypts the data, the hacker then demands a ransom to unlock the encryption so the owner of the data can have it back.

 

In this article I want to give you a behind the scenes look into how we guard our clients’ networks against such attacks and discuss four ways that companies can be vulnerable.

There are 4 best primary ways that companies can safeguard themselves against a successful ransomware attack:

  1. Educate employees about phishing scams. Most ransomware attacks are initiated through email. Employees can be duped into clicking on a link that deploys the encryption software. Clicking the link gives permission to load the encryption software which looks for the Windows vulnerabilities once on the system.  Just last month, Monore College in New York had their computer systems and website shut down by a ransomware attack.  Hackers demanded 2 million dollars for the encryption code to release the ransomware.  The malicious software entered the system by an employee who clicked on an email link.
  2. Upgrade-for Microsoft 7 users. Microsoft will discontinue free support of Windows 7 this January. After this time, you may pay for support for three years, the price is per computer and increases each year.  I recommend updating to Windows 10. The support is critical because it updates the vulnerabilities to the latest hacker schemes, like the most recent ransomware attacks known as the “wannacry” or “NotPetya.”
  3. Be VERY VIGILANT about updating and implementing patches. Scheduled maintenance is not an option for your business network and it is a critical service that we offer our business clients. It is absolutely paramount that updates and patches get implemented on a timely basis. If you are not totally certain that these updates are happening as they should, it may be time to talk to us about doing that maintenance for you.  If a ransomware attack circumvents your firewall, it looks for Windows system vulnerabilities on the computers in the network, the patches and updates address these vulnerabilities.
  4. You must have adequate backups. If a ransomware attack happens, the first place we will look for recovery is your data backups. The best backups include an off site/cloud based copy that has redundancy, so multiple copies and multiple days worth.   In light of these increasing attacks, and others like them, I have come to believe that the best defense against a costly cyber attack is the Datto device.  This is a hardware piece that creates an exact, real time image of a server or data store computer so the system can be booted back up right away after it is hit.  The Datto device also has ransomware blocker that dramatically decreases the chance of a successful attack.

Definition: Phishing

noun: phish-ing /’fiSHing/: 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 (or in this case click on a link that executes malicious software)

 

According to a poll from Insureon and Manta, only 16% of small business owners think they are susceptible to a cyberattack.  Yet, 61% of attacks occur at smaller businesses.  Don’t wait until you are under attack to get your cyber security plan in place!  If you have more questions than answers regarding the security of your network, call our shop today to talk to one of our expert technicians!  We would love to answer your questions about your current system and discuss how we can help you avoid being a victim of the increasing number and severity of ransomware attacks.

Electronics Recycling Event this Month! January 13-18,2020

Concerned about recycling and data security?

If you have a computer or two (or ten) collecting dust in a your garage or office closet somewhere, you are not alone.  Many PC users and business owners hang on to old computers, monitors and printers because it is just a PAIN to figure out how to responsibly dispose of them and protect sensitive data in the process.  That is why we have ironed out a secure disposal partnership with a reputable local recycler.  And for those who need at that iron clad proof of responsible data disposal on file, we have a Certificate of Overwrite. 

Dismantled and Crushed

I don’t want to overdo the “save the planet” pep talk, but there are many great reasons to recycle your computer.  Electronic devices contain toxic substances including lead, mercury, cadmium, beryllium, polyvinyl chloride and chromium. These and other components are valuable raw materials that can be melted down or isolated and reused.  When e-waste is tossed into landfills, these chemicals can leach into the soil, polluting ground water.

It is typical for us to collect about 4,500 pounds of e-waste during our weeklong recycling events.  99% of that goes to our recycling partner: B & E Recycling in Elk River.  They are a trustworthy local company, the prices are very reasonable and they have provided us with this written security guarantee:

 

B & E Recycling Data Security Guarantee

B & E Recycling is exclusively a recycler.  B & E Recycling does not refurbish, resell, give away, utilize or let our employees take home ANY electronics that come through our doors.   At B & E Recycling, we understand the sensitive nature of data that may be stored on computer hard drives and take every precaution to assure that those hard drives are dismantled and destroyed as promised right here on our premises.  Therefore, you can be assured that your data is secure when you trust us to recycle your electronic waste.

 

Refurbished and Reused

A very small percent of the computers and laptops that are dropped off during our recycling events are refurbish-able.  In this case, protecting your private data, even if you have erased it, requires that the hard drive be wiped to government standards (National Institute of Standards and Technology Standard 800-88 r1).

Wiping to government standards means we take a special program that is designed to overwrite every piece of that data three times over.  Once overwritten by this method, the data is not retrievable by anyone no matter what program they use or how much time they have to work at it.   It is gone and it’s not coming back!

 

Certificate of Overwrite

For those that need the an iron clad guarantee on file that they have handled the disposal of electronics containing sensitive data, we offer a Certificate of Overwrite as proof that your hard drive has been overwritten to government standards according to National Institute of Standards and Technology Standard 800-88 r1.  Some business have policies that require this type of proof, others prefer the peace of mind that goes with having hard evidence that they responsibly disposed of sensitive data.  We charge a nominal fee of $45 per hard drive for this service and offer volume discounts.  A certificate containing your specific hard drive information will be emailed to you with a statement referring to the government standard.

If you have questions about our recycling event on January 13-18, 2020 or have concerns about data security related to disposing of your e-waste.  Give our shop a call. at 763-229-4467.