What strange times we are in. By now even the best of us are suffering from cabin fever, at least here in Toronto, Canada the warm weather has arrived and spending some time outdoors lends a little relief. If you are like me, working from home some of the time was already part of a normal work week, but for many people the transition has been interesting to say the least.
It was not long after the lockdown began that the work assisting companies transition their workforce away from the office to their homes began in earnest. Calls from managed and casual customers began flowing in, all with the same question; can you configure things so that my staff can work from home? The answer to this question, as I am sure any managed services providers might already know was, perhaps.
In today’s digital age, working from home should not be a difficult thing for a company that has kept up with the times and implemented reasonably current infrastructure. For example, businesses already using Remote Desktop services were able to expand these services out to additional employees with minimal effort. Assuming the server had enough available resources and required line of business applications were already configured, the steps to a roll out included increasing required licensing and configuring end user computers to connect. The downside here was the licensing aspect, in addition to additional RDS CALs, some business applications are very expensive to license for Remote Desktop use. Thankfully all my clients use Microsoft 365 for email and Office desktop applications, so these were not an issue, but the potential was there for other applications to be a problem. Luckily, I did not run into this problem, but would be interested to hear if any software vendors temporarily relaxed their licensing rules or provided options to assist their customers, kudos to those that did!
For sites that did not have remote desktop services, things became somewhat more complex. The solution for many clients was to allow users to remotely control their desktop systems at the office from home. The big advantage here is that the hardware and software was already in place, however other issues needed to be addressed. First, desktops needed to be configured to accept inbound Remote Desktop sessions. In a domain this could be done via. GPO, however in smaller workgroup-based offices, it did mean computers needed to be configured manually. Power saving settings needed to be set to prevent the computer from going to sleep and BIOS settings also needed to be adjusted so that in the event of a power failure, computers would return to a powered-on state. Lastly each system needed to have a static IP address configured as the Remote Desktop Client needed this address to connect to the right system. Within our sites we did this with DHCP reservations so that the computers could remain dynamically configured for simplicity.
Keep in mind that the above options were reasonably easy to implement and apart from any licensing, low cost. There were of course additional aspects that needed to be considered. Opening an office network to remote desktop access is potentially a sizable security hole. It is never recommended that one allow direct access to the LAN from the Internet (WAN) side. To keep things as secure as possible remote users should first be required to connect to the office via. VPN, a feature that home or consumer routers often do not support. In our case, all client sites have corporate firewalls installed, specifically Sophos XG devices which support SSL-VPN remote worker connections. Had this not been the case, we likely would have needed to resort to a paid solution like Go-To-My-PC, or similar. Note that VPN connections still have security concerns, for example if local file access is allowed or drives are mapped from the host computer to the remote network, another path for Ransomware and malicious software is
provided from devices that you don’t have control over. Implementing firewall rules and/or restricting access only for remote desktop can help reduce this risk, think through the implementation carefully.
There were additional hurdles to jump and some continue to crop up to this day. Being a largely Mac based audience, I am sure many of you have felt the pain of software compatibly issues based on the version of your operating system. VPN clients like TunnelBlick solve the SSL-VPN connection problem but getting a working Microsoft Remote Desktop client for older systems took some searching as the App store only carries the most recent version. Even when things work, remotely controlling a Mac on the remote end often had performance issues. The reality of doing fine detail work in a remote desktop session is lacking, in many cases installing the software on the home PC (where licensing allowed) was the better solution. Another hurdle was printing. In many cases printing worked great, users could simply find the redirected home printer on the remote system and all was well. For others, depending on the printer, redirection was not supported at all. While figuring out a solution would have been preferred, the time required, and issues with out of date or incompatible home systems were simply too great. The last, or perhaps first hurdle, was how to access user’s home systems to get them set up in the first place. While we utilize a remote access platform for managed systems, unmanaged computers needed another, temporary solution. In our case ZOHO Assist did the job. It was inexpensive and provided the tools needed to work on both Mac and PC systems quickly and easily.
While this article comes at a time after many have already implemented a solution, perhaps, if you have read this far, you recognize the same issues you have encountered, or possibly have learned how things can be done differently. There are many areas related to privacy, security, document management and backups that need to be considered in a truly complete solution but that is another article. Good luck moving forward in your business and keep in mind that many predict that working from home, now that employers have seen that it works, is going to be the new normal.
Stefan Kanitz is a Professor at Seneca College in Toronto, Canada, and an IT professional with 30 years experience in the computer, network and managed services field primarily focused on small-medium business. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefankanitz/
First, let me start by saying that I am primarily a Windows person. I have been supporting Windows clients in SMB and education for the better part of 25 years and can still remember upgrading from DOS to my first Windows 3.0 systems. I also recall cleaning up ‘junk’ after being hired at my first full-time job and throwing away an original Windows 1.0 box, which, like my childhood hockey cards, I figured had no value so why keep? Back in those days my Apple support experience was two Macintosh computers at a copy shop in Toronto. What great machines! Not only did they look cool, they were easy to use and allowed me to learn the trendy buzz-thing of the time, desktop publishing.
As time has passed, my career has taken me through many generations of Windows and Macintosh computers in both education and business, riding waves of operating system ups and downs along the way. Like most technical people, my exposure to computer platforms is based largely on market demand. Most of my career has been Windows-heavy with a sprinkling of Macs throughout. I found Macs in corners of marketing companies, in design labs on college campuses and of course in the hands of my children who all selected MacBooks when given a choice. In my experience the balance of power has traditionally been on the side of Windows, with Macs playing a minor supporting role. I am beginning to wonder if this is soon going to change.
I ask myself this question based on my observations in college classrooms and I am beginning to wonder what impact it will have on those that are just starting out in the technical support field. Over the years, students in my college classrooms have often brought their own computers. Their systems mirrored what I saw in business, mostly Windows systems with a small number of Macs. Over the past few years however I have noticed a definite shift in that balance, the numbers have slowly been creeping up to the point where this year my observation is that greater than half and up to two thirds of the students are bringing Macbooks.
So why does this matter? Well, for me it is an issue in my Microsoft Excel training sessions. Traditionally Excel has been taught using textbooks and lessons featuring Office for Windows. The occasional student with a Mac would have problems translating keystrokes and features into the OS X version making their learning more difficult. I have always encouraged these students to practice on a Windows system as being proficient in Windows will be needed in the workplace when they graduate. This year a flood of students has been struggling with this problem and pushing to have the Mac version better supported. While I am not yet able to completely accommodate Mac based users, my observation does beg the question - what impact will these students have on business when they graduate?
Assuming the direction of IT in business is driven by preference in addition to technology, then would one not expect the increasing number of students using Macs to have an impact? As these students graduate from higher education with Macintosh computers being their primary experience and preference, does it not follow that the entrepreneurs and future business leaders amongst them will begin to demand their preferred platform on the desktop?
In my career I have worked with a few 100% Mac based businesses, mostly in print and creative fields. I currently have one client, an engineering firm, that is Mac based, but I suspect the number will grow in the coming years. With more applications moving to the SaaS model with Virtual Apps and Web based tools replacing the traditional, locally installed programs of the past, the barriers to adoption are rapidly falling. The next generation of employees, Web and mobile savvy students of today, are wizards on the Macintosh platform. While I can preach the need to be equally proficient on Windows as well, the fact is that they are not. Employers looking to maximize productivity and efficiency may be wise to accommodate the preferences of these enthusiastic, new graduates.
So what does the future hold for Apple in the workplace? Perhaps Apple has been playing the long game, beginning with their early investment in primary and elementary schools and developing a Macintosh preference in children and teens. This preference, reinforced by the iPhone and Apple’s robust ecosystem of services, may have created a boom generation of Mac users to replace the aging generation of die-hard enthusiasts whose dedication and perseverance have brought us to where we stand today. Perhaps I should shine up my OS X skills to prepare.
About the Author
Stefan Kanitz is a Professor at Seneca College and an active IT professional with 25+ years experience in the computer and network support field with a focus on small medium business and education. linkedin.com/in/stefankanitz
Content: something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts (dictionary.com).
Everywhere you look in today’s media-rich world you see content. Television, radio, billboards, Web sites, Social Media and yes, still printed in newspapers and magazines. Content drives us and we drive content. It is human nature to constantly seek new, interesting and different content in order to learn, become informed or entertain ourselves.
We have grown up in a world of content in a wide variety of forms and formats. Along the way new and incredible ways to curate and consume have been developed, think iPods, and MP3s as examples. In our always-on, connected world; streaming services like Netflix have evolved from simple delivery services to developing their own original content. More recent technologies like virtual and augmented reality, now allow us to engage and interact with content in even more ways.
For young content producers and marketers it would be unusual in today’s content-rich world for one to make a major purchase or take a trip somewhere without referring to information sourced online or through social channels. We rely on product reviews, photographs and video to help us make decisions, often with the best information found in content created by customers or end users themselves.
Students and young marketers have been on the receiving end of content via. the wide array of devices they have grown up with. It is important for them to learn how to step behind the curtain and reposition themselves to the other side of the screen. It is from this here, behind the display, looking outward towards the audience, that they will transition from consumers to creators with success hinging on their ability to fully understand and connect the needs of their target market with well defined goals.
It is important to understand that the Web was founded on the idea of linking related information together allowing movement from an initial piece of content to the next gathering information as you travelled. Early Web browsers were simple tools, not the powerful multimedia applications we know today. Remember, in the early days of the Web, content was published to share information, documents and simple files, mainly in areas of research and education. Commercial use of the Web was still a number of years in the making.
When commercial use of the Web began, the technology of the time limited what could be presented. Contact information, product data sheets and FAQs were common as this type of content mirrored what was requested by brick and mortar customers at the time. As technology advanced with faster connections, improved support for media and effective search engines, savvy marketers began to ply their trade online. This move resulted in a boom of exceptional content, but with good came the bad. Less than scrupulous players began to craft content designed to work search algorithms in order to achieve higher rankings, the result being than stellar content flooding the Web. These techniques worked for a time but the noise quickly overpowered value again quality content prevailed.
Consumers demand substance, useful information and details about benefits over lists of features or empty commentary. While this has been the trend with Web sites; video sharing platforms like YouTube have become increasingly counted on as sources of content beyond just entertainment. Recent changes to advertising models have (arguably) put a focus back onto quality content over that produced just to soak up views and generate advertising revenue.
In conclusion, content is King, this has been true since the beginning of the Web and it is not likely to change any time soon. Research and understand your target market, set goals for your content that align with their needs. Stay away from get-rich-quick schemes that promise to jump the SEO queue. Even if they work in the short-term, visitors will likely be disappointed and may leave never to come back. Continue to produce content that adds value, helps us learn and of course provides us with a variety of paths to branch out and continue our journey across the Web.
News Article - Cybercriminals Are Targeting Small Businesses That Don't Take Cybersecurity Seriously
Could your business recover from an abrupt loss of $256,000? Because that’s how much a single cybersecurity hack could cost a small business, according to a recent analysis in Tech Republic.
We’re barely halfway through 2017 and already this year has seen a huge spike in major cybersecurity attacks. Ransomware infections attacked the US pharmaceutical company Merck and the Danish shipping company Maersk. There have been viral, state-sponsored ransomware leaks of US spy agencies and a ransomware attack that crippled NHS hospitals and emergency rooms in the UK. Enigma Software, the makers of the SpyHunter anti-malware program, found there were more than 1.5 million infections detected in the first half of 2017, and the number could be even higher in the second half of the year.
Major hacks, ransomware and phishing are all on the rise. Yet many small business owners continue to mistakenly believe their company won’t be a target.
Read the full Entrepreneur news article here:
Time to get out your BitCoin wallet to pay up.
Not infected yet? What about that email attachment you are just about to open? Is it the one?
Ransomware is no joke. It has ruined businesses globally. Many have never gotten their files back, all have lost time and energy in the recovery process. Some have paid and been hit again.
All you need to do is read the news:
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-40261693 (BBC News June 13, 2017)
Scared yet? You should be.
I am not going to focus on protecting OS X from attack. With the types of threats changing and morphing on a daily if not hourly basis there is strong probability that the next tsunami of Cryptolocker or Wannacry type viruses will affect thousands of computers, both Windows and Apple alike.
Consider this; if your computer was to experience a hardware failure today, you could go out and purchase a new one at your local Apple retailer, restore your data from Time Machine or iCloud and be up and running again in an hour or two. But ransomware is much worse than a hardware failure. It encrypts your data including your backups. Assuming you are going to get hit by the next wave, what should you do to protect your livelihood, reputation, critical files and ultimately your business?
Protecting critical data today requires much more than a backup. You need to secure data and protect it from any current or future threat. Real data protection requires a solution that not only allows for a predictable time to get working again (recovery time objective - RTO) but also the ability to limit the amount of data and work lost (recovery point objective - RPO).
Imagine if you knew, beyond any doubt, that when hit with ransomware, you would lose no more than 5-15 minutes of work and that you could recover your data and operating system(s) in an hour or so. What is the value in having the peace of mind of knowing your business is completely protected be it a stand-alone Mac, a server or network of computers.
Every business owner should be able to calculate what a total business shut-down would cost on an hourly and daily basis. If you do hourly contract work, that’s easy. If you have a team relying on a server or share, that is a little more difficult but can be done. Make sure you add the cost of missed client deadlines, POS system failures or recreating lost work. With this number in hand, consider what value there would be in knowing exactly how long it would take to recover and how much data would be lost.
There is a cost to protecting your business and there is no way around it. You experience this every time you pay your business insurance. Many businesses never make an claim, yet pay every year. What is it worth to your business to limit the risk of data loss, something that we have identified as a very real and immediate possibility?
The best solution on the market today is the a Total Data Protection solution. This consists of an on-site appliance, connected securely to redundant Cloud storage that will back up one or more complete computers (OS, data, everything) as often as every 5 minutes. These backups are replicated off-site throughout the day to protect against local disasters (tornados anyone?). With this in place the RTO and RPO for your business are known and can be fire-drill tested at any time.
This industry leading solution has saved numerous businesses from disaster by allowing ransomware encrypted data and even entire computers to be restored to a point just before the attack or disaster occurred. Including on-appliance virtualization, rapid bare-metal OS restores, ransomware detection and many other data security features, these leading-edge appliances provide complete and total protection simply and effectively.
Regardless the size of your business, one Mac or a dozen you cannot afford to lose data or experience unpredictable down-time. Perhaps it is time to sign up for an insurance policy that you will actually use, possibly just to recover a deleted folder or file, or in the worst case to ensure that you will never need a BitCoin account down the road.
There is no need to be held hostage by ransomware or deal with loss from user error or disaster. The value in protecting your data and business from loss should be simple math. Lets talk.