Should I Outsource My E-Mail Security To The Cloud?

You want proper security wrapped around the flow of email messages in and out of your organization! Do you run it yourself or outsource it to the cloud?

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© Melpomene – Fotolia

Whether your email is hosted in the cloud or it’s hosted on your premises you still have the issue of proper email security to consider.

You have 3 choices essentially :

  1. Use the canned security provided by whomever is hosting your email (assuming it’s hosted offsite)
  2. Use hardware and/or software tools onsite at your premises (assuming you host your own email)
  3. Outsource email security to the cloud (whether hosted offsite -or- you host your own)

Let’s take a look at each of these options and you decide for yourself which option makes the most sense for you and your particular situation…

Use the canned security provided by whomever is hosting your email

Many email hosting companies will provide a limited amount of security for their customers. In many cases it will be limited to simple SPAM filtering and Whitelisting or Blacklisting and perhaps even some limited virus filtering but that’s usually about it.

You really need to check the level of security provided and decide right off the top if that is sufficient enough for you or if you need to enhance the security to a more acceptable level.

PRO : Usually very expensive and includes with your hosting plan

CON : Often not very extensive

Use hardware and/or software tools onsite at your premises

There are a number of hardware vendors (SonicWall, Cisco, Barracuda and others) that provide excellent, enterprise grade, email security appliances that provide a very high level of security.

They sit on premises in a rack usually and any email delivered onsite goes to this device first where it is filtered for both virus, malware and content and, once cleared for delivery it’s forwarded on to your email server onsite.

Any email sent outbound from your organization would be sent from your mail server out through this security device where it is filtered for both virus, malware and content before being delivered to its destination.

There are also a number of software plugins available for onsite email servers and even some of the hardware vendors mentioned above will make virtual machines for things like VMWare available that are dedicated email security appliances.

PRO : Peace of Mind of being able to have all piece of the “security puzzle” under your roof

CON : Often an upfront expense with a yearly or monthly subscription attached

Outsource email security to the cloud

As with the hardware vendors mentioned above there are a number of cloud email security vendors (Cisco, McAfee, SonicWall and others).

These services work by pointing the MX Record for your email domain to the cloud provider and that causes any email sent to you to go to the cloud provider first where it is filtered for both virus, malware and content before being delivered to your mail server onsite.

Conversely any email sent outbound from your organization would be sent from your mail server to the cloud provider where it is filtered for both virus, malware and content before being delivered to its destination.

PRO : Centralized staff that monitor the cloud service where this is the only thing they do thus creating a highly specialized environment that is highly effective. You get to take advantage of staff being able to jump on outbreaks and other situations immediately and everyone gets the benefit. There’s also usually no upfront as with hardware and it’s usually just a monthly or yearly subscription and that’s it. It’s also just one less piece you need to worry about.

CON : If you insist on only having “tangible and physical” resources linked to your network and you’re not comfortable with outsourcing or cloud computing then this may not be a comfortable choice for you.

Summary

Ultimately the choice of what you’re comfortable with is completely up to you! Ultimately I suggest you do your homework and assess your comfort level and go with the solution that fits you best! There are clearly pro’s and con’s to all the solutions.

If you have questions, comments or concerns please leave a comment below or reach out using our CONTACT page and I look forward to interacting with you!

Windows 10 Is Coming! Will you jump? …

This much anticipated release will be coming sometime later in 2015 … do you plan on making the switch?

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© tashatuvango – Fotolia

I have mixed feelings on this and am not entirely convinced what I’ll do at this stage …

In the many years I’ve been in this industry I’ve noticed that Microsoft seems to have a super operating system out with wide adoption and people seem to love it … they will then release a brand new O/S that gets generally negative feedback … then they come out with another really good O/S, wide adoption happens again they then release another O/S that gets the negative feedback again!

I’ve seen this pattern repeated multiple times …

A Bit Of History …

Windows 95 came out back in 1995 and was followed in 1998 with Windows 98! Windows 98 matured as a product was very widely adopted with lots of patches and security updates published for it … people generally loved the product!

Then along comes Microsoft Windows ME (Millennium Edition) in September 2000 which was generally panned and criticized for performance and speed issues. PC World at the time dubbed it as “one of the worst operating system Microsoft had ever produced”

October 2001 saw the introduction of Windows XP which is still very much in use today and I think is a great operating system! In fact it’s nearly 14 yrs old and it’s still in use in nearly 20% of computers world wild as of December 2014 (link) … generally speaking this has been and incredible well received operating system from Microsoft …

November 2006 then saw the pendulum swing again to the dark side and along comes Windows Vista … again another operating that received much negative criticism (link) and many people made the decision to hold on to Windows XP and not make the move …

July 2009 the pendulum swings back to the “good side” and out comes Windows 7 and again people started adopting the latest operating system …

October 2012 saw the release of Windows 8 and October 2013 saw the release of Windows 8.1 and both of these were complete departures from the any of the traditionally laid out operating system and started using a series of tiles and such to try and amalgamate Desktop/Laptop/Tablet devices and Touch Computer and such and introduced quite a steep learning curve on the part of end users!

Summary

So … you see the pattern here???

Windows 95/98 (GOOD) … Windows ME (BAD) … Windows XP (GOOD) … Windows Vista (BAD) … Windows 7 (GOOD) … Windows 8/8.1 (LUKEWARM)

September 2014 saw Microsoft announce Windows 10 as the successor to Windows 8.1 and the early “hints” seem to indicate some pretty positive things including more of a return to the traditional “bottom left corner Start button” … “Traditional Interface” availability that people have grown to love and feel comfortable with over the years along with some other toys and goodies!

It’s still to early to tell if it will be a huge success … but I can’t help but refer to the pattern I outlined above. If Windows 10 follows the pattern we’ve seen repeated up to this point then all indicators would seem to point to it being a winner!

Add to that the fact that Microsoft is offering a free upgrade to Windows 10 for qualified new and existing Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 devices that upgrade in the 1st year and you could see quite a migration to Windows on both the personal and the business side!

I’d really love to hear your opinion …. if you have any questions, comments or concerns please leave a comment below or reach out using one of the methods on our CONTACT page and I’ll forward to hearing from you!

Support Is Ending Soon For Windows Server 2003!

Windows Server 2003 Support is ending July 14th, 2015 … what is your plan?

© adrian_ilie825

© adrian_ilie825

Windows Server 2003 was released back in April of 2003 and is now the ripe old age of 12! I am surprised it took this long but the time has finally come to pull the plug on this server operating system!

Microsoft has been making a big push lately to get all their customers to move off this operating and upgrade to either Windows Server 2008 or Windows Server 2012.

The operating system will still function after July 14th but Microsoft will no longer issues security patches for the operating system and it looks like any support options after the fact will be prohibitively expensive.

According to this great article written on Tech Republic it appears there’s also a potential bug that has surfaced when migrating from Microsoft Server 2003 to Microsoft Server 2012 which could prevent your ability to migrate successfully … so, you may need to consider migrating in steps and perhaps moving from Microsoft Server 2003 to Microsoft Server 2008 instead of making the leap all the way to 2012 …

The big point here is ???? DO YOUR HOMEWORK! … make sure you ask lots of questions of your IT Team about this :

  1. Do we have any Microsoft Server 2003 installs left at our business?
  2. If so, do we have a plan to migrate/upgrade to a more current Server operating system?
  3. If we “do” have a plan to migrate, and given the risks outlined above about possible bugs in migrating from Server 2003 to Server 2012, what is the plan to mitigate our risk and protect us during the upgrade?
  4. What tools and resources do you need to help make this a smooth transition?

The clock is ticking … a plan has to be in place and you need to get moving with this so you’re not left holding the bag and leaving your organization potentially exposed when support is finally yanked!

If you have any questions, concerns or comments please leave them below or reach out using the methods on our CONTACT page and we’ll look forward to hearing from you!

Are you exposed and at risk with your software licensing plan?

Many businesses will either wilfully or ignorantly turn a blind eye towards making sure they have proper software licensing in place.

© kentoh - Fotolia

© kentoh – Fotolia

Continually burying your head in the sand though, and pushing this to the sidelines, or failing to give this the priority it deserves, however, can leave your business exposed to serious legal and financial penalties so you want to give this subject some serious consideration.

Rather than think of this as a scare tactic, though, let’s take the time to look at the facts and consider this all objectively so, at the very least, you can be informed.

Not For Profit Organizations

Non-Profits, of all the types of organizations, really have the least amount of excuse for not having a proper licensing policy in place.

There are organizations out there like TechSoup (techsoupcanada.ca in Canada and techsoup.org in the USA) that are essentially clearing houses for software and hardware donations from a large number of vendors and it’s only for charities and non-profits.

Specifically as it relates to software, most licenses are available for a fraction of the cost of buying it via regular channels so there really is no barrier to having proper licensing practices in place.

If you are a not for profit organization or charity I would strongly advise you to sit down with your IT provider and have discussion regarding your software licensing strategy in light of the fact that organizations like TechSoup exist.

For Profit Companies

Unfortunately, if you are a for profit company, you don’t qualify to use the services of an outfit like TechSoup but there are some smart ways to save a few $$$ when it comes to your software licensing costs.

OEM Software (Microsoft)

If we’re talking about Microsoft software specifically you can save money by purchasing things like MS Office at the same time as you purchase a new PC. This is called OEM software and it’s much less cost than ordering separately from the new computer. The trade-off however is that you don’t qualify for attaching Microsoft’s Software Assurance to the product which essentially is a premium cost that allows you all upgrades that come along for a 2 yr period.

If you plan a fairly regular turn over of your PC’s/Mac’s though then perhaps OEM software is the way to go for you and you’d just have to get in the habit of buying new OEM copies of MS Office each time you purchase a new machine.

Open Licensing (Microsoft)

If you have multiple computers to buy for at the same time then perhaps Open Licensing makes sense for you. This allows a few benefits :

  1. Allows 1 license key to be used for multiple installs
  2. Allows certain free “at home” copies for each legitimate open license copy being used
  3. Allows you to add (extra cost) Software Assurance to the licenses thereby “assuring” you access to upgrades for a full 2 yrs after your purchase
  4. If you purchase software assurance (usually around a 50% premium) then every 2 yrs you can simply renew your software assurance for those licenses and get all upgrades for a further 2 years and start the cycle again … this ends up being much cheaper in the long run compared to purchasing all brand new copies each time.

Non-Microsoft Software

It will be impossible to cover each and every vendor here but check into each different company and see what kinds of programs they have in place for legitimately licensing their products. You might be surprised at how affordable some of the products are.

Here are a couple of examples :

Adobe for instance has their Creative Cloud suite of products where you can license just one product or get their entire creative suite for one low monthly price per seat.

AutoDesk is another one … they have a number of plans available where you can pay as you go on either a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis to make it more cost effective for the organization.

There are many other examples but companies will likely make it much easier than you think to legitimately license their products.

Summary

If you are a non-profit or a charity the extremely low cost of getting your licensing on board through organizations like TechSoup (mentioned above) virtually eliminates any barrier to getting your software licensing in order … you just need to take the time to schedule a meeting with your IT Person today and start the discussion …

If you are a for profit corporation/business begin by taking an inventory of all the software titles you currently use … then take a look at the number of licenses you actually own and can “prove” that you own and see what deficiencies might come to the surface. I would then check out the vendors of each of the titles you currently use and see what programs they might have in place like the Adobe and AutoDesk examples mentioned above and at least “start” the conversation of what it would take to make things legitimate and current.

The more informed and educated that you are the more “peace of mind” you create because at that point you at least know “what” the deficiencies are and “what” it will take to correct it … that’s the first step. The next step after that is working those costs into your budget so you can put the whole issues of software licensing to bed and move on to bigger and better things.

Companies like Microsoft are known to require companies to perform audits and report back to them with the current license counts in use vs. the license counts that have been paid for and then further require the companies to provide “proof” of ownership. I’ve seen companies get caught with this and then it’s literally a mad scramble to gather the information required and then an even bigger panic when they realize they are out of compliance and have a massive and “emergency” bill on their hands.

Why not get out ahead of this and start the process now so it’s done from a position of “strength” as opposed to a position of “weakness” … you’ll have greater peace of mind in the process!

Have a question or a comment? Please feel free to leave a comment here or head over to the CONTACT page and post a link to this post and a comment to your favorite social media channel!

Is Your E-Mail Secure, Protected and Recoverable?

E-Mail communications is the lifeblood of any organization and you want to protect it as best you can with the tools that are available to you

© markrubens - Fotolia

© markrubens – Fotolia

With e-mail security and protection we are really talking about 3 main areas of focus …

  • Backup and Disaster Recovery of email and email items
  • Virus, Spam and Content Filtering
  • Forensic Archiving and Storage

Let’s take a look at each of these separately …

Backup and Disaster Recovery of email and email items

Let’s face it, we’ve all had a situation where we’ve deleted an email folder by accident or actually “fat fingered” a delete key and Murphy’s Law strikes! That important email you received yesterday and absolutely must have tomorrow is gone!

The very first thing to do is to look in your “Trash Bin” and see if it’s there at all!

I know I know … you’re likely thinking “DUH! Of course I’d look there!!!” but you’d be surprised the number of people over the years that have faced this kind of situation and not done the obvious and looked there first so I thought I’d just get “STEP #1” out of the way

If this doesn’t work for you then the solution to finding your email depends on what your particular setup scenario is.

I think the best way to handle this would be for me to suggest a few different scenarios and if none of those apply please feel free to leave a comment below, or at my website, and I’ll try and address that specific scenario for you!

Scenario #1 : Standard Internet Service Provider E-Mail using POP3 for e-mail access

If the account set up on the machine is set to leave the email on the server for a number of days before removing it then you may be in luck. You can simply log in to the web interface for your email and retrieve the email if it was sent fairly recently … (have your current IT Staff check and see if your POP3 account is set up this way)

If this setting is set but the email you are missing was received outside the “# of days” window that is set on the POP3 account settings then you will need to go to your backup for this … if your email files are kept on your local PC or Laptop and you don’t have a backup of those local files …. then …. well … how do I say this … it’s likely time to cut your losses and move on!

If your email files are stored on the server at your office then you will need to contact your IT Administrator and have them do a restore of those email files and sift through them to retrieve the email you are looking for …

(See It’s Late On Friday, Do You Know Where Your Data Is? for tips on being aware of where all your data is at all times)

Scenario #2 : Hosted Microsoft Exchange Services in the Cloud (Office365 or others)

It would very much depend on the hosting provider that you use as to what their policies are as far as backup and restores are concerned.

Many of them will offer a special archiving service as an “add-on” to your account but even “that” might have a limited time window attached.

(See How Do I Pick A Great Hosted Exchange E-Mail Service Provider? for some great tips on this)

Scenario #3 : Using GoogleApps for Business for E-Mail

Google is a bit unique in the way they offer email in that even if you delete an email you can often times still search for it in your email program and it will often show up and that’s due to the way that emails are stored in the Google Cloud … and if you can’t find it using a regular search in your email client then often logging into your Google Apps web interface will allow you to search for it there and find it.

————————————————
ACTION ITEM : I can’t possibly cover every single scenario here but it basically comes down to this! Ask your IT Management team this one question …

“Is this organizations email set up in such a way that we can easily recover an email or emails if someone should accidentally delete something?”

If this is important to you and they cannot answer this question definitively then changes need to be made to your setup so you can have the “Peace Of Mind” knowing that you’re covered!
————————————————

Virus, Spam and Content Filtering

If your email services are hosted on an email server at your office there are numerous ways you can handle this onsite at your office .. here’s a few possibilities

Router/Firewall Based Solution : Many of todays’ enterprise class firewalls and routers have security services you can subscribe to from the manufacturer to screen for Viruses and Malware right as soon as it hits your site and before the email is allowed to touch your email server

(See How Do I Pick The Best Security Firewall and Associated Security Devices For My Business? for some great tips)

Dedicated E-Mail Security Device : This is a dedicated piece of hardware where all incoming and outgoing email is sent to for “screening and cleaning” before it is allowed either “inbound” or “outbound” from your organization … This might be a great solution for a company that is committed to their current router/firewall hardware but still desires enterprise class protection… these devices can fit into pretty much any office network scenario

Software Plug-In for Existing E-Mail Server Vendor : The software vendor for your current e-mail server software may themselves have a software “add-on” or plugin available that fits nicely with your existing server setup …

If you are using a Cloud E-Mail Provider you will need to check directly with them inquire as what kind of email security processes they have in place.

————————————————
ACTION ITEM : Have the discussion with your current IT Management Team and ask them this question …

“What steps have been taken in this organization to protect our incoming and outgoing email from all the different types of virus and malware activity?”

This is an incredibly critical piece of your network and it is an absolutely essential to have this covered. The current solution of just having Desktop Anti-Virus may not be 100% effective … Ask lots of question and if you don’t have a peace about it then you need your IT team to make the necessary changes so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you’re taken care of!’re covered!
————————————————

Forensic Archiving and Storage

Whether you are bound by certain laws that require you to keep email history for a certain time frame, or you desire to have a record of all email coming either in our out of your organization there are solutions available that can give this capability to you …

Hosting Your Own Mail Server?

#1 : Check with your email server software vendor and see if they have a solution ?

#2 : Similar to the “Dedicated E-Mail Security Device” scenario mentioned above, you can have all inbound and outbound emails directed to a “device” or “server” where it is first archived before being delivered.

Hosting E-Mails In The Cloud?

#1 : Check with the vendor to see if they have this kind of capability built into their systems to give this to you …

This can be tremendously useful if you need to find an email during an audit situation? during legal proceedings???

Having a solution like this takes the “guess work” out of things as it allows you to literally search for “anything” coming in or out of the organization during however long you are set to keep email for?

SUMMARY :

This is a pretty deep topic and I’ve tried to cover as many of the scenarios as possible … in the end it all comes down to having regular discussion with your IT team about issues like E-Mail Security and Protection …

I’d encourage you to leave comments below and let’s have a conversation …

Is Your Network Secure Around The Clock?

There are many ways to gain access to your office network… some are legitimate and some are malicious! Are you aware of all the different ways people can gain access to your network and have steps been taken to plug holes in your security?

© Petr Ciz - Fotolia

© Petr Ciz – Fotolia

 

The network environment at your office is the heart of your operation! It’s the system you rely on daily to be able to conduct business and give you access to the files, websites and data you need to run your company and make it grow!

There are many different ways to access your network and you likely fit into one or more of the following access scenarios

  • Sitting at a PC or Mac Laptop/Desktop internally and either plugged into the network with a cable or connected wirelessly.
  • Using a Tablet device wirelessly both in and out of the office …
  • Sitting at a Starbucks or Hotel with your laptop and getting work done remotely on their wireless network …
  • Sitting on either a desktop or Laptop at home and getting work done remotely …

I’ve likely left out a few potential scenarios here but you get the point there are quite a number of ways, both external and internal, to get access to the data on your office network.

As a business owner it’s nothing to necessarily be afraid of, but it is something you definitely must be, at the very least, “aware of” and better yet “proactive about” so you can rest assured that your network is safe … safe when you arrive at the office in the morning and safe as well when you turn out the lights and leave at the end of the day.

Most system access questions will be directed at the Main Router/Firewall on your network. The Router/Firewall on your network is essentially the “first point of contact” or “the gatekeeper” for any traffic coming from the Internet that is directed at your office network. It is the primary device responsible for either “allowing” or “dis-allowing” access to your network from the outside.

Everything that comes into your internal network from the Internet first has to pass through the Router/Firewall unit before it can go anywhere else. It’s “RULES” that are set up on the Router/Firewall that determine what traffic “can” and “cannot” do …

It’s a good idea to have a regular review of the Router/Firewall rules as sometimes old access that used to be in place that is no longer needed/allowed can be just left open on the Router/Firewall and that can potentially create a “hole” that needs to be plugged …

Access From The Inside Out

This is another potential security hole in any organization as lots of services are out there like “LogMeIn” … “NetOp” and others that allow a person to install a piece of software on an PC or Laptop internally on the network so they can have un-fettered access from the outside. This way an employee can go home and access their office PC, for instance, from their home and gain access to company resources.

Again, this is not something inherently “evil” but you, as the business owner, need to be aware of who has access to your network and when …

Your IT Support staff need to know this information so #1: They are aware and #2: Should that employee ever leave they can remove that access so it cannot be accessed any longer …

Summary :

This should at the very least a list of questions in your mind and here’s what I would suggest … Sit down and have a great conversation with your IT Service provider and ask them these questions :

Question #1 : What kind of firewall protection do we have ?

Question #2 : Do we know what kinds of rules and access are currently in place?

Question #3 : Has a review ever been done to ensure those rules and access are still valid and needed?

Question #4 : Has a scan of the internal network every been done to check “Inside Out” apps like “LogMeIn” and others so we know who might “backdooring” to get access to the network?

Question #5 : Overall, do we have a list of everyone who currently has access to our network from the outside and do we have policies in place to ensure our network is safe when they gain access with those devices?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts it doesn’t have to be a big heavy conversation but in the end it’s all about educating yourself regarding what’s going on with your network. An “educated” and “informed” owner, in the end, is an owner that is being responsible and can check off yet another thing as done is his/her mind … and “that” creates “Peace Of Mind” …

Onwards and Upwards ….

Please feel free to leave comments below or reach out using our CONTACT page if you have further questions or concerns you’d like to discuss!

Am I Safe To Move My E-mail To The Cloud?

“Cloud e-mail options are varied and plentiful today, but is this the right choice for my business?”

© duncanandison - Fotolia

© duncanandison – Fotolia

As we’ve mentioned in previous articles, email operations really are the life-blood of your organization. Orders coming in by email, communications with customers and suppliers coming back and forth by email, prospective customers initiating communication with your company by email… and so on!

There really are 3 main ways that email services are delivered in a business environment today :

#1 : Internet Service Provider based emails

You have to get your business internet services from someone right? So why not just get your email services from them as well … makes perfect sense right?

All the Major Internet Services Providers (ISP’s) will provide hosting services for your company email and all of them will provide at least POP3 access. POP3 is, for the most part, an access method for your email where your email is downloaded off the ISP’s email servers and once downloaded it’s removed so it only exists on the device you downloaded it on.

The really good ISP’s will also offer IMAP access. IMAP access is a method where the email actually stays on the ISP’s servers and the device you are accessing the email from actually just synchronizes with the ISP’s mail system. You can have multiple devices all accessing the same email account using IMAP and they all stay in synch .. delete an email on one device and that same email is gone on all devices accessing that account ….

PRO : Usually very cost effective and reliable

CON : Not as friendly on mobile devices for both setup and operation -and- sometimes sending an email from a domain on one ISP’s system through another ISP’s internet pipe can get rejected (i.e. Domain is hosted on Shaw and you are trying to send an email from a Telus internet pipe) … Not at all ISP’s will block this kind of traffic but it must be checked out in advance before you implement to make sure this is not an issue.

#2 : Onsite E-Mail Server Based E-Mail

If the Internet service from your Internet Service provider includes a static (i.e. permanent and unchanging) IP address then you also have the option of hosting your own email services …

NOTE: If you’re unsure what a static TCP/IP address is just ask your IT Staff and they’ll tell you!

Doing this would involve setting up E-Mail Server software on the server in your office and setting up email accounts for each person. You then would configure the E-Mail server software to accept email for your @companyname.com or .ca or whatever domain and finally make changes to your router/firewall and your domain name DNS so that any emails sent to your @companyname domain would get delivered from the internet right through to your E-Mail Server …

Your IT Staff will undoubtedly know all the procedures and processes to go through to make this happen. If you or they need assistance with this please reach out using out CONTACT page and I’d be glad to engage with you to make this happen.

People would then log in to the local E-Mail Server from their email program and get their mail…. that’s it …

All the good On-Site E-Mail Servers will have both POP3 and IMAP services. Many of them will also have Security Plugins for both Virus and Malware as well as content filtering. Many of them as well will play nicely with Mobile devices that access them

(see our post entitled I Want To Run Our Own E-Mail Server At The Office … Which One Should I Pick? for some great ideas)

PRO : Complete control over your entire email environment

CON : Someone needs to administer it locally … requires some extra configuration of the domain registration as well as router/firewall security (mind you this is only done once and then usually left alone but still something to consider) …

#3 : Cloud Providers (Hosted Exchange & GoogleApps for Business)

The “big guns” out there really are these 2 different players …

If you have come from a Microsoft Environment in the past where they used Microsoft Exchange either onsite or in the cloud and you really like the Microsoft Outlook look and feel on the desktop then using a hosted Exchange Environment might be the very best pick for you …

(see our post entitled How Do I Pick A Great Hosted Exchange E-Mail Service Provider? if this is a path you are considering as it contains some really helpful tips for this)

Google Apps for Business is hosted by, as the name states, Google … you have a little more freedom in being able to choose the email client you wish to use on your desktop as well as it being very friendly on a myriad of mobile devices as well … but it is also an excellent and robust platform for your business communications needs …

If a cloud provider is the way you want to go you really can’t go wrong with either option (Hosted Exchange -or- Google Apps) and it really comes down to which one you like better …

Some people consider a Hosted Exchange platform as being “safer” because it’s familiar however with the millions of customers that the GMail system currently has there’s definitely a whole community of people that love that platform too …

So … do your homework … ask lots of questions of the IT staff at your company and have some fun investigating …

PRO : Enterprise Class … Robust … Super friendly with mobile devices …

CON : Cost may be higher overall

SUMMARY :

The main point of the article was to introduce you to the different ways that email services are delivered in a company environment … this should give you some good food for through when considering if a Cloud E-Mail platform is the best choice for you …

If you have specific comments or questions regarding this article please leave a comment a below or you can always reach out using our CONTACT page …

“Ransomeware” Is Out There, Are You Safe And Protected? …

If you have been reading the news lately you no doubt have seen that Ransomware seems to be rearing it’s ugly head again … the great news is that the devastating effects of this are entirely preventable!

© iQoncept - Fotolia

© iQoncept – Fotolia

“Ransomware is a type of malware which restricts access to the computer system it infects and demands a ransom paid to the creators of the malware in order for the restriction to be removed” – (from Wikipedia)

We are all potential targets of this kind of behaviour the second we turn our computers on but the good news is that there are a number of simple steps we can take to mitigate any potential damage that may come from an infection of this type.

Firewall Protection

If you are primarily a home user then a simple hardware firewall from the major consumer brands like Cisco-Linksys or D-Link would be the absolute first line of defence for any setup that accesses the internet.

If you are primarily a business or corporation where a single internet pipe is serving up an Internet connection for several people, then you will want to consider a hardware firewall solution that is a bit more robust. Many companies provide solutions at this level such as SonicWallCisco or Juniper and many others.

At their most basic level these devices prevent un-fettered access to your network or PC from anyone on the outside unless you first initiate the connection.

At the corporate level many of these devices also carry with them a complete suit of security services and processes to provide virus and malware scanning right at the hardware level.

See our other article entitled “How Do I Pick The Best Security Firewall and Associated Security Devices For My Business?” for a deeper dive into this subject.

Anti-Virus Software

On the desktops and, possibly, servers in your environment you absolutely “must” make sure that proper Anti-Virus protection is available and running on each device in your environment. Both real time “on the fly” scans must be active as well as regular full scans of each machine.

This is meant to try and prevent an infection from getting too far if it does make it on your machine …

Onsite and Offsite Backups

Ultimately it comes down to this … someone is holding your data hostage and will not release it to you unless you pay them for it.

Consider this! : What if you were more than willing to just turn the machine off and blow it up/scrub it clean and reload everything from scratch … this pretty much takes the teeth out of any threat or blackmail that they could potentially throw at your doesn’t it?

If you are completely aware of where all your data is, and confirm that you could turn your machine off and get the data elsewhere then you are sitting quite pretty.

See our other article entitled “It’s Late On Friday, Do You Know Where Your Data Is?” for more on this.

Remedial Action

Once you know you have an infection and it’s not possible to remove it I would highly suggest the following steps :

#1 : Disconnect the machine from the Internet and shut it off.

#2 : As mentioned above, check all your backups and confirm you have access to all your data elsewhere!

#3 : Once you confirm you have access to your data elsewhere then I would proceed to scrub your machine clean and reload from scratch.

Now in the situation where you find yourself stricken with this virus and no backups are available then you have a choice to make and make quickly!

Even if the program says it will cost you $300.00, for example, you may think “Well, it’s only $300.00 so maybe I should just pay it an avoid the hassle” … in this case you have no reason to trust that it will end there! The virus may just likely freeze the machine again and ask for $$$ again.

In any event, the safest approach to this would be to consult a professional before attempting any remedial action and your choices at that time will need to be reviewed.

If you are currently sailing in safe waters and all is well then “NOW” is the perfect time to consider crafting a plan to deal with just such a situation!

I’d welcome you leaving a comment below and if you are interested in having a plan like this crafted for “your” business please reach out using the different methods on my CONTACT PAGE and I’ll be happy to discuss with you!

It’s Late On Friday, Do You Know Where Your Data Is?

Stop right now and ask yourself this question … if your machine were to go up in smoke right this second would you know where all your data is?

© Brian Jackson - Fotolia

© Brian Jackson – Fotolia

Let’s begin by asking this question another way …

If you were to close the lid on your laptop or turn off your PC right now, do you have another way of getting access to all the data and files that are important to you?

You can begin by asking yourself the following types of questions!

E-Mail : Is your email just downloaded to your computer only? Or is it cloud based account?

Photos : Are all your photos sitting on just your computer only ? Are they also backed up somewhere?

Music : Is all your digital music sitting in iTunes or some other media player?

Documents and Files : Do all these files just live on your computer ? Are they also sitting in a cloud based file sharing service of some sort?

In the end I see it as a real balance between security and convenience

I work in a model where I have backups of everything but I also operate in a model where all of the files and email I work with are also sitting in the cloud … so … I have the “security” of having backups everything plus the “convenience” of having everything in the cloud so I can get at it from either my laptop or any of my mobile devices.

Other people may not need that kind of fluid access at all times and may choose to simply have a single machine and a system of backups for safeguarding their items.

You can systematically move through all the different major areas listed above (E-Mail, Photos, Music, Documents and Files) and go through this simple exercise. Turn the computer off and write out on a piece of paper “exactly” how you would go about getting access to all these items with your computer not being available!

If you can’t, with 100% certainty, answer the question of what you would do to get access to your files and data in this situation then it’s time to make a change and add some “peace of mind” to your life!

Please leave a comment below or, if you have questions or concerns about this with your own technology environment then feel free to reach out using any of the methods on my contact page and I’d be happy to interact with you!

I Want To Run Our Own E-Mail Server At The Office … Which One Should I Pick?

You’ve made the decision that you want to run your own email server at your office so you can have complete control over the solution! Which one do you pick?

© Nikita Kuzmenkov - Fotolia.com

© Nikita Kuzmenkov – Fotolia.com

This discussion is very similar to the discussion we had last week regarding Security Devices (see How Do I Pick The Best Security Firewall and Associated Security Devices For My Business?). If you get a number of email and messaging experts in a room and ask them which package you should go with you’ll likely get as many opinions as there are people in the room.

Here are a number of questions to ask about any e-mail server you want to consider :

#1 : Cost Of Licensing (including ongoing renewals)

Some email server charge a flat rate based on the number of users and that’s it. Some will charge a certain amount for the core server software itself and then so much per user after that.

Most packages out there as well will have some sort of renewal that is paid either every year or perhaps every 2 years if you want to stay up to date with the latest versions at your leisure.

Just make sure you have all the costs laid out in front of you … maybe even consider laying out all license and renewal costs over a 5 yr period so you are comparing “apples to apples”.

#2 : Calendar and Contact Sharing and Collaboration

Beyond just simple sending and receiving of emails does the server in question give you the ability to share calendars within a team environment as well as perhaps a shared corporate calendar that everyone can see?

Do you have the ability to have separate private contacts for each person but also perhaps have a corporate contact list that everyone can see with key vendors and customers listed?

#3 : Enhancement ability with the use of Plugins

For things like security (anti-virus and malware scanning) or archiving or other extra functionalit,  does the server you are considering play well with other packages that take care of these secondary functions? Or perhaps does the same company that makes the mail server also make these other package.

#4 : Ease of Use with Mobile Devices

Does the email server allow for easy syncing and use with mobile devices for people on the move such that work and email they do on the road is reflected when they get back in the office?

#5 : Easy Access to Mail Logs for Forensics

Are there good records kept of all email coming both in and out of your systems for both audit and potential forensic use?

#6 : Cost and Availability of Support

Is there an easy support channel you can call on if you run into issues so you can get you questions answered in a reasonably quick fashion? Is the cost of this support included in the price of the software or is there an extra fee attached?

#7 : Cost of Hardware

Will your existing hardware at the office be capable of running this server or will you need to purchase additional hardware?

#8 : Cost and Availability of Ongoing Administration

Do you have the resources to handle the day to day administration of this server yourself internally, with maybe a little training, or will you need to rely on an external resource to help you each time?

SUMMARY

There are many questions that you need to ask yourself when picking a system as critical to your operation as this. You might find one package that has all the functionality you need but cost of licensing and renewals is through the roof?

You might find another package that has all the functionality you need but you’ll need to purchase additional hardware to make it happen?

You might find yet another package that is reasonably priced and doesn’t require any extra hardware but you don’t have anyone who knows how to run or administer it and extra help will need to be brought in?

All these points need to be considered …