How Do I Pick The Best Security Firewall and Associated Security Devices For My Business?

If you were to get a group of consultants and technicians into a room and ask them which Router/Firewall or associated security devices to use in your business you would likely get as many answers as there are people in the room.

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© z_amir – Fotolia

That would also not necessarily be a bad thing as I’m sure each person could likely make a great case for going with whatever platform they were suggesting. As well each different hardware vendor would have a slightly different spin on things I’m sure and variety is always a good thing.

To look forward and protect your investment, however, I think there are some important questions you need to ask of your consultant when considering any solution for a function as important as protecting your network …

#1 : Is the hardware vendor well established and been in a business for a considerable period of time?

There are the “big gun” vendors out there like Cisco, SonicWall and Barracuda to name a few. There are also other leading edge and more “start up” vendors who have narrowed in on a particular niche that they specialize in and they make excellent products as well!

If you are purchasing a solution for your company however you must always balance the “known” vs. the “unknown”. When it’s a company who may have just started out there’s always inherent risk in going with a startup vs. a company that’s been around for quite some time.

There’s also the question of product maturity. A company that’s been around for quite some time will have also invested the time and resources into constantly developing their product and adding features, functionality and stability.

#2 : Does the hardware vendor have a family of products the interact and work with each other to provide a total technology solution for your business?

You may not be looking for this right away, but you may find some value in your firewall/router vendor also being to, perhaps, supply a dedicated e-mail security device down the road … or perhaps secure wireless access points … or perhaps secure remote access hardware … or other products, but you see where I am going with this …

A vendor that makes a whole “family” of products has spent the time to make sure they all play nicely together which can often save you time down the road if you were to expand the suite of products you want to use from that vendor because you have a need to fill.

#3 : Does the hardware vendor have an established technical support structure that can be tapped into by either the customer themselves -or- the consultant providing the solution?

This is where the bigger, more established, vendors start to pull away from the pack. Often times they will have a multitude of ways to get in touch when support is needed. Whether that be an online chat for a quick question, or a toll free number … or a ticketing system of plain old email, with the good vendors they will make it very easy to reach out to them when help is needed.

The good vendors will also have regular 8 hr / 5 day a week support for basic needs or if you business needs it they will provide full 24 hr / 7 day a week support.

#4 : Is the hardware platform proprietary and/or is the platform widely enough used that if the consultant supplying the solution were to no longer be available that you would not be alone?

This is another area where the bigger vendors shine. The bigger the vendor, often the more widespread the usage of their product is and thus the greater chance that other consultants or service providers would be available to jump in and provide support in a pinch. Or in an extreme emergency you the customer would be able to quickly get support while trying to find someone to help you longer term.

SUMMARY :

I have purposely avoided making a specific product recommendation because I don’t want this site to be plugging one particular vendor. I may have my own personal preferences but I certainly won’t criticize other solutions that meet the criteria mentioned above.

The bottom line is that you as the business owner should educate yourselves and ask these types of questions so you know that you are covered in the short, medium and long term with any solution you pick.

There are lots of great solutions out there from a number of different hardware vendors and the more you educate yourself the safer you’ll feel placing your trust in a solution and knowing you’ll be well protected and taken care of.

Are you currently considering a project like this and have questions or concerns about it you’d like to discuss?? Please leave a comment below …

How Do I Pick A Great Hosted Exchange E-Mail Service Provider?

“You’ve decided you want to use a Cloud Hosted Microsoft Exchange email service for your business email system … now comes to the time to choose which service to use”

© destina - Fotolia.com

© destina – Fotolia.com

The point of this post is not to tell you a specific company to use, the purpose of this article is to give you a number of points to consider when deciding which company to use …

Consider this a “check list” of sorts to perhaps go over when checking out the features and functionality of companies you are considering.

Basic Features of Functionality

All the major providers out there will have the same basic feature set …

  • Shared Calendars, Contacts and Tasks
  • Synchronization of Mobile Device
  • Web Access
  • Mac/PC e-mail client access

Still check out the entire feature set but it would be a showstopper if they didn’t have at least this set of features and functionality.

As with most things in life and business there are a ton of companies and people out there all performing the same thing and it’s becoming harder and harder to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack….

In our travels here’s a few different areas where we have seen differences between the different providers

Trial Period Offered

Does the company offer some sort of trial period where you can test out things like the Control Panel (where you add/remove/change email accounts and features) … the Web Access Interface? … Access On Mobile Devices???

The good providers will give you the ability to test all these features out with no risk and a complete money back guarantee …

Ease Of Support Options

  • Tech Support phone number clearly identified on their website?
  • Ability to submit support tickets and get a timely response?
  • Is support available 24x7x365?
  • Does the provide have migration services available if you to move “to” their service?
  • Chat Support options available online?

Nothing drives people more nuts than signing up for a service and then either trying it out and making the decision to go with it and then when you run into issues you can’t easily reach support help for assistance with the issue.

This really is supremely important and can have a massive affect on your overall impression of the organization as a whole. A good experience at the support can, in many cases, make up for any bumps along the road you encounter during the on boarding process with the service.

Ease Of Administration

When you log into the Control Panel (where you add/remove/change email accounts and features) are features and functionality clearly marked? Do you have obvious access to things like billing statements and the ability to add/remove/change accounts?

Is the overall look/feel of the area clearly intuitive and easy to understand?

Advanced Functionality

These services really are more of “icing on the cake” yet could still be an important factor in your decision making

Virus/Malware/Content Filtering : Does the provider include some sort of service for the scanning of incoming and outgoing emails for virus/malware and certain types of forbidden content?

Automatic Archiving and Retrieval : It may be an extra paid service, but does the provider offer the ability to automatically archive all incoming and outgoing mail plus the ability to retrieve it, even if it’s purposely deleted from the users mailbox?

This is by no means an exhaustive list but we believe this gives 4 big areas to look for to distinguish one services from another …

A Few Words About Christmas!

Today is finally here! The day we typically get together with family and friends and perhaps a few others who don’t have their family close by and just simply “be together” and “be thankful” for the simple pleasures of life …

© karandaev - Fotolia

© karandaev – Fotolia

We all get so busy, and so buried, in work and business life that it’s easy to overlook those around us that have contributed towards our success this past year!

A very special shout out to all my customers and clients who have entrusted me with the safety and security of your networks and technology environments … I don’t take that lightly and very much look forward to contributing to your success and peace of mind this coming year … THANK YOU!

A huge shout out to people behind the scenes at my office whether that be accountants and book keepers or people that help organize and manage my schedule … you enable me to be as effective as possible and I absolutely could not do what I do without you … THANK YOU!

I want to give a very warm thank you too the colleagues of mine who have covered for me at times so I can go away with my family and enjoy some R&R … you guys are the very best at what you do … THANK YOU!

You are likely reading this on the morning of Christmas Eve and perhaps even considering shutting down the office early so why not take a minute and go to the people in your office that support you and make your job possible and tell them just how much you appreciate them … and if they are not in today perhaps give them a call and tell them just how much they mean to you …

Finally … I want to wish all my readers the very best this Christmas Season! God’s Blessings on you all and I wish for you your best year ever in 2015!

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!

Are You Protected When An Employee Leaves?

“An employee of yours leaves the company, have you taken steps to protect the company property this employee had access to?”

© nito - Fotolia

© nito – Fotolia

It would be ideal if life always lobbed us softballs wouldn’t it? A long-time and beloved employee announces they are moving on to their next adventure in life, you thank them for their years of service, have a nice sendoff party and you tie a pretty bow on everything and life is good!

On the other end of spectrum you have the more difficult situation where perhaps a long term, or even short term employee, makes a surprise decision to leave or perhaps has been fired or perhaps “needs” to be fired and you need to ensure that the resources this person had access to have been protected and are safe.

Whether the employee relationship ends well or ends badly it’s always best to err on the side of caution, eliminate all doubt and secure the assets of the company …

Here’s the main areas of security you’ll want to be mindful of and check off your list when dealing with this situation :

#1 : E-Mail

Out Of Office Reply : You’ll need to immediately put an Out Of Office Reply on the account letting people know that this person is no longer with the company and that all emails are being forward to ???? and state the name of the person the emails are going to.

Re-direction of New E-Mail : You’ll need to designate a person internally that will receive all “new” emails being sent to the employee and forward all emails inbound to the persons account to this person

Once these first 2 steps are done this will give you the time you need to go through their archive and pluck the emails out that are critical to business continuity and forward them to the appropriate people …

Once you have harvested the emails you then it’s recommended to keep the emails for the departing employee forwarded for a period of perhaps 2 weeks and then delete the account entirely. This will give appropriate time for the outside world to know there has been a change.

Of course this policy can always be changed depending on the importance of the position and can be adjusted accordingly …

#2 : Network Access

Remote Network Access : If this person had remote access to the network then whatever method they used for outside authentication (Secure Virtual Private Network “VPN” device, Firewall login … etc …etc) will, at the very least, need to be suspended while you work through the termination process

Local Network Access : Whatever login credentials they had on the network will, at the very least, need to be suspended while you work through the termination process

#3 : Private Files

People operating in a network environment like this will often have a private file directory on the office server(s) where only they and the IT administrator have access to. Securing these files and being aware of where they are is critical.

#4 : Company Computing Resources (Desktops and Laptops)

These devices will need to be retrieved and analyzed by your IT Staff to ensure that any files kept locally on the device have been retrieved before the resource is scrubbed and reloaded and perhaps given to another staff member …

#5 : Company Smart Phones/Tablets

Depending on the circumstances of the departure many phones will have a remote wipe/delete capability that can be employed if need be but use caution when employing this method as the destructive nature of it is self evident and you’ll lose anything on the phone or tablet in the process.

There are certain circumstances where employees can go on a “slash and burn” deletion campaign if they know they are being let go and that can be incredibly destructive if you are not prepared. See our other Post entitled “Is Your Data Safe And Could You Recover From A Disaster?” for tips on properly backing things up for easy retrieval should it be needed in this kind of situation …

If you step through these items as an organization each time someone leaves, whether it’s a Good exit or a Bad exit you are well on your way towards adding a little more “Peace Of Mind” to your life …

Is Your Data Safe And Could You Recover?

“You’re dreading getting the phone call from the office … the call that says the server is down and not restarting … if that call “does” come do you relax because you know you’re covered and you have a plan or do serious questions get raised in your head because you’re not quite sure?”

© z_amir - Fotolia

© z_amir – Fotolia

If you can’t walk away from the question above with a big thumbs up then you need to be asking this question of your IT Team now. You’re not accusing them of “not” taking care of things, you are merely being a wise business owner by asking them the following questions :

  • What if the server went down today and was physically not able to start up? What then?
  • How are we storing our backups and have those backups been tested for availability?
  • How much data are we actually saving and how far back could we restore if needed?
  • If we had a total loss situation at the head office is our data being stored securely offsite and is it easily retrievable?
  • Do we have the ability to quickly get our server back up and running in a timely fashion?

It’s all about you, the business owner, being able to have the “peace of mind” that this critical function in your organization is taken care of so you can mentally check this off your list.

With major items like this it’s “always” better to have this conversation from a position of strength, when there isn’t a disaster and you’re allowed to look at things objectively, as opposed to being in the middle of a disaster and it quickly becomes a recovery mission and everyone is running around in a panic.

There are few incredibly significant steps you can take as an organization to have complete and total “peace of mind” in this area …

Step #1 : Have your IT Service Provider answer the following questions in a report:

  • How often are backups taken?
  • How much backup data is being stored at any one given time?
  • Where is onsite backup data stored?
  • Is the success/failure of backups being monitored on a daily basis?

Step #2 : Have your IT Service Provider test the viability of restoring random pieces of data from a backup at least once a month as part of a regular monthly service and maintenance routine and report on the success/failure of that to you automatically.

Step #3 : Have your IT Service Provider provide explanations of what plan they would execute in the event that one of the following scenarios were to happen

  • Normal File Loss : Someone loses a basic document or spreadsheet or database.
  • Server Crippled : Server goes down but is repairable and business interruption occurs.
  • Server Fatal : Server goes down and stays down and is not repairable and business interruption occurs.
  • Site Fatal : There is a total loss of the site business office itself, server and networking equipment included and the office needed to be temporarily/permanently relocated.

It’s all about you as a business owner being able to free your mind and have “peace of mind” knowing that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, your business data is safe, secure and easily retrievable in case of emergency … simple as that!

What I Do and How I Can Help …

I’ve had the pleasure of providing business technology consulting and coaching now for the better part of 20 years and in those years I’ve had the pleasure of tackling and solving a broad spectrum of problems for businesses of all sizes.

Questions, we can help Chalk Illustration

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While each business is different, and each business encounters their own set of challenges, I’ve seen a number of issues, common to each business, repeat themselves.

This blog is being created as a way for me to share with you the questions that I keep getting asked over and over again as well as my answers.

Small or medium sized business owner

I want this blog to be a resource that grabs your attention and touches on questions you may be having now or contains technology topics that you’ve never thought of before but might be interested in. Think of this blog as way to start conversations!

IT Technician or Manager

You might find topics covered here that you are currently wrestling with in your existing IT Environment and we welcome you to use the information here to help you.

Technology Lovers In General

Peruse the topics covered in this blog and find something interesting and have fun learning. I know I have appreciated, over my years, the consultants that have crossed my path that have helped me discover questions that I didn’t even know I should be asking and I see huge value in this.

No one can possibly know everything, nor do I claim to be a consultant who does, however I’ve seen enough questions asked over the last 20 years that I believe there’s great value in putting this information down on paper so that others can benefit from it.

My plan is to put out a new blog posts at least once a week with a different topic of interest each time with more frequent posts to the my different social media properties …I’d love to hear from you as well so please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out using my CONTACT PAGE