Is your E-Mail an Innie or an Outie?

Is your Mail an Innie or an Outie?

One of the biggest questions we get is email service. Should we get an email server, should we have it hosted, and if so, with who?

When starting a business, picking the right email system is crucial. There is not one simple answer. However, here are thoughts comparing hosted (cloud) and in-house email.

Hosted email has been around for decades, from the days of AOL and Hotmail to Google and Microsoft offering their own solutions. Many vendors sell Exchange hosted, or their own branded solutions. Over the years of experience, we have utilized and recommend either Office 365 or Google Apps. Their price points run, on average $5/user a month, they give you plenty of storage and have plenty of additions such as file storage and intranet capabilities. When running a smaller business the price point is cheaper than buying a server and having to maintain it. If your workforce is mobile, cloud hosting lends itself very well to a mobile workforce.

However, considerations must be made when choosing a hosted solution. The first is bandwidth of your internet. If you have quite a few people in your office who are using the internet, having them email each other will still send ALL email over the internet and then back. While not huge, if you add in 15+ people, it can start causing some concerns, especially if large attachments are being sent and received. When you start growing over 40-50 users, not only is bandwidth a potential problem, but so is the cost. At 50 users, you are looking at throwing out for $250/month for email.

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The other option is keeping your own server. An in house email system has a large initial "lifting" cost as I like to call it. You have to spend money on hardware and software, which, on average can be around $3000. You need to maintain it, and make sure it is backed up, adding to that price. However, these costs do have certain advantages over outsourced mail. The first is you are in control of the server. If there is an outage (and they do happen) with hosted email, you will be in the dark about problems and possible resolution times. Maintaining your own system allows you to setup specific rules and commands that would require you to open tickets up with a hosted email provider, who may deny them. If your internet is down (or if the hosted solution is down), you can still send and receive email internally on server based system. From a business perspective, purchasing the server, can be charged as a capital expense and can be written down as depreciation. Hosted email, it is like renting a house, you cannot receive any benefits for it on the accounting side of your company. Finally, you are in control of your mail. There are no concerns of security or other measures, as you house it all.

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At Renascence IT, we have years of experience on many hosted and in house solutions and can work with you on a decision that makes sense for your business and budget. Feel free to contact us with any questions.

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What to Do Now That Windows XP is Dead?

After 12 years and multiple operating systems coming after it, Windows XP will officially be dead to Microsoft come April of 2014. This means no new security patches or support will come to this legacy software once this date passes. This will be a huge issue for any business as without support or updates, it will be easier for groups to target this system and gain access to proprietary, financial, or other sensitive information.

How can a company prevent this? With five months left, there is time to act. The easiest is to move to a newer Windows operating system, but is Vista, 7, or even 8 the best upgrade option? Each one has its pros and cons.

If your business is in this XP hole, we at Renascence IT Consulting can throw you a rope. Feel free to email or call us to work with your business on the most cost effective and least intrusive migrating options.

More on the end of XP:
http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/enterprise/endofsupport.aspx

Malware Offering Up New Tricks no Treats

Over the course of the last few weeks, we have read and seen a flurry of malware attacks that are quite scary. Two in particular are very nasty and present new ways to infect and reduce your company’s productivity to a stand still.

The first is a fake Microsoft Security Essentials malware product. We have personally see this on a couple of systems now and it is making it rounds. It presents itself as the actual product on web page pop up and "warns" you of "malware". You allow it to run and it then infects your system. In terms of defense, the first step is knowledge. Microsoft will NEVER send you a pop up through a web page to warn you that you are infected; it would do so through its actual product on your desktop. Also, Microsoft Security Essentials is a decent anti-virus program, BUT it is only meant for home use only and even specifies in the terms and conditions when you download it that it will not be used for business. If you are a company, you need to use an anti-virus alternative. This will also allow you and your employees to discern between your company’s anti-virus product and this fake one.

The second one is under the category of ransomware. Essentially by being tricked from a link in an email, it installs their software on a machine. From there, it encrypts the entire hard drive. At this point the user is told they have 10 days to pay (right now the average is $300) to give the employee access back to their data. If they don’t pay, the hard drive’s data is deleted. Unfortunately, once it is installed, there is nothing that can be done to recover encrypted data. However, there are two ways to prevent and work around this issue. The first is to install a professional version of Anti-Spyware. Many free programs are out there that can detect this and other malware once it has already been installed. This doesn’t fix the problem. A professional version of the program actually stays resident in memory and can see if something that is ABOUT to be installed is malware, thus preventing the problem before it becomes an issue. The other tactic is to have your employees store company data on a central server or other location away from their computer. This way, in the event of severe malware (or other issue) striking a particular system, you can wipe the system without wiping away the employee’s (or company’s) work.

If you have concerns about these malware infections or the state of your security at your company in general, please contact us at sales.

More on malware mentioned above:

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Bogus-Microsoft-Security-Essentials-Alert-Used-to-Distribute-Fake-AV-350072.shtml

http://blog.malwarebytes.org/intelligence/2013/10/cryptolocker-ransomware-what-you-need-to-know/

Why Adobe Being Hacked Should Have You Concerned

It was revealed that Adobe had a break in of its servers last Friday. As a result 2.9 million customer records were obtained that included credit card numbers and other information. However, the bigger threat looms as the thieves took the code for a number of Adobe products, including Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader.

When malware or viruses are created, they try and use weaknesses in an operating system or software to find cracks that can bypass security and install on your machine. Usually this is done by malware authors by using a "black box". It is essentially a machine with the program(s) they want to try and break and spend considerable time coding their way around defenses. However, with the source code, these people essentially have the alarm code for Adobe products and can see the inherit weaknesses in their products. The problem is Adobe Reader and Acrobat are programmed to insert themselves natively into Windows. This means that these programs have access to your operating system unlike other products. As a result, expect to see many patches and updates for Adobe coming in the next few weeks to try and dam the holes as it were.

However, there are alternatives to Adobe Reader and Acrobat. If you need access to view or create PDFs, there are many solutions that are free or nearly free and don’t require such a huge footprint on your computer. This results in higher productivity for your business and a large security hole closed.

If you wish to know more about these products or want to make sure your network is secure, feel free to contact us at sales.

New exploits on Old Java

We have experienced a huge jump with our clients having rootkits, malware, and viruses in the past month. These are even with those businesses that have updated anti-virus definitions, and keep Windows up to date. The cause? Old versions of Java code that are exploited by malicious programmers.

Java was developed as a way to have code written for it once and then can be implemented on a variety of platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, etc.). The problem stems that it can bypass security measures on those systems to allow code to exploit a user’s system. This can then be used to directly inject malware, key loggers, or a variety of tools that can steal financial or proprietary information from your business.

Updating Java is key, but the issue is, unless you know how, older versions of Java still linger in your system. First, go to www.java.com and make sure you have the latest version of Java in your system. Once it is done updating, it should automatically check to see if you have a version that needs to be removed. If not, go to:

http://java.com/en/download/uninstallapplet.jsp

and make sure to get rid of these potential back doors for yourself and your business.

Feel free to contact us at sales if you wish to have us assist with this, or to thoroughly scan your systems and network for other potential hazards at your company.

Transitions and Technology Part One

We are still alive. We went through a period of time moving our resources from Posterous (rest in peace) over to WordPress, so you will see the stream pick up on postings again.

During this time, I have worked with many new clients and there is a mindset I run into time and time again that is counter to running a business:

"We can’t afford to upgrade our machines because it is too costly!"

This is flawed logic when working from a business perspective. I will go over many reasons in following postings, but I will start with the biggest: old machines cost your employees hours, which cost you money.

We have gone into companies where we have literally sat for an old Gateway system (proof in itself that it was a dinosaur) to get to a desktop screen after 20 minutes! Opening up a simple document took over 2-3 minutes! If you just extrapolate that out over just one month, or 20 working days, of turning on their system and working on just 10 documents, this person was unable to work for 600 minutes in one month! Basically, this company paid them for 10 hours of work to watch their machine grind away. If you spend around $450 for a decent office workstation, I have seen that drop down to about a 3 minute boot time and less than 20 seconds to open a document. Your office may not be as dramatic, but look at the number of employees and the amount of time wasted because of older hardware and software. You can see that by making an investment in newer equipment will actually SAVE you money in the long run by increasing worker productivity. It will also help with down time when that older hardware decides to croak right at the end of the quarter when your crucial sales report is due.

If you can’t afford the hardware, many large vendors, including Dell and HP, have leasing programs where you can get workstations for $20-30/month and end up owning it at the end of the lease.

We are in the business of making sure you stay in business and are not just operating, but operating efficiently. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at sales or visit us at www.renitconsulting.com

Next in the series is, "How Does Older Technology Handle Newer Threats?"

Cloudy on the Cloud for your Business?

One of the BIG questions we get all the time is, "Should I have my business in the Cloud or is it safer to keep everything at the office?"

The answer to this is not cut and dry and is as specialized as each business. While an accounting firm might have specific software that helps them do taxes, those same programs would not work for a warehouse needing inventory management databases. The same applies for a technology infrastructure. Some basic footwork and questions I ask of any new client that aids in a decision are the following:

1) Can the office handle the bandwidth of cloud based operations? I have walked into situations where a company moved their accounting, file systems and email to the internet, only to be frustrated at lost productivity due to their internet service not being able to handle the load. We check your connection, number of users, and the potential applications wanting to be moved to the Cloud. If, at that point, it does not look good for all or some of the services to be changed, we would work with you on an onsite solution.

2) Are you capable of being down as a business if the internet or service goes down? Nothing is perfect. The internet can go down for 10 minutes or 5 hours and cloud providers have outages. Can your particular company continue to work if your employees cannot access email, files, or accounting information for an hour or two? Would it be better to house files in house, that, in the event of an outage, will allow your team to continue to work? 

3) Is it safer to keep the data in your environment or on the Cloud? Storing your email and files on a local server is safer than outside to a certain degree. However, someone can come and take your server, your backups, and put you out of business. What happens if a disaster strikes and your office literally goes up in flames? Cloud providers have been hit with hacking and others have been shown that they can access your files at any time. Many new services are encrypted for medical and government standards, but some business owners I talk to feel better knowing that they are the only ones that can see the data.

4) A final factor is cost. Housing your own email and files on a decent server can be expensive considering how low cost some Cloud providers are. However, if you look at the long term cost, a $5/user a month email account is cheap until you have 30 users and paying over $1500 to 'rent' email. Many hardware vendors offer leasing terms and you can write off the depreciation cost of a server. Again, every company is different and a start up might only be able to afford offsite email until they grow. Each situation is unique.

It is not an easy decision to make, but at Renascence IT Consulting, Inc., we have presented and worked on these solutions dozens of times in just the last year alone. We don't try and fit your company into a cookie cutter to force a "best" decision on you and make money on reseller commissions. If you wish to discuss further, feel free to email us at sales@renitconsulting.com.

Using a Popular Anti-virus program only because of its name?

I have run into many situations in the past months where I see more and more businesses picking an anti-virus name because it is on the news or on a billboard. Does this make it the best? Would you hire an employee who posts their slick resume on the internet without an interview? Many companies are spending their money on marketing instead of what matters, protecting you and your company. Over the years, I have seen many anti-virus programs that were once on the top of their game rest on their laurels and fail in detection and removal of newer viruses and malware.

Is your company using a "popular" program because your current IT provider or someone at your business recommended it? At Renascence IT Consulting, we look at third party (non-advertising accepting) evaluations and are willing to change providers to protect our clients as opposed to padding our pockets. If you wish to have a free evaluation of your network and solutions, feel free to contact us.

One organization we trust as they do not accept advertising is:

If your current client is not in the top 5, you might want to consider the choices your provider or employees are recommending. 

Have You Loved Your Computer Lately?

Just yesterday, we ran into an issue with a client whose computer was running slow. It had all of the anti-virus and anti-malware protection on it but it was infected. After spending a couple of hours fixing it, we figured out why it was hit. The user did not UPDATE their solutions in a while, and in a couple of cases, it was over a year. We were able to battle it out with the infections, but this caused lost income due to both the employee being down and for us to expertly remove the problem. 

At Renascence IT, we understand just installing a program will not protect a business from the internet nasties. We recommend updating and running full scans on a weekly basis. We recommend setting a calendar reminder for when employees are at lunch, update and run the protection programs once a week. This will keep your business running smooth, and you lower the risk of your financial and business data roaming the streets. 

For more information, feel free to contact us through www.renitconsulting.com.

Do You Know What is on Your Network?

A recent survey by Avecto shows that 3 out of 4 IT Professionals simply do not know the software that is installed on a company's network. As employees are allowed to bring in home laptops, mobile devices connect with the latest (or coolest) apps, and people have local administrator access to install what they want, when they want, it makes IT cringe at what is lurking within the dark recesses of the company's infrastructure. 

Are there ways to keep tabs on users' systems, lock down computers, and develop policies to limit personal devices on your business networks? Yes there is! At Renascence IT, we have multiple ways of either detecting, preventing, or assisting your company develop proper enforceable policies to make sure you know what is going on, and lower the chances that someone else has access to your business that is not allowed. 

More on out of control networks: