With all the flooding in Louisiana, we figured that it would be the right time to remind everyone about having good secure backups. A few things to keep in mind with backups are:

  1. Using an external drive can be a very inexpensive way to backup the company server, however, these backups need to be kept off-site in case of a disaster whether natural or un-natural i.e. flooding.
  2. Having an off-site realtime backup, like Carbonite, is always the best option. This also makes it possible to be back up and running much faster given that files can be accessed from anywhere. If you've taken the next step and started having the company server hosted by a service, then the team could log in and continue working as if nothing ever happened. 
  3. A final note is to regularly verify backups. We've seen far too many times where someone thinks they have a valid backup only to realize that either important files are missing or the backups are unusable.

Again, backups are extremely important and, in the long run, very cheap insurance. As always, if you have any questions, feel welcome to send those our way.

Automate those task!

Having the correct tools can make all the difference when you're trying to finish thousands of tasks during the day. For instance, backups are critical, but if you have to remember to go to the server, plug in a drive, and set the backup to run, then you've spent time on a task that could have been automated. Instead, you could setup a service like Carbonite that backs up automatically and then worry about more important tasks, like filling up your cup of coffee... Seriously though, having the proper tools in place can save little bits of time that may add up to massive chunks of time. What's the point? Always ask the question: Am I doing this task the most efficient and effective way?

Spring Cleaning

t's officially spring and that means spring cleaning! I do understand that the warehouse is probably going to remain dirty, but that's not really what I'm talking about. We urge people all the time to create backups and there's a reason: they're extremely important. However, there's no reason to back up that third extra copy of the photo from last year's company picnic that somehow kept getting copied and re-saved in random places... So, in honor of spring, take a few minutes to clean off those old files and get a little more organized. If you need a jumping off point, then click here to read more on Getting Organized.

What's the Ransom?

Ransomware is making a come back, but it's nothing new. In fact, it's been around for awhile. What is it? It's a type of malware that can essentially lock up a computer. Of course if that was all it did, then it would probably have a different name. Ransomware not only locks up the computer that it infects but, as the name implies, it also demands a ransom. In most cases, the computer suddenly becomes unresponsive and then a screen appears stating that the operator has been involved in some illegal or illicit activity and must pay to have the computer unlocked. 

Most malware can be completely wiped from a computer or completely prevented with a couple of pieces of software. In many cases everything can be put back to the way it was before the attack. However, that's not always the case with this particular type of malware. There are versions of this malware that actually encrypt all of the files that it infected making it near impossible if not completely impossible to get the files back. Why? Because the encryption key needed to unlock all of those files is sitting on the hacker's computer. That means that the ransom would have to be paid in hopes that the hacker will actually send the key. Oddly enough, there are reports of people receiving the key after they have paid the ransom. What does all this mean? Be careful and take some precautionary measures.

Here are some of the precautionary measures we recommend:

1: Beware of links. Never click on links that are either not recognized or that can not be trusted. Companies like Pandora who survive because of advertisers probably have enough safeguards to stop these threats from embedding themselves, but what about your personal email? 

2: Have virus and malware protection. We can't stress this enough. Virus and malware protection is a drop in the bucket as far as expenses are concerned. Especially considering the fact that a new hard drive will most certainly cost more than the virus software. Also, keep this protection updated. It's not a sure fire way to stop every attack, but it's a great preventative measure.

3: Keep security plugins updated. Microsoft doesn't like these viruses and malware programs any more than you or I, so they're trying to stop the attacks from ever happening. Between security plugins and virus and malware protection the computer should be covered.

4: Back Ups! Back up the computer everyday. We recommend a service like Carbonite, which backups in real time, or a simple external/jump drive will do the trick. Carbonite will back up your files and, with some form of an external drive, a copy of your entire computer (all your software, files, and the operating system) can be made. This way all files can be accessed through Carbonite, if the computer needs to go offsite for someone to repair the damage, and if there's a complete copy of the drive, then the drive can be wiped and reloaded with the uninfected files. Note: the second option can be a little more complicated, so make sure to talk with a computer professional if you're uncertain about the process.

Protecting a computer from everything isn't possible, but these preventative measures should protect a computer from most threats. As a final note, cutting down on the time that a computer is connected to the internet also helps because it cant be attacked if it isn't on... When possible, turn off any non-essential computers at night, which will in turn conserve energy and save money!

Four Common Backup Mistakes

Few things that are done each day are as important as backing up critical data. Unfortunately, backups often aren't given much thought until they are needed. Over the years we have seen a number of mistakes that have been made regarding backups. Here are the four most common.

1. Not Doing Them. People might be surprised how often this happens and often times it's simply because someone forgot. Always make sure someone is responsible for performing the daily backups and make sure it is getting done. This has been made easier with services like Carbonite. Backups can also be scheduled on any PC within the administration section and set to run on a schedule that works best for your specific schedule.

2. Not Verifying That The Backup Works. Jump drives and external disk drives are reliable, but they should still be verified for a successful copy of the data. If a service like Carbonite is being used, then chances are that the backup worked. However, it's never a bad idea to take a minute and check for critical files. A little time is worth a large amount of insurance.

3. Not Taking The Backups Offsite. Years ago, one of our clients had been diligently backing up their data, but left the backups on the desk beside the computer. One night, the building burned along with EVERY backup of the company's data. The client lost their inventory files and accounting records. If you're backing up on site with an external device, then make sure to either take it off-site or place that copy into a fire/water proof container. Again, we encourage our clients to use a service like Carbonite since it can backup in "real time" and is off-site.

4. Not Having A Secondary Copy. People make mistakes. We've heard stories of operators accidentally deleting data instead of copying it. Having a secondary copy prevents major issues and an extra external drive is very cheap insurance. Always have more than one copy of your critical data.

It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark...

Start the Plan

Howard Ruff, author of numerous financial planning books has been quoted as saying "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”. His reference was to financial planning, but the same notion applies perfectly when it comes to planning for disasters. Many business spend a great deal of time planning on how to grow their business while ignoring what might happen if they ever experience a major disaster such as a fire or hurricane.

Don’t feel alone if you don’t have a plan. According to industry statistics, despite major disasters like Hurricane Sandy that struck the east coast in 2012, less than one-half of all businesses say they have a disaster recovery plan. When asked, most of those businesses with disaster plans said they had not tested their plan. Not testing the plan is almost like not having one.

The consequences of not having a plan for a disaster are sobering. The numbers vary depending upon the source, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 25 percent of all businesses do not reopen after a major disaster.

So where is the starting point? Unfortunately, this typically is not a problem to be solved in one short meeting over coffee. Planning for disaster recovery requires time and resources and it needs become an integral part of the business plan. The following points will give a good "jumping off" point.

1. Develop Your Plan. The first step in developing your plan is to bring together the people most impacted by a major disaster. Start asking the question "What do we do if?” For example, how would we know what our customers owe us? What do we do if we can’t process invoices or pay bills? How do we notify our customers and what do we tell them? How do we order product? Is our data protected?

2. The next part of the plan is to Assign Responsibilities. Who will get the message about the disaster out to our customers? This person will be responsible for emailing, calling, texting or faxing every customer to let them know what has happened. 

Assigning someone to develop an inventory of what the business owns is important for insurance claims.  

Give someone the responsibility of scanning important documents. This will include insurance documents, tax returns, payroll records, etc. Scanning doesn't have to be expensive. The Neat Company markets an inexpensive scanner that is simple to use and quick to setup.

Assign someone the task of installing a backup product, like Carbonite, to automatically backup everything that is on the PC. Carbonite's backup is simple, easy, continuous and in the event of a disaster the company would have access to all of the important records.

As part of the plan, make sure that company data is not only backed up, but a copy is stored off-site. This should go beyond the basic backup that Carbonite performs. This backup should be a restore drive/mirror image (a copy of the server drive with all software and files) that could be installed into any server. Most software providers are also providing cloud based systems that eliminate servers and give access to company data through the internet.

3. Work Your Plan. After all the time invested in growing the business, it's best to make sure that the new plan functions the way it was envisioned. In the beginning this may mean regular meetings to check on progress and to see if an area of the plan needs to be adjusted. The point of working the plan is to make sure that progress is being made, documents are being scanned, data is being backed up and the proper procedures are in place.

4. Audit Your Plan. The final step is to periodically audit the plan. It's great to have the backups automated but more than one company has backed up their data only to realize, at the most unfortunate time, that the data could not be retrieved. In other words, test your backups.

Make sure that all needed reports can be found easily and quickly. This might look like asking the person in charge of the financial reports for a specific purchase journal from last year. Regardless of the process that is tested, the point is to make sure that the plan is functioning properly.

None of us know when disaster will strike. We don’t know when the next earthquake, tornado or hurricane will hit, but history has proven to us that they do happen and they will happen again. Being prepared will significantly improve any companies chances of recovery.

Just remember what Howard Ruff said "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark”

A little more maintenance

I've been talking about computer maintenance here lately and now I've got a little more to share. This article has two basic tips that work hand in hand to help your computer perform at its best.   

Tip One: Watch What You Download. Not only is it important to know where the download is coming from, that it is safe and legitimate, but whether or not that program is downloading other programs. When downloading a new program, look to see if a box is checked for a new toolbar, trial version of an anti-virus, etc. Unless the program is something that is needed for the computer it will simply be taking up valuable space and computing power. 

Tip Two: Make sure to Create Restore Points. Before downloading a new program it’s always a good idea to create a restore point. Creating the restore point doesn't take much time and if something bad happens in the download, the computer can be back to normal with just a few clicks.

How's your computer's environment?

Recently, I wrote about how to clean up your computer to keep it running smoothly. Something I didn't write about was that your computer's environment can also affect its performance. The goal is to keep the environment clean, cool, and at the proper height. Here are some of our tips for a better computing environment.

Tip One: Keeping the environment clean of dust and dirt will help keep the inside of the computer from getting coated in dirt. This will help the computer to run at an optimal temperature and preserve the life of the internal components.

Tip Two: Keeping the computer in a cool if not cold area can be helpful. Even when the room is clean, if the temperature is too hot, the computer could start to overheat.

Tip Three: The final tip is to keep the computer at the proper height. Since heat rises, having some "head room" above the computer will give the heat generated by the computer a place to go. However, this does not mean that the floor is the optimal location for the computer. The computer's optimal location would be on a shelf to avoid both heat build up and potential water or flooding issues. If possible, place an external fan near the computer to create even better circulation.

Obviously, the weather can not always be controlled and often the computer has to go in the hot warehouse because there is no other room. However, implementing some of these techniques can help to reduce the day to day wear and tear on your server, thus saving time and money!

Could your computer stand to be a little faster?

People are sometimes told that once a computer slows down that it has reached capacity or that it's time for a replacement. This isn't necessarily true. Many times there are a few basic things that can be done to help in this situation. In the following article we have a couple of tips to help.

Note: Before trying any of these steps to improve your computer's speed, make sure to create a full backup of the computer.

Step One: The first option is to work on the Startup Process. Turning off programs that aren't necessary for the startup will help. If you have a newer computer with Windows 7 or 8, then you could install a Solid State Drive which will naturally have a faster startup time than a traditional hard drive.

Step Two: Cleaning out excess files is also a good thing to do when trying to speed up a computer. Once that is done, run the Windows program Disk Cleanup. This removes temporary files, empties the recycling bin, and removes a variety of system files and other items you no longer need.

Step Three: After cleaning out the files comes the Defragmenting process. On traditional disk drives, information gets scattered across the drive causing the computer to go and gather all the pieces of a file and assemble them once they are needed. This obviously isn't the most efficient way for the computer to gather information, so by running the defragging program built right into the computer, all this information can be collected, sorted, and organized making the computer run more efficiently and effectively. To do this: Open My Computer > Right Click on the Main Drive > Choose Properties > Select the Tools Tab > Choose Defragment Now. This process may take some time to complete, so make sure that the computer won't be needed during this process.

Step Four: Removing any Viruses also needs to be done on a regular basis. It's best to have a program that runs in Real Time to protect the computer from any major threats. We recommend having Malwarebytes, which can be set on a schedule and will run in the background without affecting productivity. This protects from malware like worms, trojans, and spyware. Also having Norton Anti Virus or Kaspersky will protect the computer from major virus attacks in real time and stop them before your computer is ever damaged.

Backups: Fire and Waterproof

Weather seems to constantly remind us that we can't control it. We don't know what's next, but we do know that there's a need to make sure that we all have good backups. Backups are like insurance and this insurance is very inexpensive. The hope is that it never has to be used, but no one regrets having the backups when they're needed. The following are a few tips that we always tell our customers when setting up their backups.

Tip 1: Now would be a great time to Take an Inventory and make sure everything is backed up. This would include data files, the operating system, and any other programs that are being used. 

Tip 2: Store the backups in a secure place. Fireproof and waterproof safes are good, off-site is better. Multiple copies provide an additional layer of protection and if the data files are not too large, USB drives make an excellent low cost backup.

Tip 3: Verify the backup to be certain that it can be read after the it's completed. The best insurance is backing up over the Internet to an off-site server. It's very cheap insurance and most internet based backup products run automatically so the backup is never forgotten.

Final Tip: Don’t procrastinate. Do a backup inventory today. None of us know when that next natural disaster is going to strike.