Why Multi-level Security Matters

2016 is rapidly heading into the books as we count one more year behind us. We’re now well into our 23rd year of business in the IT Support world.

Over that period of time we’ve seen more changes to technology and its use in business than I’d care to remember. Suffice it to say that, for us, 2016 was the focal point for the adoption and integration of the Cloud services model by a growing number of Line-of-Business vendors. This is just the latest morphing of technology but experience tells us it won’t be the last. When we started out, IBM 8086 and Tandy 1000 computers were the cutting edge… very expensive and vendor proprietary with no industry standardization at all. Your Smartphone has more computing power at a far cheaper cost than those system manufacturers could ever have imagined.

Since Cloud Computing is just getting to the point of standardization, most vendors that offer Cloud-based computing services today are making a killing, just as those early computer manufacturers did. And again, as time and technology advances, competition and innovation will drive costs down. In fact, there are more services, hardware devices and software apps that are considered to be plain old commodities than even five years ago. Your guess is as good as mine as to what the next five years will bring.

One thing is certain. The more individuals and businesses integrate with the online world, the more hazardous things get as personal and business data is prone to exposure to hackers. Take Yahoo as an example. 500 million accounts hacked… a world record for largest hack but that wasn’t good enough. They promptly outdid themselves and upped that number to an additional one billion in a separate hack. The information from those accounts was sold and resold on the dark web several times. Since these hacks were three years ago, nobody yet knows what long term damage may have been done.

Security for online accounts rests solely with the vendor but many institutions do not invest enough resources in securing their networks and digital infrastructure, either because they don’t know they need to, they don’t think they can prioritize it in their budget, or they don’t think a hack will happen to them.

I’m sure most of you have heard of “Software-as-a-Service” such as MS Office 365. Now comes “Avalanche”, a true “Crimeware-as-a-Service”. In fact, there is now a full-fledged worldwide criminal organization using “Avalanche” to hack, encrypt and compromise data and systems. You can actually “buy” Cyber-theft programs complete with instructions on how to use it or alternatively, you can “rent” a fully managed third-party hack in exchange for a portion of the proceeds resulting from the hack.

The National Cyber Awareness System reports it like this;

“Avalanche is comprised of a large global network hosting infrastructure used by cyber criminals to conduct phishing and malware distribution campaigns and money mule schemes. A system infected with Avalanche-associated malware may be subject to malicious activity including the theft of user credentials and other sensitive data, such as banking and credit card information. Some of the malware had the capability to encrypt user files and demand a ransom be paid by the victim to regain access to those files. In addition, the malware may have allowed criminals unauthorized remote access to the infected computer. Infected systems could have been used to conduct distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.”

While we cannot do much about personal accounts at sites like Yahoo or securing personal home systems, we do put a heavy emphasis on securing our client networks. Over several years, we have put together a multi-layer approach to protecting our supported networks that includes OpenDNS (web-filtering and malicious site checking), WebRoot (Cloud-based monitoring with journaling and rollback features), SonicWall with Comprehensive Gateway Security Suite (intrusion prevention, spyware, antivirus, keyloggers and other dangerous applications) and Trend Micro (endpoint system protection). These defensive walls are enhanced by our line of Datto products for data security, encryption, image and file recovery with Continental US based offsite Cloud storage at two geographically separated sites (East and West Coast facilities). Datto is also HIPPA-compliant. Additionally, we do recommend sites include a strong e-mail filtering program on the level of Exchange Defender or something similar. We have programs available for networks not using MS Exchange to manage e-mail (generally non-Small Business Server OS networks) so if you aren’t doing e-mail filtering at this point, feel free to contact us about our offerings.

So here’s the long and short of it… this security structure does have a cost to your business operations. However, to date, this implementation has proven itself to be more than adequate to meet the current challenges in a connected world. A small outlay of this type can literally mean the difference between keeping your business up and running or losing everything to the expanded capabilities of the Cyber-criminal. Avalanche is just the beginning of their efforts. If you have questions about enhanced security at your site, please contact me by e-mail at tech@itservpro.com and I’ll arrange a site review.

Site-Specific Forecasting for 2017

Every year, we have a number of recurring items in each network … some are software licensing renewals, some are normal maintenance tasks like battery refresh and so forth. In January, we’ll be sending out a list for each site detailing the particular items and when they’re due so you can do a little cost projection. I’ll likely update and issue these notices once a quarter as that makes the list a bit easier to remember.

On a related note, we always try to forecast changes to the client base for the coming year. Mostly, this has to do with expected business sales to another entity, clients who might be retiring and either closing the business or handing it over to an in-house successor and in general, actions that might reduce the client list. For 2017, we expected about a 10 percent reduction in supported sites due to these factors and it appears that is shaking out to be the case.

That pretty much means we now have the necessary support capacity to take on several new clients while maintaining the same level of quality for everyone. So, if anyone knows of a business similar to their own who needs an IT company’s assistance, please let me know. Besides helping someone else whose business needs professional support, a certain number of supported sites under contract means we can keep everyone’s costs down by adding them into the mix. Plus, I doubt anyone will find better support, a deeper level of experience and personal attention for the money. Hey, I’m just saying…

Final Notes for 2016

A special thank you to each of you who have placed your trust in us this past year. It turned out to be far more hectic than we expected but then nothing in the past eight years would be considered normal from our perspective… and that’s all I’m going to say on that front. Suffice it to say, by working together, we have met all the challenges your business operations have thrown at us and managed to keep an exceptionally high uptime rate on all of our supported networks. That’s the operations side of things.

What’s really exceptional is the personal relationships we have with our clients. It always nice to go visit a site and have people actually happy to see you. That means a great deal to us as it’s the people side of things that we really value and through that, our efforts are validated. Our average client retention runs somewhere near 15 years so something is being done right. We intend to continue to meet and where possible, exceed your expectations. Once again, thanks you for your trust and support over the past 23 years.

Wishing each of you a positive and happy 2017…