Webcams, video conferencing, and all that jazz

The internet makes a great number of tasks more convenient for many people, especially in the area of communication. The power of the internet allows millions of people around the world to talk to each other over voice programs and even videos – all in real time. While the benefits to personal communications are obvious, the larger value implications of this type of technology is evident in business, where travel costs are greatly reduced through the use of video conferencing technology. Imagine a group of people in the United States being able to see and communicate in real time with another group in Australia. This is possible with video conferencing, which allows the two parties simply agree on a time (with the time zone difference considered, of course) and then hold a meeting in the comfort of their own offices. Video conferencing not only saves the fares and accommodation expenses, but also saves time spent travelling. It’s also valuable to employees in the field who need to report to a main office. A webcam, a mike, and a decent internet connection allows those in the field to report in real time to the main office at any time, eliminating the need to leave their post or assignment. Programs you can use: Citrix GoToMeeting – one of the most popular software for web conferencing, costing $49.00 per month or $468 for an annual plan that gives you unlimited conferences (including both video and voice) with up to 10 attendees. The interface is easy to use and meetings can be set up in a flash. The only downside is that Mac users can only participate in, and not set up, meetings. Microsoft Live Meeting – another popular bundle of decently priced and stable conferencing software. However, the interface is much more complicated than Citrix GoToMeeting, and may confuse first-time users. Another possible concern is its “per use” charging system. WebEx MeetMeNow – at $39 – $49 a month, this option offers the best value for the money, with its unlimited monthly use with up 10 participants and a very user-friendly installation and interface. Acrobat Connect Professional – this option offers the most flexible payment plans, making it best suited for occasional users. It also boasts customization features allowing users to tailor the program based on their needs. Video conferencing is a simple and practical way to communicate in real time with personal and business contacts, wherever they are in the world, at a fraction of the cost of more traditional methods. Need help choosing equipment and getting set up? We’ll be happy to lend a hand.

Protect Your Systems from Organized Crime Networks

While software companies have made significant progress in protecting customers from malicious online threats, these threats continue to evolve, and now a new player has entered the game: organized crime. Malware, short for “malicious software,” is designed to infiltrate a computer system without the owner’s consent. It includes viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, and even adware. The total amount of malware removed from computers worldwide grew more than 43 percent during the first half of 2008, according to a security intelligence report by Microsoft. According to the report, based on the type of malware most frequently found, financial gain appears to be attackers’ top motivation. And it may only get worse, because now organized crime networks are distributing malware. Don’t think American mafia; this type of organized crime is more typically loosely organized criminals from underdeveloped parts of the world. Australia’s Verizon investigative response team, which handles data breaches on behalf of that country’s major corporations, has reported that 91 percent of the breaches it found in 2008 could be traced to organized crime activity rather than insider or other threats. These organized crime networks plot to infiltrate computers—primarily American ones, which have information from which they can profit—and steal data. They may also seek out intellectual property for its potential value. “If a single piece of intellectual property is compromised, and it happens to be the secret formula to your company’s product, then that’s a business-changing event,” said the Verizon report. Although most of the malware Verizon found could not be detected by current antivirus products, around 87 per cent of breaches could have been avoided by using simple controls, according to Verizon, whose report stated that “on the whole, criminals are still not required to work very hard to breach corporate information systems.” Here’s what you can do to help protect your systems: Enable a firewall. Install and maintain up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware programs that provide increased protection from malicious and potentially unwanted software. Almost 40 per cent of victims Verizon investigated in 2008 did not regularly update their security software. Check for and apply software updates on an ongoing basis, including updates provided for third-party applications. Open links and attachments in e-mail and instant messages with caution. Need help implementing these safeguards? We’re here to assist!

Microsoft Releases Fixes and a Workaround for Several Vulnerabilities

The web is indeed becoming a dangerous place. These days, your PC could become infected with malware or vulnerable to a hacker attack just by innocently browsing a website or opening an email. Last July 14th, Microsoft released six bulletins with fixes for at least nine known security vulnerabilities that put users at risk in a range of Microsoft products. Many of the vulnerabilities, if not patched, can allow “remote code execution” or allow a hacker or malicious software to take over your PC and run unauthorized commands. ZDNet’s Ryan Naraine has posted a helpful summary of the released fixes: MS09-029 : This update covers two privately reported vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows component Embedded OpenType (EOT) Font Engine, which could allow remote code execution. Rated “critical” for all supported editions of Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, and Windows Server 2008. MS09-028 : This update fixes three separate vulnerabilities ( one publicly disclosed and under attack! ) in Microsoft DirectShow, which could allow remote code execution if a user opens a specially-crafted QuickTime media file. MS09-032 : This update resolves a privately reported vulnerability in Microsoft Video ActiveX Control. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user uses Internet Explorer to view a specially-crafted Web page that uses the ActiveX control . This vulnerability is currently being exploited in the wild! Rated “critical” for all supported editions of Windows XP and “moderate” for all supported editions of Windows Server 2003. Some of the vulnerabilities, notably one in Microsoft Office Web Components, do not yet have a patch. An attacker who successfully exploits this vulnerability could potentially gain the same user rights as a local user, allowing the attacker to modify or remove files on the PC remotely. This could potentially happen simply by using Internet Explorer to visit a website. A workaround exists by downloading a free utility from Microsoft called FixIt , which prevents the Microsoft Office Web Components from running in Internet Explorer. Users, as always, are advised to immediately download the updates and utilities, or use Microsoft’s Windows Update service. If you need help installing the patches or workarounds, or if you feel your PCs are at risk, contact us immediately. Related articles: Microsoft Security Advisory 972890 Released Microsoft warns of Internet Explorer security hole Microsoft issues patches, including one for IE exploit Internet Explorer’s ActiveX Security Mitigations in Use Microsoft Warns of Security Hole

Businesses Should Replace PCs Every Three Years

For many small and medium-sized businesses, the cost of maintaining an old PC may be more expensive than upgrading to a new one. This insight comes from a survey conducted by research firm Techaisle , which polled 630 companies across seven countries. Their research suggests that the average cost for SMBs to repair PCs over three years old can be 1.65 times as expensive as repairing PCs under three years old. Repairs include replacements, usually from hardware failure, and the cost to fix software crashes. Small business respondents with PCs older than three years experienced network card failures nearly eight times more than respondents with PCs less than three years old. This was followed by power supply failures, motherboard failures, software crashes, and virus attacks. Midmarket respondents experienced a similar trend, with network card failures at six times higher, followed by power supply failures and motherboard failures. In addition, respondents said desktops that have been in use for more than three years are more susceptible to attacks from malware and viruses (28 percent), while older notebooks are 58 percent more likely to endure a virus attack. The cost of related lost worker productivity should also be factored in by companies wishing to hold on to outdated hardware. Are you hanging on to old PCs in an attempt to money? Contact us today. We can help you assess the health and condition of your PCs, as well as determine the cost of maintaining existing PCs versus upgrading or replacing them.

Microsoft Announces Windows 7 Pricing

Microsoft has finally announced the pricing for the much anticipated new version of its flagship product, Microsoft Windows , expected to go on sale this October. Users will be pleasantly surprised that Microsoft has announced aggressive promotional pricing for the product and its different editions. According to the Windows team blog , estimated retail prices for the upgrade packaged retail product of Windows 7 in the US are: Windows 7 Home Premium (Upgrade): $119.99 Windows 7 Professional (Upgrade): $199.99 Windows 7 Ultimate (Upgrade): $219.99 Estimated retail prices for full packaged retail product of Windows 7 in the US are: Windows 7 Home Premium (Full): $199.99 Windows 7 Professional (Full): $299.99 Windows 7 Ultimate (Full): $319.99 The Windows 7 Home Premium full retail product is $40.00 less than today’s Windows Vista Home Premium price. Pre-orders will be limited, and Microsoft has not commented yet on what the supply limitations will be. Pre-orders will launch Friday, June 26 – July 11 in the US, Canada, and Japan, ending sooner if supplies are depleted. The UK, France, and Germany preorders launch July 15 – August 14, also ending sooner if supplies are depleted. Microsoft has launched a new website where users can find more information about upgrade offers. Related articles: Buy a PC tomorrow and get Windows 7 or pre order Week in Microsoft: Windows 7 gets priced Microsoft taking half-price pre-orders for Windows 7

Get the Most out of Microsoft Outlook

Outlook is surely one of Microsoft’s most popular products, widely recognized as a standard application alongside Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Bundled inside Microsoft Office, Outlook is the personal information manager component of the ubiquitous office suite, blending email, contact management, a calendar, and task management into one package. Here are some tips to ensure you are making the most out of this popular application: Use Outlook with Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Sharepoint. Microsoft Outlook is a rich and powerful tool on its own, but when used with Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Sharepoint, it provides enhanced functions for collaboration within organization, such as the ability to share mailboxes and calendars. With Exchange, you can create shared folders for important email communication and company-wide memos, as well as invite others to meetings and share your availability information. You can even create a company-wide address book of key contacts for shared use. With Microsoft Sharepoint, you can post all of this information in the company Intranet, and even expose some of this information to customers and partners in the company extranet or public website – allowing you to share information and collaborate more easily with people outside of the organization as well. Use Outlook Web Access. If you don’t have access to your PC, such as when traveling, you can still use Outlook if you use it with Exchange. Just access Outlook Web Access (OWA) using your browser and any internet connection. OWA is the webmail service of Microsoft Exchange Server 5.0 and later, packaged as a part of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and previous versions of Exchange. Its interface resembles the interface in Microsoft Outlook. Sync your data. Because of the popularity of Outlook, there is a host of third-party applications and plug-ins you can use to sync your data. Always on the go? Sync Outlook with your mobile phone, PDA, and even your iPOD or Blackberry. Want to have your data accessible on any PC or device? Sync your email and calendar data to hosted services such as Google Calendar or Google Apps. Need to call a contact from your desktop? No problem – Outlook can integrate with Skype to allow you to do one-click calling from Outlook. Want integration with your company applications and systems? A host of enterprise applications from billing and accounting, CRM, and even ERP systems can sync key data such customer contact information to Outlook. Use add-ons. Many other third-party add-ons and plug-ins are available for Outlook to further expand its already considerable features. One favorite is a tool called Xobni (Inbox in reverse), which allows you to more easily search and organize your inbox. Google Desktop plugs in to Outlook so that you can search the web, your desktop files, and your email and file attachments from within Outlook in one place. There are many more available to check out. Learn Outlook inside and out. Dozens of websites provide useful tips on how to complete tasks faster, make your experience with the application smoother, and simplify your workflow. A good place to start is Microsoft’s website , which regularly offers handy, free tips for using Outlook to its fullest. Microsoft Outlook is widely used because it is a robust and versatile tool for information management, not only for individual users but for groups within an entire business as well. Time spent learning how to maximize its use is well worth it in terms of saved time and increased productivity. Call us now for ideas on how to get started!

Proactive Computer Network Management Reduces Total Cost of Ownership

In today’s challenging economic times, many small businesses like yours are reluctant to spend money. However, a modest investment in network maintenance can ultimately improve your profitability and reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of your network infrastructure. Your business depends on your network Your revenue is directly tied to the availability and performance of your network, because it’s the backbone of your business. Your network houses critical applications, allows your employees to communicate, and gives customers access your goods and services. When your network fails, your business suffers. Employees cannot access the applications and information they need to keep your business up and running, and basic means of communication, such as printing, filing, and emailing, are unavailable. At the same time, customers cannot access the information they need to buy your products. You’re forced to spend time and money to get the system up and running, increasing your TCO. The end result: productivity declines and revenue decreases. Managing your network can prevent revenue loss It pays to minimize network performance degradation and downtime, and a network management system will help you do this. Large companies have long deployed such systems, but as networks become more critical to smaller businesses, they have become important for small- and mid-size enterprises as well. A network management system will provide tools that improve network performance, help network administrators manage the network more efficiently, and include an early warning system for network outages. These benefits allow your business to operate more efficiently, thereby cutting costs and preventing revenue loss—and reducing the TCO of your network infrastructure. Need Help? Finding a good network management system and deploying it correctly is by no means a simple task, but there are plenty of solutions that provide the necessary functionality at a relatively low cost. We can help you deploy an easy-to-use network management system that helps you manage your network more efficiently and save money at the same time. Contact us today for more information. Related articles: Assessing the business impact of network management on small and mid-size enterprises

Business Impact of a Major Data Loss Event

Data breaches are costing companies more than ever, according to a recent study—and smaller companies may be most at risk. Data losses, which can result from theft or carelessness, are a downside of the information age. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), more than 35 million data records were breached in 2008 in the United States—47 percent more than in 2007. How much do data losses cost? The Ponemon Institute, which studies business privacy practices, surveyed 43 U.S. companies across 17 industry sectors that lost data in 2008. According to the study, data losses ranged from 4,200 records to 113,000 records, and each data record lost cost $202—making the total cost between $848,400 and $22,826,000. That number was up from $197 per data record lost in 2007, $182 in 2006, and $138 in 2005, the first year the study was conducted. Why are data losses so costly? When you lose data, a number of costs are incurred, including detecting data losses, notifying victims, paying for victim reparations (such as free credit checks), and hiring experts to remedy the problem. You also must account for business lost as a result of customer mistrust. In fact, in the Ponemon study, $139 of the lost $202 per data record represented the cost of lost business. Small companies may suffer the most from data losses. Another study conducted earlier this year by StollzNow Research asked IT managers from 945 companies about their experiences related to data management. They found that an alarming 49 percent of small companies fail to back up their data on a daily basis. This is despite the fact that nearly half of all participants experienced data loss in their workplace in the past two years, and 36 percent felt that data loss could have a significant impact on their business. Don’t put yourself at risk. We can help you prevent costly data loss by implementing a policy for the preservation of data, and by installing and testing backup systems on a regular basis. Related articles: Tech Managers Often Underestimate Impact of Data Loss Study: Data Losses Proving More Costly for Businesses

Does your business need a server?

Is it time for you to consider a server for your business? This question was raised recently by Rhonda Abrams, a writer for USA TODAY’s Small Business section. According to Ms. Abrams’s article, if your business is growing and you have more than two people in your business, then you should definitely consider buying a server. Having a server, or a dedicated computer that acts as a central resource for data and applications within your office network , can dramatically improve the way your business runs. A server allows you to consolidate your data in one place, making it easy to share among your colleagues. Network file shares allow you to upload and archive files and data in one centralized location for everyone. Centralizing data also makes it easier to secure and back up. Servers often are powerful computers that can host applications your business runs within the office network. With servers, you can run applications such as email and security services, host your business website or company intranet , deploy multi-user databases, and much more. Let us know if you are considering deploying a server for your business – we can help you do it efficiently and cost effectively. Related article: Strategies: It might be time to get serious about a server.

Hackers Launch Cyber-Offensive Against American and South Korean Sites

Last July 4th and 5th, a massive denial-of-service attack was launched against several government and commercial websites in the United States and South Korea. According to security researchers, the attacks were the work of malware that infected PCs and routed traffic to government and commercial sites during the July 4 weekend in an attempt to take them down with the flood of simultaneous requests hitting them. Among those affected were the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Secret Service, the Federal Trade Commission, and several others. The attacks, which hit South Korean sites a few days later on July the 7th, are widely believed to have been carried out by an updated version of the MyDoom worm which gained infamy when it first hit Windows machines last 2004. The motive for the attack is not yet known. In the meantime, users are advised to scan their machines and update their operating systems to protect against known vulnerabilities. Contact us to learn more about protecting your business from a similar attack. Related articles: Mysterious cyber-attacker hits at federal websites, crisis averted? Cyber Attack Targets Government Websites Who’s behind cyber assaults?