3 Things to consider before you sign-up with a cloud services provider

More and more SMBs are migrating to the cloud and that is not a surprise considering the numerous benefits the cloud can offer them. For a SMB, the cloud is a cost efficient and secure answer to their growing data needs and IT security requirements. The cloud grows with them and lets them scale their business without worrying about a corresponding rise in IT costs. Plus, with the cloud, the important aspects of security and backups are mostly taken care of by the cloud service provider. And then, there’s the convenience of any-time-anywhere data access. With all these benefits that the cloud brings, what’s there to think about before signing up with a cloud service provider? While are a lot of benefits of storing your data on the cloud, but your data is still yours, so there are a few things you need to know and be comfortable with before you jump onto the cloud.

Data storage location

Ask your cloud services provider where, (as in the location of the data center) your data will be stored. Ask them if they have multiple data centers and if yes, then, will they be backing up your data and storing them at different places. It is great if your cloud services provider does that, since that ensures higher safety of your data.

How secure will your data be?

Yes. When you hire a cloud services provider, a major chunk of your data’s security responsibility is passed onto them. You don’t have to really worry about your data security, but, you still need to know how they plan to keep your data safe. Ask your cloud services provider for details regarding their data security procedure. Have them share all policies, SOPs and data security frameworks that they claim to have in place.

Past performance/data loss history

Everyone talks about their best projects in a sales meeting. What you really need to know are the worst ones. Ask your cloud services provider to share with you their data loss/downtime trends for the past one year. Observe the trend. How often does their system give way and how long does it last? This is important for you to understand, because this metric translates into loss of business for you.

And finally, don’t forget to ask for a client list. Like we said before, everyone highlights the good things about themselves in a sales meeting. If you really want to know how good your cloud service provider is, ask them for a client list–both current and past. Check how many of them are from your industry vertical. Try reaching out to those who are willing to talk. Find out what they like the most about your cloud service provider and what aspects they find negative. Find out why their former customers left them. Usually customers are pretty good indicators of the quality of service a business provides. Hope these tips help you finding a cloud service provider who fits in well with your needs.

Your front door is talking

If you’ve been following the news, the Internet of Things is getting increasing attention. You’re probably also thinking this is some Silicon Valley fancy thing that will take years to reach the rest of us.

Not really. You probably already have some items of your own tied into the Internet of Things.

First of all, what is the I of T? Simply, it is an object that collects data about itself or its surroundings, and then transfers that data across a network to some other object, which can then make use of that data. For example, if you have a baby monitor that sends crib pictures from upstairs to your phone, you’re tied into the I of T.

But what about business people? Where is it showing up in the workplace? You may have security cameras tied to a network where they can be monitored by a PC or phone. A front door lock that can be remotely opened via phone. A thermostat that can be changed by the same phone. Internal lights that go on when you phone approach. All of these are part of the Internet of Things.

If you have questions about whether being tied into I of T presents a data security issue or hacking threat, you should contact a service consultant to discuss these issues. Headlines are now appearing about hacking into the I of T for nefarious purposes. It is a good idea to stay ahead of the curve because as a business, data security is a revenue-critical issue. Seriously, you don’t want the front door telling someone your client’s private data.

NPO’s and volunteer security nightmare

Not-for-profits have an unusual issue regarding security. Firms that have trained, paid full-time employees have a strong level of control over the actions of their workers. NPOs, however, may rely heavily on volunteers whose time in the office may be minimal and sporadic. You may feel grateful for their dedication and be less likely to subject them to rigid security training. Also, a threat of punishment for those who make inadvertent errors that create security risks isn’t going to be acceptable in the “volunteer” environment.

Though it may seem a waste of precious volunteer time, you need to consider implementing ongoing training and reminders to all volunteers about what they can do to protect your data and digital infrastructure. The 2 most common human errors are falling for phishing scams and bringing storage devices to your office and introducing them to laptops and other devices. Think of the volunteer who creates a brochure for you in their home office, then downloads it to your office PC. This is an excellent backdoor for a virus or malware to break into your infrastructure.

Remind your volunteers on a consistent basis that no outside storage devices are to be brought into the office for use on the NPO’s equipment. Secondly, provide training on how to recognize phishing scams and the risks of opening unfamiliar emails and links. Finally, for volunteers who work from home, consider using safely shared software platforms like Google Drive or Microsoft 365.

Security and your sub-contractors

So you feel relatively comfortable that you have created cybersecurity around your data and your employees are trained to avoid security errors in their day-to-day business ( a MAJOR source of security breaches, by the way.) However, you may be overlooking one area where you are exceptionally vulnerable. What protection do you have from those you do business with? If you are a manufacturer, for example, you may have several vendors who provide components and raw materials. How careful are they about data security? Smaller producers and service providers may perceive themselves as not being a likely hacker target, which is incorrect. Small firms are significant targets for data hacking because they have access to larger firms. They can provide a “digital backdoor” to the firms they sell to.

You need to work closely with all of your vendors to ensure that they are as serious about protecting their systems as you are. If you share digital information with your subcontractors, you open a very wide door for any of their vulnerabilities.

And this doesn’t just apply to the manufacturing sector. Medical offices share data, for instance. Consider talking to a security expert to address your vulnerability to a security breach via the very vendors you rely upon. You need to expect as much focus on security from them as you do from yourself.

Cyber Crime and Security for SMBs

Did you know the illicit trading of personal data was worth $3.88 billion last year? Cybercrime is a growing industry known for its innovation. It goes far beyond the image many of us have of some hacker kid in his basement. Many who engage in this activity are professionals and work in large teams. Some may even be sponsored by governments. If you follow the news, you can find large corporations and even government agencies who have fallen prey to hackers and had massive amounts of data compromised. Unfortunately, this has led smaller firms to feel they fly below the radar. In fact, the opposite is true. Small businesses-especially those in regulated areas such as medical, financial, and legal services need to be hyper-vigilant about security. The cybercriminals’ professional efforts will outdo your amateur efforts at security.

As a small business, you are vulnerable for two reasons. First, serious hackers see small business as entrances into larger entities. Small firms that have any interaction with larger firms, perhaps as a subcontractor, can be easy targets for professional criminals. Second, the clients or customers of small firms are shown to be less forgiving of data compromises that occur in small businesses.

Security now goes beyond buying an antivirus program online. You should seek professional advice setting up security policies and business continuity plans or testing these policies on a routine basis. A professional can spot vulnerabilities and prevent breaches before they occur.

Government regulations

Any business that stores customer payment information must comply with a number of state and federal regulations. The legal, healthcare, and financial sectors have a number of laws tailored specifically for them (such as HIPAA or CISPA). If you run almost any kind of professional practice or agency you probably have very specific data security requirements. Running afoul of these regulations puts you at risk for legal action and probably means that you have bad security in place.

As a professional, your focus needs to be on your clients and running your firm. Regulatory requirements to ensure data security can be complex and include rigorous testing requirements. Ensuring compliance with the regulations can be a serious distraction for you and take you into territory where your experience is limited.

One of the best solutions is to work with a third party who has strong credentials in the area of regulatory compliance and data security. When you are working with a third party to set up security or data storage, make sure that they have experience working in your industry. Finding a service provider with experience in your profession can give you peace of mind knowing that you can focus on running your business without the distraction of ongoing technology concerns.

Higher goals get dragged down by Tech: The NPO story

If you are a smaller Not-for-Profit, it is likely that your organization has been driven from its inception by individuals strongly motivated with a passion for their cause or humanitarian goal. As a result, it is also possible that the leadership has little interest in developing the administrative technology infrastructure that is necessary for any organization to function in the internet age.

Failure to understand and focus on technology can damage an organization’s growth and success. However, NPO leadership has to be laser-focused on the day-to-day struggles of the organization such as seeking funding, keeping the doors open, and pursuing the mission. As a consequence, technology infrastructure may be cobbled together as an afterthought; resource limitations may lead to short term tech decisions that can be wasteful and more expensive in the long term.

An NPO, with its tight budget margins, is an excellent example of an organization that could benefit from outsourcing its fundamental tech needs to an MSP. An MSP can determine short and long term needs, assess possible solutions, and propose the most cost-effective tech solutions to ensure a stable, long-term tech infrastructure. Without the time or stomach for administrative distractions, NPOs may continue to use the break/fix model, making less informed tech decisions that may ultimately waste precious resources. Good and careful planning with a professional can mean better strategic use of organizational resources far into the future.

Password basics people still ignore

You can have all the locks on your data center and have all the network security available, but nothing will keep your data safe if your employees are careless with passwords.

  1. Change Passwords – Most security experts recommend that companies change out all passwords every 30 to 90 days.
  2. Require passwords that mix upper and lowercase, number, and a symbol.
  3. Teach employees NOT to use standard dictionary words ( in any language), or personal data that can be known, or can be stolen: addresses, telephone numbers, SSNs, etc.
  4. Emphasize that employees should not access anything using another employee’s login. To save time or for convenience, employees may leave systems and screens open and let others access them. This is usually done so one person doesn’t have to take the time to logout and the next take the effort to log back in. Make a policy regarding this and enforce it. If you see this happening, make sure they are aware of it.
    These are just a few basic password hints, but they can make a difference.

The Cloud: Are there security issues?

For many, the idea of offloading their data to another physical/virtual location can seem like a security risk. It seems counter-intuitive that moving data away from “ home” is safer. But is that really true? Any server stored at your location is probably more physically vulnerable than one protected in a large server farm. If you had a fire, flood, or other physical damage that included damage to your server, what would be the result? Also, are your backups stored on–site? If a major event damaged your entire physical location, those backups would be also lost.

There is a second reason the cloud may be safer: security. All of your data, no matter where it is located, may be vulnerable to cyber attacks and data breaches. However, cloud storage providers probably offer some of the most sophisticated security projection available. It is unlikely that a small or even mid-sized firm has the internal resources and research capacity to maintain an equivalent level of security.

So give some thought to the cloud as a tool to preserve your data and the integrity of your business (as an added bonus, it likely will be a money saver, too).

How the cloud saves smaller firms money

OK. You pay someone to store all of your data in the cloud, as opposed to keeping it on your own server and backing it up. And you pay on an ongoing basis. How is that possibly going to be cheaper than just making a one-time investment and keeping it your self?

Let’s count the ways:

(1) You lose the hardware expense –a capital expenditure cost.

(2) If that hardware fails, you are out in the cold.

(3) Someone has to maintain that hardware. In house IT labor is expensive.

(4) If you need more capacity, you have to ramp up at a tiered level, which means you may need to buy capacity you don’t presently need

(5) All of that hardware runs on software, which costs money

(6) All of that software needs to be installed, updated, etc. (see # 3)

(7) All of that hardware and software has to run 24/7. Are you large enough to pay for in house monitoring and support 24/7? (See again #3)

(8) All of that data has to be protected with security software, which means skilled IT support and expensive virus protection

Ok. The list doesn’t end here, but this blog will. Talk to AccentLogic about how the cloud can be a really budget saver for small and medium sized firms.