No matter if you love technology, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, there’s no doubt it is becoming a bigger part of your life. Our digital world is expanding as more people work from home and more companies conduct their business online. But as our digital activity increases, so does criminals’ desire to take advantage of it, leading to new advancements in computer security threats and digital crime.

In the last few years, major companies across the globe have experienced cybercrimes ranging from data breaches, to unauthorized access of financial accounts, to digital impersonations of CEOs, and everything in between. From new online stores to established corporations, companies of all types, sizes, and industries are at risk.

Although cybercriminals are continuing to become smarter and more strategic, it’s also clear that many businesses aren’t putting up much of a fight when it comes to their cybersecurity. It’s up to you to protect your organization and make sure it’s investing in its security. It’s up to us, as IT experts, to provide you with the information, resources, and services necessary to help make that happen.

3 Major Trends for Computer Security Threats in 2021

Thinking about all the new and varied cyberthreats your company faces today can quickly feel overwhelming. Where should you begin, and how can you make sure you’re staying informed?

To get started, we’ve identified 3 major trends for computer security threats in 2021 that all businesses should be aware of, so you can watch out for them in whatever form they may take.

1. Disruption

Disrupting your business is a powerful way for cybercriminals to distract you, cost you time and money, bait you into making quick and unsecure fixes, or put you at their mercy. For instance, they can use premeditated internet outages to disrupt your organization, hampering business functions and employee productivity.

Cybercriminals can also cause disruption with ransomware attacks, which have increased in popularity over recent years. In these attacks, hackers gain access to information you need, either because it is necessary to run your business or because it is sensitive information you don’t want leaked. Either way, the hackers hold your data hostage and demand you pay a ransom to get it back.

2. Distortion

With the development of technology comes the development of bots and vehicles of misinformation. This could cause more members of the public to distrust the integrity of information they encounter. Or it could cause the opposite: people might mistakenly trust false information.

In either case, it’s often bad for business. It makes it difficult to communicate with consumers or maintain their trust, especially if cybercriminals have falsified information about you or impersonated you.

Hackers are distorting the data and technologies businesses use, too. For instance, criminals who hack into your company cloud might upload fake documents that instruct employees to move money into the hackers’ account or compromise your security even further.

3. Deterioration

The deterioration of a company’s complete control over its business practices can open it up to a variety of risks, which cybercriminals are quick to take advantage of. For example, more and more businesses are implementing AI to increase their efficiency. But if you deploy untested AI, it could lead to unexpected outcomes, including higher exposure to cybercrimes.

Rapid technological advancement can also mean new federal laws to regulate it, lessening companies’ control. Many expect that increases in surveillance laws could put corporations at risk of having their information exposed. Increased privacy regulations can prevent businesses from effectively monitoring employees, making it harder to identify any insider threats.

Top 10 Computer Security Threats to Prepare for in 2021

Strengthening your cybersecurity means being proactive and staying one step ahead of cybercriminals. This starts with identifying which threats are most likely to impact companies this year.

Browse our top 3 in the infographic below, or read on for more information about all top 10 computer security threats to prepare for in 2021.

An infographic with our top 3 computer security threats to business IT.

1. Phishing Attacks

In a phishing attack, a hacker pretends to be someone you trust, such as your boss or your bank. Most commonly, the hacker emails you from a familiar—but slightly altered—email address.

Typically, the hacker emails you a link or attachment. They ask you to go to a website, log into your account, or enter your personal information, such as your Social Security or bank account number. In 2019, phishing was responsible for 32% of confirmed data breaches and 78% of all cybercrimes.

This year, cybercriminals have managed to create phishing schemes through companies’ cloud applications. Because of the crime’s relative newness and the implicit trust that employees have in their companies, cloud-based phishing is one of the top cybercrimes that companies need to look out for in 2021.

A hacker with a fishing rod hooked onto a stranger's ID across the globe, representing phishing attacks, one of the top computer security threats to business IT in 2020.

2. Cloud Jacking

Cloud jacking is the process by which cloud computing is infiltrated by a third party. Once a hacker gets into your company cloud, they may try to reconfigure the cloud code to manipulate sensitive data, eavesdrop on employees and company communications, and expand their reach to take control of the entire cloud.

As we mentioned earlier, cybercriminals will also use this as an opportunity to create phishing schemes. In these scenarios, cybercriminals upload fake memos, instructions, or other files to the company cloud. Employees, believing these materials are approved by the company, download the malicious files or follow the fake instructions.

This can result in everything from workers granting hackers greater company access, to releasing sensitive data, to even moving company funds into fraudulent accounts.

3. Network Perimeter and Endpoint Security

From traveling salesmen to equity investors, professionals who work remotely can be at risk from inadequate network perimeter and endpoint security. As more and more workers have had to switch to remote work in 2021, these security issues become bigger targets for hackers.

Remote work environments often lack many of the security measures put in place at your company’s workplace. With network perimeter and endpoint security, we are referring to measures that secure your computer network and its connections to various computers, phones, tablets, servers, databases, and more.

Mobile devices, which professionals often use to conduct business on the road, are often more exposed to phishing schemes because of the ways we interact with these devices. Fast-paced communications and interactions can make people more prone to click on links, playing right into phishing schemes. Experts predict that many data breaches will occur through telecommuters, mobile devices, and off-premises assets.

Even after COVID-related restrictions lift, many workers will not be returning to company offices. In the U.S., 59% of employees working from home during the pandemic say they prefer to work remotely. Some companies have already announced they are switching to a permanent remote workforce, making adequate network perimeter and endpoint security critically important for years to come.

4. Mobile Malware

A smartphone with security lock icons, representing one of the top computer security threats in 2020: mobile malware.

It’s not just remote employees who use mobile devices for work. Many professionals are increasingly moving from desktops to laptops or smartphones for some or all of their work.

Mobile malware is a type of software used specifically on mobile devices for malicious purposes. As larger amounts of sensitive company data are being accessed and stored on mobile devices, mobile malware attacks are very likely to be one of the most pertinent cybersecurity threats this year.

5. 5G-to-Wi-Fi Security Vulnerabilities

As cyberattacks continue to become more and more sophisticated, attacks are likely to take place in newer digital spheres. In particular, we expect to see cybercriminals exploring ways to attack the 5G-to-Wi-Fi handover.

As 5G becomes more and more commonly used, wireless providers are handing off more calls and data to Wi-Fi networks in an attempt to save bandwidth. And because of this rapid growth in 5G, the technology used to protect this handover is not yet developed enough to fully protect the transition. This gives opportunities to cybercriminals to compromise these mobile devices.

Areas that are popular for professionals to perform mobile work—such as airports, cafes, and hotels—are hotspots for the 5G-to-Wi-Fi handover. This puts the voice and data information on these mobile devices at greater risk. And while these devices have built-in technologies that allow this transition to occur quietly and without notice, researchers have already found vulnerabilities in such technologies.

6. Internet of Things (IoT) Devices

Many everyday devices, such as fitness trackers, smart security systems, and even some in-car apps, are IoT devices. Simply put, these devices are used to communicate and exchange information over a network without requiring human involvement.

A digital concept for Internet of Things devices, one of our top computer security threats in 2020, with icons for laptop, mobile, home, email, home appliance, Bluetooth, automobile, and more.

For instance, your fitness tracker collects information about your health and exercise, such as your heart rate, steps taken, and calories burned. That data is sent to the cloud and processed. Under certain circumstances, that data might result in an action initiated by the technology. You might periodically receive graphs that show your fitness trends and progress, or you might be sent an alert if your heart rate is too high.

It’s not news that our world is increasingly reliant on these devices. In fact, predictions indicate that the market will grow another billion dollars by 2026. With such a major increase in new technologies, cybercriminals are likely to target IoT devices that experience security issues, as technologies in their infancy often do.

While many of the most common IoT devices are personal or smart home devices, more and more businesses are taking advantage of IoT. Smart locks, connected security cameras, smart thermostats, smart lights, voice assistants, and more are appearing in the workplace. As more company information passes through these devices, more hackers may begin targeting them.

The IoMT, or Internet of Medical Things, is a collection of medical devices and applications that can connect to healthcare IT systems using network technologies. Due to the valuable personal information available through IoMT, as well as IoMT’s unique security issues, it is especially likely that cybercriminals will target these devices.

7. Deepfakes

Deepfakes have been increasingly used against a variety of individuals and industries over the last several years. A deepfake is produced by artificial intelligence that takes an existing video, photo, or voice recording and manipulates someone’s image or voice to falsify their actions or speech. In fact, deepfakes have been popularly utilized in politics to make candidates appear to say or do something that damages their reputation.

As it relates to businesses, experts predict that deepfakes will be used by cybercriminals to impersonate members of a company to gain access to important information. These “synthetic identities” can be used to commit fraud, as hackers create fake versions of real companies to lure in unsuspecting consumers. Deepfakes can also contribute to more advanced forms of phishing, allowing hackers to more convincingly impersonate CEOs and give harmful instructions to employees.

8. Highly Developed Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware has plagued businesses for several years now. Successful attacks have caused companies to lose millions of dollars in ransom payments, encouraging hackers to keep using and refining these attacks.

According to a McAfee prediction report, the process by which attackers are able to purchase ransomware kits on the darkweb is becoming easier. Not to mention, the ransomware itself is becoming increasingly more sophisticated.

The report also predicts that ransomwares will consolidate into fewer—but more powerful—ransomwares that will work in conjunction with one another. By working together in this manner, attackers become even more capable and pose greater threats to businesses. If attacked by these ransomware powerhouses, companies may experience even greater costs from downtime and recovery.

9. Insider Threats

Insider threats, or threats posed by employees, affect 34% of businesses around the world. These employees may be acting intentionally to hurt the company or accidentally, out of ignorance or negligence. As more employees move to remote work, which opens them up to additional risks, organizations should take extra precautions to curb insider threats.

Fortunately, there are specialized tools available to combat insider threats. These tools can detect unauthorized logins, the installation of new apps on locked down computers, users with newly granted authorization access, and new devices on restricted networks. In addition, businesses should provide all employees with routine cybersecurity training to help prevent these mistakes before they’re ever made.

10. API Vulnerabilities and Breaches

An application programming interface (API) is an intermediary between applications. It determines how apps can interact with one another. APIs work behind the scenes in many everyday applications, from streaming services to social media, weather apps, instant messaging, and more.

The security used for APIs is typically less advanced than web app security. This is true for most organizations. As a result, APIs are often not made accessible to the public or outside developers.

Because so many companies are becoming more reliant on APIs, attacks on these systems—and the need for API security—should increase this year.

Protect Your Business IT with Guardian Computer

If this sounds like a full-time job—from staying informed about the latest computer security threats and cybersecurity trends, to identifying and prioritizing your business’ biggest risks, to addressing current threats and protecting against others before they ever reach your business—that’s because it is! And it’s a job our IT experts perform day in and day out, with over 100 years of combined experience in the tech solutions industry.

Guardian Computer is a full-service IT provider. Whether you need help with a single IT project or want us to fully manage your IT, we have a wide range of services to meet your every need. We also provide both in-office and remote assistance. Even if you’re across the country from our homebase in New Orleans, we’re ready to hop on a plane to meet your needs, whatever and wherever they are.

The IT solutions we offer are every bit as varied and sophisticated as the computer security threats facing business IT. To give you an idea of how we can help protect your organization, here is a small sample of our services:

For more information, check out our IT managed services as well as the IT solutions we offer to keep companies safe from computer security threats.

Ready to talk to someone on our team? Contact us today to learn how Guardian Computer can protect your business!

Here at Guardian Computer, we frequently use SharePoint to consolidate company data, documents, and communication for our clients. In our experience, it is one of the best technologies on the market today to store, organize, share, and access information from any device.

Despite its numerous benefits, we’ve noticed that many businesses are unfamiliar with exactly what SharePoint is and what it does. Especially with more organizations engaging in remote work and telecommunications, there has never been a better time to learn how to use SharePoint effectively for your business.

Felecia Foy, one of our IT Support Specialists, is a big proponent of SharePoint and has plenty of experience helping clients set up and manage the platform. Keep reading to learn what SharePoint is, how it can help your company, and how Felecia and our experts can help you get started.

What Is SharePoint?

Before worrying about how to use SharePoint effectively, you should know the basics about what it is and what it does. In short, SharePoint is a collaborative platform that is integrated with Microsoft Office.

As Felecia puts it, “SharePoint is the amalgamation of all Microsoft services presented in one location. It creates a single accessible hub where people can share documents, collaborate on projects, share information throughout the company or with a subset of people within the company, and integrate with all of Microsoft’s other platforms.”

SharePoint can be customized, making it useful for a range of different needs, from storing information to supporting an organization’s internal communication. Many organizations use it to store, share, organize, and access information securely from various devices and as a platform to build intranet websites.

A laptop with SharePoint open on the screen, demonstrating how to use SharePoint effectively.

SharePoint in Microsoft 365

SharePoint in Microsoft 365 is a cloud-based application that allows users to use SharePoint technologies without installing SharePoint Server. Instead, your business can subscribe to a Microsoft 365 plan. Users can share information with employees, clients, and partners through sites they can create.

SharePoint is the backend for what Microsoft refers to as SharePoint as well as OneDrive. The distinction for us is that “SharePoint” is for company documents shared with others. In our opinion, “OneDrive” should be called “Personal SharePoint.” This is where you store your documents to make them easily available, no matter what device you are using.

To make life more confusing, the application used on computers to synchronize documents from both SharePoint and OneDrive is called OneDrive. With this application installed, you can easily sync folders and files used regularly to your computers for easy access. Having multiple computers and devices accessing the same files is no longer a chore.

With so many potential integrations and capabilities, SharePoint can benefit organizations of all sizes and industries. Below are a few features your company can use right now.

Check out this infographic or keep reading to learn 3 key benefits of SharePoint and how to use SharePoint effectively for your business.

Automating Workflows and Processes

One of the most useful ways we use SharePoint at Guardian Computer is as an integration tool to help you create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to synchronize files, get notifications, collect data, and more.

“Power Automate can create workflows that automate business processes and cut down on competitive tasks and overhead,” Felecia explains. The Power Automate platform can connect to over 500 different services and applications.

“So in that way, you can really link SharePoint to just about anything you want, and you can do really anything you want with it—as long as you have the time and expertise to do so,” says Felecia.

Onboarding New Employees

Currently, Felecia and our other SharePoint experts are helping one of our clients keep up with rapid company scaling using SharePoint. We are using SharePoint’s integration capabilities to manage the onboarding processes for the client’s large group of new employees.

This includes managing their email accounts and Azure Active Directory (AD) information, as well as creating a new site on SharePoint that assists them in the onboarding process. Felecia describes the process like this: “We have a form that they can fill out with the new employees’ information. And then in the backend, we have a script that will automatically create the accounts, assign the licenses, and assign the correct groups.”

SharePoint’s vast integration capabilities help businesses consolidate tedious tasks into a simple automated process, allowing your workforce to prioritize the tasks that need more specialized attention. Knowing how to use SharePoint effectively when onboarding new employees can drastically reduce the amount of time and effort required by your team.

SharePoint Across Industries

Given its customizability and integration capabilities, SharePoint can be used effectively for a wide range of applications across industries. Industries like healthcare and finance in particular benefit from the strong security associated with SharePoint services. This allows healthcare professionals, for example, to share information and data while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

In addition, all data stored on SharePoint is backed by Microsoft’s servers. With this information automatically backed up to the cloud, nothing will be accidentally deleted and lost forever while in the middle of work. “It can really provide peace of mind for companies that everything will remain confidential and accessible to them,” says Felecia.

Getting Help from Guardian Computer

SharePoint can take significant time and expertise to integrate into the everyday functions of a business. But don’t let that intimidate you. At Guardian, we have the knowledge, experience, and resources to onboard your company with SharePoint services.

Not only that, but we can ensure your organization is making the most of SharePoint’s capabilities in pursuit of your business objectives. “What we offer at Guardian is that expertise, the willingness to put in the time and the effort so that businesses don’t have to,” Felecia says. “Our clients can focus on doing what they do best, and we’ll make it easier for them to do that.”

When setting up SharePoint for a client, we provide a stress-free experience with our thorough, streamlined process. After an introductory meeting to understand exactly what you want from SharePoint integration, we determine how to customize the platform so it’s tailored to your specific needs.

After setup, we walk you through how to use SharePoint effectively: what its capabilities are, how to use them, how to add services, and more. From there, Guardian will monitor your information and infrastructure to maintain its security and functionality. If you ever have any questions or experience any issues, our experts are only a phone call or email away.

Contact Us to Start Your SharePoint Integration

We know you’re busy running your company and keeping your customers satisfied. Incorporating SharePoint into your operations will only make it easier. Let our professionals handle this so you don’t have to.

Guardian Computer has been serving businesses across the U.S. since 1996. With knowledgeable IT professionals like Felecia, our team can help you navigate new technologies and challenges. Contact us today to get started.

In today’s age of digital transformation, new and sophisticated cyberattacks, adoption of VPNs for public Wi-Fi usage, and more, it can be hard to keep track of all the latest technology trends, challenges, and solutions. Viruses are one issue in particular that consistently receives attention but is plagued with myths and misconceptions.

The concept of the computer virus has transformed into a catch-all term for a variety of programs that could damage your computer. In reality, when most people say “virus,” they really mean anything with malicious code.

So what do you actually need to know about viruses today, and what computer virus myths can you disregard? To be able to protect your company computers and data, you need to be aware of the popular types of malware you might see, as well as warning signs that point to an infected device.

“The most common misconception is that it is not going to happen to me or that if it does happen, it won’t be that bad,” says Charles Andrews (better known as Andy), our cybersecurity expert. We’re here to share his insights and the critical information you need to know about computer virus myths, threats, symptoms, and solutions.

Different Types of Infectious Malware

Awareness is a critical component in combating viruses and malware. One harmful computer virus myth is that certain types of devices (namely, Apple products and mobile devices) aren’t susceptible to malware.

All devices can potentially be infected by malware, and there are many different types of malware that leaders and employees need to watch out for. That’s why it is essential to train all end users on how to avoid different types of malware, popular tactics used to infect devices, and how to detect when there is a problem.

The following are some of the most common types of infectious malware that could infiltrate your devices.

A computer screen with a malware notification. One of the biggest computer virus myths is that these malicious softwares are viruses, but actually they're malware.

Viruses

The type of malware with the most name recognition is the virus. A virus is a piece of code that is capable of copying itself, typically resulting in a detrimental effect on the screen of the infected computer.

Getting a virus can be as simple as a user opening an email or clicking on a link that executes a malicious program. From there, the virus will multiply and attack varying aspects of the computer.

Viruses often come from an infected webpage or a phishing email. It is important to remember that secure websites should have “https” at the beginning of the URL. If you just see “http,” think twice before visiting the site and do not enter any of your information.

Worms

Worms are able to replicate with incredible speed. Once they are inside your network, they’ll seek out any available weak computer system that’s online and try to infect it.

Worms work autonomously, and they can transfer themselves from one computer to another without any interaction from users. This makes them one of the more dangerous types of malware and very difficult to detect. 

Trojans

A trojan’s purpose is to get itself installed onto your computer via a seemingly innocuous download, email attachment, or ad. Once installed on your computer, the hacker will have remote access to your network via your device.

Trojans are named as such because they seem harmless and work hard to remain undetected on your computer. They want to remain inconspicuous so that they can be an anchor point to attack other devices, making them especially threatening for company networks with many connected devices.

Botnets

Botnets are a group of infected computers that respond to the call of a botherder or command-and-control server. Botnets’ end goal is to attack en masse against a target in what is referred to as a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS).

A DDoS attack involves one or more attackers attempting to make it impossible for a service to be delivered. The attackers will drown a server in requests so that it will cease to function. 

Ransomware/Crypto Viruses 

This type of attack is rapidly growing in popularity. With ransomware/crypto viruses, hackers will encrypt your data and then ransom it back to you for a price. There are many different ways that hackers will attempt this: sometimes they use botnets, while other times they may use a virus. 

Warning Signs of an Infected Device 

One of the most damaging computer virus myths is that antivirus software offers a complete solution to infectious malware. While antivirus software protects against viruses, it won’t keep you safe against trojans or botnets, for instance.

This is why widespread awareness and proactive prevention are crucial. The sooner you identify a malware infection, the sooner you can remove the malicious code and limit the damage it causes. “Early detection and prevention can’t be overstated in their effectiveness,” says Andy.

No one thinks it will happen to them, but cybercriminals know to target smaller businesses whose cybersecurity may not be as robust. Andy adds, “It’s much better to catch one of these issues early than it is to try and clean it up after.”

The signs of an infected device can differ depending on the type of malware that has infected it. Here are a few common warning signs to watch out for.

Prepare yourself against computer virus myths by reading about the common warning signs of an infected device in our infographic or in the rest of our blog post.

Blue Screen of Death

The Blue Screen of Death, or BSOD, is a name that’s been given to error messages that you will typically see on a Windows computer. If you see the Blue Screen of Death, it means your computer can’t continue with what it was doing and will likely shut down and try to restart.

Typically, a BSOD does not mean you have a virus. If it only happens once, it could be a hardware issue. But if it’s happening frequently, it is possibly the result of a virus.

Increased Overheating or Fan Speed

Is your device overheating during normal activity or inactivity? Is your computer’s fan running higher than normal, even though you don’t have any programs open? If so, this may be a sign that malware is on your device.

In this case, a virus or worm may be causing your device to work harder than it needs to, though it appears not to be doing anything.

Slow Performance

If you notice that your computer or smartphone takes a long time to start running or to open programs, it may be a sign that you have a virus. Before assuming that malware has infected your device, first check to see if you have ample space on your hard drive.

If you do have space and your computer is still running slowly, the culprit could be a damaged hard drive. If the hard drive is not damaged, however, it is highly likely that some kind of malware is infecting your computer.

Other signs of malware may include: frequent pop-ups, error messages, missing or damaged files, system crashes, or unprompted computer restarts. If you notice any of these problems or anything else unusual, Guardian Computer can help.

Guardian Computer: Your Computer Virus Myth Buster and Problem Solver

Our IT experts are here to tackle your technology needs, including everything from malware detection and protection, to Helpdesk support, to fully managed IT services. We are available to answer any questions or concerns you may have, solving issues with fast, friendly customer service. We also provide proactive monitoring to spot issues quickly and prepare for your future needs, so you can have peace of mind about your IT.

Contact us to get started with Guardian today and keep your data protected.

Are you frustrated by your company’s technology? Looking for quick, easy IT fixes that will make a measurable difference?

When you’re running a small business, IT problems should be the least of your worries. It’s critical to keep technology issues off your plate, so you can put your time and energy into the core of your business.

With an efficient IT infrastructure and a knowledgeable IT support team behind your business, you can keep tech issues to a minimum and help your organization run smoothly. Whether your staff is transitioning back into the physical office or still working remotely, Guardian Computer’s Helpdesk Lead, Ryan Prejean, has compiled 6 easy IT fixes to get you started.

Building the Right IT Infrastructure

The transition into a distributed work environment has led many small businesses to invest in IoT devices and update their tech without knowing what’s truly necessary for their business. IoT devices can provide ease and speed to assist in data transfer and accessibility, but the issue is that small businesses are often skimping on the things that matter most when they decide to upgrade their devices. 

According to Ryan, “It’s a firewall, switch, and wireless. Those are the three main things—firewall for protection and control, wireless to get everyone on the network, and the switch, which serves as a central hub.”

Make the most of your technology with these easy, practical additions to your IT infrastructure, or contact us for help managing your IT.

When looking for easy IT fixes for small businesses, consider the 3 key IT infrastructure purchases in this infographic: a firewall, a wireless system, and a switch.

1. Professional Firewall

While it may be a good decision for businesses to accommodate the use of IoT devices, it shouldn’t come at the expense of adequate security. The alarming 20% of small businesses that “plan to invest in cybersecurity software” is strikingly low, especially considering the variety of security concerns that demand companies’ attention today.

Fortunately, a good firewall goes a long way toward addressing many of these issues. Implementing a strong, professional firewall is one of the greatest contributions you can make to your IT infrastructure because it offers critical protection against cyberattacks and data breaches.

“We recommend the Cisco Firepower,” Ryan says. “Cisco Firepower can use AI technology to detect places where you’re likely to get malicious content and block certain websites or ads. We try to put as many walls as possible between users and potential threats.”

2. Seamless Wireless 

“Everyone has to get on the network,” says Ryan. No business wants to deal with the cost of network downtime, so you need a fast, secure, reliable network to make the most of your technology and workforce productivity. 

Ryan recommends using the Cisco Meraki wireless system. As a wireless mesh network, it has the advantage of establishing multiple nodes, offering better coverage and stronger performance than traditional networks.

An office with lines connecting different devices as a representation of seamless wireless, which is one of the easy IT fixes for small businesses to make.

In addition to providing seamless wireless access throughout your building, the system can perform automatic updates and alert you when there’s an issue with your network. “When your employees bring their own devices, having a sophisticated wireless system helps boost your security,” Ryan explains. 

3. Central Switch

“Your switch is the central point, where all your expensive pieces of equipment connect,” says Ryan. “It will communicate with your firewall and it goes out to every plug.”

As such, it’s worth investing in a solid switch, setting it up to properly communicate with your tech, and protecting it with a UPS (uninterruptible power supply).

4. Surge Protector

Speaking of UPSs, here’s a bonus tip for your IT infrastructure:

“You don’t need a fancy UPS for every computer,” says Ryan. “But if you’re getting your employees good machines that are going to last 5 to 7 years, then they’re probably $1,000+ pieces of equipment and you don’t want them fried if there’s a storm. Get a $20 surge protector on Amazon to protect them.” 

Keeping Everything Up to Date 

When you’re building a strong IT infrastructure, you have to make sure your software is up to date or you could run into security and performance issues. Today, keeping devices updated is more important than having the latest model.

“It used to be the case that if you got a laptop, 3 years later it would crawl compared to anything modern-day on the market. This is changing slightly as our field matures,” Ryan explains. “For desktops and laptops, it is not critical that the hardware be new but that the OS is up to date.”

5. Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Azure

It’s no secret that Microsoft is the industry standard. With most businesses already using Microsoft products (such as Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more), an easy way to keep tech up to date, streamline operations, and potentially cut redundant costs is to fully leverage the Microsoft ecosystem with 365 and Azure.

Some of the top benefits that Microsoft 365 offers include:

  • Easy integration with Microsoft apps
  • Automatically synced email, contacts, and calendar
  • Access to apps offline
  • Seamless login and authentication
  • Built-in compliance features
  • 5GB of free storage via OneDrive
  • 1 TB of storage via SharePoint
  • Sharing and collaboration features via SharePoint

As for Microsoft Azure, it’s the only way to establish a serverless business infrastructure that seamlessly integrates with the Microsoft ecosystem. If you put a virtual server on Amazon, for instance, it won’t integrate with Microsoft 365. You would have to tie it in manually.

A few of its other advantages include:

  • Application and device management
  • Threat detection and multi-factor authentication
  • Guest user accounts and sign-ins
  • Hybrid interaction with desktop and cloud-based applications
  • Identity governance to manage identity, audit, and verify its effectiveness
  • Reporting and monitoring

Learn more about the advantages of Microsoft 365 over G Suite from our co-founder, co-owner, and CEO, John Prejean, or read about more of Microsoft Azure’s benefits from Ryan.

6. Antivirus Protection

This might seem like a no-brainer, but up-to-date antivirus software is critical. Be sure to put antivirus protection on every company computer and keep it updated. Ryan recommends the professional package from Malwarebytes for most small businesses.

“Malwarebytes automatically blocks users from accessing malicious links and blacklisted websites. This program is installed on machines all over the world, and the free version is one of the most installed antivirus software ever,” Ryan says.

Make More IT Fixes with Guardian Computer

Need support on any of these IT fixes? Looking for more advanced services and solutions? Guardian Computer is here to help. Ranked among the world’s best 501 managed service providers, our clients come to us for trustworthy, expert services and outstanding customer support.

Don’t pay an upcharge, face confusion with IT word salad on your invoices, or be forced to modernize your technology where your business doesn’t need it. With competitive prices and straightforward services, we empower you to make informed decisions about your IT. Contact us today to learn more.

In the current economic climate, organizations need to adapt their network security to fit remote work requirements. In particular, many organizations are facing challenges when assessing their security in an increasingly distributed environment.

Employees are constantly accessing vital business information while outside of the company’s on-premise network. They’re at home or in a hotel on insecure networks accessing data from personal devices and networks.

When it comes to navigating the obstacles that arise from assessing and addressing security issues in a distributed environment, Guardian Computer’s Co-Founder and President, Jean Prejean, has some advice to keep your business safe.

The Importance of Security Assessments 

According to a recent Gartner survey, “82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely some of the time.” More than likely you have and will continue to have employees working remotely.

In a distributed environment, security assessments are critical. This is your chance to assess issues with your staff’s hardware, identify any security vulnerabilities, and evaluate the overall effectiveness of the network and infrastructure you already have in place. 

According to Jean, “In an office environment, you can monitor your network for incoming and outgoing traffic and anticipate potential threats. But once you get out of that space, monitoring becomes more challenging.” 

Once your data is accessed outside of your company’s boundaries, it becomes more susceptible to a breach. By performing a security assessment, you are taking the first step in creating and maintaining the safety of your organization’s data.

Challenges of Security Assessments in a Distributed Environment

A graphic showing people on a video conference call from a variety of devices, illustrating some of the security assessment challenges in a distributed environment.

Assessing your organization’s security can feel daunting when you have to account for employees accessing company information while traveling or working from home, using public Wi-Fi or personal devices. While it may be tempting to procrastinate on performing a security assessment, these changes make it more important to stay up to date with regular assessments.

We’ve outlined a few of the top challenges you might face and our advice on how to tackle them.

Multiple Devices, Multiple Locations

In a distributed environment, your employees are using personal devices linked to their home networks or public networks. One of the challenges businesses face is trying to assess these different endpoints and minimize the risk of a data breach in this type of environment.

“If you have 50 people working outside of your office, you could have 50 different firewalls,” says Jean. “That’s 50 different firewall passwords. There’s so much diversity in the equipment and configurations that people have.”

Here are a few things to consider when assessing your security and next steps so you can make your IT environment safer and more secure:

Establishing A Safe Perimeter

A perimeter includes all of the devices inside of a network, the security system that monitors and protects it, and the network itself. When you’re operating in a distributed environment, one way to reduce your risk of a cyberattack is to create a secure environment within your employees’ perimeter. When establishing a safe perimeter, it’s vital to:

  • Set Up 2FATwo-factor authentication is an extra layer of security you can require for most services or applications being used to access company data. Even if a password is compromised, a 2FA login requires a second form of approval to allow interaction with secured data. All systems that support 2FA should have it configured and required.
  • Set Up 2 Environments — In a distributed environment, it’s difficult to expect employees to use the best practices when accessing work data on personal devices. It’s a good idea to separate the two environments the best you can by providing company devices that are encrypted to protect your data. Employees should only be allowed to access company data from managed, company devices. If this is not possible, there are other options, such as using Cisco Umbrella on all devices that access company data.
Despite the security assessment challenges in a distributed environment, one key piece of advice is to establish a safe network perimeter using the tips in this infographic and the rest of our blog post.

Educating Your Users

Employee error is a major contributor to data breaches for businesses, especially in a distributed environment. Data from a recent Malwarebytes Labs report shows that 20% of businesses surveyed have had their security breached during the pandemic as the result of a remote worker.

All of your employees must be trained to effectively use their devices in the safest way possible and be aware of all company security policies. When a company has policies in place, employees can use them to fall back on when uncertain about how to interact with company data.

“It’s good practice to have a policy requiring phones to be encrypted; make sure you have secure logins enabled with PIN, facial recognition, or fingerprints; make sure you have the ability to wipe if it gets lost or stolen; and so on,’” says Jean. “When we tell people to set those three things up, it’s received well. Most employees are happy to protect their environment and just didn’t know that those things existed or how to do them.” 

Overcoming Misconceptions

Businesses have little to no control over personal firewalls or the other devices that may interact with company data, which is all the more reason not to wait to conduct a security assessment. Don’t let these common misconceptions get in the way of performing this essential task:

Security Assessments Are Not Penetration Testing

“Some people think of an assessment as just penetration testing, where a security company is coming in and trying to poke holes in your network,” says Jean. “That’s not the case. This is a self-assessment.”

When IT support performs an assessment, it’s for the betterment of the company. The goal is to assess the risks and determine how to implement procedures that prevent breaches. 

Consider Risk When Evaluating Cost 

One of the biggest misconceptions about security assessments is that they will cost a fortune. But a security assessment should only ever be an assessment. Its purpose is to give your organization the information it needs to decide which security measures it’s going to take, as well as which can be handled in-house and which should be outsourced. Contrary to popular belief, an assessment should give your company more insight and control over its security practices.

Imagine how much the downtime, loss of business, and data recovery of a data breach would cost your business. You have to account for the standards within your field to determine the risk you’re willing to take. Without regular security assessments, however, you lack the information necessary to properly evaluate your risk.

It’s also important to note that security assessments shouldn’t take place only when there is a breach. Perform assessments annually so you can make informed decisions about your security vulnerabilities. Once you’ve had your initial assessment, subsequent ones are like a checkup, making it even more critical to take that first step now.

Get Expert Security Assessments with Guardian

If you need help performing a security assessment, give the experts at Guardian Computer a call. With fair pricing, a foolproof assessment formula, and actionable solutions, Guardian will evaluate your IT infrastructure and empower you to make the best decisions for your organization.

By creating a detailed roadmap of your IT needs and providing solutions catered to what we find, Guardian can improve the effectiveness and security of your business’ IT. Contact us today to find out more.

Mobile device management (MDM) software, such as Microsoft Intune, allows for visibility and management of the mobile devices accessing your enterprise’s network. As mobile threats loom large over organizations of all types and sizes, MDM is quickly becoming a critical part of protecting confidential business and employee data from a variety of digital threats.

But what exactly is an MDM software and what does it offer to businesses? Should small and midsize businesses consider adopting an MDM software for their network? What makes Microsoft Intune a standout option for MDM?

Not only does Guardian Computer provide clients with a variety of MDM services through Microsoft Intune, we also use this software for our own tech network. Jeremy Wirtz, our Senior Technical Engineer and in-house Intune expert, offers his expert opinion about the top benefits of Intune, as well as the reasons why your business should consider adopting an MDM solution.

What Is MDM Software?

MDM software is a key element to the emerging field of mobile device management within the business world. MDM softwares like Microsoft Intune, Scalefusion, and SOTI MobiControl are designed to provide an organization with a wide range of visibility and control features for in-office and remote network devices.

While not all MDM softwares are identical, many include similar features, such as: 

  • Device monitoring and remote configuration, which allow your IT team to track the activity and location of your business’ network devices, including laptops, PCs, tablets, IoT devices, or smartphones
  • Remote disconnection, which allows IT admins to lock or wipe certain devices in the event of a potential or confirmed data breach, theft, or loss
  • Regulatory compliance management features, such as activity and data logs
  • Application and OS management tools that can schedule and control device updates, as well as block certain device and application features that may threaten data security
Keep reading or check out our infographic to learn about the top benefits of mobile device management.

What Makes Microsoft Intune Stand Out?

Today, there is a massive global market for mobile device management softwares and strategies. According to Business Wire, the MDM industry is anticipated to grow by approximately 23% by 2023. This expansion is primarily driven by increases in smartphone usage across enterprises, as well as growing threats to corporate data across the business world.

So what makes Microsoft Intune a great MDM software? To start, Jeremy argues that Intune is a perfect solution for any business currently using Microsoft’s cloud services, such as Microsoft Azure. “It comes down to the tight integration that Intune has into Microsoft’s other cloud-based offerings, as well as their other products in general,” he explains.

If your business already uses Outlook, OneDrive, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, SharePoint, Teams, Azure, or Active Directory, then the team that manages your IT will have a clearer understanding of how Intune works from the start. “That’s going to make it significantly easier for them to understand and implement Intune,” Jeremy says.

An open laptop on an employee desk, which could be monitored with Microsoft Intune.

Even if your team doesn’t already use Microsoft products, Intune may still be a great MDM software solution for your team, depending on your IT infrastructure. Intune does not currently support Chromebooks, which makes it an incompatible MDM software for any businesses with Chromebooks in their device network. 

However, this doesn’t prevent companies that rely on G Suite from getting the most out of Intune. “Even if you’re using Gmail or Google apps, you may still have all of your users on a Windows-based operating system, like Windows 10,” Jeremy says. “And that integrates into Intune.”

Any organizations that rely on Microsoft operating systems or products can have more granular control over the policies on the operating system itself by using Intune, rather than another MDM software.

Is Microsoft Intune Worth It?

Some business leaders may still be skeptical about implementing Intune into their network. They may fear the additional costs of maintaining this software or worry about the length of the implementation process. Others may believe that mobile device management software is too complex for their business’ needs. However, MDM software like Microsoft Intune offers many practical benefits to businesses’ everyday and emergency operations.

Cybersecurity 

Company-issued smartphones, tablets, and laptops, as well as some personal devices, have become essential items for many modern businesses. But these devices are often vulnerable to cyberattacks or employee errors, both of which can lead to major expenses, extended network downtime, or even compliance issues and legal troubles for an organization.

According to Jeremy, these threats are the top reason that any business should consider integrating an MDM software into their digital infrastructure. “The main reason companies would want to consider implementing an MDM solution is to protect their corporate data,” he says.

Lock symbols over a phone, document, computer, email, and cloud to represent cybersecurity, one of the benefits of mobile device management.

Data protection is especially important for small and midsize businesses. CNBC reports that over 50% of America’s small businesses experienced a data breach between 2018 and 2019, with an average cost of $200,000 for damages and fees associated with a single attack.

Long-Term Benefits

Jeremy recommends that business leaders also consider how their organization may grow in the coming months or years. “It’s much easier to get that MDM solution in place when an organization is still small,” he explains.

In addition, Jeremy notes that the initial costs of adopting mobile device management software for your business should pay off in the long term. “Once you do have a proper MDM solution in place, you can actually end up saving the company money by increasing the efficiency at which your internal IT—or your managed service provider— can manage those devices and keep track of them.”

Remote Device Management 

As personal devices become more commonly integrated into company networks, businesses will need to consider solutions to the visibility and privacy issues that personal devices can introduce.

Employees looking at each others' phones, which can be monitored with Microsoft Intune or other mobile device management.

2020 revealed the gaps in many companies’ data privacy and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) management policies. Jeremy points out that the pandemic has rapidly accelerated MDM software adoption due to the ways that they conveniently centralize data management and control for both in-office and remote employees.

Jeremy recommends that leaders carefully consider and develop bring-your-own-device strategies for their businesses before deciding what MDM software to go with. This way, they can ensure that the software options they’re considering are those that can best accommodate their company’s personal device policies and procedures.

Implement Microsoft Intune and MDM Solutions with Guardian Computer

Guardian Computer has years of cross-industry experience helping businesses manage and monitor their networks and the devices that access them. We’re experts in providing flexible, friendly, and comprehensive IT services to commercial clients both big and small.

Curious about Guardian’s MDM services and other technology solutions? Get in touch with us today and see how we can help your business.

Now more than ever, cybersecurity is the key to business continuity and productivity. Whether you’re looking to protect yourself from a data breach, avoid costly network downtime, or implement secure practices for employees traveling on business or working remotely, your organization can benefit from assessing and addressing its vulnerabilities.

Wondering what threats you might face? With data security at the forefront of our concerns, our security expert, Charles Andrews (better known as Andy), has outlined the top 5 cybersecurity threats facing companies across industries today. Learn more and protect your business!

5. Insider Threats

In a study by Ponemon Institute, 62% of employees surveyed reported that they had access to sensitive company data that they didn’t need to do their jobs. What’s more, Verizon indicated that 25% of the data breaches they reviewed in their 2017 report were caused by insider threats.

When employees have free range over sensitive information, insider threats become more common and the burden of a data breach is left on the employer’s shoulders. Not only that, but many companies lack proper procedures for revoking access once someone is no longer employed with the company.

According to Andy, “A lot of people take into consideration when a new user starts, but we’ve seen cases where someone got fired or someone left the organization two or three weeks ago, and no one sent an email to IT letting them know to deactivate that user’s access, which is a glaring security hole.”

Fortunately, data breaches can be prevented through employee training, restricted access to sensitive information, and a seamless integration of security protocols into your company culture.

Andy’s Tips

  • Limit employee access to only the data they need.
  • Use separation of duties where needed.
  • Establish clear company processes and procedures to bolster data security.
  • Control the offboarding process as well as onboarding.
  • Utilize data monitoring and auditing technology to track anomalous behavior.
  • Use a Data Loss Prevention (DLP) program to send an alert if someone tries to exfiltrate sensitive data, such as bank account information or Social Security numbers.

4. Passwords

It’s a common misconception that a password is all it takes to protect your information. Forbes reported that there are around 15 billion stolen passwords available for sale on the dark web, giving us a glimpse into how widespread an issue this is.

Earlier this month, the CyberNews Investigation team analyzed 15,212,645,925 passwords from across the globe that were breached and publicly released. Less than 15% of the passwords were unique and over 75% of the passwords included 10 or fewer characters, suggesting that an overwhelming majority of passwords are weak and easy to guess.

Andy said, “These easy-to-guess passwords leave your data open to brute force attacks, such as a dictionary attack, which guesses passwords until it gets it right.” Furthermore, a survey conducted by Google revealed that 65% of respondents reused a password across multiple accounts, if not every account.

Weak or outdated passwords can leave your organization’s accounts vulnerable to a cyberattack, putting you at risk of data loss as well as company downtime, which can quickly rack up a high price.

Andy’s Tips

The best way to handle the issue of weak passwords is proper employee training and authentication, said Andy. Your company should have at least a two-factor authentication (2FA) to validate user identity, and passwords should be changed at least once every six months. In industries where HIPAA compliance is a factor, organizations should consider changing their passwords at least once every three months.

3. Ransomware

The rate at which ransomware has exploded is alarming. In 2014, there were just 3.2 million ransomware attacks worldwide. In 2019, there were 188 million, and these attacks only continue to grow in popularity and sophistication as more people work remotely.

Hackers have moved away from hitting the occasional laptop or desktop, instead developing more patient strategies to infect and encrypt file servers, web servers, and more.

There’s a common misconception that small businesses don’t get targeted often by hackers. Tech Times reported that 71% of ransomware attacks were aimed at small businesses, with an average ransom of more than $100,000.

“Cybercriminals know that small businesses are more likely to pay up because they often don’t have the most robust backup solutions,” Andy said. “Backups are important, not just in case a server breaks down, but also in case someone manages to get ransomware on your network and effectively torches your data.”

Andy’s Tips

The two best ways to protect your organization from ransomware are:

  • Implementing a centrally managed antivirus software that will alert you to infections and monitor your endpoints.
  • Regularly backing up your data, as well as checking to make sure it’s backing up correctly. According to Andy, too many companies run backups without confirming that they’re working properly. “And if you don’t have backups,” Andy said, “I don’t have enough coffee for that discussion!”

2. Phishing

Phishing is one of the most common cyberattacks affecting businesses today. In fact, the SANS Institute reports that phishing is responsible for a whopping 95% of attacks on company networks. It only takes one of the many employees on an enterprise network clicking on a malicious link in a phishing email.

While there are a number of ways to filter out a large portion of these emails, some will invariably get through. According to Andy, “End users need to be able to spot phishing attacks and flag them without being tempted to click a link. It’s important for a framework to be in place for sensitive tasks like these.”

Andy’s Tips

The most effective way to combat phishing is to prioritize user training. Your organization should have a system in place to properly filter emails as well, and you can even add a banner for emails that originate from outside your organization. But nothing can replace having knowledgeable staff who are able to catch phishing attacks before they harm your business.

1. Failed Compliance

Failed compliance is the number one concern that companies should know about. “Compliance can be a nightmare if left unchecked,” said Andy.

Whether it’s HIPAA, PCI, GDPR, GLBA, or another regulation, failed compliance could put you out of business. The American Medical Association states that each HIPAA violation could cost your organization up to $50,000, with an annual cap of $1.5 million for repeat violations.

Compliance can be a tangled web of provisions, audits, and fines, but these regulations are in place to ultimately protect the sensitive data of your customers and your business.

Andy’s Tips

Vulnerability scans, keeping IT systems updated, and proper monitoring and management are the best ways to stay ahead of the curve. As a business owner, it is vital that you stay on top of the constantly evolving regulations in your industry and keep your organization prepared for anything.

Improve Your Security with Guardian Computer

You already have enough on your plate. Let the professionals handle your security, so you can focus on your business.

Guardian Computer has been serving businesses across the U.S. since 1996. With knowledgeable IT professionals like Andy, a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), our team can help you navigate these security challenges and many others.

Contact us today and build the cyber resilience you need to thrive through 2021 and beyond!

Before smartphones were the norm, few business owners and leaders had to consider why mobile security is important. Today, there are many more concerns for an organization’s cybersecurity, with mobile security chief among them. Yet many businesses still do not consider the consequences that can result from employees using personal smartphones for work or company smartphones for personal use.

So why is mobile security important?

With threats to mobile devices on the rise, organizations must invest in their mobile security and foster safer practices among employees.

Start Protecting Your Business with Mobile Security

Read our blog post or refer to this infographic to understand why mobile security is important and how to protect your business.

Establish a Device Policy

A corporate device policy provides a standard of expectations that employees know to follow, as well as the consequences for breaking them. To cover all your bases, be sure to address the use of company-issued devices as well as personal devices.

Consider these tips for setting up a corporate device policy:

  • Bring Your Own Device – Be clear about whether employees are allowed to use personal devices at work or not. If they are, write a clear Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Consider what types of devices and activities will be permitted.
  • Monitoring and Transparency – Employees and visitors on your premises should be fully aware of any monitoring your company intends to perform on their devices or activity. Monitoring not only protects company interests, but also encourages employees to take care with their activity and abide by the rules. Building a transparent company policy can help avoid employee distrust and dissatisfaction, while also highlighting how company cybersecurity is truly an all-hands team effort.
  • Approved Applications and Software – By creating a list of approved applications and software, you can increase your device security and limit the amount of lost productivity. Most importantly, you will decrease the chances of mobile malware infiltrating your company’s devices or network via unsecure apps.

Use Mobile Device Management Software

For stronger security, implement mobile device management (MDM) software. MDM is vital for separating business and personal information for employees, while enabling employers to create security measures for their devices.

Typically, cloud-based software will be less expensive, more flexible, and easier to manage than on-premises software. Look for features that will enable you to view device information, configure devices, manage and update apps, create restrictions for device usage, and wipe devices remotely.

If possible, use MDM software that will enforce your company’s security measures across devices. This could include everything from using strong passwords, to encrypting data, to establishing containers for keeping company information separate from personal information.

Keep Devices Up to Date

Whether you’re considering the importance of mobile security or looking to boost cybersecurity for other hardware or software, keep company devices up to date. An update can remedy operating bugs, enhance software security, and heighten the performance of your device and its software.

Often, businesses fail to update their software regularly, especially on mobile devices. As a result of these delays, mobile malware can sneak onto your device and leave you open to a cyberattack.

Protect Your Business Today with Guardian

A mobile user using potentially unsecure apps, unaware of why mobile security is important.

Have more questions about mobile security? Want help protecting your business? Give Guardian Computer a call!

We offer a wide variety of IT services and support to provide businesses with robust, proactive cybersecurity and technology solutions. Whether your organization wants help with a specific problem or project, or you want our experts to manage all your IT needs, Guardian Computer is ready to help.

Contact us online by filling out the form below or call 866-488-4726 to talk to someone from our team today!

    Cyber criminals have started targeting a new demographic within recent years: travelers. When preparing for a trip, cyber security is probably the last thing on your mind. However, not taking cyber security into account while traveling puts both vacationers and business travelers at a higher risk for a cyber attack while away from home.

    Whether you find yourself waiting at an airport, working from a hotel room, or taking a road trip with your family, you should always consider the best cyber security practices for travelers. Ready to bring cyber security to the forefront of your travel plans? Follow our expert tips to help protect your data and digital devices while away from home.

    Cyber Security Risks for Travelers

    When people travel, they often think about everything but cyber security. You have to pack, make arrangements for house sitting, and plan for transportation, lodging, meals, activities, and more. But why isn’t device security also a top priority for travelers?

    Traveling puts you in an unfamiliar environment where you often have less control over your surroundings, including your digital environment. You’re busy and distracted, and it’s easier to do what’s most convenient, even if it’s not as safe.

    Not only do travelers often engage in risky behaviors, such as connecting to public Wi-Fi, but they also keep a huge amount of valuable data close at hand. Most people carry their smartphones with them wherever they go, and laptops are a necessity for today’s traveling business professionals. Travelers also often carry passports, credit card information, lodging details, and more.

    Cyber criminals are taking advantage of these circumstances. Transportation was the second-highest industry for cyber attacks, according to the 2019 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index.

    5 Best Cyber Security Practices for Travelers

    The key to maintaining cyber security is to be vigilant about both the physical and digital safety of your devices, whether you’re at home or away. With a little effort and planning, you can follow these 5 best cyber security practices for travelers.

    1. Be Cautious of Public Wi-Fi

    The easiest way to keep from getting hacked is to limit public access to your phone. By simply not tapping into a public Wi-Fi network, you become the first line of defense to your own resources.

    While public Wi-Fi is convenient and appealing for most travelers, these networks can put users at a higher risk for a cyber attack. Be vigilant when sleuthing out an encrypted network. Don’t shy away from asking hotel management questions about their cyber security in place for guest users.

    Even private Wi-Fi networks hosted by hotels and other hotspots for travelers are susceptible to cyber attacks, since hackers know that there will be many people there. Hotel News Now reports that the Marriott International and the Drury Hotel were among the many establishments to suffer a data breach in the last two years. Millions of people had their contact information and credit card numbers stolen as a result.

    Take precautions when accessing any networks while you’re away from home. If you decide to use public Wi-Fi, avoid logging into personal accounts that contain private data or accessing sensitive company information. If possible, always use public Wi-Fi with a VPN for added security.

    2. Keep Your Tech Locked Up

    One of the best cyber security practices for travelers is actually one of the easiest: lock up your tech! This advice considers two key parts of your tech’s security: its physical safety and its digital safety.

    Physical Safety for Devices

    Read this infographic or continue with our blog post to learn the best cyber security practices for travelers' devices.

    Make sure all of your devices are securely fastened within your luggage. Be wary of slipping your phone into a side pocket, as it’s easy for someone to reach in and grab it. While you want to be able to access your devices easily, you don’t want to put them at risk for theft or unauthorized use.

    Consider placing any phones, tablets, or laptops in zipper-close, opaque pockets and purchasing a backpack lock. An electronic organizer could be beneficial for keeping all of your electronic devices in one place and keeping you from digging through your luggage in a pinch.

    Digital Safety for Devices

    You also need to digitally limit an unknown user’s access to your devices. A vital step in protecting your privacy is to have some form of authentication for each device, if not two-factor authentication for even greater security.

    Luckily, cellphones and computers typically have built-in authentication programs. These include Apple’s Touch ID feature, as well as the facial recognition features available on iPhones and some Android devices.

    Even if your devices don’t have these specific features, there are several options for digital protection. Set an alphabetic, numeric, or patterned code to limit the access to your phone or tablet. Always create strong passwords for your computers and digital accounts.

    Password Tips

    Here are a few tips to help you come up with stronger passwords:

    • The longer, the better. A lengthy password can better protect your device or account. If possible, the ideal password will be at least 15 characters.
    • Use a mixture of characters. Try using a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Some devices or accounts require you only use certain special characters, so keep these rules in mind.
    • Don’t go the easy route. Avoid commonly used phrases, recognizable words, or any personally identifying information, such as your birthday or child’s name. Most hackers can do a quick social media search to find this information and play the guessing game when it comes to figuring out your password.
    • Consider using a password generator. This will contribute to the randomness of the password, making it more difficult to crack. Password managers often include password generator features, while also giving you a place to securely store these hard-to-remember passwords.

    3. Disable Risky Features

    Read this infographic or continue with our blog post to learn which features you should disable as part of the best cyber security practices for travelers.

    Several of the features that may help you at home carry different risks on the road. As such, one of the best cyber security practices for travelers involves disabling these risky features during trips.

    Auto Connect

    Even if you decide to use public Wi-Fi, make sure you disable the auto connect capabilities on your devices. While auto connect is a convenient feature when using the internet at your house, it’s good practice to require a manual connection whenever a device has access to public Wi-Fi. This gives you the opportunity to investigate a public network before choosing whether or not to connect to it.

    Bluetooth Connectivity

    Disable Bluetooth Connectivity, as shown here, as part of the best cyber security practices for travelers.

    Most devices have Bluetooth capabilities, yet many users are unfamiliar with exactly how Bluetooth works. While you’re thinking the Bluetooth feature is a great way to connect all of your devices together, a hacker sees it as an entryway into your phone or computer. Similar to the auto connect feature, Bluetooth connectivity is perfectly fine when you’re using all of your devices at home. However, when you’re traveling, it’s best to consider limiting Bluetooth usage and turn it off when not in use.

    Location Sharing

    It’s understandable that you may want your loved ones to keep tabs on you while you’re traveling. Maybe you just want to give your family and friends a peek into your on-the-road adventure. Although it is becoming commonplace to share your location through your phone or computer, it might not be the best cyber security practice while traveling.

    Weigh the costs when sharing your location. This feature opens you up not only for a cyber attack, but also a physical one. Criminals can get information on where you are and where your hotel room is, leaving you vulnerable to theft or a physical attack. Limiting the amount of location sharing you do while traveling is an important step to keeping you and your belongings safe.

    4. Install Antivirus Protection

    This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it can be all too easy to overlook in the hustle and bustle of preparing for a trip. Antivirus software is an added layer of defense that helps protect your device at all times, even while you’re away from home.

    Evaluate the most powerful antivirus softwares on the market when making your decision. If you’ll be bringing work devices on a trip, check in with your company about providing antivirus software. Keep your devices up to date with the latest features from their antivirus software, and install any updates before leaving home.

    5. Update Device Software Before You Go

    No matter if you’re bringing a smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you want to keep the most current version of your software updated before heading out for your trip. Some devices are programmed to update once connected to a Wi-Fi network, which means your device would try to download new software the moment you connect to a public network outside of your home.

    First, if possible, disable this feature to prevent any software updates over a public connection. This allows you to maintain more control over your device and prevent unwanted access. Next, install new versions of software at home before you leave for your trip.

    If you are unable to do this, stop any software downloads before they start and wait until you return home to complete installation. A word of caution: not installing the most recent version of software onto your device might cause performance issues until the device is updated. You want your time away from home to be easy and effortless, and an update could strongly improve your experience with your devices.

    Get the Best Cyber Security Anywhere with Guardian Computer

    Whether your business needs IT services on premises or for remote workers, Guardian Computer is here to help. From cyber security to network configuration, cloud management, regulatory compliance, help desk support, and much more, our experts are available for one-off projects as well as ongoing management, maintenance, and support.

    Get in touch with us today to learn more about the advanced protection, strategic digital transformation, and friendly IT support we provide.

    Whether you’re grocery shopping, working at a coffee shop, or waiting in an airport, public WiFi is a convenient way to hop online. Unfortunately, it’s also a risky one. Hackers take advantage of the lax security and easy access that often accompanies public WiFi.

    If you need to connect to public WiFi, you should take precautions to maintain the security of your device and information. A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, is one of the most common privacy measures for public WiFi usage. But many users still wonder, is it safe to use public WiFi with a VPN? Are there any risks?

    While VPNs are generally considered an essential security tool for remote work and other public network usage, there are weaknesses that can still leave your work and personal data vulnerable to cybercriminals. Keep reading to learn more about using VPNs, their security benefits and shortcomings, and our expert tips for using public WiFi.

    What Makes Public WiFi Risky?

    On an unsecured network, hackers may be able to spy on the information you send, such as when you enter a password or credit card information on a website. They may even be able to monitor the keystrokes you make on your keyboard, allowing them to record your logins or private conversations.

    Cybercriminals can also circulate malware or launch worm attacks over unsecured WiFi. Even public WiFi networks that require a password aren’t safe if that same password is readily available to anyone in the establishment, such as a coffee shop or doctor’s office.

    What Is a VPN?

    A VPN allows a user’s devices to connect to a private network over a public network. VPNs were created to securely connect devices within a business network to private internet servers. They allow network users to access their business network remotely from home, another office, or elsewhere using public WiFi.

    How Do VPNs Work?

    Is it safe to use public WiFi with a VPN? Check out our infographic or keep reading to find out.

    A VPN works by connecting your computer, tablet, or smartphone to a server, so you can go online using the server’s internet connection. The public WiFi network is only used to connect your device to the server, rather than to any of the websites or applications you subsequently access.

    A VPN grants you access to a private, anonymous network, which is very appealing if you handle sensitive information. VPNs use encryption to scramble your data and make it unreadable when it’s sent over a public network.

    Without a VPN, an internet service provider has access to your entire browsing history, from the websites you visit to the passwords you enter. That’s because web activity is normally associated with a local IP address. A VPN allows you to funnel your own internet traffic through a private server, so your activity is associated with that server’s IP address rather than your own. This effectively masks your location and keeps your online activity and data private.

    How Safe Is It to Use Public WiFi with a VPN?

    A VPN app open on a smartphone and laptop, illustrating one way to more safely use public WiFi.

    Both the Federal Trade Commission and Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recommend the use of VPNs while using public WiFi. Even so, many people still wonder exactly how safe it is to use public WiFi with a VPN.

    Generally, a VPN is an important security measure to have in place. But there is a vulnerability that occurs at the moment you connect to a public WiFi network.

    Most public networks will allow devices to automatically connect to the WiFi. However, you must open a browser to what’s called a “captive portal.” There, you manually agree to local terms of service before actually being allowed to access any websites.

    Despite being connected to the internet and having a VPN, there is a gap in coverage after you connect to WiFi but before you can turn on your VPN. This brief period leaves you vulnerable to risks associated with public, unsecured networks.

    Although you face risks during this vulnerable period, it is only for a very limited amount of time. Using a VPN in public is still much safer than logging onto a public network without any additional digital protection.

    Do VPNs Have Additional Security Features?

    As VPNs have become more popular, VPN service providers have found other ways that their services can protect your data while in public.

    Some VPN services offer a feature called an “Internet Kill Switch,” for example. In the event that your VPN connection is ever interrupted or disconnected, this feature protects your device and its data from prying eyes. It works by blocking all internet-bound traffic to your device until the connection with your VPN is reestablished.

    VPN clients may offer an Internet Kill Switch at a granular application level. If you are using a VPN to access particularly sensitive applications and information, this tool is incredibly valuable. At the moment a VPN disconnects, the Kill Switch would close that sensitive application and require it to be manually reopened after reestablishing a secure connection.

    For those who need an additional level of security when accessing public WiFi, finding a VPN service with an Internet Kill Switch is an excellent option.

    Safety Tips for Using Public WiFi

    While having a VPN can bring peace of mind while using public WiFi, there are still a number of other measures you should take to keep your data safe—no matter where you are.

    • Use strong passwords. No matter how secure your network is, a weak password leaves you vulnerable to hackers. Ensure that your passwords contain a healthy mix of case-sensitive letters, numbers, and other characters. Avoid including personal information, such as your birthdate or pet’s name, which can often be found on social media. Do not repeat passwords you have already used or reuse the same password for multiple accounts, or else a breach of one can compromise them all. Do not leave your password written on a sticky note on your desk or send it in plain text via email, instant message, or text message.
    • Don’t leave your device signed in while unattended. It’s all too easy for a smartphone to get stolen off a desk or out of a bag. If you’re working in a public space, be aware of your surroundings and your possessions. Even in your company building, you never know if a delivery person or visitor might come across your computer while you’re in the bathroom. Log off of any device whenever you are not actively using it. Keep any portable devices you aren’t currently using in a secure case or bag within your sight.
    • Turn off automatic connectivity. Some phones will automatically connect to open WiFi networks as soon as they’re in range. If your device connects to an unsecured network and you don’t immediately enable a VPN for protection, you’re leaving yourself at risk of having your information stolen.
    • Enable two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication requires two verifications before users can log into an account. In the event that your password is compromised, two-factor authentication will keep unwanted guests from accessing your account by requiring more than just that password. If an unauthorized user fails to bypass the two-factor authentication, you will be alerted. This gives you the chance to change your password and protect your private information.
    • Beware of phishing. Even with a VPN in place, a successful phishing text or email can easily collect your sensitive information. A phishing message appears to be from a trusted company or individual, but is actually from a cybercriminal. It will usually ask you to visit a link, open an attachment, or confirm your identity or login information. Fast-paced communications and interactions, such as texting, can make people more prone to click on links, playing right into phishing schemes.

    How to Set Up and Use a VPN

    In addition to other cybersecurity best practices, using a VPN is a wise choice, whether for personal or business use. Setting one up for the first time isn’t as difficult as you might think. You have the option to set up a VPN for your entire home network or on individual devices.

    Setting Up a VPN at Home

    If you frequently work from home or want additional home protection, setting up a VPN for your entire home network is a good idea. This means that any device that connects to the internet at your home will be using a secure and protected network. However, adding this extra step can slow down web traffic, which may lead to longer loading times for all users.

    When setting up a VPN at home, there are a few options that you can choose from:

    1. Get a router with VPN capabilities. Some higher end routers come with built-in VPN servers that are ready to go out of the box. If your home office is your primary office, this may be an appealing option. The process is completely automated, and your server will automatically connect all your internet devices to the VPN without the need for an additional VPN app or service. Once those devices are removed from your home network, however, they will not be protected by the VPN.
    2. See if your current router supports third-party firmware. Routers actually have their own operating systems, known as firmware. If you have some advanced technical skills under your belt, it’s also possible to replace your current router’s firmware with one that can support a VPN in order to secure your home’s WiFi network.
    3. Set up your own dedicated VPN server. To set up a dedicated VPN server, you’ll need a computer that’s on all the time, rather than a desktop you turn off when you’re done using it. This option also requires some technical ability. But if you’re a business owner, setting up a dedicated VPN server for all employees to use can be a smart choice.

    Using VPN Services and Apps in Public

    If you need to work at coffee shops, hotels, airports, or other public places, then VPN services and apps are a more appropriate choice for keeping your data secure. These apps download onto individual devices so that you can bring the security of a VPN with you, no matter where you are.

    VPN app services are available for an annual or monthly subscription, which often varies from around $4 to $12 per month. Examples include NordVPN, TunnelBear, and ProtonVPN. These apps will typically allow a set number of devices to operate on a single VPN account, with scalable options for adding more user licenses and servers on business accounts.

    Many VPN apps work with a variety of browsers and operating systems, such as Windows 10, macOS, iOS, Android, and Google Chrome. These apps offer a host of features, such as easy-to-use interfaces, good speed tests, affordability, and a number of servers located around the world for additional security.

    In addition, many VPN services come with prepackaged installers. After you decide on a VPN service, setup can be relatively straightforward once the proper permissions and settings are in place.

    If you own a business and are looking to get a VPN for your employees, IT professionals can set up a VPN on a variety of devices (both hard-wired and mobile) that regularly connect to your business network. Ask your IT department or managed service provider, or contact an IT company to provide this setup service.

    Set Up a VPN and Improve Network Security with Guardian Computer

    Guardian Computer is a full-service IT provider with over 100 years of combined experience in the tech solutions industry. We’ve worked with a wide variety of businesses to protect their data, including everything from setting up VPNs to networking services, cybersecurity, and data backup and recovery.

    Our expertise means you can rest easy, knowing your IT project is professionally handled and our team is preparing your organization for potential issues before they ever become a problem. Whether you need help with a single IT project or want us to fully manage your IT, we have a wide range of services to meet your business’ unique needs. Where you see a tech headache, we see a new challenge to tackle!

    Ready to talk to someone on our team? Contact us today to learn how Guardian Computer can protect your business!