April 2022

[The Wenatchee World] Randy Marrone | Advantages of remote monitoring

Have you had the misfortune of a PC failing at the beginning of a Monday morning, maybe right before a presentation? Have you had an update that you have been putting off for weeks that now just “has to run”? You will likely know how big a hassle all this can be.

Business interruptions cost money, but they also steal your valuable time.

Googling the issue, calling the coworker who is “good at computers,” or taking it to the local repair shop might be tempting to remedy the problem, but considering how much time you may have wasted, not to mention the surprise costs getting this fixed, it may make sense for you to consider other options.

Enter: Remote monitoring.

Remote monitoring adds another set of eyes to your company’s most mission-critical devices. Think of remote monitoring like the alerts on a modern car, except instead of displaying on your dashboard, they show on the dashboard of your MSP (managed service provider, such as SimplePowerIT).

Every computer in your business adds another point of failure and another thing that can stand between getting that next big contract or serving your existing clients.

With remote monitoring, hard drives failing, patching and update management, security, abnormal logins, power issues, antivirus status can all be tracked, minimizing the amount of time these issues go undiscovered and providing your MSP a way to fix the issue before you even need to pick up the phone.

Remote monitoring and the right MSP will give you assurance that you are protected, giving you the freedom to focus on what you actually need to be doing.

From servers having the occasional hiccup thanks to one of Microsoft’s hasty updates, or the impending doom of multiple hard drive failings at once, remote monitoring ensures that your managed service provider is notified almost immediately when a managed device begins to have any number of issues.

Aside from the benefits already mentioned, remote monitoring provides a secure, easy way for an MSP to remote directly into a PC, perform behind-the-scenes support, or assist clients directly with password resets, training, troubleshooting, and all types of IT support.

Even when everything is running smoothly, remote monitoring saves significant time trying to coordinate remote access, logging in after hours, or walking users through resolving common problems. In addition, some tech features such as scripting, ensure that common fixes can be applied with just a few clicks instead of more time-consuming passes through multiple screens and subsequent reboots.

PC repair shops or “fix-it” technicians, while well-intentioned, often don’t understand what important data resides on your PC or how it connects to the rest of your network. As their goal is to get your specific problem resolved, they may not necessarily be looking for ways to make things more stable long-term or suggest a better solution. Although some businesses prefer this method, MSPs take a much more proactive approach with their monitoring tools and attempt to resolve issues often before you’re even aware of them and understand how all of your technology pieces fit together.

Having remote monitoring inside your organization means you have the wealth of knowledge your MSP provides, as well as known solutions to common problems that will be constantly working to make sure you don’t have those days where no work will get done. MSPs can fix problems before you even know you had a problem.

Randy Marrone is a network and security engineer at SimplePowerIT. For information, call (509) 433-7606 or go to simplepowerit.com.

March 2022

[The Wenatchee World] SimplePowerIT adds to team

Wenatchee, WA – Stephen McCandless has joined the SimplePowerIT team as Operations Manager.

McCandless brings over a decade of educational technology experience, having served as the Technology Director for a school district where he managed multiple user environments and devices. This broad range of experience allows him to tailor solutions to solve a variety of technology challenges.

McCandless is a member of the Association for Computer Professionals in Education and the Student Data Privacy Consortium and owns a small business.

“I understand that functioning technology is critical when it comes to running a successful business. When your technology infrastructure goes down, the organization can come to a standstill. We take a proactive approach to continually monitor and assess our clients’ networks and devices to ensure that doesn’t happen,” he explained.

SimplePowerIT was born in 2012 on the premise that most organizations have one shared and basic technology need: computers and software should “just work” so users can stay focused on their goals without frustrating technology glitches. On the occasion there are issues, your frustration level is likely high. We believe that getting up and running again shouldn’t involve long telephone hold times, talking with technicians who aren’t empathetic or don’t understand, and speak in jargon. The SimplePowerIT team is intentionally small, allowing clients to work with the owner and a dedicated technician who serves as your technology advisor. SimplePowerIT works with small to large businesses in a variety of industries. Learn more at www.simplepowerit.com

February 2022

[The Wenatchee World] Martin Straub | Be more productive with a paperless workplace

If COVID has taught us anything about our businesses, we all learned how to adapt — quickly, when needed. Looking back almost two years, who could have foreseen a dramatic shift to remote work and even more dependence on technology solutions?

Most organizations initially focused on how to continue to deliver their products and services in different ways, then gradually realized that business back-office processes also needed to adapt. Those with paperless systems in place had an easier transition while those dependent on paper had many challenges, again proving the value of digitizing your workflows.

If your organization still relies on paper-based systems (for payroll, accounting, or client matters) or if you cobbled together a system to make it through the pandemic, now is the time to reassess your systems and look for additional opportunities to implement or improve your paperless processes.

Plan your approach

The first decision to make is to decide how and which parts of your business to digitize. Most every organization has payroll and accounting processes that could benefit from less paper. Beyond that, however, the tools you implement will likely vary depending on your industry and your services and products.

For instance, accountants and attorneys will want to focus on the systems used to organize their work products, such as tax returns and legal documents. On the other hand, a contractor or service company may want to completely redesign their processes, eliminating paper quotes and using tablets to gather work order requirements, customer approvals and generate electronic invoices.

Select the system(s) and implement

Once you’ve decided which areas of your business to digitize, it is time to evaluate possible software solutions. You may already own some of the tools you need or may want to mix and match a few different applications.

QuickBooks has a “documents” feature that allows users to attach electronic files to many common transaction types such as payables and payroll. For smaller businesses, a simple cloud file document storage solution, properly planned (such as Dropbox, Google Drive or SharePoint), may suffice. Typically, though, the best systems (and often, the most expensive) are tailored for your specific industry and have workflow and storage options that may closely align with your current processes.

If you’re not able to identify a system to meet your organization’s specific processes, a more generic document management system such as eFileCabinet (one of many products you will find with an internet search) may work best.

Invest in additional hardware

Depending on the chosen software, most likely you’ll need other hardware to access your paperless records most effectively. Most users will want multiple 22-inch or larger monitors at their desk. Fortunately, most modern PCs now accommodate at least two monitors and three or more can easily be added with a port replicator or additional graphics card.

Also consider monitor stands that allow for full portrait orientation, which can very useful when viewing digital versions of traditional 8.5-by-11-inch documents.

Quality and fast scanners are another important investment. Multi-function printers often make too many compromises to be everyday scanners, so consider purchasing dedicated desktop scanners from brands like Fujitsu or Canon.

Finally, tablets and iPads may be necessary in order to adopt digital workflows out in the field. High quality units with rugged cases are worth the investment if they are subject to rough conditions.

Backups!

If you have read any of our previous articles, you may recall that we always advocate for reliable and tested backup processes (ideally to off-site, cloud-based locations). Once you digitize your organization, backups are more important than ever, so be sure to also make this a priority before implementing any solution.

Digitizing your office doesn’t need to be a daunting task, especially with the help of experienced IT support. The long-term benefits in productivity and flexible workplaces make it a worthwhile investment for every size and type of organization. Much like the transition to remote work, once completed, you’ll likely immediately see the benefits and wonder how your business smoothly functioned before having digital records.

Martin Straub has more than 20 years of experience developing, building and maintaining frustration-free technology solutions. He founded SimplePowerIT to focus exclusively on delivering frustration-free technology solutions to NCW businesses and nonprofits. He can be reached at (509) 433-7606 or simplepowerit.com.

January 2022

[The Wenatchee World] Shawn Sanders | Windows 11: Worth the upgrade?

Windows 11 is here, with a fresh new appearance and a slew of new features geared toward streamlining your PC and helping you be more productive, whether you’re working from home or at the office.

Here are some features worth noting and our recommendation on when to upgrade:

How to upgrade to Windows 11

Windows 11 is being offered as a free update for eligible Windows 10 PCs and for new PCs. Download the PC Health Check software from Windows.com to see if your current Windows 10 PC qualifies for the free upgrade to Windows 11. Only PCs running Windows 10 Enterprise or Professional will be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 11. PC’s running Windows 10 Home will need to purchase the upgrade.

Noteworthy features:

New Apple-Inspired Interface: While Windows 11 has some significant new features such as easier virtual desktop creation, widgets, Android app downloads, and a more integrated Microsoft Teams experience, it is important to note that it isn’t a complete redesign of Windows 10. The interface in Windows 11 has been revamped, with a centered Start button and taskbar, as well as a cleaner, more Mac-like style.

Virtual Desktops: Windows 11 will make it easier to create separate virtual desktops for each part of your life. You can customize them with differing wallpapers so that you can easily switch between desktops for personal use or work, school, gaming, or anything else. You will be able to scroll to the bottom of your screen and view a slide in the window using your various desktops, allowing you to switch between them with a single click. The experience is similar to that of Windows 10 but will look a bit different.

Widgets: Windows 11 adds Widgets to the interface, like a custom feed powered by AI that slides to show you information like your calendar, weather, your to-do list, and photos. Widgets are similar to the news and interests feature found in a recent Windows 10 update. You can find a button for Widgets in the newly redesigned taskbar. By clicking or tapping, a panel is displayed with a range of widgets from the left side of your screen that gives you the view information that you need.

Integrated teams: Windows 11 also brings Microsoft Teams directly to the operating system, making calls, meetings, and chats with colleagues, family, and friends even easier. Microsoft Teams is now baked into the taskbar. To launch the chat tool, click on the Teams icon, and a pop-up will allow you to choose to call your contacts with message, text, speech, or video. Clicking on the box below the chat screen opens the full version of the Teams.

Android app compatibility: Now Android apps will be built into Windows 11 natively and can be downloaded through the new Microsoft Store through the Amazon app store. This means that you will have to download the Amazon app store to access a multitude of Android-compatible apps. Android apps will be integrated into the Start bar and will appear in the Taskbar.

When to upgrade

SimplePowerIT evaluated the update process and any impacts and has advised our business clients to consider postponing until mid-to-late 2022 to upgrade to Windows 11.

If you own a business, you might want to hold off on upgrading to Windows 11. Windows 11 was released in October, and we recommend allowing the new OS to mature with new security, stability, and driver updates over time.

Another consideration is if your business relies on applications that only run specific operating systems like Windows 10, then you’ll want to make sure that any software you require is compatible with Windows 11 before upgrading.

Shawn Sanders is a client services manager at SimplePowerIT, whose experience includes over a decade working in the IT sector specializing in customer service. He can be reached at (509) 433-7606 or simplepowerit.com.

November 2021

[The Wenatchee World] Randy Marrone | Ransomware: A super villain with a super weakness

You awake one Monday morning and prepare to head to work. A day like any other. A day much like last Monday and much like the one before that.

You enjoy the quiet of the early hours while packing your lunch and checking your schedule.

You arrive to the office and take a seat. Flashing on your display you see cute little skull and crossbones with a message across the screen: “WARNING YOUR FILES ARE ENCRYPTED. YOUR DOCUMENTS, PHOTOS, WORK, ARE LOCKED AND WILL BE DELETED WITH IN X HOURS IF YOU DON’T PAY 1.4BTC TO THE ADDRESS BELOW.”

You think this may be a joke someone is playing at your expense. It doesn’t really look too serious but your stomach sinks as you realize every item on your desktop has been replaced by an ever-so-similar but distinctly different glyph. The text that once read “Stevenson’s Project” now states “aqw43r32rspdfjasfeojwaej.docx.” Hours of work, locked away from you.

Your photos, the family trip to Puget Sound last spring, all of them are now showing as unreadable, illegible garbage.

You call your coworker in the office a few doors down and sure enough, same thing.

Your entire workplace has been infected, halted and caught metaphorical fire. What can you do?

Well ideally your organization’s IT has already been notified and is scrambling to track down and isolate the cause. Maybe you have a dedicated Managed Service Provider.

But what do you do if you are the IT? Are you a cozy office that tries to fix as much as you can on your own? Is your tech home sick with food poisoning and refusing to answer the phone?

Unplug the internet. This is the first and most crucial step. Make sure your PC isn’t connected to any other PC. Tell your coworkers, tell your boss, tell anyone within yelling distance to unplug.

Part of what makes these things so nasty is they slink from PC to PC, server to server, and just destroy everything.

If you catch it in time, you can limit the spread further, but …

What do you once you’ve unplugged? What if everyone is infected? What if it’s too late?

Ransomware is far too common, and it’s unfortunately the cause of many workless days and sleepless nights. But it doesn’t have to be.

There is no anti-virus that’s foolproof and no endpoint, detection and response that’s guaranteed to catch every new bug someone sells on the black market. But what is nearly foolproof? What is the strongest weakness of this superpowered foe?

BACKUPS! That’s right. Something so innocuous and easily overlooked. It sits quietly in the background, never asking for much. The occasional reboot or update. Maybe from time to time it mawkishly beeps from inside the closet. It gets retired and replaced after years of loyal service.

If you have been following the No. 1 rule of IT and you have managed your backups well, you can laugh in the face of these cyberpunk would-be bank robbers.

You can refuse their demands and you can use your very own superpower.

The importance of backup and disaster planning cannot be overstated. It’s fairly easy to implement. It’s generally far less than the cost of paying any ransom and you can rest easy knowing that from malware to hurricane, virus to flood, you will not be out in the cold, cold world wide web alone.

Randy Marrone is a network and security engineer at SimplePowerIT, whose background includes working with the Nevada Gaming Commission as an IT director for a casino. Marrone can be reached at (509) 433-7606.

February 2019

[The Wenatchee World] Martin Straub | CyberSecurity: Threat awareness is your best defense

In the early days of the internet, most individuals and businesses considered themselves safe from hackers if they had reliable antivirus software.

The occasional virus was a nuisance, but typically didn’t involve the theft of confidential data. Because it was inconvenient to secure PCs and Wi-Fi networks with passwords, many of us didn’t bother. Similarly, when we created website accounts, we didn’t think twice about using “Password” as our password because really, what was the risk?

If only internet security was that simple still today! Hardly a week passes now where we aren’t hearing about yet another breach, often by companies that we thought we could trust and know had access to our personal data.

Unfortunately, whereas years ago, malicious internet activity was often motivated by technology “nerds” looking to prove that they were capable of breaching networks and releasing destructive viruses, today cybercriminals are most often motivated by money.

The “dark web” provides a platform for criminals to exchange data, pass along trade secrets, and generally make their living. An entire industry now thrives making money illegally on the internet, often at our expense.

Many small businesses and nonprofits naively think they won’t be targeted by cybercriminals. According to Verizon, 58 percent of malware attack victims are categorized as small business. Another sobering statistic from a 2017 Ponemon Cybersecurity Study indicates that 61 percent of small businesses experienced some type of cyberattack in the past 12 months. The reason? Small businesses and nonprofits lack the resources of larger organizations and often don’t understand the risks or make it a priority to properly secure their data.

Fortunately, there are some basic precautions that all organizations can take to better secure their environment.

Be suspicious of every unsolicited email. According to the same Verizon study, an amazing 92 percent of malware is delivered via email. That doesn’t necessarily mean a malicious attachment; often it is a less suspicious link within the email that starts the malware infection. Phishing emails (and a clever variation known as “spear phishing” which impersonate a known person to gain the trust of the recipient) have become increasingly more sophisticated and difficult to distinguish from legitimate messages. Office 365 users are particularly susceptible, not because Office 365 is inherently less safe, but because it has a massive user base attracting more sophisticated attacks.

Use complex passwords and change them regularly. If this seems cumbersome (it is!) you’re not alone. Criminals count on the use of simple passwords (or the same one used across many websites) to easily gain access. Consider the use of password management software (such as LastPass or Roboforms) to create complex, unique passwords and save them to an encrypted vault. Even better, if offered by your software vendors, enable multi-factor authentication.

Backup data offsite. Ransomware (whereby a virus encrypts network data and demands a ransom payment to release the encryption) is still one of the leading forms of malware. Often ransomware is able to “crawl” the network and infect all available files including backups. Ensuring an offsite copy (that has been verified and tested) is a proven method to recover from ransomware.

Control access to data. Because end-user PCs are the most common sources of malware, controlling access to data may help contain a virus’ spread. If a user does not have a business need to access customer or other confidential data, use security controls to restrict their access. For instance, in QuickBooks, assign only permissions that correlate to the person’s responsibilities; on a server, assign folder share permissions only as needed.

Secure remote access to your network. Criminals can silently attempt to exploit any available access point into your network. Thus, poorly secured remote access is a common vulnerability. Consider blocking all unattended remote access (especially external vendors who access PCs or other devices in your network) and use virtual private networks which provide additional protection.

Educate your employees. Good cybersecurity “hygiene” starts by having employees who understand the company’s expectations, are aware of the risks, and are vigilant about potential cyberthreats. Have employees acknowledge your organization’s IT security policy (or create a policy if one doesn’t already exist). Regularly review threats with employees and consider implementing recurring phishing and training programs.

Because threats are constantly evolving, internal cybersecurity reviews should be a regular part of your business processes. For stronger protection or a more thorough assessment, ask an IT expert to evaluate your network.

Martin Straub is the owner of SimplePowerIT, LLC, an affiliate of Cordell, Neher & Company, PLLC, and provides cybersecurity and technology solutions and support. Martin can be reached at (509) 433-7606 or martin@simplepowerit.com.

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