Preparing for Ransomware: Reliable Data Backup Is Key

While human error is part of the reason for ransomware attacks, securing data offsite negates vulnerabilities.Ransomware is taking center stage as a number of companies across industries are hit with digital attacks. WannaCry ransomware made headlines when it targeted PCs at banks and healthcare facilities; NotPetya, a malware that is an adaptation of ransomware, made similar headlines when it hit businesses in Europe hard. What can you do to ensure your data won’t be held hostage?

What we know about ransomware right now is that it looks a lot like a PC infection. Its “goal” is to go through your drives and encode all the data that it can, leaving you unable to gain access to critical records until you pay the attacker their ransom.

Business administrators pay large amounts of money to recover their data, in some cases $40,000 or more. The fight against these attacks seems fruitless as the attackers alter their models, always coming up with new ways to sneak into systems and latch on to important data.

As of last year, almost 30 percent of private ventures were involved in a ransomware attack, according to research from IBM. Nearly 60 percent of medium-sized businesses had experienced similar extortion. Security specialists can’t keep up with all the different strains of attacks, which means companies are simply moving to a mindset of paying the ransom as part of their business strategy.

The key to staying safe is to have a reliable data backup. It is imperative that your IT system is not outdated. Furthermore, employees need to be trained on how to use digital systems in a secure way that doesn’t compromise systems. According to Acronis, a data protection company, an inside person ineptly ushers in an attack on a company approximately 30 percent of the time.

New advancements in backup technology allow companies small and large to improve rather than replace their current backup methods. For instance, replication and snapshots have been determined to be a smart part of the strategy against ransomware. Replication involves making periodic copies of your data from one server and putting it on another server.

At Focal Solutions, we take ransomware attacks extremely seriously. We are an advocate for our clients, and we always focus on client satisfaction, and that involves staying prepared and ready for any malicious attack. As telecommunications industry insiders, let us help you get connected with the solutions that make the most sense for your company to keep you safe from attacks. Contact us today to hear the rest of the story.

 

Staying Safe When Utilizing Cloud Storage

CloudWhen it comes to data storage, many enterprises are finding better accessibility and cost savings in the cloud compared to on-site servers. If you have yet to make that move, it’s likely one of your chief concerns is the safety of your data. If so, you’re not alone.

Safety and security are the top talking points for those who haven’t embraced cloud-based solutions. However, large cloud providers are extremely vigilant when it comes to security. The resources available to large providers far exceed what even medium-sized organizations are able to produce on their own, making cloud options even more secure than keeping things in-house.

One area that still remains a challenge with security is that encrypted storage isn’t 100% impervious to attack, especially if drive-based encryption is used, and there is evidence that automatic encryption practices can be vulnerable to attack. Encrypting a server with a custom key set is the way around this issue. What other ways can you protect your data?

Protect Against Damage and Deletion
If you’ve taken every step to fully encrypt your data, it’s still vulnerable to damage or deletion if hardware failure occurs. Bad software and malicious operators can also make your data vulnerable.

If you move data to an area where it can’t be compromised, you will ensure your data is more secure. Protect data from exposure through frequent backups and by making offline copies.

Be Diligent About Management
Make sure you’re partnering with a data center that doesn’t have chaotic data management practices. They should be experts at managing partial datasets and trash. Critical files should never be allowed in low-security areas, and they should practice a metadata-driven approach that offers greater control.

Be Careful of Your Insiders
Did you know the majority of data losses have been at the hand of an insider? These are people whom you’re trusting with your data. Protect yourself by using multi-factor authentication. This may seem like too much of a time investment, but it’s not as much as the time lost in the wake of a data breach.

Human error is also a cause of data loss. Know the common mistakes and develop a strategy for when they occur in order to remain proactive rather than reactive.

At Focal Solutions, we invest in our clients by offering comprehensive solutions. For cloud services, our clients have confidence in our data center solutions and disaster recovery strategies. Contact us today and find out how seriously we take the safety of your data.

4 Steps You Can Take to Streamline Your Data Analytics

DataThere are challenges in adopting a data analytics strategy, especially in terms of answering the difficult questions every organization tries to tackle with their data in real-time. Interoperability can’t be the sticking point if you’re going to succeed.

Are you trying to decide how to best adopt data analytics strategies while expecting the solution to be simpler than the problem itself? Unfortunately, all workable solutions come with a high degree of research. But it doesn’t have to be one long laborious undertaking – it can be accomplished in steps.

1. Define data goals as they relate to where you want to land. What is your current state and what do you wish it to be after you’ve analyzed the data? Asking this question can give you a more objective look into how you should approach data analytics, simplifying your approach to developing a strategy. You need to place a great deal of importance on plausible elements that are advancing your organization and/or holding it back. Don’t put one over the other – look at the good and bad at the same time.

2. Engage the right stakeholders to see where your current decision-making process is taking you. Which of your wins are the most tangible, and which ones impacted the top line? When you look at data related to this, you can gain a better understanding of why your decision making was effective.

3. Drill down on questions that help create more accurate models. One of the most important strategies you can build within your data analytics process relates to asking questions that can be answered by data analytics models that are built with your outcomes in mind. This process becomes more efficient if it begins with your IT team involved in defining goals.

4. Be willing to recalibrate as needed. You might find that as you’re advancing in your strategy, various goals will change. Be willing to roll with the changes as new ideas and evidence come to light. All data-driven results deserve close observation and a flexibility that will allow your organization to evolve as you learn more about what’s driving change.

At Focal Solutions, we are committed to the success of your business in all areas of telecom deployment. We’ve developed high-performing networks that are vital to the success of any modern business and have helped organizations in a number of industries streamline their services. Providing you with the tools and information you need for maintaining your telecommunications projects, we will partner with you for success. Contact us today to get started.

 

The Cloud Provides Storage Solutions for Cold Data

CloudThe cloud is gaining momentum as a storage solution for companies realizing the limitations involved with flash memory. In fact, a survey of IT directors by TechTarget indicates that 48 percent of companies plan to integrate cloud storage as a priority for 2017.

The cloud provides higher capacity storage at a lower cost, but there are other benefits, too. It gives a company flexibility and agility and is scalable for growing businesses. IT professionals appreciate the ability to keep security and updates off-site and focus on infrastructure and technology management.

Cloud solutions are great for start-ups or small- to mid-size businesses that may have limited IT resources or that aren’t sure about their growth trajectory in the near future. Here are some things you need to know before using cloud storage:

Storage for cold data: One of the great uses for cloud storage platforms is managing cold data. This refers to items that you don’t need to access on a regular basis, but are required to store for taxes, regulatory requirements, or to meet company standards. Cloud storage is a great way to keep these records in a low-cost platform.

Surprises on the bill: While you’ll appreciate the cost savings associated with cloud storage, be aware of how different items in that storage affect your costs. For instance, if you’re storing images or video that require a lot of bandwidth, don’t be surprised if doing so has a negative impact on your bill.

New gatekeepers in development: There’s promising technology being developed that may offer a type of gatekeeper for cold data being stored on the cloud. This function would monitor the movement of data, determining which items need a higher level of performance and which can be moved to a slower-moving, lower-powered area.

Experts estimate that 90 percent of data accessed on the cloud is less than one year old, leaving a wealth of data available for long-term, low performance storage. As companies increasingly gather cold data, it’s going to become more important to find low-cost ways to store it, and the cloud appears to be the most viable solution.

As the cloud develops, complementary technologies are expected to develop as well, providing ways for automation to keep costs under control while managing increasing amounts of data.

When it’s time to make a decision about cloud storage, don’t simply hire another vendor that will provide a cloud solution. Choose Focal Solutions. We don’t just deliver a service. Instead, we consider ourselves to be part of your team, invested in your growth and dedicated to helping you choose the best options for your company in all areas of telecom deployment.

 

Tailoring Security Technologies to Meet Business Needs

SecurityTechnological advancements have impacted business operations in a positive way. However, managing the security required to maintain compliance and protection isn’t as easy as deploying new applications that allow organizations to increase productivity. In fact, developing risk management plans that accurately and efficiently mitigate threats involves a lot of work. So called “black box” network solutions that claim to meet every need will never replace a specific, tailored design.

Therefore, to ensure that organizations meet changing compliance standards, develop adequate preventative measures, and choose the best investments, they must first assess their real and specific needs, and then incorporate the technologies that will suit.   

Identifying Essential Requirements

The first step in discovering the right security technology for any company is to identify the areas that must be secured.

  • What is the value of the data collected, used, and maintained? Companies must accurately determine the value of the data used in order to ascertain the type of protections to introduce.
  • Where is the data stored and how is it accessed? These considerations also outline which procedures, policies, and tools will be required for efficient protection.
  • What are the current regulations, risks, and penalties associated with non-compliance? Understanding which regulations apply to the data used by the company provides key indicators on how to mitigate threats and limit the impact of an attack.  

Assessing Security Posture

Before investing capital in technology, organizations need to honestly assess their current security posture. Glossing over weaknesses or overrating strengths will result in a failure to protect the company in the event of an attack. For example:

  • Are polices for personnel enforced throughout the hierarchy, or are there ways to bypass them for ease of use?
  • Are physical barriers adequate in-house?
  • Are mobility practices equally protected and secured?

Taking an honest assessment of current strengths and weaknesses is vital to the success of any security strategy or risk management plan.      

Increasing Employee Awareness

Accurately tailoring protection to an organization’s needs means making sure that employees understand the reasons for each tool and policy, and have the opportunity to become actively involved. For any plan to work, companies must have feedback from users. For instance, is one tool causing issues with productivity? Are employees experiencing a positive or negative impact from the controls in place? This type of response from users helps identify weaknesses and helps pinpoint any additional lack.

Although tailoring risk management and strategies based on specific needs takes time and effort, the result produces a cost-effective solution that ensures proper compliance and protection. Staying one step ahead of attackers requires continual evolution.

Dynamic, Evolving Solutions to IT Security

ITIn the last year alone, IT security has seen an increase in corporate attention and funding, yet security breaches increase. How could this be?

In short, cybersecurity is not simply a concern you can “throw money at” and expect to go away. The only approach to IT security must be one that is dynamic and ever-evolving. Here are three common mistakes that cause threats to a business’s cybersecurity:

Outdated Defenses

More enterprises now invest in IT security personnel and software than ever before. Yet while IT departments keep an increasing focus on end point defenses, it is imperative to remember that processes that prevent data breaches today will not be effective or relevant forever.

Cyber attackers evolve, and cyber attacks grow more sophisticated. Recent IT security breaches have come from spear phishing e-mail scams, which can compromise an entire corporate network if just one employee is tricked by the scam.

This is why it is important to stay on top of the current threats to a company’s IT security, while also anticipating that new or evolved threats will certainly arise in the future. Anyone who has dealt with a next-generation malware virus knows this: there is nothing more damaging than a malware attack when the antivirus software signatures aren’t available yet.

Tunnel Vision: Compliance Requirements

One marker of IT staff success is compliance with security requirements. But that is only one marker. Too many companies face a crisis after IT security professionals develop tunnel vision, proceeding as if compliance guarantees prevention of data breaches. All too often this is not the case, despite industry periodical CIO’s report that 58% of the companies plan to invest more in meeting compliance in the next year.

This is because cybersecurity threats evolve at a faster rate than compliance standards. The vigilance of a company’s IT team must move beyond compliance. A dynamic cybersecurity strategy goes beyond compliance standards and anticipates the evolving nature of security threats.

Adapting New Tech, Not New Security

Third-party cloud storage sites and file sharing apps can make a business more productive and increase employee communications. That is, as long as these channels are secured. Too often, companies embrace new technologies without first laying the groundwork to protect that data. This can have disastrous consequences after a security breach.

A Dynamic Solution

Moving forward, some strategies to bolster the IT security of a company include:

  • Assess which clouds store company data, and evaluate how secure they are.
  • Embrace encryption-based data security, as well as access controls. This doesn’t just mean on laptops and desktops; every cloud and site of Big Data must be encrypted.
  • Have IT professionals work beyond meeting compliance standards to stay on top of ever-evolving security threats.

 

Information Management: Data Infrastructure Explained

Data InfrastructureMany companies experience communication issues that contribute to measurable losses in the form of mistakes. As a business grows, so does the need for a workable data infrastructure that supports productivity. Innovation in technology has altered the traditional business dynamic, changing the way information is processed, and the result is that a large number of companies are suffering from a poorly designed infrastructure. However, by understanding the elements involved in data infrastructure development, businesses have the ability to increase efficiency and lower operating costs.

Defining Data Infrastructure

Data infrastructure is generally defined as the digital means utilized for the consumption and sharing of information. It can be likened to the physical infrastructure of a state. Large cities employ complex traffic controls and intricate roadways, while smaller towns typically rely on simpler designs and still employ dirt roads in certain areas. The same is true for businesses. Larger companies require formal processes for controlling vital information, while smaller companies are more relaxed. Depending on the organization’s size and mission critical tasks, levels of data infrastructure designs include:

  • Tribal—A small company that relies on word-of-mouth communications. Questions are answered by speaking to the person most likely to know.
  • Enforced—An organization that employs the rudiments of controlled processes. Written procedures and data repositories make information available to a larger number of persons. Spreadsheets and software applications are used to facilitate the workflow.
  • Standardized—At this point, growing companies begin to remove duplicate processes and other wastes by implementing a centralized system, such as an ERP system, as a means of stabilizing and controlling data for improved productivity.
  • Actualized—This is the point where an organization begins to discover ways to utilize data to improve efficiency. Vendor management and customer relations management programs offer increased performance and lowered costs.

Once the infrastructure is in place, it is able to support continued growth and improvements by building a foundation that enhances the methods used to gather, use, and distribute information.

Understanding the Importance of Data Infrastructure

When the infrastructure is developed around the type of data used in an organization, it offers the power to limit operating and capital expenditures while supporting productivity. The elements companies must consider when developing data infrastructure include:

  • Collection Procedures—Organizations can collect data from both internal and external sources. Big data is defined as large amounts of information that can be analyzed to predict trends and patterns relative to behaviors and interactions. Companies can interpret data from sales, financial, logistics, and other internal sources, along with social media and external news sources that guide future endeavors.
  • Storage—The space required to keep all the data collected is another element for consideration. Many companies lack the budget to arrange for in-house servers, but the advent of cloud data storage has solved that problem. As a cost-effective, secure solution, cloud storage offers a useful means for storing and accessing data when required.
  • Analytics—Various software tools and specific engines are able to analyze the information most relevant to an organization. The infrastructure design should include an effective method for drawing conclusions based on company needs.
  • Reporting—This involves transferring analyses into a form that offers easy comprehension for decision makers within the organization. The reporting process is where the data enters and positively affects the actual processes.

Building a data infrastructure that facilitates the way companies collect, apply, and share information enables an environment of growth through efficiency. Understanding the methods of development for a specific organization enhances productivity and lowers costs.

Advantages of WebRTC for Enterprises

shutterstock_218151172Communications has evolved greatly from the days of voice-only telephone calls to a wide array of voice, video, and data-based interactions over multiple devices. Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) uses a standard web browser to offer real-time communications services such as video, voice, file sharing, and chat.

 
 

The Basics of WebRTC

WebRTC powers new tools such as customer-service chat features on mobile devices and mobile video collaboration among employees within an enterprise. Relatively basic Javascript code allows WebRTC interfaces to be embedded in applications and web pages that allow users to access them with the touch of a button.

An open-source project backed by Google, WebRTC is making inroads into the real-time communications market, which has been dominated by consumer-driven applications such as Skype and FaceTime. But within enterprises, WebRTC’s influence is growing and could challenge similar products like unified communications (UC) tools, over-the-top applications, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and video conferencing offerings.

​The Benefits of WebRTC

While it faces stout competition in the marketplace, WebRTC offers several benefits that may give it an edge among similar products.

  • Simple Operation. Existing real-time communications tools are already fairly straightforward and easy to use, but WebRTC enables a new level of simplicity. WebRTC interactions are designed to be launched with a click on a link or a tap of a button. Plugins and various interfaces are eliminated, which reduces the amount of support needed to make real-time communications tools useful for customer interactions.
  • Lower Costs. WebRTC will help usher in a trend of lower costs associated with UC and other forms of enterprise communications because it operates peer to peer and eliminates expensive, proprietary gatekeepers. Rather than paying per-call fees, customers might instead pay for network availability guarantees and other value-added services.
  • Added Context. While the communications environment is undergoing revolutionary changes, communications links still largely remain pipes without context. WebRTC is changing that dynamic. Because it is embedded, the point of initiation of the session can add context and data to the interaction. This type of context can, for example, provide a customer service agent with information about who is initiating the interaction and why.
  • Wider Deployment. Communications capabilities today are being built as standalone applications and tools. But the need to be able to communicate is ubiquitous. WebRTC transforms communications into a feature that can be built into endless applications and tools.

WebRTC Revolution

It remains to be seen how WebRTC will stack up against traditional communications tools and how it might change the marketplace. With its potential to lower costs while adding valuable data and richness to interactions, WebRTC appears to be well positioned to stake a claim in the real-time communications market.

WebRTC could be advantageous for applications developers who want to add communications features to applications but lack the knowledge to do so with more traditional communications tools. Ultimately, end users stand to gain the most from the WebRTC revolution because low-cost, easy-to-use communications tools will be available whenever and wherever they need them.

5 Reasons to Use Cloud Analytics for Big Data

shutterstock_287821127Many businesses find it hard to consider using cloud analytics with big data because of all the news about data breaches, data availability, converting costs, and return on investments.

However, these same points are the reasons for converting to the cloud for analytics. Not only is it economical and more secure than a private data center, it is easier to use over diverse locations. In addition, cloud providers have the infrastructure to offer faster access to data.

 
Security of cloud data

Cloud providers have the personnel available to patch servers and software and provide 24/7 security from hackers. Using state-of-the-art security measures and infrastructure, they provide security monitoring and assess threats in real time.

Highly available data

Cloud analytics with big data is the focus of all service providers today. By optimizing networks and using superior technology, any employee or department can assess data at faster speeds than most organizations.

Easy transition

Cloud analytics offer scalability, flexibility, and a wide variety of data storage and analytics as compared to traditional software. Businesses can add licenses and increase their use as the business grows without any upfront buy-ins.

Easy to use

Speed and ease of use are top concerns for organizations. In fact, ​a recentEnterprise Management Associates survey of more than 250 businesses noted that speed was one of three top factors for using cloud analytics. In addition to speed, businesses can get actionable information to help improve performance, increase profits, and find the best way to progress.

Value added

Businesses do not have to purchase software and hardware to house their own private data cloud, and they also get upgrades, knowledgeable staff, and 24/7 support when needed. Being able to get help when needed and having staff available who can answer questions may in itself be enough to convert most.

Cloud analytics has become an easy transition for many businesses looking to secure data and gain fast and easy access to it anytime, anywhere. For many businesses, it frees up resources and is financially feasible. Many of the commonly voiced issues regarding cloud analytics are debunked by statistics that show that cloud is here to stay.

Migrating to the Cloud is Only Half the Battle

shutterstock_137893979It’s a big project, and a huge achievement, to migrate your enterprise to the cloud. After all, even a small business has a number of applications, servers, and data sets that are important, and moving it all to one or more cloud providers can be risky.

Migrating to the cloud is also just the start of your evolution. Now begins the process of ensuring that a successful migration stays successful, and that your organization is able to fully leverage its chosen cloud services to enable new initiatives and even business models.

Unlimited Potential

Cloud services, at their core, are mechanisms of enablement. Via cloud services, companies have the ability to create applications, data, servers, networks, and user accounts faster than ever before. This can increase time to market tremendously and offer significant flexibility.

Scope Creep

On the other hand, cloud services can also enable massive server sprawl, on a level not even possible in the previous physical environment. When users and administrators have more accessibility to creating accounts, generating data, and spinning up new services, it can either lead to automated provisioning or massively spiraling costs.

Maintaining Control in the Cloud

It’s important to implement some controls that will help keep your cloud environment sustainable for the long run. But the question is, where to start? With that in mind, here are some pointers to begin with:

  1. Place apps in the cloud. Most organizations have hundreds, if not thousands, of applications managed by IT. In order to maintain control of your cloud environment, place as many apps as possible under management. This can reduce unnecessary usage and costs.
  2. Maintain security. Cloud services are not secure in all cases. It’s still the company’s responsibility to provide security for both the cloud and local environment.
  3. Track usage. This might be the most important point of all. If you don’t monitor your usage, there is nothing to stop your costs from spiraling out of control. It’s that simple.

Migrating to the cloud is a massive accomplishment. It’s the first step in moving from a physical environment to a virtual one. And that’s why a complete view of what’s required for that move is required; it will ensure a strategic shift that benefits your company for the long term.