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In this blog, we offer ways your small business can use the Cloud to keep your sensitive information safe and out of the hands of hackers.
If you aren’t convinced of the importance of protecting your business information in the Cloud, look at a list of some of the high-profile companies that were recently hit by hackers. JPMorgan Chase, Target, Home Depot and Sony have all been the targets of hackers in the past year or so. According to FBI Director James Comey, “There are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who’ve been hacked…and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked.”
Of course, small businesses are also potentially vulnerable to hack attacks. While your small business isn’t as big as Target, the data you are storing there is still valuable to you, your employees and your customers. Here are a few tips on ways to minimize the danger of your valuable information falling in the hands of hackers and other nefarious types:
Back up your data. Even though your company’s information is stored in the Cloud, experts advise you to manually back it up on a hard disk or a thumb drive. This will also allow you to access files if your Internet connection is interrupted.
Be smart with your passwords. This is probably the most crucial way you can proactively protect your small business data in the Cloud. Create complex, original passwords for every one of your accounts. Experts say the best passwords contain lowercase and capitalized letters, special characters and numbers. You should also make sure you and your employees change passwords at regular intervals, usually every few months. There is password management software available to help with the daunting task of remembering all those complex passwords. They include Dashlane 3, Password Genie 4.4 and LastPass 3.0 Premium.
Stay on top of software upgrades. It’s easy to take software upgrades for granted. Doing so can leave your business vulnerable to hackers, so make sure you download security updates on a regular basis and use security programs to safeguard your data.
Protect yourself with anti-virus programs. This will help guard against viruses and malware. Make sure you upgrade them on a regular basis. Some of the best-reviewed programs include Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus and McAfee AntiVirus Plus.
Consider encrypting your information. This is especially important when dealing with sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and other personal data of customers. While most cloud storage companies provide encryption and decryption, double-check to make sure they are part of your contracted services.
Carefully choose your cloud storage company. Pick a provider that limits file access to carefully vetted employees, and make sure you only share documents that contain no confidential or essential information.
Be picky about what information you put in the Cloud. For example, experts advise against the common practice of using Social Security numbers to identify customers. Pick another method, with less chance for putting sensitive data at risk in case your business ever falls prey to hackers.
Make wireless network security a priority. Wireless networks are becoming increasingly popular targets for hackers. To stop them in their tracks, protect both your Wi-Fi and router access with robust passwords and use your router’s strongest encryption standard. You should also consider disabling the SSID broadcasting function on your wireless router to keep your networks hidden from would-be hackers.
Protect sensitive credit card information. If your small business accepts credit cards, you should look into using the EMV payment system. EMV derives its name from its founders, Europay, MasterCard and Visa, and utilizes sophisticated technology to protect credit card information. EMV uses microchips embedded in credit cards to safeguard cardholder data. Currently, the liability for fraudulent credit card usage falls on credit unions and banks. That is set to change this October 1, when new regulations take effect making small businesses liable for unauthorized charges. This means if your small business doesn’t accept EMV cards, you have only a few months to do so, or you could end up paying later. Several companies sell EMV card readers for small businesses, including squareup.com/emv, frontlineprocessing.com/services/emv/ and cardinalcommerce.com.
The Cloud offers your small business several strategic advantages that can help it grow and prosper. In this blog, we offer you real-world tips on making smart decisions when it comes to getting started in the Cloud.
There is a lot of talk these days about small businesses and cloud computing. Before you decide to have your small business utilize the Cloud, let’s start with the basics. Simply put, cloud computing is storing and accessing your business data over the Internet instead of the traditional method of using your computer’s hard drive. As long as you and your employees have an online connection, you can work anytime, anywhere as long as you have a web-enabled device such as a tablet or smartphone.
Once you’ve decided your small business should use the Cloud, you have a variety of cloud apps to choose from, including several that are small business-friendly. They include Mozy, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Carbonite and CrashPlan. When deciding which cloud back-up to use, there are plenty of questions to ask about your individual business. How many employees do you have? How big is your business and how much information do you need to back-up and store? What kind of CRM system do you have in place and how do you manage it? What is your company’s five-year plan? Where do you see yourself in the long-term? What will your cloud needs be in the years to come?
When you’re choosing a cloud service, make sure you consider the future needs of your business. Choose one that will be able to meet the needs of your business now and down the road. Once you have made a “big picture” evaluation of your business, do your homework – shop around among the cloud apps out there, asking specific questions about what each one can offer your business.
Here are some tips from small business experts on making the transition to cloud-based computing:
Don’t go at it alone. Trust at least one other person in your company to help you make this important decision. While the call is ultimately yours to make, it’s important to have input you can trust. After all, your employees will be using the Cloud on a daily basis to conduct business.
Don’t overdo it out of the gate. Working with the Cloud is different than traditional ways of conducting business. Realize that it is bound to affect your regular business processes. You should start small – consider having two or three employees work together on a Google Docs file. Plan on at least a few hours to acclimate your team to this new way of working and know there will be a learning curve, especially for those employees who may be averse to change. Once your team feels more comfortable with this different style of working, you can start expanding the cloud services you utilize.
Understand what you’re signing yourself up for. Before you sign an agreement with a cloud service, read it carefully. Make sure you’re getting the level of service your company needs, that you can live with the provider’s policies on things such as privacy and early termination and that all the elements you’ve been promised are in writing. You don’t want any surprises down the road.
Be sure you’re able to export your information in standard formats. Make sure you use formats used by Excel, Word and other programs used by your business. That will make it easy for you to back up and access your data in-house or easily move it to another cloud service later, if you decide to do so.
Consider encryption. Cloud experts say one of the best ways to protect sensitive business information is to use data encryption. You can do this with Data Loss Prevention Tools (DLPs), which monitor data leakage and facilitate the secure transmission of information to and from the Cloud.
Look at open-source Cloud services. They encourage third-party developers to develop features that will make your cloud-based experience more relevant to your business.
Consider ways to save money without sacrificing utility. For example, some small businesses use Google Docs spreadsheets as a basic CRM system, rather than paying for a CRM cloud service.
To avoid buyer’s remorse, shop around. You wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive, and you shouldn’t choose a cloud service without testing it out first. Since most services offer potential buyers a free trial, this one seems like a real no-brainer.
Make sure your employees can use the cloud on their cellphones and mobile devices. Since so much work is done out of the office these days, this is a crucial consideration. You might want to offer special training on using the Cloud outside the office.
Embrace the future – don’t fear change. Of course, moving your business to the Cloud is a big move, but plenty of other companies have taken the plunge (most likely at least one of your competitors) and with higher-than-ever levels of security, now is a great time for your small business to make the transition as well.
More and more small businesses are migrating to the cloud to help reduce expenses and increase productivity. It’s estimated that by the end of this decade, 80% of small businesses will be on the cloud, doubling the percentage of just a few years ago.
If you’re thinking about migrating your business to the cloud, there are several advantages you should consider:
Costs are lower. Cloud computing is an easy way to save on expenses, by getting more out of your hardware. Using the cloud increases the value of physical server space, which means businesses can accomplish more with what they have, seeing lower power costs as well as decreased maintenance and support costs.
Collaboration is increased. Using the cloud allows your employees to work together more efficiently, as they write, edit and upload documents. Management can access, track and oversee the progress of individual employees and work groups and can limit what employees can access.
Flexibility is enhanced. The cloud allows both management and employees to break away from the confines of the office. Authorized users can access files, documents and information on their computer or other devices (laptop, smartphone or tablet.) Your business no longer needs to be tied down to the old “9 to 5” mentality, while employee creativity and productivity are enhanced.
Integration is encouraged. Working in the cloud opens up new possibilities for integration with cloud-based providers that provide HR, accounting and marketing services. This frees up the time and resources of small business owners, allowing them to concentrate on increasing their revenues and sales.
If your business is new to the cloud, here are some ways you can use this transformative technology to organize information and manage your time and expenses better.
To learn more about the broadband highway that can take your business to the cloud, click here to reach a local Mediacom Business Account Executive.
Cloud services are extremely popular as file storage and syncing alternatives allow for people to bring their files on the go, no matter where they are. This can be a smart choice for small businesses, with employees who may sometimes work at home or need to collaborate with employees who work at the office.
The cloud isn’t the scary beast that many businesses think it is, where files disappear into the ether only to reappear at some other destination. Basically, your files are being kept on servers maintained by a cloud provider, which you can then access from a program or an app from your other devices.
There are of course a variety of different cloud apps that you could use to access files from anywhere. Here are the top four that you can consider as a small business.
Price: free/$9.99 a month or $99 a year
Access: website, desktop, mobile
Dropbox is a popular choice for not only personal use, but businesses as well. As with many of these cloud applications, Dropbox gives you the option of using their website to view or upload files or using the desktop client or mobile app. All basic accounts start with 2GB of free space; upgrading to either $9.99 provides 1TB of storage. Businesses can get as much storage as needed for $15 a user each month.
Depending on the amount of storage you need, you could use the free or paid version; regardless, the same log on can be used with any device on which you install the app.
Price: free/$1.99 or $9.99 a month
Access: website, desktop, mobile
If your business is using mostly Google products or their apps, Google Drive may work best for your business. All users who have at least a Gmail account already have access to the 15GB for free. As with Dropbox, if you want more storage, you can scale up to 100GB for $1.99 or 1TB for $9.99; again, depending on how many files you need to store, 100GB for $2.00 a month is an option.
Google Drive also has the ability to view and upload files from the website, with the added benefit of being able to edit them using Google Docs, as well as downloading the app for both computers and mobile. You can also now send email files from Drive right from Gmail as well as download any attachments you receive to your Drive account.
Price: free, as part of Windows
Access: website, desktop, mobile
A lot has been said about Microsoft and Windows, especially in light of the changes the company has been undergoing for the last few years. Formerly known as SkyDrive (and Live Mesh prior to that), OneDrive is a new cloud app from Microsoft that now comes with the latest versions of Windows operating system, like the recent release of Windows 10.
Like Google, if your company is running on the newer versions of Windows, OneDrive is already installed on your computer and running, with access to the website. In the past, that was as far as you could get, but thanks to new CEO Satya Nadella, you can now get many of the standard Office programs for your smartphone or tablet, for free.
Price: free/price depending on users
Access: website, desktop, mobile
Box is another popular choice for cloud applications, though of the list, Box is geared towards business use. Price is determined by how many employees are using the system, it’s free for one user, offering up 10GB of space and 250MB for file sizes. If that seems like too little storage compared to the other large offerings at free, Box again makes it up by the amount of users that you have in a company.
For 10 users, you can get 100GB and 2GB for file sizes for $5 per user ($50/month), with the most popular being the business for content collaboration and user management.
The big difference with Box versus the others is the ability for admin management, which for the others is usually handled by the user and not say, a network or IT admin.
These are just four cloud applications that you can consider for your small business, making it easier for employees to access the same data, simultaneously no matter where they are – another means of connectivity.
The face of small business has changed. Instead of a brick and mortar storefront, many of today's small businesses do business from home, a co-working space or even a local coffee shop. Broadband technology has afforded businesses to stay connected no matter where they are, and therefore business can be done 24/7. Strong data and voice services allow them to be extremely mobile and agile in our every-changing business environment. In this article from the Ames Tribune in Ames, Iowa, we take a look at how small businesses are facing 5 big changes.
Businesses being connected can be exemplified in many applications. Take for instance, a business website and social platforms which can be the “face” of the business. In some instances, it’s the first interaction a customer has to the business and we know first impressions mean everything. But more importantly, it erases the restrictions of just doing business on Main Street. Small businesses can attract a loyal following and network of referrals by offering customers relevant content that validates they are a trusted resource in their business space. The vehicle to being able to accomplish this is through a data backbone that drives utilization of these platforms. A broadband connection needs to be able to handle the sheer volume of uploading/downloading content to promote a business and the ability to interface with customers (mobile chat, Skype, GoToMeetings, etc.). Being mobile isn’t just about interaction with customers - it consists of fulfilling a business’ own marketing service needs and other support materials.
Technology is the driving force for how mobile a business can be. Broadband will power the multiple devices a business needs to work from and also pave the pathway for advanced voice services. Managed Voice Solutions allow for small businesses to capitalize on big business features. Business owners can’t act as receptionists, so the ability to route calls to different devices, etc. gives owners the flexibility they need.
Many small businesses have moved operations to the cloud. Gone is the need for a huge staff, particularly IT, and “back office” operations and other automated tasks can be hosted in the cloud making it extremely convenient for a business owner. But again, being able to stay connected to all of these mentioned technologies to make business owner’s lives easier is backed by the broadband they use. Speed, reliability and capacity are the mix of broadband ingredients that allow a business to never stop moving.