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VersaTrust Blog

VersaTrust has been serving the Texas area since 1997 , providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Are SAML-enabled Enterprises Needed?

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SAML-enabled Enterprises Increase Network Security with SSO SAML helps organizations implement single-sign-on. End-users need a single username and password for system access. SAML simplifies management of network security One of the first things most of us do when we arrive at work is sign-on to the corporate network. On the rare occasion that we

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4 Dangers of Hiring Printer Companies to Manage Your IT Services

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4 Reasons Not to Hire Printer Companies Thinking about saving money on your IT services with a printer company? Learn about the pitfalls and dangers of relying on support from companies without expertise. Hiring a printer company to take care of your IT services can seem like a great solution. You won’t have to

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5 Ridiculous Ways Technology Transforms Your Industry

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Incredible Ways Technology Has Changed How We Do Business How has technology transformed your industry? Explore 5 important ways technology has recently changed how we do business, delight customers and grow businesses It doesn’t matter which industry we’re in. Technology is a must. It makes things faster, safer and better when used right. It

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Are Emails Compliant with HIPAA Laws?

Healthcare providers are searching for simpler ways they can communicate with patients. It can be tedious to schedule all communication in person or over the phone, so medical professionals are looking for another way. Email has become a popular form of communication for those in the healthcare industry, but there are questions about its legality and if it complies with HIPAA laws.

HIPAA Emails

HIPAA sets the standard on what is or is not allowed regarding medical communication. Meaning that to avoid a breach, penalties or fines, healthcare providers must understand the HIPAA privacy and security rules.

Privacy Rule: Patients have a right to request a provider communicate by alternative means.

Security Rule: Communication through email is not prohibited, however, it must have adequate protection.

HIPAA laws state that healthcare providers can communicate electronically, so long as safety measures are in place. Some suggested safety measures include:

Encrypted Email

It is always a good idea to encrypt sensitive information that you send electronically. Encryption keeps information safe, and should it fall into the wrong hands, it will be useless to them unless they have the encryption key. This makes encryption especially important considering that most email systems are not HIPAA compliant.

Do Not Send Protected Health Information (PHI) Via Email

If you must communicate any PHI, it is best to do this in person. By communicating sensitive information through email, medical provers may put their patients at risk of having their private information exposed.   

Information that can be classified as PHI includes:

·       Payment claims submitted to insurance providers.

·       Patient referrals to specialists

·       Appointment scheduling

Have Patients Fill Out Communication Consent Forms

A communication consent form will verify what forms of communication a patient allows. Written consent tells medical providers a patient’s preferred form of communication. This form is helpful if there is any confusion down the line as to what types of communication a patient allows.

Communicate Through a Patient Portal

A private patient’s portal is a place for medical providers and patients to message each other without the potential risks an email carries. A private portal is a secure platform, where patients can view information about appointments, medical results, or communicate with staff.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) states that if a patient communicated with the medical provider via email previously, it is okay to assume that communication through email is okay. It is also the healthcare professional’s responsibility to alert the patient if they feel as though the patient does not understand the potential risk involved in communicating through non-encrypted emails. Alternative means of communication should also be made available in this instance.

There are other steps that HIPAA recommends to ensure the safety of information transmitted via email. HIPAA emphasizes ensuring that you send emails to the right recipients. They recommend double checking the intended recipient’s email address, and even sending a test email before-hand which would help verify that the right person will receive the email.

 

A report by the Healthcare Billing and Management Association states that most of the Covered Entities and Business Associates are not in compliance with HIPAA laws. The fact that most are not in compliance means that patients need to take extra steps to ensure their information is secure and protected from potential security breaches. Patients should only communicate with medical professionals in a way that they are comfortable with, and should always remain aware of potential threats.

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What You Need to Know About “Meltdown” and “Spectre.”

Two critical vulnerabilities were found in Intel chips that could result in a malicious attacker stealing your data, such as photos, emails, documents, browsers, and password managers.

How can this affect you? The vulnerabilities called “Meltdown” and “Spectre,” can affect nearly every system built since 1995.

This includes computers and phones.

Meltdown Intel Processors

A proof-of-concept code was tweeted out on Wednesday (January 5, 2018) prompting the reveal. Windows, Linux, and Mac systems containing the Intel chip from the past decade are all vulnerable. Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud were also affected. Both have patched their servers and secured the threat.

Meltdown allows malicious programs to gain access to higher-privileged parts of a computer’s memory. Spectre steals data from the memory of other applications running on a machine. Meltdown is said to be limited to Intel, but Spectre has been exploited on ARM and AMD as well.

When modern Intel processors execute code, the code reaches a pre-programmed point in the algorithm. Instructions branch out into two different directions, saving time by “speculatively” venturing down these forks. In other words, they take a guess and execute instructions in order to get a head start. If the processor learns that it went down the wrong path, it jumps back to the fork in the road and throws out the speculative work.

A hacker could trick a processor into letting their unprivileged code sneak into the kernel’s memory by using speculative execution. When the processor throws out the temporary data, it jumps back to the fork. This makes data retrieval difficult, but it temporarily stores this information in the computer’s cache. With some clever coding and patience, a hacker could easily find and steal the data in the cache, giving him access to personal information, passwords and more.

For a hacker to gain access to these kernels and steal your sensitive information he must first hack into your system. Then, he’ll install malicious software on your computer to take advantage of the vulnerability.

Intel, AMD, and ARM are hard at work coming up with a fix for this serious vulnerability. But it’s not just PC’s or Mac’s that are being affected. Amazon and Google servers also use these chips, which not only could allow hackers to see your data on the server, but to potentially jump servers to see other people’s data as well.

Microsoft, Linux, and Apple are also getting involved to repair the flaws. One potential downside to fixing this problem is the possible slowdown of your CPU or phone. Isolating the kernel memory from unprivileged memory could cause a significant slowdown in some processes.

While it’s still too early to know exactly how significant the slowdown will be, some researchers are saying it could be as high as 30%. Once the patches to fix the issue are rolled out everywhere, we should get a better picture of how this will affect performance. But still, it’s better to have some slowdown than to have a hacker taking information from your PC.

To prevent hackers from taking advantage of your system with Meltdown or Spectre threats, make sure to keep all the software on your computer updated, including web browsers. Keep Flash updated as well. Run security software to guarantee you don’t have any unwanted or malicious software on your system. Finally, be on the lookout for phishing emails. A hacker could use this to trick you into letting their malicious code onto your system.

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Are “Meltdown” and “Spectre” Something to Worry About?

Intel processors are having a Meltdown while AMD and ARM are being attacked by a Spectre.

Is a James Bond villain making our computers freak out?

No, it’s a new vulnerability found within these processors that affects Windows PCs, Linux, Mac, and even Android phones.

Intel Meltdown

A fix has been identified, named KAISER, and all the major companies like Microsoft and Google are working on patches, or have already sent them out.

The good news is that these bugs are theoretical at this point. No evidence has been found that a hacker has actually used them to steal data. They can also affect Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, both of which have already patched their servers and secured the problem.

Meltdown allows malicious programs to gain access to higher-privileged parts of a computer’s memory, while Spectre steals data from the memory of other applications running on a machine. Meltdown is said to be limited to Intel processors, but Spectre has been exploited on ARM as well as AMD processors.

Your private and important data is stored in the kernel, a highly protected part of the processor. What Meltdown and Spectre potentially do is allow data to be pulled from the kernel into a safer zone, like an application, and pull it out.

When modern Intel processors execute code and arrive at the point in an algorithm where instructions branch out into two different directions, they save time by “speculatively” venturing down these forks. So, in other words, they take a guess and execute instructions in order to get a head start. If the processor learns that it went down the wrong path, it jumps back to the fork in the road and throws out the speculative work.

A hacker could trick a processor into letting the unprivileged code sneak into the kernel’s memory by using speculative execution. Retrieving this data isn’t easy since the processor throws out the temporary data when it jumps back to the fork. It does, however, temporarily store this information in the computer’s cache. With some clever coding and patience, a hacker could easily find and steal the data in the cache, giving him access to personal information, passwords, and more.

In order for a hacker to gain access to these kernels and steal your sensitive information, he has to first get into your system. Once inside, he can then install the malicious software needed to take advantage of the vulnerability.

Intel, AMD, and ARM have all been hard at work coming up with a fix for this serious vulnerability. But it’s not just PC’s or Mac’s that are being affected. Amazon and Google servers also use these chips, which could not only allow hackers to see the data on your server but potentially jump servers to see other people’s data as well.

Microsoft, Linux, and Apple are also getting involved to repair the issue. One potential downside to fixing this problem is a possible slowdown of your CPU or phone. Isolating the kernel memory from unprivileged memory could cause a significant slowdown in some processes.

While it’s still too early to know exactly how significant the slowdown will be, some researchers are saying that it could be as high as 30%. Once the patches to fix the issue are rolled out everywhere, we should get a better picture of how this will affect performance. But still, it’s better to have some slowdown than to have a hacker taking information from your PC.

To prevent hackers from taking advantage of your system with Meltdown or Spectre, make sure to keep all the software on your computer updated, including web browsers. Keep Flash updated as well.  Then run security software to be sure you don’t have any unwanted or malicious software on your system. Finally, be on the lookout for phishing emails. A hacker could use this to trick you into letting their malicious code onto your system.

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5 Reasons Why You Need to Make the Switch to Microsoft Office 365

If you run a business, chances are that you’ve thought about moving to an online productivity suite. The two most popular in recent years is Google’s G Suite and Microsoft’s Office 365. Touted as “innovative” and “the next big thing,” Microsoft’s productivity suite is a revolutionary concept when it comes to operating systems and computing. But why should you choose Microsoft over the other guys?

Because:

Microsoft Office 365

  • It’s cloud-based. Doing all your computing in the cloud means that you always have access to your files as long as you’re connected to the Internet. All of Office 365’s tools will work on any PC/Mac, tablet, or smartphone. With O365, you can use the online versions of the productivity suite, or install them to your device.
  •  It’s secure. Whether you’re using the version of O365 installed on your machine, or the cloud version, you’ll get the best level of security and encryption. The same set of Rights Management Services applies to both. None of your files can be accessed without the proper user credentials that are set up and monitored by Microsoft Azure. This provides the best security and control over your Office 365 data.
  • Data is backed up. Microsoft’s Office 365 offers its own form of checks and balances, 24/7 support that’s always on-call, and OneDrive to store all your files. But it’s always a good idea to have an extra layer of protection by using a Managed Services Provider (MSP) who can monitor your backups and add an extra layer of security if your data is compromised or lost.

Office 365 offers major advantages over others. As with anything worth doing, there are pros and cons when moving your operations to the cloud. However, there are some major advantages when using the Microsoft Cloud:

  • You can work anywhere. If you have an internet connection, you can use your data from anywhere and on any device. You can check emails, access files, and work on a project all from the same place – even if that place happens to be the other side of the world.
  • Easy collaboration between coworkers. How many times have you had multiple people working together on the same project only to have one version go missing. With Office 365 you can avoid this. Collaborators can work on the same file and get changes in real time. You can also share files as links right from OneDrive, rather than as attachments.
  • Access to the latest versions of programs. Imagine having access to the most current versions of Word, Excel, and Outlook without having to pay extra or reinstall programs. All the most recent versions of everything in the Microsoft Office Suite are available with an Office 365 subscription.
  • Great security features. How secure the Cloud is for you depends on what security measures you have in place. With Office 365, there are quite a few built-in security features to keep your data safe. These include:
  • Encrypted email. Only the intended recipient can read an email.
  • Data loss prevention. O365 checks and ensures that sensitive data (like your social security number) doesn’t get sent out via email.
  • Mobile device management. You can control Office 365 on your employees’ phones, and protect company information.
  • Advanced threat analytics. O365 learns and protects company data, and alerts you of suspicious activity on the network.

Alongside all the advantages of using Office 365, there are also a few cons:

  • Subscription-based model. You must pay a monthly or annual subscription for your Office 365.
  • If the Internet is down, your data is down. Because Office 365 is cloud-based, if the Internet goes out, you could be without access to your data. Plus, if you have a slow connection, working with a cloud-based system isn’t ideal.
  • Most people don’t use all of its features. Most users don’t use everything that Office 365 has to offer. They only use email, file storage, and access to Office programs. This isn’t a terrible thing, but it means you’re paying for features that you aren’t using.
  • Microsoft throws in some great extras. Office 365 comes with 1TB of storage space in Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service, free web hosting and the tools to use it, and a full 60 minutes of Skype each month for making landline calls.

Microsoft Office 365 is a very good example of not only what a cloud service can be, but what more businesses are turning to for their cloud needs. Cloud computing is becoming a big part of more companies’ tech strategy, and Office 365 is an excellent way to jump into the cloud.

Our IT experts can walk you through your Office 365 set up. Give {company} a call at {phone}, or email us at {email}, and we’ll make sure you get the full benefit of this great service.   

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Don’t Wait To Start Training Your Employees To Protect Your Business During W-2 Phishing Season

W-2 Phishing season is about to begin – without the right IT security services, your business will be left vulnerable.

You and I know that effective communication with co-workers and clients is crucial, but are you sure your employees are practicing safe email and messaging conduct? If you don’t already have the best technical security services, your answer is probably, “I’m not sure”, right?

Cybercriminals are smart – they adapt quickly and continually come up with new ways to take advantage of businesses like yours. A popular tactic among hackers today is “phishing”, a method in which they send fraudulent emails that appear to be from reputable sources in order to get recipients to reveal sensitive information and execute significant financial transfers. With only a surprisingly small amount of information, cybercriminals can convincingly pose as business members and superiors in order to persuade employees to give them money, data or crucial information.

At this point, phishing attempts are nothing new, but without the right computer security services, you can still fall victim to a common phishing scam. This is especially a danger in the coming weeks when phishing will be primarily used to target W-2 data being processed for your employees during tax season.

This is nothing new. Over the past few years, cybercriminals have been very successful during tax season, executing social engineering campaigns against thousands of targets in order to access and steal valuable W-2 data. By sending phishing emails to unsuspecting workers in the payroll and HR departments in target businesses, cybercriminals have caused extensive damage, leaving companies like yours liable for fraudulent tax returns, identity theft, and class action lawsuits.

What does a W-2 Phishing Email Look Like?

As dangerous and damaging as these types of social engineering scams can be for you and your employees, the good news is that they are avoidable – if you know what you’re looking for. The key identifiers of a phishing email like this include:

  • Sender: Typically, the email will appear to come from a high-level executive or someone that the target employee wouldn’t want questions or ignore. Often the cybercriminal will go so far as to mimic the executive’s email signature to enhance the authenticity.
  • Request: The email will request W-2 or other tax information to be sent via reply, sent to another email address, or to be uploaded to a server.
  • Timeframe: The cybercriminal will likely try to create a sense of urgency so that the target doesn’t have time to think about the request or confirm it through other means.

Once the user’s email, password, and other information have been entered into the fraudulent website, the damage is done. The hacker can then take the information and do even more damage with it. It’s the new and constantly evolving cybercrime threats like these that make network security services so vital.

The key to phishing methodology is that it doesn’t rely on digital security vulnerabilities or cutting edge hacking technology; phishing targets the user, who, without the right training, will always be a security risk, regardless of the IT measures set in place. The reality is that small and medium-sized businesses like yours are put at great risk if you don’t have cybersecurity services.

What Can You Do About Phishing?

So what’s the answer? What can the average business member do to keep themselves and their company safe when criminals are employing such deceitful methods? In addition to equipping your business with the best technical security services, you should also be sure to educate and test your employees on IT security best practices and knowledge. Make sure they understand the following:

  • Never give out private information: The trusted institutions with which you do business will not ask you for your private information. They already have your account numbers, social security number, and your passwords. They won’t have any good reason to ask for it again, right? If an email from a superior or external contact asks for that info, it is likely a scam, so be sure to confirm the request by phone or in person.
  • Never click on a link before you hover over it with your mouse: If you hover over a link with your mouse, your computer will show you where that link is actually taking you. Many times, criminals will give you what looks like the right link (such as www.YourBank.com) but when you hover over the link with your mouse it actually will show something different (such as

    www.YourBank/2340937fvt5.com). If the link is not as advertised, then don’t click.
  • Always check up on unexpected email attachments. If you get an email from someone you know with an attachment that you weren’t expecting, give them a call or send them an email to confirm that the attachment is from them and is legitimate before you open it.

How Can You Be Sure Your Employees Know About Phishing?

The best way to ensure your employees know how to deal with a phishing threat is to test them. Allow us to help. We’ve prepared an example phishing email template that you can fill out and send to employees in just minutes to test their knowledge of phishing threats.

Check out this screenshot of an effective test email you can send to your employees to prepare them for the W-2 phishing season:

W2 PHISHING

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When Was the Last Time You Tested Your Business Backups?

Best Practices for Testing Data and Application Backups.    

Testing Data Backups

Data protection is essential for all businesses today. The most important reason is to prevent monetary loss. If you lose your information it can lead to reduced productivity, lost sales, a harmed reputation, fines, or even financial judgments.

Another reason is the increase in regulations. Governments throughout the world are imposing new regulations on electronic communications and stored data. You can face dire consequences for noncompliance. Loss of critical data can be construed as a violation of these regulations and may result in fines and legal action.

Data Protection Requires Business Continuity and Reliable Backups.

A proactive and well-thought-out business continuity plan is something that all system and data administrators must embrace. A layered and proactive data protection strategy can mean the difference between disaster and recovery.

When it comes to creating a strategic business continuity plan, data and application backups are one of the most important elements. The reasons for implementing reliable backup solutions are endless – software bugs, failed hardware and user error are just some of the ways your data can be unintentionally altered or deleted.

There’s also the persistent risk of malicious activity and attempts to destroy, steal or encrypt business data by cybercriminals or disgruntled former employees.

Data Protection Insurance: Don’t Just Backup, Test!

If you don’t test your backups regularly to ensure their working, you’re only doing half the job. Don’t wait until there’s an actual disaster.  If you do, you may find that your backups weren’t reliable and your essential data is lost. That’s why regular testing of backups for your software, hardware and everything in between is absolutely critical.

When a data disaster hits, it can be overwhelming and stressful. Worrying about whether or not backups are going to work should be the last thing to worry about in a crisis situation. Backups are designed to offer peace of mind, and – if implemented correctly and tested regularly – they can make all the difference in a data crisis.

Server vs. Virtualization: The Evolution of Backup Testing

The key to testing backups is to run drills to determine if your data was successfully restored. For a long time, this process was limited, tedious and time-consuming. When using physical servers for different applications, data restoration had to include a lot of additional hardware. Plus, the environment could only be restored in a very limited way, meaning a full restore of an entire business network rarely occurred.

However, with today’s virtualization, the testing and restore process is now much easier to deploy. Virtualization allows for company data and applications to be organized in a more streamlined way. When using a centralized, virtual machine (VM), recovery from a backup is easier and more reliable.

Why Test Your Backups?

  • To validate that the restore processes you put in place actually work – Peace of mind is priceless.
  • To create a benchmark to ensure the recovery process can be completed as intended – This also allows you to develop recovery time objectives (RTO) for future reference.
  • Regular testing processes and results can be shared with business teams to confirm application recovery targets can be met, or resolved if there are imperfections.

Testing Backups: What Programs and Hardware Should You Test?

Now that you understand the importance of testing business backups, let’s dive into the specifics. When it comes to testing backups, there are a variety of different levels of recovery to consider. Let’s explore the key areas where your business should be testing backup and recovery processes:

  • File Recovery

This is likely the most common concern for business owners – “Will I be able to recover individual files from my backup?” The reality is, file backup processes are easy to deploy on both physical and virtual servers in addition to backups of file servers. It really just comes down to recovering data by file type. There are plenty of tools to automate this process, which we’ll explore in more detail later on.

  • VM Recovery

For businesses that rely on virtual machines (VM), implementing and testing backups is critical. This is obviously specific to virtual environments as opposed to physical ones. Recovering a virtual machine is relatively easy because everything is centralized. However, you must consider where the VM will be used for recovery.

Attempting to recover the VM in the same production environment creates technical issues like network IP and SID conflicts in Windows systems. The best strategy is to restart the VM in an isolated environment using the subnet on the hypervisor. It’s also important to keep in mind that recovering VMs with new IDs can impact applications and licensing – It’s always best to be proactive and consult with your software providers for terms and conditions.

  • Physical Recovery 

As noted, physical server recovery is more complex, and testing will vary based on the how different platforms are configured. In addition, recovering applications to the running hardware requires an outage – Because of this, businesses carry out these tests less frequently. If you’re on a physical setup, it’s critical to schedule the time for testing to ensure hardware can be recovered effectively in the case of a disaster.

  • Data Recovery

Depending on the backup tools you deploy, specific data recovery should be tested for efficiency as well. For example, if you have data backed up at the application level (rather than the entire VM), that data should be restored and accessed in an isolated environment.

  • Application Recovery

Software applications are the core of a company’s digital operations. However, testing application backups can be challenging – especially for larger businesses. Application backup testing requires an understanding of the relationships between individual VMs and physical servers. However, it can be done, and as with some of the previous recovery types we’ve mentioned, it’s best conducted in an isolated environment and on a separate network.

It’s no secret that the more extensive the testing, the higher level of risk – However, backup testing can be an amazing tool for providing reassuring, measurable results. Determining the right test scenario depends on the backup and restore tools you’ve put in place. Having a strong understanding of what you want your backups to if an emergency occurs will make the testing process more efficient.

Setting a Schedule: How Often Should You Test Your Business Backups?

We get this question from our clients all the time – “Now that we have backup solutions in place, how often should we test them?” In an ideal situation, testing should occur after every backup to ensure the latest data is successfully secured.

However, we know for busy professionals like our clients, this isn’t the most effective or reasonable option. So, business owners must strike a balance between the potential impacts of losing data and the effort required to be confident in their backups.

Here are some important times to test backups:

  • As part of a regular routine – monthly or bimonthly. Choose a frequency, set a schedule and deploy backup tests for all hardware and applications at regular intervals.
  • Whenever there are major application or hardware changes. This includes any kind of software update or patch, and also when using new or different devices. These tests should be more complex to account for a major application or device changes. Use updates and patches as reminders for strategic backup testing.
  • Whenever there’s a significant change to application data. If a business application has a regularly scheduled import of data from an external source, always schedule a test restore after the data has been transmitted.
  • Whenever you’ve restored data. It may seem excessive or redundant to run a backup test on a VM, device or application that you’ve just recovered, but it will ensure the newly restored program is properly backed up moving forward.

How to Test: Using Automation to Improve Backup Testing

Restore testing is much easier when using automation tools. At a base level, this can include scripting the restore for individual files. However, there are software tools that aid in more complex and comprehensive testing procedures. Many of these are built directly into backup and disaster recovery software.

There are countless ways for you to take advantage of backup and data recovery tools – The key is researching the best tools to suit your unique backup needs. Take the time to understand your backup needs. Then you can invest in applications or support to optimize backup testing procedures.

The Ongoing Evolution of Data Backup and Recovery Testing

In an increasingly cloud-based business environment, with more companies making use of containers, backup testing will continue to evolve. Using the public cloud to backup, test and recover applications is a huge plus when it comes to cutting on-premise costs. This represents an entirely new domain for backup testing that will no doubt reveal new challenges and opportunities.

However, no matter what the future brings, the premise remains the same. Setting up backups and testing them regularly should be understood as a responsibility, not an option. Ensuring that recovery processes are implemented correctly and run according to a schedule will always be your secret weapon against unexpected data disasters.

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Top 12 Tech Gifts of 2017: Sphero R2-D2 & BB-9E

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

r2d2

In 2015 Sphero released their app-connected robot, BB-8, to tie-in with Star Wars The Force Awakens. Now, with this year’s release of The Last Jedi, Sphero has done it again with two new droids, R2-D2 and BB-9E. R2, of course, moves on treads and can move sideways if wanted or he can bring out his third leg and use it to lean back and navigate tougher terrain like carpeting.

R2’s head turns, and he has plenty of lights and sounds from built-in speakers, something BB-8 didn’t have. You can draw a path with your finger on the app and R2 will follow it. There’s also a button to have R2 “flip out” so to speak, where he shakes and makes noise before falling over.

Like its droid brothers, the BB-9E droid uses the same app as the other two and can be controlled via app or voice commands. The three droids are in scale with each other and 12-inch action figures.

Sphero is planning to add new ways for the droids to interact with each other and their surroundings. Right now, you can have them watch Rogue One or The Force Awakens, and the droids will react at certain points thanks to scripted points in the movies and the app listens for these cues to cause the droids reactions.

If you’ve got a Star Wars fan on your list this Christmas, no doubt they’ve already got these little guys on their list. At just $180 for R2-D2 and $150 for BB-9E, they are affordable enough to get both…assuming you can find one. As is the case with most items on our list of Top 12 Tech Gifts, these droids are in short supply but revered by Star Wars fans all over.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}.

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Top 12 Tech Gifts of 2017: Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Galaxy Smartphone

The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 has an all-glass design with four speakers and a High Dynamic Range (HDR) ready display. HDR offers better contrast and a better color range than regular HD does, making this the tablet of choice for all your streaming needs. The speakers are positioned in the corners and the sound moves accordingly when the device is rotated.

The tablet also comes packaged with a revamped Samsung S-Pen stylus. If you are one who enjoys taking notes on your tablet or prefer doing a lot with a pen, this stylus writes smoothly and never has to be synced or charged. Besides writing, the S-Pen adds precision to coloring, drawing, and more. There’s also an add-on keyboard ($130) for those who want to use theirs as a word processor or for using the internet.

The Tab S3 uses a USB-C connection for fast charging, has a fingerprint sensor on the home button, and uses an all-glass design, rather than aluminum like most tablets do. Unlike your iPhone, this tablet is equipped with a standard headphone jack, so that you can use your current headphones with it.

The Tab S3 really shines when playing video. The screen is crisp and sharp, and the sound is loud and clear thanks to the four-speaker setup. It is the first and so far, the only, HDR-ready tablet on the market. If the sticker price doesn’t give you pause ($599), then the Galaxy Tab S3 is the tablet to get this Christmas.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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iPhone Users Can Feel More Secure with New Safety Feature

Personal safety is something we all take very seriously. No one likes to be in a situation where they feel threatened or unsafe, no matter how pertinent the fear may seem. This is something many of us deal with. Walking alone late at night, in a parking garage with just one or two other people, situations such as these can make you feel unsafe and hyper-aware of your surroundings. This is especially true for women of all ages, as more and more stories of kidnapping and missing girls are seen in the news. Apple has decided to address their users concerns about personal safety by adding a new emergency feature in the iOS 11 update.

iPhone Safety Feature

The update features emergency SOS activation that is simpler to use and provides a quicker response in the case of an emergency. To activate the feature there are two possible methods depending on which iPhone you have. For the iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and other older models the emergency feature is activated by rapidly pressing the lock button 5 times in a row. For those with the iPhone 8, 8 Plus or iPhone X this feature can be accessed by pressing and holding the side button along with one of the volume buttons at the same time. Performing either of these actions based on your iPhone model will bring you to the power down screen, where the option of Medical ID and Emergency SOS are displayed. This screen displays these options in a manner which allows the user to choose what they would like to do. This is in place so that you do not accidently call emergency services by leaving your phone in your pocket or by giving your phone to a small child. This iPhone update also has an Auto Call option which you can enable to call as soon as you do the required action.

To enable Auto Call you first must go into the setting application on your phone. From here you scroll down the list until you reach the “Emergency SOS” option. Select this option and then swipe the Auto Call toggle to be on. It should be all the way to the right. To turn the Auto Call off simple slide the switch back to the left. When Auto Call is enabled your phone will automatically dial 911 or other emergency services if you are in another country. This feature would be useful if you are in a situation that would stop you from sliding the appropriate option on your screen. Don’t worry though, if you enable and make an auto call accidentally, there is an option to set a three second timer that would allow you to stop the call before it is made.

The iOS 11 emergency setting also has a feature which allows users to list emergency contacts in the case that one is needed. Emergency contacts are set up in the health app. You must choose the medical ID option and then select edit which is located in the top right corner. Scroll down to the emergency contacts section and select the “+” button to add a contact. You can add multiple contacts and even choose what relation they are to you. It can be useful to add an emergency contact in case you find yourself in a situation where you are unconscious or incoherent and are unable to make decisions for yourself. The emergency contact feature further takes iPhone users safety into consideration, and can be a comfort to individuals.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to help another person, you can use their iPhone to not only alert authorities and the correct personnel, but to also let their listed emergency contact know what has happened to them. This is useful so that you may gain any important information on the person such as health or medical concerns and risks. This makes the Medical ID tool useful in more ways than one.

One side effect from enabling the emergency SOS or Medical ID services is that your phone will be temporarily locked. This means that you will not be able to unlock your phone with your finger print or facial scanners, and instead you must input your passcode. This keeps the information you have on your phone safe, even if you may not be in a very safe situation or location.

Something that makes this feature notable is that it is compatible with emergency services you may not even know exist. This means that with the new iOS 11 software update iPhone users can remain safe while traveling at home or abroad. With the ability to place emergency calls so quickly, iPhone users can rest assured in knowing that they will be able to reach the right people in a timely fashion. This new development in personal safety shows people that they are cared for, and they can rely on Apple products even more.

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Top 12 Tech Gifts 2017: SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

SanDisk Ultra Dual Drive USB Type-C

This USB drive has connectors for both USB-A and USB-C, to make it simpler for transferring data between computers and even some newer Android phones with USB-C. Laptops, Android phones, Macs, and PCs are all utilizing the USB-C connection. With this, there’s no need to worry which type of flash drive you have.

The Dual Drive comes in 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB sizes. The 32GB can be found for less than $20, while the bigger sizes will run you a bit more money.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Top 12 Tech Gifts for 2017: Samsung Galaxy S8

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Samsung Galaxy s8

If the new iPhone seems a bit pricey for you, don’t worry. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ offer similar technology but with a cheaper price tag. Much like its competition, the S8 offers a 5.8-inch display, but unlike that other phone, it curves around the edges of the phone producing the first true infinity screen on a smartphone.

The phone does 4K video, has a 12MP rear camera (8MP on the front), uses facial recognition to unlock, is water and dust resistant, and charges wirelessly. All features that the iPhone X sports. But unlike the iPhone, the S8 can expand its memory from 64GB to 256GB via memory cards, allows multiple windows so that you can multitask (text while watching a movie?), and contains a headphone jack. Also, you aren’t restricted to one method of unlocking. There is also a fingerprint scanner and the use of a PIN.

The biggest difference here is that the S8 comes in a bigger model, the Galaxy S8+ which has a 6.2-inch screen for only a few dollars more. Both versions make use of Samsung’s new Bixby AI, their answer to Siri that learns from you and can do things like translate languages and point out landmarks when taking photos.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 will run you $750 for 64GB (upgradeable to 256GB via the memory card) while the S8+ runs $840. Both versions come in Arctic Silver, Orchid Gray, and Midnight Black.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Top 12 Tech Gifts 2017: TCL S405 4K HDR TV

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

4K TV

If you’re anything like most Americans, you want the latest and greatest tech but can’t always afford it. TV’s for instance. You want to experience this new 4K technology that everyone is talking about but there is no way you can afford $3,000 for a TV. Never fear, there is an alternative.

The TCL S405 49” 4K HDR TV proves you don’t need to break the bank to experience 4K. Offering similar picture quality and brightness to the Samsung Q7F, the TCL offers fewer levels of lag than the pricier Samsung and comes with Roku TV! You can play Gears of War 4 in 4K or stream Netflix in stunning 4K resolution. All this will run you $360 for the 49” model, and upwards of $800 for the 65”.

It doesn’t sport a hub for your HDMI like the Samsung Q7F, but it does have three HDMI ports and a single USB on the rear side. Still, I’d gladly sacrifice a port or two if it meant saving thousands of dollars. Not only does it save you money, but now you have enough to get that new iPhone, right?

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Top 12 Tech Gifts of 2017: Microsoft Surface Book 2

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Microsoft’s thin laptop/tablet hybrid two-in-one PC arrived on the market a couple of years ago and became an instant must-have item. This year’s models are no different. The 13-inch model comes in several variations of hard drive space and RAM and starts at $1499. Joining the fray is a 15-inch version with just as many memory options, but starts out at a hefty $2500.

The biggest difference between the two (aside from screen size) is the video graphics card in each one. The 15-inch is equipped with a more powerful video memory card, allowing it to act as a mobile gaming machine. Whether you’re playing Gears of War 4 or Cup Head, the machine isn’t likely to lag or slow down.

Both models come with a detachable screen, USB-C port, 17 hours of battery life, SD card reader, and offer touch screen with surface pen support. The pen allows you to sketch, write, and compose easily with virtually no lag.

Part tablet, part PC, and part gaming machine, the Surface Book 2 stands atop the laptop landscape this holiday season.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Top 12 Tech Gifts 2017: Samsung Q7F 4K TV

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Samsung Q7F 4K TV

You’ve purchased the new Xbox One X or a PS4 Pro, and now you can’t wait to get gaming. Or maybe the console purchase was for a spouse and/or child. Sure, your run-of-the-mill HDMI capable TV that adorns your living room will connect. But you didn’t get all that new and great 4K power just to force it onto a standard high definition television, did you?

Of course not. You have 4K now, so that demands a great 4K experience. The folks over at Samsung hear you and have just the screen in mind. The Samsung Q7F is the perfect TV for your 4K movies or games. It’s great for media consumption, with four HDMI ports and three USB ports. These can be used individually, or you can connect all your devices to the Samsung One Connect Box, which acts as a hub for HDMI connections and feeds into the TV via a single cable. Super convenient when you have multiple systems.

Recommended by the folks over at Xbox, this premium screen will run you minimum $2,800 for the 55” model and as high as $6,000 for the 75” version. Available at most retailers, the best deals are usually hiding on the store’s website.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Top Tech Gifts 2017: Nintendo Switch

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Nintendo Switch

Nintendo knows how to get people excited, and excited they are to get the newest Nintendo console, the Nintendo Switch. The biggest draw might be the ability to play on your TV at home then remove it from its docking station and continue playing on the go as a handheld system. The console seamlessly transitions from one mode to the other, allowing you to take the game with you.

Attached to your TV, the Switch docking station connects via HDMI and gives you true HD gameplay. The controller, the Joy-Con, separates into two controllers for multiplayer or the two can be attached to the sides of the console for gaming on the go. The Switch comes with a tiny 32GB of internal storage, but that can be easily upgraded to 2TB with a micro SD card.

Unlike previous Nintendo consoles, or even the Xbox and PlayStation, the Switch doesn’t use discs. Instead, it uses small cartridges, like the games on the 3DS handheld system. At only $299.99 it’s an affordable piece of hardware with a unique array of software already available for it. It doesn’t play DVDs or Blu-rays, but it makes up for it with fun and exciting games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey.

Nintendo has said that they are doubling their production on the Switch, so it should be in ample supply this holiday.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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Does Your Elementary School Rely on Volunteer Tech Support?

The case for abandoning break-fix, volunteer-based IT support

Education IT Support

Elementary schools are very busy places with a variety of moving parts and different departments. Administrators face a big task in making sure the needs of students, families, teachers and support staff are met. Considering this long list of responsibilities, IT support often takes a back seat to other critical tasks.

In fact, there is a growing trend in the education industry that is seeing elementary schools rely on casual, volunteer-based IT support. Instead of laying out a deliberate plan and partnering with a managed IT service provider, educational administrators are simply using break-fix, as-needed models of support, provided by volunteers or tech-savvy team members.

“Bill Can Probably Fix That” – Why Casual IT Support Doesn’t Make Sense

We get it. For busy elementary schools, IT simply isn’t the top priority – and it shouldn’t have to be. School administrators have more important things to be worrying about than making sure email is up-and-running and library computers are working. So, they get in a habit of only dealing with tech issues as they arise. Volunteers are called in on an SOS basis to address problems as they happen.

However, looking at the big picture, this approach can actually result in more work and stress for school administrators. Setting up a proactive plan with a team of strategic IT professionals can keep school networks secure and functional while making the lives of administrators easier.

It must be noted that tech volunteers can be extremely qualified professionals. It’s not at all to say that volunteers aren’t reliable or don’t know what they’re doing – it’s just that they can’t provide the same consistency and robust support that a managed service provider can. So, even though volunteers may be pretty good at answering your SOS calls, it just makes more sense to be proactive – especially in an increasingly digital world.

Let’s look at the leading ways schools can benefit from abandoning volunteer-based, break-fix IT support:

  • Security & Peace of Mind

The cyber climate is more dangerous than ever and it’s evolving by the day. As cybercriminals get more sophisticated, it’s critical that organizations get more vigilant. While your school may have anti-virus and firewall solutions in place, and volunteer support may be able to mitigate minor threats, there’s something to be said for a robust and layered security strategy.

Managed service providers rely on industry best practices to implement proactive cybersecurity strategies and strategic monitoring tools. This kind of security strategy takes pressure off administrators and avoids potentially disastrous situations when volunteers are unavailable. Having a constant eye on the school’s network provides unparalleled peace of mind for busy administrators.

  • Consistency & Predictability

Some of the concern around abandoning volunteer IT support is the potential impact on the budget. Education budgets are already stretched thin and there are rarely surplus funds to finance elaborate technical support. However, partnering with a fair and valuable IT service provider is actually cost-effective in the long run.

First, with managed IT services, schools avoid the downtime associated with tech failures or waiting on volunteer support. With a team of tech experts on standby, problems will be handled more quickly and employees in every department will remain productive.

Second, partnering with a managed service provider offers huge cost predictability potential. Administrators work with providers to determine what’s needed and then they have a predictable monthly cost, which ensures systems stay consistently secure and functional. No surprising tech costs or guesswork when pricing out equipment – an IT partner works to support organizational budgets.

  • Strategic Optimization

Partnering with an MSP provides more than security and support. Teams of IT professionals have extensive experience optimizing tech resources to meet the unique needs of any organization. By examining how a school operates and understanding department workflows, IT providers can help administrators streamline processes and increase efficiency.

For example, email platforms can be optimized to streamline communication between office and teaching staff. Calendar integration tools can help administrators and educators organize meetings and events and keep track of important deadlines and dates. Cloud platforms can help schools organize data, collaborate on projects and reach out to students and families. The possibilities for optimization are truly endless, and having a strategic IT partner to drive that optimization makes all the difference.

  • Continual Development

Finally, in a constantly evolving world of technology, it’s critical to acknowledge that things move fast. In order to keep up, schools need to embrace new resources for learning and educational administration. Partnering with a managed IT service provider is a way of keeping a finger on the pulse of tech development.

A strategic IT partner can continually consult with school administrators to re-evaluate tech strategies and ensure the latest tech capabilities are being utilized to support educational goals. From smart-boards to learning software, having a technology partner on standby helps schools stay consistently connected with technological development.

Making the Switch: How to Transition from Volunteer IT Support to Proactive Managed Services

Understanding the benefits is one thing, but making the transition is an entirely different beast. Many school administrators have understandable concerns about finding a reliable service provider who will meet their needs without overselling. However, there are a few simple strategies that can help administrative teams make informed decisions when it comes to more formal IT support.

Really, it’s is all about creating a ‘needs inventory.’ What does the current infrastructure look like and what does the school need in terms of technology resources? Is there already a reliable network infrastructure or is there a need to start from scratch? Are there dynamic software solutions in place for employees or is there a more casual and scattered approach? Once a school determines what they need from technology, choosing the right provider and resources will be much easier.

However, for administrators who are completely lost on where to start, it’s a great idea to reach out to local IT service providers to get their input on how to best optimize IT for the school setting. Consulting with experts is a great initial way to set a framework for what’s required and strategies for implementation.

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Top 12 Tech Gifts 2017: Google Home Mini

We like tech, it’s what we do. As the holiday shopping season kicks into overdrive, we are bringing you 12 of the most requested, most wanted tech gifts for 2017. Check back each business day between now and December 19th for another must-have tech item and why you should check it out.

Google Home Mini

Google has been hitting the market over the past year with their own devices to rival their competition in the tech market. One of these innovations is the Google Home Mini. The Mini is considerably smaller than their standard Google Home device ($129) and sports a smaller price tag accordingly. The Mini is built with families in mind and works in conjunction with Chromecast to control your TV, stream movies, and send music to your speakers. You can also have the Google Mini play from the device itself.

It recognizes your voice, so multiple users can access their own playlists, calendars, and more with just their voice. It also features hands-free calling for those times when too busy to hold a phone to your ear. The mini can control your lights, thermostat, and more with a voice command, but those require external devices and/or apps.

Overall, for only $49 it does a solid job of bringing your entertainment into the next generation without depleting your rainy-day fund.

Happy Holidays and good luck on the tech hunt from all of us here at {company}!

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