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AI and Privacy Issues: Data Leaks and Breaches

We recently posted about the AI warning we received from a partner about the use of AI tools and protecting their confidential information. Beyond the specifics of the warning, we quickly saw a much broader context. Using AI tools, if not managed carefully, will result in unauthorized data disclosures, breaches, or leaks. These disclosures may easily violate laws, regulations, industry standards, and contractual obligations. Before exposing your business to unnecessary liabilities, understand how your AI tools and services manage, and ensure, data privacy.

Scope of the AI and Privacy Problem

To gain a better sense of the issue, we decided to look into the data privacy practices of meeting assistants.  Meeting assistants are one of the most commonly used AI tools for small and midsize businesses.  Traditional meeting assistant tools transcribe discussions. Newer versions use AI engines to capture action items, summarize discussion points, and analyze the attitudes and sentiments of participants. We reviewed the terms of service, privacy policies, and FAQs for several services.

Here are some excerpts from our findings (company and service names redacted):

AI Terms of Service

Do not use the service if you need to keep protected or confidential information private:

You hereby represent and warrant to [Company] that your User Content … (ii) will not infringe on any third party’s copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret or other proprietary right or rights of publicity, personality or privacy; (iii) will not violate any law, statute, ordinance, or regulation (including without limitation those governing export control, consumer protection, unfair competition, anti-discrimination, false advertising, anti-spam or privacy);

The [Company] is not liable if you use their services:

… the user understands and accepts the risks involved with the use of AI or similar technologies and agrees to indemnify and hold [Company] harmless for any claims, damages, or losses resulting from such usage.

Allowing an AI engine to analyze your information, or allowing a service to use your information to train their AI-based services, is a disclosure:

When you post or otherwise share User Content on or through our Services, you understand and agree that your User Content … may be visible to others

AI Privacy Policies

Using AI tools has inherent risks:

By utilizing [Company]’s services, the user understands and accepts the risks involved with the use of AI or similar technologies and agrees to indemnify and hold [Company] harmless for any claims, damages, or losses resulting from such usage.

Some tools have service options, at added costs, to ensure data privacy:

… customers that want their data to be strictly segregated (for example, customers dealing with PHI) can choose the [service] option to exercise complete control over their compute and data infrastructure, ensuring that their data is separated per their compliance requirements.

Some services explicitly tell you that sharing confidential information violates their privacy policy:

You may also post or otherwise share only Content that is nonconfidential and that you have all necessary rights to disclose.

The Risks and Challenges with AI

With justifiable concerns about data protection and privacy, we have been trained to think about data leaks and breaches in terms of cyber attacks. We also look at “insider threats,” which are often human errors such as accidentally sharing files externally or putting confidential information in an unsecured email.

The use of meeting assistants and other AI-powered productivity tools creates a new category of risk.  In order to learn and improve, AI tools need to train using information. The easiest way to provide information to train an AI tool is to capture information provided by the users.  The users get their results; the AI tool trains, learns, and improves.

While this works for the AI tool or service provider, it creates a data breach platform for the users unless the tool has specific policies and services to ensure compliance with data privacy laws and regulations. 

Using an unsecured AI meeting assistant creates an incidental, if unintentional, breach. 

Some examples of incidental breaches caused by unsecure AI meeting assistants:

  • Two doctors discuss a patient consult, disclosing personal health information (PHI) to third parties in violation of HIPAA
  • You discuss project details with one of your clients, disclosing confidential intellectual property in violation of your contract
  • Your financial advisor discusses your financial holdings and accounts with you, disclosing personally identifiable financial information in violation of industry regulations and standards

Protect Yourself and Your Business from AI and Privacy Issues

From our review of several AI meeting assistant services, very few will keep your information private. Those that do will charge additional fees.

When you get on a video meeting or conference call, ask the host if their meeting assistant is secure. If not, or if they are unsure, ask them to turn it off.

More generally, take a step back and plan your approach to AI.

  • Consider how and when you want to use AI in your business
  • Make sure you and your team understand your contractual and regulatory responsibilities with respect to information privacy
  • Assess the AI tools and services you plan to use:
    • Understand their data privacy commitments
    • Match privacy policies and commitments against your business and legal requirements
    • Opt-in to agreements that ensure data privacy, even if it requires paying for the service,

With an understanding of your requirements and AI services, AI can add value to your business without introducing significant avoidable risk.

We Can Help

To discuss your technology service needs and plans, click here to schedule a call with a Cloud Advisor or send us an email.

About the Author

Allen Falcon is the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Global.  Allen co-founded Cumulus Global in 2006 to offer small businesses enterprise-grade email security and compliance using emerging cloud solutions. He has led the company’s growth into a managed cloud service provider with over 1,000 customers throughout North America. Starting his first business at age 12, Allen is a serial entrepreneur. He has launched strategic IT consulting, software, and service companies. An advocate for small and midsize businesses, Allen served on the board of the former Smaller Business Association of New England, local economic development committees, and industry advisory boards.

Our First AI Warning: Why Using AI Services Can Breach Your Contracts

We recently received our first AI Warning. This was not a a general warning such as, “anything built for good can be use for evil” or “AI can replace you.” We received a direct warning about specific uses of artificial intelligence services and our contracts. The warning we received applies to you as well.

Some Background About this AI Warning

Cumulus Global is known for our professional services, including our ability to successfully manage cloud migrations from a variety of local environments. We often provide these services to other technology firms that need our expertise and experience to solve specific client needs. We have standing partnership agreements with several of these firms.

The AI Warning came from one of our partners.

The AI Warning

The warning we received centered on our potential use of AI services and the implication for confidential information belonging to our partner and their clients. The warning stated that providing this data to any AI system or tool is a likely violation of our contract, confidentiality, and non-disclosure agreements.

Specifically:

  • Providing confidential information to any AI system or tool is an authorized disclosure unless we have a contractual agreement in place with the AI vendor that ensures all data remains private and confidential.
  • The use of any confidential information for feeding or training AI system or tool is considered an authorized disclosure. Even if the AI system or tool is private the confidential information will be used outside the scope of any project, work, or need.

In addition to clearly defining limits on the use of their data with AI services, the warning included the company’s intent to pursue any and all contractual and legal methods to prevent, or in response to, disclosures.

Bigger Context

While this AI warning was specific to one business relationship, we see a bigger context. The current flood of AI services is exciting, and the potential uses and benefits are great. If we want to engage, however, we need to be careful. Whether we are deliberately training an AI system or creating prompts and providing feedback to refine answers, we are placing information in the hands of others. Unless we take explicit steps to ensure privacy with AI tools, our expectation must be that the information we provide will be used train the AI service, effectively placing the information in the public domain.

We must also recognize that the generative nature of AI increases the risk of improper disclosure. While we may not intend to disclose information, AI engines can recognize and correlate information. In other words, AI services can piece together data to create and share  information that should be private.

Your Action Plan to Prevent AI Issues

Take a step back and plan your approach to AI.

  • Consider how and when you want to use AI in your business
  • Make sure you, and your team, understand your contractual and regulatory responsibilities with respect to information privacy
  • Assess the AI tools and services you plan to use;
    • Understand their data privacy commitments
    • Match privacy polices and commitments against your business and legal requirements
    • Opt-in to agreements, even if it requires paying for the service, that ensure data privacy

With an understanding of your requirements and AI services, AI can add value to your business without introducing significant avoidable risk.

We Can Help

To discuss your technology service needs and plans, click here to schedule a call with a Cloud Advisor or send us an email.

About the Author

Allen Falcon is the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Global.  Allen co-founded Cumulus Global in 2006 to offer small businesses enterprise-grade email security and compliance using emerging cloud solutions. He has led the company’s growth into a managed cloud service provider with over 1,000 customers throughout North America. Starting his first business at age 12, Allen is a serial entrepreneur. He has launched strategic IT consulting, software, and service companies. An advocate for small and midsize businesses, Allen served on the board of the former Smaller Business Association of New England, local economic development committees, and industry advisory boards.

Cloud Computing Trends, Challenges & Provider Insights in 2023

Cloud Computing Trends

Earlier this month, CRN published a story covering Flexera’s 2023 State of the Cloud Report.  Flexera provides software and systems to manage enterprise private and public clouds.  The report on cloud computing trends originates with an annual survey of 750 technology leaders across sectors, geographies, and size of the business.  While the report classifies small and midsize businesses as those with under 1,000 employees, we still find the results interesting and relevant.

As small businesses, our concerns are spending, security, compliance, and managing cloud services. The cloud model hits our income statements and balance sheets differently than historical IT services. The need to protect our businesses, and our customers, has never been greater. And, we find it difficult to understand if we are spending efficiently and effectively.

We take a look at the top 3 cloud challenges, discuss managing clouds, and explore cloud waste.  Understanding these issues, you will better understand how to create better cloud solutions. You will also be better able to set expectations from those providing cloud solutions and related services.

Top 3 Cloud Computing Challenges

For 2023, SMB respondents identify the top three cloud computing challenges as:

  • Managing Cloud Spend (80%),
  • Security (73%), and
  • Compliance (71%).

These concerns make sense. The spending model for managed cloud services, based on subscriptions or usage, is an operating expense.  Most smaller companies are used to making capital expenditures and paying for service contracts and managed services.  Additionally, many of the IT firms working with small businesses will replicate on-premise networks and servers in a public cloud service. They may lack the expertise and tools to actively manage costs.

Concerns about security and compliance reflect the increasing need and demands of protecting sensitive business and personal information.  We face the same increased regulations and expanding industry standards as larger enterprises. But we do not have the in-house resources or the same access to experts. We place our trust on local or regional IT service firms.

Latest Trends and Developments in Cloud Computing

Undefined Cloud Management

Following closely behind the top 3 cloud challenges, governance (67%) and subscription management (61%) indicate that small businesses are not sure how to best manage their cloud services.  As cloud infrastructure matures, the number of options expand.  To make simple decisions, such as whether to subscribe monthly or make an annual commitment at a lower per unit price, we need to understand the operating cost models.  We need standard operating procedures, such as on/off-boarding and access controls, in place.

Cloud is still new. We need our IT service firms and managed service providers to guide, if not lead, our cloud management efforts. Co-management is a viable strategy, provided it includes policies and procedures as well as products and services.

Cloud Waste

On average, the survey results show that businesses spent 18% more than budgeted on public cloud services last year.  The greatest contributor to the overspend appears to be Cloud Waste.

Cloud waste is spending on cloud services that go unutilized or are under-utilized.  Reducing cloud waste can be as simple as

  • Shutting down unused resources after hours
  • Selecting lower cost regions / data centers
  • Periodically right-sizing systems and resources

Policies that scale resources in real-time based on usage will increase efficiency, but require expertise and planning during the solution design process, monitoring, and refinement over time.

How to Pick a Cloud Computing Provider

Traditional managed service providers, or MSPs, are experts in buying, monitoring, and managing things. They focus on network components, servers, systems software, and end user devices.  To get the most value from our cloud services, we need partners that understand service and cost management.

Managed cloud service providers, or MCSPs, understand how the “as-a-Service” model is different. Security, compliance, and cost management only work when they are built into the requirements, design, and management of your cloud services.

Before picking your cloud provider, ask about their management and co-management models. Understand if they actively work to monitor and manage security, compliance, and costs. Ask them to explain how.

Call To Action

Get a copy of our recent eBook, Cloud Strategies for Small and Midsize Businesses. In this eBook, we: set the stage by looking at how small and midsize businesses acquire and use technology and IT services; explore the challenges we face moving into the cloud; and map out four strategies for enhancing your use and expansion of cloud services.

To discuss how your business can better utilize a broader range of cloud services, please contact us or schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors at your convenience.

About the Author

Allen Falcon is the co-founder and CEO of Cumulus Global.  Allen co-founded Cumulus Global in 2006 to offer small businesses enterprise-grade email security and compliance using emerging cloud solutions. He has led the company’s growth into a managed cloud service provider with over 1,000 customers throughout North America. Starting his first business at age 12, Allen is a serial entrepreneur. He has launched strategic IT consulting, software, and service companies. An advocate for small and midsize businesses, Allen served on the board of the former Smaller Business Association of New England, local economic development committees, and industry advisory boards.

Hybrid Business Strategy: Examples, Considerations, and Recommendations

Hybrid Workplace

The Business Side of Hybrid Workplace Strategy

The business side of hybrid workplace strategy is forefront as we make plans for the future. In a survey recently published by Gartner, CEOs were asked to identify the top enduring changes resulting from the pandemic. 45% of CEOs stated that hybrid and remote work was the most significant long-term impact. This equals all other noted enduring changes, combined. Nearly every business will have some degree of remote and hybrid working arrangements, as we experience a change in employee expectations and broader cultural shifts.

In past posts, we have looked at the technology and related managed cloud services needed to properly support remote and hybrid workplaces. The business administration issues related to hybrid and remote work are more complex than the technology solutions.

Four Hybrid Workplace Business Considerations

We’ve broken down what you should think about when it comes to hybrid workplace strategy into four key points. Each of these aspects of a hybrid workplace contains examples of how a hybrid business strategy might be implemented. See how these four considerations can help you strike the right balance and create a hybrid workplace that prioritizes people.

1. Working Environment

As we have noted before, as employers we are responsible for providing staff with a safe and healthy work environment.  If employees are working remotely, or from home, on a regular basis (an expectation for the job), their work environment must be managed appropriately through a hybrid work strategy.  We are responsible to ensure appropriate lighting, noise, desk space, seating, and ergonomic accommodations, as well as productivity tools, and cloud collaboration services.

2. Payroll, Benefits, and Compliance

With employees working at home, you are more likely to be paying employees who both live and work out of state (or in another tax jurisdiction). In addition to accurately representing their work location for payroll, you will need to provide benefits in each state and comply with each state’s employment laws.  Minimum wage, sick time, and paid leave are a few of the regulations that differ between states, and need to be considered in a hybrid business strategy.  Healthcare plans and providers will also differ, as do contributions to state unemployment insurance programs.  Additionally, you will need workers’ compensation insurance coverage for each state in which employees work.

3. Insurance

Beyond workers’ compensation, you may need to update your general liability coverages to address employees working from home.  Your insurer may see additional risk and/or the need to document work locations to ensure your business is properly covered.  Most policies require that you list any company-owned or leased work spaces, including co-working spaces.

4. Taxes

Lastly, when it comes to a hybrid workplace strategy, having employees work in your state while living in another is not uncommon. States have reciprocity agreements that dictate how these employees need to file their personal tax returns.  When you have remote employees working in other states, the rules are not yet as clear. Some states expect you to withhold taxes based on your employees’ locations, as this is their workplace.

Even more impactful, some states see an employee’s work location as creating nexus, and will require you to file business tax returns in that state.

Recommendations on a Hybrid Workplace Strategy

We strongly recommend that you proactively address the business side of hybrid work.  Speak with your HR, tax, and legal advisors as you navigate and design your hybrid strategy and remote work plans.

  • Consider using a Professional Employment Organization, or PEO, to manage payroll, benefits, HR policies, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance.  In addition to operating across state lines, PEOs provide you with a unified approach to human resource services. They can assist with recruiting, onboarding, offboarding, and regulatory needs such as driver safety, OSHA compliance, and testing for banned substances. PEOs als0 assume liability for compliance errors.
  • Be prepared to provide employees working from home with the workspace and accommodations they need to be healthy, safe, and productive. Beyond IT, we can assist with home office workstations, desks, stands, lighting, and more.
  • Communicate with your insurance provider to ensure your coverages are appropriate and correct.
  • Consult your tax and legal advisors to ensure you understand when, and where, you have nexus with respect to corporate registrations and taxes.

If you’d like to chat more about hybrid business strategy, be sure to get in touch!

4 Pillars of Cloud Security: The Most Important Strategies to Know

Learn about the four pillars of cloud security that can help you reduce risk, increase agility, and run more efficiently: (C/I/A), external threat protection, data loss protection, and compliance.

While Cyber Security month comes and goes, the four pillars of cloud security remain integral to long term business success.  In what seems like a never-ending process, we continue to face new and advancing cyber security threats to the integrity of our data, identities, and businesses.  For those of use with small and midsize businesses, we need to ensure our systems and information are secure. At the same time, we want to keep our IT systems simple and manage our budgets.

Four Strategies for Cloud Security

To strike the right balance, we need to assess our current security foundation, identify gaps, and fill in services where needed. Doing so creates a security foundation that covers your basic needs.  From there, with the four pillars of cloud security in place, you can add services and build the security footprint you need to meet industry expectations and regulatory requirements.

A sound cloud security foundation is built on four pillars of cloud security.

1. Basic C/I/A

Ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (C/I/A) of information you create, receive, maintain, or transmit.

This first pillar of cloud security establishes your basic security infrastructure that protects against attacks and prevents breaches across your IT systems.  It also creates your ability to respond to issues and recover, key to ensuring business continuity and resilience.

2. External Threat Protection

Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated threats.

This pillar of cloud security focuses on the attacks and threats from outside your business. From phishing, ransomware, and business email compromise, to DNS and advanced persistent threats, the focus is on protecting your data, applications, systems,  and people from harm.

3. Data Loss Protection

Identify and protect against reasonably anticipated uses and disclosures.

Data breaches and data loss result from configuration issues, application errors, and individual actions. Permission errors, inappropriate sharing, and other actions are often accidental, resulting from a lack of understanding of policies and/or how systems work. They can, however, result from intentional acts of misconduct. Proper data protection and security solutions will help protect against these internal risks and threats.

4. Compliance

Ensure workforce and business compliance.

Nearly all businesses must meet basic legal requirements to protect sensitive information. Most businesses must also adhere to industry and additional legal requirements.  This cornerstone encompasses the policies and procedures that ensure your team, and your business meet your compliance requirements. IT also includes the tools and methods to enforce policies and report on compliance.

Tactics for Implementing the Four Pillars of Cloud Security

To ensure your cornerstones are set and your cloud security foundation is place, conduct a security footprint assessment.  For each pillar of cloud security, identity the services you have in place and those that may be needed. The assessment should cover the “CPRs” of security:

  • Communication/Education
  • Protect / Prevent
  • Respond / Recover

For more information, send us an email or complete our contact form.

Google Vault: What It Is Why You Should Consider It

Google VaultWhat Is Google Vault?

Google Vault is a cloud-based information governance, compliant archive, and eDiscovery tool that allows organizations to manage, retain, search, and export their data across various Google services. Historically, Vault is an add-on for G Suite Basic and is included with G Suite Business and Enterprise. It provides a secure and centralized platform to manage all your organization’s data, including email, chat messages, and Google Drive files.

As Google transitions to the new Google Workspace, Google includes Vault in Google all Workspace Enterprise subscriptions and Google Workspace Business Plus.  Vault is not available as an add-on for the Google Workspace Business Starter and  Standard subscriptions at this time.

Overall, Google Vault provides a powerful and efficient way to manage and protect your organization’s data, giving you greater control over your information and helping you stay compliant with industry regulations.

To decide if you need, or want, Vault, you need to understand the What, How, and Why below.

What Google Vault Does

Vault is a compliant archive/e-discovery service for Google Workspace.  The service captures all email, documents, and chats, even if they have been deleted by the user.  As such, Vault meets federal and state regulations for legal discovery.  Vault features include:

  • Archive:
    • Inbound, outbound, and internal email messages
    • Documents
    • Internal and external chat messages
  • “Matters”:
    • Search and gather all relevant materials
    • Save searches and results
  • Legal Holds:
    • Retain relevant data regardless of retention period
    • Prevent removal of data until a “Matter” is resolved
  • Audit Trails:
    • Capture activities
    • Document searches and exports
  • Reports:
    • Export data related to a “Matter” for delivery
    • Documentation that validates data integrity

How Vault differs from Backup

While Vault and backup systems both preserve and protect data, they serve very different purposes and functions.

Vault is intended to keep, find, export, and deliver data in a way that complies with Federal and State laws for legal discovery.

Backup systems are designed to preserve and restore information that has been lost or damaged.

In Vault, you can retrieve individual items and small batches of data. Doing so, however, does not restore the data to its prior location. Nor does Vault preserve meta data, such as date last modified and permissions.

Backup solutions and systems cannot guarantee that you have preserved all of your data.  Most backups are configured to remove deleted items from backup files after set periods of time.  Backup systems also prune data into weekly and monthly snapshots, resulting in a potential loss of versions.

Why You May Need or Want Google Vault

The driving factor for most businesses and organizations is regulatory compliance.  A range of laws and industry regulations require businesses to maintain records, including but not limited to:

  • Sarbanes/Oxley
  • Freedom of Information / Public Records
  • SEC-17
  • FINRA
  • PCI-DSS
  • HIPAA

If you are not subject to these regulations, you may want Vault in order to maintain data for:

  • Policy enforcement
  • Contact and legal negotiations
  • Personnel matters
  • Quality control

We recommend that your Google Workspace (G Suite) subscription is protected  by a backup/recovery solution.  You may not need or want Vault.  If you do not have a regulatory need, assess the value proposition of the added business protection and cost.

FAQs

Is Google Vault Free?

You can add Vault from your Google Admin console if you purchased Google Workspace online and your edition supports add-on licenses. You’ll begin with a free 30-day trial. Vault is also included at no extra cost with Google Workspace Business and Enterprise editions.

How do I access Google Vault?

Sign in to your Google Workspace account at https://vault.google.com. If you are unable to sign in to Vault, contact your Google Workspace administrator and request that Vault be enabled for you.

Learn more about Cumulus Global’s data protection and security solutions, contact us with any questions, or schedule a complimentary Cloud Advisor appointment.

Zoom Privacy Policy is a Risk

Updated 4/05/20

Updates:

  • 4/05/20: Zoom posted an updated Privacy Policy, back dated to 3/29/2020.  This policy clarifies Zoom’s actions and intents and changes some terms and conditions, indicating that Zoom is now doing the right thing with your personal data.  Zoom has also expanded users’ ability to use passwords and waiting rooms to control meeting access.  We still recommend reviewing the policy and using the “do not sell” process.  We also recommend using conferencing systems within your productivity suite, Office 365 or G Suite, as these are secure and integrate with your email, calendar, and file services.
  • 4/01/20: MIT Tech Review summarizes the security issues with Zoom, including information about a Class Action Lawsuit.
  • 3/31/20: Vice.com reports that Zoom is leaking personal emails and photos to strangers.
  • 3/31/20: The Intercept reports that Zoom is not using End to End Encryption as claimed in their marketing materials and user interface. 
  • 3/31/20: New York Times reports that Zoom, the videoconferencing app whose traffic has surged, is under scrutiny by the New York attorney general’s office for its data privacy and security practices.
  • 3/30/20: FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking During COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 18, 2020, the Zoom.us posted changes to its privacy policy that impact all users, even those without accounts attending meetings as guests.  This change follows a dramatic increase in Zoom users (and stock price), as Zoom has been offering its services for free to many businesses and schools.

Under this version of the Zoom’s privacy policy, Zoom is collecting more information, in our assessment, than is necessary to provide users with the service. Zoom also acknowledges providing this information to third parties. The information Zoom is collecting includes, but is not limited to:

  • Name, physical address, and other similar personally identifying information
  • Information about your job, such as your title and employer
  • Your Facebook profile information (when you use Facebook to log-in to Zoom or to create a Zoom)
  • General information about your product and service preferences (including software installed and/or in use on your computer)
  • Information about your device

Per Zoom’s policy, downloading and using the Zoom app provides Zoom with consent to share any personal information they collect with third parties.

In reference to the use of third party services, the policy states

“We use these tools to help us improve your advertising experience (such as serving advertisements on our behalf across the Internet, serving personalized ads on our website, and providing analytics services).”

In other words, Zoom may use the personal information of any person using their services to market to that person across their use of the Internet.

Additionally, we do not see any effort by Zoom to determine the age of individuals using the service, so they are likely collecting and using the personal information of children.

Vice.com is reporting that Zoom’s iOS app sends data to Facebook even if you do not have a Facebook account.

Impact

Our current assessment of the impact is as follows:

  • Data collection is based on the way each meeting participant enters the meeting.  Even if the organizer is on a paid and secure business or education edition, meeting attendees using the free client or entering as a guest are subject to dating mining and sharing.
  • For businesses and schools, some of the data Zoom collects and shares is prohibited under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
  • For schools and libraries, not using the K12 version of Zoom for faculty and students may result in violations of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA)
  • Zoom does provide a means for users to instruct Zoom to “Do not Sell” their personal information. This help with California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) and  EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) compliance.  It may not be practical to advise all meeting attendees of this option.

In short, Zoom’s privacy policy may conflict with your business’ privacy policy and how you manage and respect your customers and their data. The policy may also create regulatory and legal issues.

Recommendations

If you organization uses G Suite or Microsoft Office 365, you already have the ability to securely conduct audio and video conferencing with services that do not mine and share attendee data.

  • G Suite
    • Hangouts Meet (the new service) is secure and HIPAA compliant.  Individuals outside your organization can join via shared URL, without providing personal information. Through June 2020, Google has enabled all G Suite users to conduct meetings with up to 250 participants and provided organizers with the ability to record meetings. Participants can mute their own audio/video and can present to the meeting. Meeting include dial-in numbers and pins to allow access from phones.
    • Participants can join via web browser or use the free iOS and Adroid Apps.
    • Traditional Hangouts and Chat, while not HIPAA compliant, are still secure and work within organizations and with guests.
  • Office 365
    • Teams (and formerly Skype for Business) is a secure video/audio conferencing service with screen sharing, waiting rooms, and other helpful features.  As with all of Office 365, Teams can be deployed to meet HIPAA compliance. Teams does not collect and share personal information.
    • Teams, by default is device-to-device conferencing.  You can add the ability for individuals to connect by phone for a small monthly fee for each meeting organizer that needs this function.
    • Participants can join via web browser, or use the free apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.

Before adding another service or tool for audio/video conferencing, take full advantage of the services you have. Contact us if you need help with user training and support.

If you are not using G Suite or Office 365, several communications and conferencing services are offering secure, free access for up to 90 days.  These include, but are not limited to, Dialpad, UberConference, Ring Central, and Cisco WebEx. Please contact us for help selecting and deploying the right service for you and your teams.

 

Customer Notice Update: Email Advanced Threat Protection

Data ProtectionGiven the demand and need to improve your protection from the devastating impact of ransomware, crypto attacks, and other forms of cyber attacks we are extending the Advanced Threat Protection Priority Opt-in discount period through March, 2020. We understand that adding a service, even a critical service, impacts your budget and costs. Our Priority Opt-In discounts, and other measures (see below), intend to minimize the impact.

Email Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) and Multi-factor authentication (MFA) are necessary, baseline services for protecting your business

Beginning April 1, 2020, we require Advanced Threat Protection for all of our customers’ email service, unless you specifically opt out. Opting out is appropriate if you already have an advanced threat protection service in place.

If you opt out, the cost of our data recovery efforts will not be covered under our unlimited support plans (See our Support Services SLA). When we add ATP to your service, we will discuss with you when we can add MFA.

We will mitigate the cost.

We are sensitive to your budget.

  • ATP requires a technical setup and typically incurs a setup fee along with the monthly or annual subscription.
  • We are discounting both the setup and subscription fees for all customers. For customers requesting Priority Opt-In, we will waive the ATP related setup fees completely.
  • MFA implementation is covered by our support plans as an administrative change.  If you do not have on of our support plans, we will provide an affordable, discounted quote for the project.
  • For customers without an unlimited support plan and/or those that choose to Opt-Out, we will discount our hourly fees for recovery work.

For more information on specific discounts and pricing, and to let us know if you want to Opt-In, to have Priority Opt-In, or to Opt-Out, please visit this web page and complete the form.

We realize that this is a significant change for most of our customers.  We also understand the importance of these protections.  Please contact us with questions or concerns

Thank you for being part of our community,
Allen Falcon
CEO & Pragmatic Evangelist

The Cost of Downtime Explained in 7 Ways

A recent survey found that 40% of small and midsize businesses (SMBs) experiences 8 or more hours of downtime due to a severe security breach within the past year. According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60% of SMBs who experience a significant data breach go out of business within six months. The highest cost of an unplanned outage is more than $17,000 per minute. The average cost per minute of an unplanned outage is nearly $9,000 per incident. These statistics are sobering. For many SMBs, however, the risks still feel foreign and not something that warrants action. To protect your business requires some knowledge and good advice, intent, action, small investments.

It is easier to rely on myths such as, “We are not a target for cyber attackers”, “We can run on pen and paper until we recover”, and “Our customers will understand” than it is to assess your risks and take action. Nevertheless, the risks are real and the number of SMBs hurt by downtime continues to rise.

The cost of downtime can vary depending on the size of the organization, the industry, and the nature of the downtime. Downtime can be caused by various factors such as power outages, network failures, software issues, or hardware failures. In today’s world, it’s essential to streamline security if you’re a SMB, and understand the consequences downtime can have on your business.

Here are seven ways downtime can damage your business:

1. Monetary Cost

Downtime leads to lost sales and lost productivity impacting top-line revenue and your bottom line. These costs hit your pocket in addition to the cost of recovery and returning to normal operations. If you need to calculate the average cost of downtime, our specialists can help.

2. Customer Trust

When you are unable to serve your customers, they lose faith in your business. While downtime for natural disasters is understandable, today’s customers have little tolerance for disruptions due to cyber attacks and breaches. Lost trust means lost customers.

3. Brand Damage

Your brand identity and reputation drives customer loyalty and growth. Service disruptions from technology failures or breaches sends a message that your business may be poorly managed and is unreliable. These messages lead to loss of goodwill and create negative impressions of your business in the minds of your customers.

4. Employee Morale 

Disasters due to data loss or breaches means employees need to perform double duties. Employees spend time on recovery while working to keep the business operational. It often requires additional work hours. Recovery can be stressful and demoralizing.

5. Business Value 

Businesses that suffer data breaches and service disruptions are perceived as poorly managed. With the potential financial liability, public companies can see stock prices fall. All companies can suffer a loss of business value.

6. Legal Action

Downtime creates the risk of legal action. This is particularly true for downtime that is perceived as preventable. System failures, data loss, security breaches, and other incidents can put your business in breach of contract. You may also be in violation of state and federal regulations, making proper data protection and security vital.

7. Compliance Fines & Penalties 

As information privacy and security regulations expand, data loss and breaches create the real potential for fines and penalties related to regulatory compliance, privacy, and data retention requirements.

These risks carry the potential for lasting damage. Whether by increased financial burdens or winning back customers, the impact of downtime extends well beyond getting yourself up and running again.

Is your business worth protecting?

Protecting your business will not break the bank. We offer practical, affordable cloud infrastructure solutions that help you and your team understand the risks, prevent problems from happening, and continue operating in the event something bad does happen.

If your business is worth protecting, contact us for a complimentary Cloud Advisor session to discuss how we can improve your business’ resiliency.


 

Customer Notice: Email Advanced Threat Protection

Data Protection

(Updated January 20, 2020)

We continue to witness the devastating impact of ransomware, crypto attacks, and other forms of cyber attacks on our customers.  The recovery cost and frequency of attacks are increasing at alarming rates. The average cost for a small or midsize business (SMB) to fully recovery from a cyber attack has increased to between $145,000 and $180,000. This includes loss of direct business, remediation costs, damage to reputation, and employee downtime.  At the same time, the number of ransomware attacks so far in 2019 has doubled when compared with the same period in 2018.

As a managed cloud service provider, you have heard from us that you “should” have more protections in place. Our position is changing: these protections are a “must”.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and email Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) are necessary, baseline services for protecting your business. 

Beginning April 1, 2020, we will require and will begin adding Advanced Threat Protection to all of our customers’ email service unless you specifically opt out. If you opt out, the cost of our data recovery efforts will not be covered under our unlimited support plans (See our Support Services SLA). When we add ATP to your service, we will discuss with you when we can add MFA.

We will mitigate the cost.

We are sensitive to your budget.

  • ATP requires a technical setup and typically incurs a setup fee along with the monthly or annual subscription.  We are discounting both the setup and subscription fees for all customers. For customers requesting Priority Opt-In, we will waive the ATP related setup fees completely.
  • MFA implementation is covered by our support plans as an administrative change.  If you do not have on of our support plans, we will provide an affordable, discounted quote for the project.
  • For customers without an unlimited support plan and/or those that choose to Opt-Out, we will discount our hourly fees for recovery work.

For more information on specific discounts and pricing, and to let us know if you want to Opt-In, to have Priority Opt-In, or to Opt-Out, please visit this web page and complete the form.

We realize that this is a significant change for most of our customers.  We also understand the importance of these protections.  Please contact us with questions or concerns

Thank you for being part of our community,
Allen Falcon
CEO & Pragmatic Evangelist

Webcasts

Email Security and Reliability

(8/17/2021) – A deep dive look at email security and reliability, with a focus on how DMARC prevents business email compromises, spoofing, and phishing attacks. In addition to protecting you from inbound attacks, DMARC protects your domain’s reputation and helps ensure reliable email deliverability.

Email Security and Compliance

(7/20/2021) – An updated look at email security and compliance. Summarizing risks and trends, we dive into a tiered approach to ensuring your business, data, employees, and reputation are protected.  We also discuss emerging compliance requirements and steps you can take to ensure you operate within regulatory, industry, and policy expectations.