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3 Secrets to Avoiding IT Problems

Problem and SolutionIf you are a sole practitioner, a solopreneur, or the owner of smaller businesses, you face unique technology challenges. You, and businesses like yours, are uniquely dependent on your technology.  Your computer and phone are critical tools without which your business can screech to a halt.  Avoiding IT problems is critical. And yet, you do not have time to be the IT guru. You may not have access to, or the budget for, traditional IT services.

The good news is that you can take steps to avoiding IT problems without overspending.

1 Stay Current

When we say “stay current”, we do not mean spending hours reading and studying the lasted IT advancements and opportunities.  Stay Current means keeping your systems up to date.

  • Make sure you regularly apply Windows (or MacOS) updates.
  • Windows Update should also inform you of firmware updates from your laptop manufacturer.
  • If you are not running cloud-based software that updates automatically, make sure your desktop applications are up to date as well.

Staying current with system and application updates ensures you have the latest system-level security protections in place. It is common for security experts to find “holes” in Windows and applications. Updates fix these risks and reduce the chance of a successful malware, ransomware, or other form of cyber attack.

2 Security CPR

Security CPR is our model for pragmatic protection for your business.

  • Communicate & Educate:
    • Know that even your business is a target;
    • Understand the current nature of cybersecurity risks; and
    • Learn how your behavior can prevent or enable attacks.
  • Protect & Prevent:
    • Deploy security solutions focused on stopping the most common type, and the most damaging, cyber attacks on small businesses.
      • Email advanced threat protection and next-gen endpoint protection, for example, protect you from attacks steal your identity and passwords.
      • Proper DNS configuration can stop cyber attackers from impersonating you or your business.
    • Include low-cost and no-cost solutions like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and local disk encryption to prevent access should an account get compromised.
    • Ensure you meet industry and legal security and privacy regulations and requirements; several states are imposing regulations above and beyond more familiar requirements (PCI, HIPAA, etc.).
  • Respond & Recover:
    • No protection or prevention is perfect.
    • Use affordable services that not only recover your data, but let you continue operating while you recovery.
    • Be prepared to address the customer service, legal, and financial aspects of a successful cyber attack. Cyber Insurance is a key component.

Many of your peers assume that security will be too expensive. They see the press coverage and read the articles, failing to realize that tech media targets larger businesses.  Our Security CPR model focuses on balancing risks, protections, and costs to deliver the best value for your business, and smaller business like yours.

Additionally, the model helps you with avoiding IT problems beyond security and compliance. The same solutions help you minimize the risk of hardware problems and software issues while making it easier to recover should something go wrong.

3 Partner with a Pro

If you are worried that you cannot afford expert IT services, you are not alone.  Most sole practitioners and owners of smaller businesses worry about upfront and on-going IT costs. As a result, you may turn to family, friends, or the “guru” in the blue shirt at the store in the mall. Even if your go-to person is in IT,

  • Do they focus on your needs as a small business?
  • Are they available when needed?
  • Do they plan ahead, or only offer guidance when it is time to make a purchase or after a problem?
  • Are they helping you get the most out of the features and capabilities of your IT services?

It is easy to let concerns about cost get in the way of IT services than can truly help you and your business thrive and grow.

A single IT problem can easily cost more, directly and indirectly, than using IT professionals to plan, manage, and support your business. An unexpected failure or cyber attack can disrupt your business for days, resulting in missed deadlines, lost revenue, unexpected costs, and a damaged reputation. Sound planning and active management prevents problems. The right services are key to avoiding IT problems, keeping you operational, and helping you recover should the unexpected happen.

Focus on value.

The right cloud solutions simplify your IT services. Simple reduces the number of things — hardware, software, services — to learn, manage, and support. Matched with the right guidance, management, and support, the right IT services more than pay for themselves.

How Cumulus Global Can Help You Avoid IT Problems

We build our Essential and Basic Managed Services to meet your needs as a solopreneur or owner of a smaller business. Leverage the cloud; focus on key solutions; Rely on expert guidance, management and support.

Explore how our Managed Cloud Services can help you and your business. Click here to schedule a call with a Cloud Advisor or send us an email. There is no cost and no obligation.

About the Author

Bill Seybolt bio pictureBill is a Senior Cloud Advisor responsible for helping small and midsize organizations with cloud forward solutions that meet their business needs, priorities, and budgets. Bill works with executives, leaders, and team members to understand workflows, identify strategic goals and tactical requirements, and design solutions and implementation phases. Having helped over 200 organizations successfully adopt cloud solutions, his expertise and working style ensure a comfortable experience effective change management. 

 

The #1 Security Solution that Costs You Nothing: Multi-Factor Authentication

Security KeyWe have all seen and heard the warnings about the ever increasing number of cyber attacks against small business.  More than crypto-ware, small and midsize businesses are targets of other forms for ransomware, impersonation, crypto-mining, and business email compromise attacks. The threats are real, as are the operational and financial risks to your business. Multi-Factor Authentication, or MFA, is an effective, “no cost” solution.

Along with the warnings, you are likely, almost certain, to receive pitches, promos, and offers for a never-ending array of security tools and services.  Like other small and midsize businesses, you lack the bottomless budget. You cannot do it all; you need to prioritize your spending on security products and services with the biggest bang for the buck.  “No Cost” solutions are, of course, the best option when they work.

Protect versus Prevent With Free Multi-Factor Authentication

Some security solutions protect your and your systems, other prevent access and actions.  The difference is important.

Protection solutions help stop attacks from happening.  Services like advanced threat protection and next-gen endpoint protection stop phishing, infecting attachments, and dangerous link attacks by blocking the attack from reaching you or your team.

Prevention solutions stop attackers from successfully accessing your systems and data.  These solutions work after a cyber-attacker has figured out, or purchased, your identity.

In reality, you need both types of solutions. Protection solutions provide the broad shield against targeted and broad scale attacks. Since no protection is perfect, prevention solutions stop the attackers before they can get in and do damage.

“No Cost” Prevention: MFA

The good news is that you can deploy the most effective prevention solution, Multi-Factor Authentication, at “no cost.” We put “no cost” in quotes because, while the basic solution is free, you will need to spend some time setting it up and educating your team.

Multi-Factor Authentication is an authentication method that requires the user to provide two or more verification factors to gain access or entry to a system, application, or other online account or resource.  Most of the applications and systems you use, including Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, include MFA as security feature and option.

These integrated MFA services often provide the second level of verification via SMS message, single-use link, and/or an authenticator app on your smart phone. In general, using an authenticator app is considered more secure than SMS message or single-use link.

As reported by Microsoft in 2019, MFA can block more than 99.9% of account compromise attacks.  If a cyber attacker has your username and password, MFA is the best way to prevent them from getting in and doing harm.

Overcoming Objections with a Free MFA

When putting MFA in place, you may get some pushback or hesitation from your team.

  • MFA does add extra steps when logging in, an inconvenience for your team.
  • As you likely run several apps and systems, your team will need to setup multiple entries in one, or more, authenticator apps.
  • Your team may need to create and save “backup access codes” in case of system or access issues.

While your team may object to the inconvenience, the added effort is reasonable given the level of prevention.

You Can Do More with a Free Multi-Factor Solution

If the number of accounts, passwords, and MFA services is too much, you have options. While they come with a price tag, single sign-on (SSO) and identity and access management (IAM) services can minimize the inconvenience.  Most small and midsize businesses do not see the value given the cost, but it remains an option.

We Can Help

Configuring and managing MFA is part of our Basic, Business, and Premium Managed Cloud Services. We can also help you put MFA in place for your current IT services. For more information, 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.

SaaSOps: Adapting the enterprise model for small and midsize businesses

SaaSOpsThe term “SaaSOps” was first coined by David Politis, founder of BetterCloud. SaaSOps, short for Software-as-a-Service Operations, is the suite of processes, skills, and responsibilities for managing the lifecycle of software delivered as a cloud service. Most small and midsize businesses use multiple SaaS applications.

By effectively and efficiently managing these applications, we reduce operating costs and security risks.

The 5 SaaSOps Processes

Adapting the enterprise model for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), SaaSOps encompasses the following five processes.

1. Adoption

SaaS Adoption begins with discovery.  Discovery includes both (1) Selecting SaaS applications your business needs or wants; and (2) Identifying the SaaS applications in use by your team. In today’s world of cloud services, individual employees are likely signing up to use SaaS applications that they want or think they need. These are often free, or low cost, consumer oriented services. Often referred to as “Shadow IT”, these apps sit outside your control and outside of your security protections.  Selecting which SaaS applications you will use, as a company, and which you will not, sets the stage for successful operations.

2. Optimization

Optimizing SaaS operations requires cross-application and in-application analysis.  By examining SaaS applications and services, and how they are used, you can identify and remove redundant features and data sets.  Streamlining applications and systems in-use lowers complexity, support requirements, and cost.  Within applications, license management is key to ensure you do not under- or over-license your services.  Beyond the cost implications, unused licenses pose a security risk.

3. Management

SaaS Management includes the lifecycles for both users and applications.  If done well, SaaS Management automates common tasks prone to administrative error.

User lifecycle events focus on properly managing on-boarding, off-boarding, and mid-lifecycle changes.  These events cover accounts, access, security, permissions, and integrations users need to perform their jobs across your SaaS applications and services.  User lifecycle management also includes group management.  The ability to automate group membership based on user attributes gives you the ability to manage uses based on roles and responsibilities.

Application management focuses on application configuration, ensuring accounts, access, security, and data management. Active configuration management creates a dependable service for users.

4. Security

This includes five key integrated security pillars:

  1. Discovery of sensitive data, including data subject to industry or legal regulations.
  2. Mitigation of oversharing of data, externally and within your organization.
  3. App monitoring and remediation, spanning availability, access, and performance.
  4. User behavior analytics, providing data to support operations, planning, and improvements.
  5. Least privilege access management, ensuring

5. Experience

SaaSOps changes — improves — your business’ overall experience with your cloud-based services. The impact is visible to your employees and your IT administration.

  • Automation simplifies tasks and reduces administrative, security, and other errors while improving your IT team’s ability to respond quickly to change and support requests.
  • Change management ensures decisions to alter services are known and documented and helps ensure you remain compliant with policies, industry standards, and regulations.
  • Managed Access and Rights reinforces company policies, maintains compliance, and enables employees to access the applications, services, and data needed for their jobs.

In Summary

As your use of cloud services grows, implementing SaaSOps solutions becomes an important management tool.  Beyond monitoring and managing costs, SaaSOps helps reduce management and administration errors, provides a better experience for IT teams and end users, and improves security. The incremental cost to deploy SaaSOps tools delivers savings while reducing risk.

Call To Action

Schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors or contact us to discuss how best you can support your remote and hybrid workers. The conversation is free, without obligation, and 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.

Security Best Practices to Protect Your Admin Accounts

Data Protection & SecurityIn any client environment, it is critical for you to protect your admin account with current security best practices. Most cloud services have multiple levels of admin accounts, including a super admin with the ability to access, manage, and change every configuration and security settings.  In many cloud services, “super admin” accounts also have blanket access to your data.  In effect your super admin and admin accounts hold the keys to your kingdom.

Protecting and managing admin accounts is critical for keeping your data and your business secure.

Here are four security best practices for managing and protecting admin accounts.

1 Multi-Factor Authentification

While we recommend multi-factor authentication (‘MFA”, also known as Two Factor Authentication or Two-Step Verification) for all user accounts, the added protection of MFA is critical for super admin and admin accounts.  MFA helps to protect your admin account by preventing somebody from using stolen or compromised credentials to access your cloud services, your data, and your business.

For Super Admin accounts, consider a FIDO-compliant security key.  These keys, or fobs, are physical devices that provide a timed access code required to log in. Keys provide the most secure method for multi-factor authentication, and are our number one recommendation when it comes to security best practices for administrator accounts.

2Secondary Super Admin Access

Even a super admin account can be lost or compromised.  Should this happen, you need a way to perform critical admin tasks while you recover the super admin account.  You have a few options, as follows.

  • Create a second, dedicated, super admin account.  While this comes with a licensing cost, you are not giving additional privileges to other admins or users.
  • Assign super admin rights to an existing admin or user. You avoid any increased fees, but grant privileges which can be accidentally or intentionally misused. These privileges can include access to sensitive data, archives, and the ability to alter security settings.
  • Engage your cloud partner/reseller. If your cloud partner/reseller has the ability to recover super admin accounts and/or reset super admin passwords, make sure you have a service or support agreement in place that covers admin account password reset and account recovery.

3Force Logout Super Admins

Day to day admin services can and should be performed by Admin accounts with permissions to perform specific sets of tasks.  User your Super Admin account for specific administrative and security tasks not permissioned to other Admin accounts.

As a Super Admin: Log in. Perform the specific task. Log out.

If possible, set your system to automatically log out Super Admin accounts if idle for a short period of time.

4Privileged Access Management

Our final best practices to protect your admin account includes Privileged Access Management, or PAM, which limits access to critical security and administrative functions. Permission is granted to specific functions, upon request by another Admin or the system, for a limited amount of time. Using PAM provides additional tracking of who/when/why for critical settings and tasks.

Call To Action

Take a look at your cyber security. Complete our Rapid Security Assessment (free through June 2023) for a review of your basic security measures.

Contact us or schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors to discuss your cyber security protections and/or your broader security needs, priorities, and solutions.

About the Author

Chris CaldwellChristopher Caldwell is the COO and a co-founder of Cumulus Global.  Chris is a successful Information Services executive with 40 years experience in information services operations, application development, management, and leadership. His expertise includes corporate information technology and service management; program and project management; strategic and project-specific business requirements analysis; system requirements analysis and specification; system, application, and database design; software engineering and development, data center management, network and systems administration, network and system security, and end-user technical support.

The High Cost of Low Adoption

Roughly 53% of the more than 33 million small and midsize businesses in the US rely on cloud services.  The vast majority use Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace for basic productivity tools: email, calendars, contacts, and files. The popularity is due, in part, to the ease of deployment.  You can quickly deploy either of the productivity suites and have your team on-board, running, and using basic features. Within Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, however, our cloud adoption tends to be fairly low.

We should look past the basics.  Both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 offer a deep range of capabilities.  As small and midsize business owners and leaders, we should assess how well we are using these tools.  Better cloud adoption improves productivity, communication, and security. Higher cloud adoption within Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 also saves you money.

Improve Productivity

Studies show that typical users only leverage 10-15% of their Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace suites. With low cloud adoption, our teams fall into usage patterns that mimic prior systems rather than taking advantage of new capabilities.  Examples of habits that hurt productivity include:

  • Inefficient meetings
  • Poor inbox and email management
  • Searching for information
  • Limiting “collaboration” to attachments and file shares

Education and support enables your team to overcome these common productivity killers. Motivating your team to learn and use the 85-90% untapped potential helps them become more capable and effective in their roles.

Remove Duplicate Application Costs

Improving cloud adoption of Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace eliminates your need to pay for many other applications and services.

  • Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive for Desktop remove the need for Dropbox, Box, file servers, and local network storage.
  • Google Meets and Microsoft Teams replace Zoom, WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Adobe Connect, and paid audio conferencing services.
  • Microsoft Yammer and Google Chat preempt the need for Slack, Jive, Facebook for Work, and other social messaging apps.
  • Features in Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar eliminate the need for third party scheduling tools like Scheduly.
  • Google Voice and Microsoft Teams offer low cost VoIP telephony services than many other providers.

With fewer applications and services, you pay less in subscription fees and reduce support costs. Your team has fewer logins and fewer applications to learn. You spend less time managing integration and updates.

Reduce Your Security Risk

Improving cloud adoption is more than using additional features.  Successful cloud adoption includes learning how to best use the features you need.  With your data in the cloud, you rely on users making good decisions to avoid compromising security or data protections.  We often see teams where employees fall into these security traps:

  • Sharing files inappropriately
  • Emailing sensitive information
  • Incorrectly granting permissions internally or with external parties
  • Bypassing permission and security by storing files locally or in other systems

Matching appropriate security settings and protections with proper training, your team will make better data decisions. Understanding how to work efficiently within security guidelines eliminates the need, and motivation, to work-around protections.

Maximize Your Investment

Your Microsoft 365 or Google subscription may be one of your larger IT budget line items. Why leave that value untapped?  In both environments, we frequently observe under utilization of applications, features, and resources.  Some of the commonly underutilized capabilities include:

  • OneDrive for Business and Google Drive for Desktop
  • Microsoft Teams and Google Meets
  • SharePoint Online and Google Shared Drives and Sites
  • Security features and functions.

Ensure your team knows how to fully utilize the capabilities you have.  Doing so prevents them from using “shadow IT” — using other apps and services without your knowledge.

Create a Culture of Self-Learning

When your team adopts a culture of self-learning, they will optimize their use of the IT services you provide.  Your job: provide the leadership and resources your team needs in place to train and continue to develop their skills.

The results:

  • More productive individuals and teams
  • Fewer IT systems and services that lower costs
  • Improved security and data management
  • Better returns on your IT investments and spending

Your Call To Action

Schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors or contact us to discuss ways to upskill your team, reduce IT redundancy, and streamline your IT budget. The conversation is free, without obligation, and at your convenience.

About the Author

Bill SeyboltBill is a Senior Cloud Advisor responsible for helping small and midsize organizations with cloud forward solutions that meet their business needs, priorities, and budgets. Bill works with executives, leaders, and team members to understand workflows, identify strategic goals and tactical requirements, and design solutions and implementation phases. Having helped over 200 organizations successfully adopt cloud solutions, his expertise and working style ensure a comfortable experience effective change management. 

The State and Future of Remote Work

As noted in a recent article published by American City Business Journals, the state and future of remote work are still up for debate.  Remote work and hybrid work arrangements continue to face resistance. Our reduced need for office space still impacts city centers and commercial real estate markets.  And yet, employees still want remote and hybrid work arrangements. The desire to have work-from-home options is strong enough that many employees will take pay cuts in exchange for the flexibility.

Some of the Data

Work from Home Research noted that paid full days worked out of office was about 27%, year to date, in 2023.  This represents a very slight decrease from recent months.

In February 2023:

  • 60% of employees worked full-time in the office
  • 28% of employees worked in a hybrid arrangement
  • 12% of employees worked remotely full time

40% of employees continue to work some or all of their time outside the office.

A recent study by Robert Half found:

  • 28% of job postings were advertised as remote
  • 32% of employees who work in the office at least one (1) day per week would take an average 18%  pay cut to work remotely full time

Data from the Federal Reserve indicates that:

  • From 2020 to 2021, during the surge in remote work, productivity jumped from 108.57 per hour to 115.3 per hour
  • In 2022, productivity dropped slightly as more employees returned to the office

Using the Data

Remote and hybrid work arrangements will likely continue as companies and employees work to find the right balance for the company and employees.  As small business leaders, we understand that remote work is an attractive feature of job postings, and 1/3 of employees would take a pay cut or change jobs to work remotely.

We need to manage our remote and hybrid work arrangements in ways that employees see as flexible and accommodating. 

In-person interactions with colleagues can improve morale and enhance company culture. It makes sense that we want most employees in the office, interacting face-to-face, at least some of the time.

Employees see most hybrid work arrangements as designed to meet the needs of the company, not employees.  Employees see incentives, such as free meals and other “perks”, as gimmicks to attract employees to the office without addressing employees’ needs.  We need to present hybrid work arrangements honestly in terms of company needs and priorities and those of the employees. If we provide a real balance of needs and priorities, employees will feel respected and heard. They will be more accepting of change.

The Role of Technology

We have no doubts about the power of technology to empower your employees to do their best work — in office or remotely.  Many small businesses scrambled to support remote work at the onset of the pandemic.  These solutions were often rushed and, as such, less efficient or effective than needed.  Too many of us, however, have not stepped back to assess, revise, and improve our IT support for remote and hybrid work.

We need support and technologies in place to ensure the long-term viability of remote and hybrid work.

Employees, when working remotely, want and need the same resources and abilities as when they are working in the office.  They want the same user experience regardless of where or how they work.  At the same time, we need to ensure our systems and data remain secure and protected.

When assessing your IT services, make sure you have the SPARC you need:

  • Security
  • Performance
  • Availability
  • Reliability
  • Cost

Leveraging cloud services, you can provide secure access to your systems and data, with a consistent user experience, at a reasonable cost.

Calls To Action

1. Read 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.

2. Schedule time with one of our Cloud Advisors or contact us to discuss how best you can support your remote and hybrid workers. The conversation is free, without obligation, and 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.

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.

2022 SMB IT Security Needs Study Highlights & Contradictions

Security firm Action 1 recently published the results of its 2022 SMB IT Security study after surveying 750 small and midsize businesses.Data Protection & Security

Key Findings and Contradictions of the Action1 SMB Report

It is no secret that perceptions about our security risks differ from reality.  Not surprisingly, some of the 2022 SMB IT security needs survey results contradict one another.

52% vs 65% vs 37%

52% of respondents acknowledge that they lack sufficient skills and technology to effectively protect against cyber attacks. But 65% believe the cost of protection is too high and 37% complain that security controls hurt productivity. Businesses clearly struggle to balance the security they need with the cost and the user experience. Often SMBs are presented with security solutions designed – and priced – for larger organizations. As employees use added security steps for everyday transactions (online banking, etc.), the overhead of security protocols is less intrusive.

63% vs 81% vs 40%

While 63% believe that their SMB faces a lower cyber risk compared to larger companies, 81% of respondents had at least one security incident within the past 12 months. 40% of SMBs had 2 or more incidents. Too many SMBs continue to have a false sense of security. Cyber criminals understand that is easier to hack 10, or even 100, small businesses than it is to successfully attack 1 large enterprise. And with current tools, cyber attacks are inexpensive to launch and manage.

Where the Security Risks Exist

40% vs 39% vs 34%

The most common forms of successful cyber attacks are password attacks (40%), ransomware or other malware (39%), and phishing (34%). Note that these forms of attack are not mutually exclusive.  One form of attack, malware for example, can be used to gather the information needed for a successful password breach.

63% vs 43%

Looking at root causes, 63% of SMB IT Security study respondents noted that attacks began with phishing.  Unpatched systems were the starting point for 43% of attacks. These numbers make sense as these attack vectors provide access to information that supports further attacks.

Who is Helping

96% vs 23%

The vast majority of SMBs rely on outside experts for help with their security needs.  93% of respondents use an IT firm for at least some of their IT security needs.  That said, 23% of small businesses are looking to replace their IT service providers in the coming year. While security is not the only trigger for changing providers, it is one consideration.

48% vs 33% vs 29%

SMBs responded that poor system performance (48%), system outages (33%), and long problem resolution times (29%) are the three primary reasons for switching service providers. Each of these issues relate to business interruptions.

2022 SMB Security Study Conclusions

Examining the SMB IT Needs Security Study results, we see three clear conclusions.

  1. Failing to recognize the risks leads business owners to under value security technology and services.  The cost to respond and recover to a single incident dwarfs the cost of reasonable protections.  For SMBs, the average successful cyber attack can disrupt business operations for 18 to 21 days at a total cost to recover exceeding $200,000.
  2. With 50% of employees working remotely, at least part time, individuals and systems are more exposed to attack. Physical security is no longer sufficient. SMBs need a security services designed to protect against the most common and the most costly types of cyber attacks.
  3. As an IT service provider, we must ensure that our services, first and foremost, do no harm.  While security protocols can introduce some inconveniences, our services cannot interfere with performance, availability, or reliability.

Next Steps to Improve Your IT Security

Step back and take a look at your security services and footprint.  Our Rapid Security Assessment is a quick and simple starting point to identify security gaps. You can also schedule a call with one of our Cloud Advisors to review your security and IT services.

 

IT Security for Small Businesses

Security, Privacy, & ComplianceStreamlining IT Security for SMBs

Streamlining IT security is a more balanced message about why and how to protect your business. Over the past year, we have covered the on-going, and increasing, threats to small businesses.  We often highlight the scope and severity of the risk, including how security trends will affect small business.  Hopefully this information, along with cost-effective solutions, prompts you to act. At times, we may appear to be fear-mongering.

Sound business practices, not fear, should be your motivation to protect against cyber attacks.

The market is awash with cyber security solutions. These range from single-protection products to complex advanced security monitoring and response services.  The number of options, and competing claims, is overwhelming.

Our Recommendations on IT Security for Small Businesses

Focus protections on the most common, and most damaging, types of attacks.

1. Focus on Risks

We know that:

  • More than 80% of cyber attacks start with, or involve email via phishing and other social engineering tactics
  • Ransomware is the most common type of attack
  • Business email compromise (BEC) is the most costly type of attack
  • Attacks via DNS and web content are becoming more of a risk

As such, small and midsize businesses should focus on preventing these types of attacks. Plan to limit your security approach and spending to prevention and recovery from these risks.

2. Use our CPR model as a guide

Communication and Education

Make sure your team knows how to spot an attack and what to do if they suspect an attack.  They should know the risks and steps you are taking to protect your business.

Periodically sharing articles or updates may be sufficient to strengthen your business.  Subscribing to a security awareness training service is an affordable way to provide this education. Your cyber insurance policy may require this service.

Protect and Prevent

To protect your business from the greatest risks, put the following solutions in place:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
  • Encrypt data at rest, including on servers, desktops, and laptops
  • Use advanced threat protection (ATP) on all email accounts for inbound messages
  • Ensure your endpoint protection (local anti-virus) is a next-gen solution
  • Use DNS/Web protection to prevent harmful downloads

Specific to business email compromise attacks and ensuring your legitimate emails are not flagged as dangerous, ensure your domain configuration include the following protocols and services:

  • An accurate and complete Sender Policy Framework (SPF) record
  • DomainKey Identified Mail (DKIM) for all sources of email (including marketing tools)
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC)

Respond and Recover

Even with protections in place, cyber attacks can be successful.  Ensure that you can return to operations quickly, even as a full recovery may take time. Your ability to recover and respond should include:

  • Backup/Recover data stored in the cloud (Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, etc.), as well as on local servers, desktops, and laptops
  • Continuity services so you can run images of key servers, desktops, and laptops if they are damaged by an attack

Note that continuity services also protects you from the impact of hardware issues, theft, and other losses.

Start with an Assessment to See Where Your Small Business Stands with IT Security

For a limited time, our Rapid Security Assessment is free of charge. Complete a 3 minute survey and receive a detailed report benchmarking your basic security services with respect to the most common cyber attacks against small and midsize enterprises.  

To learn more, please join us on May 17th at 3:00 PM ET for Streamlining Security, our May 3T@3 Webcast or schedule a no-obligation call with one of our cloud advisors.


Business Email Compromise – The Costliest Type of Cybercrime

Email, Communications, & MobilityBusiness Email Compromise

While the massive number and scale of ransomware attacks get the most media attention, Business Email Compromise (“BEC“) attacks are the costliest type of cybercrime.

What is a Business Email Compromise (BEC)?

In a BEC attack, the criminal impersonates you and convinces somebody who trusts you to send money. While successful attacks often begin with unauthorized access to your email account, savvy criminals use email and domain impersonation techniques. They trick others into thinking that you are asking for, or instructing them to complete, a money transfer.

As we noted in a recent post, real estate agents and brokers are prime targets of Business Email Compromise attacks because they regularly discuss transferring large amounts of money with their clients. As noted in this recent email scam article from the Associated Press, however, BEC attacks are hitting a wide range of small businesses, nonprofits, and schools.

Business Email Compromise attacks succeed when cyber criminals are able to collate enough information about you to gain access to your account or impersonate you.  Here is how they do it:

  • Given that you use your email address to log into many systems, a third party breach can provide attackers with your email address and enough information to calculate your password.
  • Third party breaches often provide hackers with enough personally identifiable information (PII) about you to launch a successful phishing attack that captures your username and password.
  • Scanning social media posts can also provide hackers with enough PII to successfully phish for your identity.
  • Malware, known as an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT), that makes it past your endpoint protections can gather usernames, passwords, and other information while running undetected on your computer.

How to Prevent Business Email Compromise

Protect Your Identity

To keep your email account secure, you need to protect your identity.

  • Understand the risks and follow practical advice for safe online hygiene. Use unique, complex passwords across systems; avoid oversharing personal information; and learn to recognize phishing and impersonation attacks.
  • Use “Next-Gen” endpoint protections to prevent zero-day attacks, APTs, and more traditional forms malware.  These solutions use heuristics, AI, and behavioral analysis of files to identify an attack. They can also “roll back” changes to stop an attack.

Secure Your Email Service, and All of Your Services

Even as you protect your identity, you still need to secure your email service through proper data protection and security services.

  • Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) protects your account from phishing attacks, bad links, infected attachments, and other risks. ATP verifies sender information and test links and attachments in a “sandbox”, allowing safe messages to arrive in your inbox.
  • Two-Factor Authentication (2FA), or Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), can prevent access to your accounts if your username and password are compromised.
  • Ensure that all of your information is encrypted at-rest and in-motion. Your email service should use Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt messages between sending and receiving services.  Encrypt files on your local disk, on any file servers, and in the cloud.

Prevent Email and Domain Impersonation

As noted in a recent blog post, you can use three (3) different levels of email security to prevent email and domain impersonation.

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF): Authenticates addresses you use to send email.
  • DomainKeys Identified Email (DKIM): Digitally signs messages to ensure emails are not altered en-route.
  • Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance (DMARC): Authenticates email origin and instructs recipients how to process bad messages. A DMARC service will track and report any potential issues.

These protocols and a DMARC monitoring service offer the best protection against BEC and impersonation attacks. They also help improve the deliverability of your email. Our ebook, Email Security: Good, Better, Best, dives deeper into this topic.

For a limited time, our Rapid Security Assessment is free of charge. Complete a 3 minute survey and receive a detailed report benchmarking your basic security services with respect to the most common cyber attacks against small and midsize enterprises.  

 

Webcasts

Streamlining Security

(5/17/2022) – While small businesses are more vulnerable and more frequent targets of cyber attacks, constant fear-mongering and hype does not help. Sound business practices, not fear, should be your motivation to protect against cyber attacks.

Spring Cleaning Your Files

(4/19/2022) – With an understanding of personal file services – OneDrive and My Drive – and domain file services – Shared Drives and Sharepoint, businesses can build a file service that organizes and protects files in ways that make them easier to find, share, and use.

Beyond Backup

(3/15/2022) – Map out how restore, recovery, and continuity solutions offer different value propositions for you and your business. Assess total cost and impact when selecting your solution.

Peak Productivity

(2/22/2022) – We all have our jobs to do. We want to do well. We want to succeed. We want and need peak productivity.  While “hacks” are trendy, productivity is boosted when we understand how to best use the tools we have.

Keep IT Simple

(1/25/2022) – Solid IT services are critical to your success, but they consume your time and budget. Using managed services ensures you have effective and affordable services and frees up time and money to focus on your core business activities.

2022 is Here; What’s Next?

(12/14/2021) – COVID-19 triggered fundamental changes in the economy, markets, and society that alter the way we need to operate our businesses and work as individuals. Explore ways small and midsize businesses can better leverage technologies and resources to respond to these challenges.

Four Cornerstones for Cloud Security

(11/16/2021) – Four security cornerstones create a solid foundation for your cloud security. Assess your security footprint; Identify security gaps; Prioritize changes and security services.

Cloud File Services

(10/19/2021) – Moving to a managed cloud file service can improve access, productivity, and resilience without sacrificing security and budget.

Small Business Guide to Cyber Threats, Security, and Response

(6/15/2021) – A practical guide to cyber threats and security. We will share data that quantifies the most prevalent types of risks and will outline practical, reasonable, and affordable steps you can take to both protect your business and, should an attack succeed, respond and recover.

Productivity Suites: Google and Microsoft Revisited

(5/18/2021) – Take a fresh look at Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 and how each might best serve your business. Rather than a feature-by-feature comparison, we take a strategic look at positioning, architecture, services, subscription options, and integrations.