6 tips to protect your important customer data

As cyber-attacks continue to make headlines, hackers are exposing or selling customer data files in record numbers. But just like with any threat, there are actions you can take to minimize risk and ensure your business retains a positive reputation among customers.

1. Stop using the same password on repeat. Set a mandate for all staff that passwords must be unique for each user and for your workplace. That means it can’t be remotely like the one on their home PC, tablet or online banking. Passwords are hacked more than ever, so when you’re prompted for a password change, dig deep and really think about what goes into a hacker-proof password. If remembering them is a problem, consider one of the latest password management tools like Lastpass.

2. Go on a shredding spree. How much sensitive data is being dumped into the recycling bin? Valuable customer data is often taken from the bins of small businesses and quickly sold or published. It’s not just good practice to shred sensitive documents, it’s the law. Take 5 seconds to run documents through the shredder or book in the services of a secure shredding company.

3. Train staff explicitly. You can’t rely on common sense because what you think is a given might be news to someone else. It can be extremely beneficial to hold special data-safety training sessions once or twice a year as a reminder, as well as take the time to induct new staff into the way things are done.

4. Limit access to data. Just like the bank manager who guards the keys to the vault, you can limit who accesses your data. Revoke employee access as soon as they leave your business for good, and set rules around who can access what – and when. Do they need access to sensitive information while working from home? Should they be able to change the files, or only view them?

5. Keep your software updated. Possibly the most preventable hack, having outdated software can be an open invitation for cyber-criminals. They look for known weaknesses in business software and waltz right in. While the nagging pop-ups and reminders to update can feel like a selling ploy, they’re actually helping your business to stay in the safe zone. Updated software gives you protection against new viruses and hacking techniques, plus closes off those nasty weaknesses.

6. Ditch the accounting spreadsheets. Still using an Excel doc for all your number-crunching? Besides making your accountant’s job harder (and more expensive), you’re opening your business to a massive range of vulnerabilities. Even with password-protection, spreadsheets aren’t designed to safeguard your financials or those of your clients. Upgrade to a proper accounting solution with built-in customer data protections and security guarantees.

If you need assistance with your business contact us today! 719-924-5227

New gadget? Steps to take to ensure you stay safe.

It’s tons of fun getting a new device. Whether it’s a new desktop, laptop or phone: the thrill of getting it home and opening the box is great. We know, we love tech too. It even has its own version of new car smell! Once you get it home though, there are a number of things that need to be done before it’s really usable – beyond snazzing it up with a new case or mousepad.

The sellers like to say it’s ready to use straight from the box – and it is at a base level – maybe not quite the way you need it to work. They’ll all turn on, look for wifi, and sure, you can type…but rather like when you buy a new fridge, simply turning it on isn’t enough – it’s still empty and you’re still hungry. A few minutes now to prep your new device will save you time, stress, and quite possibly money.

This is a long and detailed list, so keep it for future reference or forward it to your friends that may be in the market for a new machine!

Install all Security Updates and Fixes

From the factory to your hands, that device has been in the box for at least a month. In the world of security, that’s an eternity. During that time on the shelf, new viruses have come out and new software weaknesses have been discovered. Fortunately, new updates to combat these problems were also created, they just haven’t been downloaded to your device yet. The first thing you should do after turning the new device on is to use its update feature to get all updates installed. That way, you know your device is safe to go online.

Install a Security Suite

This may not be necessary for most mobile devices, but if you have a new Windows machine or even a Mac, we STRONGLY suggest investing in a high quality security package. Not all antivirus programs are created equal, and often times the one that may come ‘free’ on your machine is only there because it was cheap for the manufacturer or reseller to provide. For consumer use, we recommend ESET Smart Security by NOD32 or Bitdefender. We even have a managed business grade antivirus based on Bitdefender that we can provide for a similar price than most residential grade products! Contact us if you are interested in being protected by the professionals at Little Dog Tech rather than a freebee.

Setting up Hardware

If your new device is a computer, you’ll need to hook it up to extra tech like a printer or webcam. These tasks that should be plug-and-play can sometimes send you loopy, especially when you’ve got a plug mismatch or incompatible drivers. One hint is to not use the disks that came with the machine. Instead, go online to the manufacture’s website to download the newest version of drivers and software to ensure compatibility. Some common websites are:





Be careful Googling a manufacturer’s support website, many scammers will put up ads and pretend to be support for a certain company but charge you astronomical amounts of money for something that may actually be free!

Setting up the Network

There are two types of networks in the residential world, wired and wireless. Wired connections are always best, so if your new computer is going to be located near your router or an active ethernet plug, use that. But, more and more people these days are using wireless connections. This is great, but it can be slower and less stable and the biggest problem we see is people don’t know what their wireless pass-key is! If you don’t have record of what your key was, you will either need to retrieve it from another connected machine, connect to the router with a wire to access it and extract the key, or reset your router to defaults and set it up again from scratch. These are more complicated tasks than what I can explain in a newsletter, so if you run into this issue we can help!

Backup, Backup, Backup

This is a great time to think about having a robust backup procedure in place. You would hate to get everything moved over to your new machine and find out that you have a dud and have lost everything! Or, why not set this all up now so when the device does inevitably fail, you know you can recover from that disaster. There are MANY different types of backups out there from online to local to a hybrid approach. Contact us to let us design the perfect backup plan for your devices.

Data Transfer From Old to New

Some people want to transfer everything from one device to another, others like to have a fresh start and keep the old device as a backup. You can either transfer your data in its entirety, or just copy the things you use. For mobile devices, the major manufacturers have built in tools for this, like iCloud backup on iPhones.

For computers, the process can be a little more manual. You can keep it simple by copying data to a flash drive on the old computer, then copying it to the new computer. Or, we can use some specialized software to move over files as well as some settings, configurations, and even your wallpaper! We can even turn your old hard drive into an external drive that you can plug into your new computer and grab files as required.

Setting up Email and Software

Email is one thing people commonly forget and then struggle with. If you use a web browser based e-mail solution like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail, there may not be anything to set up. Just visit the website and sign in (I hope you remember your password!) to get your mail. But, if you use an e-mail client such as outlook, Windows mail, or Thunderbird, they will need special configuration to connect properly. Also, the databases from the old machine may need to be migrated so you still have your old mail. The details vary depending on the existing configuration and program, but it is something we are very familiar with.

Any programs you will need to have on the new computer will need to be reinstalled. It is not feasible to move an installed program from one computer to another. There are programs that claim to do this, but the results are not guaranteed and often buggy. BEFORE you purchase your new machine, you should inventory what software you will need, and spend some time digging up the install disks and licenses. Some programs like Corel, Adobe, and AutoCAD can often cost more than the machine, so it is worth it to keep track of these licenses!

Lockdown Privacy and Permissions

Most newer devices have the ability to create separate accounts for different users. Whether it be a computer or a mobile device, there may be an advantage to setting up a different account for each person who is planning on using the device. The individual users can keep their files, settings, and programs separate from other users to reduce clutter and the chance that other users can ‘mess things up’.

With Windows machines, there is a distinct advantage to setting up the normal day-to-day users as ‘standard’ users without installation rights, and then have one ‘administrative’ user that is carefully used only when higher level functions are needed. This can be VERY helpful with avoiding virus infections because ~95% of virus CANNOT install through a standard user account!

Whether you have children and are looking to provide a safe online experience, files you’d prefer to keep private, or simply want to set up ‘profiles’ for each user to have their own login, we can quickly get your new device configured to meet your needs.

How to tell if your computer has a virus?

Sometimes computers do wacky things that ring alarm bells and make us dive for cover. Next thing you know, you’re running scans on repeat and demanding everyone come clean about their browsing habits. Fortunately, not all weird occurrences are caused by viruses – sometimes your computer is simply overloaded, overheating or in desperate need of a reboot. Here are the tell-tale signs of a malware attack:

Bizarre error messages

Look for messages popping up from nowhere that make no sense, are poorly worded or plain gibberish – especially if they’re about a program you don’t even have. Take note of anti-virus warnings too, check that the warning is from YOUR anti-virus software and looks like it should. If a message pops up that isn’t quite right, don’t click. Not even to clear or cancel the message. Close the browser or shut down the computer instead, then run a full scan, preferably with a DIFFERENT scanner than what you have installed. After all, if the bug got past what you have installed, it probably won’t be detected the second time around!

Suddenly deactivated anti-virus/malware protection

You know the best way to get past the guard? Send him for a coffee break! Certain viruses are programmed to take out the security systems first, leaving you open to infection. Most security software will warn you if your protection has stopped. If you reboot and your protections aren’t back on the job, you are more than likely under attack. Attempt to start the anti-virus manually through its control panel and you’ll know for sure.

Social media messages you didn’t send

Are your friends replying to messages you never wrote? Are you getting lots of ‘undeliverable’ messages in your inbox? Your login details might have been hacked and your account is sending out spam or scam messages. Your friends may now be tricked into giving up personal information or money. Change your email or social media password immediately, scan your computer for infections, and then advise your friends of the hack so they can steer clear!

Web browser acting up

Perhaps you’ve noticed your homepage has changed, it’s using an odd search engine or opening/redirecting unwanted sites. If your browser has gone rogue, it’s definitely a virus, usually one intended to serve you ads or steal your personal or financial details. Skip the online banking and email until your antivirus scans come up clear and everything is working normally again.

Sluggish performance

If your computer speed has dropped suddenly, boot up takes an eternity, or even moving the mouse has become a chore, it could be a sign that something is wrong. But, not necessarily a virus. Run your anti-virus scan and if that resolves it, great. If not, your computer likely needs a tune-up or repair. You may want to bring the computer in for a diagnostic.

Constant computer activity

You’re off the computer but the hard drive is going nuts, the fans are whirring, and the network lights are flashing like a disco? It’s almost like someone IS using the computer! Viruses and malware attacks use your computer resources, sometimes even more than you do. Take note of what’s normal when the computer is not infected so you can tell when something is out of the ordinary.

Most Businesses wont survive a disaster, can yours?

With the crazy weather we’re seeing, natural disasters on the rise, and cyber terrorism echoing for years, it’s not a case of ‘if’ a disaster will strike your business, but ‘when’. Surprisingly, it’s not the scope and scale of the event that influences how deeply your business is impacted, it’s your business continuity plan.

Put simply, this is the all-important set of precautions and pre-planned responses to an event, laid out in bullet-proof detail and implemented with one driving focus: keeping your business running with little or no downtime. Think about what would happen if your business was hit by a natural disaster tomorrow. Would it survive? How much downtime would it take to push you into dangerous territory?

According to an IBM study of all companies that had a major loss of data, 43% never reopen, 51% close within two years and just 6% will survive long-term. For a fraction of those survivors, business even continued as usual thanks to their ‘failsafe’ business continuity plan. It’s more than disaster recovery, it’s full preparedness that bypasses the need for 2+ weeks of downtime, financial ruin, wasted salaries and reputation loss – but it does require a higher level of planning…in advance.

Recommendations to Put You in the Surviving 6%
Prioritize: You’ll need to plan exactly what you’ll recover first and know who’s in charge of making it happen. It goes beyond jotting down a checklist of things to do, it’s taking an analytical, process-based approach to recovery for each unique business perspective. But it’s also realistic: there’s no point dedicating precious time to reviving the email system if your customer data is leaking onto the internet, even if email did rank as your top communication priority!

Backup: Of course, the most critical part of your business continuity is having full backups in three places. Why three? One copy locally which you use each day, a backup on another (disconnected) device in the same location, and one in the cloud. That local backup is your life-saver for system crashes, cyber-attacks and the like; the cloud backup comes into play when your business has taken a major physical hit, perhaps from fire or flood. Some businesses can run entirely location-independent when using cloud systems like Office365, which can be enough to put them in that 6% of disaster survivors.

Test: Make sure all employees know what the plan is if something goes wrong, and their specific roles in these scenarios. You can test, prepare and rehearse your continuity plan under simulated disaster conditions, which will uncover new obstacles, priorities and additional threats.

As your IT environment becomes more complex, carrying more responsibility and risk, so does the importance of a robust business continuity plan. The best BC plans look beyond disaster recovery, taking into account scalability of your system and scope of your individual business, to create strong battle lines that will keep your business operational, both now and for the long term.

Avoid becoming a victim of social engineering

You can have top-notch security in place but there is still one danger: social engineering. It’s the old kid on the block, but most of us have never heard of it. Perhaps the more familiar term is ‘con’: the art of manipulating people to take certain actions or divulge private information. Social engineers are a special type of hacker who skip the hassle of writing code and go straight to the weakest link in your security defenses – your employees. This is one security threat that can not be fully mitigated through technology, only training! A phone call, a cheap disguise or casual email may be all it takes to gain access, despite having solid tech protections in place. Here are just a few examples of how social engineers work:

Email: Pretending to be a co-worker or customer who ‘just quickly’ needs a certain piece of information. It could be a shipping address, login, contact or personal detail that they pretend they already know, but simply don’t have in front of them. The email may even tell you where to get the data from. The hacker may also create a sense of urgency or indicate a fear that they’ll get in trouble without this information. Your employee is naturally inclined to help and quickly sends a reply.

A great current example of this is a fake email from the boss instructing an assistant to wire money to a certain account number. The assistant may be wary of bothering the boss or maybe just too busy to confirm the request, so they just do it.

Phone: Posing as IT support, government official or customer, the hacker quickly manipulates your employee into changing a password or giving out information. These attacks are harder to identify and the hacker can be very persuasive, even using background sound effects like a crying baby or call-center noise to trigger empathy or trust. To avoid this scam, you need to make sure that your employees stick to a protocol of authenticating the person on the other end of the line when giving out sensitive information no matter what!

Anecdotally, we recently were able to reset a customer’s AOL password simply because the customer on the other end of the line was very distressed sounding. The AOL rep got their manager on the line who overrode the requirements to verify identity first. We were doing this honestly, but an attacker could very well take advantage of this weakness to take over your AOL account!

In person: A delivery man uniform gets past most people without question, as does a repairman. The social engineer can quickly then move into sensitive areas of your business. Once inside, they essentially become invisible, free to install network listening devices, read a Post-it note with a password on it, or tamper with your business in other ways. I have seen this one first hand. I have been able to walk right past receptionists wearing my work uniform with no questions asked!

It’s impossible to predict when and where (or how) a social engineer will strike. The above attacks aren’t particularly sophisticated, but they are extremely effective. Your staff has been trained to be helpful, but this can also be a weakness. So what can you do to protect your business? First, recognize that not all of your employees have the same level of interaction with people, the front desk clerk taking calls all day would be at higher risk than the factory worker, for example. We recommend cyber-security training for each level of risk identified, focusing on responding to the types of scenarios they might find themselves in. Social engineering is too dangerous to take lightly, and far too common for comfort.

Clean your computer to get back to brand new performance!

Remember how well your computer ran when you first brought it home? It was booting so fast, files were whizzing around at light speed, and no matter how many tabs you had open, nothing was slowing that baby down. It was spotless, inside and out. Then one day you turned it on and realized that everything was so slooooow, taking forever to do anything – and that was only if you could even find your files in all the clutter. All that zip and speed you loved so much was gone. The good news is you probably DON’T need a new computer, you can have us clean it or it may simply need what we call a “format and reload” to:

Clear the clutter: Over time as you install applications you collect icons, files, and options everywhere. They’re not necessary, they’re not used, but they were installed automatically ‘just in case’. It’s a bit like when your overnight guest shows up with a massive suitcase and then claims a shelf in your bathroom. Those applications are making themselves at home in a big way! All that uninvited clutter is slowing your system down and making it hard for you to find the things you need. Simply put, it’s a mess.

Beat viral overload: Is the virus really gone? Sometimes a virus has multiple layers and can bury itself so deep even your anti-virus doesn’t see it. Despite getting the all-clear from your anti-virus, you might also be seeing the damage from the infection. Perhaps the virus made a mess of your internal file structure, left pieces of code all over the place, or deleted files essential for smooth running.

Assess incompatible software: Installing a new piece of software can sometimes produce unexpected results. While your system met the hardware and operating system requirements, maybe it’s simply not playing nice with your other applications. Maybe they’re fighting over the same resources, system files, or clashing with one of your hardware components. Clearly, something isn’t quite right, but you’re not sure what.

Archive older files: Some of your files are definite keepers, long term. Your photos, recipes, accounts etc, they’re all important to keep – but are they important to keep sitting on your desktop? They’re not just slowing your computer down, you’re at risk of losing them in a crash. It’s a good idea to periodically go through and clear out what you don’t need, simply let us know what you’d like to keep.

What exactly is a computer cleanup? It’s like a car tune-up, but more flexible. Rather than tick the boxes saying we’ve changed the oil & cleaned the filters etc, we treat each computer as a unique case. Sometimes we can tune it up in an hour, and that’s all it needed. Sometimes it’s worth starting over like day 1 with a format and reinstallation of Windows and important programs.

is your Wi-Fi Keeping up with you?

Wi-Fi has forever changed the way we live, work and play. We can surf the internet on the couch or by the pool, look up a recipe in an instant, and even connect our lights to voice control. It’s no wonder it was accepted with open arms, but is your Wi-Fi as good as it needs to be?

15 years after Wi-Fi first made its way into homes with those mysterious rabbit-eared boxes, it’s evolved into a juggernaut of speed and accessibility that we can’t do without. Think about how many wireless devices your home has – the average home has at least 10 devices connected wirelessly to the internet, many have more.

While older devices are typically happy with a small slice of your internet, newer devices like 4kTVs and media streaming simply can’t function without a fast connection. Add in a game console, tablet, a few smartphones and a laptop or two, and your Wi-Fi is suddenly stretched beyond full capacity and struggling to keep up. Yet, most people don’t know how fast their Wi-Fi is, or if it’s working right– they only know how many bars they’ve got. Unfortunately, counting bars can add up to one big headache.

Here’s why your WiFi may be letting you down:

Bars measure the wrong thing: While it’s great to know you’ve got a ‘strong’ signal, it would be even better if you could have a ‘fast and available’ signal. The internet could actually be down and you’d still have full bars because it’s really only measuring how close to the Wi-Fi router you are. That proximity measure doesn’t take into account how many devices are fighting for the same bandwidth or whether there’s any left for you. We can ensure your Wi-Fi isn’t just available, it’s up to the task.

Wi-Fi goes sideways too: While your neighbor’s Wi-Fi can reach the back of their property, it can also go a similar distance sideways into your house. This extra ‘noise’ can disrupt and slow down your own Wi-Fi. In dense areas, your Wi-Fi is basically getting lost in a swirling field of signals, all using the same channel and frequency. It’s a digital crowd which can seriously slow your speeds. We can fix this by changing your Wi-Fi channel to one with less cross-talk.

Everyone uses the default settings: Most home Wi-Fi uses a 2.4ghz frequency by default. While it makes a plug & play router easy to set up, it does mean you’re not getting the speeds you could be. Switching to the 5ghz frequency means your Wi-Fi is separated from the neighborhood cross-talk. The 5ghz band is also considerably faster, which is a bonus but it has its drawbacks too. We can help you upgrade to a newer 5Ghz-capable router that can provide both frequency bands and automatically switch your device to the best one.

Your house is too big: WiFi radios are limited in transmission power by the FCC. As such, even the fanciest most powerful router can only reach so far. Likewise, even if your super-powerful router can broadcast to the edges of your property, your device may not be strong enough to send a signal back. Sometimes people’s solution to this is to purchase another router (setting up two networks which are cumbersome at best), or adding an off-the-shelf repeater (which isn’t a great solution either). Instead of going down that patch of a segmented unstable network, there are systems for sale that actually allow you to have a seamless single network through your home. These types of networks are called ‘Mesh’ networks, and when implemented properly they can GREATLY increase the coverage and performance of your network.

Priority isn’t set: While not Wi-Fi specific, we can also set up “Quality of Service” if your router supports it or supply you with one that does. This allows things like Netflix and Skype calls to always take priority and remain uninterrupted over less important tasks like downloads. You’ll be able to watch movies without those awful buffering jumps and video chat without freezing.

Why a firewall is never enough

Firewalls are a well-known security essential, and we’re certainly big fans, but did you know a firewall alone is not enough to keep your business safe? It’s like building a fence around your city to keep the burglars out: You feel safe, private and secure… but the reality is, anyone with a ladder, enough motivation or ninja skills poses a real threat. That’s why despite every networked business having a firewall in place, security breaches are increasing at an alarming rate – further protections are still needed.

A few strategic, well-planned measures can provide all the protection your business needs to keep operating without costly downtime. While it’s cool to imagine a system so secure you’ll be opening doors with retinal scanners, using synchronized keys to activate the server and dodging pressure-triggered plates around the storage drives, the reality is infinitely more usable and affordable. In fact, we’ll help you choose the perfect measures that blend invisibly into your existing processes, boosting security without affecting productivity. Take a look at some of our managed service inclusions:

Proper firewall configuration

While not enough by itself, your firewall is still your first line of defense like the wall around your city. However, there’s a huge difference between the generic firewall that comes standard with your Windows installation, and one specifically chosen for your business and set up properly. Without properly locked doors and monitored gates, your firewall may as well not even be there. Our technicians will work with you to identify which traffic should be allowed, eg remote employee access, and which should be automatically blocked.

Workstation antivirus

Like a bouncer standing at the door to your building, it is the job of antivirus software to check every file being downloaded to your company’s computers and watch every program that runs. So, even if a bad guy gets past the perimeter defenses they will likely be spotted by the antivirus software. Without this layer of protection, it is easy for an attacker to have their way with your files.

Web Filtering

What’s better than detecting and stopping malicious files on your computer? Preventing your users from even downloading them from the internet in the first place! Web filtering acts as a middle-man while you are browsing the web and stops users from being able to even visit a site with known issues. We can also restrict websites based on categories like adult material or social networking if desired.

Patch Management

Keeping with the analogy of a firewall is like a wall around your city and an antivirus is like a bouncer at the door, software patching is like having someone fixing newly found holes in your walls that could potentially let the bad guys in. Instead of counting on your employees to update to the newest version of Java or Adobe Reader, automated software can take care of this for you.

Access restrictions

It is best practice to give employees access to only the files they need to do their job. It’s not a matter of trust, but rather one of security. If they were the one to accidentally let the attackers through the firewall, perhaps by clicking an email link, you’re then able to minimize the damage. Without this added layer of protection, it’s relatively easy to access (and damage) any and all files on the network.

Encrypt confidential files

More secure than simply password locking a file, encryption uses a secret ‘key’ to scramble the files and their contents so that when anyone else tries to view them all they see is incomprehensible nonsense. This way, if an attacker does manage to access or steal vital files, they don’t get anything useful! Encryption is especially useful on mobile devices that can easily be misplaced or stolen when traveling.

Backup Backup Backup!

As a final layer of defense, when all other protections have been circumvented, it is important to be able to recover from a disaster. If an attacker does manage to access and hold your network for ransom, with the proper backup in place we can simply wipe the slate clean and restore to the way it was before the attack.

No one type of protection is 100% perfect. Something (or someone) will inevitably get through. That’s why computer security works best when it’s multi-layered. When one protection fails, the next layer kicks in to keep your business safe. And then the next, and the next…but that doesn’t mean you need CIA level security that gets in your way. Most of the above protections are easily affordable for small businesses, we use all of the above ourselves!

What you can do if your Hard Drive is failing

If your hard drive is going bad, chances are strange things are happening and you’re a little panicked. It’s where you put your digital memories, your household files and maybe that thesis you’ve been working on for months. As far as you’re concerned, that hard drive IS the computer and failure is not an option. Perhaps it was overheated, knocked around or came from the factory with a flaw.

Sorry to say, but eventually all hard drives will fail, even external hard drives and USB flash drives. So how do you know if it’s definitely the drive and what should you do?

Start by watching for these signs:

Your computer slowing down: Because most hard drives contain moving parts, the slower it gets, the slower your computer gets. It’s a bit like a record player, with spinning plates and a needle whipping from side to side. Your hard drive may eventually take longer to spin up and longer to retrieve files, which will have an impact on everything from booting up to playing games.

Blue screen of death: A classic Windows error, this is when your computer locks up to only show a blue screen with an error code, which while it does mean something specific has gone wrong, can always be translated loosely to ‘nope, not today’. The more often your computer does this, the more severe the problem is.

Not booting up: During the initial bootup stage, your computer is loading a program stored on the hard drive – it’s your operating system. If some of the files have a problem or can’t be found, Windows won’t boot. Errors vary, but the outcome is the same.

Corrupted files: Sometimes a file won’t open because the computer says it is corrupted. Some essential pieces of the file are missing, and unlike a book where a missing page is only inconvenient, it’s a deal breaker for computer files.

Noises: You’re familiar with the normal noises your computer makes, but as the hard drive fails the noises can change. You might hear clicking, grinding or even a sci-fi phaser noise. Noises will get louder or speed up during heavy file access.

What do you do?

Whenever something is clearly wrong, the key is to stop and turn your computer off. Continued use or attempts to start the computer can result in more data loss. Even if you don’t have a backup yet, turn it off now because the large task of backing up can cause extra strain on an already delicate hard drive. It’s tempting to hurry and try to get a quick copy of your files, but in these cases, it’s not about time – it’s about the extra spinning, scratching, warping and electrical charge, all dissolving your precious data with each access.

Is this preventable?

In short, no. Like I said earlier, all hard drives eventually fail. BUT, you can do a few things to help prolong the life of your hard drive.

–Keep your computer cool. Heat is the #1 killer of electronics. So, keep the computer dusted out and the vents clear to allow adequate airflow to the components in question.

–Minimize mechanical shock to your computer. Like I described earlier, a mechanical hard drive is like a very fast and delicate record player. Like a record, it will skip and potentially damage the disk if it gets bumped. So, if you are using a desktop, take care not to kick it or knock over the tower. If it is a laptop, make sure to handle the computer gently and turn it off or put it to sleep when carrying it around.

-Don’t fill it up. The more packed full a hard drive is, the more it has to work to read and write information and perform maintenance on itself. We always recommend keeping a hard drive at least 20% free. If you find yourself bumping up against that limit, it is time to upgrade to a larger drive.

-Keep an eye on it. The mysterious inner-workings of a hard drive may be invisible to the end user, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the dark! There are many free software solutions available for home users to monitor the health of their hard drives and be alerted to an issue before it becomes a problem. The one we recommend for home users is Crystal Disk Info available HERE. After installation, go to the ‘Function’ menu and select the ‘resident’ and ‘startup’ options to keep the program running in the background and monitoring your hard drive continuously. If you want to go one step further, there is a paid-for residentially licensed version of the software we use in our shop called HD Sentinel available HERE.

-Have a backup of everything important to you. Eventually, your hard drive will fail, and even though you have taken all precautions reasonable, you may lose some data. All a backup really is is a second copy of your data for when the original copy disappears. Local backups, cloud backups, image backups, etc…there is enough here for a whole separate article. For now, just remember the only way to completely prevent data loss is to have another copy!

How to protect your business from the Piracy police

It may not get the same attention as the number of illegal Game of Thrones downloads, but software piracy still isn’t something your business can take lightly. In fact, one little slip can cost you thousands or even millions of dollars in fines, and there’s a global agency dedicated to catching you – even if the copyright breach wasn’t your fault!

Maybe it was something an employee used once to solve a certain problem, grabbing a quick download instead of bothering you with a purchase request. Or maybe it’s an application you use every day and long since forgot how the license works. Maybe it’s software that is allowed to be used for free in a home environment, but not in a business use case. Or perhaps you actually own a legitimate license but are running it on 8 computers when you’re only supposed to run it on 1. Whether you set out to be a brazen ‘pirate’ or not, the Software Alliance (often called the BSA) and their associates would love to make an example of your business. They’re now expanding their reach in sneaky ways too, including advertising for paid whistle-blowers.

Here’s how it all came about: Back in the late 80s, Microsoft founded an external agency whose sole task it was to protect the intellectual property of member companies by finding and prosecuting as many cases as possible. The protection laws already existed, they simply needed a means to implement them. Until recently, locating software pirates was very resource intensive. Now, they can simply create a Facebook ad, target it to ex/current employees of a business, and offer a reward up to $1million (depends on country) for information. Your business doesn’t even need to be actively using the illegal software, it simply needs to be installed or show traces. You can imagine how many calls they’re getting!

How to protect your business

We recommend taking a zero-tolerance approach to unapproved software. This means locking down employee systems so that they’re unable to install software, even on their own workstation. Set permissions so that only management or IT can install new programs, and create a known process for requesting new software. When a software need arises, you then have complete control over the selection, installation and licensing.

Maintaining your software license documentation and running annual audits is also important. On a day-to-day level, it ensures you’ve got records that can keep your business operating during bad luck circumstances, like when an employee leaves and you suddenly discover no-one knows a particular password and the password resets go to a dead email address. Proper license documentation also makes sure you aren’t caught red-handed with illegal software, and if you are ever investigated, you have your innocence at the ready.