With each new year comes resolutions, goals and trends. One popular goal of many small businesses is to ensure that their systems are secure for the year to come. Often, the first step to take is to look at current trends, but when it comes to security, you should be looking at threats. If you know what potential threats may arise in the year to come, you can better set security plans in motion to limit these from adversely affecting your company. Here are four security threats businesses should be aware of in 2014.

Increased attacks on cloud end-points Cloud-based systems saw solid growth throughout 2013, with numerous systems being introduced and older systems reaching new levels or maturity. Small to medium businesses in particular were heavy adopters of these systems. Because of this, we expect to see an increase in attacks against cloud providers. Providers know this and take steps to ensure security of systems on their end. Hackers know this too, so will be likely going after the weaker points - end users. It is expected that hackers will begin targeting users of cloud systems with various schemes that try to gain control of computers and mobile devices. Once access is gained, they will go after their main target: Corporate or personal clouds and the data stored within.

This could pose a problem for many companies, especially those who access cloud systems from their mobile devices. January and February would be a good time to look into the security of all of your systems, ensuring that your cloud-based systems are secure on all devices.

Mobile malware will continue to gain popularity Take a step back for a minute next time you are in public and look at how many people have smartphones or tablets in their hands. Chances are, at least 60% or higher will. It is fairly obvious that the mobile device is the most popular trend in tech at the moment, and whatever is popular is also a target. We predict there will be an increase in mobile malware attacks throughout 2014. This could see either an increase in the number of apps that have malware in their code, or websites that host malware. When you visit a site with this malware, you are informed that you need to update an app, and when you agree to this the malware is downloaded and installed.

This could prove to be a tough for companies to manage, especially since the number of mobile users will likely grow. If you haven't started looking into how to secure mobile devices, now would be a good time to start.

Growth in social engineering scams targeting mobile users Social engineering is the act of essentially tricking people to give away confidential information. Hackers have been using this for years - for example, emailing users telling them their bank account has been compromised, and that if they click on the link in the email and enter their account info, the account will be secured. In reality, the link is to a fake site that captures information which can then be used for any number of illegal activities. As we mentioned above, the number of mobile users is steadily increasing. This means that it is highly likely that hackers will begin to target these users with mobile specific social engineering. This could be tricking them into downloading an app which then steals information stored on the phone, or simply targeting those who use just their tablet.

In order to prevent this from happening, you need to brush up on how most social engineering schemes work. You should also encourage your employees to look where the links in emails lead to and be aware that generally, most major businesses like banks don't email customers asking for passwords or user names.

Windows XP will become a big target Microsoft will stop support for Windows XP and Office 2003 in April of this year. What this means is that they will no longer be offering security updates, software updates or support for these products. It is a sure thing that these programs are about to become a big target, and that new security loopholes and exploits will be found on a regular basis after the cessation of support. For businesses that are using a newer version of Windows like 7 or 8, you should be secure from these exploits. If you are using XP on the other hand, you might want to upgrade as soon as possible. Contact us, we can help with that.

From the overall looks of things, we think this year will see a drastic increase in mobile based security threats, along with attacks on older versions of software. Now is a good time to review your strategies regarding both mobile and the software/hardware you use, to ensure that it is secure. If you would like help with this, please contact us today for a chat.
 
 
January is a common time for many people, business owners included, to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. This year, as with years in the past, many business owners and managers will likely have a resolution centered around productivity. Being more productive has obvious benefits, but to become more productive, we often need help. One option is mobile apps which can play a key role in boosting your productivity. Here are five great mobile productivity apps that are free, or cheap enough where they won't break the bank.

Asana Most small to medium businesses have team members working in different areas that often come together to work on projects. Managing who does what in these projects, and collaborating on tasks can be a chore. What Asana does is allow users to schedule and assign tasks within projects.

Each user's tasks are presented in a to-do list with due dates clearly divided, so each person knows what they need to focus on, and when the work is due. Other users can also see each of the tasks so they too know what each member is doing. If you are a project or task oriented business, this could be a great tool to help you and your teams stay on track.

While many businesses use the Web based version, there are mobile apps for both Android and iOS devices that could help if you or team members are often out of the office. It is free for teams of up to 15 members. Check out Asana's website for more information on pricing for teams with more than 15 users.

Evernote Many working in smaller businesses often find themselves filling more than one role. This means they are likely constantly thinking about another task, often coming up with ideas, questions and even answers. The problem with this is many of us forget that one all important idea by the time we actually get around to switching our hats and our focus. Evernote is an app that allows users to jot down notes and ideas more readily.

Because this is a mobile app, you can share notes with your colleagues - kind of like a brainstorm - or even record images and sounds to keep something like a dictionary or wiki. What really sets this app apart from other note apps is that all of your notes are synced with an account, which makes them available on nearly every platform you use. The basic version of Evernote is available for free on nearly all mobile platforms, and a full-featured business edition is available for USD$10.00 per user, per month. Visit the Evernote website to learn more about the program, and to download it for your device.

Any.do Cal Part of the Any.do family of apps which focus on tasks, Cal is an extension that makes your device's calendar easier to focus on. At a quick glance, you can see your whole day's activities and events. This is really designed to be a calendar app that is used for both work and personal life, giving you a better idea of what your full day looks like - not just a part of it. In an effort to highlight or promote better work/life balance, it will also show you your free time.

The app is available for free on both Android and iOS, and if you are looking to further enhance it's capabilities, give Any.do - to do list - a try. Pocket The Internet is one of the best productivity boosters, yet it is also one of the best ways to waste time too. Because so many news outlets and stories are now online, you can spend literally hours of your day reading various articles and blogs. While these articles may be useful, reading them when you should be working instead is not the best for your productivity.

That's where Pocket comes in. This app allows you to save articles and blogs you come across in your browser or email for later reading on a mobile device. So, if you are at work and come across a really interesting article, don't stop to read it, save it to Pocket and read it on the way home or while on a break. Pocket is free and works as an extension to your Web browser. First you need to go to the Pocket website and sign up for an account, then install the browser extension (click on Your Web Browser under Ways to Pocket). After that, install the app on your Android or iOS device.

Doodle While the name suggests a drawing, Doodle is actually a scheduling app. It allows you to set a number of potential times and dates for a meeting and then ask all participants to select what works best for them. This makes it easier for you to schedule meetings with different people, while also reducing the number of back-and-forth emails that inevitably come about from setting up meetings.

When you pick the times, the participants tick what times or dates work best for them, which you can then view and pick the time that works best. What sets this app apart is that it syncs with almost all other major calendar apps like Google Calendar and Outlook. It's available on both the Apple App and Google Play stores for USD$2.99.
 
 
Technology is an important part of any business and has come to be relied on for many tasks performed in a multitude of roles. As you likely know, tech advances at a furious pace, so fast in fact, that it's often a challenge to keep track of all the innovations and trends. In an effort to help monitor progress a bit easier, take a few minutes to look ahead at the year to come, in terms of what tech developments are on the horizon. Here are five tech trends small to medium business owners and managers should keep their eyes on for 2014.

Tech we wear Wearable devices like the smartwatch will become one of the hottest gadgets in 2014. While this concept really began in 2013, with devices like the Google Glass and the Samsung Galaxy Gear, you can bet that most device manufacturers are developing some form of wearable tech for this year. The biggest evidence that supports this claim is the inclusion of newer, faster BlueTooth standards in both iOS and Android updates. These updates allow devices like phones and tablets to connect to existing wearable devices like fitness bands and wireless headphones.

What this means for businesses is a potential increase in the number of devices connecting to networks, such as from employees bringing devices into the office. Companies will need to look back at their mobile device policies to ensure that their systems remain safe. Concerns aside, these devices could pose a new way to interact with customers or even to create different, engaging content.

It really remains to be seen as to how businesses will benefit from this type of tech, but there is a good chance that many companies will find a productive use for it.

Changing views on the cloud Many experts like to think of cloud systems as a new concept, but it's really reaching the end of this part of its life cycle. By now, most businesses are using at least one cloud-based system and have at least a basic grasp of what it is. Because of its prevalence and increased use, it's difficult to actually completely avoid the cloud. Many have started to realize this fact and we think 2014 will see an increasing number of business owners begin to change their views on the cloud. They will start educating themselves and looking for systems that really meet their needs instead of simply picking one that everyone else uses.

This change of view, and increased education will likely lead to an increased adoption of cloud systems. This will be due to strategic decision-making rather than because business owners feel they simply need to be in on the cloud. This also likely means that many cloud providers will become even more transparent and likely more willing to help customers by creating systems that are truly useful to small businesses.

Mobile marketing will become mainstream It is pretty apparent that mobile devices are the next big thing, and in 2014 mobile marketing will become one of the most popular forms of marketing. From developing mobile specific content to advertising only on mobile platforms through apps like Facebook, we should see a rise in the number of mobile ad campaigns. Overall, this should lead to more ads being shorter, visually forward; essentially easily digested by mobile viewers. Beyond that, businesses of all sizes will start to pay attention to mobile related data, distinguishing mobile users from desktop users, and looking for ways to cater to both crowds through different campaigns.

Increased use of two-factor authentication Security is always an issue that many business owners are worried about, as well it should be because there is a good chance that security concerns will increase in 2014 - especially if mobile wearable devices really take off. In order to make it more difficult for accounts to be hacked, many of the larger companies like Google, have introduced two-factor authentication which requires users to enter a password and another form of information, usually a PIN number sent to a mobile device.

In 2014, it is highly likely that we will see an increase in the number of services that offer this form of authentication. What this means for many businesses is increased security, which should be welcomed.

IT becomes more of a core business function Historically, IT has been seen as a separate business entity, something that supports core business functions. But, as many companies increasingly rely on technology, it has started to shift and become more of a core business function. Many business owners will begin to question their existing technology and whether it really is giving them the best value possible and if they are using it effectively. Because of the largely complex nature of many systems, small business owners that take an interest in their IT will likely find that they struggle with managing and optimizing it. They will instead turn to an IT management partner who can help them find customized solutions.

While this isn't a new trend by any means, technology is becoming increasingly advanced and many companies are struggling. If you are looking to make IT more of a core business function, or would like to gain control of rampant systems please contact us today to see how we can help.
 
 
Social media has become an integral part of most business marketing strategies, and Facebook is the platform of choice for almost all. 2013 was a good year for many businesses with a quality News Feed and Page, as the platform saw a number of business oriented features being introduced, such as enhanced promoted posts and more Ads features. Now that we are in 2014, what will this year bring? Here is an overview of five popular Facebook trends small to medium businesses can capitalize on in 2014.

1. Targeted auto play video ads In early January, Facebook started rolling out their newest ad feature - auto-play of video ads. If you post a video, you can sponsor or promote it so that it may show up on a selected target audience's News Feed. When they scroll by it, the video will begin to play automatically - with the sound muted - if the user clicks on it, the video will open in full-screen and play with sound. While video advertising isn't the newest feature, the ability to set your ads to auto-play is. While this feature is still in testing, open to a select few marketers for the time being, you can bet that this will likely become a full-feature some time in late 2014.

What this means for many businesses is that they will need to start creating higher quality video content. If you plan to use this feature, you should start looking into creating content that your followers enjoy. Try posting videos to see the number of Likes, Shares and Comments and from there tweak your content so that more users enjoy it and respond positively to it too.

2. The hashtag The hashtag first saw widespread use among Twitter users and has since been introduced in almost every other major platform. Browse most people's News Feeds and you will see posts using the hashtag, which calls attention to the content and makes it searchable, (click on it to see other posts that have the same hashtag). It is highly likely that the popularity of the hashtag, especially among companies with Pages, will increase in 2014 and beyond. If you are looking to integrate these into your content be sure to use them sparingly, as too many hashtags will make your content harder to read, and could turn readers away.

Instead, try using them to highlight one or two keywords you want people to focus on. You can also use one or two keywords each time you mention your company name, so that visitors associate a specific tag with your company. The biggest benefit to this is that it will make your other posts searchable and give users a quicker way to see similar content.

3. Increased ads from small businesses Well over 25 million small businesses have a Facebook Page, a number which is sure to grow in 2014. However, the full number of how many of these businesses actually use Facebook's Ad client, which can place targeted ads in front of a categorized audience, is quite a bit lower - at roughly 1 million regular users. This leaves 24 million users who aren't using the service - something Facebook undoubtedly sees as a great opportunity. Through 2014, businesses with Pages should see an increase in Facebook Ad marketing. The company is also working on ensuring that the ads companies promote are targeted at relevant profiles.

Facebook recently enhanced their Promoted Posts feature, which allows companies to pay to promote a specific post, with the hopes of it showing higher on people's News Feeds. With the recent change, companies can now promote content that is older than three days, potentially breathing new life into older content that was once popular.

The overall trend for small businesses is that you should see further improved ways of advertising and interacting with your clients on Facebook. You can be sure that the company will be targeting you with Ad promotions, which if acted upon could see your brand awareness and even sales increase.

4. Mobile-first content The mobile device is quickly becoming the most talked about tech gadget - take a look at tech-related ads, they are almost all focused on the smartphone. As the demand for these devices increases, hardware manufacturers are working hard to develop mobile versions of just about everything. And following the hardware, is the software or app. It seems like every major Internet related site has an app these days, one of the most popular being Facebook. In Q1 2013, nearly 70% (68%) of users accessed Facebook from a mobile device with 17% doing so exclusively. These numbers undoubtedly grew throughout 2013 and will continue to do so into 2014.

What this means for small businesses is that a large percentage of their users will be viewing their content on a mobile device, and small businesses need to start creating content that can be easily viewed on smaller screens. Try starting to come up with content that is centered around high quality images with small amounts of text, and grabs attention quickly. Ending with a strong call to action will also be beneficial.

5. Increased interactions with fans The idea of social media is that it's a two-way street. For companies, this means that simply posting content on a News Feed won't cut it. You need to interact with your 'fans' in order to see any success with this type of marketing. By interacting with your followers, you are showing that you do in fact pay attention to your social media profiles and are therefore listening to your customers. This makes the customer feel appreciated and will increase the chance of them staying loyal to your company. Take a look at the number of "Thank you" videos, or videos that give back to fans and customers like the WestJet video that went viral on social media shortly before Christmas.

It is content like this that customers love, and are eager to share. Companies are highly likely to be creating more content like this in 2014. If you can create something that thanks your customers, or even rewards them in a way they are happy with you should see some increased traffic, interaction and even calls.

Looking to learn more about Facebook and how you can use it in your company? Contact us for a chat.
 
 
Business Intelligence - the collection and transformation of data into useful information that can be used to make better decisions - is one of the more important business processes, and saw continued popularity in 2013. Because of this increased use, there are a number of trends that we believe will be become favorable in 2014. Here is an overview of the potential Business Intelligence (BI) trends we could see emerging and growing in 2014.

1. BI is more accessible Historically, to get the most out of Business Intelligence you need to be experienced or to employ a data scientist. Over the past couple of years BI methodologies have become easier to execute. Throughout 2014 it is highly likely that we will see most ordinary business users continue to gain skills in this area and consequently carrying out business analysis and BI activities. This means we should see an increase in the number of programs that are user-friendly, while still providing the powerful tools that experts have been using.

2. BI and Big Data solutions forecast clouds Cloud-based solutions have helped allow small to medium businesses to access tools that were previously only used by enterprises. Many BI solutions are starting to incorporate cloud-based versions and this trend will undoubtedly continue in 2014. These solutions will put important data in the hands of individual businesses, while also providing them with the ability to store and analyze their data with ease, as long as they have an Internet connection. Many of these solutions also allow for increased collaboration and some even have mobile apps which could help make adoption easier.

3. Predictive analytics are more accessible Predictive analytics is the process of looking at existing data for trends and important information that you can use to help make predictions and decisions. This type of analysis has largely been the domain of experts and large companies, but in 2014 this process should become increasingly available to small businesses. 4. Social data is even more important The majority of customers are active on social media. This has led to a huge source of potential information that businesses can benefit from. From Likes to Shares, Comments, etc., companies will begin to pay closer attention to this data. It can help businesses gain insight into brand awareness, how relevant they are to customers, and even gain important information they can use to conduct competitive analysis. 5. Storytelling from existing data One of the main objectives of analyzing your data is so that you can tell a story with it. If you have no narrative arc attached to your data, it is highly likely that the message you want to get across won't sink in. By visualizing your data in a way so that it tells a story you will be better able to gain a concise meaning from an overwhelming amount of data

If you are looking to learn more about BI and how it can help your business, please contact us today.
 
 
As the number of Internet users and systems we use rise, we continue to see a subsequent increase in security breaches and concerns. Many companies make an effort to minimize the chances of these risks by implementing antivirus scanners and more. The problem is, they are still at risk - the biggest being from weak passwords. Many of the major security threats that harm a business have one factor in common - a hacker gaining access to systems by cracking a user's password. The one reason hackers are able to get into systems again and again is largely because users often don't pick strong enough passwords.

Even what we might perceive to be a strong password may not actually be as secure as we think. Sure, when you enter a new password many websites have a bar that indicates how strong your password is, but the issue is, these so called strong passwords are becoming easier to guess as more websites utilize the same requirements.

Think about the last time you changed your password. You were likely told to key in a password longer than 6-8 characters, with at least one capital letter, one number, and a special character like '!' or '$'. Many major systems have these exact, or at least very similar, requirements for password setting. However, If this is the norm, and you use a password like this too often then your passwords likely aren't as secure as you might believe them to be.

The reason for this is because of the way hackers usually capture passwords. The most common method adopted is brute force - getting a username then trying every password combination until the hacker finds one that works. There are programs you can download from the Internet that try thousands or more passwords a second, and many now include special characters, numbers, and capital letters, which makes finding passwords even easier.

How do I know if my password is secure? In an effort to showcase how unsecure some passwords are, Microsoft's Research (MSR) Center and an intern from Carnegie Mellon University developed a password guesser called Telepathwords. The way it works is you enter the first few letters of your password and the system guesses the next. It uses common letters and combinations to help gauge the effectiveness of a password. For example, if your password begins with the letter 'v', it will tell you that 'I', 'S' and 'A' are the most common letters to follow. If the next letter of your password isn't one of these three, there is a good chance it is more secure. If the second letter is one of these three, then your password is less secure. This may sound a little complicated, but you should check out the system here.

It is eerie at how accurate the next letters and characters often match, and this is a good tool to determine whether to create a more robust password. You don't have to worry about testing your password out either as Microsoft has noted that they don't track the keystrokes, so you password should remain secure.

How do I create a stronger password? Ask 10 experts and you will likely get 10 different answers as to what makes a strong password. Here are three different ways to create secure passwords:
  1. Use an algorithm - The easiest way to do this is take the first letter of a saying and add a number before or after. You can also create a saying and take the first letter of each word, then add the first letter of the website, followed by the last, and then a number. This method is best for when you have a large number of websites you access on a regular basis, it can help you remember your passwords for each without you having to write these down.
  2. Use a sentence or saying - For systems that allow you to have spaces in your password, try using a random saying like, 'Dogs like pudding cups'. Sayings like this are harder to crack. This is largely because they include the space and are longer than usual.
  3. Use an acronym - Come up with a saying that describes you e.g., 'I've worked at a gas station for 20 years', and take the first letter/number of each word to create: 'Iwaagsf2y'. This gives you an easy to remember password that can be adapted for other sites.
Regardless of what type of password you develop, you should be aware that even strong passwords can still be cracked with enough persistence. So, you should be sure to change passwords on a regular basis and also not to use the same one twice. This will limit the chances of hackers being able to access your other accounts. If you are looking for more ways to secure your systems, we can help, so get in touch with us today.
 
 
Social media brings many different benefits to business users, and one of the most useful is that they provide businesses with a way to connect with their customers on a deeper level. It's true that Facebook is the most popular network, but LinkedIn is also a valuable platform that can really help users connect with other like-minded people and related businesses. To get the most out of your personal profile on LinkedIn follow our five top tips:

1. Specialize A popular feature of LinkedIn is endorsement. You can view other people's profiles and endorse their skills. Some popular users have hundreds of different endorsements. The purpose of these endorsements is to highlight the important skills of each user. If a user has say 30 so-called important skills that they are all endorsed for, it kind of looks like these aren't really that important. It is a good idea to pare down your skills and endorsements to 3-5 which you feel best represent what you have to offer.

2. Don't connect with people in order to grow your following One of the main goals many users have with other social media networks is developing content that encourages people to essentially connect with the business. This in turn increases the reach and popularity of the business. With LinkedIn, connections and content are still the goal, only the type of desired connection is different. You shouldn't be aiming to connect for the sake of connecting. Instead, try to develop connections that will help your business meet its goals and objectives. Some good examples of this include connecting with suppliers, colleagues and even other businesses you work with.

3. Think socially (What's in it for them?) LinkedIn is really just online networking, and as with most forms of networking you are looking to build rapport and establish a connection. This is usually done by being interesting, which means creating content. When creating content or developing your profile you should keep in mind that it is for the people looking at your profile and not you. With everything you write or create, try to keep in mind: WIIFT (What's In It For Them?). If you can create something that your connections and profile viewers will be able to benefit from, they will be more willing to listen to you when you actually need to contact them.

4. Look at your profile As we stated above, your content and profile should be oriented towards your viewers and connections. Look through your profile and posts to see that the information does reflect this purpose. Try looking at the different sections of your profile and focus on how you can help your connections. This includes giving detailed descriptions on your roles and how you helped the company or customers. Above all else, make sure your profile contains the information that is relevant to the people you want to connect with. If it isn't, you likely don't need it.

5. Join groups Possibly the best way to get the most out of LinkedIn is to join groups. There are groups that cover nearly everything in the professional world. Try joining groups that are relevant to your profession and interests. There are usually some great conversations going on that you can really learn and benefit from. If you are an active member, you will become well known over time. This is positive, as it makes other members more approachable and willing to listen to you, and engage with the content you share. Joining groups also gives you a great way to connect with people of varying experience. If you need the help of a specialist you can look through group members until you find an expert with the experience you need.

LinkedIn can be a useful platform for business users and if you are looking to learn more about how you can leverage it, connect with us today to see how we can help.
 
 
A disaster can strike your business at any time and at any level of severity. These problems can also come in different guises, from something as small as the loss of yesterday's data, to as large as a disaster that damages your whole office. Regardless of the type of problem, your business should be prepared for any potential disaster. Two popular plans many companies institute at the Business Continuity Plan (BCP) and Disaster Recovery (DR). What is a BCP? BCP entered the mainstream just before the year 2000, with the Y2K scare. It's a plan that covers the way a business plans for and maintains critical business functions, directly before, during and after a disaster. The majority of plans are comprised of activities that ensure maintenance, stability, and recoverability of service. The plan is typically set up on a day-to-day basis, and covers the whole organization. In other words, it's a plan on how to remain operational during and after a disaster.

The main reason companies implement a plan like this is because they wish to remain able to provide their service or product to customers. If something happens and you are not able to deliver to your customers, there is a risk that they will simply go to another company. This will obviously cause you to lose not only customers, but valuable income, some of which may be needed to further recovery.

What is DR? Disaster Recovery is really more focused on what happens after a disaster. Many times, it's actually a part of the overall continuity plan. While BCP focuses on the whole business, DR plans tend to focus more on the technical side of the business. This includes components such as data backup and recovery, and computer systems. It's best to think of a BCP as an umbrella policy, with DR as part of it. If companies don't have a DR component of their overall continuity plan, there is a good chance the whole strategy will be either less effective, or useless. On the other hand, DR can actually stand alone, and many companies can do just fine without a full continuity plan.

What should DR and BCP contain? While these plans are slightly different, they do share the same common goals - to offer support and assistance during a disaster. Therefore, regardless of what type of plan you decide to adopt, there are common elements both need to incorporate in order to be successful.
  1. An operational plan for potential disasters that could happen in your geographical area.
  2. A succession plan for you or your top management.
  3. Employee training and cross-training. Your employees should know their role in the plan and be trained in other responsibilities should someone else be unable to perform their role.
  4. A communication plan that includes ways of communicating if networks are down.
  5. Off-site locations for staff and managers to meet and work.
  6. A focus on safety. Foster partnerships and communication with local and emergency response services. Ideally, all employees should at least know basic first aid. Employees who are members of local Emergency Response Teams make great team leaders.
  7. Daily backups of your systems and data. Be sure to also train staff in the testing and recovery of systems.
  8. Training and testing of all employees to practice recovery activities in realistic role-playing scenarios.
  9. Regular audits and updates of your plans to ensure they are still relevant and able to protect your systems and company.
With a plan that is carefully prepared, tested, and updated on a regular basis, you should be able to better weather any disaster. If you are looking for information on how to develop or improve your plans get in touch with us today.
 
 
The Internet is really a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives us access to a variety of productivity oriented programs that really help increase what we can get done in a day. On the other hand however, there are also a variety of sites that capture our attention time and again, causing us to procrastinate or become distracted, resulting in a drop in productivity. If you find yourself being distracted by all the wonder the Internet has to offer when you are trying to work, there are a number of apps you can use that can really help you focus. Here are five.

Anti-Social For many, one of the biggest distractions is social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube, can turn out to be incredibly distracting when you really need to focus. As you can probably tell by its name, Anti-Social is an app that turns off, or blocks access to social sites. With this app, you can configure the social sites you would like to block, and even pick other sites that are not social media related, to be off-limits for a set period of time. If you finish your work before the set time, you can restart your computer to remove the block.

The app can work on Windows, OS X and even Ubuntu, and costs USD$15. You can download a free trial, and if you like, pay to upgrade from the app. Visit the Anti-Social website to download the app, or learn more.

Focus Me If you are looking for an app that can block not only websites, but also programs on your computer, Focus Me could be what you're are looking for. One of the interesting features of this app is that it reminds you to take breaks away from your screen, which is great for you health. Focus Me has three modes: Block Mode which blocks, closes or minimizes specified programs, websites, and browser tabs. Focus Mode blocks all windows, programs, and apps, except for any you have selected. Take a Break allows you to set up specific times where the app will block all programs, including the Internet, forcing you to take a break.

In order to unblock programs, you enter a password. The app works on Windows and costs USD$18. Visit the Focus Me site to learn more.

SelfControl If you use a Mac in the office, and would like to turn off email alerts or social media sites, try using SelfControl. This open-source app allows you to set and block websites and email servers for a set period of time. Unlike other blocker apps, access to sites and programs is blocked until the timer is up, even if you restart your computer. This app is available for free from the developer's website and should be compatible with most versions of OS X.

RescueTime While app and program blockers cut temptation off at the source, it is also useful to know where exactly you are wasting time, or how you are using your time on your computer. By knowing where you waste the majority of your time, and when you are more prone to veer off track, you can use the app blockers with better effectiveness. RescueTime is an app that will track how you use your time and present you with easy to read and understand reports. You can even set alerts so you'll know when you've used a program for a set amount of time and even block them.

This app works on most platforms, including Mac, Windows, Android and Linux. The Lite version is free and tracks the time you spend using websites and applications. The Premium version costs USD$9 a month and comes with more features, including alerts, blocking of programs and sites, and more. Visit the app's website to learn more about the app and to sign up.

Freedom Freedom is from the same developers as Anti-Social but is meant to be more of a full-blocker. The main purpose of this app is that it blocks all access to the Internet from your computer. This app is best for when you really need to concentrate with no Internet access. The app is USD$10 and works on Android, Windows and Mac. Visit the website to learn more about Freedom and download it.

If you are looking for more ways to increase your productivity, contact us today to see how we can help.
 
 
The security of your systems and business in general is likely something that you are concerned, if not worried, about. While it is true that many businesses have security systems in place, the weakest link is often the password. In an effort to ensure that passwords remain secure, many companies adopt password policies. But are these policies really effective? If you are in the process of implementing a password policy, or are looking for a way to ensure that your business is as secure as possible, you need to be aware of at least four common password policy pitfalls.

1. Complex password requirements aren't complex at all One of the most common elements of a password policy is the requirement that passwords be complex. Many require that the password has at least one number, or a special character like '!' or '&', and possibly even a capital letter. While this may seem like it serves to make passwords more complex, many users will often use a simple password and replace words with a character, or add it at the end. This really doesn't make the passwords complex, it just makes them more difficult to guess.

Because so many systems have these requirements in place, hackers have started to include these factors when they develop password crackers. This means that the are still able to guess many passwords relatively quickly.

2. Lack of a lock-out A common way hackers get into systems is through a method called brute force. This is essentially entering different passwords and variations until you come across the correct password. While this method can take a while, if your password system doesn't have a lock-out rule - whereby the account becomes locked after a set number of failed attempts - you will eventually see a security breach. 3. Password changes are forced too often In order to keep systems secure, many companies force their users to change their passwords on a regular basis - usually every 90 days. While this is a good idea, some take it a bit too far, for example forcing employees to change passwords every two weeks. This may seem like a good idea, but all it does is encourage users to pick easy to remember passwords. And, any password that is easy to remember is likely easy to guess too.

4. Only focusing on digital passwords Because the number of password protected systems we use is increasing, many business users are struggling to remember all of the passwords they use. When this happens, the easiest solution is write to them down. When making a note of passwords, most people don't take any steps to hide them, often leaving a sticky note attached to their monitor or written in a notebook casually left open on their desk. Needless to say, this is a real security issue.

How should I ensure a strong password policy? Here are four actions you can take to ensure not only stronger passwords, but a policy that is effective.
  1. Try using passwords that are sayings and have spaces. Believe it or not, a random saying like "rude horses get pizza" is actually way more secure than any one word password with characters. Take a look at this XKCD comic for an interesting graphic on passwords.
  2. In order to minimize passwords and systems falling to brute force attacks, you should set a lock-out rule. It should be fair in that you shouldn't lock users out of their accounts if they fail one attempt. Most companies using this method set a limit of 3-5 attempts.
  3. You should ensure that your passwords are changed on a regular basis - most companies set every 90 days, and this is fine. In order to maximize security, it is a good idea to set it so that the same password and numbers can't be used, because most employees will just enter another number or character at the end or beginning. In other words, ensure the password is as different as possible.
  4. The most obvious point is to remind your employees not to write their passwords down and leave them in an easy to find area. If they have to write passwords down, tell them to use a code or even hide the piece of paper/lock it away in a secure safe. The other step you could implement is two-factor authentication, such as a user needing to enter a numerical code or piece of information when trying to access a system. Implementing a system like this and recording it in the policy will greatly reduce the chances of your passwords being stolen.
If you are looking for help with your password policy, or with the security of your business and systems, please contact us today.
 

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