Plan Now for Your 2020 IT Needs

plan 2020 IT needs_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

The new year will be here before we know it. Have you taken a moment to think about what your IT needs are for 2020? If not, here’s a quick list of things to discuss with your team to ensure your company and its data are secure, supported, and productive next year.

Audit Your Current Systems

Did your business run like a well-oiled machine this year, or did you suffer from slow hardware, burdensome workflows, and frustrating email access? During your audit, you may uncover that you haven’t been taking advantage of two-factor authentication, using out-of-date versions of your project management or accounting tools, or backed up your data in a few months.

This month, audit all of your current hardware, software, and web application systems. If they’re working well for you, that’s great! If not, it’s time to investigate other options. The Now IT Connects team is here to help with your IT needs.

Determine What Needs to Be Updated or Replaced

Once you’ve completed your audit, you should have a list of all of the hardware, software, and web applications that may need to be updated or replaced. It is helpful to prioritize these changes in order of financial and security risk they pose. For example, you’ll want to back up your data before you invest in a new project management tool.

Update or Create Your IT Policies and Other Documents

Once you’ve determined the technologies you need to update, it’s time to turn to your IT documents. Every company should have a disaster recovery plan, email policy, and acceptable use policy. Consider documenting your process for backing up your data, adding and removing employees from your systems, and acquiring new devices. These documents make it much easier to enforce the policies and procedures you follow at your company. They can save your company time and money in the event of a data breach or other tech disaster.

Hire the Pros

Maintaining a safe network and efficient workplace are vital to the success of your company. That’s why we strongly encourage you to consider hiring a professional managed IT team to do the legwork for you. Now IT Connects can take full stock of your current systems, help you identify updates and create a timeline for completing them, and help you document your IT policies and procedures. We are also able to maintain your IT remotely, ensuring you never miss an update or data backup again.

Take your IT to the next level in 2020. Contact the Now IT Connects team today to get started.

A Few of Our Favorite Local Vendors

our favorite local vendors_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

In the spirit of Thanksgiving this week, we’d like to take a moment to thank a few of the businesses that help our business run more smoothly. If you’re looking for an accountant, a new favorite restaurant, or for a great deal on batteries, we’ve got some recommendations for you!

Here are a few of our favorite local vendors and why we’re grateful for them this year.

Keeping Us Open: Terning & Company, Inc.

Terning & Company, Inc. is a CPA firm with offices in Big Lake, St. Cloud, and Hutchinson. Terning handles all of the accounting and payroll services for Now IT Connects. They help with everything from bookkeeping and tax preparation to writing the payroll checks for our great team. We don’t know what we’d do without Terning & Company, Inc.’s professional and prompt service.

Keeping Us Fed: Nelson Bros. Restaurant & the Clearwater Legion

If you’re a Clearwater local or travel on I-94 to and from St. Cloud, you’re likely familiar with the Clearwater Travel Plaza and its donuts as big as your head. But you may not have taken the time to sit down in the Nelson Bros. Restaurant. If not, we highly recommend doing so! The food’s delicious, and you just may see one of the Now IT Connects team there picking up food for one of our lunch meetings.

If we’re not paying patronage to Nelson Bros., look for us at the Clearwater American Legion Post #323. Meeting at the legion gives us the chance to support veterans and enjoy some phenomenal American fare. Proceeds from our lunch bill go toward programs that provide financial, medical, and emotional support to vets.

Keeping Us Running: Batteries Plus Bulbs Saint Cloud

As an IT company, we spend our days working with technologies that require batteries. When we recommend a battery to a customer, we need to be sure it will work. That’s why we trust Batteries Plus Bulbs with all of our customer battery needs. Not only do they carry a huge stock of batteries from the top brands, they also offer recycling and free delivery.

Thanks again to these amazing local businesses. Without you, the Now IT Connects team would have a much harder time serving our customers. If you’d like to work with a local IT company, contact the Now IT Connects team.

Thank You to the Now IT Connects Team

the Now IT Connects team_Clearwater Minnesota

November is the month of gratitude. Early in the month, we take a moment to thank the veterans who serve our country. At the end of the month, we gather with our loved ones to share what we are grateful for this year.

But unfortunately, we don’t have a holiday in November to celebrate the reasons why we appreciate the people we see for at least eight hours every workday: our colleagues. Today, we’d like to take a moment to share why we’re grateful for the folks on the Now IT Connects team.

John Koshiol, CEO

John is our fearless leader. He’s run the company for the last 15 years. We are greatly appreciative of John’s leadership at Now IT Connects. He’s ambitious and always approaches new projects with the best interests of his team in mind. John’s excellent at bringing in new business. And since John’s built relationships with our vendors over the years, without him, we wouldn’t have any new products to offer you!

Justin Fullersen, Network Manager

Justin is the Now IT Connects network manager and has been with us for more than 6 years. He has a head for solving complex networking problems, which is a huge benefit for our clients. Once he’s working on an issue, Justin won’t stop until he’s found a solution. His diligence is a huge asset for the Now IT Connects team.

Lloyd Sanquist, Network Engineer

Lloyd is one of the Now IT Connects network engineers. He’s been a member of the team for 7 years. Lloyd’s a loyal worker and has a knack for designing and implementing specialty software installations for our customers. If you’ve spent any time at all with Lloyd, you know he has a great sense of humor. We can count on Lloyd to make our days at the office more enjoyable!

Chris Imdieke, Network Engineer

Chris is one of the Now IT Connects network engineers and has been a member of our team for more than a year. He’s an incredibly hard worker who can keep a level head no matter what challenges technology throws at him. Without Chris, no one would have working anti-virus and firewalls. We count on Chris to keep us all safe and secure online.

Trevor Koshiol, Network Engineer

Trevor is one of the Now IT Connects network engineers. He’s been a member of the team for just under a year. Trevor is immensely helpful around the office. He really comes through in a clutch as well—without him, we’d never get our passwords reset!

Bobbie Anacker, Administrative Assistant

Bobbie is the Now IT Connects administrative assistant. She’s been on the Now IT Connects team for more than a year. Without Bobbie, our office would not be able to function. She works incredibly hard for the team and our customers. We’re grateful for Bobbie’s resourcefulness and ability to take on any task.

The Now IT Connects team truly is a special group of IT professionals. If you want to partner with a team that’s highly qualified and a blast to work with, contact us today!

The Dance Macabre of IT: What Technology Is Dying at the End of the Year

technology end-of-support_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

It’s spooky season, and nothing is scarier than booting up your computer on a Monday morning to discover your project management software or inventory system no longer works. Even more terrifying would be to learn that the manufacturer no longer supports that software, so you no longer have a way to get all your data back.

The dance macabre of IT is swift and unyielding. Many technologies are here one day and gone the next. Hardware is constantly getting faster, leaving slower tech in the dust. Software is moving to the cloud, making that shelf of software installation CDs useless.

If you’re finding it difficult to keep up, we’ve done some of the hard work for you so you can keep your tech in step with innovations and security updates. Here’s a look at what’s meeting its end-of-support date in the next few months.

Windows 7 Reaches End-of-Support on January 14, 2020

We’ve mentioned this a few times over the last few months, but for good reason. The Windows 7 operating system is still installed on nearly a third of all computers running Windows. That’s millions of machines.

Each machine that is running Windows 7 on January 14 will no longer be protected by regular security updates and routine maintenance. This presents a major opportunity for bad actors to take advantage of millions of Windows users. Don’t be among the victims. Upgrade your operating system to Windows 10 today.

WatchGuard AP100, AP102, and AP300 Reach End-of-Life on December 31, 2019

Several WatchGuard Wi-Fi access points will reach their end-of-life at the end of 2019. These devices keep your business’s Wi-Fi fast and secure. Several WatchGuard products are available to replace the AP100, AP102, and AP300. Give us a call at 320-558-6300 to discover your options.

Tech obsolescence is something to take seriously. Always install your software’s latest updates and have a plan for how you will upgrade your systems once they reach end-of-support or end-of-life. Now IT Connects is here to help.

Why Software and Hardware becomes Obsolete

technological obsolescence_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Bill Gates once said that “the only big companies that succeed will be those that obsolete their own products before someone else does.” Technology companies are constantly innovating to better serve their clients. This applies to hardware, such as computers, tablets, and other devices, as well as software and even file types.

While it can be difficult to keep up with these changes, technology obsolescence is necessary. Our smartphones have more computing power than the systems that sent astronauts to the moon decades ago. Without innovation and obsolescence, our devices would fit in ROOMS, not our pockets.

There are three ways IT can become obsolete. A piece of hardware or software may no longer be supported. That’s technological obsolescence. Or, a piece of software or hardware may not work on your current computer (think floppy disks). That’s functional obsolescence. Other times, a file format is no longer readable by software. That’s logistical obsolescence.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the ways technology becomes obsolete.

1. Technological Obsolescence

Technological obsolescence occurs when a product reaches end-of-sale or end-of support. In these cases, more advanced technology is available, so the older version is going away. This is happening with the Windows 7 operating system on January 14, 2020. If you’re still running Windows 7, talk to us!

If a piece of tech or software has reached its end-of-sale, it means the manufacturer no longer sells that hardware or software. Products reach end-of-sale long before they reach end-of-support. Windows 7 has not been on the market since October 2014, but it will still be supported through January 14, 2020.

End-of support and maintenance simply means the company no longer supports or updates a piece of hardware or software. While the technology may still work, it is no longer protected by security updates or maintained to ensure it functions smoothly. Using technology that’s reached its end-of-support date is risky. You could lose customer data, access to important software, or be hacked.

2. Functional Obsolescence

Have a few floppy disks lying around? Maybe an ancient computer with a ZIP drive? Perhaps inventory software that’s still DOS-based? If you’ve answered yes to one or more of these questions, you’re familiar with functional obsolescence. Modern computer towers don’t have floppy or ZIP drives. Many don’t include CD drives, either. Hardware and software reach functional obsolescence when they can no longer be used with current hardware or software.

3. Logistical Obsolescence

Logistical obsolescence occurs when changes to digital files and formats make it impossible to access those files. Remember Lotus 1-2-3? It was a spreadsheet program before Excel became dominant in the market. Lotus is long gone, which makes it impossible to open .wks files (unless you have access to old technology). The same is true for countless software brands that have been lost to history.

Wondering if you have obsolete technology in your office? Contact Now IT Connects. We can audit your hardware and software and make recommendations for updates and upgrades where necessary.

Do People Really Fall for Email Phishing Scams? Oh Yes.

email phishing scams_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

If you consider yourself a savvy email user, you probably have a hard time believing people actually fall for spam and phishing email scams. How can they not tell the email is fake?

Email scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated. We’ve seen some that spoof a company owner’s name, email address, and even email signature, complete with logo and headshot. As employees get savvier, so do the hackers.

Recently, a Now IT Connects client asked our team to test their employees’ email acuity. Here’s a look at what happened.

Something’s Phishy

The Now IT Connects team designed a phishing email that spoofed one of the company’s leader’s emails. The email looked as if it came from the leader and used their name in the From line of the email. The email asked employees to submit their network username and password through a link in the email. The link appeared to be the login page for the company network, but that was fake as well. If employees took the bait, it would allow us to capture their network credentials and log into the company’s actual network.

. . . or Not

The email looked as though the boss was asking for an employee’s credentials, which seems legit. But reassuringly, 93 percent of employees thought the email looked phishy and ignored it.

However, 7 percent of employees took the bait! Of that number, four actually tried to submit their credentials to the fake login page. Fortunately, none of them remembered their credentials, so no sensitive data was compromised.

The Debrief

After our test, our customer asked us to come in and speak with their team. We explained that the email was indeed a fake, but that some people in the company fell for it. Then, we helped everyone understand what to look for when judging whether or not an email is legitimate. The test was a real-world example of how easy it is to be tricked by a phishing or spam email.

Now IT Connects offers these email tests to anyone who would like to evaluate the email acumen of their staff. You do not have to be a current client of ours to take advantage of this valuable service. If you’d like to schedule an email test for your company, contact Now IT Connects today.

Email Best Practices for New Employees

email best practices_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Whether you like it or not, your company’s email is a critical part of your business. Email is one of the primary ways you interact with your customers and keep projects rolling. You can’t afford to have your email down for a few hours, let alone a day or a week.

Since your email client is constantly transferring data (ie: messages and attachments) between your system and the sender’s, it is an especially vulnerable part of your network. That’s why email scams are so popular among hackers. If your email isn’t protected by a secure connection and strong spam filter, it could provide a front door for bad actors to access your network.

Training your employees on safe email behavior is crucial to the security of your network. Here are a few steps Now IT Connects recommends our clients take to make email best practices part of their everyday operations.

Use Strong Email Filters and Protection

If your email is set up through us, you are already taking advantage of some of the best email protection available. We use Symantec Endpoint Protection (SEP) Cloud technology to secure emails, encrypt data,  and protect them from phishing and spam attacks. Contact us to discover all your email spam filter options.

Written Email Policy

To hold yourself and your team accountable for safe email practices, it helps to have an email policy in writing as part of your employee handbook. Effective policies outline what employees can and cannot send through their company email. They elaborate on what makes a secure password and how employees should handle their email passwords. Great email policies also include information on malware, phishing, and spam so employees know when to delete an email rather than open it.

Provide Ongoing Training for All Staff

Once you have an email policy in place, provide training to new and veteran employees to help them understand why you created the policy and how they can abide by it.

We’ve found many companies include discussion of new email threats and email trends with their staff at their weekly or monthly staff meetings. This helps everyone remember to stay vigilant while using their emails and keep the team informed of any suspicious emails they may have received over the last few weeks.

Protecting your company email is an essential element of your overall network security. Now IT Connects can help you keep your email secure and train your staff on safe email habits. To learn more, contact our team today.

3 IT Resources to Add to Your Reading List

IT books and resources_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Last month, we shared the Now IT Connects team’s favorite IT blogs. Now, it’s time to take a look at some longer reading.

Practical Microsoft Azure IaaS

Get the most out of your Microsoft Azure cloud computing infrastructure. Practical Microsoft Azure IaaS: Migrating and Building Scalable and Secure Cloud Solutions is geared for IT nerds like us, but it has valuable information for anyone who operates on Azure, too.

The book provides a helpful guide on how to set up, manage, and scale your cloud infrastructure. Get into the weeds on visualization, switching, firewalls, and storage provisioning. You can also read all about Azure’s security infrastructure and how Microsoft uses automation to make Azure more efficient.

The SANS Institute Reading Room

The SANS Institute is a computer security education and research organization. It maintains a vast database of resources on everything from cyber security and IT forensics to IT auditing and legal concerns.

The SANS Institute Reading Room attracts more than 75,000 unique visitors a month and features nearly 3,000 articles. While some resources require a SANS login to access, many others are available to the public for download. We recommend blocking time out to go down the Reading Room rabbit hole and find something that interests you.

Network World Newsletters

So technically, these newsletters aren’t long, but since you can receive six newsletters every month (including one daily newsletter) if you’d like, Network World’s newsletters can easily fill up your IT reading bucket. Choose from the Daily News or Data Center editions to stay up-to-date on networking and data centers. The Storage newsletter is all about data storage and storage infrastructure. If you’re interested in the IoT, don’t miss the Internet of Things newsletter. Insider Alert and Enterprise Stories editions share how-tos, reviews, and other information.

Can’t get enough IT news? The Now IT Connects team feels the same way! Join the conversation with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Cloud-Based IT Tools Help You Stay Securely Connected, Wherever You Are

cloud-based IT tools_Now IT Connects_Clearwater_Minnesota

The ability to work remotely has become a critical element of small business operations. Giving employees the option to work from home is also a great recruiting and retention tool. Working remotely can be a boon for business owners, too. Cloud-based tools give you the flexibility to manage your business from anywhere, anytime.

We’ve found the two largest obstacles that get in the way of businesses adopting cloud-based tools are 1.) not knowing which products will best support their operations and 2.) concerns over data security. The Now IT Connects team is here to help you with both. Here’s a look at some of the most popular cloud-based business tools and an easy and affordable way to secure your data wherever you are.

Keep Tabs on Your Business from Afar with Cloud-Based Tools

At the most fundamental level, cloud-based tools help you communicate more efficiently and productively. File-sharing and collaboration tools such as Datto Workplace and OneDrive make it easy to collaborate on files, too.

At Now IT Connects, we find the suite of apps available through Microsoft 365 is a powerful solution for small business owners. Microsoft provides a one-stop shop for project management (Teams, Project), communication (Teams, Outlook), and collaboration (OneDrive, SharePoint).

Use a VPN to Secure Your Connection

Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a secure way to access your files and data on a public network, such as the Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop. A VPN replaces the IP address of the network you’re on with one from the VPN provider. This protects any data you transfer over public Wi-Fi.

Using a VPN is an affordable and easy way to protect your data while you’re on the road. Microsoft offers a VPN through its Azure cloud product. WatchGuard also offers a VPN with some of its products.

Cloud-based tools help businesses stay productive and connected even when the team is working remotely. Offering flexible work options such as working from home can help you attract and retain employees while making it easier for you to keep tabs on your business while you’re out-of-office.

For help getting your cloud-based tools set up, contact Now IT Connects today.

3 IT Blogs for Your Summer Reading List

IT blogs for summer reading_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Looking for some beach reading? Now IT Connects has some recommendations for you!

The Now IT family tends to nerd out on all things IT, so this list may be skewed toward techies. If you don’t happen to be of that particular persuasion, feel free to share this list with anyone who gets excited about cyber security, Microsoft, and tech podcasts.

IT Blog 1: Network World’s Security Blog

Network World is a massive site filled with everything you’d ever want to know about IT, from cloud computing and data centers to storage and unified communications. If you’re looking to go down the IT rabbit hole, this is a great place to start.

We love the Security blog on Network World. It features cyber security news, tutorials, and reviews as well as alerts for critical updates on popular products. One hot topic on Network World right now is how to keep the IOT secure (The IOT is the “Internet of Things.” It includes devices such as Amazon Echo, Google Assistant, the Nest thermostat, and your vehicle’s entertainment system, among hundreds of other devices).

IT Blog 2: The Dozens of Microsoft Blogs

Yeah, the second blog on our list is technically a few dozen blogs. But if you run Microsoft software on your network, this blog is a must-read. Microsoft has a blog for what seems like every product, plus topic blogs on security, privacy, diversity in tech, and Daylight Saving Time, of all things.

If you have a question about a particular piece of software or are wondering what’s coming down the pike at Microsoft, this blog’s for you.

IT Blog 3: WatchGuard’s Secplicity Blog

Our clients know what big fans we are of WatchGuard security appliances. We’re equally fond of the company’s Secplicity blog on cyber security. It’s written by IT professionals for IT professionals, but has valuable information for anyone who manages IT or purchases products.

If you’d rather listen to your cyber security news than read it, Secplicity also produces the 443 Podcast. Its episodes make Sunday afternoon vacation traffic much more bearable.

Want more blog recommendations or help with your network security? Contact Now IT Connects today.

Why You Need Managed IT Services for Your Small Business

why I need managed IT services_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

Does this hot weather have you wishing you were out on the pontoon rather than behind your desk? We get it! The Now IT Connects team loves getting outdoors almost as much as we love helping businesses with their IT needs.

Want to spend less time troubleshooting and more time casting this summer? Here are a few reasons to consider managed IT services for your business.

1. Continuously Monitor All Your Devices and Services

Monitoring, maintaining, and fixing your technology is a full-time job. So why are you handling these important tasks on top of all your other responsibilities?

The Now IT network engineers have the know-how and resources to continuously monitor your systems, devices, and services without cutting into your work time or cabin time. We use a leading RMM network management solution in the industry to manage your everyday IT needs. This powerful system allows us to automate routine maintenance and resolve any alerts and issues quickly so you experience minimal downtime.

2. Managed IT Keeps You Up and Running

Managed IT can help your business continue to stay up and running even when you are hours away. When you have a managed IT provider, you don’t have to end your vacation early because your network is down or your employee’s computer is on the fritz. We can take care of all of those worries for you so you stay up and running even when you’re out of the office.

3. All Your IT Details, All in One Place

One of the most useful things a managed IT provider does for you happens at the very beginning of your partnership. When Now IT Connects onboards a new client, we document everything we review during the process. This gives you an inventory of all of your devices, systems, and services so you have a clear picture of your IT infrastructure. It also helps us uncover opportunities to automate processes and improve your network security.

Through our relationship with our RMM solution and other partners, Now IT Connects can fast-track your managed IT services, from the onboarding process to reporting, so we can start monitoring your network right away. Take a load off, get up to the cabin, and let Now IT Connects take care of IT. Contact us today to get started.

More Scary Tales from the Dark Web

dark web scary stories_cyber security_Now IT Connects_Clearwater Minnesota

In March, we told you all about the dark web, the shadow version of the internet we all know, use, and love. This month, we wanted to give you an idea of what’s been going on in the shadows since then (if you need a refresher on what the dark web is, read our March blog). Here’s a memorable tale from the dark web for April, May, and this month, too.

Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify User Data Stolen and Sold

In April, the Australian version of the FBI arrested a 21-year-old for allegedly selling stolen login data from streaming sites, including Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. How much did this guy make before he was caught? $300,000.

The hacker had been collecting login data for two years before he was arrested in April. He didn’t steal the data himself. Instead, he found previously stolen creds on the dark web, collected them over a number of months, then sold them for $2 a month.

Why would someone purchase your Netflix login? Aside from possibly accessing your billing and other sensitive information, $2 a month for Netflix is a lot cheaper than the $16 a month legit premium subscribers pony up each month.

Wall Street Market Shut Down by German Authorities

In collaboration with Europol (Europe’s version of the FBI), German police shut down the world’s second-largest dark web market in May. German authorities arrested three suspects and seized more than $615,000 in cash.

Wall Street Market was a dark web marketplace where bad actors could purchase drugs, fake documents, stolen data, and malware. The site had more than 1.5 million users. While this was a win for law enforcement, several other dark web markets were waiting in the wings to take its place. The battle against bad actors on the dark web is a marathon, not a sprint.

Bitcoin Brings Down Three Dark Web Drug Dealers

The digital currency Bitcoin is a favorite tool of bad actors. Bitcoin is attractive to criminals because it is not tied to a central bank and it does not divulge any personal information. But in Boston, Massachusetts, Bitcoin brought down three men who are now charged with selling drugs on the web.

Over the course of the investigation, undercover federal agents had met with one of the men to exchange $200,000 worth of Bitcoin into cash. Once the criminal made the transfer, he was arrested. Later, the remaining men were caught red-handed, filling an order for illegal drugs with their dark web vendor page open on their computer.

While these tales make for good campfire stories for IT and cyber security pros, they needn’t scare you if you have an IT team on your side. Contact Now IT Connects to learn how we can keep your data safe.