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How to Choose the Best Unified Communications Provider and Features for Your Company

Unified communications is growing at a fast pace, so make sure you know how to prioritize the features you need.Unified communications has celebrated impressive growth and advances in recent years. However, the race to offer new and better features, as well as an increasingly crowded market of unified communications providers, can leave potential clients feeling a bit overwhelmed when making decisions regarding the best features for their company.

So many choices can stunt the decision-making process in choosing a unified communications provider, or worse, a client may choose the wrong provider because they’re unable to identify the best solution for their needs.

As the communications field becomes more varied, it can also be challenging to foster seamless integration among all the different tools that are available. Employees in any given organization are going to have preferences about how they interact with colleagues, vendors, and customers, and each of these platforms needs to be able to work seamlessly with the others.

What you need for unified communications: The evaluation of various systems can complicate the goal of your system transition as you work through all the available features. What companies typically need is a scalable and cost-effective system that puts its focus on the user experience by combining video and voice calling, collaboration and screen sharing, and instant messaging with presence management. The system should also be able to integrate with other platforms and devices with secure service and open standards to allow for flexibility.

There is potential for unified communications to provide for streamlined interactions that group conversations across all platforms and devices and significantly improve business processes. Geographically dispersed teams will be able to collaborate and communicate no matter where they are and in real time.

The features you should look for in your unified communications solution:

  • Choose a unified communications tool that allows you too access any document at any time, from anywhere.
  • Determine whether the unified communications solution will integrate well with other platforms you’re currently using and those you plan to access in the future.
  • Check out the security features that are offered, and look for standards-based security protocols.
  • Choose a solution that puts the user experience at the forefront of the offering.
  • Insist that your vendor commits to an open approach that promotes compatibility with your other platforms and tools.

When you choose T2, you’ll appreciate our commitment to partner with you, month after month, to help you achieve your business goals through the right unified communications system. Contact us today to learn more.

With Targeted Strategies, Ransomware Doesn’t Have to be a Constant Worry

Don’t let ransomware hurt your business. Monitor suspicious activity and set alerts.Hackers are increasingly becoming a threat to networks across industries. Ransomware attacks, which can render data absolutely useless unless the victim pays a ransom, are of particular concern. Businesses that don’t back up their data can be forced into a situation where they must pay the ransom — or they’ll never see key data again. If they can’t afford the ransom, they may have to shut their doors. It’s a critical situation that companies of all sizes need to address.

Unfortunately, ransomware attacks are rampant because they are highly lucrative for hackers. In fact, SonicWall, an IT security company, reported that there were 638 million ransomware attacks in 2016, which equates to companies shelling out millions of dollars to get their data back.

Protecting your network is of utmost importance if you’re going to stop attackers from gaining access to your system. Here are some tips for developing a strategy:

·       Train Your Employees
Let all of your employees know what ransomware is and the methods attackers use to gain access to sensitive information. These methods change over time, which means you’re going to have to schedule regular education sessions.

·       Get Antivirus Solutions and Apply Them to End Points
You need to track suspicious behavior, which is what some antivirus tools place as a priority. You’ll also need a web filter for less serious yet still troubling virus issues.

·       Test, Test, Test
Back up your data so when an attack occurs, you can jettison all the encrypted data the hackers corrupted and rely on your backups. However, you have to regularly run tests to make sure your backups are solid.

·       Patch Servers
Build a plan for patching your servers and network devices. You should also focus on your applications. This takes regular updating because hackers rely on lazy patches to snake their way in.

·       Keep a Watchful Eye on Activity
The second you see something suspicious, you might be able to react and stop something bad from happening. However, if you’re not monitoring and setting alerts, you’re putting yourself in a reactionary situation.

At T2, we’ve established network security practices that assure clients their networks are safe. We’re also committed to educating our clients on what they can do on their end to stay secure in a time when ransomware is so prevalent. Contact us today to learn more.

How Enterprise Security Differs From SMB Security Measures

Many small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are experiencing an increase in challenges where cybersecurity is coSecurityncerned. This is due in part to the growing use of mobile devices as well as cloud applications and infrastructure that are putting strain on those organizations. Therefore, the topic of enterprise security is becoming more mainstream than ever before.

Should SMBs follow the lead of larger organizations, which tend to focus on protecting data rather than just endpoints? Netwrix recently completed a study that suggests the need for a more pointed focus on what’s going on with on-premise systems as well as cloud-based systems and the various mobile devices associated with an enterprise.

Specific Challenges

It’s hard to argue against the challenges that most SMBs cite as reasons why they don’t implement more cybersecurity strategies – it’s all about staffing and budgets. The Netwrix study found that for SMBs, the IT department is responsible for cybersecurity because most of those businesses don’t have a separate security department working to protect their data.

However, these challenges aren’t exclusive to SMBs – most organizations face staffing and budgeting challenges. Of note is that enterprises often cite difficulty in supporting their complex infrastructures as a concern, which is not as common with SMBs.

The Pain Is Shared

When security is lacking, every part of the business is affected. IDG estimates that nearly 30 percent of SMBs have security positions that go unfilled. For enterprises the numbers are even higher, with around 43 percent of organizations having at least three open positions.

Despite the differences in approaches to cybersecurity and the appearance that enterprises might be better equipped to handle threats, Netwrix found that enterprises are at no less risk of an attack than SMBs.

It appears that SMBs are beginning to adopt more data-centric approaches to their security. They’re also trying to get more visibility into the activity of users in an effort to be more proactive and less reactive to cybersecurity issues.

At T2, we’ve studied the various threats out there today and are fully committed to assisting our clients in security, connectivity, and reliable services. Our robust solutions will ensure your enterprise security is covered. Contact us today to discuss your needs and ways you can improve strategies for better, safer business growth.

It’s Becoming Harder to Come up With Reasons Not to Choose Cloud

CloudWhen you first heard about replacing your on-premises software with a cloud solution, you likely had some of the common fears shared by other business decision makers. How could cloud storage safely guard your data? Wouldn’t you put your IT division out of a job? Where exactly was all your information going to be stored?

As cloud offerings have expanded and pioneering companies took the dive into cloud solutions, it has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible software environment, and a more secure storage option for your data in many situations. Here are a few of the reservations that are no longer limiting adoption, making the future of cloud technology even more promising:

Flexibility: Introducing a cloud solution into your software mix gives you a product that is easily adaptable to your business needs. As you hear about features that integrate well with your cloud system, implementation is just a phone call and a quick update away. Adding business units or completing an acquisition is no longer an IT nightmare with the flexibility of the cloud.

Cost: This is an area that requires caution. If you start asking around, you’re sure to hear a story of ballooning cloud costs that were a significant disappointment after promises of reduced software costs. Overall, though, you should experience some cost savings. Cloud solutions require little-to-no hardware investment and because they are subscription based, you’re never paying for extra users. Be prepared for ongoing support and subscription costs.

Staffing: Selling an IT team on a move to the cloud required a lot of fast talking at first. After all, why would an IT professional get excited about a software solution that might eliminate their job? The reality is that IT is still critical for supporting your software, but their roles pivot from managing updates and fixing glitches to optimizing the infrastructure and operations that support storage and manage bandwidth.

Security: You need to evaluate your cloud choice for its security features, but while this was formerly the biggest concern about a shift to the cloud, it’s not a problem for many who have adopted cloud software. In some cases, the security support exceeds anything a company can host with an on-premises storage solution.

Accessibility: One of the best features of cloud software is its accessibility for smaller enterprises. At first, it was assumed that the cloud would be championed by the big guys and then filtered down to smaller businesses, but small- to mid-size companies are experiencing access to the same great software tools at their own subscription size.

If you still have reservations about a transition to the cloud, talk to our consultants at T2. We can help you work through any concerns you have and ensure you have reliable network connectivity with access to the most advanced technology at prices that fit your company’s budget.

Approaching Cybersecurity from a New Perspective

CybersecurityEvery day a large number of cyberattacks are launched. Malicious software is often initiated by intelligent attackers that many scanners can’t even detect. An entire IT infrastructure can be riddled with a virus. When it comes to cybersecurity, what can you do to protect yourself and your organization?

Is Proactive Cybersecurity Possible?
While a proactive cybersecurity measure would be ideal, the cards are currently stacked against such an approach, at least in a comprehensive way. Scanners don’t know what to look for and nothing can be done until after an attack has occurred, driving the need for a reactionary response.

The History of Cybersecurity
To understand where we are now, it’s helpful to take a look behind us. Many older systems would leave doors open open for whomever needed to get in and work to improve the operating system. This goes back to the old mainframe days. Slowly, they began to develop protection strategies to lock down vulnerable areas.

As computing went more mainstream, better security practices were implemented. However, there was also a move from mitigation to risk management, a trend that continues in terms of how we perceive cybersecurity strategies today.

Rather than mitigating the probability of attack and the impact that such an attack would have, IT security has turned to jumping on issues as they arise, working on solutions to minimize damage after it has occurred.

Data Protection
In many IT circles, the idea that an organization needs to protect its data border, so to speak, has come to the forefront. This circle includes such giants as Google, which has adopted a zero-trust, end-to-end encryption initiative. Rather than protect devices, the move is aimed at protecting the data itself.

Therein lies the question: do you protect your software and hardware, or do you lean toward protecting data with encryption? For some, neither of these approaches begins at the right point and neither is foolproof, mostly because they don’t consider what to do when something goes awry. This is why many say cyberattacks will never be eradicated.

Putting Security in the Cloud
There is hope, however. Organizations are moving data and processes to the cloud, which means security issues are often placed on the vendors with which they partner. You want reliable network connectivity and business continuity that provides the level of disaster recovery that keeps your data within reach all the time.

At T2, we’ve given our clients the promise that we can save time, reduce costs, and provide the connectivity that makes a difference. Contact us today to talk about how we can eliminate the burden of managing services while providing you the infrastructure you need to succeed.

Staying Safe: How to Prepare for Ransomware

RansomwareThe cybercrime game can be faddish at times, with cyber crooks all briefly piling on the “flavor of the month” attack before collectively moving on to the next big thing. One thing we can be certain of after the past year, however, is that ransomware has been added to the regular menu. It’s here to stay.

How Ransomware Works

It’s no wonder the dark underbelly of the internet is so taken with ransomware attacks. For keyboard-based ne’er-do-wells it really is the gift that keeps on giving.

A ransomware attack begins much like any other cyberattack. The bad guys get into the target system by the usual methods; most frequently via a phishing email or a spear-phishing email. This opening is used to plant the malware, and it is the nature of this malware package that sets ransomware apart.

The malware, once it gains access to the system, encrypts all the data it can find with an encryption key known only to the bad guys, who then demand lots and lots of money in exchange for getting the data back.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

A business that has been hit with a successful ransomware attack usually has only 2 options: say goodbye to the data, or pay the money.

No business can afford to lose all their data, so most companies end up paying the ransom, but this has unintended consequences. Now that the bad guys have access to the system, it’s trivial for them to get back in at a later date – some even go so far as to install a backdoor into the system so they can come and go as they please. Having walked away richer the first time, what’s to stop them from going back to the well a second or even third time? They know that the company is willing to pay, and so they make the company pay.

Thankfully, while the consequences of a ransomware attack can be more dire than other types of attack, they are no more difficult to prevent, or to deal with afterwards – given a certain amount of preparation.

Ransomware Defense

The first line of defense is prevention, and this involves solid email security that can detect and remove email-based threats before they reach the recipient. Another key part of prevention, or at least mitigation, is implementing a multi-layered security solution so that breaches can’t compromise the entire system. 

Finally, under preparation and aftermath, companies need to establish and follow a business continuity plan that incorporates real-time backups of all important data.

Real-time backups can allow companies to more or less ignore ransom demands. If infected with ransomware, they can simply roll back the clock to a point before the malware hit the system and continue on, as if nothing had happened, with minimal data or productivity loss.

Conclusion

According to the FBI, ransomware attacks in 2015 were responsible for ransom payments of just over $1.5 million. In 2016 that amount was almost a thousand times more – close to $1 billion. This huge increase is because of two factors: ransomware attacks are hard to stop, and the bad guys are almost impossible to catch.

If the numbers above are any indication, it will be almost impossible for most businesses to avoid a ransomware attack in 2017. Given an environment where ransomware attacks are an inevitability, being properly prepared is the only viable option.

Advantages of BYOD

BYODThe edge that small companies have over larger ones is they can move faster and aren’t bound by restrictive agendas. Small businesses will more likely allow employees to work on the device of their choice. It’s a win-win for the owner and staff members who enjoy flexibility in the workplace. Here’s a deeper look at how bring your own device (BYOD) programs help streamline businesses.

BYOD Cuts Costs

The most obvious advantage to BYOD for a company is that it saves money. The company won’t have to invest in as many computers or software licenses, as workers are responsible for bringing their own laptops, notebooks, and smartphones. The firm will not have to keep upgrading hardware and software, and it will cut costs on security.

One of the most valuable advantages to BYOD is that it provides the company with a safety net in case of a power outage or other disruption. Not everyone will be affected by the same network conditions. Businesses will be able to redirect IT personnel to focus on cost efficiency.

Evidence of Successful BYOD Strategies

Harrison Associates is a health care organization that embraces the BYOD concept. By allowing employees to bring their own devices and providing them with IT support, the company has been able to attract experienced talent.

The firm has used a formal BYOD solution that includes Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS) as a more affordable alternative to shared systems management software Citrix. This solution has led to a reduction in support calls and downtime. Another advantage is that it allows employees to see all applications in one area.

Another organization that has enjoyed success with device flexibility is independent mobile games developer Hutch, led by CEO Shaun Rutland. His policy has been to let employees get their work done with the least amount of friction. Some of the cloud services that help shape the company’s communications are Google Apps for Business, Dropbox, GitHub, Slack, and Atlassian.

The company offers maximum device policy flexibility that includes security and management for its workers. Many of them connect and do assignments as needed. The result is a more confident and productive workforce with less than 3% staff turnover.

Terms and Agreement Language

The best way to secure a commitment from employees that they will comply with company policies is by issuing them a Terms and Agreement form to sign. Their signature will confirm that they have read and understand the policy. The form should specify who pays for communications devices and services and who is responsible for damages that may occur to a device.

One area that is essential to address is setting a policy for personal and professional use. Some companies use software that splits a device into two separate compartments. Employees will be expected to not mix work and personal data. The terms should specify devices, job roles, and security requirements. It should also explain remote policies on network use and disciplinary action for not meeting requirements.

Security Budgets Continue to Soar, But Is It Enough?

SecuritySecurity is now a vital concern for businesses across several industries. However, investments in privacy and defense should have been implemented years ago. With cyber crime now an international epidemic, why have so many companies waited so long to invest in cybersecurity measures? The following sheds some light on whether or not it’s too late to invest in cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity Is an Increasing Concern

Cybersecurity is a growing concern for many businesses, and the number of high-profile breaches continues to grow each year. In 2015, there were approximately 781 data breaches across the U.S. – the second highest year on record for security invasions. According to industry monitors, 40% of those breaches happened entirely in the business sector.

With this in mind, industry experts have predicted mass-scale investments in cybersecurity for 2017. Here are a few statistics based on Business Insidermagazine and other industry publications:

  • An estimated $655 billion will be invested in cybersecurity measures between 2015 and 2020.
  • Nearly $2.77 trillion in security investments was estimated for 2016 – far above the $75.4 billion in spending that took place in 2015.
  • These numbers suggest that businesses are just now catching on to the importance of cybersecurity.

Are Recent Security Investments Enough?

Are these recent security investments enough to combat the rising number of intrusions? According to Radware, companies that are only now investing in cybersecurity protocols are way behind. This is due to new threats that are evolving at rapid rates, so much so that even the latest security applications and programs are not able to contest new strains of malware, adware, and other viruses.

Companies cannot afford to sit around and wait for the next best cybersecurity solution. Industry experts recommend the following:

  • Never procrastinate when it comes to protecting enterprise hardware, software, applications, and general infrastructure.
  • Work with leading vendors to develop a sound and proactive security platform that can combat prior and new threats.
  • Strong security platforms are based on solid foundations; core policies and processes for data availability, integrity, access, and confidentiality must be in place.

 

The Rising Costs of Security

IBM recently estimated that the average cost of security breaches in 2016 was $4 million. This was up from $3.8 million in 2015 – and is slated to grow even more in 2017. With this in mind, businesses have to stop scrambling with last minute endeavors to protect corporate data. They simply need to agree on one comprehensive and cohesive security platform that will prevent massive revenue losses.

The longer businesses wait to implement cybersecurity initiatives, the more susceptible they will be to digital intrusions. It will also be harder for them incorporate security measures in the future, especially if infrastructure has already been jeopardized.

Securing the Right Levels of Encryption

EncryptionIn a business environment where workplace collaboration is now considered the norm, how are consumer-focused companies implementing end-to-end security? According to industry experts, many commercial entities are simply emulating the security infrastructures of companies like Apple and WhatsApp.

To combat unsolicited messaging and foreign intrusion, Apple revamped its security infrastructure to protect all its iPhone users and data. Similarly, WhatsApp amended its messaging technologies so that no one could access messages except for end-user clients. These changes have served as models for businesses wishing to incorporate stronger levels of encryption for their communications technologies.

Issues with Encryption

While encryption is now commonplace for collaborative efforts, it is still not easy for companies with cloud-based messaging and communications. This is due to the following obstacles:

  • Cloud technologies are consistently changing and evolving, resulting in newer encryption modules that must be adopted and implemented by subscribers.
  • Cloud-based services are now adding more features, including bots, artificial intelligence, and even third-party integration.
  • The above-mentioned features are simply known as “valued additions”. However, this means that third party vendors will still have full access to user data and content.

To tackle this form of “accepted intrusion”, companies in the cloud are looking for stronger and more durable forms of encryption. In fact, they are seeking codes and programs that will protect user data and transmissions from even recognized vendors and services providers. In an industry that is blanketed with so many forms of encryption, is it possible to secure the right balance between content access and privacy?

Encryption Solutions in a Nutshell

There is no concrete answer to the current encryption dilemma. However, IT experts still play a pivotal role in encrypting codes and establishing access, eligibility, and defense for messaging programs. In other words, companies cannot go either way with encryption; not too insecure, but also not too clamped down. They must collaborate to find common ground and acceptable levels of encryption for all parties involved.

To that end, businesses should use fully locked down end-to-end consumer messaging tools. This means companies can take advantage of existing encryption and security codes without investing in other paid messaging apps.

Enterprise Messaging Providers

While WhatsApp seems to be a plausible solution, it is not the only program in town. Enterprise messaging providers also feature end-to-end encryption databases for all messaging platforms. However, services like Slack and HipChat are designed to be less strict when it comes to recognized intrusion. The latter includes IT involvements, especially during periods of downtime and maintenance. Certain clients may also have access to these internal chat databases, which can seriously impact privacy. With this in mind, user content and data can still be breached, and hackers may easily be able to intrude as well.

Millennials and Unified Communications: What’s the Connection?

shutterstock_328634297The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that Millennials are likely to comprise 50% of the national workforce by 2020, and as much as 75% by 2025. Businesses are beginning to recognize that these individuals are valuable in many ways, including the effective adoption of unified communications (UC) technologies.

UC uses tools such as instant messaging, email, and video chat in a single platform that allows employees to more easily communicate with each other from nearly any location. The main influence behind the increase in UC adoption is the Millennial generation.
How Millennials Are Changing the Landscape

Millennials have benefited from instant communication technology that allows them to easily connect with individuals from any location at any time. Many Millennials are used to this technology out of the workplace, so it’s natural for them to want to utilize that same innovation on the job. This means that if employers want to appeal to the Millennial generation, implementing UC systems is a necessity.

A study published by Bentley University found that 77% of Millennials think that more flexible work hours would result in greater productivity, with 40% relating the same belief regarding remote and virtual work. Also according to the study, many stated that they would be willing to sacrifice pay and promotions in exchange for increased flexibility. The nine-to-five system is becoming obsolete as a result.
Pros and Cons of Unified Communications

There are many reasons for businesses to implement UC. It allows organizations to employ people from nearly anywhere in the world, and retain a dynamic work schedule that helps maintain a consistent workflow. Businesses that operate without any kind of UC system face the risk of falling behind the competition and deterring Millennials—an increasing majority of the workforce.

On the other hand, UC doesn’t come without its risks. Ransomware and hacking attacks are some of the many threats that businesses face, but they can more easily avoid these issues with an effective security system that includes a reliable backup plan.

Ultimately, utilizing UC in business operations can prove invaluable to a business, encouraging Millennials to remain productive and become a part of the company’s success. Without a UC system, companies close themselves off to this lucrative generation.