The arrival of a new year is a time for new beginnings. Gyms are full nationwide; liquor stores are losing money and chocolate consumption is at an all-time low (at least until February 14) as we decide to use an arbitrary point in time—January 1—as a turning point for our lifestyles. Out with the old, in with the new! Many new year’s resolutions don’t make it past the end of January, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and prove to be the exception to the rule! But instead of just thinking of ways to physically improve your lifestyle, it’s also a good time to think about developing some good habits in your digital life. I’ve blogged about many of the following topics in detail, but in this blog post I’ve put together some ideas for you to consider as a checklist for shoring up your computing habits to implement some best practices. Using my technology new year’s resolutions for businesses checklist, you can sleep soundly at night, with sore muscles, knowing that your digital assets are better protected than they were in 2016!
1 - Passwords
Passwords are the first item on this list because they are the most important. It’s time to stop reusing the same password over and over.
I’ve written blog posts
before about the importance of unique, strong passwords, and my fellow wizard, Joaquin, has done a good write up on using a password manager
so you never have to remember passwords again. It’s hard to overstate just how important this is. The number one way people get hacked is through compromised passwords. If you re-use a password in multiple places, assume that it’s a when, not if scenario as to when those accounts will be compromised. Recently, a hack of LinkedIn from 2013 resulted in thousands of Skype accounts being compromised in 2016. The only way that is possible is because of how many people used the same password for both LinkedIn and Skype, and clearly hadn’t updated them.
Writing down passwords on post-it notes is also a habit you need to leave behind in 2016.
Make a commitment to start doing it right in 2017—use a password manager. Let it show you all the places you’re insecurely re-using passwords, and let it fix them for you. Let it show you weak passwords that are easily guessable, and let it replace them with long strings of random alphanumeric characters. It won’t matter to you, because you won’t have to remember it!
Boiling it down:
Don’t use the same password twice. Don’t write down your passwords. Don’t use simple, easy to guess passwords. A password manager app can take care of all of those points for you.
2 - Backups
The next most important item is making sure your PC is backed up. I’ve written a blog post
about this topic, also. My advice hasn’t changed: Your data isn’t safe unless it exists in three places; on your PC, on a separate hard drive, and in the cloud. Hard drives fail, that’s a fact of life. Maybe because I work in IT, I see it more than others, but it happens surprisingly often. And I hate hate hate
when a client’s hard drive fails and they have no backups. It’s shockingly hard and expensive to recover data from a corrupt hard drive. If you’re extremely lucky, it’s just a small glitch that made the drive “forget” where all the files are stored. A specialized recovery program and a dedicated computer can retrieve files one at a time, although often all organizational structure is lost. And that’s the lucky cases. If it’s a hardware failure it can cost thousands of dollars to send the hard drive off to a professional recovery facility that dismantles the drive in a clean room to evaluate whether it’s even salvageable. By contrast, it’s shockingly cheap and easy to back up your hard drive before
it goes bad. External hard drives are less than $100, and you can pick one up at a half a dozen stores in your town. Cloud backups are literally pennies per gigabyte. It’s really a no-brainer. Windows 10 has a built-in tool for backing up your files and folders to an external hard drive. And Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure, has a tool to back up your files and folders to the cloud that charges by the gigabyte.
Boiling it down:
Let’s make 2016 the last year you trust all your files and folders to the cheap hard drive that came stock with your laptop.
3 - Patches and Updates
This is another subject I’ve blogged about
recently. Fallible human beings wrote every single piece of software running on your computer, so remember: no software is ever released 100% bug-free. Even OpenBSD, quite possibly the most secure operating system ever written, has the tagline of “Only two remote holes in the default install, in a heck of a long time!
” referencing two major flaws that have surfaced since its inception in 1996. This just goes to show all software has security vulnerabilities and that you need to make sure you’re keeping your computer fully patched and up to date. The problem with updates is how inconvenient they are, and how easy it is to just click the “Remind me later” button. Unfortunately, unless you have an IT partner managing your network, your computer’s updates are entirely your responsibility.
Boiling it down:
Either get a schedule to run your updates and commit to sticking to it, or find a managed IT services partner (like Bit-Wizards!) to take care of it for you. Stress free in 2017!
4 - Virus Protection
Virus protection goes hand in hand with updates and patches. If you don’t have virus and malware protection, you’re lighting a very short fuse to catastrophe. Your PC likely came with some free trial software for virus protection, but if you’re like most people, you might not have gotten around to paying the full upgrade price to get protection back after the trial expired. Early viruses were annoyances that messed up your computer. Then adware made its debut, and the new breed of viruses caused ads to pop up on your computer, spawning new window after new window, often warning you of a virus infection and giving you a phone number to call that you can pay money to remove it. Insidious!
However, the latest generation of malware is far worse. It’s called ransomware, and once it gets on your computer it proceeds to infect the entire network. It often lies dormant for several days to make sure it’s not only infected the network, but also any local backups that are happening on a schedule. Once the malware has infected your machine, the damage is done before you even realize it, because the virus triggers a massive file encryption, locking up all your company’s documents with a secure password, that only the malware developers know. And you’ll need to pay up, often in the $70,000 range, to get that password to unlock the files you own. An incident like that can ruin your whole year, and catastrophically hurt your business.
Boiling it down:
Malware protection and managed IT services may seem expensive, and it’s easy to put them off to save money, but they are cheap compared to the cost of an infection. Don’t take the risk of ransomware into 2017 with you.
5 - Office 365 and Cloud Storage
Finally, let me recommend that in this upcoming year you switch your company to an enterprise-class email solution. Too many organizations rely on unmanaged email servers or Google mail, even though email is the primary source of communication, and thus the lifeblood of the company. Too many companies store their important documents on local hard drives or consumer-grade network file shares. There is too much at risk to keep doing business like this. It’s time to switch to Office 365 in 2017. You get enterprise grade email services, available from any device with built-in SPAM, phishing, and malware detection. You get the latest, patched and updated office apps like Word and Excel. And you get cloud storage in a company-wide intranet that is backed up by Microsoft’s SLA. All that for just a few bucks a month. I don’t know why everyone hasn’t switched already. I host my own personal email in Office 365, it’s that convenient, and it’s an unbeatable value.
Boiling it down:
Leave subpar email and storage services behind you in 2016, and upgrade for better protection and better value.
Many of the subjects I’ve listed in this blog you wouldn’t even have to worry too much about if you had a managed IT service partner to make sure your computer is backed up to the cloud, fully patched and updated, and actively protected from viruses. Of course, we can’t stop you from writing passwords on post-it notes stuck to your monitor, but we can help you not have to resort to that!