Monday, February 27, 2017

Protect Yourself Before Your Phone is Lost or Stolen

We take lots of technology for granted today. And one major piece of technology we just "assume will be there" is our smartphone. We use it for email, texting, Facebook, SnapChat, fetching a ride, settling an argument, playing games, and a hundred other things. It contains all of our contacts and LOTS of really important photos.

So it can be unnerving when our phone is lost. There are really three kinds of "lost."

First there's misplaced. It's really between the seat cushions or you left it in the car. But for the moment it's lost. We're not going to discuss this kind of lost.

Second there's broken. A broken phone is a sad thing because you can hold it in your hand and know all your data is there somewhere. You just can get it. The obvious first thought is to find someone who can retrieve your data. When that happens, it almost doesn't matter what it costs.

Finally, there's gone. A phone is gone when it's stolen, dropped down a canyon, etc. In other words, you know for a fact you'll never see it again. But in this case, someone else might find that phone. With your contacts, your pictures, you banking app, and all your other data. If you've connected it to work data, then they might have access to that as well.

Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your phone.

1. Back it up!

As far as I know, every phone and every cell service provider has a way to back up your data. Use that tool! Don't delay. Don't forget. Don't make excuses about why you're not doing it. Do it.

If you want a better tool, or you want help doing this, contact your technology consultant. They tend to have really good options for backup and data recovery. After all, the one that comes free with the phone is free for a reason.

2. Document it.

This seems like overkill - until your phone is lost or stolen. Just as you should have a list of all the cards in your wallet so you can report them missing, you should have a list of all the accounts accessed by your phone without a password. If you save passwords, someone might be able to use your phone to access your bank accounts, PayPal, company email, and lots of other stuff. Take inventory. If you lose your phone, you'll be in a high stress situation and you probably won't remember all the accounts accessible from that phone.

3. Brick it.

Any good technology consultant can help you set up a system to "brick" your phone. Some call it a "remote wipe" of the phone. Basically, it means they can push a button and delete all the data on the phone. Yes, your pictures are gone forever, but so is your unencrypted password list, you company email, and all the other secure information on that phone.

Sometimes, remote wipe capability is already built into your email service. For example, this is often enabled if you have a hosted Microsoft Exchange mailbox. If nothing else, have a conversation with your technology consultant and see what you have and what you can get.

4. Manage it.

Many technology consultants offer something called Mobile Device Management. They may be able to track your phone, verify that it is protected from viruses, back it up every day, and perform a remote wipe if necessary. This is usually a super cheap option.

The bottom line: You never have to panic if your phone dies, or is lost or stolen. With a little preparation, you can feel confident that all your pictures and data are save, and that your bank accounts and company emails are safe as well. Yes, it's still a hassle. But it's a lot LESS of a hassle if you take a few extra steps.

Think of these things as a type of "insurance" for the data on your phone.

Ask you technology consultant what you already have and what they recommend going forward.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Electricity is Your Friend - Until It's Not

One of the best things your computer consultant can do for your business is to protect your power. Here's what you need to know.

First: Assess the reliability of your power. If your power goes out on a regular basis, you are probably very aware of it. Luckily, that's not a common scenario. But "brown outs" and power fluctuations can go unnoticed by people. Unfortunately, they don't go unnoticed by electronic equipment (computers, network equipment, printers, etc.).

A "smart" battery backup (UPS or Uninterruptible Power Supply) will have a readout so you can see the measurement of electricity moving into your building and the amount being used by whatever's plugged into the UPS. With the right software (normally included for free), you can track voltage spikes and sags.

If electronic equipment doesn't last as long as you expect it to, it might be because the power to your building is irregular. And that may be easily fixed! It might be the line from the utility company that needs to be fixed.

Some areas just never have sustainably reliable power. That makes having a UPS a requirement.

But even if you have the most reliable power, a UPS is still a good idea.

So the first thing you should do is to assess the reliability of your power. The second is to verify that all of your important equipment is plugged into a working UPS.

There are two pieces to that puzzle: 1) You need a UPS. 2) It should be working.

Too many people buy equipment and then assume it will work forever. It won't. The most reliable thing a UPS will do is provide surge protection. That means it will protect you from electrical spikes that can come any time, even with most reliable power from your utility.

The second thing a UPS does it to provide actual "conditioned" power. That means that the power supplied to your electronic equipment is stable. There are no spikes or sags that can blow out the electronics. The UPS does this in part through it's circuitry and in part because of the third thing it provides: a battery.

Electricity flows into the UPS and charges the battery. The electricity might spike up and down, but the system reliably charges the battery. Power flowing out of the UPS flows through the battery. So the output is always consistent. Even if the electricity from your utility goes out altogether, the UPS continues to power equipment from the battery. Nice and even and reliable.

. . . Unless the battery's dead. If the battery can not longer hold a charge, then you basically have a very heavy surge protector.

UPS batteries normally last about three years. You can always test one by plugging in a piece of equipment (I recommend a lamp, not a computer) and unplugging the UPS. If the equipment goes out immediately, your battery needs to be replaced. You computer consultant will probably be able to order one, unless the battery is super old.

If you have a "smart" UPS, you should be able to get a readout that tells how how many minutes your UPS will stay up when the power goes out. This readout is notoriously wrong. A stress test will tell you the correct answer. With a stress test, you unplug the UPS and watch how long in actually takes for the battery to die. Your consultant can do this safely without causing problems with your computers.

What Should be Plugged Into a UPS?

You want to plug "electronics" into a UPS. That means computers, servers, network equipment, phone systems, and all the things that have those annoying plugs with rectangular boxes on one end or the other. Generally speaking, those things all have circuits inside that can be fried.

Here's a list in descending order of importance (From my point of view. Your IT guy may put these in a different order.):

- Your Server
- Desktop and laptop computers
- Monitors
- Storage arrays, NAS, SAN
- Switches
- Router
- Firewall
- Phone system
- Voice mail system
- Wireless access points
- Scanners
- Other network connected equipment such as backup device, spam filter, etc.
- Specialty equipment
- Televisions
- Stereo/music systems

And here's a list of things that should NOT be plugged into a UPS. These things generally draw a lot of electricity, are less fragile, and can damage your UPS:

- Heaters
- Fans
- Anything with a motor (e.g., electronic desk controls)
- Printers (unless you have a specialty UPS designed for this)
- Large all-in-one business machines
- Refrigerators
- Lamps
- Electric staplers
- Power tools, including battery chargers

One time we had a large client (about 75 users) who had all kinds of stuff plugged into the UPSs, so we went through the office and put green electrical tape on the end of any cord that COULD be plugged into a UPS. If we ever found anything else plugged in, we were authorized to unplug it and work with the employee to find a safe place to plug it in.

A few notes to remember:

1) A power strip is not a surge protector unless it says it's a surge protector

2) A surge protector is not a UPS (battery backup). When the electricity goes out, it's dead.

3) A good, brand name UPS can save you thousands of dollars. But they need to be maintained. Batteries need to be replaced. And they need to be tested from time to time.

This Costs Money

I get very frustrated with business owners who think they can buy something once and never put money into it again. You can't do that with anything in your life or business. Stuff gets old. It wears out.

UPSs for every desktop cost a little money now. Consider a good UPS to be a three-year insurance policy for electrical problems. Depending on what you buy, that might be $100-$150 per desktop. For that you get uninterrupted work, no electrical spikes, and protection for unforeseen electrical problems. Plus you don't have to buy a new PC or monitor for that workstation due to electrical problems.

It's rare to have a major electric problem. But they happen to SOMEONE every day. If you lost every piece of computer equipment in your office right now, how disruptive and expensive would that be?

Talk to your computer consultant about tuning up your UPSs today.