Moving Forward in the New Normal

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It has been a trying time for everyone and every organization. Regardless of your business – things have changed. Employees have been told to stay away from their offices. But work still needs to be done. Customers/Clients still need to be contacted and relationships maintained.

What we have found is that most organizations have had to make these technical changes in a triage scenario. There wasn’t time to make these changes in a planned and controlled method. Instead, things had to be up and running over night. If not – business would be impacted, projects halted, revenue lost, employees frustrated.

Hopefully your organization has survived the triage time and you are moving to a longer-term strategy. Either thinking of returning to “normal”, or perhaps realizing that this may be a good time to re-evaluate your technical and communications infrastructure to support the “new normal”.

Here are a few things that we suggest you consider:

  • What are the security concerns to your data as a result of the work from home scenario?
  • Has your network been impacted due to an increase (or a decrease) in bandwidth usage?
  • Have you been assured that your remote workers can access E911 services if using the corporate infrastructure and resources?
  • Have there been new services added ad-hoc in order to support the transition?
  • Will these be short term or is it possible that this will become the new normal?
  • What are the technical and financial implications of these changes going forward?

Budgets may need to be re-evaluated and expenses reduced. This may be a good time to review existing contracts to determine if there are areas that can be modified to better reflect your situation going forward.

We at Abilita are professionals in these areas and are here to provide whatever assistance we can during these times. We don’t sell you telecom or technical services or products, but can listen to your concerns and help you determine the right course for your organization. 

Click here
 to schedule a no obligation 10-minute discussion to help the you determine the right course for your organization

admin@abilita.comMoving Forward in the New Normal
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Remote Worker Threats – Stay Protected

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Working from home introduces a much bigger threat of attack from hackers. Here are five remote access threats you should know about:

  • Phishing: tricking your employees into sharing sensitive data or passwords. 
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS): malicious attempts to disrupt normal server traffic, specifically aiming to take down your encryption service so your employees can’t use VPN.
  • VPN Tools: ensure all your VPN software has been patched to minimize chance of threats.
  • Remote Desktop: attackers could gain access to critical computer or servers through phishing or brute force attacks.
  • BlueKeep: a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop services allows for remote code execution. Make sure patches are installed. 

Abilita and our cyber security business partners can help protect your company against cyber attacks. If you wish advice on this or any other Communications Technology, contact your Abilita consultant today!

Click here to schedule a no obligation 10-minute discussion to discuss your objectives and identify a strategy to come up with the right Remote Worker solution for your company.

admin@abilita.comRemote Worker Threats – Stay Protected
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Remote Tele-Working Tips

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Can remote working be a coronavirus deterrent?

Many organizations are requiring or encouraging their people to work from home.
For many this is a first-time foray into the “work from home model”. REMOTE WORKING may be your organization’s new reality.

Here are some tips and gotchas that may help you or your company make the transition.

Phone Requirements
For many, a cell phone will be an adequate short term voice solution. Some companies have apps that mimic your office phone to your mobile device. It’s not without its limitations but it is a good stopgap solution. Good wi-fi at home helps. If your looking for a full VOIP solution, keep in mind, not all VoIP or “hosted” providers are created equal. Do your homework.

Desktop work
How’s your bandwidth? Make sure your bandwidth “pipe” can handle your day to day work load. Speed can matter. Quality of connection may matter more. AND check with your IT professional regarding Internet security and VPN requirements.  If you find this difficult to understand, contact us. We can help and we WONT sell you anything.  

All of our people work from home and have since 2004. We KNOW the rewards AND challenges of working from home (including barking dogs and full refrigerators). We can help advise you on what you might need for you or your company’s particular situation.

Abilita has been advising companies exactly how to do this for more than 17 years.
Abilita…we are THE Independent Technology Consulting firm in North America.
Be smart, be safe, be sensible, and be calm.
Here is our toll-free number: 1-888-836-4968.

Our website is Abilita.com

Click here to schedule a no obligation 10-minute discussion to discuss your objectives and identify a strategy to come up with the right solution.

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6 Secrets of Telecom Cost Reduction

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There are many secrets we have learned and refined over the years as communications technology consultants. Here are our top 6 cost reduction secrets:

1. Start with the easy stuff

Sometimes there’s SO MUCH to do, you don’t know where to start. Start with the no brainer, slam dunk, home-run tasks: telecom bills that are largest. These have the most potential for savings and will make the biggest impact.

2. Look at the bills….and don’t just assume if the bill is the same as last month, all is good!

We at Abilita normally find ourselves working in between finance and IT. Finance looks at the bills, but doesn’t know what the services are for. IT doesn’t look at the bills, but generally knows what the bills are for. Document what each telecom bill is for and the services received.

3. Keep contract copies

A LOT of our clients simply don’t keep track of their contractual documents with their telecom providers. Having a countersigned copy of the contract is particularly rare, but necessary. Some contracts have an auto-renew clause. Make sure you keep track of contract end dates so you can negotiate better rates upon contract renewal.

4. Make sure everything is under contract

Contract rates will be lower than off-the-shelf pricing. All of your circuits and services should be included in your contract to receive the lower rates.

5. If you don’t know what it is, cut it

We consistently find savings on unused and unnecessary services. We suggest you request a CSR (customer service record) to help determine the location and description and eliminate those no longer needed.

6. BUT….be careful what you cut

I realize this contradicts #5, however you will want to identify all of your circuits and Monthly Recurring Costs (MRC). One technique we use is to either unplug or have the LEC “busy out” a circuit. Then if still needed we can turn it back up in a matter of minutes.

All this can be complicated and time-consuming. That’s where Abilita can help you and your staff! As leaders in the communications technology consulting industry, we average 28% savings for our clients, and there is great satisfaction in knowing your inventory is up-to-date and your pricing is as low as possible. For help on this or any other communications technology project, contact your Abilita consultant today.

You can also schedule a 10 minute phone call to explore how we can help to reduce costs at  your organization. Please forward and share this email with any other interested staff.

admin@abilita.com6 Secrets of Telecom Cost Reduction
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911 CHANGES in Michigan and How They Affect You

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by Dan Aylward

We are all familiar with calling 911 and the simplicity, yet significant value, it has for our health and well-being. Behind the scenes is a vast and complex infrastructure in our communities. However, with changes in technology come necessary changes with this telecommunications infrastructure. By the end of this year, Public Act 244, which mandates 911 location phone systems in large buildings, will go into effect. By the end of 2020, every organization in Michigan with a phone system will need to be in compliance with changes in regulations governing 911 (with the exceptions below). What are the changes? Below are eight questions and answers to help you understand the changes, as well as information that all communities must understand for compliance.

What Is It? Not long ago we all used POTS lines (Plain Old Telephone Service) and PRI circuits (23 phone lines bundled into one digital circuit). Since these phone lines terminated at one physical address, almost all calls originated from a reasonable physical distance from the phone system. Today, with VoIP (Voice over IP) and UC (Unified Communication), someone could literally be anywhere when calling 911. This is a problem when you need to get emergency responders on-site as soon as possible AND to the right area within the building. The best solution is to send specific geographic identifier information to the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) when calling from a MLTS (Multi-Line Telephone System or phone system). This could be address, floor, wing or room information. Also, this does not relate to mobile service.

What Is the Law? Consider this: An employee has a heart attack after normal working hours with nobody around. He or she dials 911 and the ambulance goes to the wrong address. Or, the emergency responders don’t know where the caller is located in the building! This is a reality today with VoIP and multiple buildings tied to one phone system. It is for this reason that 911 is being enhanced to E911. Every organization in Michigan with a phone system in a location with building(s) of more than 7,000 square feet or multiple physical addresses must install equipment and software that reveals where in the building a 911 call originates. Single floor locations, farms, and houses of worship with less than 20,000 square feet and fewer than 20 communication devices (i.e. phones) will need to comply when a new phone system is installed.

Is This the Same as Next Gen 911? No. Next Gen 911 is a technology standard that allows PSAPs to receive texts, pictures, video chat, social media, and VoIP. This will also allow the 911 Call Centers to transfer calls to other call centers to handle call overload. However, many are not ready for this technology. It is also very difficult to know if your local PSAP is capable of handling anything besides calls and SMS (Short Message Service). For more information, you can consult the master PSAP registry at fcc.gov/files/ masterpsapregistryv2238xlsx.

Does 911 Need to Do Anything Different? Yes. The PSAPs need to update their systems as well. Most will because the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 authorized $112 million to do this and prepare for NG911. But this does not mean all are compliant.
When Will This Happen? This was supposed to happen in 2006, but the legislation has been delayed a couple times. The new date is December 31, 2019. Since House Bill 4249 passed, there have been some changes. However, all entities should be prepared to be in compliance by the end of 2020!

What Do We Have to Do? Almost all phone equipment eight years old (or newer) is compliant. However, you will need to make sure the phone system database is populated to send the appropriate information to the PSAP. Then, you’ll need to make sure your telecommunications company (e.g. AT&T) is pushing this information to the PSAP. Every extension on the phone system needs to have the capability to do this. For example: “734 Evergreen Terrace, Springbrook, MI, second floor, northwest corner” will be sent to the PSAP. Alternatively, you will have to identify the building(s) into 7,000-square-foot sections as identifiers.

Is There Any Ongoing Maintenance Involved with This? Yes. When you have moves, adds, changes, or deletions you will need to update the database with your telecom carrier. For example, if Michelle from the second-floor clerk’s office moves to the first-floor treasurer’s office, this information will need to be updated. In addition, if you have connected buildings with one phone system, the street address will need to be updated when an employee moves between buildings.

What if We Don’t? Penalties can be $500-$5,000 per offense; however, the greater concern is a lawsuit for noncompliance where compliance could mean saving someone’s life! Exceptions are if the building maintains, on a 24-hour basis, an alternative method of notification and adequate means of signaling and responding to emergencies or the phone system is not serviced by E911. The telecommunications industry and services have changed radically over the past ten years. However difficult it is to make this transition, it is important to incorporate standards for the safety of all staff.

Dan Aylward is a senior consultant for Abilita. You may contact him at 517.853.8130 or daylward@abilita.com.

Click here for more information and if you need help navigating these new regulations.

admin@abilita.com911 CHANGES in Michigan and How They Affect You
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VoIP and Cloud – Right Fit Planning Guidelines

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In 2018/19, according to Gartner, roughly 1/3 of companies reported issues and dissatisfaction with their cloud VoIP solutions.

The key to a successful cloud transition is in proper planning, to get a system that fits your needs, from the right provider, at the right price.

With a successful cloud implementation:

  • Employees appreciate the seamless integration of their office and mobile phones allowing them to work anywhere and keep in touch with their customers and fellow workers. Collaboration is easier.
  • IT Departments appreciate the outsourced application, allowing them to spend time on priority projects rather than maintaining/updating a legacy phone system and managing the vendors.
  • Management appreciates the increased employee productivity, improved customer relations, and flexibility offered by cloud systems.

With an unsuccessful or problematic cloud implementation:

  • Employees will bypass the office phone systems, telling customers or suppliers to “use my cell number”.
  • IT Departments will need to devote priority time and effort to sort the issues out with the vendor and the company data network. They’ll also likely be blamed for the problems.
  • Management is unhappy with the employee dissatisfaction and customer relations issues and if necessary the cost to transition again to a new system or provider.

Needs Assessment

What system features do you need and would like to have in a Unified Communications system?

  • i.e. Mobile integration, multi-location, call center requirements and reporting, employee collaboration tools, and conference calling.
  • What are your growth requirements over the next few years?
  • How important is redundancy and back up?

Pricing can vary considerably depending on the features selected.

Resource – Managed vs. Outsourced

How much responsibility do you want to retain in house or off load? 

It is important that your Unified Communications system integrates effectively with your data network and security protocols.

Some vendors will offer a completely separate network for your communications, so that there is no interference between your voice and your data applications.    

Data Network assessment – The Network Is the #1 Failure Point for UCaaS

In planning you need to start with a proper network assessment, not only what you have now but what your data/voice requirements will be a few years out.

Potential Network Issues:  Enough Bandwidth, Latency and Jitter, Misconfigured Router/Firewall, Internal Network Problems, Internet Fail Over

The solutions may be more bandwidth or a separate voice network to ensure that you have the right provider for the quality you need. The selected VoIP-UC provider needs to have the expert network techs to work with your IT department to plan and resolve any issues.

Finance Considerations

Today many Unified Communications are cost competitive, even with traditional telephony when you consider the phone line costs plus the licensing and maintenance costs for a traditional phone system. 

Capex or Opex ?  You often have the choice to purchase or rent your phone hardware.

Contract terms? How long are you prepared to contract your system for?  

Vendor Selection

Do your research carefully on any vendors to be considered.

  • Do they have sufficient rollover facilities to avoid any network failures?
  • Customer satisfaction?
  • Do they have adequate project management and follow up support?
  • Do they monitor call quality?
  • How do they handle system and feature upgrades?

To schedule a 10 minute phone call to explore cloud communications for your organization, click here.

admin@abilita.comVoIP and Cloud – Right Fit Planning Guidelines
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Phone Companies Are Literally Letting Their Networks Fall Apart

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Once as important as the railroad and electrical grid, phone companies aren’t quite what they used to be. The article below addresses some trends our offices are seeing across the country:

  • Rural areas are still struggling for reliable high-speed connectivity with decaying facilities.
  • The breakdown and transition of traditional carrier networks from copper to fiber.
  • The migration of customers from carriers to cable.

Many aging networks, built on taxpayer subsidies, still remain in use and slower expensive DSL can sometimes be the only broadband service available in rural areas.

Many phone companies have attempted to shift their business models toward new, more profitable sectors as the use of copper-based landlines has plummeted over the past few years. As VoIP services became more common in the early 2000’s, the nation’s phone companies used this surge in voice competition to convince lawmakers that meaningful oversight was no longer necessary.

Cable operators certainly appreciate phone companies’ apathy. Consumers with an actual choice in broadband providers are fleeing to cable at an unprecedented rate. This shift to cable operators has allowed them to raise their rates, impose arbitrary usage caps, and struggle with customer service.

And while next-gen wireless networks may provide an additional competitive option to some of these neglected customers, wireless won’t be a magic bullet for many due to geographical limitations, bandwidth usage restrictions, and potential higher prices.

To help you determine your best option for your voice and data networks, contact your Abilita consultant today.

admin@abilita.comPhone Companies Are Literally Letting Their Networks Fall Apart
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‘Tis the Season for Cyberattacks

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Cyberattacks skyrocket during the holiday season, especially those that use spear phishing to target victims. According to the recent Carbon Black Holiday Threat Report, cyberattacks are on track to increase by nearly 60% this season alone. Don’t be a victim. This report identifies the simple steps everyone can take to help protect themselves and their company.

Most holiday-centered cyberattacks on businesses come from malware, typically delivered via spear phishing campaigns, according to the report. Companies are also the most vulnerable during the holidays, struggling to keep security teams available for holiday hours. However, the best way companies can stay protected is actually nontechnical, and more interpersonal, the report found.

Businesses can best protect themselves by creating a company culture that prioritizes cybersecurity and internet safety. To help companies stay safe from phishing attacks, the report identified the following three ways to spot a spear phishing email:

1.      Evaluate the email’s basic hygiene – Often with these emails, you’ll see poor grammar, misspelled words and unorthodox URLs. Also, regardless of who is sending an email, be sure to do a brief check to ensure the sender’s domain and email address are accurate and known to you: check the sender address before opening the e-mail or look at it in a preview panel first.

2.      Determine the email’s content and motivation – Any requests for personal or financial information should be viewed with extreme caution, especially in business settings where attackers are keen to use spoofed emails from executives to target lower-level employees.  Ensure your employees are familiar with company internal policies with regard to how and what personal information they will ask an employee to provide.

3.      Attachments and link landmines – Downloading an attachment from anyone other than a verified, trusted source is perhaps the quickest way to get yourself in trouble when it comes to a phishing email. Attackers are aware of this and, as a result, will often use links inside of attachments to target victims.

Companies can protect against spear phishing emails by check the message’s basic hygiene, determining the email’s motivation, and taking caution with opening attachments.

admin@abilita.com‘Tis the Season for Cyberattacks
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Don’t Take the Bait – Avoid Phishing Scams

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Fishing can be an exceptionally relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon. That is, unless you’re the fish. The more contemporary concept of phishing scams everyone, from ordinary web surfers to marketers to high-level executives.

3 ways to protect your business from phishing scams

To help you steer clear of future headaches, here are three key ways to protect your business from the vast number of phishing scams lurking on the web:

  • Use proven professional antivirus software.
  • Migrate from HTTP to HTTPS.
  • Preach the importance of safe email use.

What are phishing scams?

Put simply: Phishing scams are attempts by a hacker to pilfer your personal information for their own financial gain. And they cast a wide, effective net — costing companies roughly half a billion dollars per year in the U.S. alone.

Being able to avoid the bait set every day by hackers and scam artists is an important skill to cultivate for all internet users. And if you’re running any aspect of your business online, getting caught will cost you not only money but also loss of customer confidence and possible fines for not providing adequate safeguards.

Let’s look at each strategy in more detail.

1. Use (and update) your antivirus software

There are a variety of tools and antivirus software services available for businesses. Free downloads do not provide the full range of protection a business needs. Your antivirus package should include email, web and malware protection.

Once your antivirus software is live, don’t just set it and forget it. Leaving all of your company data in the hands of out-of-date software is asking for trouble. Studies have found that out-of-date antivirus software is similar to having no antivirus protection at all.

2. Migrate your website from HTTP to HTTPS 

One type of phishing that is less publicized but equally dangerous is referred to as pharming, and it can affect your website even when clicking a link or downloading an attachment. The “S” at the end of HTTPS stands for Secure which means communications between your browser and website are encrypted.

​While HTTPS protects your own website to a great extent, seeing it on another website doesn’t mean that URL is necessarily safe. Phishers have learned to exploit some SSL certificates, which give a website its “HTTPS” encryption designation.

3. Preach the importance of safe email use (don’t click that link!)

Even with all of the antivirus technology in the world at your disposal, user error can still lead to company data getting compromised. All it takes is one wrong click inside an inbox.

Phony emails that trick users into divulging their personal information are prevalent and they are on the rise as automation makes sending out bulk messages easier than ever. If even one employee fell for a single one of these email phishing scams, it could mean big trouble for your business.

Phishers have had time to refine their skills over the years. Some now even specifically take aim at company executives (a process known as whaling) to nab high-level access to all kinds of company/employee data.

Make sure your employees are aware of what’s at stake when it comes to safe email use. Implement policies for safe and secure email. Building a culture of skepticism where suspicious emails are treated with caution is a big step toward protecting your business from the negative effects of email phishing.

You can never be too cautious

Online phishing scams are born out of vulnerabilities. If one hacker or fraudster finds a situation that can be exploited, they are going to do so. These con artists have been known to use psychology, technology and craftiness to exploit anyone or any situation they can. Scams can also be perpetrated via the phone: phishing for account numbers and passwords or requesting bank account details to process a “refund”.

If you invest in the digital security of your business, train employees to be critical of suspicious emails, and maintain a proactive rather than reactive attitude about data protection, you’ll be able to ideally avert every potential phishing crisis that rears its ugly head.

Abilita and our business partners are available to assist with any of your company’s technology needs. Contact your Abilita consultant today.

 

This article, written by Brenda Barron, first appeared on GoDaddy.com on Oct 11, 2018. Brenda Barron is a writer from southern California specializing in technology and business. 

admin@abilita.comDon’t Take the Bait – Avoid Phishing Scams
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Two Factor Authentication – Not the Panacea to Protect your Business from Cyber Crime

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  • Two Factor Authentication, although an extra layer of security, still has potential for cyber crime.
  • View the video of KnowBe4’s Kevin Mitnick demonstrating how Two Factor Authentication can be hacked.
  • User education and training along with other cyber security efforts can help protect your company’s data.

In today’s world of digital crime and Internet fraud, most people are familiar with the importance of online login security using usernames and passwords. Two Factor Authentication adds an extra layer of security that requires not only a username and password but also a piece of information only they should know or have immediately on hand – such as a physical token.

This does make it harder for potential intruders to gain access and steal that person’s personal data or identity, however Two Factor Authentication may not be the panacea that many believe it is. Kevin Mitnick, cybersecurity expert and KnowBe4’s Chief Hacking Officer, shows in the video below how easily this defensive measure can be spoofed:

This example demonstrates how Two Factor Authentication is not enough to stop phishing attacks. You and your employees must remain diligent through user education and training, along with technology to help protect your company’s data.

Abilita and our cybersecurity business partners can help protect your company against cyber attacks. Contact your Abilita consultant today for assistance.

admin@abilita.comTwo Factor Authentication – Not the Panacea to Protect your Business from Cyber Crime
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