How Page Content Monitoring Can Improve Your Site Security

security-265130_1280Business owners can’t exactly spend all day checking in with their website to ensure that it is performing as it should. The good news is that there are all kinds of monitoring programs and services to do the heavy lifting for you.

What do these monitoring platforms provide? There are any number of things the average business might want to track. For example, site uptime is a major concern for many business owners who want to make sure unscheduled downtime isn’t preventing customers (and prospective customers) from accessing their content.

The right monitoring service can alert a business when its website is experiencing downtime or even extended loading delays, just for example. Monitoring software and services could also be used to track network activity, error messages, customer logins, traffic, shopping carts, links, email, and more, including the content on your website.

Pretty much anything you want to monitor when it comes to your website performance can be tracked using appropriate software or monitoring services. What you may not realize is that such measures can do double duty by increasing your security, as well.

How can monitoring services, and content monitoring in particular, bump up your security? Here are just a few ways in which choosing appropriate software or service providers can keep you apprised of potential problems with your website and increase security in the process.

Deal with Downtime

There are obvious reasons to avoid website downtime. Some amount of downtime is, of course, unavoidable. Eventually you’re going to have to perform maintenance and upgrades to your site, and your web host will have scheduled downtime, as well.

What you really want to avoid is unscheduled downtime that stops visitors from reaching your site. When this happens, you risk losing both loyal customers and new visitors.

However, you gain more than just a window into what your visitors are encountering on your website when you hire a service to monitor downtime. You could also discover hacking or other attacks that disable your site.

Monitoring services will send you notifications when your site is experiencing unexpected downtime, allowing you to fix the problem post haste. This might actually allow you to stop a hack in progress and protect your network and data from breach.

What if hacking activities don’t result in downtime, though? Suppose someone is tampering with your content? In this case, having content monitoring services in addition to uptime monitoring could help you to spot unusual activity and stop hackers before they cause too much damage.

Spot Unusual Network Use

Some monitoring and management services provide a variety of network solutions for your business, including options to perform backups and keep an eye on network usage. Some even provide added security for your network in the process.

Regardless, the information these monitoring services provide can help to keep your business and your data safe. Network monitoring can provide you with clues to a number of different potential security threats.

When you receive alerts from your monitoring service showing unusual activity on your network, it could be a clue that employees are using your resources inappropriately, potentially creating security risks in the process. Or it could indicate that your network is under attack or that a breach is already underway.

Receiving such notifications allows you the opportunity to curb potentially harmful behavior by employees and stop hackers in their tracks, especially if your monitoring service also provides management and security.

Unfortunately, some threats come from inside your organization. Here, too, content monitoring could serve security purposes by alerting you to suspicious activities such as malicious tampering with your website content by disgruntled current or former employees.

Identify Who is Accessing the Network

With appropriate monitoring and management software or services in place, you increase your ability to determine who is responsible for breaches. Whether an employee has inadvertently allowed access to your network by clicking a spammy link, visiting a dangerous website, or sharing a password or you’ve come under attack by industrious hackers, the right monitoring program can help to trace the source of the breach.

This information can be invaluable when it comes to finding those responsible and setting up better protections in the future. Strengthening network security starts with understanding weaknesses, which monitoring methods can make you aware of.

Before you can address a problem you must first realize that something is wrong. Whether your network usage is high, your site is experiencing unscheduled downtime, or something hinky is happening with your content, the right monitoring software can alert you that there is a problem.

Derail Suspicious Email Usage

In addition to monitoring your website and your network usage, you should also keep tabs on email and messaging. For example, monitoring email could alert you to the transfer of confidential data or unusually large files, signaling inappropriate activity that goes against your security protocols.

You can also analyze log files after the fact to check for threats like viruses, quarantining as needed and tracking the sources of these threats. Regardless of the monitoring software or services you choose, you should know that you not only stand to gain valuable insight into and control over digital operations, but you could also increase security in the process.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On-Page SEO: 18 Easy Ways to Improve Your Rankings

This article has been contributed to the Site Uptime Blog by our friends at The HOTH SEO.

On-Site SEO Optimization

On-Site SEO Optimization

Even though on-page SEO is a synergy of different practices, not all of them are equally important. As you can see from Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors Study, various SEO practices influence SERP rankings differently. Although domain-level and page-level link features continue to dominate the charts in terms of
influence, on-page SEO is becoming increasingly important. What’s more, as opposed to off-site SEO, which cannot be completely controlled by the webmaster, on-page SEO is more accessible.

Continue reading

Posted in General | Leave a comment

Best Practices for Systems Backup

data backup cloudThe growth of internet operations over the past couple of decades has been extremely beneficial for commercial interests in a number of ways. Not only can businesses now reach a much broader range of prospective customers, but they can offer the convenience of purchasing from the comfort of home thanks to online shopping carts.

That’s just the benefits for retailers. Service providers can also offer ease of use to customers and clients thanks to speedy communiques and information sharing online. In both cases, however, there is one major challenge to consider: security.

When consumers provide businesses with private data, including names, contact information, credit card numbers, and even social security numbers, just for example, they expect this sensitive data to be protected. In addition, there are laws in place specifically aimed at protecting consumer privacy, such as those listed here on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

In other words, companies must have systems in place to protect confidential information, not only for customers, but also employees, vendors, and anyone else they do business with. Unfortunately, data breaches can occur, even with the best security measures in place.

Taking steps like encrypting data can help to ensure that even stolen information is unusable. However, a business that suffers a data breach could end up dealing with files that have been locked, corrupted, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unusable.

Natural disasters can occur, as well, wiping out memory or even destroying physical systems. For these reasons, companies must prepare for data recovery with a solid strategy for backing up data. Here are a few best practices to set you on the right path.

Hardware and Software

Your best bet when it comes to data recovery is to avoid situations where you have to recover lost or stolen data. This is the worst-case scenario when it comes to data protection.

The best way to avoid data loss is to set up hardware and software that keeps your data safe. This means utilizing secure servers and setting up network security programs like a firewall, antivirus software, and encryption to protect data from breach situations.

Of course, it’s not always possible to stop breaches or natural disasters that could wipe out your system, so it’s also important to set up a system of backups to make data recovery (at least from your last save point) possible.

Planning for Recovery

When it comes to backing up data, there are three main considerations: frequency, capacity, and policies and procedures. You need to start by determining how often you want to back up your data.

Some companies do it weekly, some prefer daily, and others have multiple saves per day. The frequency of turnover of data could help you to figure out how often you should back up information.

You also need to think about the capacity required to save your company data, especially if you want to keep several save points on hand. Ideally, you should plan for flexible storage capacity with the option to grow along with your operation, either in-house or off-site (or both).

Finally, you need to implement policies and procedures for backup. With the right hardware and software in place, you may be able to automate the entire process. Still, your employees should know how and when to back up data, as well as how to keep it safe.

3-2-1 Backup Rule

The rule of thumb for backing up data is the 3-2-1 rule. This rule states that you need a minimum of three copies of data, that it must be stored in at least two different formats, and that one copy of your data should be stored off-site.

This level of redundancy might sound extreme, but suppose you have operational data stored on a network and backed up on hard drives. What if a tornado destroys your office, your servers, and all of your data?

If such a catastrophe should occur, you’ll certainly be glad you created a third copy of your company data and stored it off-site, making recovery possible.

Monitoring and Management

The final practice to observe when it comes to data backup is monitoring and management. When you hire services to monitor your systems and manage your data backups, you can increase security and your ability to avoid costly issues like data breaches that could lead to losses.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Why a Slow Website Is As Damaging As a Down Website

loading tabletEveryone knows that downtime is bad for business, or at least that unscheduled downtime is bad. At least when you have a schedule in place for website maintenance or upgrades, you have plenty of lead time to let users know that your site will be temporarily unavailable, and you can put up an “out of office” type placeholder so they know when to check back.

Your web host can also warn you in advance about its scheduled downtime so you can adequately prepare. Scheduled downtime is not the problem – it’s the unscheduled variety, especially when you don’t know it’s occurring, that can wreak havoc on your page rank and patronage.

The good news is that there are monitoring services available to help you track unscheduled downtime and make necessary changes to avoid it in the future. What you may not realize, however, is that slow loading times can be just as detrimental.

According to Kissmetrics, a website has only about 8 seconds maximum to catch a visitor’s attention before that visitor navigates elsewhere. In addition, an estimated 40% of visitors leave if a page doesn’t load within 3 seconds.

This is bad news if your site is running even a little slow. If you’re not yet tracking load times in addition to your site uptime, you need to know the potential damage being done so that you understand how serious slow loading times can be.

Visitors Can’t Reach You

I know what you’re thinking. Slow loading times aren’t as bad as downtime because visitors can still reach you if only they’re willing to wait a few second.

Unfortunately, a short attention span dominates modern web surfing, thanks to the instant gratification of pages that load almost immediately. In other words, slow loading is a major problem.

Your site might as well be suffering downtime if it takes longer than a few seconds for pages to load, because visitors are going to navigate elsewhere and the chances they’ll return after a perceived failure are slim to none. You will have lost prospective customers as surely as if you were suffering downtime.

Shoppers May Abandon Carts

Suppose that visitors to your site are willing to wait for pages to load, albeit slower than usual. Perhaps they have a genuine interest in products or services that only you offer or that are superior to your competitors. Or maybe they’re returning customers that have purchased from you in the past and they already have an established relationship with your brand.

The unfortunate truth is that they may have to go through several different pages in order to complete a purchase. Each time a page loads slowly, they are more and more likely to abandon their efforts.

By the time they reach the shopping cart, they may grow worried that their transaction won’t go through. Or they may simply give up. Considering how many shoppers abandon carts without making purchases anyway, it stands to reason that slow loading times could definitely impact sales.

Loyal Patrons May Lose Patience

Your loyal patrons have grown to appreciate your brand and your goods/services. They are therefore more likely to be forgiving if your site is running slowly. But even their patience is likely to have limits.

The great thing about loyal patrons is that they’re likely to check back in. However, if they encounter slow loading times over and over again, their interest in returning could definitely decrease.

Search Engine Penalties

Search engines like Google send out bots to check in on websites for the purposes of indexing and determining page rank. If your website is frequently down or loading times prevent search bots from completing their objectives, your page rank could definitely suffer as a result.

Don’t be shocked – search engines are running a business, too, one in which they provide the most relevant results for user queries. If your pages are consistently difficult to reach because of slow loading times, and visitors frequently navigate away, your rankings are likely to suffer.

Loss of Customers and Revenue

Slow loading times are going to impact your online operations and your business as a whole in a number of ways, but the overarching detriments include losing customers and losing revenue. Both are essential to sustaining your business, so it’s best to identify slow loading times and find ways to nip this critical issue in the bud.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What Can You Learn From the Panama Papers Leak?

panama papersWhen it comes to cyber security breaches, there have been some real doozies. In fact, there have been some appalling breaches in just the past couple of years. Just look at the 2014 hit on Sony that resulted in the broadcast of executive emails and the resignation of key executives (following the 2011 attack on Sony’s PlayStation Network that reportedly cost the company over $170 million dollars).

How about the 2015 attacks on health insurance providers (Anthem, Blue Cross), banking institutions (JPMorgan Chase and Co.), dating website Ashley Madison (which you’d think would have abundant security considering the secretive nature of its adulterous clientele), and even the government (Federal Office of Personnel Management, or OPM)? That’s not even mentioning the many data breaches on mega-corporations like Target and Home Depot.

The point is that no one, not even the largest, richest, and most powerful organizations in the world, is exempt from attempted (and probably successful) hacking. However, the Panama Papers incident has been cited as exceeding all of these breaches in scope.

The data breach (of which The Guardian news outlet provided a handy primer here), which resulted in the theft and subsequent publication of 11.5 million files from the databases of Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca (the fourth largest offshore firm in the world), exposed the firm’s wealthy clientele, including a variety of world leaders. Included in the revelations was evidence implicating Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and Icelandic Prime Minister David Gunnlaugsson (among others) in shady and potentially illegal offshore activities.

Is there any good to be gleaned from this incident? If your business is the type to learn from the mistakes of others, the answer is yes. Perhaps the nature of the Panama Papers incident can serve as a warning. Here are a few things you could learn from this historic data breach.

The Attack was Simple

Since the Panama Papers leak, the method of the attack has come to light, and apparently the breach exploited a well-known weakness so simple that it could have been perpetrated by a child, much less a hacker of some skill.

This prompts the question: what are you doing to protect your website and network? Firewalls, antivirus programs, password protection, encryption, and monitoring are all great, but you need to stay up-to-date with known issues if you want the best chance to bolster your security and fight off intrusion. If you’re like most companies, you’re not even taking some of these common steps.

Valuable Data was Up for Grabs

As a business owner you know that some types of data are more valuable than others. For example, client names might not be as valuable as their social security numbers or credit card numbers.

Unfortunately, Mossack Fonseca failed spectacularly to adequately protect any of their client’s data, regardless of the relative value or need for privacy and confidentiality. In fact, it was discovered in the aftermath that sensitive data was regularly transferred via unsecured email, which would make it all too easy to get a hold of, even in the absence of the scope of hacking that occurred.

Additionally, data of a more sensitive nature was not compartmentalized and stored behind extra layers of security. Hackers had no trouble accessing and stealing everything, including the most private client data.

No One Noticed Unusual Activity

Simple network monitoring software or services could have easily spotted the enormous data transfer that occurred during the hack on Mossack Fonseca (amounting to 2.6 TB of data). This size of transfer is astronomical, and it should have immediately set off alarms and notification – if only proper monitoring had been in place.

Everyone Suffers

It’s no surprise that the Panama Papers leak had consequences for both the company and its clients. For example, David Gunnlaugsson stepped down as Prime Minister of Iceland following the leak, which revealed conflicts of interest in deals brokered after the financial crisis.

Other prominent world leaders were also revealed to have practiced unethical or even illegal activities relating to Mossack Fonseca, the least of which revolved around tax avoidance while the worst offenders appear to have stolen money from the very countries and people they represent. This, of course, is a worst-case scenario for any business, but the lesson is clear.

A company that allows such a data breach will lose clients, one way or another. Whether they leave due to lack of confidence or they find themselves so personally compromised by leaked data that they can no longer continue to function professionally, the company that allowed the breach is likely to be compromised beyond repair.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Free and Easy Network Security Tips for Every Office

Let’s be clear up front: every business is going to have to spend some money on network security. Not only do you need to put proper protections in place to ensure you’re not an easy target for hackers, but you also have to comply with federal and state laws pertaining to privacy. If a data breach compromises private data for employees, clients, and so on, you could find yourself in serious legal hot water.

However, once you have a firewall, antivirus/antispyware software, password protection software, and extras like VPN or FTPs in place to protect your network and your data, you’ll find that there are a number of free and easy ways to ensure that the protections you paid for continue to perform as intended. Here are just a few free and easy network security tips that will benefit every business.

Go Paperless

This might not sound like a network security tip, but if documents containing sensitive information like user names and passwords get into the wrong hands, a network breach could result. Even better, going paperless actually saves you money.

If you’re not able to go completely paperless, at least make sure to shred and recycle documents appropriately, taking every precaution to ensure that data isn’t readily available to industrious dumpster divers.

Perform Updates

Software and firmware need to be updated regularly if you want to protect your network from outside threats. Most of your hardware and software will have options in the settings to automatically check for and install updates, making the process easy for you, but if you have IT staff on hand, you may want to perform these updates manually or at least get notifications when new updates are available so you can decide if you want to allow them or not.

All of the hardware that supports your network, including computers, servers, modems, routers, and so on will need firmware and driver updates to continue functioning properly and communicating with other devices on your network. Relevant software updates can ensure that you’re protected against the latest threats. Both can help to keep you protected, but only if you check regularly and perform updates as needed.

Schedule Regular Scans

With proper updates your antivirus/anti-spyware software should protect your network from viruses and other malicious code. However, it’s a good idea to schedule regular system scans to ensure that nothing suspicious has slipped through the cracks and infiltrated your network.

Require Strong Passwords

Password protection is an excellent way to keep unwanted visitors out of your network, but only if the passwords used are strong enough that hackers can’t crack them. You should therefor require employees and online users to create strong passwords.

These days passwords should have a minimum of 8-12 characters, with combinations of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. In addition, users should make sure not to use personal information like pet names, birth dates, addresses, and so on.

One good option is to use an easy-to-remember acronym that looks like gibberish to anyone else. For example, the phrase “My 2 dogs-Fido and Spot-are 9 and 13” would become “M2d-FaS-a9a13”.

Change Passwords Frequently

It’s not enough to create strong passwords; you should also prompt users to change them on a regular basis. This will help to stop the potential threat arising from either employees that share passwords or hackers working on gaining entry to your system.

Policies and Training

All the protections in the world can’t keep you safe from ignorance and stupidity. You must therefore set clear policies for appropriate behavior when using the network and then train all employees accordingly.

These policies could include common sense activities like keeping passwords private (i.e. not sharing them with coworkers, supervisors, outsiders, or anyone else), as well as behaving in a safe and responsible manner when using company resources. Employees should be trained to avoid email from unknown senders, steer clear of dangerous websites, and avoid clicking suspicion links, just for example.

Having such policies in place and training employees to behave properly might seem like a waste of time, but it only takes one mistake and you might as well throw the doors wide open and invite hackers in. With proper hardware, software, policies, and training procedures in place, your business has the best chance of avoiding a data breach and the resulting fallout.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How Site Downtime Affects SEO Efforts

Every website is going to have some downtime. Hopefully this downtime is anticipated and planned for, such as when you or your web host performs scheduled maintenance and updates. In such instances, you have the opportunity to warn users in advance and even put up temporary placeholders to let visitors know when you’ll be back up and running.

Unfortunately, some amount of unscheduled downtime is also inevitable. You can take steps to avoid common issues like hardware and software failure, as well as human error, and the average business is unlikely to be the target of DoS (denial of service) attacks, but some things are out of your hands. When power outages, natural disasters, and other catastrophes occur, there’s not a lot you can do.

Of course, other issues may be at play. For example, your web hosting could be spotty, resulting in frequent, unscheduled downtime. Or you may not have adequate bandwidth to support the number of visitors to your site.

The good news is that with proper monitoring you can become aware of downtime and the issues causing it so that changes can be made. This is important not only so that visitors and patrons can access your site, but because downtime can have a marked impact on the efficacy of your SEO efforts.

If you’re going to bother spending time and money optimizing, you want to make sure there’s a return on investment. Here are a few ways in which network downtime could affect your SEO efforts.

Loss of Patronage

What is the point of search engine optimization? You want to take steps to ensure that consumers interested in your products or services are able to find you, that they’re able to find you before your competitors, and that they are not only directed your way, but compelled to visit your site, make purchases, and become loyal patrons.

In other words, SEO efforts are intended to increase visibility and encourage patronage. So you’re busily finding ways to funnel customers to your website. Now what if your website isn’t there?

As an online user yourself, you are no doubt familiar with the frustration of trying to visit a website and instead receiving error messages or extended loading screens. What is your response? You may try back again later, especially if you’re a loyal customer; but if this is your first visit, chances are you’ll navigate back to your search query and try the next result.

The point is that site downtime can be extremely damaging when it comes to impressing prospective customers and keeping loyal patrons happy. Your SEO efforts will be for naught if your site is often unavailable to users.

Inaccessibility

Customers aren’t the only ones looking at your website, which is why SEO is so important. If you want to be found by search users, you must first be found by search engines, or more specifically, crawlers that seek information for indexing purposes.

SEO is really designed to make sure you are found by web crawlers. There are complicated algorithms designed to determine how websites are ranked for search purposes. The more information web crawlers can gather on you, the better chance you have to boost your rankings, in a very simplistic sense.

So what happens when your website is inaccessible due to site downtime? If web crawlers look for your site and find it down once in a while, it probably won’t damage your SEO efforts. Search engines realize that site downtime happens and that it’s not always within your control.

What can be damaging is frequent or prolonged downtime. Web crawlers are programmed to recrawl, or check back with pages that are inaccessible. Where you get into trouble is if recrawls result in further inaccessibility.

When this occurs, especially over a prolonged period of time, your page rank will suffer as a result. It’s no surprise – search engines want to make sure they’re promoting the best results in order to keep their own users happy.

Site Speed

Another potential problem area is site speed, which Google admitted plays a role in their algorithms and rankings. With a subpar web host you could not only suffer downtime, but issues with loading speed as well.

It’s important to be aware of both of these factors and take steps to correct them. If you want to see the best results from your SEO efforts, it’s imperative that both web crawlers and consumers are able to access your site in a reliable and expedient manner.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Perform Site Upgrades With Minimal Downtime

Every website has downtime. Ideally, you won’t have to deal with unscheduled downtime due to power outages, natural disasters, or subpar hosting services. It’s much better if your downtime can be scheduled and prepared for.

That said, even scheduled downtime for maintenance, upgrades, and other necessities should be kept to a minimum so as not to disrupt traffic, make a negative impression on visitors, or raise the ire of search engine web crawlers that determine your rankings. Here are a few tips to help you perform site upgrades with minimal downtime.

Proper Planning

This is step number one. You may not be able to make every site upgrade seamless, but with proper planning and execution you can definitely minimize downtime, or at least minimize the impact of scheduled downtime.

When you start the upgrade process, well before you’re ready to implement changes, you should be thinking about how you’re going to create processes that minimize downtime. This means having proper infrastructure in place to make the transitions as seamless as possible, as well as building upgrades that can be implemented with expedience in mind.

Waiting to address this concern until the last minute could leave you with unavoidable downtime – or the prospect of wasting time reconfiguring your strategy for implementation. Neither is a desirable outcome, which is why the planning process is so important.

Frequent Updates

It’s inevitable that you’re going to have to make changes to your website, whether you’re updating product pages, adding new blog entries, completely revamping your site, or even undertaking a server migration. Some updates will require little or no downtime while others could entail extensive downtime, even with proper planning.

Aside from having resources available to limit downtime during transitions and upgrades, you need to think about how frequently you want to upgrade your site. With regular updates, you may be able to limit downtime to just a few minutes spread out here and there, rather than several hours at a stretch to complete a backlog of updates.

This is important not necessarily because it reduces downtime, but because it decreases the impact of your downtime. This could also be accomplished by scheduling planned downtime during low-traffic periods. However, limiting downtime to several small chunks in a given month or year could increase availability to both visitors and search bots.

Suppose a consumer tries to visit your site and finds it unavailable due to downtime. If downtime is brief, they may hit the refresh button once or twice and find that your site is now available. And search bots may not even notice your downtime, or not as they would with extended periods of inaccessibility.

This is all part of weighing the risks of downtime and scheduling appropriately to not only reduce downtime, but the impact it has as well.

Backups

There is always the possibility of the worst case scenario – that something should go wrong during upgrades and you lose data needed to get back up and running. You need to be prepared for this possibility by creating a virtual save point for your online operations.

This means creating a backup of your website and all related data before your planned downtime begins. This way if something goes wrong during upgrades/downtime, you can always revert to your most recent backup without losing data or experiencing further downtime as you attempt to fix the problem.

Dual Servers

Okay, this is a bit extreme for most small companies, but it is does provide for a virtually seamless solution to the problem of downtime during upgrades. If you’re planning a full-scale server migration, this step is absolutely essential, but for your average upgrade it might be overkill.

The idea here is to keep your site up and running on one server while you perform upgrades on a mirror server. When the upgrades are complete, you switch over to the upgraded site. If all goes as planned, you should experience zero downtime by this method.

The biggest problem, naturally, is cost. Hosting two servers simultaneously can be pretty expensive and it’s probably not feasible for most businesses. However, for major moves that will require extensive downtime, it could be a good temporary solution.

Smaller businesses working with tight budgets may want to consider lower-cost alternatives like using multiple IP addresses or virtualizing their servers. With a little finagling, these methods could produce similar results at less cost.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What You Need to Know About Ransomware

Everyone knows how important it is to protect a business network from threats like viruses, spyware, and malware. To that end you probably have a strong firewall, antivirus/anti-spyware software, password protection, and perhaps even encryption programs and monitoring services in place.

This is all good news for your business and your customers. When you make security a top priority, you can avoid data breaches, comply with federal and state privacy laws, and keep your customers safe and satisfied.

Unfortunately, hackers and other cyber criminals are always looking for new ways to bypass protective measures and get at sensitive data. In some cases, they’re interested in stealing identities. Others are just cyber terrorists looking to wreak havoc.

The latest form of malware to gain popularity is called ransomware. If you haven’t yet heard of this threat, much less encountered it, you’ll definitely want to find ways to steer clear. Here are a few things every business needs to know about ransomware.

What is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a specific type of malware intended to disrupt use of your computer with the goal of exacting a ransom payment to undo the damage. It works by restricting access to your computer, either by locking you out or encrypting files, so that even if you can open them, you can’t actually access the information they contain.

Victims are generally given a time frame, say 24 hours, in which to pay. Most often, payments have to be made in virtually untraceable currencies like Bitcoin or deposited onto prepaid cards via MoneyGram, just for example.

Ransom amounts tend to be relatively reasonable, fluctuating between less than $100 and just a few hundred at the top end.  Victims report that payment was met with reward – computers were unlocked and files were decrypted – while failure to pay resulted in loss. In other words, many businesses felt like it was simply easier to pay up.

How Does Ransomware Get In?

Like most malware, there are two main ways ransomware can infect your computer. You either let it in by clicking and downloading a file or it can infiltrate your network through subpar security.

When it comes to security breaches, you may or may not have been able to do more. If your employees are careless with passwords and hackers get in, you probably could have prevented the problem with stricter controls. On the other hand, sophisticated cyber criminals can hack even strong defenses, so you may not be entirely to blame.

As for clicking suspicious links and downloading files, you have no one to blame but yourself. User error is the most common way for ransomware to infiltrate your system. Be careful what you download!

How Can I Protect My Network?

If you find yourself victimized by ransomware, you have two choices: pay the piper or make use of appropriate antivirus fixes available. Depending on the type of ransomware, you have a couple of options.

Some ransomware is nothing more than scareware. It tells you something is wrong with your computer and asks for money to fix it, but in fact nothing is wrong. In some cases, this threat can easily be removed by switching your computer to safe mode operation and running an antivirus scan to locate and remove malware.

Of course, this may not be possible if the malware locks up your computer so that you can’t access any programs or functions, effectively barring you from safe mode and antivirus tools. This is a little more complicated to fix, but a system restore could do the trick. At this point you may want to seek professional help.

If you’re dealing with something serious, like the now infamous CryptoLocker, however, you’re in for a fight. This malware actually encrypts your files and it is practically impossible to undo the damage without paying the ransom.

This is not to say you should encourage this type of behavior by paying. You’ll never have to if you prepare for a ransomware attack and plan accordingly.

The simple solution is frequent and comprehensive system backups. You should do it daily, at least. This way if your data is compromised by ransomware, all you have to do is shut down and revert to a backup save point. For companies that have large amount of data, backups are especially important. SiteUptime client Tradebit.com stores many terabytes of data and uses several different companies to insure that their data is backed up and safe. They have been able to avoid data loss in the past as a result of this proactive approach to backups.

Having access to multiple copies of your data will result in minimal data loss and you can avoid paying the ransom. Naturally, you’ll want to figure out how the breach occurred and beef up security should you suffer a ransomware attack, but your best defense with this type of malware is a good offense.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Use Social Media to Communicate During Site Downtime

Communication can solve many problems. A little often goes a long way and it’s one of the essential necessities to be performed in the event your company network goes down. Not only is it imperative to communicate with all of the pertinent, internal parties that rely on a successful network, such as IT departments, service providers, and vendors, but it’s also a crucial component of customer service.

Network downtime can mean hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in lost revenue as customers try to access a company’s website or sales portal and find their request denied. This can result in frustrated clientele who may try to contact the company through alternative means, namely social media, and leave a bad review or post documenting their displeasure.

In order to avoid negative feedback with your customers, the best thing to do is get out ahead of any network disruptions as quickly possible. Social media is the simplest way to do it and here are some helpful tips on alleviating the already difficult prospect of network downtime.

Constant Contact

Any smart business owner likely uses some form of social media in the marketing and promotion of his or her company, product, or service. You know all of the popular sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and having an updated online presence allows you to communicate with your clientele and engage them on a regular basis. This includes letting them know if something has gone awry at your place of business.
Network outages occur for any number of reasons and letting your customers know you’re aware of the problem should help you avoid angry public commentary. A descriptive post on Facebook or a witty, self-effacing tweet to your Twitter account can help alleviate the annoyance of your consumers.

Keep Customers Informed

Some issues require more attention than others. Not every network problem is as simple as rebooting a router. The longer your network is down, the more you risk losing the business of your customer base. Never keep them in the dark and provide continuous up-to-the-minute status appraisals of your current situation.

A well-informed customer is more likely to be forgiving or accommodating of the struggles you’re dealing with at the moment if they see thoughtful and informative posts on your social media accounts. When a company like Ticketmaster or AXS experiences slow response times due to servers that are inundated by excited fans trying to buy tickets to the concert of their favorite artist, they might let their client base know so frustrated fans don’t keep bombarding the site with requests.

Ample Warning

There are times when a network must undergo some maintenance or other upgrade that could inconvenience your customers. Most companies will perform these improvements during the slowest periods of time when the fewest people are trying to access a site or portal. Alerting your customers on your Facebook or Twitter page that your system will be off-line for upgrades is a smart way to avoid any negative feedback later. Providing them with ample warning to conduct their business outside of the expected downtime will benefit both parties as you can still offer the goods and services they need and your customers will be satisfied so as to offer their repeat business.

Personal Interaction

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many other social media sites offer businesses the opportunity to interact directly with their clientele and vice versa. This personal engagement makes the customer feel like they’re included, that their opinions matter, and their messages will be seen by the principals of the company. It is important to foster that relationship by having the owner or public face of the business respond to the client directly.

The quickest way to lose the trust and interest of your fan base is to make them think that some faceless subordinate stooge is posting by proxy. So when the company system has gone down, having the person they will consider responsible – the business owner – expressing his or her regret and apologizing personally for the hiccup will make a world of difference. It shows that this business cares about its customers and is working to make them happy as fast as it can.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment