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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Comparing Internal Vs. External Website Monitoring

Any business that relies on the power of its website knows that monitoring is often the difference between minimal downtime and an extended outage. Neither is good in today’s fast-paced marketplace, but the former is definitely preferable over the latter.

Website monitoring ensures that your site or application is running at peak performance by auditing connectivity, DNS records, bandwidth speeds, and load testing under various traffic conditions along with other important metrics. Monitoring is focused on keeping your site or application operating without interruption by detecting problems before they arise and addressing them quickly when they do.

Many of these services will also rate the efficiency of your site against others to track things like memory use, page load time, processing speeds, and so on, so your site is working just as quickly and effectively as possible. That’s one of the many reasons monitoring is important; it helps you maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Like any important decision involving the success of your enterprise, you have options that you’ll want to consider when selecting the right type of service for your particular needs. You have two choices, internal or external monitoring. Both will work hard to keep your site running properly 24/7, but each has distinct advantages that are well-suited for certain types of sites and server capabilities. Let’s take a look at the two different types that are available.

Internal Monitoring

This version is done from within your server. It runs inside your company firewall and offers real time updates of the strength and well-being of your system. The service tracks all of your pertinent metrics like memory usage, disk space, CPU load, page load times, and all related processes. It will let you know when you’re running out of available memory and monitor network traffic on your server.

One of the biggest advantages of internal monitoring is having a clear picture of the health of your system. The service can keep a running tally for all the statistics of your server’s performance, giving you the ability to look ahead and see the problems that might arise before they happen. These can include issues like needing to add extra disk capacity or run necessary maintenance protocols, so you can schedule that vital upkeep with enough early warning to your customers that there will be some short yet necessary downtime on your site. Being able to get ahead of things such as these are a smart way to operating a successful website.

There are some drawbacks however, the main one being the nature of an “internal” service. Everything contained in the software of your server is running together, so when the server goes down guess what happens to your monitoring capability? That’s right, you won’t know there’s an outage until you realize it yourself, which leaves you vulnerable to experiencing significant downtime during peak hours.

External Monitoring

Think of external monitoring as a safety net. This type of service is done outside of your corporate firewall and offers all of the same tracking capabilities of your memory, load times, usage, and so forth. In addition, external services can check a whole range of other areas such as the operational integrity of various ports along the network, URL content, response times and behavioral patterns.

Perhaps the most advantageous element of external monitoring over internal is the ability to keep working even when the server goes down. If a problem is detected, no matter how small or catastrophic, the service will continue to monitor the system and remain able to diagnose the reason for an interruption. Then it will contact you in whatever method you have arranged, text message, phone call, email, all of them if you like, and you’ll know the second when something has gone awry. That way you can get started on fixing the problem immediately and minimize your downtime as much as possible.

Some external monitors will even work to solve the issue for you, which can be a relief since the very service that has been made aware of the interruption is now on the job to eliminate it and get your server running at peak performance once again. This means peace of mind for you and less downtime for your business website.

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Mitigating the Effects of Website Downtime

Website downtime can be a real momentum killer for your business. When your website isn’t working properly it can mean lost revenue, decreased productivity, brand damage, and might even result in your Google rankings being adversely affected. Downtime of any duration is bad, unfortunately, it’s also inevitable. It can hit the big guy and little guy alike, major companies like Amazon, Facebook, even Google, are prone to outages. The difference is found in how these companies mitigate the problem to make the unavoidable less detrimental to the success of their enterprise.

The first thing to keep in mind is the cost of downtime and accepting that it will happen to you at some point in the future. The business owner who doesn’t prepare accordingly is only asking for trouble; sticking your head in the sand ready only to “cross that bridge if you come to it” is a recipe for disaster.

If you know it’s coming then there are some important steps that should be taken now, so the extent of your imminent outage is minimized to the least amount of downtime possible.

Know the Risks

Accepting the inevitable means knowing the risks that exist with respect to downtime. There are a number of reasons why a website or server can stop working. Hardware fails, software stops working, routers get reconfigured, files can become corrupted and viruses that invade your system can all cause your site to go offline. Then you have the scheduled maintenance that comes with any server or hosting service.

You can’t avoid that downtime if you want your site working at peak performance. When it comes to the components that comprise your network, take precautions with redundancy, security management, data backup and any other pertinent safeguards that might be exclusive to the size and needs of your system.

Human Error

It’s a fact of life, the human element can and will manage to muck up the works in some capacity. That’s just who we are, folks. But you can mitigate our involvement by taking steps to make sure the people who are working in close proximity to your server are well trained and fully knowledgeable of that system.

This could mean hiring a service that has excellent standing in the marketplace to run the operation and keeping your own employees fully apprised of how your server(s) works, especially if everything is done internally.

Good Monitoring

Website monitoring is a valuable component to mitigating the effects of downtime. Not only do these services track and audit all of the necessary processes and elements of a properly working server but they can alert you to any potential problems that could threaten to interrupt the network.

You have the choice of internal monitoring, which is done behind your corporate firewall and works within the system, or external monitoring, which involves a third-party keeping your network fully operational.

The drawback with internal monitoring is that if your server fails the monitoring often fails with it, so it’s no longer working to alert you if there’s a problem. External doesn’t have that issue, the company safeguarding the integrity of your network is on-call at all times and will contact you if there’s an interruption.

Get Insured

Most forms of risk have some type of insurance associated with them to minimize your exposure in the event of calamity. The same goes for IT downtime. These insurance policies can vary in coverage necessity depending upon the nature of the company and the importance of a website or similar portal to the success of that business. A website that plays a vital role in generating revenue of any kind will likely be a strong candidate for coverage.

Devise a Plan

You know that downtime is inevitable and you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and preparatory actions to mitigate the potential damage. But what about after that downtime has occurred? Devising a plan for recovery can be just as important as making plans to deal with the downtime itself.

Detecting the problem and fixing it is only part of the story; contacting all of the affected parties such as vendors, company personnel, and customers, repairing the issues to avoid similar problems from repeating themselves, and securing all sensitive data are just a few portions of any good recovery operation. Make sure you have one in place so your business is back on its feet quickly.

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First 5 Things to Do If Your Network Experiences Downtime

We all enjoy a little downtime, except when your network has decided to stop working. That’s bad and it can bring your company to a halt resulting in lost productivity, service disruption, and a negative impact on your bottom line. Even worse, your information may be vulnerable to security breaches affecting your reputation in the marketplace.

There’s no denying that network downtime can be catastrophic and some businesses might experience significant financial losses for every hour of inactivity. In order to minimize the damage, it’s prudent to have a response plan in place so you know what to do as soon as something happens. That way if disaster strikes you can work on fixing the problem immediately and have your network up and running as quickly as possible.

1. Understand the Possible Risks

A network is a complicated amalgam of parts that all need to work in concert with one another. If one of them goes down, then the network stops running properly. There can be any number of reasons why a network fails including a power outage, device malfunctions, human error, security attacks, firmware incompatibility and failed updates and upgrades are just some of them.

Knowing how to assess and diagnose these problems is a good start to fixing them if and when they arise. Routers are usually the main culprit in most network failures, caused by a change in configuration or a failed upgrade. Being cognizant that it could be a router issue means you have a typical starting point from which to attempt to fix the problem.

2. Troubleshooting

When you know where to look, it can be much easier to solve the problem. The router is a good place to begin, but there are other common issues that might lead to network downtime. Diagnose modems, firewalls, Ethernet cards, and servers to check if they’re faulty or overloaded. Analyzing the extent of the outage and contacting your Internet Service Provider are two of the most effective methods for figuring out what’s wrong with the network. Your ISP can also run a diagnostic assessment to help pinpoint where the problem is located.

3. Embrace Disaster Preparedness

The best plan of attack is the one you’ve created before disaster strikes. Any network can go down at any time, so creating a disaster readiness protocol lets you start your recovery the minute the systems have failed. The first step is to implement a form of redundancy to safeguard against data loss.  Establishing backup resources and knowing where to locate all pertinent information in the event of an emergency will allow you to solve the mystery of your failed network sooner.

In addition, make sure to set up recovery procedures to get the network back online once any malfunctions or failures have been assessed and fixed. When you have these protocols in place, you can engage them immediately and waste less time before your business is operational again.

4. Contact Everyone

Depending upon the type of business you’re running and the amount of traffic relying on the network, you might need to alert a whole list of people as to the outage. This can include vendors, service providers and even customers about the temporary interruption. It may also require contacting other departments within your company as well as IT management personnel to start remedial asset recovery actions.

This way, any proprietary information and sensitive data that might be accessed via the network can be properly protected from any outside threats. Customers who can’t reach your business are likely to shop elsewhere, potentially costing you tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Let them know you’re experiencing a temporary hiccup as soon as possible, which can help soften the blow to your bottom line. If your customers are aware of the problem, they may be willing to wait for you to correct it before spending their dollars with your competitor.

5. Avoid the Problem

The best thing to prepare for any downtime your network experiences is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Maybe you’ve experienced a serious outage in the past and you want to take steps to avoid a similar situation. Partner with a network monitoring service to audit all of the devices in your network to ensure they are running properly on their current configuration settings. If something changes in one of them, the service alerts you of that change which could help you avoid long-term headaches.

These services also incorporate automatic backups that restore your network to operational settings.  This way, if and when a change or upgrade results in network failure, the network reverts to the previous configuration.

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Top 5 Reasons Why Your Website Could Experience Downtime

In business, downtime is unavoidable. Even restaurants have to close occasionally to fumigate or deep clean, so it’s no great shock that websites sometimes suffer from downtime as well. However, it’s important to differentiate between planned downtime and service blackouts.

When you plan downtime for maintenance or upgrades to your website, you have the opportunity to inform users well in advance and even post a redirect page for visitors that explains why your website is temporarily out of service. With service blackouts, there is no warning and no explanation – users are simply unable to access your website.

While there are certainly times when such downtime is faultless, there are also occasions when service outages could have been avoided. By understanding why downtime occurs, you have the opportunity to prevent it.

As a responsible business owner, you should always use a web monitoring service that will notify you when your site goes down so you can respond immediately, as well as provide reports that help you to pinpoint the problems. However, you should also be aware of the most common causes of downtime so that you can try to avoid them. Here are a few you should know about.

1. Unreliable Web Hosting Service

Many web hosts realize the concern their clients have about downtime. When you’re searching for a suitable web host, you’re likely to find all kinds of claims about how little downtime users experience. A common promise is that you’ll have service 99% of the time.

This sounds pretty reliable until you start crunching some numbers. 99% uptime equates to about seven hours of downtime each month, which equals about three and a half days each year that your site won’t have service. If you’re running a business, this number is unacceptable.

It’s like randomly closing the doors to a retail store three days a year without informing customers. Can you imagine how upset you’d be if you went to your grocery store during business hours and the store was closed with no explanation? What if it was a store you were visiting for the first time? You’d probably never go back.

You don’t want this situation with your website, which means you need a reliable web host. In all honesty, a site that actually delivers service 99.9% of the time is about the best you’re going to get. There’s just no getting around the fact that things happen that even a solid web host cannot anticipate or combat.

2. DNS Issues

DNS stands for Domain Name Server and the easiest way to explain it is to equate it to a phone call. When someone dials a phone number, the signal is routed to the appropriate receiver and the person you’re tying to reach hears their phone ring.

DNS is the system that recognizes website names and then identifies corresponding IP addresses and routes to them, ensuring that people typing in your web domain or clicking links to your site are directed to the appropriate landing page. So what can go wrong?

A lot, as it turns out. DNS issues are not at all uncommon. When you register your domain, the vendor you purchase it from should configure your DNS.

However, when you make changes to your website, there’s always the possibility that you could accidentally enter incorrect information or use incorrect settings, potentially messing with the DNS and causing problems for users.

3. Software Compatibility Issues

Building and maintaining a website requires a variety of software solutions. Even if they’re purported to be compatible, there could still be issues with programs fighting for dominance. Or the plug-ins you use could end up being incompatible, just for example.

The result could be pages that don’t load or even complete website failure. Either way, you need to correct the conflict or you could suffer ongoing issues with downtime.

4. Hackers

Hackers may attack you in various ways, by insinuating viruses or malware into your system to wreak havoc, by using spyware to steal information, or by outright breaking in. The result could be damage to your website, punctuated by downtime.

Hackers may go after any business, large or small. Luckily, you can protect against hackers with a proper web application firewall and antivirus/anti-spyware/anti-malware programs.

5. Natural Disasters

Okay, this is not as likely as, say, an unreliable web host, but natural disasters definitely occur and they can knock out service to particular regions or even take down the servers that are hosting your website. The best bet to avoid this is to select a web host that has back-up servers in another location just for such occurrences.

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