Friday, April 26, 2013

Protecting your privacy doesn't have to be hard

In the era of Facebook and Twitter, you may think that privacy is a thing of the past. However it doesn't need to be. In fact, Forbes recently ran a story detailing some simple steps you can take to increase your privacy in the Internet era. If you don't take these steps, then you've got no one to blame but yourself if cyber criminals gain access to your bank information, e-mail messages or other personal information.

Password Protect

Password-protecting your mobile devices – your tablets, laptops and smartphones – is your first line of defense. If thieves have to first guess your password before they can turn on your iPad or Amazon Fire, the odds are lower that they’ll ever gain access to your personal data. As Forbes says, password-protecting your mobile devices is no different than locking your car doors when you park at the grocery store.

The Power of Google Alerts

To protect your privacy, you might want to find out what people are writing about you online. To make this happen, set up a Google Alert in your name. You’ll then receive a message whenever someone says something about you online. As Forbes says, there is no easier way to track what’s being said about you.

The Sign Out Step

You just completed changing your Facebook page. You've just transmitted money electronically into your PayPal account. What do you do now? Make sure, before leaving the site, that you simply sign out. This is especially important if you're using a computer at a library or other public place. You don't want the next user to see your accounts and gain instant access because you're still signed in. We're all busy. However you are not too busy to remember to sign out.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Google Reader death proves it: Free services don't last forever

This summer, July 1 to be precise, the Google Reader RSS service will vanish. Google is eliminating it, citing a declining user base. That is bad news for fans of the RSS service. But it’s also a learning point: Consumers need to understand that any one of their most favorite cloud-based services can cease to exist. Don’t expect Google Reader to be the last one to do so.

An ever-changing cloud

The cloud is a great service. It allows us to access programs without needing to store them on our computers. However the cloud also isn’t all that permanent. Writing for Slate, Farhad Manjoo says that the demise of Google Reader should provide a lesson to all computer users on the web: Nothing in the cloud is forever. When Google introduced Reader in 2005, it marketed the service as one that would be around forever. Obviously, it won’t be. And that’s a lesson that consumers need to keep in mind: Nothing in the cloud is certain.

When it’s gone it's gone

This can be considered a downside to the cloud. In the days when software came on discs and we downloaded it to our computers, there was more permanence. Sure, companies would close shop and manufacturers would discontinue software. Nevertheless, you still had access to software, even when the companies behind it terminated it. After all, it was saved on your computer and you still had the discs. This isn’t the situation with the cloud. When something is yanked from the cloud, it's gone.

Issues for Google

Consumers aren’t the only ones facing tough issues with the demise of Reader. Google does, too. As the Economist explains in a recent article, when Google introduces something new, it expects users to flock to it. But why should consumers do that if there’s the possibility that Google will just take away the applications? Getting rid of Reader may have made financial sense for Google. Nonetheless, it may cause consumers to hesitate before embracing the company’s next cloud-based service.

Are you mourning the end of Google Reader?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Worried about security? Time to erase those passwords

We all save passwords and usernames on our browsers. It’s a means to quickly access the membership-based Web sites that we visit every day. Nevertheless, there’s a security risk to this. If someone steals your laptop, this thief would have little trouble opening your favorite sites. And if you’ve saved the password and username combination to your online bank account? Then you could be in some very serious trouble. If you want to improve online security, it might be time to erase those saved usernames and passwords. Thankfully, New York Times tech writer J.D. Biersdorfer just recently presented the steps for doing it on the most widely used browsers.

Firefox

If you’re a fan of the Firefox Web browser, you’ll be happy to know that erasing saved usernames and passwords is an easy task. If you’re using Windows, first select the tools menu. Next, select options. If you’re relying on a Mac, click on the Firefox menu and then select the preferences option. This will bring up the options box. Once that appears, click the security tab. Next, click on saved passwords. Then click remove all. This makes Firefox forget all those usernames and passwords. If you would like to be more selective, though, you can first choose the view saved passwords choice to hand-select those password/username combinations you would like to erase.

Chrome

For Google Chrome for Windows, click the "Chrome" menu on the right side of your toolbar. Select "settings" and then select "show advanced settings." Click on the "managed saved passwords" link and choose those passwords you'd like your browser to forget. The process on a Mac computer is similar: Navigate to the "Chrome" menu, choose "preferences" then click "settings." Choose the "show advanced settings" option and, located under "passwords and forms," click "manage saved passwords." Then you can eliminate specific passwords.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 and beyond

The steps for eliminating saved passwords are simple for Microsoft Internet Explorer 9, too. First, click the tools menu and choose the safety option. Choose select browsing history. A box will pop up. You’ll see the options passwords and form data. Click the checkboxes next to these. Then click on the delete button. This will eliminate your saved passwords.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Why you need to learn two-factor authentication

How much protection do you think passwords provide right now to your company's Web sites, mobile devices and desktop computers? The right answer? Probably not much. Cyber criminals have perfected the art of cracking passwords. And all too often, employees rely on passwords that are easy to guess. This leaves your business vulnerable to cyber attacks. Luckily, there is a solution: two-factor authentication. And, according to a recent story by Biztech Magazine, it's the easiest way to immediately boost your company's ability to guard itself from cyber crimes.

Two steps are better than one

As the name suggests, two-factor authentication requires users to take two different steps to log onto a Web site or device. Usually, people will have to still use a password but will also have to rely on a second device to get into their computers or important Web sites. For illustration, after putting in a password, an employee might have to swipe a smart card, insert a token or use a biometric identifier to continue. This two-step process immediately upgrades a company's online security, according to the Biztech story.

Getting started

Once you decide to implement two-factor authentication, you'll want to make a plan to ensure that the transition is an easy one for your staff. And, as Biztech Magazine says, this begins with selecting the most appropriate second factor. For instance, tokens might work well if the majority of your employees work in a central location. But if your business uses workers that are spread across the country, tokens are probably not the best choice. Same for smart cards: These cards generally don't work with smartphones. If your employees rely on their smartphones to do business, smart cards might be the wrong choice for a second factor.

Take it slowly

Another factor to proficiently launching two-factor authentication? You'll want to take your time. Provide staff members with a window of time to read about the system and ask questions. This will increase the odds that your employees will be on board with the transformation. If you launch the system without providing the proper education, you’ll quite possibly alienate and aggravate your workers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Your small business can write off more tech spending in 2013

Can your small business thrive if you are depending on outdated technology? Probably not. You need current technology today to communicate with your clients and customers, examine sales trends and more successfully handle everything from bookkeeping to payroll. Fortunately, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 includes a hefty tax break for small businesses that put money into new technology. Here's a brief look from BizTech Magazine at how this tax break works and how it can help your small business stay on top of the technology curve.

An important tax break

According to the American Taxpayer Relief Act, businesses can now write off as much as a rather notable $500,000 of new technology and equipment expenditures in 2013. This may provide small businesses with the boost they need to more vigorously update their technology. Businesses, for instance, might elect to upgrade their computer operating systems to Windows 8. Or perhaps they'll make the move to Apple computers. Others might invest in automated bill paying or payroll software. These upgrades will make small businesses more efficient, and boost their chances of beating their competitors.

Help for 2012, too

The tax relief act provides a lot more benefits to small business owners. According to the BizTech story, says that the new law also retroactively ups the total amount that companies can deduct for equipment purchases made in 2012. This amount will be jumping considerably from $139,000 to $500,000. This retroactive move allows business owners to write off more of new tech or equipment investments that they've previously made.

What it means

These higher deduction limits should come as good news to you. You know your business needs good technology to succeed. The higher limits may help you and your business obtain this tech without spending quite as much of your money. And once you're armed with new tech and equipment? Now you have one more tool to help you survive in today's competitive business environment.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don't leave your small business vulnerable to a cyber attack

Here's what attracts cyber criminals: easy targets. This means that you can leave your small business exposed to a cyber attack if you don't defend your company's Wi-Fi systems with passwords or if you rely upon passwords that are ridiculously simple to guess. In a recent story outlining steps that business owners can take to protect themselves from cybercrimes, Entrepreneur Magazine recommends that you do the small things that might make most hackers move on to less difficult targets.

Encryption Matters

The best defense against hackers? Encrypt your data. This will make it much harder for cyber criminals to access your company’s bank accounts, employee information and credit-card data. Hackers can crack encryption if they're skilled enough. But many will see encrypted data and simply move on to an easier target. Best of all, it’s easy to encrypt your computer data. Simply turn on the full-disk encryption tool that comes with your computers’ operating systems. This tool is known as FileVault on Macintosh computers and BitLocker on Windows. Once these tools are turned on, it will encrypt every file or program on your computers’ drives.

Lockdown

Here’s a surprising fact from the Entrepreneur story: Many businesses end up being the target of cyber crimes only after burglars physically break into their offices and steal their laptops or other devices. Once equipped with your equipment, cyber criminals can potentially access important company accounts and information. That’s why employees should, before leaving for the day, run a cable through the Kensington locks – the small metal loops attached to most computers and laptops – on their electronic devices and lock them to their desks. This may prevent some criminals, obsessed with completing their theft quickly, from bothering with the devices.

Wi-Fi Vulnerability

Often the easiest way for cyber thieves to get into your company accounts is through your business’ Wi-Fi network. That’s why Entrepreneur Magazine suggests you do away with Wi-Fi completely and instead install a wired network. If you can’t do that, as a minimum protect your Wi-Fi accounts with passwords which are difficult to compromise. A good bet? Long passwords consisting of an assortment of letters, numbers and symbols.

Worried about cyber attacks? Take these steps

Think your small business is protected from cyber criminals? Rethink it. Most small businesses are remarkably vulnerable to hackers. It’s relatively easy for savvy cyber criminals to hack into your business’ Wi-Fi account, for instance. From there, it’s an easy process for cyber criminals to steal your company’s data and funds. The good thing is, Entrepreneur Magazine recently ran an article offering tips for small business owners who wish to protect their companies from hackers. The good news? Combating cyber crimes sometimes requires the simplest of steps.

Encryption Matters

Make sure the full-disk encryption tools on your company’s computers are turned on. When they are, these tools encrypt every file or program stored on your computers’ drives. This is significant mainly because hackers prefer to go after easy targets. Once they discover that your company’s key data are encrypted, they may move on looking for easier targets. On Macintosh computers, the encryption tool is named FileVault. On Windows-based machines, the tool is known as BitLocker.

The Lockdown Approach

Most computers have a Kensington lock port, a small metal loop that users can run a cable through to lock them to their desks. If you wish to truly protect your business, require that employees take this protection measure. It may sound silly, but the Entrepreneur story said that businesses are often hacked after burglars break in and steal laptops along with other devices. A cable strapping a laptop to a desk won't stop all thieves. But it might scare away those who want to strike especially quickly.

Wi-Fi Vulnerability

Many hackers break into the Wi-Fi networks operated by businesses. That's why it's important for businesses to protect these networks with passwords that are very unlikely for hackers to crack, normally long codes featuring numbers, symbols and letters. Of course, such passwords are difficult for you to remember, too. Solve the problem by writing down your passwords and storing them in a locked safe or some other secure location.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

If the only person with access to your business' online accounts dies, are you in trouble?

Only one key employee can access all of your small business’ crucial online accounts: your cloud-based payroll software, Twitter account, Facebook account and bank account. That’s fine. But what happens if that employee should die suddenly? Would you know the passwords to your company’s online bank account? What about that cloud-based payroll service? And if you did, are you legally be able to access the online accounts after this employee dies?

A big issue

The Wall Street Journal recently covered this issue on its Web site. It might seem like an obscure matter, something that could never impact your company. But give it some thought: How important has the cloud become to your business? How about the Web? Do you run an active social media campaign, connecting regularly with your customers? You might not be able to access your business’ Twitter or Facebook sites if the only person who knew their passwords has died. Do you have vendors to pay? You might not be able to if you can’t gain access to your company’s online bank account. And what about your staff members? They need to get paid on time, right? They might not if you suddenly can’t open your company’s cloud-based payroll software.

The cloud isn’t fail-proof

The Wall Street Journal says that too many small business owners have a false sense of security when it comes to using the cloud. They don't really worry about losing valuable files or information because, they assume, they're safely tucked away in the cloud. Even so the cloud isn't perfect. It, too, may be at risk of hackers. And since everything kept in the cloud needs passwords, getting access to you important information can be challenging when the one person who knew all those passwords suddenly passes away.

Solutions

Solving this problem, thankfully, isn’t difficult: You just need to make sure that more than one employee knows the passwords for your online accounts. And also you needs to be equally certain that your important accounts are either registered to your company or more than one staff member. This way, should that key employee die, you’ll always be able to conduct business normally.