Secure Remote Access

Custom Systems and Citrix Make Mobile Access Secure and Simple

Isn’t mobility great? It makes it possible for employees to work anywhere, on any device, and be more productive than anyone could have ever imagined. But it’s not always so great for your business when it comes to making that access both secure and easy.

Increasingly, security concerns are putting companies between a rock and a hard place – having to choose whether to limit mobile access to company data on corporate or personal devices (which makes it harder for people to work at maximum productivity) or to give employees free rein to use their own devices (which makes it harder to secure sensitive data).

And don’t get employees started on the usability challenges that mobility can create. It’s hard to achieve the productivity that mobility offers when they have to use different interfaces and credentials for different devices – and even then might not be able to access all the corporate resources they need.

Fortunately, Custom Systems provides app and desktop virtualization solutions powered by Citrix that eliminate these challenges. By virtualizing apps and desktops, employees can work remotely, stay productive, and easily use the devices they prefer – from company laptops to personal tablets or smartphones – for mobile access over any type of network connection. They also receive the same consistent experience across all devices. And you can rest assured that business-critical information is safe because secure access to both data and apps is built in.

To learn more about all the benefits of app and desktop virtualization solutions from Custom Systems and Citrix, visit www.SolveITwithCitrix.com/infographic/customsystemscorporation where you can access a library of resources including whitepapers and videos. Or give us a call.

David Bubb

David Bubb, Sales Director
david.bubb@customsystems.com

©Custom Systems Corporation 2016

What is an MSP?

MSP, managed services providerAn MSP (Managed Services Provider) staffs highly certified and highly trained IT Engineers to remotely monitor and maintain your organization’s network.

 

 

When you bring in an MSP you should expect that the following would be included in any monthly cost:

• Alerts – Storage, Server and Desktop
• Data backup and recovery for different devices (desktops, notebooks, servers, etc.)
• Patch management
• Security

For any small or medium sized business an MSP may act as a Virtual CTO for your company. They can not only take care of the above tasks but they help with an overall IT strategy that will easily be expanded as your company grows.  In larger corporations an MSP may act as an extension of your IT department. The MSP would take the day to day monitoring, patches and updates and free your IT staff to focus on the projects they need to focus on.
In hiring an MSP, you are not losing control of your IT. You decide what you need help with. It is after all, your company.

Like to learn more about the benefits and features of an MSP? Please feel free to visit our Managed Services page or email me directly. Questions or comments are always welcome below.

 

Suzanne

 

 

 

 

Suzanne Chambers
Account Executive
suzanne.chambers@customsystems.com

 

© Copyright Custom Systems Corporation 2016

Cloud Computing’s Refuseniks: How Long Can They Hold Out?

Is your organization a “Cloud Computing Refusenik”?

This article excerpt, by Dave Cartwright, originally appeared here: http://bit.ly/1Wvmbu7

Umpty-squillion surveys come out every week, and they generally disagree with each other. Personally I tend to take notice of the ones that tell me that red wine is good for weight loss and long life.

I read one recently, though, in which no fewer than 51 percent of managers said they’re not presently investing in cloud technology. “OK”, I thought, half the population isn’t doing it yet. Then I read that in the same survey that 49 per cent said that in two years’ time they still wouldn’t be investing in it. And I was more than a little surprised by that.

Cloudy thinking

Bear in mind that they weren’t talking about whether they’d move their entire world to the cloud: it was whether they were investing in cloud at all. At all.

Fair enough, I understand organisations not moving en masse to (say) hosted virtual desktops. But no Office 365? No Google Apps? No DropBox? No AWS for a cheap server for a pilot project?

Some organisations tend to shy away from cloud services – specifically those with particularly high security requirements on the data they store. But even then there must surely be the temptation to adopt some kind of fully managed hosted service for applications under less scrutiny – public-facing brochureware websites, for example.

Furthermore, the cloud can be incredibly attractive in a business continuity context. Say you host your email service in a co-location data centre facility where you own all the servers and network kit, you manage the servers yourself, you have a secure remote access mechanism with two-factor authentication. Is it really that big a leap of security confidence to decide to shift it all to (say) Office 365?

And even if it is, what about that two-factor authentication system you’re using on your private data centre installation? Is that an on-site offering? I’ve recently been getting to grips with Symantec’s hosted offering – it works a treat and doesn’t need me to feed and water it.

Taking the concept further, you could even use the cloud to monitor and control your internet usage behaviour. Even the most paranoid security officer must surely find it hard to complain about using an Internet-based system to control your internet browsing.

In this sense I’m talking about services such as Websense’s cloud offering, which I introduced to my infrastructure in a previous life and which I found absolutely excellent – access gateways worldwide, synchronisation with our Active Directory, resilient services, a single management GUI, not overly expensive, and I got to throw away a fleet of god-awful ISA servers that hosted the legacy on-premises version.

I completely understand why people don’t move wholesale to the cloud. A fully cloud-based infrastructure is something that suits only a minority of organisations. But I’m still astounded to see that almost half of those questioned in the particular survey I read are of the belief that they won’t be using it at all in two years’ time.

Okay, there are concerns. There’s security. There’s the fact that it’s easy to forget what you left running and end up with a bigger bill than you expected.

There’s the fact that in all but the smallest cloud providers you have bugger all influence over their techies if the infrastructure goes down and your finance server is unavailable at year end, or your email’s not working for a couple of days. I get that.

Keeping up with the hackers

Surely, though, the people who say they won’t be using the cloud in the future are forgetting that what you can do with it is likely to change radically in the next 24 months. Security will have kept up with the hackers; connectivity will be even better than it is now (my fiver says that by then you’ll see proper quality-of-service guarantees over the Internet as if it were a private WAN).

I reckon that some vendors of traditional IT products may even entirely stop shipping software and appliances, instead stripping down their support division (supporting customers with on-prem solutions is highly non-trivial) and supplying their services as entirely cloud-based services. Will this 49% of IT managers simply avoid those services even though they’re acceptable to the auditors and the best of breed?

No, I don’t think they will. I suspect simply that when they were asked: “Will you be investing in the cloud in two years’ time?”, they’re thinking: “Hell, I’ve got so much to do now, and so much on my roadmap for the next 24 months, that I can’t even think about cloud as well”. But that in fact by the time they get part-way down their roadmap they’ll find themselves with a cloud solution.

Because by that time we probably won’t be calling it a cloud service. Or a SaaS product. Or an AnythingaaS solution, for that matter. Because by that time we’ll be so used to the idea that we won’t have a special name for it: in two years time it’ll just be called a product.

Time to backup your backup

Don’t lose what’s important

scyther5Everyone has files that are important to them and it would be a disaster if they were lost.  Years’ worth of pictures from graduations, kids growing up, and even items like tax returns or import documents that have been scanned for digital file storage.  Keeping digital files can make it easier to store, as well as search for later.  The problem is, what happens if your hard drive crashes and you lose everything?  A good backup plan is something that most people tend to forget about.  Many people will backup pictures and documents to one main hard drive and believe that is good enough.  What happens if that drive dies?  I had a colleague bring me the external hard drive where she had kept all the pictures of her children growing up.  The drive had crashed and after looking at it, I had to let her know there was nothing I could do to retrieve the files.  The drive was dead.  She lost years of pictures.  She was under the impression that it was on an external drive and that was good enough.  The truth of the matter is, you can never have too many backups.

Don’t be fooled by cloud storage options

Cloud storage programs such as Drop Box, One Drive and Google Drive are great places to store files, but you need to keep them stored somewhere else as well.  For me , I keep my son’s pictures on my laptop and backed up to my Microsoft One Drive account.  Then from time-to-time I will run a backup of those photos to my external hard drive that I keep connected to my wireless router.  This way the pictures and important files are kept on my laptop, in my One Drive cloud storage and also on an external hard drive.  These pictures are so important to me, I will probably even back them up a fourth time to something like DVD.

Do follow the Backup 3-2-1 Rule

This rule states:

3 – Copies of anything you care about – Two isn’t enough if it’s important

2 – Different formats at least (more is always better in this case) – examples of this would be Dropbox (or other cloud storage) + DVD, or hard drive + USB stick

1 – Off-site backup – This means using a cloud storage option such as Carbonite or Crash Plan.

Crash Plan and Carbonite are topics in of themselves, but these are great programs to back up larger amounts of data.  With programs like One Drive and Drop Box, you tend to get one folder that is backed up.  With Crash Plan and Carbonite, you can back up your entire computer if necessary.  Look for upcoming posts about Crash Plan and Carbonite where I will explain exactly how they work and why they are a good choice.  In the meantime make sure you backup your important data by no less than the Backup 3-2-1- Rule.

As always, we welcome your opinion and questions. Do you have a data backup plan in place? How are you keeping your files and precious memories safe?

Ryan Ash
Network Consultant
ryan.ash@customsystems.com
©Custom Systems Corporation 2014

Change my password?

Password securityRecently, the Heartbleed OpenSSL hack has been spotlighted in the news.  OpenSSL is one of the most widely used forms of security protection/encryption on Internet sites.  The hack takes advantage of a bug in the still widely used 2012 version of OpenSSL.  It has caused panic because it has potentially allowed hackers to steal information, passwords in particular, from many sites.  In fact, it has been estimated that two-thirds of web servers have used or still use OpenSSL.  The web sites providers themselves can neutralize the threat from this hack by implementing some patching or an upgrade.  However, this hole in security has been around for two years now.  There is no way that any site that has used the 2012 version of OpenSSL can honestly say they were not hacked.  To be safe, it has been recommended by security experts (the ones who exposed this problem and many more) that we change all of our passwords on Internet sites and also change the way we manage our passwords.

Whether you are the consummate computer professional or completely computer illiterate, managing passwords can be a major task.  While the typical user will only be required to remember their personal passwords, the computer professional will most likely need to manage passwords to accounts that are not their own (i.e. service accounts, admin accounts, etc.).  Let’s face it, we all find passwords annoying.  In this day and age, we have passwords or pins for just about everything and managing them all can be a nightmare. Some of the tasks involved in managing passwords include:

  • Creating a secure password that meets different requirements like at least one capital letter, one lower case letter, one number, and/or one extended symbol.
  • Creating security questions for either password reset or second factor identification.
  • Remembering multiple passwords.
  • Changing passwords.  This now involves creating new passwords that meet the requirements and then remembering them.

Why do we have to have passwords?  Because they are the cheapest form of protection for our information.  In order to implement protection schemes that require pass-cards or biometrics (fingerprints) the cost to implement goes up drastically.  Who do you think your bank will pass the cost onto?

Thanks to the Heartbleed hack and other factors, now we know we need to change our passwords.  Here are some suggestions on the proper and improper ways to create our passwords:

  • As mentioned above, there are usually requirements to creating our passwords.  As a best practice, use all the requirements and more.  Do all of the following:
    • Include at least one capital letter.
    • Include at least one lower case letter.
    • Include at least one number.
    • Include at least one extended character.
    • Sometimes, the system does not recognize extended characters or numbers.  For those instances, use more of the other suggestions.
    • Do not use words.  Words can be cracked using a dictionary crack.  This goes for foreign language words as well.  If there is a dictionary crack for one language, then why not include others?  Also, they have already thought of spelling the words backwards.
    • Do not use patterns or repeating characters.  123456, ABCDEF, 112233, etc.  All of them are very bad ideas.
    • Do not be lazy.  Password1, qwerty, letmein are not good passwords.  In fact, they are considered some of the most common ones used.  These are the passwords comedians make jokes about.
    • Do not use personal information.  Names and the things in life that are important to you can be observed and guessed.  Thanks to social media, we give away a lot of this information freely.
    • Use longer passwords.  The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.  Each digit you add to a password makes it exponentially more difficult to crack.
    • In order to make a complex password easier to remember, use a pass phrase.  For instance, the password ‘d0N7$tnDuP’ is actually the phrase “Don’t Stand Up”.  This is a 10 character password that makes no sense on its own, but is easier to remember because of the phrase.  No, this is not one of my passwords.  Which brings up the next suggestion:
    • Use a password or phrase that has meaning to you and no one else.  One that is not easily recognizable in your daily life.  Don’t copy someone else’s.  It may not make sense to you and someone else knows it as well. Be as original as you can.

Besides from creating passwords, you need to properly manage them:

  • Do not use the same password for everything.  One suggestion for making it easier to remember many different passwords is to base them on a pattern only familiar to you.  For instance, using the passphrase above, we could make something like AMAd0N7ZON$tnDuP, FACEd0N7BOOK$tnDuP, TUMd0N7BLR$tnDuP, etc.  Again, be your own form of creative.
  • Change your passwords every once in a while.  Annoying, but more secure.  If a password was captured, you may change it before something bad happens.
  • There are applications that help you store passwords.  I am not saying whether you should or should not use them.  Just make sure you keep their functionality in mind.  If it is only on your phone, what happens if you lose your phone?  Is the application itself encrypted?  Is the application a piece of junk?
  • Is your password storage location easily accessible to others?  Yes, I have found peoples passwords under their keyboard.  In fact I have been to locations where people post their passwords on sticky notes on their monitors for everyone to see.

If you search the Internet, you will find many suggestions on the proper creation and managing of passwords.  Now is an important time to take them to heart.  One last thing: Do not leave the password blank!
AZS-3

 

 

Craig R. Kalty (CCIA, CCEE, CCA, MCITP:EA, MCITP:SA, VCP)
Sr. Network Consultant
Craig.Kalty@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Safety First in WordPress.org Blog

wordpresslogo

 

In my last blog, I eluded to a little mistake I made when I accidentally deleted an important page on our site. When I realized what I’d done I panicked a little… okay, maybe a little more than a little.  Of course panic wouldn’t help restore my page so I retraced my steps. My first stop was the Dashboard where I could click through to the page menu and review all of my pages. And there it was, right at the top of my page list – “deleted pages”. I clicked, restored, done. Whew!  Until that moment, I hadn’t even realized that WordPress.org kept this list of published, draft and deleted pages. Good to know.

In hindsight, I realize that was a pretty simple fix. And I think it’s reasonable to expect to have a few missteps and maybe a few accidentally deleted pages as you create your site. The point is, it’s not the end of the world.  There are a few safeguards built in to a WordPress.org site to help protect your site… and you.

One of those safeguards includes “versions”. Each time you update a page, the version before is kept as a backup.  Should you decide to return to a previous version of a page, all page revisions are saved. By looking back over the timeline, just click back to where you want to restore or view the html version of the previous revisions. Either way, you click the link to the associated page, click restore and save. Done.

Recently, I had to make changes to a new page on our site that involved an image linked to a downloadable PDF. No matter what I did, the image kept popping up above the page header, rather than below. I clicked back and forth, through my revisions and made some changes, until I found my mistake. I’ve only had to use this safety net a few times but was grateful for the time it saved.

What happens when there’s a more serious issue to your company’s site? I think it’s always best to be prepared. When you register your domain or website address and establish hosting, be sure your web hosting company will provide regular site back up. Do not assume it’s included in your package. Periodically, WordPress.org will provide software updates. If you’re using a customized template, it’s always a good idea to be sure a backup has been done prior to updating the software.  This is also true when updating any plug-ins you might be using on your site.

I want to be very clear that this discussion relates to a simple business site and not an Ecommerce site. No money or private information is shared on our site and so security risks and requirements are quite different.

LynnLynn McGinnis
Marketing Specialist
Lynn.McGinnis@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© Copyright Custom Systems Corporation 2014

Protecting Your Business from ne’er-do-wells

hackerIn the IT world, everything changes very rapidly.  Two of the fastest changing and hardest to keep up with are viruses and hackers.  Hackers are always out there, trying to find a new way to make you have a bad day.  Why?  I don’t know.  I’ve never understood it.  You work hard, trying to grow your business – improving your products every day, reaching out to new customers – while some jerk with nothing better to do is trying to tear it down.  Maybe it’s an Ethos thing, or maybe just jealousy; they can’t build anything productive, so they have to break something that someone else worked hard to create.  But I digress…

What We Can Do About It

Protecting your network starts with a firewall.  It is your first line of defense against attackers.  A firewall is most often a piece of hardware (like a Cisco ASA) that sits at the edge of your network, and is configured to only allow specific types of communication into your network.  It also separates the good traffic from the bad traffic.  Next is a web filter, like a Barracuda.  The web filter monitors internet traffic going in and out of your network. It can be configured to block hazardous websites, and known types of dangerous programs.  It can even be setup to only allow specific users access to the internet.  Next is your anti-virus.  Anti-virus is a program that runs on your PC and servers.  It has to be manually installed on every device on your network, and is usually centrally controlled by a server.  The anti-virus server can be setup on- or off-site, depending on your needs and the size of your network.

Do I really need all three?

Yes.  Think of it this way: If a hacker is like an arsonist, the firewall is the security guard outside the door, the web filter is a locked door, and anti-virus programs are the fire suppression and mop-up crew.  Although you may have anti-virus already, you are just putting out fires after they have already been started.   To really protect your network, you need the security guard – and the locked door.

 

AZS-4Chase Reitter
Network Consultant
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation

Cloud-Based Apps vs Local Servers

I get a lot of questions about Cloud computing.  So today we are going to discuss a few of the differences between keeping your applications and files on local servers vs. moving to the Cloud.  We will cover some of the advantages and disadvantages of both, as well as examine my own bias.  We may even discover that I’m (GASP) wrong.  Sound like fun?  Ready?  Here we go!

What is Cloud?

Well, it’s not in the Stratosphere (though THAT would be especially cool!).  Cloud computing usually refers to a service that you pay to store data for you.  Everything from email, databases and files to accounting software can be Cloud based.  Advantage?  No servers to manage or  maintain.  No backups to check, no tapes to change.  Just sign the check on time, and it’s all taken care of for you.

This ain’t your Dad’s Cadillac, er, Cloud.

Cloud computing has been around since the dawn of the interwebs.  Why it’s just becoming a buzzword now is beyond me, but there it is.  Chances are, your bank hasn’t stored your account information in their local branch office in over a decade.  Instead, they pay a hosted service to provide the disk space and backups they need.  Banks used to dial into the data center at a specific interval each day, update any changes and check for problems.  It was painstakingly slow, but it kept your information safe.  Fast forward to today:  Even your grandmother is uploading pictures to Facebook or to DropBox.  Both are cloud.

So is Cloud better?

Well, it depends.  Internet services keep getting faster and more reliable.  So does server hardware.  Having servers in my office means that I get to manage them.  If there is ever a problem, it’s a short walk down the hallway, and I can troubleshoot in a matter of minutes.  Hardware can easily be replaced or upgraded as needed.  Servers have lights that blink, fans that whir, and hard drives that hum in perfect harmony.   And should one of them get out of tune, I can fix it.  If my data is in the Cloud, I have to rely on someone else to keep an eye on their servers.

In some scenarios, I suggest a hybrid of both on-site servers and a Cloud-based solution.  For a medium-size business, this is often the best of both worlds.  For example, keep your data on an in-house file server so you have local, secure access to your information; but use a hosted solution for email.  Email servers take a lot of work and are difficult to manage.  While I’m more than happy to take care of your email server, using a hosted email option may be the most cost-effective for your organization.

Give us a call today, and we can help find the best solution for your business!

Full disclosure:  Custom Systems uses Office365 to host our email and file services.  This article was written on my laptop, but then stored on a hosted SharePoint server for the editor to review and fix my spelling and grammar.

ChaseChase Reitter
Network Consultant
Custom Systems Corporation
Chase.Reitter@CustomSystemsCorp.com

 

 

© Copyright 2014 Custom Systems Corporation