Thursday, April 8, 2010

Email is a critical application for businesses both large and small.

Customers, potential customers and vendors alike increasingly rely on email as a means to communicate with you.  Your email “solution” needs to fit your needs, your budget and it must be reliable.  Another consideration is how does your email address affect your “brand”?


Here are some thoughts:

There are several reliable and affordable email solutions for small businesses.  Let’s look at a few of the more popular ones:

First, there are on-site, on-premise solutions such as Microsoft Exchange Server or Microsoft Small Business Server.   Both of these solutions are full-featured, excellent products but require a fairly large amount of professional care, so are somewhat costly in terms of overhead.  You will need an Information Technology (IT) professional (like your local Geeks On Call franchisee!!) to routinely attend to the Exchange server.  As a payoff, however, you get one of the most extensible and flexible collaboration tools (not just email) available to small businesses.  Microsoft Exchange is definitely worth a look!  In my Geeks On Call franchise, we usually ask our customers to indulge us by walking through a process to justify the business need.  We want to make sure they are not spending more than necessary to meet their needs.  We've installed many Exchange and Small Business Servers over the years.  Many of those customers use Microsoft Exchange to its fullest extent and can easily justify the additional overhead.

A second option on the list, and one gaining a great deal of traction lately, is email that is hosted “in the cloud”.   The term “in the cloud” simply means that the computer actually doing the work is in an internet based data center, or more likely spread across several.  You connect to it over the internet as if it were really on-site (simple enough…right?)  I personally think this option will gain a strong foothold within the small business community in the next few months/years.  One great example of cloud computing is the fairly new Google Apps offering.  Google’s cloud-based services include huge mailbox storage and the ability to share calendars and documents.  Several of our customers elect to go this route.  Most of the “in the cloud” service providers like Google have developed migration tools that make the transition to the cloud quick and efficient.   If you have not looked at the “cloud” option, I would encourage you to at least keep it in the back of your mind for the future.  By the way, Microsoft’s cloud computing offering has hit the market recently and it looks as if they are here to compete!  We (Geeks On Call) can help you understand this option better should you need further information.

The third option is to host your email with various email providers that cannot be considered  real “cloud” platforms.  Their offering is usually limited to very basic email without any of the collaborative add-ons you find in the true “cloud” offerings.   Typically, email storage limits are quite small by comparison.  These email service providers are, at least in my opinion, quickly losing ground to the competitors in options one and two above.

The last thing to consider (but perhaps the most important) is the effect of your email address on your “brand”.  If your email address is something like joesplumbing@yahoo.com then perhaps you are not representing your business in the best possible light.  Using an email domain (the part of the email address after @) other than one owned by your business lacks a degree of professionalism that you can easily obtain.  It was OK in the 1990’s to use any old email domain, but today it just doesn’t appear professional, even for the smallest of businesses.  In addition, you are missing an opportunity to market your business with every email you send.  If you already own your own domain name (like joesplumbing.com) then we can set you up with professionally branded email addresses in practically no time at all.  If you don’t have a domain name yet, then it will take us only slightly longer.  Bottom line: if you don’t have your own domain name then it is time you get one and put it to use.

We at Geeks On Call in Charleston, SC work with our customers each day sorting out the intricacies of email and the internet.  You can find us at www.geeksoncall.com or by calling 1 800 905 GEEK (4335).

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It's Not Your Father's PC Virus


The world of computer viruses has evolved extensively over the past several years. Gone are the "good old days" of viruses written by precocious, young computer gurus to garner attention and gain fame among their peers. Those old viruses were bad enough - sometimes destructive - but often just an annoyance.

Today's viruses, better termed malware, are different. They are in it to make money. Organized crime operations in other parts of the world, commonly Eastern Europe and China, are coming after your money and your identity and they are doing it through your computer. These organizations are well equipped and have mission statements, budgets and staff meetings! And, if you are not careful and alert, they may soon have your credit card number and other vital personal information.

How are they doing it?

These "bad guys" endeavor to infect your computer by sending you an infected email attachment or by enticing you to visit a web site specifically coded to exploit a vulnerability in your computer. (Methods of malware transmission is a topic for a future newsletter.) Once your computer is infected, the bad guys can have your computer do their bidding. Here's some of what they can do:

They turn your computer into one of their "bots" (as in robots). The "bot" checks in with its master controller server, somewhere on the Internet, and gets further instructions. Perhaps your "bot" (disguised as your innocent little computer) might become a SPAM server, sending out thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of SPAM email to people around the world. It's unlikely you'll know anything is amiss except maybe your computer has suddenly slowed down. On another occasion your bot joins a network of other bots to shut down a website whose owners are being extorted for money or political reasons. By some counts, 15% to 20% of computers worldwide are "bots".

The master server might direct your PC to pop up a virus alert; something like - "AV 2010 has detected 34 viruses on your PC. Click here to remove." (or words to that effect). When you "Click Here" you get a warning stating you don't have the full version of their "product", and that you must purchase the full version in order to remove the viruses - "Enter your credit card number here and click Next". Don't do it! This tactic has given rise to a new term - Scareware. We at Geeks On Call in Charleston see this scenario several times each week.

The bad guys have even been known to extort money from legitimate web sites by using their massive "botnets" to launch an attack. They send so many web page requests in such a short time that the legitimate web servers are overwhelmed and cannot respond to any more requests. Perhaps you've heard the term "Denial of Service attack" - this is an example. It sounds crazy - and it is - but it's true.

What can you do?

Here are a few simple things you can do to protect yourself:

Keep your computer up to date with all of the latest Microsoft Security Updates. The easiest way to do this is to ensure the Automatic Update feature of your PC is turned on and functioning correctly.

Arm your computer with a reputable Security (notice I didn't just say Anti-Virus) product. Make sure it is working correctly and is always up to date. Reputable security software vendors send out automatic updates for their software daily, or more often when the need arises.

If you are a business owner who relies on your computers and your vital business data, you need professional assistance. We are ready to assist and it is time well spent.

Make sure your vital data is backed up. Remote Data Backups is a world class automated, offsite backup solution. Vist their website for further information.

Educate yourself about these dangers and how to protect yourself.

Geeks On Call can provide you with reliable, professional, onsite service for all of your computer and network security needs. We can help you protect yourself and your identity and provide you with peace of mind. Call 1-800-905-GEEK (4335) to make an appointment. (Or visit our website at www.geeksoncall.com)