Supporting the Community that Supports Us

Posted by Maddie McKechnie on 10 July 2019

At Loyal I.T. Solutions, all staff are encouraged to get involved with our local community. It is one of the core values in our Code of Honour, and we have many initiatives for staff to dedicate time or resources to help support the community that supports us. Some of our initiatives include:

Blood and Plasma Donations

Every quarter, a number of staff on our team head down to the local Red Cross to donate blood or plasma. Plasma can be used in 18 different treatments, some of which are relied upon by the friends and family of staff at Loyal I.T. Solutions. This year we've gone hard on the plasma donations and already saved 15 lives with our efforts. Since our Business Development Manager Naomi McCahon started this initiative in 2016, the team has made 44 total donations of blood and plasma, saving over 130 lives.

Million Star Sleepout

The Million Star Sleepout is a one-night campout on a cold, starry night, to help raise funds and awareness for homelessness on the Central Coast. In 2018 we had six members of our team sleeping out at Glenworth Valley and we raised over $11,000 for Coast Shelter - all thanks to our generous clients, partners, and loved ones. 

Canned Food Collection 

Once every month, we'll swap the collared shirts for hoodies and have casual Friday at the Loyal I.T. office. For staff to participate, they must donate a canned or non-perishable item to an ever-growing pile residing in our kitchen. Once there's a decent stockpile, we make the trek a few doors up and pass over all the goods to local housing organisation Coast Shelter for distribution.

Return & Earn

Something you may not know about those who work in I.T. - we drink a LOT of Coca Cola! After seeing the large amount of cans and bottles making their way to the Loyal I.T. recycling bins, our technician Brendan Lewis saw the perfect opportunity to give back to our community. Brendan has set up multiple tubs in our staff kitchen to gather empty cans and bottles, and when full he drops them to a local Return & Earn collection point. The vouchers we receive from Return & Earn are then passed over to local homelessness organisation Coast Shelter. Since implementing this more than a year ago, we have raised over $180 in vouchers - which is a lot of Coke!

The Marilyn Project

Domestic violence is unfortunately an all-too-common reality for many women here on the Central Coast, and those escaping violent situations may do so only with the clothes on their back. The Marilyn Project is a clothing drive arranged by the ladies at Loyal I.T. to pass on business-appropriate clothing to the women in our community who need it most. Whether it's for an interview, ongoing employment, or a rental inspection - The Marilyn Project empowers women with the right clothes for the job.

Work Placement

Loyal I.T. Solutions is happy to host a number of work experience students throughout the year, to help high school students gain an insight on what a career in I.T. is like. We partner with Youth Connections to coordinate Central Coast students to come and join Loyal I.T. for a week, working alongside our onsite technicians to get field experience and have a first-hand look at technical careers.

Community Groups

  • The Opportunity Collective: The Opportunity Collective is a local mentoring initiative aimed at connecting women in our business community to people in senior leadership roles. Loyal I.T.'s Managing Director Mick Goodwin has been a mentor for the past two years of the program, helping to empower local women with professional development and leadership skills.
  • Coast Shelter: Coast Shelter is a Central Coast-based charity that provides crisis accommodation and assistance to those who are homeless or disadvantaged. Mick Goodwin is a board member for Coast Shelter and with headquarters just a few doors up from the Loyal I.T. office, Coast Shelter is central to many of our community initiatives.
  • Gosford/Erina & Coastal Chamber of Commerce: The Gosford/Erina Chamber of Commerce is the voice of our business community. Loyal I.T. Solutions is a gold sponsor of our local Chamber, and our General Manager Michael Trimblett is also a Director on the Chamber's board, helping to advocate for business opportunities and development in our region.
  • Terama Industries: One of the services we offer our clients is free and secure disposal of e-waste, including old computers, printers and networking equipment. E-waste is one of the fastest growing types of waste and as an I.T. company, we see a lot of it. We have our e-waste collected by Terama Industries, a local organisation that employs people with intellectual and physical disabilities.
  • Gosford City Rotary Club: Mick Goodwin is a proud board member of Gosford City Rotary Club, which serves our local region with contributions to local organisations and community projects. He has previously served in the role of President and in 2017 was recognised as a Paul Harris Fellow.

Posted in: Team News Misc IT Community  

Windows 10: Better for Business

Posted by Maddie McKechnie on 30 April 2019

With more than 800 million users, the Windows 10 operating system has had a faster adoption rate than any other version of Windows. It has also recently been crowned as the most popular operating system for desktops, running on 44% of all computers across the globe. 

Windows 10 has kept the familiarity of a classic Windows interface, while achieving major improvements in terms of security, efficiency, and performance. Market research company Forrester has put these claims to the test and discovered the following results:

  • Increased Productivity: Managing your desktop and open programs takes 15-20% less time with Windows 10, helping you work more productively. Features such as Task View let you see all open programs at a glance, so that you can quickly locate the different windows that are required for your tasks.
  • Security Improvements: Windows 10 boasts a 33% reduction rate in security issues and their resolution time. With a firewall and basic antimalware protection built directly into the operating system, Windows 10 delivers additional security features that can assist in keeping your network safe. 
  • Reduced Costs: The ease-of-use of Windows 10 could create up to 15% in cost savings for your business. Windows 10 comes with many self-service help functions as well as built-in troubleshooters for network connections and printers, helping you to quickly resolve common technical issues. Windows 10 is also easier for your I.T. provider to manage, taking less time to install, troubleshoot, and support. 
  • Better Performance: Windows 10 devices can have up to a 75% reduction in boot time compared to a Windows 7 machine, making it much quicker for you to get started with your day.
  • No More Upgrades: Microsoft have announced that Windows 10 will be the last major version of Windows. Rather than releasing a new operating system every few years and requiring all users to upgrade, Microsoft will instead release improvements and new features to Windows 10 on a regular basis through small incremental updates. This means reduced I.T. spending for your business, as machines only have to be replaced due to hardware degradation instead of being replaced to keep up with major software changes.

With Windows 7 becoming end-of-life in January 2020, Microsoft recommend that any Windows 7 devices be replaced with Windows 10 machines in order to avoid security risks and other issues. As PCs originally built with Windows 7 are now running 10-year-old technology, Microsoft advise against installing the Windows 10 software onto these devices, as it can produce significant performance and/or compatability issues.

For more information regarding this announcement from Microsoft, please visit their information guide and FAQ.

You can also read our fact sheet to find out more about the potential risks involved with using Windows 7 devices past January 2020:

Download our fact sheet on the Windows End of Life Announcement:

Posted in: IT IT Consulting Networking Security Computer Software  

Windows End of Life Announcement Means Business Risk

Posted by Maddie McKechnie on 27 February 2019

CHECK NOW AND PLAN FOR ANY NECESSARY UPGRADES

It's time to upgrade your Windows 2008 and/or 2011 servers. After years of declining support from Microsoft, there is now an official date of when these server operating systems will be classed as "end of life" and will no longer receive support.

Less than a year away, Microsoft are urging all businesses using these servers to upgrade to newer software (such as Windows Server 2019) by January 14, 2020. The following server operating systems will be affected by this change, and need to be upgraded before the January 2020 deadline:

  • Windows Server 2008, including 2008 R2.
  • Windows Small Business Server 2008.
  • Windows Small Business Server 2011.
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2010.
  • Windows 7 workstations acting as servers will also be affected.

Even if you have recently bought a new physical server, your business may still be affected, as your I.T. infrastructure could be relying on virtual servers that are running the 2008 and 2011 operating systems.

When operating systems are classed as end of life, security vulnerabilities and software bugs are no longer patched by Microsoft - which could leave your systems insecure, glitchy, and incompatible with many modern software programs.

Let's look at the risks your business could face by continuing to use an operating system once it has become end of life.

  • Security Vulnerabilities. If you are running an affected server, it will no longer receive any security updates from Microsoft, which could leave your network exposed to malicious attacks and data breaches. It's all too easy for hackers to search for internet-connected devices with these vulnerabilities, and attack them - it's akin to leaving your front doors open with a sign out the front saying nobody is home.
  • Data Security and Compliance. If you have industry regulations regarding the protection of sensitive customer data (e.g. healthcare and finance), you could be putting your customers and business reputation at risk by using an out-of-date operating system that is known to have security vulnerabilities. Certain data breaches are now required by law to be reported under the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme and can attract financial penalties.
  • Software Incompatibility. Many software providers have already announced that their products will no longer be compatible with older operating systems. This means that the software won't receive feature updates or bug fixes, and the software vendor won't be able to provide technical assistance. In some cases, the software itself simply won't be able to install.
  • No Support from Microsoft. If you have a problem with your machine and it is running an operating system that is end of life, Microsoft's customer service and technical support team will not be able to offer you any help or technical assistance.
  • High Operational Costs. While your server will not stop working come January 2020, the cost to maintain and troubleshoot legacy software could end up costing your business more than the cost to upgrade your machines. Also consider the potential losses if your business-critical software were to fail during a busy production period, and you were unable to receive support from the software provider as they no longer support the software your older operating system.

 

WHAT WE RECOMMEND - PLAN SOONER RATHER THAN LATER AND BEAT THE RUSH

  • Contact a reliable I.T. service provider who can explain more about the risks of old and/or non-supported operating systems, and what changes may be required to your current I.T. infrastructure to coincide with an operating system upgrade.
  • We suggest you consider this change sooner rather than later, so that if infrastructure changes are warranted, you have plenty of time to plan for it.
  • If you need to upgrade any equipment or software, start planning now to get in this financial year's 'instant asset write-off'.
  • Avoid a last-minute panic at the end of 2019, when demand for new servers could be at an all-time high.
  • If you aren't sure whether your server is affected, please contact Loyal I.T. Solutions and we can help provide this information.

 

Download our fact sheet on the Windows End of Life Announcement

 

You may also like to read our other fact flyer sheets:

Posted in: Security IT IT Consulting Networking Security  

The End is Nigh for Microsoft's Windows 7 Operating System

Posted by Maddie McKechnie on 6 February 2019

 

Support for Windows 7 will cease in January 2020; are you prepared?

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Over the recent years, Microsoft has slowly been scaling back support for the Windows 7 operating system, but in January next year support will officially come to a close.

When Windows 7 becomes end of life on January 14 2020, security vulnerabilities and software bugs will no longer be patched by Microsoft - which could leave your machine insecure, glitchy, and incompatible with many modern software programs.

The easy answer is to upgrade to a Windows 10 machine. A great deal of individuals and enterprises on the Central Coast have already upgraded and are using Windows 10 like they knew nothing else ever existed. However, Net Applications reports that 37% of people are still hanging on to their Windows 7 machines, despite being surpassed by Windows 10 almost four years ago.

Does your desktop look like the above? If so, you could be running Windows 7.

While familiarity with your Windows 7 device can be hard to break, staying with the ten-year-old platform is not worth the risks it could bring in to your home or business.

Let's look at the risks involved when Windows 7 becomes end of life in January.

  • Software Incompatibility. Many software providers have already announced that their products will no longer be compatible with Windows 7 machines. This means that the software won't receive feature updates or bug fixes, and the software vendor won't be able to provide technical assistance. In some cases, the software itself simply won't be able to install.
  • Security Vulnerabilities. If you are running a Windows 7 machine, it will no longer receive any security updates from Microsoft, which could leave your network exposed to malicious attacks and data breaches. Windows 7 is already a ten-year-old operating system with many known vulnerabilities, but no new security updates means that any new malware or viruses could have uninterrupted access to your machine. It's all too easy for hackers to search for internet-connected devices with these vulnerabilities, and attack them - it's akin to leaving your front doors open with a sign out the front saying nobody is home. For further information, please see this article from Tarsus Today.
  • No Support from Microsoft. If you have a problem with your machine and it is running Windows 7, Microsoft's customer service and technical support team will not be able to offer you any help or technical assistance.
  • Data Security and Compliance. If you have industry regulations regarding the protection of sensitive customer data (e.g. healthcare and finance), you could be putting your customers and business reputation at risk by using an out-of-date operating system that is known to have security vulnerabilities. Certain data breaches are now required by law to be reported under the Notifiable Data Breaches scheme and can attract financial penalties.
  • High Operational Costs. While your Windows 7 machine will not stop working come January 2020, the cost to maintain and troubleshoot legacy software could end up costing your business more than the cost to upgrade your machines. Also consider the potential losses if your business-critical software were to fail during a busy production period, and you were unable to receive support from the software provider as they no longer support the software on Windows 7 devices.

 

Windows 10 - Similar look and feel to Windows 7, plus better productivity

Windows 10 is a cleaner, modern version of the Windows 7 user interface albeit with more features.

The start menu follows the same logical sequence and has that familiarity, but there are added features such as the search bar which will activate a search across your hard drive files, control panel, and the Internet, helping you find what you need quickly.

Windows 10 has less inherent vulnerabilities than Windows 7, and the up-to-date support will keep you and your data protected. The Windows 10 software has improved stability and performance over Windows 7, and also has the Windows App Store, allowing you to download apps onto your PC, laptop, or Surface tablet just like you would on a smartphone.

Windows 10 comes pre-installed on nearly all new workstations and laptops, and has twice-annual updates that bring new features to the platform.

 

What we recommend - plan sooner rather than later and beat the rush

  • Contact a reliable I.T. service provider who can explain more about the risks of old and/or non-supported operating systems, and what changes may be required to your current I.T. infrastructure to coincide with an operating system upgrade.
  • We suggest you consider this change sooner rather than later, so that if infrastructure changes are warranted, you have plenty of time to plan for it.
  • If you need to upgrade any equipment or software, start planning now to get in this financial year's 'instant asset write-off'.
  • Avoid a last-minute panic at the end of 2019, when demand for Windows 10 machines could be at an all-time high.

You may also like to read our fact flyer sheets:

Posted in: Security IT IT Consulting Networking Security  

Hacking - A sophisticated threat to business

Posted by Michael Trimblett on 25 January 2019

Unfortunately, a business was harmed in the making of this true story.

"Your files have been encrypted. Please submit payment within 48 hours to restore your data."

Can you imagine turning on your computer tomorrow and finding all of your business data inaccessible?  Could you continue trading, or would your business come to a halt?  This is the precise scenario a small business was recently faced with.

The business owners in this article, like many people, relished in the ability to complete work remotely from the comfort of home. But without the right security in place, their open connection to the network was like an unlocked door, and it was all too easy for hackers to gain access to the company's files.

So who are these hackers? Anyone with an internet connected computer is capable of attacking you. With anonymous cryptocurrencies and the ability to attack victims across the globe, cybercrime is virtually untraceable.

What are they after? Your data and information because it is not only extremely valuable to you, but is also a valuable commodity on the dark web. Your business data is like currency. Even in a small to medium business, data is just as attractive to hackers as a corner store cash register.

Hackers have two options with your data.

  1. They recognise that its worth more to you than it is to them, so they encrypt it (locking your files) and hold your business data for ransom-Usually this is referred to as Ransomware.
  2. They recognise that the data is valuable to them as well. Your customers' bank details, credit card numbers, and Medicare numbers fetch high prices when sold on the dark web. Once sold, such data is often used to commit identity fraud. A data breach like this could have a huge impact on the life of your clients.

The situation faced by the business I alluded to in the first paragraph is an example of how hackers make money from Ransomware. Through inadequate security measures, a hacker gained access to their server, encrypted all of their files, and then issued a ransom note for 0.8 Bitcoins (at time of attack - approximately A$7,500.00). The files were largely worthless to the hacker, BUT the files were the currency and life blood for the business. Bitcoin is a digital tender and can be used to buy and sell items anonymously on the internet meaning hackers have a way of being anonymously paid.

The challenge for any hacker is to gain access to your data storage (your laptop, server etc). There are many vectors for infection (the placing of malicious software in your system) and many methods where you can be tricked into letting the infection in including spam, social engineering and malicious advertising. Other ways that hackers can break in include website hacking and exploiting insecure remote access, insecure communications, aging equipment, and vulnerabilities in your software and/or equipment.

In the example of the Business mentioned earlier in this article, it was all too easy for a hacker to break in via the remote access.

But why this business? Well, it wasn't personal. It was simply a random leveraging of opportunity and high vulnerability increases opportunity. A hacker can go on any number of public websites that lists every device open to the internet and can apply his or her automation tools to choose targets to attempt to hack into. If you are reading this on your computer right now and you're online, your IP address is one of millions around the world that may come up in such a search.

Hackers utilise products such as Shodan (like a 'Google for hackers') and Masscan, meaning they can scan all four billion internet IP addresses, looking for vulnerabilities in less than six minutes. If a vulnerability or insecure practice is found, the hacker will look to leverage this into an attack. They don't necessarily know you, they just know your IP address is vulnerable and they will try to exploit it to see if they can earn some money.

Vulnerabilities are found in devices daily. They can take the shape of mistakes in programming, insecure policies by the device manufacturer or the deliberate inclusion of backdoor access in programming. But most vulnerabilities are just human error, with programmers often working under a lot of pressure to deliver a product this is why so many updates to Windows and Mac operating systems are pushed out each month.

So, the hackers have an easy way to scan the internet, they can access the known and published vulnerabilities, they have developed toolkits which will automate the entire process, they have tools to break in (a common example is automated password guessing-or brute force password hacking) and they can make untraceable money. 

With these hacker strategies in mind, what happened with the small business in this article?  The hackers, via their search engine and automation tools, were able to isolate a venerable IP address, which in this case it was the remote connection at the server. The hacker easily found their way to the server and started a brute force password attack. This sort of attack is not flagged by Windows and can only be determined by checking the event logs of the server. The hackers eventually guessed the right password which allowed them into the server. They deployed their ransomware software which encrypted all their data and then issued the ransom.

This catastrophe could have been avoided. If you are storing your data on a server at your business and accessing it remotely, there are three key ways to prevent hacking.

  1. Set up a secure remote connection to the business via a Virtual Private Network (VPN) appliance.
  2. Have a bulletproof backup solution in place that follows the 3-2-1 backup framework.
  3. Have a strong password management regime.

Without the VPN, a remote connection opens a portal into your server that is visible and easily accessed by anyone else. A VPN reduces the 'visibility' of the remote connection and provides the security to prevent any unauthorised entry.

If the business in this article had a bullet proof 3-2-1 back-up solution in place; then at least they could have ignored the ransom, purged the server, installed the necessary VPN and endpoint security and then loaded their back-up data.

Lastly, with an appropriate password management regime, maybe the hackers would not have been able to crack this Business's password.

So, how did this story end for the Business in this article? Not too well I am afraid.  The ransom was paid but then the hackers went quiet. There has been no contact since.  They did not deliver the decryption key nor the program to decrypt the data. They had to downsize their operation significantly.

The moral to this story is this: regular security audits should be implemented on business networks to ensure best practices are being adhered to and when issues are found, it is always best to action them with urgency.

 

Download our Insight Feature on Hacking - A Sophisticated Threat to Business

 

You may also like to read these fact sheets:

Posted in: Security IT IT Consulting Networking Security  
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Supporting the Community that Supports Us

Jul 10 2019
At Loyal I.T. Solutions, all staff are encouraged to get involved with our local community. It...

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