Imagine that you’ve suffered a data loss or system failure. How would you feel? Many business executives and IT professionals can tell you that only a few things compare to that sinking feeling you get when you realize it’s time to restore from backup – because very few are really prepared.
While many SMBs say “we already have a backup solution,” the harsh reality is that most are not adequately prepared for a disaster. In fact, according to Small Business Trends, 58% of SMBs are not prepared for a data loss at all.
Through consulting with SMBs around the country and across many different industries over the past 25 years, I can attest to the fact that by the time they find this out, it’s too late. Data loss due to security breaches, system failures, human error, or natural disasters can have devastating effects on a small business. While it’s true that establishing an appropriate backup and disaster recovery solution takes some effort, it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming burden. It is well worth the time and investment to ensure that your business avoids the significant problems that can arise if you are not properly protecting your systems and data against loss.
Not sure where to start? Let’s look at some of the common mistakes organizations make regarding their existing backup solutions. If you find out you’re making them too, it’s time to up your backup and disaster recovery (BDR) game.
Mistake #1: Not understanding your business objectives
Performing a Business Impact Analysis (BIA) can help you understand your Recovery Time Objective (RTO) and Recovery Point Objective (RPO) so you can invest in the right BDR solution. Confused? Let’s translate this tech lingo into “plain English.”
The first step in evaluating any BDR solution is to understand the impact that system failures or data loss can have on your business. Ask yourself these three questions:
- What data do I need to protect?
Do you have mission-critical data such as customer records, inventory, or accounting information? Identify where this data is stored and which systems run the apps that use it.
- How much data can I afford to lose in the event of a failure?
This is your RPO. If you lost your sales transaction records, shipping data or case files that were created or updated over the last hour, how would that impact your business? What if you lost that data for a whole day, or even a week?
- How long can I afford to be down in the event of a failure?
This is your RTO. If you couldn’t process sales transactions, access inventory or get that important RFP delivered on time, how much would your business suffer? Would you lose revenue? Customers? Reputation?
Ask yourself these three questions, and use the answers to establish your goals (for example, “I need this system back up and running in 4 hours” or “I cannot lose more than 2 hours of this data”). Then you should be able to understand whether your existing BDR solution allows you to meet these goals. Don’t guess – know – how much time and how many resources it would take to restore a file, a database, and a complete server.
Mistake #2: Focusing on the backup, not the recovery
It’s called backup and disaster recovery for a reason. Yes, your data is important and you need to have it backed up. However, the real value is when the data is available to you so that you can run your business. That means you need to be able to quickly and efficiently restore failed systems and lost data to truly meet the business goals you’ve established in your Business Impact Analysis. With many traditional onsite or cloud-only backup solutions, restore time may take many hours or even days. Make sure your solution isn’t one of them.
Consider this example: Your main application server experiences a hardware failure and crashes. You contact the manufacturer, who will be there the next business day with the parts to get the server back up and running. Let’s presume the work is completed by midday the day after the failure. Now you must restore the operating system, the application files, and all the data on to that server before you can conduct business again. You are in for at least another several hours of time to complete this. At this point, you’ve been down for at least 2 days. Does that meet the business goals you established earlier? Today’s backup solutions offer advanced technology and capabilities that can get you back to business within minutes or hours, instead of days – which can translate to thousands of dollars in savings.
Mistake #3: Not protecting data offsite
Protecting your data onsite is a must, right? This makes for faster and more efficient restores of files, folders, and even complete systems. But what would happen if your entire site were impacted by a fire, flood, or other disaster? If your production systems and your backup data are in the same location, you could lose everything! Modern BDR solutions deliver automatic and secure replication of data, and in some cases complete system images, to the cloud. This ensures that your data and systems are available when you are ready to get back to work.
Mistake #4: Not actively managing your backup
Merely deploying a great BDR solution does not ensure that your business is protected over time. Backup jobs fail. Data, systems, and applications change. An effective BDR solution requires focused attention from skilled resources to configure backup jobs as needs change, monitor backup job success, resolve failures, and maintain the technology. This is a challenge for all businesses, but especially SMBs, who typically have limited IT resources. If these important functions are not addressed consistently, it can lead to failed or corrupted backups, missing backups, or other issues that can prevent you from restoring the data that you need. To solve this challenge, many SMBs are looking to outsource backup and disaster recovery to a Managed Service Provider (MSP) like TPx.
Mistake #5: Not testing restores
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of SMBs are not prepared for data loss – they only figure this out after a disaster hits and they cannot successfully restore their data. You can alleviate this concern by testing your backups ahead of time to ensure that they are recoverable. Unfortunately, fully testing backups can be a complex and expensive endeavor, which is why SMBs very rarely perform regular testing. Today’s leading backup and disaster recovery solutions address this issue by leveraging advanced technologies such as screenshot verification, which automatically boots up a backup copy of a protected server as a virtual machine on the backup appliance and takes a picture of that login screen so you know the server can be restored. That’s great peace of mind for any business executive to have!
Ensuring your business has an appropriate backup and disaster recovery solution in place should be at the top of your to-do list. Avoid these common mistakes and seek the advice of an experienced provider like TPx to help you get there.
About the Author
Joe Royer is the Product Manager for IT/Cloud services at TPx. He has 25 years of industry experience in sales, consulting, and product management for several leading MSPs.
Many events can cause your network to go down, including natural disasters, cybersecurity attacks, or even backhoe damage to a fiber-optic cable. And when businesses experience an Internet outage, they feel the negative effects in several ways. Thanks to the rise of cloud services, SaaS and mobile apps for work, an outage can have far-reaching consequences financially, as well impact an organization’s competitiveness and reputation.
That’s why it’s imperative that your company include a plan for ensuring uninterrupted Internet connectivity, and continued operations in the face of an outage, as part of your Business Continuity Management (BCM) process. In most cases this includes installing a backup circuit, such as a wireless failover option, in the event the wired infrastructure is impacted; but there are many different connectivity approaches that can be put in place.
This may seem expensive or complicated, but with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be. For instance, an SD-WAN can provide a crucial overlay for cost-effectively orchestrating these connections to the outside world.
Know Your Outage Risks
As part of your BCM process, it’s important to understand the risks and the vulnerabilities that would be in play should the Internet suddenly disappear at the office.
For one, most businesses today conduct a large portion of their business online, whether that’s in the form of eCommerce (every hour of downtime corresponds to lost sales), interacting with partners or customers, maintaining an informational website meant to drive in-store or phone traffic, or simply taking online payments for services.
For those selling goods and services online, the question then becomes: how much revenue stands to be lost or delayed by every hour you’re knocked offline? Understanding that number alone should be a core consideration.
Another concern is lowered productivity – it’s an exercise in frustration watching your employees become stalled with nothing to do because they can’t access the information or apps they need to do their jobs. Aside from the fact that you may be paying them to sit and wait, outages can have deeper impacts. Outages put the brakes on development cycles, back up production times (in the case of real goods), and keep innovation teams from effectively collaborating – all aspects that impact your capacity for differentiating your business.
A third risk is reputational damage. A business without a functioning website looks like it isn’t ready for prime time, and that could give potential leads (and even long-term customers) pause. A business’ website is often where customers gain their first impression of the organization.
Outages also impact sales and customer service organizations, who may be relying on cloud-delivered applications to house customer information and initiate orders, trouble tickets, escalations and the like. Moreover, an unexpected outage during an important sales call or critical meeting can be embarrassing and costly, and customers calling into a contact center tend to be unforgiving when they’re not served well.
Fire, flood or even civil disorder are real threats to the operations of any business. Putting a back-up connectivity plan in place will allow you to stay connected via phone and Internet throughout outages and ensure you can access the tools you use to communicate to partners, employees and customers.
Wireless 4G LTE Failover
Wireless connectivity allows you to set up a remote site quickly, or keep remote sites open during outages. Unlike dual-wired connections, which often share the same trench into a building and are subject to errant backhoes, 4G LTE provides true path diversity and ensures non-stop Internet access.
TPx is the first nationwide provider to offer SD-WAN over 4G LTE as primary, secondary and redundant options to reduce or eliminate the need for wireline connectivity. In a primary configuration, all traffic is transported over the 4G network. In secondary mode, the 4G circuit is active but sharing throughput with a primary wired circuit. In failover mode, the 4G link is dormant until it’s needed for automated failover of the primary circuit, so you won’t be unnecessarily using up your mobile data allocation.
Managed SD-WAN for Peace of Mind
There are also other types of Internet failover options which, along with 4G LTE, can be managed by an intelligent SD-WAN. TPx Managed SD-WAN allows you to mix and match any type of transport – whether it’s provided by TPx or your local Internet or wireless provider – to securely and seamlessly fail over your primary Internet connection. This can include MPLS Private Networks, High Speed Internet Access, SmartVoice SIP Trunking and UCx Hosted Unified Communications. Our SD-WAN network will automatically route traffic to the secondary circuit.
Our SD-WAN also provides “bonding” to increase cost effectiveness: both circuits can be active, so that the failover circuit is not sitting idle. The SD-WAN decides, for each traffic session, which path is the best path in that moment. That means you don’t have to pay for bandwidth you’re not using. And for added peace of mind, you can utilize three circuits — all active, or one in standby mode — for the ultimate measure of connection certainty.
On the inbound continuity front, this provides static public IPs between the core network and the gateway to support inbound Internet failover for remote users and web traffic.
Contact your TPx representative to see how you can gain peace of mind for your employees and customers. Downtime can be scary. You may not initially know the length of the outage, but not knowing when it will occur can feel worse. Mitigate the stress on your leadership and staff with a reliable backup plan.
About the Author
Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Managed Endpoint, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.
Extreme weather events seem to be the norm these days rather than the exception. Almost every corner of the country has experienced it – whether it’s a powerful hurricane that causes widespread flooding, a wildfire that burns up thousands of acres, or a blizzard that dumps snow that’s measurable in feet. And every time it happens, local businesses are hit hard with lost wages and reduced profits.
This is just one reason why businesses like yours have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place, or are at least considering implementing them. At its core, the purpose of a business continuity plan is to prevent the interruption of your normal business operations. In the event that an interruption does occur, the plan should ensure that your organization has alternate methods for continuing operations until normal functionality is restored.
Straight “out of the box,” hosted unified communications (UC) addresses both of these aspects of business continuity. Because the service provider takes care of things like server redundancy, geographic diversity, and data backups, your business is in a better position to continue working until normal operations are restored. Also, due to the distributed nature of a cloud-based service, many of the issues that would affect an on-premises system have zero impact.
However, like any other system in your organization, even hosted UC is not completely immune to damage or disruption. If disruptions do happen, they generally fall into one of three categories:
- Local event – A disruption affecting a particular business location, such as severe weather, a disaster, or a security breach
- Interrupted connection – A power outage or disruption to network connectivity
- Network issue – A disruption to the service provider’s network (this is rare)
Let’s look at these three types of events in detail, and consider the steps you can take to prepare for them.
Preparing for a Local Event
Inevitably, there will come a day that your office will become inaccessible. With hosted UC, there are many steps you can take to proactively prepare.
- Configure all users with options and features that will allow them to work remotely if needed. This is where hosted UC really shines! Employees can easily work from home when they have softphones and mobile apps at their disposal.
- Enable and pre-configure group features that will allow local operations to continue or be redirected to an alternate location. For example, auto attendant menus can be updated on-the-fly to play a pre-recorded “office closed” greeting. If your company has multiple locations, you could ask someone at another location to serve as a backup receptionist – since everything is in the cloud, that person will be able to manage all inbound calls remotely.
- Ensure at least two people are set up with admin-level access to the system’s web portal, in case your primary admin is unable to log in.
- For rental equipment: Confirm that your service provider can provide a replacement in the event that a device fails.
- For purchased equipment: Ensure that you have spares on hand for all devices such as phones, firewalls, routers, and switches.
Also, be sure you have the details of your service provider’s warranty program so you’ll know what to do in case any of these devices are damaged. To avoid the possibility of having to pay out-of-pocket to replace damaged equipment, you could go for guaranteed replacement (where the provider will replace the equipment regardless of how the damage was caused), or you could choose to purchase insurance to cover non-warrantied repairs and replacements.
Preparing for an Interrupted Connection
The second type of disruption is the interrupted connection – meaning a power outage or disruption to network connectivity.
To address a power outage, ensure you have a backup power source (such as a UPS or a generator) available for your firewall, routers, and switches. Remember that even if these backups eventually run out and cause your devices to lose power, a hosted UC system’s features will either continue to work as programmed or automatically fail over to an alternate setting.
To address network connectivity, install at least one redundant connection to be used as a failover if the primary network connection is interrupted. For true network diversity, you could even install a 4G LTE connection as the failover, reducing your reliance on the wired connections into your building. You can also consider implementing SD-WAN to manage these failover options automatically.
When the UC system fails over to a backup connection, the IP connection switches to its backup and all lines re-register with the alternate ISP’s IP addresses; all voice traffic is then routed through that ISP and across the Internet to the hosted provider. When the primary connection is back online, the lines re-register directly to the hosted provider and normal operation is restored.
To cover yourself in either a power outage or a network connectivity loss, enable voice failover features that will allow operations to continue if the service is not available. For example, call forwarding not reachable will forward inbound calls to backup phone lines, another location, or users’ cell phones in the event that a location cannot connect to the hosted service.
Preparing for a Network Issue
Finally, it is possible there could be problems with the provider’s network. However, this type of problem is quite rare. Any hosted provider worth their while (like TPx!) will be working on robust infrastructure with multiple layers of security and redundancy built in. Usually, if there are any problems, they occur in the “last mile” of connectivity.
The best thing you can do to prepare here is to follow all of the steps we’ve previously talked about. Most notably, you should enable features that will allow operations to continue if standard voice service is not available, such as auto attendants, call forwarding not available, and hosted voicemail.
If you are using PRI or SIP trunks, you can also enable Direct Trunk Overflow (DTO) or Trunk Group Call Forwarding. These services automatically redirect incoming calls to an alternate number if there is a service impairment or if all trunk channels are busy. Enterprise Trunking is another alternative that supports multiple inbound routing options if you have multiple locations.
In the end, the best thing you can do for your business is to prepare as much as you can. It’s not enough to just be aware of the potential for a problem. By proactively developing and implementing plans to manage those potential interruptions wherever they may occur, you’ll further ensure that your hosted UC service continues to function when your business needs it most.
My wish for you is that you’ll never have to actually use your business continuity plans.
About the Author
Stacey Kendall is a Product Marketing Manager at TPx Communications. Her role is focused on marketing for TPx’s suite of Communications & Collaboration offerings, including the UCx Hosted Unified Communications Service and SmartVoice SIP Trunking. Stacey holds a bachelor’s degree in Marketing with a specialization in Information Technology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She resides in the greater Boston area.
It’s every business owner’s nightmare: You go to work, flip on your computer, and are greeted by a red warning screen trying to extort you into paying ransom in Bitcoin to unnamed shadowy figures hidden somewhere in the Dark Web. Frankly, unless you have advanced security in place, you shouldn’t be too surprised: Ransomware is on the rise, and has been for the past 18 months.
However, not all ransomware is created equal. In 2018 we’re seeing cybercriminals employing new tactics, rolling out new functionality, and aiming at new targets. Ransomware is evolving, and every business, large or small, needs to be aware of this shifting threat landscape.
Let us not forget that cybercriminals consider what they do to be a job. These aren’t 18-year-old script kiddies wearing hoodies and living on Doritos and Red Bull in their parents’ basements. They’re organized. They think about business models: ransomware as-a-service offers a lot of upside if you’re a black hat type. They are, above all, disciplined. They wake up in the morning, work long hours, and put a lot of effort into differentiating their tactics and their code in order to return as large of a profit as possible. Believe it or not, they even offer customer service and support! Most ransomware offerings on underground forums try to differentiate with a help desk function. In short, they believe themselves to be entrepreneurs, and just like legitimate business owners with a passion for their work, they hit it hard every day in an effort to be the best at what they do.
The result of this ongoing dedication is a level of innovation that shouldn’t be discounted. A critical component of staying ahead of the threat is to understand it in the first place. Here are five emerging ransomware trends to be aware of as we go forward:
1. Internet of Things (IoT) in the Sights
Cybercriminals are upping their game in 2018 to drive profits, and that means targeting IoT systems and mission-critical point-of-sale systems. According to Forrester Research, because chip-and-PIN cards and end-to-end encryption are making it harder for hackers to lift credit-card information the old-fashioned way (i.e., using malware to scrape data), attackers will instead look to extortion to make money from retail targets. To avoid having their entire payment apparatus locked down, retail businesses should focus their efforts on plugging the gaps exposed by default passwords, weak encryption implementations, and inadequate patching/remediation capabilities.
2. Targeting for Fun and Profit
Ransomware is becoming more targeted. It not only looks for certain file types, but also is taking aim at specific types of companies, such as law firms, healthcare providers, and tax preparers. Security researchers have flagged this evolution as an important change on the threat horizon from the “spray-and-pray” attacks most businesses are used to. Criminals have developed ransomware that targets databases, and can make small tweaks to their code to target critical proprietary files such as AutoCAD designs. The importance of this? A focused targeting of extensions means that ransomware attacks are more likely to succeed against legacy antivirus solutions. We can expect their frequency and severity to also increase.
3. Ransomware that Destroys Instead of Encrypting
Ransomware locks down files and demands payment in response for a de-encryption key. But some bugs are not what they seem. One example is a new malware called Ordinypt, which bills itself as ransomware. However, the code is really a wiper, with apparent twin motives of financial gain as well as disrupting business operations. Once an unwitting victim opens a malicious email attachment, the malware infects a victim’s machine, making files inaccessible, and then requests a ransom for recovering them, as is typical. Yet unbeknownst to the target, the files are actually destroyed, not encrypted, and the attackers have no code for “unlocking” them, even if victims pay up.
4. Necurs Never Sleeps
The Necurs botnet is one of the most omnipresent scourges on the cyber-front, believed to control more than 6 million zombie machines that have been enslaved to send out spam emails. Its scale is immense: It can average volumes in excess of 30 million emails per day, all aimed at spreading fraud and malware, including ransomware. Late last year, for instance, Necurs sent the Scarab ransomware to 12.5 million email addresses in just the first four hours of a massive campaign. It’s important to note that using large botnets like Necurs can give smaller ransomware actors the global reach they need to punch above their weight—making attacks much more prevalent.
5. Fooling Cloud Apps Like Child’s Play
Ransomware is also evolving for the cloud era. A new strain of Gojdue ransomware, dubbed ShurL0ckr, manages to evade being flagged by two well-known cloud platforms with built-in malware protection, Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365 – and it’s not alone in that capability. Increasingly, ransomware is being tailored to evade detection in cloud environments.
Don’t Be a Victim
All it takes is one employee clicking on the wrong email attachment for an infection to occur. To protect yourself, make sure you’ve backed up your systems and tested your ability to recover data in the event of a ransomware attack: Paying the ransom is not an option you want to take given there’s no guarantee you can trust the cybercriminal to release your systems and data. Also, many businesses are targets of multiple attacks—and those known to pay up will be among the first retargeted.
The better strategy is to make sure you’re protected in the first place. TPx offers a full suite of managed IT and business continuity services to help you protect your data and systems. We stay on top of the latest ransomware trends to deliver the latest detection, mitigation and prevention capabilities – all backed up by a state-of-the-art security operations center (SOC) staffed by a team of security analysts with deep military and intelligence backgrounds.
Contact your TPx representative today for details on how we can help you protect your company’s network against ransomware and other malware attacks.
About the Author
Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Endpoints Management, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.
Today businesses face multiple security and continuity challenges in both macro and micro environments. The old standby “disrupters” include weather events, power outages, fiber cuts, server problems and human error, to name a few. But the new and most prevalent threat is cybercrime, which is escalating at an incredible pace.
The 2017 SonicWall Annual Threat Report claims that ransomware attacks have increased nearly 200x, from 3.8 million in 2015 to 638 million in 2016. As staggering as those numbers are, the threat will only intensify as machines and devices continue to connect all over the globe, including the so-called Internet of Things (IoT). The recent WannaCry and Petya malware incidents are two recent examples of heightened stakes. They took control of tens of thousands of computers worldwide and demanded digital ransom from their owners to regain access.
Today, the unfortunate reality is that no organization is immune from the myriad threats that are capable of compromising networks, computers and phone systems, making it imperative to have a business continuity plan – and a partner like TPx – to provide voice and data continuity as needed. More than a third of the organizations that experienced a cyber breach in 2016 reported a loss of customers, business opportunities and revenue, according to Cisco’s 2017 Annual Cybersecurity Report. And the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that more than 40 percent of businesses never reopen after a major disaster. Companies that that lose their information technology for nine days or more typically file for bankruptcy within a year.
So what’s a business owner (or manager or CIO) to do? While the threats are new, the solution is the same as it’s been for years — break out those business continuity and disaster recovery plans and bring them up to date. The Information Technology portion of your plan should include provisions for the loss of:
- Server or computer room
- Voice and Data Connectivity
If you don’t have a plan in place and aren’t sure where to start, TechTarget’s SearchDisasterRecovery has a decent starter template available here. You can also download TPx’s data sheet on calculating your cost of downtime for a set of important questions you should ask yourself when developing your plan. If you want a comprehensive assessment with technology recommendations and planning, your TPx representative is happy to help as well.
Regardless of what level of assistance you need, the key to any continuity or recovery plan is making it and keeping it up to date – especially with the latest risk assessments having less to do with random accidents than intentional acts of malice.
Solutions That Give You Peace of Mind
Protecting your company’s hard-earned customers, brand value and reputation from threats both natural and digital can be a daunting task. Partnering with a firm like TPx can help you protect your business with a range of best-in-class continuity solutions. Our team can help you engineer reliable solutions on-time and on-budget. Options include:
- UCx – The distributed nature of TPx’s UCx service means that your communications infrastructure will still be available in the event of a power outage, storm, fire or other disaster. Because UCx resides on the TPx network and not on your premises, it’s easy to redirect calls to an alternate location or mobile phone.
- SD-WAN – Our award-winning ITx for WAN powered by SD-WAN allows you to mix-and-match any type of transport (provided by TPx or your local Internet provider) to securely and seamlessly failover to any or all of TPx’s core services.
- Fixed Wireless – Our award-winning OneAir Fixed Wireless® delivers highly scalable, SLA-guaranteed connectivity powerful enough to be your primary connection. But for redundancy applications, it’s backhoe-proof and stands up to weather problems when major fiber connections fail.
- SSAE 16 Datacenters – Top-of-the-line SSAE 16 datacenters support your business continuity needs in secure colocation environments that provide dedicated space for your equipment and data storage.
- Managed Firewall Solutions – The best way to achieve optimal protection is to layer your network with managed firewall solutions, thwarting malicious attacks before they gain a foothold.
- Managed Workstations and Servers – delivers the right skills to ensure that your users’ desktops and laptops as well as your servers remain healthy and stable with patches, security and application updates
- Microsoft Office 365 – Service continuity provisions are part of the Office 365 system design. These provisions enable Office 365 to recover quickly from unexpected events such as hardware or application failure, data corruption, or other incidents that affect users. And if there’s a problem, we’ll work with Microsoft for you.
- Backup and Recovery Solutions – You also can reduce the risk of data loss with server backup and recovery solutions that protect you remotely over the Internet.
About the Author
Matt Mair is a Senior Product Marketing Manager for ITx Managed Services. His role includes marketing and communications for TPx’s suite of managed IT offerings including Managed SD-WAN, LAN Monitoring, Office 365, Workstation and Servers Management, Colocation and Server Backup solutions. Matt holds an MBA from Michigan State University’s Broad School of Business and resides in Los Angeles.