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How to Secure Your Company’s Valuable Devices

How to Secure Your Company’s Valuable Devices

As small-business owners focus more on keeping their digital information out of harm’s way, many can neglect to provide the same level of security for their physical assets — including company-owned cell phones, laptops, tablets and digital cameras.

The good news is that a growing number of affordable products, beyond traditional alarm systems, can help keep your physical facilities and equipment safe. Here are six tools to consider if you’re looking to secure your company’s valuable devices as well as the data that’s on them:

1. A Keypad, Key Card or “Biometric” Lock System 
Digital lock systems can replace a traditional key with a digital combination, employee identification card, finger print or retina scan. Systems with keycards or passwords can be centrally controlled and monitored, and they are more convenient than traditional locks and keys. Prices for these systems can start as low as $100 per door.

Some entry-level options include a LockState keyless lock (around $120) and the BioAxxis Biometric Deadbolt ($225).

2. Device-Tracking Software 
With more employees taking company equipment home, there’s a greater chance that some items can go missing. Installing tracking software can help you locate and retrieve these devices when they go missing.

Tracking software uses global positioning system coordinates — just like the GPS in your car and the mapping software on your mobile phone — to pinpoint where your missing device is. Some systems also can locate your mobile device through proprietary technology if someone uses it to access the Internet.

There are free, open-source options such as Prey, as well as numerous products with additional features that you can buy. Absolute Software’s LoJack for laptops, for example, starts at $40 for one year.

3. Portable Device Locks 
Laptops and other portable technology devices are among some of the most commonly stolen business items. But installing locks that tether them to desks or other hard-to-move objects can reduce the likelihood of theft. Such locks typically start around $20 and can go as high as $100, depending on the brand and style.

Some examples include Kensington’s combination laptop lock ($20) as well as its iPad case/lock combination ($60).

4. Non-Removable Identification Labels 
Metal tags engraved with company information can be attached with weather resistant and tamper resistant “high bond” adhesive to business equipment that can be easily stolen. Thieves know that it will be harder to sell stolen devices with permanent labels or to use them in public.

Prices vary depending on the type of label and quantity ordered, but expect to spend about $8 apiece for metal labels with adhesive backing. Two companies to consider for custom metal labels are and YEUELL.

5. Motion-Sensing Lights 
Motion-sensing light technology systems trigger lights when there is activity in the immediate vicinity, alerting employees to suspicious activity. These detectors can work with any light, whether in a secure area inside your office or in a dark area outside.

Simple outdoor motion-sensing spotlights are relatively inexpensive, such as the Lithonia double-head spotlight (about $120). The price of indoor systems can vary depending on the size of your space.

6. New or Updated Surveillance Equipment
Unless you’re a relatively new business, chances are your security cameras and monitoring system are outdated. That is, if you have any at all.

For less than $500, several systems allow you to view your security camera feeds from any device, using a Wi-Fi network. Options include an entry-level Uniden three-camera wireless system ($300) and the Lorex four-camera set ($650) which is designed for mobile viewing.

The physical security of your business and the devices you use is as important as the safety of your business data. Using one or a combination of these tools can help ensure that your business is not an easy target for theft.

How to Protect Your Business from Malware in Custom Apps

How to Protect Your Business from Malware in Custom Apps

When Pakistani IT professional Sohaib Athar inadvertently live-tweeted the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, he didn’t expect to become an overnight internet celeb. And he certainly didn’t expect the follow-up: A hacker installed malware on Athar’s blog. His millions of new visitors–and potential new customers–were at risk of becoming malware victims.

Security attacks on businesses–from single-person operations to some of the corporate world’s giants–are on the rise. It’s a new and increasingly ugly world out there for companies doing business on the web.

Even corporations with enormous resources and teams are vulnerable. Earlier in 2011, hackers breached the credit card and personal data of at least 70 million Sony PlayStation Network users. And RSA, a Bedford, Mass.-based security firm that provides security to more than 90 percent of the Fortune 500, was itself compromised by hackers who exploited a hidden flaw in certain software the company hosted. Sony expects a $3.2 billion net loss for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, in part because of the attack. And RSA now faces persistent concerns that its once invulnerable security products have been rendered less effective.

At the core of these attacks is a new family of business security risks. Not only are web criminals taking advantage of weaknesses in commercially available business computer hardware and software, they’re exploiting the growing number of hidden flaws lurking inside the purpose-built, custom business applications that are usually found on public company websites. These application vulnerabilities have geeky, almost harmless sounding names like SQL (pronounced “sequel”) injections and cross-site scripting errors. But they’re far from harmless. The attacks are real, profound and potentially devastating for businesses and their customers.

BlackBerry Management Center: Reining in Smartphone Chaos

BlackBerry Management Center: Reining in Smartphone Chaos

If smartphones are a small-business boon, they’re also a potential liability.

Not only do businesses who offer them to employees have to keep track of who is using what device, they’re also loaded with information you don’t want “just anyone” to have access to. (If you’ve ever had to replace a lost or stolen company smartphone, you know what a hassle it can be.)

The Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone giant Research in Motion recently debuted its new BlackBerry Management Center — basically a do-it-yourself tool for managing three to 100 BlackBerry devices. It’s free, which makes it an appealing choice for companies that can’t afford expensive IT services to handle their growing arsenal of smartphones.

It’s also one more reason RIM hopes businesses will continue to use its products. Google’s recent blockbuster buy-out of Motorola Mobility means these business oriented technologies are more important to the struggling smartphone maker than ever before.

Here’s a first look:

What it is: BlackBerry Management Center lets you manage your business’s BlackBerry devices from anywhere using an online Web application. You can manage a number of things through the service like setting up email, contacts and calendars for each of your company phones. If a phone gets lost, you can lock it and display a message telling whoever finds the phone how it can be returned. Worst case scenario: you can use BlackBerry Management Center to wipe the data from a lost or stolen phone, including its microSD card. You can also restore the settings and content from a lost or broken phone onto a new phone.

What you might like: Managing user phones from the Web application is as easy as promised, although you’re going to have to do some legwork to sync company devices with your BlackBerry Management Center account. The hard part mostly boils down to retrieving several ID numbers attached to your various BlackBerry devices as well as making sure apps like BlackBerry Protect and email are properly configured on each device. Once that’s done, using the service is pretty much a matter of navigating a few simple menus that display your options for each smartphone.

Another useful feature: Employees who use their personal Blackberry devices in your business can add them to the service. In that case, users can determine how much control BlackBerry Management Center has over their device.

What you might not like: The mobile work crowd is diverse. And if they’re not all using BlackBerrys, they’re not all controlled by this product. Which absolutely limits how much order the Management Center will bring to the mobile chaos in your shop.

What to do: If your shop has a bring-your-own-gadget-to-work culture, Management Center is not for you. It simply does not support a broad enough array of devices to make it worth the hassle. But if your business has even a couple of BlackBerry devices in the mix, this service could provide some peace of mind.

Ways to Back Up Your Smartphone

Ways to Back Up Your Smartphone

Apple iOS
Apple’s new service for protecting and simplifying mobile data access is iCloud Storage. The service automatically backs up mail, calendar and contacts information from users’ iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC for automatic access across different devices and is free for up to 5 GB of storage. The service pushes information out to devices over the air so there’s no worry about docking to keep things in sync. It even backs up purchased music, apps, books, device settings and app data daily over Wi-Fi. All a user needs to do to restore or switch to a new device is enter their Apple account sign-in at setup, and iCloud does the heavy lifting.

If you’re looking for a more comprehensive Android backup solution that will save third-party apps, data and settings, the best you’ll be able to use without rooting your phone is MyBackup Pro ($5 plus 50 MB online storage for free and $1 to $2 per month for more online storage). The program runs automated scheduled backups, supports a wide range of Android phones and will back up app install files that do not have copyright protections programmed into them. If your phone is rooted, one of the most thorough choices on the market is Titanium Backup ($5.99 for Pro), which backs up all apps, all data associated with them and the Android Market links that show you’ve paid for them. It also saves most phone settings and data. A free version saves to the device’s SD card, but the Pro version will integrate with Dropbox.

Until very recently, the gold standard for BlackBerry device backup was through SmrtGuard ( $44.99 per year), a fully fledged suite that not only backs up data but also offers anti-virus, anti-spam, an emergency beaconing system, remote wipe and a load of other bells and whistles. But it’ll cost you plenty. Though it is still in beta, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Protect ( gives BlackBerry users a free way to wirelessly back up and restore contacts, calendar appointments, memos, tasks, browser bookmarks and text messages. And folks with a lot of apps can supplement either option with the shareware BlackBerry Swiss Army Knife (free), which saves apps and app data to the device’s memory card.

The every-other-platform answer to Apple’s iCloud Storage, m:IQ (free) works on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile. In addition to backing up all the things iCloud does, m:IQ also saves call log, voice mail and texts. Though data won’t automatically be synced into a native app on your desktop, it does go into an easily accessible web account and any online changes are automatically pushed back out to the device wirelessly.

10 Time Management Tips That Work

10 Time Management Tips That Work

Chances are good that, at some  in your life, you’ve taken a time management class, read about it in books, and tried to use an electronic or paper-based day planner to organize, prioritize and schedule your day. “Why, with this knowledge and these gadgets,” you may ask, “do I still feel like I can’t get everything done I need to?”

The answer is simple. Before you can even begin to manage time, you must learn what time is. A dictionary defines time as “the point or period at which things occur.” Put simply, time is when stuff happens.

There are two types of time:  time and . In clock time, there are 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. All time passes equally. When someone turns 50, they are exactly 50 years old, no more or no less.

In real time, all time is relative. Time flies or drags depending on what you’re doing. Two hours at the Department of Motor Vehicles can feel like 12 years. And yet our 12-year-old children seem to have grown up in only two hours.

Which time describes the world in which you really live, real time or clock time?

The reason time management gadgets and systems don’t work is that these systems are designed to manage clock time. Clock time is irrelevant. You don’t live in or even have access to clock time. You live in real time, a world in which all time flies when you are having fun or drags when you are doing your taxes.

The good news is that real time is mental. It exists between your ears. You create it. Anything you create, you can manage. It’s time to remove any self-sabotage or self-limitation you have around “not having enough time,” or today not being “the ” to start a business or manage your current business properly.

There are only three ways to spend time: thoughts, conversations and actions. Regardless of the type of business you own, your work will be composed of those three items.

As an entrepreneur, you may be frequently interrupted or pulled in different directions. While you cannot eliminate interruptions, you do get a say on how much time you will spend on them and how much time you will spend on the thoughts, conversations and actions that will lead you to success.

A New App Lets Mobile Users Make and Send PDFs

A New App Lets Mobile Users Make and Send PDFs

Easy to use: Createpdf converts files automatically.

Adobe’s PDF files are pretty much the small-business standard when it comes to reading and sharing documents in their original form. With a slew of PDF-friendly mobile apps out there, it’s easier than ever to review documents on the go. But creating and sending PDFs on the road has been a trickier step.

A new app from Adobe aims to solve that. The tool gives users the ability to create and send PDFs from files on a tablet or other mobile device. Adobe announced in August that its CreatePDF app is available on iPhone and iPad–before it was only available on Android devices–and it’s a welcome addition.

Just remember, this is Adobe. Nothing is free. The app costs a steep $9.99 as a download from the iTunes Store and can be used on both iPad and iPhone.

What it is: CreatePDF lets users convert e-mail attachments or files stored in the cloud on any application into PDF files. The new files can then be e-mailed directly. The process is straightforward: When looking at a document, select “Open in CreatePDF” from the document menu and the app does the rest automatically. Converted PDFs can then be viewed and stored on your device.

What you might like: Overall, it’s easy to use. Converting and e-mailing is simple, and the app can convert a wide variety of file formats, including Microsoft Word and other text documents, multiple kinds of image files such as JPGs and GIFs, PowerPoint presentations and files from Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

What you might not like: The app is surprisingly bare-bones for the cost. Files are organized chronologically by the date they were converted, which can be a pain to manage. It’s probably a good idea to e-mail or move converted PDFs to applications such as Dropbox or PDF Reader as soon as possible to avoid losing track of them.

Bottom line: If you send and receive a lot of PDFs outside the office, this is a handy tool to have in your kit. If you don’t, stick with a basic PDF reader on the go and wait to do your conversions back at your desk, which is both cheaper and simpler.

Is Technology Killing Your Productivity?

Is Technology Killing Your Productivity?

Office technology can enhance productivity by automating time-consuming drudgery and offloading brain-draining tasks such as managing budgets and organizing records. But the same technology can also prove to be time-wasters, especially if used incorrectly.

Business owners often come to rely too much on a specific tool or app because of its novelty or because it’s what they’ve been using for years without giving much thought to whether it’s making their companies and employees more productive.

Take Bryan Council, co-founder and president of Birmingham, Ala.-based broadcast news-monitoring firm Metro Monitor, for example. Two years ago, he reevaluated the 18-year-old company’s technology processes. One of the biggest changes he made was switching from using   such as Word and Excel to the online Google Docs applications. Service upgrades are made automatically and the web-based automatic version tracking functions eliminate the need for employees to pass documents around or rename files after making changes.

“Conservatively, I would estimate we see about three hours a week in time savings [after switching to Google Docs],” Council says.

We asked small-business owners about which applications they’ve found to be the biggest time-wasters. Here, they’ve identified the top seven and offer solutions for how to improve efficiency.

1. Contact management apps
Businesses often don’t have client contact information stored in one centralized application. Instead, employees carry separate contact lists spread over numerous apps like Apple Address Book and popular email services including  and Google’s . It wastes time having to ask around about who has the relevant contact information or, worse, not being able to find it at all.

Solution: For the same reason he likes Google Docs, Council suggests moving contacts online with Salesforce, a database that can be accessible by any employee, anywhere, with fields for recording details about client interactions. Pricing ranges from $5 to $25 per user per month, depending on the features.

2. Social media apps.
Even when used for business promotion, people can waste time using social-media apps such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn if they jump at every message or troll constantly for mentions of their company or other topics.

Solution: First, don’t use a web browser for monitoring social media apps. Active social networkers should use a free dashboard app such as TweetDeck or Hootsuite, says Glenn Phillips, president of San Francisco-based computer consulting firm Forté. Dashboards aggregate multiple services for a quick overview and allow users to schedule several social posts at a time.

Also consider checking messages at regular, predetermined intervals. For Twitter, Council suggests creating saved searches that collect mentions for later reading. He also recommends setting up a separate email account that’s dedicated specifically for social media so your updates don’t distract you from important work email.

3. Email
If not prioritized appropriately, checking and responding to email can be a time-killer, warns Jared Goralnick, founder of Walnut, Calif.-based AWAYfind, a maker of email alert software. People often respond to emails in the order that messages arrive rather than in order of importance, he says.

Dumping Your BlackBerry? Join the Club

Dumping Your BlackBerry? Join the Club

If your New Year’s resolutions include trashing your BlackBerry, you’re not alone.

As many as 60 percent of users at small companies plan to exchange their BlackBerry phone over the next 12 months for another platform such as Apple’s iPhone or Google’s Android, according to a new report from Boulder, Colo.-based research firm Enterprise Management Associates. Some 30 percent of users at larger, enterprise-size companies are expected to make the same change, the report says.

“If you look at the amount of adoption of Android and iPhones — devices that didn’t exist a few years ago — that shows that this trend [of declining use of BlackBerry phones for business] has been going on but is accelerating now,” says EMA managing research director Steve Brasen, who wrote the report.

The report shows 52 percent of users at larger companies (10,000 employees or more) primarily use a BlackBerry for work, while only 36 percent said they plan to still be using a BlackBerry within the next year. At smaller companies, (fewer than 500 employees) only 16 percent said they primarily use a BlackBerry phone. Of those, 7 percent said they’ll be using one next year.

BlackBerry phones are principally provided to employees by owners of larger businesses, Brasen says.

The report — which surveyed end-users as well as business information technology managers — says only 16 percent of users are “completely satisfied” with their BlackBerry phones, compared to 44 percent for the iPhone and 34 percent for Android. “The impression we have from the research data points to a lack of availability of business-related applications [among BlackBerry users],” Brasen says.

Personal preference is another factor. “We also noted several cases where end-users were carrying two smartphones: a BlackBerry for work and another type of phone for their personal purposes,” he says. “They don’t want to use the BlackBerry for personal reasons. But, who really wants to carry around two smartphones?”

Last week, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion experienced a massive service outage that affected millions of users in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina. RIM said the blackout was caused by a “core switch failure” that generated a backlog of messages.

Meanwhile, EMA’s report says small businesses are primarily supported by Android (43 percent) and iPhone devices (27 percent). Over the next 12 months, 50 percent of small business smartphone users say they expect to use the Android platform, while 29 percent plan to use an iPhone.

“Android is particularly strong in smaller organizations due to the relatively low cost of the devices,” the report says. “Since the Android platform is available on a variety of different physical devices offered by a host of different manufacturers, competition in the marketplace drives down overall prices of Android devices and encourages the availability of some lower-cost smartphone options.”

Five Rules for ‘Bring Your Own Device’ Teams

Five Rules for ‘Bring Your Own Device’ Teams

It wasn’t long ago when employees knew exactly which tools they would be using to get their work done. Their information technology department gave them the standard-issue BlackBerry, workstation password and perhaps a dedicated laptop, and then sent them off to work.

Those days are almost over. Now that smartphones have become a necessity for more people and tablet computers are flying off store shelves, it’s becoming more possible for businesses to adopt a “bring your own device” policy for their IT needs. Meaning, instead of supplying the technology themselves, businesses allow workers to use their personal devices to interact with the company’s network and data.

But the benefits of having a BYOD policy can come with challenges. While businesses can save thousands of dollars on equipment purchases, and employees enjoy working on the devices they prefer, the transition can create a migraine-sized headache for IT departments. A study by Mountainview, Calif.-based security software maker Symantec Corp. found that 78 percent of business owners believe permitting employees to use the smartphone of their choice either has no impact on or only somewhat decreases the overall security of their company’s networks and information. This isn’t the case. Companies must address some serious concerns before making the switch.

Like many technology decisions, going through the BYOD transition opens up all sorts of network security issues. Each employee device must be checked to ensure that it has proper virus protection and can handle any other potential security issues, especially if the company’s network contains sensitive data. This can involve constant software updates, which are difficult to track over a variety of machines. Fail-safes should also be put into place to wipe the data from the device in the event that it is lost or stolen. For businesses that don’t have a dedicated IT staff, it can be a logistical nightmare.

That doesn’t mean a small business shouldn’t consider a BYOD office policy. Under the right conditions, it can be one of the best decisions you can make. If you’re considering making the switch to a BYOD infrastructure, here are five questions you should ask yourself:

1. Are my employees tech-savvy?
If so, you’re a prime candidate for the BYOD switch. Such workers typically will have reliable equipment and will understand how to update and maintain it from a security standpoint. This makes the transition much easier.

2. How sensitive is my company data?
Some businesses can’t afford even one slip-up when it comes to proprietary data. A legal, financial or medical office, for instance, might be wary of adopting a BYOD policy. If one instance of stolen client data could result in serious consequences, having employees on a variety of different tools is probably too big a gamble.

3. How many employees should be able to choose their devices?
If only a few employees are interested in using their own devices, the switch to a BYOD workplace may not be worth it. Those workers might not be happy with the decision, but if you won’t see much benefit, why open yourself up to the risks?

4. How quickly is my business growing?
If your company is expanding fast, the benefits from a BYOD policy could be huge. It reduces the potential technology costs for new hires and can make remote work situations more feasible, reducing the number of on-site workers and opening up office space.

5. Can I trust my staff to stay focused?
We’ve all seen Web surfing and other tech-related time wasting in the office. When employees can use their own gadgets with their own apps and games, it might not a stretch to expect they would be even more distracted. If your particular staff has a hard time staying on task, giving them access to their personal devices might be counterproductive.

Depending on your answers to these questions, you might want to seriously consider a switch to a BYOD policy. Just be aware of the inherent risks and stay focused on security.

What to Do If Your Business Gets Hacked

What to Do If Your Business Gets Hacked

Your business has been hacked. It’s bad news, but it doesn’t have to cripple your operation.

Cyber-crooks increasingly are targeting small businesses to steal information such as passwords that lead to bank account balances and credit lines, customer data and sensitive product details. Hackers also may try to virtually hijack company computers or websites and use them to attack others online. They know most small businesses lack the security expertise, data protections and response tools that large companies have at their disposal.

Falling victim to a hack can be costly. Malicious or criminal data breaches on average cost victim companies $318 per compromised record in 2010, according to Traverse City, Mich.- based research firm Ponemon Institute.

But having a security recovery plan can make the process smoother and less expensive. Here are six critical steps to take if your business has been hacked:

1. Find out what happened.
To respond effectively, get a full picture of what happened, including how the hackers got in, which computers and accounts were compromised, which data was accessed or stolen and whether any other parties — such as customers or business partners — were affected.

This can be a difficult process involving costly security consultants, but you may be able to get less expensive help from companies you do business with, including your Internet service provider, security software company or website hosting firm. But the best route may be to contact your local, county or state police computer crimes unit and the FBI, which can do forensic analyses and provide valuable guidance.

2. Seek legal advice.
If you don’t have a special cyber-insurance policy that will provide an experienced attorney, you may need to hire one to navigate the legal issues. For instance, when hackers gain access to the personal information of customers or employees, you likely have a legal obligation to notify them, says Todd B. Ruback, a Warren, N.J.-based privacy attorney who specializes in data breach response.

You may also be required to alert state authorities. Because there isn’t a federal data-breach notification rule, companies that do business nationally may have to comply with as many as 46 different state laws. You also could face liability lawsuits from affected parties.

3. Communicate early and often.
Quick and honest communication with affected employees, customers and partners — about what happened, what you’re doing about the problem and what they need to do — is often more than just a legal requirement. It may be necessary to salvage your business.

“A data breach can be fatal for a small business” if monetary losses, the cost of rebuilding or reputation damage is high, says Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a public-private partnership based in Washington, D.C. “Maintaining trust in a crisis is the best way to hold onto your customers.”

4. Eliminate the problem.
To limit the damage, you may need to take disruptive and costly steps, such as removing infected computers and shutting down your website while you clean up. Consider reformatting hacked computers and restoring data with clean backups, or simply buy new computers.

If hackers exploited a software flaw, apply a “patch” from the software maker that fixes the problem or implement a recommended workaround. If they stole passwords, secure your accounts and set new, complex passwords that will be hard to crack.

5. Rebuild.
Put in place the technology and policies to help fend off future attacks. Make sure your computer operating system and other software are current and, if possible, receiving automatic updates to fix bugs. Consider designating one computer for online banking only, meaning no Web surfing and no email that might expose you to malware designed for financial fraud.

6. Revisit your security plan.
Make sure your security defenses are running properly and that data is being backed up securely. Your IT manager should consider setting up activity “logging,” or tracking, on all devices on your network so any future problems can be investigated more easily, says Brian Honan, principal consultant at Dublin, Ireland-based security firm BH Consulting.

Check with customers, partners and vendors to see what they’re doing to protect your data. Consider buying a cyber-insurance policy if you don’t already have one. Also, create a disaster recovery plan and train employees so everyone can respond quickly and calmly if faced with a hack or other crisis again.


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