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Gutenberg’s printing press

Let’s Start Automating 

For many people, automation can feel a tad unnerving, evoking dystopian fears of robots replacing humans in the workplace. While there is a kernel of truth here, the reality is that workplace automation has also already been helping businesses reduce inefficiencies and net higher profits for generations – going back all the way to the Industrial Revolution. Today, automation continues to move full steam ahead, providing future-thinking business leaders like yourself with the chance to optimize your operations and gain a competitive advantage. 

Demystifying Automation

What do we mean when we talk about workplace automation?

Automation means different things depending on the industry. But when you boil it down to its essence, all automation is really referring to is technology that reduces or eliminates the need for human involvement in a series of tasks. 

Automation plays an important role in our sector, with new and emerging technologies like machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data and more helping complete tasks with greater speed and dexterity. And when you add in an increasingly stringent regulatory environment, it is easy to see why title insurance professionals are turning to automation to push back against competitors, navigate cumbersome regulations and unlock value. 

Small Businesses

Of course, for independent agencies, gaining the benefits of advanced technologies can be challenging. But even when dealing with finite time and money, there are solutions agencies of any size can implement to ratchet up their profitability and create better processes. 

  • Customer relationship management (CRM): CRMs are essential for any agency looking to build out their tech stack. Not only do CRMs make it easier to generate sales leads but they also help agents manage their roster of existing policyholders. Learn more about CRMs on our blog.
  • Meeting scheduling: Modern business is full of meetings. Make it easier by deploying a free, automated tool like Calendly to streamline scheduling and avoid the annoying back-and-forth that can occur when trying to pin down a meeting date. Review some of 2022’s top scheduling applications and tools
  • Expense tracking: When running a small agency, every dollar and cent matters. Business owners need an easy, low-cost way to track organizational spending. Here are some of the most popular platforms for managing your spending. 
  • Invoice management: We have previously discussed automating your invoice management processes on this blog, and we will reiterate here how important this is. Whether tracking invoice delivery and payment status or reducing missed payments and simplifying accounting processes, this is an excellent automation tool to have in your toolbox.

Work Smarter, Not Harder 

Automation can be an intimidating and even unsettling topic, but at the end of the day, we are all trying to work smarter, not harder. Automation has played an important part in that process for millennia now, harkening back to innovations like Johann Gutenberg’s printing press and Eli Whitney’s cotton gin.  In our industry, automation can make a complex enterprise easier. From better customer management and easier file sharing and collaboration, the benefits speak for themselves.

CISA Cybersecurity Awareness Program 2022 banner

Get Ready for Cybersecurity Awareness Month

October evokes many things: skeletons, ghosts, pumpkins and, of course, Halloween. Yet for anyone wanting their workplace to operate efficiently and safely, October should be known for something else: 

#CybersecurityAwarenessMonth! 

This 31-day period is a perfect reminder for businesses to review and, if needed, revise their cybersecurity strategy for the year ahead. Let’s learn more about this awareness month and how you can seize the moment to fortify your company’s cyber approach. 

Where it All Began

Cybersecurity Awareness Month started in 2004 when the U.S. Congress gave October that official designation. Today, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) lead a collaborative, public-private effort to raise cybersecurity awareness nationally and internationally.

Each year, Cybersecurity Awareness Month initiatives are organized under a different theme, with 2022’s being “See Yourself in Cyber” – an urgently important message. It advocates for people to stop seeing cybersecurity as an inaccessible topic for the select few and instead view it as something in which everyone can play a role. 

Four Main Pillars

According to CISA, beginning to “See Yourself in Cyber” involves acting on four key priorities, some of which we’ve already discussed on this blog: 

By taking these basic steps to protect your information and privacy, everyone can gain more ownership over their online life and prevent costly incidents. 

Become a Cybersecurity Paragon 

The silver lining when talking about cybercrime is that more attention is being paid to cybersecurity these days. A trickledown benefit of this enhanced awareness is that more resources are now available that can help even those unfamiliar with cybersecurity improve their firm’s digital defenses. 

One such example are the efforts of the CISA. Each year during Cybersecurity Awareness Month, CISA invites interested parties to join them as “cybersecurity partners.” Those that do receive a toolkit with everything they need to audit their own security posture and raise awareness within their company and industry. Elements of the toolkit include cybersecurity 101 presentations, tip sheets, content assets and much more. 

Visit CISA’s website for more information and to sign up as a cybersecurity partner. 

You Can Prevent Cybercrime 

Do you remember seeing those U.S. Forest Service ads where the iconic Smokey the Bear would proclaim, “Only you can prevent forest fires”? You don’t have to be a marketing whiz to see the beauty of that campaign. Simple, direct and powerful, it outlines the essential role we all play in preventing a widespread problem that can carry a terrible cost if it goes unchecked. 

The same message holds true for cybercrime. A ubiquitous problem that can lay waste to individuals, businesses and even entire communities, cybercrime is nothing to joke about. If you’re a small business owner, for example, one bad attack can threaten your longevity as an enterprise. 

But instead of becoming intimidated and reactive, events like Cybersecurity Awareness Month can inspire us to become empowered and proactive. We can all choose to “See Ourselves in Cyber” and take action to create a safer digital community. 

Yellow background with alarm clock and color papers saying "time to update"

Keeping Software Programs Updated

Employ best practices to keep your systems running smoothly.

As someone who has been in the IT game for a while now, trust me when I tell you that “updates” is a word that comes up a lot. From business networks to cybersecurity, technology never stays the same for long.

Software programs frequently require updating to the latest version. Businesses need to have a plan for keeping software current and staff apprised of workflow changes.

A quick note on software updates

I’m willing to bet that you have some experience keeping your devices current. But what really goes on during a software update?

A software update can be viewed as a sort of “patch” for the current iteration of a program. Updates typically include a set of changes designed to fix or improve upon pre-existing software, including:

  • Removing bugs from code
  • Fortifying security
  • Providing new tools or features
  • Improving effectiveness

As you can see, updating consistently is important to maximizing your software’s value. But perhaps nowhere are updates more essential than for cybersecurity. When an update comes out designed to address security vulnerabilities, time is of the essence for implementing it. If you don’t, the software may become vulnerable to malicious actors, which can jeopardize the overall effectiveness of your business.

Putting it into practice

With so much riding on keeping systems and programs current, what exactly is the best approach for ensuring that each new update is promptly installed?

There are several strategies that can keep you and your team moving forward without creating a lot more work for yourself in the process.

  • Automatic updates: Whenever possible, enable automatic updates. These will keep your systems running efficiently and safeguard your business from security breaches.
  • Create an inventory: While it may require some heavy lifting up-front, establishing an inventory of all programs and systems can be incredibly helpful for staying on-top of security updates and software patches.
  • Stay apprised of update schedules: To avoid surprises, it never hurts to have familiarity with when certain vendors push out updates. Microsoft, for example, consistently puts out updates on the second Tuesday of each month. Adobe follows a similar pattern.
  • Create a personal schedule: When you are running a small agency, it may be difficult to find time to take care of necessary updates while overseeing everything else that goes into a successful enterprise. One strategy to overcome this is to set aside designated time each week for carrying out this work. Be sure to make it consistent week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year, and don’t waver once it is established.
  • Communicate clearly: No one is an island in business, and changes to your systems and programs will impact the workflows of others. Clear and consistent information delivered before, during and after an update is critical when performing an update. Employees need to know what types of updates are going on, how long they might take and how it will ultimately impact their day-to-day activities.
  • A solution for your solutions: There is an old saying that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and that holds true for something like software updates. If that sounds familiar to you, it may be worth considering adopting a technological solution for your software solutions.There are many tools that can make tracking and managing your critical software updates easier. Check out this article for more on getting started.
  • Hiring help: It is never a bad idea to seek out help from a professional for your IT-related needs, even if you have a small shop and minimal technology requirements. Of course, this can pose challenges for the small business owner, in that you must assess whether to bring on a full-time worker or outsource your needs to a third party like a managed service provider (MSP). Luckily, you don’t need to make this decision alone! Check out Alliant National’s blog about this topic, which you can read here.

Enjoy a secure system

The work of IT never ends, and this poses real challenges when it comes to software updates. Yet like anything else, solutions exist. Carefully planning your updates, staying hip to the latest changes and getting assistance when needed can help you strengthen the IT systems on which your business success relies.

Head in the technology cloud

Business Network Hacks − What You Need to Know   

What does it mean to get hacked? And how might we mitigate cybercrime?

Hacking is unfortunately far from uncommon. By some counts, more than 2,200 cyberattacks occur per day, which means that one cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds.[i] These hacks carry a tremendous financial cost, with some estimates putting them as high as $6 trillion per year or $500 billion per month, $115.4 billion per week, $16.4 billion per day, $684.9 million per hour, $11.4 million per minute and $190,000 every, single, second.[ii] 

The figures are mind-boggling and scary, which is why it is more important than ever to understand what can occur when a business network is hacked. Without grasping the basics, it becomes more difficult to assess your risk and start proactively protecting your company.

What is the origin of the term “hacking”?

The use of the term “hacking” in a computer science context began all the way back in the 1950s at MIT. In those days, hacking simply meant dealing “with a technical problem in a creative way.”[iii] It wasn’t until the late 1970s that hacking started to refer to illicit activity, a definition it retains to this day. 

These days, hacking primarily revolves around the compromising of digital devices and networks. While there is “ethical hacking,” which focuses on improving security systems and keeping data safe, most is “black hat,” which means that it is often motivated by money, such as: 

  • Wanting to sell private network information on the black market.
  • Obtaining access to sensitive information and then attempting to coerce victims into paying money.
  • Desiring to obtain confidential data and use it for financial benefit.
  • Holding data hostage until a payment is made.

How do hacks occur?

Typically, business networks are targeted through the multiple endpoints that are vulnerable to criminal activity. Just think about it. Every day, employees access business networks with numerous devices that may or may not be secure. But that’s not all businesses need to be concerned about. Similarly vulnerable areas include: 

  • Any cloud-related services 
  • Passwords 
  • Unsecured WiFi
  • Malicious websites 
  • Email accounts


Hacks come in every shape and style 

There is no “one way” that hacking occurs, which makes it important to cover the different variations of hacking to gain a more complete understanding of the threat landscape. Here are seven distressingly common strategies that cybercriminals routinely employ: 

  • Phishing: By far, phishing is one of the most popular forms of hacking today – in part because it is so effective. To better understand the prevalence of phishing, look no further than to recent data that shows 1 in 99 emails is a phishing email.[iv] There are several different types of phishing emails, such as: 
    • Malware delivery emails, where malware is unleashed if the email recipient clicks on a malicious link.
    • There are also credential harvesting emails, where the sender will impersonate someone the recipient knows to get them to hand over sensitive information.

  • Denial of Service (DoS): DoScyberattacks occur when cybercriminals make an online property or service unavailable by inundating it with requests. This attack will frequently result in your website crashing or becoming unusable. 
  • Spyware: Spyware involves malicious code being embedded to monitor email correspondence or worse. Keying (key-logging) to obtain passwords is just one example.
  • Malware: You’ve likely heard of malware before – and for good reason. Referring to any computer virus, worm, trojan horse, spyware, ransomware, adware or other malicious software, malware has been sneaking into user devices and business networks since the beginning of the computer age. 
  • Brute Force Password Decoding: In this type of hack, finesse or secrecy go out the window. The cybercriminal simply attempts to force his or her way inside your devices or network through automated tools that seek to decode your network passwords. 
  • DNS Attacks: With Domain Name Server (DNS) attacks, cybercriminals utilize an elaborate strategy where they take domain names and transform them into IP addresses, which often results in the domain name server redirecting web traffic to fake websites controlled by the criminal. 
  • Social Engineering: Social engineering cyberattacks are exceptionally difficult to guard against because they focus on manipulating human attributes like empathy, fear and urgency to gain access to personal information or a corporate network. Phishing is one example of such an attack, but there are many others that fall into this bucket. 

Are we powerless against hacking? 

With such a wide range of illicit cyber activity, it can feel almost impossible to keep up. However, there are numerous things business owners and employees can do to protect themselves and reduce the possibility of harm or financial loss. From following password best practices, to keeping your systems updated, to deploying new techniques like security awareness training (SAT), even the smallest firm can dramatically increase its security posture. The situation is not hopeless. In fact, by following expert advice and remaining vigilant, we all have the power to reduce our risk profile and stay safe online in both our personal and professional lives. 

Keep learning! Read more about 2022 cybersecurity trends, the rise of ransomware and how to streamline your password use.  

We also encourage agents to continue to explore and implement best practices to combat cyber fraud. Download Alliant National’s white paper – Escrow Fraud/Social Engineering: Recent Schemes and Prevention Tips to begin your own internal assessment.

[i] Clare Stouffer, Norton, “115 cybersecurity statistics and trends you need to know in 2021,” 9 Aug. 2021, 115 cybersecurity statistics and trends you need to know in 2021 | Norton
[ii] Ibid
[iii] ECPI University, “What is Hacking and Cracking in Cybersecurity?”, What is Hacking and Cracking in Cybersecurity? (ecpi.edu)
[iv] Michael Guta, SmallBiz Trends, “1 in 99 Emails is a Phishing Attack, What Can Your Business Do?,” 4 May 2021, Phishing Statistics: What an Attack Costs Your Business [INFOGRAPHIC] – Small Business Trends (smallbiztrends.com)

In-House or Outsourced IT?    

Going without IT support is a bad idea, but which approach should you choose?

Having a consistent, powerful and reliable digital presence is a must for any business. Without it, you will be hard-pressed to convert new customers or maintain a competitive edge. Of course, this presents interesting challenges, especially for small businesses, as you’ll need to decide on the best approach for your IT: make an in-house, full-time hire or outsource your needs to a contractor.

Why is IT support necessary?
It can be tempting to skimp on IT resources. After all, for many firms, budgets are tight. And really, if you are small enough where you only have a few devices and employees, it seems logical to ask if there is a need for such a significant investment.

The answer is simple: absolutely. Even small businesses have significant IT needs. Cybersecurity concerns alone merit seeking IT support. For industries like title insurance, the need for IT help has additional urgency, as agents and underwriters routinely deal with large quantities of sensitive information. 

Having an IT expert pays off in other ways as well. From staying up to date on the latest trends and keeping your systems properly updated, there is no doubt that dedicated technology professionals can bring exceptional value to any title agency. 

Contractor vs. employee
Let’s discuss some of the big differences between a contractor and an employee. While pay and taxes are critical ways in which they diverge, perhaps even more substantial is the issue of autonomy. Employees are hired with the understanding that the work they perform will be done per the direction of the company.  Contractors on the other hand typically have far more control over when, where and how the work gets completed. 

To hire or to contract, that is the question!

So, should you hire an IT expert or simply contract with a firm or individual? Ultimately, it depends on your agency’s needs. Contracting with a professional can carry significant financial benefits, helping you save money on everything from health insurance to vacation time, but other questions are equally important to consider: 

  • How urgent are your IT needs?
    • Making a full-time hire often takes considerably more time than contracting a professional. Can your projects wait, or do you need to move immediately? Keep in mind that the “Great Resignation” has squeezed labor markets like never before, and the IT field is not immune from these trends. 
  • Do you need continuous support or project-based assistance?
    • Do your systems and operations require continuous IT support, or does it make sense to hire on an “as-needed” basis as projects pop up? Quite often, businesses have one-off projects that require highly specialized skillsets, such as cloud migration or data engineering. In those cases, it may not make sense to hire someone full-time.
  • Can you absorb the losses if you make a bad IT hire?
    • Some estimates put the cost of making a bad hire as high as 30% of that employee’s full-time salary,[i] which for an IT generalist could easily eclipse $10,000. Hiring a contractor lowers those stakes considerably, as they are understood to be temporary workers.
  • What are your concerns about regulation and liability?
    • With title insurance being a heavily regulated industry, you must consider regulation and liability concerns when bringing in technology contractors, and also think about how long it will take a contractor to get up to speed.

No two businesses are the same

Just like any other aspect of a business, no two companies are the same when it comes to IT. What is straightforward for one firm might be more complicated for another. What’s universal, however, is the need for high-quality technology professionals, which can help agencies become more innovative, efficient and profitable. By approaching the decision strategically and weighing all considerations equally, agents can find a solution that works for them. 

Find out more about hiring an IT contractor here.

[1] The Cost Of A Bad Hire And Red Flags to Avoid (2022) (apollotechnical.com)

This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

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