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.
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
- 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
[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)
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.
 The Cost Of A Bad Hire And Red Flags to Avoid (2022) (apollotechnical.com)
The era of 5G is upon us. Let’s look at what that means.
There have been four generations of technology standards for broadband cellular networks. But the fifth will be a gamechanger for small businesses. 5G’s more reliable, lower latency service offers several benefits to smaller firms including: enhanced customer experience (CX), higher productivity and easier recruitment. Let’s explore each in greater detail.
What Exactly is 5G?
You’ve likely heard of 5G before, as many cell phone providers began offering it back in 2019. While still in its beginning stages, the technology is growing quickly. Recent estimates predict that 5G networks will carry 1.7 billion subscribers by 2025.[i]
5G stands for the fifth generation of wireless technology. It offers more bandwidth and greater download speeds than its predecessors. 5G can also connect with many different devices simultaneously, resulting in faster, more efficient, and more unified digital experiences for both customers and businesses.
Better Customer Experience
5G will allow small businesses to offer better digital experiences. Media downloads are significantly faster in 5G than 4G, meaning customers can stream video or download documents without lag time. 5G will also make immersive presentations and augmented reality increasingly commonplace, which will allow products or services to be showcased in a more dynamic way.
Higher Productivity and More Efficient Collaboration
Small businesses can use 5G to achieve productivity gains. The technology supports more connected devices, which certainly can impact worker output. Siloed workers become more connected. Duplicate efforts are streamlined. And manual processes are automated, leaving more time for creativity and strategic planning.
Enhanced Mobility and Easier Recruitment
Over the past two years, work has changed dramatically. The remote work stigma has crumbled, and it’s now normal for companies to have an entirely remote team. Naturally, this has had a major impact on hiring. Recent data shows that the Great Resignation is alive and well, with half of all workers currently looking for new jobs.[ii] Many employers have wisely seen the writing on the wall. They are beginning to recruit beyond their immediate region to get ahead of the competition. The rise of 5G will accelerate this trend. More businesses will find it feasible to support remote work and will expand their talent pools accordingly.
Embrace the 5G Future
Sir Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is akin to magic.” He certainly could have been talking about 5G. With its ability to improve CX, productivity and recruitment, the technology can deliver great things for the economy – nowhere more so than with small businesses that are savvy enough to realize its full potential.
[i] Positive 5G Outlook Post COVID-19: What Does It Mean for Avid Gamers? – Forest Interactive (forest-interactive.com)
[ii] Great Resignation continues, as 44% of workers seek a new job (cnbc.com)
Cloud computing can increase your firm’s scalability, flexibility and productivity.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard quite a bit about the cloud over the past decade and a half. Anyone with a smartphone has at least a basic understanding of this type of computing. Yet the cloud is far more than a convenient place to hold photos, videos, documents or other data for individual use. Cloud computing has, in fact, become an integral component of how today’s businesses operate. It offers firms unprecedented ability to scale their operations, off-load cumbersome maintenance, improve productivity and even cut costs. Let’s look deeper at the advantages it offers to small and large businesses alike.
The most obvious advantage of cloud computing is expanded flexibility, which can mean a couple of things. First, our economy is experiencing tremendous upheaval, with the Great Resignation and the ongoing push for hybrid work shaking old paradigms to their core. Cloud computing represents an incredible opportunity for businesses to free their workers from being tethered exclusively to on-site technologies, giving them access to the tools, documents and systems they need from anywhere at any time.
The second way cloud computing improves flexibility is by supporting customization. It’s highly likely that your business’s IT needs will grow and change over time. By migrating systems to the cloud, adding new seats, deploying new functionality and carrying out updates becomes much easier.
Businesses must always be mindful of their costs, which is another advantage cloud computing brings to the table. The cloud can reduce IT spending in several ways. First, when you migrate to the cloud, you can say goodbye to dealing with expensive hardware, which the cloud vendor owns and manages off-site. Lower maintenance comes along with cloud adoption as well, with responsibilities also transferred to the vendor and allowing you to reduce your internal IT budget. Don’t discount productivity gains either. With cloud computing, companies can easily update their systems. Staff then will have more time to focus on creative work.
Closely connected to the issue of worker flexibility are recruitment and retention. Cloud computing is a key enabler of the hybrid worker revolution, as it supports communications and collaboration solutions like UCaaS, CPaaS, CCaaS, DaaS and more. With the demand for hybrid or fully remote work on the rise, having the infrastructure to support these workers is a fantastic advantage when trying to attract the best talent.
Be Mindful of Security
If you choose to adopt cloud computing for your agency, always remember to inquire about the vendor’s security and data protections. In a heavily regulated industry that deals every day with sensitive information, agencies must be mindful of the security of their technology systems. The good news is most cloud computing vendors will offer products and services that already feature robust safeguards like DDoS protection, data integrity and 24/7 support. However, there is a great deal of variation between providers, and it is always a good idea to inquire directly about your security needs to ensure you have adequate protections in place.
Each year that goes by seems to validate the increasing adoption of cloud computing. With cloud computing often leading to additional flexibility, higher productivity and cost savings to boot, it’s no wonder more businesses are seeing it as a powerful method to gain new efficiencies and spur exciting growth.
Do you want to learn more about cloud computing and how it can help your business? Check out this great article. And if you’d like to discover top companies that provide cloud services, this piece details some of the top companies in the field.