Schedule a time to talk to us

Matt

Speak to a cloud expert

Computing tips & advice sent to your email

 cloud computing guide

Subscribe today and receive a FREE Cloud Computing eBook! 

Subscribe

Follow Us!

About IsUtility

sample logo resized 149

IsUtility® is a turnkey Houston Computer Services and Consulting solution that brings accountability back to the IT services industry. We've already invested in your business - all the servers and remote pc support - eliminating the costs and risks of owning  your own onsite IT infrastructure.

Back to Main Page

Subscribe by Email

Your email:

Small Business Cloud Computing & Beyond

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Video: Changing Leaves and Passwords

 

The season is the reason you need to change your password. Every 90 days or once a season, we ask our clients to change passwords to protect their data. As an Xvand client, your desktop in the cloud is easily accessible from PC, Mac, laptop, or tablet computers, and email is accessible from any tablet or smartphone. However, devices using an old password to access your email can get you locked out of your account because they periodically log in to check if you have new email. If you change your password on your desktop, your other devices will continue to check email with your old password. The IsUtility system thinks someone is hacking in with your old password, and it will lock for thirty minutes.

For Xvand Clients

To stay locked in instead of locked out, change your password on all devices at the same time -  before your password expires. When you see the password expiration reminder, gather your laptop, tablet, and phone, or whichever devices you use for work. The first reminder is two weeks from expiration—plenty of time. With devices in hand, use your laptop or desktop to navigate to www.xvand.com and log in. When prompted, change your password.  

Finally, you need to change your password on your mobile devices. The steps to do that can vary by device, so here we will walk you through changing your password on Apple and Android mobile devices.  

Apple Devices

For Apple phones and tablets, tap on the Settings app. In Settings, tap on Mail, Contacts, Calendars. In Mail, Contacts, Calendars, tap on the name of the email account that needs the password update, here shown as “Email”. Once there, scroll down to the Password box and tap at the right-most end of the line of dots and backspace till it’s empty. Then, type in your new password and tap Save. Repeat these steps for all your iPhone and iPad devices on which you check your work email.  

Android Devices

For Android phones and tablets, the steps may vary slightly from brand to brand, but these instructions should work for most devices. Press the Apps button, usually at the bottom of the screen above the Home button. Scroll through the apps till you find the Settings app. Tap on the Settings app, and once there, tap on Accounts & Sync. In Accounts & Sync, tap on Exchange Active Sync. You can confirm in Exchange Active Sync if this is your work email account because it will list the account email address. Under your email address should be General Settings. Tap on General Settings, then scroll down to the Password box. Tap in the Password box at the right-most end of the dots and backspace until the box is empty. Then, type in your new password and tap Save. Repeat these steps for all Android tablets and phones on which you check your work email.

 

describe the image

Not an IsUtility client but looking for a cloud solution? Schedule a complimentary one-to-one cloud assessment. 

describe the image

Quitting Tech for Cold Turkey

 

big cold turkey resized 600

As a Houston cloud computing provider, we pride ourselves on enabling our clients to stay connected, wherever works takes them-- at work, home, or on the road. However, everyone needs periods of rest and relaxation. If you spend most of your time in front of a computer at work, we suggest a serious break this holiday, even from your phone.

We know that gadgets are the best thing since sliced bread, but they don’t belong next to the sliced bread or cranberry sauce at dinner. This is the time of year when we switch from computers and mobile devices to video games and remote control helicopters. Actually, that’s when we turn to our families and smile, try to have a good meal and conversation.

As hard as it is to unplug, we know you will come back rejuvenated and ready to take on the world, or at least your projects. And we’ll be here to help. And in case you’re counting the days till the holiday, here are some ideas to tide you over:
  • Take little breaks at work until the holiday break. Programs like Big Stretch Reminder and Workrave remind you to take a break, stretch, breath. Stay laser-focused when you’re working because you always know when to refresh your mind.
  • Combine science and music to help you focus on work with Focus@Will, the service that has original music specially designed for work and study.   
  • Try a short guided meditation with an app like Equanimity or Stop, Breathe, & Think. Even 5 minutes focusing on your breath and chilling out can do wonders for your health and well-being.
  • Try the Gratitude Journal for iPhone or Android. These apps are by different companies, but the concept is the same. The apps encourage gratitude with thoughtful quotes and an opportunity to record those things for which we are thankful every day.

describe the image

Not an IsUtility client but looking for a cloud solution? Schedule a complimentary one-to-one cloud assessment. 

describe the image

5 Tips To Keep Your Mobile Device From Constantly Freezing

 

Frozen cellphone resized 600Eating too much ice cream at once gives you brain freeze, and too many apps running at once freezes your computer’s brain.

Whether that computer brain is in your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, too many programs running simultaneously can cause your device to run slower, more sluggish, or freeze up like a popsicle.

Below are some proactive methods and tools to keep your mobile device out of the shop and on the road.  

 

Tips to Unfreezing Your Mobile Device for Good

  1. Turn off appsExit Apps To prevent phone or tablet freeze, you can turn off apps. Phones and tablets have a way to “Exit” apps that are open. On Apple devices, such as iPhones or iPads, double-press the “home” button quickly, and with Android tap the “recent apps” button to view ‘open’ apps and close them (see image to the right).
  2. Other Freeze-Preventing Tools. However, this only closes apps that are not set to run in the background. Many apps run in the background to check if you have notifications or updates, among other things. To turn off apps running in the background, call in the cleanup crew! Cleanup programs like Clean Master or Battery Doctor help manage apps that run in the background. Some programs also include virus scans, manage battery use, and will clear caches for you.
  3. Clear Cache Apps will store data you download from the internet or data history as part of its function. This data might include all the pictures from the last web page you visited or the last thing you did when you used the app. Storing this information can allow the app to help you pick up where you left off, but too much stored data can turn your phone from rabbit to tortoise.
    • Apple: You can clear cache in the Settings app on your Apple device by choosing Safari > Clear Cookies and Data for each app with the option. Apple devices may automatically clear the cache periodically as well.
    • Android: For Android users, in Chrome > History you can clear cache by tapping ”Clear Browsing Data”. Android devices also have a section in Settings called Storage, where cached data can be managed.
  4. Purchase More Storage. If you try these tips and your device is still frozen, try turning it on and off. If there is no way you are letting go of data (?), consider getting a larger SD card to hold some of the files that are slowing down your phone.  
  5.  Fading Phone/Device Syndrome: Bring Back Battery Life. Yes, some trees in Houston are fading to the vibrant colors of autumn, but why should your phone keep fading to black? Sometimes apps seem to suck the life from your phone or tablet in a matter of moments. Some apps just take a lot of juice, and some think batteries are immortal. If you want to turn sad batteries into happy batteries so you can use your mobile device in perpetuity, then try out these tips.
    • Turn off GPS and WiFi services when not in use; TheGuardian.com explains how and why
    • Locate other app-culprits in the Battery settings
    • Put phone in power save mode and dim screen brightness
    • Consider an app to manage battery use for you, like a thermostat for your iPhone or Android
    • Turn off push notifications, like those your social media apps send
    • Consider replacing your battery or purchasing an extra battery pack to double your battery life

describe the image

Not an IsUtility client but looking for a cloud solution? Schedule a complimentary one-to-one cloud assessment. 

describe the image
Xvand Technology is a Houston cloud computing company

Trick or Treat: Keep Zombies Out of Your Mailbox

 

Your home emails sit in the mailbox, dormant and safe. Malware usually requires your permission by clicking or lowering security firewalls to gain access to your computer. Only once you begin sifting, clicking, and opening, does the danger begin.

Who is the "real" email sender?

Check emailBut how else are those emails going to get read!? We all just have to risk it—despite the fact that one wrong click and our mailbox and computer could be infected—infected and contagious! You are the best defense against malware because you hold the power to open or not open, permit or no. malware usually requires your permission by clicking or lowering security firewalls to access. Instead of feeding your computer the brains of other computers, Keep your computer from becoming a zombie that eats computer brains by preventing infection and early detection.

Preventing Infection Means Knowing Your Friends

When you get an email from a friend, click on their name in the “From” field of the email. Do you still recognize the address when it is spelled out? I recognize the address, and it matches my friend’s display name, so I think this is legitimate. But checking the actual email address is important—look how easy it is to change the name displayed in the “From” field.
But let’s look at the body of the message. Would your friend send only a short phrase and a link? I know mine wouldn’t. She would capitalize and punctuate.

Telling spam from good emails

Don't click on linksTelling spam from good emails is where proper grammar and complete sentences can be helpful because spammers fishing for you to click seem to think no one sends email in proper English. Of course if you don’t recognize the address, don’t open any attachment either—delete the email. If your friend really wanted you to see it, they can let you know and send it again.

Where does the link really go?

By hovering with your mouse cursor and NOT CLICKING on a link sent in an email, you can see if the link text matches the real address. If they don’t match or they seem shady, delete it. If you think you need to follow a link from your email, TYPE the address directly into the address bar, or at least copy and paste the link text into the address bar so there is no way you are sent to the hidden address instead of the link text.

Early Detection Means Setting Up an Early Warning System

By adding yourself to your contacts list, you can get an email any time someone turns your mailbox into a zombie. You will get an email because typically, what these zombie programs do is email to all your contacts. If you’re on the list, then you’ll know to change your email address, and you can quickly send all your friends a warning: Don’t click on that link I sent you! I’ve been hacked!

 

describe the image

Not an IsUtility client? Schedule a complimentary IT security assesment:

Security Assessment
*Xvand Technology is a Houston cloud computing company

Booby-Trap Your Passwords Better than the Pyramids

 
mobile security passwordStrong, unique passwords are necessary to protect our electronic documents, emails, personal information, and other data that keep our lives moving. Xvand* has a great video on building stronger passwordsby adding upper and lower case, using numbers in the middle of words, and using special characters.

 

Tips for Secure, Yet Easy-To-Remember Passwords 

  1. Use an acronym for a sentence:  Here are a few examples. (Notice that numeric numbers were used in place of alphabetical letters add complexity.
    • Mv3mJs9p = “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Nine Pizzas”.
    • MG!Tsm8d! =  “My Grandbaby Is The Smartest Most Beautiful Dancer!”
  2. Add the website for which you use the password:  For instance, if you use Google for email,  add a memorable sentence and the website it serves:
    • MG!Tsm8d!oogle (oogle for Google)
    • GMMG!Tsm8! (GM for Gmail).
  3. Include special characters to make shapes or faces to add to your passwords: For example, MG!Tsm8d!oogle could use some tildes “~~” because they are reminiscent of dance moves:
    • MG!Tsm8~d~!oogle: The sentence becomes “My Grandbaby !s The smartest most 8eautiful (dance move) dancer! (dance move), Google without the ‘G’”.
    • ;)MG!Tsm8d!oogle: An alternative would be to start or end the sentence with a smiley face of some kind: to say, “Wink and smile My Grandbaby !s The smartest most 8eautiful dancer! Google”. 

Use online tools to test your password

Password ToolsOn a password rating site, you can test passwords to see how strong the password is. However, once you input a password on one of these sites, we recommend you do not use that same password. Use the websites to test types of passwords, such as, what if you added a color + number + memorable sentence + special character together to equal a password? What if I enter the number in the middle of the color word? 

More Password Services 

Password testingFor simple passwords like “rebecca”, a password strength site will tell you how easily your password could be hacked. Conversely, the “Wink and smile My Grandbaby…” password would take 412 trillion years! If mnemonic passwords seem too difficult, look into  services like LastPass and KeePass which claim to keep your passwords secure while allowing you to use one master password. 

Have an idea for next months' Tech Tip? Submit your idea below!

describe the image

Not an IsUtility client? Schedule a complimentary IT security assesment:

Security AssessmentPhoto credit: www.responza.com 
*Xvand Technology is a Houston cloud computing company

Ghost in the Machine: Protect Your Data from Viruses and Malware

 
data securityIf you're an Xvand* client, your office computers, laptops, and mobile devices have many layers of protection from malware, but what about your home computer, touch pads, and smart phones? According to a study by Symantec, cyber crime has more than 1 million identity theft victims per day. While hackers and spam emails make it seem like we are all under siege, a little tech-savviness goes a long way to keep you from having to call in the exorcist.

The Security Risks

Computer viruses and worms are programs whose job is to make copies of themselves so they can spread to other computers. Spyware programs gather data quietly and send that information to someone else. Technically, spyware is only spyware if it is downloaded without consent. For programs and companies that you give consent, the tracking programs are called browser cookies and tracking cookies. Adware programs show you pop-up ads and other advertisements.

What is Malware?

small business IT securityMalware is a general term for software or programs that the owner of the computer does not want because it can damage or disable the computer. Viruses, spyware, and adware are all malware. Malware is generated by hackers and thieves to learn our personal information and possibly steal our identity.

Safeguard Your Mobile Minions

Our mobile phones and tablets are as indispensable to us as Igor is to evil geniuses, black cats to witches, apprentices to wizards. Yet, Symantec’s Norton Study  indicates we do not protect our mobile devices as seriously as we do our computers. Our pocket computers are just as important. The smart phones and tablets we carry around are vulnerable to malware whether they are Google/Androids, Apple/Macs/iPhones, or others.

Mobile Devices Are Computers in Your Pocket

Mobile devicesMany of the same measures we take for our desktop computers can be taken to protect our mobile devices. Mobile devices can be kept safe by keeping the apps and operating system up-to-date. Many “patches” or updatesprotect against the newest malware out there or fix “bugs” that leave your device vulnerable.

Anti-virus and Malware-finding Apps

Smartphones and tablets have anti-virus and malware-finding apps that you can run frequently to exorcise the malware slowing down your device. Mobile security apps are also available that will help keep you from getting malware in the first place as well as having features to protect your data from theft or loss of your device. Just a few of the options include: Bitdefender, F-Secure, and Lookout.

More Security Measures for Mobile Devices 

Like the programs on your desktop computer, you can decide what data your mobile apps can access. By reading permissions and disallowing those that do not make sense to you, you can protect your data further.Mobile security
  • Turn off and do not permit apps to use location services. Apps using location services, including your phone camera, will record your location and tag that information anywhere you share the photos or other social updates you provide.
  • Lock when not in use. Lock mobile devices with a pin number, pattern, or even facial recognition used by some phones.
  • When changing or upgrading your phone: log out of all apps on your old device and reset your phone to factory default settings (usually an option in settings). Resetting to factory default should delete all personal data. If you used your old device to access work material, informing your helpdesk through a ticket will block the old phone from accessing your work network.
  • Beware of public wireless networks. Others using that network may be able to see what you are downloading. VPN or cloud computing technology like XVand’s provides more security than your smart phone or touchpad alone by funneling your data through a secured network. “Jail-breaking” or “rooting” your device can make it easier for malware to reach your operating system.

describe the imageNot an IsUtility client? Schedule a complimentary IT security assesment:

Security Assessment
Photo credit: www.uberreview.com
*Xvand Technology is a Houston cloud computing company

Houston Computer Service a Finalist For Houston's Best Places to Work

 

1 BestAndBrightest logo 400x350 304 resized 600Xvand Technology Corporation is honored to be selected as a Houston finalist for the 2013Best and Brightest Companies to Work.

As a long time promoter of the flexible workplace, this initiative is near and dear to our hearts, and we encourage you to partake in this effort.

We've found that many of the organizations that use our Houston computer services to implement a flixible workplace program have reported more productive (and happy!) employees.

 The program – also called Flexworks - encourages area employers to utilize flexible workplace policies that promote business activity and improve Houston's mobility.

This year’s symposium and awards luncheon will be Nov. 7 at the Bella Elegante at 300 Milam St. 

Click here to learn more about this program.

You've Tested Your Remote Data Backup Plan...Haven't You?

 

Hurricane Ike

Tropical storms, like Ernesto, are once again threatening the Gulf Coast.

Thankfully, you've stored offsite data backups and have tested your disaster preparedness plan.

You have, right?

(Editor's note: If you prefer last-minute dashes to Home Depot,  miles of bumper to bumper- traffic heading out of harm's way and scrambling to protect and recovery lost data, this article is not for you.)

Disaster preparedness is always better than disaster recovery. Houston-based businesses like  have become all too aware of this adage.

Unfortunately, after Hurricane Irene left $15 billion in damages in its wake, the East Coast was rudely awakened to this message as well.

The silver lining in this hurricane cloud? We  know from experience how to plan for such disasters. 

Here's a brief outline disaster recovery checklist & plan:

1. Take inventory of IT equipment

  • Take inventory of computers, equipment, supplies and receipts/verification of ownership (individual employees should be encouraged to do the same)
  • Take “before” photographs for documented evidence
  • Back-up power supply
  • Have copies of maintenance agreements and break/fix providers readily accessible; be sure to capture serial numbers of equipment

2. Risk Assessment & Management

(Identify & categorize the risk of IT disaster on business)

  • Impact on revenue
  • Impact on clients/reputation
  • IT systems assessment (create a spreadsheet that uses weighted values assigned to various systems, functionality and dependencies)
    • Which data can the organization afford to lose?
    • How long can data be inaccessible?
    • Examples: Email = critical. Photoshop = less critical, etc.

3. On the Road - Mobile Device Security

  • Do not back up company data on mobile devices (49% of data breaches were due to lost or stolen laptops or devices  such USB flash drives – Dell)
  • Use best practices for securing wireless devices
  • Protect against lost  laptops and remote devices
    • Record all serial and model numbers of all equipment
    • Laptop tracking and remote data deletion capabilities are a safe and economical way to protect company assets and data
    • Contact local law enforcement and your organization's data recovery department as soon as a laptop goes lost or missing
    • When sensitive data contained on laptop hard drives needs to be destroyed
      • Ensure your organization is in compliance appropriate data destruction policies.
      • Ask for a certificate of destruction and find out how the hard drives are disposed.

4. Prepare Disaster Recovery Plan in Advance.

Test the following on a  QUARTERLY basis:

  • Data access – move data to systems that will allow browser access
  • Data backup, is your offsite storage facility in the hurricane path
  • Data restoration - how do your vendors define “recovery” and how long is the recovery interval – have you timed it?
    • Where will restore occur? Are the backups up-to-date and good?  Will the data be in sync? How LONG will it take?
    • Will the equipment be compatible
    • Data security – cyber thieves love natural disasters, best time to strike
    • System uptime – your recovery interval is twelve hours and your battery back up is good for four hours
    • Data accessibility (before, during, after hurricane)

Five Questions to Ask Your DR Vendor

  • What’s the recovery interval?
  • Who’s responsible for restoring data?
  • Do you document your backup procedures?
  • How often do you test your data backup plan?
  • What are staffing levels in an emergency?

Did you know that cloud computing can help create the framework for a comprehensive disaster plan? Register for a free webinar on the Five Steps to Understanding and Implementing Cloud Computing.

Cloud computing houston

Photo courtesy of National Geographic

5 Must-Haves for Every Cloud Computing Provider Contract

 

describe the imageWe recently shared a few practical tips on how to determine whether cloud computing services are right for your organization.

Once you've conducted an internal risk assessment to determine what "flavor" of cloud computing aligns best with your business needs, you need to ensure that the provider will deliver the desired outcomes down the road.

5 Must-Haves For Every Cloud Computing Contract

Many business executive are still unsure about the viability of cloud services or are concerned about the security of data that's not hosted at their offices. Many simply been jaded by personal or heavily-publicized news stories about cloud computing services nightmares.

To protect your business interests and ensure data security in the cloud, make sure that your cloud computing contract identifies the following five key components:

1. Determine Data Ownership

While this seems like an obvious step, some cloud service contracts state that any data uploaded to their "cloud" becomes property of the provider. Make sure that the contract clearly keeps all data and files in your company's possession. 

2. Establish a Right to Audit

If you work in an industry that is bound by data security legislation that require periodic auditing of a company's data access policies and procedures, choose a cloud provider that has previously met these requirements.

Or if you've identified a cloud computing company that fits your needs, but has yet to pass your specific data security requirements for a previous client, ask if they will allow an assessment of their systems and data access policies before you engage with them - and periodically throughout the life of your contract.  

3. Ensure Application and Server Uptime Guarantees

Ask for your potential provider's uptime levels and establish a guarantee with financial penalities for failing to meet the predetermined threshold.  For example, let's say that during a given month the availability of the applications and the server does not meet the specified performance level, make sure that you receive a service credit based upon the monthly fee for the affected service for the affected month. 

4. Establish "Exit" Provisions For Data

To avoid a messy split when the time comes to terminate the relationship with your provider, make sure that there are provisions in place to obligate your provider to retrieve and restore your organization's data, and that all copies of the your data and confidential information contained in any computer memory or data storage apparatus are properly destroyed.

5. Establish Support Response Times

The greatest IT infrastructure in the world can be rendered useless if you and your employees can't access it or can't get answers to their technical questions.  Ask about your potential provider's mean time to resolve issues. Will your employees be put in a queue or will they get a live person on the line? How long will it take to get a technical expert to respond?

HUBSPOT ONE TO ONE WEBINAR

 

Disaster Recovery in Houston is Critical. Ready for Hurricane Season?

 

 

disaster recovery houstonAs a cloud computing service specializing in disaster recovery in Houston, we were asked by Jennings Wire to spend some time on their podcast to share a few steps small and mid-sized businesses should take to prepare and implement a successful disaster preparedness plan.

JenningsWire (JenningsWire.comis a community of bloggers led by Annie Jennings. We briefly discussed the evolution of cloud computing before exploring how to approach small business disaster recovery.

We'd like to thank Annie and her team for including us on the podcast and alerting the business community on the importance of preparing for disaster.

Disaster Preparedness Plan Topics Included:

  • What’s the first step small business should take to prepare for disasters? (Hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters)
  • What should be included in a disaster plan? How often should it be tested?
  • Should small businesses consider outsourcing disaster preparedness?
  • What’s the best way to find an outsourcing partner for DR planning?
  • Describe an example of a successful disaster preparedness plan.
Click here to listen to the complete podcast.

 

To help properly plan for disaster, we've compiled a small business disaster recovery infographic that, we hope, helps your organization plan for future disasters.

 

Embed this infographic on your site (copy code below):

Disaster preparedness

 

Does your business have a disaster plan in place? Download a complimentary 10-Step Disaster Preparedness template.

download-your-free-disaster-plan-templ

All Posts