Why should I be concerned about ransomware?

Ransomware is not like the neon windbreakers of the early ’90s, which quickly faded, or the popular toy Furbies, which peaked in sales a few years after being introduced in 1998. No, ransomware is here to stay. According to the FBI, “Cyber criminals collected $209 million in the first three months of 2016 by extorting business and institutions to unlock computer servers.” At this rate ransomware is on pace to become a $1-billion-a-year industry. The stakes are high and you must have a proper backup plan in place.

The days of backing up systems to tape and external drives are long gone. Once considered the future of data protection, cloud backup is now an essential part of a comprehensive backup strategy. And the best part about cloud backups is how simple they are. Most offerings have set-it-and–forget-it scheduling, so you or your company’s IT department does not have to spend time backing up your data. These backups are also non-disruptive, meaning they are going on in the background while you are working and will not disturb current workloads.

Not only are cloud backups automatic and non-disruptive, they are very secure. Data security is a hot topic for companies today and will be going forward. Cloud backups are typically encrypted at the source, while in flight to the data centers, and while at rest in the data center. Most cloud backup providers will provide a variety of encryption options, including 256-bit AES encryption and 458-bit Blowfish.

You may be asking yourself, “This all sounds great, but what happens in the event my data gets attacked?” Keep in mind that cloud backups are structured in a way that allows you to roll back to a point in time prior to the attack. For example, let’s say at 12:30 p.m. your laptop locks up and a pop-up appears on the screen informing you that your data has been hijacked and encrypted and demanding a ransom in Bitcoins in exchange for a decryption key.  You would first notify management of what is going on and then go straight to your friends in IT. They will be able to pull the last backup at 12:00 p.m. and restore your data in a matter of minutes.

Cloud backup is a second line of defense to antivirus and threat detection software and was designed with the end user in mind. Providing great data protection and easy restore options makes for a hassle-free backup policy. Just imagine if your system were attacked by ransomware and you did not have a backup policy in place. You could be paying the ransom, and worse, not even receiving an appropriate decryption key. What would that do to your business?

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Brian Dye, Symantec’s SVP of information security, says, “Antivirus software only detects 45% of all attacks.” And according to the Global Data Protection Index, 36% of companies have suffered unplanned system downtime and/or data loss due to an external or internal security breach. Clearly, ransomware and other forms of malware are on the rise and are a very real threat to your business. The good news is that Mozy by EMC can help prevent a ransomware data loss disaster with easy-to-deploy and efficient cloud-based backup solutions.

 

When Should You Bring on a Partner as a Small Business Owner

You’re a small business owner and feeling stuck. This happens at all stages—during idea brainstorm sessions, product development, and even after you’ve made thousands in profits. And right now you’re not sure which direction you want to take your small business.

So to clear the fog, it can be appropriate to bring in another head; one who isn’t stuck in the stuck-zone.

This person? Your business partner. Someone with expertise and a history of results; investors, and friends with big solutions. But when is the time to introduce a business partner to your small business?

1. When business is booming

When profits are coming in from every avenue, the success is amazing. But it’s also overwhelming. The stronger your sales become, the higher your revenue, and the more responsibility you have as a small business owner.

If the responsibility isn’t handled correctly, you may find yourself:

   •   Burned out
   •   Stressed out
   •   Tired out

While you might spend 60-80+ hours in the office now, it’s not necessary. Bringing on a partner to help with the influx of orders, customers, and product inventory can bring relief while also strengthening the business. And the two of you can construct a business plan to manage all new customers and orders more effectively than if you were on your own.

2. When business is slowing

On the opposite scale, when business begins to slow down, a partner can help speed things up.

A slower season—especially if your small business is season-dependent—provides you ample time to address current needs and weak points in your business model.

Strengths and weaknesses might be hard to pinpoint; however, your partner—depending on their expertise—may have an easier time identifying aspects of your small business that is causing a shortage of sales.

Together, you can also implement a new (digital) marketing strategy to ramp up customer engagement and increase product outreach to other businesses.

3. When business is expanding

Or you’re looking to expand it.

Expansion can come in many ways; partnering with other businesses in your industry, creation of a new product in a similar and/or new niche, or opening more stores across the state or country.

Expansions rely on flowing revenue streams, additional product inventory, product development, thorough communication, and marketing plans. While expanding, you may also have to hire new team members and co-workers. But implementing these changes will be a headache to handle by yourself.

You’re only one person. Although you may think that you have unlimited mental and physical capabilities, you may be burning yourself out. Hiring a partner to help offset changes, developments, and responsibilities will take a load off you while also aiding the expansion.

But when it’s time for you to decide on a partner to develop your small business further, it’s best to hire an expert in your field. Be wary of choosing a friend or family member because close relationships cause an imbalance of power, communication issues, and additional complications if the partnership doesn’t work out in the end.

Good Ethics Are Good Business

With the need to maximize profits, companies are under constant pressure to maximize profits any way that they can. Take the automaker Volkswagen for instance. Volkswagen gamed the software in nearly 600,000 diesel vehicles to pass emission tests. The emissions from the cars were almost 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxides. Dishonest accounting factors led to the downfall of Enron and WorldCom. In fact, since 1980 more than half of the 10 largest corporate bankruptcies were the result of unethical business practices.

The question now is do businesses that resort to unethical business practices gain an advantage over their competition? A recent study showed that the stock price growth of 100 firms with the most ethical cultures outperformed the stock market and their competition by almost 300%. They had a lower turnover of employees and higher employee job satisfaction. All in all good ethics lead to good business as we see in the infographic below. What are you doing to breed good ethics in your business to help it succeed? Reply in the comments below.

Good Ethics are Good Business

Norwich University Online Master of Science in Leadership Program

Infamous Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is on the rise. Until recently, ransomware used to be a crime targeted at consumers and small businesses. Cybercriminals who carry out these attacks have become more confident in their abilities and have elevated their game to take down some of the biggest companies in the world. It only takes hackers six minutes to compromise an organization, 60% of the time. Ransomware is not industry specific, meaning no one is safe. Like any other types of crime, ransomware has been responsible for a multitude of high-profile crimes. There are many infamous attacks documented, but I would like to focus on three high-profile cases.

Horry County Schools

Horry County Schools in South Carolina was brought to a screeching halt due to ransomware. Earlier this year hackers gained access to the school district’s network through an outdated server. The attack locked computers that contained sensitive intellectual property and lesson plans. Teachers in the school district had to create new lesson plans and Wi-Fi was shut off at some of the schools as a precaution. At first, the school district stated they would not pay the ransom for the decryption key. This decision was later reversed and the school district paid out nearly US$10K in Bitcoins. The attackers are believed to be from a country outside the United States. Currently, the FBI is investigating this crime.

Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center

Ransomware can even bring a hospital to its knees. This past February the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles found this out the hard way. The attack locked computers and encrypted patient information. Routine medical practices such as CT scans were unavailable, and patients were sent to other medical centers for their scans. Doctors and nurses resorted to pen and paper to keep track of what was going on because no computer access was allowed. The stakes were particularly high in this attack because critical (and sensitive) patient data was hijacked. The hackers used this to their advantage and demanded a US$3.6 million ransom. The cybercriminals eventually reduced the ransom and Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center ended up paying US$17,000 in Bitcoins in exchange for the decryption key. The FBI is investigating this attack as well.

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Perhaps the most infamous cyberattack was the hack on Sony Pictures over the film “The Interview,” a comedy centering around two American spies trying to assassinate the leader of North Korea. Sony Pictures received an email threatening terrorist attacks at cinemas if the film was screened. This attack also included the leaking of unreleased Sony films, portions of films scripts, 47,000 Social Security numbers, and employee emails discussing anything from Angelina Jolie to the James Bond film script “Spectre.”

Is your data backed up and is it restorable?

The FBI has estimated that cybercriminals have collected US$209 million in Q1 2016 alone, on pace for a $1 billion year and up from US$23 million in all of 2015.That said, if a business, or its users, have an appropriate data backup plan in place the consequences of these attacks can be minimized. Organizations need to be asking themselves, “In the event of a ransomware attack, is our data restorable?” Threat detections and anti-virus software are not going to protect you from these sophisticated cyberattacks. Your data must be backed up and it must be restorable to a point in time prior to the ransomware attack! Learn how Mozy can help.

7 Outrageously Unique Perks Offered by Different Companies

Last month, I was at the salon for a hair trim. My hairdresser, who also owns the place, lamented that a branch of hers outside town just closed shop. When I asked why, she said her employees have all left.

Sad story, indeed, and the sadder part is it happens to a lot of businesses.

Unique employee perks from different companies

Recruiting new talent is no walk in the park. It requires time and manpower. The costs can easily pile up, too, especially if your turnover rate is high. Once they’re on board, the challenge is retaining the high-performing ones. They’re your company’s backbone, after all.

The solution? Add handsome employee perks into your compensation plan.

Speaking of handsome, we’ve found some of the best, if not most unique, employee perks offered by different companies.

Netflix: no regular working hours

At Netflix, employees are free to come when they please, provided they get the job done. Work hours are not tracked. No standard number of days per year is required, and even vacation days aren’t logged. As long as employees deliver the performance required of them, big vacations are not a problem.

Google: 50% salary after an employee’s death

Google’s acceptance rate is a measly 0.2%, according to a 2015 report by Business Insider – about 7,000 from the more than 3 million applications they receive worldwide each year.

Aside from Google being Google and its employee perks among the most sought-after, the company’s death benefit package warrants that should an employee pass away, the surviving spouse or partner receive a check amounting to 50% of the Googler’s yearly salary for the next 10 years.

Accenture: gender reassignment

Accenture follows a strict non-discriminatory policy within the organization. As part of its commitment to uphold equality in the workplace, the company supports initiatives that promote the well-being of their LGBT employees, including domestic-partner benefits in some countries. Its enhanced health package also covers gender reassignment procedures.

Airbnb: $2,000 annual travel stipend

Airbnb employees are entitled to a $2,000 yearly travel coupon they can use anywhere in the world, as long as they stay in an Airbnb listing.

Scripps Health: on-site massages

Medical, vision, and dental benefits form part of Scripps Health’s employee health and wellness plan. Healthy living and preventive care programs include health coaching and workshops, screening and assessments, and even on-site massages.

Salesforce: paid volunteer time-off

Salesforce encourages its employees to give back to their communities through volunteering. Each employee is entitled to a seven-day paid volunteer time-off per year. When they max out their volunteer hours, they’re awarded a $1,000 champion grant they can donate to the cause they care about.

Facebook: $4,000 baby cash

Aside from “baby cash” amounting to $4,000, parents at Facebook get 16 weeks of paid parental leave. Parental leave covers maternity, paternity, and adoption leave.

Final word

Keeping your employees happy revolves around two things: lots and lots of appreciation and a fun work environment. And if you’re much too small a business to afford lavish employee perks, the key is to craft a benefits plan, as well as nurture a company culture, that shows you value your employees on a personal level.

7 Online Education Resources that Will Help SMBs Succeed

Most small to medium-sized businesses will need all the help they can get to survive in a very competitive marketplace. Because many neither have the capital nor the manpower to bring their businesses to greater heights, they need to be much more creative to succeed. That means reading up on different online education resources to help them understand the best business practices to grow their business at an accelerated rate despite any shortcomings.

As an SMB owner, you need to absorb as much information as possible from the best and most trustworthy online education resources. The following are good places to start.

Harvard Business Review
The site is chockful of news about the latest business trends and events. There are also thought-provoking pieces about numerous industries, some of which will provide you with a deeper understanding of how your business works within your market.

Inc.
Catering specifically to startups and small businesses, Inc.com is your go-to place for information about the most recent developments in the startup market. The site is also known for the Inc. 5000, which lists down the fastest growing private startups and SMBs in the US. This list is a great place to see the needle movers in your industry, as well as potential competitors and business partners you need to watch out for.

Forbes
The site features a more diverse list of topics that are not limited to the business spectrum. Nonetheless, Forbes has very vibrant entrepreneur, business, and technology sections with influential and accomplished contributors sharing their tips and advice regarding success in their respective fields.

iTunes U
This app brings the classroom to students through their Apple devices. Educators can develop lessons, compile reading materials, and mediate discussions among students, and more. SMB owners can access content from open universities related to their industries. The materials available from the iTunes U app provide SMB owners with lots of information and opportunities to help them achieve success.

Coursera
Known as one of the best platforms for offering online courses, Coursera allows SMBs to choose free or paid courses related to their industries. They can take the online classes at their pace but within a specified period. Once students pass a course, their success is recognized with an official certificate, which they can share with friends, colleagues, and employers.

Udemy
Similar to Coursera, Udemy is an online course marketplace designed to help people improve their skills and knowledge about a topic. However, whereas Coursera offers mostly academic-oriented courses, Udemy provides more practical courses for professionals and SMB owners to help them gain an edge in the workplace, if not their market.

TED
With the tagline “Ideas Worth Spreading,” TED puts itself in a unique position over other online education resources for SMBs. The TED Talks, which are videos from industry leaders who discuss thought-provoking ideas in front of a live audience, will help inspire you to rethink and approach subjects related to your market in different ways. TED videos are short—18 minutes or less.

What is Ransomware?

Maybe you haven’t been a victim of ransomware, but you’ve certainly heard of it. Ransomware hacks are in the news daily. According to a recent study published by McAfee Labs, ransomware growth increased by 58 percent for Q2 of 2015. But whether you’re a consumer, business owner, or government entity, the question is not “Will I be a victim of ransomware?” Instead, the question everyone should be asking is “When will I be a victim of a ransomware disaster?” Fortunately, falling victim to a ransomware attack doesn’t have to result in a disaster—if you have a proper backup policy in place.

Ransomware first arrived on the scene in 2005. The first known ransomware strain was Trojan.Gpcoder, which affected Windows operating systems. Although ransomware attacks still use screen pop-ups that notify users of the attack and the amount of money required to unlock a computer, other ransomware attacks are more sophisticated and use “unbreakable encryption.” That usually means if your data is not backed up you will not be seeing it again unless you pay the ransom. And, unfortunately, just because you pay the ransom in return for a decryption key does not guarantee that the key will work and that you will get your data back.

Ransomware can infiltrate and spread throughout your systems in a matter of minutes; all it takes is one wrong click. This type of malware typically enters a network through its weakest link—social media or an email with an infected link or attachment. The bad news is that ransomware is easy to create and deploy. The good news is that you can fight ransomware with a solid backup plan.

Have you ever asked yourself: “What would happen to my business if I lost all of my data?” Having a backup plan in place is not just a sound operational practice, it’s often required by law or regulation. For example, HIPAA requires healthcare organizations to have and test a viable data backup and disaster recovery plan. The same holds true in the financial services industry; both the OCIE and FFIEC have made this a priority in their enforcement and audit practices.

If you do not have a backup plan in place, today is the best day to develop one—and EMC is a great place to start. Mozy and Spanning (both by EMC) offer data protection and data restore no matter where your important files reside. Mozy is an endpoint solution that backs up files on your computers to the EMC cloud. Spanning protects your born-in-the-cloud data for Salesforce, Office 365 (including One Drive), and Google Apps (including Google Drive).

Make no mistake about it—ransomware is a growing threat to all businesses and consumers. In 2014 alone, there were 2,122 confirmed data breaches! Fortunately, there are steps you can take in order to harden security against these types of cyberattacks. First and foremost, businesses must have a legitimate backup plan in place. In addition, we strongly recommend testing your backups periodically to make sure they’re intact and up to par. Equally critical is the ability to restore your data to a specific point in time before the ransomware attack occurred.

Real Estate for Small Business Owners

Whether to lease, purchase or build a location for their venture is among the most important decisions a small business owner makes. Each has its pros and cons.

Buying vs. leasing

All things being equal, deciding whether to buy or lease property usually boils down to how long you intend to remain at the location. If you think the property will suit your needs for a minimum of seven years, you’ll save money by purchasing the space. Buying is more expensive, but you build equity in the property and the value should appreciate. You have a better idea of your ongoing monthly costs if you have a long-term, fixed-rate mortgage. Rental rates are more subject to market forces and are less predictable.

However, things aren’t always equal, so consider whether you want to tie up your capital with a mortgage rather than rent and use those funds to grow your business. Future expansion is another consideration. If a purchased property doesn’t easily lend itself to expansion, you’re better off leasing. The bottom line is always whether a particular investment helps your business grow.

Tax considerations

You can deduct all or most of your lease expenses. If you buy, you can deduct your interest payments, but nonresidential real property depreciation expenses are written off over 39 years. Ask your attorney or accountant whether leasing or buying makes the best financial sense for your situation.

Location, location, location

Location can make or break a retail business. It’s a situation where you usually get one chance to do it right. Do your homework, and identify your customer demographic and where they are likely to shop or use your services. For your type of business, how important is customer proximity? While competition is good, you don’t want a location where you have too many direct competitors. You pay a premium for a top location, but it also drives your business.

When considering a location, do some traffic monitoring at peak hours for your operation. If the volume isn’t appropriate for your needs, look elsewhere.

Site history is important. There are places where no one stays in business very long. Find out what businesses were previously in the location, and what happened to them. Success or failure doesn’t just lie in management; certain areas just aren’t conducive to retail establishments.

Obviously, if your business doesn’t need walk-in traffic, location is less crucial. That doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need convenient access to major roadways or other requirements dependent on the nature of your enterprise. Industrial or office parks may offer better opportunities and costs than buildings located on main corridors.

Building

Building an office or store exactly to your specifications is probably the dream of most small business owners. New businesses may have high tech needs that an older building’s infrastructure can’t accommodate. If it’s an option, pursue it, but consider the downside. Building is time-consuming, and you may need approvals from local planning or zoning boards. Environmental or other property issues can stop a project in its tracks—perhaps permanently. Cost overruns are a given.

Commercial real estate broker

You’ll save yourself a lot of valuable time with a good commercial realtor. Unless you have expertise in negotiating leases, you aren’t likely to save money forgoing a realtor and finding and leasing property on your own. You want a realtor whose sole—or at least major—representation involves commercial tenants. As with other professionals, word-of-mouth helps find a reputable realtor. So does asking local businesses in your intended area which broker they used and whether they would recommend the person. Brokers often specialize, so find a person familiar with your type of business and its needs. A broker should know about any municipal ordinances or zoning that could affect your business—issues you certainly don’t want to discover after you’ve signed the lease or purchased the property.

20th Century Encryption Technology

Secret or deceptive methods have been use for centuries to cover up private messages to keep them out of the hands of enemies or those without the need to know. Steganography or the practice of concealing information dates back at least 500 years. In the digital age our messages have advanced from Morse code to digital code transferred through the Internet. From the 20th century and beyond we still look for ways to protect or conceal our messages just as they did centuries ago, but now we use encryption. Check out this infographic on the evolution of encryption technology, which has abounded throughout the last century and continues to do so today at an accelerated rate.

http://graduatedegrees.online.njit.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/20th-Century-and-Beyond-Encryption-Technology-01-1.pngNJIT Computer Science Online

Selecting a Business Structure

When you’re starting a small business, you’ll have to decide what type of business structure suits your particular enterprise. There are pros and cons to each type of business structure, and some may not be applicable to your situation.

Sole Proprietorship

If your small business consists of just you and perhaps your spouse, a sole proprietorship is the simplest way to go. Basically, you are the business and the business is you. You file taxes under your Social Security number. The downside is personal liability. If your business fails, creditors can claim personal assets such as your home and bank accounts.

Partnerships 

If you’re in business with one or more partners, a general partnership agreement may make sense structurally. In a general partnership, profits and liability are divided equally among the partners. Other types of partnerships are geared toward special projects or are limited according to investment percentages. While a partnership must file an informational return each year with the IRS, each partner reports income and losses on their individual tax return.

Limited Liability Corporation

An LLC makes sense for many small businesses, as it provides personal liability protection and can consist of various members—not shareholders. For IRS purposes, an LLC is not a tax entity. Proceeds are passed to members, who must pay tax on them. The members themselves decide how these proceeds are divided. Although regulations vary by state, an LLC is relatively easy and inexpensive to set up. You’ll need to:
      •      Choose a business name. This cannot conflict with an LLC of the same name in your state.
      •      File articles of organization. This paperwork includes your business name and the names and addresses of members.              In most states, this document is filed with the secretary of state.
      •      Generate an operating agreement. Some states require creation of an operating agreement, and outlining your LLC’s              structure and its regulations.

If your business operates as an LLC, all members are considered self-employed. That means they must pay the self-employment tax when it comes to Social Security and Medicare.

S Corporation

The IRS defines an S Corp as an entity electing to pass through income, losses, deductions and credits to their shareholders for tax purposes. Unlike larger “C” corporations, S Corps are not required to pay federal corporate income tax on profits, although some states require S Corps to pay taxes on income. The IRS limits an S Corp to 100 shareholders—all of whom must be U.S. citizens or legal residents—but there’s just one class of stock. Besides individuals, estates and certain trusts qualify as shareholders, but not partnerships or other corporations. As with an LLC, these shareholders report income on their personal tax returns, with taxation at their individual rate. Shareholders must pay taxes on income in the year it is earned, not distributed.

Creating an S Corp is more expensive than creating an LLC. You must initially file as a corporation, then submit Form 2553 to the IRS, signed by every shareholder or shareholder representative. One caveat: The IRS tends to scrutinize S Corps more than other types of small business structures.

Your attorney or accountant can advise you on the best business structure for your particular small business.