27 Jul

Amazon releases high-end virtual desktops

It’s nearly impossible to discuss virtualization without bringing up Amazon Web Services (AWS). It was one of the first big names in user-friendly virtualization services and it’s only gotten better over the years. With its latest release, AWS is providing customers with some serious computing power.

 

What are AWS virtual desktops?

 

If you have employees who need occasional access to lightning-fast workstations, hardware costs add up quickly. One way to tackle this problem is by providing users with low-end hardware that connects to a cloud service provider that delivers virtual desktops. These full-fledged desktops can be accessed over the internet and are far more cost efficient.

For quite some time, AWS’s “Standard” package has offered 24-hour access to virtual desktops with dual CPUs, 4+ GB of RAM and 130 GB of data storage for $43 per month. As long as you have a computer with an internet connection and are able to pay the subscription fee, you can run programs on an AWS virtual desktop that greatly exceeds your local machine’s capacity.

 

The WorkSpaces Power bundle

 

In June 2017, AWS introduced a new virtual desktop service for businesses that need a bit more capacity. The WorkSpaces Power bundle grants users access to machines with the power of four CPUs, with 16+ GB of RAM and 275 GB of storage.

Obviously, anything that requires such high-end hardware is going to be pretty technical work, but with the help of an experienced IT provider, you too can profit from the Big Data movement. AWS is advertising the Power bundle to developers, but it’s also great for businesses that want profitable insights from their huge databases.

The Power bundle virtual desktops have tremendous capacity, and that does come at a higher cost. The WorkSpaces Power bundle costs $78 per month for unlimited usage, or if you need it for only a couple days, $19 per month plus 68 cents per hour.

 

Faster data access for Standard and Power bundles

 

Regardless of whether you need the Standard or Power bundle, all AWS virtual desktops benefit from excellent data access speeds. The servers that host AWS cloud storage and AWS virtual desktops are in the same physical location, which means you don’t need to worry about lag when connecting the two.

 

Even if you’re “just a small-scale eCommerce site,” or a single-location office, every business can benefit from more affordable computing power. To find out what virtualization can do for your organization, call us today at 1-866-BIT-WISE or email sales@eitnetworks.net.

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01 Jun

Amazon Phones on the Horizon

Amazon is setting its sights on the VoIP market again and will use its Alexa technology to launch a new phone system. Based on a new patent, users of Amazon’s artificial intelligence (AI) devices might soon be able to enjoy a smart speaker and phone in one. This won’t be the eCommerce giant’s first attempt at launching a wireless phone system, but this time it seems that they’re taking the time to develop the technology. Read on to find out more.

 

How it works

 

Amazon’s 3D-enabled Fire Phone was its first attempt at launching a smartphone, but it failed to set the mobile phone market ablaze. Based on the company’s recent voice-controlled phone patent, they are developing a smarter and more practical wireless phone technology, which will be integrated into their successful smart speaker devices, Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

The system will work by linking a mobile number to the Alexa devices, which would have a mechanism for notifying the user of incoming calls, answering calls via the smart speaker itself, as well as placing calls by giving commands to Alexa. What makes the Alexa-powered devices a compelling phone system is its ability to identify users based on a voice recognition system already built into the devices.

Note, however, that the mobile carrier would still be providing the communication service, with the Alexa device serving only as a medium, which is how most VoIP communications works.

 

What it means for your business

 

Amazon’s Alexa-powered devices are attractive for their voice-control technology. Although they did not pioneer it, they integrated it with devices that allowed them to go beyond what other AI devices can do. The Echo Dot, for instance, is especially useful to those who use a variety of Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices, such as lights, switches, and TVs, to name just a few.

Its voice recognition capabilities are also a cut above the rest, being able to recognize voice and adopt your speech patterns the more you use it. It can also serve as an all-around assistant in a room or in any office setting, helping you check the weather, send a message, or provide calendar event updates.

As Amazon develops its voice recognition technology for its Alexa-powered phones, it can be expected that this same technology would make it a formidable home or office phone system that can easily find contacts, screen callers, or conveniently set up conference calls — all by voice command. But as of now, Amazon’s patent is in the early stages of development.

 

There are plenty of communication options for your business, and although there’s nothing quite like the Alexa phones yet, there are plenty of viable substitutes that can suit your business’s communication needs. Call us today for VoIP option recommendations. 866-BIT-WISE or email sales@eitnetworks.net

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28 Apr

What is Virtual “Sandboxing?”

<Virtualization comes with several benefits for small- and medium-sized businesses. One of the most important is cybersecurity, but even within that subset are several strategies for protecting your organization. One of such strategy is referred to as sandboxing, and it’s worth learning about.

 

What is sandboxing?

 

Sandboxing is one of the rare concepts in virtualization that the average person can usually grasp in just a couple short sentences. Essentially, sandboxing is the practice of tricking an application or program into thinking it is running on a regular computer, and observing how it performs. This is especially useful for testing whether unknown applications are hiding malware.

Obviously, it gets far more complicated once you delve into the details of how you implement a sandboxing technique, but the short answer is that it almost always involves virtualized computers. The program you want to test thinks it’s been opened on a full-fledged workstation of server and can act normally, but it’s actually inside of a tightly controlled virtual space that forbids it from copying itself or deleting files outside of what is included in the sandbox.

 

An effective way to quarantine

 

Virtualization is no simple task, but the benefits of sandboxing definitely make the effort worth it. For example, virtualized workstations can essentially be created and destroyed with the flip of a switch. That means:

  1. You aren’t required to manage permanent resources to utilize a sandbox. Turn it on when you need it, and when you’re done the resources necessary to run it are reset and returned to your server’s available capacity.
  2. When malware is exposed inside a sandbox, removing it is as simple as destroying the virtual machine. Compare that to running a physical workstation dedicated solely to sandboxing. Formatting and reinstalling the machine would take several hours.
  3. Variables such as which operating system the sandbox runs, which permissions quarantined applications are granted, and minimum testing times can be employed and altered in extremely short periods of time.

This strategy has been around for nearly two decades, and some cybersecurity experts have spent their entire careers working toward the perfect virtual sandbox.
 

Containers: the next step in this evolution

 

Recently, the virtualization industry has been almost totally consumed by the topic of “containers.” Instead of creating entire virtual workstations to run suspicious applications in, containers are virtual spaces with exactly enough hardware and software resources to run whatever the container was designed to do.

Think of the metaphor literally: Older sandboxes came in a uniform size, which was almost always significantly larger than whatever you were placing into them. Containers let you design the size and shape of the sandbox based on your exact specifications.

 

Quarantined virtual spaces fit nicely into the sandbox metaphor, but actually implementing them is impossible without trained help. Whether you’re looking for enhanced security protocols or increased efficiency with your hardware resources, our virtualization services can help. Call us at 1-866-BIT-WISE or shoot us an email at sales@eitnetworks.net.

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18 Apr

Firmware: How to Keep it Secure

For decades, one of the most foundational principles of cyber security has remained the same: Always update and patch your software. But for most people, hardware is exempt from this process. They think of hardware as nothing more than a vessel for software to occupy — and that’s totally incorrect. Read on to learn more about this oft-neglected aspect of IT security.

 

What is firmware?

 

Firmware is a very basic type of software that is embedded into every piece of hardware. It cannot be uninstalled or removed, and is only compatible with the make and model of the hardware it is installed on. Think of it like a translator between your stiff and unchanging hardware and your fluid and evolving software.

For example, Windows can be installed on almost any computer, and it helps users surf the internet and watch YouTube videos. But how does Windows know how to communicate and connect with your hardware router to do all that? Firmware on your router allows you to update and modify settings so other, more high-level, pieces of software can interact with it.

 

Why is firmware security so important?

 

Firmware installed on a router is a great example of why addressing this issue is so critical. When you buy a router and plug it in, it should be able to connect devices to your wireless network with almost zero input from you. However, leaving default settings such as the username and password for web browser access will leave you woefully exposed.

And the username and password example is just one of a hundred. More experienced hackers can exploit holes that even experienced users have no way of fixing. The only way to secure these hardware security gaps is with firmware updates from the device’s manufacturer.

 

How do I protect myself?

 

Firmware exploits are not rare occurrences. Not too long ago, a cyber security professional discovered that sending a 33-character text message to a router generated an SMS response that included the administrator username and password.

Unfortunately, every manufacturer has different procedures for checking and updating firmware. The best place to start is Googling “[manufacturer name] router firmware update.” For instance, if you have a DLink of Netgear router, typing “192.168.0.1” into a web browser will allow you to access its firmware and update process, assuming you have the username and password.

Remember that routers are just one example of how firmware affects your cyber security posture. Hard drives, motherboards, even mouses and keyboards need to be checked. Routinely checking all your devices for firmware updates should be combined with the same process you use to check for software updates.

 

It can be a tedious process, and we highly recommend hiring an IT provider to take care of it for you. If you’re curious about what else we can do to help, give us a call today at 1-866-BIT-WISE or shoot an email to sales@eitnetworks.net.

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31 Mar

Is Intel’s Optane SSD right for you?

Hardware buyers often have a list of specifications they need to consider. They have to assess graphics cards, RAM, processing power, and even the sound system. As if choosing a new computer wasn’t hard enough, Intel released a hard drive optimized for fast performance and storage. But before you make any final decisions, here is a quick rundown and evaluation of Intel’s release.

 

Optane SSD

 

Intel’s new standalone drive maximizes storage performance and can also serve as extra RAM for your servers. The Optane SSD DV P4800X has 375 GB of space, a data read latency of 10 microseconds, and data transfer rates (or throughput) of 2GB per second. With these specs, Intel claims users will experience faster boot times, quicker application load times, and 30% faster system performance.

All of this makes the Optane SSD perfect for hosting machine learning and analytics. Also, if your company is involved in high-performance computing, Intel’s new RAM/storage drive should be high on your company’s wish list.

Optane SSD, however, may not be the best for everyone. First of all, the latest storage drive is meant for servers. Another downside is that the 375-GB SSD is a hefty $1,520 — almost as much as deploying your own in-house server would cost! In this case, you would probably get more value out of a conventional SSD.

 

SSD

 

Consumer-level SSDs still provide fast software boot times, but will probably offer less storage space and throughput rates than the Optane SSD. This really isn’t much of a sacrifice, considering that plenty of users can afford and work with 128 GB of ‘normal’ SSD storage. In fact, a 128-GB SSD can go for as low as $50.

 

HDD

 

Your other choice would be the standard hard disk drive (HDD). Though these storage devices are far more common and much less expensive than the previous two, HDDs are slow to boot, noisy, and susceptible to hardware damage and data loss. The only thing going for the traditional hard drive is its storage capacity. For $50 dollars, users can buy a 1-TB hard disk drive.

Although HDD may not be ideal in terms of speed, it’s a good choice for any business on a tight budget. Most people actually pair SSD with their standard HDD to get the best of both worlds. Operating systems and critical applications can be stored in SSD for faster boot times, while regular files can be stored in HDD.

 

Even with this crash course on hard drives and SSDs, you will still probably need a storage professional to help you pick the best device for your business. For all your storage drive queries, installment requirements, and IT maintenance needs, contact our IT consultants at 1-866-BIT-WISE or sales@eitnetworks.net.

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20 Feb

Understanding Cyber-Security

As technology consultants, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want to provide our clients with enterprise-level IT, but that requires that we specialize in overwhelmingly intricate technology. Explaining even the most foundational aspects of our cyber-security would most likely put you to sleep before convincing you of our expertise. But if you really want to know, here are a few summaries of how we focus on proactive strategies rather than reactive ones.

 

Understand the threats you’re facing

 

Before any small- or medium-sized business can work toward preventing cyber-attacks, everyone involved needs to know exactly what they’re fighting against. Whether you’re working with in-house IT staff or an outsourced provider, you should review what types of attack vectors are most common in your industry. Ideally, your team would do this a few times a year.

 

Reevaluate what it is you’re protecting

 

Now that you have a list of the biggest threats to your organization, you need to take stock of how each one threatens the various cogs of your network. Map out every device that connects to the internet, what services are currently protecting those devices, and what type of data they have access to (regulated, mission-critical, low-importance, etc.).

 

Create a baseline of protection

 

By reviewing current trends in the cyber-security field, alongside an audit of your current technology framework, you can begin to get a clearer picture of how you want to prioritize your preventative measure versus your reactive measures.

Before you can start improving your cyber-security approach, you need to know where the baseline is. Create a handful of real-life scenarios and simulate them on your network. Network penetration testing from trustworthy IT professionals will help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses in your current framework.

 

Finalize a plan

 

All these pieces will complete the puzzle of what your new strategies need to be. With an experienced technology consultant onboard for the entire process, you can easily parse the results of your simulation into a multi-pronged approach to becoming more proactive:

Security awareness seminars that coach everyone — from receptionists to CEOs — about password management and mobile device usage.
“Front-line” defenses like intrusion prevention systems and hardware firewalls that scrutinize everything trying to sneak its way in through the front door or your network.
Routine checkups for software updates, licenses, and patches to minimize the chance of leaving a backdoor to your network open.
Web-filtering services that blacklist dangerous and inappropriate sites for anyone on your network.
Antivirus software that specializes in the threats most common to your industry.

 

As soon as you focus on preventing downtime events instead of reacting to them, your technology will begin to increase your productivity and efficiency to levels you’ve never dreamed of. Start enhancing your cyber-security. Give us a call at 1-866-BIT-WISE or email us at sales@eitnetworks.net.

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13 Jan

Microsoft (Finally) Addressing Complaints

In the past year, Microsoft was heavily criticized for forcing the Windows 10 OS update on PC users. After thousands of customer complaints, the tech giant vowed to make changes and appease disgruntled end users. With the new year are signs that the firm is finally tending to these problems. Here are some of them:

 

A patch and a glitch away

 

Users couldn’t escape the glitches in the frequent Windows 10 updates, which caused an array of problems such as frozen systems, broken webcams, and even PCs being unable to secure an Internet connection. In light of the patching dilemma, Microsoft is offering more options to defer updates. In fact, a leaked preview shows a new option to pause updates for up to 35 days via a switch in the Settings menu.

 

OneDrive placeholders

 

Since the launch of Windows 10, many users have eagerly awaited Microsoft to re-introduce this beloved feature to the operating system’s built-in OneDrive cloud storage service. In Windows 8.1, placeholders (aka Smart files) allowed users to see all their OneDrive files, whether or not they were stored on the device. Making its return in Windows 10 File Explorer when using OneDrive, the feature shows user files stored locally as well as on the cloud.

 

Owning up to the update fiasco

 

Not only is Microsoft addressing the various complaints it received, but it’s also owning up to some of them. Just before Christmas, Microsoft’s chief marketing officer, Chris Capossela, admitted that the company had gone too far when it tried to get Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade to Windows 10. This referred to Microsoft’s decision in early 2016 to change the design for the user prompt for its Get Windows 10 app, the software responsible for scheduling upgrades. The user prompt was altered so that clicking X to close the window causes the user to unknowingly agree to a Windows 10 upgrade. This change puts Microsoft in direct violation of its own user experience guidelines for developers on dialog box design.

“Within a couple of hours of that hitting the world, we knew we had gone too far,” recalled Capossela. “Those two weeks were pretty painful and clearly a lowlight for us.” It was then that Microsoft reversed its decision on tweaking the pop-up, so clicking on X would dismiss the upgrade.

 

It seems that 2017 is the year that Microsoft will start listening more to its users and addressing their complaints. Maybe: Hopefully this renewed strategy will benefit users sooner rather than frustrate them later. Contact us (1-866-BIT-WISE or sales@eitnetworks.net) and we’ll keep you up-to-date with the latest Microsoft updates.

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15 Dec

Gooligan Malware Haunts Android Devices

It is the largest single theft of Google accounts ever reported. And if you own an Android 4 or 5 phone, it has likely already affected you. The Gooligan virus, running rampant in third-party app stores, promises to keep wreaking havoc until developers find a way to shut it down. To help your business avoid malware catastrophe, read on to learn what we know about Gooligan so far.

 

It is estimated that since Gooligan’s August 2016 appearance, the malware has infected more than 1.3 million Google accounts — one of the largest single thefts in recent history.

With the range of personal data available in Google accounts, it is interesting to note that Gooligan’s purpose isn’t to steal the valuable information; instead, it’s to distribute advertising fraud. With as much as $320,000 a month going into the pockets of Gooligan developers, it is obvious that the ploy is working.

 

How Gooligan is Moving Through the Internet

 

Consumers are falling prey to the virus when they attempt to download a fake app from a third-party app store. Instead of getting the program that they were promised, they inadvertently allow the Gooligan malware to root into their Android OS and take control of it. Once in control, the virus downloads apps using your Google information. These apps are infused with ads that belong to Gooligan developers, bringing them a never-ending stream of income.

 

Where Gooligan Came from and Where it’s Going

 

Gooligan appears to be a variation of the 2015 Ghost Push malware, which was also wildly successful at infecting Android users. Google is currently working with Android engineers and Internet security firms to quelch the malware; they believe that through cooperative efforts, it will disappear from public attention. As it is, those who have updated Android versions of 6.0 or greater are not affected by the malware.

You can lower your chances of contracting the Gooligan malware by downloading apps only from Google Play and checking your system through the security firm Check Point to ensure your Android hasn’t already been infected.

 

For more information on Gooligan and how you can protect your company, contact us at 1-866-BIT-WISE or sales@eitnetworks.net.

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