by Pat Hammond on Wednesday, June 01, 2016
"If you haven't planned for it you're not going to do anything but pay the money" It's a bold statement from a soft spoken man and it sends chills down my spine.
What would you do? What can you do if your computer gets hit with ransomware? What about the Windows 10 upgrade? Is it worth it? Does it really cause all the problems we hear people complaining about on the web?
Between security breaches, viruses and Microsoft's heavy handed upgrades the internet is rife with tales of tech woe so when I met Norm Gentry from SBTI Technology Solutions at last month's Coffee Buzz I jumped on the chance to pick his brain.
Gentry is not your typical geek. In fact if you met him on the street you'd probably peg him as an accountant or maybe a baker, but hidden behind his calm facade is an all-star tech guru. Hardware, software, networks, phone systems and peripherals, he has the all around experience to keep most small offices running smoothly.
His firm offers a wide variety of managed and à la carte services and if your project is too large or specialized for him to handle efficiently he has a large network of local experts who can, but today I am asking him about the tech challenges the average small business owner is going to encounter in the office or at home.
The best offense is a good defense and in the case of malware that means regular backups.
You may think your business is too small or that you're safe because you have anti-virus software, but this boogeyman is real.
Gentry points out that several New Hampshire police departments, entities who have access to the best virus protection programs, have had to pay the ransom to get their files unencrypted.
Anti-virus software is like the flu vaccine. It provides protection against select viruses already in their database, but offers little protection from the latest strains and mutations.
When asked what people should do if they get caught by ransomware he reiterates his original statement. "If you haven't planned for it you're not going to do anything but pay the money and if you recognize it's about to happen, like a pop up warning that the disc is becoming encrypted, shut down immediately." You won't be able to recover everything, but if you haven't done any regular backups there is still a chance a professional may be able to recover some of your files.
At this point you might be wondering what is the cost of all this?
There aren't any hard numbers for what the criminals are charging, but the whisper on the web is that it runs between $300 - $500. Not a king's ransom, but it is an unexpected expense and doesn't include the time lost trying to buy bitcoin and recover your files. Compared to the cost of SBTI's backup service, $55 - $75 a year for individuals and $150 a year for most businesses, it's pretty obvious that regular backups are substantially cheaper. Especially when you realize data loss doesn't just come from malicious programs.
Regular backups are also the remedy for bad upgrades, software conflicts and hardware failure that can render a computer useless. Having experienced all of these things at one time or another I can tell you firsthand that if I had the option of paying $15 a month for someone to run scheduled backups so my data could be easily recovered I would have been all over it.
Gentry makes no bones about the fact he is a PC guy. Desktop computers provide a rich user experience with a wide variety of programs for almost every office need. While he acknowledges that some people have had issues with incompatible hardware and software, he believes the anecdotes represent a small minority of the millions of Windows users and urges people to do the upgrade as soon as practicable.
He says Windows 10 fixes a lot of performance and security issues and should pose no problem to most users, though he does reiterate the importance of creating a backup first.
If you know you have to use a legacy system incompatible with Windows 10 SBTI can help you find a manageable solution. For example, if you have a piece of software that is no longer available and will not work on newer systems they can set your program up on a standalone computer that is not connected to the internet. They can also help you find a replacement program and migrate files to the new system. There are always options and there is no reason to stay with an insecure and soon to be unsupported operating system.
Monitoring resources, managing memory and detecting security issues like viruses and trojans before they become a major problem are just a few of the reasons why your business should consider network monitoring.
Remote monitoring is a managed service that lets SBTI see real time network and equipment activity and correct potential problems before they become major headaches.
If you've ever spent an afternoon trying to find online solutions from your phone because your computer is suddenly non-responsive you can appreciate the value of having a knowledgeable tech responding to changes in processing speed as they happen.
The same goes for your network. I used to work for a company with a poorly designed DIY network and it was a nightmare when everyone was trying to connect to remote files. The guy who designed it had good intentions, but he wasn't a tech. It worked fine when only one or two people connected, but as soon as we had three or four everything came to a standstill. On a good day it meant waiting until the system caught up and served your file, on a bad day it meant rebooting the server and losing all your work.
Prices vary depending on the level of service and amount of equipment. Gentry can't give me a specific cost without reviewing the client's situation, but he tells me that their Level IV service usually runs around $20 a month per PC. This is their highest service level and runs proactive programs to provide a better response time so that he can fix the problem before it is too far along. In layman's terms, it keeps your computers running so you don't have downtime.
Who do you call when something breaks? If your sink starts dripping you call the plumber, if your car won't start you call the mechanic, but who do you call when the phone system goes down or the printer won't print? Who do you call when your computer stops working? Everyone knows at least one geeky person who is willing to tinker in their spare time, but is it really the best way to manage your office equipment?
Offices run on technology and once a crucial piece of equipment goes down things start to grind to a halt. How long can your client wait for a report? How long will they wait? Time is money and when your business needs a printer or computer to get the job done can you afford to wait until your neighbor's brother-in-law has a free Saturday to look at it?
Removing viruses, replacing hard drives, fixing printers and phone systems. We all know small business owners wear a lot of hats, but are you up to the challenge of repairing all your own equipment?
How much money would you lose if your computer was down for a day? How about a week?
One wrong move can effectively brick a PC and if you haven't been diligent in doing regular backups, let's just say that recreating accounting, tax and client files can take a bit of time if you're working from hard copies and is virtually impossible if all your invoices were digital.
We're small business owners, we all work with tight budgets and none of us has closets full of spare computers or routers. Even if we did, they would still need to be set up before they could be used.
SBTI can fix all of these things. Gentry says he's never left a client hanging and if he can't fix it he has a trusted partner who can.
"I try very hard not to spend the client's money," and whether it's hardware, software, a network or other system, he takes a look at the situation and tries to find a solution to fit your situation and economics.
Gentry and SBTI fill a void in the local tech market. Whereas large companies have the money to maintain full-time tech staff, smaller businesses and one-man shops have to fend for themselves.
Gentry says small business people are at a disadvantage when it comes to tech repair, maintenance and consulting because the few companies who are willing to take small clients charge high fees.
"They're unable to find quality it support at an affordable price so they don't do the things they need to do because they don't think they can afford it and they are risking their business." He goes on to say that what he does at SBTI is more than just setting up systems and fixing computers. "I bring CIO access to small business owners."
For a small business owner trying to manage technology across multiple devices, platforms and networks it's a big deal.
Gentry tries to give the best business solution and points out the best business solution is not always the best technical solution.
"I enjoy the people I work with, I enjoy learning about their companies, I prefer to take a more holistic approach."
He provides quality technical services at a price that people can afford, and he does it with a smile.
And that really sums up Gentry.
1. SBTI provides backup service to individual and small business clients. The cost for individual's runs between $55 - $75 a year and business backups typically run $150 - $300 per year depending on size/how much date.
For more information about Norm Gentry and SBTI Technical Solutions you can find him on the web at http://www.sbtisolutions.com/ or by phone 603-369-6366