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5 Ways to Use Technology to Be More Productive at Work or Home

How Productive Are You?

Are there times you wish you were more productive?  In the movie Office Space, Peter Gibbons tells the HR consultants “I’d say in a given week, I do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.”1

Now, that’s extreme.  But there are probably times you wish you could have done more.   And you’re not alone.  One study found that the average employee really works 3 hours in a 8 hour day.  He or she spends the rest of the time socializing, eating food and checking social media.2

Technology Trends

This article shows you how to use technology to get the most out of your day, while keeping in mind some major trends.  One trend is that people are using mobile devices more to do just about everything.  In 2017, Americans spent over four hours a day on their mobile devices, including smart phones and tablets. 3   85% of American adults use a mobile device to access news.4

Another major trend is more people are working remotely, including their home.  One study by Zug, Switzerland-based serviced office provider IWG, found that 70% of global professionals work remotely at least one day a week.5

Home Office

 

5 Ways Technology Can Make You More Productive

Remote Access and Cloud File Sharing Services

Through VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), you can connect securely to your work computers and networks.  This technology enables you to get work done from anywhere at any time.  While not typically as secure as VPNs, remote access software like Teamviewer or LogMeIn serve the same purpose.

Cloud file sharing services, like OneDrive, Google Drive and DropBox, let users share and edit docs across devices and locations.  Once a user edits a document, others in his or her group see the changes.  A work crew takes pics of their onsite progress and these become immediately accessible to an offsite builder.

Productive

Note Taking Applications

By using note taking apps, like Evernote, MS OneNote, Google Keep, Headspace and Zoho Notebook, you don’t have to constantly lug a notebook around.  Usually, these apps let you use text, drawings, voice recordings, pics and other media to record a meeting.  Imagine going to a consult at a prospect’s office and taking digital notes.  Because these are cloud-based apps, your co-workers and others see your work in real-time.  And you won’t have to waste time typing out written notes and emailing them to others.

Evernote

Communication Software

By using communication software, like Facetime, Skype, Zoom, Slack and Google Hangouts, people avoid the travel time and expenses of an onsite visit. Technological improvements in communication software make it easy to work in teams.  For instance, with Zoom and Skype people can share computer screens and look at documents together.

Slack lets team members organize communications in many flexible ways.  Groups work in channels, which can be based on teams, projects, clients or other categories.  For instance, one channel could include the sales team, while another channel could made of all employees from different departments working on a project.  Also, Slack allows channel members to do voice or video calls and share files.  Finally, they can get team members’ feedback and search conversation history.

Productive

Task and Project Applications

By using task applications, like Wunderlist, Microsoft To-Do, Google Tasks and Omnifocus, you can be more productive.  The Wunderlist app lets you create something as simple as a grocery list or as complex as a project plan.  Also, it helps team members work collaboratively on projects.  Because it is cloud based, users can share lists, make edits and provide feedback.  Finally, you can set notifications to remind the team about important deadlines.

 

productive

Digital Transactions

Many businesses and individuals are stuck in the past in this area.  If you still collect client payments by depositing checks at the bank or taking credit card info over the phone, there are quicker ways to do this.  For instance, field staff can use card scanners or mobile apps to collect credit card payments and client signatures.  Also, you could deposit checks remotely using mobile scanning apps.  Finally, many companies collect payments through a merchant account like PayPal.  For bookkeeping purposes, you could sync PayPal with Quickbooks.

Productivity

Additional Suggestions to Be More Productive

There are several other applications you may want to look into to increase your productivity.  Below, please find a brief summary of each.

ClickTime

ClickTime is an application which employees, managers and executives use to manage employees’ time, team projects and company budgets.  Traveling employees can use the mobile app or go online to report expenses to the central office.  They can enter each expense and take a picture of the receipt for quick reimbursement.  Also, ClickTime offers many reports which enable managers and businesses to see in real-time projects’ profitability.  Finally, this app integrates with CRM and financial products, like Salesforce and Quickbooks.

For more info on this app, check here:  ClickTime

RescueTime

RescueTime is a software application, which tracks your web browsing and offline habits.  It provides detailed reports about your activity.  This way, you see how you are spending your day and how you can be more productive.  In addition, you can set goals for the day or week and track your progress towards them.  Also, you can set up notifications for certain activity.  For instance, you can create an alarm which will notify you when you have spent one hour on Facebook in a day.

For more info on this app, check here:  RescueTime

Boomerang (for Gmail)

Have you ever wanted to schedule when email(s) are sent?  Boomerang is an add-on to your browser, which will allow you to do this and use Gmail more productively.  With this add-on, you can also schedule reminders.  If someone has not responded to your initial email, you can schedule a notification to follow up at a certain date.  Boomerang Respondable analyzes your email drafts and provides feedback on how to improve the content.

For more info on this app, check here:   Boomerang

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1  Methodshop.com “Top 27 Quotes From Office Space.”  Link to Site

2  Businessinsider.com “8-hour Workday May be 5 Hours too Long Research suggests.”  Link to Site

3 Hackernoon.com “How Much Time do People Spend on Their Mobile Phones in 2017.”  Link to Site

4 Niemanlab.org “Percent of Americans use Mobile Devices to Access News and Seniors are Driving That Number up.”  Link to Site

5 Cnbc.com. “Percent of People Globally Work Remotely at Least Once a Week, Study Says.”  Link to Site

Mac Versus PC: Which One Should I Buy?

Mac Versus PC

For years, there has been a heated debate about which is better: Mac or PC.  Many people have strong opinions about why they prefer one over the other.  You might have heard from friends about how they love their Macs and their reliability.

In writing this article, we are not looking to renew a heated debate.  Instead, we hope to help individuals and businesses who are looking to buy a new computer and are not sure if they want a Mac or PC.

Below, we have outlined several areas where Macs and PCs differ to help you with your purchase decision.

Mac and PC Prices

In general, Macs are marketed as premium computers with quality parts and Computer Pricedesign, so they tend to be more expensive.  Currently, a 12-inch Macbook Air may cost about $1,300, while a 13-inch Macbook Pro runs about $1,500.

For PCs, the cost range is lot greater.  On the one hand, you could buy a basic Windows 10 laptop for a couple hundred dollars.  On the other hand, a Dell XPS 13-inch laptop can be comparable in price to a Mac, especially when you start to add more memory or other features.

If you are looking for a basic computer for reading emails, browsing websites and writing letters, a PC might be the preferable option.  The higher cost of a Mac may not be justified.

Verdict: PC wins because they generally cost less.

Design

In this area, Macs excel.  Apple has spent a lot of time and money in designing sleek, lightweight and modern Macs.  It is obvious they have thought a lot about providing an excellent user experience, while designing practical products.  A 15-inch Mac Book Pro weighs about 4 pounds, while some Dell or HP laptops can weigh over 2 pounds more.  This is a large difference if you are going to be carrying a laptop around all day.

 

Macbook Pro

 

The iMac now comes with a super thin display which is just 5MM thin at its edge.  Windows PC all-in-ones, like the new Dell Inspiron 24″, are thicker and bulkier.

iMac

In recent years, Windows PC manufacturers have made great strides in design.  A 13-inch Asus Zenbook 430 can weigh under 3 pounds and is ultra thin at 15.9mm.  Dell XPS laptops come with an almost edge-to-edge infinity display for an optimal viewing experience.  Also, many PC laptops, like the Microsoft Surface, allow you to remove the display and use it as a tablet.  Other PCs allow you to bend the display all the way around to adjust to any viewing experience.

Asus ZenbookVerdict: Mac wins this category, but the gap is narrowing. 

Included Features and Software

One feature some computer users like is being able to use a touchscreen on a computer.   The touchscreen lets them scroll up and down or pinch in or out to expand a photo.  This is one area where PCs excel over Macs.  While many PCs come with touchscreens, Apple for the most part has decided not to include this feature.

Touchscreen Laptop

One nice feature of Windows PCs, phones and tablets is that you can use the same user interface and touchscreen features across all devices.  On Apple products (i.e., Macbook Pro, iPad and iPhone), the user interface is different.

In some areas, Macs excel over PCs in how their different devices connect.  For instance, with iMessage, Apple users can start a text on their phone and then finish it on their Mac computer.  They also can use Airdrop to easily share photos with other Apple users, not matter what the device.  Windows PCs are behind in this area.

In terms of the preinstalled software, Macs are ahead of PCs.  They come with Photos, iMovie and other programs.  These allow you to not only view photos, but to edit them in many ways.  With Windows 10, new PCs come with more editing capabilities, but they are no match for a Mac.

Because many manufacturers (i.e., Acer, Dell and HP) make Windows PCs, they often come with preinstalled software which can really slow them down.  HP loads their computers with lots of useless software, like “HP Touchpoint Analytics Client,” which sends your data to HP, but can really slow it down.

Verdict:  Mac and PC tie.   They both offer unique features.

Hardware Upgrades

Following up on the design category, it is easy to why PCs have an edge for hardware upgrades.  Generally, PC makers offer more options when you purchase a new PC.  Also, you can normally upgrade more items on an existing PC, like the hard drive, memory, processor, video card and Wi-Fi card.  Many people design their own customized PCs, like one for gaming.

On the other hand, there are fewer upgrade options on a Mac.  Usually, you can only change the hard drive and memory.

With more detachable panels and larger interior space, PCs make it easier to take them apart and upgrade parts.  These differences allow PCs to be more flexible to changes in technology and the resource requirements of certain software.

Verdict: PCs win this category, because they offer more upgrade options. 

Virus and Malware Infections

In this area, Macs have traditionally had the advantage.  Because newer Macs have operating systems which run on Unix kernel (one of the oldest and most secure operating systems), Macs are less likely to be infected by viruses and malware.  Because Macs only make up less than 10% of the computer market worldwide, those who create viruses are less likely to go after them.

Ransomware

Recently, however, we have seen an uptick in Mac virus and malware infections.  For example, Macs have been hit by ransomware, which scrambles certain files and demands a payment from the Mac user to recover them.

Verdict: Macs beat PCs, because they are more secure.

Repairs

In general, PCs are easier to repair and the repair cost is lower.  Because PCs are designed to allow their hardware to be upgraded, it is easier to access parts to replace them.  For laptops, all you have to do is unscrew a panel at the bottom and replace a part.  New Macs combine several parts into one, so you have to replace a larger, more expensive part when there is a hardware failure.  For instance, while the motherboard and video card may be separate on PCs, in Macs they are one piece.

In terms of customer service, Apple tends to have the edge over PC manufacturers.  If they experience issues with their Mac, users can make an repair appointment at a local Apple store.  Usually, this goes smoothly and their issue is resolved.  Apple also stands firmly behind their warranty.  We have seen cases where they have given clients an entirely new iPad to make sure they are happy.

For Windows PCs, it can be a nightmare calling any manufacturer’s tech support line.  The caller can wait a half an hour for a someone from a call center in another country to pick up and then get little or no help.

Verdict: Mac and PC tie.  Both have their pluses and minuses in this area.

Video Gaming

In this area, PCs have a definitive advantage.  Because it is easier to customize a new PC or upgrade an existing one, they are better suited for video gaming.  For example, you can add a new video card to PCs to meet the graphic requirements of a new game.

Also, there are so many more video games available on a PC then a Mac.  Finally, PCs let players stream Xbox One and Playstation games, while Macs only allow to stream PlayStation games.

Verdict: PCs win this category by a decisive margin.

Video Games

Conclusion

In deciding between a Mac and Windows PC, your choice will depend on which features are most important.  If you are looking for a basic computer to browse the Internet and check emails, then a PC would be a better choice.  If you plan on doing a lot of photo or video editing, then a Mac may be better.  If you are going to spend most of your time playing video games, then a PC would be the best option.  Typically, there are more options available to customize PC.  Also, many more video games are available to PC users.

 

 

5 Ways to Protect Yourself and Your Business Against Tax Scams

Watch Out for Tax Scams!

It’s that time of year again: tax filing season.  It can be really stressful!  Unfortunately, there is usually a large jump in the number of tax scams at this time of the year.  Cyber security experts have warned about the specific ways that cyber criminals steal sensitive, private information.

A month or so ago, the IRS released its “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams for 2017.1  In this list, the IRS mentioned phone and phishing scams as serious threats.

Phishing is defined as “the attempt to obtainTax Scam  sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”2 

Basically, criminals pretend to be someone you trust in order to steal important financial and personal info.  They use this information to log into peoples’ accounts, like bank accounts, to transfer funds.  Also, they sell it to other criminals.  Phishing can be done through phone calls, emails, texts and other communication forms.

Consumer Tax Scam Examples

Recently, criminals are using a number of different tax scams to attack consumers.  They make calls or send emails, which appear to be from the IRS.  Their emails ask the consumer to update missing information, pay an outstanding tax liability or receive a refund by clicking on a link.  Their emails may also contain links to malicious websites, which appear to be IRS related and ask them to enter confidential info.

 

Tax Scam

Criminals make calls and demand that consumers pay an outstanding tax balance.  They threaten severe penalties if they don’t.   Their scams have gotten very complex.  In some cases when they have already stolen consumers’ personal and financial information, the criminals submit falsified tax returns.  Then, they request that refunds be sent to consumers’ bank accounts.  When the refunds are deposited, they call consumers and pretend to be IRS reps.  They indicate that a refund was made mistakenly and demand that the consumer transfer this money to another account.  Basically, they are involved in money laundering.

Tax Pro and Business Related Tax Scams

Often, criminals use some of the same techniques with tax pros (like accountants) as they do with consumers.  Posing as IRS reps, especially from the e-Services department, they send phishing emails to tax pros asking them to click on a link to sign into their accounts.  However, the link brings them to a fake e-Services site that steals usernames and passwords.  Sometimes, the criminals will send emails tax with attachments containing malware.  Once they click on the attachments, the software will load which tracks their keystrokes.

On the business side, cyber criminals pose as company executives and send emails to HR reps demanding employee W-2’s.  Once the HR reps reply with the requested info, the criminals have everything they need to file false tax returns.

 

Tax Scam

Realizing these serious threats, we outlined five ways consumers, tax pros and businesses can protect themselves from tax scams.

 

5 Ways to Protect Your Info from Tax Scams

Use a Secure Internet Connection

When you login into any account containing sensitive info or submit a tax return online, make sure that you are on a private, password protected network.  Don’t ever file taxes or access important information while on a public Wi-fi at Starbucks or the airport.  Instead of clicking on email links, manually type in any website address.  Also, make sure the website you connect with has a “https” in the URL and you see a lock symbol in the address bar.

Encrypt Email and Documents

If you are a tax professional, you should be using encrypted email and documents.  When you send an email, cyber criminals can access its contents at several points during its transmission.  Encryption helps to prevent people hacking into your email account and hides the email’s content from unwanted parties.  Many email services, like Microsoft Office 365, offer the option of encrypted email.

In addition to encrypting emails, you can also encrypt documents to make sure the criminals do not access them.  In order to access a file or folders, you will need to enter a password.  Microsoft Windows comes with software (Bitlocker) to do this.  Also, there is commercial software (Symantec Endpoint Protection) which will protect docs.  Instead of individual files or folders, you can protect entire drives.

Data Protection

Implement Proactive Monitoring and Maintenance Through a Trusted IT Partner

These services will make sure that your computer Operating Systems and software are automatically updated.  This will help keep your systems are secure and protected.  A trusted IT partner should be aware of the most recent threats and take steps to prevent them.

Use a Professional Firewall and Commercial Anti-virus

By installing a physical and software firewall, you create a barrier to your network from the outside world.   Professional firewalls, like Sonicwalls, look for any unusual inbound or outbound network traffic.  They also have anti-virus and anti-malware software which will scan your network for unwanted things.  In addition to a network firewall which would be an outer barrier, each computer should have its own software firewall to scan and potentially block anything which gets into your network.

While a free anti-virus may protect your systems against certain attacks, like virus infections, it may not properly protect you against certain malware.   We recommend commercial software, like Webroot, to protect your systems.

Establish Clear Business Security Policies and Procedures

A business should have specific security policies and procedures in place and communicate them clearly to employees.  For instance, every business should have a specific policy for managing users’ passwords.  It should make sure that everyone uses strong, unique passwords with two-factor authentication.  A business should require that passwords be changed every 30 – 60 days.

Every business should also educate employees on the different email and phone scams they could face, especially tax related ones.  It should have specific procedures what employees should do when they receive a suspicious email or call.  For instance, employees should never open an attachment to an email that discusses tax information.2

Additional Safety Tips

To make sure you and your business are as safe as possible, we included some additional safety tips:

  • When you receive a suspicious email or call, go directly to the source.  If your manager asks for W2’s by email, call him or her to verify.
  • If you file by regular mail, send the documents directly from the post office or a UPS/FedEx site.  Do not leave your tax documents in your mailbox.   Criminals could steal them.
  • Run regular virus/malware scans on your PCs.
  • Schedule quarterly security meetings at your business.  Regularly check that everything is in place to make your business as secure as possible

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

 

  1.   IRS.gov “IRS Summarizes “Dirty Dozen” List of Tax Scams for 2017.” Link to Site
  2.  Wikipedia “Phishing.” Link to Article
  3.  Applied Synergy Group “5 Ways to Securely File Your Income Tax Return.” Link to Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should I Use Microsoft Office 365?

Microsoft Office 365: What Exactly Is It?

When some clients would ask us what is Office 365, we would watch as their eyes glazed over during our detailed description.  We learned quickly to keep our explanation as short and clear as possible.  We will do that here.

Office 365 is a bundle of software and cloud services, which typically include email and contact, calendar and document management.  The included services depend on the plan selected.

To see an introduction of Office 365 for Business, check out the following video:

 

The name Office 365 refers to you having the ability to access your office from anywhere at any time (365 days a year).  For instance, if you want to continue working at home on a Word document you started at your office, you can do this on by logging into your Office 365 account at home.  You can even edit this file on your smart phone or tablet.

 

Office 365 Anywhere Anytime

 

Office 365’s Popularity Has Grown

Microsoft Office 365 GrowthSince its introduction being over six years ago, Office 365 has become very popular.  According to one source, Office 365 had 120 million users as of September 2017.¹

Despite this popularity, many businesses and personal users have still not adopted it.  Why?  Often, we run into companies who purchase a website domain and email/website hosting as a package.   Email is thrown in as extra service.  When their sales reps complain about not being able to share a calendar, the businesses later find out their email services do not meet their needs.  Office 365 can solve these issues, plus it offers many other capabilities.

 

Office 365 Review:  Pros and Cons

In this post, we outline some of the benefits you could experience from moving to Office 365.  Also, we mention its drawbacks.  Whether or not it is an appropriate option for you or your business, it depends on your specific situation.

 

PROS

Increased Productivity

Believe it or not, we still run into businesses which post daily meetings and events on an office bulletin board.  What about their field employees who do not pass by the office?  How do employees find out about changes to the schedule?

Office 365 includes a whole host of tools, which make a business and personal user more productive.  Because it allows for shared calendars, contacts and files, which can be viewed and updated in real time on any device, no employee is left out in the cold about what is going on in his or her business.  Also, they don’t have to waste time trying to contact other employees to update them.

 

Increased Productivity

Increased Collaboration

Want to be able to work better as a team on a project?  Want to be able to edit a document at the same time from various locations and track the changes?

We run into some businesses where employees work on docs one at a time and then email the changes to others.  This method couldn’t be more time consuming and inefficient.

Through an application called OneDrive or logging into their Office 365 portal, employees can create, edit, share and collaborate on project documents.  Office 365 also comes with Skype and Lync, which allow employees to schedule and conduct online group meetings and chat sessions.  They can share screens with others to look at project documents or to present to one another.

Increased Flexibility and Scalability

In the past, for email many businesses have had to purchase and install an in-house server, along with Microsoft Exchange licenses.  This represents a huge upfront expense, not to mention the large ongoing cost of maintaining the server, software and licenses.  Before they knew it, their hardware was outdated and they had to buy a new server.  Or the company had doubled its employee count and its technology infrastructure could not keep up.

Office 365 allows for great flexibility with organizational changes. This point is crucial for small businesses.  If a business doubles (or halves its employee count), it can easily add (or remove) Office 365 user licenses in a matter of seconds.  Office 365 can scale up with a business’s growth.

Increased Flexibility

Because the monthly subscription cost of Office 365 is consistent, businesses can easily predict how much their monthly expense will be.  Unpredictable, expensive server repairs and upgrades are a thing of the past.

Improved Security and Disaster Recovery

Have you ever thought about how secure your or your company’s email service is?  Most businesses don’t think about this.

Microsoft uses the latest technological advancements to protect its Office 365 clients.  This is the same technology Microsoft uses to protect itself and its enterprise level clients.  Other smaller email providers simply do not have the resources to protect you and your information.

Office 365 protects you by scanning incoming emails for malware and virus threats, before anything loads onto your computer.  If anything is detected, the system will block it or send you a warning message.

God forbid a natural disaster were to happen somewhere in the US or abroad, Microsoft has data centers in many locations.  This redundancy protects your email and important documents from disastrous events, like last year’s Houston flooding.

 

Natural Disaster

Increased Reliability

Unlike other email and cloud services providers, Microsoft financially guarantees a 99.9% uptime.  If this service level is not meet, then they will reimburse clients.  Records show that Microsoft has always met this service level.  You can be sure that your Office 365 email, document and cloud services will always be working.  This reliability is vital to businesses at any time, but especially crucial when an important deadline needs to be met.  Imagine not being able to email an important contract to a client.  How would you feel?

 

CONS

Poor Technical Support

While Office 365 has some great features, some of its aspects can be improved.  For instance, customer service has always been an issue with Microsoft and any large tech company.  When you have a problem with Office 365, don’t expect to contact Microsoft and resolve it right away.  You may have to go through a number of voice prompts and wait in the queue a half an hour until you finally speak with someone at Office 365 tech support.  In recent years, Microsoft has greatly improved their support by offering more options like chat and scheduled call backs.

 

Poor customer service

File Sharing Issues

Another aspect that could be improved about Office 365 is its file sharing applications and services.  Similar to Dropbox, Office 365 uses an application called OneDrive to sync documents on your computer or mobile device.  If you make changes to a file in a OneDrive folder on your office PC, then you should see those same changes in the same OneDrive file when you are at home.

Sometimes, we run into issues with files not syncing from from PC to another or one user to another and have to spend time trying to determine why.  If you don’t name a file properly or its name is too long, it may not sync.  Microsoft details specific file/folder naming conventions you need to follow (see invalid file names and types).  These limitations of the file sharing service can be annoying.

Also,  Microsoft offers several different file sharing applications with very similar names, which can be very confusing.  Both OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are both applications for file sharing and syncing.  OneDrive is supposed to hold your personal files, while OneDrive for Business holds your business information.  You can run both of these applications on your computer at the same time.  Because their names and icons are very similar, it can become difficult to sometimes know which one you are working in.

Disruptive Updates

Finally, Microsoft is notorious for introducing updates which throw off a perfectly working system.  We have seen some instances where updates to the Office software (from 2013 to 2016) or Operating system (Windows 7 to 10) have disrupted Office 365 file sharing or other services.

 

Conclusion

While it has some drawbacks, Office 365 can be a great tool for individuals and businesses.  It can increase their productivity and ability to collaborate with others.  In addition, Office 365 provides great administrative and financial flexibility to businesses by allowing them to scale up or down according to their organizational needs and changes.  Finally, Office 365 email, file sharing and cloud services come with greater security and reliability than many competitor products.

To get some additional information about Microsoft Office 365, please check out the references below.

 

References:

  1. Zdnet.com “Microsoft Office 365 now has 120 million business users.”                Link to Article
  2. Microsoft.com  Different O365 Plan Options
  3. Office.com O365 Support Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

iPhone X and 8 vs Samsung Galaxy S8 – Is there a Clear Winner?

Unless you live in a cave, you have probably heard that Apple recently introduced two new iPhone models (iPhone X and 8).  While the iPhone 8 (and 8+) is available at retail stores, the iPhone X may not be available until mid November.

Because the holiday season is rapidly approaching and many people may be thinking about upgrading or replacing their existing smart phone, we decided to compare the new iPhones to one of their chief competitor’s smart phone: Samsung Galaxy S8.  We realize there are other great smart phones like the Google Pixel and upcoming LG V30.   We will take these up in a future post.

Apple iPhone X (and 8) Versus Samsung Galaxy S8 Comparison

iPhone X and 8

Galaxy S8 vs iphone X
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus

 

To compare these smart phones directly, we put together a chart which shows their features in a simple, easy to understand manner.

iPhone 8iPhone 8 PlusiPhone XSamsung Galaxy S8Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
Release Date9/22/2017 9/22/2017 Pre-orders start 10.27.17 4/17 4/17
Price$699 for 64GB model; $849 for 256GB model $799 for 64GB model; $949 for 256GB model $999 for 64GB model; $1,149 for 256GB model $724.99 unlocked; $1149 for 256GB model $724.99 unlocked; $1149 for 256GB model
ColorsGold, silver, space grey Gold, silver, space grey Silver, Space grey Midnight, grey and silver Midnight, grey and silver
Screen Size4.7 inches 5.5 inches 5.8 inches 5.8 inches 6.2inches
Display Resolution1334 x 750 pixels, 326 pixels per inch 1920x 1080 pixels, 401 pixels per inch 2436 x 1125 pixels, 458 pixels per inch 2960 x 1440 pixels, 570 pixels per inch 2960 x 1440 pixels, 529 pixels per inch
Display FeaturesRetina HD, True Tone, 3D Touch Retina HD, True Tone, 3D Touch Super Retina, new OLED, True Tone, 3D Touch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED Quad HD+ Super AMOLED
Dimensions138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5 mm 143.6 z 70.9 x 7.7 mm 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0 mm 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm
Weight148 grams 202 grams 174 grams 155 grams 173 grams
Storage64GB/256GB 64GB/256GB 64GB/256GB 64GB - Expandable 64GB - Expandable
ProcessorApple A11 Bionic, M11 co-processor Apple A11 Bionic, M11 co-processor Apple A11 Bionic, M11 co-processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835/Exynos 8895 Qualcomm Snapdragon 835/Exynos 8895
Memory2GB 3GB 3GB 4GB 4GB
Rear Camera12-megapixel, f/1.8, 5x digital zoom, quad-LED flash 12-megapixel wide-angle, f/1.8, OIS and 12-megapixel telephoto, f/2.8, 10x digital zoom, portrait mode 12-megapixel wide-angle, f/1.8, OIS and 12-megapixel telephoto, f/2.8, 10x digital zoom, portrait mode 12-megapixel OIS, f1.7, 1/2.5" sensor size, 1.4µm pixel size, Autofocus, touch focus, face/smile detection 12-megapixel OIS, f1.7, 1/2.5" sensor size, 1.4µm pixel size, Autofocus, touch focus, face/smile detection
Front Camera7-megapixel FaceTime HD, f/2.2 7-megapixel FaceTime HD, f/2.2 7-megapixel FaceTime HD, f/2.2 8MP with autofocus, f/1.7 aperture, Auto HDR 8MP with autofocus, f/1.7 aperture, Auto HDR
Video4k at 24/30/60 Frames Per Second (FPS), 1080 pixel video at 30/60 FPS 4k at 24/30/60 FPS, 1080 pixel video at 30/60 FPS 4k at 24/30/60 FPS, 1080 pixel video at 30/60 FPS 4K video @30 FPS, 1080p HD video recording at 30/60 FPS 4K video @30 FPS, 1080p HD video recording at 30/60 FPS
Biometric SecurityTouch ID Touch ID Face ID iris scanner, fingerprint scanner, face recognition iris scanner, fingerprint scanner, face recognition
Battery Capacity1,821mAh 2,691 mAh 2,716mAh 3,000mAh 3,500mAh
ChargingFast battery charging, Wireless Fast battery charging, Wireless Fast battery charging, Wireless Fast battery charging, Wireless Fast battery charging, Wireless
WaterproofYes (IP67 Certified) Yes (IP67 Certified) Yes (IP67 Certified) Yes (IP68 Certified) Yes (IP68 Certified)
ConnectivityWi-Fi, 4G/LTE, Lightning connector Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE, Lightning connector Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE, Lightning connector Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE, USB-C Wi-Fi, 4G/LTE, USB-C

 

iPhone X (and 8) vs Galaxy S8 Review

In reviewing these phones, we find that which smart phone wins depends on the feature you look at.  The Galaxy S8 costs less, starting at $724.99 unlocked.  Also, many cellular providers have attractive trade in offers of $200 – $300 for older phones.  On the other hand, if you want to add to the Galaxy S8’s limited internal storage, a separate micro sd card runs about $125, which adds to the overall cost.

We prefer the Galaxy S8’s design to any of the new iPhones’ design.  Its bezel-less infinity display with curved glass edges on both sides creates the optimal viewing experience.  Also, it has a higher resolution display with more pixels per inch than any of the iPhone models, resulting in a better viewing experience.  The new iPhone X has a notch at the top of the screen, which disrupts the viewing experience and can take some getting used to.

Also, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has larger battery capacity, which should lead to more time between charges.  In addition, it has a headphone jack, which makes it easier to plug in typical headphones.  Because the new iPhones do not have a head jack, you have to buy a separate cable which connects to the lighting connector at the bottom of the phone or wireless bluetooth headphones.  This jacks up the iPhone’s overall cost.

While we like the Galaxy S8, the new iPhones excel in certain areas.  The new phones come with the built-in option of 64 or 256GB of storage.  The Samsung Galaxy S8 only comes with 64GB of storage.  To expand the phone’s capacity, you have to purchase a separate micro sd card, which costs $125 plus for 256GB.

Because of their A11 processors, the new iPhones have performed significantly faster than the Galaxy S8 in some tests.  They seem quicker when doing certain tasks, like copying files and multitasking.  People who use their phones to surf the web, check emails and run several apps all at once may be better with an iPhone.

The new iPhones also excel in the ability to offer 3D touch and augmented reality features for apps.  Imagine being able to look at constellations or play a video game in 3D.  Finally, the new iPhone X also is rumored to be more secure, because of its 3D Facial scanner.  The Galaxy S8 has a 2D sensor, which is less secure and more error prone.

Conclusion

If you choose one of the new iPhones or the Galaxy S8, we believe you will be pleased with your decision.  They are great phones in their own right.  One of the biggest influencers is the ecosystem you are tied to or prefer.  If you are used to the iPhone interface and iOS operating system, use iTunes, iCloud and other Apple related apps, you will be likely to stick with their products.

The same goes for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and its Android operating system.  If you like the Samsung Galaxy line, it may be best to wait.  Rumors are circulating that the new Galaxy S9 may become available in March 2019.

Either way you decide, good luck with your purchase!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related References:

  1. Macworld.co.uk “iPhone X vs. Samsung Galaxy S8.” October 2, 2017. Link to Article
  2. Techradar.com “iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy S8.” September 28, 2017. Link to Article
  3. Knowyourmobile.com “iPhone X vs. Samsung Galaxy S8 – Two Epic Phones Compared.” September 28, 2017. Link to Article
  4. Forbes.com “iPhone X vs iPhone 8: What’s the Difference?” September 17, 2017. Link to Article
  5. Techradar.com “Samsung S9 release date, news and price rumors.” September 20, 2017. Link to Article

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Email Scams of 2017

Email Scams  Email Scams

By now, you have probably heard about the different email phishing scams going around, especially if you listen to the news.  We decided to review some of the most popular ones, so that you could be better prepared.

Phishing is defined as “the attempt to obtain  Email Phishingsensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”1 

Basically, criminals pretend to be someone you trust in order to steal important financial and personal information.  They can use this information to log into peoples’ accounts, like bank accounts, to transfer funds.  Also, they can sell it to other criminals.  Phishing can be done through phone calls, emails, texts and other communication forms.

Below, we cover the top 5 phishing email scams, which we saw last year and expect to continue this year.   Many of these emails include a link you are expected to click on and enter your credentials.  For instance, you may get an email from Facebook, indicating that your password will expire, if not updated.  Usually, the link is to a fake website the criminal created.  The cyber criminal uses this info to access your account.  Because many people use the same login, the criminals can access other online accounts, like financial ones.

 

Top 5 Email Scams

Account Disabling or Suspension

You may receive an email (see example below) from a bank, e-commerce or social media site about an account suspension or closing.  For instance, a criminal pretending to be from Amazon may send you an email saying that your account will be suspended, unless you click on the included link and update your security info.  This creates a sense of urgency, because it makes people feel they have to respond quickly.

Account Suspension

Suspicious or Unusual Account Activity

Like the first scam, you may also receive an email that your online account was compromised or they detected unusual activity.  You will need to click on a link to login and secure the account.

Google Email Scam:

Suspicious Account Activity

Tax Related Scams

During the tax season, these scams increase significantly.  A criminal, who poses as an IRS representative, may send you an email about owing money or receiving a refund.  Please note: the IRS will never contact you by email or phone.  They do things the old fashion way.  They only send notices through regular snail mail.

IRS Email Scam:

IRS Scam Emails

Employer Related Scams

Usually, criminals find these scams are very lucrative.   By taking advantage of human error or insecurities, they can get valuable information about a company’s employees or clients.   One example of this type of scam would be an HR representative receiving an email from what appears to be the company’s CEO or COO asking them to put together a report with employees’ information.  Naturally, the recipient wants to respond quickly to the executive’s request and doesn’t suspect it’s a scam.

In 2016, this happened locally at Main Line Health, when an employee replied to a scam email with personal information on 11,000 of the health system’s employees. 2

Malware and Ransomware Scams

Like all of the email scams above, malware scams have the same objective: to make money.  How do the cyber criminals do it?  They trick the email recipient into clicking on a link or opening an attachment.  When they do, malware starts to load on their computer.  If they are really unlucky, they may get ransomware which will install, lock up important files and demand a payment to unlock them.  Other forms of malware will track computer users’ keystrokes and activity to collect valuable personal information and passwords.

An example of an email which may have a malware attachment:

Malware Scam Emails

How Can I Avoid These Email Scams?

If they educate themselves, people can avoid these scams.  If you know what to look for, you will be prepared.  A good rule of thumb is to never open an email or link from someone you do not know or recognize.  Also, you can ask yourself a few basic questions like have I ever been contacted by the IRS or Microsoft before?  Do they contact people this way (email, call, text, etc.)?

If you look at an email carefully, you can often see signs that it’s not legit.  The senders may misspell words or include poor quality images.  Also, you should carefully check the sender email address.  If you get an Fedex email from maryfedex@gmail.com, you know it’s not legit.  Also, criminals often shorten the website links they include in the body of their emails.  Without clicking on them, you can hover your mouse over them and see the complete link.  If an email is supposed to come from Amazon, but asks that you click on some weird looking link, you should avoid it.

Finally, to check whether or not an email is legit, you can go directly to the source.  If you receive a notification from Google, look up the company’s support number and call them about the notification.  If you get email from a company executive which looks suspicious, then contact them.  They may not be happy you called, but at least you avoided a large disaster.

 

 

 

 

 

References

  1. Wikipedia “Phishing.”  Link to Article
  2. ABC 6 “Main Line Health employees’ information compromised in email scam.” March 3, 2016. Link to Article
  3. FTC.gov “Scam Alerts.” Link to Website
  4. Fortune “Email Security: Beware These Top 10 Phishing Lures.” Link to Article
  5. NBC News “Massive Phishing Attack Targets Gmail Users.” Link to Article

 

 

 

Smartphone – Five Ways to Protect Your Device

Smartphone Hacking on the Rise

Smartphone

Do you know that there are about 230 million US smartphone users and over 2 billion worldwide?  Do you know that U.S. smartphone users spend about an hour and half each day on their phone?  For many of us, smartphones have become integral part of our daily lives.  Besides using them for email and making calls, we use them to do just about anything: banking, accessing social media and taking photos.  This means that smartphones can hold some really important personal and financial information.

Because the smartphone market is so large and these devices hold such valuable information, hackers have become increasingly focused on breaking into them.  Recently, there has been a large increase in smart phone hacking.  In the future, we expect the attacks to only get worse.

Recognizing these threats, we wrote an article about the five ways individuals can make their phones more secure and reduce the chances of being hacked.

Google Play StoreApplication Download and Installation

The first step you can take to better protect your smartphone is to be extremely careful about what you are downloading and installing.  The best rule of thumb is to only download apps from the Apple App store or the Google Play Store and not unofficial sites.

Apple does a great job of screening which apps become available through its App store.  You can be confident that the applications you install on your iPad or iPhone are free of malware and viruses.  The apps on the Google Play Store are more likely to have malware or viruses, but usually you can be confident when downloading from their store.  Google has a scanner which scans its Play Store for malicious apps.

Also, it is important to check the permissions a new app is requesting when you download it.  If a flashlight app is asking for permission to access your contacts, this should be a red flag.

 

Disable Bluetooth Bluetooth smartphone

When you can, we recommend that you disable bluetooth. Some hackers have used bluetooth to break into smartphones.  There are different bluetooth versions with varying levels of security.  The older versions have more security holes, while newer versions have become more secure.  In general, it is best to disable bluetooth when you don’t need it.

 

Find my iPhoneEnable Device Finder and Remote Wipe

If your smartphone is stolen, you want to be able to remotely track it and to delete it.  On the iPhone, you can enable “Find my iPhone” under the “iCloud” settings.  If your device disappears, you can put it in lost mode.  This locks your screen with a pass code.  You can display a custom message to help you get it back.  You can also delete everything on your iPhone, so your personal information cannot be accessed.  For Android devices, you can remotely locate, lock and wipe your phone by using the Android device manager and third party apps.

 

EncryptionEnable Encryption

While the iPhone comes with full-disk encryption automatically enabled, you will have to enable encryption on Android phones.  Basically, the encryption protects your data by requiring a password for someone to be able to access your information in a usable form.  Without that password, it would be extremely difficult to hack it.

To set up encryption on an Android, you would need to go into “Security” in the Android settings and select “Encryption.”  It may take an hour or two to encrypt the device.  Then, after this you will be asked to enter this password every time your Android device boots up.

 

smartphone Pass codeUse a Pass Code

Your phone should be set to immediately lock when not in use.  It is very important to set a pass code or biometric (finger print, face recognition, etc.) security to protect it.  If you are using a pass code, the longer the better.  If your code is six digits long, this will make it 100 times more secure than a usual four digit one.

There are locking settings you can change to increase your smartphone’s security.  For instance, immediate locking will ensure that it will be hard to access your important information.  Don’t set your phone to lock after one minute or so.  Also, you can set your phone to erase all data after a certain number of failed entry attempts.

Related References:

CNBC.com “Your Smart Phone could be hacked without your knowledge”: Link to Article

The New York Times “With Wikileaks Claims of C.I.A Hacking, How Vulnerable is Your Smartphone?”: Link to Article

Cnn.com “WikiLeaks CIA hacking claims: How worried should you be?”: Link to Article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Ways to Protect Your Important Business Data

 

 

cyber-crime

Cyber Crime’s Rapid Growth

Did you know that cyber crime costs are projected to grow to $2 Trillion in 2019?1  That is almost four times the estimated costs of breaches in 2015. According to a new report by Hewlett Packard and the U.S-based Ponemon, hackers cost the average U.S. business $15.4 million per year2.

While large corporations have sizable IT departments, budgets and resources available, recent attacks on Target and other corporations show that they are still very vulnerable.  Because they have limited resources, including less IT support, small to mid-size businesses are especially exposed to attacks and cyber criminals know this.  These businesses often do not put formal security procedures and policies in place and do not properly train their employees on security issues. They are ripe for attack.

For more information about the business of cyber crime, please view the following video:

 

Cyber Crime Types

 

Cyber crime can include viruses, malware, hacking of websites or networks, phishing & social engineering, Botnets, Denial of services attacks (DoS), stolen devices and malicious insiders.  As the most common type of attack, viruses, spyware and malware may be unknowingly downloaded when an employee opens an attachment from a malicious email or visits websites with embedded viruses or malware while at work. They can cause computers to slow down and become unstable, track user keystrokes or can sometimes spread through the company’s network scrambling any data they run into.

Phishing is becoming an increasingly common way to gain access to important business and personal information.  Typically, it happens in a business when an employee receives an email which appears to be from a higher up and asks for employee or customer information.  Thinking it is a legitimate email, the employee replies with the requested information.

Phishing Example:

 

paypal_phish_example

Cyber Attacks Could Never Hit My Business

 

Some business owners don’t think that they could ever become victims of a cyber attack.  They say the chances are very slim.  Are they really?

Of the 252 businesses surveyed by the HP and Ponemon report, 99% reported being hit by virus and malware attacks, 62% were affected by phishing schemes, 45% had stolen devices and 35% experienced attacks by malicious insiders3.

You don’t have to look far in the Philadelphia area to find recent attacks.  In March 2016, an HR representative sent the personal information of about 11,000 Main Line Health System employees to a cyber criminal4.  This representative replied to a phishing email which appeared to be from a manager.

The point is that any individual and small to mid-sized business is vulnerable to intrusion by cyber criminals.  Therefore, it is extremely important to take steps to reduce this exposure and limit the damage, which could result from an attack.  Below, we will outline some of the basic steps business and personal users can take to protect themselves and their critical data.

Ten Ways to Protect Your Critical Business Data

 

Conduct a Security Audit

 

network_security1

Before your company can put certain security policies and procedures in place, it needs to assess the current state of its IT infrastructure.  An IT services company or professional will conduct a security audit where they will look at your network setup and configuration.  They will also closely examine all of the devices and software your company uses.  Finally, they will examine your website.

The main focus will be on the vulnerabilities which exist and eliminating those.  Could someone easily hack the wireless network?  Is there any firewall to prevent malicious traffic from entering or leaving the business’s network?  What email service is the business using?  Is it secure?

One of the most important parts of the audit is identify the company’s critical data and where it resides.  Knowing this information, you can design policies and procedures meant to protect and backup up this vital information.

Set and Communicate Company Security Procedures and Policies

 

While this may seem obvious to do, a lot of small to mid-sized companies do not have formal IT policies and procedures in place.  Even if they do, they may not have communicated these clearly to their employees.

These should be clearly defined and as detailed as possible.  Should every company computer lock up and require a password to log in after 30, 60 or 90 seconds?  Who should have access to which data?  What happens if an employee leaves or is fired?

Mobile devices, like smart phones and tablets, have added to the complexity of designing a plan.  There need to be specific rules related to what information employees can access using theses devices.  There also need to be plans as to what will be done if an employee’s laptop, phone or tablet is stolen or hacked away from the office.  Some companies require that their employees’ smart phones are set up so that they can be remotely wiped, in case they are stolen.

Install a Hardware Firewall

 

firewall-networkA hardware firewall is the first line of defense for a company’s network.  It will protect a company from suspicious traffic entering and leaving the company’s internal network.  It can also limit content and websites employees can access, which will prevent malware and viruses loading onto computers.  A firewall should have an active anti-virus subscription to screen any files or traffic entering.  For specific brands, Nucleus recommends Sonicwall or Cisco firewalls.

Separate Guest and Company Wireless Networks

 

Some businesses let visitors connect to their wireless network by giving them the network key.  This is an invitation for disaster.  Once someone gets this information, they can easily access important company information.

Businesses should set up a guest wireless network which is completely separate from their own wireless network.  Also, they should avoid using a Comcast or Verizon provided router.  These routers lack the security and configuration features of enterprise grade routers.  Also, they tend to transmit a weaker wireless signal which travels less distance.

Use Strong Passwords on Every Device

 

This may seem very obvious, but unfortunately when given complete freedom to set up their own passwords, employees often choose ones which are very easy to hack.  All you have to do is look at the 2015 top login passwords to see this.  “123456,” “password,” and “12345678” were the top three5.  It doesn’t take much imagination to guess these.

In general, passwords should be at least eight characters in length and require a capital letter, number and symbol to be secure.  Employees should not use the same password across all accounts.  If a hacker figures out an employee’s email password, then he or she will be able to get into all of the employee’s banking, file sharing and social media accounts.  Think of the damage that can be done!

Regularly Update Your Operating Systems and Software

 

Windows7Update_UpToDate

This seems like a simple practice, but many businesses fail to pay attention to updates.  Recently, we saw a server which had not installed any Windows or software updates for over a year and a half.  When you are in the middle of work, it is annoying to see a pop up asking you to do an update and restart the computer.  They always seem to come up at the worst time.   It is understandable that you might ignore or close out these popups to continue working.

It is very important to do Windows and software updates, because they will help your system to be protected from malware and virus exploits.  Operating Systems and software, that have not been updated leave a door open for these exploits.  At the very minimum, you should install Windows, Adobe and Java updates on a regular basis.

Install a Reputable Anti-virus on Every Device

 

While a hardware firewall provides an outer barrier for your company’s network, an anti-virus on a PC will provide a second layer of protection in case something was able to penetrate.  An anti-virus can prevent employees from downloading or running malicious files.  While many people think that their Macs and smart phones will not get viruses, the truth is that they can be infected.

Recently, Nucleus has seen more Macs getting infected.  As the number of smart phones in the world increases rapidly, cyber criminals are looking to infect and hack them.  Therefore, it would be smart for businesses to have antivirus installed on all smart phones and Apple devices.

Limit Remote Access to a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

 

Employees are increasingly working from home or remote locations and need access to important company information.  Smart businesses limit the amount of company data employees’ have on their devices, including smart phones and they centralize their data. If employees need to access company information, they should do it through a Virtual Private Network (VPN).  This is the most secure way to create a remote connection.

Encrypt Data and Emails

 

security-and-computer

Encryption adds another layer of protection to a company’s data.  It makes it nearly impossible for cyber criminals to access information.  If an encrypted laptop were to be stolen, it would be worthless to a criminal, except as a large paper weight.  Encrypted emails are transmitted in a way that the cyber criminal has no way to decipher the message.  There are many solid encryption software products, like VeraCrypt, DiskCryptor, Folderlock and Kryptos 2.

Backup and Disaster Recovery

 

While it is important to take steps to prevent any cyber attack from happening, it is impossible to protect your business 100%.  New and more complex malware and viruses are created each day.  For this reason, it is important to have a disaster recovery plan and data backup in place in case a cyber attack happens.

Your disaster recovery plan is the overarching plan which outlines how your business will respond when hit by a number of disastrous events.  These include fires, floods, hurricanes, power outages, terror attacks, virus and malware infections, hackings and harmful employee acts.   In the case your business location(s) is(are) completely destroyed or unusable, you want to have an alternative offsite location to conduct business.  You want to designate who will communicate with everyone in the business about the next steps and which employees will be expected to show up at the alternative location.

Your data backup is a critical part of the disaster recovery plan.  We have been able to save several clients by restoring backups when their systems have been encrypted by the Cryptolocker virus and other “ransomware.”   Typically, we recommend both onsite and offsite backups.  Your backup should be frequent and automatic, so it is not dependent on anyone remembering to do it.

Final Thoughts

 

Today, cyber crime attacks are happening more frequently and causing more damage to individuals and businesses every day.  Because of a lack of resources, small to mid-sized companies are especially susceptible.  Owners and employees have only a limited amount of time to dedicate to IT security issues before their daily focus is pulled away from operations.

Cyber crime’s growing threat makes it increasingly important that businesses better protect themselves.  In order to give businesses a starting point, this blog post has covered some of the basic protective steps every owner, manager and employee should take.  After these steps, there is much more that can be done.  Our future posts will touch on these next steps.

Stay tuned!

References:

 

1 Juniper Research “Cybercrime will Cost Businesses over $2 Trillion by 2019:  Link to Article
2 Ponemon Institute “2015 Cost of Cyber Crime Study”: Link to Download the Study
3 Ponemon Institute “2015 Cost of Cyber Crime Study”: Link to Download the Study
4 ABC 6 News “Main Line Health Employees’ Information Compromised in Email Scam”: Link to Article
5 Gizmodo.com “The 25 Most Popular Passwords of 2015”: Link to Article