Working From Home? – Some Practical Guide’s

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With the increase in numbers of people self-isolating due to the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis, there has been an increase for businesses in getting their staff working from home.

In just a few weeks, working from home has moved from a luxury to a new way of life for many employees. Although we understand that the crisis brings many concerns in terms of health and the wellbeing of staff, businesses are also struggling with how to maintain their operations in the face of this unprecedented event. With many companies closing their offices for now and asking staff to work from home as much as possible, businesses are asking for practical advice on how to achieve this. This guide will hopefully address some of those questions.

Connectivity

One of the key elements to home working is have a good reliable Internet connection. So making sure staff have adequate broadband facility to enable them to do their job from home is essential. This can be achieved by using Fibre Broadband or 4G. However, you need to first examine what you need the connection for.

  • Are you connecting back to the main office via VPN and Remote Access?
  • Are you using cloud servers and services like SharePoint and Microsoft Teams?
  • Does your company house on-premise servers for emails, file sharing and databases?
  • Are you using videoconferencing to manage meetings?

You could have one or more of these needs in order to allow the homeworker to be productive and it would mean the more services the greater the bandwidth needed. A solution could be, deploying 4G and getting staff to exclusively use that for connecting their computer to the Internet and therefore not sharing bandwidth with the rest of the household. This can be costly if unmanaged, however the solution would be to invest in a Unlimited Data Plan with the mobile provider. As an alternative and if your employee isn’t on Fibre Broadband is to ask them to Upgrade to Fibre and make a one-off juster to cover the cost in doing so.

Computer Equipment

Hardware technology has changed over the years, from big box computers that sit under your desk to single board computers that sit in the palm of your hands.

Businesses have a couple of options here in terms of what they do for staff working from home.

  1. Purchase a low cost computer, preloaded with all the resources a homewoker would need and have it shipped to the employees door. This obviously puts an overhead on the costs for the company, however it insures that the right tools and security are being put in place to allow staff to work efficiently and safely.
  2. Allow the employee to use their own home computer. This is a more cost centric approach and is quickly deployed. However, you don’t have the same controls on security and accountability as option 1.

In either case, security is paramount and having an IT support solution in place would overcome many of the legal issues in resolving this. However, if you felt that option 2 was a faster and more cost efficient way forward, a monthly small business support plan could be used to cover them and provide all the technical support needed.

Software

The software needed to enable users to work from home varies on your business sector and model. However, most office staff who are being asked to work from home need the “Essentials”. This is office applications, email, and accounting software. As with all of these guides cost has to be a consideration, here are some suggestions:

  • Office 365 Business Premium – A monthly subscription which provides all you would need for office applications, email and collaboration.
  • Secure Hosted Exchange – Based on a subscription service, Hosted Exchange, provides access to emails via both client software like Outlook and also via a browser specifically, with security, data retention and backup built-in.
  • Kashflow Accounting – Is a cloud based accounting package with no user limitations, meaning on-premise staff and homeworkers dealing with the accounts, billing and purchasing can do so at no additional cost.

There are alternatives to those suggested here like OpenOffice as your office application suite, GMail for your emailing system and Sage Cloud for your accounting. However, our suggestions are the solutions that most small businesses could deploy quickly and efficiently and switch on or off as the need arises, also in terms of manageability.

Printing

Many, many businesses feel that hard copy is the only resolution to getting information in front of their customers. This is not the case, you should use more cost effective methods in getting contracts, flyers and information in front of your customers. Here are just a few tips.

  • Go paperless with invoices, purchase orders and reminders, by emailing these, not only do you shorten the time recipients receive these, but also reduces your human contact current recommended by the government.
  • Send letters and contracts via email in secure PDF format.
  • Send large attachments via online services like mailbigfile.com, again using secure methods.
  • If working together on documents, share it via OneDrive with work colleagues, so you can work collaboratively and reduce the need in printing draft copies.

If you have no choice but to print an item because of the nature of your work, then you may need to have VPN access back to your office so that you can do this securly.

Meetings & Collaboration

Meetings are important to all aspects of your business life, now more than ever. All of the personal contact you might have once engaged and even enjoyed has now stopped. From customers to suppliers and from staff meetings to training, you are asked to use alternative methods. Here are some solutions that you can employ to help you with this task.

  • Skype – Is a very usable, easily deployed solution in having 1:1 meetings, it can be used from computers or mobile devices in engaging with colleagues.
  • Zoom – Is an cost effective Videoconferencing tool that allows participants to hold multiple meetings and presentations. sessions can be recorded and setup in advance or as an ad-hoc one.
  • Microsoft Teams – Allows businesses to get staff connected, work in a collaborative way integrating their Office 365 environment into one place. It also brings videoconferencing facilities to businesses for internal communication via most devices.
  • Facebook Messenger – Can be used for simple voice or video discussions where companies allow it. This provides a low cost solution with a bit more of a social element, which some companies may find useful for staff moral.

Security & Data Protection

Even though these are difficult times and we want to be able to keep moving forward, we must not become relaxed in our efforts in compliance and Data Security. As such we need to make sure that our businesses are protected from Legal Complications and Data Breaches. Here are some simple guidelines.

  • For employees and employers, check that your Cyber Insurance covers you and your staff to work from home.
  • In some cases it might be required to provide a Home Working Policy covered in your IT Policy.
  • Companies need to make sure that the IT used meets the same standard of security as it would do at work.
  • All personal devices used must be patched & updated.
  • All devices must be locked to maintain Privacy & Confidentiality.
  • Updated anti-virus & security tools must be employed
  • The use of Virtual Private Networks (VPN) must be used at all times.
  • Create different user login’s on home computers for work use.
  • Use secure browsers like Firefox and Google Chrome

The security landscape isn’t changing because of the coronavirus, it is actually getting worse with Phishing attacks on the increase, so If in doubt, employ an IT team to manage your IT systems and resources and training.

Further Advice

Please read our advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19) and staff who need to self-isolate, https://www.rlscomputers.co.uk/news/?p=668. If you want to setup facilities for your staff to work from home, please give us a call on 01553 776937 or email support@rlscomputers.co.uk.

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Please follow the Government Guidelines on social distancing and Stay at Home during this crisis.

https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
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Broadband Providers – Email Settings

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Here is a list of all major Broadband providers email settings. The list isn’t verified so please check to make sure they are the most up-to-date details available. PlusNet BT TalkTalk Sky Post Office Virgin

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Advice for Businesses

As the number of reported cases of the virus increases, organisations are worrying about their work force and business continuity. This article is advice and practical steps you can take in your business on how you can best work and use IT for members of staff who need to self-isolate.

What is Coronavirus

Coronavirus or COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

The advice given by the NHS is stay at home for 7 days if you have either:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly

How will this affect your Business?

If your business has employees who shows signs of the symptoms, the advice given at the time of writing this article is to self-isolate for 7-days. This means to stay at home and isolate yourself from contact with people, this could mean businesses loose key personnel from work. So how can you use technology to provide business continuity with your office staff?

What You Can Do?

  • Consider reducing the amount of contact with your customers, use email more efficiently
  • Consider using VoIP services to communicate to customers, by doing so, customers can still contact the company and calls will be diverted to key sales and technical advisors even though they are working from home.
  • Review your Work from Home Policy and make sure you are covered under GDPR and the DPA 2018
  • Consider implementing remote working by using cloud services like Azure and Office 365, staff can work from home and access files and documents and collaborate with others.
  • Use communication tools like Skype and Microsoft Teams to have branch meetings, training sessions, discussions.
  • Setup VPN access so that your staff can access on-premise servers and resources
  • Use social media more effectively for advertising and updating customers on your own COVID-19 procedures.
  • Use social media to speak to your customers by using Live Streaming services on Facebook and YouTube.
  • Smartphones can be used to connect with the back office and customers with tools like SharePoint, Teams and Skype.

Conclusion

Companies should consider what technology can be employed to support those who must work from home during the crises and self-isolation. Using readily available IT resources like Office 365, Skype and social media can all be used to guarantee continuity in your business.

Further Information

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Admin Roles on Social Media

There has been a recent post about an alleged local sex offender and want to point out that although this is an appalling crime, one that I hope the police are fully investigating, it is actually a criminal offence (amongst other acts, under the Communications Act of 2003) to post information about these crimes regardless of whether they are true or false.

I am actually not going to discuss this ongoing investigation or the laws. Instead, the purpose of my post is to educate people of the role of an admin on these social media pages and the importance of managing them correctly and professionally and within the confines of rules set down by the platform providers.

Using Facebook as an example, they have a whole section on community standards and how users should post respectfully and take into consideration all those using the same platform. For example, Facebook have a section 13 titled “Hate Speech” that defines what is the rationale behind this policy and therefore admins must adhere to it explicitly. If an admin does not apply the Facebook rules and policies set down, in managing a page to these standards the page could be taken down and an admin could actually be held accountable (albeit partially) for the content and not complying.

I appreciate this makes an admin job very difficult where they have to weigh up the difference between what is socially acceptable and what can be seen as personal feelings or opinions. However, the admins role is a matter of fact and must be taken very seriously indeed. it also means that admins are put under extreme pressure by these social media platforms to manage and make sure that the page and posts are all fair and run within the rules with no exceptions.

The last point I want to make is about how admins are treated managing these pages. I get calls and emails from people all over asking for my advice in regard to this matter and my advice is clear. Using the same rules laid down by these social media platforms that the admins have rights too, they shouldn’t be abused, there should be no hate crimes against them for managing these pages within the guidelines set out by the provider and those people who make crimes against admins face prosecution under Hate Crimes. The Crown Prosecution Service defines a hate crime as a range of criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility or demonstrates hostility towards victims disability race religion sex or sexual orientation or transgender identity, furthermore a hate crime can include verbal abuse intimidation threats harassment assault and bullying as well as damage to property.

So, to conclude if you are going to admin a page then you do so within the confines of the rules set up by that platform provider. furthermore, those who choose to publish posts on these pages must also comply with the rules set out with the provider and the laws within the UK.

References

Facebook Community standards: https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards/objectionable_content

Crown Prosecution Service: https://www.cps.gov.uk/hate-crime

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No Deal Brexit – GDPR & Data Protection

As you know on Thursday 31st October the UK is scheduled to leave the EU. But what does that mean in terms of EU laws and GDPR?

Data protection has been a major topic of ours over the last couple of years with a focus on becoming compliaint with the new regulations. This has meant implementing GDPR projects in making sure companies comply with the new regulations.

The question we now get asked a lot is, so will I have to start again?

As you know The GDPR is an EU regulation. A no-deal Brexit would mean the end of the EU GDPR in the UK, we have already adopted GDPR into UK law my absorbing it into the Data Protection Act 2018. The law in most respects, is the same as the EU GDPR, albeit with some contextual changes. However, advice from the ICO is “The UK is committed to maintaining the high standards of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and the government plans to incorporate it into UK law after Brexit”.

video courtesy of ICO.gov.uk

From the EU’s perspective, the UK will become an external country. This will have implications for international personal data transfers and for dealing with individuals based in the EU and EEA. What this means is that some mechanisms such as standard contractual clauses and documentation may be required, and for larger companies that operate in the EU you may need to appoint a European Representative.

So in summary, some companies may need to tweak employment and sales contracts after Brexit and a review of Privacy Policies and Data Handling Procedures is also our recommendation.

You can get more information and advice on Data Protection and a No-Deal Brexit from the ICO website. https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-protection-and-brexit/data-protection-and-brexit-for-small-organisations/

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Windows 7, Windows 2008 Server and Office 2010 End of Support

If your business is still using Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 (Inc. Small Business Server 2008), then now is the time to consider your options on upgrading.

Microsoft is officially dropping extended support for all of these on January 14th 2020. So you need to get a action plan in place in plenty of time so your business is prepared and to reduce downtime in your business workflow.

We would also like to add that Microsoft Office 2010 is also End of Life come October 13th 2020, this not only has the same outcome as the Operating Systems but also new features are now available in Office 365 upgrades.

Does this mean my Windows computers & servers will stop working?

Solutions

When Windows Operating System reaches end of support, your computers and servers will still work. However, Microsoft will no longer provide security patches and updates. Whilst you could continue to use your unsupported computers and servers, this puts your business at a greater risk of viruses, vulnerabilities and compliance.

The answer is simple, upgrade to Windows 10 Pro and Windows Server 2019. There are many paths to this solution, one of which includes being under our Enterprise Managed Services and let us roll-out your upgrade. Move some of your infrastructure to the “Cloud” with Azure & SharePoint. We can move your legacy Exchange 2008 Server into the cloud and provide you a Managed Hosted Exchange platform including a migration plan so you will have little to no downtime, rather than investing in a new server.

Microsoft Office 365 subscription offers the latest version of the office suite and is updated on a regular basis. You still can purchase the office suite as a one-time purchase per licence however this limits you to that version.

Compare Office 365 subscription with Office 2019

Office 365 SubscriptionOffice 2019 One-Off Licence
Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint,
OneNote plus Publisher, Access
and other essential business tools
Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint,
OneNote
Free UpgradesNo Upgrades
Multiple Devices per UserOne Licence
1TB Cloud Storage per userN/A
SharePoint ServicesN/A
Managable Security ComplianceN/A

If you prefer, we can also provide new computing solutions and on-premise servers running the latest Windows OS from Fujitsu, that are energy efficient lowering the cost to run them and are cost effective. Or a combination of both, it really depends on your needs.

To learn more or arrange a evaluation of your IT, please contact Rob Lucas on 01553 776937 or email info@rlscomputers.co.uk.

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GDPR – One Year on

This time last year saw the introduction to the new Data Protection law in the UK titled the General Data Protection Regulations. The new regulations introduced severe penalties to companies who have broken the law, where they can be fined 20 million euros (£17.6m) or 4% of their annual global turnover – whichever is larger.

The new law is now a year old and organisations are asking, so what has happened with it all? This article hopes to answer that question.

Last year, we have seen the UK adopt the GDPR into UK law. As GDPR is an EU law there needed to be provisions for how it applies in the UK. So in 2018 we saw the old Data Protection Act 1998 be upgraded to the Data Protection Act 2018 or DPA 2018 as it has been dubbed.

So, who has been hit with the new fines since the new law? The answer is no one in the UK, even thou according to a BBC Technology post “More than 14,000 data breaches have been logged since the introduction of tough new data laws…”, further more the posts states that “Complaints from the public have also doubled, from around 21,000 to 41,000”.

Other than the new stiff penalties, the ICO has also implemented fines for non-payment of their fees. The message here is that those who didn’t pay risked a fine. This was further addressed this year when the ICO produced a trend report to show which sectors had been issued with fines.

However, what we have seen is a different trend which is more worrying than not paying a fee at all. This trend is those who pay a fee and don’t know why they are even paying it or even worse not understanding the legal framework or how to comply with it. In my opinion, this is where the system has failed organisations in not informing or promoting the new law to organisations.

So what’s next? I predict that you will probably see some of those data breaches resulting in large penalty fines in the next year and that as they do more organisations will take a moment to get to grips with the new law.

Organisations wanting to know where they stand with DPA 2018 can get in touch for more advice or they can read the guide on the ICO website https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/.

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Microsoft Email Scam

This is not necessarily a new scam but more cleverly designed and worded.

Email Scam Example

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The email is urging the recipient to act FAST and sign-in with their email credentials with limited time to react, it stresses that your email account will be DISABLED if you don’t react. Note, it is sent with a level of urgency by using UPPERCASE subject line and noting you have until the NEXT DAY. These are all techniques used by cyber-criminals to get you to react to the message. Furthermore, you note that the email is signed by the EMAIL ADMINISTRATOR and refers to MICROSOFT to further strengthen the trustworthiness of the message and encourage users to accept the email is real.

 

This is a targeted scam to businesses to gain access to users email accounts by using a strategy that not only targets the individual but an entire department. By sending an email to say sales@ or info@ the cyber-criminal is targeting multiple people at the same time knowing that someone in that department may actually open and react to the email.

In the past cyber-criminals would target an individual with these kinds of scams by emailing an individuals name (say tom@, dick@ or harry@), but by targeting departmental email accounts, the cyber-criminal has a greater chance of someone within that department opening the email and clicking the links or opening the attachments.

By training staff to identify scam emails like this, would dramatically reduce the threat landscape for these emails and stop your IT infrastructure from being exploited. RLS Computer Services Ltd. can deploy systems to reduce scam emails, install malware detection systems on your PC and install countermeasures and procedures to reduce any impact if a threat was executed by an employee.

The current climate in cybercrime isn’t going to change, so stop taking unnecessary risks with your data & let us keep it safe.

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Latest Email Scam – Sextortion

We have received many reports from customers who have received emails claiming that a cyber criminal has hacked their PC and gained footage from their webcam of explicit sexual acts. They threaten that unless they pay $xxxx (usually in Bitcoin currency) that they will leak this video onto the Internet and activate malware that they have installed on their PC.

Furthermore, In the email subject line you may also note that they have included a previously used password from a website that the user has accessed, this is to further strengthen your belief that this is real and solidify their attack on you.

First, we want to reassure everyone these are hoax, Phishing emails, designed to get you to part with your cash and create fear to make you engage in a knee-jerk reaction to what seems to be a terrifying attack on your privacy.

How to stay safe

Here are a few tips on what to do:

  • Never pay anyone in Bitcoin or react (or interact) with a scammer.
  • Never click a link or open an attachment to scam emails demanding a ransom.
  • Always use complex passwords for the sites you use, especially ones with personal identifiable and sensitive information (i.e. Social Media, Banks, Shopping Sites, etc.)
  • Only access sites that are secure (with the padlock and starting with https://)
  • Never reply to a scam email.
  • If you think your password has been compromised in anyway, change it.
  • If you have gone too far and divulged your bank or card details to a scam email or rogue website, then you must inform the bank immediately.

If you want to know more about how to stay safe online please visit https://takefive-stopfraud.org.uk/

If you have been a victim of fraud then report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040 or visit https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/reporting-fraud-and-cyber-crime

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Our GDPR Compliance Project

The General Data Protection Regulations is coming - are you ready?

Protecting our customers’ data is a high priority for us here at RLS Computer Services. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect in May 2018, we see this as an opportunity to strengthen our commitment in the area of data security.

What is the GDPR?

In the UK, the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) is a law introduced to protect personal data stored on computers or in an organisation filing systems. Its purpose was to control the way information is handled and gave people “Data Subjects” legal rights over the purpose, lawfulness, accuracy, period and what information was held about them.

Since the birth of the DPA, technology has moved on dramatically. Social media, Internet presence, mobile technology and CCTV have all emerged and grown and the act is long overdue an overhaul.

Enter, The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force 25 May 2018, the new law applies to data processing carried out by organisations operating within the European Union (EU), It also applies to organisations outside the EU that offer goods or services to individuals in the EU. The government has already decided that “Brexit”, will not affect the commencement of the new law, in fact we “may” also see introduced on the same day the UK’s Data Protection Bill, as the Data Protection Act 2018, effectively implementing the GDPR into UK law.

So simply put, GDPR, and the forthcoming Data Protection Act 2018, expand the privacy rights granted to data subjects (EU/EEA individuals) and place greater obligations on organisations who handle personal data of those individuals (data controllers and processors), wherever those organisations are based.

What we’re doing to comply with GDPR?

The task of compliance can be long and complex, so we have taken steps to make changes to our policies, procedures and systems to ensure that we comply with the Regulation and continue to put data protection first.

Some of the steps we have taken and are taking include:

  • mapping all data handled by us and our suppliers
  • analysing GDPR requirements against our current processes and policies
  • making changes to our policies and procedures in line with requirements
  • making appropriate changes to our software tools and services
  • making sure our suppliers (“Processors”) are also compliant
  • reviewing and updating contracts, as and where appropriate
  • training all staff on the requirements of GDPR and our data privacy procedures.

But be assured, Organisations must ensure that they are compliant with the provisions of the new regulations when it comes into force, however the requirement to be compliant doesn’t end on 25 May. While there are a tick list of things to be done, our approach is not only to become compliant, but also reach beyond and gain certification in cyber security which will in turn assure our customers of compliance with our implementation to “Privacy by design and default”. This means we will implement technical and organisational measures to provide customers assurance of our security standards .

We hope to have all our policies and procedures in place before the 25 May and will keep you posted on our developments.

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