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Biggest Hacks in 2020

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Worldwide losses from cybercrime skyrocketed to nearly $1 trillion in 2020. That’s more than the net worth of most countries.
Run a quick search and you’ll be surprised at how many hacks occur every week. Modern security is the best it has ever been. Unfortunately, hackers are motivated to be one step ahead of all of us. Breaches resulting in credit card information hacked by the millions are quite common. Even the pandemic hasn’t slowed them down.

According to zdnet.com, the switch to businesses using remote employees has changed the hacking landscape. In 2020, up to 20% of all cybersecurity attacks were aimed at the new remote workforce. With employees and companies learning how to shift into going remote, hackers knew this weak-link was ripe for the picking.

Cyberwarfare is the battlefield of the 21st century and beyond. There are three common types of entities that create most hacks. Let’s discuss these entities, their motivations, a few of the biggest ones that happened this year, and what we can learn from the nature of those hacks.

The Forces of Evil

Simplifying things, there are basically three types of hacking profiles that are likely to engage in these nasty hacks. What most people think of first are criminals and ne’er-do-wells looking to profit from this inexcusable behavior. Money motivates them to steal credit card information or sensitive personal information. Then they sell it to sketchy third parties. On a global scale, foreign powers can, will, and have engaged in destructive hacks to disrupt economies. Often politically motivated, these crooks hope to instill unrest and frighten civilians.

Finally, some hackers just think they’re smarter than everyone else. They breach security systems because they enjoy causing chaos. Some of these hackers insist they’re working for a good cause. They focus on blowing the whistle on government projects they feel are wrong. But all too often these hacking attempts are completely random. Sometimes years of data and research is wiped out or stolen. They don’t seem like Robin Hood then!

Some of the biggest hacks in 2020

By studying past events we can learn a lot about protecting ourselves both in the corporate and private worlds. The most common attacks are usually through malware. Short for “malicious software,” malware is invasive software that finds a way into PCs and corrupts or destroys files and programs.

One victim of a malicious malware attack last year was Travelex. In January 2020, they lost an undisclosed amount of money. And an undisclosed number of private records were compromised due to the presence of malware. Everyone who has given them personal information, like credit card numbers, are now at risk.

Estee Lauder had over 440 million internal records exposed due to Middleware, and other security failures. Middleware, while not the same as malware, does add extra complications to systems. Middleware gets its name by hiding between the operating system and the applications on a PC. Hackers can then use middleware to delete, copy, or encrypt anything that passes through it.

Phishing, another hacking method, lead to damaging incidents with Virgin Media, Whisper, and Marriott throughout January, February and March. Using phishing tactics to learn password and login information, hackers gained access to countless records. Again, millions of innocent people are now at risk of credit card fraud, drained bank accounts, or identity theft.

What can we learn from this?

These are far from the only hacks. As you can see, no matter how secure we think we are, hackers can usually find a way in. Poor training and the lack of conscientiousness in user security are the biggest ways hackers gain access to information.

This results in things like ransomware attacks, data loss, and stolen files. These breaches can do serious damage to businesses and private citizens alike. Presently, despite great security measures, we still need stronger security in place on the corporate side. Better training is a necessity for employees. Middleware, which is often found by using Antivirus programs, needs to be eliminated whenever possible. Better walled gardens can be built and utilized by businesses that hold private records and data.

These attacks are unfortunate, but rather than being rueful to the victimized companies, we should demand that they learn from these mistakes. Hackers are not going to go away. You can count on them to find more and more ways to steal your data.

These major companies can afford the best cybersecurity defenses available. Yet, they are still vulnerable. If you don’t feel your cybersecurity is as strong and safe as it should be, please contact us anytime. As your Managed Service Provider, it is our job to make sure your precious data is as safe as possible.

Artificial-Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence: Better Living (and Working) through Automation

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Artificial intelligence, also referred to by the simpler term AI, has long been the holy grail of futurists, science fiction authors, and fantasists alike. Even before we established the concept of computer science, the notion of mechanized entities capable of learning, thinking, and acting on their own was a popular subject for science fiction. This is especially true of cautionary tales. 

While AI stories predate this work of art, the earliest popular demonstration in the common zeitgeist is the silent film Metropolis. Released in 1927, this movie is almost 100 years old. It deeply explores the idea of intelligent technology and its impact on our society. It also explores the ethics involved in creating machinery that is capable of awareness. 

We’re not here to discuss science fiction robots that can think and feel just like people. We’re not even going to discuss the menacing software displayed in the Terminator or Matrix franchises. Although, these are very interesting concepts. A discussion about the repercussions of AI does merit a conversation, but we’re not there yet. Not by any stretch of the imagination. That’s called the singularity, and it’s going to happen someday soon. What we’re here to discuss today is AI as we currently know it. 

Demystifying Contemporary AI 

You’re not aware of it, but you experience AI every day. Talking to your phone, Siri, and Alexa, or searching on Google or other search engines, AI tracks you. AI directs your searches based on your past search history, as well as what you’re inputting. It compiles data from users and learns their interests and habits. It then uses this info for marketing and other purposes. 

AI also exists in the business and consumer sectors. But AI in the sense of what people think of in science fiction movies certainly does not yet exist. So, what exactly is it that we have that we’re calling AI? 

AI, or Machine Learning, is any form of software or hardware technology that is capable of learning from input and results. It then uses the ability to make intuitive predictions based on what it has learned. This includes abstractly solving problems based on past tasksIt will then adjust its approach to tasks and become more efficient and effective at making decisions. It is clever, but not conscious. 

AI can be powerful. You might be wondering exactly how this business automation like this can help you. Keep reading to find out! 

Tireless Workers 

With AI capable of basic accounting functions, administration, and CRM, you can eliminate a lot of redundant tasks. Over time you’ll have less unnecessary staff and less overhead.  

Arguably, AI isn’t quite smart enough yet to handle dealing with an angry customer on the phone or in a chat, as anyone who’s tried to talk to these so-called bots will attest. But they are very well-suited for simpler tasks. 

AI can learn customer habits, allowing it to be a handy assistant to CRM, PR, and customer service employees. AI can recall information about customers, and instantly suggest go-to solutions that make sense. Efficiency is the name of the game. 

Redundant tasks, such as appointment setting, cold calling, or pesky reoccurring jobs, can also be handled by AI. This frees up skilled employees to deal with people directly as they are trained to do. 

Artificial Intelligence can be useful for business planning and logistics management. It learns from markets, business climates, and current events. It is capable of making accurate predictions and connecting relationships that analysts may not be able to notice. This makes AI programs excellent tools for business analysts, traders, and marketing experts as well. 

AI Versus Outsourcing 

Outsourced work is often of subpar quality, as reflected in the reduced price associated with it. AI responds instantaneously to notifications from customers and provides personal replies. It prioritizes deadlines with no emotional opposition nor fatigue associated with it. AI works 24/7 and doesn’t need breaks or time off. It learns from operating and repetition. While little bit of patience may be necessary when AI is put into place, it learns remarkably faster than people. This is not because it’s smarter than people, but because its “brain” is designed specifically for the tasks at hand. 

AI doesn’t need holidays, vacation pay, or anything of the sort. It never stops. It never gets bored, and it provides a far better, less emotionally charged customer experience.  

This Has Potential, Where Do I Start? 

If the prospect of tireless, intuitive business automation tool like this sounds intriguing, your next step is to figure out what your business needs are. Do a little research. Read up on how Artificial Intelligence works, and compare platforms you’re interested inGet a feel for what this technology is and where its prime applications lie. Look into where it’s used now, and notice the day-to-day things that are powered by AI. You’ll be surprised by how prolific it is. 

Or, if the whole thing is confusing for you, drop us a line. We specialize in business technology and are avid proponents of business automation. We can even provide you with advice on how to integrate Artificial Intelligence with your current staff. After all, we want to help you grow your business, not find ways to lose valuable employees. Contact us today to find out more. 

Touchless Business: A New Era

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The COVID-19 pandemic has affected individuals and businesses across the globe in a manner that rings with permanence. Many businesses that were previously successful are now left baffled as to how they should adjust their business models. To work effectively in this new age of touchless business, we need to adopt to new systems and organizational methods. 

 

How do I even begin to mobilize my business in light of current restrictions? 

 

The top priority for businesses that haven’t done so already is to establish an online presence. And they should get online fast! Establishing an efficient online storefront is the first step to attracting customers who shifted to shopping online during this pandemic. If a website is already part of your business model, then some tech solutions may be needed to handle more sales. Make your website functional enough to be a solidified option for those at home. IT solutions, such as adding a shopping cart or transitioning a POS terminal, can help adjust your online presence. 

 

For businesses who deem their online presence to be adequate but struggle with restricted capacity, touchless payment options may be the answer to your problems. What businesses have found to be convenient and successful is the installment of computer tablets as hubs for touchless payments. The prevalence of consumer tech solutions such as ApplePay, Samsung Pay, and Google Wallet have established a safe and easy way for customers to take advantage of digital tablets in physical business locations. 

 

How do I maintain effortless communication between coworkers and employees? 

 

Another struggle many businesses face in this period of touchless business is, how to effectively communicate with employees and coworkers. Scheduling business meetings in person is not exactly COVID safe. Luckily there are alternatives for maintaining a solid and reliable communication link. Platforms such as MS Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Adobe Connect, and many more have streamlined the ability to connect individuals virtually. Business meetings have, in a sense, never been easier to achieve. By cutting out the commute time for many employees, you can provide more time for scheduling important business meetings.  

 

An additional way to streamline communication efforts is to construct a working online business network. You can do so through new platforms, like Slack, Microsoft Teams/Office, and Google Hangouts. Making sure remote employees have a designated business computer to utilize during work hours is essential. It assures the success of online performance, as programs are only as good as the diligence of the employee checking them.  

 

Now that I have a working website, how do I continue to make sales and service my clients? 

 

Maintaining a business during a pandemic is one thing; soliciting new business and sales are a whole other feat. Establishing a working website is not enough to ensure the success of any business or private firm. It is merely the first step in the process of creating an engaging and attractive online presence. Not all customers you want to attract are as tech-savvy as you probably are. Being prepared to help them transition to an online client is something you can do to make this process easy for them. Older clientele may want to do business with you but aren’t sure how to use Zoom. Being able to assist them, or hiring someone who can, is a reliable way to bridge this gap and continue growing your business. 

 

Making sales during such a confusing and evolving business era can be intimidating and uncertain. Small to medium businesses are currently struggling more than ever to keep their doors open. For many, it is tough making sufficient sales to sustain the company and its employees. With every business transitioning to online services, how do you make your business stand apart? The next step for facilitating sales is to engage with your customers and their concerns. You should have a dedicated customer service person with reliable tech solutions for answering emails, fulfilling online orders, and facilitating responses to customer questions promptly. Being responsive to this kind of online interaction is essential to keeping and attracting customers. If you aren’t making the online process easy for the customer, the competition will. 

 

A Summary of How to Mobilize 

 

The touchless era is a difficult time in which to mobilize your business. But it is not impossible. Creating an easily accessible and efficient online platform for customers to enjoy and engage with, and maintaining a strong online presence is essential to moving your business into a successful space. Finding different IT tech solutionslike installing online video chat programs to continue communicationwill help affirm employee accountability as well as customer satisfaction. Finally, bringing all these aspects together to create a comprehensive and well-oiled touchless business model will assure your business has the best chance of survival and success possible. 

 

 

If you have questions about setting up online services or getting your employees to work remotely, please contact us at any time. 

automate-business-practices-using-AI

Automating Business Processes – How Can You Be Better?

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If last year taught us anything, it was that small to medium businesses need to adapt with the times if they want to stay open. Social distancing and crowd restrictions drove all of us to figure out ways to retain our clientele without dealing with them face-to-face. Online business transactions, telecommuting, and third-party suppliers became the norm. In this new ecosystem, how can we automate business processes and stay ahead of our competitors? 

Future growth trends point to business automation in every department, contactless deliveries and transactions, and more remote employees and supply chains. To stay competitive, these are the directions we need to focus on. 

The good news is that the future is here! Many large businesses are already fully automated, and their innovations are easily adaptable to your needs. Let’s take a look at some of the new “Everything as a Service” trends to give your team ideas of where you can take your business. 

Automate Business Processes through AI 

According to Google, AI support three critical  business  needs: 

  • Automating  business  processes 
  • Gaining insight through data analysis
  • Engaging with customers and employees

Whether or not you’re aware of it, AI is tracking and compiling your data and dispersing it to companies that want to use it. Right now, it’s mostly larger companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft, because they can afford to develop it. Their innovations mean you can use the same technology for your business. 

Optimize Your Sales & Marketing

Sales and Marketing tasks go hand-in-hand, so it’s only natural that they work together to maximize customer data. Automated customer-relationship management (CRM) programs gather customer information through engagement and actions. This data helps streamline your sales process, and can also be used for marketing purposes. The compiled information helps track business trends, customer preferences, top-selling items, and a whole lot more.  

Automating this process can also result in better lead generation. And the best news is that this efficient system can run at or below your current budget. Once you optimize the customer experience, you’ll be able to streamline the areas that bring in the most money. And that’s good for any business. 

Automate Pricing & Billing 

If you’ve been relying on one person to handle these tasks, and your business is growing, it may be time to look into an automated process. While pricing is usually an internal decision (supply and demand, shipping costs, holding costs, display and web promoting, etc.), billing has been outsourced for years, especially in the medical field.  

Outsourcing medical billing has been around for decades. And it makes sense. Doctors went to school to help save lives, not to check the insurance eligibility of their patients. And the HIPAA Privacy Policy makes everything even more complicated. Billing automation lets medical professionals focus on what they need to do. Automating or outsourcing will help you too. 

Outsource Service & Support

If you’re running a bakery or book store, chances are you’re not open 24/7. On the other hand, have you ever considered that you might be missing sales when someone tries to contact you during your off-hours? 

Besides businesses that require 24-hour support (Medical, Automobile Towing, IT Managed Services, to name a few), now is the time for everyone to establish a 24-hour presence. Do a little research and you’ll discover that a 24/7 answering service will cost you less than a full-time employee. And that person who answers your phone is only working 40 hours a week, minus vacation, sick time, and paid holidays. It’s worth it to make sure you never miss a call. 

Create a Virtual Storefront

Every business has a website, but can your customers purchase your goods and services directly from your homepage? Without a strong web presence, you are limiting your business to local customers only when you can potentially have global customers. The internet never sleeps, and neither should your business. 

Adding a Storefront to your current web site is not difficult at all. If you offer products or services that anyone can use, stop limiting yourself to the same group of customers. If the thought of expanding your reach makes you feel like you’re being pulled out of your comfort zone, remember that your competition has already done it. Follow the trends or you may be left behind. 

Automating Business Processes Leads to Scalability

You may not be taking advantage of your workforce scalability. There has never been a better time to hire the best employees to work remotely, from just about anywhere. Here are a few of the benefits you’ll get from scaling your employees to your business needs: 

  • Hire staff per project
  • Use the best people possible
  • Set time limits on projects
  • Get tasks done around the clock
  • Reduce your office space

The biggest benefit you’ll see from this system is gaining control of your budget. By expanding and shrinking your employee pool you’re not wasting money in-between projects. This allows you to streamline your office staff and ramp-up as your projects require. Give it a try! It may be something simple to implement that creates great results.  

It’s too early to tell if this year will be as challenging as the last one, but even if it’s not we still need to prepare for the worst. If you’re not sure how these business trends can save money and grow your business, remember that we are here to help. As a Managed Service Provider, we can show you some of the latest business developments and solutions that just may be the answers you’ve been looking for. Contact us today and let’s talk about your future.  

Are Cookies Safe

Are Your Cookies Safe?

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The holiday season is upon us and we have many things to look forward to — even if this year will be a little bit different than others. This time of year the things that come to mind include: family, holiday festivities, and of course cookies! As a Managed Service Provider, people often ask us, are cookies safe?

But we’re not talking about the kind of cookies your grandma bakes for you. In technological terms, cookies typically pop up on your internet browser. They track and store data in the deep corners of your hard drive. With lots of controversy surrounding cookies, many people don’t know if they’re a good or bad thing. You probably have seen notices regarding cookies on most major sites you visit asking permission to use cookies. This is in response to privacy laws in Europe and in many states to protect people’s personal information and browsing habits. We expect to see these notices pop up more and more frequently as privacy laws become more stringent.

In this article, we delve into what exactly these oddly-named, annoying items on your browser are. And we discuss whether or not you should be worried about them.

What is a Cookie Anyway?

Sweet and tasty cookies have been around since the 17th century. But the type of cookie we are talking about today has been around since the mid-90s. The official name is an “HTTP Cookie”. Designers at the time referred to this as a magic cookie of information. And ever since then, the name has stuck.

But what exactly does a cookie do? Cookies gather information when you browse the internet. They track what you are doing on a particular site or what you are doing while browsing in general. There are multiple forms of cookies so here are the more common types that you’ll run into on the Internet:

Session Cookie

This appears on your web browser when you visit a website and tracks information such as your login, products you view, how long you were on a particular page, and other browsing habits. These are called session cookies because they terminate as soon as you close your browser or move to another page. 

Persistent Cookie

Also known as tracking cookies, these cookies stay active even after you leave a site or close your browser. In general, these will track the sites you’re visitingbut usually have an expiration date in which they become inactive. This is one of the most controversial form of cookies since they track your information outside of their original range. However, there are benefits to these cookies, such as storing your login info so you don’t have to enter your information every time you visit your favorite sites.  

Third-Party Cookies

In general, the cookies on your computer are from the sites you visit. For example, if you visit Amazon.com, Amazon will create a cookie on your browser. Third-party cookies differ in that they attach themselves to your browser even if you’ve never visited their site. This may happen if there is a banner or another form of an advertisement on a site that you visit, even if you do not click on them. Many pop-up blockers disable this feature, although it’s not uncommon to have more than 10 third-party cookies attached to your browser after visiting a site without any sort of cyber protection. 

Should You Worry? Are Cookies Safe?

Cookies are an essential part of the ecosystem of the web, but are cookies safe? Massive amounts of small packets of information are passed around every second, and these packets usually play a role in marketing, sales, or captured analytical data. In general, cookies are harmlessor at most a nuisance. 

You might be surprised by how much of your daily life on the Internet is dependent on cookies. Don’t believe us? Go ahead and delete all your cookies on your web browser and then go about your daily business to see how many sites you now have to log into that were automatically accessed before. You’ll be surprised at how much information you’ll have to put in compared to before. 

Cookies are not as invasive as they used to be. They typically contain tiny kilobits of information that take up almost no space on modern computers. Older Internet users may have been in the habit of deleting their cookies to save space, back when computers had very small hard drives.  

Many browsers automatically block third-party cookies, so the only cookies on your computer are from sites that you’ve visited. Sometimes hackers can use certain cookies to gain access to your computer, and since third-party cookies are often weak entry points they become easy targets. Make sure your firewall and internet security is blocking hackers who might try to sneak in through these pathways. 

Bottom Line about Cookies Safety

So, now that we have a better understanding of cookies, can we conclude that cookies are safe? In short, cookies shouldn’t be an issue in most circumstances and you should be fine when accepting them. The amount of memory they use is a nonissue these days. 

However, few things in life are always straightforward, so there are two caveats. The first issue you should be aware of is that while cookies are mostly safe, there is always the chance that a cookie can be hacked and used nefariously. Second, certain operations do not allow cookies on their systems. For example,  government and medical organizations may require absolute security and prohibit cookies.

If you have any questions about cookies on your system, contact us and we’ll ease your mind. As a Managed Service Provider, we will consult with you on any restrictions your organization is required to have in place. We’ll offer you a solution that will work for you in the long run.   

Remember: there’s always the possibility that the wrong cookie may be bad for your computer or your diet! 

Upgrading Servers

Upgrading Servers Can Save You Money

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Unless you’re running a one-man operation, there’s a high possibility that your entire business runs on a server or two. If you’ve been thinking about replacing or upgrading servers or wondering how you can improve your network performance, overall, you’ll want to continue reading.

We all know that computers and other devices have to be upgraded from time to time; however, we often forget about the servers that store our data. They have never been more important than they are now. As more of our daily operations run on servers, the computer is just a device that we use to access our servers.

As we wrap up our series of section 179 tax deduction articles this month, we want to delve into a topic discussed last week: how can you use your tax deductions to your advantage when it comes to upgrading your systems?

Again, as a quick disclaimer, we are not tax experts. Take these articles purely informationally. Before you make any changes based on tax deductions, be sure to consult your company’s CFO or tax professionals.

The Times Are Changing

As technology has increased the usage of servers in our business practices, they play an important role in day-to-day activities. The main function of a server is to store data for a network of computers. With this storage unit, employees can work together, collaborate, and share projects. Whether you are aware of it or not, if you work in an office, it’s highly likely that your work is stored on a server. 

Having a server inside a building that is physically connected to other computers has been the standard for decades. However, in recent years there has been a push to allow people to connect to these servers remotely. The reasons for this vary, but there are typically two main reasons.

One reason is to allow employees to travel, yet have access to their company’s network and projects. We’ve seen this for years, especially for salespeople and executives who’ve had to travel from location to location. This is still a common practice and works well, so it probably won’t change. 

Secondly, people regularly working from a remote location need access to the servers. Recently, there has been a greater push for companies to have more of their employees work remotely. In this case, each remote employee needs to connect to the company’s servers quickly, easily, and without network interruption. 

The people in the first case are only accessing the servers when needed, while people who work from home or small satellite offices work exclusively on these servers every day. A good high-speed connection is crucial in either case. 

With the current worldwide pandemic, remote work tested companies’ servers. Businesses found out quickly if their networks and servers were, literally, up to speed. 

Understanding Your Options

If you’re finding that your server is sluggish or unstable, you have three main options:

Upgrade — This could be a software or hardware upgrade. If you’re set on keeping your current server, adding more ram or memory could make it more functional. This would be the most cost-effective option. 

Replace — While this is the most expensive option of the three, it will end up giving you greater results. Upgrading your system rather than replacing it limits you because of the aged hardware. By replacing your server, the sky’s the limit! You could literally have anything you want and often get a new warranty plan with it as well.

Migrate — This is an option that has become increasingly popular in recent years. With this, you will slowly transition to a cloud-based solution off-site, instead of having a physical server on location. This may be the best option for you if you have an operation that doesn’t demand all that much from the central system. One of the biggest pros of moving to a cloud-based solution is having zero maintenance. After all, there’s nothing physical to maintain. The hosting company and IT professionals take care of all upgrades and software maintenance so you can have peace of mind.

Now Is the Time for Upgrading Servers

Companies will be putting more and more stress on their servers as the working remote trend continues. We’re the first to admit that servers are not cheap, especially ones with the functionality needed to connect large groups of people over large distances. However, you need to make big moves to stay ahead of your competition and maximize productivity.

In addition, there is an available financial benefit to upgrading or replacing your servers now. That’s the key message of this blog — don’t forget about the tax benefits! 

Some companies are continuously looking for ways to write off their profits to avoid paying too much in taxes. Meanwhile, other businesses may have more than enough loss to help them at the end of the tax year. You still have time to make an upgrade this year and take advantage of Tax 179 benefits. If you’re looking at a loss for this year, now is the time to begin planning for an upgrade at the beginning of the year to get an early jump on tax benefits. 

Are you considering upgrading or replacing your servers? Or have you considered moving to a cloud-based solution like a virtual office? Either way, contact us today to see what your best options would be. Even if it would make more fiscal sense to do this next year, it’s never too early to start planning!

prepare for 2021 - tax + covid-19

Prepare for 2021

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We think we’re safe when we say that 2020 has been…less than ideal. After the first quarter, we quickly found ourselves — both professionally and personally — in uncharted waters. But, 2021 is just around the corner and we want to be optimistically prepared.

The continuation of this month’s series of section 179 tax deductions covers how the rapid changes of 2020 can actually benefit your 2021. The good news is that this is actually good news!

As a disclaimer, be aware that we are not tax professionals and this article should only be viewed as informational. Before making any changes related to your company’s taxes, consult with your company’s CFO or other tax professionals.

Overcoming 2020 – The Worst Crown Ever

Who would have thought this time last year that the entire world would be crippled by a tiny little organism? COVID-19 changed everything overnight. For the most part, those changes were devastating. Of course, hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their lives by the time of this writing. Many businesses have also shut their doors or drastically cut back operations.

What seemed like temporary changes (such as sending your employees home to work) soon became the new normal. Businesses like Zoom became overnight successes because of the change in the landscape. We don’t know what will happen with COVID-19 in the coming months or years. We believe, though, a lot of these changes are probably here to stay. So, your company may as well make the most out of it.

Prepare for 2021: Be Smart About Deductions

Most companies had to make changes besides simply sending employees home. Perhaps they had to change or upgrade software, purchased equipment for employees to use remotely, or simply had to downsize. These are all examples of things that can be written off at the end of the tax year.

As a refresher from our last article, the more you spend, the more you save. Even though you may have shelled out more than originally budgeted to accommodate for 2020 challenges, at least you can avoid paying tax on those expenses. What are some examples of changes in the last year you can get some benefit from?

Maybe you found that your company needed more mobile hardware to address a more mobile workforce. Write-off.

Perhaps you moved office space as the decreased workforce (either from layoffs or employees working from home) didn’t justify your former space. Write-off.

Even better, maybe you took our advice and decided to migrate to a hosted environment or virtual office. First of all, thanks for listening! Second, write-off.

If you haven’t done any of this, you still have two months to upgrade your business operations. While these deductions don’t make the upgrades free, they do make the decision much less painful in the short term. Then, the upgrades themselves make it worth it in the long term.

Prepare for 2021: Don’t Just Sit There

If you’re reading this article right now, we congratulate you on surviving in an extremely difficult environment. If you want to remain in business and even grow in the coming years, it’s time to make some upgrades. Now is the best time, as well, while you can utilize the benefits of tax write-offs.

One of these changes is the aforementioned virtual office. It essentially involves creating a virtual workspace where employees can log in and do any of the sorts of work that they would do in a physical office. The primary benefit of a virtual office is allowing your company to be flexible; giving you the option to have employees anywhere in the world and yet still be productive.

This virtual office setting not only stores data like in a traditional cloud solution, but it includes all software and line of business applications to facilitate full productivity. When administered by an experienced company such as ourselves, you end up having a very lean yet safe solution.

If you want to see how your company can get itself in a leadership position in this new climate, contact us and see how we can help put your section 179 tax deductions to work for you!

Tax 179

Writing Off Technology Purchases for 2020

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Regardless of your line of work, all businesses have one common goal in mind: to generate revenue. Of course, we all want to make a difference in the world and have satisfaction from hard work. However, if you’re not earning more than your spending, you need to make some changes. While large black numbers at the end of the year put a smile on your face, the tax bill that comes along with them usually wipes it right off. Thankfully, there are ways around giving up all of your hard-earned profits to Uncle Sam. Relief can come in the form of section 179 deductions. But what are these and how can you legally use them to write off technology purchases and maximize your company’s profits?

In our series of blogs for the month,  we will be discussing just that. Before we get too deep into the weeds, know that we’re not tax professionals, and these articles are purely informational. If you want specifics as to how Section 179 deductions can work for you, please consult accounting professionals.

Time to find a Write-Off?

 Everyone loves to talk about write-offs, though few people actually understand the specifics around them. Basically, a write-off involves reporting a business expense to the IRS to avoid taxation on the money used to pay for it.

Write-offs seem great for a business owner or manager. Though, in practice, you have to be very careful to avoid trouble with the IRS. After all, you can be sure that they will be scrutinizing any revenue they lose. You’ve probably heard of people who went a little write off crazy in the past now find themselves with 3 square meals a day for free in federal prison!

Can You Write Off Technology Purchases? 

How do you know exactly what to write off and how does this apply to technology? Basically, you can categorize business write-offs into six forms:

Business Personal Property

This includes just about anything that could move from your business base. These can range from office supplies (like pens and staplers) to electronics or even heavy equipment like forklifts. If it is relatively easy to move from one location to another, then it’s considered business personal property. Often technology upgrades will fall into this category, so you can write off technology purchases. They could include new desktops, laptops, servers, or converting everything to the cloud.

Office equipment

This category covers larger objects that you cannot easily move. For example, you can think about larger printers, medical diagnostic machinery, etc. If not covered under business personal property, you can write off technology purchases, here.

Machinery

This is really a category for anything else that produces for your company. Examples in this category might include industrial machinery that you couldn’t just put on the back of a pickup truck. These would usually include the sorts of large machines that you would find in a factory or business like that.

Business vehicles

This is a category that could get someone in trouble quickly. A vehicle, such as a car or truck, purchased by the company and only used for company purposes at any given time falls into this category. Sometimes, a vehicle is used for a combination of work or personal purposes. If that’s the case,  report the percentage of the time the vehicle is used for business versus personal trips.

Property

This includes any buildings or land that your company owns and is used exclusively for business purposes.

Capital improvements

By definition, capital improvement is a structural change or restoration of property that will enhance its value, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses. This does not include any sort of work you do to a property. For instance, the addition of an air conditioner or furnace could be considered capital improvement while doing interior decoration is not. New cable runs to enhance Internet access to your building may also fall into this category.

Tax Write-offs Are Income!

For many of us, tax returns are a bonus. Perhaps if you get one, you take that money to go by a new television or go on vacation. However you use it, most of us consider tax returns a little bonus, not something in our personal budgets.

This should not be the case with businesses. Section 179 deductions are not bonuses, but rather strategic ways of not paying too much in tax. One of the reasons that good tax people are worth their weight in gold is they save your company from paying too much in taxes.

A good company will factor in write-offs when making their budgets and factoring quarterly and yearly profits. For some companies, particularly small companies, those write-offs might be a large portion, if not the entirety, of their profits for the year!

Write off Technology Purchases to Plan for the Future

While many write-offs are incidental or just factoring in day to day business expenses, planning well can make a huge difference in future projects. For example, if you’re in the black more than you anticipated this year, take the opportunity to refresh your technology, consider moving to the cloud, implementing virtual office space, or making server upgrades. By doing something like this, you can make sure that you are benefitting your business while still turning a profit.

The IRS put section 179 in the tax code for the purpose of letting businesses do business without punishing them to death with taxes. They know that if there is an incentive for companies to spend, it will work out well for everybody in the end. So, don’t be afraid to make investments before this crazy year comes to an end. If you need help to strategize your next project, just reach out to us.

working from home

The Shrieks and Chills of Working from Home

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This year has been…interesting, to say the least. One minute businesses were running normally. Seemingly overnight, many of us got the work-from-home position we always wanted. Within and beyond the pandemic, many companies have been transitioning portions of their workforce to work remotely. As technology marches forward, the image of the modern office changes with it.

That being said, cybersecurity is completely different working from home versus an office with dedicated IT support to set up and maintain all computer systems. Cyber thieves are all too aware of this and have acted quickly to take advantage of these new vulnerabilities.

This final Cyber Security Month article discusses protecting yourself and your business from the new threats lurking at home.

Security Dangers Working From Home

When working from home, we generally can’t use the same equipment we enjoyed in the office. Many businesses told their people to use their personal computers when they scrambled to send them home in March. Even if they’re using traditional security techniques, working online makes them more vulnerable to attacks.

For example, maybe they’re relying on the standard Windows firewall. There’s a reason Microsoft constantly pushes security updates to cover the holes in the OS exposed by hackers. This firewall is simply not secure. Perhaps they are extra responsible and installed a computer grade antivirus program. That’s fine against some automated threats, though not for active hackers trying to get access to the system.

Additionally, with many kids learning at home, that same computer may now have additional programs that create vulnerabilities. Many school districts are using software that has had breaches in recent months.

Finally, there’s the latest trend for remote work: VPNs. While some people swear by it for security, last week’s article focused on all the reasons VPN security isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Options to Create a Secure Environment Working From Home

When possible, it’s best to provide the computers and other devices that your employees need when working from home. That way you have complete control of the programs they use and how you set up and maintain their systems. This is often, however, too costly and complex to supply and control systems used in the office and remote.

You could also deploy a relatively new option: a virtual office (or hosted desktop solution). Essentially, this creates a secure place online for employees to log in and do their work from home or any other remote location. This is different from a VPN because a VPN protects only the connection itself, whereas a virtual office gives you a safer harbor, of sorts, to do all your work and store files. This can be extra effective as you know who you’re dealing with from beginning to end and if any sorts of problems arise, they can be fixed from a single source.

Who You Gonna Call?

If the idea of supplying your employees with company-owned devices or the setup and maintenance of a virtual office seem overwhelming, don’t worry! Even many large corporations find this to be too difficult or time-consuming to do on their own. In fact, a recent study showed that more than half of all of the companies surveyed use external services to help with their IT needs, and that number goes up significantly with a larger percentage of their workforce working remotely.

This is complicated stuff and no one expects someone from a nonrelated field to be a pro, which is exactly why we work so hard to make sure these processes and services are as seamless as possible for our clients. We’re a managed service provider — this is what we do. We make sure that when some specter hangs overhead and requires your company to have your employees work remotely (even on a moment’s notice), we can be there to make the transition as smooth as possible. Even if you currently have some sort of remote work arrangement in place currently, we can assess your current setup and make sure that you are optimized for what the business world may throw at you today or in the future!

VPN Security

VPN Security: Trick or Treat?

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If you’ve been on the internet lately, you’ve probably seen pretty aggressive advertising for VPN services. On paper, they seem like something that can give you anything you would want in your online browsing in terms of security and access.

Continuing our Cyber Security Month series of articles, we’ll be covering this apparent modern miracle of internet browsing. As businesses increasingly move to a digital work environment, web security is more important than ever. With that in mind, is VPN security a true treat…or just a trick?

VPNs: As Sweet as Free Candy

Before we get into the benefits of VPNs, we should probably explain what they are. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. They essentially create a tunnel for your web browsing by giving you a (usually) local server to log into. This then provides access and  directs your web traffic. Not only is the information to and from the server encrypted, it appears as though the server is browsing the sites, not you.

This can be beneficial for you as a browser. Even if someone were spying on your personal connection, they would only see you connecting to a single server, not the specific pages you visit. You can also make it appear like you’re browsing from another location by changing the IP address. Because of this, you can view sites like Netflix and see content not available in your own country. Additionally, you can avoid internet censorship in countries that tend to have more restrictive regulations, like China.

These services are generally low in cost, especially if you purchase longer subscriptions. Actually, there are several options that offer basic services for free and only charge for premium options. Wow! This all sounds great! So, is there any catch?

VPN Security: A Razor in Your Apple

Everyone wants digital security, but just like with anti-virus software, a single program will never keep you fully safe.  Many users  don’t understand the natural limitations of VPNs, putting too much faith in them, particularly free versions.

For starters, no matter what the ads tell you, VPNs do not give you 100% security on the web. While someone spying on your network may not be able to see what you’re doing, the websites you visit sure do! If the site uses cookies, they attach themselves to your computer, not your IP address, so they can still affect you. Also, you don’t know what sort of security protocols the sites you visit have. In fact, VPNs can give you a dangerous sense of security when you should always be vigilant. For example, if you visit a nefarious site and give them your credit card information, your VPN can’t help. Even if you send your information to a legitimate site, your VPN is  powerless if that site gets hacked.

Another issue is VPNs increase the size of a hacker’s target. In the past few years, hackers have put more energy into breaking into larger targets to increase the payoff. Why steal the fish when you can steal the fish market, so to speak? VPN services provide a juicy target since access to those servers means having the browsing information of many users. This exact scenario took place in 2019 when NordVPN servers were hacked, leaving any and all traffic accessible for a period of a few months! If that happened to one of the biggest names in the game, think about how safe you could be!

Stay Safe at Home

While VPNs are far from a perfect solution, the idea behind them has some merit, namely in that by hiding and encrypting your connection, it makes it that much more difficult to have your data compromised. There are still ways to improve on this technology, though.

One of the best ways is to use a virtual office. This entails a complete virtual desktop provided to anyone with the credentials to log in. This can include everything from productivity software (such as MS Office) to actual data storage. This is a much more secure option for a variety of reasons. First of all, you log into one specific, secure system versus going from website to website. Also, this is a dedicated solution, allowing you to login with full confidence knowing who is handling your connection and data. Lastly, virtual offices are often administered by actual human beings, not just software, allowing any and all threats to be addressed in real-time.

While VPNs make your internet browsing safer, that’s like saying eating five pieces of candy instead of six prevents diabetes. If your business plans on doing any sort of remote or virtual connection, take a look at a virtual office. Don’t leave the setup and administration to just anyone. Contact us today to see just how quickly and safely you can get your employees connected without relying solely on tricky VPN security.