We always recommend that our clients install a UPS along with their server or business critical PC, but often we get asked the question why it is necessary and do they really need it.  Today, we want to explain how a UPS works and why it is an important part of your network and IT infrastructure within your company.

UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply.  It can also be known as a battery backup.  The job of your UPS is to provide backup power in the event of a power cut or voltage drop it can also stop dangerous electrical spikes or surges damaging your equipment.  The battery power within the UPS is then used to safely shutdown your server in a controlled manner to protect it.   A UPS could also be chosen with a correct size of battery to allow continued operation until a generator has started up in the event of a power cut, allowing safe operation until the generator takes over providing power to your premises.

A UPS can have other electronic equipment connected to it to protect other systems as well.  This is where calculations are carried out to determine the size and model of the UPS required to provide enough power to shutdown all systems connected to the UPS.  This is why it is important at the point of any new server or replacement server work or critical device that we liaise with our clients to determine if there are any other mission critical systems within their network that they may want to include within their UPS protection.  For example, some clients required their phones system to continue operating on the battery power and be able to be turned off in a controlled manner to avoid damage of an uncontrolled shutdown from a power cut.

So, now the why do you need one.  Let us explain what would happen to your server if a power cut were to happen with no UPS.  If we explain it first in terms of working on your PC and creating a new file.  You’re half way through saving the file and power goes out.  The PC hadn’t quite finished writing the new file to your hard disk and has stopped half way through.  You will have more than likely lost this document and any work carried out on it.  Losing one file can be frustrating and probably lost time of around an hour let us say for this example’s sake.  If we now think of our server, which is being accessed by numerous users and is responding to and actioning numerous process requests from these users’ devices that are connected to it.  This means they are constantly writing data about every single one of these requests.  With a server, it will be a lot more than just one file that is corrupted!  It could be a database used by all staff and require specialist IT support to repair it after an uncontrolled shutdown and this will all require intervention from your IT support to resolve the issues.

This is why we recommend installing a UPS from the start with your server.  The relatively small capital investment in the UPS hardware can potentially save you more hours of IT support than the cost of the UPS device itself.  You could potentially see your return on investment after just one power cut!  As you are able to start up where you left off once power returns because your server was able to shutdown in a controlled manner.

However, a UPS requires maintenance and monitoring to ensure that it is still working as required.  As the device ages, it may need a replacement battery to ensure it can hold adequate charge to protect the systems connected to it.  As part of our advanced remote server monitoring software we are able to receive notifications from our client’s UPS devices which may have battery warnings, loses communication with the device or are no longer able to provide sufficient power for the duration the device needs to safely run or for a controlled shutdown.

If you have any questions about your own UPS or would like to explore getting a UPS installed after reading this post please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD and let’s get IT working for YOU.

Here at MJD, we have always strived to look for increased efficiencies and improvements that can be implemented to better the experience for our clients.  With everyone’s increasing awareness on their impact on the environment as you’ll probably be aware MJD started using electric vehicles almost 3 years ago.  We decided we’d take our environmental activities to the next step so let us take you through some interesting and thought-provoking ideas that you can incorporate into your IT usage to decrease your impact on the environment and how the way we operate helps reduce our clients IT environmental impact.

Have you ever considered the environmental impact of your email inbox?  That’s right, we mean your inbox where you receive your emails on a daily basis.  It is a common misconception that it is harmless to store every email and send a quick email, because it doesn’t take up physical space and is so easy to file away.   However, did you ever consider the energy used to send that email or to store that email in your file archive?

A recent BBC article (link below for further reading) explored this and reported that if every person in Britain simply sent one less thank you email we could save 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year!  The carbon footprint of an email, comes from the electricity used by all the devices required in the process of sending an email.  The server that sends the email, the server that receives the email, the router in your network, each PC receiving the email.

Now, each individual email has an extremely small impact, but this sparks the discussion of how our behaviour with our IT infrastructure can affect the environment.  It is the same for storing an email, this takes up space on your PC or server, and maybe also space on your back up device.  This means it’s one more file to store and back up, which if you combine this with everyone in your organisation, equates to more electricity used to store and back up the email, this can also save you money in the cost of your backups as they are often determined by storage requirements.

In the grand scheme of things, a reduction in the emails you send has a relatively small effect on the countries overall carbon emissions.  However, there are more impactful ways we as businesses can contribute to making a difference through extending the lifetime of our devices.  Here at MJD, we always strive to make sure our clients get the most out of the investment in their devices, however, sometimes it no longer becomes economically viable to repair a machine.  In this instance, we always offer device recycling and we work with a local charity, ReBoot who repurpose the PC for less intense situations or break down the equipment to their individual parts and repurpose what can be used and recycle what can’t.

We want to take this a step further and work with our clients to actively seek out opportunities earlier in the devices lifetime to help extend its life and therefore the need to purchase new equipment and recycle the old.  We will be getting in touch with our clients over the coming months to discuss with them potential areas for improvement now which would extend the life of the device to try and help our clients increase the return on investment of their devices further while also doing their part for protecting the environment. This in the long term will also save capital costs on renewing devices, the only exception would be where a device is inefficient and needs to be replaced.

Another option can be using refurbished devices, now stock and availability of certain types of devices and specification vary daily therefore, if this is an option you wish to explore with us, we will find out what our suppliers have available and offer you options at the time.  This is also a viable option and we can discuss how this would match your requirements both specification and environmental factors to see what options we can find for you.

In addition, at MJD we’ve always taken the approach with our vehicle fleet and site visits of scheduling with the view of combining site visits into geographical areas to maximise time and fuel efficiency.  This keeps the services we provide for our clients efficient and also helps us to reduce our impact on the environment.  We also have currently operated with two electric company cars for over 3 years and find that the range and useability of these cars more than fits our needs.  It has been our intention that when we require to replace one of the vans in our fleet we will be seriously considering an electric option, to further expand our electric fleet as the mileage range has increased and the need for site visits reduced with improvements in remote connections and functionality as such they are now a contender for a van replacement.

As a company and a family, living and working in the beautiful countryside of the Moray Firth, we are always looking for new ways big or small to help reduce our impact on the environment, from collecting crisp packets for recycling (when we were all working in the office pre-COVID19!) to investing in electric vehicles to increasing our use of video conferencing for meetings to avoid travel. Let’s make IT work for YOU and the environment!

Link to BBC Article:  Climate change: Can sending fewer emails really save the planet?

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-55002423

A spam filter on your emails is a great preventative tool to help keep your business secure.  Spam filters work to block malicious threats like phishing, impersonation, malware, ransomware and spam-type messages.  It is a preventative tool because it works to remove the threat before it has chance to reach the end users inbox, and will flag it in their quarantine to warn them before releasing the email.  This helps to reduce the potential for end users to download malicious attachments and click on links to unscrupulous websites.

But how does a spam filter actually work? Let’s break it down to help you understand how this key feature of your security is working to help protect your business.  The below flow diagram can help to visualise the stages as we describe them.

When we setup your spam filter, we change the direction of your mail flow to pass through the spam filter before reaching the end users in their chosen email client.  This means that the first stage for the email is to pass through a multi-layered filtering engine.

This filter looks at the email header information to determine if the sender is blacklisted, or signs that suggest the email may be junk mail.  There is lots of information within the header of an email for example every server that this email has passed through, date and time and security stamps.  Basically the spam filter is looking to see if the sender of the email is trying to trick you as the recipient and then block you from receiving these emails, so things like replacing the letter O in a company name with the number zero.

Here at MJD we deploy Advanced Email Threat Protection from our spam filter partner, AppRiver, which also provides attachment assurance and link protection.  Attachment assurance will analyse the attachments in a cloud-based sandbox and then if safe, deliver the attachment or deliver a disarmed version or PDF of the attachment.  Link protection means that every link within an email that has passed through this spam filter is re-written and is checked at the time-of-click to always keep you safe no matter when you click on that link after receiving the email.  The testing may take you to a safe site, provide a warning for suspicious content or block the link as a malicious website.

These additional features mean that we can offer you a high level of upfront protection for your end users from phishing attacks and virus/malware attacks in their inboxes.  As with any spam filter, it will take a short period of time to learn your email traffic and need your help to whitelist genuine senders you wish to receive emails from, but after this period rest assured that the 24/7/365 threat analysis team are working to keep adding new threats to your inbox.

If you are interested in setting up Advanced Email Threat Protection please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team here at MJD, we’d be more than happy to help.

There are a variety of factors that can determine the price of a PC which we may quote you for. We wanted to explain the factors to help you understand the price range and variation between some of the PCs we offer. To discuss this topic, we need to break the PC down into it’s components, explain their jobs and how the level of these products affect performance and therefore price.

Lets start with the processor. The easiest way to explain this component is that it’s the brain of the computer. There are two factors which determine the performance and speed of a processor. Processors are made of a number of cores and their speed. The speed of the processor tells us how quickly it can process data, while the number of cores acts as a multiplier. Each core can run at the stated speed of the processor therefore the more cores, the more data can be processed at any one time. For example, a single core 2GHz processor is slower than a four core 2GHz processor, as it has three additional cores to process data, even though they are the same speed.

We generally work with Intel processors in our PCs and the most common offerings are the i3, i5 and i7. As a general rule of thumb, i3 processors have 2 cores and i5 and i7 can have 2 or 4 cores. This is one of the many reasons why we generally encourage our clients to take an i5 over an i3 as the processing power is noticeably different between an i3 and an i5, especially if the i5 is a four core.

Random Access Memory or RAM, is like your short term memory. It keeps data that you are currently working on in an easier to access location than the hard drive to allow you to move between programmes. This is where the more RAM you have installed the less performance drop you will notice when running multiple programmes at the same time. There will usually be a few slots in a PC to install a couple of sticks of RAM. Therefore an additional physical component on top of a standard spec, will increase the price. The other price factor with RAM is the bigger the RAM value in one stick, the higher it will cost. So a 4GB stick is higher priced than a 16GB in one stick, as it only takes up one slot with a higher amount of RAM.

We generally encourage our clients to start with 8GB RAM at the moment, to help to futureproof their PC and to cope with the demands of the future work they intend to conduct on their PC. Also, if our clients intend to use demanding software programmes alongside general office packages, is why we encourage you to go for increased RAM to ensure that you have enough short term memory to flick between your programmes with no noticeable performance lag.

The operating system of a PC also has an effect, as we on the main deal with Windows PCs the main difference is between Windows 10 Pro and Home. Pro is required for a PC working within a business, as the added features allow this to be setup within a business network. Home is as it describes a version of the operating system that has all the features that may be required for a home user and therefore, is a lower price due to the reduce functions in comparison. The price difference is never more than approximately £30 to £40 so this factor does not impact the overall price as much as physical components like RAM and the processor.

The third component found in all PCs which has a part to play in the price, is the hard drive. This may come in the older mechanical drive (HDD) format or as a Solid State Drive (SSD). The hard drive of a PC is where all your data is stored and is like your long term memory. The main difference between a HDD and a SSD is that the SSD has no moving parts. This makes it more reliable and quicker to access your data. As such it is a higher price than a HDD. However, even in just the past year the price of SSD’s has reduced making the larger sizes more affordable. We would always encourage our clients if they can afford to have the SSD in their PC to go for this, as the HDD is old technology and to ensure reliability and futureproofing of a new machine an SSD is a good way to contribute to this.

For some of our clients, there may be additional cards and components they need to add to a machine, which are an additional extra to the cost of the base PC. For example, clients who needs to render graphics and work with drawing programmes require graphics cards to all these to operate at a functional speed.

The final factor in the price of a PC we want to tackle is the brand and therefore the quality of the PC. Here at MJD, we work extremely closely with Terra and are our recommended brand of PC. Terra are a high quality, award winning German brand who tend to do more build to order to ensure that they can always use more up to date components. This way the end user gets longevity out of the PC as a whole and a quality build. Combined with their warranty services which are operated through their MSP partners, like ourselves, so your PC is serviced by someone you know if a warranty issue occurs. This can also affect the price of a PC in comparison to some other manufacturers you may be able to pick up on the high street.

When evaluating the price of a PC quotation that you have been given, by ourselves or anywhere else it is important to compare like with like. So be thorough and check the individual components and make sure that between two offerings it is genuinely the same specification. Most times when there is a difference in price one of the factors detailed above will be your explanation.

It is also important to consider, that if price is a big factor in your decision making for a new PC what is the most important task you will be carrying out on this PC? Is it just to browse the internet and do your personal admin? Or do you want to run a few work programmes every day of the working week? Or create highly detailed drawings? This will then lead you to which component in the PC will be the most important and where you shouldn’t look to reduce the price on.

As always, if you have any questions or would like a quotation for a new Terra PC please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Team here at MJD.

Think before clicking on that Link!

The team here at MJD are becoming increasingly aware of instances of links in emails which appear to “do nothing” when clicked on. This is not something to be ignored and needs to be report to your MSP immediately. If nothing appears on your screen or nothing seems to have happened as a result of clicking on a link, this does not mean that nothing has ACTUALLY happened. Unfortunately, this more than likely means that information has been gleaned from the registry of your device to enable access to emails, to form an incredibly clever socially engineered attack.

As we all are now more aware of the classic SPAM emails which try to entice the recipient to respond and generate dialogue to encourage the transfer of funds to ensure an some threat is not carried out, the cyber criminals are increasing the ante, and we now have to be aware of social engineering. Cyber criminals are leaning towards social engineering due to it being easier to gain the crucial information they need through our human nature to trust, rather than try to hack your network or password. It’s a lot easier to enter the correct password first time, than to have to work with their tools to figure out the correct password. As it is for us in business, time is money to cyber criminals too.

You may be asking what exactly is social engineering then. This is the process of manipulating an individual and the situation to encourage them to give up confidential information and therefore potential access to your network and devices. These are all based on the way we think and act as human beings and using this to their advantage. We have shared this video before, but we think it is a great example of demonstrating their ability to manipulate the situation to achieve their desired outcome. It really is worth spending 11 minutes of your life watching this video and encouraging all your colleagues to watch this too!

The current example we are responding to and working to resolve with clients is whereby the information stolen from the PC registry when the link is clicked gives them the login credentials for the email account on the PC.  This then allows them to setup rules within Outlook, to send copies or completely forward certain emails to another email address.  Most commonly, invoices are targeted.  All the emails are then monitored for a period of time until they identify their best target, and a simple email is sent from within the account to explain bank details have changed.  And they now hope that the process on the other side will allow for this to slip through.  These attacks are highlighting how important it is that IT security doesn’t stop at your firewall or anti-virus scanner.  IT security encompasses your people and your processes too.

If after reading this you’d like more information on training for your business or to discuss and review your security policies the team here at MJD would be more than happy to help.  Let’s make your IT work for YOU!

With us now moving towards working models where we may be a flexible mix of working from home and working on site and in our offices, the ability to takes notes and have them on our person where ever we are has become increasingly important. And with the requirement to reduce the amount of our own things we take into spaces where they could pick up contamination of COVID-19 from communal spaces, we need to think about maximising our use of technology.

We want to introduce Microsoft OneNote to any users out there who do not already utilise the programme. Or if you are aware and already use, hopefully we can share some handy tips and functions within the programme to maximise your usage of OneNote.

OneNote is a flexible electronic notebook, which you can access from your phone, PC, tablet, laptop etc so long as your notebook is linked to your Microsoft account. If you have 365 you will already have a Microsoft account you can log in with. If not, it only takes a few minutes to setup and link your OneNote notebooks too. This means the notebooks will be stored in the cloud so from any device which you have the app installed on it will sync and update your notebooks.

One of the key ways you can make OneNote really work for your business, is sharing notebooks between team members. This allows everyone to see the information held within them, to action tasks on check lists etc. Your imagination is the limit for the uses a shared electronic notebook has! It encourages collaboration and can be used during meetings for everyone to have access to the notes, tasks can be added to a To Do List as the work day progresses or can be used as a handover tool when people are out of the office, those covering have access to shared notes that may help them cover the work in their colleagues absence.

Within OneNote you can setup your notebooks in very much the same way as a physical notebook. You can have separate notebooks, sections within the Notebook and then different pages within your sections. Your sections can be colour coded and each page can be given a title. I find this personally much more organised than a paper notebook as I can easily find the notes I want from the title of the page, rather than numerous sticky tabs with small handwritten titles that wear off and disappear over the course of a working day!

Within a page, you can have text notes, use a pen tool, format your notes to have headings and layout different boxes to highlight particular information for yourself. A particularly handy formatting function that I use is the check box. I have a separate section just as my To Do Lists using the check box function which allows me at a glance to see tasks still to complete. There is also a dictate feature within OneNote if you are on the go and need to quickly add some notes. The audio record function can be useful when in a training or a meeting which you’d like to take more detailed notes from later, given that everyone in the room is happy for you to record. The sound recording is then embedded in that page in your notebook for review later. This was a handy feature while at university, to further augment the notes for studying later from lectures.

A handy automatic feature, is when you copy and paste text, images, content from online, OneNote will automatically include a link to the source in the Notebook for you. So gone is the issue of trying to remember where you read the information or searching through your browser history to locate the source. A useful tip for anyone at university and writing essays!

One feature that may be useful if you prefer to handwrite notes on your tablet or mobile with the Ink function, is the “Ink to Text” function. This means you can use the Lasso tool and select your handwritten notes and it will do it’s best to turn this into text. Obviously, this depends on how clear your handwriting is!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the features of OneNote but just a few highlights we find useful ourselves here at MJD. Hopefully this has been insightful and sparked some ideas about how you can use this Microsoft Office offering to help in your daily working routine. If you have any issues or would like some further help in setting up OneNote please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, we’d be more than happy to help. We have included a small run through video below as a visual aid to where some of the features above are located within OneNote.  Lets make your IT work for you!

 

 

Key Timings in Video:

Share Function – 00:27.30

New Sections and Pages – 02:37.36

Change Section Colours – 04:08.46

Search Function – 04:22.20

To Do Lists – 05:31.00

Dictate – 06:14.20

Ink to Text – 07:00.50

Automatic Source Copying – 08:25.83

Audio Recording – 09:04.93

 

Currently, with many of us working from home and varying shift patterns or hours of work due to furlough, client requirements or childcare requirements the frequency of use of our Out of Office notifications has increased dramatically.   It is worth considering the potential impact that these notifications can have on the security of the company.

Have you ever considered the information that you freely give to any recipient of your Out of Office?  By saying we are on annual leave or away from the office until a set date/time, you are giving specific detail to the fact you won’t be in the office and are on holiday for this set period of time.  If you work within a small office/premise, does this mean there is more time where you premise may be unoccupied?  Or is your business based at home, which provides details that you are potentially away from your home on holiday?

Using an out of office can be useful to allow senders to know who to contact in your absence, however, providing detailed contacts and email addresses to everyone opens your business up to potential spear phishing attacks.  Cyber criminals are able to use the names and details provided within an out of office, especially if details of projects or departments these contacts work within are given, to create trust and a genuine feel to their requests for more information or other more sinister actions.

When drafting your out of office, it is best to use the option to set separate messages for internal and external contacts.  This way, you can provide the detail required for your colleagues to continue their daily activities during your absence.  While also minimizing the information provided to potential cyber criminals.

So, the top tips for your Out of Office are as follows:

  • do not specify a date and time for when you will return
  • use a generic email address for people to forward their request onto (such as an office@ or sales@ address) and a main telephone number for the business
  • do not advise where you are or what you are doing
  • avoid providing specific details of projects/departments you are working within

An example of how to build your out of office could include some of the following phrases:

  • “I am currently unable to respond to my emails…”
  • “For urgent enquiries please contact the main office on ….”
  • “For all other requests I will respond as soon as possible.”

If you want further advice on your Out of Office or help to set this feature up, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Team here at MJD.

Here at MJD, we understand that the volume of passwords and the complexity required in the present day can be overwhelming and a difficult task to manage in secure manner.  Internally we here at MJD use a password manager to keep track of all our passwords and ensure we can use highly complex and unique passwords for all our online accounts that we use on a daily basis.  Password managers are not expensive and can be synced across all devices such as laptops, tablets, phones etc so that you are NEVER without your passwords.  If this sounds like something that would be useful get in touch with us here at MJD.

However, we also want to help our clients generate their own secure passwords, so we have created a top tips list below with some helpful suggestions and recommendations for creating passwords.

To create a strong password consider the following advice:

  • Choose three random words to make a pass phrase
  • Use numbers and symbols as well as upper and lower case letters.
  • Consider the line of a song other people would not associate with you
  • Take the first letters from a phrase known to you, for example “Making your IT work for you” would be “myiwfy”

Avoid the following:

  • Anything from your username, individual or business name.
  • Family members and pet names.
  • Birthdays
  • Favourite sports teams or hobbies.
  • “password” itself.
  • Sequences of numbers or letters i.e 1234 or ABCD
  • A single word with no numbers or special characters, lower or uppercase.  These are very easy for hacking programmes to guess.
  • Duplicated characters i.e 999 or AAA
  • Easily recognisable keypad patterns i.e 36987 or 159

General password advice:

  • Never disclose your passwords to anyone else.
  • If you think someone knows your password change it immediately.
  • Use a different password for every account that requires one.
  • Don’t reuse a password with differing numerical sequences i.e Winter1, Winter2
  • Try to avoid writing passwords down, instead consider an online password vault or safe.
  • Do not send your password by email.
  • When working in public, consider your surroundings, who can look over your shoulder or in the window and see your password being entered?