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What Do The Different Levels of IT Support Mean?

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Everyone talks a lot about different levels of IT support, but what do they actually mean?

Why Do You Have Different Levels of IT Support?

Contrary to popular belief, IT can be a wide-ranging subject, from cyber security all the way to hardware, depending on your industry. This means people have different specialties, but in a corporate capacity, the different levels of IT support basically relate to how difficult something is.

In most cases, each line shows a level of escalation and this helps make sure that surface level tasks are dealt with quickly and in-depth tasks are dealt with by specialists who know what they’re doing.

That way everything runs efficiently.

So, let’s look further at the different levels of IT support and some additional roles you may be considering.

Different IT Support Roles

 1st Line: First Contact

First line support consists of generalists that have a broad understanding of products and services and deal with the most common and simple issues. Usually available around the clock, they deal with problems like lost passwords or assist with software setup. They have a lot of interaction with customers, as they are the first line of contact with them.

They refer to a knowledge base when identifying and resolving customer issues and go through possible solutions. If there is an issue they can’t solve, they send it to the 2nd line. Before doing so, their task is to gather as much information as possible and provide a detailed problem description or open a support ticket.

2nd Line: Escalation Point

The 2nd line are technical specialists who have a more in-depth understanding of the issue. Usually, each member specialises in a different area.  They investigate issues escalated by 1st line and try to resolve them in a determined time frame. This line also proactively monitors systems and performs regular health checks. Sometimes, they will also handle preparations for system and software upgrades and keep an eye on industry shifts.

3rd Line: Complex Technical Issues

This is the highest level of support that solves the most complex issues. This line is often staffed by personnel that was directly involved in the development, of the solutions so they know the ins and outs of how it works in your organisation specifically. They tend to have the best technical resources and often work hand in hand with third parties to get things fixed if the issue relates to an external matter.

Often for smaller businesses, the 3rd line support and IT manager role can merge with many proactive managers taking on the harder support tasks and fixes.

IT Manager

Involved in the decision making and interdepartmental support, IT managers bring the support team together. They oversee the implementation and maintenance of your IT solutions, as well as all matters that relate to IT operations and resources. They manage other IT specialists, optimise resources and staffing, and enforce best practices across the board. 

*They also help with support roles as and when needed

Other IT Support Roles

System Admin

Also known as a SysAdmin, is in the same realm as a 3rd line support so they have extensive knowledge, but it’s normally specialised. They will often oversee areas like data centres, network operations, backups or web technology. Their aim is to ensure the support systems perform optimally and oversee their area.

Think of them like working in the background to keep things running smoothly.

4th Line: Outsourced Services

Although not commonly used, you may hear the term 4th line support. This relates to external parties for example printer manufacturers or vendor software that help resolve issues from their end. For example, if there is a bug that needs patching, they’ll fix it and roll out an update.

How to Decide Which Level of Support You Need

No two businesses are alike, so their IT support requirements will be vastly different, even within the same industry. While some businesses deal mainly with 1st line issues for simple software, others may need on-site specialists or programmers on call who know the intricacies of the products and software being used.

If you are having a hard time deciding on the level of IT support your business needs, answering the following three questions may help you come to a decision easier:

1. What does your business do?

The level of IT support is different depending on your industry, company size, and your plans for the future. If you are a start-up, you will probably not be able to finance three lines of tech support jobs immediately, but you might find the right combination of lines through managed IT services.

If you already own an established business, you might have in-house IT staff already. You can complement them with outsourced or managed services that will take care of complex issues and help you by proactively monitoring your systems and aligning your IT tech with your long-term goals. Having access to 2nd and 3rd line will help you immensely when choosing and integrating new tech solutions or moving to a new platform.

2. How many resources do you have?

The number of resources to allocate to your IT support also impacts this choice heavily. The prevailing trend is to automate simple issues so that resources can be funnelled toward higher-tiered support. For example, you can have the 1st line automated through AI or chatbots, with 1st line agents responding only when AI/chatbots can’t resolve the issue. The savings from adopting such solutions can then be used to integrate 2nd and 3rd line support services.

3. Do you need reactive, proactive, or strategic support?

This is a tricky one and directly related to your future plans, as well as how you operate. If you need reactive support for lots of small but common issues, 1st line is for you. It’s also common for those that have to provide support to customers as well. 

If you need active monitoring or proactive support, 2nd line is for you. For example, in the hospitality industry ensuring your equipment and software is maintained to avoid downtime during peak periods which can affect overall sales.

If you’re looking at growth and expansion or to save money overall, 3rd line support or an IT manager can help streamline and standardise your tech. In addition to proactive support and ensuring your systems are performing optimally, they also work hard on ensuring you reach your business goals. Third line support will choose new technological solutions based on how quickly they can aid you in achieving your goals.

If you want a flexible level of IT support, consider hiring an IT managed service provider like us, give us a call for a free consultation.

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15 Tasks IT Managed Service Providers in Hospitality Can Do

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The hospitality industry is starting to embrace digital solutions, with hotels being in the forefront of the industry. Still, many hospitality businesses downplay their IT requirements. For instance, they are still reluctant to open their doors for IT managed service providers in hospitality.

Hotels, hostels, resorts, bars, and restaurants assume they will see no benefit from investing into IT. Their main argument being that they don’t have the time or money to hire and keep IT staff. This is where an IT managed service provider (MSP) can help.

So, here are some of the things, we deal with and take off the plate of our hospitality-based clients.

1. Be Your IT Supplier Liaison

Whether it’s an equipment failure that needs repairing or replacing, software and domain licenses that need renewing or simply negotiating the best deal for tech rentals (think printers etc.) we can help.

As a managed service provider, we act as the middleman when it comes to dealing with suppliers and 3rd parties to talk their lingo and get things sorted as quick as possible. It’s a time saver, and chances are we can save you money long-term with supplier agreements.

2. Provide 1st – 3rd Line Support

Many MSPs provide various stages of support, from 1st-3rd line. Whether you need on-site assistance or a dedicated number to call, your MSP should have it covered.

Unsure of the type of support you need?

  • In the case of minor IT issues, you can access 1st line support and talk to general help desk operators that will guide you through the troubleshooting process. Common 1st line issues are related to email passwords and account access. 
  • For more complicated IT issues, 2nd line support takes over, for example, a non-critical issue with your equipment or tills. 
  • 3rd line is your specialists who are trained in your specific systems. They are often the most qualified and certified and deal with complex or emergency issues. For example, your POS system going offline during service.

3. IT Management

If you already have an IT team but are struggling to tie it together in your operations and strategy, an MSP can help here too. A hospitality IT managed service provider can deal with your entire IT infrastructure, or just part of it depending on what you need.

They will proactively monitor your IT operations, assess the current efficiency, and suggest improvements and integration options to ensure the highest uptime and optimal data flow between systems. So that you’re making the most sales and providing the best customer experience possible. 

4. Backup Solutions

The hospitality sector handles vast amounts of data, and with the introduction of digitalisation and the internet of things (IoT), the amount of data will steadily increase. It includes everything from sensitive data and credit card information to info gathered from your guests and customers that helps you segment them. This allows you to follow the latest trends, and offer personalised experiences, all the way to complex automation operations.

IT managed service providers in hospitality will take proactive steps to ensure all your data is safe in case of system failure, power outage, or natural disaster by using a cloud-based backup and disaster recovery system. This system ensures you have access to your data at any time, no matter what circumstances. It’s a reliable solution that offers better safety and protection than you could set up in-house. Check with your MSP to see which backup vendors they partner with, for us, it’s Microsoft Azure

5. Handle Wi-Fi Security

It is very common to find unsecured or badly secured networks in the hospitality sector. Many restaurants and bars have unsecured Wi-Fi or use the same Wi-Fi that they offer to their guests, which leaves them vulnerable to security threats, most notably hacking and data breaches. To ensure the highest security, your MSP will establish a secure Wi-Fi network throughout your entire establishment or chain that only your staff will have access to, with a fully separate POS network solution.

They can also ensure the protection of your customer data and improved experience by setting effective customer Wi-Fi.

6. Ensure Compliance

While compliance in hospitality is traditionally tied to things like food safety, IT systems bring about their own set of compliance regulations to be followed. Your MSP will ensure that your technology and software solutions are compliant with government regulations (like GDPR) by utilising secure systems like Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection. They can also help with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliance for your POS systems. 

7. Standardise Equipment

A very common practice for medium to large enterprises is to standardise equipment to reduce costs and make maintenance and upkeep easier. But, for smaller businesses, this isn’t often attempted, because people don’t know how.

Your IT managed service provider can standardise current systems as well as oversee purchases to make sure they really are necessary and compatible with your current systems. Having this in place will allow for better monitoring, applying updates and reducing response times.

8. Offer Cost-Effective Solutions For Better Customer Service

Your MSP is more than just IT support. They are IT professionals with specific knowledge of your industry that follow the latest trends. Their goal is to align with your goals and help you offer an amazing service to your customers. In hospitality specifically, your IT managed service provider can advise on ways to improve customer experience through technology, whether that’s free Wi-Fi or even marketing beacons.

9. Facilitate Expansions

When opening a new venue or location, your MSP can help fit in the IT seamlessly with your design plans so you can future proof your venue. From simple tasks like outlets and power supplies to the larger, more intricate technological planning, expanding to meet the same IT standards you have currently has never been easier. For example, we liaise with contractors and project managers during construction to make sure IT specifications and planned equipment are tailored to.

10. On-Site Upgrades

Whether your equipment is due an overhaul or you’re in need of repairs, your IT managed service provider can implement them on-site with minimal effect to your customers. Often they can work out of hours to deal with upgrades at less busy times, but if not, they understand how best to proceed with the least impact. Luckily, when you hire an MSP they normally have notifications and analytics to check to deal with these upgrades ahead of time before anything goes wrong. But, even if issues occur, they are dealt with easily and swiftly.  

11. IT Budget Management

All businesses out there have a limited budget, and it can be hard to determine just how big the IT budget of a business in the hospitality sector should be. The industry average suggests around 2.5% of your turnover should be spent on technology, but this will vary depending on the type of business you have.

IT managed service providers in hospitality will assess your current situation and offer a detailed overview of where you can save money and how. This will most commonly include software and hardware standardisation across all your devices and establishments. Additionally, hiring an MSP for your IT requirements means that you will pay them a fixed monthly fee, which is considerably lower than paying for specific IT services when something breaks down, when you need a major overhaul of all systems or emergency fees when you need something done quickly (that could have been prevented.)

12. Meeting and Function Room Setup

Do you make income from function or meeting room rentals? Improve your technological capabilities, become an innovative location for events and not only provide a better experience, but charge more!

Your MSP will inspect your meeting and function rooms in detail and suggest the needed technology and software to implement so they are fully equipped for social gatherings, ceremonies, or conferences. They will also offer their services to the party that booked your meeting/function rooms and help with the setup.

13. On-Site Repair and Maintenance

While traditional IT services offer maintenance and repairs only when you request it, managed service providers conduct proactive monitoring. This helps them spot an issue early on before it becomes a much bigger problem. They will repair and maintain equipment on-site as soon as they detect issues to give faster turnarounds before it breaks completely. 

This also means you don’t have to sit on hold to a helpdesk who try to explain how to do the fixes yourself! It just gets done!

14. New Software & Hardware Audits

An MSP will continuously research new software and hardware options to see if they are viable and relevant to your business. An MSP has the required industry and IT knowledge to assess new software and hardware and determine whether they would benefit you. Often times, restaurants and other key players from the hospitality industry opt for solutions that might be a good fit for their needs but are not compatible with their current systems. An MSP will ensure that the tech solution you choose is compatible and won’t cause major disruptions during or after implementation.

15. IT Consultancy

Some IT managed service providers in hospitality won’t include consultancy, but we do. From consulting on IT equipment and device policies, to making innovative improvements to your security or processes that ultimately help you make money!  

All of these tasks aim to improve your customer service and ability to sell to customers or maintain that relationship. Technology is overlooked in the IT indsutry, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

If you want a ‘one-stop-shop’ and unique MSP that deals with everything tech related for your hospitality business. No fuss, just seamless expert solutions, contact us HERE today.

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Why You Need a Managed Service Provider in Hospitality

With most industries actively embracing digitalisation, the need for having IT staff is more prevalent than ever before. Still, not everyone has the required means or knowledge to set up and manage their IT infrastructure in-house, or enough time to research the best options for their specific needs to keep up with innovation.

The hospitality industry is no exception. Many don’t realise the reliance on technology within the hospitality industry, but with booking and ordering systems, restaurant wi-fi and networks and cloud storage for venues with limited space (just to name a few) it’s more important than ever to stay on top of it.

Plus, hospitality means people. And with the GDPR regulations and the emphasis of increasing data protection from customers, you need to protect your business and technology.

Unfortunately, IT support often doesn’t follow suit here, with security threats and potential problems becoming more prevalent issues within the industry. While established players often have a dedicated in-house IT staff to manage all their needs, not all have the means to do so, and some don’t have the technical expertise to deal with this challenging industry. This is where managed service providers come in.  

What Is a Managed Service Provider (MSP)? 

A managed service provider (MSP) is a company that specialises in the management of IT infrastructure and systems for their customers. This management can either be remote or done at the customer’s office. Most often, it is offered as a continuous service for a set monthly fee.

It is different from traditional IT support because it not only covers reactive maintenance, i.e. maintenance when something goes wrong, but also proactive services and system monitoring, as well as cybersecurity, IT consulting, and upgrades. It is a flexible service that adjusts to the needs of each client instead of offering a one-size-fits-all solution.

For example, if a hotel already has good booking solution that can easily handle peak times during holiday season, they will not need infrastructure maintenance, but they might require additional services with their staffing software. A good MSP will adjust to meet these needs.

What Does a Managed Service Provider Do? 

Managed Service Providers cover a broad range of IT support – from infrastructure maintenance to incorporating automation, handling security and compliance matters, or migrating to a new platform. The range of services differs between industries – and even in the same industry – and depends heavily on the needs of each client. An MSP will always provide a fully customisable solution and can do the following:

  • Automate routine tasks
  • Provide maintenance for your entire technological stack
  • Monitor IT infrastructure to ensure all systems perform optimally
  • Develop technological strategies to address current issues
  • Do preventative maintenance to detect loss of efficiency and catch issues early on
  • Implement new technological solutions that scale with your business
  • Future-proof IT systems by upgrading legacy software
  • Apply system and software upgrades and patches to ensure system and data safety
  • Deliver responsive support so that any major IT crisis is resolved quickly
  • Handle data storage and disaster recovery

A managed service provider helps you focus on your business while taking care of your IT systems. They are more than just IT professionals – they align with your goals and ensure your IT capabilities don’t hold you down on your journey to reach them.

Why You Should Work with an MSP 

Employing a managed service provider helps businesses stay on top of the latest technologies and security requirements. MSPs help by identifying flaws in IT systems, operations, or infrastructure and working out the best solutions to improve overall business efficiency in a cost-effective way.

For example, a restaurant needs to sell more seats, not always have the latest fancy equipment, so an MSP will help identify the best option within budgets to suit the individual needs of the client.

They allow businesses to quickly implement new technological solutions and adapt to rapidly changing business environments (particularly when there is a change in legislation.)

They work with their clients to achieve the ultimate goal: ensure the best guest experiences and cultivate guest loyalty.

Here’s some of the ways they do this:

  1. You Get Access to Fully Customisable Solutions – MSPs offer cloud-based infrastructure solutions meaning if you open (or close) a new location, your solutions can be upgraded or downgraded easily to match!
  2. They Improve Your Efficiency and Give You a Competitive Advantage – MSPs have the resources to immediately begin working on specifically tailored solutions that are then deployed and integrated with your existing systems. This process is much faster than it would take to do the research, development, and implementation in-house from scratch. For example, if you wish to update your data storage and improve security systems to keep all guest and consumer data safe, an MSP will do that for you.
  3. They Help You Plan Ahead and Predict Expenses – They help determine peaks in your traffic and help you prepare for it by adjusting your infrastructure to withstand the higher demand. For instance, if you have peak reservations and stays during holidays, your MSP will ensure that your network can carry the increased visitor load and handle billing efficiently.
  4. They Lower Your Business Costs – Instead of using a one-size-fits-all solution that has elements you will never need, you will only pay for services you use and nothing more. In addition to this, they eliminate the costs of hiring, training, and retaining in-house IT staff or hiring emergency or temporary staff only to fix or update your systems. Plus, because they are often on a contract, you get a better rate than if you were to hire an ad hoc IT consultancy firm.
  5. They Eliminate Issues Quickly – Because MSP resolve issues daily, there are a few unknowns left. When your business has an IT issue, they will be able to solve it quickly as opposed to an in-house IT employee who might have never had to deal with that specific issue.
  6. They Help You Focus on Your Business – All businesses have limited resources and focus available, hiring an MSP helps you focus your attention to where it’s really needed – your core business. Leave the IT decisions to them.
  7. They Handle Risk and Compliance for You – Shifting markets and financial conditions make every business decision a risk. MSPs have the required expertise and industry knowledge to choose the best possible strategy. In addition to this, they can help you remain compliant under technological and data protection legislation. .  
  8. They Keep Your Systems and Data Secure – A good MSP will ensure your systems are fully secure and up to date on security patches. They will handle PCI compliance standards for online payments and reservations, ensure your firewall is active, and your guests’ data and sensitive information are safe.

Who A Managed Service Provider Would Suit Specifically 

Managed services are used through a broad range of industries but are particularly effective in the following:

Hospitality Industry

Hotels, resorts, restaurants, and bars have embraced digitalisation and are striving to offer the best online and in-house experience to their guests, from the initial landing page all the way to booking, reservations, and payment options on the day.

The key challenge to success in the hospitality industry is providing the perfect customer experience. And innovative technology helps you get there.

A growing number of hotels and other key players have migrated to cloud software to improve their business operations and get access to data analysis capabilities to detect trends and potential customers. On top of this, in restaurants or hotels where you can’t have large equipment or server racks, it’s an effective space saver too.

Because the hospitality industry handles vast amounts of sensitive guest and customer data, they require the right security solutions and must ensure they are compliant with government regulations (like GDPR.)  Financial transactions play a big role, so having safe IT security is the prime objective.

Smaller hospitality establishments often don’t have fully equipped IT teams available, so complementing their existing team or relying on managed services for all their IT needs improves their IT security and quality, gives them access to newest software, and helps them compete with big players.

Small Business Owners and Start-Ups

Small and medium businesses, as well as start-ups, often struggle with keeping up to date on newest IT solutions. It takes a lot of time and money to keep their IT professionals on top of the newest trends and solutions which are often things that a startup doesn’t have.  

Managed Service Providers help SMBs and start-ups with a full suite of IT services that are customised to their needs, goals, and preferences. This brings down overall costs and distributes them evenly throughout the year thanks to fixed monthly fees. Plus, business owners and start-ups get access to the latest tech and software solutions, as well as security options.

Companies With Unfavourable Opening Times

Any company working 24/7 knows that IT costs can run high because you have to hire a team to rotate so you have someone on site. Telephone support only goes so far and hiring emergency IT professionals when something goes wrong can be difficult and costly to fix if they don’t know your business or setup.

Employing an MSP gives them access to IT monitoring and support around the clock, which eliminates overtime pay or shift costs for internal IT staff. MSPs can complement and manage on-site  IT staff as a standalone solution.

Things To Look For In A Managed Service Provider

A good managed service provider will have the required industry knowledge, qualifications, and certifications to back up their expertise. When choosing an MSP, look out for the following:

  1. Qualifications and Certifications – The MSP of your choosing should be up to date on industry-specific knowledge and have experience working in your field. For example, those working in the hospitality industry should look for an MSP who provides cybersecurity solutions that are compliant with GDPR (if you or your customers are in Europe.) Ensure that the IT professionals who handle your infrastructure have the required certifications, but also experience working with your frameworks.
  2. Partnerships – For example, an MSP who is a senior Microsoft partner will suggest they have the knowledge, expertise and vetting of Microsoft to work with their systems. Meaning you have peace of mind that they know what they’re doing.
  3. Pricing, Range of Services, and Customisation – Depending on your needs, you will be able to choose what services you need and which ones you don’t. The right MSP will be flexible and understand your specific needs. They will listen to your goals and get to know your business before offering their services. The pricing options should reflect the services that you will use, and those that you won’t should be excluded from the price. Most commonly, you will be offered a monthly retainer based on the service and level of support that you need.
  4. Service Level Agreements – A good MSP will offer a service level agreement (SLA) that determines all the details, such as quality and performance metrics that should be met, details about liability in case of performance issues or outages, a list of services and responsibilities offered by the MSP, and a framework to resolve service issues.
  5. Availability – Always choose an MSP who provides flexible assistance that includes remote monitoring and emergency support. If possible, opt for one with a local presence so that their professionals can visit your office if needed.

If you’re looking for a managed service provider in hospitality, Contact us HERE today.

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20 Computer Malware Signs Causing You a Potential Data Breach

With our increasing reliance on our phones, computers, and other internet-connected technology and accessories, security is more important than ever. To be able to recognise when our tech might be compromised can save you from potential catastrophic losses. It’s therefore important to be on the lookout for computer malware signs. 

How often do you pay for something using your credit card or online wallet? How many passwords do you have saved or “remembered” so you can quickly log in? Hackers can gain access to your devices in numerous ways, but in many instances, it’s not immediately apparent.

The Current State of Internet Security

According to the Symantec 2017 Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR), 1 in every 131 emails you receive is infected with malware. Opening such an email infects your computer and gives attackers access to your personal and business data.

In a business environment on a company network, this can give hackers access to the same shared systems and folders that your computer has access to, leading to a data breach with far-reaching consequences. All it takes is for a high-level executive, member of the C-suite, or HR personnel with access to sensitive records to click that infected email and it’s game over for some businesses. 

Being aware of the dangers and spotting the computer malware signs is, therefore, more important than ever to prevent the disastrous effects of a successful cyberattack. These are the warning signs of a possible data breach and that your system has been infected. 

20 Computer Malware Signs To Be Aware Of

1. Pop-Ups

Very often, malware and viruses will be disguised as regular notifications. Your computer will display the notification, often saying that your PC is infected and offering help to remove the threats. If you accept “help,” you will be prompted to visit a website and leave your credit card information to pay for the service of removing the threat. Even though such an attack pattern is not new and has been present for a while, people still fall for it very often. This is the most common of all computer malware signs.

2. Sudden Sluggish Performance

If you notice that your computer is slower than usual, the first thing to do is check the Task Manager. You can access it by simply writing “Task Manager” after hitting the Windows key on your keyboard.

Once there, check the Performance tab to see whether any of your hardware is being used too much: the CPU, memory, disks, or GPU. Chances are, your memory might be compromised by malware.

If you’re not infected and your computer is still slow, check out our course here to improve computer performance.

3. Has a Mind of Its Own

Some glitches in your system might appear like your computer has a mind of its own – usually a brief glimpse of a registry change or your mouse moving by itself. In most cases, these are just little glitches – a speck of dust on the mousepad, for instance. But this could also be one of the computer malware signs. If mouse movements are deliberate and make sense, like the mouse moves and opens or closes applications, then you are definitely dealing with a far more serious threat than a dusty mouse pad.

To disable this kind of remote access, the first thing you should do is disconnect your PC from the internet, disable network drivers so it can’t connect again, and make sure any connectivity options are disabled, e.g. Bluetooth. Then, you can start dealing with removing the issue.

4. Crashing

Your computer might crash for no apparent reason. Often, software and hardware incompatibility are to blame, but if this is excluded, computer malware infection is a real possibility. To see what the crash was caused by, go to Event Viewer by hitting the Windows button on your keyboard and writing “Event” – it should be suggested as the first option. Once opened, go to Windows Logs and go through those that are marked as an error. This will give you more insight into what caused the crash and help you or your IT team find a solution fast.

5. Low storage

If your computer is suddenly running low on storage, it might be that you have not been paying attention to how much you have left. Some malware and viruses, however, are programmed in such a way that they replicate endlessly until they use up all the storage space you have.

Always ensure you know how much space you have left. If you know for sure that your hard drive partitions had more than enough, suspicious activity is to be expected.

6. You Don’t Appear to Have Security Measures Working, e.g. No Antivirus etc.

Your computer might notify you that your security isn’t working – that your antivirus has been disabled. If this is the case, check the status of your antivirus immediately. While this can be a system glitch while your antivirus is updating, it is often a sign that you were infected.

If you can’t get your antivirus software up and running, you will have to either install a new antivirus and antimalware software or, if you’re using a paid version, contact your antivirus manufacturer’s support and let them lead you through the recovery process.

7. Ads

Malware software can also cause pop-up ads, new tabs in browsers, or change homepages, and search engines, without the user’s consent. To get rid of these annoying pop-ups and ads, you will have to find the infected software and remove it from your device.

8. New Icons on Your desktop

If you notice a new icon on your desktop that you don’t know the origin of, suspect foul play right away as new icons are computer malware signs. Malicious software might be installed on your device, threatening to steal your credentials, cause havoc, or even lock you out. If this is your work computer, contact your IT department right away as it could have been installed on the network, not just your own device.  

9. Corrupted folders or Missing folders

If you get a prompt your file is corrupt or you realise some folders are missing from where they are supposed to be, it could be an infection. Some malicious software will not be after your credit card data – the intent can simply be to erase all your data from your drives. While this is less of a threat today than it was before thanks to various online storage solutions, not all your data is stored online. If you have lost files, a system restore might be a way of getting them back.

10. Ransoms

Some malware acts as a simplified version of ransomware by locking you out of your computer until you pay. But, unlike hardcore ransomware, there are some things you can usually do to unlock it.

Using Windows safe mode might do the trick. Once you have booted Windows that way, you can run a virus scan and remove the ransomware. There are also dedicated ransomware removal tools from established antivirus brands, and even Microsoft itself has tools available. Another option is to use System Restore to restore your computer to a version that wasn’t infected yet.

11. Errant Messages

Your system might notify you that an application requires permission to do something, for example an application trying to change something on your computer or connect to the network. This usually happens when you start up, update or install a new application. However, if none of these have happened recently and you’re still getting the messages, your PC might be infected.

12. Redirecting Web Browsers

If you notice that your browser started redirecting you to random sites, you might be dealing with a browser redirect malware, whose aim is to use these redirects to artificially boost traffic to such sites, gather search data, or to try to scam users and steal their personal data. Search for suspicious programs on your device if you suspect this to be the case.

13. New Home Pages

If you open your web browser and your homepage is changed, you need to check which program might have caused this. Usually today, a lot of software will come with additional taskbars or options to change your homepage while you install them. You can opt out of it easily during installation, but many people oversee this. While such changes and additions might not be viruses themselves, they often lack proper security and can easily be used as a point of entry.

14. You’re (Not) Reaching Out

You might find that new conversations are popping up in your email inbox or social media that were started by ‘you’, but you can’t recall starting them.

These spam messages encourage your contacts to click on links that will then infect them. A popular scam is the malware will send an SOS email or message saying you’re stranded and need cab money or a train ticket. It might not seem like a lot but if every one of your friends and every one of their friends become infected, it’s a lot of potential.

15. BSOD – Blue Screen, Will Not Boot

If your computer suddenly becomes unresponsive and you see the dreaded blue screen of death (BSOD), it could be malware.

However, BSOD often happens after you install new software or hardware. Check whether you have the latest drivers installed for all your components and search for possible incompatibility between programs and hardware you are using.

If this is not the case, you will have to consult the Event Viewer again to see what exactly caused the BSOD.

16. Credit or Bank Purchases

If you get notified that there were purchases made with your credit card, or money was taken from your bank account but you didn’t do it, ask your bank to verify how payment was made. If it was done using your card (not in person) it means it was an online transaction. This can mean your device is compromised and they’ve taken the details, particularly if you have them saved e.g. Google online. 

Cancel your cards, disconnect from the internet and do a thorough sweep of your devices to make sure that the breach didn’t come from them.

17. You can’t login to your accounts

If you can’t get access to your account because your password suddenly isn’t working, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a case of account theft. This is already one of the serious computer malware signs. Always have a fallback option for such cases – a way to reset your password via your phone number, for instance. To minimise such a risk, have two-factor authentication that will request a code sent to your phone or a generated code from an app installed on your phone.

If you get a notification from your authenticator, for example, a code on your phone but you’re not trying to log in, check your system for malware and change your passwords immediately. It could be someone with a keystroke logger.

18. Your Hard Drive Appears to Be Constantly Working Even When Doing Nothing

Erratic and sluggish operations can be caused by a lot of software and hardware issues. To see what is happening, you will have to open your Task Manager by hitting your Windows key button and typing “task manager” for it to appear on the list.

Once opened, look at the performance of your hardware. If you see that your disk is on ‘100%’ most of the time, you will have to check which processes are running and might have caused this. Note that certain Windows processes might cause this from time to time – recently microsoft.photos.exe, a legit Microsoft application, was causing this issue for some users.

If you find any other applications that are unfamiliar to you and are using your disk fully, terminate the process by right-clicking on it and selecting the “End Task” option. Find which program the task belongs to in order to see whether it’s a real malware or virus issue or just an incompatible program.

19. File Names Change or Are Missing

Any changes to files – either the names or the location of the files – should immediately be attributed to malicious software activity. A deep scan with a dedicated software will be needed to find the infection. Any files that were affected – renamed, deleted, or removed – might be beyond saving, so always make sure you have your data securely backed up online.

20. Unusual login pages

Any changes to login pages you often use – either for work or personal – should be deemed suspicious. Usually, changes like this are announced in advance, so check for news about the changes before you log in. Any pages that require your work, Google, or social media account credentials (both username and password) for login should also be avoided as these might be phishing sites that are trying to steal your credentials.

If you’ve navigated to the page through an email, close the tab and go to the company you’re trying to login to directly. If you don’t recognise the site, NEVER give your credentials away!

It’s important that if you feel there is something wrong with your computer, particularly if you are on a company device or part of a shared network that you report it! Small and subtle changes can lead to big data breaches and catching malware early is key.

You Might Also Be Interested In: 

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The Different Tactics Hackers Use to Gain Access to Your Computer

We’d all like to think that hackers are spending weeks on end planning their every move to attack a business but the truth of it is nowhere near as exciting. Although this could happen to a big target, for most people it’s a lot more boring and they get ‘accidentally’ caught in the net as hackers looking to make a quick buck send out malware or ransomware hoping someone will fall into the trap.

That doesn’t mean the effects aren’t any less devastating!

So, to make sure you can protect yourself, let’s look at the various different tactics hackers use to try and steal your business’ data.

1. Relying on Human Error

We’re sorry to say that lack of education in businesses and human error by employees account for a large portion of breaches in our experience. For example, employees attempting to access internal systems from unsafe locations, using personal (infected) devices on the network, or clicking malicious links in an email. Hackers cast their net far and wide, and the likelihood is someone will click something and open the door. And that’s all they need. 

Hackers also pray on the lack of oversight from business owners on their employees. According to Keeper Securities’ State of Cybersecurity in Small & Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB) report from 2017, 59% of small businesses do not have insight into the types of passwords employees use. This means that although the company is liable for a breach, they aren’t enforcing or even aware of the security standards of the passwords in use. 

2. Phishing

Phishing is one of the most common tactics hackers use. This is usually in form of an email that is spoofed to look like it’s coming from another sender, like your bank, or ISP. It will urge you to act immediately or you might lose your account, money, or face infractions. 48% of hacks on companies last year found that phishing or social engineering were the result.

Here are the warning signs you need to look out for in a phishing email

3. Public/Free Wi-Fi

Public computers and Wi-Fi networks are notorious for being plagued with malicious software that “sniffs” for data packets while you are using them. You risk losing your account data as soon as you type in your password. 

4. Phone Calls

Surprisingly these still work and is still one of the tactics hackers use! Hackers have been known to ring you claiming to be your bank or an organisation you’re affiliated with and ask you to confirm details over the phone. For example, banking pins or passwords as well as talking to you about family data or information, like your mother’s maiden name to get the ‘security question’ answers or take a stab at your password. If you feel a phone call is suspicious, never hand over your data, simply tell them now isn’t a good time and hang up.

5. Weak Passwords

Lazy, generic and consequently weak passwords are the easiest way for hackers to get access to your accounts. Many small business owners admitted that, while they still have password strength policies, 68% do not enforce them. A generic or commonly used password like 12345, makes it easy for hackers to gain access to your email or computer.

Check out our article below on protecting your password from hackers:

6. An Out-of-Date OS

While nobody likes how long OS updates take, they exist for a reason: to address flaws within the code that can potentially be exploited. Without regular updates, you enable easy access to hackers who are aware of the weak points.

7. Infected Attachments

It’s not just the links you should be wary of in an email. Masked to look like images or documents, they often carry viruses, malware, or spyware, like a keylogger that will install to your device and record your every keystroke to get your passwords that way.

8. Dodgy Devices

Be wary of those free devices being handed out to you as “freebies” in many cases, hackers can load malware or keystroke loggers on them so that when they are entered onto the computer they immediately infect it.

9. Pineapples – Spoofed Wi-Fi Points

A Wi-Fi pineapple is a fake Wi-Fi access point that has been purely set up to steal your data but it masks as public Wi-Fi. From the hacker’s point of view, they have multiple programs and software running to gain access but to the unsuspecting user, they just jump on as usual and voila, instant access to your data.

10. Unsuspecting Accessories

Your new smart lock, phone controlled thermostat, camera that is enabled to a network, card reader or any other online accessory all have access to your network. Hackers can use these as easy points of entry if they aren’t protected correctly to access your network and get to your data that way!

Unfortunately, we’ve only just scratched the surface of tactics hackers use to access your data and your files, and this is why we are firm advocators for using file protection as part of your cyber security strategy. That way, hackers can’t access the data from your files once you’ve been breached, therefore protecting the data stored within them.

To get automatic file and email encryption for small businesses using Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection, click the image below to get half off our course on udemy:

file and email encryption course image. click to take you to the course
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How to Install Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection for Small Businesses

Until now, Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection (AIP) has been an enterprise level IT solution for the big brands and businesses. So, you may not have even heard of it! But, its tools are perfect for small businesses and allows you to get AUTOMATIC file and email encryption that is easy to use, and affordable.

Let’s look at why you should be looking at this solution for your small business, how you can use it and what it can do for you:

Why do I Need File Protection?

We could advocate for file protection but it’s easier just to show you, here’s how easy it is to gain access to your sensitive data if you don’t have file protection:

The solution to this? We recommend, Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection (AIP)

Update: 23/09/20 – Microsoft’s AIP has actually been upgraded to MIP, with a few extra features. This article is still relevant and if you scroll to the bottom you can see a demo of a recent project we just completed on how it looks in action.

What is Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection?

It’s an excellent cloud-based file and email encryption solution that allows you to create certain ‘rules’ to protect your files and emails automatically.

What Does This Entail?

Although it’s also an excellent option for smaller businesses because it offers unique cyber security features which make GDPR compliance easy and seamless, you can’t really “figure it out” as you go.

It’s not as simple as downloading a piece of software. There’s a little more to it than that. But, once you know how, it’s our recommendation for keeping your company, files and emails protected. The installation looks a little like this:

Different Stages of AIP Implementation

Once you’ve set up your active directory and assigned your licenses, there are 3 steps to implementing Microsoft’s Azure Information Protection:

Assessing Your Data

Although only roughly 5% of your data is sensitive, you still need to protect it and in order to do so, you need to understand what it is, where it is and how you handle it.

Installation

This is the easy part (if you know what you’re doing) and is a simple installation of the AIP client onto all of the machines/servers that you want to have automatic encryption capabilities.

Monitoring/Testing

This is all about tweaking your settings to match your usage based on what you’re using your protection for in your business.

So, How Can I Do It Myself?

We originally created an AIP course (you can still take the legacy course HERE.) However since the update to MIP (Microsoft Information Protection) there’s a lot more backend setup, licensing crossovers, and implementation that just make this a project that is really tricky.

If you get it wrong you can accidentally encrypt and lock yourself out of all of your data, and to be honest, we don’t recommend doing this.

We still want to make MIP accessible for SMEs so we offer a half hour consulting option to give you the best tailored advice on what forms of protection are best for you, and then we can help you set up MIP if it’s suitable.

Book in for your consultation CLICK HERE.

Check out the MIP Demo below to see it in action:

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How “At Risk” Small Businesses REALLY Are to Cyber Attacks

busy coffee shop as a small business

Running a small business comes with a very specific set of challenges, like having limited resources, and often cyber security falls to the bottom of the list. But, the cost of a data breach, no matter the size of your organisation can be huge and the bad PR or image alone could be crippling as small businesses have to rely on reputation! 

Why Would Anyone Target Small Businesses?

Many small business owners don’t understand why their company would be an appealing target for hackers. They are small, don’t have vast funds or sensitive secrets that anyone would care about. They believe they are not big enough to be a target, so they don’t invest as heavily in cyber security as larger businesses do.

Some hackers do not target small businesses specifically but try to infect as many devices as possible, and without protective measures, backups in place, or the education, small businesses can very quickly become victims too.

The most common type of tactic that casts a wide net are ransomware attacks and more recently, cyber-attacks are becoming more targeted and specific.

The top 3 reasons why small businesses are targeted specifically by hackers are:

  1. The lack of investment into security makes it too easy for those looking to make quick money by selling details. 
  2. Small businesses often work with larger enterprises and if they’re not careful can serve as a point of entry for a large data breach.
  3. A small business is more likely to meet the hacker’s demands, such as a ransom, to get their data back because without it, their business is at a standstill. 

Cyber-attacks against Small Businesses are on the Rise

According to Keeper Securities’ State of Cybersecurity in Small & Medium-Sized Businesses (SMB) report from 2017, attacks against small and medium business owners are on the rise. A staggering 61% of small businesses that were interviewed reported they were affected by a cyber-attack. The most common type of attack included phishing or social engineering, with web-based attacks and general malware following closely behind.

What Small Businesses Should do to be Safe from Cyber Crime

Change of stance is the most crucial thing.

If small business owners continue to believe they are not a good target to hackers and believe they don’t matter, they will continue to be vulnerable to cyber attacks. Small businesses should focus on the following areas:

  • New Technology and Software – Investing in the newest software solutions can give small businesses the edge that they need to catch breach attempts early. Machine learning can detect anomalies in network traffic or credit card fraud attempts so that small businesses don’t have to pay as much attention. 
  • Employee Education – Teaching employees about cyber security lowers the risk considerably. Get them on board about it and teach them about password policies, what makes a strong password, why password sharing is risky, and signs that indicate a possible breach. Check out the TowerWatch Academy for regular courses that you might need for educating staff and using protection software. 
  • Regular Updates and Patching – Ensure all your systems are up to date and patched regularly. New patches are applied to parts of code that could have been used as points of entry before the patch which is why you should always keep up to date. 
  • Use Encryption – Encryption is a precaution in case a data breach happens. If hackers get to your data, having it encrypted will render it useless to them. 
  • Physical Security – Have surveillance in place in areas where you keep your sensitive data to avoid malicious actions from the real world.
  • Two Factor Authentication – In case a cyber attack is successful in getting credentials to log in to your system(s), a two-factor authentication will stop them from getting further than trying to log in and will immediately alert you so you can lock it down and change your passwords. 

If you need any help or support protecting yourself as a small business from cyber security attacks, join our free Facebook community for IT support for your small business.

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Get Free IT Support for Small Businesses

We’re constantly looking for ways to use our knowledge and expertise to help others get to grips with their IT. We are offering free IT support for small businesses, particularly with the increased emphasis being placed on cyber security for businesses big and small in the wake of GDPR.

With this in mind, we are offering free IT help and support for small businesses in our Facebook support community. If you’ve purchased a course from the TowerWatch Academy, you’ll already know about the support group, but we’ve decided to open it up to help others too.

As IT consultants and experts with over 10 years’ experience in:

  • Cyber security
  • Online data protection solutions
  • Cloud-based data storage
  • Cyber Security Training
  • Penetration Testing
  • Complete IT Support
  • Large Scale Projects
  • IT Health Checks
  • Local & Global Hosting: Microsoft Azure/Amazon AWS
  • Remote Backup Solutions
  • 365 Implementation
  • Hospitality IT support and project installation

We have an idea of the issues that plague the IT of small businesses. Budget (or lack of) being one of them!

So, if you can’t afford an IT team and need some help or advice for your business. Join our support community below and let us help you by answering any questions you may have.

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GDPR Email Terminology You Need to Know!

When it comes to GDPR and emails things can get confusing! You need to make sure you completely understand the GDPR email terminology potential users/customers/businesses could be using so you can action accordingly.

Although not an exhaustive list, here are some of the terms that will be most useful to understand. We’ve taken this list from our Free GDPR Email Protection Course you can find here.

Consent – This means permission! GDPR’s aim is to allow users more control over their data and is big on consent which means if you don’t have it, you can’t use it. Now there are some situations where direct consent isn’t needed, for example if someone makes a purchase from you, you’re allowed to send them a relevant email about their order without their consent as it’s a necessary byproduct of the purchase. Another example is when a company or business has a business specific email address on their “Contact Us” page. This is considered consent as long as the email is a business and not personal address e.g. [email protected] NOT [email protected]. One thing to note here is you still can’t add them to a mailing list but you can contact them with something of genuine interest.

Data Breach – This is where information has been accessed by unauthorised third parties due to a security issue. This usually refers to confidential or sensitive information.

Data Controller – The ICO define a data controller as:

“A person who (either alone or jointly or in common with other persons) determines the
purposes for which and the manner in which any personal data are, or are to be processed”

Data Portability – This is the right of the user to move personal data to competitors and businesses have to comply. It must be readable and universally accepted by the other party and once moved, the original business may not store it (unless for legal/tax purposes.)

Data Processor – The ICO define a data processor as:

“In relation to personal data, means any person (other than an employee of the data controller) who processes the data on behalf of the data controller.”

Data Processing – When information is handled, physically or digitally for any action. For example, collecting it, uploading it into an automatic algorithm, using it to segment etc.

Data Protection Authorities (DPA) – These will be appointed in individual EU-based countries to enforce and support the new data protection laws.

Data Protection Officer (DPO) – Data controllers will appoint an employee (or sometimes hire externally) a DPO whose responsibility is to make sure data protection and processing is met and understood throughout the organisation.

Data Subject – This is any person that the personal data is about.

Erasure – When an individual makes an erasure request, this means to have all of their personal data removed from your organisation (and third party organisations you use to manage this personal data) Not complying with this can leave you open to fines.

Encryption – A way of making information protected to prevent unauthorised entities or people being able to access, read or extract the data.

Pseudonymisation – A way to make personal data less identifiable to an outside party by using pseudonyms and preset identifiers in place of the data itself.

Recipient – The receiver of your email

Subject Access Request (SAR) – Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t actually new. A SAR request is something a user can do via email which entitles them to ask what information is stored about them. You may find the “Subject Access Code of Practice” by the ICO useful. Also known as a “Right to Access Request”

For more information on email protection in the age of GDPR, check out our FREE COURSE HERE to guide you through it!

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Top 10 Software and Tech Solutions for Small Businesses

Don’t shy away from technology in your business! It’s time to get acquainted with some of the best software and tech solutions for small businesses at the moment.

1. Encrypt emails for free with My Protected Mail

Of course we’re going to start with one of our own products! The introduction of GDPR has placed a renewed emphasis on email security. All small businesses have a duty to protect the data of their customers, clients, and employees. A reliable, straightforward way to protect data sent electronically is to use encryption.

Encrypted emails can only be viewed by the sender and specified receivers; they are protected from interception, even when an email is forwarded.

My Protected Mail is a tech solutions for small businesses that does this for free. There’s no software to install; simply send your email to a dedicated mailbox, and the platform will issue a Microsoft Protected Email that can be accessed only by the intended recipient. There’s also scope to add enhanced features for a reasonable monthly fee for developers to encrypt web portal or app communication. Try My Protected Mail here.

2. Defend your business from online attacks with Acronis Ransomware Protection

Ransomware attacks, in which malicious software blocks access to devices with the aim of extorting money from the owner, can completely devastate a small business. Not to mention the risk of a data breach. It’s critically important to proactively prepare; you can find out more by clicking here.

Ransomware protection software mitigates this risk, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth! Acronis Ransomware Protection monitors suspicious behaviour, blocks malicious applications, encrypts files, and recovers damaged data; all for free.

3. Organise every aspect of your business with Asana

Asana is a project management platform that helps your entire team to stay organised and efficient. It allows you to create projects and tasks, assign team members, set deadlines, allocate documents, run reports, and myriad other jobs. It’s suitable for use on computers and mobile devices; even when travelling, you can keep on top of your business!

Asana also interacts seamlessly with 100 other platforms, helping to manage emails, files, calendars, workflows, and dozens of other tasks from one place, simplifying your business processes.

4. Take storage to the cloud! 

Cloud-based storage has proven itself to be a reliable and economical alternative to traditional hard drives and servers. The key benefits to small businesses include cost-effectiveness, automatic backup and recovery, remote accessibility from all devices, and no ongoing server maintenance.

There are countless services to choose from, but our favourites are Dropbox, OneDrive, and Google Drive. All have common features, such as free storage (although the amount varies; 2GB for Dropbox, 5GB for OneDrive, and a whopping 15GB for Google Drive), document collaboration, link sharing, and file privacy. You can also upgrade to a monthly plan for expanded storage.

5. Automatically guard sensitive information with Azure Information Protection

Azure Information Protection (AIP) from Microsoft is a cloud-based tech solutions for small businesses that automatically encrypts emails and files. The system is managed across all Office applications using labels, which are configured to detect sensitive data and protect it. For example, if a credit card number is entered into an Excel spreadsheet, a rule can be set up to prompt the user to protect the information automatically.

Traditionally this can be quite difficult to set up for small businesses, but we created an Azure Information Protection for Small businesses online course to make it easy for you, regardless of whether or not you’re a techie!

6. Bring the team together with Zoom video conferencing

No matter how scattered your team is, video conferencing fosters the collaborative spirit that can otherwise be absent when working remotely. You needn’t be together to succeed together.

Zoom is a complete video conferencing service that includes high-definition online meetings, webinars, instant messaging, document sharing, whiteboards, virtual breakout rooms, calendar integration, and analytic data for meeting organisers. It can be accessed from computers and smart devices; so travelling team members can still participate!

There’s a free version of this tech solutions for small businesses with essential functionality that may be suitable for some small businesses, or there are monthly packages that include expanded features.

7. Protect your business with ESET antivirus

Malware attacks can be extremely disruptive to small businesses; leading to potential loss of files, equipment, and revenue. A high-quality antivirus is therefore essential.

ESET has a strong reputation for keeping computer equipment safe from malware, including viruses, ransomware, rootkits, worms and spyware. It’s easy to use, low in power-consumption, and backed by 30 years of experience and 110 million global users. A free trial is available, with the full version priced from £29.99 per year for one user.

8. Clean up your computer with MyDefrag

When we create files on a computer, they are broken up by a process called fragmentation; this is completely normal, and helps files to fit on a hard disk. However, repeated fragmentation makes reading and writing files a chore for your computer. Defragmentation is essentially a spring clean; a process that puts files back together, boosting your computer’s onward performance.

Windows comes with a built-in defragmentation program, but there are more efficient alternatives. MyDefrag is the best of the bunch; it works quickly and can accommodate external storage. Ultimately, this nifty little program helps your business to avoid slow equipment, repairs, and replacements. For more ways to speed up your computer’s performance, check out our free course here.

9. Cut your phone costs with VoIP

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, is the technology that facilitates phone calls via the internet. It’s cheaper to make calls by VoIP than a standard landline, and you’ll notice a huge improvement in sound clarity.

The best VoIP service for small businesses in the UK is VoipFone; it’s easy to set up, with excellent customer support, reasonable prices, and a free trial. Global businesses looking for similar features are recommended to try Ring Central or Vonage.

10. Keep on top of your finances with online invoicing

Invoicing is a critical aspect of small business management; online solutions make the process efficient by collating due payments, generating invoices, sending them, and overseeing the collection process.

Invoices contain sensitive information, so it’s important to work only with a trusted platform. Check out this post to find out how small businesses should protect their financial security when using online invoicing.

The most reputable platforms are Freshbooks, Due, Invoicera, And Co. and Harvest. All have at least one free option, whether a trial or essential version, and each has paid subscriptions, which vary in price according to the features you need.

Need help with your IT or tech solutions for small businesses or have a question on software to suit your small business? Join our free support community here.