Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hackers Abound – 6 Tips to Protect Your Business

By Rose Strong

Computer hacking, data breaches, information leaks, security breaches, hacktivism, cyber espionage. Whatever you may call them, cyber attack attempts are targeting businesses and entities around the globe, with cyber crimes the No. 1 kind of attack, as these statistics by Paolo Passeri for Hackmageddon.com show.

In one of the latest incidents, hackers broke into the network of Community Health Systems and stole more than 4.5 million records. The attack, which originated in China, affected 206 hospitals in 29 states, giving hackers access to patients’ names, birth dates and social security numbers, the exact information they would need to commit identity fraud and wreak havoc on people’s lives.

You’d hope your local hospital would consult with a cyber-security company long before something were to happen to its highly sensitive data. However, the local UPS Store where you ship packages and make copies seems to be in just as much danger of a security break that would allow customers names, addresses, email addresses and payment card information to fall into the wrong hands.

Several years ago, I had a small online antiques and collectibles business. I was using PayPal for customers to pay me safely. PayPal sent an email asking me to update information about my account. There was a link to their website in the email. I logged in, followed the steps by filling in some info and that was it. I went about my business, never thinking twice about it. Then, just days before Christmas, my debit/credit card, which was tied to my personal checking account, was hacked. 

I’m fortunate to have a small-town bank with big-city technology and protection. Visa noticed unusual activity on the card, stopped the transactions, and notified my bank, which reimbursed my account. This past January, the bank again noticed unusual activity on my account, stopped the transactions, and reimbursed my account. Would you be so lucky in a cyber attack on your business?

Here are some tips to keep hackers out of your business:

•    Assess your company’s risk – Identifying the risk of potential attack and knowing who should have access to certain information is the start of a best practices program for your organization’s IT security. StaySafeOnline.org, part of the National Cyber Security Alliance, shares suggestions to conduct a cyber risk assessment.

•    Reconsider your passwords – Using your dog’s name or 123LookAtMe? Cute and “clever” passwords are easy to break through, so making them longer and more randomized can help keep hackers at bay. This article by Caroline McMillan Portillo for BizJournals.com is spot on for protecting your information systems.

•    Think encryption – For a small business, the impact from a cyber crime can shut the doors. Large companies like Target or other big box stores may be able to survive, but when data is breached at a small company, customers lose trust and go elsewhere. This article by John Patrick Pullen for Entrepreneur.com discusses how encrypting your data will help keep it safe.

•    Don’t carry out business on a public network – Don’t use the local library’s Wi-Fi or coffeeshop hotspot when dealing with sensitive information such as bank accounts. Regardless of whether you’re using a public computer, your own laptop or even a smartphone, it’s still risky. This Huffington Post article by Jason Alderman, vice president of Visa, gives some clever tips on how to protect yourself out in the open if you must do business there.

•    Know where to find answers – Take some time and do research. We are all busy, but this is time well-spent for a small business without access to an IT specialist. If you can afford an IT company on a retainer basis, they should be up-to-date on the latest security issues and hoaxes and have the ability to fix something for you. If they don’t or can’t, find someone who can. If you are unable to afford that type of service, take time to do some reading on reputable websites. The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team has information for all size companies as well as individuals. It’s a good place to start.

•    Be aware – The ways of cyber criminals are numerous and varied and becoming even more intricate. That PayPal site I mentioned earlier was an exact replica of the real thing. Nothing would have tipped me off that it wasn’t the real PayPal site. Today, the company sends out emails warning of fraud and scams to its users. And so does my bank, for that matter. Does yours?

Have you or your company ever been involved in a security breach? How did you handle it? What did you learn from it? We’d like to hear your experiences.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Easy Steps to Increase Your Corporate Social Media Presence

By Kim Tarasiewicz

Many companies these days are eager to launch a social media program, but once you have your system set up and your employees trained, how do you keep your people engaged with corporate social media? To be successful, any social media endeavor must be sustained over time. It isn’t enough to post a few things to Facebook and call it a day.

A monthly reminder email is a perfect way to keep social media top of mind for your employees. Send them a note asking them to connect with your company’s social media sites. This will boost your social media presence and expand your opportunities for potential clients to learn about your company.

Explain to your employees the importance of supporting your marketing and public relations efforts. Show how sharing corporate social media pages will increase business and benefit everyone. Prompt employees with the following in a monthly email or perhaps an internal newsletter:

Ask your employees to keep in mind these questions and provide material to your social media manager when available:
  1. Have you seen any significant industry trends or news about which you would like to write an article, blog post, etc.?
  2. Do you have any industry-related experience that we could use to promote you as a resource for the company?
  3. Is anyone in the company scheduled to speak at a business function within the next 60 days? Or have you spoken anywhere in the last 60 days?
  4. Have you hired any new staff members that should be highlighted?
  5. Has anyone in your department been nominated for an award or received any awards or recognitions?
  6. Has anyone in your department been nominated or elected to any boards, committees or other positions? Even if it does not pertain to your industry, it can still help increase your SEO.
Remind employees to make corporate social media part of their weekly routine. Ask them:
  1. Have you shared the company’s most recent blog post through your own social media sites? If not, please do (And provide them the link).
  2. Have you reviewed the company website and, most importantly, your own bio lately? If not, please take a look and let IT know if anything needs to be updated.
  3. Have you updated your LinkedIn profile with company contact information? Have you endorsed anyone for business skills? Invite at least two people to connect each month. This is a great way to create business leads and get the corporate name out there.
  4. Have you visited a competitor’s social media pages? It’s always good to compare notes and make sure nothing negative is out there about your company, too.
Everyone needs a reminder once in a while. Whether a senior manager or an intern, when employees understand the importance of corporate social media and how it fits into your marketing plan, they are more likely to be engaged in it, thus helping your business reach its full potential.

How engaged are your employees with your company's social media presence? We would love to hear from you.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Quick Coding Basics for Other Non-Techy Folks

By Megan Quinn

If you are one of the more than 6 million people who blog, you have likely encountered the following scenario. Let’s say you have just managed to successfully add content to your blog. Now it’s time to check the preview to see how it looks. Ouch. The spacing is terrible and the photo is somehow on the left instead of centered. And how did those words end up in bold?!

If this has ever happened…you are not alone my friend.

While most bloggers likely use the “compose” interface on their chosen blog platform, knowing a little bit of HTML can help in times of trouble – such as wacky photos and weird font effects. So let’s take some time to go over the basics.

Spacing and photo adjustments can be two of the most frustrating coding problems when blogging. If you switch to the HTML code and see the symbols (outlined in red), that could be the cause of your spacing problems. These little annoying snippets of code can cause unnecessary spacing; however, if properly harnessed, sometimes they also can help in your formatting. They are referred to as “non breaking spaces.”

Photo alignment can be a real struggle. In the HTML, look for the alignment code to make sure the photo is exactly where you want it. If it isn’t, you can try manually entering the direction in which you would like it to go in the code where it will say ‘align.’ If this does not solve the problem, try using Google to search for an alignment code that will shift the photo.

Bold and italic codes are pretty simple when the placement is correct. Some browsers often use the code <b> for bold instead of <strong> and <i> for italic instead of <em>. Make sure to always close the codes at the end by inserting the /. Otherwise, the code won’t produce the desired look.

The best way to flex your coding muscles is by practice, practice and more practice. If you don’t code often, using a practice site could be worthwhile. A great site to start with is called Codecademy. You can learn how to code for free and the people there are also pretty encouraging. Check out their success stories – and if you have a success story of your own to share, we would love to hear it!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Words: A Love Affair Still Going Strong

By Rose Strong

My grandmother instilled in me a love for books when I was growing up, which in turn spurred  my love of words. I enjoy words as individuals, set apart as singular combinations of letters. They don’t have to tell a story, as some words are simply beautiful or fun to let roll off your tongue. For example, say the word frittata…I’ll wait. Go ahead. Say it a few times, rolling those first two Ts across your tongue with a Latin-type accent. Fun, isn’t it?

I’m always interested in learning about the new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary each year and as a self-proclaimed klutzy bookworm, I follow few sports but I look forward to the Scripps National Spelling Bee when it’s on ESPN every May. And as an ardent listener of National Public Radio, I’m a fan of the Weekend Edition Sunday puzzler hosted by crossword puzzle master Will Shortz, who also is editor of the New York Times crossword.

The power of words is amazing. They can influence our emotions, change our thinking or call us to action. As a child, when I came home crying about kids calling me names because of my visible birthmark, my mother would sing-song the old cliché, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Although trying to make me feel better and give me a tough skin, it wasn’t long before I knew how powerful words could be. Lucky for me, it was before social media, as this article by Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D. for Psychology Today’s blog sadly points out how words can be a potent poison when used to cause pain.

Subliminal messages, those words and images of which we are not consciously aware, typically are sent through broadcast media such as commercials, movie theater ads and computer pop-ups, where they flash across a screen so quickly, we don’t know we’re even seeing them. However, their influence to make us purchase a product is strong and proven to work, as this article by Ian Zimmerman, Ph.D., for Psychology Today notes.

When we share words in a public forum such as social media, we want to use words that can create the greatest impact and be shared with the greatest number of people. Each social media platform has its own set of key words that will get you noticed. This infographic in Kevin J. Allen’s post on Ragan.com explains which words work best on which platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN.

I have a soft spot for a few words I truly enjoy. Although words such as palindrome, homophone and onomatopoeia aren’t often used in sentences on a regular basis, it just gave me joy to put them all here. This interesting list of words describing word play is a handy resource.

After reading this post by Kristen Wright on Ragan.com with some fantastic words not seen in everyday writing, I thought to share my own words that have made it on my ‘use more often’ list. Perhaps you’ll find one to add to your vocabulary in the coming days.

  • Plethora: a very large amount or number; an amount that is much greater than what is necessary
  • Serendipity: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for
  • Lollygag: to spend time doing things that are not useful or serious; to fool around and waste time
  • Flummoxed: confused
  • Gloaming: twilight or dusk
  • Haberdasher: a person who owns or works in a shop that sells men's clothing
  • Throes: a hard or painful struggle
  • Swoon: to become enraptured
  • Zaftig: referencing a woman: having a full rounded figure; pleasingly plump
  • Couscous: a North African food made from wheat in the form of very small, round pieces
  • Impetuous: marked by impulsive vehemence or passion

Are there any words you find fun, enjoy pronouncing or find ways to use in your writing? If so, send them through in the comments. I’d enjoy seeing what words you like.

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