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How Much Is Your Medical Data Is Worth?

How Much Is Your Medical Data Is Worth?

Believe it or not, your medical record has the potential to be sold for thousands of dollars. And due to the digitization of health records, it’s now more prone to theft.

Medical Technology

As more patient health records have gone digital over the years, they’ve become vulnerable to hackers—and far more valuable than credit-card data or other forms of confidential data.

Why? Because they contain insurance information that poachers can use for fraudulent billing and illegal prescriptions. These thieves can falsify insurance claims and collect checks and obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in free care on someone else’s insurance.

The healthcare industry wasn’t prepared for this, and they are trying to play catch up to secure protected health information (PHI):

“The U.S. has a huge shortage of highly qualified cybersecurity people across all industries,” says Rod Piechowski, a senior director at the Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society, or HIMSS, a Chicago-based nonprofit with more than 50,000 members. “Being late to the game, health care just can’t compete.”

Health IT professionals, although they are in great demand, haven’t been able to play a major role in employer’s’ software procurement decisions. This is unlike banking and the financial industry where their option is regularly solicited before a major IT system is implemented. And until recently cybersecurity wasn’t prioritized in healthcare the way it has been in financial services. The result is that IT professionals had no influence when it came to software security standards for medical care, and now they’re having to oversee systems that are difficult to safeguard.

If your PHI is breached, hackers have the information they need to blackmail you for the rest of your life. That’s because your EHR contains information like conditions you suffer from such as depression, anxiety or other psychological conditions, sexually transmitted diseases, or heart conditions. If released to the public, these might be an embarrassment to you or even keep you from obtaining a particular position.

How Bad Is It?

EHRs (electronic health records) are being used by over 96 percent of critical-care facilities, and 83 percent of all hospitals. While the digitization of health records enables easy access to patients’ information, if not properly safeguarded they’re also available to hackers. This poses a real threat to patient privacy.

In the year 2016, there were 450 data breaches where 27 million EHRs were affected. Of these, 120 came from the outside, while 200 (more than 65%) came from the inside.

In 2017, there were 477 healthcare breaches reported to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the media, which affected a total of 5.579 million patient records.

With major hospitals and healthcare organizations paying higher fines for lost patient data, the challenges of maintaining EHR security remains a huge concern. And because of this, the benefits of using them must be weighed against the risks of theft and misuse.

Presence Health in Chicago was fined USD475,000 by the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) because they didn’t report a 2013 breach in a timely manner. Advocate Health Care had to pay HHS a whopping USD5.5 million for a breach of patient privacy–the most ever by a single entity.

Compounding the issue, now physicians who are frustrated with the bogged down systems try to design their own workarounds to speed up processing of healthcare data. These ad hoc “shadow IT” systems are insecure and rely on unencrypted data and personal emails. It’s only a matter of time before a sophisticated hacker breaks in to steal their data.

How do hackers obtain medical records?

One of the ways they do this is through spoofing where the facility is fooled into thinking that the person accessing the information is legitimate. Plus, Microsoft researchers warn that many types of databases used for electronic medical records are vulnerable to leaking information despite the use of encryption.

Hospitals and healthcare organization use methods like data encryption and the scrambling of PHI (de-identification) to disguise data so hackers can’t read it.  However, the hackers simply steal the data and replace the encryption keys with their own to demand ransoms to unlock the data. This is called ransomware, and it’s very effective against healthcare facilities and hospitals that need ready access to patient data for their everyday operations.

Who are these hackers?

They’re not who you think they are. When we think of hackers, in our mind’s eye they are guys in hoodies working on computers in their parents’ basements. What’s hard to believe is that most attacks and data breaches don’t come from external hackers, but from the inside of an organization, where doctors, nurses or accounting personnel are negligent, abuse the system as disgruntled employees, or steal patient data for financial gain. In 2017, employee error affected 785,281 patient records and insider-wrongdoing affected 893,978.

One Promising Solution

Robert Lord, a former analytics systems designer, joined forces with Nick Culbertson, a former Special Forces operator when they were students at the John Hopkins University of Medicine. They created an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system to combat hacking of EHRs. They co-founded a cybersecurity company Protenus, to help the healthcare industry use artificial intelligence to prevent the theft of Protected Health Information and Electronic Health Records.

Lord explains:

“Your EHR contains all of your demographic information–names, historical information of where you live, where you worked, the names and ages of your relatives, financial information like credit cards and bank numbers…The medical record is the most comprehensive record about the identity of a person that exists today. We recognize that EHRs are living documents, so we’ve built an AI that is able to monitor how individuals interact with the EHR and associated systems, building a unique profile of every workforce member’s clinical and administrative workflow.”

The folks at Protenus are working on a solution that can tell the difference between routine access to EHRs or possible illegal attempts to retrieve this data. They do this by detecting unusual patterns and anomalies using AI that are then escalated to security officers. Over time, the solutions get “smarter” and learn exponentially as the customer base grows.

We’re Behind the 8 Ball When It Comes to Protecting EHRs.

Health care has lagged far behind banking and other industries when it comes to implementing security protocols. Until EHR records were mandated by Obamacare, many healthcare providers still used paper, faxes and handwritten charts. And once EHRs were finally implemented, the hackers were already a step ahead, and the medical industry is still scrambling to find ways to protect them.

Cybersecurity experts tell us that the seriousness of this can’t be overstated. The frequency of threats has taken off in the past 10 years as EHR data is increasingly networked between healthcare entities. And as we continue to struggle to secure our EHRs, increasingly savvy thieves are finding more ways to steal them.

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If You Don’t Know About These 3 Ways to Use Outlook 2016 More Efficiently, You’re Wasting Lots of Time

If You Don’t Know About These 3 Ways to Use Outlook 2016 More Efficiently, You’re Wasting Lots of Time

Microsoft Outlook is a professional email and calendar program that’s been used by businesses for over 15 years. It’s had many iterations over the years, but with 2016, and its integration with Office 365, Microsoft has taken Outlook to the next level. Today, small and medium-sized businesses that couldn’t afford the enterprise-level application can now benefit from Outlook 2016.

The following are 3 ways to help you use Outlook 2016 more efficiently.

1. Keyboard Shortcuts

Using keyboard shortcuts in Outlook on Windows will help you work more efficiently. It’s also handy for those who have mobility or vision disabilities because using keyboard shortcuts can often be easier than using a touchscreen or mouse. Here are some popular keyboard shortcuts you should try.

And there are more. Here are popular keyboard shortcuts for NAVIGATION:

When searching, try these handy keyboard shortcuts:

 

To create an item or a file keep these shortcuts in mind.

Shortcuts in Mail.

To see more Outlook 2016 Shortcuts go here.

2. Use Quick Steps

Right-click any email, choose Quick Steps and choose from the list.

We’re going to choose Team Email. The first time we use this, Outlook asks you to name your team and enter their email addresses.

Then create a Keyboard Shortcut for this. So, the next time you hit Control Shift 1, an email to your entire team can be composed.

You can also create new Quick Step. Simply choose Create New Quick Step.

Here are some other Quick Steps to try: 1

  • Move to Folder: This is essentially the same as Move To.
  • Categorize & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a category color and name to the message.
  • Flag & Move: This moves the selected message to a specific folder, marks the message as read, and assigns a flag to the message.
  • New Email To: This opens a New Message form with the To field already filled out with a particular recipient.
  • Forward To: This is essentially the same as To Manager.
  • New Meeting: If you often send meeting invites to the same group of people, use this Quick Step to open a New Meeting form with the To field already filled in with the invitees.
  • Custom: This opens the Edit Quick Step dialog box so that you can create your own custom Quick Step.

3. Use Conditional Formatting

This is used to change the look of a particular email. You do this in the View Menu.

Here, we just click on Conditional Formatting and create an email called Microsoft.

Next, we choose a condition, where the word Microsoft appears anywhere in an email.

Then, we ask it to appear in a bold red font.

Now, any new email we receive with the word Microsoft in it will show up in red. This is a great way for us to recognize the importance of an email. You may want to do this for any email with your boss’s name in it!

And, there are more ways you can get the most from Outlook 2016. Here are a few ideas:

EMAIL

  • Change the color and contrast of Outlook: You can also use a picture or color as the background, add a text watermark to your emails.
  • Customize emails with the fonts you prefer: Change the default font for various email messages you send, or a particular font for messages that you forward or reply to.
  • Create signatures for your different email accounts: Create personalized signatures for your email messages: include text, images, your electronic business card, a logo, or even an image of your handwritten signature. Signatures can be added automatically to all outgoing messages, or you can choose which messages should use a particular signature.
  • Setup sound alerts when new emails come in: A sound can play when a new email message arrives. The default sound is a short .wav audio file, but you can change it to any .wav file of your choice.
  • Establish tracking options with delivery receipts: A delivery receipt confirms delivery of your email message to the recipient’s mailbox.
  • Use Outlook’s templates for your messages or create your own: Use email templates to send messages that include information that rarely changes from message to message. You can also insert icons, photos, and tables into your messages.
  • Embed voting buttons in your email to survey your recipients about a particular topic (such as, “When’s the best date and time for a meeting?”): Voting buttons are an excellent way to poll people, especially when communicating with large groups.
  • Use Quickparts to insert a standard set of words you often use: Use the Quick Parts Gallery to create, store, and locate content, including AutoText, document properties such as title and author, and fields.
  • Clutter: This is where you can place low priority emails you want to read later. Clutter helps you filter these low-priority emails saving time for your most important messages. Office 2016 remembers “Clutter” emails if you want.  If Clutter isn’t for you, you can TURN IT OFF.
  • Create folders and subfolders: You can base these on topics, senders, organizations, projects, etc.—Whatever works for you and organize your emails under the subjects you choose. Use folders in Outlook to move email messages, add a folder to your Favorites, and set a rule to move specific emails out of your inbox.

CALENDAR

Outlook 2016 calendars have all the tools and functionality you’ve relied on in the past, with improved features to help you manage your time. 

  • Set up multiple calendars (e.g., personal, business, health, etc.).
  • Create appointments quickly and share them with your contacts.
  • Scheduling assistant lets you access others’ calendars that you’re authorized to view (and vice versa).
  • Set reminders, reoccurring appointments/meetings, alerts, and more.
  • View your calendar by day, week, month, and year.

CONTACTS

  • You can also import contacts to Outlook from other email providers using the Outlook Import/Export wizard. Import a CSV file, Excel spreadsheet, or vCard.
  • Your contacts are linked to your email accounts, so you can simply key a name in the “To” field, and your contact’s email address will appear.
  • Set permission for a particular contact (delegate) to view your emails while you’re on vacation. Plus, you can give this person access to your calendar, tasks, and so on, as appropriate. One delegate can take care of your email, another your tasks, etc.

TOOLS

  • Always know how much space is left in your account.
  • Notify those emailing you that you aren’t available during a particular period with Out of Office. You set up a special message you want others to see.
  • Even set up different messages for people inside or outside your organization. (Outlook will remind you that the “Out of Office” message is turned on, so you don’t forget when you return.)
  • As mentioned above, similar to having an assistant help you manage your incoming paper mail, you can use Microsoft Outlook to allow a delegate, to receive and respond to e-mail messages and meeting requests and responses on your behalf.
  • You can also grant additional permissions that allow your delegate to read, create, or have more control over items in your Microsoft Exchange Server mailbox—And, set more than one delegate and permissions for various tasks.

TASKS

Outlook 2016’s task management helps you accomplish to-dos faster and easier.

  • Categorize your tasks with color codes.
  • Ping reminders for tasks.
  • Check-off tasks when complete.
  • Create tasks for others as well. Outlook integrates tasks with your emails so that you can assign a task to a recipient.  The task will show up on their task list.

To learn more about how you can get the most from Outlook 2016 contact us.

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Big Changes For Google

Big Changes For Google

If You Want to Be First on Google Searches, Be Sure to Employ Best Practices for Mobile-First Indexing

Google Changes

On March 26th, 2018, Google announced that after over 18 months of testing they will now begin migrating sites that follow best practices for their mobile-first indexing. This means that Google will now use the mobile version of content to index and rank all websites. Before now, they used the desktop version of a webpage’s content to evaluate how relevant it is to users’ Google searches.

NOTE: You won’t have to change anything if you have a responsive site or a dynamic serving site where the main content and markup is the same in both. However, if your site configurations are different on your mobile and desktop site, you should make some changes to your site. You can check the structured markup across your desktop and mobile versions by typing their URLs into the Structured Data Testing Tool and comparing them.

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about this, so we’re providing some answers for you below.

Why is Google doing this?

Today, most of us search on Google using our mobile devices. Yet, their ranking system is still based on the desktop versions of websites. This creates issues if the mobile pages contain less data than the desktop pages. In this case, the Google algorithms can’t properly evaluate the actual page that’s seen by the mobile device user.

So, to make their results more accurate, Google started experimenting with their index mobile first initiative. And now that it’s been launched, it will be the primary way Google will search for content, show snippets and rank pages.

How does this work?

Google’s Googlebots (or crawlers) search and index web pages. Crawlers are robots or spiders that automatically locate and read websites by “crawling” from one link to another.

Last summer (June 2017) Google advised website owners to switch their m-dot domains to “responsive” before the Mobile-First Indexing launch. If you didn’t do this, then Google will fully index your m-dot content and URLs. This means that the migration for your site will take longer than it should because Google will have to update the content on your pages.

If you have separate desktop and mobile content for your website, this means that you have a dynamic-serving or separate m-dot site specifically designed for mobile devices.

It’s good to have an m-dot site because you can use it to enhance the mobile experience on your site without compromising your desktop or mobile experience.

Ensure you follow Google’s best practices if you want your sites to rank well now with their mobile-first indexing.

Should our mobile content be different than our desktop content? No. It should be the same. And don’t limit it either. This could cause your ranking to decline. If your mobile site contains less content than your desktop site, it’s time to update it. Plus, be sure you include all of your photos, images, and videos in their original indexable and crawlable formats.

What about the structured data? Should we include it on both of our mobile and desktop versions? Yes. The URLs in the structured data on the mobile versions should be updated to the mobile URLs. If you use Data Highlighter for this be sure to check your dashboard regularly for any extraction errors.

How about the metadata? Do we need it on both versions? Definitely. Make sure that titles and meta descriptions are identical across both versions of your site.

Things that you should verify to meet Google’s new Mobile-First Indexing:

  • Verify both your mobile and desktop sites in Google’s Search Console. Now that Google has switched over to mobile-first indexing your sites may have experienced a data shift.
  • Make sure your mobile site’s hreflang points to the mobile URL and the desktop hreflang points to the desktop URL.
  • Make sure your website server has enough capacity for the potential increased crawl rate on your mobile version.
  • Use the robots.txt testing tool to be sure that the Googlebot can access your mobile version.
  • Be sure that your robots.txt directives work properly on both your mobile and desktop sites.
  • Ensure that you have the correct rel=canonical and rel=link elements between your mobile and desktop versions. However, Google says that you shouldn’t have to make changes to your canonical links because they will continue to use them as guides for users who search on either on desktop or mobile sites.
  • If you add structured data to your mobile site, don’t add a lot of markups that aren’t relevant to the information.

The Finer Details

  • To allow or block Google’s crawlers from accessing any of your content, be sure to specify Googlebot as the user-agent.
  • To block pages from Google, blocking the user-agent Googlebot will also block all Google’s other user-agents.
  • You can also get more fine-grained control, like having all of your pages show up in Google Search, but not the images in your personal directory. You can use robots.txt to disallow the user-agent Googlebot-image from crawling the files in your personal directory (while allowing Googlebot to crawl all files). Go here for more details on how to do this and for other examples.

Three important points to remember:

  1. If you only verified your desktop site in Search Console, you must do so for your mobile version as well.
  2.  If you only have a desktop site, Google will continue to index your desktop site but use the mobile agent to do so. This should be fine.
  3. If you are still in the process of constructing your mobile version, it’s better to keep using the functional desktop site rather than trusting an incomplete mobile version of the site until it’s ready to launch.

To Summarize:

Google’s ranking, indexing and crawling systems used to use desktop versions of a page’s content. Now, because this may cause problems for mobile searchers they’ll be using the mobile version of a page instead. Google will be showing the mobile version of pages in their Search results and Google cached pages. You should also expect to see increased crawl rates from the Smartphone Googlebot.

You don’t have to worry too much because Google will always present the URL that is most appropriate no matter if it’s a mobile or desktop URL. While their index will be built from mobile documents, they say they will continue to build a great search experience for all users, whether they come from mobile or desktop devices.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us. Or you can always contact Google via their Webmaster Forum.

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Tired of Sending Marketing Emails That Go in the “Trash”?

Tired of Sending Marketing Emails That Go in the “Trash”?

Here Are The 10 Things You’re Doing Wrong

Email Marketing

Email is a very effective marketing tool. However, it’s also tough to execute properly. If you don’t plan correctly, understand what you’re doing wrong and how to remedy this, you’re simply wasting your time and money.

You aren’t getting new subscribers.

If you can’t entice new subscribers, you are simply spinning your wheels. Without an ever-increasing pool of subscribers, your open rates will suffer. If you want to grow your email list, you must clearly state the benefits of subscribing to it. Clearly state what you can offer, and how you can address people’s concerns. Your prospects need to know why they should sign on. Consider offering something for free that you believe will be of value to them like a free trial, sample product or document with relevant information.

Your subscribers keep leaving.

The best way to ensure that your current subscribers stay with you is by sending out relevant emails to the right audience. You must correctly identify your target audiences and segment your email list accordingly – this way you can address the various pain points for different subscribers. By segmenting your list, you can not only retain more subscribers but increase your click-through rates as well. All too often, an email strategy is more focused on the company’s needs rather than the customers’. Receiving too many irrelevant emails is the main reason subscribers opt out. If you want to keep subscribers, stay focused on your target audience and their needs, rather than yours.

Your email subject lines aren’t eye-catching.

This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face. People are overwhelmed with the amount of email they receive and will only open the messages that catch their eye. You must grab their attention in the subject line. Craft a message that is short and to the point. Personalizing the message in your subject line and keeping your message to fewer than 30 characters should help. A carefully written subject line will entice recipients to read the rest of your email.

You’re understaffed.

Performance always suffers when resources are limited. If you’re understaffed and “burning the midnight oil” just to stay afloat, your quality will suffer. Streamline your email process and look for bottlenecks and obstacles that slow your workflow. Take advantage of software automation tools that help your email team design and code emails more quickly. If necessary, you may need to hire more staffers, both full-time and part-time, or contract with freelancers. Freelancers can also offer expertise that your team may lack.

Your deliverability suffers.

You may have the best emails and subject lines, but if they are being sent to the junk inbox, you’re doomed to failure. Your emails must get through any spam filters. When your deliverability rate suffers, you can get blocked altogether by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). How do you fix this? Don’t use spam words in your subject lines. Phrases such as “make money,” “earn cash,” “save $” will go directly to spam mail. And, of course, ensure that your prospects’ email addresses are accurate. Consider asking people who visit your website to re-confirm their email address when signing on to your list. This way you can make sure you have their correct email address from the start.

You need a new ESP.

You need an Email Service Provider that works for you. Some focus more on larger enterprises or certain verticals like e-commerce. You need an ESP that fits your brand. Try using more than one to see if this is the problem. Measure your success rates with each one. You can employ analytics tracking with multiple ESPs. Some businesses use up to four different ones to increase the odds that their emails will be delivered. Use the ones that provide you the best rates for delivery.

You need to cull your list.

You may need to remove contacts that have been inactive for a long time or those who never open your emails or go to your website. If you know that a lot of the emails on your list are no longer active, delete them. They just cost you money. You must maintain your list. You can also do this by letting subscribers manage their preferences (to opt-out if they want). Set up a way for them to change their communication preferences like what kind of information they want to receive or how often they want to receive them. This helps to build the sense of trust that they require to stay with you.

Your team is sabotaging your efforts.

You may be doing everything right, but other departments aren’t. If customer service is lacking, you’re sure to lose subscribers. If your website or mobile application isn’t easy to use, subscribers will get frustrated and go to a competitor. Keeping customers happy requires teamwork. Get together regularly with other departments in your company to share experiences, concerns, successes, and insights. Ensure your team members are onboard with your email strategy, measure your results and work together to fix what’s broken. Set up read-only access to your marketing emails for team members so they’re kept apprised. Everyone must be on the same page and working in unison.

You’re not measuring results and adjusting your strategy accordingly.

Measuring the performance of email campaigns is imperative. Unless you know what works and what doesn’t, you’re leaving money on the table. Implement a closed-loop marketing strategy to achieve the results you’re looking for. This means following a subscriber from the initial point of contact to their conversion as a paying customer. Be sure to leverage the available data from your ESP and feed your data back to them to get more visibility into your results. When making adjustments based on data, do so in increments and prioritize your changes. This way you can continue to measure the results of your changes one by one until you get it right.

You aren’t using the right process.

Not having a plan will make your job so much more difficult. Your email process should be designed to speed up your email production and improve quality control. You need an extensive pre-sending plan. Here’s one to go by. You fill in the blanks according to your goals.

  1. Plan your marketing strategy
  2. Collect data on your target audience
  3. Construct your database
  4. Define your email plan
  5. Define your content
  6. Setup your emails
  7. Send your emails
  8. Measure your results

Goal setting is crucial to your email marketing success. It will help to guide the direction of your campaign, make it easier for you to measure results, and increase the odds that you’ll ultimately succeed in the end.

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From Unaware Interns To Evil Executives: How To Say Sayonara With Skill

From Unaware Interns To Evil Executives: How To Say Sayonara With Skill

It’s never easy to terminate an employee. The skill of firing with flair is a sensitive but necessary process that everyone should learn!

Firing an employee

It happens to the best of us. We post an advertisement for an available position on job boards across the Internet. We scour through the thousands (and thousands) of submitted resumes. We painstakingly choose the best candidates (on paper) to bring in for an interview, and we try to pose the questions that should result in the most thought-provoking and inspired responses, giving us the deepest insight into their soul – in about 30 minutes or less. We thank each interviewee dutifully for their time, wonder if we’ll get the perfunctory thank-you note or if their manners will go remiss, and try to decide who makes the cut and gets the job offer. Fast forward to the day we discover the candidate doesn’t stack up to the promises made during the hiring and onboarding process – and it’s time for the HR team to tactfully terminate.

We’ve all been there. The goal is always to build a team that is dedicated, loyal, and earnest – but too many times we encounter flaws with one of these characteristics, and the relationship is no longer, as the saying goes, mutually beneficial. Is your termination process thorough? What steps do you need to take to protect yourself and your business from retaliation in preparation before a potentially hostile departure? Read on to cover all your bases, but leave the exit details to the HR team.

First Things First

Once you have a full grasp of the outstanding projects and deadlines that still need to be met, you can move on to the most pressing matters.

Access: All login credentials

  • For global enterprises, there are large IT teams that oversee just logins and passwords alone – but since you’re reading this, you don’t work for IBM or Apple with a department of staff dedicated solely to current credential maintenance.
    • Network
      • Most organizations require a username and password to access anything related to the organization itself: email, file storage, etc. and this is the first of many credentials that should be addressed to ensure swift and secure measures to protect the company after a termination.
    • Email
      • First, change the password. The terminated party likely has their work email on their smartphone and thus can access their email immediately upon departure from the office. This offers the chance for damage or sabotage, such as deleting emails from their inbox or sending damaging emails to contacts.
      • Maintain the email account by having another party monitor incoming messages. Consider setting up an auto-reply feature to notify senders to the recipient that further communications should be directed to another email address for attention in the future.
      • One task that tends to be overlooked in the immediacy of a departure is the removal of the terminated party from internal distribution lists and notifications.
      • Lastly, if the individual has suspected termination was imminent, they may have deleted emails before the action taking place. There is a brief window when email recovery is still possible, but the standard time frame is 30 days.
    • VPN or remote access
      • If your company allows remote network access, likely through a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or a service like LogMeIn, a team member likely only needs to have this access set up one time and store their login and password at the remote point of access. The simplest way to prevent future access with this is by changing the affected password. If a platform like LogMeIn is the primary connection method, the administrator will need to be the one to change the user’s access settings.
    • Intranet
      • Typically, an organization uses an Intranet portal to store internal communications or Human Resources information like health insurance details, company directories, staff handbooks, forms and processes, office calendars and holiday schedules, and any other pertinent documentation related to operations. Access removal or password change to a network will often serve to prevent further access to this area, but a quick verification of settings here is still wise.
    • Cloud Storage
      • To prevent anyone from accessing files after termination, and for similar reasons as above – sabotage or deletion – change any access passwords for this portal. It’s very likely that proprietary information on projects, clients, or other sensitive information is stored here.
      • If termination is pending for an individual, it’s wise to preemptively make a back-up of these files and store them elsewhere for later access.
      • If your company uses cloud providers like Dropbox for Business, Microsoft OneNote or SharePoint, your administrator will need to lock the account for security, likely by resetting the password.
    • Data Recovery
      • Files
        • If after the termination and departure is complete you notice files are missing and suspect deletion, time is critical for data recovery.

What else can you do?

Aside from the items listed above, any organization should take every precaution possible to protect themselves in any situation. At some point, a termination is inevitable, and proper handling of the process can be what defines the outcome.

  • Enact security protocols that limit or prevent the use of external devices like hard drives or thumb drives.
  • Prevent team members from removing any proprietary data from the premises. This is almost impossible in the case of a distributed workforce, but you can require all files to be stored in a central repository to minimize risk.
  • It’s worth taking the time to review the terminated party’s outgoing email in “Sent Items” to verify if any messages were forwarded to a personal email address.
  • It’s always challenging to decide if a note to other team members is a good idea, alerting staff to the departure of an individual. Privacy policies typically protect the terminated party, and a perfunctory statement of “Sally Smith is no longer with the company as of April 1, 2018. We wish her well in future endeavors. Any questions, concerns, or communications may be directed to her supervisor, Billy Boss, moving forward” or something very similar, so long as it’s kept generic.

Handling a termination is never easy. The most important aspect of any termination is to protect the company – it sounds harsh, but it’s a fact. Preventing someone who is being fired from stealing information and using it to damage a company or sabotage a brand or person is a challenging task.

With the proper processes in place, anyone can minimize the risk to the company, ensuring survival after saying sayonara!

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Is Your Business Hemorrhaging Money?

Is Your Business Hemorrhaging Money?

Hint: It Will If Your IT Network Goes Down.

You’re lying in bed, almost asleep when, “Oh no! Another lightning strike -that means the power probably went out in the office!”

Computer Network Down

Does the sound of thunder keep you awake at night wondering if your IT network will be up and running the next morning? It can happen to the most successful of businesses. That is unless you’ve planned to ensure it doesn’t.

IT downtime is a reoccurring nightmare for small and midsize businesses (SMBs) today.

Technology is Great – Until It Stops Working

This is the “Catch-22” of today’s technology dependence. With a reliable, secure and stable IT network, your small business can compete with the “Goliaths” of the world. You can reach across oceans, mountains, and continents to serve customers almost anywhere, 24/7. You couldn’t do this 10 years ago, but with today’s technology, the opportunities are endless. You can really make some money now – unless your network goes down.

The “big guys” you compete with can absorb a few IT failures, but you can’t. They have the resources and backup IT infrastructures to keep operating and profiting. For you, an IT failure could result in a real drain on your bank account, and ultimately, the end of your business.

Some Alarming Statistics:

The National Archives & Records Administration reports that 93% of small and midsize businesses file for bankruptcy within 12 months of experiencing data loss and prolonged downtime for 10 or more days.

The Aberdeen Group revealed that the annual cost of downtime for a small business with fewer than 100 employees amounts to $25,806. Furthermore, midsize businesses with 100 to 1,000 employees lose $880,600 annually due to IT failures.

Most IT Downtime Can Be Prevented.

That is if you’re prepared. So, what should you do?  Ask a professional IT company (a Managed Services Provider) to conduct a Risk AnalysisVulnerability Assessment, develop a Disaster Recovery Plan, and implement Next-Generation Firewalls and Defense-in-Depth Cybersecurity for your business.

Unfortunately, many SMB managers and owners prefer to put this off until a disaster hits, or when the “hiccups” in their IT system become unbearable. In the meantime, every “hiccup” costs them money, and the major downtime events cost them more than they can afford.

50% of SMBs don’t have a Disaster Recovery Plan in place, and 41% haven’t even thought about it.

This is like gambling with your livelihood every day- and you know that when you gamble, the odds are usually against you. Maybe you know that this could eventually prove to be a costly mistake, but do you know that if you aren’t properly prepared that it’s already costing you money every day?  If you’re relying on break/fix IT services, you aren’t properly prepared. These companies don’t provide the proactive, preventive service your business requires today.

Many businesses just like yours are hemorrhaging money by relying on high hourly rates, extra charges and long wait times for IT support.

Greater Dependence on Technology = Greater Risk

It’s a paradox – technology serves you well, and your business probably wouldn’t be here today without it. However, the more you depend on it, the greater your risk of failure.

If your small dental practice has to pay $25K to recover from a phishing scam, and you had to cancel appointments for the next 10 business days, would you be able to afford to open your doors in two weeks?  Or if your legal practice has to shell out $45K for data recovery and IT repairs, could you make payroll next week? Not to mention the fines and litigation you could face for HIPAA and other regulatory infractions. This could put you out of business entirely when your patients and clients find out.

Did you know that nearly 40% of SMBs will have their network compromised by a hacker? Most won’t even know their IT system fails.

How Much Can You Afford to Lose?

It’s time for a reality check – the fact is that unless you’re properly prepared, your data can be compromised, your IT system can fail, or both. Take the time to ask a few questions to determine if you can afford this risk.

  1. Based on the statistics we’ve revealed, how much downtime do you think your business can afford to put up with?
  2. How much time in productivity do you lose each day due to IT interruptions or unreliable Internet access?
  3. How fast can your current IT company respond to emergencies?
  4. Is your critical data backed up every day both onsite and in a secure cloud?
  5. Can you quickly access your data in the event of a theft, flood, fire or other damage to your IT system?
  6. Do you know if your backups are truly reliable?
  7. Is the data on your mobile devices backed up every day?
  8. Is your network safe from hackers?
  9. Are your employees fully informed about cybersecurity tactics?
  10. Do you have IT professionals conduct Vulnerability Audits on a regular basis?

Downtime Can Be Prevented, But Disasters Can’t

Here’s another question for you: Are you taking advantage of today’s managed cloud solutions? Smart business owners and managers know that cloud-based and virtualized backup solutions mitigate damage from downtime. It allows them to access their data quickly and securely from wherever they have an Internet connection. It’s a cost-effective method that provides business continuity capabilities in the event of an IT disaster. Virtualization allows for business servers to be grouped into one software bundle. This means all your operating systems, applications and data are safely stored in the cloud for quick restoration if required.

Server virtualization involves the partitioning of your physical server into smaller virtual machines (VMs), so you can also maximize your IT resources. With Cloud and Virtualization Services, you can migrate your data to another server during repairs or other required tasks. You’ll no longer need to shut down your servers and deal with downtime. Your data will always be available, and your capacity for business continuity will be greatly enhanced.

Important! Migrating your infrastructure to the cloud takes preparation and expertise. Only a certified IT provider should be trusted to handle this.

With the right cloud solution and virtualization, you’ll no longer need to shut down your servers and deal with downtime. Your data will always be available, and your business continuity will be greatly enhanced. By heeding the advice we’ve imparted here, your business can thrive and your bank account can grow.

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Battle To The Death – Three Virtual Assistants Enter; Only One Will Survive

Battle To The Death – Three Virtual Assistants Enter; Only One Will Survive

First, there was Siri, then Cortana, and then Alexa. Each virtual assistant comes equipped with a rich package of features and capabilities, but who is the best in the business?

Virtual Administrator

Every April, organizations big and small all over celebrate Administrative Assistants Day as a show of gratitude for the staff that carries out the day-to-day administrative operations. These are the individuals that make sure communications reach the proper contacts, that calendars are maintained, and appointments are kept. Good administrative assistants are indispensable to an enterprise, and truly deserve recognition more than one day each year.

The job of an administrative assistant — or any assistant — is to support the position they assist; Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Typing, faxing, emailing, answering calls, scheduling appointments, and all duties that fall under this umbrella require great organization and attention to detail. Duties don’t always stay within the 8-5 workday, and responsiveness is key.

When the Palm Pilot launched as one of the earlier electronic mobile devices for mobile communication with features for schedules and task organization, followed by BlackBerry models, and then the iPod Touch among many others, artificial intelligence emerged as an economical option and valuable tool for consumers. These devices at the time were just an extension of administrative assistants, though.

Enter the virtual assistant. Artificial intelligence (AI) has truly enabled technology to support human activity. From machines helping build machines — think automobile manufacturing lines – to machines helping people fix people — think 3D printers creating a replica of a heart or other organ to assist surgeons in planning an operation – the common thread is that artificial intelligence enables us to improve the world through the use of machines. Do you wear a Fitbit or another activity tracker? From counting your steps to telling time to monitor your heart rate to tracking your exercise route with built-in GPS capabilities, the little machine on your wrist is pretty incredible. Virtual assistants offer support on a basic level, but with more sophisticated capabilities, like voice-enabled operations and support.

Apple launched Siri, the built-in intelligent personal assistant, in 2011. Siri was designed to answer questions and perform basic actions using Apple apps on the iPhone. Apple worked with voice actors from British, Australian and American backgrounds to offer support in native “accents” given the global use of Apple products.

Both Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana followed in 2014, bolstering an AI competition that is most beneficial to the consumer. A common misperception is that Amazon’s Alexa is tethered to devices used only in a home, enabling home automation services. Alexa is designed to work with several Acer, Lenovo, and HP desktop and laptop computers as well as the Fire tablet line-up and a handful of mobile devices – though none carry the mobile market presence as the iPhone.

  • For decades, roles in the administrative assistant capacity were relegated to females – perhaps this is why the default voice in the virtual assistant market is female?

Each of the virtual assistants offers an assortment of the same type of features: set alarms, provide weather reports, sports scores, Internet search results, and other real-time options like news, driving directions, and traffic alerts. But with so many AI virtual assistants on the market and consumers have more options, which brings the most bang for the buck? Which offers the most robust features? Which has the coolest capabilities? We break down the “Big Three” and let you decide.

Siri

Siri was the first and is thereby the model for all others that come after. Siri was the first voice-activated, voice-controlled virtual assistant, and dominated the market for three years before her first true competitor came along. With a quick “Hey, Siri!”, she was eager and waiting to help you out! Siri’s user interface was pretty basic initially, but considering the innovative concept of a responsive virtual assistant in your pocket, consumers were happy with basic. Siri has evolved into a much more robust and astute virtual assistant, though she still prefers to look things up on the Internet and just give you her search results. This is reported because of Apple’s dedication to user privacy, and a commitment to not collecting data from browser history or emails – like Google does – for Internet search results.

Siri’s lack of integration with non-native apps is rather frustrating. Some partner apps will offer more complex functionality, but with most apps, users are limited to basic “open” commands and exclude secondary commands – think “open Facebook and create new status update” or something along those lines. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not something Siri can help you with – yet.

Cortana

Cortana had a built-in cult following even before she was a reality! “Cortana” was the code name for the AI virtual assistant project from Microsoft, but once leaked Cortana was a wildly popular name in user forums and users initiated a petition to Microsoft to keep the name upon release – and we now know how that turned out! The code name was a reference to a synthetic intelligence character in Microsoft’s Halo video game, and the same voice actress lent her voice to the virtual assistant.

One area Cortana has others beat is language support. Rather than just English, Cortana also supports Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

The downside of Cortana? Depending on your browser preference, Cortana may offer limitation in this aspect, only offering Internet search results in Bing (not Google). But Bing offers users rewards based on search activity volume, so perhaps this default is beneficial. Side by side, Bing and Google search results can differ, which is why we consider this a ‘downside’. An interesting note for Cortana, too, is that it offers a built-in music recognition capability. Could Cortana have plans to take on fan-favorite music discovery app Shazam? In case you weren’t paying attention, Shazam was recently acquired by Apple (iTunes springboard, anyone?).

  • Microsoft, lover of all things collaborative and integration, has plans for integrating Cortana into Skype, and we can’t wait to see how that pans out.

Alexa

Amazon’s Alexa is the exception to the rule in more than one way. Unique to the virtual assistant market, Alexa is standard on Amazon Echo devices – which are not smartphones but rather designed to primarily support home automation. This is rather genius in that Alexa supports orders and shopping through a user’s Amazon account with stored payment and shipping details, conveniently offering a built-in way for Amazon to monetize their virtual assistant.

Alexa is an audio-only voice-activated AI virtual assistant. She has to read all results out loud to you – but more importantly, interact directly with you. She is the foundation of a smart home rather than confined to a smartphone.

Alexa is also designed to work with third-party apps. Want to play a Spotify playlist? Alexa’s got you covered. Need a ride? Alexa can now order you an Uber. Alexa can help you order dinner due to integration with Pizza Hut and Domino’s, among others. Can Siri or Cortana do that? They can help you track down the phone number or website, but that’s the extent of their help. Alexa will also get you in (quick) shape — body or mind — with a daily 7-minute workout and a Jeopardy game.

  • Amazon wants Alexa to be essential to your home environment. Many households are already Amazon Prime members, relishing unlimited two-day shipping for a meager $99/year. This packages nicely with the Amazon Echo product line-up, each designed to work seamlessly with each other and integrate with your Amazon account while supporting home automation. Consumers notice weekly emails from Amazon with helpful tips on “what Alexa can do for you” details.

What’s the verdict?

Alexa is nice in your home or office, but for the power of the virtual assistant in your pocket and on the go, Siri was the first and is still the best! Setting up a to-do list, scheduling meetings and reminders, sending emails – it’s all pretty crucial for day-to-day mobile operations, and “mobile” is the keyword. Amazon is expanding what Alexa can do, but for now, it’s still second to Siri.

What will the rest of 2018 hold for the AI virtual assistant future? We can’t wait to see!

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Vanilla Ice Was Right – “Stop. Collaborate and listen!”

Vanilla Ice Was Right – “Stop. Collaborate and listen!”

Microsoft Teams provides a rich environment with a wealth of apps and features, including a customizable user experience. Here are tips for making the most of Microsoft Teams.

In 1989, Robert Van Winkle (better known by his stage name, Vanilla Ice) gave the world some valuable advice –  “Stop. Collaborate and listen!

He raised a valid point nearly 30 years ago that professionals are shifting the focus to today; listening is a critical component of collaboration. Listening is one of the primary steps in the communication process, and communication is the foundation of collaboration. Pretty deep insight for a decades-old pop culture song that wasn’t meant to provoke deep thought!

What the song did not focus on was how collaborations relate in today’s tech-savvy world – understandable since cellphones had extending antennae and weighed about four pounds in 1989. In 2018, the goal of any collaborative environment is to merge team members, conversations, and content in an easily accessible location. For example, the team behind Slack – the widely-used collaborative platform after which all other collaborative platforms are now modeled – took what they didn’t like about various solutions already on the market, made vast improvements and then married these improvements with what features they did like. The result was a freemium platform made available for everyone to enjoy. Millions of users later, Slack seems to be doing something right.

The team over at Microsoft agrees, which is why the buzz was in overdrive recently with the tech world in full gossip mode about hints that Microsoft was in talks to acquire Slack. No matter how little truth there may be to these rumors, the fact is Microsoft did not acquire Slack, and instead released their solution for an Internet-relay chat (IRC) program: Microsoft Teams.

You might say Microsoft did the same thing Slack did, in that the developers over at Microsoft picked apart Slack, categorized what they liked and what they didn’t like in terms of features and functionality, and made their solutions with their version of improvements. Rather than come up with a catchy name, they stuck to the basics and called the program after the users it was designed to support: Teams. Built-in branding, right? The definition of a team is “a group of players forming one side in a competitive game or sport”. Taking this definition one step further, a team is a group of individuals that share a goal and works together toward this common goal (or goals). Each member of a team has individual strengths they contribute, together supporting the collective achievement of the goal.

  • Microsoft Teams itself is a collaborative effort: users can submit feedback for features they would like to see added to improve the overall end-user experience. Microsoft has already included a few added features post-launch based on user-submitted requests.

This entire concept is the fundamental spirit of collaboration. What is most important in any collaborative effort is the community, communication, and information. This spirit is clear in Microsoft Teams, with the combination of workplace chat, meeting space, notes forums, and file sharing. The focus on user experience in the design of Microsoft teams is significant and obvious from the start. Users can see the variety of integrated apps in the tab gallery accessed in the user main navigation menu at the center of the top section of your screen, or in the Store experience found in the left navigation menu, at the bottom. Team admins are able to customize the user experience to cater to team requirements.

Microsoft Teams supports a host of third-party integrations, with Team admins having control of settings for what apps are available to their respective users. Do you need help with adjusting this feature? Here are the steps you’ll need to follow:

  • A Team admin needs to login to the Office 365 Admin Center (or “dashboard”): https://portal.office.com
  • In the left navigation menu, expand Settings and select “Service & Add-ins.”
  • Scroll and select Microsoft Teams.
  • In the pop-up menu that opens, you’ll see several Settings options. Choose “Apps”. These settings are divided into two groups:
    • The first group, “Default Apps”, are premier apps that are part of Office 365, like Flow or OneNote. These are toggled on and enabled.
    • “External Apps” are applications created by partner developers and are not necessarily associated with Microsoft other than these developers publish apps to the Microsoft environment. Adobe Creative Cloud is an example of an application in this group.
    • Click “Save” and changes are deployed immediately.

Team admins have control over what apps are available to – and seen by – your users, to maximize productivity through user experience. Microsoft Teams suggests turning off apps for which you don’t use or plan to grant user access.

Other settings Team admins can adjust for users in the Settings menu include allowing of sideloading external apps; apps you might develop yourself fall into this category. There is also an option to allow Microsoft to automatically update with apps they add and integrate. Apps are often added, and enabling automatic inclusion is one less “update” a Team admin needs to consider.

  • “Apps” is one of the big buzzwords of the year. Apps are software applications designed to simplify a process. Of the thousands of apps available, only a select few are chosen by an organization for regular use, with the intention of improving productivity, thereby increasing revenue.

Partner apps add significant value to the Microsoft Teams environment, contributing to the collaborative environment. Recent partner apps added to Microsoft Teams include News, Weather, and Wikipedia Search. An example here is the recent announcement of expanded Education partner apps to be included in Microsoft Teams, helping educators and students with a tailored experience for learning environments.

On that note, Microsoft has heard user requests to be able to manage apps by security group, and this is a feature Microsoft plans to launch in the coming months. In the meantime, make the most of Microsoft Teams by studying all apps that can be integrated at the user level, reviewing your settings for managing apps for your users, and customize your Team’s user experience. Remove apps that are unnecessary.

The ultimate goal of Microsoft Teams is to provide a completely customizable experience that can be managed by an admin and drilled down to users based on the needs of the organization – and its users – providing a priceless and indispensable tool for teams and organizations.

How can Microsoft Teams help you make 2018 your best year yet? Find out which new and exciting apps are waiting for you – and your team – today!

Microsoft Teams

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Tired Of Replacing Tech Every Year And A Half?

Tired Of Replacing Tech Every Year And A Half?

How often do you buy a new laptop, tablet or mobile phone? Does it seem like there’s an internal alarm clock that predicts the time of your next purchase? We can help you hit the “snooze” button and save more money.

Investing in new tech

Apple made news recently with an admission of its practice to release updates that would slow performance of older phones as a byproduct, indirectly increasing frustration and thereby prompting consumers to “need” to upgrade their phone. It’s been a long-running joke that, with two-year contracts with mobile service providers, consumers could count on increased frustrations near the 18-month mark to build anticipation for the next smartphone iteration.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of consumer goods relies on the basic elements of supply and demand. While consumers maintain the mentality of “upgrade every two years”, manufacturers released new products on a set timetable, and subsidized costs helped to feed our appetite for the newest, fastest tech with the coolest features. Who doesn’t love a built-in schedule feeding supply and demand? Desktop computing systems experience the effect, as well, though the phenomenon doesn’t receive the same coverage, perhaps because these systems have been around for longer than mobile devices and consumers have just come to accept the situation.

Now that the days of service contracts and subsidized phone costs are over, consumers hold more control over their technology – and their wallets.  With the barrier to entry centering on higher costs — that are no longer subsidized — consumers are looking for ways to make all types of tech last longer. This is especially helpful given that the cost of tablets, most notably the iPad, continues to inch higher as our dependency on mobile technology increases. How can we make our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop tech last longer and run more smoothly?

Desktops and Laptops

Review your system using these guidelines as a checklist, and see how some light housekeeping may help:

  • Is your system freezing or crashing more often?
    • Crashes and freezing can be a reminder to reboot, allow your applications to restart and reset, clear your memory cache and cookies, and just give your machine the chance to let go of anything it’s been unnecessarily holding onto in temporary files.
    • These can also be a sign of something more serious, and it may be a good idea to run an antivirus program, like Avast, to make sure you’re not a victim of malware, viruses, or ransomware attacks.
  • Is your storage nearly full?
    • When a hard drive fills over 75% capacity, the effect on a system is an overall slow-down. Consider moving to a free cloud-based storage solution, like Dropbox or Google Drive. If you’re an Amazon Prime user, take advantage of your benefit of unlimited photo storage that also offers you the ability to organize photos into albums that you can share with friends and family with just a click.
  • When was the last time you checked for and installed system updates?
    • Outdated operating systems can significantly decrease a system’s performance. Check for updates and install them, since these almost always contain updates that improve performance and maintain security.
  • Is your computer clean?
    • We don’t mean viruses here – we mean “clean”. Dust and particles can get down into crevices and gunk up innards. This can impede airflow, causing a system to overheat, and make your system work harder than it needs to operate effectively. A can of compressed air can do wonders with hidden dust particles in the tiniest of spaces.

Smartphones and Devices

Much like with any computer, smartphones and tablets need routine maintenance to perform at their best. Sluggish and slow speeds hinder your ability to get things done. Never is the phrase “time is money” truer than when trying to send an email or make a call, in attempt to conduct business and finalize a transaction.

Keep your mobile devices operating at their peak efficiency by regularly checking through the following areas:

  • Photo storage
    • Ever wondered why smartphones still offer the option of the shutter sound when taking pictures? The sound is both nostalgic and satisfying. We take photos of moments to help us remember – but we take more photos now compared to the days of film.
    • Our digital memories are eating up our digital storage. Cloud storage is an easy solution, but few take advantage of the opportunity. As we mentioned earlier, Amazon Prime users can take advantage of free unlimited photo storage and create shareable albums. This is a safer option than Facebook, given it’s a service you pay for, and you retain control of the account!
  • Email Inbox(es)
    • A single email message has an almost undetectable impact on your phone’s operation, but how many emails do you get in one day? A hundred? More likely a few thousand messages or more come to you throughout the average work week, and that fills space quickly in your device’s memory. De-clutter your inbox, and start seeing a difference.
  • How many applications do you have installed that you don’t use?
    • Applications can take up a lot of memory space. You can see which applications have the greatest impact on your phone’s settings, and eliminate applications that you haven’t used. Regain screen real estate, too!
  • How many applications are running?
    • Not only can applications take up space, but they can also drain your battery faster. Over time, this can wear down your battery which means it will just drain faster and faster, regardless of how many applications are running at any one time.
  • Internet windows
    • Much like on a desktop where you may have more than a dozen tabs open and running in a single Internet browser session, your phone will open a new window as many times as you like. Again, much like with your desktop browser that stores cookies and browser history that takes up RAM, your phone keeps this data stored, as well, slowing down operations.
  • When in doubt, restart
    • The occasional restart can act as a “reset” for your phone, and you may see an improvement in performance after rebooting.
  • Are there updates available?
    • Whether for an application or your operating system, there are reasons that updates are made available to consumers. Updates are intended to improve the overall operation of your mobile device, and it’s recommended that you keep your phone’s operating system and applications up to date.
  • Is your device clean?
    • Keep your screen wiped, your speakers clear of debris, and your camera lens and charging port clean. Dust and grime can creep into the tiniest of crevices and build up, affecting the interior workings of your phone.

Keeping your technology operating efficiently takes effort on your part, but the return on your time investment will extend their lifespan and decrease the long-term maintenance costs you would need to spend otherwise. Following these basic preventive maintenance tips will make your tech last longer and save you time – and money.

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Shining A Light On The Dark Web: How Much Is Your Personal Information Selling For?

Shining A Light On The Dark Web: How Much Is Your Personal Information Selling For?

The dark web is a busy illegal market. To best protect yourself you need to know what items are in high demand, how much they go for, and how to best protect your information so that you don’t fall victim to this type of crime.

Dark Web

The Internet is a scary place – a black market web of illicit and illegal acts. The old saying that the best offense is a good defense applies to the Internet as well – to protect yourself you must know what is out there.

How often is it that portions of our identities are bought and sold on the web? What is secure and what isn’t? How much are people paying for personal information on the dark web? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

What information is sold on the dark web Price
Social Security $1
General Non-financial institution logins $1
Subscription services $1-$10
Credit Debit card numbers without the CVV $5-$110
Credit Debit card numbers with CVV $10-$115
Loyalty accounts $20
Driver’s License $20
Online Payment Services $20-$200
Fullz info $30
Diplomas $100-$400
Passport $1000-$2000
Medical Records $1-$1000

When it comes to protecting your personal information, often the first thing you think about is your Social Security number. Many believe it’s the only thing that gets routinely sold on the dark web. Surprisingly, the data shows that this is not in the least bit true.

Social Security numbers are only valued at $1. For less than the cost of a candy bar, you can buy a Social Security number, general non-financial institution logins, or subscription service logins such as Netflix or Hulu. Forbes magazine reported that in December of 2017 a file with 1.4 billion hacked and leaked passwords was found on the dark web. A bulk of these passwords and logins were for subscription accounts on Netflix, Last.FM, LinkedIn, MySpace, dating site Zoosk, adult website YouPorn, as well as for favorite games like Minecraft and Runescape.

Beyond subscriptions to streaming services, hackers gain make real money off of your personal information. For example, with just $5 you can afford to buy credits card numbers. If you want credit card numbers with the CVV number, it will cost you only an additionally $5. One of the more surprising items is that the dark web wants are loyalty accounts. For the cost of a typical gym membership, you can have a person’s loyalty account number or their Driver’s License number.

For about the cost of a dozen roses ($30), you can find all kinds of Online Payment services or “Fullz” info. Fullz information is an information bundle that includes a name, SSN, birthday, account number, and other data. This cost has gone down since 2015; in just two years’ time, Fullz information has dropped from $15-$65 to just $10-$30.

On the more expensive end of the dark web, you can find items from diplomas and passports, to even medical records. These can run you $100-$400 and $1000-$2000 respectively. These items being on the black market have their own repercussions. It begs the question of why medical records were worth so much more, in comparison to spending $1 for a Social Security number.

Jean-Frederic Karcher, the head of security at communications provider Maintel explains that “The main reason medical institutions and the NHS are targeted is that they have vast amounts of patient data at their disposal. Hackers can sell large batches of this personal data for profit on the black market”.

What causes the difference in cost for personal information on the dark web?

There are four main factors that impact the price of personal information. The first two elements are a fundamental economics equation where cost is dependent on the supply and demand. Another factor is the balance of the account – if the credit card has significant available credit, it will cost more. Same with loyalty cards that have a high stability of points. Lastly, the cost of personal data can be dependent on the ability to reuse the data. For example, a person would pay more for a credit card that they can use multiple times, as compared to a gift card they could use only once.

How are they getting this information and what can you do to protect yourself?

“According to the ITRC, data breaches in the United States during 2016 hit an all-time high of 1,093, which represents a 40% increase over the previous year.” Weak passwords and unmonitored accounts are the leading causes of identity theft.

Weak passwords

Often cybercriminals can gain access to this information from simple things such as poor password choices or weak antivirus software. Overlooking small vulnerabilities such as these gives opportunities for your information to be sold on the dark web.

Unmonitored financial accounts

To best protect yourself, you should monitor your accounts and statements for anything that looks suspicious. Hackers usually target people that they know they could get a good lead on. For example, an elderly lady, that can’t see that well, won’t be tracking her account like a younger person would be on a smaller budget.

Unmonitored credit reports

Thirdly, remember to check your credit report often. If you are subscribed to a credit report service, remember to keep copies of your report anytime they are requested. For example, if you buy a vehicle, or open a credit card, you should have a copy of the report sent to you as well. That way you can look for any discrepancies on your report and identify them right away.

Not reporting suspicious activity

Hackers also know that often their crimes won’t be reported. If you note something suspicious and don’t report it, you are giving them another leg up on you. The more time that goes by, the less likely it is that you will be able to recover. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tracks identity theft statistics, helps victims, and coordinates responses by various governmental agencies. The average company offers employees an average of 10 days of leave per year, which equals out to 80 paid hours of leave. The FTC reports that recovering from identity theft takes an average of six months and 200 hours of work. That would be over two years’ worth of leave accrual.

Knowing what is on the dark web is only half the battle – you should also know what is valuable on the dark web and what isn’t. You should know how these items are getting into the wrong hands so that you can best protect yourself and your information. Remember to use strong passwords and monitor your accounts and credit cards for any discrepancies. If you notice anything out of the ordinary you should report it right away. Don’t let your information end up on the dark web. Get a few steps ahead of these hackers today.

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