Jon, is this going to be a problem?

A customer just wrote me to ask about the email Google sent out to admins everywhere warning them that they are about to turn off access to “Less Secure Apps,” Google-speak for anything that uses a regular username and password.

If your organization uses G Suite in some specific ways

Yes, this is going to be a problem.

  1. If you use Outlook 2013 or very specific versions of Outlook 2016 to access your Google Mail it is going to stop working with Google
  2. Virtually every copier/scanner/fax that sends to email using a Google address is going to stop working with Google
  3. Old applications that use a regular username and password to send out of Google are going to stop working with Google (typically these are line of business or custom applications)
  4. Your iPhones and Androids from the Precambrian eras will not work with Google anymore.

So, what do you do?

Talk to your IT company. If you have had applications custom developed for you that send out using Google talk to the developer and have them switch you over to an API based email-application (they will know what those words are. If they don’t fire them and call us.)

If you are lucky enough to have a managed IT services provider ask them at your regular business meeting how they plan to handle this for you.

And, as always, you can call us and ask if/how/when it is going to affect you.

HELP! Someone has hacked Jim’s email and just tried to place a $15,000 order at Verizon.

-Actual Customer, December 10th, 2019

As the owner of an IT Company that specializes in security and managed IT services I hate getting emails like this. Primarily, because they are 99.99% avoidable.

Managed IT service providers have known if for a long time: all of their customers need to be on multifactor (MFA, sometimes called two-factor) authentication. To this customer’s credit, they were already in the process of implementing MFA, but Jim hadn’t been set up yet.

Research from both Google and Microsoft shows that MFA stops over 99% of password based hacks. Our standard operating procedure is to recommend it to all of our customers. Beginning in 2020, we will require our manged customers to opt-out of it if they don’t want it, it is so important.

MFA is simply adding another layer of security to your account. In its simplest and most effective form you get a push notification on your phone requesting that you approve a login. Other forms may email or text you a code that you have to put into a website.

How do I do it?

It was 2:45 PM, I had just walked into the office after being out at appointments all day. The team I was working with at the time had a major issue: a customer’s main software was down and their server was doing funky stuff.

One engineer had in-depth diagnostics pulled up that showed that, well, everything was broken. Another engineer was overseeing the work but didn’t have much else to add.

After a few minutes, the issue was escalated to me.

One of the things I’ve learned troubleshooting problems in life, tech, personal, financial, IT support services and managed IT services, anything , is that when everything appears to be going wrong there is usually a single root cause. If it’s foundational, then everything will break and it will appear very complicated.

I quickly noticed a file on the desktop. Its name implied that a team prior to us had been working on the server and turned off a Very Important Feature.

I turned Very Important Feature back on again.

Five minutes later everything was up and running and all of those complicated diagnostics were showing fine again.

Takeaways

  • Simple root causes underly problems that appear complicated. I knew to look for the simple thing because with so many things broken there had to be a foundational issue. In relationships, its often simply that two people aren’t communicating, in finances revenues don’t match expenses. There is an inverse relationship between the number of things on the radar and thing causing them.
  • Observation beats technical know-how. I wasn’t the smartest guy in that room, that was the other engineer. I wasn’t the most experienced, that was the one watching him. I was just the one to stop and look around at the situation before diving headfirst into the weeds.
  • Bad decisions multiply. I still don’t know who turned off the Very Important Feature. My guess is that either the customer did or a vendor in a related space to ours. Either way, the decision to allow a team less experienced team than us take the first crack at the issue cost this customer more money than if they had called us in the first place.
  • Culture matters. The first two engineers did the exact right things in escalating the issue as rapidly as they did, which ultimately resolved the issue quickly. They both avoided target fixation and worked in a team that valued the results over who got the credit. The culture of the team produced a process that brought value to our customer.

Quick take: Prices for domains ending in .org will be going up over the next several years. If you have such a domain we recommend that you purchase as many years on it now as you can.

The full version: There are multiple companies globally that administers the domain name system we use to connect to websites, send emails, etc. The company that currently manages .org has announced that they will (potentially/probably) raise prices on .org domain names and renewals.

Currently, they are only talking about 10%/year increases, or $1/year. However, there is nothing that prohibits them from raising the fees higher or faster than that.

The critical thing to remember if you renew now for a long time, such as 10 years, is to use an email address that you will still have access to and use in 10 years for when the domain renewal reminders come in! We manage domains for all of our customers precisely to avoid domain names from accidentally lapsing, resulting in downed emails and websites.

Over the weekend our street lost power, two trees downed by a storm on power lines. The power company had us all working again two hours later and the county was out the next morning to clean up the trees in the road.

They left the trees out of the way but on the roadside overnight. A neighbor said that they were told anyone who wanted could come and get wood but that the county would haul it away in the morning.

Two things about me: I like power tools and I love fires. I was out of firewood and looking for an excuse to buy a chainsaw.

Two hours later I was up the street with a new chainsaw, my six and eight-year old boys and our van, all with our headlamps on in near-freezing weather. Two hours after that we had successfully cut up and hauled away about one rick’s worth of red oak. It won’t be ready this season but it will burn great next year.

Takeaways

  • Make Decisions: A proactive mindset in all areas of life yield results. In this case, I got a chainsaw and some firewood for the price of either.
  • Be Aggressively Proactive: Don’t wait for things to get done. Acting now brings about the end state you want tomorrow.
  • A little help goes a long way when there is a leader — someone who can articulate clear decisions and advance proactive action. I yielded the saw, but my boys actually did all the hard work of loading the van and stacking the wood at home. But, they needed clear direction first.
  • It takes work. All of us worked to get the firewood, it was hard and cold.
  • You make your luck. This was a fantastic opportunity for us, not just because I wanted a chainsaw but because I was able to have an experience with my boys that they will carry with them. It would have been family time regardless, in this case, before the storm ever came I knew I was looking for those moments with my boys, along with chainsaws and firewood. When it all came together it made for an easy call because I already knew what I wanted.

Improve your business’ communication, time management, and how your staff shares and stores files AND access your files from anywhere… Here are our top 5 reasons we choose to store in the cloud:

Benefit #1 –Better version control…

Benefit #2 – Facilitated collaboration…

Benefit #3 – Improved timeliness…

Benefit #4 – More reliable backups…

Benefit #5 – Increased document security and control…

Speaking of security… if your company operates on a Content Management System, are your files safe? Documents are one of our primary assets and protecting these should be at the top of your list.  Regulated content can be extremely sensitive and having adequate security and control is imperative and can be extremely challenging, if trying to do it on your own. How can we help give you peace of mind?

My wife sent me the link late Saturday night. I was exhausted from driving non-stop through fog and rain for 13 hours and then hitting the gym for a run to loosen up. The product was perfect, all the parts for a swing set my kids would love. It was almost too good to be true but the online store was set up on a major site that I assumed would back me up if it wasn’t real, plus my mother-in-law had found it and she’s pretty thorough. So I charged my AMEX and went to sleep.

Three days later I went to check on my order and the site was cleared out.

Ghost town.

No swing set parts for Christmas.

And I was out $173.

I contacted support for the major site who told me — in essence — they were not going to do anything and that I should contact my card company if I wanted resolution.

I popped open my American Express app on my phone — from a Starbucks between meetings — and told support what happened. Five minutes later a new AMEX was being overnighted and I was refunded my $173.

This was personal but there are lessons for leaders at any level of any organization.

Takeaways

  • None of us are too smart to fall for a scam. Not you, not me, no one. I catch a lot of this stuff for a living, but at the right moment I was still susceptible
  • Long-term risk mitigation matters. I use American Express because of their reputation for extraordinary customer service. When I chose the card I chose one that would back me up when it mattered. One great decision made years ago continues to protect me.
  • Vendors matter. I’ve had to work with American Express on fraud issues before. They’ve never let me down, that’s why I stay with them. Who is there for you when it matters?

Apple doesn’t put their products on sale.

Not ever. It’s a point of pride.

However, Friday through Monday they’ll do the closet thing you’ll find them doing to a sale, and that’s giving you an Apple Store Gift Card worth up to $200. Their website is short on details but you can find what they’ve posted at https://www.apple.com/us/shop/gifts/shopping-event

Now that we’ve gotten our obligatory “Black Friday sales aren’t for businesses,” post out of the way we’re happy to bring you a deal from Costco that is worth every penny.

From now into December Costco is selling the latest Micorosft Surface 7 with 8GB RAM and i5 processor with the keyboard and pen for $999. This typically retails for close to $1,500.

The caveat: You won’t get Microsoft’s extended warranty, which we highly recommend on these and it includes Windows 7 Home instead of Windows 7 Pro. This is great the power-user at home, your IT department is going to frown on it if you bring it to work with you.

It’s our annual write of passage to remind the other small businesses out there: Black Friday deals on business-grade electronics are few and far between, you always get what you pay for.

Honestly, nearly all the deals are to drive consumer foot traffic online and in the door. The computers/monitors/other electronics are almost never rated for use in businesses, and typically come with a “Gotcha,” or lowered specs, shorter, warranty, etc. Save yourself a headache and either forgo the sale for your business, or ask us if it’s really a “deal.”

However, if you are looking for a new phone for the teenager, a bigger TV for home or that running wtach you’ve been eyeing for months then Friday is a great time to buy!