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First Day, Four Questions – Ian

Meet Ian Jones, eGroup’s new Senior Solutions Architect 

Why eGroup?

As a former team member and leader at eGroup, I am very familiar with the organization’s approach to both its customers and employees. Simply put, eGroup is a challenging and rewarding organization to be a part of. I am excited to be, again, solving complex technology problems for our clients.

What makes you a serious competitor?

I am a technologist at heart. I have spent time during my career working in everything from pure software development using technologies such as Java, C#, Angular, etc. to data science relying on SQL Server, MySQL, Greenplum and Hadoop, among others. Through eGroup, I have also had the pleasure of being exposed to many data center components such as enterprise storage systems, virtualization platforms and core network devices. When combined with my love of technology evangelism through experience such as speaking at VMworld and other conferences, I am absolutely a Serious Competitor.

If you weren’t in IT, what would you be doing?

If I did not work in Technology I would likely be involved in some sort of educational role as I love to teach new concepts to others.

What’s your headline?

Living Vicariously Through Myself

 

Welcome back to the team, Ian!

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First Day, Four Questions – Tori

Meet Tori Schallot, eGroup’s New Project Manager

Why eGroup?

The people; that is what it boils down to. I went to a Women in Tech event recently that featured Lillian and Alisa as presenters. They went into their background, project management processes at eGroup, and talked a bit about the company, and that was enough to peak my interest in eGroup. Based on their dialog, it seemed like the type of organization that valued a diversity in backgrounds and thought processes, because it understood the need to look at a varying perspectives and solutions. That is what I was looking for, coming from government software projects which are rather rigid.

I researched the eGroup website, social media, and review services like Glassdoor, and it became apparent that what Lillian and Alisa were conveying were more than just words, but that eGroup had put their values into practice. After talking at length with Travis and Lillian, as well as interviewing with multiple members of the management team, it became clear that eGroup was the place for me. More than anything, I get the greatest job satisfaction out of being able to learn new things; and eGroup is chalk full of extremely intelligent individuals that seem to be willing to pass on their knowledge. I look forward to learning from all of you.

What makes you a serious competitor?

I have the ability to get up to speed very quickly, I love to try new things, and I celebrate my nerdness. So far, it has made me pretty successful in my personal and professional lives, and I tend to smile a lot more than most individuals because of it.

If you weren’t in IT, what would you be doing?

I have started a few businesses which I operate on my free time, and I also work with other start-ups to help them launch successfully. If I wasn’t working in IT, I would continue to work with new and small businesses, to help them grow. It is a huge rush when you get to help someone that is passionate about their ideas, their business, or their company’s mission. Their passion and enthusiasm tends to rub off on you, and I feel consistently inspired by people that are trying to make a difference or work towards their legacy. I not only get to be a part of that, but I get enriched by it.

What’s your headline?

“Live life like a child, your instincts were better then.” My favorite things are the same things I loved as a kid: anything that glows, inflatable stuff that I can smack people or things with, masks, movies involving monsters and treasure maps, anything in a tortilla, and anything I can do with my shoes off. I act like a kid, I enjoy myself. I eat like a kid, I enjoy myself. And, when I think like a kid, sometimes I come up with better answers. Scooby Doo episodes would have been a lot shorter is they gang always started at the local costume shop and asked who bought a mask and why, but instead the gang started at the haunted mansion every time because that is where adults start when looking for a ghost. A kid would always go to the costume shop!

Welcome to the team, Tori!

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“Trust is built on credibility, and credibility comes from acting in others’ interest before your own.”

Love that headline quote from Stephen Denny – author of “Killing Giants” – it’s simple and sensible – and certainly representative of eGroup’s ethos in the world of IT services. 

Over the last 17 years, we’ve built a brand on telling people what they need to hear, not what they wanted to hear (just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!) while faithfully representing their needs and earning a reputation for being “customer first” – and, to be completely clear, of all the many accomplishments we’ve received, this simple recognition for being “slightly maverick” on behalf of our customers has been the most rewarding by far.

In my line of work credibility is everything (since, as you would expect, folks just don’t entrust the most sensitive aspects of their data center architecture, application, cloud, and security needs with anyone) and with first time clients we often don’t get the chance to demonstrate credibility until after we’ve closed a sale, which can sometimes be a lengthy and time-consuming process that involves values-based selling, outcomes-based selling, and plenty of reference calls.

What we’ve found in our marketing studies is that 72% of our “first time clients” have hesitation in engaging us for the initial project, though once completed the percentage of customers who would “use us again” jumps to 98% – therefore, 3 out of 4 prospects are hesitant to use us because they’ve never done business with us before, whereas after having done business with us, our rate of repeat business jumps to almost 100%!

Simply put, a lot of time gets set aside in the vetting process, when in IT, speed to value and speed to service are the two most important determinants of a great partnership – or as an acquaintance once said “Results, not effort” – so wouldn’t it be great to simply cut to the chase?

With this in mind, I have a simple offer, something enjoyed by many eGroup clients on a daily basis – that is, if you’re new to eGroup, and find yourself in a position to need some help quickly, or simply want a second opinion on an approach, give me a shout and I’ll engage the team to address your needs – a great occasion for you to kick the tires on our team, with nothing expected in return except for your consideration in a future initiative.

Our differentiated approach and upfront investment in “you” should quickly deliver the outcome you need, while allowing my team the stage to demonstrate immediate credibility – a great “low-risk” opportunity for both groups to build a new relationship based on your interests.

So, curious about what the 98% think? Let me know and I’ll get you connected, and in the meantime, tell me what’s on your list that you’d like to cross off and we’ll get moving

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7 Common Sense Security Practices IT Administrators Should Implement Now

Given the recent rash of publicity around high-visibility ransomware attacks, it was inevitable that the spam-o-matic would kick in to high gear with just about every manufacturer and security partner out there wanting to offer up heavily funded solutions to address the risk.

At eGroup, we believe there is value in sharing for the common good, especially when it comes to information security. And one thing we know is that you neither have to be a certified expert – nor invest in a heavy-duty solution – to exercise some tried and true street smarts.

Here are 7 “quick and dirty” rules of the road, most of which are free, and all of which we come across in various states of disarray when engaging with clients across all verticals, segments, and sizes. If you feel as if you’ve missed some of these, not to worry, you’re not alone, but you should get moving on them pretty quick – and eGroup is always here to assist:

 

Common Sense Item #1: Better Spam Protection

Email is still the primary attack vector, where users receive emails with suspicious attachments or links, unknowingly execute these items, and then *bam* bad day ensues. If you aren’t using anything for spam protection, get something now! On the other hand, if you are using something standalone and on-premise, please consider something with cloud awareness to build in the layers of separation and constant updating needed to stay ahead.

At eGroup, we’ve assisted hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations with upgrading, migrating, and maintaining on-premise and cloud-based Exchange and Office 365 solutions. For diehard on-premise fans, we typically recommend Trend Micro IMSVA with their cloud pre-filter technology, and for Office 365, there is little better than Exchange Online Protection. Start your free trial of Microsoft Office 365 with us today!

Phishing emails have also become a major concern – and are one of the leading attach vectors into Business. Aggressors are able to gain access to networks and on average are not discovered for over 200 days! Most of those discoveries are in larger companies with dedicated security teams –so it is even more important for small businesses to reduce this threat as much as possible. While there are no technical controls or software that will replace good user education, we can try to reduce the number of messages that actually reach users by properly setting up your DNS records. While SMTP has been around for a while – it has needed some help.  That help has come in the form of additional controls:

  • Sender Policy Framework (SPF)
  • Domain Key Identified Mail (DKIM)
  • Domain based message authentication, reporting and conformance (DMARC)

All modern mail servers and services have the ability to read and act on these items. These are recipient based rules – meaning the recipient of your messages will need to honor your configuration. If you already have an SPF record, it is important to understand there are limitations with it. That is why DKIM and DMARC were created. You should be using all three together to get the most benefit. Once configured, the people who interact with you can be relatively confident that these messages are from you. With Exchange Online Protection, you can create mail rules that block messages from your domain but come from an external source and fail these checks. This can drastically reduce the number of phishing attempts.

 

Common Sense Item #2: OpenDNS (free)

OpenDNS is a DNS provider that blocks malware automatically through name resolution whitelisting. It’s free to use for basic functionality (blocking malware/phishing). Paid functionality unlocks content filtering and visibility into traffic patterns – which is still ridiculously economical considering the heightened visibility gained.

To quickly test if your network is protected by OpenDNS – or not (an indicator you are prone to ransomware redirected attacks via DNS query) – try to visit Internet Bad Guys – this is a safe phishing test to see if you are exposed.

To implement the free version of OpenDNS, simply configure DNS forwarders on domain controllers to forward to 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220 (do not change the DNS settings on the domain controller NIC itself). If you need more details, read on here.

​​​​Bonus points:

Configure your perimeter firewall to block outbound DNS queries to DNS servers OTHER than OpenDNS (block TCP/UDP 53 to destinations other than 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220​) This prevents malware from bypassing DHCP and directly querying standard or malicious DNS servers

 

Common Sense Item #3: Perimeter Anti-malware

This one seems to be gaining a lot of traction in the market, but not everyone is using it as widely as they could be. At eGroup, we often position the Cisco Meraki MX appliances with the Advanced Security license for anti-virus, anti-phishing, and IDS functionality using the Cisco Sourcefire engine to our small to medium sized businesses, or remote offices of larger organizations.

For larger organizations, we position the Cisco ASA with FirePOWER​​ next-generation firewall from Cisco. If you already have Cisco ASA technology, FirePOWER can be added to certain models of ASA – check with our sales engineers for details.

 

Common Sense Item #4: More Frequent Backups (free)

Specifically for ransomware, filesystem and directory-based storage usually get snarled. This is typically where ransomware targets its encryption attack, locking up valuable documents, spreadsheets, and other critical end-user information – holding it ransom and demanding payment.

Therefore, taking more frequent backups reduces the pain (and timeframe) of rolling back after an attack. Moving from nightly backups to more granular backups and snapshots every 4 hours or even every 1 hour can greatly help in reducing the damage landscape. Products like Rubrik, Veeam, or Avamar can be configured for as frequently as every 15 minutes (though this requires validation that your underlying storage can support frequent snapshots). And for the power users out there, products like Zerto and EMC Recoverpoint can reduce the granularity to within seconds or sub seconds.

​For critical workstations with local data storage, look for products like Veeam Endpoint (free, community supported) or Mozy.

Just as important as frequent backups is the ability to restore quickly. eGroup has seen more than one client suffer from long restoration times (12+ hours) to recover a full dataset that was only a few hours old. Auditing your restore capabilities is a must to ensure operational readiness.

 

​​​​Common Sense Item #5: Tighten RBAC Privileges to File Shares (free)

Typically ransomware attacks encrypt files that the specifically logged in user has write privileges to on a mapped drive. To combat this, evaluate the “minimum write permissions” a user *needs* to have, then craft an Active Directory RBAC (role-based access control) group with matching permissions, add the user to the group, and remove permissions granted explicitly to the user. Repeat this process until all explicit user permissions are removed and all permissions map to AD groups. This will reduce the write access that specific users may have to different information silos, reducing their ability to infect these areas with the creepy crawlies.

Among other publicly available free tools for assessing permissions, SolarWinds makes a free tool to help analyze permissions.

 

Common Sense Item #6: ​​AD Software Restriction Policies (free)

If you run a Microsoft Active Directory environment, which 99.9% of our clients do, then the embedded Software Restriction Policies allow you to limit where executables are allowed to run from. Most ransomware to date has downloaded itself and attempted to run from the %AppData% directory. This is strongly recommended for all workstations. It is probably good for servers too, but there is a small possibility it might break some poorly written applications, so we make the customer aware of the change and craft exceptions where needed. The policy shown below will prevent any files from executing in that directory.

 ransomware

 

Common Sense Item #7: Make Information Security Everyone’s Responsibility (free)

Engage and educate your entire family, team, staff, company, and tribe on the perils of clicking on untrusted bits of information. Create a culture of “if it doesn’t look legit, it probably isn’t” and that it’s safe to always get a second opinion from the IT team – or locally accessible knowledgeable user.

Where possible, company or IT leadership should set a monthly or quarterly meeting timeframe to review the “status of the apparatus” and to ensure that proper security policy and procedure is being followed. eGroup is always happy to facilitate and moderate those discussions if desired.

 

We’re always here to assist new and existing clients with ensuring they have the knowledge, expertise, and street smarts to run a risk-reduced security environment! Contact us today.

 

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Get Your Company in Tip-Top Shape with IT Consulting

IT consulting is a job sector that is experiencing rapid growth. Business owners everywhere are realizing their growing reliability on IT in running their business efficiently. But what exactly does an IT consultant do? IT consultants focus on giving expert advice and professional recommendations so that organizations can leverage technology to achieve their business objectives. By relying on IT experts to assess your business-critical technology, you’re able to get deeper and completely objective insight into the way your company is utilizing technology to run its operations. By gaining a fresh pair of eyes to evaluate your infrastructure, you’ll be able to get innovative solutions for aspects of your business that you might have overlooked or neglected.

Many companies are seeking IT consulting services because of the many benefits that come with it. With the right IT solutions locked and loaded, your organization can gain a competitive advantage over others and grow more productive. Here are the various ways that an IT consultant can help your business get into tip-top shape!

Cost-Savings and On-Time Delivery

Implementing the right IT solutions requires a specific skill set. A company may have talented individuals, but may lack the IT expertise and knowledge required to integrate those solutions into their infrastructure. Through IT consulting, every aspect of an IT project is assigned to an expert who provides their undivided attention to help complete the project on time and guide the long-term health of your IT environment. Doing so helps you improve business continuity and reap significant cost savings.

Retain and Attract Employees

When technology is simplified and optimized, an IT department can run more smoothly. This means that people at work have an easier time doing their jobs and don’t need to waste their energy on complicated technology headaches. The outcome is they are more content and happier at work – and when employees are more satisfied at work, they’re able to knock out more tasks, increase productivity, and spend their time on more strategic endeavors. Because staff turnover can be costly and cumbersome, retaining talent is critical to your success.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

With the right expertise, experience, and guidance, your company can leverage technology to deliver the right solution in ways that make customers experience better outcomes and services. For instance, if your company’s failure rate is reduced from 6% to 2%, the improvement will result in greater customer satisfaction and generate positive word of mouth – things that all add up to an enhanced bottom line!

To learn more about the IT consulting services we offer here at eGroup, contact us today for a free consultation!

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First Day, 4 Questions – Alisa

Meet Alisa Frye, eGroup’s new Marketing Coordinator

Why eGroup?

“I have always wanted to work for an IT company and eGroup immediately drew me in with its customer-focused mission. After my interview, I quickly realized that eGroup is a team of phenomenal, supportive and intelligent people. I wanted to pursue a career with eGroup due to its consistent growth, top-notch customer service, innovative tech solutions and welcoming culture.”

What makes you a serious competitor?

“While some people think writing is a chore, I thoroughly enjoy it and find it rather simple to get my thoughts on paper. Mastering my creative process allows me to have fun with my job while still producing high-quality work. It’s the best of both worlds.”

If you weren’t in marketing, what would you be doing?

“If I wasn’t in marketing, I would probably be getting my spinning instructor certification or my PhD in Communications to become a professor. Whether they’re fitness or academic, I have always loved helping people reach their goals and fullest potential.”

What’s your headline?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

 

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First Day, 4 Questions – Ryan

Meet Ryan Borey, eGroup’s new Cloud and Managed Services Engineer

Why eGroup?

I have known about eGroup for a while, being in IT in Charleston.  Their name came up often and I have wanted to work in an environment that would challenge me, elevate my knowledge and experience, and be full of great people.  I have found that in eGroup.

 

What makes you a serious competitor?

Simply put, I love what I do.  It can be frustrating, long, and harrowing, but in the end, I love seeing a project finished, or a product installed and working.  The first time you see all green check marks after an upgrade or an install is an incredibly rewarding feeling.

 

If you weren’t in IT, what would you be doing?

Corporate espionage.  Just kidding.  I would probably have gone into law, most likely corporate.  That is what I thought I would be doing before I got my first computer.

 

What’s your headline?

“Did that just say he would be doing corporate espionage…?” Also kidding. “Wait, so he would be doing the most boring type of law?” But seriously, “Expert: a man who makes three correct guesses consecutively.” – Laurence J. Peter

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First Day, 4 Questions – Clinton

Meet Clinton Boyleston, eGroup’s new Business Development Representative

Why eGroup?

“I had no idea who eGroup was until I was setting up my first interview with Mike and Catherine. From our initial conversation, I could tell that eGroup cared about their staff and company culture. It was apparent that this company does business the right way and does not take the easy way out. Every member of the team has been enthusiastic and approachable. I am excited to see what the future holds for me within the eGroup family.”

What makes you a serious competitor?

“I never back down from a challenge. I enjoy growing my skill set and learning about new industries. I never give up on a project and will do whatever it takes to meet expectations.”

If you weren’t in IT, what would you be doing?

“I’d be working in sports, probably for a baseball team. I’ve always been passionate about athletics and spent a lot of time during college working for the athletic department.”

What’s your headline?

“Business-minded individual who enjoys new opportunities and experiences.”

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How Workflow Automation Leads to Happier Employees

Workflow automation is an essential part of any business operations. Defined as a set of actions required to achieve a particular outcome or goal, workflow automation uses software that can automatically route tasks through the business process to help employees get projects done faster and more efficiently. Here are the various ways that workflow automation directly affects your employees and helps make their work life more satisfactory.

1. Reduce the risk of human errors.

Workflow automation dramatically decreases the risk of human error. Since work processes become automated – and no longer have to be carried out manually – fewer things end up slipping through the cracks. That means your employees don’t have to burn themselves out worrying about completing every little task on their plate. Less stress is always a big plus for any busy worker.

2. Allow employees to do their job with less supervision.

By setting up your workflow with the right processes in place, your employees will know exactly what is expected of them and what tasks they are held accountable for. Instead of having to micromanage your employees and monitor their progress 24/7, you can spend more time overseeing the big picture things like growing your business and increasing revenue! By giving your workers more independence, you can focus on seeing what is taking place at a macro level and determine if any bottlenecks exist without interrupting your employees.

3. Empower your workforce to become more efficient.

The whole point of workflow automation is to save you time – time that could be spent on getting more valuable work accomplished. By automating your work processes, you offer your employees a streamlined way to get more done with less effort. By increasing speed, convenience, and eliminating redundancy, workflow automation allows your employees to minimize errors and gain efficiency.

4. Achieve the best internal communication.

One of the top five reasons an employee leaves an organization is due to the perceived lack of communication with management and their fellow colleagues. Workflow automation helps to provide a clear and direct line of communication, so no employee has to remember to tell the next person when it’s “their turn.” Automating your communications process can also reduce employee turnover and enhance the way your workers interact and collaborate with each other.

To learn how you can get the most out of workflow automation, contact eGroup today for a free consultation!

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Our New Website: Navigating Our IT Solutions and Services Easily!

After a couple months of planning and strategizing, we are excited to announce the launch of our newly designed and revamped website! Our new Company Website features a cleaner and more attractive design along with a more engaging user-experience. And you have the freedom to view it from any browser or mobile device.

Along with completely new branding, we’ve also streamlined the structure of our website to make our IT solutions and services – and everything else about us – a lot easier to find. The new website and branding reflects both the evolution of eGroup as a company as well as our vision for the future. Here are some of the site’s new features:

Highlighting Our People & Company Culture

We feel it’s important that our clients know exactly who they’re working with. That’s why we gave our Who We Are page a little extra TLC. Get to know us better by reading through our company bios or by browsing through our fun photo gallery. Meet the friendly faces behind your technology partner and IT solutions provider.

Fun and Relevant Blogs & News

We’ll be updating our blogs on a regular basis to keep you in touch with all the new things happening at eGroup as well as the regular updates that are happening in the realm of technology.  With the features of the new website, customers can now benefit from richer online content that is easier to navigate and share with others across a variety of social channels.

There will be more than one contributor to ensure that you get the breadth of tech topics and advice we have to offer as your IT solutions provider. Go ahead and explore the pages – there is plenty we want to share with you!

Streamlined Interface

We hope you like our site’s new look, which is designed in a way to make it easier to find the information you’re looking for. In particular, we hope our new website is easy to navigate and reflects our forward-thinking and modern approach to IT. The site’s streamlined interface, combined with improved search functionality, enhanced content, and mobile device optimization allows consumers to better interact with eGroup online.

Take a moment to explore the website and be sure to check back regularly for more information about our IT solutions as well as useful technology news. Also, don’t forget to watch our 1-minute video clip to get a sneak peek of our company.

And if you’re interested learning more about how we can help your organization achieve greater success, contact us today!