Don’t Live in Regret; Back Up Your Data!

How many of us as individuals or business owners know we should back up our data on a regular basis? How many of us actually do so? Making backups of our important files is something everyone agrees should be done, so why is it that so many individuals and  businesses fail to regularly back up their data?

One assumption that no longer holds true is that making backups is complicated and cumbersome. The process in the past required multiple floppy disks or tapes that would be used to back up your files and programs. Restoring these files and programs after a loss would take quite a bit of time. The process today is much simpler. Operating systems such as Windows and Mac OS make it very user-friendly; you can simply purchase a USB external hard drive, follow the step-by-step instructions on setting up the automated backup process, and let it do its thing. 

Another assumption is that restoring files from backup is a messy endeavor. Again, that process has been made much easier.  In Windows and Mac OS, you can actually go back to a specific point in your previous backups where you can restore individual files that may have been lost, corrupted, or otherwise overwritten by mistake. Mac OS’s backup system, Time Machine, even lets you go into the folder via a special graphic user interface to find and restore a particular file just as if you were looking for it normally. 

Thankfully, there are several options for backing up your files that don’t include floppy disks!  These backup options are fairly inexpensive and are simple to set up and maintain. You can use an external USB hard drive, optical disks (although these kinds of discs such as CD-ROM and DVD-ROM are being used less and less), flash drives, and even use a cloud-based backup system such as Carbonite or Barracuda. Cloud backup systems differ from the others in that your data is physically stored on a company’s server which you access via the internet.

No matter which storage type you choose to use, you are saving yourself time and money by making sure your important files are backed up so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel if something were to happen to your computers on site or at home. You should back up regularly and back up often; again, with today’s technology, making regular scheduled backups is as easy as following a few steps for setup and letting the computer do the rest of the work. 

How to Buy A New Computer

Cars. Furniture. Major appliances such as a refrigerator or washer and dryer. There are several high-priced products that most people need to purchase on a recurring basis but that they plan to own for years. For many people nowadays, a computer has been added to this list.  One thing that such products have in common is that there are many companies vying for your business and it becomes difficult as well as overwhelming trying to sort through all of the features, pricing options, and customization options being offered.  The good news is that the process of deciding what to buy is not very different between them either.  The more you know about what exactly you really need, why you need it, and what you are able or willing to spend on getting it, the easier it is to cut through all of the noise and find something that will meet your needs within your budget.

One of the first things to decide is how much money you are prepared to spend.  We won’t go into whether or not it’s better to buy, lease, or finance a computer, but that decision is similar to deciding whether or not to buy, lease or finance a major appliance or furniture.  No matter the source, you still need to decide how much you’re willing and able to spend on a new computer.  Typically, you should be able to find a computer that can meet your basic needs in any category within a reasonable budget. For a variety of reasons, we won’t give actual dollar amounts. Instead, we’re focusing on how to go about deciding how to spend whatever you’ve decided to spend to get the most value.

Once you’ve decided how much you will spend, think about what you want to use the computer for: 

  • household tasks such as managing finances, research on the web, personal email, and light word processing or spreadsheets

  • gaming

  • a media server for streaming video and music

  • professional work or serious hobby, in which case you also should think about the main type of work

    • video

    • audio

    • photography

    • programming

    • writing

    • visual design or art

    • 3D design

    • office work (heavy word processing, spreadsheets, databases, email, project planning, etc.)

    • special applications needed for work

  • do you need a laptop or will a desktop be fine for what you need to do (you may need both)

Knowing what you want to use the computer for will help you decide what features and how much resources you really need to get in order to do what you want to do.  For basic household tasks, an entry level computer is usually fine.  If your primary use is gaming, on the other hand, then you’ll need a lot more resources (and money!).  If you are working with media, you should prioritize storage and processing power.  Laptops are more convenient than desktops, but generally cost more for similar features.

Once you’ve decided how much you’d like to spend, what you primarily plan to use the computer for, and whether to get a laptop or a desktop, you’re in a much better position to know what features to prioritize and you can negotiate and look for value in things like processor speed, amount of RAM, amount of storage space, etc.

If you are a sole proprietorship or freelancer the thought process is not much different. You may need to spend more time thinking through what tasks you will really need to perform.  If you are a small business with 3 or more computers, you need to consider things like taxes, compatibility, interoperability, what operating systems your employees use at home or prefer, scalability, total cost of ownership (including purchase cost, maintenance cost, repairs, backups, software and accessories, utility usage costs, etc.) and other variables which may not factor as heavily into the decision to purchase a single computer.

If you need help making technology purchasing decisions for yourself or for your business, Aeron IT Consulting LLC is able to help. Just send us an email or give us a call to schedule a consultation.

Stay Safe Online: Use a VPN

We continue to make rapid advances in technology and we are spending more and more of our time online performing tasks that used to chain us to our computers at home. While we experience the freedom and increased productivity this brings, we need to be aware that we are increasingly exposing ourselves to possible attack over the internet.  With much more powerful cell phones than even a decade ago, it’s become commonplace for most of us to bank and pay bills online, communicate with family, check our email, read news, and frequent social media sites.

It used to be that you only had to worry about security on your home network, but those times are long gone.  Before we had faster cellular data speeds like 3G and 4G, users had to rely on public Wi-Fi.  It used to be you’d have to go to a coffee shop or a hotel to find reliable(ish) Wi-Fi, but now you can hop on at most restaurants, retail stores, and even some outdoor public places. Most people don’t question connecting to these networks and don’t think about the digital trail they leave behind.  Since we are doing so much more of our business––both personal and personal––on the go, how do we secure ourselves from malicious actors?

One of the easiest ways to enhance our personal network security, short of not jumping on public Wi-Fi at all, is to use a virtual private network, or VPN.  Think of a VPN like a tunnel on the information superhighway, to use an old term.  Using a VPN puts your data inside that tunnel so that nobody can see it, with the possible exception of the VPN provider (often your data is encrypted from the VPN provider as well).  If, for example, you’re on a public network and someone was able to hijack the network and see all of the traffic, your activity would not be seen by the hacker because everything you send and receive through a VPN is in an encrypted tunnel.  

Many online banking services and other activities of a more sensitive nature use HTTPS security on their sites which does encrypt activity between you and the website, but a hacker could still monitor what sites you are visiting even if they couldn’t see what data you are transmitting.  More websites are using HTTPS, but it’s still a good idea to use a VPN in addition to secure browsing.  A VPN hides and encrypts all network data traffic, not just web browsing.  

There are free options when choosing a VPN, but you want to make sure the app you use is from a company you trust.  Paid VPN apps exist as well; one app that is particularly easy to set up and use is, formerly Cloak VPN.  Setup is fairly straightforward, you can use it on multiple devices (e.g., phones, desktops, laptops, etc.) with one subscription, and you can set the app up to automatically connect to untrusted networks and add any trusted networks like your home network or a friend’s house, for example, to a list of networks that the app can ignore.  The app has different tiers and pricing depending on your needs; you can even purchase a week or month long pass for trips.

No matter which VPN you choose (there are many!), make sure that you do your homework and read many reviews until you know you can trust the provider and that the app is easy for you to use. You can almost always try the app out for a trial period to see how you like it and see if it suits your needs.