Getting Ahead of Windows End of Life

With Windows 7 end of life quickly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what needs to be done to prepare. Technically, regular Windows 7 support has been dead since 2015, however, the extended support period is over January 2020, which means no more updates or security patches. What should you be aware of for EOL? Get ready, you may have some work to do.   

Many are concerned that their PCs will stop working. That is not the case. Your Windows software will work, but its security will depreciate rather quickly, which could put your PC in danger of cyber-attacks and viruses. Back in 2014, Microsoft ended support for Windows XP. It affected 40% of computers worldwide. Now, years later, it is estimated that about 7% of computers are still using Windows XP. These computers are the ones hackers like to target because of the security holes caused by lack of regular patching.   

Currently, about 70% of businesses worldwide use Windows 7, so it's highly likely that you need to take action before Windows 7 retires. The more systems you have on Windows 7, the sooner you need to prepare. Here‘s a quick action plan:   

  • Determine how many systems need an upgrade.  Simply take a count of all the systems running Windows 7 or, if you still have some, Windows XP. If systems are on Windows 7, and the hardware is up to par, you likely will be able to do a simple license upgrade.    

  • Assess your hardware. Windows 10 will not work on all hardware systems. You may need an upgrade. Contact your IT provider to help you determine if your hardware has the right specs. Easiest way to tell? If your hardware came out in the last three years or so, you’re probably in the clear. We recommend upgrading your hardware about every three to four years to avoid any compatibility issues.    

  • Create a timeline and budget. You don’t have to make all these changes all at once. You could plan them out up to and including January 2020, but we recommend getting started sooner rather than later. Again, your IT provider will be able to help determine your best path forward.   

  • Create contingency plans. Unfortunately, not all line of business applications will immediately jump to operation on Windows 10, particularly if you’re utilizing an older version of the software, or if your software provider has gone out of business or moved to their own end of life cycle. Sometimes this is inevitable, but you need to be able to quarantine these vulnerable systems from the rest of your network as much as possible or take the time to plan your upgrade now. A quality IT company will be able to help you make the decision, as well as set up a test environment so that you know your contingency plans are working long before you need them.  

  • Training Your Staff. While the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 10 is not the monumental shift past software updates have been, the new system does take a bit of getting used to. Plan time to work with your staff one-on-one or in a group so that you don’t end up with them wasting time tinkering or trying to figure out why their favorite button isn’t where it used to be. Your IT provider should be able to provide this user-based training for Windows 10, as well as the majority of software you utilize on a daily basis.   

Keep in mind that Windows 10 end of life takes place in January of 2025; so, while planning, ensure your devices can make the switch again in a few years, or that you’re budgeting for another upgrade. Also, document your processes during the shift. This could make life so much easier down the road. Most of all though, act. You don’t want to be stuck without security patches or an up-to-date operating system. It's like hackers can smell your outdated system and will gladly break-in. Protect yourself and your business and begin planning sooner than later. 

Ransomware: Why It’s Getting Publicity and What to Do About It

Even though ransomware attacks decreased in 2018, they remain a major threat in the cybersecurity landscape. So much so, that ransomware was recently featured on 60 Minutes. The story primarily covers three major instances of ransomware, two that affected municipalities, and a third that targeted a hospital. 

All three were attacked in a way that encrypted every single one of their files and also encrypted some of the files within their backups, sending the organizations back to operating on pen and paper. Two, despite FBI recommendations, ended up paying the ransom to restore their data quickly, while the third decided not to pay the ransom and went about remediation on their own.  

The hospital was hit with a $55,000 bill, while one municipality (Leeds, AL) was able to negotiate payment down to $8,000. These ransom sums may not appear astronomically high, but that’s exactly how the hackers keep going. If they requested millions in ransom, no one would pay. An amount in the solid five-figures, though, feels doable for most organizations to get their precious data restored. The third entity (Atlanta, GA) suffered millions of dollars in losses and time in efforts to recover. Some of their data could never be recovered. 

The story presented a very clear picture of the dangers surrounding ransomware; however, there were two major issues in the story. First, the entities covered were obviously major entities implying that you needed to be in the public eye to be affected. This is certainly not the case. In fact, nearly 50% of small business owners say their business was affected by a cybersecurity attack in the last year. Ransomware is not just for highly public entities.  

Perhaps more importantly, the story painted paying the ransom as the cheaper and often faster way to go. In very rare occasions, paying the ransom is the only option; but if you’re stuck in a ransomware trap, we do not recommend jumping straight into paying the ransom. Here’s why: 

  1. Sure, after you pay the sum (typically in bitcoin), the vast majority of hackers suddenly become ethical and return your files. Let’s look at the reality, though. You’re relying on someone who just took your data hostage for an exorbitant fee to return that data to working order simply because you held up your end of the unwanted bargain. Sounds a lot like using hope as a data recovery strategy to us. At any point the hacker could respond, “Thanks, but no thanks!” or “Well, we thought this would be a sufficient amount”; but we ran into snags with your recovery. We’ll actually need x number to finish the job.”  

  2. Prevention is a better strategy. If your back-up is set up correctly with an on-premises and multi-tenant off-site solution, you should be able to roll back to data that existed before the ransomware attack. Granted, you may lose some data in the process if the encryption gets into the backup like it did in the attacks covered in the 60 Minutes story. Losing some data is a lot better than putting yourselves up the creek financially by paying a major ransom. In addition to proper backup, ensure that you’re effectively training employees and stringently monitoring data coming in and out of your network.  

  3. Isolation is possible. In short, don’t store all of your valuable data in one place. If, on the off-chance, ransomware breaches your network, you don’t want to give it an open door to encrypt absolutely everything of value. Keep all critical applications on isolated networks to maintain global network safety.  

Ransomware attacks may be on the decline. However, that just invites the hackers to come up with a more creative way to scam you out of time and money. Perhaps phone ransoms are coming next. Regardless of what the hackers create, make sure you’re prepared and don’t have to rely on paying a hefty ransom to keep your business in operation.

What Does Windows End of Life Mean to my Business?

You’ve all heard the panic. Windows is cutting off support for its widely popular version 7 software. January 14, 2020 will officially mark Windows 7 End of Life. Many companies have used Windows 7 since its onset in 2009 and are still actively using it today. That means you will need to migrate every single device. It’s possible you’ll need to upgrade your hardware as well. So, what’s the big deal? Can you just stick with Windows 7 or will your computer self-destruct?

The good news is that your computers will work just fine after the End of Life date. However, just because your computer will function doesn’t mean it’s wise to hold onto outdated software. The largest concern for Windows 7 users is security. Since updates and support will no longer be available, your device will be extremely vulnerable to cyber threats. In fact, this is a bit of a hacker’s dream. They are standing by, knowing people will neglect to update their operating system.

Windows 7 is actually already in its ‘extended support’ phase and has been since 2015! Microsoft ended mainstream support including new features and warranty claims. Yet, throughout this time Windows has kept virus patches and security bug fixes up to date. With End of Life, that will go away. IT and security experts alike strongly suggest migrating your operating system to something current before the Windows EOL date. Theoretically, you could pay for Windows 7 extended support on each individual device, but the costs will build up faster than simply migrating. Not only that, but specific security and bug fixes will also be more expensive and charged on an individual basis.

Currently, there are a few options to choose from when it comes to Windows 7 EOL. Don’t be cheap and go to Windows 8. Though it is a newer version, it’ll only be a matter of time before you need to migrate all over again. You could transition to Windows 10 (recommended). If you are worried about cost efficiency, you could try a free operating system like Linux. It will take some research to find the specific Linux platform that’s best for you, but it may be worth it if you’re someone who likes to tinker. Then, of course, you could swap to a Mac altogether. Just keep in mind that Apple’s products are pretty expensive and you may need to re-purchase certain business applications.

It’s important to begin working with your IT Company on this migration as soon as possible. They’ll take a look at the devices you are using, determine how many are utilizing Windows 7, and ensure your hardware isn’t out of date. Not all computers will be able to handle a new operating system, which could make a migration take much longer, more difficult, and costlier as you upgrade hardware. Your IT company will provide a recommended path for an upgrade with a clear budget and timeline for completion.

Overall, take some time to plan your transition. Talk to us if you need additional help or options. Most of all though, get moving now. EOL will be here in no time.

Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation Forms Online

Board Forms

The Board Forms have been updated. The 2017 Georgia State Board of Workers' Compensation Forms are online now here. There are two types of license: single user and site. If you have more than 6 users, it's more cost effective to buy the site license.

All states have forms that they require you use in order to comply with state law and state regulation. Traditionally these forms are offered on paper from the state so that you may fill them out by hand and file the form with the state. This method is fine if you only file one form with the state in a given year. That is not usually the case though. If you are an attorney, self-insurer, insurer or 3rd party administrator you may end up filing hundreds if not thousands of these forms with the state. The days of filing paper forms with the state are over. We now offer you the ability to fill out and print such forms from your desktop.

The Georgia State Board of Workers’ Compensation forms are provided via download. The forms include all the changes that have taken effect as of July 1, 2016. The included formats are:

  • Microsoft Word
    • These are the raw Microsoft Word version of the forms.
  • Microsoft Word with Easy-Fill Fields
    • These forms have the fields already defined, so you can fill them out quickly.
  • Adobe Acrobat (PDF)
    • These forms also have the fields already defined, so you can fill them out quickly and easily.

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