Technology Information & News

Tech Education: What Is A Firewall?

What is a Firewall?

Firewalls were developed over thirty years ago and function as the first line of defense for many business networks. This piece of network equipment is a perimeter defense that determines whether packets can move into or out of the network. While the basic concept of a firewall is simple, the way that it performs this function and the features it offers continue to evolve based on current threats.

Types of Firewalls

Firewalls come in two major categories: hardware and software. The physical firewalls are network appliances that connect to the rest of the IT infrastructure so it’s able to monitor packets. There are several methods they can use to secure the network and assist with thwarting potential intruders.

Hardware Firewalls

Stateful

Stateful firewalls retain information about the connections being made. It offers good performance because this technology allows it to skip inspecting every single packet. Once it has inspected a connection, it allows it for subsequent packets.

Application-level

Application-level firewalls that are hardware based are designed to protect the application’s connections. They address common attack methods used on that type of application, such as stopping cross-site scripting for a web application.

Proxy

When someone thinks about a standard firewall, a proxy firewall is most likely what’s on their mind. It stands between a host device and the data source and inspects the packets that are sent between them. This type of firewall may not stand up to complex attacks due to its simplicity, but it masks a lot of the network information.

Circuit-level

This firewall is another basic one that focuses on checking the TCP handshake. It’s not resource intensive since it doesn’t look at the packet, but that does mean that it won’t protect against sophisticated attacks.

Next Generation

These firewalls have advanced features that give businesses more ways to stop malicious traffic from making it through the appliance. Some examples of these include deep packet inspection, checking attachments in sandboxes, and terminating encrypted traffic. Third-party data can be incorporated into the rules and filters of the firewall to improve protection against emerging threats. They can also incorporate technology that is found in other types of IT security hardware, such as intrusion detection. The drawback of this firewall type is that it can significantly slow down network traffic.

Software-based Firewalls

Virtual Appliance

This firewall is a software package that’s installed on the business network and does not rely on a hardware appliance for protecting traffic.

Application-level

Some applications have firewalls built into the software itself to act as a second layer of protection. Anything that gets through the physical firewall of the business network and reaches the application layer needs to go through another inspection. These firewalls focus on threats that are most common for that piece of software.

Cloud-based

A cloud-based firewall leverages cloud computing technology for the virtual appliance. Some advantages of a cloud firewall include the ability to scale quickly, high availability, and cost-efficiency. For organizations with limited IT budgets, using a cloud-based service can give them access to powerful features that they wouldn’t have access to without paying a substantial upfront hardware fee.

The right firewall for your organization depends on the typical threats that you face, the sensitivity of the information you’re protecting, and your performance requirements.

What Are the Benefits of Outsourcing IT Services For Small Business?

Technical Services

There is a point in every small business’s lifecycle when technology becomes integral to the business. With some organizations, this could be the first day they are in existence — with others, it may be several months to a year or more before technical challenges begin to invade business operations. This can come on slowly, starting with a backlog of support requests, patches that are applied several months later and software licenses that are shared “for now”. Each of these small steps are leading your business away from secure operations, and into a spiral that can be difficult and expensive to undo. Before you get to that point, it’s important to consider the benefits of outsourcing the IT needs of your small business.

Technology Challenges Start Early

Simply managing your software licensing needs can be a challenge when your IT team consists of a single individual or perhaps a few overworked souls. Creating a cohesive strategy for your business should involve technology partners, but if they are focused on keeping the (digital) lights on it’s tough for them to be strategic in any meaningful way. Leveraging the minds that know your business best in places that they can add real value starts by removing some of the nuisance tasks from their plate, and passing them off to individuals who are able to act upon them in a timely manner. That way, you can take full advantage of the thoughtful advice and research that your internal team can provide to drive the business forward.

Why Should I Outsource My IT Services?

Small business owners and leadership wear a variety of hats: your customer service manager may also be supporting web design, while your operations head is juggling production levels as well as infrastructure and wiring. Having these professionals stretch outside their comfort zone is how many small businesses get started, but growing into the next level requires a strategic focus within several dimensions. Cybersecurity is a major concern for businesses these days, with thousands of attacks happening on an annual basis to organizations of all sizes. Experts estimate that email compromises alone constituted over $12.5 billion in losses over the past five years — a staggering sum when you consider that small businesses bore a large percentage of that loss.

Outsourced IT = Added Peace of Mind

Working with an outsourced IT service provides you with the peace of mind knowing that there are dedicated professionals fully focused on ensuring that your business stays secure. With active monitoring solutions that can quickly trigger an alert, you’re already avoiding the average 191 days that it takes a business to discover that they have been infiltrated by cyber attackers and that their data has been breached. Once a breach is identified, you’ll still need to remediate the problem — and it can be extremely costly in terms of both time and money to bring in an outside organization that is not familiar with the data or infrastructure of your business.

Consistent Billing Provides Budgeting Benefits

Technology budgets can be quite complicated, as you’re balancing the reasonable lifecycle of hardware products, software upgrades and the unexpected IT needs of the business on an annual basis. One way that you can add some consistency to your budgeting is by working with an outsourced IT provider. Instead of massive unexpected bills for services that you weren’t anticipating, your technology services provider is able to work with you on a retainer basis so you can spread your costs more equally throughout the year. This allows for a higher level of predictability when you’re working through your annual budgeting period.

With outsourced IT services, your business also gains around-the-clock protection for your data and network, robust backup and recovery platforms, access to professionals who can help quickly upgrade hardware and software as well as advanced security processes and procedures for your business. Together, you’ll find that your operations and service levels are higher for both internal and external constituents when you’re working with an IT solutions provider to support your business needs.

Should Law Firms Start Their Own Podcasts?

Lawyers Podcasts

Podcasts are huge these days. Popular podcast Serial has been downloaded millions of times and has become a pop culture phenomenon right alongside other “did they really do it” series like Netflix’s Making a Murderer. Podcasts are also used for informational and educational purposes. NPR offers its programs in podcast form so users can listen at their own pace. They’ve even developed programming that doesn’t broadcast on the radio. It only exists in podcast form.

The podcast has arrived, and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The question for law firms, as with any new tech innovation, is whether developing a podcast for the firm makes sense. We believe creating a podcast can be a powerful, memorable branding tool. Here are a few reasons why your firm should consider starting one.

A Branded Podcast Builds Credibility and Engagement

The problem most law firms face isn’t competence. The process of becoming a lawyer usually takes care of this. The problem firms face is getting their name out into the community effectively. You want to communicate that you’re competent and successful but at the same time approachable. Much of law firm advertising veers far in one direction or the other. You see “prestige” billboards that may communicate “you can’t afford me” to a good portion of the community, and you see cheesy TV commercials that communicate “we’re not a serious firm” to another portion of the community.

Creating a podcast is a low-cost, low-effort way to engage with your community. You can communicate in a down-to-earth fashion by just being yourself. You can use a podcast to indirectly convince community members of your ability and skill, and you can disarm the negative notions that can come from prestige advertising.

It’s an Inexpensive Advertising Tool

Another advantage of podcasting is cost. It’s very inexpensive to produce a podcast, and it costs nothing to host it. All you need to produce it is some simple audio recording equipment and a topic that you can discuss. Hosting a podcast is a simple affair using a hosting tool like Libsyn. Hosting tools like this one will automatically publish your podcast to iTunes and all the other major podcast services. Once your content is published, you can promote your podcast using your existing social media channels through both regular and paid posts.

Compare this to the costs of producing video for social and the costs of traditional advertising. To produce social video, you’ll have to invest in video recording equipment. If you want a quality product, you’ll probably end up having to hire a video production group to produce them. Then, consider traditional print and TV advertising. The costs are astronomical compared to the costs of producing a podcast.

It’s an Attractive Alternative to Video

Let’s be honest: we don’t all look like the beautiful pretend lawyers on Suits. Even if you are blessed with great looks, you may not be comfortable in front of the camera. If video makes you look shifty, insecure, or nervous, you’re not helping your firm’s advertising efforts. Focusing your efforts on a podcast avoids the difficulties and aesthetic concerns that come with video.

The other issue with video is that they need to be short. Videos, especially in advertising, need to be fairly “snackable.” Podcasts, on the other hand, can take a deeper dive. People often listen on their commute or at the gym, so they are looking for content of a certain length. Going deeper on a given topic is one way to reaffirm your credibility, too.

Getting Started

If you’re ready to start a podcast for your firm here’s a brief guide to the steps you need to take.

Equipment

You can record audio using the internal microphone on your laptop, but it won’t sound very good. Invest in a midrange USB microphone, like the Snowball or Yeti from Blue. The difference in sound quality will astound you. You can easily record one or two people around a microphone like those. If you plan to invite more than one guest onto your podcast, you may need an additional microphone.

Software

If you’re recording only one microphone, your software needs are simple. Free recording and editing programs like Audacity for PC and GarageBand for Mac will do just about everything you need. Call Recorder for Skype is an inexpensive Mac app that will simplify things for you, too. We recommend starting with this simple setup before exploring multi-mic (multi-track) recording. Once you’re familiar with the basic principles, you’ll have an easier time scaling up.

Topics and Launch

All that’s left is to come up with some topics and get going. Choose topics community members are likely wondering about and answer whatever questions they may have. This is a tool for getting clients in the door. Choose topics that offer as much value as possible, topics people will want to listen to.

All that’s left is to launch. Hit record, start talking, and publish!

Microsoft Excel Tip: How To Copy Cells In Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a staple program in Microsoft’s Office suite. It’s a powerful spreadsheet program that allows users to organize data and calculate results using a wide range of formulas. Let’s look at one basic element to this program: how to copy cells in Microsoft Excel.

Basic Cell Copying Technique

Before we move on to some advanced techniques, let’s cover the basics.

1. Select the Cell or Cells You Want to Copy

If you want to copy just one cell, simply click once on that cell. IF you want to copy multiple cells, click and drag until all the cells you intend to copy are selected.

2. Copy the Cell or Cells

The next step is to actually copy the cells. You can do this by pressing control+C on a PC (command+C on a Mac), or by clicking the Copy button in the ribbon at the top of the Excel window. You’ll know you’ve copied a cell or cells when you see a spinning dotted line surrounding the copied area.

3. Choose Where You Want the Copied Cells to Go

Next, click once on the cell where you want the copied cells to go. If you’ve copied multiple cells, click the cell where you want the top left cell in your selection to go.

4. Paste the Copied Content into the New Location

Now that you’ve selected the cell where you want your copied content to appear, use the paste function to place the copied content in the new location. To do this, click on the Paste button in the ribbon (near the Copy button), or press control+V (command+V on a Mac). The material you had copied will now appear in the new location. If the copied material was in a cell that contained a formula, the formula will be copied, too.

Please note that if you’ve selected a location that already has content in it, the old content will be overwritten by the new content. Usually, that’s exactly what people are intending to do, but it’s important to note how this works.

Advanced Techniques

Now that you understand the basics, check out these two advanced techniques.

Paste Options

If your copy and pasting doesn’t work as planned, try this. Click on the clipboard next to the cell you just pasted into. Hover over the buttons and choose the one that sounds like what you’re trying to do.

Smart Fill

Select some data. See the green square at the bottom right? Try dragging that square down or sideways. With some data, Excel can intelligently populate either data or formulas to help you work more quickly.

This quick tech tip will help you get started using Microsoft Excel. For more help, give us a call!

Copy Cells Microsoft Excel

A Whopping 94% Of Businesses Don’t Leverage The Software They Purchase

Computer Software

Businesses spend a significant amount on their software solutions, but 94 percent of them don’t get the expected value out of them. Many roadblocks stand in the way of bringing new solutions into the office, from a lack of consideration for the end user to choosing platforms that can’t scale with the company’s growth.

Problems During Procurement

The issues start during the procurement process. End-user feedback is essential for choosing software that will boost productivity and provide an adequate return on investment. If you lack end-user buy-in, then they’re not going to be enthusiastic about a system that’s not making their work life better. Make it easy for employees to send in feedback about the new software options throughout the procurement process. Emphasize the benefits of the new platform to workers.

Insufficient Training

Once the software is in place, workers may have a hard time with its functionality if they lack sufficient training. A change management plan should include multiple training resources and sufficient time for the end users to learn about the new solution and what they can do with it. The training should begin once you make a decision on the solution you’re deploying.

Clashes With Current Workflows

The software may require people to deviate too far from well-established workflows. Consider the current workflows and manual processes that are in place. The solution should replace time-consuming manual tasks and those that are prone to human error. Streamline current workflows without completely doing away with their structure. Employees will appreciate the familiar workflows and improvements in speed and efficiency.

Using Off the Shelf Software for Complex Problems

Off the shelf software is attractive for the speed of deployment and lower cost than custom development. However, specialized industries may require functionality that is not available with a standard solution. Workarounds may take too much time and effort. The opportunity cost can be far greater than the custom development price.

Lack of Centralized Data

Siloed data can lead to many problems, including repeated work, time wasted trying to find files, and lost data. Bringing data together in a central database is an important feature for any system that you’re deploying in your organization.

Difficulty with Content Sharing and Collaboration

Documents get shared and teams work together on a regular basis. The solution that you choose should support these activities. If you use the centralized data suggestion above, then streamlining content sharing is not difficult. Many modern solutions also include collaboration features to allow teams to easily work together.

Grow with Company

You might not know what your growth rate will look like in five years, but you do need software that can adapt to your changing needs over the years. If you purchase a solution that is built for your current capacity and nothing more, then it’s going to fail as your organization grows. It’s common for cloud-based solutions to allow you to scale up and down seamlessly as demand changes.

It’s important to diagnose why employees refuse to use the software offered to them. Once you understand why they aren’t enthusiastic, you can address the underlying issues and present new options.

Are Healthcare Providers Slow To Embrace Digital Technologies?

Healthcare Patient Communications

Medical appointments and doctors’ visits are not enough. Patients want more contact with their healthcare providers, without necessarily needing to schedule more appointments and spend more time in the waiting room. 74% of patients polled in a recent West survey expressed a desire for more communication beyond the medical office visit.

This hunger for more communication parallels the growing role of digital communication in daily life. These same patients note that they are 21% less likely to call their medical providers than they were merely seven years ago. Rather than pick up the phone, patients want to use digital channels—the same ones that they’re already using for other communication—to maintain communication with their healthcare team.

How communications preferences have recently shifted

A recent study by Duke University addresses digital communication in the clinical setting beyond just personal preferences. Their studies found that over 95% of the American population has a cell phone, making it a tool for healthcare providers to leverage. But the standout piece of data, in a world that wonders about deliverability and whether messaging is actually getting through to intended audiences, is that over 90% of text messages are read—and within three minutes of transmittal. This data carries over across all age groups and socioeconomic demographics.

University of Toronto researchers supported this data with their research on the different impacts that text and email have on conveying a particular message. They found that text messaging conferred a higher level of urgency, and therefore function better around task-oriented reminders. Emails are better received than phone calls—19% of millennials don’t even listen to their voicemails—but are better for lengthier context-setting or other more detailed information transmittals.

What provider communications patients currently want between appointments

Patients want contact that aligns with the digital channels that they are using. Social media engagement can be useful for general knowledge-sharing around trends, treatments, and even regulation, but social media is not where the public is hungry for provider engagement. They want personal contact along the two channels they engage with the most each day: texting and email.

Texting

Minimal-to-no onboarding is needed for patients via texting since they are already using this to communicate with everyone from loved ones through coworkers. Consistently greater than five out of every ten patients polled preferred text communication about all logistical aspects of their medical visits, including setting-up and confirming appointments, post-operative instructions, payment issues, and even the transmission of lab results.

The good news is that from 2017 to 2018, the number of patients texting with their providers increased from 5% to 17%. This indicates increased adoption of digital communication channels on the part of healthcare providers. However, this 17% figure is still low, particularly compared to the 69% of patients who explicitly noted the desire to communicate more with their providers.

While HIPAA compliance has been a big obstacle to personalized text message transmission—which might accidentally bleed PHI if providers are not careful—there are simple ways to structure this message to avoid sending over PHI, while still delivering what patients need.

Email

Email can help resolve some longer-term or more complicated issues faced by patients. For starters, email can help add transparency to billing and insurance coverage. Even in advance of visits—and surely after—estimates of treatment costs can be sent, broken down into highly itemized detail. This allows patients to make informed treatment decisions based on what they can afford, or even contest charges with ther insurance companies. Cost visibility and transparency is another way to build trust and rapport with patients, which will reinforce a positive clinical relationship.

Email correspondence is less urgent than text messaging, but still timely and pressing. Because of this, it can be a powerful tool for reminders as well as education. Some patients have chronic diseases, but ongoing education and community-building can be helpful in managing their conditions; this can be achieved through regular emails. Healthy and ill individuals alike can benefit from education regarding disease prevention and wellness, which is easily transmitted via emails.

There’s an additional layer of education inherent to this information sharing, relevant to expectation management. By owning the sharing of reliable medication, a provider helps guide their patients to quality information and thus reduces the likelihood of misinformation. Pointing patients in the direction of useful resources has further benefits by structuring their vocabulary, and conveying the sorts of topics and conditions around which the provider is an expert to be consulted. Rather than bombarding patients with this information during the time of an office visit, this allows patients to absorb information at their own time and pace; office visits, in turn, become more focused around acute conditions as well as examinations and other activities that require face-to-face interaction.

Surveys

This one might come as a surprise, but 53% of patients are open to completing surveys for their healthcare. Surveys help standardize responses and reliably collect answers. While this can also provide statistics that could be useful for research and professional discussions, this can directly and positively impact patients by ensuring they get the appropriate medical response—and quickly, because specific replies can automatically trigger particular pathways and flag providers to take action.

Some health situations work better than others for survey follow-ups. Chronic conditions, new medication, recent procedures, and hospitalizations are some of the common patient experiences where surveys could help track outcomes and make sure providers intervene when necessary.

How healthcare can use automation on these channels to strengthen connections with patients

Patients don’t need to see the details behind the digital solutions put into place; they need to feel the effects of these solutions through the perception that they can reach their providers when needed. And if providers—with schedules already jampacked—are effectively increasing their availability to patients by opening up new lines of communication, something’s gotta give. This is where automation comes into play.

Implementing digital solutions in the health space comes with some upfront set-up and ongoing maintenance, but it also opens the door for the use of tools to automate parts of patient correspondence. These changes create a more positive patient experience, and drive patients to experience partnership with their providers in ways that could encourage their compliance and hence generate better outcomes.

What does this look like? Automate reminders and follow-up surveys to keep patients on track, and use chatbots strategically to help field the easiest and most common questions that pop up. Automation allows for easier, consistent follow-ups with patients after procedures and hospitalization, allowing for earlier interception of any issues. Treatment adherence can be reinforced with automated reminders, without utilizing support team and administrative time.

Using automation frees up provider time for cases that require one-on-one attention, or even generally allows more time for patient consults. Without compromising bedside manner—if anything, enhancing it—providers can increase the amount of support they give to their patients, while freeing up more time of their own.

The healthcare industry has been slow to adopt these new digital communications channels. As a result, providers are missing out on opportunities to connect with their patients and give them the modernized healthcare experience that they seek. Above, we have broken down the key trends in digital communication. We’ve addressed the key directions in which healthcare providers can move in order to stay up-to-date and well-connected with their patients. Even if a comprehensive overhaul of digital communications is not possible, just implementing one of the strategies listed above could go a long way in reinforcing positivity in the provider-patient relationship. Progress is being made constantly to improve security in ways that help ensure HIPAA compliance, and so there really is no reason to abstain from pursuing these trends and giving patients the digital communications experience they’re seeking.