COVID-19 Crisis – Keeping Your Technology Safe and Productive

A letter to our Clients and Friends:

It’s time to step back and take a deep breath. Yes, breathe in. Exhale slowly. Relax.

We don’t know how long our public health crisis with the coronavirus will last nor how it will end. But we’re in it together, and we at Sterling Rose want to offer you a few guidelines to help make your work and home disruption a little less disruptive.

If you are an employer or partner in a small business and need to conduct business from home, here’s what you should be doing:

  • Make sure everyone with a laptop computer – whether company-issued or personally owned – can log into your cloud or server to access the apps and files that drive your business. If there’s a problem, contact us.
  • Make sure that all of your hardware has the latest firmware (it’s basically like app software for hardware) installed. Do the same for your employee’s personal computers if they are working from home and logging into your tech system.
  • Make sure all of your software – OS, apps, web browsers – has the latest updates and upgrades installed. While updates improve performance, they also have the latest security patches, and that will be most important. Hackers will be in high gear to try to penetrate your defenses.
  • Make double sure that any employees who use their personal computers to conduct your business have of their software up to date for the same reasons.
  • Make sure you and your employees have strong network passwords for Wi-Fi networks and that everyone has installed and activated antivirus and malware protection programs. We strongly encourage everyone to have a password management program in place, too, for convenience and security.
  • Train everybody and constantly remind them to be careful about emails they receive and respond to and links they click. This is like the holiday shopping season for hackers. They’ll prey on your trying to do many things in a short time while under stress. If something looks just the slightest bit out of place, don’t click. Make a phone call.

If you are working at home and/or have kids at home who need to learn online, here’s what you should be doing.

  • Make sure you have the internet and Wi-Fi capacity to handle multiple users at one time. You could have two people working and using cellphones while your kids are either online for classes or homework and/or streaming 4k content on HD TVs or other devices.
  • Make sure your network is secure with a strong password – complemented by antivirus and malware protection software for every device that comes on your network. If your Wi-Fi system has the capability, set up a guest network for family and friends who visit – even though we’re not supposed to have visitors. It will help keep your network secure.
  • Make sure everyone who is on your network has strong passwords for online activities, and make sure everyone in your home has up-to-date firmware, OS software and app software for every device and system they have.
  • Make sure everyone in your home understands the threats caused by hackers. If you’re working at home, you’ll be under stress, so be careful about the emails you open and the links you click. Your kids at home may be bored. Make sure they are careful about the emails they open, the chats they get involved in and the links they click.

Again, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and relax. Take an extra minute to make sure you have your technology safe and functioning and take two extra minutes to make sure everyone – at the office and at home – is aware of the need to practice good online health while we try to avoid getting sick.

Finally, know that we are available to help you, your employees and your family be happy and productive online. Call us – 973-433-6676 – for any problems you have with technology at home or work. We’ll do our best to solve your problems by remote, and we’re still available for onsite visits to solve your problems.

We can all get through this together. We just need to be careful with our personal health and technological health.

All the best,

Norman Rosenthal
Sterling Rose

Drowning in Disinfection

Be careful how you disinfect your tech equipment. One client’s cleaning solution wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t discover its effects until we made a service call.

We made the service call because an Excel file seemed to be going bonkers. When our client clicked on a cell, the file would start scrolling uncontrollably. It only happened with this file. We checked the computer for viruses, but none were detected.

However, the client had a problem with WordPress, too, and that looked like a problem with the mouse. We checked the mouse and found nothing wrong. With optical mouses, you may not be able to see the damage. However, the client mentioned in passing that they had washed the mouse because they feared exposure to poison ivy. We understood the concern because in very basic terms, sensitivity to poison ivy is an allergic reaction. If your allergy sensitivity is higher, you can break out more easily or more severely if you come in contact with poison ivy or its residue.

With today’s coronavirus concerns, we’re rightly becoming obsessed with keeping surfaces as germ-free as humanly possible, and that includes our electronics – especially those in offices or other public places. It’s a good idea to disinfect mouses, keyboards and telephones, but you need to keep moisture away from them. Liquids wreak havoc with all electronics.

We suggest you take the following steps in keeping your technology tools as clean and disinfected as you can.

  1. Unplug your device – mouse or keyboard – from the computer and remove the batteries if you have them.
  2. If you are using something like a Clorox wipe, put a microfiber cloth or some paper towel between the wipe and the device to minimize the moisture. The microfiber cloth is better, and you have probably have a lot of them if you wear eyeglasses.
  3. If you have a spray disinfectant, spray it on a microfiber cloth or some paper towel. Don’t spray it directly on the device.
  4. Make sure that any cloth or paper towel that comes in contact with your mouse or keyboard is only damp – not wringing wet.
  5. Dry your mouse or keyboard as thoroughly as you can with a microfiber cloth and then give your device some time for it to air dry.

Our devices are indispensable, and when damage occurs, the nature of the problem doesn’t always point to the mouse or keyboard. Just pay attention when you clean. In an office environment, we suggest you pass these cleaning tips along to everyone. If you have any questions, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us.

The Worst is Yet to Come

What do factory closings and travel bans have in common? They’re going to affect the flow of technology to your business and home. Unfortunately, we have no idea yet on how bad the impact will be or how long it will take to recover.

Right now, the demand for products hasn’t caught up to the factory closings, but we can see the writing on the wall. The supplier that makes the cameras for Apple’s iPhones is still shut down, and Foxconn, the major supplier of phones has been shut for weeks. Even if the manufacturers have inventory to ship, the illness – or potential for illness – could shut down all forms of transportation into the United States. We just don’t know how long all of this will go on.

The travel bans are forcing the cancellations of technical conferences, and that will impact the flow of new hardware and software products and upgrades to you. The technology industry depends on conferences. It’s where they give developers the chance to look under the hood and ask questions. In turn, they start working on apps for new hardware or to fit the capabilities of new software – and all of that translates into new capabilities for your business, entertainment and quality of life.

We don’t know what the effects of the travel bans will be because we don’t know what was planned for development and rollout in the long-range future. But when you combine travel bans with factory shutdowns, it’s obvious that we’ll need to make do with what we have. And that may affect anybody who’s forced to work at home.

We haven’t begun to comprehend what could happen if offices are forced to close and employees have to work remotely. In our experience, we see a lot of laptop computers that never leave the office. In a shutdown, they might need to go home. While we can fix a lot of problems with computers remotely, we strongly recommend you test every computer. Employees can take them home and see how easily and quickly they can log in to your corporate network.

At the same time, you should make sure your network, servers and cloud connections are all functioning properly and that every piece of equipment and application is up to date on firmware and software. With your computing being distributed, it’s critical to do whatever you can to prevent problems before everyone and everything scatters to individual homes. You should also make sure everyone who’s logging in remotely understands they should not work from a public network, like from a Starbucks. You have no way to control the security of public networks, and you can bet hackers will be sipping lots of lattes as they search for ways to get some kind of information they can monetize.

If you have any questions at all about the operating conditions of your computers and other parts of your technology systems, call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your needs. If you must close your office and have employees work at home, make sure they know how to contact us. Just as you’re being proactive with personal health, it’s time to be proactive with your technology’s health.

The Best of Both Worlds for TV and Video Content?

Are you ready to cut the cable TV cord to save money but not ready to lose all of your favorite TV and cable channels? The entertainment and cable companies may have a solution for you. More and more, the “cable company” is allowing you to stream the channels they offer on cable. If you prefer watching live TV, including shows, the news and sporting events but hate paying for multiple cable boxes, streaming from the cable might give you the best of both worlds.

AT&T just grabbed a few headlines by launching AT&T TV NOW, essentially moving their DirecTV lineup from satellite to streaming. You get the same channels, and they have service tiers priced at $65 to $135 for 45 to 125 channels with HBO included. They join Xfinity’s streaming service, which lets you keep all the channels you have on a current cable TV plan for the same money. If your cable company doesn’t offer a similar service yet, it will.

We think it’s a good move. While nobody watches 200+ channels, we still know of a lot of you who like what’s now referred to as “live TV,” which covers the over-the-air channels for network programming, local news and some live sporting events. We also like a lot of the programming that cable adds, especially sports, 24-hour news programming and premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime. Those are all hard to come by unless you have cable. If you stream your cable package’s lineup, you’ll have access to it anywhere in the US wherever you can connect to the internet.

The cable providers also bundle – for a price – the same premium channels and access to streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. The price is roughly the same that you’ll pay directly to the streamer unless somebody is running a special. If you stream without the cable company, you can access some of your cable programs through services like YouTube TV, Sling, fubuTV and Hulu+Live. They’re known as skinny bundles, and you’ll need to see what they offer. In addition to viewing their programs on TVs, you can view them on mobile devices and computers. They have limits on how many devices can be connected at one time.

If you cut the cable cord, you’ll need to connect your TV to the internet through a provider such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick or Google Chromecast. All typically work through Wi-Fi, but they don’t all provide the same access to streamers. You’ll need to research that, too. In a sense, you’ll be trading the cable boxes for internet access devices, which will pay for themselves in a few months.

On the technology side, you’ll need to have a strong internet connection and a strong network. The actual levels of service and performance will vary with how big your home is, how many total devices will be on the network and how many devices can display 4K programming. If you’re not properly equipped, your devices will need to buffer the programming, which means you’ll see pauses in the action.

You can always pay for more data capacity from your internet service provider (ISP), which is most likely your cable company. You add network strength by adding access points, either by hardwiring your home or strategically placing mesh network devices. Either or both steps may be necessary, depending on what you have now. Don’t expect to just pull out the cable and plug in a streaming device.

Just be aware of one factor that most people overlook when cutting the cord. Your TV viewing will be done on a data network, which has a capacity or limit, depending on your plan. If you exceed your data limit, your provider may slow down your connection, and that will slow down the feed to your device. You need either to regulate your viewing according to your plan or pay for unlimited data.

Once you decide how you want to watch TV and other video content, we can assess your technology setup, recommend steps you need to take and help you with all installations that may be required. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for an appointment. You have more viewing choices than ever – and that means more decisions than ever.