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6 Ways to Protect Your Voice Data

Minimize data loss due to security threats by making sure you have the right measures in place

A couple weeks ago, Dawn Brister discussed the four most common threats to your IP phone system. Now that you know what the risks are, it’s time talk about how to protect your voice-over-IP (VoIP) network.

VoIP offers plenty of benefits to small businesses; unfortunately, it also presents many opportunities for hackers to cause harm to your voice network. IP-based voice networks are vulnerable to the same risks as data networks. But you can use many of the same security techniques and technologies for your VoIP network that you may already be using on your data network.

The Information Systems Control Journal of ISACA, an independent association that provides education on information systems assurance and security, has a useful article about security within VoIP networks.

Following are six tips for securing your VoIP network and voice data:

  • Lock up your servers: As with your servers and other central IT equipment, make sure your VoIP servers are under lock and key.
  • Encrypt voice traffic: To avoid unauthorized access to calls and unauthorized changes to voice messages and other VoIP content, encrypt your voice traffic. All good VoIP systems should have built-in encryption capabilities to protect against such threats as man-in-the-middle attacks and unauthorized snooping of voice data.
  • Install firewalls: Since VoIP traffic and data traffic all travel on the same physical network, protecting your data network helps protect your VoIP network. For example, the Cisco SA500 Series Security Appliances and Unified Communications 500 Series have security features to protect the entire network, both voice and data traffic, and use VLANs to virtually separate the two traffic flows from each other on the same physical network.
  • Separate voice and data traffic: The ISACA Journal article recommends using separate servers for your voice and data traffic. This way, you can minimize the risk of voice and data loss in the event that your business is the target of a distributed-denial-of-service attack.
  • Filter unauthorized traffic: Configure your switches, routers and firewalls to monitor and filter your network for unusual voice and data activities. For example, voice traffic should not be allowed on your data network and vice versa.
  • Setup dial plans and user profiles: You can use VoIP system features to identify users, the type of calls being made and restrict unwanted traffic, such as outbound international calls. Traffic limits can also be set to ensure call quality and maximum voice and data network performance.  These features can also be set to log caller activities and events.

In addition to these measures, you should also put strong passwords in place for your VoIP servers. You should also make sure you to sign up for updates to your VoIP server operating system from the manufacturer. These updates often fix security vulnerabilities that may have been found in the software and should be installed as soon as you receive the alerts.

Following these steps should protect your voice data and ensure that your VoIP network runs smoothly. What measures have you employed to secure your VoIP network?

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If you Want to Cut Costs, You Want Remote Access

And if you want remote access — You NEED a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If you are thinking of cutting costs, offering remote access may not be the first thing that comes to mind.  It may even seem counter-intuitive to add a service to cut costs.  However adding remote access to your network not only increases productivity by allowing employees to work when they are not in the office, it also allows you to cut costs by reducing real estate requirements and even allowing you to use more contract workers which can mean a reduction in benefit costs.

It’s no secret that people like to work at home.  I work at home.  I love working at home.  I have zero commute, I put less that 5,000 miles on my car last year; I don’t have dry cleaning expenses and, sometimes, yes it’s true; I work in my PJs.  Some jobs necessitate that employees are in the office and but there’s more room for creativity than you may think.  I once stayed in a hotel where the long-time concierge had to move for family reasons.  Rather than let her go, the hotel set up a video conference solution for her.  She could do everything from home even printing reservations and directions for guests who loved the novelty of the situation and also were impressed by her vast knowledge of the city.  Had the hotel not made this arrangement, they would have lost her expertise.

What is a secret about remote access (shh, let’s keep this between us) is that remote workers cost less! My director’s budget is charged for every cube in her department.  Not mine though.  I don’t run up cell phone costs traveling between buildings.  My **** never leaves my seat, so my co-workers can always reach me.  Even if your company budget isn’t as prickly as issuing department charge-backs for office space, you still need to pay for facility space.  My company doesn’t pay for my copy paper, paperclips, printer, office furniture and so on.  I don’t call in sick to work, I don’t miss work due to inclement weather and I’m never late because of traffic. (though things can get pretty intense around the espresso machine if my husband and I are there at the same time).  Right now over 34 million people work remotely for at least part of their jobs according to Forrester Research, by 2016 over 43% of U.S. workers will be telecommuters.

OK, so telecommuters aren’t drinking your coffee, using the washroom, or stealing paperclips, how does all that add up in savings? According to the Telework Research Network a teleworker saves the average company $10,000 per year (they have a customizable savings calculator on their site).  And the employee saves anywhere between $1,800 and $6,000 per year in commuting expenses.  One of our customers, Chorus, eliminated all office space by going completely remote.  This saved them $400,000 per year in office space.  They also saw an improvement in customer service, employees working from home were more efficient.  As Rick Boyd, vice president of infrastructure for Chorus said “When you take the commute out of the day, people work longer but are happier.”

What is a VPN?

As part of a small business security solution, A VPN sets up a private Internet (IP) connection that uses encryption  and authentication to protect the communications traversing it. Acting  like private and exclusive tunnels from one place to another, VPNs  extend your business to wherever it needs to go: home or satellite  offices, shared workspaces, coffeehouses, or anywhere else your workers  use their laptops, PCs, or IP phones. These private tunnels protect your data to ensure that it’s secure.

How much  does a VPN solution cost?

I posed this question to Ryan Halper, CEO of Cynnex Solutions, a Cisco Select Partner in Seattle, WA that specializes in small business solutions.  He told me that there are several factors to consider such as  the number of VPN users [Remote Workers], the  degree of redundancy (the backup technology), the type of connectivity  (data, video, and/or voice services; software or always-on hardware  solutions), and the network security hardware already in place. He says  that many companies start with basic systems and then later upgrade to  solutions that include redundancy and voice service.

I asked Ryan to be more specific and he told me that it’s not as expensive as you might think.

  • For a company that has a few dozen users and has a VPN device such as a Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance in place licensing would roughly run $80 to $120 per user
  • If you need to purchase a device a Cisco ASA 5505 would be about $1000 for 10 users

If you can save $10,000 a year per teleworker that’s a really great investment!  Now, how many of your employees and contractors could perform their  work remotely? How much will this save your business in overhead  expenses? A Cisco partner can help you select the VPN solution that’s right for you.

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3 Things to Look for in a Service Plan

An optional service package can protect your technology investment and keep your network running

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another: A much relied upon appliance or electronic device dies the day after the warranty expires. Although annoying and frustrating, you can live a day or more without your TV, iPod, or dishwasher.

When you’re a small business, though, your network is your lifeline—it connects you to your community of customers, partners, and suppliers. Having your network go down because a key component (such as a switch, router, or storage device) has failed can cost you in lost revenue and customers as well as the price to replace the faulty equipment. By some estimates , the average financial loss due to network downtime costs companies 3.6% of their gross annual revenue.

Often, the product warranty just isn’t enough. That’s where a service plan comes in. These optional packages provide investment protection for your network and will keep it—and your business—up and running. This can be especially beneficial for small businesses that have limited or no in-house technical support.

Service packages vary in term length, coverage, and cost. Here are some things to look for when comparing plans:

Hardware replacement: When a network component fails, you want the fastest replacement possible. Look for a service plan that will deliver a replacement product the next day, at the very least; or, even better, within hours.

Software updates: Getting the latest upgrades and bug fixes keep your network devices performing at their best and reduces the risk of potential problems.

Multiple support channels: Choose a plan that provides more than one way to get the help you need, such as online chat, phone support, and a support community forum or knowledgebase.

A plan should provide comprehensive service so you get the most value from your technology investment. A service plan that keeps your network running smoothly, like Cisco Small Business Support Service, will help save you money, make employees more productive, and allow them to better serve your customers—ultimately, making your business more competitive.

What’s your experience with service plans? Share your advice with other small businesses here.

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The Social Soap Box: Engaging Customers Through Social Means

November 12, 2010 at 4:37 pm PST

I spoke at PubCon earlier this week on the topic of social media, press relations and brand management. Judging by the well attended conference and the flurry of activity, social media shows no sign of slowing down. It may evolve and we may call it something different, but the idea that everything is connected – a networked economy if you will – is here to stay. We’ve all heard of the great case studies of social media success for consumer brands (large and small) and certainly personal brands, but what about for small businesses?

I recently had a conversation with the Small Business Solutions Marketing Group at Cisco to understand how they used social media to gain mindshare and drive product development, and am pleased to hear their great progress and success. Since the group started incorporating social media into their marketing efforts targeted at resellers and small business owners last year, they’ve seen great return including an approximate 200% increase in community growth across their external social channels.

How was this achieved? Marketing Manager, Jeanne Quinn, outlined the following four crucial steps:

1)      Listening: Leveraging various social media listening tools, the group was able to identify their audience segment on Twitter and Facebook. In addition, they were able to assess the audience’s user behavior and information needs in these social networks.

2)      Content Development: Based on the audience profiles and user behavior, they developed content that met the needs of their audience including how-to tips, product reviews and basic technology explanations.

3)      Amplification: The content was then amplified across their Twitter and Facebook channels.

4)      Engagement: Through their social channels, the team responded to feedback from their community and also participated in existing conversations from third party blogs and social networks.

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Know the Security Implications of Social Media

Sites like Facebook and Twitter are a great way to promote your small business, but they also present some risks

There aren’t many Hollywood Movies that I get excited about, but I’ll admit that “The Social Network“, the movie about how Facebook got started, is one I’m looking forward to seeing. Facebook has enabled me to find long-lost friends and to keep in touch with relatives who are scattered around the country. But the use of Facebook also has its dark side.

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