All posts by Mike McKinley

Data Backup – Seven Golden Rules

The importance of good backups

Backups are important | Help-IT

Done a lot of work today?

Pretty important stuff, right? Possibly even vital?

I hope you know for sure it is safely backed up and recoverable if needed.

If you do, congratulations, you are in a small minority.

Many businesses cannot say for sure that their data is safe.

They trust haphazard data backup routines that rely on the efforts of one or two people to succeed. They assume. They hope.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. They can be catastrophic – like the fire that destroyed our offices many moons ago. They can be miniscule – like the file accidentally deleted by a client this week.

It is being able to handle that emergency that is the key.

Because you are a smart business operator, we are sure you aren’t going to leave something so vital to chance.

So what do you need to do?

Rule 1: Know what needs backing up, and why

The bedrock of all backup plans – know what you have, where it is, and how important it is. With this knowledge you can protect everything important, using the right media and with the right frequency.

Rule 2: Hold your data in one place

Individual machines and devices become a nightmare for successful backups. Company policy should be to hold a master copy of data on a server. One master copy, one backup. Easy.

Rule 3: Automation is your friend

Backups are not fun. They come at the end of the day, or end of the week, at that time where home – or pub if you are lucky – is beckoning. They rely on the weakest link in any system – people. Trust it to automated systems instead. They are reliable, consistent, and don’t spend Friday afternoon dreaming about a quick pint.

Rule 4: Backup often

This one is simple. The more often you back up, the less data you can lose when the time comes to recover an item. Less duplication, lower cost of recovery.

Rule 5: Watch your backups

You have automated your backups, right? And thus everything is more reliable. But even the most reliable systems need a little bit of checking, so make sure your backup systems get the once over. Check for errors, unusual activity, and most importantly, that they have actually run on schedule.

Rule 6: Testing, testing

So you have your nice automated backup system running to schedule. All is well. Isn’t it? You don’t have a successful backup until you are certain you can recover it. So give it a try. Periodically task a staff member with recovering data from the backup (for that ‘real world’ touch make it someone not involved in the backup process). Ensure you have a procedure to follow, and that the procedure works.

Rule 7: Backup your backups

It’s backup time. But backups can go wrong, so you’ll give yourself a safety net by making a copy of your existing backup before writing over it. Woohoo, you have a one generation old copy and a current copy. And now for the really clever part – you are going to make a further copy and securely store it elsewhere. That can mean taking a physical copy elsewhere, or using a cloud service for remote storage.

Congratulations, you are winning

So there you go, seven simple steps to happiness, security and a great night’s sleep. If you follow these, you will be a step ahead of the majority of businesses and can justifiably feel a little smug about your excellent data management.

And if you would like any help or advice in setting up a system like this, please ask and we will be glad to assist you.

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Image: Filippo Giunchedi

Help-IT ConsultancyIT support for Essex businesses from our base in Southend

IT Security – we have trust issues

IT Security | Help-IT Consultancy

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We don’t trust the people that work for you.

A shocking admission, isn’t it?

But in our experience, the biggest threat to your IT security is not the army of anonymous hackers across the globe. It is the people sitting at your PCs every day.

Not because they are bad people. Sometimes they just forget about basic internet security.

Virus and malware events are still some of the biggest IT support headaches faced by our clients.

In 2016 awareness of viruses and their dangers should be high, shouldn’t they? But worldwide the numbers of virus incidents are increasing.


Taking trust for granted

Take a look around you. Are you thinking that actually you don’t know for sure what everyone is doing online? Are they accessing safe files? Opening genuine emails only?

One simple error can be enough to  undo all your IT security.

Two recent client incidents demonstrated how people leave the front door open to intruders.

In one case, a nasty and pervasive virus of a type called ransomware made its way onto the customer’s server. As the name implies, this type of malware seeks to extort money from the infected business. In the case of our client, this left over 20,000 files corrupted. The dreaded ransomware page appeared asking for 500 euros to get the data back.

This was years’ of work, destroyed in an afternoon. Ouch.

The other was a far simpler virus in fake email attachment. Luckily for them it didn’t lead to an infection. But they didn’t know then when double-clicking.

One did lots of damage, the other none. But the point is, neither should have reached the clients’ systems.

In the first case, we found evidence of files downloaded from a peer-to-peer network, a notorious source of malware. The second raised questions with the user, who decided they would ‘just’ open the attachment to find out if it was a fake.

Both cases were easy to prevent. And in turn, they show where the weakness in any system lies – the human element.

Both cases had a happy ending, by the way, but more of that later.

There’s no such thing as ‘too secure’

It is vital as a business to keep stressing to your people their role in IT security. Every email they open, every internet link they follow is a potential gateway for the bad stuff to get into your systems. Caution should precede every action, and ‘do I trust this?’ should be a mantra.

Likewise, ask the same question of any devices that are going to connect to your systems . That includes direct connections like USB sticks, or networked machines such as users’ laptops or tablets. Are you 100% sure that they are clean and safe before connecting?

And so how did the two events above come out OK?

The value of safety nets

The answer goes back to not trusting your people. We made sure there were some sturdy safety nets in place to catch things just like that.

The clients had up to date antivirus software in place, on machines that had up to date security patches. That was enough to catch one virus.

The nasty one managed to evade that net. But the client had a comprehensive, automatic incremental backup system in place. They could afford to learn about ransomware because they had many copies of the affected files backed up.

Build in safety

How many layers of protection does your business have against the threats that can come through the front door?

Ensure your people are aware of the risks. That is priority number one. Put in place the proper safety nets and you are protected if they slip at any time.

If you would like to know how to have first-rate protection, then we would like to talk to you. Please contact us today.

It could save your business.


Image by Nick Carter @ Subcircle

10 essential IT tools for every small business


Running any business is a balancing act, but having the essential tools in place can certainly tip the scales in your favour. In a connected world it’s nigh-on impossible to manage without some computer hardware and a standard suite of office software, but once those are in place, what are the essentials for any business to get on and keep succeeding?

While a lot will depend on the specifics of the business, these are the 10 we think nobody can do without:

1. Website

I’m sure every business now has a website in place to allow them to promote themselves and communictae with customers and prospects. The key thing is to appreciate the objective for your website, and how it can help to generate new business or serve existing clients. In turn, it should be optimised to achieve those goals – make it easy for prospects to move closer to purchase, and make it simple for clients to receive support and information when needed.

2. Blog

A blog is a great asset for every business website when used the right way. It can tell your story, demonstrate what you do, and help inform prospective clients. A blog also has the benefit of being search-engine friendly, making it easier for people wanting your services to find your site. Demonstrate your expertise, provide value to others and see the benfits for your own business in turn.

Our choice: WordPress

3. Key mobile apps

One of the great truths of small business is that you often don’t tend to have much time to mind the shop. Often you will need to visit customers or be out of the office to actually do your job. That time on the road can’t afford to be wasted, so being able to take your work with you via phone, tablet or laptop is a tremendous boost to your productivity.

4. Cloud storage

In addition to those mobile apps, you can be certain that there will come a time when you need to work on a certain file when you are away from the office. Or alternatively you might have something really useful or important that you need to share in that moment. This is where cloud storage comes into its own – being able to access those vital documents (almost) anywhere and any time can be the difference between sealing the deal and finishing the job or not.

Our choice: Google Apps For Business

5. Antivirus and malware protection

Being connected to the internet and to the world via email is a blessing, but can also be a curse. Nastiness is lurking out there to catch the unwary , unprepared and unaware. Up-to-date virus protection is an absolute must for any internet user, and doubling up with strong spyware/malware protection will ensure you can safely navigate the web without opening yourself and your business to potential mailicious damage.

6. Backup

On the subject of safeguarding, a robust backup solution is essential for business. As noted above, there are no shortage of malicious items out in the computing world that will do great harm to your systems given the chance. The biggest danger to your data however is probably right there around you. Most of our recovery requests are the result of user error such as accidental deletion, while physical damage like a stray cup of coffee over a laptop can wipe you out in an instant. Having everything safe and secure, centrally stored and frequently backed up is the best chance to ensure you don’t lose something  vital.

Our choice: Shadowprotect

7. Analytics

If your website is doing its job, it is bringing you online visitors and leading them down the path towards conversion to customers and buyers. But how can you be sure of who is visiting and what they are doing on your site. What elements of your site or its content are working harder than others? This is where website analytics comes in. Track your visitors and their activity and you can learn a whole lot about your website’s effectiveness, and fine-tune your marketing accordingly.

8. CRM

When you do make contact with those prospective customers and hopefully turn them into customers, how wil you make sure that they don’t slip away? With the wealth of CRM (customer relationship manager) systems on offer today, it has never been simpler to keep track of how you are marketing and to who, where the opportunities lie and ensuring that your customers are served well.

Our choice: Suite CRM

9. Remote access

All the apps, and all the cloud storage in the world won’t insure you against the day that there is one particular item or program that you really need to work on that is only on your computer. Having remote access in place to be able to get in there and do the job will feel like the greatest invention of all time when you can stay on the sofa and still do what’s needed.

Our choice: Screenconnect

10. Social media

All the world’s a stage, and never has it been easier for your business to deliver a performance. Social media platforms enable even the smallest businesses to reach numbers that required million pound advertising budgets not so long ago. Every business has a story to tell, share yours with the world and get communicating with everyone. You can even use it as a customer service channel.

Follow us on twitter @HelpITEssex or find us on LinkedIn

Those are the IT tools and resources we think every small/medium business should definitely be using. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below, and add your own IT must-haves.


Help-IT Consultancy offer a range of IT services for businesses throughout Essex and beyond. From our base in Southend we offer IT support, planning and procurement.

Please call us on 01702 704001 today to discuss your IT needs.

Image courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo

Savvy staff make secure, safe workspaces



Take a look around. No doubt your business is home to a huge array of technology and gadgetry, all connected to the internet. The possibilities for flexibility of working and increasing productivity have never been greater.

But can you be sure that everything, and everybody, is working to your benefit? The good that comes with increased tech use and internet connectivity must are balanced by the potential for the bad elements. Do you and your staff know enough to get the most from your IT, while minimising the risks to your business? Is there sufficient savvy to ensure security?

These are the key areas we believe every business should understand in order to keep working safely and well.

Thou shall not pass

Your passwords are one of the first lines of defence to keep data safe, but often are a neglected area. The Trustwave Global Security reports continue to highlight the weaknesses of many users’ passwords. With a small number of passwords making up a high percentage of those in use, are you sure your people are choosing wisely? Beware of simple passwords, and even combinations that look secure (names combined with numbers and capital letters) can be very succeptible to dictionary attacks.

Today it can be safer to select a longer passphrase (along the lines of ‘BetYouCantGuessMyPassword’ – though don’t use that!) rather than a combo that contains fewer characters.

Keeping the nasties out

Antivirus should be a given, but are you happy that you have antivirus protection on all your devices? How about that it is up to date, and that it is actually running?

Malware protection alongside your antivirus is a good idea alos, so that anyway infections can be detected and dealt with immediately. A solid defence that prevents anything nasty entering the system is one of the fundamentals of IT security. Which leads on to…

Beware websites bearing gifts

Websites that prompt you install free tools, widgets or add-ons van quickly have you cursing. Free software is often supported by marketing revenue that comes from the toolbars and so on that clog up your machine. To protect your privacy, and sanity given that these can grind your machine to halt, always think twice before clicking to download or install that piece of software. When in doubt, ask your IT expert.

And emails too

What goes for website installations is even more true of email attachments. If you don’t know where it came from, don’t open it. Educating staff to not click suspicious emails, links or websites will have a great positive impact in reducing your risk.

Keep it current

If you are prompted by Windows or other trusted software to install an update, install them as swiftly as possible. The updates are issued to tackle security holes and problems, so neglecting your updates leaves you exposed. Keep eveything bang up to date and you will ensure any attackers are denied an easy route in.

Everything in its place

Mobile devices mean that work travels with your people. However, don’t let that mean that files are scattered around and unprotected. Have a central storage area and control, and ensure that proper backups are maintained. That way if something should go wrong (and loss, theft or a dropped cup of coffee will ruin your data even quicker than any virus) you know that all is not lost.

Make sure you know as much as the next man

Tech savvy staff are a great plus – they will help get the maximum from what’s available. They are a great asset to any business, and will increasingly become valuable workplace assets.

But be sure to educate yourself too. Ensure that your policies and security are robust. Be aware of what everyone is using, and make sure they are using it correctly. You don’t want to be left in a position where your star performer is lured to another position and is suddenly able to take all of your data with them. Ensure that you are on top of your own IT and you can be as safeguarded as possible.

These are some of the things we consider most important for businesses that wish to make the most of their IT while ensuring security is never neglected. We will address some of these in more depth in the future, but if you have anything to add, or that you would like to see addressed, please drop us a comment below.

Remote working done right

In times past I’m sure we’ve all raised a knowing eyebrow at the mention of a colleague or friend ‘working from home’, but the reality is remote working can be highly beneficial for businesses.

Remote working the easy way

Research by BT has suggested remote workers may prove more productive than those who are chained to the office. By removing the hassles of commuting and limiting the number of interruptions remote workers often produce longer hours. Plus there is less reason to pull that sickie when working under your own steam.

In many cases, the requirement for remote working are simple – with over 75% of the UK workforce employed as knowledge workers, the basics can be as simple as a phone and a data connection. However, while this appears simple, businesses must understand the increased risk that comes with such flexibility.

Home is where the data is

Data security may be compromised by taking it outside and relying on a variety connections from a number of unmonitored locations. Data held on remote machines may be vulnerable if there aren’t robust measures to ensure adequate backups or central hosting. By ensuring you have a solid network infrastructure, you may gain the benefits of remote working and the increases in productivity it can bring without compromising security.

Help-IT offer a range of solutions to aid the process of remote working, and are happy to help companies of all sizes understand both the benefits and pitfalls that can arise. There is a lot to be gained from its introduction, both for the business and its employees, so please contact us today and we can help you to take work away from the office without taking chances.

When data backup nearly became disaster movie

The good people of Pixar revealed the dramas behind the scenes during the making of their second outing for Woody, Buzz et al, and with it gave us a drama as tense as anything their scriptwriters could have hoped to produce.

Data backup disaster for Pixar

The story, in greatly reduced form, is as follows: senior Pixar people suddenly start seeing files disappear, and then more, and then more. Before their very eyes, the data for their entire movie is being deleted from the bottom up. The order goes out to pull the plug – take the entire system offline in order to try and stop the damage. But the damage is considerable, and huge chunks of data have already been deleted.

However, all is well, because Pixar of course have backups. Except, it emerges, the data backups haven’t been working for a while. The feel-good family movie has suddenly turned into a massive disaster story.

As we know, however, the movie was made. So what saved Toy Story 2? I’ll leave that to the storytellers:

Would your ending be a tearjerker?

The Pixar tale is an eye-opener as it brings home just how close a disaster can be, even to a project this visible or a company this tech-savvy. After breathing the sigh of relief on their behalf it should nudge every business to take a long and hard look at their own data security and backup arrangements.

The disaster that can ruin you does not always have to be a huge dramatic event – although we at Help-IT did have the experience of suffering a fire that destroyed our premises, and survived by having a solid backup solution – it can be as simple as the wrong person playing with the wrong files, or the wrong piece of hardware failing at the wrong moment.

Likewise while you may feel you have adequate backups, unless you have proven you can restore your data from them you too could simply be relying on a miracle should disaster strike.

In short: Be sure that you understand where your risks lie, and how great they are. Don’t trust assumptions about the safety and security of your data, ensure the backup solutions are in place and robust, and always be sure to test your backups regularly.

Help-IT can help you gain the most from your IT infrastructure, and help to safeguard the data that is vital to your business. To learn more, simply click here!

We are Help-IT

Hello, and welcome to the blog for Help-IT Consultancy Ltd.

For the first post on the blog I thought it made a little sense to talk about us. Not just the ‘about us’ that can be found on our company website, but a bit about us – the people behind the company.

We have three principals in the business: Freddie, Mark and Mike. The three of us go back a long way, and are bound by ties of family and friendship that have existed for twenty years or more. We have worked together in the past, we have worked separately. Each of us has owned and run a business. There are (to varying degrees) a bit of geekiness, gadget love and business sense among us – I won’t try to quantify who has what! We like to think our balance of skills and personalities works, both for us and the companies we work with.

And so we experienced one of those moments of clarity a while back when we sat down, looked at our respective businesses and abilities and said ‘you know, we really should be working together.’ Unlike most similar moments this one seemed sensible, we actually decided to go for it and pool our resources and know-how into making Help-IT a bigger, better and faster growing enterprise.

Already through 2013 and into this year we have seen the befits of these efforts, with larger installations and a growing customer base. Over time we of course hope to develop even further, and this blog is a key part of our strategy to do so.

We hope it will develop into a useful resource that is also an interesting read. We will try to intersperse information with news and the odd thing that interests or amuses us in the hope that others will want to read our blog and converse with us.

As such, we are open to all suggestions and any reasonable requests – if you would like us to write or advise on any IT topic just let us know via the comments, or alternatively you can contact Help-IT directly.

And so that is post number one in the bag, we hope you will join us for a good few more.