IT FAQ Page

IT FAQ Page

We’ll be building this Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page as a resource to address your information technology (IT) concerns, so feel free to email us at benchrunner@meistermedia.com with your questions (we’re open to answers too!) and we’ll do our best to help spread the word.

Click on a question below to jump down the page to the answer you’re looking for.

Grower Question, Jan. 31, 2007 Benchrunner

“Let’s cut to the chase. One of my family’s employees spends way too much time on the Internet doing their own thing. I check Internet Explorer regularly after hours and am angered with the browsing history, but on the other hand to be without them would be a real drag since no other qualified eplacement has knocked on my door. How can I correct this?”

Grower Responses

“Warn them once, fire them the second time. No employee should steal time like that from you. It is also stealing from the other employees paychecks as well. Don’t wait for a qualified replacement to knock. You go knocking and hire someone, don’t let yourself be a victim to this one employee’s poor work ethic. We just have it in the employee handbook, which they sign at time of hire. On the ‘second time,’ I actually had an employee tell me, “But I’m not on those websites you told me not to be on!” No, she was on a whole host of others. Apparently she didn’t understand the part about stealing from other employees and the owners.”
- David VanWingerden, Green Circle Growers

“The answer is quite simple. Install a simple hardware firewall. They are available for less than $100 and can only be configured by those with granted access (they usually have a simple browser interface to the firewall). This will allow you to restrict the sites that are available to access / not access. You can even restrict the type of browsing available to them (such as no sports, porn, news or gambling sites etc). Moreover, you can restrict browsing all together and just allow e-mail access. A firewall solution gives 100% control.”
- Tim Higham. Interstate Transport, Inc.

“Regarding the employee spending work hours “doing their own thing”. Sounds like they need either more work, or less work hours. Not many employers can really afford to pay someone for doing nothing.”
- Doug and Marie Domer

“Not sure if cell phones are IT, but I don’t think my employees know I can view all their cell phone usage on my business account. The amount of cell minutes have become outrageous!! I need to implement a new cell phone policy as well as personal email checking. I find more and more tracking codes when the spam increases. I use the ‘free’ Ad-Aware, but it takes my time.”
- Kathy Rhoads

“Personal browsing of the Web has become a very common practice both at home (off time) and at work (paid time). It is something that starts out innocently seeming to only needing a moment or two of a persons time, but then often time leads or draws them into many minutes/hours being occupied. Browsing seems to draw people into going to the next level, then the next level and so on. I know this first hand… I have been caught up in it before. There is just so much information available on every subject located on the Web.

Hence, work time has now been lost. Productivity is down.

Only way I know to manage this is to let employees know that it is an unacceptable practice and why. I would also let them know that monitoring of this WILL be done at random and what the consequences are going to be (1st offense and so on). Put in a plan to help those hooked browsers break the habit while at work. Set a program up that allows them to get on for personal use during break or lunch time only…but NOT DURING WORK HOURS. Maybe set up one computer in an area that can be used for personal checking of email and other personal web stuff. Keep this PC off the network so you can avoid getting more spam or viruses into your networked system due to the locations/websites that these people may be viewing (and unknowingly placing tracking cookies or having your registry files being corrupted).

For those staff members who devote most of their waking hours to your company… you may have to put into place another level of expectations for them. Since I am a salaried person and find myself putting in 50 to 60 hours a week… I might be allowed to check personal email messages, take care of some financial and/or other personal issues during my time at the office. But I should try to keep these tasks to a minimum and even restricting the best I can to before/after work, during lunch or break times.

Either way… expectations should be set up and written down for the employees to see. Have them sign a Computer Use Agreement. Not that uncommon these days for schools, libraries, and work places in today’s world. For instance, you can demand that YOUR computers are not used to view pornography or perform personal chatting. You can and should make sure that they are not using your connections to pay personal bills on line and/or purchase personal items. Employees need to know that you or your IT person has complete access to all work related computer use. Ability to view work emails and internet browsing history on the company PC’s might deter some from doing this.

If the person who posed this question had stated they had an employee that simply took naps at their desk during work hours… I am certain they would not tolerate that behavior. Why should the employer be expected to tolerate this PC behavior as well? In the attempt to replace this “Qualified” employee with another “Qualified” person… you may have to go to a Head Hunter, Placement firm or advertise in a few Trade Publication. It may cost you to find this new Qualified Employee, but if you calculate the cost of the lost time in dollars for time spent Browsing by an employee… you may find that your further ahead in the long run by spending the time and funds needed to get the right person… one who understands the commitment to their employer and their time at the job.

Yes, we have experienced this in our office in the past (and I am sure it still happens at times, but to a much smaller degree). We took a hard stance on this some time back and I do not see it as a major issue. My Suggestion… Place expectations on the employees up front regarding the use and limits of computers and/or browsing during work hours, just as you set expectations about showing up to work on time or stealing office supplies from your business. After all… they are stealing wages and productivity by not using their time to the benefit of the company while ‘On the Clock’.”
- Mike Cade, GroLink

Have you got a response, whether an answer or a question, that you’d like to give? Email benchrunner@meistermedia.com

Q: Are there ways to help a SMB business owner assure his employees are making productive use of the internet?

Prior to addressing tools to monitor internet activity, the initial focus should be on development of a sound and comprehensive Acceptable Use Policy.

By definition, an AUP is a written agreement in the form of guidelines, signed by the employee, outlining the terms and conditions of Internet use. It should include definitions of acceptable online behavior and access privileges. In this policy, you will have language to the effect that any communication may be monitored not only to ensure productivity, but to protect the company from legal issues.

Establishing best business practice policies that are clear and concise, need to be a priority for every business owner. As part of the hiring process, these policies should be reviewed and signed by all potential candidates. The fact that It’s also very important to periodically review the policies as technology and business change.

There are many templates available to get you started in developing an AUP. A good place to start is to simply Google “acceptable use policy”. Law schools generally do a great job of templatizing small business forms like this, as do many .org communities (SANS.org is one that provides templates of the essential business forms of today, such as an Acceptable Use Policy, Anti-Virus Process Guidelines etc.)

Let us now assume your policy is in place and your employees have read and signed it. The next question is to what extent to wish to monitor this activity. We’ll make another assumption that you want a tool to use periodically when you feel an employee is not adhering to policy.

Again, as always, a good place to start is on Google. PCMagazine, PCWorld and CNet are also good sources for information, as they periodically rate software tools and recommend best of breed. Software in this category allows you to log keystrokes, websites visited, peer to peer file transfers applications ran and some allow monitoring of chat and instant messaging.

Examples of computer monitoring software:

Spector Pro and eBlaster (www.spectorsoft.com)
Realtime Spy (www.realtime-spy.com)
Spy Agent and NetVizor (www.spytech-web.com)
SpyAnywhere (www.spyanywhere.com)

Q: What can a small company with a handful of computers and a small network do about this real spam problem?

A: Does your expertise lie in integrating and maintaining technology, or growing plants? Also, does your in-house solution deliver a unique competitive advantage that can’t be had through an on-demand or outsourced solution? 

Focus on what you know.

More small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are moving their commodity services to a value-added business partner. Message management is certainly one of the areas being evaluated. Each day, we spend more time scanning, filtering and on preventive management for mail as virus and spam increases. Do you have the resources to manage this?

If you said no, there are many viable and cost effective solutions for message management. Any outsourced situation has to achieve at least one of two goals–better value or less cost. With an outsourced message management service, there is no software or hardware to buy, install or maintain. You also leverage the infrastructure, cost and best practices that support a large community.

If your investment in mail is substantial, an audit might be the best place to start to assure your server environment is configured correctly, and you are utilizing all of Microsoft’s best practices to protect and manage Exchange. Check on Microsoft’s web site for an authorized Microsoft business partner in your area to help with this. They can also recommend various appliances that filter and fend off intrusions prior to the Exchange Server, if your budget and situation call for that.

If you are looking to partner with a service provider to help with managing mail -

Centerbeam is an example of a more comprehensive partnering solution that would assume management responsibilities of your existing Exchange Servers, even to the desktop if that is desired.

You can redirect your company’s message traffic to a value added service provider, like Postini,  that will provide antivirus and spam filtering, and forward the ‘clean’ message to you.

Yahoo! Business Mail is an example of a low cost alternative to mail, instant messaging and web site management. With Yahoo! Business Mail, your email addresses are based on your own domain name, access to mail via your web browser or POP email client (like Microsoft Outlook), SpamGuard, antivirus, address blocking and filtering and archiving options. If you are looking for a web presence, web hosting can also be integrated.

There are obviously many more examples of each type of service (one integrated hardware/software provider named Barracuda even provides a spam cost calculator to users). You must evaluate your current investment in supporting mail and decide going forward, if this is a value added service that needs to stay in-house, or be viewed more as a commodity and therefore as a candidate for outsourcing to a business partner. 

Q: How do I know if my computer has a virus?

A: They should never get a virus because they will always have a good anti-virus (AV) program that is always up-to-date and they will always have their operating system (OS) current, right?

In a perfect world that will be true—too bad its not a perfect world. There are several telltale signs that I look for. Performance is one of them. A performance hit more or less overnight is cause for concern. Especially if you haven’t installed something new that might have caused it. This one is more subjective, but someone who uses a PC daily will generally notice it. A system that crashes often may also be in trouble.

It pays to schedule scans and updates on a regular basis too—at least weekly. The AV program can find the problem most times, and has a much better chance to find it, if it’s current and updated. I also will double-team one I think has a bug. Scan online at Housecall or Bitdefender (there are others too) and then also scan with a couple of different spyware programs (such as Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D etc.) I think it not wise to run two AV programs on a single PC on a normal daily basis though. They tend to not play well together.

Q: How about bounced messages—are they a sign of infection?

A: If you start getting a lot of bounced messages—messages that have been returned to you because of bad e-mail addresses etc.—get suspicious. This does not always apply as much anymore, because the bugs have gotten more sophisticated. Many have their own SMTP engine and while they may harvest addresses out of your address book, they may or may not use your e-mail address as the “from” address. We look at the IP address (internet address). An IP address that gets a lot of bounced messages is either compromised or spamming—most of the time. There are exceptions. A lot of spam is sent with forged e-mail addresses in the headers and the IP is the best way to see where it really came from. If you get a lot of bounced messages check the mail headers, it may be that you are the victim of a “joe-job” (no pun intended) meaning that your address was forged as the “from” or “reply” address in that spam.

Q: Are there tests to be sure if I do or don’t have a virus?

A: On a broadband connection watch the activity lights on your modem or router. If you aren’t online and doing anything, then the activity lights will show little or no activity. If you aren’t doing anything and the activity lights are going wild, there’s a reason. You have to eliminate P2P file-sharing programs or automatic updates etc. as the reason, but if you aren’t doing anything, and there’s a lot of activity, that means that something is doing something—and its probably not nice. Get suspicious again.

Last, and this one is pretty deep but its more or less 100%. Execute the Netstat command from a DOS window. With the exception of Windows ME, it works all the way back to 95 and NT. Try it on your PC.

With nothing that needs the internet open (close browser, IE, Mozilla Firefox, etc.)

Go to the Start menu
then click the Run command
then type in cmd and hit enter (an older OS may have to have it spelled out, so type the word “command”)

At the DOS prompt (flashing cursor) type in the word “netstat” and hit enter.

A normal PC that is online will have 10 to 20 or so open connections—give or take a few (keep in mind that there can be a lot of variation on that number).

Here’s what mine looks like:

C:Documents and Settingsjhamby>netstat

Active Connections

Proto     Local Address                 Foreign Address                  State
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:1609       12.160.149.48:http              ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:1611       stock-199-175-179-160.stockgroup.com:http            ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:1612       stock-199-175-179-160.stockgroup.com:http  ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:1613       stock-199-175-179-160.stockgroup.com:http  ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:1615       va-in-f99.google.com:http     ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:4516       NEWPDC:netbios-ssn         ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:6000       10.7.0.3:48155                    ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:6000       10.7.0.3:48156                    ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:4767       JOEHAMBYNEW.blomand.net:4768  ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:4768       JOEHAMBYNEW.blomand.net:4767  ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:4769       JOEHAMBYNEW.blomand.net:4770  ESTABLISHED
  TCP    JOEHAMBYNEW:4770       JOEHAMBYNEW.blomand.net:4769  ESTABLISHED

What is above is my links attached to my home page (with the stock ticker) and to an internal site on our network. This screen will rarely be empty, BUT if it scrolls and scrolls content (and its to a foreign IP address) it means your PC is making—or has made –connections to those IP addresses. If the end of the line says “SYN_SENT” or something similar, it’s a dead giveway that you have a bug of some kind. Mail connections show too.

After you do that command with nothing open, then open a web page in your browser and go check your mail. Then try again.You have to be fairly quick to execute the command again to see what’s changed but there should be some new connections present.

We can also use a “sniffer” to see what kind of traffic is on your network but that is even more involved. A lot of the stuff we see these days is hard to pigeon-hole into any one category—they are often blended threats.

Managing Junk E-mail  - Outlook 2003

To add a sender to a Junk E-mail list right click on the message and select one of the following options:
Add Sender to Blocked Senders List–Known spammers.
Add Sender to Safe Senders List–Known correspondents.
Add Sender’s Domain (@example.com) to Safe Senders List–You will receive messages from everyone at the specified domain.
Add Recipient to Safe Recipients List–Designed for newsgroups and discussion lists in which you participate but where the messages are not specifically addressed to you.
Mark as Not Junk–Moves the message back to the Inbox.  A message box will appear with an option to always trust e-mail from this sender.  If you check the box, it will add the sender to your Safe Senders List.

managing junk email in outlook

To permanently delete messages in your Junk E-mail folder. Right click on the Junk E-mail folder and select Empty “Junk E-mail Folder”

managing junk email in outlook

Managing Junk E-mail –Entourage

To set the protection level, click the Protection Level link located below the toolbar or Select Tools–Junk E-mail Protection from the menu bar. You can automatically delete messages in the Junk E-mail folder by checking the Delete messages… box, and setting how many days to keep them.

Spam Training For Mac 

No messages from contacts in your Address Book will be classified as Junk E-mail.  If you want to always receive e-mail from a specific domain (i.e. yahoo.com) you can add it to the Safe Domains list.

Spam Training For Mac

Spam Training For MacTo move a message that was not caught by the filter to the Junk E-mail folder, select the message and click the Junk button on the toolbar.

Spam Training For Mac

To move a message that was incorrectly classified as junk back to the Inbox, select the message and click the Not Junk button on the toolbar.

Spam Training For Mac

To keep filters up-to-date you can check for updates by selecting Help–Check for Updates.  This will download updates for all of the Office products.

Spam Training For Mac


Anti-Spam Real-World Examples


GroLink:

Not sure my Sales oriented mind can provide you will all the technical answers you need, and our office in California is going through a systems change over the next few months so our IT person was only to able to give me some quick general info. 

Keep in mind that our office is in California (GroLink Chrysanthemums and GroLink Specialties/Athena Brazil–Production URC and Order Management of Athena products, North American Royalty Administration–GroLink-owned) while my office is located out of my home in Michigan (Sales Manager for the Direct Sales Team at GroLink–8 staff around the US).   

IN OUR CALIFORNIA OFFICE… Jinny Hildebrand (our IT Manager) stated that “our mail is filtered by our hosting company www.web.com. The down side of our servers and over-protection is that some of our non-spam mail gets caught up as junk (1%-2%).  So we have to check/glance at our Junk Boxes from time to time just to make sure we are not losing some valid or good emails/info.  Using McAfee and Outlook here in the office also provide additional filtering should something get past the hosting company.” 

MY SITUATION IN MY HOME OFFICE… As the Sales Manager for GroLink, I have the privilege of working out of my home office (Michigan).  From here I help Customers, Sales Reps and am in constant communication with the office staff all day long.  While in the office or on the road.  (averaging up to 30 emails a day).  I am getting updated Suppliers Availability, Purchase Orders, Spreadsheets and communications. I have an Office PC, portable Laptop and the home PC all networked together. I also use my Blackberry, which is redundant for all my GroLink emails as well.  This has allowed me to leave my Laptop at home on about 90% of my business trips. My situation is a lot like the office in California.  I have a great local internet provider in Comcast, but that is about all they do for me.  I do not use any of their software or services other than my local email address has a Comcast extension.  So if you send a message to michael@grolink.com –it goes to our host provider’s server in California who is filtering it for spam (CatchGuard Anti-Spam & Anti-Virus Protection)  and then forwarded on to my local address which also checks it for Spam and Viruses (Comcast states they use McAfee).  I think that between the two, 99% of all spam is getting filtered out before it even gets to my PC. Then once at my PC, my McAfee Security Center Software and Microsoft Outlook also do their part in locating any Junk Email and placing into the Junk Box. I do get more Junk in my personal email than I care to state. Out of about 20 plus emails a day, I get another 5 to 8 Junk Emails. But every one of them end up in my Junk Folder.  So I rarely find any junk in my InBox. But, like the office, in my personal email box I have found good emails mixed in the Junk Folder. So for me… it is having a local email provider that has a good system for catching Spam and Junk along with my McAfee and Microsoft Outlook/Explorer’s ability to also seek and isolate.
- Mike Cade, GroLink


In order to keep email addresses from being gathered and spammed, we encrypt the email addresses we have on the websites. This site has an email encryption program—it makes your email addresses so that robots can’t get them. Look under freeware and then lamseys freeware here.

What it does is break up the address, but display it properly.
Spam is always a problem. Our server for the websites have a spam filter, and then all the users have a program called Mailwasher that does a good job of deleting it before it gets to our inbox.
- Linda Hapner, Aggman


A third party firewall (Zone Alarm is good and free) other than the one supplied with windows is a good idea and set up more than one email address. The extra email address can be given out as to people you don’t really care to have your work address.  Many sites sell off their email contacts to third party advertisers.

Our ISP for mail, Triton, filters spam but forwards it to us labeled as spam.  The filter and rules set up in Outlook here then automatically places it in the junk mail folder. I glance at it quickly to make sure it is all junk by looking at the address and then delete the files in the folder. There has been a big surge lately but if you set up rules and filters properly it can be handled quickly. The big rule of thumb is if you don’t know the address or person or are expecting mail from someone, delete it.
- Jim Tunier, Post Gardens


Why is spam increasing so much, and why can’t the government put a stop to it?

Information Week reports the volume of spam rose 147% in 2006, and the United States again led the world as a spam producing, malware-hosting country. Some reports state that more than 90% of all email sent during some months last year were unwanted spam.

US based computers were responsible for sending 22% of all spam. Other countries of note:

China 15.9%
South Korea 7.4%

Nine out of every ten spam messages sent worldwide were sent from ‘botnets’, computers that were hijacked and commandeered by cyber criminals without the knowledge of their owners. And it’s not just the rising volume of spam that’s the problem, but the size of the spam messages. Because botnets use stolen bandwidth, spammers can send files of any size at no cost. The 147% increase in spam translates into a 334% increase in e-mail processing requirement for companies.

China was the leading nation generating the most malicious code.
Brazil 14.2%
Russia 4.1%
Sweden 3.8%
Ukraine 3.4%
Russia was responsible for some of the more malicious malware, where hacking is primarily an organized crime activity.

As far as why the government can’t put a stop to spam, this has to do with the global nature of internet traffic. Federal authorities have prosecuted a handful of businesses under the three-year-old CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act, but that law has no jurisdiction over spammers overseas, and its provisions are increasingly being ignored. The good news is major e-mail services are aggressively fighting spam and keeping the customer’s inbox clean.


How reliable is satellite Internet?

High speed satellite internet service is a possible answer for consumers and businesses that want a high speed internet connection, but live outside the access area of local DSL and Cable providers, which should always be your primary choice. While satellite access will usually be more expensive, the level of service is just as good. The speed of satellite Internet is comparable to other high speed Internet services, its always on, and you have the option of adding satellite TV service if you so choose.

The connection to your high speed satellite Internet services is comprised of both indoor and outdoor equipment. Outside, there is an antenna and transmit-and-receive electronics, along with a connection to a small, unobtrusive dish. This equipment connects by coaxial cable to the Indoor Receive Unit (IRU) and Indoor Transmit Unit (ITU) which connects to your computer through a simple USB connector.

Another possible alternative, if coverage is available in your area,  is wireless broadband service, offered by cell phone carriers such as Cingular/ATT, Verizon, etc. Coverage can be verified by visiting the carrier’s web site.  

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