How to inexpensively virtualize your business.

By Gregg Lantz, Oferas Technologies
Updated 10:56 AM ET, Mon April 13, 2020

Are you overwhelmed by everything associated with COVID-19? We at Oferas Technologies can relate. There is a significant number of businesses that can benefit from virtualizing their workforce but can't afford to invest in Cloud-based services. Therefore, we've put together some inexpensive ways to adjust the way we conduct business.

Business owners have been stricken with what will be their most challenging task ever. We are all trying to cut our costs, keep our doors open, and help our employees. Many of us will be trying to virtualize some parts of our business while maintaining our community of clientele. This won't be easy. As an example, breweries, bars, and restaurants supply almost 30 percent of the food in America. If they are removed from the food chain their suppliers may be forced to close and grocery stores will be overwhelmed. We as a community need to continue to buy local and find new ways to safely do so. As business owners, we need to find new ways to virtualize our businesses at little to no cost. Where do we start?

Chrome Remote Desktop authenticates users using their Google account. While Google has actively pushed two-factor authentication for years, you should ask every employee to make sure they use some form of two-factor authentication on their Google account before widely deploying Chrome Remote Desktop.

With "social distancing" becoming our new normal, many of the local business owners and entrepreneurs will still need to access their office machines from home. Google's Chrome Remote Desktop can be used to help connect your homebound employees to their workplace. Affectionately known as "Chromoting", Chrome Remote Desktop is a free app for the Chrome web browser. This is an easy-to-connect, simple, application you can use to quickly connect your homebound employees to their work environment. Chrome must be installed on both the office machine and the knowledge workers' home machine. Best Practices recommend that your employees first connect to their office networks, using a VPN, before connecting to their office machines. This will add a second layer of encryption and prevent malicious actors from trying to execute a Man-In-The-Middle attack. Network administrators can restrict Chromoting to only VPN users by following the instructions at Google's support site.

If you're not one of our clients and hadn't already planned for this disruption, there are a couple of ways to create a trustworthy VPN to allow your employees to communicate with their internal office assets. If you don't already have a VPN Firewall at your business location, you can use a free software firewall from Sophos which includes VPN services. Sophos UTM Essential Firewall is designed for small businesses and can be quickly deployed on any machine with two ethernet adaptors.

Using Sophos UTM Essential you can quickly implement a VPN firewall into your company's IT environment -without charge and no strings attached. Once your firewall is up and running you should use your new VPN for your home-based workers to connect to your network before connecting to their desktop machine or network-based shares, services, or printers. This is the best way for you to avoid leaving open network connections exposed to the Internet. Remote Desktop ports are the most popular way for ransomware to install itself on your network.

Any employee who is accessing your company's network from home should have anti-ransomware, encryption, and file-less malware protection on their machines. You don't need the added expense of a ransomware infection originating on an employees connected machine. Sophos offers a free thirty-day trial of Sophos Home Premium which includes ransomware and fileless malware protection. They are also offering this software free until the end of the Pandemic if you are a corporate customer. I hate to keep mentioning one company here but we are trying to use free products that have a good reputation and Sophos is stepping in to help.

High-value employees who have access to multiple locations in your network can also run a free home edition Sophos Firewall that is designed for up to 25 devices. The free UTM Home Edition from Sophos makes sure employees are protecting their home network and doing everything possible to protect your business network from any attacks originating on a connected network. If your business pays for data loss insurance you will need to document the security measures in place at your location as well as every remote location connecting to your network. Insurance companies will often cite a failed update as the reason to avoid paying your claim. Sophos software-based firewalls keep and maintain the required documentation you will need, as the business owner, to prove compliance with your data loss policy.

How do we keep communications open with our business community?

Your business's ability to keep and maintain a sense of community is perhaps the most important challenge you'll need to overcome during this difficult time. 3CX, a global communications company is offering three years of free access to its VoIP presencing system. By unifying phone calls, video conferencing, SMS, email, Live Chat and so on, your employees and customers can share and access data all from one centralized location. When a business can collaborate in real-time and hold audio and video conferences with multiple people by clicking a button, without taking time to set up third-party apps or secure a social media connection they have a better chance of maintaining their community. While Facebook Live, Youtube and Zoom are great for broadcasting your message, they should not be used for confidential communications.

If you own a bar that normally holds a Trivia Night, using 3CX will allow you to grow your trivia night to include up to 250 remote attendees who can all jump in and participate. Just hand out your trivia night connection information with every growler purchased during the week and hold trivia night from eight to eleven on Tuesday night, Bingo from eight to eleven on Thursday night and live music on Friday night. Events like Live Music can be recorded and later posted to YouTube or Facebook. By limiting access to people who support your business you can offer an added value to thank your supporters. By posting to social media a few days later you're able to use the event to promote your business. Offering a virtualized community experience for your client is just one way to maintain your business's community.

Restaurants who offer video communications for ordering can help ease a customer's fear and discuss a personalized plate or delivery process for an immunocompromised or at-risk customer.

3CX also offers free click-to-connect plugins for your website and can be used to route calls to your employees' cell phones, helping to isolate and prevent cross-contamination through a device handled by multiple employees.

With 3CX your customers can connect to your conferencing system and communicate with each other and you. It can be used to help maintain your business's sense of community as customers try to win prizes or simply get together to offer each other tips with ways to support and help each other.

No matter how big or small your company is, using the free 3CX Unified Communications solution can help your business continue to offer that one-to-one touch your business has always offered while continuing to meet the new requirements of Social Distancing.

With 3CX you can integrate your CRM, ERP and Accounting System with your phone system and be able to launch calls with a single click. Inbound calls are automatically linked to the customer record which pops-up on the screen and all calls are logged in the CRM package. Additionally, with this omnichannel contact center solution, your employees can easily keep track of customer interactions from any channel, ensuring that records are always up to date for real-time access to contact details and transaction information. Integrate 3CX with MS Exchange, Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Microsoft Outlook, Office 365, Zendesk and more! If your CRM software is not included in our list of applications you can easily integrate it yourself so your geographically distributed staff maintains access to all the information about every conversation.

When you set up 3CX VoIP there is no need for a traditional physical VoIP or SIP phone. You can cut costs by using your existing computers and employee cell phones as clients. By telling the iOS and Android clients to only work over Wi-Fi you won't be using your employee's minutes or data plans and they won't be disturbed while at the grocery store or walking the dog. Your employees will be able to see who else is working and hold face to face meetings or text chat with each other through their computer or phone client.

With 3CX you will need to use a SIP provider. Most single-number SIP connections will easily support 16 to 20 simultaneous calls on one number. There is no need to buy 6-12 new phone numbers. We normally recommend using a SIP provider like Flowroute or Telnyx. Telnyx is inexpensive and offers SMS and other services but they don't offer the same level of support that Flowroute does. Depending on the number of calls you place an average monthly communications bill from Telnyx is less than ten dollars.

Our lives are being upended and we need to find ways to virtualize the communities we once had in our stores and restaurants without investing additional monies. While many of the suggestions listed above are free they will require the use of an old machine or two that can be pulled off the scrap pile.

Am I Forgetting Something?

Yes, when working from home, we don't have the luxury of a closed-door environment like we do at our offices. If you're dealing with Classified or Confidential information, remember to unplug or disconnect your Ring doorbell, Ring Cameras, Amazon Alexa, Google Home or other smart speakers before accepting a phone call, web meeting or video conference. These devices create recordings "to help build a better product." The recordings can be accessed by you or anyone who gains access to your account. You will want to disconnect these devices.

Make sure your employees are aware that the current work-from-home environment will result in new, novel attempts to use Social Engineering and Phish for their login credentials and any other account information they can gather. Your security team should ramp-up their awareness campaigns and employee testing.

If your employees are using their own devices, have them set up a new user account that can be used just for work, on the device. This separation can help with privacy and security.

The increased use of remote access technologies will attract additional malicious activity. Malicious actors will be searching Shodan.io for any vulnerabilities on your network. Now is the time to make sure your hardware's firmware has been updated, any software is patched, and any vulnerabilities published in Shodan have been fixed. Follow the guidance in NIST publication SP 800-46 Rev. 2., "Guide to Enterprise Telework, Remote Access, and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Security."