Ask Phil, help4IT's friendly IT Agony Uncle!

Q: What are my options now Windows XP is no longer supported?

Dave, IT Manager, Bermondsey

A: You can either boost your security practices and avoid working online or upgrade your operating systems. If you prefer XP or you’re reliant on its feature set, you can run XP from Windows 7 Pro as a “virtual” operating system. Otherwise, to run XP normally, the safest way to do so it to work offline, which is not practical for most businesses, or to restrict access rights on the user level. That way users can’t download anything from the internet. If you need an internet connection, of course, all standard security practices should be followed, such as password encryption, running security and monitoring programs, using the latest versions of software and browsers, and generally being careful which sites you visit. 

The technology market is always changing and businesses need to adapt to emerge on top. Windows XP end of support may be inconvenient but at some point you’ll need to upgrade, so long as it makes sense for your business. For example, the new productivity software from Microsoft (Office 365) offers many valuable things to some users, namely flexibility, mobility and productivity, but may not be what others need. My best advice: set up a review of your IT and take it from there.

Q: How do I protect my business and my data?

Elena, Business Owner, Watford

A:  There are plenty of people out there imagining ways in which they can exploit the systems of small businesses. What businesses don’t realise is that careful management of employees can prevent many of the simplest of errors when it comes to system and data security. By doing the following you can avoid some of the common mistakes businesses make internally. 1) Manage your machines centrally so all PCs are kept on track for updates and upgrades. 2) Protect and monitor your network. Whether you do it yourself or you use an external IT service provider, it's important to do both these things.3) Backup your data and your systems and create a disaster recovery plan that will save your business in times of, well, disaster. 4) Keep software, browsers etc. up to date. Stay ahead of the curve. 5) Produce a list of guidelines for behaviour online and offline. Easy to understand guidelines will allow your employees to reduce the risk of an attack from an online source and ensure no mistakes are made when handling sensitive data offline.

Q: What is a good mental process for generating strong passwords?

Martin, Sales Manager, Reading

A: A good password should be unique for each of your accounts e.g.. Email, banking, social networks, cloud apps etc. It should be changed often enough to prevent long term access to accounts but not too often that you risk creating a less secure password. If you connect to an unknown WiFi network and use your password you should change it. It should be a mix of letters, numbers and symbols, and it should not reference personal information or common words. Try starting with a random word or phrase like, “ I like mushrooms”. Turn that into a single string of letters, numbers and symbols and you end up with, “1%lik3%Mushr00Ms%”. It’s easy enough to remember and it’s secure enough to avoid being compromised. If you know one of your accounts has been accessed by an external party, change the password and contact an account security officer.

Do you have an IT dilemma? Feel free to email your questions to and you may see your questions answered by help4IT's IT Agony Aunt Phil next month!


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