Spring Cleaning Your Tech: How IT Pros are Keeping on Top of Security and More

by Natalie Hope McDonald | May 05, 2016

02725 Spring Cleaning Shareable QuoteDave Clements has been busy over spring break. As a computer support specialist for Weber State University in the Stewart Library in Ogden, Utah, the seasonal shift often means going above and beyond the usual monthly Microsoft performance updates. Spring break at the school – as well as for many IT departments around the country – has provided a great opportunity to not only review what’s working well, but to make fixes while students and faculty are offsite.

Because universities like Weber tend to operate on specific seasonal schedules broken into semesters, Clements – who’s worked at the school since 1998 – says he’s been using the time to get ready for even bigger projects come summer. In both the lab and classrooms, for example, he’s running updates to Windows and associated software, which he considers important to ensuring the system is running smoothly and securely.

“These areas use software that restores the computers to their previous frozen state on a reboot,” explained Clements. “Thawing these, running updates and installing the latest versions of browsers, plugins like Java and Flash, and making any other minor changes are done on the weekends when the building is closed.”

The IT department at the university currently uses PDQ Deploy in conjunction with Active Directory to push and install desktop Windows software such as Chrome, Firefox, Java and Adobe products. “This lets me remotely do upgrades en masse,” said the former AOLer, “saving a lot of time.” Other tools he’s using include Deep Freeze from Faronics, software that returns a Windows or OS X computer to a set state on reboot.

“During the semester break after commencement, I generally make more sweeping changes, or may reimage a classroom or lab area if large changes need to be made,” Clements said. “These are also the best times to upgrade hardware and software packages and make radical changes like operating system versions, which we’ll be doing from Windows 7 to Windows 10 in at least one classroom soon.”

Because the school’s overall system is under its greatest strain during each semester when students are most active, Clements admits that he and his team generally try to avoid making any radical changes or doing heavy construction when school’s in session on a full-time basis. Instead, they may stick to system testing in smaller numbers.

“All maintenance is done during times when the building is closed,” he said, “and with sufficient time to reverse any modifications before opening. We also prefer open-source software and use properly licensed suites from Microsoft and Adobe.” This means no downloading of third-party software without prior consultation, a particularly important policy they have created that has worked well.

Ways to Streamline Spring Maintenance

For most users, tech is hidden behind boxes and wires and connections that they may never reach. It’s definitely not the first place one thinks about when they consider “spring cleaning.” But making seasonal schedules not only ensures that systems are properly maintained, it also allows IT teams to stay focused while covering all bases – from security and backups to memory and upgrades. This process may start with simply taking a hard look at security protection, one of the most important ways IT specialists keep a system running smoothly and safely.

A good rule of thumb is to manually run software updates to ensure that systems are up to date on protections. Even though these updates may be programmed to run automatically, manually checking the operating system can keep you one step ahead of breaches or cyber-attacks. This may mean downloading the latest virus protection and insuring that all systems have safeguards in place to compensate for the latest threats.  

Providing tips for how users can avoid downloading malicious software or falling victim to phishing scams can also be helpful in keeping systems in good working order. Some companies have developed short educational videos that are required viewing for employees, while others have uploaded regulations to internal webpages or shared tips, like how to create more effective passwords for security and why it’s important to purge or archive older files off the main system, through in-house memos and departmental and company-wide newsletters – anything that reaches the majority of users.

An equally important point to hit in spring cleaning your tech is to make sure back-up systems are working well. For larger companies, this may mean working with third-party companies that store data offsite. Smaller organizations may want to consider investing in multiple backup systems. Ask any IT pro and they’ll tell you that it’s not unusual for a backup system to crash along with a computer system. Spring is a good time of year to become better prepared for worst-case scenarios.

This could mean better organizing data in the cloud. Files and other data can easily become a disorganized mess, especially if multiple users are accessing the system on site and off. Taking a look at how the cloud is organized will not only ensure it’s security, but will also allow users to access important material in a more efficient way, saving both time and money.

When asked on Twitter about helpful tips, @Gaztus said he uses antivirus software like Malwarebytes and CCleaner to do spring cleaning on his tech, while @Zach said that cleaning the exterior of devices is also important. He uses microfiber cloths on sensitive screens and canned air for keyboards and other accessories.

For most tech professionals, cleaning often takes a two-prong approach, looking at the internal system as well as the hardware, which can take a beating by the time spring rolls around. This also includes giving printers, scanners and other devices a little TLC. Remember manufacturers offer software updates online. 

Spring, a time of transformation, may also translate as such for the computer system. Seasonally, it presents the opportunity to reevaluate the tech being used at a company or organization, and deciding if and when it may be time to make any upgrades. Because upgrades can be costly, it’s important for IT managers to create plans that can be reviewed by management well in advance of the end of the financial year or beginning of next quarter – whenever investments are generally considered and made.

Behind the Scenes at a Bank

At Jonestown Bank & Trust Co. in Cleona, Pennsylvania, IT manager Tim Jesiolowski oversees IT support and collaborates with the vice president of IT and deposit operations on all bank-related technologies.

“We update all our machines – physical and virtual – on a weekly schedule to keep them current with Windows security patches and with third-party products,” Jesiolowski said, “such as Java, Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash.” He admits that maintenance is an ongoing process. “But that is really managed by the company we have contracted with and who we purchased the machines from,” he said. “We do replace hardware when it becomes obsolete or parts are no longer available.”

With eight years at the bank and 13 in IT, Jesiolowski has focused mostly on the financial and medical fields. The experiences have taught him the importance of securing data and keeping up with the needs of an organization, which can change pretty rapidly in an evolving digital landscape.

For example, he said these days he doesn’t spend a lot of time doing maintenance on computer hardware. “When it stops working we replace it if it can't be fixed,” he said. “A lot of technology has gone that way. It’s cheaper to replace than to fix or maintain it.”

To stay on top of security and performance – two key elements of the banking business – Jesiolowski uses a powerful tool called LabTech that allows him to schedule updates and manage the whole computer environment efficiently. “It’s a cloud-based application that uses an agent on each machine to check in and report their status,” he said. “It really makes network management much more simple and organized. It’s worth every penny.”

Jesiolowski also isn’t above Googling something that may have him perplexed. Otherwise he recommends going straight to a vendor about any questions related to hardware and software.

“We are a financial institution,” he said, “so we are heavily regulated and have numerous audits by varying organizations usually once a year or more. We usually take their recommendations into consideration when improving our network security and changes that are suggested.”

The partnerships the bank has developed with these third parties has translated well into excellent working protocol throughout the year, especially when it comes to keeping technology on track. He said, “Things are managed well with the assistance of a third-party vendor, [which] I can rely on for assistance on just about any network issue or upgrade.”

Natalie Hope McDonald is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia.

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