Digital Original: How to Avoid Digital Disaster

My email inbox stays full with questions from readers about dealing with new technology. It is always interesting to hear about their problems and challenges and to learn about success stories with the new technology. Here are a few recent notes from my email inbox.

Question: I just got hacked! Now I can’t open applications and my files are corrupted. What can I do?

One of the scariest things that can happen to a business is to have the computers go down. The damage can come from equipment failure, power surges, or outside sources hacking your computer just to damage your information. It is almost impossible to fix the situation after it happens, so printers should be prepared to deal with it when it happens. There are proven procedures that can lower the risk, whether you are attacked from the outside or the equipment fails.

1. Always make backups of your files and folders and store them offsite. It isn’t a matter of if you are going to have a problem; it is when. Everyone will face a situation where information is lost or destroyed. The best insurance is to have a backup.

One of the most inexpensive ways today to back up your computer and protect your digital assets is to go to the “cloud.” Online backup services will automatically backup your files nightly so you will avoid losses from hardware failures. The cost to back up a single computer runs just about $50 a year. That is cheap insurance. Some of the more popular services are Carbonite.com, Barracuda.com, and Jungledisk.com.

Even if you plan to copy files to a removable hard drive, make sure that you take the files offsite on a daily basis. It doesn’t help if both the original files and the backups are destroyed at the same time because they were in the same location. If you are using a backup system that compresses the files you will need to check it often to make sure it is backing the files up correctly.

2. Make sure you have a good firewall. A firewall acts as a barrier between your computer and the Internet and keeps bad things out of your network and off your computer. This will prevent worms, Trojan viruses, and spyware from infecting your system. Three basic types of firewalls are available for you to choose from: software firewalls, hardware routers, and wireless routers. Which you use depends on how many computers you have and the operating system you use.

Software firewalls are a good choice for single computers. Windows Vista and Windows XP both have built-in firewalls, so an additional firewall is not necessary. A number of companies sell software solutions. If you’re networked, you may want to invest in a separate hardware firewall box or make sure your wireless access point or network router has a built in firewall.

3. Review your browser and email setting for security. Make sure to constantly erase your “cookies” folder. Cookies do track your daily actions online. Set your “Internet zone” for high and your “trusted sites” for medium low security.

4. Watch out for Active-X and JavaScript files because they can contain viruses. Don’t open any file without running it through a virus check.

5. Install some kind of antivirus software and make sure to set it for automatic updates. You will want to make sure you even have antivirus software on your Macs. Don’t believe that there is anything like a safe computer.

6. Make copies of your program disks and keep them offsite. If you download updates, be sure to keep copies of the install programs on disk and offsite.

7. Don’t open unknown email attachments. Some printers set up a lone computer to handle email attachments so they can be sure the files won’t corrupt the network.

8. Maintain battery backup for the network. You never know when you will lose power and the battery backups will at least keep the system up until you can power it down properly.

9. Turn off your computer and disconnect from the Internet. Hackers can’t get into your system if your computer is off.

10. If you don’t have an information technician (IT) person on staff, get a local IT company to provide you with support. For a fee, the IT company will review your network on a regular basis and be ready to help if you do have a problem. The ongoing cost will be a lot less than the cost of having to completely rebuild your system. The IT company will also do regularly scheduled sweeps for worms, malware, viruses and such.

Getting hacked has a broad definition. Your computer can be attacked by someone from the outside. Robots are constantly searching the Internet, looking for vulnerable computers. Following the suggestions above should keep most attacks off the computer.

The most probable attack will come from a disgruntle employee who know the passwords and can get on your network to destroy files and programs. Print owners must think about computer security the same way they think about their physical plant. Any time an employee leaves, passwords should be changed on all computers and applications the same way as locks and keys are changed. Printers must keep a list of all passwords used by every employee so they will have access to systems, applications, and files. Printers should also check to assure that software applications are registered in the company’s name and not the employee’s name. The passwords should be reviewed quarterly to assure the owners have the correct passwords on file.

Question: Is it time to update my old Macintosh?

If you aren’t running an Intel Mac, you need to be. I have run into a number of companies trying to stretch the life of their old G-5s, but all they are doing is losing productivity. The latest prepress software takes advantage of the Intel processor so you can use the latest Adobe and Quark software.

A big question is which Mac is the best buy for the average print shop. The iMac is the perfect choice for most quick print shops. You’ll want to buy the one with the biggest monitor so your prepress person can be more productive. The less they scroll the screen, the more work they get done. You can get into an iMac for desktop publishing for around $1,200 with four gigs of RAM. Buy all the internal RAM you can. Apple does sell more powerful Mac Pros, but they are overkill for most print shops and aimed at the video market. They start around $2,400 and require you to buy a monitor. The iMacs are the real workhorses in print shops.

 

Question: It seems like everyone can make a PDF file. Should I expect to have any problems with customer-created PDF files?

Like any customer file, even one in the PDF format can cause you problems if you don’t talk to the customer about how to construct the file before he or she submits it. There are a number of programs that will turn files into a PDF, but the file you get still may not print properly. Print-ready PDF files will embed the fonts and the graphics. Every printer should have PDF tools to let him edit the file if necessary.

Some of the free PDF creation programs don’t automatically embed fonts or the graphics, so you might get a PDF file from a customer that you can’t do anything with. Make sure you bring up potential problems with customers before they submit a PDF file. Ask them if the procedure they are using embeds the fonts. Ask them if the procedure embeds the graphics and doesn’t change the resolution.

If you don’t want to give a customer a specific PDF creation program to use to make printable PDF files, then you should be suggesting that they export Adobe and Quark files as PDF files using the built in tools. You may also want a Postscript file from the customer that you can turn into a PDF file yourself. PDF files are very forgiving if you are going to a digital printer, but if you are sending the file to a platemaker for press, you may have problems. Avoid those problems by talking to the customer and preflighting every PDF file before it gets too far into production.

 

Question: What is the best Web-to-print solution?

That question is too broad. The answer is: it depends. What do you want to do? A number of the website services geared specifically for printers now include storefronts that can handle most of the needs of a quick or small commercial printer. For an additional monthly charge, most have an application that will allow your customers to typeset and order their own business cards and marketing material. You build the template and the customer can then change only those areas you allow. It helps protect the integrity of the brand. If you want something more sophisticated, you should expect to pay more. Xerox, EFI, Kodak, Printable, and others offer solutions for printers.

The biggest thing about Web-to-print is that you need a customer who will use it. I’ve seen many printers fail because they took a “build it and they will come” approach. You need to be talking with the customers and really be sure they want to use it. The successful Web-to-print solutions force the customer to have some skin in the game by charging if they don’t use the service. You have to have someone at the customer’s office pushing online ordering within the organization or their print buyers will keep ordering the old way. Just don’t think that by offering the service customers are going to beat down your door.

 

Question: Will printers have to become marketing service providers to survive?

Most printers won’t survive and prosper by just putting ink on paper. They are going to have to get involved in the entire communication process. Providing marketing support is one way, but most printers don’t have the skill set to compete with marketing companies.

What printers do have are the tools to make communication easier for their customers. Printers who can integrate print collateral with the new Web services will be the ones to succeed. For example, you don’t have to be a marketing expert to know how to create and print a QR code on a customer’s marketing material. You don’t have to be a marketing expert to develop easy-to-use websites for customers or give them the tools to do mobile marketing. You should be able to partner with customers and help them get their information to their customers more effectively. Having a moniker isn’t going to get customers in the door. You are going to have to get out of the shop and get face-to-face with customers to show them what you can do.

Keep those questions coming. As printers, we face many of the same challenges, but I can attest to the fact that there are printers who are very successful and have a long, profitable future ahead of them.

 

John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList”. He is the technology director and a consultant for CPrint International. Contact him at 954-224-1942 or john@johngiles.com. You can also find John on Twitter.com at @JohnG247 and Linkedin. His blogs can be found at johngilesiii.blogspot.com/ and at www.MyPrintResource.com. To order John’s books, visit www.crouser.com.

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