‘Nerds’ play important role in COVID-19 pandemic

'Nerds' play important role in COVID-19 pandemic
Nerd Crossing is located at 400 Appian Way in El Sobrante (currently for drop-off service by appointment).

By Kathy Chouteau

Amid the stormy economic environment spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the “nerds” have become a critical resource.

On the heels of the shelter-in-place mandate, Nerd Crossing in El Sobrante is among the IT companies assisting clients considered “essential,” such as those in the medical profession, education and government, as well as companies shifting to remote working.

“…We’ve spent a lot of the last couple of weeks making sure that our clients and businesses [can] enable their employees to do so,” said Jim Hammack, owner and “Head Nerd” of Nerd Crossing.

Although its doors are closed, businesses like Nerd Crossing are considered “essential.” They’re proving to be a key resource for essential businesses and residents alike. According to Hammack, the shelter-in-place order happened so suddenly that many businesses were unable to properly prepare to have their employees work from home. This scenario saw many employees using their personal computers on business networks.

“Many of those [home] computers aren’t managed by us and potentially introduce a new security risk to their business,” he said.

So Nerd Crossing mobilized and put an internal checklist together “to make sure we were protecting our clients while enabling them to work from home,” he said.  

The checklist includes making sure clients have the following:

  • The Right System: Nerd Crossing is making sure clients have the proper equipment at home. Ideally, this means a business computer that was brought home and that has been managed, updated and has an antivirus program on it. Or it involves the business purchasing new systems that Nerd Crossing properly prepares so employees can stay productive. (Since home computers aren’t always as good as office computers).
  • The Right Protections: The team is also making sure clients have the right protections in place, i.e., an antivirus program.
  • The Proper Training: Nerd Crossing is also making sure clients are properly trained. “Just because you have everything set up properly, it doesn’t mean you know how to use it properly,” said Hammack. The team trains employees how to use various tools, like videoconferencing, via phone.
  • The Proper Disaster Recovery Plan: The team is also making sure clients have the good backups (a local backup, i.e. Windows backup software and offsite cloud backup) to protect against ransom ware, etc.

Nerd Crossing has also fielded a lot of calls lately from residential clients who are forced to use their computers to conduct essential services such as doctor’s appointments, groceries and billing.

“So we’re helping a lot of clients to make sure they can do that,” said Hammack, who added they help these clients via phone consultations.

Hammack also cautions all of his clients about a disturbing trend he’s noticed: “There’s been a large uptick in scams.”

“So as much as the good that’s happening in the world right now in terms of humanity coming together, there’s also some bad out there,” he said. “There’s a lot of new scare tactics around coronavirus and fake phishing scams, so it’s time to remind our clients to be more diligent about these happening.”

Hammack has some tips about avoiding scams as well:

  • Check the source of the email. “It may look like it’s coming from the World Health Organization (WHO) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but if you actually look at the email address, you’ll probably notice it’s not.”
  • Never give away your personal info online. Hammack warned against current scams such as a fake WHO Bulletin that asks people to click a link and then enter their personal info. “Never enter your personal information unless it’s on a site that you trust and that you know for sure,” he said.
  • Be careful not to shop at shady online retailers. Watch out for fake coronavirus test kits and offers of vaccines.
  • Make sure you have a strong password. “That’s always something we preach,” said Hammack, who also emphasized setting up two-factor authentication whenever possible, especially with financial institutions.
  • Be careful about letting people remotely control your computer (such as after getting hacked, etc.). “Don’t let people do that unless you absolutely trust them and know who they are,” said Hammack.
  • Check the FTC’s site re: the latest scams, or Google it. “Don’t click on the emails or enter any information,” he cautioned.

“We are not doing house calls,” said Hammack about Nerd Crossing’s current operational status. “We are doing visits to essential businesses that need us. We are open for drop-off appointments here at the office—it’s by appointment only. And we’re taking extra safety precautions when they arrive. For example, masks, gloves and sanitizing the computers when they arrive with alcohol.”

Nerd Crossing is located at 400 Appian Way in El Sobrante (currently for drop-off service by appointment). Their hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Contact them at [email protected] or 510-275-3475. Learn more here.