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Every minute of every day, you’re at risk of a cyber attack that could bring your business to a halt.

“It doesn’t matter the size of your company,” says Jason Smith, president and CEO of K-Coe ISG, a business technology consultancy. “Companies large and small are vulnerable.”

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Smith says the bad guys are looking to breach your network, steal your data and compromise your operations. They can even hold you hostage, denying you access to your own files unless you pay a hefty ransom.

“It’s not a question of if but when” a cybercrime will occur, he warns.

In the last five years, actual network breaches—not just attempts to make it through a security wall—have increased 67%. Ransomware attacks have increased 400% this year alone.

Among high-profile victims are the cities of Atlanta and Baltimore. Both were hit by ransomware attacks but chose to shell out millions of dollars to replace their information technology infrastructures rather than pay the demanded ransoms.

Even Microsoft recently discovered serious “wormable” flaws in its Windows 10 software that targeted PCs and servers across the world.

Targeting rural America

Cyber criminals aren’t only striking Fortune 500 companies and major American cities. They’re going after the businesses of rural America too.

“In the last 90 days, I’ve seen two ransomware breaches on ethanol plants and, since early 2019, at least six others on ag-related production facilities,” says Smith, who has 25 years of IT experience with some of the nation’s biggest companies.

Smaller businesses are often the perfect crime scene, according to Smith. These are the companies with five to 25 employees and revenues of $5 million to $20 million. They think they’re safe because they back up their data every day. Yet, no matter how up-to-date you are with the latest technology and best practices, you will always have a security vulnerability to manage: your employees. All it takes is one click to infect a workstation that allows hackers in.

Businesses like ethanol plants can be especially vulnerable because their technology hasn’t kept pace with their explosive growth, notes Smith. In addition, small businesses often believe they’re not big enough to matter to tech thieves and so won’t be hit.

Not true at all, Smith says. Cyber attackers are stealthy. They can infect your system when you open the pdf attachment of an email from a seemingly familiar person. That allows a “worm” into your computer that infects your system. It can wait unseen for a day, a week or six months, giving the virus access to even your back-up files. “It’s like a time bomb,” Smith says.

Then the intruders demand a ransom they think a small business would pay—$50,000 is a popular amount—rather than invest in a whole new IT infrastructure.

These unseen enemies are targeting your back office. This is the most important area of your business, the hub of your finances, bookkeeping, ordering, inventory management and everything else crucial to your operations.

Staying ahead of cybercrimes

Because the threat is so real and insidious, Smith says all businesses must “stay three steps ahead of the enemy.”

For starters, that means asking yourself:

1. Is my network system prepared for today’s attack? Is my computer or router or printer up to date with security and virus patches? Am I sure that every day, when I flip open my computer, nothing’s going to shock me?

2. Are my employees trained to identify and fix security risks?

3. Have I considered what my business vision will require in the way of technological improvements?

Smith believes that unless you or someone on your staff attended computer-science school, your business needs professional help.

A security expert will assess everything that’s connected to your network, both at work and home. He or she will build a strategic plan for your cybersecurity risk, with a deep dive into your people, processes and technologies. Then he or she will help you execute your road map. That could be as simple as removing risks and educating your employees.

“In today’s day and age, there are so many pieces to an IT network: PCs, Wi-Fis, CD players, routers, back-up drivers, even printers,” says Smith. “They all need security patches, sometimes on an hourly basis, to protect against viruses.”

Don’t wait until you’ve been attacked by cybercriminals. Malicious attacks like phishing and malware are growing increasingly sophisticated. Data breaches are occurring daily. Ransomware is no joke. Give cybercrime the attention it deserves.

“If you’re not managing your IT network, you’re already behind the curve,” Smith says.

Learn more about cybersecurity at www.isgtech.com.

Editor’s note: Maxson Irsik, a certified public accountant, advises owners of professionally managed agribusinesses and family-owned ranches on ways to achieve their goals. Whether an owner’s goal is to expand and grow the business, discover and leverage core competencies, or protect the current owners’ legacy through careful structuring and estate planning, Max applies his experience working on and running his own family’s farm to find innovative ways to make it a reality. Contact him at max.irsik@kcoe.com.

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