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Ransomware Could Be the Monster If Stephen King Wrote a Novel About Small Businesses Protecting your business from a ransomware attack costs money. An attack could easily cost you your business.

By Austin McChord Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Warner Bros. Entertainment

Last summer was dreary at the box office. The one blissful exception was It, an adaptation of Stephen King's 1986 book and horror classic-turned-miniseries in the 1990s.

Nerds like me read the book and watched the iconic miniseries, but if you don't know what "It" is, I'm not spoiling much here. "It" is a demonic creature that manifests itself as whatever a person is afraid of. Terrified of clowns? "It" will show up with white makeup and a shiny red nose. Squeamish at the sight of blood? "It" will flow right out of your faucet the next time you turn your water on. For entrepreneurs, "It" is a startup losing money.

According to available data, most small businesses earn well under $1 million a year. Now imagine something monstrous coming along and robbing a business of thousands, or tens or thousands, of dollars, simply by seizing control of its computers. "It" has reared its ugly head in business.

Related: Is Paying up the Only Response to Ransomware?

This is no Hollywood horror movie.

The reality is an ever-increasing number of businesses are struck by ransomware, an evil that grows more present with each year. Earlier this year, my company, Datto, asked 1,700 service providers working with an estimated total of more than 100,000 small businesses around the world about their experiences with malicious hackers.

Datto found that managed service providers (MSPs) reported five percent of their clients were attacked by ransomware. Of those reporting companies, some companies had been attacked repeatedly. This number is only increasing.

Business can lose thousands of dollars during an attack. Dollars can be lost as a result of many variables, especially including the downtime. Client lists and emails are a huge loss, invoices that are due and are no longer available or even lost are a plague. Your customers and clients can't find you online when they try to contact you or do business -- and the destruction list goes on and on.

This is not even including the amounts paid in ransom. Based on our survey results we estimate that more than $300 million was paid globally by small businesses in ransom for their hijacked data last year alone. For many businesses, a ransomware attack is too great a burden to bear on a business, making the threat one of the most dire challenges facing small businesses today.

Related: Ransomware Scams Have Raked in $25 Million

How much do you think about a cyber attack?

I realize that some of you reading the previous couple of paragraphs may be getting antsy with some small tech talk. Cyber attacks, after all, aren't too sexy to think about, and they are a subject that most businesses think very little about.

Sadly, ransomware isn't just something for bearded nerds like me to worry about anymore. This threat is a growing part of doing business in the information age, and small-business owners and entrepreneurs of all stripes should pay attention. As our survey reveals, small businesses are aren't safe from the malice of malware.

Related: Be Afraid! 8 New Hacks From the Black Hat

Educate yourself to protect your business.

Sure, you have more urgent things to do than learning to tell Cryptolocker and Cryptowall apart. Let's hope you never need to know the difference between these two types of ransomware attacks. Understanding how the attacks work and how to begin defending yourself against them is vital.

To determine what information is the most important in your business make a list of the data you hold dear. If the worst happened and someone held your system hostage, what damage would be caused? How would you conduct your business? The last is a particularly crucial question. According to Datto's survey, as many as 15 percent of the businesses that paid their ransom never regained control of their data. Malicious hackers, as it turns out, have no sense of honor -- go figure!

Related: 3 Ways to Protect Yourself from a Ransomware Disaster

Hire a pro before you need to.

Once you've pondered what your most important data is -- and how you will conduct business during your attack, I hope you'll take this final suggestion. This is an absolutely necessary step -- please, hire a professional service provider. Really, I get it -- those professionals cost money. "Splurging" on IT sounds extravagant -- like the last thing you want to do if you're a cost-conscious entrepreneur trying to keep a lean budget.

When I started out, launching a company from my father's basement, I counted every penny spent on even the most rudimentary necessities such as chairs and computer monitors. But, think of the cost of the damage wrought by a cowardly hacker-attacker.

Consider the valuable data it's taken you so long to collect and at such a great cost. Recognize what the lost or the forced downtime would do to your business. Let the implications sink in. You'll soon realize that paying to have a system in place that would allow you, when disaster strikes, to call on the pros to restore your data is worth every penny.

Related: Data Protection for Small Business

These villains are real, life-sized enemies.

Like "It" the horror movie villain, a ransomware attacker is a good example of a bad individual who delights in your personal horror. This villain is not going down so easily. Ransomware attackers are hard to kill.

Related: 5 Tips to Protect Your Business From Hackers

More and more, as time goes on, we are likely to witness these leeches of anti-society begin to practically run out of our faucets. It's time we all arm ourselves and fight back. Fighting back means being prepared with protection for your systems.

The alternative is what is truly terrifying.

Austin McChord

Founder and CEO of Datto Inc.

Austin is the chief innovator and driving force behind Datto. He has a degree in Bioinformatics from Rochester Institute of Technology, and holds several patents. In 2014 he was named a Finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, as well as named a CRN Top 25 Innovator and a CRN Top 50 Midmarket IT Vendor Executive. Austin sits on the Board of the Connecticut Technology Council.

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