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My Company Was the Target of a Cyberattack, and Yours Could Be Too

Historically, cyberattacks have targeted large enterprises, but that is quickly changing, as hacks and demands for ransomware are hitting more small and mid-sized businesses.

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In the United States, a cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds, according to Security Magazine. Still, it wasn't until the attack on Colonial Pipeline, the major supplier of gas to East Coast residents, that the public began to take notice.

Last June, another "colossal" ransomware attack hit hundreds of U.S. companies. Meanwhile, small and mid-sized firms have been mostly insulated as hackers have targeted larger enterprises.

But that paradigm is shifting. My recruitment company is proof of that.

Covid-19 has fueled cyberattacks on small and mid-sized businesses

In March, I was notified by our IT company that the FBI had released information of a potential serious vulnerability in our email server. Our IT consultant believes hackers had been trying to infiltrate our servers months before the notice. It was shortly thereafter that they finally succeeded, shutting down three of our company's servers as part of a "crypto hack attack" that prevented us from accessing email, files and data until we paid a ransom fee.

Cyberattacks on small and mid-sized businesses have been driven largely by Covid, when work-from-home employees gained remote access to their company's servers via tools that make email and other systems vulnerable. In my case, employees could not receive email messages and access important files, though Social Security numbers and other sensitive data in our candidate database remained intact.

Related: How Much Does Cybersecurity Really Cost?

Though the situation could have been worse, it was a long two-and-a-half weeks. I quickly learned IT security is a lose-lose game: The hacker has the upper hand, so it's best to cooperate, negotiate and do whatever possible to get your systems up and running.

It's not an inexpensive endeavor: Ransom demands for companies like ours can start at upwards of $25,000. Our IT expert was able to get a key to decrypt our data for $2,800, plus another $1,000 once systems were operational. The biggest financial impact was due to loss of productivity.

But be warned: Although hackers are in the lucrative business of collecting money for returning what is rightfully yours (my firm's hacker had earned about $1 million based on Bitcoin tracking over the course of a year), they work on their own schedules and thus can be slow to respond. Time zones can hamper your company's return to normalcy too, as many of these hackers are overseas.

Related: 3 Biggest Cybersecurity Threats Facing Small Businesses Right Now

While it may seem futile, there are some things you can do.

How to protect yourself

Choose your IT resources wisely. While mega-corporations may have an army of IT experts protecting their data, that isn't the case for small and mid-sized firms. I am fortunate to work with a computer forensics investigator who has deep experience in IT and is specially trained in retrieving information from computer systems and other data-storage devices.

Communicate openly and frequently with the hacker (usually via email) and be ready to negotiate and pay to regain access to your information.

Investigate the tools, including a backup computer system, to protect your system. This could include investing in an enterprise-grade router with an intrusion-detection system to detect suspicious activities. Such tools don't have to break the bank. Consult with your IT expert for guidance on which tools are best for your firm.

Related: A Business Leader's Beginner Guide to Cybersecurity

Buy cybersecurity insurance to help cover the costs, report cyber incidents to local authorities and the FBI, and from a leadership perspective, stay calm. Update your staff regularly and do all you can to maintain a "business as usual" environment.

Most of us don't think about technology until it fails us. Unfortunately, the environment is changing, so it is not if but when your firm could be the next victim of a cyberattack. Taking proactive steps can help you manage the risks and mitigate the problem should a security breach occur.

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