This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com - #Growing Your Business
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These days, pretty much every company uses computers to manage at least some part of their business operations. Even “old school” small businesses will use digital tools to track inventory, income, payroll and more.
While all of this can reduce clutter around the office and help your team become more efficient, it also opens your company up to a new threat: hackers.
According to a report from CNBC, 43 percent of hacking attacks target small businesses. On average, a successful attack costs a business roughly $200,000, which causes 60 percent of impacted companies to go out of business within six months of the cyberattack.
Needless to say, the threat is very real, and the types of data hackers are trying to steal — outlined below — further illustrates the importance of improving your company’s digital security measures.
1. Hackers want personal information
Unsurprisingly, personal information of employees and clients is one of the top targets. This includes social security numbers, birth dates and financial information. In 2017 alone, nearly 17 million Americans had personal data stolen. Social security numbers are the most valuable because they can be used for tax fraud, opening credit accounts and other major financial moves — even to buy a house.
While your company may not collect social security numbers from clients, you likely still have this data for your employees. Customer financial data and other information can also be used for fraudulent purchases and activities, and as such, should be protected by the best digital security system you can afford.
2. Hackers want your digital infrastructure
During a recent phone conversation with Cory Carson, founder and CEO of iTology, he touched on a relatively common — yet frequently overlooked — motivation for hacking attempts. “Data servers and storage implements are expensive,” he reminded. “Sometimes, hackers want to store their own data and applications using your infrastructure so they don’t have to pay for it themselves. The larger your infrastructure, the more appealing of a target it is. Over time, this will result in additional costs for your company as the hackers strain your network.”
It should come as no surprise then that tech companies tend to be the primary target for this type of cyberattack. Network slowdowns, unknown devices connecting to your network and seeming to run out of data storage faster than expected are all potential indicators that someone else is using your digital infrastructure for “free” hosting.
3. Hackers want confidential product information
Few things are more important to a business than its IPs. Your products are how you differentiate yourself from your competitors. If a hacker is able to steal the designs for an up-and-coming product before you launch it or submit a patent, you could lose a lot of money.
John Teel of Predictable Designs notes that even with an experienced product developer, it typically takes three months to build an initial prototype, and then an additional six to nine months to finalize a “works-like-looks-like” prototype. After that, most companies take at least six months to get the product ready for mass manufacturing.
If a competitor got their hands on your prototype data, they could jump into the market before you, undercutting the potential sales of your own product.
4. Hackers want corporate account data
Hackers may not always be able to steal financial data, but if they can get access to an employee’s account, they will often use that to run scams to gain the information they want or disrupt your business operations.
Just consider the damage that could be caused if a hacker stole your CEO’s login information. In addition to gaining access to all kinds of information, they could also impersonate the CEO to solicit financial information from clients or employees or sabotage business operations. Customer-service accounts are also frequently targeted for similar reasons.
Such data breaches can cause widespread confusion and will greatly reduce your trust with the general public.
5. Hackers want network control
In some situations, hackers are less concerned over the data you have on file and are more interested in gaining control of your entire network. These ransomware attacks allow hackers to essentially lock you out of your computers, making data and accounts completely inaccessible unless you pay a hefty ransom.
According to Statista, ransomware attacks are behind 15 percent of cyber insurance claims, making them the second most common form of cyberattacks. They are often initiated through phishing and spam emails, as well as malicious online ads. In an interview with Dark Reading, Emsisoft CTO Fabian Wosar noted that while ransom amounts average $30,000, the overall disruption to the business’s operations are actually much higher.
Because these attacks primarily occur as the result of someone clicking on something they shouldn’t, businesses of all sizes should train their employees how to identify and avoid harmful emails and websites — especially while they are at work.
Act now to protect yourself
It typically take several months before businesses discover that they were hacked. During this time, hackers can cause untold financial damage and disruptions for your employees and clients. As previously noted, the repercussions could be severe enough to completely destroy your business.
Don’t allow data vulnerabilities to continue any longer. Take steps today to upgrade your data protection. Your company’s future just might depend on it.