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Today's small business owners have more opportunities to grow than ever before, thanks to modern technology. But where there are windows for growth, there are also windows for exploitation.

Cybercriminals have been using ransomware and malware threats as a way to gain access to private customer data and intellectual property of the businesses that serve them. The first step to protecting your business against these threats is to understand them.

What Is Ransomware?

Cybercriminals send this virus to infect your computer system and then, as the name implies, they enact a sort of ransom offering to remove the virus remotely, but only after they receive payment. If the senders don't get what they want, the program inside the ransomware could delete, steal or publicly broadcast sensitive files. This forces many victims to consider paying the cybercriminals to retrieve their data.

What Is Malware?

A very broad category of malicious software types, malware is often installed unknowingly by a computer user, typically when it's bundled with other, more legitimate software. However, it may not be apparent at first that malware is on a system. Red flags that can indicate malware threats include unusual pop-ups, lagging programs or a conspicuously large drain on system resources.

What Can You Do?

Although ransomware and malware do threaten real harm, there are steps you can take to protect your small business. Make sure you understand the threats first, and then do whatever you can to prevent them from impacting your employees and your business. Prevention methods include being aware of the "core four" issues as well as the following:

  • Training your teams to know the common signs of a software or server hack, including what popular scams are making their rounds.
  • Giving your employees a dedicated contact within your IT department to answer questions or deploy a repair person quickly if a threat is suspected.
  • Addressing concerns no matter how small immediately, given that a single threat can quickly and easily become a large one.
  • Regularly backing up your data in a secure and industry-acceptable manner and knowing how to access those backups in the event of a data breach or loss.

In most cases, acting quickly is key. Even accidental data wipes or certain ransomware threats can be handled if you have duplicate records stored at an off-site location. If your company is on the smaller side, see what cloud-based services are available.

Looking Forward

As technology evolves, so should your knowledge of potential threats. Whereas it may not be possible for small business owners to understand the ins and outs of every threat that arises, IT professionals can help. Take the time to learn what you can do to protect your business now and use your leverage to prioritize resources for proactive programs and the infrastructure needed to meet these dangers head-on.

The Mastercard Cyber Readiness program and the Global Cyber Alliance are just two of many resources offered to help businesses scale responsibly while maintaining their security at every step of the growth cycle.


Linsey Knerl is a Midwest-based author, public speaker and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the newest tech solutions and through awareness of industry regulatory changes and tax law.