By Jacqueline Quynh

DENVER (CBS4) – The recent cyberattack targeting global meat supplier JBS highlights the growing threat of ransomware in the U.S. Businesses face mounting pressure to not only bolster their cyber defense, but also create an incident response plan before an attack happens.

The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office had a brush with cybercriminals in 2015 when their website was hacked.

“(It) wasn’t an attack that took any of our data,” explained Sheriff Justin Smith. “It just overwhelmed servers.”

(credit: Larimer County Sheriff’s Office)

The attack Sheriff Smith describes is called Denial of Service, or DoS. Hackers try to disrupt normal traffic to a server or network by overwhelming it with a flood of internet traffic. The attack can take down a website and its services.

Larimer County responded to the incident by hardening its security. Sheriff Smith sits on the board of the National Sheriff’s Association and tracks cybersecurity trends. He encourages small business owners to back up and encrypt their data in case they fall victim to a cyberattack.

(credit: CBS)

“What we’re witnessing now is from what we think of – that individual in the basement hacking, to criminal cartels that go after the cyber ransom. Now we’re moving to what the cyber experts have stated for a while, we have state actors,” he said.

Ondrej Krehel, chief executive officer and founder of cybersecurity firm LIFARS, has worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to stop internet crimes. He told CBS4 that hacking has become a disease.

“You live in an era with cyber warfare, being hacked is one of life’s certainties,” Krehel said.

(credit: CBS4)

While high profile cyberattacks have targeted large businesses like JBS and Colonial Pipeline, small businesses often have fewer IT resources, leaving them more vulnerable to hacks. Cybercriminals will often consider a businesses’ annual revenue when demanding a ransom.

“If they break into your records, they pretty much have a formula for how much they know you’ll pay,” Sheriff Smith said.

RELATED: National Rise In Ransomware Attacks Becoming ‘National Security Threat,’ Compromising Coloradans’ Personal Data

Krehel said Incident Response firms like LIFARS can help businesses mitigate the fallout from a ransomware attack.

“You know how we go for an annual checkup? Call someone that is a cyber doctor, pay him for two to three sessions, tell me what you think I have to improve,” Krehel suggested.

The FBI advises against paying a ransom because it doesn’t guarantee a business will retrieve their data. Officials say ransom payments embolden cybercriminals and incentivize illegal activity. Businesses often have to weigh the pros and cons of the situation when faced with extortion threats.

RELATED: ‘Following The Money’: The Rapid Rise Of Ransomware & How To Defend Against It

Jacqueline Quynh