Cyber threats are not just a problem for mass retailers during the holiday shopping season. The customer data your dealership collects and stores, your e-commerce functionality, dealership computers, mobile devices and more are increasingly at risk for an attack — especially when so much business and communication is conducted electronically.

In fact, Symantec, a security software company, estimates that nearly 1 million new threats are released every day, including threats like “ransomware,” where sensitive information is threatened to be made public unless a ransom is paid and social media scams, where friends unknowingly spread a threat by sharing a post.

“The thought of cyber-attacks may not be on the minds of dealerships because they don’t see themselves at the same level of risk as a bank, for instance. But cyber criminals look for easy targets. In terms of preparing for disasters, cyber threats are the emerging risk,” says Scott Owens, managing director of BluTinuity LLC, a disaster planning and management consulting company.

Owens says that in the past, many businesses approached preparing for disasters, be it a cyber threat, weather event, etc., by investing in ways to hold back threats — like trying to build a “moat” for protection.

“That approach isn’t the trend now. Incident preparedness is a better approach now,” he says. Part of preparing for an incident means building a group of “trusted partners,” like an attorney, information technology security expert and others that you can turn to quickly, he says.

There are a lot of experts to choose from and Owens recommends finding those with specific areas of expertise as opposed to generalists. And, look for certifications that show they’ve undertaken advanced training. Also, take into account their willingness to get to know your business. For instance, a business continuity expert should be willing to visit your dealership in person to assess security risks at your facilities.

Be sure to protect yourself from internal threats as well and do background checks as part of the hiring process.

Owens recommends this resource for dealers to start preparing today —, a site established by the state of Michigan. It offers a 12-month program for individuals and businesses to plan for emergencies and disasters.

To help develop a more comprehensive plan, Owens shares 6 questions that dealers should ask themselves in terms of incident preparedness for cyber threats, major weather events and other disasters:

1. What is most important to my dealership?
Think through the effects of not having access to your team, computers, telecommunications, records, supply chain, etc.

2. How will my dealership be affected?
Think about risks in real terms, like what losing sales for a month would mean for your dealership.

3. What kind of data backup do I have?
Owens says businesses should back up data daily and that backup should be stored at least 25 miles away. An online-based storage option might be a solution.

4. How will I communicate with my employees, customers and others? 
Think about how you would communicate if phones lines were down. Consider social media, for instance, or even emergency walkie-talkies.

5. How will I conduct business while we recover?
Document your processes. Cross train employees. Keep a list of tools and equipment and how you would replace them. Plan for emergency power. Make sure you have enough insurance.

6. Does my plan work?
Test and test again.

You’ve worked hard to get to where you are. Don’t let a cyber criminal take it away from you.