IT Compliance Advisor

Oct 31 2011   7:00PM GMT

Cybersecurity threats pose big problems for small businesses

Ben Cole Ben Cole Profile: Ben Cole

National Cybersecurity Awareness Month has drawn to a close, but it’s clear that much still needs to be done to protect information online. One recent survey has found that small businesses – which likely don’t have the resources to bounce back from a major data breach — could be particularly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.

The online survey of 1,045 small business owners, sponsored by Symantec Corp. and the National Cyber Security Alliance, found that 70% have no formal Internet security policy for employees and that of those, 49% do not have even an informal policy. In addition, 45% of the small business owners surveyed said they do not provide Internet safety training to their employees.

These findings are in stark contrast to SMBs’ apparently false sense of security. Eighty-five percent of the survey respondents said they believe their company is safe from hackers, viruses, malware or a cybersecurity breach; and 69% agreed that Internet security is “critical to their business’s success.”

It’s clear that the survey respondents aren’t following the main theme of this year’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month: the importance of educating everyone and making them aware that they need to do their part to protect their information online.

Other survey highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):

  • 56% of respondents have no Internet use policies to clarify which websites and Web services employees can use; 52% have a plan in place for keeping their business cybersecure.
  • 67% have become more dependent on the Internet in the last year; 66% depend on it for day-to-day operations.
  • 57% of respondents say a loss of Internet access for 48 hours would be disruptive to their business, and 76% say that most of their employees use the Internet daily.
  • 37% have an employee policy or guidelines in place for the remote use of company information on mobile devices, and 36% have a policy outlining employees’ acceptable use of social media.
  • 59% do not use multifactor authentication to access their networks.
  • 50% report they always wipe data off their machines completely before they dispose of them; 21% never do.

The survey also found that SMBs are woefully unprepared to react after a data breach. Forty percent of respondents said they don’t have a contingency plan outlining procedures for handling and reporting a data breach or loss of information.

Ignoring the problem of cybersecurity threats can be very costly. Data released by Symantec shows that 40% of all targeted cyberattacks are directed at companies with fewer than 500 employees. In 2010, the average annual cost of cyberattacks to SMBs was $188,242. Business Insider reported in September that approximately 60% of small businesses will close within six months of a cyberattack.

What is it going to take for these small businesses to realize the impact of cybersecurity threats? They need to realize that lax cybersecurity measures, combined with their sparse resources, make them particularly vulnerable. It might be costly and time-consuming to shore up online security, but these businesses need to take these threats seriously, before it’s too late.

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