Don’t Snooze On Security. Have A Practical Paranoia and Security Strategy For Your Data.

Photo Credit: Doctor Solve

When sales are down and cash flow is negative we panic. When we lose our best employees we panic. When customers slam us in the media, we don’t like it. When April 15 comes around get anxious. HOWEVER, concerning security, small business owners (that’s you) are not thoughtful enough about their digital security.

Before you think about all the technical aspects of being secure, one of the first priorities is to be aware that you need to be secure and educate your employees.

A recent survey by Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance shows that the majority of small business owners believe Internet security is critical to their success and that their companies are safe from ever increasing cyber security threats even as many fail to take fundamental precautions.  I’ve included information on the survey findings below.

The survey found that two-thirds (67%) of U.S. small businesses have become more dependent on the Internet in the last year and 66% are dependent on the network for their day-to-day operations. What’s more, 57% of firms say that a loss of Internet access for 48 hours would be disruptive to their business and 38% said it would be “extremely disruptive” and 76% say that most of their employees use the Internet daily.

The vast majority of small business owners think their company is cyber-secure as 85% of respondents said their company is safe from hackers, viruses, malware or a cyber-security breach and seven in ten (69%) believe Internet security critical to their business’s success. Additionally, a majority (57%) of small businesses believe that having a strong cyber security and online safety posture is good for their company’s brand.

Yet a closer look reveals that most small businesses lack sufficient cyber security policies and training. Seventy-seven percent said they do not have a formal written Internet security policy for employees and of those, 49% reported that they do not even have an informal policy. More small business owners also said they do not provide Internet safety training to their employees than said they do – to a tune of 45 versus 37%. And a majority of businesses (56%) do not have Internet usage policies that clarify what websites and web services employees can use and only 52% have a plan in place for keeping their business cyber-secure.

At the same time, small businesses may not understand how to respond to online threats or the danger they pose. For example, 40% of small businesses say that if their business suffered a data breach or loss of customer or employee information, credit card information or intellectual property, their business does not have a contingency plan outlining procedures for responding and reporting it. Two-fifths (43%) also say they do not let their customers and partners/suppliers know what they do to protect their information.

The respondents’ sense of security is especially unwarranted given that 40% of all targeted cyber attacks are directed at companies with less than 500 employees, according to Symantec data (http://bit.ly/njTeMU). In 2010, the average annual cost of cyber attacks to small and medium sized business was $188,242. What’s more, statistics show that roughly 60% of small businesses will close up within six months of a cyber attack. According to the Norton Cybercrime Report, the total cost of cyber crime to consumers and small business owners alike, is greater than $114 billion annually (http://norton.com/cybercrimereport).

“We recognize that most small business owners are focused on running their businesses, and have limited resources and IT staff dedicated to managing their cyber security needs. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are increasingly making small businesses their targets, knowing they are likely to have fewer safeguards in place to protect themselves,” said Cheri McGuire, Vice President of Global Government Affairs and Cybersecurity Policy at Symantec. “It’s important for small businesses to educate their employees on the latest threats and what they can do to combat them. Education, combined with investment in reliable security solutions, provides small business owners with a well-rounded approach to protecting their businesses and managing cyber risk.”

“The threats grow in number and complexity each day, but too many small business owners remain naively complacent,” said NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser. “The stakes are high for individual businesses and the nation as a whole: a single malware attack or data breach can be fatal to a small enterprise but the collective vulnerability of all our businesses is a major economic security challenge.”

The survey also found that 69% of their businesses handle customer data while about half (49%) handle financial records, one-third (34%) handle credit card information, one quarter (23%) have their own intellectual property, and one in five (18%) handled intellectual property belonging to others outside their company. When asked to rank the top concern of small business owners while their employees are on the Internet, 32% reported viruses, 17% spyware/malware and 10% reported loss of data. Yet only 8% are concerned about loss of customer information, 4% about loss of intellectual property and only 1% worry about loss of employee data, even though cyber security experts believe the loss of any of this kind of information would be devastating to a business.

Overall, cyber vulnerabilities and threats are steadily on the rise, according to the “Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, Trends for 2010,” the latest version of the company’s annual cyber security study. For example, the report found a 9% increase in web-based attacks (http://bit.ly/qGMNPO).

In addition to struggling with the basics, many small businesses are failing to keep up with the increasing adoption of mobile and social media platforms. Just 37% of U.S. small businesses have an employee policy or guidelines in place for remote use of company information on mobile devices and just over one in three (36%) maintains a policy for employees’ use of social media.

Social networking platforms now provide hackers with the ability to easily research targets and develop powerful social engineering attacks. Smart phones and other mobile devices are also poised to play a large role with a sharp 42% rise last year in the number of reported security vulnerabilities, according to Symantec’s 2010 report.

Experts say that strong password protections, protecting USB devices and wireless networks matter to a firm’s security posture. Yet, a majority of firms (59%) do not use multifactor authentication (more than a password and logon) to access any of their networks. Only half (50%) reported they completely wipe data off their machines before they dispose of them and 21% never do. Two-thirds (67%) of U.S. small businesses allow the use of USB devices in the workplace.

The study was an online survey of 1,045 small business owners conducted by Zogby International from September 9-21, 2011. The survey had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. For a full report on this survey please visit www.staysafeonline.org.

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Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist, Smallbiztechnology.com . Editor and Founder, Smart Hustle Magazine Full bio at http://www.ramonray.com . Check him out on Google Plus, Twitter or Facebook

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