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Do smaller businesses think they're immune to security threats?

Symantec survey of 1,900 SMB organizations finds 'What, me worry?' attitude

By , Network World
November 16, 2011 06:08 AM ET

Network World - Do small to midsize businesses (SMB) think they're somehow immune to security threats?

That's the impression you could get from the results of a Symantec global survey that asked 1,900 SMB professionals responsible for information technology what they know about security threats and how they prepare for them. While most SMB managers exhibited knowledge of threats such as keystroke logging, distributed denial of service attacks, website vulnerabilities and targeted attacks, exactly half indicated they need not have concern about any of it. "We are a small business and are not targets for these types of attacks," they said.

MORE ON SECURITY: IBM targets managed security service at iOS, Android, Windows, BlackBerry, other smartphones

"They're saying these things happen to other people, not them," said Kevin Haley, director of Symantec security response, who admitted he was somewhat surprised by some of the results of the "SMB Threat Awareness Poll," which defines the SMB as between 5 and 499 employees in size.

Symantec, which sponsored the poll conducted by Applied Research, wanted to get a sense of how SMBs across the world and in many industries -- financial, insurance, aviation, chemical, medical, information technology, energy and manufacturing -- viewed security and what steps they took to combat specific threats.

While their understanding of risks was apparent, the SMBs much of the time saw their organizations as somehow exempt from actual attacks, which they view as a problem mainly for big corporations. They didn't spend much time preparing for potential problems.

"Only 39% use antivirus on every desktop," Haley noted. "That's striking right there." He said malware, such as the banking Trojans used in cybercrime to compromise computers to make unauthorized funds transfers, are hitting smaller businesses. But SMBs see the news headlines that show the Stuxnet worm hitting nation states and hactivist group Anonymous striking large companies, and they think, "That's not me, I don't need to worry about any of this." They also don't worry much about smartphones used in business being lost or stolen.

Other results of the survey show that only 67% of the SMBs bothered to establish login and password restrictions for online banking purposes, and 63% didn't lock down machines used in corporate banking.

SMBs vary widely in terms of the levels of expertise about security, Haley said, noting sometimes the individual in charge of security is also the person in charge of the phones. Sometimes it's the business owner running the IT operations and security.

The IT security industry in general has long been subject to hand-wringing over SMBs, fretting about how to build products specialized to suit smaller businesses sensitive to price points. Setting up hardware and day-to-day management have been particular barriers where IT departments may be small, too. But the tide may be starting to turn with the advent of cloud-based security services, which typically alleviate the need for on-premises equipment, becoming more ubiquitous. Indeed, Gartner last week predicted that SMBs would be a big contributor to the growth of security services market over the next three years.

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