Symantec report finds small businesses battered by cybercrime

Small businesses are being targeted more often due to less sophisticated defenses

Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting small businesses due to their less sophisticated defenses, according to a new report from Symantec.

Companies with 250 employees or less absorbed 18 percent of targeted cyberattacks in 2011, but the figure jumped to 31 percent in 2012, Symantec said in its Internet Security Threat Report 2013, released on Tuesday.

"While it can be argued that the rewards of attacking a small business are less than what can be gained from a large enterprise, this is more than compensated by the fact that many small companies are typically less careful in their cyberdefenses," the report said.

Organizations between 251 employees to 2,500 were targeted 19 percent of the time, with companies with more than 2,500 employees making up the remaining 50 percent, Symantec said. The company said it detected a 42 percent increase overall in cyberattacks in 2012 compared to 2011.

Employees in research and development and sales functions are prime targets for hackers, and Symantec said it saw a large increase in attacks directed at those roles. "This suggests that attackers are casting a wider net and targeting less senior positions below the executive level in order to gain access to companies," the report said.

The websites of small businesses also prove attractive to criminals to plant malicious software in order to gain a foothold in other companies. If a user visits a hacked website, the person's web browser will be probed for software vulnerabilities. The method of using a company's website as bait is termed a "watering hole" attack by Symantec.

"For example, an attacker may infiltrate a small supplier in order to use it as a spring board into a larger company," Symantec wrote.

Small businesses may have less cash on hand for hackers to steal, but the companies may have other data, such as customer information or intellectual property, that is valued by hackers.

The most attacked industry in 2012 was manufacturing, at 24 percent. It was followed by finance, insurance and real estate companies at 19 percent and by non-traditional services at 17 percent, Symantec said.

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