Small Businesses Put Themselves at Risk by Not Taking Security Seriously

Senior management at small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) are failing to take cyber security seriously and are putting their organizations at risk, according to a recently released study by security research firm Ponemon Institute.

"Small and mid-size organizations simply cannot afford to disregard security," says Larry Ponemon, president of the Ponemon Institute. "Without it there's more chance that new technology will face cyber attacks, which is likely to cost the business substantial amounts. CIOs are under pressure to implement new technology that informs agile and efficient ways of working, but this should not take precedence over security. The industry needs to recognize the potential dangers of not taking cyber security seriously and create support systems to improve SMB security postures."

"The scale of cyber attack threats is growing every single day, yet many SMBs are failing to appreciate the dangers and potential losses they face from not adopting a suitably robust IT security posture."

--Gerhard Eschelbeck, CTO of Sophos.

Ponemon surveyed more than 2,000 IT security function decision-makers in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Asia-Pacific for its Risk of an Uncertain Security Strategy study, sponsored by security firm Sophos. The respondents were all from firms with less than 100 to 5,000 employees.

Ponemon found that 58 percent of respondents say that management does not see cyber attacks as a significant threat to their business. At the same time, Ponemon found that IT infrastructure and asset security incidences, and wider security-related disruptions, have cost SMBs a combined average of $1.6 million over the past 12 months.

Digging deeper, one-third of respondents admitted they aren't certain whether they suffered a cyber attack in the past 12 months and 42 percent say they experienced an attack in that period. The more senior the respondent, the more uncertainty they have about security threats to their organizations. Ponemon suggests this indicates that the more removed an individual is from dealing with security threats on a daily basis, the less informed that individual is about the seriousness of the situation and the need to make it a priority.

Fully 31 percent of respondents admitted that no one function in their organization is responsible for setting IT security priorities; 44 percent said IT security is not a priority.

"The scale of cyber attack threats is growing every single day, yet this research shows that many SMBs are failing to appreciate the dangers and potential losses they face from not adopting a suitably robust IT security posture," says Gerhard Eschelbeck, CTO of Sophos.

"Today in SMBs, the CIO is often the "only information officer," managing multiple and increasingly complex responsibilities within the business," Eschelbeck adds. "However, these OIOs can't do everything on their own, and as employees are demanding access to critical apps, systems and documents from a diverse range of mobile devices, it would appear security is often taking a back seat."

Recommendations for Improving Security Posture

Sophos recommends SMBs do the following to improve their security posture:

  • Concentrate resources on monitoring the security situation in order to make intelligent decisions. While assessing where you stand on the security continuum, focus on monitoring, reporting and proactively detecting threats.
  • Establish mobile and BYOD security best practices. Carefully plan and implement a mobile strategy so that it doesn't have an impact on the overall security posture.
  • Look for ways to bridge the gap created by a shortage of information security professionals. Consider ways to free up time for in-house resources, including a move to cloud technologies, security consulting and easy-to-manage solutions.
  • Measure the cost of cyber attacks, including lost productivity caused by downtime. Work with senior management to make cyber security a priority and invest in solutions that restore normal business activity more quickly for a high return on investment.
  • Consolidate security management to gain a more accurate picture of threats. Organizations in all sectors are regularly breached. Complying with regulations is not enough--regulations are often simply the beginning of properly securing a network.

Thor Olavsrud covers IT Security, Big Data, Open Source, Microsoft Tools and Servers for Follow Thor on Twitter @ThorOlavsrud. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

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