SMEs often a ‘weak link' for cyber attacks, experts warn

Mandatory disclosure of breaches mooted as a possible method to encourage action

Cyber security professionals need to improve the way they communicate risks to SMEs, according to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).

During a panel debate at the Parliament & Internet conference the association claimed that a "language disconnect" between small businesses and security experts is leaving SMEs open to online attacks.

George Quigley, chair of the ICAEW's IT faculty, said that too many SMEs are yet to be convinced that online security is particularly relevant or worthy of prioritisation and need more evidence before spending money.

He said: "We can use basic guidance to get rid of 80 percent of the problem. But security professionals need to be better at explaining what it means for the business. SMEs are not going to buy security products if they don't understand them."

Firms "not getting basics right"

Gerry Penfold, risk consulting partner at KPMG, echoed Quigley's view that "many organisations are still not getting the basics right".

He suggested that part of the issue is that firms need to see security as a business issue first and foremost rather than just a technical issue for the IT department.

Penfold advised: "Organisations have to accept a degree of risk. They should identify critical information assets and make them their highest priority for protection."

Simon Kendall, assistant director for cyber security at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), agreed that "ensuring a basic level of protection cuts out most of the threat".

He encouraged businesses to certify themselves for the 'Cyber Essentials' standard, launched by the government in April to allow organisations to prove that they are working to protect themselves against the risks of operating online.

Kendall said the scheme "points to what good looks like" and "represents the basics" that businesses should be doing to protect themselves.

Mandatory disclosure

However Quigley suggested current initiatives do not go far enough, and said that the government should consider introducing mandatory disclosure rules for breaches involving personal data loss.

He said such a rule would "mean that firms can see the issue in full" and "realise the relevance" of protecting themselves.

Gerry Penfold, risk consulting partner at KPMG, agreed that the government should consider obliging firms to disclose serious breaches, as is currently the case in the US.

He said: "The government hopes we can get there without mandatory reporting. But we don't seem to be getting there," Penfold said.

Kendall said that the current government did not want to enforce disclosure of breaches. However he indicated that an upcoming review could lead to a change in policy.

He said: "The current government says that mandatory breach disclosure is not something they want to enforce, as businesses don't want to air dirty laundry and they feel that if the UK goes down this route alone, it could damage our reputation."

But he added that there is an election coming up and the official cyber security strategy is due to be reviewed and updated shortly after that.

"A lot of ministers say it [online security] remains a considerable threat, so we can expect something to come out from the strategic review", he said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags infrastructuresecurityParliamentpublic sectorIT BusinessSME

More about Chartered AccountantsCyber EssentialsKPMGQuigley

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Charlotte Jee

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Will your data protection strategy be enough when disaster strikes?

    Speakers: - Paul O’Connor, Engagement leader - Performance Audit Group, Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) - Nigel Phair, Managing Director, Centre for Internet Safety - Joshua Stenhouse, Technical Evangelist, Zerto - Anthony Caruana, CSO MC & Moderator

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts

Market Place