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5/31/2012
05:02 PM
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Is Lax SMB Security A Myth?

Small and mid-size businesses defy perception by spending more than ever on security, according to a new IDC report. Now growing twice as fast as overall IT budgets, SMB security spending will total $5.6 billion in 2015.

Who Is Anonymous: 10 Key Facts
Who Is Anonymous: 10 Key Facts
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One of the most common bits of conventional wisdom about SMBs is that their IT security is weak. It's founded in the logical notion that smaller companies have fewer people and less money with which to combat increasingly widespread and sophisticated threats, and therefore are more vulnerable.

Apparently, SMBs aren't big fans of conventional wisdom. A new IDC research report says SMB spending on security technology is increasing at a pace that nearly doubles the anticipated 5-to-6% annual growth of their overall IT budgets during the next several years. In 2015, SMBs will spend $5.6 billion on security alone. Not bad for a group sometimes known for skipping even basic security steps.

But it's not as if SMBs suddenly, collectively decided to care more about security--the conventional wisdom isn't entirely bunk. Rather, more pressing IT priorities are forcing increased attention to related security needs, according to Ray Boggs, IDC's VP of SMB research.

[ Read 4 Basic Security Steps For SMBs. ]

"Security is kind of down the totem pole in terms of what [SMBs] plan to be investing in," Boggs said in an interview, adding that higher priorities, such as cloud, mobility, and remote-worker support, are driving the security spending boost. "Suddenly, security becomes a part of that same discussion." In other words, the blurring boundaries between technology categories such as cloud, social, mobile, and big data are helping push SMBs to think more seriously about security. An example: Cloud interest among SMBs has roughly doubled during the past 18 months, according to IDC data. The number-one impediment to actual adoption? Security concerns.

"These aren't a series of separate areas of growth and interest," Boggs said. "They very much overlap."

That's reflected in the report's granular breakdown of security spending. Although the "old" network category continues to eat the largest slice of the budget pie--roughly 40%--it's also the slowest growing. Security spending in areas such as Web or messaging is rising at a much faster rate, according to Boggs. Those two categories are the fastest growing in future spending, following by security and vulnerability management. Today, those three areas each stand at around 10% of the total security budget--but that won't be the case for long. "All of those are growing by double digits," Boggs said.

The spending boost is also a matter of SMBs putting their money where their mouth has been for some time. Around 19% of small businesses (1-100 employees) and 36% of midsize companies (101-999 employees) listed security as a key IT investment priority in the report. Boggs notes that's relatively unchanged from similar research conducted 18 months ago; what's new is that the stated priority is now increasingly reflected in budget allocations.

Boggs thinks the bring-your-own era is a factor as well, noting that larger companies are typically more restrictive than their SMB counterparts when it comes to managing the inherent risks. Although it might make sense for IBM to ban the likes of Dropbox on its network, SMBs could find a similar policy counterproductive. Increased security spending might be a byproduct of embracing the bring-your-own approach to mobility, cloud, and social media while recognizing the related risks.

"[The risks] probably would give you, a small business owner, pause," Boggs said. "But then you would say 'I don't want to forgo the opportunity to really leverage all of the productivity and resources that I might potentially have available.'"

The continuous waves of high-profile breaches and hacker groups--and the subsequent headlines they generate--are forcing the security issue, too, even at companies that might be considered too small for the big-game hunters to bother with. Stuxnet, Duqu, Megaupload, Anonymous are just the start of a long list. Boggs said he'd just been discussing Flame malware with a colleague earlier in the day and wondering how it might affect SMBs.

"It raises awareness of security concerns in general," Boggs said. He pointed out that high-profile hacks also could lead to apathy, as in: "If a major country can't defend against stuff happening, what is poor little me going to do?" The answer, said Boggs, is to take reasonable precautions--and understand there's no such thing as zero risk. Online banking fraud, social-engineering attacks, and plenty of other threats remain quite real, but SMBs can limit their exposure.

"If you lock your door the thief can still get in, but you don't have to make it too easy--don't leave your keys in the car," Boggs said. "Some minimal levels of protections are definitely going to be necessary. You're just going to have to be prudent moving forward and make certain you're not leaving any obvious vulnerabilities."

Whether the vector is a phishing scam, a lost iPod loaded with sensitive data, or an email-borne worm slithering through a public account, our Well-Meaning Employees--And How To Stop Them report gives you pointers on keeping well-meaning end users from blowing up your systems from the inside. (Free registration required.)

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