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Small Businesses Feel Security's Burn

Nearly one third of SMBs have experienced system compromise in the past year, study says

Small businesses aren't naive about IT security anymore. In fact, many of them have already been burned -- and many others are no longer sure their systems are safe.

These are some of the conclusions released in a survey published Friday by market research firm eMediaUSA, which conducted the survey of small and medium-sized businesses on behalf of security vendor GFI Software.

In a study of some 455 companies ranging from one to 500 seats, eMedia found that 32 percent of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have experienced some sort of security breach in the past year, and these breaches are changing the sector's viewpoint on security tools and products.

Approximately 42 percent of the respondents said they do not believe their networks are secure, even though 96 percent of them have deployed antivirus software, 93 percent have deployed firewalls, and 80 percent have deployed spam filters.

"This may indicate that [SMBs] are starting to doubt the effectiveness of traditional perimeter security products in protecting them from other security threats, including data leakage and network breaches," the report says.

The results indicate a shift in SMBs' comfort level with IT security. Several studies conducted earlier in the year indicated that small enterprises had developed a positive -- and perhaps false -- sense of security in their IT systems. (See Study: SMBs Overconfident in IT Security and Small Business: Hackers' Low-Hanging Fruit.)

If the eMediaUSA study is any indication, SMBs' attitudes may have shifted due to their own breach experiences. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said their systems have been infected by a virus in the past year, and 30 percent said they have downloaded infected Internet files. Twenty-four percent have lost hardware, such as laptops, containing company information.

And SMBs are responding to the threat, the study says. Thirty-eight percent of the survey respondents say they are spending between 11 percent and 30 percent of their IT budgets on security, and most of the businesses are planning to maintain their spending patterns in the coming year.

Network monitoring tools top the shopping lists of many SMBs, cited by 31 percent of respondents for purchase in the next six months. Email management tools are in the plans for 29 percent of SMBs, while network scanning and antivirus tools were both cited by 26 percent. So far, only 19 percent of SMBs have deployed an endpoint security product.

Forty-eight percent of SMBs said they believe their security posture would improve through better training, both of employees and senior management.

"Computer users can be considered as the least predictable and controlled security vulnerability," said Andre Muscat, director of engineering at GFI Software. "In the majority of cases, a lack of education and an understanding of basic security principles and procedures are the main causes of security breaches, rather than malicious activity -- although the latter can never be ignored."

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