SMBs Need Help To Better Understand Cyber Attack Threats

November 19, 2013 Sophos Press Release

OXFORD, UK – November 19, 2013 – Many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are potentially putting their organizations at risk because of uncertainty about the state of their security and threats faced from cyber attacks. According to the Risk of an Uncertain Security Strategy study conducted by Ponemon Institute, senior management is failing to prioritize cyber security, which is preventing them from establishing a strong IT security posture.

Of 2,000 respondents surveyed globally, 58 percent confirmed that management does not see cyber attacks as a significant risk to their business. Despite this, IT infrastructure and asset security incidences, as well as wider security related disruptions, were found to have cost these SMBs a combined average of $1,608,111 over the past 12 months.

The research, sponsored by Sophos, also identified that the more senior the position of the decision maker in the business, the more uncertainty there was surrounding the seriousness of the potential threat.

“The scale of cyber attack threats is growing every single day,“ said Gerhard Eschelbeck, Chief Technology Officer for Sophos, “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.”

According to the research, there are three main challenges preventing the adoption of a strong security posture: failure to prioritize security (44 percent); insufficient budget (42 percent); and a lack of in-house expertise (33 percent). In many SMBs there is also no clear owner responsible for cyber security, which often means it falls into the purview of the CIO.

“Today in SMBs, the CIO is often the “only information officer”, managing multiple and increasingly complex responsibilities within the business,” said Eschelbeck. “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.”

The study also reveals uncertainty around whether ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policies (BYOD) and the use of the cloud are likely to contribute to the possibility of cyber attacks. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said the use of cloud applications and IT infrastructure services will increase or stay the same over the next year, yet a quarter of those surveyed indicated they did not know if this was likely to impact security.

Similarly, 69 percent said that mobile access to business critical applications would increase in the next year, despite the fact that half believe this will diminish security postures.
 
“Small and midsize organizations simply cannot afford to disregard security,” said 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 study targeted SMBs in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Asia-Pacific (Australia, India, China and Singapore) to better understand how such organizations are managing security risks and threats. Key findings of the study include:

  • Fifty-eight percent of respondents say management does not see cyber attacks as a significant risk.
  • One-third of respondents admit they are not certain if a cyber attack has occurred in the past 12 months. Forty-two percent of respondents said their organization had experienced a cyber attack in the past 12 months
  • Respondents in more senior positions have the most uncertainty about the threats to their organizations, indicating that the more removed the individual is from dealing on a daily basis with security threats, the less informed they are about the seriousness of the situation and the need to make it a priority.
  • CISOs and senior management are rarely involved in decisions regarding IT security priorities. While 32 percent say the CIO is responsible for setting priorities, 31 percent say no one function is responsible.
  • Forty-four percent of respondents report IT security is not a priority.  As evidence, 42 percent say their budget is not adequate for achieving an effective security posture.  Compounding the problem, only 26 percent of respondents say their IT staff has sufficient expertise. 
  • Respondents estimate that the cost of disruption to normal operations is much higher than the cost of damages or theft of IT assets and infrastructure.
  • Mobile devices and BYOD are much more of a security concern than the use of cloud applications and IT infrastructure services. However, these concerns are not preventing extensive use and adoption of mobile devices, especially personal devices.
  • Uncertainty about their organization’s security strategy and the threats they face varies by industry:

    • Respondents in financial services have more confidence, which can probably be attributed to the numerous data protection regulations.

    • The technology sector is also more security aware, which is probably due to the IT expertise that exists in these organizations.

    • Retailing; education and research; and entertainment and media have the highest level of uncertainty about their organization’s security strategy and the threats they face.

Recommendations:

  • Organizations need to concentrate resources on monitoring their security situation in order to make intelligent decisions. While assessing where they stand on the security continuum, organizations need to 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. 
  • Organizations should 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.
  • Organizations in all sectors are regularly breached and regulations are often simply the beginning of properly securing a network.  Consider consolidated security management to gain a more accurate picture of threats that will help focus on problem areas.

A full copy of the Ponemon Institute study: The Risk of an Uncertain Security Strategy, is available here.

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