Small businesses in the UK are losing £9.5m a year because they do not take basic steps to protect themselves against computer viruses, a pan-European survey has claimed.
More than 40% of UK small businesses have been infected by viruses during the past 12 months, at an average cost of £2,500 a time, a survey of 500 firms by McAfee revealed.
The anti-virus firm’s findings mirror those of the government’s biannual Security Breaches Survey, which found widespread ignorance among small businesses about IT security.
“Anti-virus software alone is not enough to protect a business. Small businesses have not got that message. They are not patching their systems quickly enough and they are not using firewalls to protect their systems,” said Chris Potter, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ security practice.
There have been 20 significant virus outbreaks in the first few months of 2004, compared with only 18 in the whole of 2003, but companies are still failing to follow best practice.
McAfee found that UK small businesses were worse at keeping anti-virus systems up to date than firms in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy.
Thirty-three per cent of small firms in the UK did not regard security as a business priority, 45% said it was a low priority, and only 25% ranked it as high priority.
Nearly 15% said they had no plans to protect their businesses against cybercrime in the future.
The survey found that small companies across Europe were ignorant about the impact viruses could have on their business. Twenty per cent were unaware that viruses could send continuous e-mails from the address books of infected machines, and 33% did not realise that viruses could steal passwords or spy on the network.
The Department of Trade & Industry’s Security Breaches Survey revealed that although more than half of all UK businesses suffered a virus infection last year, 41% were failing to update their anti-virus software when new threats appeared on the internet.