Charities a soft target for hackers

More than a third have been hit by viruses and a similar number view hackers as a direct threat, but few have the resources for proper security

Many charities and voluntary sector organisations are struggling to guard against security breaches and virus attacks because of a lack of IT security budget and expertise.

More than a third (38 per cent) of charities have suffered a virus attack in the past year, according to research from Charity Finance, a journal for the non-profit sector. A similar number (35 per cent) said the unwanted attention of hackers is a problem for them.

One reason is that many charities lack the budget and ability to attract qualified staff, with security professionals able to claim far higher salaries in the private sector.

And it's a sad fact that charities are attractive targets for hackers because of this perceived lack of security and the fact many are turning over frequent cash transactions and processing donors' credit card details.

However, Mark Gillett, director at software reseller Phoenix Software, who works closely with charities, told that although most are still underfunded not all charities are the soft touch they once were.

Gillett said many of the charities Phoenix works with are becoming more savvy about the threats and are stumping up ever-larger budgets to protect themselves.

He said: "Very big charities, of which there are about 100 with more than 1,500 seats, are now very sophisticated and have plenty of money to achieve their objectives. Further down the scale it's probably still true of some smaller operations; some of which are very much 'one man and his dog'-style operations."

Stricter legislation relating to data protection has also forced charities to take security more seriously, especially sensitive information such as children's data, according to Gillett.

Typically charities can receive sizeable discounts on software of up to 75 per cent, although Gillett said this isn't just vendors being generous but more a question of just getting what they can from the charities.

Sophos is one company that sells antivirus products to charities, including War Child, at a discount.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for the company, said the ways charities work also throw up challenges: "Many charities have people out in the field, often on laptops, and keeping those laptops up to date can be difficult."