Small companies ignorant of security warns expert

Former White House security adviser Howard Schmidt says SMEs must take more care of cybersecurity or outsource to managed services
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Small businesses must become more aware that they are the potential victims of cybercrime, according to former White House security advisor Howard Schmidt.

Speaking at an IT security event organised by managed services specialist Claranet at the House of Lords on Monday, Schmidt said all businesses are at risk through a lack of proper configuration of security equipment, or through not taking proper security precautions.

"SMEs are not aware of being a potential victim — spending £40 per year on antivirus is not a high priority," he said. "SMEs have to realise that just because they are small, it doesn't mean they won't be targeted. Bad guys target wherever they can get money."

Ninety percent of small businesses and consumers install antivirus, but 10 percent never update the signatures, according to Schmidt. Small businesses with limited staffing resources simply do not have time to devote to cybersecurity issues, he said.

As well as malware, organisations need to be aware of important data leaving the company, often through human error. Employees using file-sharing networks are often not aware of the security implications, said Schmidt.

"Individuals working on peer-to-peer networks often don't realise they're sharing the whole contents of their drive. You can find Homeland Security vulnerability assessment documents online from employees [using P2P]."

However, Schmidt said that SMEs will eventually start using managed software security services, with third-party providers managing both low-cost application level security and end-point hardware.

"Eventually we'll move to a model of software as a service, with a low-cost environment of managed security services," he said.

However, application software should have security built in from the beginning, according to Schmidt, who said he looks forward to a time when software will be able to configure automatically to a user's system, and detect attempted security breaches.

"I don't think the end user should protect themselves. It's like safety in new cars — built in. They want automatically self healing and self configuring software," said Schmidt.

Small business must take security into account in their planning, and decide whether to outsource security, invest in training, or allocate more resources. "Training is important because we don't know what we don't know," said Schmidt.

If a small enterprise does have a full-time IT manager, they should familiarise themselves with security standards such as ISO 17799, said Schmidt. "IT managers need to follow best practices — they should know what security applies to which devices. The trouble is many times they're far too busy."

Charlie McMurdie, detective chief inspector with the computer crime unit of the Metropolitan Police, told ZDNet UK that "SME security is disjointed at the moment".

McMurdie said that computer security should follow common sense procedures. "If you had a house, what traditional measures would you have around the premises? Who has a key? People need to apply the same common sense to internet security. Stand back and look at who has access, who has a password."

Schmidt is on the board of directors for Fortify — a company that sells source code analysis tools.

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