UK finishes last in EU antivirus-update race

The UK's small businesses are the worst in Europe when it comes to updating their antivirus software, according to a recent survey

UK small businesses are the worst in Europe at updating their virus definitions regularly, according to a survey published by antivirus company McAfee.

McAfee's research, which is based on interviews with 500 small companies in Europe, found that only 39 percent of the UK's small and medium businesses (SMB) update their antivirus software every week. French companies are almost as bad, with just 40 percent updating regularly. Just over half (51 percent) of small German businesses update regularly, but the most virus-aware country in Europe is Spain, where 73 percent of companies update their virus definitions on a weekly basis.

Sal Viveros, SMB marketing manager at McAfee, told ZDNet UK that even though virus outbreaks are not a new phenomenon, smaller companies don't make security a high priority: "You'd think that after 10 years of this, people would be educated enough to try and avoid viruses, but they continue to get hit.

Viveros said that because smaller companies lack security expertise, they are often blissfully unaware of the latest threats: "20 percent of respondents didn't know viruses could send emails to every contact in your address book, and 48 percent didn't know viruses could store pornographic content on your PC without your knowledge," he said.

But the survey's results did not surprise Bob Jones, managing director of security appliance vendor Equiinet. He told ZDNet UK that it is unrealistic to expect small companies to keep their security watertight because they are not security experts: "In an SME, every employee is largely allowed to do their own thing, so they can inadvertently turn off virus-scanning and forget to update regularly -- these are things that the MD doesn't want to know about," he said.

McAfee's research confirmed that the first three months of 2004 have already been worse in terms of "virus emergencies" than the whole of 2003, which has led to small businesses feeling more vulnerable than they were a year ago: "There have been 18 virus emergencies this year. We have had MyDoom, Netsky and Beagle -- these viruses are affecting everyone, especially small businesses," he said.