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Q&A: IT Security for small to medium business in 2010

Q. What are the IT security issues that SMBs face?

Online FraudThe threat to SMBs comes in a number of forms.  First, there’s the need to protect emails against problems including spam, phishing, viruses and so on.  Secondly, there is the issue of securing company data.  Email and Web 2.0 (which allows comment and content to be uploaded) has made it much easier to accidentally or deliberately share sensitive information such as customer databases, price lists and contracts. Loss of this kind of data can be absolutely critical to an SMB.

Thirdly, there’s the need for Web security.  Most organisations have at least some understanding of the danger posed by employees visiting malicious Web sites or productivity loss from unrestricted browsing.  What is less widely recognised is the danger of visiting genuine sites with hidden malicious code or of companies having their own Web sites attacked due to lack of security.  In fact, in the second half of 2009, researchers found that 71% of Web sites with malicious code were actually legitimate sites that hackers had infected.  If you run a small business and your site becomes infected with a data-stealing worm, you’re not only helping the spread of malware but you could find the site has been blocked by tools such as Google Safe Search.  And if your potential customers can’t find you, it’s bound to impact revenue.

Q. What security technology do you advise for SMBs? What do they really need and what would be nice to have?

Every SMB should have a way of identifying and blocking incoming threats via email and the Web, and they need to be able to prevent staff from accessing high-risk and low productivity Web sites.  Ideally, email security should have the ability to check embedded URL links, and Web protection must be able to scan Web sites in real-time for hidden malicious code. So, we’re talking about solid email and Web security solutions.

Data protection is most likely to be of interest to medium sized organisations wanting to protect its confidential information, or where staff turnover is higher and managers or owners can’t keep an eye on the minutiae of activity that goes on throughout the day.  Good reporting capabilities are also useful as they help users to understand where and how frequently their threats are coming from.

Q. How big is the virus threat?

Viruses are still out there and they still pose a problem.  However, unlike a decade or so ago, modern threats are both more targeted and more sophisticated.  Blended threats – by which I mean emails that contain links to spam sites and/or malicious Web sites – remain the most popular vector for spam attacks. Spam – in a large or small organisation – represents a massive drain on company resources, both by clogging the network and in time taken to clean up. Our team of researchers in the Websense Security Labs identified that on average 85.8% of all emails are spam, and 81% of those spam emails contained a malicious link.

[Next: How to protect your website]

Q. What can SMBs do to protect their websites?

Protect your websiteThere are a few really simple steps that resellers can advise their SMB customers to take. Keep computers and systems fully patched and make sure software is up-to-date.  If forms or a database is used on the site, make sure it’s not vulnerable to injections. (This can be done relatively inexpensively through penetration testing, security tools or security services). And of course, if the site allows visitors to post comments or upload content, it’s a good idea to scan the postings with real-time scanning tools and products that check for malicious links or spam.  An example of a free tool that scans blog comments for spam is Defensio (www.defensio.com).

Q.  What’s best: Security-as-a-Service (Saas) or a solution deployed on the company network?

What’s right varies for every organisation. You need to consider things such as internal IT resources, network capacity and scalability, even what kind of reporting and policy management is be required.  Some companies are well equipped to deploy and manage a security solution or they simply prefer to have the infrastructure kept and managed in house. Many businesses choose a SaaS solution as it offers the same or higher levels of protection and control, but saves on management, bandwidth and hardware costs.

Q. What competitive advantage does the deployment of IT security bring?

One advantage is that you become less of a risk to deal with. Nobody wants to rely on an organisation that unwittingly distributes malware, leaks confidential data or is unreliable because its network keeps falling over.  Another important consideration is that for an increasing number of industries and professions, some form of data protection or IT security is mandatory due to compliance and regulatory requirements.