By Claire West

Nearly two thirds (61%) of UK small businesses fear a cyber-attack and data loss incident according to new research from global insurer Zurich. When senior SME decision makers were asked to rank the top 3 areas of technological risk to their business, these two areas topped the list, with this threat rising to 70% amongst web-based SMEs.

Interestingly, nearly one fifth (19%) of web-based SMEs view "exposure to the cloud" as a threat, with 11% also citing social media reputational risk as a key concern. This suggests an increased awareness of a relatively new risk area that is emerging following a greater reliance on cloud computing and social media channels.

Such concerns with regards to cyber-security occur at a time when 24% of UK SMEs currently conduct all or most of their day to day business on the internet, with over one in ten (13%) looking to expand overseas via web trading and internet sales in the next year. This figure rises to 18% amongst web-based SMEs.

Expansion plans reliant on the web, while more streamlined and cost effective, will undoubtedly increase the level of data received and therefore the amount that needs to be managed. This heightens the chances of a cyber-attack or data loss unless key preventative measures are taken.

While a cyber attack can rarely be predicted and vigilance remains key, Zurich has produced a 'security check-list’ for SMEs to help minimise their exposure to cyber-crime. Measures include:

Employing strong, up-to-date anti-virus software and firewalls.

Ensuring sensitive data is segregated and network and mobile access is encrypted.

Implementing a clear process to monitor activity alongside a robust crisis management strategy.

Ensuring that appropriate insurance is put in place for both financial cover and cyber expertise.

Ensure that staff are aware of the threats of cyber crime so they can respond to any suspicious activity.

Richard Coleman, Director of SME at Zurich Insurance said:

“These findings emphasise the fact that the increased threat of cyber crime to UK small businesses brings a new sense of vulnerability to this sector which, as we have already seen, can have disastrous consequences for businesses.

“Companies understandably feel exposed by both more established cyber threats and also new emerging risks such as those around cloud computing. But it is vital that they are prepared for the unexpected and implement clear, effective strategies and frameworks to tackle any cyber incident which may occur.

“While it is very positive to see many small businesses wanting to expand overseas, particularly via the web, in order to make such expansions as successful and seamless as possible businesses must again ensure they have adequate protection and measures in place to avoid a cyber threat scuppering expansion plans. The Zurich security check list offers a timely prompt to businesses that feel exposed to cyber attack.”