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Small businesses plan to increase their use of ecommerce over the next year despite widespread fears over viruses and unsolicited emails, according to a new study.

The State of the eNation survey, commissioned by web hosting firm NetBenefit, reveals that a further 12 per cent of small business websites are set to include ecommerce facilities by 2004.

This expansion will mean that 32 per cent of all small firms’ websites will soon be equipped with online payment processing and customer interaction.

However, according to the survey, the next 12 months should also see a growing demand for online security solutions, with unsolicited emails, or spam, being the biggest worry for small firms, followed by computer viruses.

New EU rules on email marketing are to be introduced in October, in an attempt to cut down on the tide of spam which is clogging up many small firms’ inboxes.

Computer viruses, such as the recent Sobig bug, are also a massive headache for UK firms, costing the British economy an estimated £2 billion a year to lost productivity.

The NetBenefit survey also found that 53 per cent of small firms still didn’t have a policy in place about the use of company email, despite recent high-profile cases, such as the announcement earlier this week that a female worker has been awarded £10,000 after being the victim of malicious email messages.

More encouragingly, 70 per cent of small firms said that the UK is a good environment in which to do business online, while 65 per cent of those quizzed claimed that the internet has had a positive effect on their company.

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