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UK businesses are drowning beneath a rising tide of computer crime, says Microsoft which is coming to the rescue with new chums the National High Tech Crime Unit, Business Watch and the British Chambers of Commerce.

Almost half of UK small firms suffer at least one malicious security breach every year, ranging from major hacking incidents to small-scale email security issues and theft of hardware and intellectual property, according to Microsoft

Kathy Riley, director of business development at the BCC, warned that that 80 per cent of small businesses never recover from a serious security breach and are forced to close within the following 12 months.

"Many businesses simply don't know how vulnerable their systems are to outside attack," Riley said. "It is vital that companies take the opportunity to educate themselves about e-security,"

Inspector James Cooke, specialist crime directorate, New Scotland Yard, said that 97 per cent of all businesses in London are defined as being small - with 1-49 employees. "The Metropolitan Police is concerned that their security and well-being is preserved particularly in vulnerable neighborhoods where they are isolated and exposed. A high proportion of all recorded crime comes from this sector. There are many inexpensive ways of improving physical and computer security."

In coming months Microsoft will send information and advice packs containing practical IT security help to "selected small businesses" across the UK. The Business Watch packs will also contain practical advice for small businesses to fight e-crime.

Throughout 2004, Microsoft is organising a series of regional events throughout the UK where small business owners and entrepreneurs can meet local police to find out more about computer security. More information here.. ®

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