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UK PLC security prognosis mixed

DTI biennial round-up reveals all

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Infosec The annual total cash loss to the UK economy from security breaches has swollen to £10bn, the DTI estimates.

This figure, according to the DTI Information Security Breaches Survey 2006 (ISBS), indicates that small companies in particular still haven't gotten wise to the threats posed by malware.

According to the report, a digital divide is emerging in security. Big companies are able to apply resources to educating staff and bunkering themselves, and in doing so have slashed their losses to security breaches by half since the last survey in 2004.

Patching discipline has improved, and the number of companies reporting some kind of security incident was down. However, more than half of respondents still reported a malicious security breach.

Viruses are still the main culprits of network breaches. DTI Minister of State Alun Michael said this year's survey showed IT security had reached the tipping point between "spotty teenage nerds" hacking for kicks, and organised crime "following the money". The report confirms the picture is changing from the computer-crashing, headline grabbers, to insidious background lurkers, more akin to a lifetime of herpes irritation than a speedy death from meningitis.

Chris Potter, of consulting giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers who conducted the survey, said: "These programs lie hidden on infected machines, gather information and target their strikes at valuable data. Cyber-criminals now use virus infections to get in under the radar of businesses and steal confidential data."

Broadband's rapid proliferation in the UK since the last survey has also arisen as a security issue. In 2004, most small businesses chugged along on dial-up, but 88 per cent of business connections are now high-speed. This has had the unfortunate consequence that 22 per cent of computers infected with bots reside in the UK.

The report's recommendations to businesses are pretty much the same as last time - secure your network. There's greater emphasis on risk assessment though, and firms are encouraged to comply with recently defined international standards. Keeping an eye on employees's use of expanding tech, such as IM and VoIP, is recommended too.

Industry is responding, the report says, but not fast enough. The proportion of IT budgets earmarked for security rose from three per cent in 2004 to between four and five per cent this time.

ISBS was sponsored by Microsoft and security firms Symantec, Clearswift and Entrust. Shockingly, the firms all agreed that businesses should invest more in security. ®

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