Study: half of SMEs will suffer Internet attack

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are likely targets for Internet attacks and many will suffer a successful attack between now and 2003, according to a report released Tuesday by Gartner Group Inc.

Specifically, the survey said that over half of those that manage their own network security and use the Internet for more than e-mail will be hit and more than 60 per cent of companies that are targeted will be unaware of the attacks, which are likely to include Web site hacking and the spreading of viruses, Gartner said in a statement.

SMEs are especially vulnerable to malicious attacks because they usually cannot afford, or do not attract, personnel who have security experience. As a result, part-time employees or personnel with less than top-notch qualifications often manage key enterprise servers, Gartner said.

Moreover, SMEs often use regional ISPs (Internet service providers) that provide unknown levels of security, which puts SMEs at a greater risk of an attack.

According to Gartner, SMEs should consider four steps to strengthen their network security:

– security checkup: SMEs connected to the Internet should consider contracting with a security firm to conduct an audit and risk assessment of their networks. The effort should include an internal network security audit and an external penetration test. That should take place whenever an SME makes major changes to its Web site or firewall, and at a minimum of once a year.

– firewall configuration: ensuring that a proper firewall is installed is crucial. SMEs should focus on firewall appliances that provide a base level of security without requiring detailed security knowledge. SMEs should request quotes for managed firewall and intrusion detection services from ISPs. Those types of services usually cost less than the equivalent salary of a half-time firewall administrator.

– boundary services: scanning incoming e-mail for viruses is a crucial security measure. SMEs can use either desktop or server-side antiviral protection. SMEs should take immediate action to disallow relay and halt the entry of spam into their environments.

– consolidated remote access with strong authentication: SMEs that provide dial-in access to e-mail and other enterprise systems should eliminate desktop modems and use consolidated modem pools and remote access servers. SMEs should require the use of hardware tokens to authenticate remote users.

According to Gartner, those four security measures will protect more than two-thirds of SMEs that are connected to the Internet. SMEs that must manage more highly sensitive environments – such as law firms, regional banks, independent insurance agencies, and state and local government agencies – should plan for additional precautions or outsource their security operations to an experienced managed service provider, Gartner said

Gartner Group, in Stamford, Conn., can be reached at