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UK’s SMEs told ‘Adapt to digital economy or pay the price’

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In the 12 months leading up to June 2016, there were six million instances of online fraud in the UK, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The threat is so substantial that the government has committed £1.9 billion to protect the UK from cybercriminals until 2020.

But while state-sponsored cyberattacks against large corporations and government agencies draw the headlines, small businesses are also vulnerable to online fraud.

Tony Richardson, managing director of cyber-security experts Octree, discussed the implications of cybercrime for SMEs at the UK200Group annual conference on Friday.

He said both the government and businesses need to understand the best defence against cyber attacks is education. Young people need to be encouraged to take information and communications technology (ICT) courses and businesses need to train staff to question suspicious emails and not to click on links in them or open attachments.

He also said even small companies need to ensure their systems are protected by anti-malware software and their data backed up.

“t’s not unusual for small businesses to be in a situation in which they are unaware that they are unprotected, one of the fundamental problems being that a lot of small businesses do not think that they are vulnerable to these types of attack,” he said.

He described an insidious type of fraud called a whaling attack or CEO fraud to which small businesses are particularly vulnerable to. In these scams, a phoney email, purportedly from the CEO or Finance Director of the company, is sent to the finance department, instructing them to make urgent money transfers or the firm will lose business.

He said employees are eager to help and don’t question the suspect communications.

“We’re all part of that altruistic society, we want to help out and provide information and this is the thing that is being exploited. The fundamental problem is that people just aren’t aware of the risks,” he said.

Small businesses also shouldn’t assume they’re not going to be targeted by cybercriminals or that cybersecurity countermeasures are extremely expensive. Doing so is like “put[ting] the head in the sand,” Richardson said.

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