SMB Security: 'Borrowing' Wi-Fi, Saving to USB Drives

Monday Dec 6th 2010 by Stuart J. Johnston
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Pressed for cash, some small businesses store mission critical data on easily-lost media like thumb drives and CDs.

The continued downward pressure of the crawling recovery on budgets at small businesses is causing many of them to cut corners on IT expenses. Cost-cutting strategies range from "borrowing" Wi-Fi from neighbors to storing critical files on thumb drives, according to a new survey -- risky small business security practices, to say the least.

Even for those small businesses that can afford dedicated IT staff, though, restrictive budgets may foster what Lenovo calls an "alarming" lack of attention to keeping data safe.

Decreased Budgets Affect Small Business Security Practices

Funded by Lenovo and AMD (NYSE: AMD), the survey queried more than 700 small business professionals.

"The Lenovo-AMD Small Business Tech Survey [found that] 25 percent of respondents reported they or someone in their company piggyback on other available Wi-Fi networks to conduct business ... [while] almost one in five senior-level executives (17 percent) and proprietor/owners (17 percent) surveyed say they piggyback on wireless networks," said a Lenovo statement.

Piggybacking means to take advantage of Wi-Fi networks that are nearby and not secured -- essentially, using someone else's insecure Wi-Fi access point with or without the owner's permission. Not only are there legal and ethical issues at stake, but also that's not to mention the security and privacy of their own data.

Meanwhile, many small businesses are putting their crown jewels -- their companies' data -- in harm's way in other ways.

"While 40 percent of small businesses back up files to external hard drives, an alarming 50 percent of respondents said they or their company use USB thumb drives and CDs/DVDs to backup important information," the survey found.

Another finding implies that many small business owners and computing professionals will likely work or be on call during the upcoming holidays -- no surprise there.

"The survey ... clearly indicates that stretched-thin staff and fierce competition means more and more employees will be working on vacation over the holidays, ... 85 percent of small business professionals agree they conduct work outside of the office [and] 72 percent rarely take an email-free vacation," Lenovo's statement said.

While the survey spotted strains in how small businesses are coping with continued constrained budgets, however, it did provide some insights into technologies that are under-used and could save companies money.

For instance, 43 percent of the survey respondents were "somewhat familiar" with cloud computing, but only 13 percent were using an "online storage service."

Another technology that small businesses have not fully taken advantage of yet is voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).

"VoIP has the potential to bring cost efficiency to any small business through free or low-cost audio and video communication via the Internet," Lenovo said.

In fact, some 70 percent of small businesses are not yet using VoIP, while 87 percent are unfamiliar with the concept of unified communications -- i.e., integration of all communications, including voice, video, instant messaging, and email.

The survey of 722 small business professionals was conducted by Harris Interactive between October 14 and November 9, 2010. The respondents were all in the U.S. and owned or worked for small businesses with up to 500 employees.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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