Despite high-profile security scares, such as the recent Blaster worm and the latest SoBig variant, almost one-third of small businesses in the UK do not consider anti-virus or firewall protection to be important.
According to a poll conducted on behalf of BT Openworld, 28 per cent of SMEs believe that software solutions to protect their businesses from security threats are of no practical use.
The study of 300 SMEs found that this disregard for IT security was most pronounced among smaller firms that employed fewer than five people.
Neville Manuel, vice-president of value-added services at BT Openworld, said: "It's frightening that small companies are ignoring the risks of IT security threats.
"No matter what size your business is, a major security problem could bring all your systems to a halt.
"This can have a serious impact on a business, in terms of lost sales, reduced productivity and damaged reputation. These are all dangers that no company can afford to ignore."
Clive Longbottom, service director at Quocirca, said the main problem lies in the "poor messaging" from vendors.
"There is far too much hype around the fact that there is a new virus threat on the loose and the sky will fall in unless firms have a particular product. Many of the threats only affect specific ports. If these aren't being used, then there is no threat, but most SMEs don't know that," he said.
"They have the perception that they need a firewall, anti-virus, public key infrastructure, encryption, tokens, challenge and response, biometrics and God knows what else to give minimum protection.
"Then there's the many man-years of professional help to get it all up and working and then maintained, which to them seems costly.
"The industry only has itself to blame. Suitable security is what is required - not Fort Knox for everyone."
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