Ruth Mitchell

Member Article

Taking on the cyber criminals

A NEW service to help North East SMEs protect themselves and their clients’ data has been launched by IT security experts at Northumbria University.

The North East Warning, Advice and Reporting Point (NE WARP) aims to tackle the problem facing all SMEs. It will look to help North East businesses protect themselves and their clients from a range of threats including financial fraud and cyber crime.

Developed by Dr Chris Laing, digital security programme leader at Northumbria University, the NE WARP will provide an online community-based service which enables members to receive and share up-to-date advice on information security threats, incidents and solutions.

Dr Laing said: “The NE WARP is a collaboration between Northumbria and a range of regional public and private sector partners. It will provide an identifiable point of contact for regional SMEs, providing them with guidance, support and solutions to IT system vulnerabilities.”

As well as providing a rich source of research and development opportunities, the NE WARP will also help identify new threats and solutions.

“It will enable the regional business community to exchange advice and best practice, providing a trusted environment for sharing incident reports and giving members the chance to request help and assistance when dealing with data security issues.”

Launched by Dr Laing, at a series of special IT security seminars for SMES, the NE WARP will be managed by a team of qualified and independent information security advisors and it comes at a time when SMEs are facing increasing pressure to protect information.

Dr Laing said: “The Information Commissioner’s Office is toughening data protection laws, with heavy fines being levied on those companies that are guilty of data loss. This is not to mention the profound damage to a business’s image if a data loss incident is publicised, either by a competitor or the press.

“There are massive implications for the region’s SMEs. We already know, from official government figures, that 65% of UK SMEs have information that would cause significant business disruption if it were to be corrupted and 62% have information which is highly confidential. In addition 65% of the UK’s SMEs have information which would cause significant business disruption if it were not available, yet only 10% of SMEs actually employ qualified information security staff.”

Despite having common digital security infrastructure needs, SMEs often lack the opportunity to share best practice and the majority are currently not doing enough to protect their businesses and their customers’ information.

Dr Laing said: “Over 50% don’t undertake formal security risk assessments and many do not prevent sensitive and confidential information leaving the premises on USB sticks. In addition, over 80% do not scan outgoing e-mail for confidential data and 78% of SMEs who have reported stolen computing equipment, admitted that they did not encrypt their hard discs.

Dr Laing has secured £50,000 of Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funding to set up the NE WARP and two postgraduate students will help manage the service, as well as undertaking research into this vital area of security. It is hoped that the service will become a self sustaining organisation within two years, with all profits ploughed directly back into the organisation.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Ruth Mitchell .

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