Vodafone UK is spending a fair bit of its time trying to help small and midsized businesses navigate the problems thrown up by the coronavirus pandemic, with measures including calls for government support to improve digital strategies and the provision of free services for limited periods.
Such efforts are not of course entirely altruistic: The SME community in the UK is an important customer segment for the operator, and for many businesses with 250 employees or fewer, the pandemic is proving to be a threat to their very survival.
In its latest move, Vodafone has called on the UK government to help SMEs cope better with the rising threat of cyberattacks in an increasingly digital working environment.
According to a report carried out by WPI Strategy for Vodafone, 1.3 million out of a total of almost 6 million SMEs in the UK would collapse if they fell victim to a cyberattack.
The report, "Protecting our SMEs: cybersecurity in the new world of work," states that the UK's economic recovery from COVID-19 is at risk if new policy recommendations are not introduced in line with the new risks that have emerged in the last 12 months.
The report notes that a "successful" cyberattack has an average cost of £3,230. Around 23% of SMEs polled for the report said that they could not survive a loss of this scale. A further 16%, the equivalent of almost 1 million companies, said a cyberattack would result in headcount reduction.
As noted by Anne Sheehan, business director at Vodafone UK, the shift to remote working has seen an increase in the number of attempted cyberattacks, "building on an upward trend that was already visible."
"Almost a third of the SMEs polled for this report said that they had seen an increase in such attacks since the start of the March 2020 lockdown [in the UK]," Sheehan said. "Recent figures from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) have revealed that more than a quarter of all cyber incidents detected in the past year involved criminals and hostile states exploiting the coronavirus pandemic, with ransomware often embedded in what appeared to be important official communications from the government about COVID-19."
One of the main problems for SMEs is that they often lack the awareness, the skills and the security measures to fend off these attacks.
Vodafone is therefore calling for new cybersecurity measures to help small businesses, including a reduced 5% value-added tax (VAT) rate on cybersecurity products and additional funding for the NCSC to expand a dedicated unit for cybersecurity for business.
It is also recommended that the next National Cyber Security Strategy should include a section on SME protection, with reference to the increased risk associated with remote working, and that the government should commit an additional 5% to the NCSC budget to support the delivery of local cybersecurity skills and training.
Simon Fell, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cybersecurity, succinctly summed up the situation: "SME cybersecurity is not a prosaic issue facing a few journeymen trying their hands at a new business during the pandemic, but rather an issue of national economic resilience."
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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading