Virus writers are using more covert methods to deploy their attacks.

Small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) face a growing number of email threats from spam, unacceptable content and viruses that can bring communications and operations to a grinding halt.

Although computers have been subject to attack from viruses and worms for many years, businesses assume this security risk is well under control. However, virus writers are now using more covert methods to deploy their attacks and penetrate networks which often lie undetected until damage occurs. The MessageLabs Intelligence: 2007 Annual Security Report states that average virus levels for 2007 were 1 in 117.7 emails and although virus levels rose and fell throughout the year, September 2007 reached the highest virus levels in 18 months, with 1 in 48 emails containing a virus or Trojan. The report also states that 2007 saw cyber-criminals changing their tactics and favouring the method of including links to malicious websites hosting the malware code, rather than attaching the malware itself.

So how do small and medium sized businesses go about getting affordable protection?

The DTI Security Breaches Survey (2006) highlights that most business now realise that the sole use of software is not enough to combat viruses and malicious software. Patching and regularly updating signature files can assist in reducing the risk of infection or a security breach but the use of a multi-layered security policy provides the best protection.

A multi-layered security approach can protect against both internal and external threats. It involves security solutions, policies and best practices being overlaid or overlapped to provide a much stronger and resistant layer of security for your business perimeter.

“Virus infection was the biggest, single cause of the worst security incidents in 2006.”

The DTI Security Breaches Survey (2006)Star | The 10-point guide | Email security for SMBs 3

Points for SMBs to consider:

1) Create an enforceable email usage and security policy:

According to The DTI Security Breaches Survey (2006), three quarters of companies with an email misuse policy require employees to read and acknowledge they have read it. This assists in defining and communicating acceptable email usage.

Management resources must be allocated to develop and implement an enforceable policy. At its most basic, the policy should set hard-and-fast rules to guard against damage to the system and cover:

  • Rules for permitted use
  • Virus and content filtering
  • System monitoring and privacy
  • Confidential information and trade secrets
  • Prohibited, illegal, licensed and copyright material
  • Sexual harassment, discrimination and defamation
  • Guidance on professional e-mail usage
  • Reporting of incidents and vulnerabilities
  • Rules on policy enforcement
  • Review and evaluation procedures

It is critical that your staff know what they can and cannot use the network for. The production and delivery of an ‘Acceptable Usage Policy’ to all staff reinforces the fact that your company has a clear-cut, written security policy that can be understood and adhered to by all employees.

2) Use an email security solution that operates outside your network boundary:

You must stop threats before they enter your organisation. This can only be achieved through a managed email security provider, with the equipment and knowledge to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals. As so many viruses and worms are now email-borne, it also makes sense to consider using a managed email security service to transparently scan your incoming and outgoing email for infected emails and attachments. This will ensure that your incoming and outgoing email is completely free of infected emails. Using PC-based software or dedicated appliances can help but Internet level based scanning systems as part of a multi-layered security policy are more effective.

bear I.T’s range of Internet level scanning services powered by MessageLabs provides a range of fully managed and monitored services that intercept viruses, spam, spyware, web malware and offensive images and content.

3) Secure outbound email as well as inbound:

Viruses, malicious content and spam are unwittingly passed on from one company to another so you must be able to detect and stop threats before they leave your system. The MessageLabs Intelligence: 2007 Annual Security Report highlights that the proportion of email-borne viruses that contain malicious links has increased from 3% at the beginning of 2007 to approximately 25% by December 2007.

4) Get complete email protection and control:

Your email security solution should provide protection from multi-level email threats and enable you to control content entering and leaving your system. For instance, the predominant email security trend has been convergence; where virus writers and spammers combine to produce a more sophisticated breed of email threat. This is a huge risk for businesses without expert protection. Without the proper email usage controls in place for users, damaging and expensive problems can all too easily arise. From defamation and libel, to obscenity and sexual harassment and even breaches of corporate confidentiality or contractual liability. In summary, protect your business against the serious implications of email and internet misuse, online security threats and inappropriate content from reaching your business perimeter.

5) Get proof the solution works:

Many claims are made about email security solutions. Ensure you agree a rigorous service level agreement to support the effectiveness and accuracy you expect from your service provider and ask for credible references from a business similar to yours.

6) Avoid disruption when switching to a new solution:

Your service provider should review and fully understand your email system configuration and requirements. This ensures minimum disruption to end users and the continuity of your business.

7) Understand the true capability of the service provider:

With email security becoming such a rapidly growing problem, many IT suppliers have their capabilities stretched to the limit. Is your service provider up to the job? Expect your service provider to have highly trained expert staff to »»develop, monitor, manage and administer the service The technology used should be proven and not rely on single »»techniques which could leave you vulnerable Your service provider should have an infrastructure that can deliver email during peak loads and major outbreaks as well as being able to process email across the globe.

8) Ensure the service fits your business requirements:

All businesses differ. You should have an email security service which: Is adaptable to your needs»» Meets the requirements of your security information and email usage policy. Is flexible and can grow along with your business»» Works with your existing email systems and won’t cause disruption when it’s turned on.

9) Be sure you can predict the cost of the service:

A predictable monthly cost, agreed before you start enables you to plan your business effectively – with no additional costs for software licences, hardware or dedicated IT staff.

10) Stay in control with good monitoring and reporting:

You are making the service provider responsible for clean email. Be sure you can monitor and fine-tune the service if required and expect detailed performance reports.

So what’s next?

From now on you should be able to relax and expect all your legitimate email as before but without any of the bad stuff…

  • You hear about a new virus or scam and remain relaxed – you are automatically protected.
  • You no longer worry about staff abusing your usage policy and putting the company at risk.
  • You are in control and you’ve fully costed the service.
  • You can also inform the rest of your management team that you now share the same email protection service as some of the worlds best known companies.
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