Lax Mobile Security Costs SMBs $126k a Year

Not coming to terms with the risks posed by the consumerization of IT is costing small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) — to the tune of $126,000 annually, in fact.

That’s how much money the SMBs polled by Symantec and Applied Intelligence for their 2012 State of Mobile Survey lost on average because of lax mobile security practices. Symantec defines SMBs as organizations with a head count ranging from five to 499 employees.

For comparison’s sake, large enterprises lose $429,000 a year, on average. Yet, whereas enterprises can chalk it up to the cost of doing business, such losses can severely damage — if not completely wipe out — a struggling startup or fledgling firm, according to Monica Girolami, Director of SMB product marketing for Symantec.

Improved Efficiency Drives Mobility in the Workplace

Mobile gadgets, when poorly introduced into the SMB technology mix, can represent a “huge risk for SMBs,” says Girolami. Fortunately. “SMBs can fully embrace mobility without the financial risks,” she adds.

That requires planning. But for a secure mobile strategy to take hold, it first helps to know why SMBs are embracing smartphones and tablets. The top three reasons are increased efficiency, increased workplace effectiveness and a reduction in the time required to complete business tasks, according to Girolami.

So effective are mobile devices in achieving these business goals, Symantec discovered that reality largely matched the expectations of those surveyed. Seventy percent of the 3,275 SMBs polled expected mobiles to improve efficiency and 71 percent witnessed those hopes materialize.

The shift to mobile computing is already having an impact on IT decision making. Sixty-four percent of SMBs are discussing implementing custom mobile applications while 54 percent were already running line-of-business apps. “Mobile devices have gone from being an off-limits technology to official and well-supported business tools,” said Girolami.

Apple sits at the top of the list of officially supported tools for SMBs. The iPhone takes the lead at 66 percent, followed closely by Blackberry phones at 61 percent and Android handsets at 60 percent. iPad and Android tablets trail at 45 percent and 40 percent, respectively.

Small Devices, Big Risks

Unfortunately, security takes a back seat in the pursuit of more nimble and efficient workforces. Girolami explains that among the SMBs polled, “their priority is reducing the cost and complexity of mobile technologies.” This is the reverse of how enterprises approach mobile, “where security is the top concern.”

That helps explain why 39 percent of SMBs allow employees to use a mobile device for business use without limits while 37 percent impose restrictions. Seventeen percent don’t even have a mobile policy in place and seven percent prohibit it outright.

According to the survey, the bulk of the losses suffered by SMBs are due to direct financial costs and loss productivity, both accounting for 30 percent each.  Loss of data — which can include customer and/or employee data — and damaged customer trust accounted for 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Mitigating those losses doesn’t have to be daunting. Girolami recommends embracing mobile computing in four steps.

First, SMBs should “look before they leap.” Essentially, get the lay of the land and evaluate how iPhones, iPads and other mobiles can help or hinder business operations. After that, she advises SMBs to take an inventory of mobile devices and institute polices governing use of the cloud.

Ultimately, SMBs have to put their foot down and enforce the policies that they develop. “Don’t allow mobile devices to connect to the network unless you have these procedures in place,” says Girolami.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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