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Early bird will catch the worm

While consumers may be inconvenienced by a computer virus, employees and owners of small businesses can be decimated by something as simple as an email virus worm, such as last year&#39s I_LOVE_YOU virus, which caused around £7.1bn in damage and downtime to business users worldwide.

The number of recent computer viruses and hacker attacks has focused the global spotlight on some of the online dangers facing consumers and business owners but computer users in small/home offices and small to mid-sized enterprise businesses are particularly at risk.

These computer users have an increasingly critical need for services that can protect them and their clients around the clock from computer viruses and hackers that might corrupt or steal data from PCs, notebooks and other digital assets.

In general, they must provide a level of digital defence that achieves three goals:

Protects digital assets from loss of data or downtime.

Small businesses require continually updated protection from viruses and hackers that can destroy data or cause system problems that require hours or days to fix. Downtime means lost revenue, especially in service businesses where revenue is booked by billable hours.

Protects data from destruction and theft.

For many small businesses, the data is the business. Loss of this data places them in jeopardy of losing their clients. Theft of their data or client data that is sensitive can result in losing a client or even in liability lawsuits.

Protects PCs from being used to spread virus worms.

The I_LOVE_YOU virus was spread via email using address books on each PC. For businesses, a virus that exploits address books represents an attack that can reach clients, suppliers and partners. An entire economic value chain becomes vulnerable to attack and loss of business that comes from downtime. Partners wary of each other&#39s email when a virus uses this method to spread.

Let us take a look at some of the digital threats facing typical small businesses and the forms of defence that business users must deploy to protect their personal and professional digital assets, including their important business information and the computers where that data is stored.

Computer viruses are an unfortunate reality of computing today. Most people recognise that viruses will cause damage if steps are not taken to protect their PCs but the type of viruses that have become successful recently – so-called social-engineered viruses – have been designed to make recipients spread them inadvertently.

Simply installing an anti-virus computer program is not an effective barrier against these types of viruses.

New variants of existing viruses as well as viruses that use email programs to spread themselves, changing the sender and the subject line by borrowing information from the infected computer, make relying on static anti-virus programs dangerous. Threats like this can spread quickly, effectively shutting down the local area networks common in most businesses.

The term hacker was originally a badge of honour worn by computer programmers who developed creative ways around problems they faced when coding software by cutting or hacking apart computer programs and assembling something new. In the past decade, the term has become associated with more damaging or criminal intent.

The types of hackers range from vandals causing mischief by defacing websites and attempting to break into servers, to those targeting people or organisations in order to cause disruption to their business. At the extreme end of the scale are cyber-terrorists targeting companies and specific computers for profit for a cause or for personal gain.

Often, viruses and hackers come hand in hand. Recent viruses such as Code Red 2, a variant of the virus said to target the White House, employ a payload or leave-behind program. These are called Trojan Horse viruses, since they contain a devastating secret inside what appears to be a safe email. These payloads open a door for hackers and allow them to remotely control the PCs where they reside.

A good offense is the best defence. In the case of virus and hacker protection, this means businesses must use anti-virus and anti-hacker – or firewall – software or services that provide protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is updated whenever a new virus or hacker threat surfaces.

Anti-virus software and firewalls provide a critical form of defence or insurance for businesses that rely on their PCs for their livelihood, protecting them from viruses and hackers that might otherwise destroy data or cause system problems that require hours or days to fix.

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