September 15, 2011, 10:43 AM

Social media and mobile devices present threats to computer security

A Symantec report finds that I.T. security staffs worry about attacks from those channels.

Thad Rueter

Senior Editor

Lead Photo

The percentage of businesses worldwide that suffered cyber attacks fell over the past year compared with a year earlier, but smartphones and social media represent a significant threat to the security of those businesses’ computer systems, according to a report from Symantec Corp.

The online security provider based its findings on telephone surveys conducted in April and May of 3,300 information technology employees and executives who work for companies in 36 countries. Symantec did not say how many of the companies were directly engaged in online retail operations.

The firm’s “2011 State of Security Survey” found that 71% of organizations had suffered cyber-attacks with the past 12 months, compared with 75% for the previous year. 21% of respondents said they are experiencing an increasing frequency of attacks, compared with 29% for the previous year.

When it comes to losses from web-based attacks, 20% of respondents classified as small businesses said attacks within the past year had cost them each at least $100,000; 20% of large businesses each absorbed at least $271,000 from attacks.

New trends related to e-commerce are making security experts nervous, the report suggests. That’s because 47% of respondents said the increasing use of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablet computers, are complicating efforts to protect computer systems against attacks; 46% said the same about social media. The report says threats can come from such areas as loosely protected servers and malware that manages to make it into business systems.

"Mobile computing and social media use are providing new challenges as organizations increase their cybersecurity efforts," says Sean Doherty, vice president and chief technology officer of enterprise security at Symantec. "There's no question that attackers are using more insidious, sophisticated and silent methods to steal data and wreak havoc. Organizations today have more to lose than ever before and need to keep adopting the security innovations and best practices that the industry is delivering to stay protected."

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