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Cyber Security 'Blind Spot' Leaves Businesses Exposed

A significant ‘blind spot’ is leaving UK businesses exposed to cyber security threats, according to new research by UK top ten accountancy and advisory firm Azets, with just 1 in 5 businesses reporting having suffered a cyber security incident in the past 12 months.

74% of UK respondents to the Azets Barometer January 2024 survey reported no incidents, while a further 2% preferred not to say and 5% said they aren’t sure. Of the 20% that did report an incident, 16% claimed to have suffered just one, with 4% admitting to ‘several’.

There's a marked difference in larger companies, particularly upper medium sized businesses, where the rate of reporting no incidents is 18% higher than the overall average. Among the highest revenue businesses, with incomes between £50m-£99.9m, an overwhelming 90% report no incidents, exceeding overall survey averages by 40%.

Paul Kelly, UK Head of Cyber Services at Azets, believes these results could indicate a lack of awareness or ability to detect incidents such as a data breach or ransomware attack, even among the UK's biggest businesses.

He said: “Based on the number of cyber attacks in total last year, it’s estimated that there are more than four cyber attacks against UK businesses every minute. This doesn’t reconcile with 74% of businesses claiming not to have suffered a single incident at all in the past 12 months."

“Even those reporting a single incident are likely to have been targeted more frequently than they realise. It only takes one successful attack to create serious problems."

“A lack of education or technical expertise around cyber security risk are often contributing factors to blind spots that leave businesses exposed to potentially catastrophic financial and reputational damage. This could impact not only their business but their customers, and their customer’s customers.”

There is evidence that businesses are looking to enhance cyber security measures, with strategic investment in cyber security scoring an average of 6.3 out of 10 (0=decrease significantly; 10=increase significantly), as respondents' biggest priority for the next 12 months.

Paul Kelly added: “Cyber security can be costly, but it should be viewed as an investment that will save your business significant amounts in the long-term by protecting against incidents against the backdrop of an ever-increasing threat landscape.”

The Azets Barometer provides insight into the current and future business climate through the perspective of ambitious mid-market, owner-managed, and family-owned businesses in the UK, Ireland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

The January 2023 survey is the first in a new triannual series to identify trends relating to economic outlook, financial performance, and emerging threats and opportunities. It reveals cautious optimism among businesses, with an overall average score of 5.6 out of 10.

The UK's economic outlook for the next 12 months scored of 5.1 out of 10, hinting at a cautious, wait-and-see approach towards prospects. Of the 323 UK respondents, 41% expressed moderate optimism with scores of 6 or above, contrasted with 35% who were more pessimistic, scoring 4 or lower, and 24% opting for a neutral score of 5. This places UK businesses as the least optimistic in the survey.

Economic (6.1 out of 10) and geopolitical (5.7) uncertainties are the highest concerns for among UK business owners, closely followed by talent recruitment and retention (5.2) and regulatory compliance (4.9).

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