Firms have expressed concerns in the wake of a Federation of Small Business study (FSB) that found internet crime is costing companies a total of £785 million a year.
The shocking survey found that 41% of its members had been victims of online crime within the past 12 months, costing them around £4000 each.
Its study found that virus infections topped the list of deliberate cyber attacks, with a third of people having also been affected by general fraud from clients and credit cards.
Such incidents have led to data protection fears that have seen only one in three small companies using the internet for direct sales purposes.
In response, the FSB has developed 10 top tips for small firms to make sure they stay safe online, including full use of anti-virus software, carry out regular risk assessments and developing secure password systems.
One Surrey web consultancy firm, Consult Hyperion, which has hosted an event advising businesses on best practice for ensuring internet security, added its own fears over the severity of the issue.
Margaret Ford, of the company, said: “The FSB survey is of major concern for many small businesses which are important to the economy, as it is now harder for them to protect themselves online. “Unlike larger companies, smaller firms routinely have just one person who is handling the accounts and internet side of their businesses. I think the FSB came up with some really good tips for security, which companies should follow.
“We work with a lot of financial services companies, which tend to be very aware of risks on the internet and make every effort to make sure their systems are secure as possible,” added the consultant who said that her company had been working alongside European partners project on enhancing internet security for businesses.
Mike Cherry, of the FSB, said: “Cyber crime poses a real and growing threat for small firms and it isn’t something that should be ignored. Many businesses will be taking steps to protect themselves but the cost of crime can act as a barrier to growth.
“For example, many businesses will not embrace new technology as they fear the repercussions and do not believe they will get adequate protection from crime.
“While we want to see clear action from the government and the wider public sector, there are clear actions that businesses can take to help themselves. “I encourage small firms to look at the 10 top tips we have developed to make sure they are doing all they can.”
“We want to see the government look at how it can simplify and streamline its guidance targeted specifically at small firms and make sure there is the capacity for businesses to report when they have been a victim of fraud or online crime.”