Businesses Engaging in Risky Technology Behavior: Survey

A survey finds a slew of risky IT practices among cost-conscious businesses, including WiFi piggybacking.

Resource-and-cash-strapped small businesses struggling to cut costs in a slow economy are leaving simple cost-savings options on the table and putting data at risk, according to a recent survey from Lenovo. The Lenovo-AMD Small Business Tech Survey, which sought to identify common issues and trends in technology use by small businesses, also uncovered several peculiar-and in some cases alarming-technology practices including relying on "piggybacking" on nearby WiFi networks and saving critical business files on USB thumb drives.

The survey of more than 700 small business professionals indicates that stretched-thin staff and fierce competition means more and more employees will be working on vacation over the holidays. More than four in five (85 percent) small business professionals agree they conduct work outside the office. The vast majority (72%) of respondents rarely take an e-mail-free vacation.

In order to keep up with their hefty workload, many respondents agreed they rely on a mobile device such as a laptop or smartphone. The most preferred devices are laptops (38%) and smartphones (31%), according to survey results. Despite the consequences of data loss, the survey indicated that many small businesses are backing up critical business data using highly disposable and insecure methods. While 40 percent of small businesses back up files to external hard drives, 50 percent of respondents said they or their company use USB thumb drives and CDs/DVDs to back up important information.

Other secure and cost-effective means of data storage, such as Web-based cloud storage, were seldom used by the small businesses surveyed. While 43 percent of respondents are at least somewhat familiar with cloud computing, only 13 percent say they are using an online storage service-the least of all backup methods cited.

For many respondents, WiFi in their home or office is the primary means of connecting to the Internet with their company-issued laptop. However, some respondents admitted to connecting to unsecured WiFi networks ("piggybacking") in order to conduct business: A quarter of respondents reported they or someone in their company piggyback other available WiFi networks to conduct business. In addition, almost one in five senior-level executives (17%) and proprietor/owners (17%) surveyed say they piggyback on wireless networks.

Despite the cost benefits of VOIP (Voice over IP) technology, the study found 70 percent of small businesses are not using VOIP for business calls. Almost nine in 10 (87%) small business professionals are somewhat or not at all familiar with the term "unified communications," which is the integration of voice, video, audio and instant messaging tools.

The results of the survey also highlighted the importance that small businesses place on personal brand reputation and appearance. Revealing the need to make a good first impression in a business meeting or new business pitch, the survey found nearly 70 percent of respondents agreed that the appearance of a laptop issued by a small business is a reflection of that company's commitment to quality and service.

The survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Lenovo between Oct. 14 and Nov. 9, 2010, among 722 adults ages 18 and over who owned or were employed by a small business with no more than 500 employees.