Task force to study IT needs of small businesses

Bill would set up clearinghouse for small-business IT security resources

Companion bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that would create a Small Business Administration task force to study the information technology security needs of small businesses and make recommendations on how to meet them.

The Small Business Information Security Act of 2008 was spurred in part by recent data breaches, including that of the Hannaford Bros. supermarket chain in the home state of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who introduced the bill Monday. Although Hannaford's is not a small business, Snowe warned of the downstream impact serious data breaches can have on small businesses.

'For example, throughout Maine there are many small banks. These banks are responsible for protecting and alerting their depositors upon fraudulent activity,' Snowe said in her introductory remarks on the Senate floor. 'Following the Hannaford breach, many small banks had to replace their customers' credit and debit cards, clearly a costly enterprise that diverts resources from more productive activities, such as small-business lending. The bill we are introducing today will help ameliorate this problem.'

She cited a study by the Small Business Technology Institute, indicating that many small businesses are ill-prepared to defend themselves. 'The study concludes that nearly one-fifth of small business do not use virus-scanning for e-mail, over 60 percent do not protect their wireless networks with encryption, and two-thirds of small business do not have an information security plan,' she said.

Although the SBA is a resource for small businesses, it now provides little information on IT security. The legislation is intended to help SBA create a repository of data on IT security, bringing together industry experts to examine needs and resources.

The task force would consist of a chairman and vice chairman appointed by the SBA administrator. The chairman would appointmembers, including subject matter experts, small businessmen, industry representatives, and representatives from federal, state and local government agencies. Its goal would be to identify needs specific to small businesses, evaluate current programs and resources available to them, and make recommendations on how to improve and better deliver the resources. It also would make recommendations on creating a permanent SBA advisory board to address these needs and a Web site to provide information, links and resources for download.

The task force is expected to complete its work and submit a final report in fiscal 2012. The bill would authorize $200,000 a year for the task force.

The bills have been referred to their respective chambers' small-business committees.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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