With news that one in four UK companies have experienced a cyber attack in the last two years it’s time for business owners to put the issue the agenda.

When you can find a website for a local chimney sweep, or even a rat catcher on Google it drives home the fact that the business world, no matter how large or small, now revolves around the internet.

The frightening thing however is that the level of awareness amongst SME owners of just what a hacker could do to their reputation is dangerously low. This is despite experts claiming that the subject should be a critical part of any 2016 business plan.

The recent Small Business Reputation and the Cyber Risk Report, produced by the Government’s Cyber Streetwise campaign and KPMG, reveals that although the vast majority of businesses surveyed do constantly consider their reputation, the opposite applies when it comes to considering just what affect a cyber breach might have on it.

The other side of the (bit)coin

If businesses selling goods and services are in the dark about the perils of what a determined hacker might do to their reputation they only have to look at the other side of the sales process to get a sharp jolt.

According to the report, over three quarters of consumers surveyed have real concerns about who has their data and just how safe it is. Of them, over half would shift their allegiance if a breach occurred.

As for business to business transactions, companies looking for new suppliers are now not just concerned about whether the goods are of sufficient quality and if they can be delivered on time, they have justifiable worries about how safe their precious data might be on someone else’s server.

To put some meat on the bones of that concern, 86% of purchasing departments surveyed would consider dropping a supplier from their preferred list following a breach.

Don’t scroll backwards

There is no doubt about the seriousness of cyber breaches and the possible dire consequences for businesses ignoring them. According to the survey, over the last two years almost half of all economic crime committed against UK companies was carried out electronically.

The reported results of these attacks include an inability to grow in line with previous forecasts and even worse, an inability to operate at all.

The expense of implementing some robust cyber security and the advice that comes with it has to be worth working into the cashfow forecasts of any business.

It’s the only way to catch the rats before the rats catch you.