The number of small and medium-sized businesses affected by cyber attacks is on the rise.

A quarter of New Zealand SMEs, or 24 per cent, experienced a digital security breach last year, up from 18 per cent a year earlier, according to a survey of 500 small and medium businesses by anti-malware software firm Norton.

Cyber crime cost New Zealand SMEs an average of $15,592 in the last 12 months.

The perceived threat of cyber crime has increased significantly, the survey found, with 29 per cent of respondents noting an increase in cyber-security threats to their business in the last 12 months, up from 16 per cent the previous year.

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Only 7 per cent of respondents reported a decline in the threat of cyber crime.

"The operational and financial impacts of cyber attacks are becoming harder for SMEs to ignore. Yet, while business owners and operators are beginning to knuckle down and get the basics right – from using passwords and continuous backup – some are still taking risks with important company data," Norton Symantec director for the Pacific Region, Mark Gorrie, said.

The launch of the new Privacy Bill last week, which replaces the Privacy Act 1993, would better address the need for data and privacy protection, Gorrie said.

He said the new Bill would bring fresh imperatives for maintaining the security of the data businesses hold, and the privacy of the customers they serve.

"With the introduction of New Zealand's Privacy Bill, we expect more New Zealand SMEs will go from seeing cyber-security as 'nice to have' to a critical piece in securing the future success of their business."

The survey found more SMEs had backed up their data last year, with 36 per cent doing so continuously, and one in three business operators said they would not last one week without access to critical information.