More midsize companies are being attacked by cybercriminals at the same time they're spending less on security, says a McAfee report released Wednesday.

Across the world, more than half of the 900 midsize businesses (51 to 1,000 employees) surveyed by McAfee for its report, The Security Paradox, said they've seen an increase in security breaches over the past year. Despite the threat, the recession has caused most of these companies to freeze their IT security budgets.

Midsize organizations have seen an increase in cyberthreats in 2009. (Credit: McAfee)

McAfee found that the costs of dealing with a security attack can be high. Over the last year, one of five midsize companies surveyed lost $41,000 in sales on average as a result of a breach. In China alone, 38 percent of the businesses questioned lost an average of $85,000 due to an attack. And more than 70 percent believe a serious data breach could put them out of business, noted the report.

Organizations think a breach could put them out of business. (Credit: McAfee)

But as the recession has grown, IT budgets have dropped. Almost 40 percent of the companies trimming their IT security budget plan to limit the purchase of new security products. And more than a third are switching to cheaper security software to cut expenses, even though they realize that may put them at greater risk.

"An organization's level of worry and awareness about increasing threats has not overcome the downward pressure on budgets and resources," said Darrell Rodenbaugh, senior vice president of global midmarket for McAfee, in a statement. "But this creates a vicious cycle of breach and repair that costs far more than prevention."

Midsize companies also may underestimate their risk, according to McAfee. Among companies with fewer than 500 employees, more than 90 percent believe they're protected from cybercriminals and feel they don't face the same threats that larger firms do.

But McAfee discovered that businesses with 101 to 500 people had on average 24 security breaches over the past three years, compared to 15 breaches for those with 501 to 1,000 employees.

In the long run, dealing with the aftermath of a security attack eats up a company's time and expenses. The study found that 65 percent of firms spend less than four hours a week on IT security, but around the same percentage have spent more than a day recovering from security breaches.

"Our research shows that organizations that put more effort on preventing attacks can end up spending less than a third as much as those that allow themselves to be at risk," said Rodenbaugh.

The study was conducted by research firm MSI International, which surveyed 100 midsize businesses in each of the following countries: U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, and Spain. The results were compared with prior studies done in North America and Europe.