Enterprises will increasingly face skilled IT criminals trying to infiltrate corporate networks for sensitive data stored in databases, but adopting new policies to evaluate risk should help drive the cost of defence down, Gartner security analysts said.

The attacks could come in a variety of forms – extortion attempts after data is encrypted and held hostage and the theft of intellectual property – but all could have "potentially disastrous" effects for unprepared businesses, said Vic Wheatman, managing vice president at research analyst firm Gartner.

"Most businesses aren't attacked but some are," Wheatman said at Gartner's IT Security Summit. "We believe that cybercrime represents the next wave."

Businesses will need new IT strategies to defend themselves. Enterprises now should spend 4% to 6% of their IT budgets on information security. This figure is equivalent to what organizations allot for casualty insurance, he said. From its latest data, Gartner expects information security budgets to increase 4.5% over the next year.

But many corporations are creating security policies based on government regulations rather than threats. The result is policies that meet the auditors' requirements but aren't necessarily best for the overall security, said Jay Heiser, Gartner research vice president. "We refer to that as 'regulatory distraction,'" Heiser said.

Rather than trying to anticipate a new regulation, it's better for companies to treat regulation as one more factor in an overall risk portfolio, Heiser said. It could take at least five years for an enterprise to form this approach, he said.

Corporations can also rethink how they acquire new security software. Rather than buying the "best of breed" security product, companies can buy the "best of need," one that may not be the top of the market but meets the company's requirements, Wheatman said.

Security products are also increasingly meshing what were separate functions. Wheatman said companies have shown success in negotiations with security vendors in getting, for example, anti-spyware included with anti-spam and anti-virus software instead of paying extra.

"We do think that over time, organizations can decrease their security budgets as a percentage of the IT budget," Wheatman said.

Gartner released figures last week showing strong growth in the computer security software sales. Revenue totalled US$7.4 billion (£4bn) in 2005, a 14.8% increase over 2004. Antivirus software represented 54.3% of the revenue, at $4bn (£2.1bn).