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The top four risks companies face when socialising online

The top four risks companies face when socialising online

Jumping on the social media bandwagon isn’t as easy as the young’uns make it look. Blue Coat Systems’ Nigel Hawthorn lists the dangers to look out for.

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July 11, 2011 10:46 by



It’s easy to say that social networking can no longer be ignored by companies, large and small. It’s an entirely different issue when it comes to getting companies to support social media in their environment to enable the innovation, increased productivity, and accelerated growth that will drive your business.

The reality is that social networking links a twelfth of society, and that number is growing rapidly. Customers, partners, and employees, alike expect to engage with companies via social media. But there are certain things companies need to consider when entering the social networking space.

Social networking risks

All the things that make social media so attractive to users – the personalisation, the ease with which information can be shared, and the real-time nature of the medium – pose significant risks to your business. The following are the top four risks you face when you use social networking:

1. Malware: In 2010, social media became the preferred communications vehicle for users, who are spending more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook alone, making social networking sites ideal malware targets. According to Sophos, 40 percent of users were infected by malware from social networking sites. Typical attacks draw on the trust relationship established between users and their connections.

Some examples of malware particularly successful in social media are:

Phishing: Attackers pose as one of your legitimate social networking connections and try to lure you into providing sensitive information, such as your login credentials. They prey on the tendency of most people to use the same passwords for all their accounts, hoping that by tricking you into giving one username and password they can get access to more profitable banking, financial and other online accounts.Login details to a social networking site is just a speed bump, creating an opening for cybercriminals to steal online assets. This is why more and more phishing attacks are targeting seemingly “nonrelevant” online user accounts.

Click-jacking: Attackers lure you into clicking on a link, perhaps posting it on your wall and then spamming your friends to “check it out,” or “view my photos.” When someone clicks on the link, they unwittingly install malware (code or script) that can be used to steal information or take control over their computer. Clickjacking uses the dynamic nature of social networking and a willingness to click on links from those you know, and even those you don’t, to quickly reach a large audience, cajole you into revealing private information (e.g. through surveys), collect hits for ad revenue, and eventually allow access to your entire social network.

2. Data loss: Social networking is about making connections and sharing experiences and information, however, sometimes that information is not meant to be made public. It’s not uncommon for people to inadvertently post confidential information – “hey, I just met with xxx and I think I am about to make a huge commission,” or “I’m pulling my hair out, if we can’t fix this software bug soon, I don’t know that I will ever sleep again.” There have been cases in which employees have unintentionally posted proprietary software code to social networking sites, exposing sensitive intellectual property. These actions, though unintentional, can potentially violate industry specific regulations, impact your reputation, or put you at a competitive disadvantage.

3. Bandwidth consumption: As much as 40 percent of employees report that they are on social networking sites at work, creating a potential strain on bandwidth to the detriment of other business applications. Last year, when the US government mandated open access to social networks, traffic on the network increased by 25 percent. Video alone (think of all the videos your friends share and you link to through Facebook or Twitter), can overwhelm many networks. A single video stream usually consumes between 500k to 1.2 Mbps (and that’s not even HD, which can be up to 4 to 7 Mbps), and when you have tens or hundreds of people accessing videos it’s easy to see how overall performance can degrade.

4. Productivity loss: Social networking sites are becoming online destinations. They are increasingly convenient and engaging for users, drawing them to spend more and more time there, as well as increasingly challenging for the business to appropriately control during business hours (think back on the 700 billion minutes on Facebook).

Keep your business safe

While you find yourself compelled to allow social media to compete and thrive in today’s global economy, you do not need to expose your business to undue risk. There are ways to protect against and mitigate the risks posed by social networking:

1. Real-time web defense – your solution needs to analyse your web traffic on the fly and uncover threats that may be hidden there. Real-time analysis of dynamically changing links provides risk analysis and timely protection to keep social media safe. So when you see “hey you should take a look at this,” you can either allow or deny based on the potential risk it poses.



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