Social media putting organisations at risk

Another report highlights the dangers of social networking for employees
Kerry Butters

October 11, 2011

New research has been published this month on the risks posed globally by social media.

The study was carried out by Ponemon and sponsored by Websense, and it looks into what security threats target users of social networks and how they affect companies.

It found that Facebook continues to grow at 41% year-on-year, whilst Twitter is doing even better at 85% year-on-year.

Whilst it is recognised that social media can have a positive effect on companies, it is thought that the risks that come alongside allowing workers personal use of social networking have not really been addressed by many.

The main risks to an organisation are: the increased threat of malware, brand hijacking, lack of control over content, and non-compliance with record management regulations.

The survey was carried out on IT professionals from around the world and whilst most acknowledged the importance of social media as a marketing tool, many also thought that their organisations don’t have good enough security policies and safeguards in place.

It was found that many employees are on social sites for non-business use and this has increased the incidence of malware affecting company machines.

63% of respondents said that they felt social media put their businesses at risk, yet only 29% felt their organisation had adequate protection in place.

It was found that the way that employees use trusted circles in social networking sites increased the risk as “lures and dynamic web links can quickly infect friends and then infect their social circles.”

65% said that whilst their company has a social media policy in place, many don’t enforce it due to lack of governance or putting other security issues first.

It was also found that many organisations have had to increase their bandwidth in order to cope with the additional demand social network usage has placed on their connection.

Productivity has also taken a nose dive within those organisations who allow the use of sites such as Facebook, as 89% of those surveyed agreed it has had a negative effect on their company’s overall work rate.

52% of firms said that malware and virus attacks had increased and 27% of these said they had gone up by more than 50%.

The answer to this, according to Websense, would be to ensure that businesses have more real-time protection in place to deal with the threats as they happen.

This would go beyond standard protection such as anti-virus software and firewalls, and would have to include the dynamic scanning of content as it is accessed.

Organisations should carry out a risk assessment to discover the threats to their businesses and put policies and security products in place, should they continue to allow social media usage by their employees.

Whilst social media is a powerful tool, both in terms of marketing and in-house communication, it is also a risk.

“This survey is the first time I’ve seen a number put to the increase in malware specifically due to social media. We know from our Security Lab alerts how frequently the latest in scams and attacks over the social web occur,” Websense’s Tom Clare said in a blog.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before that accelerates, as social media is further combined with social engineering and the bad guys start pulling data out from the organization through the open door of social media.”


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