Social networking exposes business networks to risk

Survey results suggest that IT administrators not protecting their networks from social networking risks.

Once upon a time, instant messaging was a consumer technology. That consumer toy worked its way into the corporate network and was eventually not just accepted, but embraced and leveraged as a valuable tool. Social networking is on that same path, but still has some security growing pains to go through on the way.

nCircle conducted a survey of 257 information security professionals regarding social media in the enterprise, and found:

• 59 percent maintain a social media policy

• 39 percent of respondents' organizations ban social media use

• 46 percent of respondents were unsure if their employees comply with social media policy

"Even though almost 40% of respondents ban employee social media use, this type of policy is a knee-jerk reaction to the serious security risks associated with social media and is not necessarily effective," said Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle. "The real security concern when it comes to social media is what employees are divulging via their social networking activity and how that affects the security of their employer."

It is a sign of how far social networking has already woven itself into the corporate fabric that nearly 60 percent of those surveyed have a social media policy in place. However, the 46 percent who aren't paying attention might not find a recent Webroot survey very comforting.

Webroot's second annual survey of social networking practices gathered information from 1,100 social networking users, and found:

• 61 percent include their birthday

• 52 percent include their hometown

• 17 percent make their cell phone available.

• More than three quarters (77 percent) don't restrict who can access their photo albums.

• 81 percent don't place any restrictions on who can see their recent activity, including updates generated by geo-location-based tools that report where their users are visiting.

Combining the two surveys results in some privacy and security concerns for those 46 percent. In the nCircle survey, 41 percent have no social media policy, and 46 percent aren't monitoring compliance with the social media policy they do have. That adds up to 87 percent of corporate networks being put at risk by the personal information being shared by employees on social networks.

These types of information may not lead directly to data breaches or security compromises, but added together they can allow an attacker to start putting the puzzle together. Sensitive information such as birth date, hometown, and cell phone number--combined with name--can enable an attacker to socially engineer their way into the organization to gather other pieces.

And, don't think the popularity of social networking, and the sharing aspects of it have been lost on attackers. "A perfect storm is developing between the number of people flocking to social networks and the new, increasingly sophisticated malware attacks cybercriminals are launching to prey on the personal data they're sharing," said Jeff Horne, director of threat research at Webroot. "For example, our team has noted over 100 different variations of Koobface, a worm known to trick people into clicking links they shouldn't in order to infect their PC's and often convince them to provide credit card numbers to buy phony antivirus products, among other fraudulent activities."

The nCircle press release for the survey results wraps up with "Storms recommends employers engage in ongoing, detailed communication about the risks of social media so that employees better understand what types of activity do and do not affect corporate security."

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies . He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW . You can follow him on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com

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