Visiting Social Networks at Work: A Necessary Evil?

It’s no longer news that popular sites like Facebook and Twitter provide alluring forums for hackers to lure victims into their traps. As social networks gain new users, cybercriminals increasingly exploit the platforms to spread their malware. However, cyberscams on social networks are no longer a security problem for individuals alone. Businesses now have to worry about these breaches as workplace usage of social online platforms has increased, according to a new report.

Network Box, a security services company, reports that more corporate internet traffic goes to Facebook than any other site. The company found that 6.8 percent of all workplace traffic went to the popular social network in the first quarter of 2010, an increase of one percent from the fourth quarter of 2009. The study also concludes that more business bandwidth (approximately 10 percent) is taken up by watching YouTube videos than anything else. A few statistics from the Network Box study:

The top five websites visited by businesses in the first quarter:

  1. Facebook – 6.8 percent of all traffic
  2. Google – 3.4 percent
  3. Yimg (Yahoo!’s image server) – 2.8 percent
  4. Yahoo! – 2.4 percent
  5. Doubleclick – 1.7 percent

The top five “bandwidth busting” websites are:

  1. YouTube – 10 percent of all bandwidth used
  2. Facebook – 4.5 percent
  3. Windows Update – 3.3 percent
  4. Yimg (Yahoo’s image server) – 2.7 percent
  5. Google – 2.5 percent

These findings are of great concern to IT personnel whose job it is to protect their companies from cyberthreats. Simon Heron, internet security analyst for Network Box, sums up the challenges:

“The figures show that IT managers are right to be concerned about the amount of social network use at work. There are two real concerns here: firstly that employees will be downloading applications from social networks and putting security at risk; and secondly the amount of corporate bandwidth that appears to be being used for non-corporate activity.”

While some (if not most) of the employees who visit social networks at work do so for personal reasons, there are legitimate needs for certain workers to visit social media sites during business hours. These days the online space is a crucial component for companies. Businesses must manage their Facebook page, Twitter account and other online outlets to support their corporate marketing and customer service strategies. This, in turn, makes it difficult for companies to define strict policies on social networking sites.

Whether or not your company has a strict policy regarding social networks, next time you update your Facebook status or watch a YouTube video from your work computer, think about how you might be putting your company at risk.

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