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Growth in business risks results from social network boom

Palo Alto Networks : 10 November, 2009  (Technical Article)
Study from Palo Alto Networks details the increase during the last six months of social networking and collaborative web based applications in the workplace with associated risks which are not widely addressed within the business community
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Palo Alto Networks has announced results of an international study that reveal the use of social networking and collaborative applications for business purposes has skyrocketed in the last six month period. With increased adoption of Web-based applications comes new business and security risks that go far beyond potential productivity losses. Yet most companies have outdated IT infrastructure and usage policies that may fail to protect them from these growing risks.

These are just some of the results of the fourth Application Usage and Risk Report (Autumn Edition 2009), a semi-annual analysis of application usage on enterprise networks. Unlike other industry reports that are based on behavioural surveys, the Application Usage and Risk Report looks at which applications are in use, identifies emerging trends, and discusses the associated business benefits and risks. Made available today, this edition of the report summarizes traffic assessments performed between March and September 2009 in more than 200 organizations worldwide that span markets including financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, government, retail, and education.

Despite many enterprises' attempts to block these applications, the rate at which they are making the crossover from personal to business use is happening faster than previous crossovers, such as instant messaging (IM). The use of a social networking application can bring measurable business benefits, but not without introducing business and security risks. These Enterprise 2.0 applications can transfer files, propagate malware, and have known vulnerabilities that can be exploited.

Some specific findings from the research include:

* Twitter session use grew more than 250 percent from the Spring 2009 edition of the Application Usage and Risk Report, published in April.
* Facebook use increased 192 percent while Facebook Chat (released in April 2008) was the fourth most commonly detected chat application, ahead of Yahoo! IM and AIM.
* SharePoint collaboration is ubiquitous - bandwidth consumed by SharePoint, specifically the documents component, increased 17-fold from the previous report in April.
* Blogging and wiki editing increased by a factor of 39, while total bandwidth consumed increased by a factor of 48.

Social networking and collaborative applications are increasingly considered to be Enterprise 2.0 applications, along with messaging of all types, conferencing, and VoIP. These business-enabling applications are not threats, yet they pose risks to enterprise networks. The analysis discovered 255 Enterprise 2.0 applications - of which 70 percent are capable of transferring files, 64 percent have known vulnerabilities, 28 percent are known to propagate malware, and 16 percent can tunnel other applications. Examples of new threats introduced to enterprise networks by applications such as Facebook include Koobface, Fbaction and Boface, which all target social networking applications to hijack accounts and personal data.

"We know that workers are using these applications to help them get their jobs done, with or without approval from their IT departments. And now we know this is happening much faster than anticipated. It's naïve to think that old-school security practices can handle this deluge," said Rene Bonvanie, Palo Alto Networks vice president of worldwide marketing. "Organizations must realize that banning or allowing specific applications in a black-and-white fashion is bad for business. They need a new approach that allows for shades of gray by enforcing appropriate application usage policies tailored for their workforce. This is a radical and necessary shift for today's IT security professionals."
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