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6/22/2011
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SMBs Face Social Media Security Challenges

Wedge Networks upgrades its deep content inspection network gateway to monitor social media and Web application traffic for security risks.

Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, LocalPain
Strategic Security Survey: Global Threat, Local Pain
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If humans are the weakest link in online security, then social media is a potential nightmare for small and midsize business networks. So many links to click, from so many "trusted" sources--so little time before socially-borne threats are taking root inside the company like toxic weeds.

So what's the security-minded SMB owner or IT pro to do? You could block access entirely, but where do you start? It's not just a Facebook problem, although one of the world's most-visited sites is certainly a place to start. What about the countless other Web applications that enable user-created content, collaboration, communication, and the like? These days, it seems you'd need to shut off Internet access altogether.

The problem expands when you consider the different types of usage: Sure, maybe you don't want your sales team tweeting away their day or posting family photos on Flickr. But if you do block certain sites, you shut down legitimate business usage, too. Wedge Networks CEO Hongwen Zhang said he believes that the "allow-or-block" paradigm is largely ineffective in the modern Web landscape. More pointedly, he thinks that approach is unrealistic for smaller companies.

"For SMBs to really have an iron-clad security grasp--basically, banning social media--is simply not possible," Zhang said in an interview. As a result, SMBs are at odds: They're increasingly reliant on social and other Web applications, but they don't often have the internal wherewithal to apply meaningful security policies to those tools.

Zhang's security firm on Wednesday expanded its "deep content inspection" network gateway approach to include social media and other Web 2.0 sources. The company's BeSecure appliance will now act as a traffic cop of sorts for social networks and the vaster interactive Web, in order to prevent socially-borne malware and related threats from entering the network.

In short, the Wedge gateway monitors real-time traffic in both directions and looks bad stuff coming in--even if it appears to be from a trusted source such as a Facebook friend. Rather than categorize sources as "good" or "bad," it takes a look at what's behind it--looking for something like a recently injected malicious script in an otherwise "good" site. Likewise, the device monitors outbound traffic for sensitive data; administrators can enact policy-based rules that look for particular types or formats of information that could pose a risk.

"If you're using social media websites for business, it provides a back door for information to be leaked out--intentionally or unintentionally," Zhang said, adding that the two-way, real-time gateway approach is needed to contend with the rapidly changing Web--and the security threats that evolve with it. Zhang doesn't think the traditional desktop antivirus approach is keeping up with the modern Internet.

For one, there's that whole human error thing. Zhang cites as an example end users who lower desktop security settings--or turn the program off altogether--so that legitimate applications such as online meeting tools aren't blocked as potential threats. In his view, the rising adoption of cloud-based services exacerbates the issue.

"The desktop or laptop-based security is continually being adjusted to suit the immediate need of conducting business," Zhang said. "That provides a loophole for the machine to get attacked, and that doesn't apply only to social media, but in general."

There's also that whole productivity question, too--Zhang said that strict access policies are more common in large enterprises, but that the same tactic is unrealistic for smaller businesses that need to get the word out in a cost-efficient manner. The productivity problem is one that SMBs need to address individually based on their business culture and needs; it can certainly be addressed as part of the broader--and more urgent--security policy.

Whether with a gateway like Wedge's or by other means, security does need to be a part of SMB social media and cloud strategies --otherwise, the theoretical advantages can be wiped out with the click of a mouse.

It doesn't pay for small and midsize businesses to protect against security threats faced by only the largest companies. Here's how to focus your efforts on the right threats. Download our all-digital supplement. Download it now.

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