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Despite Security Concerns, Social Networks Soar

Security firm Palo Alto Networks peeked at the application use of more than 200 organizations around the globe, and found social networking growth on corporate networks is on fire. Will security concerns be the extinguisher? Don't count on it.
Security firm Palo Alto Networks peeked at the application use of more than 200 organizations around the globe, and found social networking growth on corporate networks is on fire. Will security concerns be the extinguisher? Don't count on it.The risks that come along with social networking are well known. And Alexander Wolfe just noted this weekend that Facebook Security Crisis Could Derail Social Nets. It's an important question.

Yet if the Palo Alto Networks Application Usage and Risk Report - which looked at 200 firms from financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, government, retail, and education industries - there's not yet any indication any such derailment.

Most readers of this blog are probably aware - but most social network users are probably not - that sites such as Facebook and blogging services like Twitter are rife with phishing attacks and account hijacks, while many Web applications and services are also vulnerable to attack.

Nonetheless, that's not stopping the rampant growth of these sites and services, from the report:


• 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.

• Twitter session use grew more than 250 percent from the Spring 2009 Application Usage and Risk Report.

• 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.

Palo Alto Networks studied the technical capabilities of these applications, as well as messaging and conferencing applications - all applications it defines as "Enterprise 2.0" - and found that 70 percent are capable of transferring files, 64 percent have known security vulnerabilities, 28 percent are known to propagate malware, and 16 percent can tunnel other applications.

There it is: despite all of the chatter about security concerns these services are growing exponentially fast - so fast that a logarithmic growth chart - would probably reveal a near straight line up. And this is on corporate networks, where Palo Alto has visibility.

Why that is disappointing that enterprises are not doing much to mitigate that risk. Am I surprised? Hardly. The threats that targeted e-Mail were well-known in the latter half of he 1990s, but it wasn't until the ILOVEYOU virus struck in the spring of 2000 that companies started to take mass-mailer viruses seriously.

The same was true for the network-based attacks in the 1990s. And, more recently, application and specifically Web application - attacks have been documented to be underway, and rising, since the early part of this decade. Web application development and use certainly hasn't slowed despite the state of their security being abysmal.

Now, consider online credit card use and online transactions? Despite dozens of high-profile breaches and millions of credit card and other financial account data being stolen and lost in thousands of incidents - we don't see consumer e-Commerce slowing down any time soon.

My bet: the adoption and security of social networking sites won't be any different.

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