It's not just all talk: Social networking and collaborative applications are well-entrenched in enterprise networks around the globe, according to a new report that draws from real network data in more than 200 organizations.
Nearly 40 percent of the 651 applications found on the networks covered in the report are Web-based, collaborative-type apps, such as social networking, blogging, and Wikis. SharePoint, Facebook, Twitter, and blogging all experienced double- and triple-digit increases in frequency of their usage in an organization. And more than 70 percent of these applications are browser-based, according to Palo Alto's findings, which were gathered from organizations in financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, government, retail, and education between March and September of this year.
"The frequency of usage of these applications has increased dramatically, and [so has] their resource consumption," says Matt Keil, manager of product marketing for Palo Alto Networks. "Much like IM a few years back, these apps are driven from the bottom up."
But with productivity gains come inherent security risks, according to Palo Alto. Aside from the obvious Web threats, many of these applications also can transfer files, posing both data leak and malware risks to the organization. "Sixty-four percent have known vulnerabilities," Keil says. "And many [28 percent] can propagate malware, and 16 percent can tunnel to other applications...Facebook and Twitter are a target-rich environment. The significant use of these apps needs to be considered."
SharePoint, for instance, was found in 91 percent of the networks, and its bandwidth usage had jumped to 17 times what it was in spring 2009. Blog and wiki usage was nearly 40 times their previous levels, and Twitter usage was used in 89 percent of the cases, a big jump from 35 percent last spring. Twitter bandwidth usage also was up 775 percent. Facebook was found in 94 percent of the organizations, an increase of 192 percent.
"The thing that shocked me was how dominant Facebook is [in the enterprise'," says Chris King, director of product marketing for Palo Alto Networks. "The level of trust associated with Facebook by its users is quite high...So it starts to get interesting."
Palo Alto's Keil says enterprises are either ignoring these apps coming into the organization, or not realizing they are there. "Both of which comes with significant risks," he says. If they block them, users will find ways to circumvent the controls, so they need to allow them in a "positive" way, he says.
"There are business benefits to the use of these apps. It's how people are getting their jobs done," he says.
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