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Social Networking Here To Stay Despite Security Risks

IT pros must find a way to balance the risks and rewards of Web 2.0 platforms like Facebook and Linked In, security expert says.
Companies need to accept that employees will spend at least part of their day on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Linked In, and need to adopt strategies and policies to manage and secure such activity rather than attempting to outlaw it, an expert who spoke Thursday at the Interop IT Conference and Expo in Las Vegas said.

"The question isn’t whether to block or not to block" said Ben Rothke, senior security consultant with British Telecom. “Blocking simply won’t work,” said Rothke, who noted that even conservative organizations, such as Boeing, have adopted Web 2.0 technologies as part of their marketing and communications strategies.

To boot, Fortune 500 companies like General Motors are driven millions of dollars in incremental sales through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. But as valuable as social media can be, it also presents security risks. "You have to get in front of the wave, learn what the challenges are and what information may be at risk," said Rothke.

One of the biggest risks that social networking poses to organizations is that employees may be exposing information that's not meant for public consumption, especially in highly regulated environments like banking and healthcare, in industries that rely heavily on proprietary research and development, or even in the military.

"Boeing or the U.S. Marines are going to face different challenges than Starbucks," said Rothke.

An effective social media security strategy starts with employee education, Rothke said. "It’s the three Cs, it has to be clear, comprehensive, and continuous. You can’t give an awareness briefing on day one and then forget about it. It has to be ongoing."

Rothke added that employees should know in advance the consequences of inappropriate postings. "Let them know that it’s no joke, and that they could lose their job in three tweets."

The bottom line, however, is that IT pros need to accept the fact that social networking sites and other Web 2.0 technologies are now a fact of life in the enterprise, and they must learn to deal with them.

"You can’t say no to a CEO who wants to implement a social networking strategy. IT must come to the table with answers," Rothke said.

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