In-depth: The move to block access to social networking

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In-depth: The move to block access to social networking

The message has been fairly consistently sounded across vendor land for resellers to embrace social networking and use it as a method of communicating with customers as well as giving the brand a human dimension.

But there have always been nagging doubts about the security of the platforms. There have been obvious mistakes made by some users that have tweeted during confidential strategy sessions handing the world an insight into secret marketing plans and those leaks have caused concerns but there are more sinister issues for customers to worry about.

This month the theme of research in the security market has been around social networking highlighting the threats and reporting on the response from users. In many cases the door to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin is now being closed and bolted by some firms as they move to prevent risk.

To understand just why the latest research reveals that firms are locking down access to social networking platforms it's important to remember that over the past few months all of the major security vendors have issued their latest threat and trend reports highlighting this area as one of the most important concerns. Clearly that message has got through to those responsible for setting policies.

The extent of the reaction was first made clear in the Clearswift latest WorkLifeWeb 2011 research, which showed that the number of firms blocking access to social media sites has risen to 19%, a 10% rise compared to last year.

It also shows that Europe is moving out of kilter with the US, where 30% of companies are actively encouraging their staff to communicate through social media platforms. In the UK the same percentgage of businesses were blocking access.

Although 80% of customers recognise the business benefits that communicating through social media produces a significant number of them cannot get over their security fears.

Andrew Wyatt, chief operating officer at Clearswift, said there had been a change since it did its last report a year ago with a clampdown from a lot of customers.

"It's clear that we have seen some significant changes in attitude to social media in the last twelve months. Businesses have reacted to the series of high profile data leaks and have become increasingly nervous about its usage in the workplace," he said.

"Rather than embracing new channels of communication, companies have clamped down and become overtly defensive which is consequently stifling potential avenues of growth," he added.

Wyatt believes that this is a knee-jerk reaction to the recent issues and not a long-term trend.

But no sooner had the ink dried on the web stories about that clampdown, which recieved worldwide coverage, than a further report emerged that backed up the Clearswift findings.

This time global risk consultancy Protiviti showed that it was not just bosses worried with 17% of UK employees believing that social networking posed a real risk to corporate security.

The problem is that the use of social networking has soared over the last 18 months particularly among the 18-24 year-old group who use it everyday and blocking access would be seen as a retrograde step by many staff.

But with potential problems including the leaking of sensitive data, unintentional uploading of Trojans onto employee PCs and the chance of staff to fall prey to fraudulent scams something has to be done to improve security.

"The big challenge for organisations is that public and private use of social networking sites has blurred. On one hand, employees are using social networking tools for managing activities in their private life - but accessing these tools from corporate systems. On the other hand, employees are being asked to carry out specific tasks relating to work via the same social networks," said Jonathan Wyatt, managing director at Protiviti UK.

The conclusions of the latest surveys seems to indicate that there is confusion among both employers and staff over how to react to the latest warnings from security firms. That confusion is likely to deepen as the tension between the marketers that want to use social networking more continues to clash with those setting policies designed to protect corporate data.

This was first published in September 2011

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