Entries from February 2010 ↓

Blocking isn’t the only way to maintain security

Cross-posted from my primary blog, a shel of my former self

In a comment left recently to a post I wrote for Stop Blocking back in October 2007 about malware on Facebook, David Jones with CommerceMicro wrote:

Stupid, out dated information.

We have users that repeatedly get infected with viruses and spyware no matter what level or type of antivirus and antispyware software we install. It’s rather odd that ONLY THOSE particular users get re-infected day after day and that they all have MySpace accounts, FaceBook accounts, or whatever. Their employers have to continually pay us to come and clean these infections.

My reply was a bit terse. I asked Jones if he believed all the companies that don’t block access were lying about not encountering the problems he cited. (And no, I wasn’t snarky enough to point out that “outdated” is one word.)

The security issue does, however, appear to be supplanting productivity concerns as the main reason companies block access to Facebook and other social media sites. Among the dominant social networks, Facebook presents the biggest risk to company security, according to 60% of the respondents to a survey of 500 companies conducted by Sophos, an IT security organization. No other network comes close. MySpace ranks second, with 18% of companies identifying it as a concern, followed by Twitter (17%) and LinkedIn (4%).

The concerns are not illegitimate. The incidents of reported malware and spam attacks through social networks has jumped 70% since April of last year. Social networks have become common launching pads fore a couple of particularly nasty worms. The risk of infection, though, is not the only security issue that keeps IT staff up at night. Employees’ individual behavior represents a risk, particularly as web-unsavvy employees fall prey to phishing and other devious ploys. And then there’s the fear that employees will share information they shouldn’t.

Sarah Perez goes into considerable detail on the Sophos report in her post on ReadWriteWeb. Perez also notes that even Sophos isn’t advocating an outright block, despite the study’s findings:

Unfortunately for those in charge of enforcing corporate security, simply blocking Facebook and other social networks via URL is not a realistic solution anymore. The networks are often a large part of a company’s marketing and sales strategies, notes Sophos, meaning they cannot be blocked outright. Instead, companies are encouraged to use a unified approach for mitigating threats that combines data monitoring, malware protection and granular access for their employees.

A Financial Times article (free registration required) has the same advice, noting that organizations have too much to gain from employee interactions on social networks. The article, penned by the head of an information risk management and e-discovery firm, rightly notes that leetting employees access social networks from work gives them “the ability to locate the right people, information and expertise quickly, but they also greatly aid external networking, sales and marketing activities.”

The article (which I discovered on the Idea Peepshow blog, notes thyat 89% of businesses in the UK have no policies governing employee use of social networks and calls for companies to establish and enforce such policies.

As I’ve noted before, protecting the company is a matter of ensuring the proper network safeguards are in place (such as anti-malware/spyware software and the latest virus definitions) and that employees understand their responsibilities.

It works in a lot of companies that don’t block access. It can work in yours.