Monday, February 22nd, 2010
AVG answers the question: If social networks are a business risk, shouldn’t we just block them?

Melbourne, 22 February 2010: With more and more staff using social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace from work, plenty of businesses are asking the question, “If social networks are such a risk, shouldn't we just block them?”

When social networking web sites such as Facebook and MySpace first emerged, some businesses viewed them as a distraction from work and banned them. With the appearance of other social formats, such as Twitter however, companies have begun to embrace this potential for collaboration. Social networking has evolved from personal networking to become a media for mass communication. Many companies now view web sites such as Twitter as a valuable marketing channel.

Given these new legitimate business uses, a policy banning these social networking web sites completely seems counterproductive. While serious business roles exist for these tools, for security reasons, companies should still monitor how employees interact with them.

Security experts such as Herbert Thompson, a professor in the Computer Science department at Columbia University, has warned about the dangers of revealing personal information on social networks. People may post personal details, for example their Mother's maiden name, that are often used by secure web sites as password prompts.

"People are posting indiscriminately – they throw weird information out there. What has happened is there has been a growth in the technology for information sharing but not a commensurate education in what information we should share," he said.

So, while a strict ban of social networking web sites may not be the answer, companies should consider creating and enforcing regulations on how they should be used, especially in relation to company business. A recent study conducted by IESE Business School in Spain, E. Philip Saunders, College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the US, and Henley Business School in the UK, revealed that six out of seven companies don't have a formal policy on how social networks should be used within their businesses. "Ignoring the increased usage and influence of social networking and Web 2.0 tools leaves organisations at the risk of misuse, potentially leading to the disclosure of sensitive information or misrepresentation of the company," said Evgeny Kaganer, Ph.D., lead researcher and assistant professor, IESE Business School.

According to Lloyd Borrett, AVG (AU/NZ) Marketing Manager, in addition to developing high-level policies for the use of social networks, there are some simple guidelines that managers can provide to staff to minimise the risks.

"The fact that they are so user friendly makes them dangerous. You don't mind your friends knowing where you live, or when your birthday is, or what your mother's maiden name is, but if the bad guys manage to hack into your friend's account, then they find out that information as well," said Borrett.

Borrett advises that something as simple as creating separate passwords for each site, that are also different from log-ins for company systems, can be effective. "If you want to keep yourself safe on these sites then you should use a unique user ID and password for each one, or at least a unique password," he says.

Being generally cautious about who staff interact with and what applications they install is a good guideline. "Your mother advised you to never talk to strangers. The same goes for social networking sites. If you don't know who they are, don't talk to them," he added.

"Finally, be careful what applications you agree to install. There are a million people developing applications for these sites and something tells me they are not all good guys."

For more on securing social networks view, “The Do's and Don'ts on Social Networking,” by Roger Thompson, AVG’s chief research officer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poHqIXvxmfg

For more AVG security tips, see http://www.avg.com.au/resources/security-tips

In addition to following the advice above, every organisation needs a simple and powerful way to keep their business safe. AVG Internet Security Business Edition delivers complete protection for SMBs, businesses and enterprises seeking to protect their servers, workstations, networks and email systems. For more information, see www.avgatwork.com.au

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AVG, Internet Security, social networks, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace

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