By Ben Gladstone, CEO, Conosco

It seems that every day there’s another survey about the growing numbers using social media. This trend is a good thing — social media have injected huge reach and dynamism into collaboration and networking. But the IT professional in me is acutely aware of the dangers that can be found hiding behind Twitter links, Facebook apps and the like.

It’s the very nature of social networking — people making ‘friends’ with the ‘friends’ of mere usernames and then trusting the messages they receive — that makes it a hot target for hackers. According to Kaspersky Lab, malicious code spread by social networking sites is ten times more effective than malware spread by email.

Probably the best-known social networking virus, Koobface, which can steal sensitive data from workstation hard drives, has been steadily finding its way onto corporate computers. It first appeared last Christmas on MySpace and Facebook and recently found its way on to Twitter.

At the time of writing, the latest virus circulating is disguised as a Facebook password reset confirmation email. The email uses the Facebook email alert format to entice users to open an email attachment containing the Trojan virus, Bredolab. This copies a small bit of code into your computer that enables the sender to have remote access to your computer. Not good.

Just because you personally aren’t engaging with social media, don’t be fooled into thinking your employees, partners, customers are abstaining. Chances are they are fully engaged – and in many corporate roles they need to be.

According to research conducted by Forrester earlier this year, buyers in business-to-business sectors are among the most active groups when it comes to social participation online. Some highlights from the research are:

• 91% of technology decision-makers read blogs, watch user-generated video and participate in other social media. Note that 69% of them said they were using this technology for business purposes.

• 55% of these decision-makers were in social networks — despite the fact that, as mature businesspeople and not college students, you’d think they’d be participating a lot less.

• 43% are creating some type of accessible media (blogs, online videos and articles, etc.) and 58% are reacting to content they see in social formats.

In short, if a B2B brand is not yet participating in social media in some way, it is behind the curve. (Source: Forrester B2B Social Technographics Online Survey Q4 2008).
All this needs to be taken into consideration for your IT security needs. Simply put, social media exposes new holes in your IT security and companies (large and small) need the latest security tools in a multi-layered configuration. This needs to include:

• Actively managed Windows patch management
• Actively managed anti-virus for your PCs and servers
• Desktop tools to stop you visiting potentially ‘bad’ sites
• Firewall-level web filtering to stop you visiting potentially ‘bad’ sites

Max Kelly, head of security at Facebook, summed up the situation beautifully in a recent blog post here:
“Most people use the internet without being aware of the constant threat of hackers, spammers, and phishers. Due to the nature of the internet, and the nature of malicious software, most websites will at some point need to deal with patching a security hole. All good websites take these issues very seriously, since no one wants users to suffer.”

The security of business IT systems has never been so important — and social media is just one element of this. Businesses are relying more and more on social media to support their activities, and this makes them increasingly vulnerable to security threats. Effective IT security can help you control and secure information from malicious downloads through digital theft of confidential data.

The social media sites themselves have a responsibility to deal with security issues, but we as users also have a responsibility to ensure that we’ve played our part by implementing — and continually updating — our own IT security set-up.

Social media is a trend that enables individuals to collaborate and participate in ways that traditional communications techniques have not allowed. And so long as the correct IT security safeguards are in place, long may it continue.

Blogging, microsites and social networking – get Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to work for your business. In this video, Mike Butcher describes what social media is and how it can help your business.

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