Facebook, Twitter need corporate security policies

Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter open threats to sensitive corporate data that businesses need to deal with aggressively, Interop attendees were told.

"Social networks are a security game changer," says Ben Rothke, a security consultant with BT Professional Services during a security session at the conference. Data leak prevention gear and traditional network security technology can do nothing to stop sensitive data from being innocently posted on these sites, he says.

The issue is that well-meaning employees may inadvertently leak this information because they are swept up in the naive illusion that everyone viewing their posts and making queries are who they say they are and don't have malicious intent, Rothke says.

REAL WORLD THREAT: Symantec says Facebook applications leaked information

Businesses should have a social media strategy that is explained to employees and that is designed to meet the goals of each company. The U.S. Marines, for example, ban the use of Facebook, period, he says. That wouldn't be a good strategy for a public relations firm that needs to engage clients on a social level, he says. The spectrum of how to handle social networks ranges from blocking to containing to disregarding to embracing, he says.

Employees need to know how they can identify themselves in social networks without running afoul of corporate policies, so education is a big part of the solution, Rothke says. Employees need to know whether they have authorization to post on the company's behalf and, if so, what the restrictions are.

They also need to be aware of what corporate data should not be put online, not only for competitive and privacy reasons, but also for regulatory reasons. For example, a stock trader who tweets a rumor about a stock could bring down a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation.

Awareness training should be comprehensive and it ought to be repeated periodically to keep it fresh in employees' minds.

The corporation needs a plan for managing its online reputation, which includes what is said about it and what its employees say on social networks.

Because of their popularity, sites such as Facebook are also havens for malware scams that can lead to corporate networks being infected with traditional problems like viruses and Trojans, Rothke says.

Using social networking sites to screen potential employees can also be a sticky problem. Even if information isn't gleaned there that rules out a candidate, there may be information that could result in accusations of discrimination. For example, if a social site reveals a person has a disability, the individual could argue in a lawsuit that the disability was the reason for not being hired, he says.

Human resources should also be asked to evaluate the legality and fairness of discipline meted out because of social networking activity that violates corporate policies.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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Tim Greene

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