We all know that employees use social networks and browser-based file sharing at work. But, new research from Palo Alto Networks reveals just how deeply Web 2.0 tools have penetrated the workplace and how important it is for companies to prepare for potential threats from social media and file sharing apps.
After analyzing raw application traffic from more than 1,600 enterprises between April 2011 and November 2011, Palo Alto Networks found that:
Social media use is exploding, especially for Twitter. The study revealed that bandwidth consumption for Facebook Apps, Social Plugins and posting increased from 5 percent (October 2010) to 25 percent (December 2011) when measured as a percentage of total social networking bandwidth. Twitter browsing at work alone grew by more than 700 percent year-over-year.
Traffic on enterprise networks is changing. For the first time ever, web applications that use TCP port 80, the standard port associated with HTTP web browsing traffic, actually represented a minority of the traffic on enterprise networks. In this study, the 297 applications that use only TCP port 80 and no other port by default were a mere 25 percent of the applications and 32 percent of the bandwidth observed. As Palo Alto Networks points out, that means a standard web browsing-focused security model actually protects a minority of an organization's traffic.
File sharing is widespread. File sharing sites appeared on the networks of 92 percent of the organizations participating in the study. In total, 65 different browser-based file-sharing variants were found with an average of 13 being used in each of the analyzed organizations.
Of course, this explosive growth of global social networking and browser-based file sharing on corporate networks presents companies with a wide range of significant concerns. Most organizations have a policy for their employees on the use of social media, or they're in the process of developing one. And, companies are beginning to become more proactive. In another recent survey, most risk managers ranked social media alongside non-malicious operational IT risks, theft of customer information and malicious interference with IT systems as the greatest cyber threats to business. At the end of the day, the key is to be able to take advantage of the benefits of Web 2.0 tools while mitigating security and reputation risks.
"Whether or not employees are using social networks or sharing files at work is no longer a question; this data clearly demonstrates that users are embracing and actively using such applications," said Ren Bonvanie, chief marketing officer at Palo Alto Networks. "Companies must determine how to safely enable these technologies on their networks so that users can maintain the levels of productivity that many of these applications can afford, while at the same time ensuring that their corporate networks and users are protected against all threats."