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November 29, 2013

Social media: The potentials and the pitfalls

Social media offers businesses many opportunities in terms of marketing and networking, but it doesn’t come without threats. Used incorrectly, it could have a detrimental effect on the reputation and security of your business.

Whilst companies would do well to consider the benefits of embracing an element of social networking, it should be approached with due care. Not only are security threats posed by employees who, entrusted with maintaining a business’s social media sites, could unwittingly disclose sensitive information, but also by cyber criminals who prey on these sites, considering them a prime target for their unsavoury activities.

The Cisco 2013 Annual Security Report claims that mass audience sites, such as social networking ones, are most susceptible to online security threats, with online advertisements a staggering 182 times more likely to deliver malicious content than, say, pornography websites.

The danger posed to businesses by individuals who have the power to share information with millions is the challenge they face. Not only do they have the power to disclose sensitive company information, they have the ability to spread information that is not even true and could potentially damage a business’s reputation.

"The solution comes in recognising the dangers and enforcing steps to manage them, by means of a social networking policy."

Striking the right balance

However, shying away from the use of social media is not the answer, since by avoiding the pitfalls, businesses may be denying themselves the benefits. The solution comes in recognising the dangers and enforcing steps to manage them, by means of a social networking policy. “There is no way organisations can hold back the flow of social media,” says David Cripps, information security officer at Investec. “So it is better to put policies and technologies in place to manage it.”

A balance can be struck by empowering staff to manage social media sites, but making them very aware of exactly what they can and can’t do. A cohesive policy should be put in place and issued to staff, with training undertaken and refresher sessions conducted on a regular basis.

It is important, also, for business to appreciate that an analysis of social conversations can offer intelligence to improve security processes along with performance. Andrew Wallis, an analyst at Gartner, says that “analysis of public conversations can identify imminent, credible threats of physical or logical attack.”