How to protect your business from social media threats

Social media presents small businesses with many opportunities, including customer support and the ability to communicate quickly with employees, customers and suppliers. However, the problem is that just as you can rapidly pass on information, so can you rapidly pass on a threat. NETGEAR's Jason Leung presents six key ways to protect your business from social media threats.

Social media is the biggest security challenge posed to small businesses. It can point your employees towards websites that might be infected and, if a colleague unwittingly shares a link, you make an assumption that it's safe since it's come from somebody you trust. This may not be the case.

NETGEAR recently commissioned a piece of research looking at how important social media has become for businesses. We asked 300 small business owners and IT managers how they were using social media in their company. Nearly half of those polled said they are using social media to stay in touch with their customers and nearly 60% said they were using tools such as Facebook and Twitter for internal communications. But only 29% said that had made moves to educate their staff about the risks posed by Web 2.0 and best practices to avoid malware.

This shows that small businesses are embracing social media but they are not giving enough consideration to the dangers it potentially causes their business.

There are two main threats small businesses face from social media. The first is perhaps the most obvious: an effect on productivity in the form of addictive games on Facebook such as Farmville and Texas Holdem Poker.

The second, less visible, yet more serious, are the malicious links that are being spread on sites like Twitter and Facebook. These scams work by luring people to click on links posted on social networking sites with sensational or scandalous topical comments. However, by clicking on these links people are potentially downloading and infecting their computer with malware which could cripple your IT network. Even worse still, they'll potentially be spreading the problem around the business via their social network.

There are six simple and practical ways you can protect your network from becoming infected with malware originating from social networks:

1. Train your employees to recognise scams

Some of the scams that hit businesses may seem obvious with hindsight but people still fall for them. A simple solution is running short training sessions to educate your employees about the type of social media threats and what to look out for, since this can prevent them from falling for these obvious yet dangerous threats.

2. Keep your employees updated on the latest threats

Educating your employees about the threats posed by social media malware has to be an ongoing process. However, it doesn't have to be time consuming and it can be as simple as checking out which will keep you informed of the latest threats employees should look out for.

3. Always update your software

Ensure your employees are updating the software on their computer when they are prompted to, as these often patch vulnerabilities. This includes making sure they have the latest operating system updates, the latest version of downloaded software such as Adobe Flash and the latest version of their internet browser.

4. Keep antivirus on the PC on and patched at all times

Small businesses have plenty of pressing issues to deal with on a daily basis and internet security is not at the top of the to-do list. Many business owners view it as a tax upon the business, but up to date security is essential to protect IT in order to safeguard important business and customer data. Remember to use URL and content filtering at your network gateway through your antivirus to prevent dangerous URLs opening if your employees click on them.

5. Recognise Apples can turn sour too

There is a misconception that Apple Macs are invincible from malware. A number of social media threats target Apple operating systems as well as Windows based ones. Since many Macs have little or no protection, it makes them an easy target.

6. Keep track of where your employees are visiting while surfing

This does not mean constantly looking over everyone's shoulder or snooping through their browsing history. However, using corporate controls to maintain some visibility of the sites they are visiting is useful, in case that your network can block access to dangerous sites.

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