Who's Facebooking at Work? Everybody

Admitting that you access social networks on company time is a bit like admitting that you surf Internet porn. Hardly anyone cops to it ("oh no, I would never think of doing that"), but when they're surveyed anonymously -- or your IT geeks look at their usage logs -- it turns out a surprisingly high number of people actually do it.

Obviously, visiting Facebook or Twitter carries less social stigma than, say, spending quality time at MajorLeagueGazongas.com. But the gap between social media perception and reality persists. Because, obviously, right-minded highly-productive and well-compensated employees would never spend three hours a day updating their status and watching cute videos of cats recommended by their friends. Right?

[ See also: Facebook + Bing: The Good, the Bad, & the Incontinent ]

Wrong. A survey released yesterday by next-generation security vendor Palo Alto Networks puts the lie to that notion in a big way. According to PAN, employees at 96 percent of corporations it surveys use some kind of social media application -- virtually all of them Facebook. Twitter use clocked in second at 93 percent, followed by LinkedIn (86 percent) and MySpace (79 percent).

That doesn't mean that 96 percent of all employees use Facebook, just that at least one person in almost every single enterprise is using it. And judging by the other numbers PAN collected, it's a safe bet that most of them are.

What's interesting about this data is that it reflects actual usage by PAN's 723 major enterprise customers, not estimates or survey responses. Every six months PAN logs every single application used on its customers' networks for a week. It then publishes a semi-annual report detailing every app used by every org, ranked in order of frequency.

Of the 931 apps PAN found on its customers' networks, Facebook ranked sixth in frequency -- behind fundamental network apps like DNS, SSL, and Web browsing, but ahead of Flash, SMTP, and RSS. Twitter ranked 13th, Gmail 14th, and YouTube 17th). Facebook alone consumed nearly 80 percent of the corporate bandwidth spent on social media, which itself is doubling year to year, per PAN.

What's interesting to me is the contrast between these stats and what the organizations report. In multiple surveys, from one third to one half of all companies say they block Facebook and other social media apps at work.

For example, Panda Security's Social Media Risk Index puts the number of SMBs that forbid personal use of social media at 31.4 percent, with nearly 25 percent say they "actively block" its use.

As if. Whatever these organizations think they're doing to block social media is about as effective as a soggy paper towel.

As PAN's Application Usage and Risk Report points out, the problem with unfettered use of social media (and apps like Webmail, chat, IM, and the life) is:

More often than not, these applications are unmonitored and uncontrolled, which introduces outbound risks that include data loss and compliance issues. The inbound risks are equally significant -- many of these applications are known to transfer malware (Zeus, Conficker, Mariposa) and have had known vulnerabilities.

The good news? Only 4 percent of social media bandwidth is spent on Facebook apps like Farmville. (I have no love for Facebook apps, as regular readers of this blog can tell you. I think they're an enormous unchecked security and privacy risk -- a nightmare waiting to happen. So even 4 percent is too much.) And only about 1 percent of bandwidth is spent on posting updates, articles, and photos.

As the report concludes, people who use Facebook at work are primarily voyeurs. I could have told them that.

And because I know you're wondering, some 20 to 40 percent of Internet users admit to visiting adult sites, depending on the survey (which most likely means a lot more than that actually do). They are also voyeurs.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan also likes to watch (television -- what did you think he meant?). Visit his snarky humor site eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.

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