Social Networking Application Usage Grows Among Employees: Report

By Nathan Eddy  |  Print this article Print

The report also explores a variety of risks associated with browser-based file-sharing applications, which varies by application and use case.

There is explosive growth in global social networking and browser-based file sharing on corporate networks, with a 300 percent increase in active social networking (e.g., posting, applications) compared with activity during the same period in the latter half of 2010, according to research published by Palo Alto Networks.

The Networks Application Usage and Risk report provides a global view into application usage based on assessments of the raw application traffic from more than 1,600 enterprises between April 2011 and November 2011.

File-sharing sites continue to be used on most networks, appearing on the networks of 92 percent of the participating organizations. In total, 65 different browser-based file-sharing variants were found, with an average of 13 being used in each of the analyzed organizations. The report also explores a variety of risks associated with browser-based file-sharing applications, which vary by application and use case. However, the report noted the use of evasive techniques by these applications implies that they are often operating unchecked on corporate networks.

Twitter has gained significant mainstream traction in the workplace: Since October 2010, social networking usage patterns have become more active with bandwidth consumption for Facebook Apps, Social Plugins and posting, increasing 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.

"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 René 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."

Web applications that use TCP port 80, the standard port associated with HTTP Web browsing traffic, actually represent a minority of the traffic on enterprise networks for the first time ever. The 297 applications that use only TCP port 80 and no other port by default represent a mere 25 percent of the applications and 32 percent of the bandwidth observed, suggesting that a standard Web browsing-focused security model actually protects a minority of an organization's traffic.

"This is the largest sample size of actual application traffic from enterprises worldwide that we have analyzed since we began this area of research in spring 2008," said Matt Keil, senior research analyst at Palo Alto Networks. "The most surprising finding from this data is the one that is most counter-intuitive: Non-Web-based traffic and application use is much more significant than most people think."