Are social networks unsafe?

Numbers don't lie. Facebook, Twitter and the rest are rapidly becoming the Web's number one sources for malware and data leaks.

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Yes, social networks are fun (and movies about social networks are kind of fun too, in their own sensational way). Yet they have become a breeding ground for the worst nasties on the Web.

A passle of surveys and statistics have come out lately detailing how much of a risk social media presents, most especially to employers. It has become the delivery method of choice for bot masters and malware fiends; it is rapidly becoming the medium du jour for scam artists; and it presents an ever present and growing risk of accidental disclosures.

[ See also: Is your Android phone spying on you? ]

If you're using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or any one of the other 3,247 social networks on the job, you may be putting both your employer and yourself in harms way.

Don't believe it? Let's look at some of the numbers.

* Social media users are ten times more likely to fall for a malware scam by clicking on an unsafe link than email users, according to Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team. Some 10 percent of nasty links end up getting clicked, versus 1 percent of the email borne nasties. The reason? People are a lot more trusting on social nets than anywhere else on the Web.

* One in five organizations has suffered a leak of confidential, sensitive or private information via a social network, per Proofpoint's seventh annual study of outbound messaging and security. About the same number of orgs disciplined an employee for violating their social media policies, and 7 percent of companies fired employees for doing it.

* One out of three small-to-medium businesses has had a malware infestation that began on a social network, according to Panda Security's first annual Social Media Risk Index [PDF], released last month. Nearly a third of those SMB infestations cost $5000 or more to clean up.

* Roughly a third of SMBs ban social media use at work, according to Panda. Odds are, though, they just think they're banning them. Security vendor Palo Alto Networks has found social media apps present on 94 percent of the corporate nets it protects. Not surprisingly, Facebook is the most popular app, but Twitter, MySpace, and LinkedIn are all above 80 percent.

If you're an IT geek who believes you've successfully booted social media apps from your company's cubefarms, better check again, kemosabe.

Of course, the sources for most of these stats are security companies whose goal is to sell you software. And of course, there are only four kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, statistics, and campaign promises. Still, these numbers ring true to me. 

Should you stop using social media altogether? No. But you and your company need to be smarter about what you say and do on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, et al.  Because the bad guys are watching, and they aren't messing around.

ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan never got past Algebra II, so please don't ask him to do math. Visit his snarky humor site eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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