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Oh my, the Social Networking industry issue and its effects

The IT industry's issues and effects surrounding Social Networks and how it is being addressed in the work places and at home. The pros and cons of the services and the need for more governance and awareness on it.

There is never a dull moment when it comes to the acceptance and use of anything collaborative on the internet these days. As soon as you make it available, they will come. It is the nature of all things that we must look and see if the resource being made available is of consequence and use to us, thus spanning a meticulous need and adoption of it. It is this concept that has spawn a whole new realm of internet users and availability for the new generation in the form of social networks. Social networks have become the internet’s collaboration and communications barriers breaker. No longer are we limited to reaching people in places we know and some places we never even knew existed through the wonderful World Wide Web.

What is really going on with the social networks and why are they becoming so prevalent?

If we take a look back at the days of bulletin boards “BBS” and other relay chat services “IRC”, we (the internet users) have always craved the need for a centralized communications resource where we can all get together and chat, share files, pics, thoughts, ideas and even venting. Back in those days it was more on the down low as the service(s) were not as public as they are today. With the growth of these services and the vast array of features they come with it is no wonder why the corporate world has to address this as a serious business issues. We saw this when the IRC services were first introduced a few years back, everybody loved it and was all over it until it because the hackers world and started being riddled with all kinds of malicious codes and threats.

We’re facing the same turn of events with the Social Networks now as they’ve become household names. Growing at the same rate as IM services are (because of the integration) these are now the most effective way to get yourself visible and your voice heard across the world. The integration of applications and plug-ins into other technologies and devices is making these services much harder to keep away from the end users eyes and appetites.

So, should or shouldn’t we allow the use of social networks on our business systems?

That’s the question of the day as social networks like MySpace, FaceBook, Hi5 and the others have become a security nightmare for everyone. We’ve seen the hacking exploits, the spoofing of messages and pics, the defacing of popular people’s pages to help in the dissemination of various threats and other security issues and so much more. These are only the beginning of a much bigger issue that will be presenting itself as more and more people are joining these networks to build a whole new life on the internet.

Social networks presents a world of visibility, friendship and communications like no other service can. As one user told me, “I have more friends on my MySpace page than i’ve ever had in my entire life. I have a way of sharing my thoughts, keeping family and friends up to date on things about me and most importantly, I feel as if someone can hear me think and speak.”

This is the true essence of social networks, a place where you can build your presence and effectively keep it centralized and current for all the people you want to stay in communications with, and more. Social Networks are breaking down barriers that have always been a major issue for people around the world.

So, are Social Networks a bad thing?

In my opinion, I don’t see them as a bad thing. I see them as a valuable resource that should be used carefully and the proper information about its use be promoted with it. Social Networks are too open but in the true essence of what it is and what it is there for it has to be an open resource. The freedom of expression and the choice of what to show/share and say is totally up to you the user. It is this mindset that leads me to my next question.

Should Social Networks be separated between adults and children?

Now here is where all my flags will go up for a stop and re-evaluation of this resource. Yes, Social Networks should be separated between adults and children. The age limitation should be presented as a factor in these services. Over the past year I have been doing some “under cover” investigations into these networks and I must say I am appalled at the user base and the ease of access to minors and underage children.

Why are we allowing children to have access to adult pages with all manner of adult contents?

Why is there no discretion as to what we’re allowing our children to see while using these resources?

Who is helping them to understand the dangers of this service?

Should we stop our children from having access to these networks?

No, they should be allowed to have access and be able to build an online community of friends but, in the proper way and with the proper access permissions. I would like my children to know and understand the use of these services and be able to build their online presence and help to build character. I have always said that a resource that allows us to express ourselves in a free and unlimited form would always be something that will change the ways in which we see things. Social Networks are a valuable resource that if used properly can enhance not only the online presence but also the character of the person building out the page. You can tell a lot about a person by viewing there network page and the kind of contents provided there.

The use of these sites and services by young and old should be governed and managed. Social Network providers should have the proper use policies backed by the staff to monitor the sites and the information being added there. Parent should step up to the plate and take more responsibility for the children using these sites and help them to understand the value it brings but also the threats that can be harnessed there. We have seen many cases where online activities have led to physical meetings and some has turned out good while some, well, it ended tragically. The recent infiltration of federal and other law enforcement agencies into the online community should be a sign to all that things are not the way they seen and this is as real a threat as our daily physical lives.

Why is the Social Networking trend breaking all barriers and borders?

The availability. It’s that simple, being available anywhere, anytime, anyhow and to anyone makes this an awesome resource to have. We see users having multiple profiles on multiple services to help build out a multi-view, multi-personality online presence. While the networks are popping up here and there, users tend to stick to the ones that generate more views and allows bigger friends/contacts lists. Even if they don’t know who the requester is, they will accept the invite to add new friends in an effort to build up a bigger friends list. Some users finds this of great value as it gives them a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. More conservative users join these networks to find value in friendships as well as communities of old and new acquaintances.

The barriers of distance, location, access and connectivity are no longer an issue, the issue now becomes, how much time am I willing to commit to building my network. I was able to build a network of 200 friends in one day on one of the popular networks. I had access to profiles for minors even from 14yrs and up. At one point I was a little concerned about this due to the fact of the contents that were in the profiles of these children and it became very clear to me that we’re failing in our ability to protect our children from these online resources and the predators that lurks there. It kills me to hear a parent say, I didn’t know he/she had such a online presence and was doing all these things on the computer. It’s always an after the fact and a damage control issue and that shows how much we lack in running our homes.

The threat now spans to mobile devices with the on-demand, on-access availability of these services. Built in integration from mobile devices (smartphones and pocket PCs) helps to heighten these threats as they are now mobile. It is no wonder why some companies are fighting with the responsibility of dealing with these issues internally. Most are not even thinking of dealing with it, it’s a straight policy that these networks are not allowed and therefore blocked. I agree that some level of management and governance must be put in place but I believe more training and awareness of the effective use of these services would be better served.

So what do I propose for this ever growing resource filled with hacks, exploits and spoofs?

Education and awareness. Yes, let’s elevate the education and awareness of these services/resources and make them available in 2 flavors, one for the adults and on for the children. Let’s speak to the effective use of proper security protection on the systems that access these networks so that the threats being disseminated through them does not spread to other unbeknownst users.
Let’s speak to more awareness in schools and educational institutions.
Let’s speak to the law enforcement agencies sharing the information about the real threats being presented on these services so we can all get a real life look at what they are and how we’re affected by them.
Let’s speak to the parents, it’s time you step up to the place and accept the responsibility to address this with your children. One way or the other they will be exposed to it.
Let’s speak to the type of contents that should be posted on these pages that speak about you the owner.
Let’s speak of morals and ethics shall we, please, let there be some level of morals and ethics still left here.

Wouldn’t you like to be there with them to teach tem the effective maintenance and use of the services?

Some level of content management and filtering needs to be put in place for these service. Stop/block access to adult profiles/contents for minors.

This is a start but will be a few steps forward in addressing the Social Networks issues as they become more prevalent.

~Brett A. Scudder~
President/Chairman/Founder/Security Architect
The IT Security Suite Network "TITSSN"

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