Social media viruses in the workplace are on the increase

Coughs and sniffles are commonplace at this time of the year as our bodies adjust to the cold and wet autumnal weather. But recently I fell victim to a more modern virus.

A few days ago, a friend of a friend tweeted to say he’d heard something funny about me. What could it be? That I’d been walking around all day with loo roll on my shoe? Intrigued, I clicked on the link at the bottom of his tweet. And just like that, less the ACHOO!, the virus spread to all my followers.

A few hours later Cathy, out of the office visiting a client, sent me a direct message saying that my Twitter account had been hacked. “It just sent me random msg to log onto a fake Twitter site,” she wrote. Great, I thought. She had obviously opened the link, and the virus would soon be winging its way to all of Magenta’s followers. Infecting my boss; a great start to my third week on the job.

But it would seem that I’m not alone in bringing social media viruses into the workplace, according to new research. A Ponemon Institute survey of 4,640 global organisations found that virus and malware attacks against them have increased because of employees using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media in the workplace. More than half of these organisations said these computer attacks grew as a result of workers using social networks. About a quarter of those respondents said the attacks rose by more than 50 per cent. Many organisations also feel they are ill equipped to handle the security risks of social media. Of those surveyed, only 35 per cent had a policy on using social media at work. Of those, just 35 per cent enforce it. Also intriguing is the study’s finding that in the US workers spend an average of 62 minutes each day using social media for personal reasons, compared with 37 minutes for business purposes. Not unrelated, 60 per cent of the organisations surveyed have increased their Internet bandwidth in the past 12 months to accommodate employees’ use of social media.

Social media is essential to business

But for all the risks and work hours wasted, social media has undoubtedly changed our lives and the business landscape. Not only has it changed the way we chat with friends and family and the way we consume information, it has also changed how companies sell, how they serve their customers and how they communicate with everyone. Some 67 per cent of respondents of the Ponemon Institute survey said that social media is essential or very important to meeting business objectives.

This is why at Magenta Associates we use social media every day. Cathy uses Twitter to tweet trends, statistics, facts, figures and stories in the press, and has conversations with clients, users and friends in the industry. We update our Facebook page regularly, and we keep a watchful eye on LinkedIn for networking opportunities. Elsewhere in the FM community, the uptake of social media has been somewhat slow and even reluctant. The FM trade press have Twitter accounts as do a smallish number of FM businesses. But the marketplace is still young, and FM businesses that establish a strong social media presence now will really gain an advantage over their competitors.

Back at Magenta, fortunately Cathy took the news that I had infected her Twitter account in her usual good-natured way, and she immediately sent out a tweet to stop anyone opening the link. A few days later, another friend tweeted saying that she had come across a really interesting blog about me. No doubt it would have been very interesting indeed, but I never found out. Like in the real world where you can’t catch the same virus twice, in the social media stratosphere you open a dodgy tweet once – and you (hopefully) never do it again.

Here are Magenta’s top common sense tips on how to avoid being infected by social media viruses:

  1. Use caution when clicking on links from people you don’t know well and even from friends. Does the language used sound professional or like that of your contact?
  2. If in doubt, email or DM your contact to check that the link is safe to open.
  3. If you click on a suspect link, immediately notify your followers by DM or email not to open the link. Reset your password. But be sure to do so via the social media site directly rather than clicking on a link in an email, which could take you to a page that looks like the Twitter or Facebook reset password page. Once you’ve entered your password on the fake site you’ve just given the thief access to your account.
  4. For the same reason, type the address of your social networking site directly into your browser or use bookmarks.
  5. Be selective about your friends on your social networks. Identity thieves are known to create fake profiles in order to get information from you. Also be careful what you post about yourself. Hackers can break into financial and other accounts by clicking the “Forgot your password?” link, especially if they’ve found online the answers to common security questions, such as your birthday or mother’s middle name.

How do you use social media, and have you fallen victim to any social media viruses recently? We would love to hear from you.

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Cathy Hayward