Social Media and Security

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Facebook login on smartphoneLast week, I posted on thoughts about where organizational cyber-security responsibilities should be assigned. This week, I want to look at the organizational risks associated with social media.

The country seems to be all in a dither over the use, by Cambridge Analytica, of the personal data of millions of Americans (as collected by Facebook) in support of President Trump’s campaign in 2016. I find that mildly amusing because there were no laws broken by Cambridge Analytica in either acquiring the data or in using it (which begs the question of whether or not there should be such laws, but that’s above my pay grade). Even beyond the fact of the legality of Cambridge Analytica’s efforts for President Trump, the same kinds of analyses were used by President Obama’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012. In fact, the man who developed the idea of leveraging “Big Data” for use by political campaigns (at least as asserted by a book I read and the title of which I cannot dredge up) was Joshua Gotbaum. Serendipitously (and why I remember Josh’s name), I actually worked with him while he was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Economic Security back in ’95 – ’96. He’s a seriously smart and honest guy. I have a lot of respect for him. The point, however, is that bulk mining and use of personal information has been going on, quite openly and legally, for over a decade.

How can it possibly be legal for Facebook (or any app) to sell your personal data to a third party? The answer is really simple – you gave them that permission when you checked the “I Agree” block on the Terms of Service associated with the app when you opened your account. Surely you remember those dozen or so pages of small type that were saturated with wherefores and to wits and other legalese. You don’t? I’m shocked! Well, I only started reading them when I joined Doc Serls’ Vendor Resource Management (VRM) online group and became aware of the dangers. ‘Nuf about me.

The point here is that almost everyone who uses social media has authorized the developer/ owner of the application to collect their personal data (and frequently the personal data of people with whom they interact on social media) and sell it to third parties without any additional permission. Further, the developers/owners of the various social media apps almost always reserve the right to change their terms of use with nothing more than an email to you notifying you that they have made changes (and defying you to find them).

Now, let’s add the intrusiveness of social media to the increasing number of organizational policies that allow employees to use their personal digital devices at work – known as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). All of a sudden, we have personal digital devices being authorized to join secure organizational networks – personal digital devices that are subject to tracking (e.g. MapQuest’s mapping app’s default condition is to track you and collect data on you whether or not you are using the app) and data collection. The firewalls and VPNs that your cyber-security guys have labored so hard to construct and implement have just been bypassed (albeit, some cyber-security guys may have implemented sophisticated network protocols to keep organizational data protected, but that’s really hard if employees are still authorized to use their own devices for work projects).Social media applications on a smartphone

So now, you have employee-owned digital devices inside your firewalls and operating on your VPNs. Are those employee-owned devices secure? Do your policies require some specified level of security? Do they keep their devices current with the latest OS and app security updates? How do you know?

As leaders, we need to be aware of the complexities of ideas like BYOD and the ramifications at the second and third (and lower) levels of impact. The advantages of BYOD are significant and should be, at least, considered. But the risks are also significant and it is imperative that your cyber-security team should be collaborating with their IT brethren to make your cyber security as strong as practical (and as easy to maintain as possible). I’ve noted repeatedly in the past that “all moving parts are connected to all moving parts.” That also applies (it seems to me) to the “movement” of ones and zeroes.

Finally, everyone in the organization needs to fully understand the importance of cyber security and understand the importance of his/her personal responsibility in establishing and maintaining a secure cyber environment. Well over half of all cyber intrusions result from employee non-compliance with organizational cyber-security procedures.

Thoughts?


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