By Clay Adams
- Posted on 6. March 2012 18:28
Do You Know What Your Employees Are Downloading?
For many managers and business owners, the answer to that question is 'no'. However, network security company Palo Alto Networks has some helpful insights to shed light on the matter.
The detective work began when some Palo Alto Networks techs installed a firewall for a Fortune 100 client. Shortly thereafter, flags were raised when one of the company's servers was found to be exchanging huge amounts of data in and out of the network, at a rate of about 300 GB per day.
Typically, large data transfers are justifiable for legitimate work reasons, but this data was coming from a major web-based file sharing site. Furthermore, the content offered on the site includes commonly pirated multimedia such as movies and music, being shared without permission from the copywright owners.
Among companies that use Palo Alto's firewall product, file sharing is a common practice, with tons of traffic on the networks to show for it. And it's evident that a significant portion of the files being shared and data being exchanged is not for company business.
Upon examining traffic through 1,636 of its clients from April to November in 2011, Palo Alto Networks discovered that 92 percent of those organizations' networks were actively exchanging data on browser-based web file sharing services. These services share data over Port 80, the same one used for HTTP web traffic. But it doesn't stop there.
In addition to the troublesome findings regarding web- and browser-based illegitimate file sharing traffic happening routinely at these companies, peer-to-peer file sharing is also out of control. Of those same 1,636 companies, 82 percent had some type of peer to peer file transfer program running. On average, each company was using about six different P2P clients. In most cases, employees were using torrent applications.
Palo Alto's discoveries, while serving as a wake-up call of sorts for many businesses, are also timely in their revelations, coming on the coattails of the recent crackdown on Megaupload and similar online piracy sites. In fact, Palo Alto Networks has also shown how popular Megaupload was even on company time.
During the latter part of 2011, 57 percent of the organizations analyzed by Palo Alto had exchanged data with Megaupload. Following Megaupload's shutdown, Palo Alto reports, users rapidly shifted to alternative file sharing sites, with a majority of them heading over to Putlocker.
Large file transfers are a common aspect of many businesses' day-to-day operations, so it's easy for prohibited activitiy to go unnoticed on the network. The importance of this message goes beyond network security for the average company. Allowing such large amounts of unwarranted traffic across the company network to go unchecked could land the business in hot water. Employers should be vigilant, lest they be blindsided by copyright infringement lawsuits or any number of piracy and fraud related legal woes.
It's imperative to use tools that will mitigate unauthorized data exchange over the company network. Products such as Palo Alto's firewall applications can provide the proper security and monitoring. Additionally, it is advisable to use a file sharing service, such as eTransmittal, that offers a secure, dedicated point of exchange that's easily monitored, verified and trackable. In this fashion, the true nature of your employees' file sharing activities can be pinpointed and audited.
Clay is a staff writer and digital publicist for bWERX Inc. Contributing 7+ years of web-based business experience, he constantly works to improve our online presence and visitor experience. His writing topics include technology news, business software news and tech help guides.