Review of “Guarding the Social Gates,” by the Altimeter Group

A virus that lives in only one kind of medium will not be terrifically successful.

The most dangerous–and thus successful–viruses can live in their host, where they replicate their own code, but also in media like air, water, and even other hosts in which they cannot replicate, but can hitch a ride from one ideal medium to the next. That is true for viruses based on RNA, as well as those based on ones and zeros.
Computer viruses were postulated in the early 70s (and one was first included in a short story in 1969), and the first actual virus was detected in 1971 on ARPANET. It was a decade later, in 1981, that the first virus was found “in the wild,” beyond the confines of the lab that created it. Flash-forward 30 years, and viruses can now travel from computer to computer through any number of vectors: unsecured ports connected on internet-conneted computers, email attachments, thumb drives, Web sites, and now, social media.

Late last year, my organization released a report by Dr. Alan Oxley titled “A Best Practices Guide for Mitigating Risk in the Use of Social Media” with a very cool cover photo (below). That report detailed the risks posed by computer viruses that were coupled with social engineering and enabled by widespread use of social media. (I should note that the mid-90s movie Hackers demonstrated the power of computer programmers who used social engineering to enhance the power of their malicious/mischievous code).
More recently, the Altimeter group has published a report called “Guarding the Social Gates: The Imperative for Social Media Risk Management,” which approaches the question of security from a qualitative and quantitative perspective. The authors interviewed 92 social media professionals, including me, to assess how they are managing the risks posed by social media. They also conducted qualitative interviews at 36 companies.
As with the Center’s report, the Altimeter report begins by noting that few people are aware of the risks posed by social media. These include not only viruses and data breach (which are the focus of the Center publication) but also damage to an organization’s brand, and reduced employee productivity, among other threats.
While the Center report breaks its recommendations down into only three groups–managers, IT staff, and end-users–“Guarding the Social Gates” discusses the role played by six discreet functional areas of an organization: Marketing, Legal, IT/IS, HR, Comms, and Security. This helps everyone understand, first, that they have a part to play in mitigating social media risks and, second, what their particular role is.
As with code-based threats, the risks from social media will evolve along with the tools and methods developed to thwart them. But the first step is always the most critical: understanding that the threats exist. Altimeter’s new report does a service in outlining those threats and I look forward to many future updates.

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