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Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Social-network users are hogging more computer-network bandwidth -- from the cubicle next door.
A growing proportion of the capacity on corporate networks is being taken up by employees actively using social networking applications and file-sharing services, according to Palo Alto Networks Inc., a computer-security company that tracked network usage at more than 1,600 customers between April and November of last year.
Active usage -- referring to people who play, post and share, rather than just passively watching a scrolling feed of posts on Facebook Inc.’s site, for example -- took up 28 percent of total network bandwidth used on social sites. That’s an increase from 9 percent in the preceding six months. Facebook applications took up 13 percent of social bandwidth, about triple the previous period.
While active usage has increased, the percentage of total network bandwidth that social and file-swapping sites take up has been steady at about 1 percent, Santa Clara, California- based Palo Alto Networks said.
Some active social networking is sanctioned by employers. More companies are creating corporate Facebook applications and asking workers to attract customers and respond to queries on such sites as Facebook and the microblogging site Twitter Inc., said Matt Keil, senior threat analyst at Palo Alto Networks.
Other traffic comes from tasks that are less likely to be work-related. More than 50 percent of the companies measured had employees playing Zynga Inc. games on Facebook, taking up about 5 percent of social-networking bandwidth.
Of those in the survey, 57 percent have workers who are spending some time trading film clips and games on a site called Megaupload. Half have employees using FilesTube, a site that features some movies “which appear to be only in theaters at the current time,” according to the Palo Alto report.
The problem for companies is more serious than employees using work time to watch pirated hi-definition movies, Keil said. Most of those file-sharing services sail straight through a company’s firewall, making them useful to hackers.
Palo Alto Networks tracks this because it sells advanced firewall appliances that let customers specify which applications and behaviors to scan for viruses and Trojans or block altogether. For example, the devices can be set to let marketing departments post on Facebook while all other users can merely view posts, Keil said. As part of that, the software security firm measures what applications reside on customers’ networks.
In total, Palo Alto Networks found 71 different kinds of social networking apps and 65 flavors of browser-based file sharing.
“One of the most common responses we get is, ‘Wow, I knew it was bad but I didn’t realize it was this bad,” Keil said.
--Editors: Marcus Chan, Tom Giles
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