November 2006 Archives

It's been an interesting few weeks for Myspace - there's been a number of scams and dubious programs making their way across countless user profiles. The "fun" clearly isn't over yet, because check out the latest piece of scammery doing the rounds on everybody's favourite social networking site...

In Internet News Week our V.P. of Marketing Frank Cabri makes a notable quote along the lines of our usual rapier wit-wielding MVP- Chris Boyd. (e.g. describing IM safety along that "Ben Stiller and Circle of Trust Kind of Thing".)

"Some organizations' ears are ringing from this consumerization of an IT trend and the fact that employees are bringing in unsanctioned applications through the back door," Cabri said. "Organizations are hearing about it from us, from some of the industry analysts, and in many cases, seeing it first hand on their networks."

And yet there are still many that aren't aware of the issue and usage continues to grow. The recent Mark Foley case in the U.S. Congress where, in which Instant Messaging was used to send inappropriate messages to a teenage congressional page, is a case in point.

"Sometimes it takes a Mark Foley-like situation to happen in your own organization to raise awareness of the risk and the impact," Cabri noted. "Obviously, our goal is to help customers before this happens."

"Lets face it, no business wants to get 'Foley'ed' on a national level -- the business consequences of this could be extremely negative."

Ouch- "Foley'ed"- adapt coinage indeed. Frank is, of course, referring to the recent Mark Foley Scandal that recently emerged in IM.

Learn More: See a brief video of Kailash Ambwani, our CEO at Facetime Communications...as he covers why words like "guarantee", "rumor" or incidents like the Mark Foley Scandal and failing to monitor IM (or other greynets) can lead to big problems, especially if you are a big company.]

This cascade of events is one of the drivers that is forcing big companies to take a hard look at their corporate policies, especially with regulatory challenges like:

- Gramm-Leach-Bliley Financial Modernization Act (GLBA)

- Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX)

- Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

Will the Foley Force raise awareness of the issues? Good question and more pertinent than ever now December 1st approaches. What is the big deal about December 1st? It is "E-discovery Day" when things could get more tedious and potentially more costly for the Enterprise if they are not prepared.

E-discovery refers to finding and producing documents stored in electronic form in response to litigation or regulatory requirements. Civil litigants, regulators and criminal prosecutors as a matter of course now ask for copies of selected e-mail communications or make broad requests for all electronic records. After Dec. 1, changes are set to take effect in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure make e-discovery a standard part of federal proceedings.

So where can you start if you are a large enterprise? First, figure out how much instant messaging traffic is going on in your network-you might be surprised not only by the traffic, but the other insidious malware that rides along. Facetime has a free tool called the RTMonitor that can help with this or you can contact them for a demo.

Best Practices for Emerging Compliance Challenges: Electronic Messaging and Communications (ReymannGroup):

[Download IM Compliance and Regulations Document [PDF] This paper is a great primer on what you need to know.

Some might be wondering...just what is Instant Messaging (IM)? We use it everday, it has been around for a decase, but because of its ephemeral nature we tend to treat it differently. I consulted Archive.org for some background...

Instant Messaging (IM) is an electronic messaging service that allows users to determine whether a certain party is connected to the messaging system at the same time. IM allows them to exchange text messages with connected parties in real time.

To use the service, users must have IM client software installed on their workstations. While there are many types of IM clients, they all tend to function in a similar manner. Client software may either be part of an agency's IT network and available to only registered users, or be public and available to anyone on the Internet. The client software logs into a central server to create connections with other clients logged in at that same time. Users create and exchange messages through their local client application.

Other important points:

* In addition to sending messages, users may have the ability to attach and exchange electronic files such as images, audio, video, and textual documents. This capability depends on the configuration of the individual client software as well as on protocols established at the client server.

* Depending on the software, users who are online may have the ability to respond to messages.

* Users may also block other users with whom they do not want to exchange messages.

* Users may only communicate with others using the same or a compatible client software.

How does IM differ from email?

Fundamentally, the difference between IM and email is the notion of presence. This means that users of the IM system are aware that other users have logged in and are willing to accept messages. Unlike email, IM content can only be sent to users who are logged in to the system and accepting messages. If users are not logged in, others do not have the ability to send them messages.

Because IM is not predicated upon an open standard, there is no uniformity regarding message transmission and structure.

Remember Instant Messenging will be treated like an e-mail- IM, despite its ephemeral or fleeting nature, it is a document- a document that should be factored into your archive equation if you want to cover the bases soundly and not get "Foley'ed"....let's go back to Archive.org...

Does IM content qualify as a Federal Record?

The statutory definition of records (44 U.S.C. 3301) [Google Government Research Query on 44 U.S.C. 3301] includes all machine readable materials made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business. Agencies that allow IM traffic on their networks must recognize that such content may be a Federal record under that definition and must manage the records accordingly. The ephemeral nature of IM heightens the need for users to be aware that they may be creating records using this application, and to properly manage and preserve record content. Agency records management staff determine the record status of the IM content based on the overall records management policies and practices of their agency.

I think in light of the recent scandal (and how many don't we know about...) we probably will see agencies taking a new look at their IM practices- it is potentially too costly to ignore. This isn't the only scandal either, there are others, but they tend to focus around e-mail, again don't discount the ephemeral nature of IM, like the "Boy's Club Case" as reported by Baselinemag.com.

Peratis wanted WestLB to search for e-mail and Bloomberg messages from mailboxes of 19 current and former equities executives, human-resources representatives, bank managers and others, using more than 170 terms. These ranged from Quinby's name and initials, to employment-related words like "fire" and "bonus," to derogatory sexual slang...

In this case I don't know if IM was enabled or factored into discovery. However, according to our recent studies- it often is enabled, whether IT is really aware of it. Odds are after the Foley Case- e-mail will not be the only prime target for discovery- discovery that can be quite expensive to dig up if an Enterprise is not prepared.

FaceTime just released a study on the state of Greynets and here are some highlights and in future entries we will talk about the implications of this study as it relates to the Enterprise.

FaceTime Communications
2006 Greynets Survey Key Findings

Survey confirms that greynets continue to be dangerous if left unmanaged, introducing significant risks to the business. End users continue at an increasing rate to take business communications into their own hands, downloading and using what ever resource they choose to get their jobs done, wherever and whenever.


How is Instant Messaging and other greynets used at work?-

IM usage?and by extension, other similar greynet apps?is driven foremost by its convenience: three in four employees use IM because they need "immediate answers ?from co-workers" (76%).

Endusers also see IM as a productivity tool?two-thirds use it to "to multi-task" (62%) while another third use it because "email is too slow" (33%). (The take-away users, often the most advanced are the ones introducing greynets into the Enteprise because they want to be more productive!)

- IM usage is increasingly complex: 60 percent of IM users have accessed advance features (55%), such as file transfer (29%), web conferencing (24%), VOIP (15%)video or (12%).

- Not surprisingly, two in three endusers have sent IMs while multi-tasking (88%). Around half have IM'ed colleagues on the same conference call (57%). Even colleagues in the next cube are not safe?44% of IM users have sent a message to a physically adjacent co-worker or while having a face-to-face conversation with someone else (40%).

- Six in ten IM-users have sent attachments, application files or links to external websites as part of an IM (57%). About one in five endusers (17%) have sent company plans (15%), information about company finances (5%) and even passwords or login information (4%)


What are end user attitudes toward greynets?

- Four in ten endusers (41%) have downloaded or installed applications that are not approved by their company?s IT department.

- Among the most popular applications deployed by endusers are streaming audio or video services (77%), web-based email (70%), web conferencing (57%) and public instant messaging (48%). Almost half of all endusers have deployed browser plug-ins (46%) [NOTE: these apps are particularly well-suited at evasive techniques that bypass network security requirements.]

- Seven in ten IM users have sent personal or non-work related IMs while at work, over company networks (70%)

- Unfortunately for IT managers responsible for network security, one-fourth of IM users deploy IM in order to have "private, unmonitored communications" (26%).

- Not surprisingly, if endusers knew their IM communications were monitored, they would change their usage patterns: almost half would "pay more attention to company guidelines" (45%), while one-third would simply "use IM less often" (31%), be more cautious about clicking on links (31%) or simply pick their words more carefully (21%)


So what?s the problem?

- In a broad market research survey of US-based IT managers, 81 percent report a security incident has resulted in the last six months from employee use of "greynet" applications".

- Spyware and adware are the most commonly reported incidents (75%), followed by viruses (57%), malware such as keyloggers (28%) and rootkits (22%).

- Seven in ten IT managers indicated that spyware and adware attacks are occurring at the same rate (36%) or more frequently (33%), compared to the prior six-month period.

- Greynets app usage may also result in business-related incidents. In the past six months, half of all IT managers report business incidents resulting from Greynet application usage (52%). Among these managers, the most commonly reported issues are: downloading of adult materials (50%), copyright violations (39%) and violations of corporate communications policies (33%).

- Seventy percent of IT managers report a wide range of network and computer issues that result from greynet application usage. Three-fourths of these managers report enduser system slowdowns or crashes (76%), followed by slowdowns in network traffic (68%), corrupted files (39%) and corrupted applications (30%).

Existing security infrastructure is not effective in combating greynet threats

-Survey respondents were asked to assess their own company networks in terms of their capacity to intercept the kinds of IMs allegedly sent by former Congressman Mark Foley. Only 11 percent of IT managers indicated that their networks would have been "very effective" at intercepting such communications. In fact, 31 percent of IT managers rate their networks as "not at all effective" at preventing these kinds of messages from being delivered.

What is the cost to businesses?-

Not surprisingly, these incidents may require remediation or repair of affected PCs or servers. Three-fourths of IT managers report having to make repairs or changes to computers as a result of greynet-related security incidents (72%).

- On average, IT managers report 14 incidents per month. Each incident requires 11 hours of work, on average. Based on an estimated average salary of $70 per hour, salary-related costs average almost $150,000 per year?just for greynet related repairs to enduser computers.

- IT managers who are involved in other security-related tasks may spend as much as 71 hours per month, on average, engaged in activities such as maintenance of network or enduser hardware, archiving and logging, research new technologies and so on....

more to come...

The Zango Double-dip ?

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There have been a lot of articles and posts about Zango.  Most of them focus on the installation practices, lack of user notification and even how the company recently received a fine by the FTC.

This piece is not one of those.  Instead of talking about the Zango software, I would like to have a brief look together at the theoretical business model that drives Zango. 

Some relevant snippets from the Zango site:
Web publishers, content creators and providers aren't able to earn a living from their products. <Snip> online consumers have proven reluctant to pay a monthly subscription fee for access to online content and entertainment. <Snip> Zango has developed a unique solution to this economic dilemma. <Snip> With the Content Economy model, consumers are able to access and enjoy web content and entertainment for free, because when they search or browse online for products and services, they see ads from Zango advertisers. <Snip> Web publishers and content providers get paid by Zango for distributing their creative assets. Zango earns revenue from online advertisers, and thus, keeps this new Content Economy alive and thriving.
I see!  Visitors will never pay to see online content, so the content creators will never get to see a dime from their work.
So Zango's self-proclaimed raison d'etre is to provide these starving "long tail" creators/artists with some income so they can keep producing the content that everybody likes, instead of needing to beg for spare change at a mall entrance.

Surely, that's a noble cause, no?  Let's see...

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