Corporate surveillance through social media, a cause of worry

November 23, 2011

A well-devised surveillance strategy on corporate has been made easy by social networking websites, that can result in the leak of valuable business secrets by employees and ex-employees, according to a study conducted by Cyberoam, the security vertical of IT company Elitecore Technology.

"You just need to get into the social network of the company, worse still, you just need to be an Internet search expert to get information that required ages to find," Cyberoam Senior Vice-President for Product Management Abhilash Sonwane told PTI.

He added that by tracking the social networking activities of employees and ex-employees, an intangible set of information about the company - such as core values, hierarchy, communication patterns, industry environment and employee morale - can be derived without having to physically enter the organization. "Besides the intangibles, the tangible information such as intellectual property, financial information or even trade secrets can be available by monitoring the organization’s social presence," Sonwane said.

Cyberoam conducted a study early this year and selected a random set of 20 small and medium companies and tried to find out what could be derived from their social media and networking presence. The 20 organizations included eight from the USA, four from India, two from Germany, seven from the UK and a couple from Singapore and Australia. These firms belonged to the IT, manufacturing, pharma and PR, banking and financial institutions, consultancies and even media and entertainment industry, Sonwane said.

"We could find out information like the employees were not getting their salaries on time, there were cash flow issues in the organization, salary checks were bouncing. As a result, the employees were looking for new jobs," he said. Cyberoam extracted and collaged information from linkedin, status updates, interactions on Facebook and by following the Twitter accounts of employees.

The research noted that employees were making premature broadcasts of launches, conferences, quarterly earning calls and financials through posting from their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

At least one negative point about the 20 organizations covered in the study was available through the social media, according to Cyberoam. Seventeen of the organization’s employees talked about internal issues that would not have been available had it not been for social media leaks. "Around eight organizations disclosed information confidential to their companies, financial details, prior announcement of senior management moving out, etc," Sonwane said.