Social networking, file sharing and video applications are not the major security risk many admins believe them to be despite living up to their reputation as major bandwidth hogs, firewall firm Palo Alto has discovered.
The firm analysed the firewall logs of 3,056 of its customers between May and December 2012, finding that the average network contained 30 video applications, 19 file-sharing applications and 17 social networking applications.
These applications – including popular names such as Facebook, YouTube and Dropbox - consumed an average of 20 percent of available bandwidth but, surprisingly, accounted for only 0.4 percent of the threat logs (i.e. detected malware).
Conclusion: blocking these apps won’t generate much of a security boost and could simply annoy users by cutting the ways they can communicate with one another and customers.
Conversely, if bandwidth is the issue block or manage video applications because these were found to consume an average of 13 percent of network bandwidth.
According to Palo Alto, the real security risk lies with a clutch of ten popular applications and that accounted for 97 percent of all software exploits.
These included, web browsing, Microsoft SQL, MS SQL Monitor, MS Office Communicator, MS Remote Procedure Call, Server Message Block, SIP (VoIP), Active Directory, and DNS.
Second conclusion: these internal applications and their vulnerabilities are the real target and protecting them should be priority number one.
In Palo Alto’s view, “such an approach allows an attacker to exploit a system without ever crossing a perimeter IPS, underscoring the importance of organizations bringing IPS and threat prevention measures deeper into the network and not exclusively monitoring at the perimeter.”
SSL was the second highest source of malware logs, Palo Alto also reported, many of them using non-standard ports. This underlined the extent to which command and control networks now use encrypted channels to communicate.
"The volume of exploits targeting business critical applications was stunning and serves as a data centre security wake-up call,” said Pal Alto senior research analyst and report author, Matt Keil.
"These threats will continue to afflict organisations until they isolate and protect their business applications by bringing threat prevention deeper into the network.”
There were some interesting morsels elsewhere in the report, starting with Facebook’s total dominance within businesses; Google+ was found in only 5 out of 3,056 organisations. It’s a relatively new application but this is a pretty damning figure. So far at least, amost nobody is using Google’s service inside organisations.
Palo Alto has put its Application Usage and Threat Report data into a series of visualisations.