File sharing persists in businesses, as browser-based technology emerges
File sharing persists in businesses, as browser-based technology emerges

Analysis has found that the bandwidth consumed by peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing applications now accounts for 14 per cent of the average overall bandwidth used.

According to the Palo Alto Networks application usage and risk report, P2P file sharing ‘quietly' continues to be used across all manner of organisations, despite efforts to control it.

It said that of the 38 variants found during the six-month period, at least one P2P application was detected on 78 per cent of the participating organisations and on average, seven different P2P applications were found on each network.

Following the launch of at least three new browser-based file sharing applications by Google, Facebook and Citrix and with at least 70 different file sharing variants available, the report said that this renews concerns over privacy and security.

It claimed that the most well-known risk is the loss of data through improper use, particularly as breaches have occurred, running into millions of records in the past. It highlighted the incident where blueprints of President Obama's helicopter Marine One were found on a P2P network.

It said: “The risk of data loss remains significant as evidenced by the February 2012 notice sent by the FTC to more than 100 organisations of all types informing them that their confidential data was floating around on P2P file sharing networks and that it was their responsibility to exert control over that data.”

In terms of security threats to the network, it said that the distributed nature of P2P is a fundamental part of how the technology works, and also underlies what makes it so risky.

“Because files can be uploaded to a P2P network and distributed to a tracker anonymously, the use of P2P poses significant moral hazard, as it provides a convenient and risk free method to distribute malware to a large user population anonymously,” it said.

The report also found that browser-based file sharing is more popular than P2P in terms of frequency of use and the number of variants found. It said that of the 140 file sharing applications found, 71 are browser-based, 38 are P2P and the remainder are client-server.

Palo Alto Networks found at least one browser-based file sharing application on 89 per cent of the participating networks, while an average of 13 different browser-based file sharing applications were found on each network.

It also claimed that as more of these offerings add premium services such as auto synch, the risks of data loss will only increase.

It blamed the ‘byzantine language' used in the terms of service that ensure few outside of the legal profession understand what they are reading, and that both Facebook and Google admittedly analyse the content stored in their services for marketing purposes to make organisations concerned about employees using these applications.

“With the recent file sharing announcements from Facebook and Google, the terms-of-service and who owns the data have become cause for concern both for individuals and for organisations,” it said.

“With Google, Facebook and Citrix all announcing browser-based file sharing alternatives, on top of the other 70 or so existing offerings, this group of applications shows no signs of going away or slowing down. However, with so many variants there will no doubt be some additional segment refinement and use case definition as they all struggle to compete and survive.”