The importance of social networking in the business environment has been addressed at two major conferences this week.

At the Gartner Symposium in Florida, Gartner vice president Carol Rozwell spoke about social networking, stressing that corporate computing departments should enable employees to engage with such communication tools, and that security should not lock down communications with the outside world.

Carl Leonard, security research manager EMEA at Websense, agreed in principle that by blocking employees from engaging with Web 2.0 and its collaborative tools, websites and content, businesses could potentially risk restricting their communication and knowledge sharing capabilities.

Leonard said: “Demand for access to Web 2.0 technologies is clear and rising. Websense recently surveyed IT managers across the world and found that 86 per cent of IT managers reported feeling pressured to allow further access to more types of Web 2.0 sites and technologies.

“However, whilst most IT managers are keen to help employees embrace Web 2.0, many are also concerned about the risks they pose to corporate security, especially when they know that more than 50 per cent of all data stealing attacks are conducted over the web.”

He claimed that ensuring that employees are aware and understand the potential for malicious threats on social networks is a first line of defence, and that companies also have a responsibility to ensure that their staff are protected and have contingency plans in place.

“It is no surprise that as technology advances, the sophistication of internet security threats and malicious attacks also increases so the ability to detect and prevent these dynamic, embedded threats as they happen is key. With the right support, Web 2.0 opens up a host of new opportunities which can deliver real business benefits,” said Leonard.

The theme also emerged at the RSA Conference Europe in London, with various claims made that companies need to embrace consumer and Web 2.0 technologies, rather than ban them.

Richard Turner, chief executive of Clearswift, felt that this is all very well, but the fact is that very few security companies are geared up to do so.

Turner said: “The security industry has for far too long relied on fear and negatively to sell its products, as well as providing solutions which are focused on 'stop and block'. Most of the main vendors continue to do just that, and every week we see a new threat in the news.”

Turner further claimed that the security market needs to come of age and although RSA's comments today are a welcome hint at this, the fact is that we now need to see them walking the walk as well as talking the talk.