New Palo Alto Security Tools Could Be Facebook's Best Friend


Facebook users discovered a glitch in the social networking platform Wednesday that temporarily allowed them access to what was supposed to be private content of other Facebook users.

Facebook moved quickly to address the glitch and to stave off ongoing criticism of its privacy and security policies, but the issues are so prevalent at this point that network security companies are actively marketing with the social networking giant's privacy difficulties in mind.

One such company is Palo Alto Networks, which on Wednesday said it had released a new functionality, called App-ID, that it lets enterprise network administrators manage Facebook Social Plug-ins without interrupting employees' access to their Facebook accounts.

Facebook's glitch earned it another black eye in an increasingly public dust-up over how it manages its users' private data. As Palo Alto Networks pointed out in a Wednesday statement, it's bad enough to have supposedly private information shared with other Facebook consumers, but "in enterprises, this policy has major implications, as there is no central way for IT security teams to protect their users from the unknown and -- in almost all cases -- unwanted privacy impact, which involves the sharing of behaviorial and Web site information with Facebook and its advertising customers."

Palo Alto Networks' firewall employs three tools to help mitigate Facebook security risks and other potential hazards. App-ID identifies to administrators which Facebook functionalities are in use on the network as well as any associated risks. Then comes User-ID, which integrates with Microsoft Active Directory and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directories, to offer visibility into what Facebook use is happening with which specific users and groups.

Finally, Content-ID, Palo Alto's realtime threat prevention piece, draws on a URL database to block threats and manage how files and data are transferred so Facebook users don't accidentally expose confidential materials.

Rene Bonvanie, vice president of worldwide marketing at Palo Alto Networks, suggested that it's better to securely manage social networking tools than block employees' use of them. They're dangerous, but also prevalent and even useful, in other words.

"An organization might want to enable customer-service representatives to use Facebook, the chat function and the messages function, but disable Facebook applications and Social Plug-ins to mitigate productivity and privacy concerns," Bonvanie said in a statement.

Facebook worked quickly to close its security hole Wednesday, which according to reports was open for a few hours. Elliott Schrage, Facebook's vice president for public policy, told The New York Times that "for a service that has grown as dramatically as we have grown ... we think our track record for security and safety is unrivaled."