Social networks are websites like Facebook and Bebo which have become incredibly popular with kids, teens and adults all over the world. They give you a great way of catching up with old friends or even just staying in touch with your current group of friends and co-workers. This type of website has moved from being what some saw as a passing “fad” to being multi-billion dollar businesses that companies like AOL are fighting to buy up. Putting it simply – Social Networks are “in”.

These sites have proven to be so popular that most companies have been forced to block access to them to stop employees spending their entire day swapping messages with their buddies online, blogging or answering their friends quizzes.

For years the world of social networking was left alone by the virus code freaks and malware magicians. These sites went largely untouched and were safe to use both inside and outside of your daytime job. That was until now. Both Bebo and Facebook are now the target of a new spate of virus attacks.

Why target social networking sites? That’s an easy one to answer. You don’t have to be a computer whiz to use any of the social networking sites. They’re designed to be deliberately easy-to-use for; so much so that people of any age can use social networking sites. That’s their big attraction.

Unfortunately that means that the same people who don’t believe in computer viruses, trojans, spyware or firewalls will quite happily click on whatever link you put in front of them. Even if the link tells them it’s about some video footage that one of their friends just “found”… This doesn’t happen in real life but of course all you have to do is put that blue hyperlink in front of them and they’ll click like mad to get at this hidden video footage or pictures of them. It makes you wonder what kind of guilty consciences some people might have!

So the virus authors now know that social networking users are highly suggestible. Put a tempting link in front of them and they’re very, very likely to click it and spread the virus further.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen people who I thought were pretty smart click on these links and riddle their systems with various types of computer virus. Most of the social networking viruses are a type of worm designed to spread via your address book. The payload varies from one to the next. Usually though it winds up with the operating system having to be fully reinstalled from scratch. Several small companies I know have had serious IT issues because of virus infections caused by viruses spread via social networking sites.

Does this mean that social networking sites should be banned full stop? Punishing everyone for the sins of a few has never been a good idea. What needs to happen is more training on Internet security issues for employers and employees alike. Explain to the people/staff the cost and employment implications of a widescale virus infection – it can close a business down.

Then again some people never learn so totally blocking all forms of social networking sites in the workplace will probably have to become common practice – for the safety and security of everyone involved.