The UK workforce is gaining business advantage through the use of social networks, but users' behaviour may leave employers at risk, says Microsoft.
The company commissioned an online survey of over 1,300 web users over 16. Microsoft said the results show that businesses should embrace the technology, but educate users to mitigate the risks posed by social networks.
Nearly one in ten users admitted to having already caused security problems to their company's IT system by downloading applications from a social network.
According to the research, 33% of UK workers now use social media tools at work, with this figure rising to 56% of 24-35 year olds.
Eight out of ten workers claim to have seen some business benefit from using these tools, with 4% stating they have won new business.
Despite these benefits to business, many workers use them without any guidance from IT and in ways that could leave their company vulnerable.
The risk from malicious software poses one of the greatest risks, with almost a third (28%) of employees regularly opening and replying to messages received from unknown contacts on company networks.
In addition, one in five regularly download applications, including games and widgets, without checking their authenticity.
Confidential company information is also at risk. Many users openly post personal/sensitive information such as employment history (10%), address (17%), client details (10%) and date of birth (35%), that could be used to steal their identity, obtain corporate information, or to use with social engineering techniques such as phishing or spamming to infect computers with malicious software.
IT professionals themselves are the leaders when it comes to using these tools at work, with over half (62%) admitting to using them regularly - more than double the figure for other users.
Separate research among 400 IT professional users found they were no less open to attack than other users, as they took no extra precaution in using social networks.
"Despite the real benefits that social media tools can bring to business, it seems that the adoption of these tools is taking place without much control, or guidance from IT, leaving companies exposed," said Stephen Lamb, IT security evangelist at Microsoft.
"Whether businesses are for or against social media there is a real need to evaluate employee usage of these tools. At Microsoft, we believe that the positives social media bring to the workplace far outweigh the negatives, and that IT can mitigate the risks by educating end-users to use these tools responsibly," said Lamb.