Whether you think it is a good way to network online or whether you view it as a waste of time, there is no escaping the fact that Facebook is the new internet phenomenon.

With over 39 million users registered on the site, the highly successful social network has become a headache for local companies worried about time wasting.

However, Birmingham-based Netshield believes that businesses should be thinking about how they are going to protect their IT systems and bandwidth against the number of viruses and users, rather than whether to ban the site or not.

Tony Sterling, director at the IT security specialists, said: "Facebook has gained an avid following in the space of a few months. It has been suggested that over 150,000 people sign up to the site every day.

"With that in mind, it is safe to say that a few people within an organisation have already or are going to sign up and use the site regularly. What needs to be considered is the fact that every user that spends time on the site is tying up important internet bandwidth."

Bandwidth is the amount of traffic that is allowed to travel between a website and a computer.

Mr Sterling added: "Even though the internet page may be left unused on the screen, it is still sending and receiving messages to your network and is using valuable bandwidth. This can slow down the internet connection and even result in loss of working time in an office."

The company is also warning the local business community to be aware and conscious of viruses that can be received from social networking sites.

Mr Sterling said: "It always pays to be aware of any viruses that may be around but with new social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, it can be hard to keep up to date with the new forms that viruses take. Being connected to such sites creates a connection that can be abused and utilised by viruses.

"Firewalls may most commonly be associated with keeping the bad guys out of your PC, but the communications leaving your computer are important as well.

"Spyware programs and worms are notorious for using your internet connection to propagate or send your personal information to hackers' servers. A firewall with the ability to manage both inbound and outbound connections is essential to alert you to these attempts."