Monitoring for the 'sinful six'

By Kristy Pryma, Computerworld Canada |  Business

Spurred on by multimillion-dollar lawsuits, many organizations are moving closer to the police-state end of the scale when it comes to keeping tabs on Internet usage.

Brian Burke, a senior research analyst focusing on Internet security at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said that Internet monitoring tools were first introduced into the workplace because management perceived that employees were spending too much time surfing the Web for non-work reasons.

"This quickly evolved into a legal liability and we've seen several lawsuits popping up over the last couple of years with employees sexually offended by what they saw on a co-worker's computer screen. It's not just a manager's issue now, but a CEO-level type that's implementing the technology to avoid legal issues," he said.

Curt Staker, executive vice-president of worldwide sales at San Diego-based Websense, a company specializing in monitoring and blocking software, said that organizations are becoming more willing to set boundaries around Internet usage.

Steve Nield, a network engineer for Ogeden, Utah-based Ton Services, installed Websense to block inappropriate material because his organization's parent company runs Web stations in public places and they wanted to protect themselves from possible lawsuits, Nield explained.

"It's a company's responsibility to provide a harmonious environment for people to work, and there's absolutely no difference between someone walking into an office and seeing a Hustler centerfold on a computer screen or sitting on a desk in a magazine," Staker said.

According to Staker, when companies choose to implement software to block inappropriate Websites, they generally ban what he refers to as the sinful six. These six categories are pornography, gambling, illegal activities, hate sites, tasteless material and violent content.

While some employees react unfavorably to having their Internet browsing curbed, most don't complain, Staker said.

"Nobody's going to run into their manager's office and complain because they can't get on to their Nazi subscription site," he said.

According to Bill Gassman, a senior analyst at Gartner Inc. in Bedford, NH, the knowledge of the tool being in place can be as effective as the tool itself.

"In general, once it's put in place it's like a cop car on the road -- everybody's going to slow down. Nobody's going to try to get by hoping that it doesn't catch them because they know that reports will say who has been blocked," Gassman said.

Inappropriate material popping up on employees' screens isn't the only reason that monitoring tools are becoming more popular. One reason is that companies often don't have enough bandwidth to accommodate serious surfing by every employee.

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