IT staff battle wave of proxy Web sites

By John E. Dunn, Techworld.com |  Security, proxies, survey

Ninety percent of businesses are struggling to contain the phenomenon of "anonymous proxies," Web sites used to bypass URL filtering security, according to a new survey.

The survey was carried out by filtering outfit Bloxx, which asked a sample of 146 companies across a range of sectors plus a portion of its own customer base, to assess whether proxies were causing them problems.

Only 10 percent said they weren't a problem at all, leaving the remainder to describe it as a "minor problem" (37 percent), a "fairly serious problem" (36 percent), and a "major problem" (15 percent).

Nearly 59 percent thought the issue had grown in the last year, with 8 percent claiming it now consumed more than four hours per week of precious IT time. A quarter of those asked reckoned the issue was becoming difficult to contain.

Statistics can't tell the whole story, but these suggest that the issue has crept up on IT departments which even after years of security investment still have few tools to help them cope. "Anonymous proxies are a huge problem which has grown significantly over the past few years, especially within education," said Eamonn Doyle, managing director of Bloxx.

"Relying on a URL database web filter alone to quickly detect and block anonymous proxies would now appear to be problematic and can certainly expose an organization to a high level of risk," he concluded. No information was gleaned on what is perhaps the most interesting part of the proxy story -- what is driving people to use them.

A 'fight club' bake-off between a range of URL filtering products held at this month's RSA security show concluded that when confronted with porn, all URL filters appear to work well. The problem is that it didn't measure filtering systems against proxies, which one vendor, Watchguard, said few could cope with. Conclusion: URL filtering is obsolete.

Bloxx -- which promotes its own Tru-View technology to block proxies -- hinted that in the corporate sphere it was social networking and not porn that was creating the demand for proxying Web sites. One answer might lie with simply permitting access to these sites for the Facebook generation as a policy, in a stroke taking away a user's motivation for using proxies in the first place.

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