Blocking The Information Superhighway

Employers are finding ways to monitor and restrict employee Web use

More businesses, eager to tap the power of the Internet, are encouraging employees to browse the Web at work to find new clients, conduct market research, keep tabs on competitors-and more. However, companies are also finding that because the Internet offers such a wealth of information– and diversion–it can be a great temptation for employees.

There are as many, if not more, potential leisure uses for the Internet as there are legitimate business uses. Sports and entertainment Web sites, chat rooms and interactive games are just some of the ways that indiscreet employees can turn a potential business resource into a tremendous hindrance to productivity.

According to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research last year, employees at IBM took 4,556 nonwork-related Internet breaks in one month, the highest total among the corporations surveyed. Apple Computer, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard also had a high number of employees browsing at nonwork-related sites during office hours. These findings make many business owners apprehensive about providing free and unlimited Internet access to their workers.

Establishing firm written policies on employee Internet usage is one way to address the issue. But, as usual with written policies, enforcement becomes a problem since it’s hard to tell whether someone is surfing the Net for legitimate purposes or not. Software companies have only recently recognized and addressed this problem. They’ve begun by adapting Web censoring software intended for home use–designed to keep children from viewing objectionable material–to the needs of business owners. As demand grows, more companies will supply “censorware.” Currently, there are two ways for employers to combat frivolous Internet usage: monitoring and blocking.

Monitoring allows companies to track employee Web activities, including site addresses that have been accessed, the time of day they were visited and the length of time spent at each page. Employees can still log on to leisure-oriented Web sites, but their employers will be watching over their shoulders.

Blocking, on the other hand, allows companies to deny employees access to nonwork-related Web sites. Blocking makes sites off-limits by targeting key words like sports, or denying access to individual URLs, news-groups, chat rooms and FTP sites. However, the software requires numerous updates due to the ever-growing content of the Internet.

“We’ve had many requests from businesses for a Web monitoring component to be added to our product,” says Lisa Thornhill Jones of CyberGuard Corp., makers of CyberGuard firewall products. These products prohibit unauthorized surfers from either internally or externally accessing confidential files on corporate networks.

In response to customer demand, CyberGuard has incorporated WebTrack monitoring and filtering software into its products. WebTrack, by Webster Network Strategies, (www.webster.com), can control access to all nonwork-related sites. It contains a customizable list of thousands of sites and URLs, arranged by subject category. Gambling, sex, sports, humor games, entertainment and job search are among the categories. WebTrack allows network administrators to forbid or exempt any site on an as-needed basis. It also supplies daily logs of Internet usage. WebTrack retails for $3,000, $5,000 and $7,000, depending on the number of users.

Other blocking software

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