Internet Security: What Are They Surfing At Work?

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

A recent survey of business owners and IT managers found that employees are using company computers, Internet access, e-mail, and other resources to conduct hours of non-work related activities.  And the problem is on the rise.

Some of these activities simply waste time, like day trading and monitoring eBay bids. However, some of the activities are malicious and can cause serious issues with a company’s server and network.

Here are a few incidents that were reported by the IT managers that were surveyed:

• One employee was caught running a gambling website and acting as a bookie for his co-workers.

• To bypass the company’s web filter, one employee was caught using his desktop computer as an FTP server for the other employees. He had downloaded and saved over 300GB of material, all on his work computer, using his company’s Internet connection and undoubtedly slowing down their systems.

• One employee was caught giving away confidential information such as price lists, contracts, and software code for application development.

• Another employee had a pretty lucrative side business stealing and selling company inventory on eBay.

• One woman was caught running an online “outcall” service from her desk.

• One employee was caught renting the corporate IP address to hacker friends to attack other company’s computers and networks.

While these scenarios seem outrageous, they are not uncommon. Of the 300 companies surveyed, almost one-third have fired an employee in the last 12 months for violating e-mail policies, and 52 percent of companies said they have disciplined an employee for violating e-mail rules in the past year.

Educating your employees through an acceptable use policy is simply not enough. If the requirements are not enforced, employees will accidentally or intentionally violate your rules.

That’s why every company needs to invest in good e-mail and web filtering software. Just having it in place will act as a deterrent for such activities. If something really is going on – like an employee leaking confidential information to a competitor or sending racial or sexist jokes through your company’s e-mail – you’ll be able to catch it and resolve the issue proactively, instead of reacting to it after the fact.

Additionally, a good web filter will prevent employees from accessing inappropriate material online, wasting time on non-work activities, downloading viruses and spyware, and using up company bandwidth to download photos and music.