PixAlert Aims to Reduce Porn and SMB Liability

Thursday Mar 24th 2005 by Lauren Simonds
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Think your PCs are porn-free? Illegal images can land you in court, so don't get caught with your pants down.

The Internet, e-mail and networking technology have all contributed to expanding growth and competitiveness for SMBs. But as good as technology's been for small business, it also has a darker side that can put your company at risk for both civil and criminal liability &#151 we're talking pornography, people.

Inappropriate and illegal images &#151 inappropriate being classified as pornography while illegal refers to child pornography &#151 on a company's computers or servers leaves the small business owner vulnerable to sexual harassment suits and even criminal prosecution.

PixAlert, a company based in Ireland, now offers PixAlert Enterprise Suite &#151 a multi-source image detection and analysis software &#151 in the U.S. The company says the software can detect, block and monitor pornography on your computers.

First Things First: Setting Policy
Jack Mangan, head of marketing for PixAlert, says that a crucial part of keeping a company's networks clear of unwanted inappropriate or illegal material is to establish a company-wide computer usage policy.

"This isn't about entrapment," said Mangan. "It's about protecting your company, and the first step is creating a usage policy that's clearly defined and clearly communicated to employees."

Once the policy is in place, says Mangan, PixAlert recommends instituting a grace period during which time employees can remove any images they may have stored on their PCs.

Two-Part Cleansing
PixAlert Enterprise Suite (don't let the word "enterprise" throw you &#151 it's available for SMBs, too) is made up of two components &#151 the Monitor and the Auditor.

The Monitor is a software agentthat resides on each individual desktop. When the person who's using the PC opens an image, the Monitor looks at it and determines whether the content is appropriate or inappropriate (we'll discuss how that's determined a bit later).

If the Monitor classifies an image as inappropriate, it creates a file with a thumbnail of the image in question, along with the date, time, user and the name of the PC on which it's stored.

The Monitor then sends that file to the administrator &#151 a designated person who can view all of the computers on the company network.

When the administrator receives the file, he or she may want to check that PC to see whether there are any other inappropriate images. He or she sends the Auditor &#151 a small software application that lives on the server &#151 over the network to the PC in question. The Auditor goes through the computer's hard drive and looks at every image on it and then creates the same type of report as the Monitor. It also notes the exact hard drive location for each image.


PixAlert Auditor results
Warning, Warning &#151 The PixAlert Auditor organizes images into tiered categories &#151 yellow for borderline, red for inappropriate, green for highly inappropriate and blue for illegal.

I Know It When I See It
Of course different companies will have different ideas of what constitutes an "inappropriate" image. After all, it's not inappropriate for a plastic surgeon's office to have images of breast reductions or augmentations stored on a hard drive. So how does PixAlert determine the difference?

Mangan says that they work with companies to adjust the software's content sensitivity so that it suits a company's particular needs. "We can set the software's sensitivity to three levels &#151 low, medium and high," he said.

"PixAlert scans the images looking for different pre-set attributes such as the percentage of viewable skin, whether an image is a portrait, or if a photo was taken indoors or outside."

Mangan says that, by definition, a portrait is an image of a person's face and therefore less likely to be inappropriate. As for indoor versus outdoor photographs, he said pornography is most often shot indoors, so outdoor images are generally okay.

Beyond the Internet
You may think inappropriate images find their way to your SMB networks through e-mail and the Internet, and that a firewall filtering your Internet gateway would take care of the issue.

Not so, says PixAlert. Other methods of entry include CD/DVD drives, USB and Firewire ports, Memory sticks, digital cameras and even mobile phones. That's why the company believes, according to its Web site, that a desktop solution is "the only foolproof methodology of monitoring the activities of an employee."

Pricing
PixAlert Enterprise Suite (Includes; monitor client license, auditing tool and one network segment administrator): One-time fee of $25 per person up to 1000 people.

Annual maintenance and upgrade fee: 25 percent of the original purchase price

PixAlert also offers two different services at additional cost.

Auditing Service:A one-day audit and analysis with a findings report: $3,500

Implementation and Services:Includes project planning, a technical review, training, pilot set up and roll-out, service review and sign off (up to four days): $3,200

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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