Lax Web Monitoring Hurts Productivity, Security

Wednesday Sep 30th 2009 by Jamie Bsales
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A survey finds that the majority of small business owners have Internet policies in place, but that inadequate enforcement leads to security breaches, PC and network downtime and lost productivity.

The Internet has become an integral part of daily business life, and trying to completely limit employees’ access during work hours is impractical. But allowing unfettered access can not only lead to wasted time—such as employees surfing their friends’ Facebook pages—it can also open your PCs and network up to rogue software and other malware that can bring down the network and invite other security breaches.

A new report released today by GFI Software, a provider of on-premise and cloud-based e-mail and security solutions, shows that while 61 percent of small businesses have stated Internet policies in place, less than half—47 percent—actually take steps to enforce those policies. “Our survey shows that most businesses have no way to monitor and filter the Web use of their employees,” said Walter Scott, CEO of GFI Software.

When it comes to network vulnerability, he noted that the server isn’t the problem, it’s the desktop PCs. “The problems arise with workers loading things they shouldn’t, or visiting sites they shouldn’t,” Scott noted. “Businesses aren’t doing simple things to prevent such activities, such as locking down USB ports and monitoring Web activities.

The result of such lax policy enforcement can be debilitating to a small business. Scott points to the Facebook virus as an example of a productivity-wasting activity turning into a full-scale infrastructure problem for many businesses. He also noted the impact of things such as iTunes downloads on a company’s bottom line, since such files often wind up in the backup stream the company pays for by the megabyte.

“In a smaller company, where they particularly can’t afford such inefficiency, we found the majority of businesses were not implementing a strategy,” Scott said. “It is not a case of Big Brother, but rather one of keeping alert and being prepared. With monitoring in place, management has a front-line view of Internet activity in the company.”

The GFI study goes on to indicate that among the small businesses using Web filtering software, the majority (67 percent) said they use it for security against virus and malware downloads, 55 percent to prevent illegal and/or unacceptable Web browsing and 36 percent to monitor employee browsing activity. That last statistic is particularly worrisome to Scott, since online shopping or using social networking sites during work hours can be a productivity drain. He noted that while an employer probability can’t completely stop such activity, Web filtering and monitoring products can at least limit access to off-hours and lunch hours.

Other questions in the survey focused on e-mail compliance and e-discovery issues, and here small businesses seem to be even further behind the curve. When asked if they have rules or policies governing the storage and retention of e-mail messages, 63 percent of respondents said they did not have any rules stating where e-mails should be stored and for how long.

“Compliance is a major issue in the U.S. and the penalties for non-compliance can be crippling for a business,” warned Scott. In the event of a lawsuit, for example, a company could be required to produce pertinent e-mail threads. Not being able to do so places the business at a disadvantage. “And e-mail archiving is not just for legal purposes, it helps with documenting what has transpired in your business,” Scott added. “If an employee leaves, you have a better chance of picking up the ball on their projects if you can go back and see the e-mails.”

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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