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Vendors keep tabs on secret surfing tool

IT managers who want to control workplace Internet use have a new adversary: a company that makes it possible for people to surf anonymously.

Anonymizer, based in San Diego, USA, has released a new version of its product, Private Surfing 2.0, and coupled it with a bold marketing claim: "Surf at work without being monitored".

Employees can pay $29.95 (£19.30) for the product that attempts to circumvent monitoring systems used by IT departments. However no sooner had Anonymizer begun its marketing campaign than California-based 8e6 Technologies announced a simple library update to thwart Anonymizer. Another security and filtering company, St. Bernard Software in San Diego, said it did not even have to make changes to pre-empt Anonymizer's claim.

IT managers such as Harold Moscho, director of technology management at MultiCare Health System, who oversees 6,000 users, are nonetheless concerned by the development. "I hope that it is not something that is very widespread," said Moscho, who is using 8e6's filtering technology. He says he fears Anonymizer may be appealing to people "who have a great deal of desire for vengeful or mischievous" behaviour.

Users of Anonymizer surf the Internet through the company's network. End users log on via their Web browser and get IP addresses and domain names that cannot be traced back to them. The filtering services counter-attack this by blocking access to Anonymizer.com. If the connection is encrypted, 8e6 will time out, or cut off an encrypted link, Mark Parker, a senior engineer at 8e6, said.

When questioned about its claims, an Anonymizer official downplayed its workplace surfing marketing claims. "We're not really pushing the surfing at work," said Cottrell, who acknowledges that employers can use a range of techniques, such as monitors to record keystrokes, to track employee Internet use.

Anonymizer also says it is not planning to use the same aggressive techniques it uses in China to get around government-sponsored filtering, such as a continuously changing array of IP addresses and domain names.

While the company attempts to appeal to employees, it is also appealing to employers. Cottrell cited a growing number of corporate and law enforcement organisations that need to surf anonymously, such as the FBI, companies engaged in competitive intelligence, law firms and law enforcers. Another key market is home users who want to avoid being tracked by network advertisers and others.

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