Thought for the day: Stay safe on the internet

The internet has created a global marketplace that offers unprecedented opportunities. But with great power comes great...

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The internet has created a global marketplace that offers unprecedented opportunities. But with great power comes great responsibility, says Geoff Haggart. 



The web is, potentially, the greatest source of information ever known, but it can also be a chasm within which no ethical boundaries exist.

Helping organisations to harness this great opportunity while ensuring it is a safe resource for the business environment is the role played by employee internet management (EIM) providers.

Since the EIM market was pioneered in 2000, its role has changed dramatically, and never more so than in the past year. Originally, the demand was for a product that was focused solely on stopping employees accessing, downloading or sharing offensive material. Then, once companies felt they could successfully block inappropriate material, the focus changed and issues surrounding productivity were raised.

Not unlike a child in a sweet shop, workers suddenly had a new range of activities at their fingertips and, understandably, were overindulging. There needed to be an agreed, appropriate middle ground that allowed access, within limits. 

The internet policy was born and, although companies reacted quickly in ensuring guidelines were drafted and in place, many soon realised that simply generating a written internet policy was not enough. In 2002, one in four UK companies dismissed staff for internet misuse, and many found themselves front-page news. 

EIM software became the logical way to enforce these policies. However, in today’s environment, companies face an array of new challenges that require a different approach and different tools. Internet access is no longer just about stopping access to “bad” sites or agreeing when people can and cannot use the web for personal reasons, it is about ensuring the internet does not put staff or the company at risk. It sounds serious, because it is.

Malicious code, such as viruses and worms, can infect networks and cost companies millions in clean up costs - look at Nimda and Code Red. Spyware can launch unknowingly on an employee’s PC and read personal or company documents.

Peer-to-peer file sharing enables people to share not only confidential documents but also pirated software or illegally copied media files - all of which provide the company with legal issues and, in some cases, companies have been held responsible, at a cost of millions of pounds, for an employee’s actions.

What is, perhaps, even more shocking is that most of the emerging internet-related threats do not require any intent or malice on behalf of the employee - most damage is done without them even being aware of what has happened.

It is the responsibility of suppliers to offer the most robust and flexible EIM solution available, one that can, effectively, protect the entire relationship between employee and the company’s IT resources.

New technological advances continue to lead us into new ways of working - look at the freedom it has already given us in terms of flexible working. And control has to go beyond the traditional gateway and on to both the network and the desktop.

EIM must continue to evolve alongside these developments to ensure that it provides organisations with the right levels of protection and support.

What do you think?

How do you balance the need for employee freedom with demands to rein in the worse excesses of the internet?   Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Geoff Haggart is European vice-president of internet filtering specialist Websense

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