Housing association polices mobile net use

A publicly-funded housing association has worked with a major software supplier to develop technology to police the way staff use...

A publicly-funded housing association has worked with a major software supplier to develop technology to police the way staff use the internet when they work from home via their own broadband links.

Wiltshire-based Westlea Housing Association approached web security specialist Surfcontrol last year to ask the firm to plug gaps in the association's web enforcement policies, as Westlea geared up for a major expansion in mobile working. Robert Fletcher, head of IT at Westlea, said the technology has helped it comply with targets set by the Housing Corporation to improve corporate governance.

"We realised there was no point monitoring 90% of the organisation if you have a black hole to fall into with the other 10%. We had a responsibility to make sure the systems are being properly used," Fletcher said.

Westlea worked with Surfcontrol for two-and-a-half months to beta test software agents designed to remotely enforce the association's internet policies.

The "mobile filter" was commercially launched last week. It intercepts website requests and interrogates a Surfcontrol server at Westlea before accepting or declining the request.

The system allows the association to use in-house Surfcontrol software, which can be programmed to block non work-related sites, to send warning e-mails to system administrators if access is abused and to monitor web access outside the office.

Security consultant Neil Barrett said the system was ground-breaking. "It is something I have never seen before. It is certainly unique and interesting," he said.

Companies have been able to control web access but only by forcing staff to access the internet by dialling into company proxy servers from home, rather than using their own connections.

The technology underpins Westlea's plans to transform its operations by using mobile systems. It aims to have 50 of its 300 staff equipped as mobile workers by March next year.

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