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What are the implications of non-filtered web access? 4

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Jay Lehnert

The Internet has mind-blowingly improved business operations, but has also proven as a headache to many businesses when thinking about security and web access control. As the conventional ways of communication are being rapidly replaced by interaction via social networking sites and other channels over the Internet, businesses more than ever need to implement usage policies. The purpose is to protect the business from legal risks, web-based malware threats, ensure employee productivity and manage bandwidth consumption. It has become clear for many businesses that they need to take control of the web access and online activities.

The impacts of web content filtering?

The number of social media users worldwide has well surpassed 1 billion. YouTube videos are watched two billion times per day. These numbers are huge and growing, but how do you shake off the thought that a portion of these viewing hours were conducted during business hours by somebody’s employees? Maybe even yours? With non-filtered web access, employees are able to surf the Internet with absolutely no restrictions. They can “like” a status on Facebook, pin that photo on Pinterest, or skim through the rental properties in the area. No manager would want their employee to be seeking new employment opportunities and making holiday reservations while they are getting paid to do their job. Time is money and the financial benefit of controlling web content access is evident.

To understand just how much time and money this sort of activity costs a business, consider the following scenario. If we take a $60,000 salary of an industry professional in Australia as a benchmark to calculate this cost, and just a single wasted hour per day throughout the year, we are faced with alarming figures. The cost of the total time lost to the business over 48 working weeks is a whopping $7500. It is a figure worth pondering over. You do not need to wait for a financial adviser to point out the benefits and make recommendations; the question is – to block or not to block? It’s time to block and put a stop to crumbling profits.

Legal implications of non-filtered web access

An employer is responsible for the web activity of their employees. Numerous harassment and discrimination law suits have been a result of employees accessing illegal and offensive material from their workplace. Such as the case of Chevron Corporation, a big oil and gas company, that was ordered to pay $2.2 million dollars to settle a lawsuit when an employee was downloading pornographic material at the workplace. In order to minimise liability, employers must consider the implications of non-filtered web access and implement policies that enable what can and cannot be accessed.

IT security threats and network performance issues

With non-filtered web access, your system can be under threat from a spectrum of malicious computer software lurking on untrusted websites. They come in form of viruses, worms, Trojans, and can bypass anti-virus software. This is another reason to consider web content filtering, as a malware attack could severely cripple your network. An employee surfing the web may land on such a site without any intention to deliberately jeopardize the integrity of the company network. Prevention of access to such places is the only way to ensure that the network is secure.

Filtering web access is no longer a taboo

While most businesses have implemented some kind of web-filtering controls, there are some managers that are still wavering on the issue. Perhaps it sounds harsh, restrictive, and plain boring to filter one’s viewing, surfing, and access rights on the Internet. There is a fear that web filtering controls may result in employee disatisfaction and resentment. However, a clever implementation of web access control will benefit the entire team, as long as it is done with balance in mind. Allowing access to social networking sites and imposing limits, with time-based filtering, gives control over employees’ web access during specified times instead of completely blocking all non-work related content. Apart from securing productivity, it also conserves bandwidth during peak usage hours, while providing flexibility to allow user access to selected sites during breaks, lunches or after hours. Filtered web access is no taboo; it is a well paved path that savvy managers are taking.

How to manage web content access in a workplace?

Various content filtering solutions can be implemented depending on the business network and office distribution. For a single office business, content filtering can be managed by the Internet gateway. However, content filtering for a business with multiple offices can become unmanageable and complicated unless a centralised Internet gateway is employed as part of a Secure Private Network (SPN). Through the associated web monitoring technology a business can, not only prevent access to specific content, but obtain detailed logs as to who attempted to access any inappropriate content.

Another question worth exploring is how do we filter web access of an increasing mobile workforce?

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About Jay Lehnert

Jay Lehnert
Jay has been working with GCOMM since 2002. He has been responsible for the design and implementation of many new backend systems. With the diverse environment that GCOMM works in, he has developed a broad skill set and accomplished an array of industry recognised certifications with Cisco, Microsoft and VMware. He enjoys camping, hiking and generally anything to do with the outdoors.
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  • I see many businesses that use their firewall to content filter, allowing staff untrammeled access before and after work and during lunch times.

    I also see many who have never even considered content filtering and don’t perceive staff internet use as a risk.

    Content filtering is relatively low cost, easy to administer and in some businesses, can improve productivity. You would expect this to be more commonplace than it is.

  • Jay Lehnert

    I couldn’t agree more Steve. I think that when people think of content filtering, they think of heavily restricting access to the internet however this doesn’t have to be the case. I believe that every company should implement at a minimum a content filtering system that blocks the essentials such as malware related sites and places with very offensive material. It’s a cheap insurance that still gives users browsing freedom to the point that the majority wouldn’t even know that a filter is in place and restrictive enough to protect against sites that could potentially cost a business.

  • Peter Thompson

    The article is relevant and informative. Nice one. What are the approximate costs of implementing a solution and what are the ongoing operating costs?

    Can it be purchased as an onsite device or alternatively provided as a managed service?

  • Content Filtering would typically form part of the service suite on an onsite or managed firewall device. there is a yearly subscription cost to keep it up and running. For most small to medium businesses the cost for CF would equate to less than $1k per year and could well be less depending on user numbers.