Employees on the Internet: What to watch for

Employees who access Web sites unrelated to their work during office hours have long frustrated employers, but a Canadian software developer is working with both public and private sector organizations to tackle so-called cyber-slacking.

Reduced worker productivity caused by cyber-slacking

is merely the tip of the iceberg of potential consequences stemming from the ineffective implementation and enforcement of online behaviour management, according to Bruce Sanders, director of business development at Market Aid Group in Ottawa.

Market Aid Group provides businesses with inbound and outbound call services. While it can handle up to 30,000 calls per month, it’s currently doing just over 3,000 calls per month. But providing call centre services through 12 offsite workers it has equipped with computers presents some concerns in terms of potential misuse.

“(It’s) like that case in Toronto recently where one of the nurses took one of the hospital laptops home and was using it for child porn purposes,” he said. Sanders was referring to a situation last month when police laid several child pornography charges against a nurse working at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “It was a corporate nightmare as a result of one employee using mobile wireless-type devices off premises. And we don’t want that to happen within our organization.”

Market Aid Group addressed its needs by implementing BajEye software, which can detect pornographic images before they load into a Web browser window. Created by Bajai, an Ottawa-based developer of online activity management solutions, BajEye uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to help classify Web content and avoid blocking non-offensive sites.

“One of the problems is a little bit of child pornography can put a small company under in a big hurry,” said Tanya Quaife, vice-president of Bajai. “We all trust our employees, and we hate to spend money on something we don’t believe they’re going to do. We’ve come to accept anti-virus. We haven’t accepted that the people we trust may not necessarily be trustworthy.”

In 2001, Bajai and CATA released the results a cyber-slacking survey. One of the key findings was that 96 per cent of employees were estimated to be accessing Web sites unrelated to their work while on the job. CATA vice-president Barry Gander said that although there haven’t been any follow-up surveys, Canadian businesses should contact the organization and express their concerns if cyber-slacking is still a problem.

Asked whether she thinks that the situation has improved since the results of the survey were first published, Quaife said that with the popularity of mobile devices and WiFi hotspots, it’s now harder than ever to get accurate statistics on the problem.

“When we started back in 2000, basically everything was server-based,” she said, “which meant that at least I had the opportunity to at least look and see if I had employees cyber slacking. But as Microsoft and other companies moved towards mobile computing and smart client products, my IT security and IT policy management has become much more complicated.”

Finding solutions to combat cyber slacking and, more importantly, criminal activity, is one thing. But determining which departments in organizations should be responsible for creating and enforcing policies is quite another thing. 

“It depends on the organization,” said Quaife, explaining that management and IT are two possible choices when it comes to establishing and enforcing policy. “In some places, it’s management. It’s because, ‘I’ve just got stung by a lawsuit’ or ‘I just paid a severance (package) to someone who was doing what they shouldn’t have been doing.’ In some cases, it’s IT, like, ‘I’ve got this whole network quality of service issue. People are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, and I’m not buying more bandwidth just to give them the opportunity to do things they shouldn’t be doing.’”

The City of Ottawa, another BajEye user, is also interested in monitoring how people use the Internet on its computers. But its decision to use online activity management software shows that monitoring Internet use is not just something employers do to keep employees from wasting time. It’s also to ensure that the public doesn’t use the Internet inappropriately.

According to Sam Fulton, manager of strategic and business planning in the community and protective services department at the City of Ottawa, the city is using BajEye on computers at various public Internet access sites such as community centres, long-term care centres, community resource centres and family shelters.

“They’re in a very public setting and therefore what we didn’t want was people surfing and bringing up porn sites,” said Fulton. “The BajEye (product) has provided us with the ability to be able to have computers out in the public without them gaining a reputation (for attracting) kids who come to watch porn.”

The key, said Quaife, is for businesses to devise an online management strategy that addresses not only onsite terminals, but also offsite and mobile units. What firms need, she added, is a solution that creates on the client side the same filtering solution already on the servers. This would mean equipping tablet PCs, notebooks, laptops, PDAs and other mobile devices with the same level of protection applied to onsite machines.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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