This is one time-waster your boss might actually want you to play.

Part video game, part viral marketing, Verado: The IT Security Game lets system administrators virtually blast away at a host of network enemies.

The game, named after a data centre outsourcing company based in Greenwood Village, Colo., is meant to be educational, according to Kellee Johnson.

“It was centred around a fun way to raise awareness of a serious issue,” says the director of corporate communications for Verado.

Johnson says the game was tailor-made for IT workers, adding security problems to the shoot-’em-up format.

It’s also a good calling card for Verado. Now in its second version, the game has been downloaded more than 500,000 times from the company’s Web site.

Players fight spam, viruses and even cable-chewing rats with a variety of tools. Staple guns, flying CD-ROMs and infrared PDA rays are all available, but users have to choose the right tools and targets to succeed, according to Verado.

“You have to make something that’s fun, that relates to them and their day-to-day jobs,” says Matt Hockin, a spokesman for Intrapromote, the Web-based marketing company that developed the game.

IT workers may have to continually deal with the threat of spam, viruses or denial-of-service attacks, but they also appreciate a good game, Hockin says. He calls Verado an “advergame,” a cross between advertising and entertainment especially suited Net users.

“It seems to work well, so long as they can relate to it.”

Some industry watchers think learning the hard way is the best means to learn about security, however.

“Unfortunately, I find the best way (users learn) is if they get burned by something,” says Jack Gorrie, provost’s advisor on IT for the University of Toronto.

Gorrie agrees that education can play a key role in prevention. “Ultimately, you can’t really do much if an employee acts in a bone-headed way,” he says.

Idiot-proofing corporate networks can result in too many constraints for users, according to Gorrie, who recommends a layered approach to security. That means tightening up security in especially vulnerable and valuable areas, but also allowing for a reasonable amount of freedom for users, provided they know what they’re doing, he says.

Earlier this year, research firm IDC claimed that 90 per cent of respondents to a survey on security technology adoption had suffered from virus attacks.

Media reports on recent security threats such as the Code Red worm and SirCam virus also help educate users, although they risk sensationalizing everyday hazards, Gorrie says.

“When problems get reported … that raises people’s awareness.”

While growing security threats may be unfortunate for IT managers, the trend is good news for outsourcers. In an earlier report, IDC predicted the global market for information security services would hit US$17.2 billion in 2004. That represents a compound annual growth rate of 26 per cent from 1999, according to the company.

Verado has eight data centres spread across the United States and provides hosting and co-location services, as well as network and security consulting, Johnson says.

Verado will “evolve” the current version of its namesake game and release new versions in the near future.

As for the possibility of IT staff straining their systems by downloading software off the Internet, Hockin says he sees the potential irony if managers prohibit the practice.

“Well, that’s true. They don’t even want their people playing games.”

Hockin says, however, that IT workers often know their systems best and will take the proper precautions.

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