PC monitoring software helps public sector get grip on security threats

Censorship or smart business practice? Some view PC monitoring software as an invasion of privacy, but for others, it’s a way to block inappropriate content, provide an electronic paper trail and prevent spyware from slipping past frontline security. The key is making the experience as transparent

for users as possible, without over-blocking content.

“”We don’t want to be viewed as censors — it’s a free world,”” says Fraser Hirsch, manager of IT security with the City of Ottawa. The city is using Bajai software on its 550 public access machines in libraries and smart sites — and it wants to encourage people to use those machines. After all, 99 per cent of users are there with good intentions, he says.

The city chose Bajai because it had a number of components that “”fit the bill,”” such as ocular technology that determines if there’s any inappropriate content on a Web site. Traditional filters look at URLs, but Bajai also has the ability to look at images and access them for their content on the fly, which means new content that hasn’t been classified yet is still managed.

While Internet filtering has been around for about 10 years, says Hirsch, there’s been a recent spike in interest due to human rights legislation at the provincial level to protect the rights of individuals in the workplace. Still, it can be hard for municipalities to get the budget for this type of security solution, since some people don’t understand what the software is being used for. “”Budgets are scrutinized right down to the penny,”” he says. “”It could be construed as an inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.””

The city was given a reasonable budget after 9/11 to establish a security program; now, other cities are starting to pick up the pace, he says. At the provincial level, Ontario is one of the more active provinces in PC monitoring, while the federal government is using it to some extent, but mostly for liability purposes (as forensic evidence).

Trying to keep up with new security threats is a huge challenge for organizations today, says Hirsch, and this year we’ve seen those threats expand beyond attachments to e-mail. The city, therefore, has a two-pronged approach: not only is it using PC monitoring software to block inappropriate content, it’s also using it to block new threats such as spyware and adware.

Government has a huge user base and it has information it doesn’t want getting out, says Tanya Quaife, vice-president of business development and government relations with Bajai Software. And government sites are notorious for being hijacked.

Right now, most government organizations are blocking specific sites manually — a time-consuming and ineffective process. “”The state of technology that they’re using to address this problem is not exactly up to par,”” she says. “”This is an area that needs more research, new technology and forward-thinking IT and management because they can’t just look at yesterday’s content anymore. They have to address new issues and say something is actively trying to install itself on your computer.””

If a user downloads a “”free”” game, for example, an intruder using spyware is able to walk into that organization through the back door — despite all of the money spent building a security frontline.

IT managers need to be aware of how much traffic is normal so they can be aware when large amounts of information are leaving the organization through unusual means, she says. “”It has to be an integrated part of your system management and it has to walk out the door with your mobile resources.””

While she says issues surrounding the use of PC monitoring software are the same for both the public and private sectors, the difference is that government should be a leader in reform and good workplace management — and it’s not there yet.

“”Management has to be willing to produce a policy and enforce it and take it as seriously as they take real life, so if you aren’t going to let someone play monopoly on a desk, they also shouldn’t be playing it on a computer,”” she says.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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