Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Why All IT Departments Need to Monitor Internet Usage

Five years ago, using a software system to monitor Internet usage may have been seen in some quarters as the preserve of large companies, and not so much of a concern to SMBs.
Productivity loss, time wasted on non-work related browsing and excessive use of video streaming, are a few reasons why more and more IT departments are looking into internet monitoring and filtering for their organizations.
 
Most managers will be familiar with walking into an office and seeing a member of staff scrambling to “minimize” their internet browser window because they were on Facebook, eBay, or checking their personal email! People conduct a large part of their social, financial and personal lives via the Internet, so it is understandable that, with unrestricted Internet access at work, people will be tempted to browse. Although some employees will do so for limited periods, not everyone restricts their browsing at work to a few minutes during the day.

The decision to monitor Internet usage may be driven simply by a need to reduce this non-productive time in the office, but sometimes, the security risks associated with unrestricted browsing can be far more significant.

Malicious Hackers are always keen to exploit “back-doors” into computer networks, which is why viruses and malware exist that target Facebook apps and web-based email accounts. IT departments sometimes invest large amounts of time and money in protecting core systems and email gateways, only to find that viruses enter the network due to unsuspecting users opening unsafe attachments in their personal email accounts or visiting compromised websites.

Internet monitoring software can help to protect less technical staff from Internet threats - pre-scanning for malicious websites and preventing access to anything that may compromise the network.

It is quite possible to monitor Internet usage and restrict it appropriately without having to take truly draconian steps. Good Internet monitoring solutions allow settings to be configured to a precise degree; however, for example, allowing a sensible level of personal use, perhaps restricted by time periods, or quantity of downloaded data.

Once employees are informed that the company has begun to monitor Internet usage, they are likely to automatically cut down the time they spend browsing non-work related sites. They will also notice that their internet connection is actually much better allowing them to get their work done much faster.

Widespread browsing within an organization can be a real drain on company bandwidth, especially when users are accessing media-rich websites such as Facebook and YouTube.

Companies should make it very clear to employees why they need to monitor Internet usage and introduce a written monitoring policy to detail how the monitoring is conducted, and what level of personal use is considered acceptable.

Although some companies may see monitoring Internet usage as intrusive, there are valid legal, security and productivity reasons why monitoring should take place. The good thing is that properly managed and configured web monitoring solutions can help to maintain a good balance between the needs of the organization and employees taking a break to check their email or update their social networking profile.

This guest post was provided by Ben Taylor on behalf of GFI Software Ltd. GFI is a leading software developer that provides a single source for network administrators to address their network security, content security and messaging needs. Read more on monitoring internet usage.

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