IT Support Blog for Small Business Owners

What Your Employees Are Doing Online? You need Content Filtering!

Posted by David S. Mulvey on Wed, Nov 12, 2014

Content FilteringDo you ever wonder what your employees are doing on the Internet at your office?  If you really haven’t thought about it, you should be, you are at risk! I will be talking about recreational use of your business Internet connection, what I mean by that is any type of network traffic that is not directly related to your business activities.  Have you ever found yourself walking around the office and you notice that an employee quickly erases their browser as you walk by?  Unfortunately today’s employees are inundating company LAN’s with their recreational Internet traffic, of which some types can grind your network to a crawl. 

Streaming media like YouTube, Pandora Radio, FTP sites, and WeatherBug are all peer-to-peer (P2P) applications that stream data packets over the Internet to your employees PC, not to mention the conventional Internet sites like, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  Approximately 40% of Inbound Internet traffic is recreational and P2P.  Beyond the cost of lower productivity by employees not performing their work, recreational Internet applications drive enormous volumes of data traffic over organizations' Internet links.  And this high volume of data traffic increases Internet and LAN operating costs by forcing organizations to upgrade their Internet bandwidth and invest in high capacity LAN switches.  Recreational Internet traffic also increases congestion and competes with business-critical applications for available Internet and LAN bandwidth, creating delays, frustration and lost productivity when employees need to access their key applications on the LAN.

Perhaps your LAN, already strained to the limit supporting your business-critical web-based applications, is increasingly vulnerable to the adverse effects of recreational Internet traffic.  A single bandwidth-hogging employee illegally downloading a movie using a P2P application like Bit-Torrent may result in the entire company workforce suffering from slow access to their business applications.  Recreational traffic is not merely an IT issue. When we talk about application performance, we're really talking about employee efficiency and overall business performance.

Aside from application performance and cost issues, organizations may also face moral and legal imperatives to control recreational Internet traffic due its questionable content.  Here at ANP we have an Internet Usage Policy which defines how an employee may use the company’s Internet connection. It is part of the employee’s employment agreement.  You want an agreement in place so that should an employee do something illegal or another employee is offended by his colleague’s behavior on the Internet you have some legal ground to stand on.  The company LAN is an important asset that should not be used for delivering illegal or inappropriate content such as pornography or content that violates copyright laws.

An effective strategy to automatically control how employees can use your Internet connection is to deploy “Content Filtering.” Deploying Content Filtering is easy and fairly inexpensive.  If you believe you are losing employee productivity to recreational Internet usage deploying Content Filtering will pay for itself in less than a week.  There are two types of Content Filters: standalone appliances which only perform Content Filtering, and most Firewalls also have a less sophisticated form of Content Filtering.  Lets take a look at both approaches: A dedicated Content Filter will be installed in between your Firewall and your LAN. The appliance will essentially look at every Internet outgoing packet and evaluate if it’s allowed to pass onto the Internet or should be stopped or filtered.  The Content Filter will also log all usage by each employee so you can begin to profile what your employees are doing with the Internet connection and who is taking advantage or doing things that you or your employees would be offended with.  I often find that once a Content Filter is deployed and its been announced that each employee’s Internet usage is being monitored, employees will self-modify their recreational Internet behavior. Employers may see fit to open up the Internet connection at lunchtime and allow their employees to use Facebook, and LinkedIn during their lunch break.

More expensive Content Filters also come with a monthly subscription fee, which pays for a monthly update to the Content Filters threat list of bad Internet sites. This is the most comprehensive way to stop porn, sports, and bit torrent sites because as they appear on the Internet and the sites are catalogued, the new sites are sent to your Content Filter. Less expensive Content Filters, which do not offer a monthly subscription service, can still be effective at blocking porn, sports and social sites, although they do it in a different fashion.  The less expensive filter will scan for the words that you have determined to be recreational usage; for example, if you wanted to filter out “sports” usage words like football, NFL, NCAA, and baseball would the types of words that you could program your Content Filter, effectively stopping most sports sites from passing through the filter. 

No matter which Content Filtering approach you take, active updates or static word scanning, your HR department will get a snapshot of each employees Internet usage both approved and filtered.  You can also program a Content Filter to not monitor the usage of select employees and managers.  As our society becomes more litigious, and as business owners we are responsible for delivering a safe and non-offensive workplace to our employees, Content Filtering can help an owner demonstrate they were diligent in trying to secure the workplace.  A Content Filter can also help a business owner insure that work is really getting done on the LAN and that employee productivity remains as high as possible. A Content Filter is a great business tool to invest in!

Get Started Right Now: ANP can sit down and discuss your content filtering goals.  We can also perform a quick free assessment and take a look at what your employees are doing on the company Internet connection.  Please let me know if you have questions.

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Topics: Content Filter, Internet Content Filtering, Internet security policy

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