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Blocking the information superhighway: employers are finding ways to monitor and restrict employee Web use.

More businesses, eager to tap the power of the Internet, are encouraging employees to browse the Web at work to find new clients, conduct market research, keep tabs on competitor - and more. However, companies are also finding that because the Internet offers such a wealth of information - and diversion - it can be a great temptation for employees.

There are as many, if not more, potential leisure uses for the Internet as there are legitimate business uses. Sports and entertainment Web sites, chat rooms and interactive games are just some of the ways that indiscreet employees can turn a potential business resource into a tremendous hindrance to productivity.

According to a study conducted by Nielsen Media Research last year, employees at IBM took 4,556 nonwork-related Internet breaks in one month, the highest total among the corporations surveyed. Apple Computer, AT&T and Hewlett-Packard also had a high number of employees browsing at nonwork-related sites during office hours. These findings make many business owners apprehensive about providing free and unlimited Internet access to their workers.

Establishing firm written policies on employee Internet usage is one way to address the issue. But, as usual with written policies, enforcement becomes a problem since it's hard to tell whether someone is surfing the Net for legitimate purposes or not. Software companies have only recently recognized and addressed this problem. They've begun by adapting Web censoring software intended for home use - designed to keep children from viewing objectionable material - to the needs of business owners. As demand grows, more companies will supply "censorware." Currently, there are two ways for employers to combat frivolous Internet usage. monitoring and blocking.

Monitoring allows companies to track employee Web activities, including site addresses that have been accessed, the time of day they were visited and the length of time spent at each page. Employees can still log on to leisure-oriented Web sites, but their employers will be watching over their shoulders.

Blocking, on the other hand, allows companies to deny employees access to nonwork-related Web sites. Blocking makes sites off-limits by targeting key words like sports, or denying access to individual URLs, newsgroups, chat rooms and FTP sites. However, the software requires numerous updates due to the ever-growing content of the Internet.

"We've had many requests from businesses for a Web monitoring component to be added to our product," says Lisa Thornhill Jones of CyberGuard Corp., makers of CyberGuard firewall products. These products prohibit unauthorized surfers from either internally or externally accessing confidential files on corporate networks.

In response to customer demand, CyberGuard has incorporated WebTrack monitoring and filtering software into its products. Webtrack, by Webster Network Strategies, (www.webster.com), can control access to all nonwork-related sites. It contains a customizable list of thousands of sites and URLs, arranged by subject category. Gambling, sex, sports, humor games, entertainment and job search are among the categories. WebTrack allows network administrators to forbid or exempt any site on an as - needed basis. It also supplies daily logs of Internet usage. WebTrack retails for $3,000, $5,000 and $7,000, depending on the number of users.

Other blocking software includes Cyber Sentry Internet for LANs, from Microsystems Software (www.microsys.com). It retails for $350 per 10-user license. Of course, not all businesses can afford, or even need, LAN versions of Internet monitoring and filtering software. Solid Oak Software's CYBERsitter (www.solidoak.com) is available in both stand-alone versions for individual computers ($39.95) and LAN versions ($10-$20 per computer, depending on corporate or school account). CYBERsitter resides in the computer without being recognized, where it monitors usage by keeping a secret log of every Internet site that has been visited as well as any attempts to access blocked areas. NetNanny Limited's NetNanny (www.netnanny.com) can also be installed on stand-alone computers. It retails for $39.95.

In lieu of purchasing additional software, business owners should know that most Web browsers, such as Netscape and Internet Explorer, keep a log of sites that have been visited.

SURFING IN THE WORKPLACE

Employees:

* Use the Web to enhance your productivity, not destroy it.

* Don't access sites that you wouldn't want your co-workers or boss to see.

* Don't be dictatorial. Finding information online can take time.

* Establish usage policies for your employees.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes tips for employees surfing the Web while at work
Author:Nunoo, Mildred
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jan 1, 1997
Words:711
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