Content Filtering: Why Appearances Can Be Deceiving

hand grabbing at floating symbols of online contentIt’s another Monday, and you look over your office of busy employees hard at work on their computers. While it might seem like a productive scene, however, appearances can be deceiving. Content filtering—the use of software to screen or exclude access to certain websites or emails—could uncover some surprises:

  • Angela from sales is searching for another job. She checks out your competitor’s sites and uploads her resume to their HR departments.
  • John in production is watching this weekend’s game highlights on his favorite sports news site.
  • Bill in accounting is reviewing his portfolio and researching which stocks he should invest in next.
  • Jeff in customer support is slowing down the entire network by streaming a concert.
  • Mary, your assistant, is checking her Gmail account and clicking a link that leads to ransomware.
  • Dave from shipping is on hotdate.com looking at questionable photos.

Most business owners like you don’t want to be Big Brother monitoring employee internet use at work. For starters, it takes too much time away from running your business. You also want your staff to feel like you trust them. Besides, what’s the harm in a little personal web surfing and emailing now and again?

Unfortunately, personal internet use can snowball into a big impact on your business without thoughtful content filtering. According to a survey by Salary.com, nearly two-thirds of employees visit non-work-related websites every day. And of those people, 32% spend more than two hours per day on the internet while at work.

Does all of this really affect my company?

There’s no shortage of studies and reports that talk about soft costs of lowered productivity. And soft costs can be hard to quantify. After all, it’s the hard dollars that really matter at the end of the day.

So why should you consider content filtering? The consequences of unmonitored online activity can be far more damaging than a few hours of lost productivity.

Bandwidth Costs: Online viewership has gone well beyond cat videos. Netflix now accounts for 15% of the world’s downstream internet traffic. And nearly a third of sports fans stream live sports on their smartphone or tablet. You can bet that not all of that viewing is done from home.

Streaming video, audio files and heavy graphics are notorious for clogging digital pipelines. If your staff is watching the World Cup or downloading music, they are using a chunk of expensive bandwidth—and slowing down your network as a result.

Legal Liability: From explicit emails to internet pornography, inappropriate use of your network can happen on your watch. In fact, popular adult site PornHub says that its viewership spikes between 4-5 p.m.—just as the workday winds down.

An offensive email or photo sent at work can go viral with a few forwards or a social media share. All it takes is one off-color communication to hurt your company’s reputation and lead to a devastating lawsuit. Chevron was once ordered to pay $2.2 million to four females targeted in emails containing offensive jokes and pornography.

Viruses and Internal Security Breaches: According to Verizon, 92% of malware is delivered by email. Even if your company has protections on its email system, web-based email like Gmail and Yahoo circumvents that defense.

Your company’s security can also be compromised by employees sharing confidential files or data with the outside world. Items like price lists, internal memos, client databases and business plans can easily find their way into the hands of competitors.

It doesn’t even have to be an intentional act. One company received a full list of its biggest competitor’s clients via email when a salesperson mistakenly copied other recipients. Another accidentally sent an incomplete, rough draft of its financial results one week early. Mishaps like this happen all the time unless a content filtering system scans outbound emails for certain keywords and takes action.

What should I do?

At a minimum, you should take two steps immediately to protect your organization from these disasters.

Step 1: Craft and distribute an acceptable use policy (AUP) to all employees. This policy should clearly define:

  • Where employees can and cannot go online
  • What types of files employees can and cannot download to your network
  • Appropriate use of company email
  • When and to what extent they can use the internet and email for personal reasons
  • Which types of activities are strictly forbidden
  • The consequences of violating these policies

Step 2: Set up content filtering software for email and Internet usage. You cannot possibly police all employee online activity. However, you can enforce some of your AUP rules with content filtering software that controls employee access to certain sites. Such software can also monitor your employee’s activities online, including email use.

Exactly how closely you should scrutinize workplace internet use depends on your company. If you have a close-knit organization and see no signs of trouble, you may not need a high level of surveillance. If you’ve noticed a drop in productivity or network security issues, however, you might consider a more thorough approach.

Like most bosses, you probably don’t expect your employees to think about nothing but work. They are human, after all. Just make sure this understanding doesn’t come at the expense of lost productivity or network security breaches.

With all of the content filtering options available, it’s best to consult an experienced IT provider for help. James Moore’s Technology Solutions Consulting team can show you which features are most useful for your organization.

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