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Corporate Networks Get Respite From Porn

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There is less smut flowing into corporate networks, and it's largelybecause users are starting to smarten up.

MessageLabs, Inc., a managed email security provider based in New York,reports that the flood of pornographic images, whether they're tied tooff-color jokes, e-cards or material from porn sites, is ebbing. Andanalysts there say it's because employees are more aware today that theIT department is keeping an eye on content coming into and going out ofcorporate networks.

But the same analyst is concerned the lesson could quickly fade frommemory and the tide of smut could pick up again.

''There is less smut going into inboxes, but we're not talking aboutspam,'' says Natasha Staley, an information security analyst withMessageLabs. ''This is about employees sending or receiving solicitedimages. It's pornography that they've asked for... You often have agroup of employees sending pornographic images back and forth amongstthemselves.''

And those pornographic images open up a Pandora's Box of problems forthe company's legal department as well as the IT department. Staleyexplains that executives have to worry about improper use of the networkand protecting their bandwidth, but they also have to worry about animage on someone's computer screen creating a hostile workingenvironment and the legal issues that could ensue.

The good news is that there's less smut floating around those networkstoday.

MessageLab's study shows that between March and August, they filteredout one pornographic or otherwise inappropriate email for every 4,756messages sent through the company's service. In the same period lastyear, however, the ratio was one in 1,357.

''Employees are becoming more aware that their employers are keeping aneye on them, so they're asking for less porn to be sent to them,'' saysStaley. ''The switch in attitude has been quite dramatic. I just don'tthink you can get away with that kind of thing now so people are keepinga closer eye on what they send and ask for.''

Staley also notes that IT administrators can look for patterns ofbehavior. If an employee is caught receiving a pornographic e-card, theramifications will be less drastic than if it can be shown that herepeatedly has porn sent to him at work and then shares it with hisco-workers. Workers generally are fired for having racist, sexist orpornographic material on a company network.

But Staley warns that IT administrators shouldn't let up their guard.

''I'd sound a note of caution that just because we've seen a drop, itwon't necessarily be sustained,'' she adds. ''It could be a knee-jerkreaction. People have this in their minds, but then they forget and theybecome complacent and you see it popping up again. I don't think theproblem will go away. This could be a temporary blip. I don't know if itwill be a sustained trend.''

To sustain the drop in smut, Staley advises IT execs to continuemonitoring the network, and to keep educating their users about the factthat they are being monitored and why it's important to keep porn offthe network. But she also advises them not to be too iron-handed intheir approach.

''Don't be too Draconian in the measures you implement,'' Staley says.''At Christmas time, maybe it's not a big deal that people are sendingelectronic greeting cards. But people need to know where you draw theline. Get them involved about why this is important. That will help youget the message across.''

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