March Madness hoops-watching may drive IT staff mad

With online viewing the only option for many college basketball fans this week, businesses run the risk of employee productivity declines, bandwidth overloads and security threats, experts say.

All 63 games played in the annual NCAA men's college basketball tournament will be broadcast live on websites such as But Thursday and Friday will offer up the biggest headaches for IT personnel as many of the games will take place during working hours.

A recent survey by recruiting and staffing firm Spherion revealed that nearly one quarter of the U.S. workforce will watch at least part of the games during work hours on Thursday and Friday.

“It's not just an issue of employees being distracted, but of the impact of multiple people watching streaming media has on network performance internally,” Steve Yin, vice president of worldwide sales at St. Bernard Software, told on Wednesday. “They are affecting other people who are trying to get their jobs done.”

In addition, watching basketball games online can cause a company to burst its bandwidth capacity, which can cost in overage charges.

As long as users go to legitimate sites providing game video, the security risk is minimal, Rich Sutton, director of 8e6 Labs at 8e6 Technologies, told However, if employers block access, some users may consider watching the games through proxy sites.

Users, meanwhile, should be on the lookout for phishing scams directed at March Madness enthusiasts, he said.

“The possibility exists that people who push malware, the bad guys, will certainly look for any angle to get people to click through on links,” Sutton said.

IT departments need to be proactive to make sure the video streaming doesn't overload their systems.

“The most effective IT departments communicate with their employees,” Sutton said. “Make sure they know you are monitoring or blocking these sites, and then enforce the policies.”

In talking to customers that St. Bernard services, Yin said the approach to March Madness is varied. Some companies trust their employees to watch the streaming video judiciously, while other companies block access to the sites.

Others have compromised.

“One of our customers is setting up a designated location for employees to watch streaming video,” Yin said. “That way, employees have the opportunity to keep up with the games while not overloading bandwidth.”

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