The internet age has heralded unprecedented opportunities.How else could we have created, and benefited from, the global marketplace that we now all operate within? But with great power, comes great responsibility. On one hand, the web is potentially the greatest source of information ever known - on the other, it can be a chasm within which no ethical boundaries exist.
So how can an organization harness this great opportunity to ensure it is a safe resource for the business environment? That is the role that employee internet management (EIM) providers play.
Since the EIM market was pioneered in 2000, this 'role' has changed dramatically, and never more so than in the last year. Originally, the demand was for a product that was focused solely on stopping employees from accessing, downloading or sharing any offensive material. Then, once companies felt they could successfully block inappropriate material, the focus changed and issues surrounding productivity were raised.
Not unlike a child in the sweet shop, people suddenly had a new range of activities at their fingertips and, understandably, people were overindulging. There needed to be an agreed, appropriate middle ground - which allowed access within limits. And contrary to the media's belief at the time, these limits were welcomed not only by senior management but also by the employees themselves. Research showed that more than 80 percent of staff voted in favor of employers managing their internet access at work (Web@Work 2001).
The internet policy was born, and although companies reacted quickly in ensuring guidelines were drafted and in place, many soon realized that simply generating a written internet policy was not enough. In 2002, one in four U.K. companies dismissed staff for internet misuse, and many companies found themselves front-page news.
Meeting new challenges
EIM software became the logical way to enforce these policies. However, in today's environment companies now face a whole array of new challenges that require a different approach and tools. Just as the internet evolves quickly, so has the e-enabled workplace. Internet access is no longer just about stopping access to 'bad' sites or agreeing when people can and can't use the web for personal reasons - it's about ensuring the internet does not put staff or the company at risk. It sounds serious, because it is.
Malicious mobile code, such as viruses and worms, can infect your network and cost companies millions in clean up costs - look at Nimda and Code Red, or the recent Blaster. Spyware can launch unknowingly on an employee's PC and read his or her personal or company documents.
Peer-to-peer file sharing enables people to share not only company confidential documents but also pirated software or illegally copied media files - all of which provide organizations with legal issues. In some cases, companies have been held responsible, to the tune of millions, for an employee's actions. What is perhaps even more shocking is that most of the emerging new internet-related threats do not require any intent or malice on behalf of employees - most damage is done without them even being aware of what has happened.
It's the responsibility of software houses such as ours to provide the most robust and flexible EIM solution available, one that can effectively protect the entire relationship between employee and the company's IT resources. Control has to go beyond the traditional 'gateway' and on to both the network and desktop level.
In summary, internet access and its associated applications remain an essential business tool. New technological advances continue to lead us into new ways of working - look at the freedom it has already given us in terms of flexibility.
EIM must continue to evolve alongside these developments to ensure that it provides companies and organizations with the right levels of protection and support. It is an exciting time, and an exciting market, and I look forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.
Geoff Haggart is vice president for EMEA at Websense (www.websense.com).