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Internet-access privileges prone to abuse

Wired companies must have acceptable use policies

The number of businesses hooking up to the Internet is increasing at a rapid rate. And while there are many advantages to that, experts say that it is also important to establish firm rules about employee use of the Internet, and then use some type of blocking, monitoring, or filtering to make sure the rules are followed.

“Unfortunately, not that many people in this area at least are implementing filtering to much of a degree,” said Art Allard, a data sales specialist with American MetroCom Corp., which recently purchased the Datasync internet service provider operation on the Coast. “Less than 10% of our users seem to do anything about it.”

Allard said that is mistake for several reasons. First, employee use of the Internet can waste a lot of time. Secondly, employee use of the `Net can lead to expensive liabilities for the business.

“The people who do abuse it are usually going to go to sex sites and sports sites,” Allard said. “That is probably the most prevalent ways people are wasting time on the `Net. The problem with the sex sites is that it has put a number of companies in a sensitive position. There are cases where an employee has been harassed by another employee after that person went to a porn site, and the employer was held libel. That has happened in more than one case.”

There are also cases where confidential material being shared through the Internet has caused considerable damage to a company because of a breakdown in security.

Allard said filtering or monitoring employees` access to the Internet is not an expensive proposition. Software that blocks, audits or monitors use can be installed for about $20 to $30 per client. A server-based system is a little more expensive, but still relatively cheap.

Some business owners object to putting more software on their system, fearing that it will impact their standard software. In that case, Allard said that Internet service providers can do the filtering for as little as $5 per month.

Allard said the most common reasons businesses give for not using blocks or filters is that they don`t want to give the impression that they don`t trust their employees, and don`t want to negatively impact employee morale. Some employers consider it a privacy issue.

“My advice is the kinds of gains are going to have a far greater impact than any detriment to morale,” he said. “The instant you decide to go on the Internet you should set firm and stringent policies about Internet usage. Be very specific and abide by that guideline.”

Often it is only one employee who will cause a problem, and having rules set up ahead of time prevents that employee from arguing that he or she has been unfairly singled out.

A University of Southern Mississippi (USM) professor who specializes in management information system said employee use of the Internet will likely become of increasing concern.

“The Internet, as you know, as been a rarity for most businesses for a long time, but more and more businesses are getting on line now,” said Dr. Don Davis, McCarty Distinguished Professor in the USM College of Business. “It isn`t so much pornography that is a concern, but shopping and browsing on the Internet. Those are very convenient to do at work, and can waste a lot of time.”

Before the Internet became an issue, there were problems with employees playing computer games at work. In order to avoid getting caught, some people would have a “hot key” on the computer that could quickly switch the computer over if a supervisor turned up. The same kind of hot key can be used to mask wasting time on the Internet. That`s why Davis recommends that employers monitor Internet access.

“I would imagine that most of our big corporations are now employing some means of monitoring e-mail and Internet access at work,” Davis said. “It`s just too big of a time waster.”

But he doesn`t think concerns about employee abuse of the Internet should discourage a business from hooking up. He said the Internet is relatively inexpensive compared to other kinds of advertising, and has many other advantages such as communicating quickly and inexpensively on e-mail both within the organization and with outside clients and suppliers.

About Becky Gillette

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