August 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Internet Abuse Triggers Crackdown More Employers Are Taking Steps To Discourage Unauthorized Surfing

Cara Anna Cox News Service
 

Sure, this story could start with the anecdote about Employee X, who sneaks more than a few peeks at the Internet during the workday.

But chances are, you already know someone like this.

Chances are, you are someone like this.

No harm done, right? Not quite.

Two employees at the Palm Beach County office of the state’s child welfare agency have been fired for Web surfing. One was fired last week for allegedly looking at pornography, the other on June 30 was accused of looking at “inappropriate” sites such as CNN Interactive. Other sites getting peeks from employees - ones for “Runners World,” “Sports Illustrated” and “Star Trek.”

The agency’s statewide policy says employees can’t use their state-provided access for personal reasons. A warning now appears when employees turn on their computers.

Fooling the boss is a little joke that’s been around for years. Dominic Viverito, systems manager at Big Entertainment Inc. in Boca Raton, remembers personal computer games where you could hit a few key buttons and presto! up popped a “spreadsheet.”

Some Web sites, such as Cox Interactive’s Fastball, have a built-in “boss button” that does the same thing. An enterprising college student has a site devoted to button designs and “Stealth surfing” tips. One tipster, after sharing a few suggestions, adds, “The only thing I’m paid for is to show up at work. So I don’t feel too bad about that.”

Companies are responding with the help of software that can monitor when, where and how often employees go online. Others block employee access to unapproved sites, or find and erase computer games from office PCs.

This cuts down on some employees’ morning dose of “cybererotica,” for example. Terry Woodward, owner of the Tropixx Talent adult Web sites based in Fort Lauderdale, said last week in The Palm Beach Post that the sites have the most visitors between 8:15 and 10:15 a.m. - when workers turn on their office computers.

But electronic filters and monitors haven’t caught on everywhere. About 98 percent of Fortune 1000 companies allow their employees some level of Internet access, says a survey by Gordon & Glickson, a Chicago-based law firm. But almost two of five responding corporations didn’t have a policy for it. More than 15 percent said employees had been in an inappropriate incident involving the Net.

Companies have a range of policies. Some, such as Big Entertainment, have no policy at all. “I would say there are no specific rules to regulate it,” Viverito says.”

But he warns: “The average worker surfing the Web probably doesn’t realize how many ways it can be traced back to them. I don’t think people know how easy it is.”

So how are companies dealing with the problem?

Click. At Paxson Communications Corp. in West Palm Beach, every employee signs an agreement to use the Internet for a specific business purpose, says Nick Scariti, chief information officer. The company can grant access by individual and by certain hours of the day.

There is no blocking of sites, but employees have access records, or logs. “We tell them their logs are monitored and site visits passed to managers,” Scariti says. “People know up front.”

If people didn’t know up front, there definitely would be abuse, he says. “There would be in any company. People are people!”

Click. Pratt & Whitney employees are issued Internet access for business purposes and receive security training, says spokesman Bob Carroll. The company also uses filters to block what Carroll calls “unbusiness” items - he gave travel and sports sites as examples. But the Internet should be considered a business tool and should be monitored no more or less than any other business tool such as phones or cars, he says.

Click. When one of the 3,300 employees with Internet access at FPL Group Inc. logs on to the company’s intranet, a banner appears warning against inappropriate use.

Internet access must be approved by a supervisor. There is no filtering software, but use, including e-mail and downloaded files, is monitored by the employee’s access number.

Disciplinary action ranges from removal of access to firing. Bill Mcgrogan, business systems manager, said he knows of one incident since the policy was put in place in early 1996.

His advice to companies that don’t yet have a policy - get one.

xxxx Don’s Boss Page (http://pages.nyu.edu/dap0686/boss.html) - The source for ‘panic buttons’ that allow you to switch screens with just a tap of one key. It also offers tips on how to surf right under the boss’ nose. Suggestions welcome. Fastball (http://www.fastball.com) - Click on the ‘boss button!’ on the left side of the screen and up pops an official-looking list of office supplies.

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