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Monitoring Employee Web Activity

​A FEW YEARS AGO, Hakko American Products, a small electronics parts and services provider, wanted a way to better monitor its employees’ Web surfing. The company wanted to reduce personal time spent online, decrease excessive bandwidth use, and boost security by protecting Web surfers from malicious or harmful sites.

Hakko was already using a spam filtering solution called MailEssentials from the vendor GFI Software, says IT manager Chris Stuber, so it considered solving its current problem with the company’s WebMonitor solution. Compared to some other solutions, WebMonitor seemed to offer the best pricing; it also appeared more likely to integrate well with the other GFI products, he says.

The solution, which came with the ability to scan Web site downloads for malware, would also provide an additional security layer to the existing anti virus protection, Stuber says. For all these reasons, the company purchased the GFI solution. Stuber says it has integrated well with additional GFI products to help significantly strengthen the company’s Web surfing and e-mail security.

Implementing WebMonitor was relatively simple, according to Stuber. Product setup was assisted by significant support from GFI, which has always provided strong customer service to the company.

Shortly after installing the solution, Hakko was able to gain a much clearer sense of which employees were surfing where, says Stuber. Whereas IT staff previously had to sift through large amounts of Internet log data, they could now see reports on usage, broken down by week, month, and other time periods.

The company used the tool to block numerous Web sites, including many used for shopping and social networking, he says. In some cases, initially, Stuber says some employees were spending up to an hour or two daily on personal sites.

The company also used WebMonitor to block most employees from future access to many social networking sites, because employees did not need to use them in any official capacity, such as for marketing, he says. The software allows for flexibility, however, so Stuber could grant a small number of executives access to such sites, because they use them for research and other business purposes. Access to some sites, like YouTube, was blocked completely because they hog bandwidth, he says.

The company also spent considerable time blocking proxy Web sites, says Stuber. In many cases, employees (although just a minority) used proxies to access blocked sites, he says. In some cases, after proxies were blocked, some employees would then find new ones, he says. On certain occasions, he and others have had to speak to employees about not trying to circumvent restrictions.

Since the company installed WebMonitor, the rate of personal Web surfing has dramatically declined, Stuber says. In recent years, users who frequently rank at or near the top in terms of personal Web surfing have sometimes been contacted about the problem by Stuber or other executives. In addition to making staff more productive, the solution has significantly improved company IT security, Stuber says. Relatively soon after it was first installed, for example, the WebMonitor software was able to detect an infected file that hadn’t been identified by the company’s main antivirus solution.

WebMonitor has also likely improved security by keeping users away from personal Web sites that can be sources of malware, he says. The company was able to determine with strong certainty in the case of one infected file that an employee had downloaded it from a popular social networking site.

Last year, GFI purchased and repackaged a new solution, Vipre Antivirus, also integrating it into the WebMonitor product. That upgrade provides fewer false positives than the prior solution; it also seems to use up fewer resources and to cause less system latency. Though employees have the solution on their desktops, many “don’t even notice [Vipre],” Stuber says.

Though providing software and signature updates for Vipre, GFI doesn’t charge annual renewal or subscription costs.

Going forward, Web monitoring will become more challenging as Hakko will likely have to allow more social networking and Web 2.0 tools in the near future, Stuber says. The company also might begin using You Tube for marketing purposes, for instance.

To prepare for this, the company will adjust WebMonitor’s controls to give certain executives more site access, he says. Fortunately, the solution’s latest version offers greater control over certain sites, according to the vendor, including allowing administrators to set policies based on time spent browsing specific types of sites and also on bandwidth consumed in a certain period.

Stuber says Hakko has likely recovered the cost of WebMonitor from reduced IT labor costs and increased employee productivity.