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Source: ZDNet Uk News

Posted on March 21, 2002

      Brace yourselves, corporate workers: one of the last bastions of work place relief -- sneaking in some online shopping or snickering over an email joke -- could be destined for universal banishment.

      Major corporations are increasingly classifying employee email and Internet privileges as potential security hazards, distractions or worse, costly legal dangers in the making.

      As a result, companies are considering dramatically curtailing, or even abolishing completely the freedoms, on which employees have grown increasingly reliant over the past few years.

      To hear some of the more ardent computer security advocates tell it, the days of sneaking in some online shopping on company time, mass-emailing your pals a Flash-powered shoot 'em-up game or even downloading screensavers could be a thing of the past.

      "It is drastic and painful," Raimund Genes, European president of antivirus software manufacturer Trend Micro, told Reuters. "But I think it is necessary for the future."

      The objective is clear, security advisers say.

      A healthy dose of IT prevention can eradicate debilitating email-borne worms and limit the likeliness of employees using their speedy desktop Net connection to download copyright-protected tunes, thus triggering a lawsuit.

      "The message is: 'I'm afraid you'll have to do it after hours at home, which is where you should be doing it in the first place,'" said Mikko Hypponen, manager of antivirus research for Finnish-based F-Secure Corp.

      Hypponen added some Fortune 100 companies are looking to step up security measures beyond firewalls, which bar access to sites with racy or inflammatory content. They are looking to ban Internet usage for all but select, authorised personnel.

      The biggest developments are around email prevention, experts say. Elaborate content filtering software, which can run upwards of $30,000 to install, can block all but the tamest incoming emails, and most attachments, said Trend Micro's Genes.

      Corporations, particularly those that were stung hard by the wave of virus and worm attacks during the past two years, are considering it a top priority.

      "We started full email and Web surfing prevention as a safety initiative in 1999," a chief security officer at one of Germany's largest employers, an energy firm, told Reuters.

      For many employees at the company, Web surfing is confined to specially designated PCs, and the email server has been tailored to intercept incoming emails which contain a range of file attachments, he said.

      Among the nearly 100 email attachments outlawed by the company are: screen savers, digital greeting cards, and the ubiquitous ".exe," or executable file, a standard format needed to run most computer applications and a common target for virus authors.

      The security officer said employees are gradually adjusting to the strict policy. It has already scored points with management though, he said, as no virus or worm has infiltrated the firm's defences during the past three years.

      But instituting these new security measures can be a costly and labour-intensive investment, experts say, likely discouraging firms with meagre IT budgets from upgrading beyond the status quo.

      "It's a question of resources," said a spokeswoman at UK-based Sophos Anti-Virus. "If you have one or two guys implementing IT at your organisation, it's not going to make much sense."

      "But it certainly makes sense for the large corporates," she "We are likely to see a clampdown in the months and years to come, which is a shame because the Net is a pretty fun place to be some days."

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