Content snitch

Identify hidden inappropriate - and potentially illegal - material on your network with Snitch Professional.

Do you know what Web content is on your company's computers? It seems a simple enough question, but it turns out that all sorts of content gathered from all sorts of sites accumulates as you and your co-workers perambulate around the 'Net. The problem is some of this content is not appropriate and can represent legal liability.

Let us make a digression here and point you to a story in Wired. The story is about a cop who is about to do time for downloading kiddie porn. While we do not defend his actions, the fact is that many of us who do research on the Internet could find ourselves, unwittingly, in a similar situation. The plethora of pop-ups that some sites generate can download images and other content that could easily cause problems. One lesson the Wired article shows is that if the feds want to get you, they only need one piece of evidence. From the story: "One click, you're guilty," an FBI agent says. "A federal offense is that easy."

Even if the hidden content on your systems isn't a federal offense, there is a lot of content that could lead to sexual harassment issues or simply contravene company policies. And while you could just purge the content from systems, there is often the need to find out what people are viewing.

But how to identify the "iffy" content? "Problematic" pictures can be hard to find when tens of thousands of image files are involved. And then there are URLs, text, audio and video files. In short, a tool is needed, and Gearhead has been experimenting with a pretty good one.

The tool is Snitch Professional from Hyperdyne Software. Snitch runs on PCs and can examine local and mapped drives so you could scan shares on the other machine. It can detect "interesting" content on your system in several ways. It knows what file types need to be examined (text, video and audio, and Snitch also checks the names and text content of files to see if they use any words such as !^%# ).

To identify text, Snitch has a default list of keywords and phrases considered suspicious or obscene. These keywords are used in filename and URL searches. You can create and rate your own keywords and add them to the list.

Snitch also can detect skin tones in images through the company's SkinScan technology. SkinScan looks for tone patterns that indicate exposed flesh and works remarkably well. Images can be ordered and browsed by their SkinScan rating, letting you find the images most likely to contain nudity.

You also can browse by subdirectory location, size, date, alphabetically or by type of obscenity, and click on a checkbox next to each image to add them to the list of those to be deleted or reported.

One thing we noticed was the "Display only suspicious images" option sometimes missed images that should have been found (a nude woman overlaid with text from a pop-up ad), while other quite innocent images turned up (President Bush standing in front of a blackboard).

Note that videos are not subjected to image scanning, but they are identified and can be ordered and browsed (video browsing is the slowest content-auditing operation). Snitch has no internal support for AVI and MOV files so it can't provide a preview of the first frame as a thumbnail and in-stead displays a huge red "X."

Snitch also can examine archives (ZIP and ACE) and apply the other detection features to the compressed content.

Finally, Snitch can report on URLs with identified keywords (although cookies are ignored). We were surprised that on all the machines we scanned, we found URLs that contained obscenities and often associated images.

Snitch was quite an eye-opener for us and definitely a useful tool for companies that want to make sure inappropriate content isn't being kept on corporate PCs. Performance is good - Snitch scanned 75,000 files on our PC in 40 minutes in the background. The Personal version ($30) differs from the Professional version ($70) in that it cannot produce reports, doesn't support custom keywords and cannot search compressed files. A trial version also is available.

Gearhead Scorecard

Overall grade

B+

Snitch Professional

Functionality: BBBHyperdyne Software

Elegance:

Value for money:

Vendor:

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