USB device uses image analysis to scan for inappropriate images

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The scoop: File Audit Facility software and USB drive, about $195, by Guardware.

Guardware combines file auditing software on a handy USB device.

What it is: The USB device includes detection software that uses image-analysis algorithms to scan a notebook or desktop for potentially inappropriate images or Web pages. The software can scan several image types, video files and HTML Web pages looking for the objectionable content. The software also can scan for music files to check for possible illegal downloads and measure how much storage is being used for music files. The system can scan removable drives and CDs in addition to a PC's hard drive. Content found can be deleted, and reports can be saved to the drive or copied to another system for later review.

Why it's cool: It can be difficult and uncomfortable for an IT manager to monitor whether employees are storing inappropriate material on company equipment. While most companies have Internet-usage policies, enforcing the policies can get tricky. Many large enterprises turn to large, expensive server-based scanning systems that can monitor Web traffic or scan large numbers of clients, leaving small and midsize businesses with fewer options. This drive and system are geared toward smaller businesses, as it scans content located on individual computers. Going beyond a few laptops becomes a scalability issue.

In our tests, the software could find and detect all of the objectionable content we purposely placed on our test machine (just in case you thought we were enjoying this project).

Some caveats: The image-analysis software is not perfect. Even with the highest threshold setting, in which the software is looking strictly for offensive images, we got false positives. The company says its software produces about a 1% false positive rate, and in our tests we found it slightly higher, about 2% of all the images scanned came up as "suspect," with a majority of those being safe images. The image analysis seems to tag photos with people's faces, or certain curves, shapes, etc., as suspect.

This is why the software gives a "results viewer," which lets the IT manager scan through the suspected images to determine whether the image is appropriate or not. Like the classic line about the definition of obscenity, ("I know it when I see it”), technology alone can't determine whether something is offensive or not. But this tool can be a great starting point for companies looking to track down inappropriate content.

Bottom line: For smaller companies with strict Internet-usage policies, the software and USB device can be a tool toward tracking down inappropriate content usage. In the end, just telling employees that you have the ability to scan their systems for offensive content may be the biggest deterrent toward keeping your systems clean.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five).

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