Web filtering tools handling ever-larger jobs

* Web filtering tools

Web filtering tools handling ever-larger jobs

By Ellen Messmer

From the time the World Wide Web took off in the mid-90s, corporations began looking for ways to filter out access to its more lurid displays, but IT managers who use filters today say they're good for much more than blocking access to porn.

Because keeping company resources safe from spyware, adware and phishing is of growing importance, Web filter technologies are keeping up by blocking sites known to be engaged in those types of threats. Filters have expanded to block peer-to-peer file sharing sites, which pose copyright concerns and often spread adware. Companies using Web filters expect them to play an ever-larger role in enterprise protection.

"Some sites are offensive to employees, such as pornography or gambling, others are time-wasters, such as sports," says Jeff Smestuen, network manager at ice-cream maker Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham, Texas, which has 750 employees at its manufacturing facilities and branch offices. "And Internet radio and TV sites are bandwidth hogs."

But these days, Web sites also might be just plain dangerous, pushing key-loggers out to steal personal information or trying to trick people into entering sensitive data.

"The phishing fraud we've seen firsthand," Smestuen says. "The Web sites are so professional looking and sometimes employees panic and ask IT for help."

Blue Bell uses Websense Enterprise as its filtering gateway to the Internet. Over the past year, Websense added a way to automatically block phishing and other fraudconnected Web sites as soon as they were identified.

"It does a pretty good job of blocking these sites," Smestuen says. "Nothing is going to get it all, but this helps."

Web filters also are expected to be flexible so that network managers can cut employees some slack even while stopping them from whiling away the day on the Web. Blue Bell, for instance, can set a "limit by quota" on the number of times an employee is allowed to go to some sites, such as those for weather or news.

"It can get to be a morale issue if you crank it down too much," Smestuen says about using a Web filter to police an employee's Web use.

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