IT Giving Social Networking Sites a Stop Sign

A new study by Barracuda Networks indicates more corporations and organizations are limiting employee access to social networking sites MySpace and Facebook.

Barracuda is a leading provider of e-mail and Web-security appliances.

“We’re seeing a shift with our customers who’ve primarily focused on stopping viruses, spyware, pornography and other inappropriate content,” Dean Drako, CEO of Barracuda Networks, told “That concern is still there, but now IT is looking more closely at things that could be productivity sinks and bandwidth hogs. They’ve been asking for controls on social networks including MySpace and Facebook. Some are very focused on stopping sport sites, particularly the fantasy football sites.”

Barracuda knows the issue first hand. Drako said he had to put restrictions in place a few years ago when he noticed MySpace was generating the most Web traffic among Barracuda’s employees.

How Web sites get filtered or blocked can vary based on how the customer or IT department wants to set up the controls. Filtering products from Barracuda and other vendors can simply restrict access to certain sites or types of sites or issue a pop-up warning to employees that the site they’re viewing is not approved and, basically, to view at their own risk.

Drako said one customer restricts access to certain portions of Craigslist, but not others.

Barracuda provides an audit trail of where users surf the Web. IT or administrators have an option to include a notice in the warnings to employees that their online activity is monitored. “We’ve found a lot of interest in that level of control, issuing a warning that, yes, you can view this site, but you shouldn’t,” said Drako.

But at the Center for Disease Control the issue is more clear cut—employees cannot view sites like Facebook and MySpace at all.

“Definitely, we block them,” Rodney Murray, a global technology services engineer the CDC, told He said CDC is in the process of deploying Barracuda to its international offices covering about 2,500 employees at 28 locations. There are also links to an “exception form” CDC staff can enter if they want to appeal and gain access to any blocked sites.

The CDC also blocks access to content it deems inappropriate for employees, including violent sites, pornographic sites and those with hate speech. YouTube and other video sites tend not to be a big issue because, as Drako points out, it’s so obvious on the screen the typical cubicle worker is reluctant to display them. But Murray said CDC is in the process of setting up blocks on streaming radio sites that can be a drain on bandwidth resources.

The Barracuda analysis, based on data from thousands of its Web Filter customers, found that 50 percent blocked either MySpace or Facebook (24.6 percent blocked only MySpace, 6.3 percent blocked Facebook and 19.3 percent said they blocked both).

The company said results from a second survey of 228 IT security professionals indicated 53 percent of businesses currently restrict employee Web surfing via automated Web filtering systems, and almost two-thirds of its business customers (65 percent) expect to enforce Web-surfing restrictions in 2008, a nearly 23 percent increase from this year.

Virus or spyware prevention (70 percent) and employee productivity drain
(52 percent) were cited as the top two reasons business customers gave in a poll asking for their reasons for enforcing employee Web surfing.

Bandwidth concerns (36 percent) and liability issues (28 percent) also received high marks.

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