Web Filtering in the Workplace – How I Learned the Hard Way

Dan Nickason, IT Supervisor, Genesis Physicians Group
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A few years back, I worked for a small business that provided IT support and web hosting services to other small businesses. We had all the basic IT security functions in place, including a network firewall as well as brand name commercial anti-virus and anti-spam software solutions. Given the size of our company, our “line of defense” seemed more than adequate — that is until we hired a new employee we’ll call Jezebel (her name has been changed to protect the guilty).
Three days after Jezebel joined the company, I received a phone call from the office suite next door concerned that the network was unacceptably slow (we were sharing our T1 with a very small real estate company at the time). Fortunately, the owner of the real estate company had recently left an IT position, so he was familiar enough with how networks operate to provide me with and internal IP address where the problem seemed to be originating. At that time, I was very new to networking and the situation kicked off an educational “baptism by fire” so to speak.

The ping appeared to be coming through our demo wireless product, a Strix wireless network that we had set up to demo for clients. I shut down the Strix firewall, disconnected the transmitters, and immediately got a panicked call from next door that we just brought them down with a “ping of death”. The problem was exacerbated when I took the Strix down. We were now pinging at 1,000,000 pings a second and our whole network was dark. It brought down our internal communication. No web site. No email. The eight client web sites we hosted went down. And since we used VoIP, no phone service either.
Quite a mess.
I began checking the switches to attempt to locate the source, and it was coming from Jezebel’s work station. We had just bought her desktop when we hired her, so I knew it was clean at install. Turns out, Jezebel was addicted to downloading music via pirate sites. Jezebel had downloaded a very nasty virus, the likes of which I’d never seen — and it was mercilessly sucking the life out of the network.
Fortunately, after unhooking her system from the network, everything went back to normal. I formatted and reinstalled the operating system and we were back in businesses. Then Jezebel and I had a chat. I counseled her on the problems and risks involved with downloading music and reminded her that the activity was against company policy.
Suspiciously, our firewall went down hard two days later and it was then I began desperately looking for a product to moderate web surfing. I ended up deploying the Untangle Gateway Platform – a free open source solution that blocks unwanted Web content on the network along with spam, spyware, viruses and adware. I was able to restrict Jezebel’s internet usage to sites that were business related only and I could monitor her web surfing.
In hindsight, I wish I had known beforehand the importance web content control in the workplace. The benefit of increased employee efficiency goes straight to the bottom line.
Web filtering in the workplace – while it does not remove the temptation, it removes the ability to act on the temptation.