Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cloud storage? What's the price of free space?

The advent of cloud storage services has been a huge revolution for consumers. With the exponential growth of data, smartphones, digital cameras, we keep consuming local storage at an ever increasing rate. Cloud storage is a god send and helps relieve some of the “pain” associated with storing photos, videos, documents, and large files which we want to keep, but which we don’t need to necessarily store on our own devices. It’s also probably safer to store these photos on cloud storage accounts, which are typically unlikely to fail (unless the cloud data gets seized, remember MegaUpload? – but that’s a different story for another time). Our hard disks and devices are much more prone to fail, break, get lost or get stolen, or otherwise die on us. The concept of relieving storage headaches may also apply to companies which can now outsource some of their storage to the cloud, however there are several risks associated with this. Here are 3 reasons why cloud storage can become a nightmare:

1) Employees using cloud storage to intentionally or unintentionally leak confidential information – this is a risk which can cripple any business. Anything from leaking product development plans by mistake, leaking customer data or client lists to competitors for monetary gain, or leaking financial data or documents – there is a very high risk of losing confidential information to cloud storage

2) Downloading malicious software via cloud storage – whenever a user accesses files from cloud storage accounts, especially from accounts which they don’t own, they are creating a serious security risk. This is especially so, if the cloud storage accounts are being used to store cracked software, which are typically booby-trapped with trojans and other malware. The risk to your company’s security is not to be ignored

3) Draining your bandwidth – isn’t it comfortable to upload the contents of your SD card to cloud storage whilst you are at the office? With larger and larger file sizes for photos, uploads to Cloud storage can easily hog the upload stream of a company. And although typically the upload stream is not used much by most companies, a hogged upload stream typically causes slowdowns in the downloads too. Any download requires a healthy non-hogged upload stream, so if the upload is being hogged, downloads are being affected for EVERYONE! Large file downloads from cloud storage are also likely to hog bandwidth.

Your employees should be educated first and foremost on the risks associated with cloud storage. This however, is usually not enough. Web monitoring software can quickly help you identify how cloud storage is being used and / or abused. It can help your track and report on how much bandwidth is being used by cloud storage, and who are the users who are accessing these services. You can then determine whether you want to allow this or not, but isn’t it better to be informed?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Who's about to go crazy this March Madness?

Is it your IT administrator who needs to sort out all of the bandwidth issues? Is it your employees who want to access work-related resources on the web and cannot because of people streaming March Madness games?
The NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Championship, AKA “March Madness”, is a major distraction in U.S. workplaces every year. The tournament kicks off March 19, with the busiest tournament days occurring on Thursday, March 21 and Friday, March 22 during standard business hours (beginning at 9am ET).
It’s only natural that employees’ level of interest is high when there is so much focus on the tournament in such a short span of time. Employees who are following the tournament closely are highly likely to turn to the Internet to stay up-to-date on the latest news and scores. With so many websites available to follow the tournament, it is very common for employees to watch live streams of games, listen to audio commentaries, view game highlights on ESPN and others, search for the latest results and stories, and participate in other related activities while at work – all of which are likely to cause a significant disturbance in three ways:

Bandwidth bottlenecks

With multiple users streaming content simultaneously, the available bandwidth is easily taken up. This can have a severe impact on other applications which are dependent on the Internet, such as VoIP, CRM, email and other cloud and Internet-enabled applications. Typical streaming content consumes 10Mb of data per minute. Multiply that by a significant number of employees and you can see why a bandwidth spike creating a bottleneck is inevitable.

Productivity loss

With games held during regular business hours, many users will be following results as they happen. This major distraction could severely impact productivity over the course of the tournament.

Security problems

Hackers have always used high interest stories and trending topics as lures to infect users’ machines. March Madness is no different, and it is almost certain that cybercriminals will use the tournament to trick unsuspecting users into falling for fake websites, SEO poisoning, phishing and other malicious scams.
To manage these problems, companies need to be prepared to enforce Internet usage and web filtering best practices, including:
  • Informing and educating employees about the effects associated with March Madness and giving them browsing tips that will help to address these challenges – e.g. advising users to avoid streaming live games, to be cautious of which websites they visit and to avoid clicking on links that come from an unfamiliar source.
  • Implementing web security software that:
    • Automatically blocks malicious websites and ensures any websites visited are free of malware. A point to note is that an anti-virus engine alone is not enough to stop all threats – a dedicated web security engine is now also a must.
    • Allows you to define bandwidth quotas, such as limiting downloads from streaming media websites to 100Mb a day, and limiting visits to news, media and sports sites to 30 minutes per day.
    • Blocks websites which could pose legal liabilities, such as gambling websites.
  • Setting up action-based alerts to anticipate problems before they develop and take the necessary action to immediately remediate issues as they rise.
Allowing employees to follow March Madness activity in the workplace can boost employee productivity, motivation and morale in the long run – but their web browsing has to be controlled. Uncontrolled usage of the Internet can result in serious issues, not just during the March Madness tournament but throughout the year. Luckily, there are advanced tools available to help IT balance the negative impacts of non-work related browsing with the need for employees to take a break, de-stress and stay motivated.

If you’re interested in a good web filtering solution, take a look at GFI WebMonitor.
You can download a free trial for 30 days. It’s worth a try!

Porn in the UK parliament - also in your office?

Porn in Parliament – Also in Your Office?

pornIt is not the first time that online pornography has stirred controversy in the UK. The recent government’s decision to automatically opt-in home users to online adult websites was quite controversial with many people saying that it is not up to the government to decide what websites people can visit at home. It’s funny how, within only a matter of few weeks, official figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show that there have been thousands of blocked attempts to access pornographic websites. The official version is that users typically end up on these websites accidentally, they come up as pop-ups from other websites and that automatically refreshing websites will generate more hits per user – a feeble attempt to wipe egg off their face.

Why does this happen?

It’s difficult to pass judgement on this issue. My view is that when someone is in their office, bored or tired after a long day, and having ‘exhausted’ their energy on Facebook, they might think that a quick peek at a ‘naughty’ website will not harm anyone? It’s also fair to say that most users probably already know that a web filtering solution is in place, and that their internet activity is monitored, so most of these are more likely than not deliberate attempts to access blocked online material. A user might come across an adult website while researching other topics, but the sheer number of attempts detailed in the statistics simply does not add up to this conclusion. When a specific website is visited, then it indicates intent to do so; however that’s up to the reader to judge.

What should you be thinking about?

Even though employees in the Houses of Parliament probably had a good idea that their online activity was monitored, it didn’t prevent them from attempting to access adult material. Moving away from the topic of porn and MPs in the UK, and looking at matters closer to home, how can you prevent something similar from happening?
What can you do to make sure that your staff spend their time more efficiently and productively? Here are a few tips:
1)      First things first, if you don’t have a web filtering and monitoring system in place, then you really should implement one – unless you want to start wondering what each employee in doing online
2)      You need a web filtering solution which will allow you to drill-down exactly into what a specific user is doing, as given by example in this short video:  Monitoring Internet activity at the office.
3)      Your web filtering should proactively advise and alert you when a user attempts to visit ‘naughty’ websites, or other illicit webpages, so that your HR department can decide whether or not to remind them of the company’s best practices on Internet usage.
4)      You should invest some time and resources discovering how much time users are spending on websites which are unrelated to their official duties.
GFI WebMonitor® is an affordable solution that allows you to address all of the above. Besides the ability to block categories of undesirable websites, it is very easy to use the Activity dashboards and reports to identify employees whose time could be better spent working for you, than searching the web for themselves. Real-time configurable alerts allow you to send emails to the appropriate people when their online behaviour merits it. Search engine query monitoring, for example, will clearly show what a user’s intentions were and the appropriate department can take the necessary actions, including education, to ensure there are no repeat offenders. GFI WebMonitor offers companies many other benefits such as added web browsing security and mitigation of bandwidth issues.
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