Web Addiction on the Rise

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted August 26, 2002
By Gretchen Hyman

Forget those after work cocktails that gradually become more of a necessity than a social pleasure. Forget that extra half pack of cigarettes that gets smoked during the day to alleviate stress from an overdue report or a hotheaded boss. America's favorite pastime for the 21st century, Web surfing, is now being pinpointed as the one of the most highly addictive activities to scourge the modern workplace. According to research conducted by employee management firm Websense, 25 percent of employees feel addicted to the Internet, while only a meager 8 percent of those polled claim no knowledge of workplace Web addiction.

Making a case for employee Internet management (EIM) software solutions, industry experts say Internet addiction can be a productivity blind spot for many employers and human resource professionals who fail to recognize the signs and the consequential drop in productivity levels, not to mention the drain on corporate bandwidth.

"Studies have shown that from 25 to 50 percent of cyber addiction is occurring at the workplace," said Dr. Marlene Maheu, an Internet addiction expert and CEO of Pioneer Development Resources, Inc. "That means employees are getting paid to participate in activities that are not work-related."

The survey, which was conducted by Harris Interactive across a swath of 305 employees, determined that the average worker spends more than one entire workday each week surfing Web sites that are not work-related.

Among those polled, 67 percent confessed to visiting Web sites for personal reasons. Compulsive workplace shoppers claimed 24 percent of those polled. News junkies came in second at 23 percent, pornography hounds at 18 percent, gambling at 8 percent, and auctions at 6 percent.

"The survey shows there is a huge gap between what employees are doing on the Internet and what employers know," said Harold Kester, chief technology officer for Websense. "Left unchecked, free and open Internet use can lead to severe productivity and legal liability issues for organizations."

Separately released statistics state that 70 percent of Internet pornography traffic occurs during the 9-5 workday. Research from IDC claims that 30-40 percent of all Internet surfing is non-work related, and Nielsen/NetRatings states that 60 percent of online purchases are made during business work hours.

But while many corporations are making an effort to block such activity, they are not covering their bases entirely, says Websense, and employees learn to snake their way around the Web despite these efforts.

For example, says Websense, while 78 percent of employers block employee access to pornography, only 47 percent block access to gambling sites, 20 percent block shopping and auction sites, and 4 percent block news sites.

Websense, Secure Computing, Advanced Productivity Software, Inc., and SurfControl are just a few of the companies that provide EIM solutions for corporate entities needing to filter personal Web usage in the workplace. Typically, the software product is installed on the server and integrates with the firewall, cache engine, or proxy server, and via a database or URLs, monitors and controls Web site access.

Another hidden danger for companies, says Websense, is the risk of malicious mobile code (MCC) from un-monitored Web access. Corporate networks can be inadvertently exposed to worms, viruses, and other malicious code while employees are seeking out mindless online entertainment.

According to Websense data, 48.6 percent of MMC is embedded on Web sites that many companies would normally allow employees to access freely.

"Web-borne MMC is a growing threat to corporate America because it infects more than just hacking, pornography, and gambling Web sites," said Dan Hubbard, a security expert at Websense. "For example, employees browsing travel or sports sites can instantly infect their company's network without even knowing it. It's critical for businesses to stop this type of code at the source, rather than react once it enters the Internet gateway."

Additionally, Websense warns companies of potential liability and network congestion issues when it comes to workplace gambling. Many gambling Web sites often contain interactive content or streaming video that can lead to network congestion, slower connectivity for other employees, and markedly reduced employee productivity, says Websense.

"Recent legislation allowing online horse betting in California isn't something employers should take lightly," said Jennifer Kearns, a labor and employment partner at Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP. "Companies that don't have policies for managing workplace Internet activity can face a multitude of problems, not the least of which is lost employee productivity."

According to Websense, demand for online betting got a major boost when California Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill earlier this year legalizing online horse race betting. Since then, the number of gambling Web sites have skyrocketed and so has the likelihood that some of those gamblers are sitting in the office cubicle nearest you.

"Employers should remain proactive in terms of setting clear policies about Internet gambling in the workplace," said Andy Meyer, vice president of marketing for Websense, "Companies can also enforce those policies with an EIM product that automatically takes the temptation away from employees."

Reprinted from siliconvalley.internet.com.

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