Software sets out to uncover new office menace: the cyberslacker

EVERYONE does it. Millions of people use their office internet access to check out cheap flights, home shopping or celebrity gossip.

Sending e-mails and jokes to friends has become a common ritual in the working day, but now there’s a new term for personal use of the corporate web server - cyberslacking.

However, the fun could soon be coming to end thanks to a Glasgow technology firm.

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Experts at Iomart have devised a new "Big Brother" software system, called NetIntelligence, which will show managers just how much time employees spend surfing the net rather than doing the job they are paid to do.

Early results from the software have amazed programmers and managers alike.

Every employee with access to a computer is thought to spend at least one hour a day replying to personal e-mails.

Over 40 per cent of all employees make purchases over the net from their desk, 13 per cent download music and 4 per cent are thought to look at or download pornography.

In one organisation where Iomart piloted its software, 9 per cent of the 1,000 staff spent seven or eight hours a day on the internet.

Another pilot study found two employees were actually running external businesses from their employer’s desks.

Jim Mooney, the sales manager for Iomart, said: "Everyone thinks hacking is the biggest threat, but the other threat to organisations that use e-mail and the internet, one which is much less obvious, not malicious in nature, but just as costly in terms of profitability, is cyberslacking.

"There is also the additional infrastructure cost (bandwidth, storage, servers etc) required to support this non-productive activity in the workplace."

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NetIntelligence enables organisations to measure and monitor internet and e-mail use and abuse.

The programme takes ten minutes to install and every computer in a company is under surveillance.

Mouse movements and keyboard strokes are all recorded, letting managers see what employees are watching on the net, who they are e-mailing and which sites they have logged on to.

Iomart has been selling the software for six months and has already won accounts with public-sector bodies such as Highland Council and Fife College. The firm is also targeting financial institutions and large corporations and last week brought in 100,000 in orders.

Angus McSween, Iomart’s managing director, said: "There is a market for this. The internet and e-mail arrived so rapidly into organisations, no-one has been able to control it. It’s network anarchy."

He added: "It’s a cultural problem. People still believe "it’s my e-mail, my account" and up until now there were no tools to measure the situation on employees’ desktops.

"Now there can be transparency across the network. Employers would be shocked to see what happens."

The software can detect if pornographic and unsuitable material is being looked at by staff at their desks.

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The illegal downloading and copying of music, videos and movies not only consumes expensive bandwidth and storage, but following the lead of the music giant Sony last week, this can result in legal action from the copyright holders.

Mr McSween added: "It’s not the employee who is sued, but the computer’s owner, the company boss. There is a mixed reaction when employers see the findings.

"One reaction is ‘how are things so bad, don’t tell anyone, how have we not noticed our employees aren’t working?’"

In another pilot scheme, the Iomart team provided evidence to an employer that 77 terrabytes - 77 million megabytes - of images, including audio files and movies, were logged in their computer network by "cyberslackers".

He added: "We installed NetIntelligence in a financial institution in London one morning. It only takes a few minutes to set up. By lunchtime, we had run off reports. The employer asked us to pick five staff to show what they were up to. One who sat across from her boss had spent the whole morning shopping. It’s so easy to get away with, it’s terrifying."

However, John Scott, the chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Centre said companies should not be heavy-handed with employees and respect their rights for personal space. He said: "It’s inevitable that misuses will occur and there are no hard and fast rules. I believe everyone is entitled to private use of computers within limits.

He added: "If it is interfering with their job, they should be warned about monitoring. Companies should not violate employees’ personal space."

Iomart says managers as well as employees will be caught out by the software.

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Recent figures show that 64 per cent of firms use illegal software unknowingly - most of which is downloaded from the internet by well-meaning employees. Mr Mooney said: "The issue for the boss is that he can sack the employee for misuse of the internet, but if they were breaching copyright, then it’s the directors of the company who are in trouble."

The Iomart team is confident the software will become a global brand and the mere mention of its powers will create a change in behaviour.

Mr McSween said: "People don’t buy a burglar alarm until they’ve been burgled and often firms will want to hide the issue of cyberslacking.

"It might be identified as harmless down-time by staff, but the damage to firms can be horrific if employees are caught with porn or the company is dragged through the courts."

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