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Avoid getting tangled in the Web

October 13, 1998
Web posted at: 3:45 PM EDT

by Christopher M. Giglio


(IDG) -- If your company allows employees access to the Internet, make sure you have a policy in place that outlines appropriate use of this valuable, but potentially dangerous, resource.

I work in the IS department of a large company that recently granted Internet access to hundreds of employees. Our strategy was simple, if not naive. We wanted to get our users plugged quickly into the Internet so they could access useful information that would make them better educated and more productive.With a proxy server in place and browsers loaded on the desktops, we proudly yelled, "Surf's up!"

It wasn't long before we realized we had just opened the electronic equivalent of Pandora's box.

After only a few days of unrestricted Internet access, angry and serious complaints came rolling in. Some managers felt employees were spending too much time perusing home pages that had no bearing on their work. Others reported that some employees were displaying adult-oriented images. One frantic user called the IS department and asked to speak with a male technician. The embarrassed employee had downloaded a sexually explicit screen saver and panicked when he could not delete it.

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The stage was set for disaster. We felt there were only two options: Either pull the cyber plug for all except a few select users, or educate everyone on Web etiquette and take our chances. I'm happy to report we took our chances and won, but not before we had hedged our bets by distributing an Internet usage policy that highlighted five key elements.

  • Spell it out. State in plain language that Internet access is provided for the sole purpose of conducting business-related activity. If any employee is found using Internet access for purposes other than company business, he or she will be subject to corrective action. Spell out exactly what you mean by corrective action. If you want to leave yourself a little breathing room, state that it will be determined by the employee's human resources manager and supervisor.

  • Don't be bashful. Tell the employees that displaying, downloading, or distributing any sexually explicit image or file is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

  • Internet access equals a big gaping hole in your network. Employees may not download software or files from the Internet without prior approval from the IS department. The Internet is strewn with all kinds of tempting tidbits and bytes such as evaluation software, documents, drivers, and images that are free for the taking. Scan all downloaded files for viruses. Software downloads can be dangerous because of version conflicts and licensing issues.

  • Loose lips sink corporations. The company's communication department should review and clear any information that is posted to chat rooms, bulletin boards, or newsgroups. Employees can easily and unwittingly leak sensitive or confidential information such as trade secrets, earnings, and mergers.

  • Company assets are just that. The company reserves the right to monitor every aspect of Internet usage and inspect files on company-owned PCs. Be sure to dispel any notion of privacy.

Once you have the final version of your Internet usage policy, use a multipronged approach in getting the word out. First, e-mail a copy to every potential Web user. Second, make sure the human resources department provides the policy to new hires during orientation. Finally, remind employees about the policy during regularly scheduled training or communication meetings.

Since the implementation of our Internet usage policy, we have not had one report of Internet abuse. All employees have access to this powerful resource, and the company is protected. Implementing an Internet usage policy provides an inexpensive safety net to protect against abuses of the Internet.

Christopher M. Giglio is an information services specialist at Parker Hannifin, in Irvine, Calif. Send e-mail to

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