LittleBrother Knows You're Messaging

SAN FRANCISCO (05/09/2000) - If you're at work, thinking about dashing off an instant message to a friend, think again. A company that develops Internet filtering software has released a tool that lets businesses figure out who's an office fiend with messaging software like America Online Inc.'s Instant Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.

Called InstaBlock, the tool is offered in LittleBrother 4.0, an Internet access filtering program from SurfControl. The program costs $495 for use on ten client PCs. The company claims InstaBlock is the first program to give network administrators fine-grained control over messaging privileges, down to individuals or services. Competing products only allow messaging to be turned completely on or off through a proxy server, says Kelly Haggerty, SurfControl's director of product management.

SurfControl competes with Enron Software and WebSense in the market for filtering software or Internet access-management. Neither competitor promotes similar message-blocking features.

Controlling a Popularity Wave

Instant messaging lets you instantly transmit text messages to others from within small windows that pop up inside your Web browser. The popularity of the application has grown in recent years as a quicker alternative to e-mail.

Instant messaging provides real-time one-to-one communication over the Internet.

Some companies have taken to using messaging to provide technical support and for intra-company communication. However, many are concerned about employees using the technology for personal messages.

The blocking is "probably one of our highest-requested features," Haggerty says.

Besides costing money in lost productivity, messaging presents a security threat because it doesn't have the same level of security of Web browsers and e-mail, he says. And like other forms of unauthorized Web use, it can sap the network bandwidth needed for work-related tasks and sully a company's reputation if employees visit embarrassing sites that record site visits by the name of the corporation, rather than the individual.

LittleBrother has other features that could be used to spy on the content of messages, but few companies have the time or the need to do so, says Craig Librett, a SurfControl spokesperson. Some companies have liberal policies that allow personal use of corporate networks as long as it isn't during certain work hours, he says.

"It's not about Big Brother," Librett says. "It's about making sure that during peak business hours, you're not using [the network] to the company's detriment."

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