Alliance seeks to block online adult content at work

Your company’s next e-mail filtering software may come equipped with a blocking component that prevents pornographic content from entering the corporate network.

Israel-based anti-spam developer Commtouch Software Ltd. has announced an alliance with the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a U.K.-based Internet hotline where IT professionals and the public can report on child abuse content on the Internet, and Image Analyzer Ltd., which develops detection technology that scans network traffic for inappropriate or pornographic digital images.

Commtouch provides e-mail defence technologies, including anti-spam software, and licences them through OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). The OEMs integrate Commtouch components into their own software and services offerings.

With resources from IWF and Image Analyzer, anti-spam users can now scan e-mail traffic for child pornography and other inappropriate content, in addition to scanning for spam or spyware messages, explained Rebecca Herson, senior director for marketing at Commtouch.

“One of the main reasons why we arranged this partnership (with IWF and Image Analyzer) was because of the demand from our partners who are basically hearing from customers in the field that these types of services are required,” said Herson.

A 2005 survey by Atlanta-based market research firm Delta Consulting revealed that half of the Fortune 500 companies have dealt with at least one incident of computer pornography in the workplace over a period of 12 months.

In certain jurisdictions, employers can be held liable for mere negligence or non-action in terms of child pornography content on employees’ computers.

A big part of the IWF’s campaign involves promoting awareness among IT professionals on what they should do when they stumble upon pornographic content on corporate PCs, said Sarah Robertson, communications officer at IWF.

The IWF has been conducting regular surveys of IT professionals in the U.K. to determine their level of awareness of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act 2003, which details the legal obligation of IT professionals with regards to handling child abuse images in the company network.

“We have specific campaign for IT professional awareness. I think it’s important that they know their legal responsibilities when handling illegal content in the workplace,” Robertson said.

The IWF maintains a list of about 1,000 URLs of known Web sites that host child pornography content. Commtouch has integrated this list, as well as the Image Analyzer component, as part of its anti-spam technology’s e-mail filtering functions.

Although the new features come pre-integrated with Commtouch’s anti-spam technology, the choice is left to the licensing partners whether they would like to turn on these features, Herson said.

“We have collaborated in order to make it easier for our licensing partners to use these additional services without having to do a full integration with each of the separate companies,” she explained, adding that while the IWF URL list is a free service, the Image Analyzer feature will involve an additional cost to the OEMs.

The licensing partners may, however, simply opt to turn on the IWF feature without the Image Analyzer, or they can choose to utilize both services and engage in a licensing agreement with Image Analyzer.

Although the option is left to Commtouch’s individual licensing partners, Herson believes most of the OEMs would take advantage of the added features, considering the ongoing clamour from customers for compliance-enabling technologies.

“It’s a huge issue; [there are] lawsuits that companies can be exposed to just by virtue of negligence more than anything else,” Herson explained. “If an employee is accessing pornographic or abusive or any type of offensive material using company infrastructure, then in certain places [employers] can be held liable for sexual harassment or a whole host of other issues that they can be taken to court on.”

Listed among Commtouch’s OEM partners include security vendor F-Secure Corp., HP Consulting and Integration, OpenWave, WatchGuard Technologies and Toronto-based BlueCat Networks.

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