Tool lets management put a cap on Internet, IM use


A vendor that makes software to protect children from online predators has developed a product for small and midsize businesses that lets management monitor and restrict employee use of instant messaging and the Internet.

Zihtec Monday is announcing Internet Control for Businesses, (ICB), which blocks instant messaging programs, access to inappropriate Web sites and prevents employees from shopping online or taking care of personal business during work hours.

Employers can use the product to restrict Internet usage to certain hours of the day, such as lunch breaks, or to restrict online chats to certain departments and to specific times. ICB provides reports to management showing employees’ Web surfing history and text of discussions they have via instant messaging.

Some firewalls block instant messaging entirely, so “you have it all or you have nothing,” says Zihtec founder Gabriel Luu. “The nice part about us is you’re still allowed to have usage of everything out there, but it’s restricted and controlled by the business owner.”

Restricting Internet and IM to certain times of the day is not a unique feature, however, says Forrester senior analyst Natalie Lambert, who has not been briefed by Zihtec.

“I consider this good functionality. I wouldn’t consider it unique,” she says.

The same features can be found in Web content filtering products from Websense and McAfee , Lambert says.

It makes more sense for a business to deploy products from McAfee or Websense because they also provide comprehensive protection against hackers, malicious code and other threats, she says.

“This (Zihtec offering) absolutely looks like a standalone product for employee productivity,” Lambert says. “If they’re not doing Web content filtering, I see very little value deploying this application by itself.”

ICB does block pornography, other questionable Web sites, music and video downloads over peer-to-peer networks, and lets company owners customize the Web filter to block out Web sites and Web searches for certain phrases as they see fit, Luu says.

Websense advertises a wider range of security features in its Web Security Suite, such as protection against spyware, malicious mobile code, phishing attacks and bots.

Luu says he decided not to include advanced security features in ICB, at least for now, because the software is compatible with Windows Vista, which has security protection against malware, fraudulent Web sites, phishing, spyware and other threats.

“If they do a good job (with security), there’s no sense for us to do that,” Luu says.

ICB pricing is a one-time fee of US$39.95 per computer. There are a handful of beta users, including Carlson Travel Agency in Houston, according to Zihtec.

ICB is based partly on work Zihtec performed when it developed Safe Chat Universal Messenger, a set of products that protect children from inappropriate Web content and predators who lurk in online chat rooms.

Luu decided to make ICB to tackle the problem of lost productivity caused by employees taking care of personal business online or sending instant messages.

“People might not be intentionally abusing it, but when you’re online, time flies by so fast, you may plan to be on there 15 minutes but you may be online for an hour,” he says.


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