Doing the dirty on the job

If your end users get wind of the latest craze hitting the Net, your network could be in trouble. Tagged "surfing for cash", this latest phenomenon is arousing interest among on-the-job users seeking to make a bit of cash on the side. The problem is, they're doing it when they're not supposed to and they're doing it using your network. As evidenced in a number of sites, users are prepared to compromise the ethical issues that come with surfing for cash while on the job, for anything between $5 to $500 per month. In return, users read and respond to e-mails from advertisers, visit advertiser Web sites and view online ads, all during working hours.

Experts say IT professionals should be concerned with the impact such sites could wreak on networks, especially if users download client software. Then there's breaching of security, lost productivity among staff and even more pressing, the drain such activity could impose on network bandwidth.

While ‘blocking' most of these sites would be a good start to preventing or dealing with such activity, it would become a solution too high on maintenance, particularly if such sites proliferate at a booming rate. Some say there are at least 70 sites already on the Net or at least in beta phase.

Having viewed a few sites myself - purely for professional research, of course - I can understand why users would feel enticed to go back. Take Not only is it a well-constructed portal site, but it offers attractive cash giveaways daily. Not a bad incentive to boost member loyalty huh? Aussie users may miss out though, as is so far restricted to US members. Unfortunately, they're not all that patriotic., one of the most popular Web sites that recently cranked up five million members, is a site that means business. So much so, that it recently received a $100 million investment and is set to go public. The first thing you see when you reach its site is this: "Get Paid to Surf the Web. Do you realise how valuable you are as an Internet user? Did you know that you could be paid when you're on the Web?... we'll pay you to use it. Interested? Become an member now!"

Yiaks! It gets worse. "Not only can you get paid when you surf, you can also get paid when your friends surf. And their friends. And THEIR friends. Through our referral program you help build a community while you build your earnings. No catch. Download your Viewbar software for free."

Great, just great. Before you know it, the whole company will be buzzing about how ‘super' this site is and how much money can be made from it.

Even the most ethical worker will be tempted to at least look "What's the harm in just taking a peek?" they'll ask themselves. Before you know it, bang! - there goes your bandwidth, right? Not necessarily.

The smartest way out for IT professionals seeking to avoid their network from being hit is by introducing the trusty corporate policy alternative. You could call it an Internet usage policy and it could be circulated to staff as an explicit dos and don'ts statement. After consulting with management, you would include the penalties involved if users were to breach such a policy. You could also consult your lawyer for advice as to what should be included, or perhaps get a copy of "e-policy" written by Mike Overly, which specifically discusses Internet usage policies. Either way, senior management would be impressed by your initiative to prevent what could potentially be exploitation of their resources for financial gain.

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