Does filtering adult Web sites work?

Pending House bill requires blocking software for government computers

Does software to block adult content and other objectional material really work? In past years, such programs have been knocked for blocking legitimate Web sites along with the nasty ones -- such as screening out breast-cancer information sites along with nubile young vixens.

But the technology has advanced, and software-as-a-service changes the equation, according to some security experts. The House passed a measure earlier this month that, if it makes it into law, will require agencies to have blocking software installed on any systems for which they get appropriated funds, specifically targeting pornography.

The House measure, part of a supplemental spending bill (H.R. 4899), appears to stem from recent cases of employees at several agencies, including the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Minerals Management Service, spending most of their workdays browsing Internet porn rather than monitoring the businesses and industries they were supposed to regulate.

But is the problem really that widespread? Are there really very many people, outside of a few clusters in an agency here and there, dumb enough to look at porn in the office?

Yes, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute. While he had no figures specifically relating to the government, he said the phenomenon is "breathtakingly" widespread in the working world.

"People think they're anonymous, even when they're at work," he said. "There's no reason for them to think it, but they think it." In addition to sexual content, he said, many organizations also wish to block employee access to sports sites, streaming media and other time-sucking diversions that some employees can't stay away from.

The problem of software screening out legitimate sites is easily solved, he said. "It doesn't take very long for somebody to get a site that is blocked ublocked," if access is needed, Paller said. "In general the [legitimate] sites people want to go to that are [blocked] are very few and they're used over and over again." It is little effort for an agency to put the filter in place and then deal with exceptions case-by-case, he said.

Software-as-a-service is also an ideal option, he said, as it lets a third-party company deal with maintaining the list of blocked sites and updating them in near-realtime, he said. "This is a place where cloud computing makes a lot of sense," he said.

Others, however, criticized the measure. Jim Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told NextGov that lawmakers should let agencies determine the best measures for deterring Internet abuse. In many agencies, the likelihood of getting fired is probably deterrent enough, he said. 

 

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Mon, Jul 19, 2010 Dave K

If you fire the people who can't control themselves, you don't need to spend millions on a software solution... and that Congress is involved should embarrass the hell out of the agencies mentioned in the article!

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group