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SEC workers spent hours at work watching online porn

Jaikumar Vijayan | April 26, 2010
Senior staffers among 31 who accessed sites with work computers

Approaches to dealing with the issue have been somewhat cyclical in nature, said John Pescatore, an analyst with Gartner Inc. Back in the early days of workplace Internet connectivity, porn was a "huge problem. Then the child pornography stings of the early 2000s led to a huge growth in URL blocking/content filtering and the problem was mitigated," he said.

More recently, the drive to open up corporate connections to social networking and other sites -- and the growing pressure on IT to "treat users like adults and assume they will be responsible" -- has lead to a reemergence of the problem, he said. "The pressure has definitely been on to open up more and security has had to back off; but incidents like this will drive things a bit in the other direction," Pescatore predicted.

Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with Spire Security in Malvern, Pa. wasn't surprised by the revelation. "That said, most of the larger companies in the world have protection in place to address this problem," he said. "It is possible that some employees figured out a way around protection mechanisms already in place, but if the SEC doesn't have any, they are surely lagging in terms of mainstream adoption of Web content filters."

The Washington Times first reported on the investigations in February when it obtained documents from the SEC via a Freedom of Information Act request. But the story received a much broader airing this week after ABC News reported that it had obtained a copy of the yet-to-be-released report from Kotz.

John Nester, a spokesman for the SEC said that every instance of inappropriate use that had been investigated by Kotz had resulted from the SEC's own surveillance using filtering products from companies such as BlueCoat and McAfee. "Each of the offending employees has been disciplined or is in the process of being disciplined. Some have already been suspended or dismissed," Nester said via e-mail.

Since February, the SEC has increased penalties for those caught using work computers inappropriately, he said. "We will not tolerate the transgressions of the very few who bring discredit to their thousands of hardworking colleagues."

 

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