Private Eyes Are Watching Them
Posted: 02.04 - By Teresa von Fuchs

SurfControl, a Calif.-based Web and e-mail filtering company, has recently launched a mobile product called Project Nomad. Based on its corporate LAN offering, Project Nomad extends office content filtering protocols to employees working in the field. SurfControl’s Jim Murphy, product marketing manager, explains the architecture in three parts.

First, employers use SurfControl’s database of risky Web sites to establish policies for appropriate surfing. The database includes the obvious gambling, pornography, extreme political and hate sites, as well as online shopping sites, news and sports. “Anything,” says Murphy, “that isn’t work related.”

The company’s policies then become “rules,” or references the filter uses to allow or disallow access. “Rule sets are very fluid,” says Murphy, from broad rules like, “we don’t want anyone ever going to porn sites,” to more customizable ones, like sets for groups of employees down to individual users. Murphy sites this example: “One group could be allowed online shopping sites after business hours and then a few, like IT administrators or executives, can go to any site at any time.”

When a user tries to access a restricted page, various functions take over. Blocking pages are most common, but employers can indeed allow access, then follow up with individuals after monitoring their usage. “Employers can tailor blocking as an educational tool, to help explain acceptable usage policies,” says Murphy.

Monitoring Web usage is the third facet of SurfControl’s product. A database keeps track of all sites employees visit or attempt to visit, and how much time they spend on the Internet. Monitoring is also customizable. “Employers can choose to monitor individuals,” says Murphy, “or employers can monitor groups, like all the people on the manufacturing floor, but not the people from branch office X.”

Project Nomad extends these filtering and monitoring capabilities out to mobile employees. When a user connects to the Internet from outside the corporate LAN, a thin client installed on the device intercepts the request for a Web page and sends it to the Nomad server, deployed alongside the back-office Web filter. Nomad checks against policies and rules established for that user, then sends the response back allowing the request or not. During the pilot program, SurfControl claims there has not been much of a noticable delay in response time for mobile users. Currently, Project Nomad is only available for laptops, not smaller devices.


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