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What's New in Technology for November, 2009

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Technology: Website Filtering Proves Tricky in the New Web. 2.0 Environment

Few businesses operate without using the Internet for some of their operational needs. The Internet represents big business for crooks, too. The Federal Bureau of Investigation calculates that Internet fraud costs U.S. businesses about $67 billion a year. Tactics used by criminal hackers have evolved as rapidly as Internet applications. Web fraud has morphed to include targeting widely used and respected websites. Once hijacked by criminals, these websites could redirect visitors to malware sites or plant keyboard loggers or Trojan horses that steal data from individual PCs.

The widespread popularity of interactive web applications - such as Flckr, Wikipedia, Twitter and Facebook - that rely on third-party content that cannot be verified have made matters worse. Firewalls, URL filters and anti-virus updates offer insufficient protection against today’s malicious websites. Hackers can develop ways to capitalize quickly on new vulnerabilities. Within seconds, they can pilfer targeted networks and move on before vendors even detect the attack.

Web Filtering

Internet users get their computers infected by websites that have been compromised, by accessing blogs and other interactive commentary or from clicking on links to advertising. In the past, conventional wisdom suggested that the best way to avoid malware was to avoid adult content and gambling sites. That precaution is no longer sufficient. Sites operated by major companies have been successfully targeted by Internet crooks. Web filtering helps provide protection against the new threats and those that have arisen alongside the worldwide boom in social networking, web mail and messaging. Once you change the settings on your PC or your router (to protect your network), the system uses the servers operated by the filtering service instead of those run by your Internet service provider. There are many web filtering services available, including free services such as OpenDNS and subscription-based services from Google and CyberPatrol. Some filtering services are marketed as parental tools to keep children from accessing inappropriate sites and all of them offer the ability to block access to certain websites. However, none are fail-safe because the Internet is just too vast.

Your company's reliance on the Internet, the size of your business operations and your confidence in your employees will all factor into your choice of web filtering services. Most allow you to set your desired level of content filtering. High settings will filter out time-wasting sites and sites with adult content. Most services allow you to customize and select the type of site you want blocked or to make exceptions for specific sites.

New Threats

If you are not convinced that new challenges abound, consider these points.

  • The features that make Web 2.0 so successful are the same ones that amplify the risk of third-party attacks. The interconnectivity and interactive nature of many new web applications have created an environment where third-party content is the norm, giving site owners practically no control over the content on their site
  • Rogue websites that are closed down are often quickly replaced with new ones.
  • Malicious third-party ad content can infect legitimate, respected sites. Examples exist of third-party ads infected with Trojan downloaders that have compromised active, legitimate sites. Users who clicked through links on legitimate sites were exposed to the risk of fraud. Well-known websites run by legitimate social networking and newspaper companies have been inadvertently involved in these scams.
  • As a greater amount of content comes from more and more sources, our confidence in its integrity declines. Even if your employees stick to your appropriate use guidelines for computers, you could end up with viruses on your network.

Web 2.0 technologies have brought wonderful new applications to Internet users, but alongside the benefits we face new levels of malware and crime. Staying current with protective software and web security technology is crucial for companies.

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