Most small businesses do not filter Internet content, what's the point? First, lets look at content types and then discuss the issues with not controlling what your business allows in and out of the Internet.
HTTP(s) Web Traffic - Normal Web Pages
Instant Messaging (IM) - MSN/AOL/Yahoo Messaging, File Transfer and Voice
File Transfer Protocol (FTP) - Common method for transferring files
Streaming Media - Used to stream video and/or music
Network Bandwidth can be an expensive commodity for small businesses, depending on your region or location. Non-business web surfing, instant messaging and streaming media can consume all of your Internet bandwidth, leaving your production application or web site with poor performance.
Legal Risk isn't on the forefront of a small business owner's mind when allowing employees access to the Internet. Employees use company computers to download copyrighted materials such as music and dvd's. The RIAA has fined Millions of Dollars (Yes Millions) to businesses that have copyrighted materials on their computers and file systems, all downloaded by employees.
Human Resources is concerned about offensive or harassing material being displayed on company computer systems. The Internet allows access to any and all types of sexually explicit content. Sexual harassment claims can be costly for a small business and are avoidable.
Data Theft by disgruntled employees can leave a company without it's most valuable resource, customers. Customers are more likely to switch services when they find out their personal data has been lost or stolen. IM and FTP make it extremely simple to copy customer data to a remote location. USB drives also pose the same risk.
Proxy Servers are the most flexible and best suited to handle all four concerns above. They sit between the computer and the Internet, handling all Internet traffic. They act as the traffic cop in the middle of a busy intersection when the stop light is out. They determine when and where what types of content can leave the network. Depending on the proxy server, they can cache web pages, which saves network bandwidth, limit streaming music bandwidth, filter categories of URL (pornography, mature content, etc...) and control instant messaging traffic.
Personal Computer Web Control Software can be installed on individual pc's to control web site access, instant message and time of day access but is not scalable for a large number of PC's.
Each business needs to add a content filtering and acceptable Internet use policy to the security policy or employee handbook. Production application performance, legal / human resource risk and data theft are concerns for all business. Content filtering is not a significant investment compared to legal fees dealing with RIAA, sexual harassment or lost customer data.
NonStop Networks, LLC
Kansas City Cisco Select Partner
Network, Security and Unified Communications Solutions