Andy King, director at LANDesk Software, argues for this summer to be the time to develop a new IT policy, as employees use work computers to download potentially dangerous applications to help them keep up with the World Cup.

On 11th June the World Cup Finals will kick off in South Africa in front of an estimated televised audience of almost six billion people. As soon as the first ball is kicked, office workers all over the world will be fighting to get the latest, up-to-the-minute news from the tournament on corporate computers – potentially exposing organisations to a security risk.

Developments in the way we use technology mean that for the first time, a new breed of workers has emerged, who continually blur the line between their professional and private lives by using work time and equipment to perform non-work related tasks such as keeping track of this summer's World Cup.

In years gone by, companies would have simply listened to the radio or put the TV on in the office, but the emergence of social media forums, internet TV and downloadable applications, means that a new generation of ‘social savvy workers' is emerging and companies are increasingly struggling to control this part of the workforce.

A catastrophic security own-goal

Major sporting events such as the World Cup or the Olympics inevitably see an increase in internet traffic, as users search for relevant information through potentially dangerous social media applications during office hours.

Ahead of the World Cup, goal update widgets, news tickers and wall charts, will be amongst the materials downloaded by employees to keep up to speed with the tournament. What is less clear, however, is the extent to which these downloads will be responsible for a catastrophic security own-goal - despite the strict social media policies that most organisations have in place.

Recent research has found that almost three-quarters of UK organisations have introduced policies limiting the use of social media and internet downloads, although unsurprisingly, as many as one in three were doubtful that these were actually being adhered to.

Playing home and away

One of the contributing factors to this is undoubtedly the rise in the number of home workers, who use corporate equipment away from the office. Indeed, the same research found that almost nine out of ten office workers in the UK today have the ability to work from home, which means that they are much more likely to blur the IT boundaries between their personal and professional lives as a result.

This is hardly surprising, given that as many as 72 per cent of these have admitted to experiencing problems such as an inability to log into the corporate network or hardware issues, a fact which is even less surprising when you consider that most employees had admitted to downloading software from the internet to a corporate computer. Half of those downloads were found to be non-work related, exposing the corporate network to potential security threats and operational challenges. 

Tackling the problem

Perhaps one solution is for there to be greater alignment between HR and IT departments when introducing policy and practice around employee use of work IT equipment. Policy developed by the IT department is not always considered by HR, and this can sometimes cause a division in terms of how policies are rolled out. By working closer together, policies can be more tightly controlled, better communicated and employee behaviour more carefully scrutinised.

IT management software can also help manage human behaviour on the network in a number of ways. By managing which software is accessible to employees, organisations can take control of their security and prevent them from accidentally downloading potentially hazardous materials.

This is not to say that all employee access to applications needs to be cut off – employees can instead be directed towards safe, approved applications, which can help to safeguard productivity and minimise threats to system security for everyone.

At the end of the day, it is inevitable that staff will want to use corporate equipment to keep up to speed with events such as the World Cup. But when the final whistle has blown over in South Africa, you will need to be sure that your organisation has been kept safe from online threats. So even if Fabio Capello does not manage to guide his team to glory this summer, then at least managing your organisation's security should be a much less challenging task!