LittleBrother is watching what you do on your computer-and he's going to tattle
- By Steve Graves
- Jun 02, 1997
Information technology managers commonly use network traffic monitoring programs to
tune system performance, customize content, and assist with upgrade and procurement
decisions. World Wide Web managers use statistics generated by these programs to determine
who is using a site, how often they visit, how long they stay, what they download and what
programs they execute.
LittleBrother differs in a couple of important ways.
Like many Web site statistics packages, it runs on a networked Microsoft Windows NT or
Windows 95 machine, continuously monitoring and recording network and Internet traffic.
But LittleBrother monitors the activities of internal, not external, users. It
represents a new breed of monitoring software that notifies the boss if a worker visits a
forbidden site or plays Tetris at lunch.
Used with care, this tool can help agencies determine how network, Internet and
intranet resources are used, identify who is going where on the Internet and how long they
stay, show who is downloading nonwork materials, and finger those who play network games
or linger in chat rooms.
LittleBrother doesn't monitor just Web or LAN resources. It tracks File Transfer
Protocol and newsgroup traffic by user, site, protocol, bytes transferred and capacity
used. The program can tell how much bandwidth is consumed by Web, FTP, Telnet, mail and
news clients. It summarizes network activity and also watches specific sites or users. The
information by default is updated every five minutes-a customizable interval. To watch the
activities of specific users, a node filter lets you focus on those lucky few.
LittleBrother generates instant reports in graphical or text formats-reports on top
talkers, top sites, user details, site details, productive users, productive sites,
unproductive users and unproductive sites.
You can get daily and hourly summary and overview reports. If these canned reports
aren't detailed enough, a report wizard and query tool can generate custom reports based
on Internet application protocols, users and sites.
Internet resources are classified as productive or nonproductive based on an internal
database that separates Internet sites into about 50 groups such as business, sports or
technology. Agency managers could classify their groups as productive, nonproductive or
neutral. New groups can be added to the database.
LittleBrother goes beyond simple monitoring. Its blocking features make it a virtual
cybercop with the power to enforce access rules and regulations.
LittleBrother can keep users from visiting any sites designated as off-limits or
Enforcement isn't all or nothing, though. You can configure LittleBrother to block
access during duty hours but permit full access before and after work or during lunch.
LittleBrother can send warnings to users who violate agency Internet policy. Or it can
spy, logging infractions without sending notice.
Critics say that managers will use LittleBrother to abuse the privacy rights of their
employees. Privacy advocates perceive the product as Big Brother. Agency supervisors
should use the product carefully to avoid concerns.
Another concern: LittleBrother can be installed by anyone on any station. An employee
can turn LittleBrother loose on unsuspecting fellow workers or use the program to snoop
into colleagues' business.
Anyone with access to your network can use LittleBrother to track your every move on
the Internet, track every newsgroup you visit and identify every file you download. Puts a
different perspective on the issue, doesn't it?
Kansmen officials said LittleBrother is simply another information management utility.
Kansmen senior software engineer Art Shelest said LittleBrother is used by some
civilian agencies, including IRS, and some military organizations.
Joe Yurick, a LAN administrator for a NASA facility at White Sands, N.M., said his
group picked LittleBrother out of a field of seven network monitoring packages because it
could report user log-in names-information not provided by the other packages.
"We were looking for easy reporting, easy filtering, product flexibility and
cost-effectiveness," Yurick said.
His organization decided to monitor its 250-user LAN after a couple of instances of
unauthorized activities. Yurick pointed out that administrators are obligated to make sure
government resources aren't used for personal purposes.