Corps works to ensure a Net-friendly environment

Sites with hacking
information, explicit
sex and bomb-making recipes are off-limits
at all times.

The Army Corps of Engineers’ district office in Huntington, W.Va., wanted a handle
on its Internet use.

“We were having some slowdown in traffic going outside the district office,”
said Ken Shaffer, the district’s information management project manager.

The office had already planned to upgrade its network from shared to switched Ethernet
and extend 100-Mbps Fast Ethernet to desktop PCs. But Shaffer first wanted to see where
traffic started and gain some control over where it was going.

In addition to bandwidth demands, there were legal issues. A female employee had
complained of pornography displayed on a male co-worker’s monitor, and Shaffer said
there were instances of sexually explicit material being printed out and found by staff
members at the printer.

“If there is anything government is touchy about, it is creating a hostile work
environment,” said Kelly Haggerty, marketing manager for Elron Software Inc.’s
Internet Manager. The Huntington office chose the Cambridge, Mass., company’s
monitoring tool to watch over its Web traffic.

“It has given us a good handle on what the traffic is,” Shaffer said.

The office can enforce its Internet use policy, which has cut browsing and reduced the
number of visits to sites deemed inappropriate.

“We’re sort of liberal,” Shaffer said. Workers are permitted to visit
nonwork-related sites during breaks and lunch. Some sites are off-limits at all times,
however, including those with explicit sex, hacking information and bomb-making recipes.

Illicit visits are not a big problem, Shaffer said. “Usually, once someone gets
warned about it, they wake up,” he said.

Internet Manager runs on a server or workstation under Microsoft Windows NT and
monitors all Internet traffic on the LAN in real time. It generates usage reports by
individual, workgroup, site or time. It also has a SmartList function that draws up a
self-maintaining list of blocked sites based on a key word dictionary matched against
outgoing Web addresses.

The Huntington district, part of the corps’ Great Lakes and Ohio River Division,
has operations and field offices in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Virginia.
It maintains a T1 connection to the corps’ WAN and frame relay connections to 50
field offices.

The nine-floor headquarters has a 100-Mbps Fiber Distributed Data Interface ring on
each floor feeding into an MMac Plus hub from Cabletron Systems Inc. of Rochester, N.H.

The 10Base-T desktop connections will be upgraded in the next six months to switched
10- or 100-Mbps Ethernet, depending on user requirements.

The network operating system is NT; a combination of NT and Windows 95 runs on the
desktop PCs. Shaffer said the office will standardize on next year’s NT 5.0 release.

The Huntington office had some difficulty adapting Internet Manager to its needs
because the network servers use the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol to assign IP
addresses dynamically to nodes on a regular schedule. That makes it difficult to
distinguish different users in Internet Manager’s reports. The district office
considered forcing a log-in to Internet Manager each time a user accesses the Web.

“We’re debating whether we’re going to do that,” Shaffer said.
Although information can be gathered on users as part of a group, Army regulations forbid
individual monitoring.

A forced log-in might cross the fine line between group and individual monitoring,
Shaffer said.

Another problem arose with the blocking list developed by SmartList. “We had a
case where someone was going out and looking for XX-large clothes,” Shaffer said.

Because XX appears in the dictionary of flagged words, Internet Manager blocked the
user’s clothing sites. The Huntington office then turned off automatic blocking,
Shaffer said, and “when we kill a site, we do it manually.”

Elron will fix that problem in Internet Manager 4.7, due out this month. A
content-filtering function will search the text of incoming Web pages that contain flagged
words such as sex. If a minimum number of other flagged words appear in the text, such as
nude, XXX and girls, the site can be blocked.  

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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