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By Mike Joubert 26 March 2010

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For many people the internet is a vast source of both information and entertainment. Whether the latter should happen at work is a valid question. Some companies are taking a very strict approach to web browsing at work by simply banning all online activity. While this move can come across as totalitarian and uncompromising, they are also restricting a valuable resource. On the other hand companies that do not have a problem with people surfing the web, might be finding that the loss in productivity and bandwidth usage are simply costing them too much.

User group defined

The iBoss Pro  for Business is a hardware only solution that can take the sting out of internet monitoring and content filtering. Yes it can be configured very aggressively to block all internet sites at all times, but remember that services like anti-virus updates and updates to Windows are then also restricted. The iBoss should rather be used more sensibly, since you're able to create user groups and define which sites and services can and cannot be visited by each group.
 
Content Filtering
 
While the option is there to block social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook straight off the bat, the iBoss allows you to allocate a set amount of time per day for employees to browse these sites, or configure it to only become unblocked during lunchtime for example. Access to sites can furthermore be filtered via categories such as shopping, forums, gambling, video and audio, adult and dating; while peer-2-peer (P2P) networking and internet messaging site (such as Skype and Internet Messenger) can also be blocked. File extensions, such as .mp3, can also be put on the hitlist, but not email content. When a user on the network attempts to visit restricted sites they will be greeted by a customisable screen telling them that the site is blocked.
The iBoss also has a stealth mode, in which it doesn’t block websites but simply monitors users to see who is accessing sites put on the restricted list. A record of any rule violations as well as a unit tamper log are kept, and can be exported as a .csv file or to Excel.
 
Hardware solution

As a hardware only solution the iBoss Pro requires no installation of software or settings changes like Proxy Server settings on individual PCs. It simply needs to be connected in front of your router and then configured via web browser from any PC on the network for rules to be applied on all PCs. This, instead of a software installation, will make life for your IT manager a lot simpler, since it needn't be configured on each PC. Your internet access speed does not get reduced (much) and people working on their notebooks at work can take them home without having to worry about the filter still restricting content. The iBoss Pro can be used as a firewall or run in transparent mode which appears to reduce overhead on the unit.
Network knowledge
 
While the iBoss is a very comprehensive system for filtering and blocking content, a bit of networking knowledge is required to install the system (if you have installed a router before you should be ok). It's best to remember that the process of finding the right content to filter is an organic one since feedback from employees is needed to find the appropriate sites, keywords and programs not to filter - a task that is made easier by the live network monitor which shows you which websites are being accessed in real time.
 
Feedback
 
Feedback received from iMvula, the company distributing the system in SA, is that some companies are seeing as much as a 30-35% decrease in monthly bandwidth cost since they started using the unit – not to mention the recovery of productive staff hours previously lost to surfing the web or battling the latest installation of browser Toolbars and Malware which the unit can also stop.
 
Cost
 
The iBoss Pro is ideally recommended for networks with up to 50 users. The unit itself costs R1 995, with either a monthly subscription of R 285 or annual subscription of R3 095. There are no per user  licenses needed. There is also a Home unit available which allows for less groups to be created and is permanently firewalled, recommended for networks with up to 15 users. The home unit costs R945, with a R849 annual subscription.

Get hold of iMvula for more information at iboss@icdsa.co.za or on 012-348-0336.
PROS
Lots of groups to place different restrictions on, monitoring log is handy, no software to install on each PC
CONS
Network knowledge is needed to set it up, yearly subscriptions
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