"Free" Employee Software Downloads Could Be Anything But

June 12, 2003 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Employees may not give a second thought to downloading "free" Internet applications, but the practice could end up costing their employers a bundle.

According to a SmartPros news report, Internet filtering company N2H2 Inc. has specified the Five Most Disruptive Free Applications based on how many times they are downloaded as well as by their workplace security and productivity impact.

The software includes:

  • File-sharing programs are being downloaded at the rate of over four million a week, according to CNET, with many landing on corporate desktops. File-sharing applications are often used to trade copyrighted materials, and can lead to expensive liability for companies, as well as create security problems by opening up employee hard drives and network servers to outsiders. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) recently sent a letter to all of the FORTUNE 1000 companies warning of “injunctions, damages, costs and possible criminal sanctions,” for trading illegal files.
  • PC games are also being downloaded millions of times per week. Many of these “free” downloads are extended free trials of the most popular games, which, when played at work, aren’t free to employers. According to a survey of 6,000 office workers conducted by the SBT Corp. in 2000, US workers playing online games at work cost employers $10 billion in lost productivity.
  • Free movie players are being downloaded at a rate of over 100,000 copies per week. These applications not only pose a productivity drain, but waste company bandwidth as well. With just 15% of homes wired for broadband Internet access, many employees rely on their employer’s high-speed connections to download movie files. One movie player even features a “Quick Hide from Boss” mode that employees can use to evade detection of movie viewing while on the job.
  • Free password helper applications that manage passwords and user IDs. But collecting and managing passwords isn’t all these programs do. Many of them serve up advertisements based on computer usage and web surfing behavior, including the URLs of Web pages viewed by users and other criteria.
  • Employees have installed innocuous-sounding browser toolbars. Some of these programs also take control of Internet browsers in what security experts call “browser hijacking.”