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Staff misuse of internet access is still rife in the UK despite improvements over the last two years. Office workers frequently access inappropriate websites or goof about surfing the net instead of getting on with their work, according to findings from the 2006 Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) biennial Information Security Breaches Survey.

The survey identified staff misuse of net resources as the second largest cause of reported security incidents after viruses for large UK companies.

A greater number of firms have an acceptable usage for internet access compared to the last DTI security survey two years ago. Two thirds (63 per cent) of all companies and 89 per cent of large firms have an acceptable usage policy, far more than have an overall information security policy.

Chris Potter, the PricewaterhouseCoopers partner leading the survey, said: "Where businesses have an acceptable usage policy in place, they are nearly three times as likely to detect misuse as those that don't. It is very hard to police this area if you haven't agreed what an acceptable usage policy is."

After the sharp rises in staff misuse levels two years ago, the number of companies affected has now stabilised, reflecting the improved levels of control. One in five companies overall was affected. Two-thirds of large businesses had at least one misuse incident in the last year.

However, many UK firms are failing to implement technology controls necessary to keep the issue in check. Three-fifths do not block access to inappropriate websites. Only one in six scans outgoing email for inappropriate content.

Around one in five (17 per cent) of the 1,000 UK businesses surveyed suffered staff misuse of web access and 11 per cent recorded misuse of email. Larger companies are more likely to have incidents of misuse - 52 per cent had web misuse and 43 per cent had email misuse. Several companies reported staff were accessing child pornography. The average cost of such incidents in financial terms was relatively low, but firms risk damaging their reputation if staff misuse of net resources becomes public knowledge. Only one in four firms use encrypted emails to secure confidential business communications.

Findings from the survey were published in a factsheet, E-mail and web usage, sponsored by security firm Clearswift. The full results of the survey will be published at the Infosecurity Europe exhibition and conference in London, which takes place between 25 and 27 April. ®

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