Sporting Events, Your Employees and Web Policies

The sports sections of newspapers are a must read for many people. Keeping up to date with the latest results is very important for some; and during major sporting events something in which almost everyone takes an interest. The internet has dramatically increased the desire for the latest news and commentary, allowing individuals unprecedented and timely access to such information wherever they are able to connect to websites.

Today’s hyper connected world presents a widely discussed concern to businesses – the challenge of maintaining business productivity as employees spend their working time reading sports pages or checking the latest scores. However, I believe, a greater risk to businesses is the amount of bandwidth that may consumed by watching live video streaming of sporting events on corporate networks, possibly by connecting a personal, mobile devices to a corporate network.

This may be enough to consume the entire internet connection and interfere with legitimate network activity. With a summer of sport imminent, companies need to consider just how much bandwidth may be consumed by high definition video streaming websites, and how employee behaviour may change during the event.

The provision of video streaming has changed massively over the past 4 years, so previous experience may not be comparable with what we can expect this summer. The Rugby World Cup of October and November 2011, may have less mass appeal than the forthcoming events, but as an international sporting event, may provide an indication of the demand for sports information and the use of streaming video.

The Symantec Web Security.cloud service blocks classes of websites according to the acceptable use policies of corporate customers. The logs of refused access of users attempting to visit blocked categories of web sites can be thought of as a measure of how employees in general use the internet.

The number of logged refused attempts to visit video streaming websites during the opening week of the Rugby World Cup provides some interesting clues regarding employee web usage. There is a clear periodicity with the number of blocks higher during the working week of Monday to Friday, compared to the weekends. There is also a clear peak in the number of blocked attempts to access video streaming websites on Friday 9th September, the opening match of the World Cup.

Figure 1 . Relative increase in recorded web blocks for video streaming websites, 1 Sep 2011 – 16 Sep 2011.

The number of refused attempts at video streaming access on Friday, 9th September are 53% higher than the preceding Friday. Although some of this increase may be due to single individuals repeatedly trying to access video streaming in frustration, it only takes six people watching streaming video to saturate a 8 mega bit internet connection. If we consider that each user watching streamed video consumes 1.5 mega bits per second of internet bandwidth, a 90 minute football match represents 1 Gigabyte of data!

Sport related websites also show a clear increase in the number of blocks over the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup on September 9th.

Figure 2. Relative increase in recorded web blocks for sport websites, 1 Sep 2011 – 16 Sep 2011.

The period, Friday to Monday, before the opening of the World Cup compared with the same time frame, one week later, coinciding with the opening of the matches, shows a 35% increase in blocked attempts to access sport websites.

These increases in the number of attempts to access websites blocked by local acceptable web use policies show that major sporting events can provide a major distraction for employees. It could also raise the question of whether acceptable use policies are themselves not a deterrent to visiting non-work related websites and a robust means of enforcing such policies needs to be put in place to ensure compliance.

A permanent and total ban on visiting video streaming and sport websites may not be necessary or appropriate. A partial or temporary block during major events may be all that’s required to protect networks and productivity. Employers and security officers need to be aware of the distraction of major sporting events, while keeping front of mind that it’s not just productivity that is impacted.  The amount of internet bandwidth that may be consumed by employees watching sport video streams really needs to also be top of a business’ agenda as our nation enters its long anticipated summer of sport.

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