Pornography is a huge security risk – especially in the workplace

Savvy businesses have policies that prevent on-site viewing of pornography, in part to avoid creating a hostile work environment — and to avoid sexual harassment lawsuits. For security professionals, porn sites are also a dangerous source of malware.

That’s why human-resources policies should be backed up with technological measures. Those include blocking porn sites at the firewall, and for using on-device means to stop browsers from accessing such sites.

Even that may not be enough, says Kaspersky Labs, in its report, “Naked online: cyberthreats facing users of adult websites and applications.” Why? Because naughty content and videos have gone mainstream, says the report:

Today, porn can be found not only on specialist websites, but also in social media networks and on social platforms like Twitter. Meanwhile, the ‘classic’ porn websites are turning into content-sharing platforms, creating loyal communities willing to share their videos with others in order to get ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.

This problem is not new, but it’s increasingly dangerous, thanks to the criminal elements on the Dark Web, which are advertising tools for weaponizing porn content. Says Kaspersky, “While observing underground and semi-underground market places on the dark web, looking for information on the types of legal and illegal goods sold there, we found that among the drugs, weapons, malware and more, credentials to porn websites were often offered for sale.”

So, what’s the danger? There are concerns about attacks on both desktop/notebook and mobile users. In the latter case, says Kaspersky,

  • In 2017, at least 1.2 million users encountered malware with adult content at least once. That is 25.4% of all users who encountered any type of Android malware.
  • Mobile malware is making extensive use of porn to attract users: Kaspersky Lab researchers identified 23 families of mobile malware that use porn content to hide their real functionality.
  • Malicious clickers, rooting malware, and banking Trojans are the types of malware that are most often found inside porn apps for Android.

That’s the type of malware that’s dangerous on a home network. It’s potential ruinous if it provides a foothold onto an enterprise network not protected by intrusion detection/prevention systems or other anti-malware tech. The Kaspersky report goes into a lot of detail, and you should read it.

For another take on the magnitude of the problem: The Nielsen Company reported that more than 21 million Americans accessed adult websites on work computers – that is, 29% of working adults. Bosses are in on it too. In 2013, Time Magazine said that a survey of 200 U.S.-based data security analysts reveals that 40 percent removed malware from a senior executive’s computer, phone, or tablet after the executive visited a porn website.

What Can You Do?

Getting rid of pornography isn’t easy, but it’s not rocket science either. Start with a strong policy. Work with your legal team to make sure the policy is both legal and comprehensive. Get employee feedback on the policy, to help generate buy-in from executives and the rank-and-file.

Once the policy is finalized, communicate it clearly. Train employees on what to do, what not to do… and the employment ramifications for violating the policy. Explain that this policy is not just about harassment, but also about information security.

Block, block, block. Block at the firewall, block at proxy servers, block on company-owned devices. Block on social media. Make sure that antivirus is up to date. Review log files.

Finally, take this seriously. This isn’t a case of giggling (or eye-rolling) about boys-being-boys, or harmless diversions comparable to work-time shopping on eBay. Porn isn’t only offensive in the workplace, but it’s also a gateway to the Dark Web, criminals, and hackers. Going after porn isn’t only about being Victorian about naughty content. It’s about protecting your business from hackers.