winter olympics

By Sergio Galindo

Hurdles are associated with track and field, a sport that commands the spotlight every four years at the Summer Olympics. But for 17 days starting February 7, the XXII Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, will also have its share of impediments – and it’s hardly exclusive to the athletes.

IT administrators everywhere, pay attention. If digital media’s impact on the most recent Winter and Summer Games serves any indication, you will soon have your own version of hurdles to clear. Why?

Three words: productivity, bandwidth, security.

The Olympics is no longer just a television event. Real-time updates on a variety of platforms are easily accessible. Since many of the events take place during the week, they often create a fun working environment for fans. But those same games can distract employees from doing their jobs, which translates to decreased productivity and lost revenue

At the Sochi Games, athletes from nearly 100 countries will compete in 15 sports. Even if workers follow the Games intermittently, the amount of lost work time over 17 days may be mind-boggling.

Businesses can expect a spike in bandwidth usage, too, especially when popular events such as men’s ice hockey and women’s figure skating take place. Employees don’t necessarily have to be watching a live event from their desks to drain network bandwidth and, as a result, hurt the performance of core operating systems. They could simply click a link showing ski jumping highlights.

A bandwidth drain can also hinder the most diligent workers who won’t succumb to the onslaught of Olympics coverage. Multiple co-workers watching the same video feed can slow a network, affecting other key aspects of business communications such as corporate email and users’ experience with a website (e.g., slow page-loading).

Small businesses are prime targets

Security can’t be overlooked, either. Cybercriminals and spammers also seek to capitalize on the appeal of the Games by taking advantage of unsuspecting victims. The 2010 World Cup and 2008 Beijing Olympics dealt with this dilemma, but since then, hackers and malware have grown far more sophisticated.

Attackers used several popular methods to cause problems during the 2012 Summer Olympics, including:

  • Twitter bots that spread malware via tweets with corrupt links
  • Online scams that promised prizes, but first required visitors to input their private information
  • Trojans built into knock-off versions of legitimate Olympic mobile apps

A recent GFI survey revealed that most respondents with employer-owned computing devices use them for matters unrelated to work. Nearly half (43%) used a mobile computing device for connecting remotely to the company network. The financial and legal ramifications for companies whose business intelligence is leaked or compromised ranges from inconvenient to catastrophic.

No substitute for common sense

Applying common sense and implementing a comprehensive Web monitoring solution will help IT administrators prevent a drop in productivity, keep bandwidth usage under control and ensure networks remain secure.

  • Teach (or remind) employees about Web browsing best practices. If a search produces a link that isn’t familiar, don’t click it.
  • Track employee Web browsing in real time. Even workers with the best intentions may stumble into a sticky situation.
  • Block websites that consume considerable bandwidth for video and audio files. Similarly, blacklist websites that could jeopardize security or raise legal red flags.
  • Set policies that enable employees to browse specific sites at defined times of the day, for finite lengths of time, or until a certain amount of bandwidth is used.

IT administrators who follow these steps can become office heroes – especially if they strike a balance that enables employees to responsibly enjoy a bit of Internet freedom. Whether the boss awards a gold medal is a different story.

Sergio Galindo is GM of the Infrastructure Business Unit at GFI Software