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Forensic tool detects pornography in the workplace

Paraben software analyzes images in real time to search for pornographic content on business networks. It should attract the attention of every corporate counsel and HR manager.

Screenshot from one of the menus in the forensic-software system for analyzing images for pornography. Paraben

Pornography in the workplace can pose a serious problem for employers because a significant amount of material is downloaded by employees during business hours.

The viewing of porn at work can result in lost time, creativity, productivity, and employer profitability. More importantly, it can help create a hostile work environment and can be considered sexual harassment, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Naturally, corporations want to avoid the potentially serious legal consequences and protect their bottom line.

On Sunday, Orem, Utah-based forensic-software maker Paraben plans to introduce a unique piece of enterprise software developed to detect and analyze images on workplace networks and computers for suspect content. The system looks for a number of sophisticated parameters and grades images at three levels, based upon their correlation with criteria that have been programmed into the system.

The software, according to CEO Amber Schroeder, will also aid in the development of evidence for internal or criminal investigations in such cases. It's expected to cost about $17,000 for 500 computers.

I interviewed Schroeder last week, during the Techno Forensics seminar at the headquarters of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), near Washington D.C. From personal experience, I can attest to the difficulty in analyzing large hard drives. Searching terabytes of data is incredibly time-consuming and difficult, so this software should provide a welcome tool for administrators and investigators.

Schroeder told me that the program cannot discriminate between child and adult pornography, but it is extremely effective at rapidly identifying suspect images, either online or offline. The system is capable of providing an effective real-time monitor, as images are downloaded to individual workstations, and can definitely aid in shielding employers from extremely costly lawsuits.

Even more importantly, such a program can help protect employees from the kind of invidious and offensive conduct that has been ruled as actionable by the courts, she said.

While the Paraben software has been designed for the corporate environment, it isn't prepared to examine other problem areas: cell phones, PDAs, and any other device that provides access to the Internet.