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Net more important than morning coffee?

Given the choice at work between personal use of the Net or a morning cup o' joe, employees say the joe can go, a survey says. The study also looks at security issues.

Given the choice at work between personal use of the Net or a morning cup of coffee, employees say the coffee can go, according to a survey released Wednesday by Websense, which makes software designed to let companies control employee Net access.

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The study also looked at security issues such as workers accessing online hacking tools, surfing Web sites that contain spyware and using instant-messaging tools that aren't sanctioned by their company. These issues are becoming more of a problem, as companies fold the Net into the fabric of their operations.

"The real business issue is (that) the number of incidents is real high," said Kian Saneii, vice president of marketing and business development at Websense. "But the interesting factor is the perception of (information technology) managers and employees."

Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said they spent only two hours a week on personal Web surfing, while IT managers estimate that the figure is likely in excess of six hours. That may explain why 49 percent of employees surveyed indicated that they would rather give up their morning coffee than the ability to surf the Net at work.

Personal surfing at work creates more than productivity issues for companies, according to Websense. Online hacking tools, viruses and spyware are also fallouts, IT managers said.

"Some employees take their laptops home and use their own time to download a movie. They may access a site where there's spyware or a virus and then they bring their laptop back to work and don't realize they've exposed people on their network. Usually, these things aren't malicious acts by employees," Saneii said.

But there are other cases, in which employee actions are deliberate and harmful. The survey found that although only 2 percent of employees said they've used online hacking tools at work, a third of IT managers said employees have launched a hacking tool within their network.

Spyware is another area where employees and IT managers have divergent opinions on how much infection occurs at work. Six percent of employees surveyed said they've inadvertently downloaded spyware, whereas 92 percent of IT managers estimate that their companies have been infected by spyware at some point. IT managers, 40 percent, also noted such infections are on the rise.

But IT managers have created some of the problems they're encountering. While 95 percent of IT managers say their antivirus software is able to prevent viruses from attacking their company's network, two-thirds of these managers reported that a Web-based virus such as MyDoom or Nimda has infected their network.

Meanwhile, roughly two-thirds of IT managers surveyed said their companies do not have a corporate instant-messaging system, even though roughly 17 percent of employees use IM at work, and a portion of those people send attachments via IM.