Online holiday shopping may put corporate IT systems at risk

Shopping for gifts online on work computers is the top non-work-related holiday activity

Employees doing their online holiday shopping at work could put their companies' IT systems at risk, according to a survey conducted by RT Strategies for the Business Software Alliance (BSA), an industry trade group.

Shopping for gifts online on work computers is the top non-work-related holiday activity, according to the survey of about 4,000 workers in 20 countries conducted November 2 through 6.

With the increase in online shopping at work comes an increase in security breaches and malicious software downloads that could compromise a company's network, according to the survey.

The employees who were surveyed said they will do one-third of their holiday shopping online, up from about one quarter one year ago, according to the BSA. And one-third of those employees who shop online said they will do some or most of their online shopping from their work computers, compared with 28% last year.

In addition, most of those employees who said they will shop online from work said they aren't concerned about using their employers' computers for a nonwork activity, according to the survey.

However, these employees could be opening up their corporate networks to viruses, malicious software and unauthorized software applications for shopping, travel and online communications that compromise network efficiency and data integrity, according to the BSA.

Such employee activities not only decrease productivity and increase security risks but they also cause companies to use scarce IT resources to address the problems associated with the unauthorized online activity, the BSA said.

"Many people go onto the Internet at work with a specific job in mind; either checking their bank account, paying a utility bill, checking travel details or doing some shopping. Others have no specific intention; they surf the Web to try to kill a few hours," said John Wolfe, head of Internet investigations at the BSA, in a statement. "The worrying thing is that this is the kind of activity that can lead to employees downloading software, tools or other copyright materials 'for fun,' putting their PC at risk to viruses and spyware and leaving their employer liable for copyright infringement."

The BSA said that employers should reinforce their Internet usage policies during the holiday season and remind employees of their companies' software management terms.

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Linda Rosencrance

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