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Deep Throat Surfaces at RSA Conference

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Among the many things I'll be watching at the RSA Conference this week is an event that twists the concept of a hacker challenge on its ear: A challenge of Web filters' effectiveness at blocking porn sites by a company that champions the use of open-source security apps.

Untangle, a vendor that integrates open-source security applications, is following up its Anti-Virus Fight Club challenge at last year's RSA Conference with "Deep Throat Fight Club." The difference this year: It's not testing any open source apps; only closed-source proprietary apps by companies such as Websense, Barracuda and Symantec at how well they block porn sites.

The idea, they say, is to set a baseline of performance for Web filters where none currently exists.

I guess that's altruistic, but aren't there open-source Web filters that could be tested along side these commercial apps? DansGuardian, perhaps. Or Pro-Active Web Filter.

I suspect that the outcome of this content will produce exactly what skeptics will expect: sub-par performance against operational expectations that will, naturally, require a new solution to Web filtering needs. That assumes two things: combating pornography is a priority for the enterprise and that a viable open-source alternative exists.

I'll admit it: I've "accidentally" tripped over a porn site while working. I remember the first time it happened: my father thought he was being clever by sending me a link to Whitehouse.com, once a major porn site. Among the many things wrong with this event, two rise to the top: my father sending a porn link in the first place and that I should have known better that it was a porn site. Nevertheless, I clicked and some salacious images appeared. Needless to say, I quickly shut down the browser.

When you're a journalist covering technology and the Internet, pornography is sometimes part of the job (go with me on this). After all, pornographers pioneered many of the multimedia, social networking and e-commerce applications that we take for granted today. But, I'll admit it, that even that is a stretch when trying to explain to your network admin why you need to have a filter lifted.

While some people may find pornography objectionable and unwarranted in the workplace, I wouldn't list it as one of the top security and operational threats to the enterprise. Surveys of security managers reflect this sentiment, as few rate combating porn an operational priority or justification that gets more budget.

Are such public challenges valuable? As entertainment, sure. In reality, they often lack controls and quantitative methodologies to produce repeatable and measurable results. Sure, vendors can manipulate results produced by testing labs by constricting the testing parameters, but anything is possible when there are no parameters.

What will be fun is to see if Deep Throat Fight Club actually succeeds at breaking these commercial Web filters. One of the justifications for the Fight Club is that one in six companies has fired an employee for surfing porn at work. So, if they succeed, they'll be a bit of porn in public at RSA. Now that's comedy.