Cisco Wants to Throw Light on the ‘Dark Web’

SAN FRANCISCO—In an attempt to help firms exert more control over “acceptable use” policies in their companies, Cisco has launched software that it says will expose the increasing amount of objectionable content found in what it calls the “Dark Web.”

"The Dark Web is about corporate users' inability to see how workers are using the web," Cisco product line manager Kevin Kennedy said Thursday. "It is that dark, dynamic and churning part of the web that has created the problem for business."

According to Cisco, the Dark Web is the result of a tidal wave of web pages triggered by Web 2.0 trends in user-generated content such as blogging and social networking. With only 20 percent of the more than 45 billion websites in the world reportedly categorized effectively enough to be used by filtering programs, the company says that leaves 80 percent of the web in the dark.

The problem, says Cisco, is that computer users are growing increasingly savvy about sidestepping filters by using proxy servers and other techniques to mask which websites they visit while at work. On the flip side, internet porn purveyors are now in the practice of changing URLs in a practice known as "churning," making it more difficult to block adult websites on work computers, which is usually done using filter software based on lists of known addresses.

The new IronPort Web Usage Controls software has an engine that reads web page on the fly and analyzes the content to decide if it's objectionable or off limits according to corporate policy, Cisco states.

“The software adds the ability to monitor, block or warn users about Web traffic based on a method that combines URL filtering lists with contextual heuristics for analyzing content and checking hidden tags,” reports Network World. “Cisco's URL filtering database includes 65 URL categories and is updated every 5 minutes through Cisco's security intelligence operations.”

At $8,500, the software isn’t cheap, but recent tests of Ironport Web Usage Controls reportedly identified 50 percent more off-limits websites than did previous-generation filtering software relying on website address lists, an improvement that could translate into increased productivity—and savings—that more than make up for the cost.

"Most people are pretty well behaved at work, but some are not," Kennedy said. "Using an anonymous proxy is sophisticated to us, but the kids that have graduated from colleges in the past five years are very aware of using software to get to proxies. Because legacy approaches only give a small view now that there is this explosion of user-generated content online, we as an industry have to do better at how we solve this problem.”