The Less Productive Mobile Workforce

Mobile users are more likely to get themselves into trouble -- but not the kind you'd expect.

A new study from MessageLabs, a subsidiary of Symantec Corp., confirms what many IT managers already instinctively know: mobile users are more inclined to get into trouble when they're on the road than when they're in the office.

The surprise is that they aren't getting into the kinds of trouble you'd expect.

First, the obvious: Mobile users at remote locations are more likely to attempt to browse malicious or unauthorized Web sites, say officials from MessageLabs. They note that IT organizations can implement usage policies which largely prevent mobile users from getting themselves into trouble.

The biggest problem actually isn't malice from without -- it's wasted productivity. Mobile users are actually less likely than their office-based workers to visit malicious Web sites: remote workers accounted for 1 in 1,807 of the malware traffic blocks triggered by MessageLabs' Hosted Web Security Service (WSS); in-office workers accounted for 1 in 322 malware traffic blocks.

Overall, however, mobile workers at remote locations are more likely than in-office workers to try to access unauthorized Web sites. "[A]nalysis of the WSS data revealed that the most likely cause of a logged event was a blocked [Web site] that breaches corporate policy rules. For example, a user may attempt to visit a [site] that the company has deemed inappropriate for the workplace, or triggered a policy to filter out advertisements and pop-ups," researchers write. "This was more common than [Web site] access being denied because it contained malicious content, such as a drive-by virus attack."

Proximity to one's home office tends to promote compliance with Web access or browsing policies.

"In general, more policy blocks overall are triggered by workers when they are out of the office, indicating rather intuitively that users are more compliant with usage policies when in the office," said Paul Wood, a senior analyst with MessageLabs Intelligence, in a prepared release.

It isn't as if all mobile workers misbehave when they're in an unmanaged (or unsupervised) locale, Wood stresses. Still, a sizable plurality are tempted: "More than one-third of workers that are both remote and desk-based trigger a greater number of policy blocks when they are out of the office[,] perhaps taking the opportunity to visit a greater variety of [sites] than they would when at their desks."

The most frequently blocked type of Web traffic among roaming users was streaming media: almost one-quarter (23 percent) of Web site blocks involved such traffic. (Conversely, just 10.5 percent of blocks for office-bound workers involved streaming media traffic.) Similarly, roaming users were five times more likely than office users to attempt to download Web content: 21.5 percent of blocks among roaming users were triggered by downloads; just 4.0 percent of office-bound users likewise attempted downloads.

Not surprisingly, roaming users are also more likely to try to shop when they're outside the office: 4 percent of the Web site blocks attributed to roaming users were triggered by shopping-related traffic; shopping traffic accounted for just 0.6 percent of office-bound Web site blocks.

On the other hand, Web ads or pop-ups were much more likely to trigger traffic blocks among office users (48.5 percent) than roaming users (19.7 percent).

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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