Is recreational traffic slowing down your network?

At most organizations, are people working hard or hardly working? If internet usage statistics are any indication, the latter is true. For starters, a 2010 report found that 10 percent of all business bandwidth is used for YouTube, while close to 7 percent of all links clicked by employees are related to Facebook.

In the following years, the situation doesn’t appear to have changed much. One study found that 89 percent of people admit to slacking off at work, while a separate report showed that among those who waste time on the job, 39 percent use the internet for personal purposes and 38 percent are using social media during the work day.
This has all been compounded recently by the Summer Olympics. Not only are most of the events happening during the work day in North America, but broadcasters have been live streaming the events and posting highlights on websites like YouTube. A June 2016 survey of 600 IT pros found that 72 percent of them expected a notable uptick in internet traffic at the jobsite during the Rio Games.

This is all problematic for a variety of reasons. For one, time that employees spend watching YouTube or browsing Twitter is time they’re not working, even though they are on the clock. Furthermore, at companies with limited bandwidth, these recreational activities could be preventing mission-critical apps like CRM software and VoIP phones from having the connectivity they need to work effectively. What often ends up happening is that the more recreational activity on a network, the less likely core programs are able to work effectively.

“If your customers and your internal traffic are operating on the same bandwidth, you’re going to be in a world of hurt during the major Olympic events,” cybersecurity expert Theresa Payton said to NBC News. “A significant event like this could bring your network down to its knees and impact your ability to service your clients.”

What can be done about recreational traffic hogging business bandwidth?

Once businesses acknowledge the situation they’re in, there are a few steps they can take to prevent issues from cropping up. But, each one has its own pluses and minuses.

  • A company could just outright ban such practices, although these kinds of efforts can frequently prove difficult to uphold. A Pew Research Center report from June found that at least 30 percent of Americans use social media at work to take a mental break even though their employer has a policy about social media use on the job.
  • Businesses could better educate their workers about the problems that can crop up should recreational traffic get out of hand, although employees may still ignore such warnings in the end anyway.
  • An organization could set up rules and filters that explicitly block access to certain sites. This can help preserve bandwidth, although it could prove problematic for the 19 percent of U.S. adults who use Facebook for work-related reasons, according to Pew. Be sure your internet gateway has the ability to filter at the application level rather than just blacklisting sites.
  • A firm could add bandwidth to better accommodate both recreational and work-related traffic, although this is an expensive move to make. Plus, an ideal amount of bandwidth now could be paltry in just a few years’ time, especially as more bandwidth-intensive apps proliferate. After all, Cisco has predicted global IP traffic to rise by close to 300 percent between 2015 and 2020, and even this estimate may later prove too conservative.
  • A bandwidth control or bandwidth throttling tool can serve as an ideal solution to the problems caused by recreational traffic. Such a tool provides oversight over what’s happening on the network at any time, and it can enable IT teams to prioritize bandwidth as necessary on a case-by-case basis.
  • In many ways a software-defined WAN solution functions similarly to a bandwidth throttling mechanism, except that it’s more automated and also typically more expensive.

So what’s the best solution to the problems caused by recreational web traffic? The answer is, it depends. Once a business fully understands the scope of the problem it can better determine what the best solution is to the issue.

“Companies need to think about this in advance,” said cybersecurity expert Dan Lohrmann, according to NBC News. “What are the policies? What protections do they have in place? And if they need to, is there a way to throttle the bandwidth?”