Last year a US study carried out by Lexis Nexis reported that thirty nine per cent of Gen Y respondents (defined as people born from the mid 70s onwards) admitted to using gaming programs at work. The same study revealed that fourteen per cent of baby boomers (those born post-war to late 50’s) also played games at work.

I’m inclined to agree with Alexandra Kitty, in comments reported by the Telegraph, that people who try to hide their gaming at work are likely to be caught out by the intensity with which they stare at their Excel spreadsheets, but by the time they are caught it could already be too late.

Some businesses embrace gaming at work, and permit it as long as it’s confined to the lunch hour, thinking that allowing their employees to let off a bit of steam gaming will improve their productivity for the rest of the day and discourage them from hidden gaming when they’re supposed to be working.

There are many sites out there offering both hidden and non-hidden games – a quick search for “gaming at work” has resulted in pages of websites offering downloads – but the key concern here is that these games are being downloaded and installed at work – suggesting that proper gateway and host controls are not in place. If users can install these programs, they can install others that can both damage productivity and compromise data (which could see the company incur fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office).

What should businesses do?

Review IT policies – the IT section of your company handbook should clearly state your companies IT policy. If you permit gaming during lunch hours, you are increasing the vulnerability of your network. Any software can be infected with malware, allowing end-users to download and install additional software like games, unnecessarily increases that risk.

Educate employees – companies really do need to ensure that their employees are informed about IT security. Many tech savvy employees will use the internet at home for file sharing, downloading songs, playing games, social networking, visiting entertainment news sites etc and will likely replicate this behaviour at work when they have the odd five minutes. Preferring to surf the net in their tea break rather than read the paper. Certainly Gen Y won’t think anything of this, it is how they socialise and communicate. Data vulnerability will probably be the last thing on an employees mind when they download the latest trendy game and pass the link around the office for their team mates to enjoy.

By having rigorous security policies and controls in place, businesses will be able to show that they are doing everything within their power to protect their own network from attack or data theft which goes a long way towards protecting the company from criminals and from prosecution.