Taoiseach's staff tried to access porn sites

Taoiseach's staff tried to access porn sites

Leo Varadkar’s departmental staff attempted to access “inappropriate” sites including porn, gambling, and other adult material but were blocked.

Despite staff in the Department of An Taoiseach being warned that work computers are provided for “business purposes” and that access to inappropriate websites will be blocked, the total number of requests which were blocked between July 6 and July 30 was 503,582.

The attempts to access banned websites were recorded by the department’s strict firewall, documents released to the Irish Examiner reveal.

While a large proportion of the blocked attempts related to advertising sites, it would appear staff members have used their work computers to search for explicit material.

Those records show that the sites blocked included:

  • Five separate attempts to access pornography
  • 10 attempts to access lingerie and swimwear
  • 448 attempts to access gambling sites
  • 15 attempts to access dating sites and 11 attempts to access “other adult materials”
  • 99 attempts to access alcohol-related sites and 39 tobacco-related sites
  • 15,638 hits relating to gaming

Although the Examiner requested a breakdown of actual websites accessed, the department failed to adhere to the request and merely provided the information by way of category.

While there were clear breaches in appropriate searches, the department said many legitimate websites include advertising material within their webpages.

In these instances, the substantive content from the site is displayed to the requestor while the advertising content is removed. This is applicable to many media and social media services, said the department.

“Often it is the computers themselves which make the request to a website/web service rather than a person interacting with the computer,” the department said.

This would be particularly true of many software update services and would account for a significant proportion [94%] of the results associated with the ‘games’ category, which includes update services provided by Microsoft, Intel, and others in relation to their products.

Despite requesting records dating back to September 1 2018, the department said it was only in a position to produce results for the 24 days leading up to July 30.

The department said that, owing to the volume of log files which are generated by products of this nature, it does not retain them over long periods of time, the exact timeframe varying dependent on the volume of data generated in the preceding period.

Log files were extracted from the department’s primary website filtering product on July 30, 2019 and contained data relating to the preceding 24 days.

The department said its primary website filtering product deployed is one element in a suite of products which helps to protect the department’s ICT systems and the staff from reasonably common cyber-based threats such as phishing, ransomware and malware.

The primary website filtering product supports a real-time ‘look-up’ facility and checks a central repository of websites to determine how the vendor of the product has categorised a particular website.

A range of options can be configured against each of these categories, including the option to ‘block’ a website.

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