How to Watch the Watchers at Work

By Steve Anderson August 29, 2012

Recent studies suggest that over half of employers in the United States are using some kind of monitoring system on their employees. While for many, that particular point is shrugged off as being the company's prerogative, some do want to at least know if they're being watched. And as it turns out, there are some fairly simple things that employees can do to tell if the company is among the better than half engaging in monitoring of some kind.

First, it's necessary to understand that companies have two primary measures to use in terms of monitoring employees: tracking software placed directly on the employee's PC itself, or by monitoring the traffic directly from the network itself. Some companies even have established guidelines, so finding out if monitoring of some kind is taking place may be just as simple as having a visit with HR.

Image via Shutterstock

If there aren't specific policies in place, the first place to check is right at the user's PC. In a Windows PC, programs like "LogMeIn", "GoToMyPC", "SpyAgent", "Web Sleuth" and others are a dead giveaway that monitoring is taking place at the PC level, so finding them in the system tray, the start-up folder is a good place to start. If nothing is found there, try the Windows taskbar next for actively running programs, or the list of exceptions in the Windows Firewall. Mac users, meanwhile, can check the "activity monitor" in the utilities section of the applications part of Finder. Anything that looks unfamiliar or has VNC in the name may be a clue that monitoring is going on. Using an online search to check any unfamiliar names is also a good idea.

If monitoring software does become apparent from initial checks, don't try removing it; that not only fuels suspicion but directly goes against the employer's right to have the software of their choice installed on the hardware that they own. Individual users, of course, will have to decide if they want to put up with being monitored.

If nothing becomes apparent on the local machine, it may well be that the company is instead monitoring at the network level, something that generally can't be discovered by the rank and file unless they have friends in the IT department.

But what should a user do if they want a little privacy at work? For the most part, this isn't easy, but there are steps that can be taken. For instance, using web-based e-mail is generally encrypted at the mail provider level, so the only thing that can be found by monitoring software is that the mail site itself was accessed. Its contents, meanwhile, remain generally inviolate if cookies and password-remembering functions are disabled. Using smartphones with a cellular data connection--not with the company Wi-Fi--is likewise beyond the company's ability to monitor. Further, some look to use anonymizer services that render traffic invisible by covering IP addresses and data sent on the network. But IT departments often look for anonymizer services with an eye toward removing them from the system for just that reason.

Getting a note of privacy in work communications can be done, but often with some difficulty. Employers will likely carry on monitoring employee communications to ensure that the maximum productivity is being reached, which is especially important to companies in negative economic environments. The monitoring practices can also help protect companies against lawsuits, something which is important to every company. Therefore it's a safe bet that the practice of employers watching employees will likely carry on for some time to come.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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