What Are the Methods Used by Companies to Monitor Employee's Computers?

By Todd Bowerman

The things you do on a work computer are not private.
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If part of your workday involves using company computers, there is a good chance the things you do are monitored by your organization. Reasons for tracking employee computer use are varied: some employers do it to ensure people are being productive, while others do it to ensure the activity on their networks is legal and does not violate any company policies. There are several mechanisms for monitoring employee computer use; your company may or may not use any combination of methods to keep your activity in check.

Hidden Software

In many cases, work computers come stocked with some sort of hidden software that allows the systems administrator to monitor any activity on that computer. These types of software can do everything from log keystrokes to send screenshots of activity at given intervals, along with giving the admin the ability to see the screen in real time without alerting the user. Employers use software of this nature to ensure employees are not wasting time on the Web or viewing inappropriate content.

Physical Monitoring

One of the simplest -- yet often overlooked -- methods for monitoring employee computer use is simply walking around the office. Work-related programs are often visually different from non-work items like Facebook or Gmail, and a manager completing a quick circuit of his team can often get a good idea of who is wasting time and who isn’t just by glancing at everyone’s monitors. Some businesses prefer that managers conduct regular loops to ensure employees are on task.

Email Transparency

If you have a work email account, you should always assume that everything you send and receive could be read by your employer. While it is illegal to intercept email in transit, employers are allowed to read the messages sent and received on the company network once they reach their destination. An employer cannot read your personal emails if sent through third-party services, though they may be visible if the employer uses remote monitoring software and sees the email open on your screen.

In-Person Inspection

Even if your employer does not utilize a fancy tool for monitoring your computer usage, you should remember that company computers belong to the employer. In other words, the employer can log directly into your computer and browse through the Web history and saved files at any time. If the computer is company property, everything you do on the device is subject to scrutiny from your employer.

Network Analyzers and Sniffers

Finally, employers often use network analysis tools to get an idea of how their employees are using the Web. Since Internet access is critical to almost all businesses, it is in your employer’s best interest to ensure you are using the Web for work and not to message your friends or browse news articles. Network analyzers and other tools monitor the Web habits of employees and generate reports that show what those employees spend their time on.