How to detect Employee Monitoring?

Employee monitoring is ubiquitous these days. If you work in an office or on a company equipment – it is safer to just assume that you are being monitored. How can you get rid of monitoring programs or at least detect it?

Most employers who use so called employee monitoring software in US and especially EU will be very explicit about employee monitoring programs in place and will ask you to sign a paper with your consent  (if you are an employer – read how to use employee monitoring software properly). Some employers, however, may install readily available and popular employee spying software without notifying employees about it. In most developed countries it would be illegal, in others it may fall into a grey area. EU laws are the most protective of employees and US laws are more relaxed. (This nicely highlights EU & US differences in this respect.) But, disregarding the legal side of the question, how can you protect yourself?

First – most of your web communications while working in an office probably go through a company proxy where it can be easily analysed (internet monitoring). You can try to bypass it using proxy servers or VPN or by encrypting your traffic. And while you may succeed in hiding the content of your traffic, the fact that you did hide it will be obvious to your IT department and most probably will raise very unpleasant questions of what did you actually had to hide and why. I do not see a situation where it is worth the trouble. In short, while working on a company network, always assume that your boss can see what websites you visit and there is nothing you can do about it.

If you are using company computers, employers may install employee monitoring software with so called “stealth” option (like  popular Spector). These programs can record your every keystroke (keyloggers), take screenshots (screenshot monitoring) and report on your every move. To detect such software, you may get advises from the web to check you Start folder, your running processes, your tray icons – it is useless, do not waste your time. These programs are well written and you will not be able to discover them using simple methods like these. Your best bet is to try one or two antispyware programs. They usually have trial mode, so you can do it for free. The most popular ones are probably Ad-Aware and Spybot – Search & Destroy.

Another option – just use your own laptop (one of the most radical privacy solutions). Just remember that as long as you use company’s network – your communication may be monitored.

When you work for someone, you have to understand that employers have a legitimate reason to see that employers do not waste the time they are paid for. Yes, the focus should be on result, not on the process, but it is not always possible with every type of work and employers often get a significant productivity increase with employee monitoring software. Instead of fighting employee monitoring as a class, be more specific and fight spying. Encourage the use of software that gives employees the control of when to be monitored. Take ScreenshotMonitor – this program tracks time and takes periodic screenshots for company managers to review online. It is started by employees themselves, very explicit at what it does and allows deleting any of the screenshots that employee decides is private. If you can not escape monitoring, at least take control of it into your own hands.