Most of us would be at pains to deny our use of the Internet at work for private purposes.
With sites like YouTube, Google and Facebook and access to instant messaging and email tempting us at daily, it can be difficult to resist personal Internet usage at work.
Every so often, one will wander over to the dark side of the Internet and do something that puts your company or other people at risk.
Something like malicious hacking, stalking, sharing scandalous information on social sites, viewing pornography or exchanging emails that don’t mean well for the organisation.
The reasoning that many give for using the Internet at work ranges from lack of access at home or having a faster connection at work to accessing the Internet as a result of boredom.
Whatever the reasoning and whatever the task, employers are less than pleased when their employees waste company time and money to do non-work related tasks online.
Business values aside, sometimes the temptation to surf is too great to resist. As a result, many employers have turned to surveillance technology to monitor their employees’ Internet usage at work.
Internet surveillance and desktop surveillance are the two common types of monitoring. Internet surveillance is the active monitoring of a user’s online activity.
A network analyser, commonly referred to as a packet sniffer, is an example of Internet surveillance.
Packet sniffers are commonly used by computer network administrators for diagnostic testing and troubleshooting of network functions, but these programmes can be set up like spyware to view and capture all information passing over network connections.
With this type of programme, employers can monitor its employees’ Internet usage at work, including website visits, specific page views, emails sent and the information contained in emails, as well as downloads and streaming audio and video events.
This type of surveillance could help employers to determine how much time an employee is spending online as well as whether they are viewing material or performing tasks that are inappropriate at work.
Desktop surveillance is another form of computer surveillance, but involves the physical monitoring of a specific computer and every action taken by its user.
Desktop monitoring allows an employer’s computer to intercept signals emitted by an employee’s computer through the use of software installed directly on the employee’s machine.
Desktop surveillance software can also be installed remotely without the employee’s knowledge.
Desktop surveillance also effectively allows employers to read email and check out any programmes or files opened on their employees’ computers, but it also monitors the computer’s usage while offline.
A company’s computer system administrator may simply be asked by the company boss to look for very specific actions, such as inappropriate website viewing, or they may even make use of an alert system that sends an alert when inappropriate material or text is transmitted rather than participate in constant monitoring.
Deleting files after sending or viewing is not enough proof that the administrator cannot track the action, if he wanted to.
Ethically speaking, an employer should warn the employee that their computer use is monitored. However, many employers don’t.
Just like employers permit the occasional personal phone call, most employers will not ridicule the occasional personal email.
However, proper use of the Internet at work is the employee’s responsibility. At the end of the day, an employer does have the right to reprimand an employee for inappropriate or abusive Internet use.
Sam Wambugu is a monitoring and evaluation specialist. Samwambugu@gmail.com