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Expectations of Privacy at Work

Friday, June 20, 2008 in Technical Articles (Views: 5897)
I read today that 1 in 3 IT people have admitted to "snooping" on other employees. What exactly does this mean? According to the study and survey, that included both normal and not so normal means of "snooping" from reading e-mail to files containing salaries.

So, you work in an office for a company. You have access to a computer. What kind of privacy can you expect?

In one word, none.

As an IT person, there are plenty of software and applications that monitor your every move, and the company with their equipment has a right to know what you are doing as an agent of the company. The truth is that for the most part, companies don't care, and those who want to make a big issue of you going to to see what's on tonight probably isn't worth working for.

The old saying is true - don't send anything you don't want the world to read. But, to what level should IT people go?

Myth Revealed: IT people don't usually care what is happening on the network besides performance related items. IT people care more about network traffic and loading of applications that shouldn't be there that are slowing things down.

Truth: Usually Management and/or Human Resources is the ones who order the "snooping" to take place.

Let's not ignore the obvious here. Where there is a possibility of corruption, you can pretty much guess that corruption will take place. There are dishonest IT people out there, who could use information or power in a wrong way, and even though it happens, this is not what my blog is referring to. I am dealing with legitimate privacy at work issues, not criminal ones. Any misuse of power should be dealt with.

Of course, companies at times look for excuses to let people go in this era of downsizing. This saves them money in salaries, although if the former employees file for unemployment, it causes the company's unemployment insurance to go up.

What are common things you can expect to have monitored at work?

1. Web Browsing Traffic

The places you visit online are trackable. For the most part, companies don't care as much where you visit, but it is a way of tracking what you are doing and a measure of how long you're there.

2. E-Mail

With free e-mail and highly accessible services like Hotmail becoming more the norm these days, it almost seems that you would be crazy to use your work e-mail for personal reasons. Don't forget that servers like Microsoft Exchange can log and archive everything you're doing, even after it's been deleted.

And incidentally, servers like Microsoft Exchange retain deleted items by default for a time. So, if you think your deleted message is gone, think again.

3. Instant Messaging

This is a big one and can be a time waster. There are several enterprise level products out there however, that can track all of your conversations and log them into a database for easy review.

On the more extreme side...

4. Screen capturing

Many companies have "helpdesk" type software that allow staff to remote control a PC to fix issues or train employees. They also have the ability to watch what you are doing, even without you knowing they are doing it.

5. Keystroke Logging

Think nobody was watching you type rabbit2843 as your password? Think that the ********** on the screen protected you? Those keystrokes can all be recorded, and most of these applications are installed in a stealth manner, where most people can't find them and even experienced people couldn't find them easily. So everything you type, especially your hotmail user name and password, can be recorded.
Don't forget the less obvious, do you have a company cell phone? If you do, your work knows who you call (or who calls you) and when. You could be on the hook for personal calls at work, no matter "how cool" people at work seem to be about it.
In Conclusion...

This blog wasn't to scare anyone, but more to serve as a wake up call that you shouldn't expect any level of privacy at work.


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