In January I wrote The Revolution Will Be Monitored. Today I read Careful, the Boss Is Watching:
Recently, software vendor Ascentive LLC installed its new BeAware employee monitoring application on all the PCs at one of its new corporate clients. The corporation notified its employees that their Web surfing habits -- as well as their email, instant messaging, and application usage -- were now being monitored and recorded.
"Internet usage at the corporation dropped by 90 percent almost overnight," recalls Adam Schran, CEO of Ascentive. "As soon as employees knew they were being monitored, they changed their behavior."
Wow, what a bandwidth saver. Who needs to upgrade the T-3 when you actually take measures to enforce your stated security policy? The story continues:
While tools for tracking employee network usage have been available for years, emerging products such as BeAware take monitoring to a whole new level. The new BeAware 6.7 lets managers track workers' activity not only on the network or in the browser, but also in email, chatrooms, applications, and shared files. And at any unannounced moment, a manager can capture an employee's screen, read it, and even record it for posterity.
Such exhaustive monitoring may seem a bit draconian to the uninitiated, but analysts and vendors all say the use of such "Big Brother" software can make a drastic impact on productivity and security. In a recent study by AOL and Salary.com, 44.7 percent of workers cited personal Internet use as their top distraction at work. A Gallup poll conducted in 2005 indicated that the average employee spends more than 75 minutes a day using office computers for non-business purposes.
Once employees know their activities are being monitored, however, their personal computer use is quickly curtailed, Schran observes.
This reminds me of an event that happened when I was working the night shift at the AFCERT in 1999. We had witnessed a rash of attacks against vulnerable Microsoft Front Page installations. Around 2 or 3 am I noticed someone altering the Web site of an Air Force base in Florida. Looking at the source IP it looked like it might belong to someone who worked on base. I managed to tie a home telephone number to the IP and I called, asking if so-and-so was currently modifying the af.mil Web site. I remember a surprised lady answering the phone and asking, "So you can see what I'm doing right now?"
I have never been a fan of monitoring network traffic to reduce what .mil and .gov call "fraud, waste, and abuse." You won't read recommendations for using Network Security Monitoring to intercept questionable Web surfing, for example. However, this story is another data point for my prediction that we are moving to a workplace where everything is monitored, all the time.
If you try to implement this sort of activity, you better be sure to have an ironclad policy and support from your legal staff. I would call this level of invasion of privacy a wiretap.