How do Companies Monitor Employee Internet Usage

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Almost all employees that have access to the internet at least occasionally use it for personal matters, the same as they use corporate phones. However, internet use can as easily become excessive, causing employee productivity to go down.

Internet is arguably the best business tool to emerge since the advent of phones. However, modern internet can as easily serve as a distraction, preventing any work from being done.

Almost all employees that have access to the internet at least occasionally use it for personal matters, the same as they use corporate phones. However, internet use can as easily become excessive, causing employee productivity to go down.

Security is another concern when it comes to unauthorized use of the internet by employees. Not only can they catch a computer virus or get a letter with malware inside, some of them can use the internet to leak company data or perform illegal actions.

The way to solve these problems is to conduct employee internet monitoring. In this article we will discuss why employees are misusing company internet and what tools and best practices can you use to prevent it.

How employees are spending their time

Internet provides you with a number of ways to entertain yourself or solve personal matters. If engaged at work, these activities can waste a lot of time and negatively affect employee productivity, ultimately impacting the bottom line of your company. The most popular ways for employees to inappropriately spend time on the internet include the following:

  • Using instant messaging services and applications to message their friends, family, or even co-workers on personal matters.
  • Sending personal emails.
  • Doing online shopping, especially during holidays.
  • Using social networks to make posts and check news.
  • Browsing entertainment websites.

However, in order to effectively increase employee productivity, it is important to understand not only what they are doing, but also why they are doing it. There are several reasons why employees are wasting time over the internet:

  • Taking short breaks to rest
  • Using the internet our of boredom
  • Employee has a lot of downtime and does not feel sufficiently challenged
  • Employee has a low job satisfaction and does not want to work
  • Having slow or no internet at home

Many employees believe that taking short breaks in order to distract themselves can actually increase productivity and job satisfaction. Most people struggle to stay focused for 7 or 8 hours straight and using the internet for personal needs is only the one of many ways to take some break. Such small breaks usually have no impact on productivity. It is when non-work related internet usage becomes excessive, it can be considered a problem.

Monitoring internet usage can give you all the necessary information for a productive talk with an employee about their performance. When reasonably used, such measures can increase performance and employee work balance.

Malicious internet activity

However, certain ways in which employees are using the internet inappropriately have implications that go way beyond just decreasing productivity. Misuse of the internet in the following ways can lead to extensive financial damages and even make a company liable for a lawsuit:

  • Data misuse. Employees can misuse sensitive data in a number of ways, such as sharing it with someone, or accidentally sending an email to the wrong person. Such actions can result in data leaks that can be very costly to remedy. In most cases, data misuse is conducted out of error or negligence on the part of an employee, but sometimes it happens as a result of a deliberate insider attack.
  • Malware. While browsing various websites, unrelated to the actual work, employees often open their own workstations to malicious software. Such malware can compromise an entire network infrastructure of the company and interrupt the process of work. If employee are using a company email for online registrations on unrelated websites, they are also opening their emails to malware delivered through spam.
  • Pornographic content. Viewing pornographic content at work can serve as grounds for sexual harassment lawsuit. It also has a very negative effect on an overall work culture and disrupts healthy atmosphere at work.
  • Downloading illegal content. Some employees can download illegal content, such as pirated software or entertainment, or even illegal pornography. Such content can serve as grounds for a lawsuit.
  • Performing illegal actions over the internet. Employees can use the internet during work to conduct illegal actions, such as fraud, stalking, hacking, etc. such actions open companies for lawsuits.

Monitoring employee’s internet usage at work is a great way to prevent any malicious actions, both intentional and accidental, and protect your company from insider threats.

A number of ways of how to monitor employee internet use exist, having various cost and effectiveness. It is important to choose the tools that suite your situation the best.

Check browser history

Any active internet browser use leaves a very noticeable footprint in the form of temporary files and cookies, not to mention that every browser records user history by default. By checking your employees browsers it is very easy to see how exactly they use the internet. However, it is just as easy for any user to delete all those tracks, thus while being the simplest, this method is the least reliable one.

Checking network traffic

You can find out exactly what websites are visited and when by intersecting the traffic inside your network. The simplest way to do this is to monitor the internet traffic at a firewall level, but many sophisticated dedicated solutions for analyzing packets are also exist, both paid and free ones. The only limitation of such software is that you have access only to the information exchanged via network. You do not know whether employee actually spend time reading opened news article, or left it open in a background. It can be hard to accurately assess employee performance, and such solutions do not allow you to reliably prevent data leaks and insider threats.

User action monitoring

Using specialized user action monitoring solutions is the best, but also the most expensive way to monitor employee internet usage. Such employee tracking software provides you with video recordings of everything that happens on a user screen, allowing you to see exactly how much time your employees spend productively and how much time they waste. It gives you information on what windows and applications where active at the time, and what employees were doing online. Such solutions provide you with the largest amount of data, allowing you to reliably control and prevent insider threats and fully assess productivity of your employees, if needed. However, expensive licensing can make these solutions cost prohibitive for small and medium businesses. There are employee monitoring software such as Ekran System, that use flexible licensing, making them more affordable for SMB clients, however, they are a few and far between. Still, user action monitoring solutions are the best way to monitor and control your employee internet activity.

Best practices for monitoring employee internet usages

What do employers look to achieve when deciding to engage in employee computer monitoring? Some employers track computer usage to increase employee productivity, while others doing it to protect their business. However, when making a decision to monitor the internet usage, keep in mind that it can have an opposite effect. If done improperly, it can negatively affect morale and job satisfaction of your employees. Employees will be more likely to leave, while new professionals will be less likely to accept the offer.

Solution to this problem is to conduct employee monitoring ethically, keeping employee privacy in mind. There is a number of best practices, that you will be better off following:

  • Develop solid internet usage policy. It is very important to create a clear policy regulating internet usage. Such policy needs to define what exactly allowed and prohibited and give employees a clear understanding of what kind of behavior is expected of them. Policy needs to be effectively communicated to every employee and enforced from the top down, starting with the upper management positions.
  • Make sure your employees know they are being monitored. In US, there is no legal requirements to notify your employees that they are being monitored. However, such notification can facilitate trust and good work culture and will prevent your employees from breaching your internet usage policy.
  • Monitor only when it is needed. Constant monitoring can put a lot of pressure on employees and lead to a low job satisfaction. It is important to monitor employee internet usage only when necessary: if there is a compliance requirement, security risk, or substantial concerns about employee performance.
  • Effective communication facilitates trust. It is important to clearly communicate your reasons for monitoring internet usage to your employees. Try to enlist their help and make them a part of the process. Creating a trusting relationship with employees breeds loyalty and healthy working environment.

Conclusion

You need to remember that stuff happens, and personal problems sometimes can get in the way of productive work. It can be useful to put yourself in your employee’s shoes and give them some leeway here and there. However, occasional personal problems are not an excuse for a low productivity caused by the daily wasted time on the internet, not to mention any potential malicious actions. If you want to increase productivity and protect your organization from any potential data breaches, then monitoring employee internet usage with an appropriate tool is the way to go.

About author

Marcell Gogan is an Information Security Specialist at Ekransystem.com. He loves writing about data management and cyber security.