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How to monitor your employees' PCs

The best software and strategies to use

Monitoring employee computer use may not help your popularity, but it's an important part of protecting your business.

Monitoring software

Employee monitoring is just one facet of a larger discipline known as endpoint security, which includes everything from malware protection to policy enforcement and asset tracking. Large enterprise computing environments demand comprehensive endpoint-security systems, consisting of server software coupled with client software on each user's machine, that can handle many of these functions at once. These systems tend to be complex enough to require the expertise of a trained IT pro. But in this guide, I'll be looking primarily at simpler tools designed for smaller organisations.

For a small business, you have several good ways to achieve endpoint security. You can install a web-hosted system that combines software on the PC with remote monitoring services to protect your computers and enforce compliance with company policies. You can combine a few complementary tools, such as a desktop security suite and professional tracking software. Or, if your company is very small and your budget is tight, you can adopt free tools à la carte.

The most secure way to monitor PC use is to deploy a system that consists of a host, server, or appliance together with client-installed software. Unless you have a dedicated IT staff or the budget to bring someone in on a regular basis to check on things, a cloud-based service - such as Symantec.cloud  or Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security - is probably the best choice. These services are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up compared with server offerings, and they give you the flexibility to set and monitor compliance with acceptable-use policies from a single management interface. They also deploy system security updates automatically, block malware, and protect sensitive files to prevent data from leaking out of your company. Better still, these hosted systems effectively protect laptops that frequently leave the office.

The cost for a hosted endpoint-security service is generally very low: a five-client licence for Trend Micro Worry-Free will set you back less than £340 for two years.

If you're not up for a total security overhaul and you just want to track user activity on a few systems, you have several affordable ways to go about it. Packages such as Interguard Sonar  can monitor all email and IM sessions, track and filter web usage, log users' keystrokes and program use, and capture screenshots on command for as little as $87 (£53) per user.

If you're really on a shoestring budget, plenty of free and open-source tools can log PC and web use. A freebie called ActivTrak, for instance, can keep tabs on which applications your staffers are using and which sites they're visiting, complete with simple reports that give you a pretty clear idea as to how employees are spending their time on their PCs. A word of caution on stand-alone tools, though: some antimalware utilities can quickly identify and disable stand-alone monitoring tools, so you may need to create an exception in your malware protection settings to ensure that ActivTrak can work properly on your systems.

NEXT PAGE: Best practices

  1. An important part of protecting your business
  2. Monitoring software
  3. Best practices

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