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How to stop your boss spying on you

Enjoy digital liberty in the workplace

Privacy may be dead, but that doesn't mean you have to enjoy having your every electronic move tracked by your nosy manager.

If you use a company-supplied PC on a corporate network, and you carry around a company smartphone, you're almost certainly being watched. But with a bit of forethought and some of your own gear, you can enjoy a little digital liberty in the workplace.

At this point, there's little debate about whether companies have a right to monitor employees' activities on corporate PCs and networks. If they supply it, they have a responsibility to monitor it. So unless your company is either deeply clueless or naively altruistic, your web surfing, your instant messages, your running applications, even your keyboard keystrokes are probably being recorded. And if your boss was generous enough to issue you a smartphone, the chances are good that your SMS messages, and possibly even your daily travels, are being tracked as well.

PC monitoring

In corporate-security speak, the software that monitors what's happening on your PC falls under the general heading of endpoint security. The term refers to everything that goes on between you and your machine, from how you use your computer to the way the software on it works to the physical location of the system. Your IT department needs to know what's up with your PC (and you) to make sure the computer doesn't fall prey to malware, putting company data at risk and potentially harming the business.

Any company with a reasonable IT budget will almost certainly have installed a comprehensive security package from a company such as McAfee, Symantec or Trend Micro. These suites handle everything from antivirus protection and system update management to corporate policy enforcement, and that last task generally includes keeping logs on which apps you launch, which websites you visit, and so on.

To make matters worse for a privacy-minded employee, a typical endpoint-security suite is tightly integrated not only into the PC's operating system (with permissions restricted to keep you from meddling with it) but also into the data centre, where a server (or possibly a remote host) checks on the PC frequently to make sure everything is okay.

Unless your IT department is using some rinky-dink freeware to monitor you and chronically neglects to check it, disabling the monitoring features on your endpoint-security installation isn't really an option. Even if you were to succeed, the server-side administration tools would throw a red flag once your system stopped reporting in.

The best way to get around PC monitoring software is to sidestep it entirely by using a PC that only you control. In other words, bring your own laptop. If your boss asks why you're not using the one Big Brother issued you, say that the keyboard makes your wrists hurt. The mere suggestion of a potential repetitive strain injury case may be enough to send your boss ambling down the hall in search of someone else to dump their passive-aggression on. (Just try to steer the conversation away from any suggestion that you hand the machine over to the IT department for any reason.)

Once the boss is out of your hair, install a few sneaky utilities to help you slack off on your PC without getting caught.

If bringing a whole separate PC to work seems over the top to you, take the simpler route: internet-connected tablets like the iPad or the Motorola Xoom are ideal for stealthy surfing, and they're unlikely to raise the boss's eyebrows. In fact, they might even create the impression that you're ultraproductive, showing the whole office that you take your work seriously enough to bring your own hardware. (Note: playing Angry Birds on your tablet in front of co-workers all day will likely undermine that impression.)

Or just use your smartphone. (Provided it isn't a company-issued handset, that is. More on this topic later.)

NEXT PAGE: Network monitoring

  1. Enjoy a little digital liberty in the workplace
  2. Network monitoring
  3. Smartphones

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