While monitoring employees' emails seems like an infringement of privacy, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that it is legal for companies to monitor the actions of employees while employees are on the clock or using company equipment, including laptops, pagers, USB drives and mobile devices. However, there have never been any regulations on the type of programs companies can use to monitor employees. This means that programs that monitor key logs and capture passwords can be used; however, there is some ethical controversy surrounding whether or not they should be utilized.
While the federal government doesn't place restrictions on employee internet monitoring, some individual states have put protections in place. An increasing number of states are requiring employers to notify their workers if their company monitors online activity, including emails and keystrokes. These notifications can be disclosed within the employee handbook, as part of the new worker orientation or simply sent out as an email reminder to employees.
When using employee monitoring software, you can choose to run it in either stealth or transparent mode. Stealth mode, also known as silent mode, means that your employees cannot see that they are being monitored. Good monitoring software runs unseen and undetected by employees.
Transparent monitoring is when your employees can see the surveillance program on their computer. The software must be installed on each individual computer, including the administrative portal. This isn't as easy as stealth mode since administrators must check each individual report on each workstation.
Employee-tracking software is designed to be installed on multiple computers, including an administrative station, in order to go undetected by employees. However, in order for this type of program to work, you must first turn off your firewall. The firewall is turned back on once the installation is complete, but it is virtually impossible for the program to work without additional programming or patches to enable PC-monitoring software to work around the program. This punctures a hole in your security system, making your network vulnerable to viruses, Trojans, spyware and other threats.
A word of caution: Many employee-surveillance programs look legitimate but are really viruses in disguise. While it may give you keylogging and password-capturing capabilities, it also collects this information behind the scenes to sell or use to breach your company's security measures. We did extensive research to ensure the legitimacy of each of the programs on our list of employee monitoring software. However, since the majority of these programs work around your firewall, it is still possible for other threats to pass through undetected.
Another important consideration is how you'll deploy the software. There are two options: on-premises and cloud. On-premises is the most common option and is offered by every program we reviewed. This means that you'll host the program and the data it collects on your own server. An on-premises solution requires more IT knowledge and can take longer to set up. Many newer employee computer-monitoring solutions offer cloud-based deployment. These include Teramind, SentryPC and InterGuard. Cloud-based deployment is easier to manage and quicker to set up than on-premises deployment.