Friday, December 07, 2012

How to Know if You're Secure When Surfing the Web at Work

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The subject of whether you are secure when surfing the web at work is one that stirs controversy between employers and workers. Surveys conducted by the American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute have shown that more than half of all employers monitor their employees’ use of the Internet and that amount is increasing every year. Making employees aware of a company’s acceptable use policy of the Internet has become more commonplace. However, few states require employers to notify employees, therefore you need to be aware of what your employer’s stance is before you start surfing the web at work.

Why the Fuss over Internet Use?

The reasons for concern for most employers to take a hardline on Internet use in the workplace are more than loss of productivity. Some studies have shown that occasional use of the Internet during the day actually boosts worker productivity, but as with any study, there are some employees that go to extremes and cannot control their usage. The primary concern of most employers is whether their computer network is being compromised by visits inappropriate websites that could breach sensitive company data. Another concern is that if the employee is taking part in illegal activity on their network, this makes them vulnerable to legal problems.





In response to these concerns, many employers have begun monitoring their employees’ access to the Internet by tracking content and keystrokes from their computers. Some review the information that is stored on their employees’ computers that is left as traces of their Internet activity in the form of cookies, temporary Internet files, and Internet history. Some may block access to certain types of websites and will receive notification if you try to access them. Nothing is safe from being examined, including email to and from an employee’s email.

Some employers have taken the extreme measure of requesting employee passwords to social networking sites. This is so that they can monitor their employees’ accounts to make sure they are not saying negative things about the company. This does border on violation of First Amendment rights and has been challenged in court as an invasion of privacy.

What Should You Do?

Before you start surfing the web for personal use at work, be aware of your company’s policies. You can obtain this information from the Human Resource of IT departments. Ask whether personal use is permitted and during what times, throughout the day or only during lunch and break periods. Find out if the company monitors Internet usage and to what extent. Are certain types of websites, such as Facebook or YouTube blocked?

You can cut down on what traces of your web surfing are left on your computer. This can be done by setting your browser to block cookies, delete temporary Internet files, and clear your browser history each time you close it. This is of course you have the appropriate computer rights on your machine to make this change to your Internet settings. Many IT departments limit what changes can be made to your work computer in order to prevent employees from mucking up their systems, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

If you are accessing sites and conducting personal business that you do not want your boss or coworkers to know about, then it is best done at home. Do not do it at work. The same goes for personal emails. While using web-based email gives you a little more privacy than using company email that may be monitored, it still leaves trace information on your computer.

Final Words

A rule of thumb regarding web surfing at work is to play it smart and imagine your boss is standing over your shoulder. Do not go to a website that you would feel uncomfortable viewing with him watching. If you must use the Internet for personal business, keep it brief and infrequent. Be smart, think about if the shoe were on the other foot, would you want your employees spending time surfing the web instead of doing their jobs?

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