Should a company keep employees under control?

Should a company keep employees under control?

Michael Brod, translated from (13.01.2005)

It is not such an easy question as it may seem at the first moment. Actually there are two possible ways out. One would say with no hesitation that it is necessary to control employees, they must do what they get money for. Others would prove that it cannot be allowed and give examples right up to citations from Constitution, and Declaration of Human Rights, etc.

You can debate endlessly and everyone will hold one’s opinion. Up to that moment when a company would begin to pay employee for using its office equipment, especially computers. Obviously it just makes no sense. And when a question "Should I or .. " starts to cost you money you take the right decision “it is necessary to provide control. But one question remains: "How do I do that?" There is a tool which offers Atompark Software. They designed StaffCop: "controlling employees working time", it doesn’t have an analogue on the Russian software market.

As a matter of fact, the current version (released in June, 2005) can not provide all tracking features. Email tracking with "stop-word" option, instant messengers monitoring, reports wizard are announced but not accomplished yet. But being added into the program these options can provide a clear picture of what employees are doing at computer. This way you will get tools which can monitor possible ways of transmitting confidential data to unauthorized persons. Such a deed may be considered as a punishable act of confidential information disclosure.

It is pretty easy to install and use StaffCop. Being logged in as an administrator on the machine where you need to set up spying agent is the only thing that you would need in order to install the program. There are agent (installed on the computer you want to monitor) and administrator module. The last one processes the information collected by an agent. Note that agent may be installed either in "stealth" or in visible mode. StaffCop doesn’t work on Windows 95 and 98.

Agent can be installed either remotely or locally. For local installation you need to follow the instructions below:

Copy agent.msi† (you can locate them in the default installation folder (usually Program Files\StaffCop) to the folder where you wish to install agent. (for example C:\Temp\). Then†just run†Agent.msi and it will install the agent.

If you wish you can copy these files to the diskette and install agent this way. Or share a folder in the local network, put files in it, then copy them from the folder. After you are done with copying files you have to add new information about the agent into the administrator module.

For remote installation turn on administration module and choose "Install agent" menu option. Choose a computer needed in the opened window or enter its IP address and go thorough installation process. If you have administration rights for remote PC you can use current login and password otherwise put login details which were set by computer user. If you did everything in a proper way agent list will be updated with new agent. During remote installation process you may run into problem with wrong system configuration on a remote machine.

Now you need to adjust agent’s settings. What and how they control depends on what employee is authorized to do during working hours. For instance if an employee is allowed to serf web pages with no restrictions you can uncheck web tracking option. However you do not have a wide choice so far. Program provides three tracking options: snapshots (saved as .jpg files), tracking running applications, recording URL of web pages including open and active time.

Operations are logged and can be saved into the history log. They can be saved on the remote machine and moved into administration module per request. History log size is set in kilobytes and only snapshots saving size is set in megabytes. You need to set few parameters for history log. For history and web history you set file size and instruction what to do if the limit is reached: stop adding new records or overwrite old ones (not recommended). Also a snapshot taking interval is set.

Since settings and history log file size is saved on the remote machine agent module continue to work even if administrator module is off. In order to view report you need to choose an agent by clicking on “load history” button. Thus history records are transferred to the administrative part and running programs, web, snapshots records are viewed. During logs downloading you can specify which logs to download and whether to save a copy in remote PC or not.

Simultaneous download of several agents is available in Reports – Reports Wizard. Reports Wizard allows to choose any of the history logs of the agents that you want to upload into administrator module. That is the only option available so far. Report with statistics on running processes, web site visited is saved in .csv format and exported to MS Excel. There is a need to prepare a report manually using external programs until Reports Wizard gets more functional.

There is another option under agent settings which has more to do with moral aspect then a technical one. Agent can be run in an invisible mode on a remote PC. If to make it visible there appears an icon in the tray bar. This way computer user knows that he is being tracked. To warn an employee about possible tracking a prior agreement can be made between the employer and its employees. Like an agreement for commercial classified information non-disclosure. Someone would comply with a condition and someone would start looking for another job.

From the technical point of view the program is interesting and can be easily installed on any network. You do not need specific computer knowledge or to be a system administrator, any computer user is able to work with StaffCop. Web tracking feature soon may reach the same level as well known Cobion OrangeBox Web has. The moral decision whether to provide tracking or not should take a board of managers.

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