The computer helper: How private is your PC at work?
By Jay Dougherty Mar 6, 2007, 15:16 GMT
Washington - These days, people use computers both at work and at home. And sometimes, it's difficult to maintain the boundary.
With office computers typically dedicated to individual employees and often hooked up full time to the Internet, it can be tempting to start seeing your work PC as an extension of the one you use at home.
But what are the risks in doing so? Read on for some answers.
Q: I use software at home that my company doesn't provide. If I install the software on my work PC, do you foresee any problems, and is there any way that the company will know?
A: Most likely, yes to both questions. When you use personal software on a machine provided by your employer, you potentially set yourself up for several unpleasant scenarios.
First, installation of personal software on your work PC is very likely prohibited by your company for legal reasons - even if you have purchased the software for your private use. A company may be held liable if software audits, whether conducted internally or externally, turn up any software that is not licensed by the company itself.
Second, many firms prohibit installation of personal software for reasons of productivity. The thinking typically is that work computers are for work, and any software not installed by the company may be used for frivolous purposes.
Third, consider the practical consequences of installing personal software on your work PC. Will it get along well with the applications you need to get your job done? Will it slow down or in some way interfere with the proper operation of your work PC? Anyone who has worked with software for any time knows that one errant application can really foul up an entire computer.
You should familiarise yourself with your company's policy on software installations. Most firms publish such a document.
Q: My company has started blocking our use of instant messaging programs. I need to use instant messaging for some legitimate reasons. Is there a way around the restriction?
A: First, if your reasons for using instant messaging (IM) are legitimate, you might first want to approach your manager or IT department and explain the circumstances. IT departments can open up use of IM for individuals as easily as they can take it away for everyone.
There are also ways to use IM without using the IM client itself. Meebo.com (http://wwwl.meebo.com) provides web access to all of the major IM clients: AIM, Yahoo, Google Talk, and MSN Messenger. All you need to do is go to Meebo site, type your user name and password into the appropriate IM box, and click Sign On. Your entire IM session will take place within the confines of a browser, and because web browsers transmit data over a different 'port' than IM clients, you'll be able to IM that way.
But keep in mind that your use of Meebo or any other site can still be visible to your IT department if it is monitoring web use. In the face of such a policy, the only truly secure way to access IM is on a personal computer that is not connected to your corporate network.
Q: Can my company monitor my e-mail messages?
A: If your computer is hooked up to a network run by your company and your e-mail goes through that, then yes, your company can monitor your e-mail.
In most cases, companies must store all e-mail correspondence conducted over its network for legal reasons. If the company is ever involved in a law suit, e-mail correspondence may become part of the suit. Whether your personal e-mail is actually read is another question. Typically there's no reason to take personally a company's needing to collect and store all e-mail that you and others compose.
Q: If I bring a personal laptop into work and connect it to the corporate network, can my activities be monitored?
A: Yes. Usually any computer that is connected to a corporate network will need first to be identifiable to that network. Otherwise network resources such as the Internet and shared drives will not be accessible. So once your personal computer is identifiable on the network, it can be monitored just like a computer that your company owns.
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