Keeping an electronic eye on things
You can't watch your children or your employees every minute of every day, but with monitoring software, you can keep an electronic eye on them.
Monitoring software refers to a program or application that records some aspect of electronic activity. Most commonly, monitoring software tracks keystrokes, surfing behavior, website visitation, online conversations and file transfers (including P2P). More advanced systems may also log emails and monitor email attachments.
The main purpose of Internet monitoring software is to protect your computer or network from viruses and spyware, which are often hidden in emails, files and downloads. Network monitoring software performs many of the same functions but may also include a server monitoring feature.
Keystroke and chat monitoring software are slightly more thorough, recording online conversations or even every letter, number and symbol typed on the keyboard. This allows you to track the information being processed through your computer.
For both parents and employers, monitoring software provides the ability to review children's and employees' online activities and ensure that they fit within safety protocols and established rules.
Monitoring children's Internet activity and online communication will alert parents to any dangerous behavior (such as revealing personal information to unknown chat partners), allowing them to intervene and establish or reinforce Internet safety rules.
Monitoring employees' Internet activity allows employers to ensure that no protected or proprietary information is being shared with inappropriate parties and that the network is not exposed to potential dangers from unreliable websites, emails and downloads.
Of course, the disadvantage of monitoring software, from the child's or employee's point of view, is that all of his or her activities become transparent. Parents can inadvertently become privy to their teenager's secrets shared in a "private" online conversation with a friend; employers can gain access to employees' personal email or files if they are opened at work.
If you are planning to institute monitoring software, consider whether you want users to know they're being monitored. Some programs provide what is called "open" monitoring, in which the monitoring activity is apparent to the user, while others are covert or stealthy, recording user activity without their knowledge. (Remember: even if you choose stealthy monitoring software, you can always alert users to its installation and use.)
Other features to look for in monitoring software are ease of installation, ease of use, effectiveness and support. And, of course, select an application that records only the activity or activities you need it to. Selecting a comprehensive package will provide you with too much information if all you want is to log emails or track file transfers. The idea behind monitoring software is to track and control the flow of information through your computer or network, so overwhelming yourself with too much information will defeat the purpose.