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Dangers on the Employee Computer

The Computer Belongs to WHO?

We all know from the news and reading computer articles that the Internet can be a dangerous place. Everything from scams, key loggers that capture your personal information, worms, Trojans and theft of company proprietary information and much more. But there is one very important aspect of the "employee's" computer use that doesn't get the attention it deserves, E-Mail.

Lets look at just one possibility. An employee sends what he/she thinks is an innocent E-Mail to a friend critical of a competitor, (it could be an off color joke or any number of other things). That friend forwards the E-Mail to someone else and it eventually lands in the computer of your competitor. (Don't laugh, it has happened more than once that I have personally witnessed). Let's say the competitor decides to make a big issue of it, maybe even sue. If you think they're going to sue your employee I have a bridge in New York to sell you. You own the computers and as such you are also responsible for what happens on that computer. Really, YOU ARE.

First, you are the one the the potentially deep pockets, (and insurance), not the employee, secondly that's exactly the way the courts see it. You, (as a business owner), are ultimately responsible for anything an employee does while on your time. This responsibility extends to anything an employee may be doing on the computer that is illegal. If your computers are being used for illegal purposes including running a side business that isn't legal or using software that's not registered, the law will be after you just as hard as the employee. If it's illegal software your company will be the one paying the fine

I have created a Word document using several sources that I'm making available here (Computer use at work) This document outlines what you and your employees should know regarding use of the computer at work and can be used freely by you with my permission. It is set up so you can insert your company name and some other items before you print it. This computer use document is under copyright and is provided under a Creative Commons License. (see this note).

I had a customer several years ago who I suggested get all the employees to sign this document and keep on record. The owner told me that she didn't want to do that because her employees had been there so long she trusted them. 2 weeks later an embarrassing E-Mail landed in the owner's inbox similar to the one I mentioned above and she felt genuinely sorry for the company that sent it out. After the owner pointed the E-Mail out to me and asked me what I though,t we went back to the subject of signing the employee usage document. It was done before the end of the day.

The use of Instant Message, (IM), software on an office computer is generally a very bad idea. First of all it probably means someone is wasting time on their system. Secondly IM software is heavily targeted by malware and other nasty "stuff" that is difficult to filter out even with a good anti virus program. Thirdly, unless you are using IM monitoring software, your employees could be sharing your company secrets, information or files either with their home system or a "friend" and you would never know it. In one case an employee had installed Internet chat software on his workstation. He came in one morning, earlier than usual, to find someone outside their office uploading patent information from their server. He couldn't pull the plug fast enough. Refer to computer use.

A good Firewall is a must, (not the Windows XP firewall, it only does half the job at best), for any network to protect you from any number of outside influences. To keep your employees from wasting company time it should be a hardware firewall that protects the entire network and should have content controls to allow you to fine tune what they can and can't do when at work.

Don't allow employees to install any software, on their workstations. Not only can some software affect the performance of that system but it can also affect other workstations. If the software is illegal you then become responsible for the consequences.


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