Is your workplace tracking your computer activities?

By: Kevin Bonsor

Desktop Monitoring

Every time you provide some form of input for your computer, whether it's typing on the keyboard or opening a new application, a signal is transmitted. These signals can be intercepted by a desktop monitoring program, which can be installed on a computer at the operating system level or the assembly level. The person receiving the intercepted signals can see each character being typed and can replicate what the user is seeing on his or her screen.

Desktop monitoring programs can be installed in two ways:


  • Physically - Someone sits at the computer and installs the software.
  • Remotely - A computer user opens an e-mail attachment. The attachment, which contains a program the user wants to install, may also contain desktop monitoring software. This is described as a Trojan horse -- a desired program that contains an undesired program.

Desktop monitoring programs have the ability to record every keystroke. When you are typing, a signal is sent from the keyboard to the application you are working in. This signal can be intercepted and either streamed back to the person who installed the monitoring program or recorded and sent back in a text file. The person it's sent back to is usually a system administrator. However, keystroke intercept programs are also popular among "hackers."

Hackers often use desktop monitoring programs to obtain user passwords. Intercept programs, because they record keystrokes, also make users susceptible to having their credit card numbers and other sensitive personal data stolen.

Employers can use the desktop monitoring program to read e-mail and see any program that is open on your screen. Desktop replicating software captures the image on the computer screen by intercepting signals that are being transmitted to the computer's video card. These images are then streamed across the network to the system administrator. Some prepackaged programs include an alert system -- when a user visits an objectionable Web site or transmits inappropriate text, the system administrator is alerted to these actions.

But employers don't need to install software to track your computer use. There are actually systems built into every computer that make finding out what you've been doing pretty easy.