Why Use Employee Monitoring Software?
The top performers in our review are Teramind, the Gold Award winner; Veriato 360, the Silver Award winner; and SentryPC, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing an application to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of these 10 programs.
Email is the primary source for data breaches for companies as employees exchange information through business correspondence. It is more important to secure and track information when you are required to comply with HIPAA laws, FINRA regulations and GRAMA requests. There are some basic email surveillance solutions available that help monitor employee emails to ensure critical data isn't being inadvertently, or purposely, shared. Employee monitoring software includes email-monitoring capabilities and additional tools to monitor other activities of employees while they're on the job.
Another important aspect of employee monitoring software is the ability to check employee activity while utilizing company equipment, such as laptops and computers. These solutions let you see which websites employees access, when employees download files and when they connect or remove USB drives.
These programs also alert you when specific keywords are searched that your company deems concerning, including job searches, pornography-related searches or searches related to competitive contacts. The best workplace monitoring systems give you administrative controls that allow you to block some of these activities, further restricting access to inappropriate or unsecured websites. Employee monitoring can sometimes be used to track when an employee is on the clock.
Legal & Technical Considerations
While monitoring employees' emails seems like an infringement of privacy, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that it is legal for companies to monitor the actions of employees while employees are on the clock or using company equipment, including laptops, pagers, USB drives and mobile devices. However, there have never been any regulations on the type of programs companies can use to monitor employees. This means that programs that monitor key logs and capture passwords can be used; however, there is some ethical controversy surrounding whether or not they should be utilized.
While the federal government doesn't place restrictions on employee internet monitoring, some individual states have put protections in place. An increasing number of states are requiring employers to notify their workers if their company monitors online activity, including emails and keystrokes. These notifications can be disclosed within the employee handbook, as part of the new worker orientation or simply sent out as an email reminder to employees.
When using employee monitoring software, you can choose to run it in either stealth or transparent mode. Stealth mode, also known as silent mode, means that your employees cannot see that they are being monitored. Good monitoring software runs unseen and undetected by employees.
Transparent monitoring is when your employees can see the surveillance program on their computer. The software must be installed on each individual computer, including the administrative portal. This isn't as easy as stealth mode since administrators must check each individual report on each workstation.
Employee-tracking software is designed to be installed on multiple computers, including an administrative station, in order to go undetected by employees. However, in order for this type of program to work, you must first turn off your firewall. The firewall is turned back on once the installation is complete, but it is virtually impossible for the program to work without additional programming or patches to enable PC-monitoring software to work around the program. This punctures a hole in your security system, making your network vulnerable to viruses, Trojans, spyware and other threats.
A word of caution: Many employee-surveillance programs look legitimate but are really viruses in disguise. While it may give you keylogging and password-capturing capabilities, it also collects this information behind the scenes to sell or use to breach your company's security measures. We did extensive research to ensure the legitimacy of each of the programs on our list of employee monitoring software. However, since the majority of these programs work around your firewall, it is still possible for other threats to pass through undetected.
Another important consideration is how you'll deploy the software. There are two options: on-premises and cloud. On-premises is the most common option and is offered by every program we reviewed. This means that you'll host the program and the data it collects on your own server. An on-premises solution requires more IT knowledge and can take longer to set up. Many newer employee computer-monitoring solutions offer cloud-based deployment. These include Teramind, SentryPC and InterGuard. Cloud-based deployment is easier to manage and quicker to set up than on-premises deployment.
Which Solution Are You Looking For?
Monitoring software and parental software are two solutions that monitor personal computer use. Since these solutions are installed and used on a single computer, they do not pose the same threat as email-surveillance programs that work around firewalls. These solutions come with additional options designed to prevent cyberbullying along with tools to monitor children and spouses when they're online.
Many businesses are also on the lookout for email monitoring software, applications that monitor inbound and outbound messages for threats such as viruses, spyware and Trojans. We have a good selection of business antivirus solutions if this is what you are looking for.
Some high-security companies, such as the Intermountain Healthcare, use email encryption software to safeguard personal health information and other critical data when it's transmitted to third-party recipients, such as insurance adjusters. These programs encrypt email messages that can only be translated and read by an authorized recipient. This helps ensure sensitive information is only accessed and used by individuals who need this information while keeping it as secure as possible.
Many antivirus and firewall solutions, such as Symantec, include some monitoring options, such as data loss prevention, locating lost devices and email protection. However, these do not have the capability of tracking keystrokes, capturing passwords or other in-depth monitoring functions, such as NetVizor, though they still provide a high level of security.
If you decide to monitor employee activity and email, all of the solutions on our top 10 list include monitoring features for website activity; removable storage, such as flash drives; keyword alerts; and keystroke capturing.
What We Tested, What We Found
The first step in our evaluation of PC-monitoring software was to work with our own IT department to ensure each application we tested is a legitimate solution and not a virus in disguise.
We looked at employee-monitoring programs that are designed for microbusinesses (enterprises with five or fewer employees). Some companies have tiered packages with more user licenses and advanced features for a higher cost. This information is useful to keep in mind as you consider your current business size, company goals and potential growth.
We considered the monitoring tools included with each program and gave higher marks for those applications that included functions beyond basic email, website and application surveillance. These included options like print monitoring, social media tracking and notifications for deleted and retrieved data. InterGuard is a solution that oversees these functions.
We were also impressed with solutions that include an inactivity monitor, which tells you when an employee (who is on a business-designated screen) is working or is leaving an approved site up while chatting, playing on their personal device or who is often away from their workstation. Attendance tracking, a feature that determines whether an employee is actually on work premises or not, is another valuable tool we looked for. Our top two PC-monitoring solutions both have these functions.
While each of the programs we reviewed has alerts to let you know when an unapproved site is being accessed or certain keywords are being typed in or searched for, we looked for additional controls for administrators. Most of the software applications on our top 10 list allow you to block or filter specific websites and monitor or block the use of removable storage devices, such as USB drives.
Another tool that adds flexibility to your employee monitoring is time controls. This allows you to set aside certain times a day when employees can browse certain types of sites, such as social media or entertainment sites. It also provides you with a way to allow certain employees access to important websites while prohibiting these sites for other workers.
Finally, we found that a good support staff and multiple customer support options are vital to the use of employee-monitoring programs and your satisfaction with these software solutions. That's because most programs require additional programming, coding or patch installation in order to work properly. In some cases, they need custom programming, though this is usually included in the program purchase price.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Teramind is our top choice for employee monitoring software. It has a complete set of filtering and monitoring tools, allowing you to track email, social media and file access as well as employee productivity. You can also deploy this application via the cloud.
Veriato 360 is another good option. It includes attendance and inactivity monitoring, options to block removable storage devices from being used as well as a range of help and support resources and options.
SentryPC can be deployed through the cloud. It offers most of the monitoring options we felt strongly that the best monitoring solutions should have. However, the one feature that's missing is the ability to track social media activity.
NetVizor includes all of the monitoring features we looked for, though it doesn't allow you to create time controls for employee monitoring.
Each of the solutions on our lineup monitors employee activity and keeps tabs on your critical data. The best option for your company depends on your needs: Are you primarily concerned with employee internet browsing habits, or do you need a software solution to prevent critical data from being shared? Be sure to review our matrix to review the features each application offers as well as our review of the application(s) you're considering to find the employee monitoring software solution best suited for your business.
Contributing Reviewer: Eli McCormick