The high-tech spying boss

There are tech tools that can help SMEs reduce costs and increase productivity, but in the wrong hands they can also be used by bastard bosses to spy on their staff. By BRENDAN LEWIS.

By Brendan Lewis

bosses spying on employees

No one wants to spy on their employees do they? I don’t. But just the other day I decided to invest in a digital voice recorder and purchased the Olympus WS-331M, a tiny little device capable of picking up most speakers in a conference.

While fiddling with it to determine what it can and can’t do, we discovered that it is small and light enough to slip unnoticed into a shirt pocket, and able to record conversations. We can then plug it straight into the PC and treat it as a USB memory stick to store conversations in WMA format.

Kind of cool. I could be nasty and record conversations with staff on the sly. Which then made me start to wonder – what technology is now available to use if I truly were a bastard boss?

Now I am not making any recommendations on how you should go about your business, or even the legal status, but looking around I came up with some nasty uses of technology that I thought I’d share. Of course these devices can be used to make your businesses more productive, efficient, safer and save you costs – and not just for spying.

Oh, and it’s also nice for employees to know what we bastard bosses might be up to.

Here are the top 15 ways bosses might spy on employees.

In the car


Sat Nav and GPS are now readily available for vehicles as either aftermarket or part of the standard package. This technology, although handy for the average punter, can also be used by the bastard boss. Companies such as Quicktrack and GPS for Fleet allow you to know where your vehicles are at all times.

Black boxes

In the trucking industry, vehicles have been monitored for more than just location for some time. Products such as Environav let you look at anything you want to that has a sensor attached, such as vehicle speed, engine speed, time of use, deviation from routes. This technology is now starting to be packaged as standard into some vehicles. So you can monitor your staff at all times when they are out and about, and can get SMS or email notifications when they are not behaving themselves in your vehicle.

On foot?

Of course if you want to know where your people are once they have got out of the car, why not try the Benefon Track 1 mobile phone. It may not have a camera or sweet multimedia capabilities, but it does have a built-in GPS device. It lets you locate it to within 50 metres – which could be disappointing for staff if they tell you they are looking for a parking spot when they are actually still at home.

In the office


Anywhere you have power, you can now put a wireless IP camera such as this d-link job. Connect this camera to your wireless network, and you can view (or record!) what’s happening from anywhere in the world. In fact I know someone that drove his staff mad by constantly watching his programmers’ effectiveness every time he went on a sales trip to the US.

Personally, I have used the wireless IP camera to show me whether there was a spare guest parking spot, when I had visitors coming (two flights of stairs was too much for me).

For about $300, you get a nice solution. Add another $1000 and you get a camera that you will be able to pan, zoom and tilt.


Of course if you want to run a time clock without it seeming you are running a time clock, you can also equip your staff with security passes that contain RFID tags. You can then passively monitor what time people are arriving and leaving as well as how much time they are spending in areas such as the lunchroom or out for a smoke.

I actually met someone some years ago, who had been terminated for lying on his timesheet (his RFID tag record for the parking lot didn’t match the project timesheets he was filling out).

On the phone

In office

Now while your staff are in the office and being productive, you can have a good look at their phone patterns. If your telephone system runs through a PABX that was made in the last 10 years, you can almost guarantee that a log of every single call is recorded, including the handset, number called and data/time stamps … useful if the spying boss tires of someone who is constantly yakking to their friends.

Normally the information can be extracted into an Excel spreadsheet. However, if you are using a really new PABX that runs on internet protocols, the easiest thing to do, if you are filled full of distrust, is configure your phone system to record every conversation to a computer server so you can review it later. This is even easier if you are using a virtual PABX (a computer pretending to be the PABX).


If your staff are out and about using your mobile phones, you can of course get the bill in either paper and/or electronic format. If you get bills in electronic format, you can also suck all information from the bill into an Excel spreadsheet.

A couple of bills and  … voila! … you get a database of most-called numbers, percentage used after hours, amount of time and cost of an employee regularly ringing a girlfriend. In fact, if you ring a couple of the most-used numbers you may even find it is a competitor that answers.

On the computer


Now you have probably noticed that on your standard Windows computer, you can have a couple of different user accounts, and that each of these users can be of a different type. So what does this mean?

Well, if you don’t allow people to be an administrator on their own computer, it means they can’t install any nasty foreign software that they find on the internet. Better yet, you can setup their account so that they can only store information centrally on a file server rather than on their own computer. You can then review their work at your leisure.


You have probably read about nasty software on the internet such as spyware and keyloggers.

Spyware isn’t normally called spyware when it’s being sold. It usually goes under the name of “monitoring” software, with such rationales as “use this for invisibly monitoring your children”.

It can record all websites visited, instant messages sent and programs run. It will even take regular screenshots and email them to you if you like.

Keyloggers capture all that’s being typed into a keyboard, and can either store it or send it out automatically to a predefined location. Most available keyloggers can be tried out for free, but you have to pay a small fee to make them invisible.

On the internet

Proxy server

Most users of the office network don’t realise that their internet access goes through a computer called a proxy server. The most popular is called Squid Cache. The point of a proxy server is to store a copy of a web page in the likely event that someone will want the same page almost immediately, and thus reduce the amount of data a company has to buy, and the load on the network.

A side-effect of the proxy server achieving this is that it keeps a log of your IP address and the web page you have requested. Therefore, if you are surfing to an unsavoury site it’s likely that your network administrators already know and are laughing at you.


Of course, if you are running a decent firewall, you already have the ability to monitor all web traffic, stop instant messaging, and block user access to any website you don’t like the look of. Goodbye Facebook.

But did you know that firewall solutions can also be used to inspect every email, and block images, jokes or anything else you don’t like, including attached images with too much skin tone inside the picture.

Mail Marshall has an interesting paper on the issue of “leakage” of proprietary and confidential data – basically staff sending either information home or to competitors or their next employer. A recent (2006) FBI survey found that 68% of their respondents found it to be a current issue. Firewalls can notify you every time a company document leaves your premises, and block it if desired.

Mail server

Many companies run mail servers either on their own network or using a third party. Mail servers can do a lot more than just send and receive email.

For instance you can have the mail server send a copy of company policies to every user on a monthly basis. No one then gets the chance to say ” I didn’t know”.

Google alerts

You should never forget Google alerts. When your employees go home and blog about their day at the office from their own computer, it’s nice to know what they are saying. If you are a bit paranoid, set up an alert on your company name and your own name. I must admit I have come across a temp on a working holiday, telling his mates in Britain what a slack time he was having at his employer. Unfortunately he used the employer’s name and was sacked immediately.

Using the printer

Finally, here is a nice piece of software I found for “informed printing”. This piece of technology will not only audit how much each person is costing you on the printer, but generate a popup every time they print, telling how much their print job will cost, and offering cheaper options.

It’s called “involve your company’s users in the print cost-savings initiative”. Spying bosses have got to be happy with that.



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