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Is your boss spying on you whilst you work from home?

Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay
(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pixelbay)

The recent worldwide move to working from home has caused disorder in the workplace. A rather alarming development that appears to have somewhat slipped under the radar amongst other news is the multiple reports of employers ‘panic buying’ spy software to help keep track of their employees. ActivTrak, for example, a software package that provides a combination of screen monitoring and productivity metrics such as the number of emails sent, has seen requests triple in recent weeks.

If your boss could be monitoring your keystrokes or watching your screen, who says that they aren’t monitoring your phone as well?

It makes sense that employers are trying to make sure their employees are doing what they are supposed to during work hours (instead of binge-watching Netflix) but is this taking it one step too far?

Is it illegal for your employer to spy on you?

While many, understandably, would argue about the ethics of such practices, it is unlikely that employers will act outside of the law when it comes to monitoring their employees. It is probable that something was included in your contact regarding being monitored and you may already be aware of it. For more detailed information, Privacy Rights have a useful article laying out the specific legalities of employee monitoring.

It’s important to point out that employee monitoring is something that shouldn’t be confused with typical ‘hacking’ by malicious third parties who are looking to steal data for their own gain. In most cases, it’s perfectly legal for employers to install monitoring software on devices that they own.

On top of being legal, there are many legitimate reasons for a company to monitor their employees, such as preventing unsafe working practices or for regulatory reasons.

What does this software usually track?

If you’ve been given a device from work, it’s safe to assume that your activity on that device is being tracked and monitored. The main thing that this type of software does is to capture screenshots of the device at regular intervals. This will usually then be stored in cloud-based storage for later review.

Alongside screenshots, many of these tools also collect everything typed into the device and typically monitor all online browsing activity.

Are YOU being spied on?

The first step you should take is to ASK your employer if they are monitoring your device(s). It might seem simple but if you can get a definite yes or no from them (ideally in writing over email) then you will know exactly where you stand.

If you can’t get a clear answer from your employer as to whether you are being tracked then we recommend following the steps presented below. However, you should be careful that you aren’t breaking any company guidelines by doing so, as you could still face disciplinary action.

How to detect if your employer is monitoring you.

Here’s an overview of how you can detect the type of software typically used to monitor employees:

Windows & Mac

Most employees who need to work remotely will be issued with a laptop. If your boss wants to monitor your activity while you’re out of the office then this will most likely be how it’s done. Employee spying tools are available for both Windows and Mac and here’s how to detect them:

Install anti-malware software to detect monitoring. Software such as Malwarebytes claims to detect this type of employee monitoring software and even help you to remove it if necessary.

As we mentioned above it’s recommended to check your contracts before removing any software installed by your employer.

If you find spyware or monitoring software on your work computer (or even a personal device) you might want to change the passwords to your important accounts as this information could’ve been passed to your employer (or whoever is tracking your online activity). You should do this on a device that isn’t being monitored.

Android

Android was the most used operating system between September 2018 and August 2019, even sitting above Windows.

Considering a lot of people have work phones provided to them by their employer, it’s entirely possible that this device is monitoring your activity.

Again, it’s important to stress that if your Android phone or tablet is provided by your employer, not only is it likely that they are monitoring your activity, but there’s a good chance it’s also completely legal.

If you are worried that your Android device contains spyware that is able to track your every move (both online and physically), then there are steps you can take:

  • Download an Anti-spyware App. Apps such as Certo Mobile Security allow you to easily detect and remove spyware and monitoring software from your phone or tablet. You can download the app for free here. On top of detecting any malicious software installed on the device, the app will also detect any insecure system settings.
  • Enable Google Play Protect. Google Play Protect represents another layer of security built into the Android operating system by Google themselves. This will help you to scan all of your apps and ensure that you haven’t got anything installed that shouldn’t be there. That said, it’s not a replacement for security software.
  • Keep an eye on your device for signs of monitoring. If you suspect that your employer might be spying on you via your Android device, there are a few signs to watch out for that can be tell-tale signs of monitoring. These signs include decreased performance, increased temperature levels and strange noises whilst on calls. Read more here.
  • Read through our recently posted articles. This article lists a number of ways to remove spyware from your Android device, but we’ve posted a wealth of information about keeping your phone or tablet free from malware. You can see all of our blog posts by clicking here.

iOS

If you’re not using an Android, then you’re probably using an iOS device. iPads and iPhones are massively popular – favoured especially for their ease-of-use and supposed improved security compared to Android.

Although iOS is considered more secure than Android, it is still possible for an employer to install monitoring software since most of this software is legitimate and widely used. So, here’s what you can do if you think your iPhone or iPad is monitoring you.

  • Use an Anti-spyware tool to locate monitoring apps. The problem with iOS is that Apple doesn’t let developers create apps that scan their devices directly. However, you can use software such as Certo AntiSpy, which performs a scan of your iOS device via your computer.
  • Check your device for Enterprise apps. Many companies alter the configuration of their employee’s iOS devices, often for security reasons or to add their own bespoke Enterprise apps.

These bespoke apps can allow some aspects of the device to be remotely monitored. You can check if your iOS device has been customised by your employer by following the steps below:

  • Go to the settings app.
  • Tap General
  • Scroll down and tap on ‘Profile & Device management’. If you don’t see this option in the menu then that means you don’t have any Enterprise apps on your device.
  • Scroll down and tap on ‘Profile & Device management’. If you don’t see this option in the menu then that means you don’t have any Enterprise apps on your device.
  • Check how your device connects to iCloud. If the iCloud account used with your company iOS device is managed by your employer then they could use this to monitor some activity and communications from your iPhone or iPad. If you’re using your own personal Apple ID on the device then your employer shouldn’t be able to access this and the data you sync to iCloud is private. It’s best to enable two-factor authentication with your Apple ID if you have not already done so.

The biggest thing to remember if you think you’re being spied on by your employer is this

Is this something you’ve agreed to in your contract?

That will have a lot of impact on how much control you have over the situation. But of course, you should always seek independent legal advice. This article is purely provided as a means to help you keep your devices secure from any potential 3rd party threats.

Russell Kent-Payne, Director and co-founder, Certo Software
Simon Lewis, Director and co-founder,
Certo Software