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Monitoring Employee Behavior in Digital Environments is Rising

Monitoring Employee Behavior in Digital Environments is Rising

Monitoring employee behavior in digital environments is on the rise, with 60 percent of corporations expected to implement formal programs for monitoring external social media for security breaches and incidents by 2015, according to Gartner, Inc. Many organizations already engage in social media monitoring as part of brand management and marketing, but less than 10 percent of organizations currently use these same techniques as part of their security monitoring program.

“The growth in monitoring employee behavior in digital environments is increasingly enabled by new technology and services,” said Andrew Walls, research vice president of Gartner. “Surveillance of individuals, however, can both mitigate and create risk, which must be managed carefully to comply with ethical and legal standards.”

To prevent, detect and remediate security incidents, IT security organizations have traditionally focused attention on the monitoring of internal infrastructure. The impact of IT consumerization, cloud services and social media renders this traditional approach inadequate for guiding decisions regarding the security of enterprise information and work processes.

“Security monitoring and surveillance must follow enterprise information assets and work processes into whichever technical environments are used by employees to execute work,” said Mr. Walls. “Given that employees with legitimate access to enterprise information assets are involved in most security violations, security monitoring must focus on employee actions and behavior wherever the employees pursue business-related interactions on digital systems. In other words, the development of effective security intelligence and control depends on the ability to capture and analyze user actions that take place inside and outside of the enterprise IT environment.”

The popularity of consumer cloud services, such as Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, provides new targets for security monitoring, but surveillance of user activity in these services generates additional ethical and legal risks. There are times when the information available can assist in risk mitigation for an organization, such as employees posting videos of inappropriate activities within corporate facilities. However, there are other times when accessing the information can generate serious liabilities, such as a manager reviewing an employee’s Facebook profile to determine the employee’s religion or sexual orientation in violation of equal employment opportunity and privacy regulations.

“The conflicts involved were highlighted through recent examples of a small number of organizations requesting Facebook login information from job candidates,” said Mr. Walls. “Although that particular practice will gradually fade, employers will continue to pursue greater visibility of social media conversations held by employees, customers and the general public when the topics are of interest to the corporation.”

A wide range of products and services have emerged to support these actions and many public relations firms provide social media monitoring as a standard client service. Security organizations are beginning to see value in the capture and analysis of social media content, not just for internal security surveillance, but also to enable detection of shifting threats that impinge on the organization. This might be physical threats to facilities and personnel revealed through postings concerning civil unrest or it may be threats of logical attacks by hacktivists. Early detection of shifting risks enables the organization to vary its security posture to match and minimize negative impacts.

“The problem lies in the ability of surveillance tools and methods to produce large volumes of irrelevant information,” said Mr. Walls. “This personal information can be exposed accidentally or become the target of voyeuristic behavior by security staff.”

There are a number of important issues that also need to be considered. While automated, covert monitoring of computer use by staff suspected of serious policy violations can produce hard evidence of inappropriate or illegal behaviors, and guide management response, it might also violate privacy laws. In addition, user awareness of focused monitoring can be a deterrent for illicit behavior, but surveillance activities may be seen as a violation of legislation, regulations, policies or cultural expectations. There are also various laws in multiple countries that restrict the legality of interception of communications or covert monitoring of human activity.

Mr. Walls will be presenting on the threats and opportunities of monitoring users for security intelligence at the upcoming Gartner Security & Risk Management Summits in National Harbor, Maryland in June, in Sydney, Australia in July and in London in September.


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  1. Say it and deny it
    Type it and regret it

  2. This is such an insightful post. This sound helpful for corporations and HR companies.

  3. like vary much ……………………………

  4. This is must nowadays to ensure the quality of workers..Why not we monitor all those????

  5. This is a well-timed article for what is going on in the marketplace today. When I ran a recruitment practice for a global organization, I told my employees do not put anything in email that you would not want the whole company to know. Now I tell job seeker clients not to put anything on social media that they wouldn’t be embarrassed for the world to see. It’s just prudent to assume we have no real privacy these days. It’s not bad….it’s not good. It’s just the way the world works. Thanks for the article.

  6. My take-away on this article: each new idea can generate new and more employment opportunities when one looks for them.

    With social media sites that employees spend their work time accessing and with employers concerned with company information leaking out, it seems a new business of employee surveillance has emerged.

    I think Dominik has the wrong idea about what George Orwell was writing about when he used the term “big brother”. Mr. Orwell was referring to government spying on the people, not businesses ensuring that their hired employees are doing their jobs and doing what is best for the company.

    I believe companies have a right to protect their business assets, whereas the government has NO right to spy on the people who placed them in their position.

  7. Well, I guess Big Brother really is and will be watching.

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