Employee monitoring is just one facet of a larger discipline known as endpoint security, which includes everything from malware protection to policy enforcement and asset tracking. Large enterprise computing environments demand comprehensive endpoint-security systems, consisting of server software coupled with client software on each user's machine, that can handle many of these functions at once. These systems tend to be complex enough to require the expertise of a trained IT pro. But in this guide, I'll be looking primarily at simpler tools designed for smaller organizations.
For a small business, you have several good ways to achieve endpoint security. You can install a Web-hosted system that combines software on the PC with remote monitoring services to protect your computers and enforce compliance with company policies. You can combine a few complementary tools, such as a desktop security suite and professional tracking software. Or, if your company is very small and your budget is tight, you can adopt free tools à la carte.
The most secure way to monitor PC use is to deploy a system that consists of a host, server, or appliance together with client-installed software. Unless you have a dedicated IT staff or the budget to bring someone in on a regular basis to check on things, a cloud-based service--such as Symantec.cloud or Trend Micro Worry-Free Business Security--is probably the best choice. These services are relatively inexpensive and easy to set up compared with server offerings, and they give you the flexibility to set and monitor compliance with acceptable-use policies from a single management interface. They also deploy system security updates automatically, block malware, and protect sensitive files to prevent data from leaking out of your company. Better still, these hosted systems effectively protect laptops that frequently leave the office.
The cost for a hosted endpoint-security service is generally very low: A five-client license for Trend Micro Worry-Free will set you back less than $300 for two years.
If you're not up for a total security overhaul and you just want to track user activity on a few systems, you have several affordable ways to go about it. Packages such as Interguard Sonar can monitor all e-mail and IM sessions, track and filter Web usage, log users' keystrokes and program use, and capture screenshots on command for as little as $87 per user.