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April 9, 2007

Corporate Spyware

Filed under: Main — Ryan Jones @ 9:11 am

Last weekend some friends and I were having a debate about corporate spyware. The question we asked is “what would you do if you found out your company monitors everything you do on your computer? Every website you visit, every key you press, and even look at your screen remotely from time to time.”

So where did this come from? Well on Friday I noticed my computer running slow, so like all geeks I did a ctrl alt del to see what was using so much memory. It turns out the problem was FireFox, but even more interesting I found a program called “swsys.exe” running. Since I’ve never heard of it, I Googled to see what it was.

Turns out, swsys.exe is part of an application called “Activity Tracker” that allows employers to log all websites, emails, and even keystrokes! It also lets them look at any employee’s screen in real time.

A quick “netstat” command showed my computer currently connected to my Boss’s. A couple setting tweaks, and that was no longer the case 🙂 That’s where the problem lies.

Over the weekend I talked to some fellow programmers at different companies, and even my old boss. All of them said “screw that, I’d walk out if I found out they were doing that.. that’s shady.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to walk out. When I got home Friday I tried logging in to check my work email. (like I do every weekend – to check for any critical alerts or outages.) When my password wasn’t accepted, I knew what was coming.

I was fired this morning for “performance issues.”

I’m not going to bad talk a previous employer – it’s not something I do. I met some great people at Auto Credit Express and had some great opportunities. Altogether working at ACE helped me grow into a much better programmer than I was when I started almost 2 years ago.

On the flip side, I am glad to no longer be working for a company that engages in these practices. It’s one thing to protect your assets, it’s a totally different issue to not have trust in them to begin with.

Has anybody else experienced software like this at your job? Would you work for such a company? What would you do if you did?


  1. the last company that i worked for made us sign a form stating that we acknowledged that the company was tracking what we were doing on the computer. i think it’s a pretty standard practice. hope you find another job…

    Comment by renee — April 9, 2007 @ 6:28 pm

  2. It’s weird but I find it ridiculous for a small company to engage in those practices (under 20 employees) because what people are accountable to deliver is so clear. But, due to how poorly companies grow, it is hard for every department and indivdual to have a bar to be measured against. For programmers its extremely difficult to measure performance. Amount of lines of code, amount of bug fixes etc.. are not valuable metrics… so putting lame key loggers at least can check for people who are obviously slacking :/

    Where I previously worked there were guys who were grinding on work all day and then the guys who were working and constantly switching between IM & facebook… but it was obvious who the performers were… and it was not the social networkers, although they probably had a better time at work.

    Comment by rDoom — April 14, 2007 @ 11:39 pm

  3. i just got a shiny new laptop….and have spent the last 2 days trying to log all the bits of corporate spyware running on it…
    mostly it seems to be ‘policy enforcement’ stuff..

    but serveral of these seem to be phoning home more often than i would have thought useful..

    I’ve since removed all those i could find.
    but will probably rebuild the thing from scratch before i trust it.

    they arent overtly monitoring me…we have 50,000+ employees..so im not too bothered..
    and i am still working for them.

    mostly its because i have a new laptop….my old one didnt have anything on it..(i know cos i built it)
    and they dont enforce corporate builds (yet)

    Comment by RichD — May 8, 2007 @ 6:50 am

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