The bossware debate

Issue 6 2023 Information Security

Carey van Vlaanderen.

Employee monitoring, also called ‘bossware’ or ‘tattleware’, is more popular than ever. Bossware is used to describe various tracking tools to monitor employee activity. It is mostly used to track productivity and mitigate risk by monitoring email content, browser history, location, app usage and phone use through software, webcams, CCTV, GPS, fitness devices, and access control hardware.

Increased remote working, driven by the pandemic, has seen around 60% of companies with remote workers implement some form of bossware. Over half (53%) of those companies have found that workers are spending three or more hours per day on non-work activities.

Additional studies conducted support these findings. One study reported that up to 40% of employee internet usage was not work-related, while global analytics firm, Gallup, estimates that disengaged employees cost the world $8,8 trillion in lost productivity annually.

Bossware can help employers spot productivity issues and is often also used to monitor security. Between 88-95% of data breaches are caused by employee errors such as recycling passwords, clicking on links in phishing emails, or failing to update security patches. Humans are indeed the biggest threat in the cybersecurity space, and bossware can shine a light on areas where security training and awareness may be lacking.

“While bossware could be one way to boost productivity and examine security issues, it requires some forethought,” says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO of ESET Southern Africa. “If implemented properly, bossware can help to protect your company against security and legal risks, but it should never be considered a replacement for robust security software and practices. Employers should, nonetheless, still respect the privacy of employees and be wary of potential privacy concerns that could demotivate employees and damage your relationship with them.”

There are several benefits to bossware, including:

• Discovering workplace practices that hinder productivity.

• Identifying tasks that could be automated.

• Building a fairer workplace by ensuring equal duties.

• Mitigating security risks.

• Monitoring employee stress levels.

There are also some potential cons, such as:

• Limited insight into time spent problem solving and on non-digital tasks.

• Increased performance pressure on employees.

• Privacy and legal concerns.

• Low employee morale due to feeling mistrusted or undervalued.

Legal and ethical implications

In South Africa, employee monitoring is mostly legal as long as the employer complies with certain aspects of the law. The two applicable laws are the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), which requires that an employee must be informed if they are being monitored, and the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-related Information Act (RICA), whereby a business may only intercept communications as it relates to the business and during the carrying on of business.

So, employers may not access or seek access to employees’ private email or social media accounts, for example, or monitor them after hours. Typically, employers also stipulate any monitoring terms in the employment contract so that it is agreed upon by both parties in writing before any work commences.

Just because something is legal, however, does not mean it is always ethical. Van Vlaanderen says that employers should take care to ensure monitoring is proportionate and does not unnecessarily intrude on the lives of employees. “Take time to outline a framework that stipulates the extent of the monitoring and the reasons for tracking those activities. Ensure employees are aware of any monitoring and how it may be used and encourage them not to conduct personal affairs on work devices.”

“Good policies,” she says, “will strike a balance between business demands and privacy concerns. Most importantly, transparency and dialogue will be key in maintaining trust between employers and employees, as is ensuring that any collected data is safe and only available to authorised users. Remember that monitoring on its own is also not enough – whether your concerns are security or productivity. Regular training, clear guidelines, and a robust software framework should always be the priority.”

Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

New ransomware using BitLocker to encrypt data
Technews Publishing Information Security Residential Estate (Industry)
Kaspersky has identified ransomware attacks using Microsoft’s BitLocker to attempt encryption of corporate files. It can detect specific Windows versions and enable BitLocker according to those versions.

Create order from chaos
Information Security
The task of managing and interpreting vast amounts of data is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Cyberthreats are growing in complexity and frequency, demanding sophisticated solutions that not only detect, but also prevent, malicious activities effectively.

Trend Micro launches first security solutions for consumer AI PCs
Information Security News & Events
Trend Micro unveiled its first consumer security solutions tailored to safeguard against emerging threats in the era of AI PCs. Trend will bring these advanced capabilities to consumers in late 2024.

Kaspersky finds 24 vulnerabilities in biometric access systems
Technews Publishing Information Security
Customers urged to update firmware. Kaspersky has identified numerous flaws in the hybrid biometric terminal produced by international manufacturer ZKTeco, allowing a nefarious actor to bypass the verification process and gain unauthorised access.

Responsible AI boosts software security
Information Security
While the prevalence of high-severity security flaws in applications has dropped slightly in recent years, the risks posed by software vulnerabilities remain high, and remediating these vulnerabilities could hinder new application development.

AI and ransomware: cutting through the hype
AI & Data Analytics Information Security
It might be the great paradox of 2024: artificial intelligence (AI). Everyone is bored of hearing it, but we cannot stop talking about it. It is not going away, so we had better get used to it.

NEC XON shares lessons learned from ransomware attacks
NEC XON Editor's Choice Information Security
NEC XON has handled many ransomware attacks. We've distilled key insights and listed them in this article to better equip companies and individuals for scenarios like this, which many will say are an inevitable reality in today’s environment.

iOCO collaboration protection secures Office 365
Information Security Infrastructure
The cloud, in general, and Office 365, in particular, have played a significant role in enabling collaboration, but it has also created a security headache as organisations store valuable information on the platform.

Cybercriminals embracing AI
Information Security Security Services & Risk Management
Organisations of all sizes are exploring how artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI, in particular, can benefit their businesses. While they are still figuring out how best to use AI, cybercriminals have fully embraced it.

A strong cybersecurity foundation
Milestone Systems Information Security
The data collected by cameras, connected sensors, and video management software can make a VMS an attractive target for malicious actors; therefore, being aware of the risks of an insecure video surveillance system and how to mitigate these are critical skills.