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Everything we do on the Internet leaves a record, from sending email to browsing your favourite music site.

If you're on a company network, your boss can easily check these records and find out what you were really up to while you pretended to be hard at work.

Privacy at work: your intimate friend, the network manager

How private is your computer at work? If it's on a company network, the answer is not very private at all.

Network administrators have more privileges than you can imagine. Not only can they monitor all network traffic, including everybody's email and Web access, they can also get right inside the hard drive of your computer and see what's there - even change it if they like. And you won't even know it's happened.

They're generally nice (if overworked) people and they don't root around in your files for fun. But if a senior member of the company asks them to, they can and will. It's very easy and only takes a few seconds.

Monitoring email is very easy too, and whenever you get a bounce-back or other email problem, it's highly likely that your network manager will automatically get a copy of the offending mail and look at it to see if there's something wrong with their system.

Monitoring Web access is more time consuming, and most network managers don't do it unless somebody causes an obvious problem - for example downloading so many files that the entire system grinds to a halt. But it's perfectly feasible to do. They can tell which sites you've looked at, when you looked at them and for how long.

In the States, if you're working for the kind of company that asks for blood tests and doesn't like you having wild friends, they'll probably also check your Web use for the first few months, until they get bored.

The one bit of the Web that's relatively private - and it's only relative - is Web mail, such as Hotmail and Yahoo mail. Although in theory your network manager can monitor what you send and receive, it's a real pain in the backside to do and only worth the effort in very extreme circumstances.

One other area where you get a small amount of privacy is on your floppy drive. If you need to download a confidential attachment from your Hotmail account, do it directly on to a floppy disk. A floppy is also the best place to keep your CV (resume).

Although this kind of activity will leave a small trail and your network manager can probably guess what you're up to, the files themselves are rarely inspected.

Otherwise, when you're not in the relatively safe areas of Web mail and your floppy drive, you should treat everything you do on your work computer as if your boss were looking over your shoulder.

In fact, not only are they looking over your shoulder, they've got a video recorder switched on. The logs of your activity on your computer usually go back a number of weeks, and may even be stored permanently.

One day in the future, perhaps you might be promoted to network manager, and then you can dig out your old data logs and see exactly what Web sites you visited and what email you sent all those years ago.

Here's a report by apb news on companies monitoring employees. And more details of who's been fired for porn and jokes from salon magazine.

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