The Difference Between Network Monitoring and Spying

It’s easy to confuse network monitoring with end user intelligence gathering. Luckily for privacy advocates, network monitoring applications actually serve a completely different purpose.


Let’s examine what network monitoring entails, how it helps organizations do business, and the extent to which it captures – but mostly doesn’t capture – user activities on the network. We’ll even reveal how network monitoring actually prevents spies from recording user actions. Yes, really.


What network monitoring is (and isn’t)


Networks are fragile. Various activities can influence their performance, and having a birds-eye-view of your network’s status is the best way for IT, management, and others to understand the business impact of network-related issues.


Say, for instance, a cabling problem creates a bottleneck on your network. Bad cables, improper cable connections, and faulty switches are common problems that can slow network speeds to a crawl. Network monitoring tools will notify IT that there’s a problem on the network. IT, in turn, can view data about the problem, identify the source (an improper cable connection, perhaps), and take action to improve network connectivity.


Solving problems like this one is the essence of network monitoring. Organizations rely on monitoring tools so that networks perform at optimal capacity. And a high-performing network benefits everyone at your organization.


Consider what happens when one of your colleagues brings her personal device to the office. The device is still uploading a multimedia file the user began uploading at home, and the large file transfer is seriously constraining network performance. Nobody can download email attachments. VOIP communications are shot, and clients are getting anxious.


A network monitoring application would direct IT to the source of the problem – your colleague’s supersized upload – so the user could take action to fix the issue. While the monitoring tool, in this instance, did alert IT to a specific user’s network actions, nobody was actively monitoring her every move. Only when her actions impacted network performance did the tool indicate anything was awry.


Capturing user actions


The above example epitomizes the extent to which most network monitoring tools document user-specific network activity. Such activity really isn’t documented at all; but rather, it can be exposed if it makes the network go haywire.


To be sure, organizations wishing to capture keystroke data, screenshots, and other information related to employees’ computer habits can implement applications built for such purposes. That’s just not what network monitoring is. In fact, network monitoring can inhibit spies from outside the organization – the kind that steal your credit card number – from infiltrating the network and filching your data.


Even the simplest software misconfiguration can create openings for data thieves eager to obtain sensitive information. Network monitoring will notify decision makers that a piece of software isn’t configured properly. They can address the problem before a seemingly negligible issue turns into a full-blown malware attack, protecting you and your colleagues from a ruinous hacking event.


Network monitoring ≠ big brother


We live in an era when organizations and their employees are concerned about user privacy – and with good reason. An employer that doesn’t impose strict surveillance on its workforce shows that it trusts the people responsible for its success. And a working environment built on trust is a place where employees can thrive.


Network monitoring can be part of such workplaces. It exists to ensure every user can access a functional, well-maintained network. Deliberately spying on employees is neither its purpose nor even possible given its capabilities.


Organizations that value privacy can feel confident that network monitoring doesn’t require them to jeopardize employees’ trust. Privacy and network monitoring can coexist, offering better protection for your network and the people who use it.