Top Ten “How To’s” Your IT Department Doesn’t Want You to Know

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has compiled a top ten list of “How To’s” that IT Departments want to keep a secret. Along with the article is a video interview with a “security expert” from PricewaterhouseCoopers’s. The issue at hand (in a nutshell): should companies be able to monitor and/or limit your non-work activity in the office?

This seems to be a complicated issue that will never go away. I’m usually one to stand up for privacy and flexibility in the workplace. But then, it only takes one bad experience (spyware / virus / porn) for an employer to tighten up for a legitimate reason (even if often in an over-reacting way). In any event, see below for the video interview and the top ten workarounds:

1. How to send large files.

“Use online services such as YouSendIt Inc., SendThisFile Inc. and Carson Systems Ltd.’s DropSend, which let you send large files — sometimes up to a few gigabytes in size — free of charge. To use the services, you typically have to register, supplying personal information such as name and email address. You can then enter the recipient’s email address and a message to him or her, and the site will give you instructions for uploading the file. In most cases, the site will send the recipient a link that he or she can click to download the file.”

2. How to use software that you company won’t let you download.

“There are two easy ways around this: finding Web-based alternatives or bringing in the software on an outside device.

The first is easier. Say your company won’t let you download the popular AOL Instant Messenger program, from Time Warner Inc.’s AOL unit. You can still instant-message with colleagues and friends using a Web-based version of the service called AIM Express (AIM.com/aimexpress.adp). There’s also Google Inc.’s instant-messaging service, Google Talk, accessible at Google.com/talk. There are Web-based equivalents of software such as music players and videogames, too — typically, skimpier versions with fewer features than the regular programs.

The other approach to this problem is more involved but gives you access to actual software programs on your computer. All three of our experts pointed to a company called Rare Ideas LLC (RareIdeas.com), which offers free versions of popular programs such as Firefox and OpenOffice. You can download the software onto a portable device like an iPod or a USB stick, through a service called Portable Apps (PortableApps.com). Then hook the device up to your work computer, and you’re ready to go. (But if your company blocks you from using external devices, you’re out of luck.)”

3. How to visit the web sites your company blocks.

“Even if your company won’t let you visit those sites by typing their Web addresses into your browser, you can still sometimes sneak your way onto them. You travel to a third-party site, called a proxy, and type the Web address you want into a search box. Then the proxy site travels to the site you want and displays it for you — so you can see the site without actually visiting it. Proxy.org, for one, features a list of more than 4,000 proxies.

Another way to accomplish the same thing, from Mr. Frauenfelder and Ms. Trapani: Use Google’s translation service, asking it to do an English-to-English translation. Just enter this — Google.com/translate?langpair=en|en&u=www.blockedsite.com — replacing “blockedsite.com” with the Web address of the site you want to visit. Google effectively acts as a proxy, calling up the site for you.”

4. How to clear your tracks on your work laptop.

“The latest versions of the Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers both make it easy to clear your tracks. In IE7, click on Tools, then Delete Browsing History. From there, you can either delete all your history by clicking Delete All or choose one or a few kinds of data to delete. In Firefox, just hit Ctrl-Shift-Del — or click Clear Private Data under the Tools menu.”

5. How to search for your work documents from home.

“Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Ask unit have all released software that lets you quickly search your desktop documents. On top of that, some will let you search through documents saved on one computer from another one. How does it work? The search company keeps a copy of your documents on its own server. So it can scan those copies when you do a search remotely.

To use Google’s software — among the most popular — follow these steps on both your work and home PC. First, you’ll need to set up a Google account on both machines by visiting Google.com/accounts. (Be sure to use the same account on both computers.) Then go to Desktop.Google.com to download the search software. When it’s up and running — again, do this on both machines — click on Desktop Preferences, then Google Account Features. From there, check the box next to Search Across Computers. After that point, any document you open on either machine will be copied to Google’s servers — and will be searchable from either machine.”

6. How to store work files online.

“Use an online-storage service from the likes of Box.net Inc., Streamload Inc. or AOL-owned Xdrive. (Box.net also offers its service inside the social-networking site Facebook.) Most offer some free storage, from one to five gigabytes, and charge a few dollars a month for premium packages with extra space. Another guerrilla storage solution is to email files to your private, Web-based email account, such as Gmail or Hotmail.”

7. How to keep your privacy when using web email.

“When you send emails — using either your work or personal email address — you can encrypt them, so that only you and the recipient can read them. In Microsoft Outlook, click on Tools, then Options and choose the Security tab. There, you can enter a password — and nobody can open a note from you without supplying it. (Of course, you’ll have to tell people the code beforehand.)

For Web-based personal email, try this trick from Mr. Frauenfelder: When checking email, add an “s” to the end of the “http” in front of your email provider’s Web address — for instance, https://www.Gmail.com. This throws you into a secure session, so that nobody can track your email. Not all Web services may support this, however.

To encrypt IM conversations, meanwhile, try the IM service Trillian from Cerulean Studios LLC, which lets you connect to AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger and others — and lets you encrypt your IM conversations so that they can’t be read.”

8. How to access your work email remotely when your company won’t spring for a Blackberry.

“You, too, can stay up to date on work email, using any number of consumer-oriented hand-held devices. Just set up your work email so that all your emails get forwarded to your personal email account.

In Microsoft Outlook, you can do this by right-clicking on any email, choosing Create Rule, and asking that all your email be forwarded to another address. Then, set up your hand-held to receive your personal email, by following instructions from the service provider for your hand-held. (That’s the company that sends you your bill.)”

9. How to access your personal email from your Blackberry.

“Look at the Settings area of your personal email account, and make sure you’ve enabled POP — Post Office Protocol — a method used to retrieve email from elsewhere. Then log in to the Web site for your BlackBerry service provider. Click on the Profile button, look for the Email Accounts section and click on Other Email Accounts. Then click Add Account and enter the information for your Web-based email account. Now your personal emails will pop up on the same screen as your company email.”

10. How to look like you’re working.

“Hit Alt-Tab to quickly minimize one window (say, the one where you’re browsing ESPN.com) and maximize another (like that presentation that’s due today).”

Note: I’ve just listed the “How To’s” here. The WSJ article is actually much longer with sections for each “How To” like “The Risk” and “How to Stay Safe.”

So what is recommended to “stay safe” while you’re only looking like you’re working? Get back to work!

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