Take the 2-minute tour ×
Information Security Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Information security professionals. It's 100% free, no registration required.

At the workplace I use the organization's network for accessing internet (well that's the only option). I am not sure if the network administrators monitor what I browse, how frequently I access social media websites. But I guess they would/should be doing.

So here's my question - If I use Private Browsing Mode to access websites (lets say social networking sites), will the network administrator find any clue that I am using Private Browsing Mode? And what all websites I am accessing through it?

share|improve this question

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

As others say - Private Browsing is a protection for your workstation/laptop - great if you want to clean it because it's used publicly. Not great for eluding your network admins.

The company you work for does have the right to set a policy for how it's resources are used, and monitor that employees stick within the policy. The analogy of a phone system is apt - you've reset your "phone", you haven't erased your phone bill which shows every number you called.

Depending on configuration, your company can see what IP addresses you visited, what URLs you requested, the traffic sent between the sites and you, content transmitted between the sites and you, and get a rough sense of for how long you were visiting the sites. The sites you visit do represent a security risk, and the company has a right to monitor and protect itself from that risk.

Practically speaking, it's rare for a company to scrutinize employee by employee. Collecting the data, sorting it for each employee, and going through it in details is just way more work than a company of any size wants to consider. In a big company, it's like finding a needle in a haystack, in small companies, the one guy who can do this is just too busy.

Generally, you have to do some or all of the following for this to come into play:

  • do very poorly in job performance - to the point where they wonder what you are doing, because it clearly isn't work...
  • have a major security issue - if you get hacked or get a virus, they will fix it, research why it happened and try to prevent it in the future. That extra scrutiny can bring on questions of why you were on a social site if the company policy prohibits it.
  • visit sites excessively, and compromise availability of resources - if you are streaming Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, etc for the entire work day, you are limiting bandwidth for legitimate use. When the executive says "why is this so slow?", you don't want to be the reason.

In all honesty, I find the best answer to be - if you want your behavior to stay private, don't do it at work. The computer for work was given to you for work. Generally some polite social browsing in limited scope is not against the rules, if it doesn't impact your work... but the point of the computer they gave you wasn't for your personal enjoyment. If your privacy is important, do it at home, or pack a personal device with net access - it's getting easier and easier with smart phones and tablets to get off the company network entirely.

share|improve this answer

Your network administrator can see to which sites you connect. Using private browsing mode to wipe or simply not store information on your PC does not change the way in which you connect to these sites, nor does it prevent anyone from seeing these connections.

It might be easier of you think of it as a phone. You call someone. Those calls are routed though the phone system of your firm. Afterwards you reset your phone to to factory settings. That will wipe evidence of that call from the phone, not not from the telephone system.


Having said all that: You network administrator probably is not allowed to spy on you.

Rules differ per country, but generally there needs to be a clear reason before anyone (network administrator or anyone else) is allowed to spy on you. An unusual slow network connection caused by streaming music or watching HD youtube movies over a 2mbit line is a good reason to check what the line is being used for.

share|improve this answer
    
In many countries there will also be an automatic match against blacklists - one match might be ignored, but continually accessing banned URLs might get you scrutinised too. –  Rory Alsop Jun 12 '13 at 13:41
    
"reset factory settings"??? Why don't you just delete the call logs;-) ? –  Shurmajee Jun 12 '13 at 14:19

Yes they would.

Private Browsing Mode (in most browsers) is designed to make the browser avoid saving the history of visited URLs on your computer. Your network administrator can still view the logs of the Internet gateway via which you connection to the Internet. Even if you're using HTTPS, your network administrator can still know the IP addresses to which you're connecting, and thus knowing, with very high accuracy, the websites you're visiting.

Your best option is to setup an SSH or VPN server on your home computer and then tunnel from work to your computer, making your traffic encrypted between your work computer and your home computer. Even then, it's likely that your company is performing corporate MiTM attacks in which they deploy certificates in your trusted root CA store in your computer via Group Policy and then stand between you and the SSL server to which you're trying to connect.

share|improve this answer
    
I use ssh tunnel to my home computer, how can I be sure that there's no mitm attack? –  Green Fly Jun 12 '13 at 4:32
1  
@GreenFly You can get your server's fingerprint using ssh-keygen -lf /etc/ssh/ssh_host_rsa_key.pub and store it somewhere with you (on your USB stick, Dropbox folder, email it to yourself, etc.) then whenever you're prompted by your SSH client to accept and store a new fingerprint, you'll compare it to the one you already have. –  Adnan Jun 12 '13 at 6:03

Private browsing mode is there to make sure that there are no traces left on the host machine after you have used it for internet access. In this mode your visited pages, cookies and form field entries etc are not stored by the browser (see this and that).This is useful when you are accessing internet from a public computer.

Your internet browsing activities can still be monitored by looking at the proxy or firewall logs.The only possible thing is the use of a proxy as suggested by Adnan. You may want to browse the anonymity tag on this site. This may also help you to understand Online anonymity.

share|improve this answer

One method to confirm if your company is performing MiTM if you don't know your home server fingerprint is to use the HTTPS Fingerprinting service on Steve Gibson's (Shields Up) site (HTTPS/WWW.GRC.COM), you may want to check it out for an interesting discussion of this topic.

share|improve this answer
2  
Steve Gibson is not well regarded for his security expertise. I'd hesitate to suggest using his tools. attrition.org/errata/charlatan/steve_gibson –  Xander Jun 12 '13 at 16:58

If you want to hide what you are doing online then you should be using a VPN.

share|improve this answer
    
1. that's not what R11G asked about and 2. using any VPN is unlikely to be possible from a properly set up corporate network. –  Philipp May 17 at 18:08

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.