IT staffers have good reasons for restricting your use of company systems. To guard your organization’s PCs, data, and bandwidth, the pocket-protector crowd may frown on IM software on company PCs, ban unauthorized software use, and limit transfers of large files.
But you can still safely transmit files of many sizes, chat on your favorite IM client, and use unapproved but legal and harmless software.
Transfer huge files
Most businesses impose a ceiling on the size of e-mail attachments they’ll accept, but you needn’t let that prevent you from receiving the files required for your work.
Box.net, SendSpace, SendThisFile, and YouSendIt offer free file-transfer services, low-cost premium plans for sending giant files, and password-protected transmission.
For example, YouSendIt lets you send files of 100MB or less without requiring you to register (see the image below); other sites insist that you provide an e-mail address when you sign up. Recipients usually have a week to click the link in their e-mail to download a file from the service’s server.
The YouSendIt online file-transfer service lets you send files in capacities of up to 100MB for free, without registering. You must supply an e-mail address in order to make a password-protected transfer, however.
If you want to chat…
Most companies discourage or prohibit IM software, citing security concerns and the strain it places on network resources.
Unfortunately, the workaround–Web-based instant messaging–probably uses even more system bandwidth; but at least offerings such as AOL’s AIM Express and Google’s IM service work without needing any additional software.
If your company’s IT staff hasn’t blocked multiple-IM clients, you can use Trillian Basic for added privacy because it encrypts the communication. Alternatively, use a third-party IM enabler like Meebo, which lets you IM from its home page on the Web, with the option of logging on anonymously.
Run any app at work
Policies that forbid nonapproved software needn’t prevent you from legally and safely using programs that help you with your job or that are otherwise harmless.
If your company hasn’t deactivated the external ports on its PCs, simply load whatever software you want onto a U3-enabled USB flash memory drive or portable hard drive. The apps and data on U3 drives remain independent of your system.
When you remove the drive from the USB port, the files and applications vanish along with it.
PortableApps.com offers free open-source software that you can save to any external storage device; all of the files temporarily stored on your work PC while you use the software disappear when you unplug the drive.
Unblock company-prohibited Web sites
Aware of possible legal entanglements, most companies block porn, gambling, and known malware-compromised addresses. But along the way, excessively zealous IT departments may block access to Web mail, instant messaging, and other everyday sites.
Fear not. By surfing via a proxy–an unblocked third-party site–you can circumambulate this roadblock. Go to the home page of Proxy.org for links to hundreds of third-party proxy sites.
The major downside of surfing via proxy is the delay in page loads that results from having your desired site’s page info pass through the proxy’s server before it gets relayed to you. Be prepared to surf at a slower pace, and check out the proxy site’s credentials in advance, to avoid security risks.
Most proxy sites are free and offer anonymous surfing, but some are open to malicious content. On the home page of Proxy.org, you’ll find a full explanation of how proxies work.
Another way to unblock a site is to use Google’s translation page. Though originally intended to translate foreign language pages into the language of your choice, this tool also functions as a proxy if you use it to translate from English to English.
In your browser’s address bar, type
as a single line with no letter spaces (including after the question mark), but replace ‘www.site.com’ with the blocked Web address.
Store your work files online
Your boss may expect you to get your work done even if you’re not at the office, but your company’s computer security policy may not afford easy (or any) access to the files you need. One option is to save them to a USB or other portable storage device before you leave the office.
Another is to upload the files you know you’ll need to an online storage site such as Box.net or AOL’s Xdrive. Most of these services provide at least a couple of gigabytes of free storage.
Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and other Web mail services provide anywhere from 5GB to unlimited mail storage, so a third option is to e-mail the files to your personal e-mail account, where you can access them as attachments.
Get your company mail when you’re away from the office
Because companies are (rightfully) fearful of intrusions into their e-mail servers, they may prevent employees from accessing their work accounts from outside the office. Others lack support for BlackBerrys and other phone-based e-mail devices, thus preventing their employees from receiving work mail on those devices.
One way to get around this message dam is to forward your e-mail while keeping it on the original server. In Outlook, select Tools, Rules and Alerts.
With the E-Mail Rules tab selected, click the New Rule button and choose the Start from a blank rule button. The rules wizard window will pop up with the first two steps already filled in.
Click Next, check sent only to me from the “conditions” offered. Click Next, and in the Select action(s) window choose forward to people or distribution list. In Step 2, click the people or distribution list link. In ‘Specify whom to forward messages to’ type the e-mail address you are forwarding to. Click OK and Finish.
In Outlook Express, select Tools, Message Rules, Mail.
A four-step selection window appears. Choose the appropriate rule in each window. In Step 3, click the Forward it to people link, enter your forwarding e-mail address, and click OK. In Step 4, type a name for your new forwarding rule (such as Forward to Yahoo address) and click OK.
Now your mail will appear as usual in your company inbox as well as at your forwarded address. Just remember that if you reply to messages at your forwarded address, recipients will see that address, not your company address.
Keep your e-mail private
Whether you get your e-mail on a company network or through a Web mail service, your company has the legal right to monitor your incoming and outgoing messages.
But you can shut out corporate snoops by encrypting your messages. Of course, doing so may raise a red flag in the IT department, if staffers there detect it (and they may). So if you’re concerned about sending e-mail that your employer may not approve of, consider waiting until you’re back on your own personal PC before sending it.
To encrypt any e-mail message, all you need is a Digital ID certificate. Various companies, including VeriSign sell these; VeriSign’s cost $20 a year.
To obtain a Digital ID in Outlook 2003, select Tool, Options, Security and click the Get Digital ID button. Once obtained, the ID will automatically install itself in your Web browser or e-mail program. A Digital ID acts as an electronic substitute for a sealed envelope and handwritten signature.
It lets you encrypt e-mail and attachments, protecting them from being read by online intruders.
Only your intended recipient can decrypt them. Of course, you’ll have to share your password with your recipient to make this possible.
For Web mail, a quick trick is to add an “s” after the “p” in the “http://” portion of the address bar; this will switch you to a secure, encrypted connection. For example, https://mail.aol.com or https://mail.google.com will connect you to each service in such a way that only you can read your incoming messages, and only the intended recipients can read your outgoing mail.
Microsoft automatically encrypts messages in its Hotmail accounts, but the “https:” trick does not work for Yahoo Mail.