Spector Pro–The Cadillac of Monitoring Software

Written: Feb 20 ’04 (Updated Feb 21 ’04)
happy2000usa’s Full Review: Spectorsoft Spector Internet Monitoring Software P…

The term “Spyware” has an ugly connotation. It has evolved to mean a piece of code added to your computer that allows person or persons unknown to monitor your use or retrieve confidential data. In fact, there is good “Spyware.” It allows people who need to know an opportunity to watch a computer. That’s good for those have a need to monitor usage. Bad for those using the computer for nefarious activities. Let’s call the good “spyware” programs computer monitoring software.

SpectorSoft’s site lists many reasons their software may be necessary. Companies certainly need to know about interaction between their employees and their competitors. Managers also seem to think they should be able to monitor employees’ productivity. (What? You mean I have to work for my paycheck?) It seems they frown on online game playing and surfing porn sites when you should be busily spreading a spreadsheet. SpectorSoft’s products help catch those not playing by the rules.

The SpectorSoft site goes on to including cheating spouses and various other reasons to watch computer usage. I personally wanted it for one only reason: I trust my kid, but I don’t trust the weird people lurking on the net, preying on children.

Some Sneaky Basics

The tried and true method of monitoring computers is keystroke logging. This has been around forever. While an excellent way to ferret out passwords and usernames, it involves a tedious process to analyze the data. Take me. I write around 10,000 words a day using the fast-and-furious-error method of typing. For half those words I type, I’m backspacing and correcting. If you were to go through a file covering my day’s keystroking, it would take you forever.

Keystroke monitoring effectiveness has also been eroded by the advent of rodents. It doesn’t monitor mouse clicks, so while someone is surfing the web, you’re mostly in the dark. This also holds true of emails. You can read what’s written on the computer, but not what’s received. Keystroke logging also does not tell you what others are saying in chat rooms or on an instant messenger. You only get half the conversation.

Some email monitoring programs forward copies of all emails–both incoming and outgoing–to a third party. Others record chats, both in chat rooms and on instant messenger. There are programs to record web addresses and monitor surfing habits. The list goes on.

Spector came up with a unique approach–screen saving. Huh? No, I’m not talking screen saver, but screen saving. …Think of it this way. If you had a security camera aimed at the screen, you could watch everything that’s happening. In the Spector software, that’s exactly what you get–a shot of the screen at prescribed intervals. When you sit down to monitor, the controls are similar to a VCR. You can play, fast forward, reverse, slow, freeze… and so on.

I’m sure your thought is the same as mine. On my! I need a gazillion byte hard drive to store all of that. In fact, you don’t. You can set up the program to record in color if you like, but I found 8-bit black and white to be just fine. The files are compressed, so very little hard drive space is required to store the images. You also have complete control over how often the program records the screen. (If you like, you can tie it to only record during certain activities,.)

Three Programs: The Choice Is Yours

Basic Spector (This is the only one compatible with MAC.) Spector (basic) is your basic screen shot recorder and sells for just under $100. ($150 for MAC.) The advantage of this method is you get to see all emails, including the oddball ones not monitored by Spector Pro’s and EBlaster’s mail function. (Spector Pro also records screen shots, so it’s not a problem.) Further information: http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/Spector_Windows/index.html (Windows)
http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/Spector_Macintosh/index.html (MAC)

EBlaster. This one also sells for just under $100 and monitors activity on a given computer through email. It forwards both incoming and outgoing email to a specified email address. It also sends a report of activity at specified intervals, such as hourly or daily. This includes chats session, websites visited, and keystrokes. I really like the ability to set the program for immediate notification when certain events occur, such as specified words or website.

Kid away at college? As will all of the Spector programs, you must either own the computer or have the user’s permission before installing it. You can email the monitoring program as an attachment. When they open it, nothing will happen–that they can see. You’re off and running. (Does the word Trojan come to mind?) The program also sells for just under $100. More information is available at: http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/eBlaster_Windows/index.html

Spector Pro This is the Cadillac, all-in-one version I evaluated. Read on, but there’s more information at: http://www.spectorsoft.com/products/SpectorPro_Windows/index.html

Spectors Pro–Everything You Wanted to Know and More

Legally speaking, to install Spector Pro on a computer, you have to meet one of two requirements. You have to own the computer, or you have to notify all users that they’re being monitored. The former is the best case scenario, though I’m sure positive results can be achieved by the latter–in most cases. The problem with teenagers like my son, however, is if I told him I was monitoring his computer activities, it would be the throwing of the gauntlet. He’d not rest until he found a way to defeat the program.

I installed the program on computers operating Windows 98SE, Windows ME and Windows XP with no problems. I did dislike the fact the program automatically installs a subdirectory to the Windows directory for holding the data files. You can change that later under the options, but I would have preferred to do it as part of the installation. (On my LAN, I intentionally have protected each computer’s Windows directory from intrusions.)

Once installed, there are no indications the program has ever been loaded. It doesn’t appear on the Windows Add/Remove Program list. There are no icons, either on the desktop, quicklaunch, or programs list. In fact, the only way I could tell it was running was due to a minor video card conflict on my Win 98 machine. During boot, the desktop narrowed for a few seconds, but returned to normal by the end of the boot cycle. As you might guess from the lack of icons or menu entries, the only way to enter the program is through a keystroke sequence you specify.(Or the default keystrokes, your choice.)

The program is set up to monitor from the computer itself. If, however, the computer is on a LAN, you can monitor from another computer using a Spector Pro Viewer program included. (After it’s installed on the computer you want to use to monitor, the program does show on the computer’s list of programs.)

Note: Spector Pro is purchased with a single computer license. (You can only use it on one at a time.) The Viewer, however, may be installed on another computer without violating the license agreement.

A Note on Passwords

After entering the secret keystroke sequence, the program asks for your password. It’s extremely important for you to remember this, as without it, you won’t get access to the program, the data files, or–more important–the options menu. No password? Forget about uninstalling the program.

Spector Pro says you can email their site and get your password. This statement immediately upset me because I thought my password was being sent to their site as part of
the registration process. Even worse, I thought they were monitoring me monitoring my kid. (I’m paranoid.)

Such is not the case. They don’t know your password. Windows, as it is wont to do with all passwords, has stored it elsewhere. They can send you instructions on where to look and how to retrieve it.

The solution here is not to forget it. Numerous free programs will securely store passwords. The new ZoneAlarmPro has a vault for storing passwords. I use the vault in Invisible Secrets to keep track of mine. Of course, as in all such programs, you’ll have to remember their password to retrieve the Spector password.

Spying 101

Spector Pro, as I stated previously, covers everything. In addition to the screen shots, you can monitor keystrokes, instant messengers, web sites visited, and email. You can see the problem here. To monitor all of that, you’d have to spend as much time–if not more–on the computer than your kid. That’s why I consider Spector Pro’s greatest strength its flexibility. You can disable those functions you don’t want to monitor. You can specify recording times. (Especially important on a computer with multiple users, since you only need to see what the kid is doing after he or she gets home from school.) You can specify how often it takes screen shots and decrease the interval if certain events are detected.

Keystroke Logging: I keep this disabled most of the time. As stated previously, it might be useful to discover usernames and passwords, but you’ll pick those up with the screenshots. For the most part, keystroke monitoring results in a lot of data that takes time to analyze. I prefer other methods of monitoring. For a company or other users, this might be more important.

Email Monitoring: Spector Soft monitors the email clients, but takes it a step further. It will also monitor the major webmail services, such as AOL. Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail. You can read all incoming and outgoing mail, as well as open attachments. Since it doesn’t cover some of the lesser-known mail services, like those incorporated in websites, you will have to use the screenshot program to monitor the rest.

One note here. I misunderstood the email notification function of Spector Pro. When initially reading about the program, I thought it operated like EBlaster, mentioned above. It does not email activity reports like EBlaster. It does not forward email. What is does do is send an email whenever a set keyword is detected. (It reminds me of my kid sister when we were growing up. “Mom, Wayne just said….”) If you want to monitor from a remote computer–one not on a LAN–EBlaster’s your program.

Web Watch: This function monitors surfing activities. You can view the pages visited, You can get a summary of the time spent surfing and all sites visited–as well as a detailed report on time spent on any given site. What I find particularly useful is the ability to block sites. One click of the mouse and they’ll never get on an offensive site again–on the monitored computer.

The program also monitors peer-to-peer connections. You can see what kind of files your kid is sharing with others as well as what type of file they’re searching for. While this is a good function to prevent music industry lawsuits, there’s far more being shared on peer-to-peer than music and movies–like porn.

Instant Messaging: As with all of the monitors, you are presented with a file directory showing activity on any given day. What I really like is the IM functions are again separated by screen name of the person(s) chatting with your kid. As with all of the monitoring programs, you have the capability of printing the transcripts.

This might well be a revelation for some parents, never truly appreciating the extent of their child’s four-letter vocabulary.

Program Recording: This provides a detailed log of what programs have been opened as well as how long they were opened and, during that time, how much were they actively used. I’ve noted MS Word is open for hours, but only used for short periods, perhaps coinciding with my visits to the kid’s room to check on homework progress.

Snapshot Recording: This is a nifty program. You just click “play” and watch the day’s activities on the computer move past on the screen. You can freeze, back up, fast forward–whatever you need to do. If you see something you’d like to investigate, you can go to one of the other monitoring programs for a more thorough look.

I know. You’re mind is boggled with this potential mountain of data. You envision hours of sifting through the information. Good news! There’s a search function. That narrows it own if you’re particularly interested in a specific area.

As mentioned earlier, I worried about the space taken for all of this–particularly the screen shots. You have your choice of recording in BMP or JPG images. (The latter should take less space.) You also have the option of recording in black-and-white or color. (Black and white files are smaller.) The program, when storing them, can compress them even further. I’ve found that even as much as my kid is on the computer, very little space is taken up storing a week’s worth of images on the hard drive.

Flexibility

This is the truly fantastic part of this software. At first glance, one tires just thinking about wading through all of the data that Spector Pro can present you. That’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to. You can disable any of the monitoring systems you don’t ant to use. You can set specific times for the program to work, or tie it to a specific user–if you have different users logging into the same PC. You can set how many day’s data you want stored before overwriting. You determine how often it takes snapshots of the screen–and can change that for specific program or events. With specified keywords, you can be notified immediately if the computer is being used in an inappropriate manner.

That’s the upside. There’s only one detractor I found, and that’s the inability to remotely change the options. The Spector Pro viewer allows you to monitor and even delete the data after you’ve viewed it. It does not allow you to change the options. That has to be done on the machine being monitored.

…And that might also be a downside for some. If you’re not on a LAN, you have to be able to access the machine to monitor the data. Since teenagers live on the computer, that might be difficult to do. Even more difficult, you might want some privacy while accessing the data. For that reason, working parents might take a closer look at EBlaster rather than Spector Pro.

The Bottom Line

This is a fantastic program, either for a small business or for home use. It monitors absolutely everything done with a computer, but has enough flexibility for each user to tailor the monitoring to their specific needs.

One thing I always check is customer service, and I found Spector Pro’s support of their product to be very good. The responses were timely and right on task.

Do I have a wish list? Certainly. I wish Spector Pro had the same email forwarding capability as EBlaster. I wish, in addition to blocking URL’s, I could block specific users in instant messaging. (I can do that using the program on his computer, since the keylogger has given me his password.) I also wish I could change the recording options from my remote viewer.

Nothing on my wish list detracts from the program. I haven’t tried many monitoring programs, but in comparison to the ones I have used, Spector Pro is by far the best.

Recommended:
Yes

Original post: http://www.epinions.com/content_130591788676


Download Spector Pro 6.0:
http://rapidshare.com/files/129897563/Spector_Pro_6.rar

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