Spector Pro Mac 2009

Spector Pro mac 2009, like its sister application eBlaster 2009 ( Macworld rated 4.5 out of 5 mice ), is software that specializes in capturing every keystroke on one computer so it can be viewed by someone else on another computer. I understand why software of this sort--also known as keylogging software--is sometimes necessary; but it's software that some people will find difficult to get comfortable with. Aimed at companies that want to control employees' online activity, or at worried parents wondering what their teens are up to online, SpectorPro makes tracking this activity simple, but I wonder if the behaviors that this software is designed to track couldn't be controlled in a more direct and open way.

When direct and open fails, Spector Pro handles its rather unsavory job with aplomb and with a bit of a twist. While most keylogging software is designed to capture and report keystrokes, Spector Pro goes a step further, capturing screenshots every few seconds, so that you can see as well as read everything that's happening on another Mac.

Once installed, Spector Pro is invisible to the person using the target computer, and can't be found by using Spotlight or by looking in the Applications folder. The only way to open the program on the Mac being watched is by pressing a user-configurable key combination and entering a user-defined password. But, while the application can't be located, depending on where you choose to save the files Spector Pro uses to store its logs, it may be possible for someone with a bit of computer savvy to locate those files and wonder what they are. And it's this fact that, for me, somewhat limits the usefulness of Spector Pro.

While eBlaster collects information and sends reports via e-mail to someone else, Spector Pro requires the computer on which you're viewing the reports to have access to the log folder on the monitored computer--which means that File Sharing has to be enabled on the target computer, and that you have to have rights to the folder from which the data is being shared. In many cases this won't be a problem, as long as you have administrative access to the Mac you're monitoring; but when I tried to install the software on a computer that I didn't have administrative rights to, it required me to do a little social engineering and talk the user into giving me their password, without raising any suspicion as to why I might need that password. Plus, if the user had changed their password after they gave it to me, and I hadn't given myself rights to the folder where the log files reside, I'd no longer have access to the data. eBlaster's secretly e-mailed reports avoid this possibility altogether.

Taking into account the potential limitations of shared folders, what Spector Pro offers in terms of reporting is amazing. First, because Spector Pro is taking pictures of the screen every few seconds--Screen Snapshots, in Spector Pro parlance--you can watch these pictures in sequence just like a movie, speeding up or pausing as necessary to skip useless information or take a closer look at questionable material. But there's an additional benefit to these snapshots that goes beyond a simple movie. Select the program's Web Sites Visited tab and hover your mouse over anything in the log of Web sites visited, and Spector Pro will display the snapshot that was taken at the time the log was updated. When used in tandem with Spector Pro's search feature, these screenshots allow you to quickly assess what the user you're monitoring is doing when visiting specific Web sites.

Spector Pro is subject to the same limitations as eBlaster when it comes to monitoring conversations that may be taking place using chat applications. Chats conducted with standard stand-alone apps, like AIM, Adium, and iChat, are logged and reported as complete transcripts; but if the person you're monitoring is using something like Facebook's built-in chat application, you'll need to use the program's keystroke log to figure out what was being said. And because Spector Pro's keystroke logging feature looks at every single keystroke typed in a specific application, if the person you're monitoring is a poor typist, you may get little more than gibberish.

The keystroke tool logs everything, including user IDs and passwords to banking and other secure sites. I had no problem getting all the information I needed to view banking information and sign onto other secure computer systems. So, if you choose to use Spector Pro, make sure that those who have access to the data it collects also have the integrity to discretely handle the information they see.

Macworld's buying advice

Spector Pro mac 2009 is a powerful keylogging tool with the additional capability of giving you a visual representation of everything that is being done on a monitored computer at any point in time. The program is somewhat limited by the fact that log files need to both reside on the host computer and be shared across the network, which could lead either to the discovery that the computer is being monitored or the inability to access log files if a user changes their computer's password. While most keylogging software gathers information about what keystrokes are being typed, Spector Pro also captures screenshots of exactly what's being done on the monitored computer.

[Jeffery Battersby is a writer, IT manager, (very) small-time actor, and regular contributor to Macworld.]

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