They started off as tiny, little programs that computer geeks and programmers used to log and monitor keystrokes for personal use, but eventually someone realized that these applications known as “keyloggers” would be one of the easiest applications to market on the web. The FBI already used a program known as “magic lantern”, but the public did no become aware of such programs until later.
Until Mikkotech (http://www.mikkotech.com) made one the first keystroke recorders available to the general public called “KeyKey Monitor,” which was used primarily as a security and back-up application, available on a handful of shareware sites.
Enter a scheming marketer. They cut a deal with Mikkotech, promising to sell their product like wildfire if they gave them reseller rights. So Mikkotech concurred. This unnamed reseller (marketer) registered the domain name KeyKey.com (now gone because of legal reasons), but still owns KeyKeyMonitor.com (which sells a highly overpriced and outdated version of the program). Then an unnamed reseller used Clickbank (http://www.clickbank.com) to promote the software started selling like hotcakes. But that was just the beginning.
Clickbank was one of the web’s first affiliate networks and is still one of the largest. This reseller placed an affiliate program on Clickbank offering a totally, royalty-free reseller rights to anyone who bought the KeyKey application from them. On their site, KeyKey was marketed as a tool to:
1.Find out what your spouse is doing online 2.Monitor your employees 3.Monitor your children 4.Stop intruders and internal data-theft 5.Back-up your work
Numbers 1, 2 and 3 sparked interest in just about every visitor.
But web marketers jumped all over the opportunity to get their own brand of KeyKey (with royalty-free resell rights) to sell and programmers made their own versions of Keyloggers and marketed them in the same way. These programs very quickly infiltrated the web. Programmers were breaching copyrights, stealing codes. Before keystroke monitoring software was created, web spying for under $50.00 wasn’t possible.
These various newly branded “spy software” programs eventually became more professional-looking and efficient, monitoring more than simply keystrokes. Virtual Imagination made a program called Snap Shot Spy (http://www.snapshotspy.com) that used a different approach: It took screen shots of your PC and let you look at the images to monitor activity. But this was considered to be primitive by many, because it took up too much disk space and slowed down one’s computer. That technology is more efficient today, however, spy software has continuously evolved.
In the late 90’s, Spectorsoft (http://www.spectorsoft.com/) and Spytech Web made the two most robust, feature-rich programs that have been copied for years and still are imitated to this day. Their programs were: Spector, Eblaster and SpyAgent (http://www.spyagent-spyanywhere.com). These programs are amazing! They monitor and capture everything: Keystrokes, screenshots, passwords, web sites visited, applications used, Instant Messenger conversations, hidden windows, mouse clicks and more. They monitor every aspect of the PC. Best of all, they run in stealth mode: The program is not visible in the start menu, Ctrl-Alt-Del will not show the program running and there is no folder for it. And if by fluke the program is found, it’s password-protected. If the logs are found, they’re encrypted!
There are also specialized products like ChatBlocker (http://www.chatblocker.com), that is specifically designed to monitor Instant Messengers, and pop3 and web-based e-mail spy software products, like Webmail Spy, EmailSpy Pro and EmailObserver all found on Email Spyware (http://www.emailspyware.com).
Spy Vs. Spy The software facilitated online spying and made it available and easy-to-use for the general public. And it was almost impossible to get caught. That has since changed. After Trojans and Virus Worms ran rampant across the web and e-mail systems in the early 90s, there was an explosion in what market? Anti-Virus of course!
Anti-keyloggers quickly became the product to combat the growing number of spy programs available to the public. Privacy was being abolished and it was not at the hands of the CIA, NSA or James Bond (who supposedly do it for their profound love of our great Western nations), but at the hands of our spouses, neighbours, parents and employers. Sure there are some instances where keyloggers come in handy, but the anti-spy software market was just too much of a goldmine for developers to ignore.
Out came SpyCop (http://www.spycop.org) and Raytown Corp’s Anti Keylogger, then later PrivacyKeyboard (http://www.privacykeyboard.com). These are still some of the best available. SpyCop scans a database of keyloggers definitions that is constantly updated, much like anti virus programs do. PrivacyKeyboard is a little different. It claims to simply block the one and only method that keyloggers and screen shot recorders can use to capture data. Nevertheless, these programs really do work in their quest to block and weed out spy programs.
Today there are many generic brands of spy removers, dubbed “anti-spyware” programs. They do detect keyloggers, but also can scan for adware and other Trojans, pests, dangerous scripts and worms. Anti-spyware products are effective, but generally cannot block all keyloggers.
More dangers in the spy market Some marketers disguise their spyware products as anti-spyware to get even more confidential information from targets. They also give false-positive readings on their supposedly “free spyware scans” to convert fasters sales. Generally I would advise steering clear of those heavily advertised products that have nothing more than a one-page ad for their product.
Another thing to look out for? Keyloggers have now gone remote. Imagine you remote controlling a PC and monitor it from afar? Well with RemoteSpy (http://www.remotespyware.com), Spytech Realtime Spy (http://www.spytech-realtime-spy.com), I SpyNow (http://www.i-spyware.com) Smart Keylogger (http://www.smart-keylogger.com) and other programs you can! They send out as a Trojan-type file to monitor a computer. You do not even need access to the machine. These products can be stopped with a good anti-spyware product, but once there on your PC they become hard to remove. This is especially true with Realtime Spy and SpyAgent because they are equipped with anti-spyware disable features. SaveKeys Undetecable by Alpine Snow (http://www.alpinesnow.com) claims to be impossible to detect by anti-keyloggers and anti-spyware programs.
So it is no longer spy vs. spy, but spy vs. spy vs. spy! Who knows what they’ll think of next? One thing is certain: This keylogger vs. spy software saga will continue for a long time, since these programs are now as common as firewalls and anti-virus.
Bad Spy Vs. Good Spy This is important. Most “Anti Spy” software sucks. Most just delete cookies, a few common keyloggers and pests, and are made by flash-in-the-pan companies that can’t afford to make updates as new threats arise. These “anti-spy” programs are simply sold as marketing gimmicks to scare people into believe they are “being spied on” to make quick coin.
There are good products, however, but be sure to do a lot of research before buying anti-spyware software. Most spy software is decent, user-friendly and useful… The problem is that they are fairly easy to catch. Choose a program like NetVizor (http://www.spytech-netvizor.com) or Net Spy Pro (http://www.system-spy.com) if you are running a business and want to monitor for security reasons. If want to monitor your kids, use NetNanny or IamBigBorther (http://www.parentalspy.com), which are parental monitoring tools.
Be careful using spy software, as it is now illegal and considered espionage to spy on competitors or on computers you do not own or administrate. Only time will tell what the spy software marketplace will evolve into, but for now it appears that developers will keep updating anti spyware programs to combat spyware and spyware will continue to tweak and morph itself to hide from anti-spyware. I surmise this will continue until some sort of strong legislation or court precedence clearly outlaws one or the other. But until then… spy and spy-ers beware!
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