Spy Vs. Spy Vs. Spy Vs. Spy.... Ware
A quick overview on the evolution of keyloggers and spy software and their
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 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(which sells a highly overpriced and outdated version of the program).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
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
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
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
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
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
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