Have kids? Try a keylogger

I abhor programs that spy on users -- but Mom and Dad really need to know what's cooking online

It must be agonizing to have kids who use the Web. A friend called and asked what I'd recommend to keep an eye on the Internet access of her five kids. Four of the kids are girls; the oldest is about 16 and spending lots of time in chat rooms.

You've probably guessed I abhor programs that spy on users -- but Mom and Dad really need to know what's cooking online.

Philosophically, though, I'm okay with watching what people do on their PC provided they're fully aware that it's happening. I discussed this with Mom and Dad (remember, I'm a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist) and they agreed: Trust with verification.

Hello Spector Pro

SpectorSoft's Spector Pro costs US$100 and I was stunned by how efficient it is at tracking everything -- and I mean everything -- a user does. It works in the background and unless you're really PC savvy, you won't even see it. Even if you do find it, you can't access the setup without a password.

I installed Spector Pro on my friend's computer, then logged in as each user, did a bunch of stuff -- opened applications, sent e-mail, sent instant messages, and chatted in a chat room. The program recorded everything I did on the computer, and even took snapshots of the screen. Afterwards, I could review everything.

Heck, I watched a video and Spector Pro recorded it, too -- I was able to see the desktop and media player showing the video. There's even a tab that reports on MySpace activity; with all those kids, it should be useful.

Another way to use Spector Pro is to see what Web sites users were on, and to review their actions to learn how and when they might have picked up spyware. The setup also lets you block access in a number of ways, including by time, application, and Web sites.

Spector Pro let me review the data from the activity for each of the kids. I could even use a filter to look at specific data for a particular type of activity.

Protecting children

Kids need protection, and there are other ways you can work towards keeping them safe online.

I always hope the government will come up with a magic wand. Unfortunately, it appears as if not much progress is being made on that front.

As you've probably guessed by now, though, I prefer the DIY method. Here are some how-tos and other ways your can take things into your own hands.

A friend of mine, Larry Magid, created SafeKids.com , a worthwhile site with ideas and tools for, as Larry says, keeping the Internet "fun, safe and productive."

The FBI's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" is also useful, though I wish the site was a tad more reader friendly.

If you want in-depth help in making a child's online experience safe, you really need to look at iSafe and Staysafe.org ; and don't miss Scott Spanbauer's "Easy Ways to Keep the Internet Safe for All Ages".

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