Our Team was once among the first who carried out an independent comparison of the most popular monitoring software. The results made it possible to rate the functionality and applicability of world's leading programs that employ monitoring techniques. Today we are ready to represent another research, aimed at studying current situation in the world of commercial surveillance tools.
The market of commercial monitoring software is huge. Software for pc surveillance is now common and very popular with many pc owners who want - and by all means have the right - to know how their computers are used. Monitoring software is most often applied for employee monitoring and parental control. Employers want to ensure that all their employees comply with corporate security policies. Parents want to protect kids online. It is now clear that information security concerns all of us, whether we like it or not.
Surveillance software itself is rapidly evolving. These programs are becoming more and more sophisticated, not only in the aspects of stealthiness, but also in their functional arsenal. Modern computer monitoring software has a lot more functions and options compared to an average monitoring tool 10 years ago. Now it is a powerful surveillance tool that offers many options. A user can choose what information needs to be recorded, where it should be stored; it is even possible to perform visual surveillance on the monitored computer!
While choosing the criteria we took into account many factors –surveillance software products currently available on the market, tendencies in monitoring software development, customers' requirements and our own experience in this aspect. We decided not to narrow the circle of possible options for testing but to make our review as comprehensive as possible. For better perception the criteria were divided into the following groups:
- OS support
Since surveillance software for Macintosh and Linux operating systems is pretty less common, we tested only the products compatible with Windows operating systems.
- Log transfer options
Sometimes it is impossible to gain access to the monitored PC every time you need to view the logged information and in this case it is absolutely important for monitoring software to be able to transmit log files to some specific location (email address, FTP server, etc.)
Everyone understands that a surveillance software product must be invisible not only for the user supervised but also for specialized products that are developed to counteract monitoring (not only for anti-spyware tools but also for anti-viruses). This kind of software should have self-protecting mechanisms that would prevent loss of data even if a monitoring product has been detected.
- Multi-language interface
English is the international language, you can say. But you'll definitely agree that it is always nice when a program has your native language in 'Language' section.
- Monitoring capabilities
It's the essence of every monitoring program. Today it is possible to record not only 'simple' keystrokes, but file operations, visited web-sites, clipboard information, to monitor outgoing and incoming e-mails and the activity with computer peripherals, to capture mouse clicks, to intercept sound and many others.
- Visual surveillance
It gradually becomes a standard for modern monitoring software. Forced by the competition, vendors now offer not only standard screenshots but also additional options (like on-mouse-click screenshots for example).
- Parental control
Quite a new category of options for surveillance programs. In fact, it doesn't correspond to the main idea of any monitoring software – just to record users' actions. But it is very useful to have this thing as an option, especially for parents who are never indifferent to their children safe computer activity.
- Filtering options
Facilitates working with a monitoring program.
People spend a lot of time communicating with each other (no matter if it is Internet or 'real' world). That is why these options are considered to be of great importance. And of course it is better when you can read both sides of chat conversations because it gives you a broad picture.
To sum it up, the main tendencies are that more than a half of tested monitoring programs support Windows Vista, screenshoting has become a standard option for such tools, and we think that the development of VoIP technologies will force all the vendors of monitoring software to include 'sound recording' option into the 'features' list of their products.
Note: The aim of this research is not to discredit or promote any of the surveillance software, but to represent a comparison of effectiveness of popular shareware monitoring products available on the web today, to give a user an opportunity to choose the most suitable program and to help vendors improve their software.