Spy Vs Spy Vs Spy

By: Luigi Di Serio

They started off as tiny, little programs that computer geeks and programmers used to log and monitor keystrokes, likely for efficiency sake or just for fun, who really knows?

But eventually the inevitable happened. Some wizard decided that these things known as “keyloggers" to computer nerds, would be one of the easiest applications to market on the web!
From what I understand Mikkotech () made one the first keyloggers or keystroke recorders available to the general public called “KeyKey Monitor".

But this never made the program popular and widespread, it was simply a security and back-up application and was available on a few shareware sites.
That was until a reseller and Clickbank () came into the picture. This reseller (no names to be mentioned and it certainly wasn’t me) essentially cut a deal with the owners of KeyKey, telling them the would sell this program like wildfire and give them a cut if they gave them reseller rights. So Mikkotech, thinking it would be a good deal carried forward with the agreement. This reseller went ahead and registered the domain name KeyKey.com (now gone b/c of legal reasons) and I believe still today own KeyKeyMonitor.com (which sells a highly overpriced and outdated version of the program). That was not the end of this certain reseller’s charade. They went all out!
Here is where clickbank comes in and where the explosion of keyloggers starts. Clickbank was one of the web’s first affiliate networks and still to this day is one of the largest. This unnamed reseller placed an affiliate program on clickbank offering totally, royalty-free reseller rights to anyone who bought the KeyKey from them. On the site, KeyKey was marketed as a tool to:

1.Find out what your Spouse is doing online
2.Spy on your employees
3.Monitor your children
4.Stop intruders and internal data-theft
5.Back-up your work

The latter two were just a fraction of the people who wanted to buy. The former three sparked interest in just about every visitor. Web marketers jump all over the opportunity to get their own brand of keykey to sell and programmers made their own brands of keyloggers. These programs sold like hot cakes… they were all over the web! Programmers were breaching copyrights, stealing codes, but that did not matter because spying for under $50.00 before this day and age was unimaginable!

This keyloggers or “spy software" programs started becoming more professional looking and monitored more than keystrokes. Virtual Imagination made a program called Snap Shot Spy () that used a different approach. It took screen shots of your pc and let you look at the images to see activity. But that quickly was considered to primitive, taking up too much disk space and slowing the pc down. In the late 90s, Spectorsoft () and Spytech Web, made the two most robust, features 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). Gosh these programs were (and still are) amazing! They monitor and captured everything; keystrokes; screenshots; passwords; web sites; applications; then later on instant messenger, hidden windows, mouse clicks and more.

They monitored every aspect of the pc, plus they ran in stealth. This means the program could not be seen in the start menu, ctrl-Alt-Del would not show the program running and there was no folder for it. Even if you found the program, it was password protected. Even if you found the logs, they were encrypted! There are also specialized products like ChatBlocker (), that is specifically designed to monitor Instant Messengers, and pop3 and web-based email spy software products, like Webmail Spy, EmailSpy Pro and EmailObserver all found on Email Spyware ().

Spy Vs. Spy
Spying was never so easy! These programs would even email out log files so you did not even have to go to the computer to see the activity. The best part of it all was that it was almost impossible to get caught. Well that all changed, and quickly too. After Trojans and Virus Worms ran rampant across the web and email systems in the early 90s, there was an explosion in what market? Anti-Virus of course! The same happened in this market. Anti-keyloggers quickly became the product to release to combat the growing number of spy programs available to the public. The risks were starting to outweigh the benefits anyway. Privacy as we no it 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. It was at the hands of our spouses, your neighbors, your parents and our bosses. 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 () and Raytown Corp’s Anti Keylogger, then later PrivacyKeyboard (). 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. I am no programming expert, but I believe it has something to do with the BIOS. Regardless, these programs really do work in their quest to block and weed out spy programs.

Today there are many generic brands of spy removers, they are often called “anti-spyware" programs. They do detect keyloggers, but also can scan for adware and other Trojans, pests, dangerous scripts and worms. Some anti-spyware products are good, but most do no have the capabilities to block all keyloggers. They are ‘jack of all trades and master of none". They do a lot, but not all that great at the specifics.

More dangers in the spy market
And the danger does not stop simply with the installation of anti-keyloggers or anti-spyware. There are new risks. 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. More dangers… Keyloggers have now gone remote. Imagine you can remote control a pc and monitor it from a far?! Well with RemoteSpy (), Spytech Realtime Spy (), I SpyNow () Smart Keylogger () and other programs you now 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 (since you ran the application voluntarily) they stay resident and are hard to remove. This is especially true with Realtime Spy and SpyAgent. They are equipped with anti-spyware disable features! SaveKeys Undetecable by Alpine Snow (), now claims to be impossible to detect by anti-keyloggers and anti-spyware programs as of early 2005. So it is no longer spy vs spy, but it is spy vs spy vs spy! Who knows what they think off next? Nonetheless, the keyloggers and spy software saga will continue in this cycle for a long time since these program are almost as normal 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. Out there, but be sure to do a lot of research before buying anti-spyware. Most spy software is decent, user-friendly and useful. However the problem is that they are fairly easy to catch. Go with programs like NetVizor () or Net Spy Pro () if you are running a business and want to monitor for security reasons. If want to monitor your kids use NetNanny or IamBigBorther both found on (), which are more geared and supported as 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 so 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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