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Three Ways to Remotely Monitor Someone Else's Computer

Eric Ravenscraft 10/29/15 1:00pm Filed to: evil week Filed to: evil week
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Spying on someone’s computer is bad. As in “go to jail” bad. However, there are a few very narrow exceptions, like monitoring your kids or employees. If you fall in this category (or just want to know how someone might be monitoring you), here’s how.

This post is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Sometimes evil is justified, and other times, knowing evil means knowing how to beat it. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page .

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First, a big, big disclaimer: monitoring another person’s computer without their permission isn’t just wrong, it can be a federal crime . There are only a few very specific conditions in which you’re allowed to monitor a computer someone else uses. For example, an employer may be allowed to monitor certain things, but only on hardware the company owns. A parent can track their child’s activity because they’re legally responsible for their children. However, outside this situations, there isn’t much wiggle room, and there probably shouldn’t be.

Even in cases where it may be legal, you could still open yourself up to privacy lawsuits if you’re not careful. You might end up recording an employee’s Facebook password through logging software, but if you then used that to access their private messages, that would cross the line.

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Finally, tracking someone else without their knowledge (even if it’s legally okay to do so) will almost certainly violate their trust. If you’re a parent with a teenager, monitoring their web activity may be acceptable, but you could alienate them. Legal and ethical justifications don’t fix broken trust. Consider the social costs to tracking as well before you proceed.

First, Determine What (and Whether) You Want to Track

Finding out what someone else is doing isn’t as simple as saying “Computer! Watch them and report back to me!” You need to actually know what you’re looking for. If you’re a parent, you might want to give your child privacy, while making sure they’re not visiting seedier parts of the internet. If you’re an employer who needs to monitor an employee to watch for wrongdoing, you might want to log everything. Generally, monitoring falls into three categories:

  • Watch for certain activity. This is ideal when you generally don’t care what someone does using a device, as long as they follow the rules. For example, you may want to see when an employee uses Facebook, or a child views porn. Sometimes this can be accomplished with filtering, rather than surveillance, so try to consider all options.
  • Monitor all activity in certain apps. Employers may want to monitor certain apps, but don’t want to snoop on their Facebook. You might only care about what they do with company email, chat apps, or proprietary software. In that case, more selective monitoring may be better.
  • Monitor all activity in every app. In this case, you may want to see everything someone is doing. This might include monitoring a child’s chat logs if you’re worried they may be into something shady, or keeping tabs on an employee you think may be stealing from the company.

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It’s important to decide very specifically what you want to track, because tracking too much can cause legal problems. If you only need to keep employees off of certain websites, don’t use a keylogger. If you want to keep children away from porn, you probably don’t need to monitor every Facebook message. Keep your tracking minimal to avoid any complications down the road.

Choose the Right Software

Once you’ve decided how and why you want to monitor someone’s computer, you need to get the right software. While there are a ton of monitoring tools out there, we have a few suggestions from reputable organization. Keep in mind, you’re dealing with surveillance software. You may be able to find a free keylogger from a random developer’s website, but you can’t always know if that tool will be secretly phoning home. In this case, it’s best to stick with established companies you know you can trust.

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Monitor a Child’s Activity: Parental Control Tools (Windows/OS X)

Both Windows and OS X have built-in tools that allow adults to keep tabs on a child’s activity. You can use these to monitor and filter your child’s activity. There are a couple of key differences, but some features are shared between both platforms. Here’s how the features break down:

  • Block or monitor website and app usage (Both)
  • Set time limits for computer usage (Both)
  • Filter apps and games by age restriction (Both)
  • Hide profanity in dictionaries (OS X)
  • Block certain hardware, like cameras (OS X)
  • Block communication with certain people via select apps like messaging and email (OS X)

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To use these features, both platforms require you to set up a child’s account. You can find information on how to create a new child’s account on OS X here or on Windows 10 here . You can also find information at these links on how to manage each platform’s settings.

Keep Track of An Employee’s Productivity: ActivTrak (Windows/OS X)

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If you’re an employer who wants to get a more detailed look at what your employees are doing, ActivTrak is a decent solution. It allows you to monitor several employees computers at once and provides detailed reports on a user’s activity. Here are some of the key features:

  • Records statistics on when and how often applications are used.
  • Take periodic screenshots of user activity.
  • Generates charts visualizing time spent in various applications.
  • Sends alert messages when a user begins specific, unwanted activity.
  • Can be installed remotely if company uses ActiveDirectory (paid version only).

As an admin, you can log into a web-based control panel to view activity usage stats within minutes after setting up the computers in your office. You can set custom categories based on what’s productive and unproductive in your office. For example, your social media intern using Facebook may be “productive,” but a case manager might not be. You can also use the Reports tab to see which applications and websites are most common among one or all of your employees.

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The free tier of this service allows you to monitor three users (called “agents”) with one admin and a limited amount of storage. You can pay to add more agents or new features, like the remote installer. The paid tiers begin at 6/year for 5 agents and go as high as 20/year for 50 agents. Obviously, the higher tiers aren’t something you’re going to want unless you know that your business is going to need it.

Investigate An Employee For Potential Wrongdoing: Spector

If you have a serious suspicion that an employee might be doing something illegal or against company policy, SpectorSoft has a huge suite of software you can use for both short-term and long-term investigations. The basic Spector CNE Investigator is designed for short-term investigations and comes with a host of tools:

  • Takes screenshots every 30 seconds.
  • Trigger screenshots after keywords are used or specific applications are opened.
  • Track website usage, time spent on sites, and time of last visit.
  • Store and archive corporate email.
  • Record instant message chat logs from virtually all messaging platforms.
  • Tracks name, file type, and time of documents downloaded or uploaded to the computer.
  • Records all keystroke activity on the user’s machine. Optionally, you can choose not to record passwords.

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SpectorSoft also offers Spector 360 which includes advanced reports to analyze a user’s activity, global keyword search to find specific suspicious words or phrases among all platforms, and web filtering. The company says that Spector 360 is designed for more long-term investigations and monitoring, so most employers will probably be okay with CNE Investigator.

All SpectorSoft programs are paid apps, and you can only get a price by calling in for a quote. Naturally, this means it’s probably pretty expensive and this isn’t the kind of thing your average person will want. However, if you’re running one of those major studios that keeps leaking trailers , this might be something you’re interested in.

Depending on your needs, you may need other monitoring software and there’s plenty more out there . These are our suggestions for a few common types of monitoring. Keep in mind, in virtually all cases, you’ll need physical access to the computer where you want to set any of this software up.

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"good child tracker"

"good child tracker"

andrei.mares November 11, 2016  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2016-11-11 08:35:57  |  By andrei.mares

Pros

I am a mom and these days this can be an important responsibility. The good part is that now you can use software to check on your child just to be sure he is ok. With Spy Phone App with have a lot of features like even tracking social media messages without root. I would recommend the Android phone because it is a lot easier to have access to all kinds of activities.

Cons

the iphone version could be improved

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Was this review helpful? -1 0 1   -1 0 1  

5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"really good"

"really good"

motenutn October 11, 2016  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2016-10-11 08:24:09  |  By motenutn

Pros

I have been using this application for a few months. The app was great when I started using it but what's even greater is that the application is updated a lot. In their latest update you can track sent whatsapp messages without root. I think they may be the only ones on the market that can do this right now. Thanks

Cons

Without root some received whatsapp messages are not tracked

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4 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"i want to spy apps full version in free"

"i want to spy apps full version in free"

Lalit Singh Rathore June 12, 2016  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2016-06-12 02:40:29  |  By Lalit Singh Rathore

Pros

any body suggest free full version of spy apps similar as apps

Cons

there are too many price

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"whatsapp tracker"

"whatsapp tracker"

Ralph Sean December 29, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-12-29 10:05:39  |  By Ralph Sean

Pros

I have installed many applications but I could not get them to work for whatsapp messages. Spy phone app was the only one that worked for whatsapp without root. Sure you have to run a script in order to get it to work, but it was worth it. Also the price is great in comparison with other apps.

Cons

I did not find anything wrong

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"good android app"

"good android app"

zveltliuda December 13, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-12-13 14:17:48  |  By zveltliuda

Pros

I like this application. I used it for more than 2 years. I had some problems with it but always support helped me. It is important to have someone that can help. The most difficult process was to get the Whatsapp messages without root

Cons

So far I can not say I have something important to complain about. It would be nice to have a simple process to get the Whatsapp messages, but I guess that this was as good as it gets

Summary

Good app, can not ask for a lot more

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"great application"

"great application"

liudmila.pagu November 27, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-11-27 02:57:14  |  By liudmila.pagu

Pros

I use this app to monitor my child. I can listen to his phone calls, I can see his sms and a lot of other things on his phone. So far I used it for a few months and I had no ptoblems. I like that Whatsapp works without root. You have to run a script on your computer but it's worth it.

Cons

I would really like to have more messaging apps that work without root. I tried to root once the phone but it did not work. It would be great if I could see kik, viber or snaptchat without root

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"Best one I have found"

"Best one I have found"

marebogstefan November 22, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-11-22 02:08:04  |  By marebogstefan

Pros

Sms commands - remote control Record audio - phone calls and surroundings You can even see movies from the phone

Cons

I would like to have the remote control feature without the sms commands. For example a button on the website that will start record surroundings. If you would have live streaming on that audio, then it would be perfect

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"almost perfect"

"almost perfect"

hepakopa November 05, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-11-05 07:59:36  |  By hepakopa

Pros

You can see a lot of things on the phone With an sms, you can also control the phone - record audio, start an alarm or take a picture

Cons

I use the software legally but I would still like to have a stealth version - to install that version on my child's phone

Summary

With a stealth version, this would be perfect. Thank you

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5 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"Great application"

"Great application"

  November 01, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-11-01 22:24:33

Pros

You have a lot of features The price is low compared to other apps With device administrator rights you can block the uninstall of the app

Cons

You have to enable the internet connection, gps

Summary

I used this app for a long time. I can tell that this is the most reliable application I could find. Thank you

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1 stars

{ review.getRatingValue }}

"BUYER BEWARE!"

"BUYER BEWARE!"

candykotex August 07, 2015  /  Version: Spy Phone App 10.1

2015-08-07 09:14:49  |  By candykotex

Pros

They took my $$ pretty fast. Hmmm....that's about it. Is that even a pro?

Cons

facebook, whatsapp, and texts did not work properly even though I rooted the target phone correctly. Horrid and moronic customer service. I consider myself non-techy, but dang, they should hire me, as I found better answers quicker than their customer service and IT department did. A refund policy that just will never ever refund. Why they don't just advertise as "non-refundable", I do not know.

Summary

WATCH OUT! I purchased Highstermobile software, and some of the features worked, but not all. The customer service is a joke, I had some problems installing and ended up finding better and quicker answers myself on google. After I tried everything with and without their hopeless customer support to fix the fact that a few key features I needed did not work, I requested a refund as I was not satisfied and had followed all of their instructions/procedures. Well, I was rejected that refund for a ridiculous reason and so I escalated it to the BBB. They have since re-written their refund policy because of me and added "a refund is not due if you use the software to any capacity". hahaha. Read the refund policy carefully, it makes absolutely no sense now, instead of just saying it's non-refundable, they now give any and all reasons under the sun that they will not refund you regardless of your satisfaction. Scammers.

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Reply by hepakopa on November 5, 2015

This is not Highstermobile, Their customer service is great

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  • Drunk Squirrel

    Or if only, they'd hide the notification that appears as "device located". Seriously Google? The thief would IMMEDIATELY know that he's being tracked. That's the complete opposite of what is supposed to be done!

    • Andy Roid

      But what if your wife is using it to track where you are? You need to know if someone is tracking you

      • Drunk Squirrel

        Oops. You got me there.

      • EH101

        You still have to be logged into your own account to track your device, so maybe don't give your wife your password.

        Also, the better way would be for Google to keep a non-deletable log you can access on your account to see when your devices have been tracked via ADM. This way the thief doesn't get the notification, and you can still check the history to know if you're being spied on. Could work, but probably not enough for the ever paranoid crowd.

      • Nicholas Polydor

        There could be a user-selectable 'Player Mode' ;-)

      • Douglas Oliveira

        must offer the options between a simple locator or an anti-theft feature

      • JRomeo

        a good husband wouldn't care if their wife knew where they were or if they tracked them. (or vice versa)

        • Andy Roid

          I value my privacy

        • JRomeo

          you think you have privacy while being married to your wife? ROFL.

        Free Hidden Spy App For Android Undetectable 2018 - Copy9SniperSpy remote monitoring software allows you to monitor your remote computer. Logs chat .. visited and more. Includes technical support and free updates. .. Need to monitor and control your child or employee's Mac computer? Download ..22 Jun 2018 .. With Cell Phone Spy Software for Android Phone, 5 Free Spy Apps For Android .. How to spy on husbands iPhone without jailbreaking which give you .. This application allows users to sending of text messages, video calls, .. The new way for families to manage content and time across all devices. Free Text Tracking App Canada Cell spy stealth

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        Close

        The Power of the Crowd

        The limitations of Bluetooth tracking as a proximity-based system may be offset to some extent through a “crowd relay” effect. Here, an individual who loses contact with an object may re-establish connections with it, if another person who’s using the same Bluetooth tracking system and software passes within range of the lost item.

        The likelihood of this being the case currently applies only in very specific circumstances, such as in a heavily populated urban area (where many consumers may have bought the same brand of Bluetooth tracker), or in a self-contained or isolated environment (such as an oil rig or boarding school) where lots of the inhabitants use the same hardware and software.

        As Bluetooth tracking technology evolves, there’s scope for this crowd effect to be greatly expanded, as we’ll see. But for now, it’s simply a selling point offered by certain vendors, in a market that’s generating increasing interest from the buying public.

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