Cyber Safety Blotter

Why Monitoring Software?

March 11, 2013 12:40 PM

Today, many homes have more than one computer.  Despite this fact, multiple individuals often share a single PC.  Sharing often occurs between college students, roommates, spouses and children.  Ultimately, the computer owner is the person that is legally responsible for all software installations, music downloads and other contents stored on the computer.  Monitoring software can help keep an owner aware of what is happening on their machine as well as mitigate any potential legal problems.

Parents will appreciate the ability to keep track of their child's internet access, filter content, block websites and log chat conversations.  Monitoring apps may help protect the vulnerable child from internet predators and cyber-bullies.  Some applications come equipped with keyword alerts.  Upon receiving or typing one of the designated keywords, the software generates an email alert that notifies the parents of a potentially dangerous situation.  Examples of these keywords could be sexually explicit phrases, profanity, aggressive phrases and more.

Clearly, there are many advantages to PC monitoring.  However, if installed improperly, the monitoring software becomes spyware.  Spyware is an illegal software installation that occurs without the owner's consent.  For the legal installation of monitoring software, you must meet one of the following criteria. You must own the computer, be the parent of a minor child or have the consent of all users of the monitored computer.  Disregarding these criteria can lead to civil and legal penalties.

What to Look for in Monitoring Software:

Online Monitoring
Desirable features in this area include the recording of all website visits and online searches. The software should have the ability to detect when a computer user accesses a social networking website like MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, or views online pornography.

Some monitoring applications can capture blog posts, usernames and even passwords. Recording the transcripts of conversations that occur via chat and instant messaging clients is a frequently sought after feature.  Additional elements to consider are the tracking of file downloads, sent and received email correspondences, email attachments and web-based email.

PC Monitoring & Administration
Computer owners may want the ability to control the monitored PC remotely.  Common remote commands include the ability to disable or enable software, restart the computer, freeze the mouse and more.  Additional tracking features often include the recording of launched applications as well as the duration and frequency of use.  These components can track how much time an individual spends watching videos, playing games or engaging in other nonproductive activities that distract from schoolwork or sleep.

A keylogger records a user's keyboard strokes including online banking usernames and passwords.  Advanced computer users may suspect their monitored status and attempt to install anti-keylogger software on the computer.  The ability to prevent users from installing apps or bypassing the keylogger's functions is another important feature of surveillance applications.  Other criteria evaluated in this category include data storage, automatic screenshots of the user's desktop, document tracking and scheduled user access.

Filtering & Blocking
Make sure the monitoring solution you select has some type of filtering and/or blocking capabilities.  These components can prevent users from executing applications, accessing pornography, online gaming and even social networking websites.  Some apps block and filter content by keywords, phrases and categories. The blocking of chat and instant message conversations may be important to parents.  Additional monitoring elements could include the prevention of the download and the installation of illegal software and music.

Monitoring applications can log enormous amounts of information. A badly designed reporting interface can make even the most robust applications useless.  Reporting methods should be easy to navigate.  It is common for the software to have multiple built-in report features as well as the ability to perform custom searches.

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