Monitoring your childs computer usage...

Question

I want to be able to monitor my child's Internet usage but don't know which program to use. Can you help?

- Rachael

Answer

This question was answered on December 17, 2001. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

When it comes to parental controls on computers, you can block access, monitor usage or both.

We always start by encouraging parents to have frank discussions with their kids and set boundaries on the Internet just like we do in the real world

But that just isn’t enough in most cases, so that’s where a filtering or blocking program may be useful.

There are a number of programs on the market, but one of our favorites is called <a href="http://www.CyberPatrol.com " target="_blank"><font color="#003399">CyberPatrol</font></a> because it seems to balance sophistication with ease of use for the non-technical parent.

If you decide that your kids are old enough to know the difference, but you do want to track what they are doing, then reviewing their usage may be for you.

Before you go buy a special program to monitor your child, you may be able to use the 'History' feature that is built-in to Microsoft's Internet Explorer that will show recently visited sites Depending upon the age of your child, you may be able to rely on it to view the visited sites as far back as a couple of weeks.

The reason I referred to the age of the child is that most teens know about the 'History' file and will clear it out if they are attempting to cover their tracks.

Since your kids are likely as tech savvy (or more savvy in many cases) as you are, you may need to employ a more sophisticated monitoring system.

Several packages are available that will silently monitor the activity on a computer and allow an 'administrator' (read: parent) to review the activity in many different ways.

These programs can be loaded to be 'invisible' or they can be configured to warn users that their movements are being monitored.

They can record web addresses, chat rooms, e-mails or every keystroke in any program They can even take 'screen shots' on a regular interval so you can literally see what your child sees They can't be detected by the Windows 'Close Program' (Ctrl-Alt-Del), so the techy-teen won't be able detect and defeat them

These monitoring programs can only be uninstalled by the administrator, so any attempt to remove the program, if they do discover it, will be stopped.

A very popular full-featured program from SpectorSoft called eBlaster (<a href="http://www.eblaster.com " target="_blank"><font color="#003399">www.eblaster.com </font></a> - $69) has all the bells and whistles.

Another program that I have used in the past with a great deal of success is called 'SpyAgent' It has my favorite feature, the ability to e-mail the results on a timed interval This will let you monitor your home system from work!

SpyAgent sells for $49 and a free trial version (limited to 30 minutes of monitoring) can be downloaded from their web site at: <a href="http://www.spytech-web.com" target="_blank"><font color="#003399">www.spytech-web.com</font></a>

Another product called KeyKatcher, which is a hardware solution, takes a completely different approach Instead of loading software into the system, you simply plug the adapter between the keyboard and the computer.

It will record all keystrokes to non-volatile memory inside of what looks like a keyboard plug and allow an administrator to view the contents with a simple text editor.

It does not capture screen images or e-mail results, but it is the simplest way to start monitoring a machine It sells for $99 and is available at <a href="http://www.keykatcher.com" target="_blank"><font color="#003399">www.keykatcher.com</font></a>.

Employers that are looking to monitor their employees should be aware that certain legal issues could arise from monitoring without disclosure, so be sure to formally inform employees that they are being monitored if you plan to do so.

Spousal monitoring can also lead to legal problems, as in the case of a <a href="http://www.courttv.com/news/2001/0907/privacy_ctv.html" target="_blank"><font color="#003399">Michigan man</font></a> that was charged with four felony counts of using a computer to eavesdrop on his estranged wife, so be careful how you use these devices.

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Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on December 17, 2001