capsule review

Spector Pro Mac 2010

At a Glance
  • SpectorSoft Spector Pro Mac 2010

    Macworld Rating

Like eBlaster ( ), its sibling in cyber detective work, SpectorSoft’s Spector Pro Mac 2010 is a program designed to watch the activity on a computer and then provide you with reports about what’s taking place. But, while eBlaster e-mails you text-based reports on computer activity, SpectorPro lets you see exactly what’s taking place on the monitored computer.

Like eBlaster, Spector Pro sets up in a matter of minutes after first collecting some basic information from you: a password, hotkey settings, and whether you want Spector Pro to work in stealth mode, which means it’s hidden from anyone using the monitored computer, or in visible mode, which displays a blinking red “record” button in the menu bar to remind you that everything you’re doing is being recorded. After a restart Spector Pro begins to monitor everything that’s happening on the computer.

Spector Pro captures a long list of computer activity. First, the program takes a picture of the monitored screen at least once every 20 seconds, and more often when new applications are opened or a user opens new Finder windows, providing you with a time-lapse movie of the activity taking place on the monitored Mac. All of these screen snaps are viewable like a movie using the Spector Pro application.

While a sequence of pictures is useful, Spector Pro also captures very detailed information about the activity taking place, including complete iChat and other IM transcripts, complete e-mail messages including e-mail sent and received, who the users are accessing these programs (if you have more than one user account set up on the monitored Mac), and every web search made using the monitored computer. In fact, Spector Pro will also record every web page that a user visits even though they may have selected Safari’s Private Browsing option.

The application offers several useful customization tools, First, if there’s a website that someone’s visiting that you don’t want them to have access to anymore, Spector Pro offers you the option of blocking that site, although it will not block any page set as the user’s default Home Page. Second, Spector Pro makes it possible to customize what you’re tracking based upon which user is logged in at the computer, giving you fine-grained access to what’s being monitored.

While Spector Pro is designed for you to review recorded activity while sitting at the monitored computer, it’s also possible for you to view these same reports remotely as long as you have network access to the monitored computer and a valid user account on the monitored computer. To do that you need to install Spector Pro in Viewer Only mode on another Mac. When installed this way Spector Pro will not record anything taking place on the Viewer Only computer but will allow you to view the data being recorded on any monitored computer.

As with eBlaster, Spector Pro can raise several security issues. Since the program literally captures everything taking place on a monitored computer it’s important to keep in mind that you may be putting secure information at risk. I was able to easily capture user IDs and passwords for secure sites using a combination of Spector Pro keylogging and screenshots, so, if you choose to use the application you want to make sure that you’re keeping the recorded data secure.

Macworld’s buying advice

Spector Pro is a powerful tool for monitoring, recording, and reporting everything that’s taking place on a monitored Mac, providing detailed information, including time-lapse video of everything anyone might be doing on the computer where Spector Pro is installed. If you find you have a need to surreptitiously monitor a Mac in your care, you won’t find a better application than Spector Pro.

[Jeffery Battersby is an IT Consultant, Apple Trainer, (very) smalltime actor, and regular contributor to Macworld. He writes about Macs and more at his blog.]

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Time lapse view of monitored computer
    • Can be used to block specific Web pages
    • Can customize monitoring for individual users
    • Possible to access data remotely if user ID on monitored computer

    Cons

    • Cannot block user’s current home page
    • Could expose sensitive private information
    • You need physical or network access to the computer to view logs
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