When I first saw this little electronic marvel, I immediately thought it would be something James Bond might use. Picture this. Bond's assignment is to find out which web sites the bad guy is logging on to, what passwords are being used along with whatever else that might be typed on the computer's keyboard. Bond sneaks into the computer room but it's dark and there's no power. Besides, turning on the computer would make way too much noise and there's no time to install some kind of spyware anyway. So instead, from his pocket he takes out a tiny cylindrical plug. He unplugs the keyboard from the computer, plugs it into one end of the little device and then plugs it back into the computer. It only takes a few seconds and the job is complete. From now on, anything being typed on the keyboard will be instantly captured into the device's memory. Later on Bond can return, remove the device and access all the captured keystrokes it has recorded by installing it on his own computer later on. Or he can come back and type a simple password to display its contents on the screen.

Yes, the device really does exist and it's called the KEYKatcher. I'm pretty sure its maker, Allen Concepts didn't intend for it to be used by sophisticated international spies but if you are one and you're reading this column, there you go. If you're not, suggested uses for the KEYKatcher by the company are parents who wish to monitor what their children are doing on their computers, employers to monitor employee activities, and suspicious spouses who may want to keep tabs on their significant other.

The KEYKatcher is different than software Spyware products that require you to power up the computer and go through an installation process. As an external hardware device, the KEYKatcher is totally transparent to the operating system and requires none of the system resources typically required by software spyware applications. According to its manufacturer, there really isn't any way to detect its presence via the use of anti-spyware software. In fact, the only way to detect it is to physically inspect the computer and look for the device. And since it looks much like any other power connector, it can easily be overlooked. However, if you've installed it in a non- surreptitious manner, heat-shrink tubing is provided to create a tamper-evident seal which cannot be removed without your knowledge.

The KEYKatcher uses a microcontroller and non-volatile memory to capture all the keystrokes. The latter means no power is required to maintain the memory contents of the KEYKatcher. Removing it from the computer does not result in the loss of its contents.

To see the contents, just open any word processor or WordPad document and type in your password. As soon as your password has been correctly entered a menu will be displayed on your screen. The menu gives you several options, including View Memory, NETPatrol Search, Erase Memory, Disable recording, and other selections. As soon as the View Memory option has been selected, every word that has been typed will be displayed on the notepad. All typing is displayed including chat rooms, e-mail, web addresses, and instant messaging. After the full contents of the memory are displayed, you can save the file to your hard drive as a word processing document.

The NETPatrol option flags words that have to do with online activities such as www, .com or http making them easier to spot. Other options let you search for keywords and change the KEYKatcher's password.

The KEYKatcher comes in memory capacities of 64k ($32.99), 256k ($79) and the KEYKatcher Magnum with a whopping 4 megabyte capacity ($99). All require a PS/2 connection. Older PC's which use the 5-pin DIN connector require an adapter set. Although the KEYKatcher will not work on USB keyboards directly, the company does make a PS2 to USB adapter set ($19.95) that allows it to function.

www.keycatcher.com

Craig Crossman is a national newspaper columnist writing about computers and technology. He also hosts the No. 1 daily national computer radio talk show, Computer America, heard on the Business TalkRadio Network and the Lifestyle TalkRadio Network - Monday through Friday, 10 p.m. - midnight ET. For more information, visit his web site at
www.computeramerica.com.

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