Device captures strokes of keys

KEYKatcher: A tiny cylindrical plug can be attached to a computer keyboard and take into its memory every keystroke.

January 15, 2004|By Craig Crossman | Craig Crossman,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

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 onto, 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 takes a few seconds and the job is complete. From now on, anything 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 computer later on. Or he can come back and type a password to display its contents on the screen.

It's called the KEYKatcher ( I'm pretty sure its maker, Allen Concepts, didn't intend for it to be used by international spies, but if you are one and you're reading this, there you go.

Suggested users 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 others.

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 KEY- Katcher is transparent to the operating system and requires none of the system resources typically required by software spyware applications.

Its manufacturer says there isn't a way to detect its presence via the use of anti-spyware software. The only way to detect it is to physically inspect the computer and look for the device.

The KEYKatcher uses a microcontroller and nonvolatile memory to capture 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, open any word processor or WordPad document, type in your password, and a menu will be displayed. It gives several options, including View Memory, NETPatrol Search, Erase Memory and Disable Recording. 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 KEYKatcher comes in memory capacities of 32 kilobytes ($59), 64 kilobytes ($79) or 128 kilobytes ($99) and requires a PS/2 connection. Older PCs, which use the 5-pin DIN connector, require an adapter set. The KEYKatcher will not work on USB keyboards.

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