Keystroke Logging

Category: Privacy

A friend of mine believes that her husband is chatting through email and IM's with other women. Is there any way to track the IM's or emails on her home computer?

I Lost My Baby, My Pickup, and My Guitar on the Information Highway

There are a variety of ways to track keystrokes and log instant messaging sessions, but let me offer a word of caution before we go there. If your friend believes that her husband's affections may be wandering, the best tool to address the problem really isn't a computer. Spying on someone you love, with or without the aid of technology, is ugly. Consider that you may learn things that are very painful, or that you may anger the other party when the subterfuge is revealed. A good old-fashioned OFFLINE chat or a counseling session (with or without the spouse) may be the most direct, and most effective way to get to the bottom of it all.

That said, most instant messaging programs either have session logging built in, or you can install a third-party plugin to enable logging. A quick web search will show you where to find those plugins. Also, the Google Desktop will archive and allow you to search email from Gmail, Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Mail and Thunderbird; Web pages you have visited; files on your computer, including text, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, image, audio, and video files; and yes... chats from AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger.

There are also general purpose loggers that can track every keystroke that is sent or received. I won't provide any links to those, because I've never used them, recommend against them for ethical reasons, and wouldn't trust them on my computer. The problem with all of these logging utilities is that they are detectable, either in the Windows system tray, Task Manager or by anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

So what happens if the suspected infidel finds out that he or she is being spied upon? Chances are it will either shatter whatever trust remains in the relationship, or they'll just find another venue to communicate. The chances of ending up in a win-win situation are very slim.

NEWS FLASH! After publishing this article, the following info from the Internet Patrol came to my attention. A Florida court has ruled that it is not ok to install spyware on your spouse’s computer to monitor what they do, and that, indeed, to do so rises to the level of a punishable criminal offense. For the full story, see Spouse Spanked for Spying.

Is There Such a Thing as a Semi Sequitur?

By the way, "I Lost My Baby, My Pickup, and My Guitar on the Information Highway" is the title of a humorous book written back in 1995 by Judy Heim. You can still find it on I credit Judy with getting me started on the path to writing several books of my own, since she recommend me to No Starch Press after reading my "Accessing the Internet by Email" guide.

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Most recent comments on "Keystroke Logging"

Posted by:

07 Dec 2005

I appreciated the information you provided in your "I Lost My Baby, My Pickup, and My Guitar on the Information Highway" article. However, not for the reason of spying on my wife. My concern is with my teenage daughter who spends a LOT of time on the internet. Not that I'm saying spying is good at all, but in the interest of protecting my daughter in this day and age of internet predators...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Good point. Kids are left to roam the dark corners of the Internet far too often. And many parents are so maudlin about the "privacy rights" of their kids. I say they EARN privacy when they move out and start paying rent. :-)

Posted by:

07 Dec 2005

Yes, good advice, however, keystroke logging could appear elsewhere, like internet cafe's and it would be nice to see a follow-up on keystroke-logger DEFEATERS and how handy they are to have on your thumb drive, along with other neat tiny proggys to use at the wild-west internet cafe.... any maybe even for the wayward spouse to apply to his/her own computer.....

Posted by:

07 Dec 2005

You remind me of something many forget. In most cases the "spyware" people *deliberately* permit on their computers, such as session logging in IM, logs created by IE etc, and Google Desktop Toolbar can implement most of the spying for which the keystroke loggers are touted as the solution.

Keystroke loggers could be seen as a [criminal?] violation of freedom. I disagree all keystroke loggers are "detectable, either in the Windows system tray, Task Manager or by anti-virus and anti-spyware software"--that is a pretty hard statement to prove--you would need only one counterexample--maybe some of our government three letter acronyms would have one for you, or some bot trojan or rootkit going around.

Reasonable privacy precautions might be considered for any user, even those who feel they have nothing worth hiding. On the other hand, some technical individual said years ago you have no privacy, get used to it--maybe that is the most realistic bottom line. So "I love big Brother"--oops--I mean--"I love Google Toolbar" ;-) .

Posted by:

07 Dec 2005

If you are looking for a good, free keylogger give "tiny key logger" a try available from You can rename the executable so it looks good in the process tree. I have used it at work on my own computer. It takes a brave soul to keystroke log yourself... I did it to sniff out a person attempting to use my computer after hours. Make sure your tell your anti-virus software to ignore it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: It just came to my attention that using a key logger to spy on a spouse is not legal. See this link for more info:

Posted by:

Patty west
07 Dec 2005

"So what happens if the suspected infidel finds out that he or she is being spied upon? Chances are it will either shatter whatever trust remains in the relationship,"

I think you missed this one Bob. A person deserves to know for sure if their spouse is cheating on them. Its no worse than hiring a detective if you have pretty good reason to believe you are being betrayed in a relationship. You make it sound like the cheating one is the one who is being wronged.

Posted by:

08 Dec 2005

It is never OK to spy on people without informing them first. If you are going to install a spy program on your own PC or one your children will be using, you should inform everone of this before they use it.

Be fair about it when you invade people's privacy. If you are an employer, let your employees know if they are going to be logged. It might just make them behave and get more work done if they just think they are being logged.

I do log all chat activity on my pc. My children know this, agree to it, and welcome it. They know it is for all of our protection, like helping prove to the proper authorities if you have a stalker. Bottom line, when used responsibly, logging is ok. Used just for the purpose of secretly spying is not ever ok.

Posted by:

B deGonzauge
12 Dec 2005

I would like to know how I can tell if my employer has installed a keystroke logger on our computers at work, and is it legal? They have installed a program called "Common on Server" and I wonder if this is a way to track our computer activity.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2006

I HAVE used a keystroke logger on myself - after crashes resulted in the loss of emails or other web entries I had spent a lot of time on. I don't keep it on very much because (1) if I'm not paying attention i delete it every time I run anti-malware-ware and (2) if I forget to erase it every so often i realize that i'll have a long record of my use. To me, tho, that is one legitimate use. (It seems like Firefox's session saver is doing a good job of meeting my needs now. though)

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