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Covertly monitor PCs and Macs with ActivTrak

09 February 2016, Mike Williams

ActivTrakActivTrak is a professional cloud-managed service which can help you covertly monitor activity on PCs and Macs.

The system is extremely easy to set up, very difficult for others to spot, and provides a range of usage reports which you can access from anywhere.

The process starts by signing up for a free account. This only takes a moment and takes you to ActivTrak’s web console.

There are options to download the PC or Mac ActivTrak agent, small EXE or PKG files. Fetch these and install them on whatever systems you’d like to monitor (up to 3 in total with the free edition).

Setup is very straightforward. There’s no configuration involved, you don’t have to link the agents to your account or do anything else: they just run in the background, and immediately start to monitor the websites and applications you’re using, taking occasional screenshots, and uploading the details to ActivTrak’s server.

ActivTrak

ActivTrak’s web console displays various reports on your monitored systems

The agent does this very covertly, too. There are no giveaway system tray icons, desktop shortcuts or Start Menu entries. It’s not listed as an installed application in the “Programs and Features” applet, and there’s no obvious ActivTrak process listed in Task Manager. Even technical users are unlikely to spot what’s happening unless they specifically go looking.

Reviewing the captured data is simple, as there’s no need for physical access to the system. All you have to do is log on to your ActivTrak web console, choose the device you’d like to explore, and browse its various reports.

An Activity Log gives you a real-time record showing when individual URLs were visited, programs were launched, and the user switched from one application to another.

The Screenshots view displays grabs taken whenever the user changed applications or websites. There’s no option to take captures at regular intervals, unfortunately – it’s a limitation in the free edition, and you’ll need to spend at least $336/ year to upgrade and remove it – but this still gives you some extra information.

You also get a bunch of summary reports to give you a quick overview of desktop use: most-visited websites, most-used applications, the time spent on each, productivity charts showing when a system was active or idle, and more.

ActivTrak still doesn’t give you quite as much detail as some client-only monitors. With no keyboard logging and screen captures on website/ application changes only, if the user spends a long time in one program then you’ll get no details at all.

On the plus side, the ease of setup and covert, hard-to-spot monitoring are big pluses. If you only need a general idea of how a desktop is being used, ActivTrak could be a smart choice.

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