Thursday, January 10, 2008


While reading Paranoia, an intriguing novel by Joseph Finder, I came to an alarming scene where Adam Cassidy, the protagonist, attaches a piece of hardware called a KeyGhost to the back of his supervisor’s computer in order to track her keystrokes, thus gaining access to her security codes so he could hack into her sensitive files. In the book, Adam is engaged in corporate espionage, working in one company as a spy for another company, trying to gain intelligence into a purported “skunkworks” program. However, as a reader I soon started asking the question: Is this real technology? It better be, or Joseph Finder has just lost credibility because his novel is not a futuristic tale.

Doing a quick fact-check on the internet, as well as asking questions of some techno-gurus, I found that not only is the technology very real, it is also easily obtainable. Attaching something like this to a laptop might be more noticeable, but what about a desktop where the box is located under someone's desk and the device wouldn't run as high a risk of discovery? I couldn’t help but go into the office and check my own computer. Whew! Nothing there. Not that I have anything to hide, mind you, but I want to know if someone is trying to spook on me. That way I can give them their money’s worth, give them some really juicy keystrokes.

So another question comes to mind: What are other reasons to attach such a device to someone’s computer?

For the paranoid, delusional boss, he may want to verify whether an employee is devoted to him or is involved in subversive activities. For the leader of Team A, she may want to uncover what Team B is working on so she can either present the idea first or sabotage it. For the IT department, they may be tracking keystrokes to an employee’s “chat room” discussions, building a case to discreetly dismiss the employee--no muss, no fuss. The list goes on, with as many reasons, I suppose, as the world has people.

Reading a lot has its benefits. First off, it helps to develop the mind and improve the focus--especially when you are trying to connect the dots and discover the truth before the author reveals it. Secondly, it educates the reader on what is happening out there in the world. Without reading a book like Paranoia, it might have been years before I would have known about this technology. Also, it helps to gain an understanding of people. I’m not naïve enough to say, “That doesn’t happen in the real world.” Just by the existence of a KeyGhost device, it tells me that what the author reveals in the book is a very real aspect in espionage--corporate or otherwise. Why a person would use the device, though, is worth the exploration … which leads character, which leads to a plot, which leads to a novel.

So, how many of you will be checking the back of your computer now?

Be warned: Companies don’t have to use hardware to track their employees; they can use software, too!

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