Try as you may to control what your users do on their computers—either through Group Policies, regular Human Resources policies, Internet filters, etc.—if users want to do bad things with their computer, invariably they’ll find a way. If you can’t prevent users from abusing their workstation, you can at least track what they’re doing with utilities such as User Logger 2.9.

What’s User Logger?
User Logger is a shareware utility that stores information about what users do on their workstation. It can record who has logged on to the workstation and what programs the user runs. It can even capture and record screen shots on a scheduled basis. You can configure the screen caption option to record an image when a certain keyword is typed. Once you register the program, you can even record individual keystrokes.

User Logger creates a log file that you can then import into Excel or another spreadsheet. From there, you can analyze what the user is doing, when, and how. User Logger runs invisibly in the background, so users don’t know that it’s running. You can configure it so that it’s not easily detectable in Task Manager.

User Logger works with all versions of Windows after Windows 95, up to and including Windows XP. When it’s running, it will have a minimal impact on system resources, so you don’t have to worry about adding RAM or hard drive space to run it.

Obtaining and installing User Logger
You can get User Logger 2.9 directly from the User Logger Web site. In the Download Now section, you’ll see several links to downloadable freeware versions. The easiest to install is the version with Setup, and it’s not much larger than the others, so choose that one. The file you’ll get, Usrlogfw.exe, is a little over 600 KB, so it should download quickly.

You can also download the registered version from here as well. The registered version costs $49.95 if you click one link, and $50 if you click the other. There are no time limits on the free version, but the registered version has added features, including:

  • Keystroke logging
  • Encryption for logs created by User Logger
  • The ability to separate logs based on XP Logins
  • Added options for application logging

Once you finish downloading it, run Usrlogfw.exe to start the installation process. After a brief dialog box that asks if you’re sure you want to install User Logger, you’ll see a typical Windows Setup wizard. Follow through the various screens, clicking Next as you go. There won’t be any confusing screens that you need to worry about.

When the Setup wizard finishes, User Logger will immediately start so you can configure it. The first thing you’ll see is the Tip Of The Day wizard. You’ll probably want to remove the check from Show Tip Of The Day, so users don’t know the program is running in the background. Click OK when you’re done. You’ll then see the User Logger Configuration screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A
After running Setup, you can configure User Logger.

As you can see in the Run Options box, by default User Logger is configured to run when Windows starts. If you select the Show A Message When User Logger Starts check box, you can display a warning to users that they are being monitored. If you want to go the other way with monitoring, you can select Disguise User Logger In The Task List to make sure that users can’t find and stop User Logger in Task Manager.

If you click the Text Options tab, you’ll see the screen shown in Figure B. Here you’ll configure what User Logger captures and how often it makes captures. By default, User Logger doesn’t capture anything. To capture an application, select Active Window or All Windows.

Figure B
Decide what you want to monitor.

If you select Active Window, User Logger captures information only about the program the user is running in the foreground. If you select All Windows, User Logger will capture information about all running applications. Selecting All Windows will make sure you don’t miss anything a user is doing between captures, but may slow down the machine slightly.

You can configure screen capture settings by clicking the Screen Capture screen shown in Figure C. Here you can control how User Logger captures what’s on the screen while the user works.

Figure C
Configure User Logger to capture screens.

User Logger can capture screens as rapidly as every minute or as slowly as every two hours. Naturally, you don’t want to capture screens too often or you’ll noticeably slow down the system and waste disk space. The default time frame of 15 minutes may cause you to miss things, however.

You can save screen captures as JPGs or GIFs. JPGs will save space, but you may miss details. Likewise, scaling images may cause you to miss detail.

If you select the Only Capture On Keyword check box, you can have screen captures occur only when the selected screen word, such as “porn,” appears on screen. Selecting this may reduce the number of screen captures, but it also may cause you to miss other important screens.

The Key Capture and Schedule tabs are available only on registered versions of User Logger. You can configure how User Logger captures exactly what a user types and how often User Logger should run.

Start logging
When you’re all done, click OK. You may want to remove the User Logger folder and icons from the Start menu so users won’t know the utility is running. Additionally, you may want to hide the User Logger program folder. Restart the computer. When a user logs in, User Logger will start tracking things in the background, filling the log. To access the logs, either log in to the machine when the user isn’t around, or access the workstation remotely using a hidden network share.