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InterGuard review

Full-service surveillance

(Image: © InterGuard)

Our Verdict

A high-quality solution for tracking computer and phone use. InterGuard is only let down by the lack of Linux support, and limited ethical and legal guidance for companies who don’t operate within the USA.

For

  • Stealth mode
  • Enterprise SQL installs
  • Citrix Compliant

Against

  • Lacks Linux support
  • Spyware

InterGuard is a sophisticated employee monitoring platform created by Awareness Technologies, based in Westport, Connecticut, USA.

Its promotional materials provide an extensive set of reasons for deploying, including enhancing productivity, employee investigations, data security and compliance.

Let’s find out if InterGuard can deliver on those promises and the costs associated with this type of software technology.

Features

Let’s be direct; the software part of this system is spyware, plain and simple.

That’s easy to deduct because InterGuard provides detailed instructions as to how you can convince the inbuilt protections of Microsoft, or those provided by Symantec, Norton, McAfee, ESET, Kaspersky and others, not to quarantine or delete it.

Deployment can be in person or using NetDeploy armed with the correct admin authorisation, and with that tool, it is possible to silently install the software on remote systems.

Whatever system you but this software on, including phones, it will operate in a ‘stealth mode’ where it isn’t listed as an active process or as an installed application. Therefore, most users wouldn’t be able to remove it from their systems.

Once it is there, and the antivirus doesn’t attack it, the software gives a running commentary on what web pages are visited, apps are launched, words typed, and messages sent.

(Image credit: InterGuard)

In some circumstances, it will snapshot the screen as proof of what it detected, and in others, it will just not the files and locations where the activity occurred.

One limitation we noticed of this facility is that it has no means to capture the screen if it is being used in a full-screen 3D rendering mode, like those used by games, simulations and CAD systems.

Another part of this solution that didn’t always work as intended is the Alert Flagging System which was far too easily convinced of causes for concern when nothing significant had happened.

In one instance, while we were browsing a movie website and an alert went off for the word ‘gun’ because the page mentioned the Tom Cruise lead sequel ‘Top Gun’. Or that’s what we surmised because while it had a picture, there was no indication on that image the software was reacting.

Chasing alerts like this would be an inefficient use of a person’s time, so some tweaking to the trigger words is required.

Alongside the surveillance side of InterGuard, it also includes an endpoint lockdown system, so a device that has been stolen, or is held by an ex-employee, can be remotely locked down. And, you can also retrieve files from the system, assuming that the computer is active and linked to an Internet-accessible network.

What it can’t do is take control of that machine, as offered by some competitor products.

The usefulness of this feature is limited by the system being connected, which would mean that the owner/thief was logged in to connect WIFI. Android, iOS and Chromebooks all have this technology inherently, and to an extent, it is built into Windows.

Any solution like this is only as good as its weakest link, and InterGuard has worked hard to make sure most systems can be monitored if networked.

It can track the activity on Windows PC, Apple Mac systems, Virtual Desktops, Chromebooks and both Apple and Android mobile devices. The only significant missing element here is Linux, an increasingly common OS in business, and something InterGuard has promised to address.

(Image credit: InterGuard)

Interface

The interface of this product is slightly different from the typical web menu system deployed by others.

It uses a menu across the top of the page, and the rest of the panel is available to present filtered data captured by the system.

While it is easy to follow, things aren’t always where you might expect them to be when you drill down inside the lists provided. We’re sure you eventually get the hang of where things are, but it isn’t obvious from some of the menu titles what is beneath them.

The other issue with the interface is how long it can take for data to migrate from the systems that capture it. Even with two computers sat alongside each other, neither working hard and on a high-speed network, it often took minutes for captures to travel be logged and available to view.

This lack of performance, we presume, is mostly due to the test system using a Cloud installation, where a local server should have less inherent latency.

Depending on how you deploy the software, the information presented to the user varies.

The demo version doesn’t offer stealth mode, where the presence of the software is masked from the user, but the licensed code offers this feature.

If stealth mode is disabled, a message appears each time the user logs in to warn them that the system is only for ‘work related purposes’.

In France, for example, the right to use a company system for some personal time is enshrined in law, and this statement is thankfully editable.

(Image credit: InterGuard)

Security

The security on this system consists of a login and password with some basic restrictions on the length and composition of the password.

In addition to the login, you can use Google two-factor authentication if you have an android phone or tablet to get the required unlock codes.

Having this one extra security feature makes this solution better than the majority of surveillance tools we’ve tested, although having independent authorisation services would be even better should InterGuard wish to enhance this further.

A mildly disturbing aspect of InterGuard is that getting rid of the installed Spyware isn’t as easy as removing the machine license using the admin web pages.

The full process to removal requires information that only a support technician can provide, and online support won’t help you do this.

From a business perspective, this enables the de-licensing and then re-licensing of a machine from the web interface, but leaves the spyware is still in position should it need to be activated again at some point.

But, should this be installed on BYOD systems by people that leave the company and take their computers with them, it could also be a headache for IT to cleanse them of this invasive code appropriately.

When we finally got the information to remove the hidden code, it was relatively straightforward. But the process required the admin password and to be physically at the computer. And, a second tool was needed to remove the Chrome extension that the system also uses.

While it is a good thing that users can’t easily remove InterGuard, a more elegant means to remove it for those administrating needs to be found.

(Image credit: InterGuard)

Plans and pricing

Pricing for InterGuard Employee/Computer monitoring is very simple, as only two paid tiers exist.

The standard plan ‘Cloud Hosted’ costs $7.09 per user month if you have an annual contract of 5+ users. It costs less if you sign up for longer (up to five years) and deals with more than 25 licenses are cost quoted.

Alternatively, InterGuard offers an ‘Enterprise On-Premise’ option where the customer provides a SQL Server, and the data is collected locally on that system. That option is quoted and is designed to integrate with active directory services within the network.

For those curious about what the Cloud service a free trial is available, but it doesn’t offer the stealth mode that the paid service provides.

InterGuard has also just launched a pay-monthly option for $25 per license, with a minimum of five users, but this is nearly four times the average cost of the annual contract.

With any product as invasive as this one is, we’re always curious to see how the company behind it guides potential customers as to proper and legal use.

For the most part, InterGuard avoids the thorny subject of breaking employment laws throughout its sales pitch, and only briefly covers it in its EULA with the following line:

“Awareness Technologies Terms of Use and End User Licensing Agreement require that you only install its software on devices that you own or have permission to monitor and that you inform all users of those devices that they are being monitored.”

The EULA also talks about Federal and State Laws, but not legality outside US boundaries.

A sales representative told me that the software is sold in 110 countries worldwide but didn’t have any information on which of these might have legal implications for those that deploy spyware.

Depending on how InterGuard is used, employee contracts might need to be reworked, and those changes accepted, especially if you intend to monitor company phones or geofence staff movements.

These costs and the impact on employee goodwill need to be balanced against the hoped productivity and security advantages.

Final verdict

As a monitoring tool, InterGuard provides as much information to a company about its employee's use of computers and mobile devices as a company might reasonably want.

But this business is focused on selling software licenses, and not advising on the ethical or legal ramifications of deploying these tools without control and consideration.