The Ace Spy Guy

Published Date
01 - Oct - 2005
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2005
 
The Ace Spy Guy
How many 21-year-olds in India own a profit-making enterprise in the US? Meet Zeeshan Alam, a third-year student of computer engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Jaipur. Alam is the co-owner of Retina-X Studios (www.retinax.com), and his partner is US-based James Johns. Alam has independently created spy software-AceSpy.

Starting Out
A lover of all things tech, Alam decided to take up computers full-time. In 2004, he completed the Microsoft Student Project Programme where he created a state employment portal. Alam also won several software designing awards.

The enterprising Alam says, "The idea of developing spy software occurred to me in mid-2002. It was a time when the issues of Internet romance, online chatting and pornography appeared regularly in newspapers. My dad too had a growing concern about me spending a lot of time online, and was worried if I was addicted to the above elements.

"It was then that I had an idea: what if I could record the goings-on on the desktop, like a movie, at regular intervals in stealth mode, where the software would not be visible in the Task Manager's Processes or Applications and would also not be detected by other users? All actions could be viewed later to reveal what other users do on your PC in your absence."

A Few Hits At First
This thought took form and resulted in Alam's first spy software creation-Sys Detective . In time, Alam added more features including key logging, Web capture, e-mail and SMS alerts, Web content blocking and others.

Once Alam realised he had the recipe for a successful software, he submitted Sys Detective to many shareware sites and also made a site exclusively for it using Regsoft, an e-commerce processing service, to take care of the transactions, if any. Alam even put a small classified ad in The Times of India.

All this took place around the end of 2002. Barring a few sales here and there, Alam did not, unfortunately, receive much of a response for Sys Detective . But in March 2003, he came across the now defunct AmSpy Web site. He asked the US-based site owner James Johns to put up Sys Detective on the site.

Success At Last
A Web and graphic designer based in Phoenix, Arizona, Johns (27) is the CEO of Retina-X Studios. Johns says, "Prior to RXS, I ran a Web site called Amspy.com, which offered various spy software. Alam e-mailed me asking to add his product, Sys Detective , to the site."

"It was then that we decided to launch a joint venture and create our own line of products. I had no apprehensions about the fact that Alam was a young collegian in India. Programmers in India have a good reputation in the US for quality outsourcing.

"Coders attending college in India are learning the latest skills-something even the most seasoned programmer may not usually provide. Next, we chalked out different duties for ourselves. Alam was to handle programming while I took care of the Web and graphic designing," says Johns.

A Profitable Alliance
Alam and James decided to divide the profits on an equal basis. Both play a key role in all management issues, project analysis, financial and marketing plans. It was thus that Retina-X Studios came into being, and was registered as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Nevada, USA, in September 2004.

By the time of his collaboration with Johns, Alam had upgraded his earlier creation of Sys Detective , which Johns rechristened as 'AceSpy'.

AceSpy has sold over a thousand licenses so far. Other major software developed by Alam-all RXS products-include Net Spy Pro (a network spy software designed for network administrators), Key Spy Pro (which discreetly records all keystrokes), Screen-Spy (which, similar to a surveillance camera, records screen shots at intervals), and Eliminator-RX (an Internet cleaner software), among others.

AceSpy vis-a-vis Other Spy Software 
Spy software is often sold as a spouse or child monitor, a surveillance tool or simply as a tool to spy on users who gain unauthorised access. Spy ware covertly gathers user information and activity without the user's knowledge. Essentially, whatever one does on the spy's computer is completely viewable by the spy.
  • Popular spy software-apart from AceSpy-include 007 Spy Software, XPCSpy Pro, SpyBuddy, and Spector
  • AceSpy happens to be the most feature-rich and affordable of them all
  • The functions of most spy software include being in stealth mode, logging, filtering and blocking, and sending out alerts regarding PC activity
  • Most of the above software don't log e-mail client activity, while AceSpy does
  • Similarly, most of the above software don't log shell events
  • AceSpy also features Webcam capture, makes a movie from the screenshots gathered, alerts via SMS, and delivers logged e-mails and chats instantly
  • In terms of blocking features, AceSpy can block specific applications, and can perform a scheduled locking of the PC-which the competition cannot

AceSpy followed the evolutionary model of the software development life cycle; it grew up with new functionalities over time"
Zeeshan Alam,
Co-owner Retina-X Studios, USA

AceSpy A Winner

AceSpy is a PC program that runs silently in the background, recording all activities performed by the user such as e-mails sent and received, chat conversations, Web sites visited, and every keystroke typed. Activity reports can be sent to the e-mail address of the person who installs the program. AceSpy includes smart filtering technology that allows one to block activities, such as visiting some Web sites and using  certain programs on the basis of keywords.

Alam says, "Many similar products have mushroomed in the market. But we continue to add new features to AceSpy and thus give value for money to customers. Testimonials from grateful parents, employers and spouses make us feel that we have done our bit for the world."

AceSpy sends e-mails and SMS alerts when the monitored people do something you don't want them to. It can take regular snapshots using a Web cam, for surveillance. AceSpy allows the customer-say, a concerned parent-to actually block an activity as it occurs. The software has won more than 20 awards from download sites including Tucows, SofoTex, WebAttack and TopShareware.

Alam and Johns keep themselves updated with the latest laws passed regarding to spy software. Alam says, "On October 6, 2004, the US House of Representatives passed a bill, known as the 'Spy Act'. This bill simply refers to the installation of advertising or data gathering spyware without the computer owners' assent. While it's legal to install any program onto your own computer, it has always been illegal to install key loggers, spy software onto a machine without the owners' consent."

AceSpy costs $34.97 (Rs 1,500) per license, which monitors one computer. This includes 50 free SMS credits. RXS has sold AceSpy and its other spy software to customers in over 35 countries, with 80 per cent of sales in the US itself.

All Part Of The Game
Alam, at present a hostelite, has to juggle college, study, work and play. He smiles, "I have a tight schedule. I attend college from 8 to 5 during the day, and at night-from 11 to 3-I work. As a result, I end up like Spiderman- perpetually late!"

Coding is Alam's Oxygen, as he puts it. "If I don't fire up the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) every day I feel as if some part of me is missing. I love to write programs, tackle a hidden bug, and design a fast algorithm. I'm lucky I've been able to turn my hobby into a successful profession. I love writing spy programs and will continue to do so."

"My interests involve the Windows API (Application Programming Interface), sub-classing, hooking, multithreading, Socket programming, GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces), SQL, ADO, ADO.NET, graphics and animation programming," he adds.

Alam has been coding in VB (Visual Basic) for nearly seven years now-it's his favourite language. He's also proficient in several other languages. He informs us, "AceSpy is coded entirely in Visual Studio 97, specifically Visual Basic 6.0. Technically, AceSpy followed the evolutionary model of the software development life cycle; it grew up with new functionalities over time. The AceSpy code uses the Windows 32 API extensively."

In his words, "I wear multiple hats like any entrepreneur, sometimes killing a naughty bug, discussing money with an affiliate to handling a prospective customer." Alam tests and updates the software and releases new versions when required. He is the sole developer of all the RXS products, co-ordinating and executing the programming and providing technical support.

Takers For RXS
As Johns says, "What started as a part-time hobby has now become our livelihood. Our overall annual growth is roughly 300 per cent. It feels great to see our ideas come to life as winning products."

"Apart from the income from selling RXS products, we also get commission from selling other manufacturers' software (as at www.discount-spy-software.com). Our target customers include parents who want to protect their children from sexually explicit content, spouses who can find out if their partners are having cyber affairs, and employers who can prevent confidential information from leaking out," says Alam.

Keeping In Tune With The Times
Alam attributes the present turnover of RXS to the huge free traffic generated at their Web sites, courtesy search engine placements for keywords such as 'spy software', 'child monitoring', 'spouse monitoring', and so on. The duo routinely advertises on various Web sites including Hosting Bills, GetResponse Bills, Shareware Submissions, Shareware Advertising, Google Adwords, Overture, and Yahoo! Directory Listing.

"Microsoft ended mainstream support for VB6 in March 2005, so I'll soon need to upgrade the source code of AceSpy to the .NET framework. In fact, I shouldn't say 'upgrade'-I should say 'rewrite' the code, but in our field, this is a part of life and is inevitable! Besides, the algorithm will remain the same. So, AceSpy 4.0 may be in .NET anytime now," says Alam.

"Spy and system monitoring software will always be a popular choice for online users and I see the market only going up," Alam confidently sums up.


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