Determining if your computer is being monitored can be a challenge, depending on the monitoring technique's level of sophistication. Older computers used to run more slowly when being monitored, but modern computers have enough power to make monitoring software indistinguishable from a performance perspective. Checking for monitoring hardware and software is a process of elimination and not foolproof.
Check the keyboard's connection cable for a physical keylogging device. Keyloggers, which record every typed keystroke on a computer, are installed on the keyboard's connection cable or wireless adapter. If the cable or adapter doesn't directly connect to the computer an interrupting device may be a keylogger--exceptions include USB-to-PS/2 converters.
Download and run the ICSI Netalyzr tool from the Berkeley University of California website (see Resources). The program will scan for, and identify, monitoring protocols on the firewall level: A positive hit means you're being monitored.
Run a "Deep Scan" with the anti-spyware program Spybot Search & Destroy. Spybot is a spyware-focused anti-malware program that not only searches for monitoring software like malware, but also disables any changes that are made to the system registry used for system monitoring.
Check your anti-virus program's Exclusions or White List section for programs and folders. Any and all white listed programs are possible monitoring programs. Monitoring software often won't work on a computer unless the anti-virus authorizes it, so the anti-virus need to be customized to install monitoring software.
Run full system anti-virus and anti-malware scans to search for monitoring software. Monitoring program actions are often flagged as malicious behavior. If you don't have an anti-virus program, both AVG and Ad Aware are highly-rated free programs. Malwarebytes is a highly-rated free anti-malware program, as well (see links in Resources).
Open the Task Manger by pressing "Ctrl-Shift-Esc" and look under the Processes tab for suspicious programs. Compare the processes on your computer with another computer running the same operating system to help identify questionable programs. If you're using a corporate computer, use a non-company computer for comparison.
Check the installed programs list on the Start Screen for remote desktop programs like VNC, LogMeIn and GoToMyPC. Remote desktop programs you didn't install can be used to hijack your computer.
Tips & Warnings
- Forbes magazine advises employees to assume that any corporate-owned computer is being monitored. Employers are legally allowed to install monitoring software on computers they own.
- Wiping and re-installing Windows following a data backup is often easier and faster than trying to remove complex monitoring software. The new Windows installation will not include the monitoring registry modifications.
- Your computer itself may not be tracked, but network data can be monitored on any network. Anyone on the network, including network administrators, can run programs called network analyzers (aka "packet sniffers") that intercept and monitor network traffic.
- KeyGhost: The Hardware Keylogger
- Forbes: How to Bust Your Boss or Loved One for Installing Spyware on Your Phone
- PCWorld: Internet Tips: Fight Back Against Surveillance Software
- Safer-Networking: Spybot 2 Now Available
- Refog: How to Use Refog Software With Antivirus Software
- PC Magazine Encyclopedia: Definition of: Network Analyzer
- Photo Credit decisiveimages/iStock/Getty Images
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