No you’re not paranoid’ your computer activities may be monitored. There’s a wealth of third party spying software now commercially available that can be stealthily downloaded onto your computer. Perhaps you have business secrets someone would like, maybe you have a jealous spouse or partner who is snooping on you? If you do have suspicions that your computer is being monitored you can soon find out by following the simple steps below.
If you work in an office, and especially a corporate environment, it’s very likely that your computer and emails will be monitored. It might feel creepy but from the IT perspective it’s important for security reasons. By monitoring email for instance, attachments that could contain a virus or spyware can be blocked.
In fact, if you do work in a corporate environment you should assume that everything you do on your work computer can be seen. And in a bid to keep up with technology some police departments are also taking to remote spying software though how widespread this is, we don’t know. Of course as Wikileaks revealed, intelligence agencies around the world have been doing this for years, but their snooping has been done on a vast and indiscriminate scale, though of course they do zero in on individuals.
The advancement of technology into everyday life means that spying software is no longer confined to the domain of professional snoopers, as is evident in the raft of commercial spying and monitoring software now widely available for use on home computers.
And with this surge into the home market a hard sell is taking place, usually based on fear and suspicion of a cheating spouse. If you think someone is spying on you there are some simple steps you can take to find out.
This is usually known as remote control software or virtual network computing (VNC) software and it allows someone to see why you are doing on your computer. However, it needs to be installed on your computer in the first place.
By checking in the start menu you can see which programs are running. Go to All Programs and look to see if something like VNC, RealVNC, TightVNC, UltraVNC, LogMeIn, GoToMyPC and so on are installed. If any of these programs are installed, then someone can connect to your computer without you knowing it as long as the program is running in the background as a Windows service.
It might seem a bit sloppy to furtively install this type of software on someone’s computer but many people assume that most people are ignorant about software on their computer and wouldn’t understand what it is.
Usually, if one of the above listed programs is installed, there will be an icon for it in the task bar because it needs to be constantly running to work. Check all of your icons and see what is running. If you find something you’re not familiar with, do a quick internet search to see what pops up.
That’s said it’s easy for monitoring software to hide the taskbar icon, so if you don’t see anything unusual there, it doesn’t mean you don’t have monitoring software installed.
Checking the ports
The above tasks are easy to carry out even for people without technical knowledge. If you’ve checked the installed programs and you’re still reasonably suspicious that someone is monitoring you (and it’s not the TV telling you so) then as a next step you can check the computer’s ports.
There’s no need to recoil in horror, running the rule over ports is reasonably straightforward. Ports are a virtual data connection in which computers share information directly, so if you’ve got spy software on your system, a port could be open to enable the data transfer.
You can check all the open ports by going to Start, Control Panel, and Windows Firewall. Then click on ‘Allow a program or feature through Windows Firewall’ on the left hand side of the box. This will open another box and you’ll see a list of programs with check boxes next to them.
The ones that are checked are ‘open’ and the unchecked or unlisted ones are ‘closed’. Go through the list and see if there is a program you’re not familiar with or one that matches VNC, remote control, and so on suggesting a spying program. If you do discover one, you can simply halt it in its tracks by unchecking the box; putting paid to the snooping misdeeds.
However, if blocking spies was a simple as this, the spied upon would be rolling in clover and the spies would be scuttling off gnashing their teeth.
Unfortunately, it can be rather more complicated. Checking the ports is a necessary step and it may help identify and stop snoopware. However, in some cases the spying software may only have an out bound connection to a server.
In Windows, all out bound connections are allowed, which means nothing is blocked. If all the spying software does is record data and send it to a server, then it only uses an outbound connection and won’t show up in the ports list mentioned above.
One way to check this is to analyse something called the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) which will show you all the connections from your computer to other computers. It’s not as technical as it sounds; it just requires a few careful steps.
Luckily you can download a TCPView program which shows all the TCP connections. You’ll see a box which lists several columns. On the left side is the process name, which will be the programs running. You’ll see things like Mozilla Firefox (or the browser of your choice), BullGuard and other programs. Look at the ‘State’ column and you’ll see processes listed under Established. This means there is currently an open connection.
What you need to do is filter out of the list the processes you don’t recognize. BullGuard and Mozilla Firefox are to be expected but if there’s something you don’t understand you need to figure out what it is. This is made easy by simply doing an internet search for the process name. The search results will tell you whether the process is safe or not.
You can also check the Sent Packets and Sent Bytes columns, which instantly identifies which process is sending the most data from your computer. If someone is monitoring your computer, they have to be sending the data somewhere and you should see it here.
These are the basic techniques to establish whether you are being spied on via monitoring software that has been stealthily installed on your computer. And unless you’re being snooped upon by an intelligence agency or someone with deep technical expertise, you should be able to ‘out’ the snoop software. If after carrying these steps you do still have suspicions then perhaps you ought to seek help from your local computer shop.