Detect Computer and Email Monitoring
How to check if someone is monitoring your computer and email…
In the world of IT, it’s quite common for large corporations, offices and call centers to set up some kind of monitoring software to track each employers computer sessions, and on a more creative but sinister level, it’s also quite common for such software to be put to criminal use.
Falling victim to computer spying technology, which can be used to obtain passwords from key strokes, as well as other personal data stored on your machine or in the cloud, is no joke; an estimated 10 million people fall victim to identity theft every year, and the Internet, as well as other home or office networks are increasingly becoming prime targets when it comes to extracting such data.
Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 all feature what’s known as the built-in Remote Desktop. This allows another user on the same network to connect directly to your machine. Thankfully this feature is no threat when it comes to spying on your session as the “Remote Desktop on a workstation will only allow one user at a time to use the desktop.” [Microsoft Windows Answers]
Plus, Windows also informs the user every time someone wishes to connect to their computer, so there’s little chance of your session being monitored in this way.
Note: There is a hack for this, but in most cases you won’t have to worry. You’ve never really 100% safe when browsing a network, even super encrypted networks can be hacked. If government corporations and IT giants such SONY (eh hmm) have troubles, the average home user stands no chance if they were to come under direct attack from an expert hacker.
Basically, what this boils down to is that anyone wanting to anonymously connect to your machine will need third party software, which is way easier to detect. Programs used to spy on computer are typically known as remote control software or virtual network computing (VNC) software.
If you suspect there’s a similar type of software running on your machine, there are few ways you can check if someone is monitoring your session.
How To Detect If Your Computer Is Being Monitored
First you can simply check the programs installed on your machine. Many IT technicians assume people won’t be savvy enough to look for these pieces of software, so there’s a chance you could find them openly installed on machines linked up to office, call center and corporate networks.
Most of these pieces of software also install an icon in the task bar, so when it’s running you might be able to locate it by hovering and clicking on the appropriate icon.
Check the task bar for VNC Monitoring Software
If you don’t see anything in the task bar, then head to:
- Start > All Programs, and check the list of programs.
Alternatively you can go to:
- My Computer > C: drive > Program Files.
From here you can view the folders each program has created upon installation.
There’s a very good chance you’ll come across some applications you’ve never heard of. If that’s the case, a quick Google search will tell you exactly what the piece of software does.
Similarly, you can check your Windows processes in the Task Manager for diagnosis. Here you’ll be able to view all the processes running at any one time on your machine.
- Press Ctrl + Alt + Del to open the Task Manager.
Check the Task Manager for Running Processes
The first thing you should do is scan the details in the User Name column. You should only see your User Name, Local Service, Network Service, and System. If anything else is listed here, it means someone is watching your session.
Next you can check through your processes. Some, such as WINWORD.EXE (Microsoft Word), will be easy enough to indentify, but you’ll no doubt have to run a quick Google search to find out what others, such as the ATKOSD.EXE (an audio driver for XP), do.
Again, you’re looking for anything that could resemble a piece of remote control software, for example WINVNC.EXE.
There could be any amount from 36-50 processes running on a typical machine (depending of course, on how many programs are installed on the computer) so be prepared for lots of searches the first time you do this.
Should you find such software; with administrative rights you’ll be able to easily uninstall the program by heading to:
- My Computer > Add/Remove Programs.
However, if someone went to trouble of installing software to monitor your session, you’d like to think they’d have the intelligence to try and cover up their spying – and it is possible to install such a program and hide it from the view of your average computer user.
So if you’ve searched through all your computer programs and find nothing, yet you still suspect that someone is watching your every move, then the next port of call (excuse the lame geek pun) would be to check your computers communication ports.
Any data shared with your computer – packets transferred to and from the Internet or any other network – must be sent and received on these ports. Windows Firewall works by blocking certain ports to protect your machine.
Third party spying apps work by hijacking and transferring data through one of these ports. Thankfully it’s possible to check and configure which ports are being used, and what programs have access to them.
To modify the programs allowed to access the Internet, head to:
- Control Panel > Windows Firewall.
- Navigate to the tab labeled ‘Exceptions’.
Modify Programs Allowed To Access The Internet
Here you’ll be able to view which programs have access to a network and on what port they are doing so.
First off, scroll down the list and check for any programs that could be ‘VNC’ or ‘remote control’ related. If you’re not sure what the programs are, again a quick Google search will tell you exactly what you’re looking at.
Should you locate any software, as long as you’re logged in as administrator, you should have no problem, removing it in the same manner already mentioned:
- My Computer > Add/Remove Programs > Uninstall ‘specific program’.
How to Detect If Your Email Is Being Monitoring
To monitor emails in a similar fashion, POP and SMTP are configured to send and receive emails on the networks servers, where they can also be stored and viewed later.
If you use email regularly at work, there’s a good chance your account is being monitored. And if you use an email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird, it’s actually very easy for company to set up monitoring for your email.
Thankfully it’s also just as easy to find out if your email is being monitored in such a way, however it’s not always a good idea to alter these settings, company’s put them there for a reason and trying to bypass them can sometimes cost you your job, and can even result in legal action being taken against you. For that reason never modify your work’s computer network settings, and always use your personal email with caution when at work. However if you want to be sure that your email is being monitored:
In Outlook (Thunderbird will be similar) go to:
- Tools > Email Accounts > Properties.
Check the values of your for POP and SMTP server. If your email is being monitored it will be directed to network’s server, where all emails can be recorded and viewed.
How To Detect If Your Web Browsing Experience Is Being Monitored
To monitor web browsing experiences without third party software, a network must employ what’s known as a proxy server to intercept the data. The proxy server acts a bridge where data is first sent. Here it can be modified, saved, or even denied from being transferred to another server.
To check if your computer is connected to a proxy server go to:
- [Internet Explorer] Tools > Internet Options > Connections > LAN Settings.
- [Firefox] Tools > Options > Advanced > Network > Connections > Settings.
If you’re going through a proxy, the ‘Proxy Server’ box will be checked. There will also be an assigned I.P. address and a port number.