Is Someone’s Monitoring Your Internet Activity?
We are constantly being advised that we need to keep our eyes on all of our online data, but as more and more companies do business online it can be extremely difficult to tell where our data is, and who can be using it.
Many of us run Anti-Virus Programs in an effort to stay secure, but is it enough?
There is a certain amount of trust we need to give online companies; generally, it’s the unscrupulous, random Internet traffic monitor that can be a real threat.
Know your Potential Risks
Although one needs to know where his most precious data is stored (such as on bank websites, payment processors, and large websites that store data on us), this is not the same as ensuring no one is specifically targeting us. Apart from bank account numbers and other such financial details, it is just as common for someone to begin monitoring all of our Internet activity for personal reasons – for example, a jealous ex-boyfriend, or a boss that wants to keep tabs on what his employees are doing. Do not assume that the attacks will come from a mysterious hacker from afar; it is more likely to be friends, family or acquaintances who are monitoring your Internet activity.
Your Electronic Trail
Let us take an example of accessing your personal email from your work computer. This seemingly simple process requires the use of many computers, and at all points someone may be listening or logging your activity.
Firstly, on your computer, as you type your password, could be a key-logging application that stores everything that is being typed on that computer. Secondly, there may be key-logging hardware that’s plugged into the computer or hidden along the computer’s hardware trail. Also, all information sent and received through your company’s servers, such as your access to your email, may be being logged by them by sophisticated software, principally designed to ensure employees are not going to disallowed websites.
If you use a wireless network, this can be complicated by the fact that potentially other people on the network may gain access to your network, and indeed your computer. If you computer is not running a firewall or protective software, it is possible for people on other computers connected to the same network as you to gain access to your computer and install logging software.
Once your Internet request leaves your company, it will travel through many exterior computers, such as your company’s Internet Service Provider (ISP), multiple routing computers, and finally to your personal email server’s computer. Each of these has the potential to be logging activity, and many do. This is under the guise of checking for users performing illegal activities.
You Cannot Completely Be Safe
The next thing to come to terms with is that everything you access, upload, or download, is potentially being traced and stored in a number of different ways. These are the weak points in Internet security, and are impossible to completely eradicate. It is very difficult to conclusively discover if someone is listening-in to your internet activities; all we can do is try to stop it from happening.
- Step 1 – Check your Hardware for Key-Loggers
If you become suspicious that someone is monitoring your Internet access surreptitiously, first check your computer for any exterior hardware that seems to be performing no duty. Common hardware key-loggers can be invisible to detection software, and are therefore hard to detect without physically checking. The most basic will be connected between your keyboard and your computer; logging every keystroke for an attacker to later use. More sophisticated hardware key-loggers may be connected within your network, so check for any small device which takes in a network cable coming from your computer before sending the data on.
- Step 2 – Check your Installed Programs for Suspicious Items
Basic monitoring software that was installed in the standard way will show up under installed programs. You can access this list by going into the Control Panel, choosing Add or Remove Programs, and reading through the list of programs there. If there are any items there that you do not recognize, research their name online to see what they are there for. Check to see whether they are common software used for monitoring users.
- Step 3 – Check Running Processes
More devious programs will run as services and try to hide their existence, and will therefore not show up on the list of installed programs. On Windows, press Ctrl, Shift and Esc at the same time to bring up the list of processes. These are essentially like programs that are running – and will include items such as your web browser – but also more hidden processes such as those that control printers, or network access. You can look through this list for any suspicious items that may confirm there is a program running listening to your every move. Again, check online to see what kind of program the process is.
- Step 4 – Run Anti-Spyware Software
Spyware is the term used for software running on your computer which is listening in to your internet actions. There are hundreds of common variants on these programs that may be used by potential criminals and eavesdroppers, and it is very hard to keep up with their different names and tactics used to keep hidden on your computer. Using anti-spyware software, many of which are free, can eradicate the vast majority of them. They can also run in the background and ensure that no new threats are installed.
These days, almost all anti-virus software includes anti-spyware capabilities. Bitdefender from Bitdefender UK, and Kasperspy from Kasperspy Lab UK are two leading Anti-Virs software program, both of which include excellent Anti-Spyware capabilities.
- Step 5 – Remember the Simple Stuff
Don’t leave things open to the opportunist snooper. Have a password on your computer, and lock the screen every time you leave your desk. Don’t leave a laptop in a situation for a long time that would allow someone time to access it and install key-logging or spyware software. Ensure that your wireless network passwords are strong and not available for everyone to access.
Ensure that you are running firewall software when connecting to the Internet on more public networks, such as in coffee shops. If you are planning on accessing sensitive data on these networks a lot, think about investing in a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which is a method that allows your network traffic to be encrypted over the vast majority of your internet access.
Our mantra for this subject is this: get Anti-Virus Software that has Anti-Spyware features included. There’s no substitute for this simple step in protecting your privacy on the Internet.