How To Know if There’s Monitoring Software on Your Computer
Computers are incredibly useful devices. They give you access to a nearly unfathomable amount of information and entertainment. Unfortunately, using a computer can quickly transform into a scary experience when you suspect that monitoring software has been installed on your computer.
If you suspect that monitoring software has been installed on your computer, you can detect it by using several methods to check for programs and processes you don’t recognize, looking for signs of input monitoring, and using antivirus programs to alert you to unwanted software.
In this article, I’ll be explaining what computer monitoring programs are and the best methods you can use to check whether they’re installed on your computer. I’ll also explain how you can tell if the monitoring software you may find on your computer was legally installed.
What Are Computer Monitoring Programs?
Computer monitoring programs are a type of spyware typically installed by employers and parents that allows them to access data like your key entry logs, internet history, and even recordings of your screen activity.
While these programs are typically legal when applied correctly by parents, schools, and employers, there are some restrictions to how they can be legally used. Additionally, if it was your school or employer that installed the monitoring program, it’s legally required that you’re aware of the monitoring.
Typically, you consent to potential monitoring when you sign the forms for device or network use that you’re often given at the start of a school year or your employment term. Regardless of whether or not you consent to monitoring, knowing what information your parents or employers have access to is crucial. Luckily, there are a few simple methods you can use to detect monitoring programs on your computer.
How To Check for Monitoring Software on Your Computer
Fortunately, there are several ways through which you can monitor your computer and ascertain whether or not you are being monitored.
Determine if Your Device Is Personal or Institution-Owned
If your device was assigned to you by your employer or school, it’s safe to say that it probably has monitoring software. Employees and students are given very few privacy rights, and unfortunately, any standing that you may have is generally signed away at the beginning of your school attendance or employment.
If your device was assigned to you by your school or workplace, you’re probably better off only using the device for work-related activities and innocuous purposes, anyways. While nobody would blink at an occasional Google search for recipes, you should generally assume that anything else you’re browsing can and will be seen when you use an institution-owned device.
Check Windows Task Manager for Monitoring Software
If you believe that your computer is being monitored, the best way you can start to check for monitoring software is to look at what applications are running with Windows Task Manager. Here’s how you can use Task Manager to check for unwanted monitoring software:
- Click on the Start menu and search for the Task Manager application. Wait for it to open.
- Scroll through the Task Manager window, inspecting each running application. Anything with a non-descript name should be searched on Google. Spyware and monitoring programs often attempt to disguise themselves as legitimate Windows processes.
- Click on the Details tab of Task Manager. As you did before with the Processes tab, go through each running file and scrutinize anything that appears suspicious.
Unfortunately, many programs can successfully conceal themselves in Task Manager. You may need to search your computer using in-depth methods, such as checking your computer’s program list and even going into safe mode to check the startup programs.
Look in Your Computer’s Program List for Software You Don’t Recognize
If you don’t notice anything unusual in your computer’s active tasks, there are still some other interfaces you can use to check for unusual software.
One of the best places to look is in your computer’s app section, which can be found by navigating to Settings > Apps > Apps & Features and scrolling through the App List. If you notice anything unusual in the list, you should research online to determine whether it might be a monitoring application.
Check Your Computer’s Startup Programs From Safe Mode
While checking your computer’s task list when it’s booted can provide helpful insights into whether or not you’re being monitored, most monitoring programs can hide from users. When you boot your computer from safe mode, however, these programs aren’t able to start up and complete their concealment process — meaning that you have an excellent opportunity to detect them. Here are the steps you need to take to check your computer’s programs from safe mode.
- Boot your computer into advanced startup. You can do this by repeatedly pressing your computer’s boot key, which varies by manufacturer. Alternatively, navigate to System > Recovery and find the advanced startup option. Click restart now.
- Once you’re in the advanced startup settings, press 4 or f4 to boot into safe mode. Make sure to select the classic safe mode, rather than the safe mode with networking option. Wait for your computer to boot, and log in when prompted.
- Press Win+R and enter ‘msconfig’. Wait for your computer to boot the System Configuration application.
- Navigate to the startup tag and look through your computer’s startup programs. If there are any programs enabled that you don’t recognize, use another device to search online and determine whether or not they are monitoring software.
Check Your Computer’s Active Network Connections
While spyware and monitoring programs can conceal most hints of their existence, there are always ways to find them. One way you can detect many monitoring programs is by checking your computer’s active network conditions.
If the information being gathered from your computer is being sent to another computer, you should be able to see the active connection between them. The best way to look at your computer’s active connections is to use the Resource monitor. Here’s how you can check:
- Press Win+R and enter ‘resmon’. Wait for your system to start the Resource Monitor application.
- Select the network tab of the Resource Monitor. Look through the entries of the Processes with Network Activity section.
- If you see an entry you don’t recognize, research it online. This will help you identify any monitoring software that may otherwise be concealed.
Look for Signs of Webcam Usage
If you believe that your computer may have a monitoring application installed that watches your webcam, there are some signs you can look out for to identify the monitoring. Here are the most common signs of webcam monitoring:
- Your webcam’s indicator light is on. Most webcams have a light that illuminates when they’re being used. If you’re not actively using your webcam, you should quickly work to identify what application is doing so.
- Your webcam’s default saving folder has been changed. Generally, webcam footage is saved in a subfolder of the default Videos folder. If you notice that it’s saving in a different location than usual, this may be the result of monitoring. :
Check Your Antivirus’s Exceptions for Programs You Don’t Recognize
Antivirus programs are highly sophisticated, and they only continue to grow better at detecting viruses with each passing year. At this point, they’re generally able to detect spyware without any problems — and they often raise flags about the processes of legitimate monitoring software, too.
To address this issue and help keep the monitoring discreet, many people create exceptions within the antivirus programs of monitored devices to ensure that they won’t alert the user to the monitoring. If you know to check your antivirus’s exceptions, however, you’re able to directly see what monitoring applications are being allowed to run.
You can check whether an antivirus exception was made for computer monitoring software with the following steps:
- Click Start and enter the name of your antivirus program. The default antivirus program on Windows computers is Windows Defender, but if you’ve chosen another antivirus program, you will need to search for it. Wait for the program to boot.
- Navigate to the settings of your antivirus program. This is generally where you will find exceptions or exclusions listed, but depending on your antivirus program, you may need to dig around to find the list.
- Thoroughly check the list of exclusions provided in your antivirus program. You should even check exclusions with nondescript names, as they may be concealed monitoring programs.
Are Computer Monitoring Programs Legal?
Computer monitoring programs are legal to use in the United States in certain circumstances. In particular, they are legal for employers to use with employees, schools to use with students, and parents to use with minor children. Some states require that employers get consent for monitoring.
It’s completely legal to have computer monitoring programs like Wolfeye Remote Screen, too. These programs are excellent for making sure devices are being used productively and appropriately. Wolfeye in particular offers a huge amount of useful tools, including live screen monitoring and automatic archival of web activity.
The only legal restrictions to computer monitoring programs apply to how they’re used with other adults. If you install computer monitoring software on your spouse’s device without their consent, for example, it would be highly illegal monitoring. If you install the software on a device that your adult child and minor child share, you would need to notify your adult child about the monitoring software to make it legal to install.
Is It Legal for My Parents To Install a Monitoring Program on My Computer?
It is legal for your parents to install monitoring software on your computer in the United States, as long as you’re under 18. In fact, the only scenario where it is legal to install monitoring software without permission is when a parent installs the software on their minor child’s computer.
There are some legal limitations, of course. If anyone who isn’t a minor child or ward of the adult uses the computer, the adult is legally required to notify them about the monitoring software before installing the software. So while it isn’t legal for your parents to install monitoring software on a personal device, there are some legal limitations they will need to take heed of when it comes to shared or borrowed devices.
Is It Legal for Another Adult To Install a Monitoring Program on My Computer?
It is never legal for another adult to install a monitoring program on your computer without your consent. Even when you’re the spouse of the person who intends to monitor you, they have no legal right to do so without explicit consent.
If monitoring software is installed on an adult’s computer without consent, it is considered highly illegal unauthorized electronic spying and tracking. This is true even for shared devices, since it is legally required to notify users of a device when monitoring software is installed on it.
Is It Legal for My Employer or School To Install a Monitoring Program on My Computer?
As long as consent is given for monitoring, it is completely legal for your employer or school to install a monitoring program on your computer. Generally, schools and businesses require you to consent to device monitoring at the beginning of your school year or employment period.
The legal requirements that employers and schools must follow to monitor students and employees vary by state. In particular, Connecticut, Delaware, Texas, and New York are the most progressive regarding employee consent, requiring employers to notify staff before any monitoring takes place.
What Should I Do if Monitoring Software Was Illegally Downloaded on My Device?
If you believe that the circumstances in which your device is being monitored are illegal, you may need to seek legal assistance. You should look for a knowledgeable attorney who can help you access the resources you need to regain your privacy, up to and potentially including a protection or restraining order.
It can be extremely scary to notice that your device is being monitored. The internet is a wonderful place to explore and learn, but it takes a completely different tone when you know everything you do is watched. We hope that our tips on identifying monitoring software help you keep your personal information safe.
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- Worktime: 19 most asked questions on U.S. employee monitoring laws