KIM KOMANDO

Is someone (or something) snooping on your computer?

Jan 29, 2024, 4:05 AM

Person typing on sketchy-looking computer screen....

Do you ever find yourself worried someone might be spying on your computer? Check these steps to secure your privacy. (Pexels Photo)

(Pexels Photo)

By now, you know that online privacy is a thing of the past. Sure, there are things you can do to remove your info from the web or stop companies from tracking you.

But what if the culprit is someone you know? I hear from folks all the time who suspect someone knows a little too much for a very sinister reason. Here’s a check to see if a copy of everything you do on your PC or Mac is being gathered and sent to who knows who.

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1. Check the Task Manager or Activity Monitor

I don’t mean some creep is logging into your computer daily, though that’s certainly possible. More likely, the person planted malware that does all the work behind the scenes. That could be a hacker, a jealous ex, a relative or even your boss.

Malware comes in various forms that all behave a bit differently. Some are impossible to miss — like ransomware —and others keep a low profile.

Spyware is subtle. It hides in your system, keeping track of every password you type, every video call you make and every email you send. The good news is even sneaky software can leave behind breadcrumbs.

Your first stop is the spot that gives you an overview of everything happening on your machine.

On a Windows PC:

  • Open the Task Manager by hitting Ctrl + Shift + Esc. Under the Processes tab, you’ll see the apps and background processes running on your PC.
  • Look through the list. If you see a name you don’t recognize, do a search online to see what turns up. Sometimes, these programs and background processes are legitimate and of no concern, even if you don’t know the name at first glance.
  • To close out an app or process, right-click and hit End task.

On a Mac:

  • To open the Activity Monitor, hit Command + Spacebar to open Spotlight Search.
  • Type Activity Monitor and press Enter. Check over the list for anything you don’t recognize.
  • To close out a program or process, double click, then hit Quit.

2. Spot the red flags that something is up

One telltale sign of a malware infection? Processes start on their own. Don’t write it off if an app launches itself out of the blue.

Say you only have a couple of apps that open when you start up your computer. If a different window briefly appears before flicking out of existence, it could be a spyware program loading. They’re designed to disappear.

Keep tabs on what should happen when you start your computer so you know if anything strange is happening.

How to check or change startup apps on a PC:

  • Click the Start menu.
  • Select Settings (cog icon) and click Apps.
  • In the left menu, click Startup at the bottom.

The Startup panel displays the apps installed on your machine. If Windows has measured the impact of that app on your PC, you will see a rating next to it. Options include No impact, Low impact, Medium impact, and High impact.

An app with a high impact can slow down your startup time. Go through the list and determine which apps you don’t need immediately after startup. Toggle each slider next to the app to turn it on or off.

How to change startup apps on a Mac:

  • Click on the Apple menu, then System Preferences.
  • Click Users & Groups.
  • Select your User Account, then click Login Items on the top right.

Here you’ll see a list of the applications that open automatically when you log in.

To prevent an app from running automatically, click Remove a login item. Then select the app’s name you want to block and click the Remove button below the list.

You can use the checkbox to hide items you would like to launch. Hit the plus symbol under the list and find it on your computer to add a new item.

3. Stay up to date

Updates pop up when you’re busy, and you don’t want to deal with bugs and other issues the latest version of Windows or macOS introduces. Still, keeping your system up to date is one of the best ways to keep up with the constant flood of junk looking to root its way into your computer. Just do it.

To update your PC:

  • Click the Start Menu and open Settings.
  • Click Update & Security > Windows Update.

You’ll see if updates are available for download. If an update is available, click Download and Install. If you don’t see an available update, click Check for Updates to force the process.

To update your Mac:

  • Click the Apple icon from the menu bar at the top of the screen.
  • Hit System Preferences > Software Update.

From here, you can also enable automatic updates by checking the box at the bottom of the window. For more options, click Advanced.

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Is someone (or something) snooping on your computer?