Make no doubt about it, online spying is becoming more prevalent and more sophisticated. It is important to understand that there are different levels of spying. For example, Alexa, popular software owned by Amazon.com doesn't actually log your keystrokes or take system snapshots but it does record some surfing activity. However, programs like Spector are very skilled at stealthily gathering information including passwords, surfing history, and even chat logs and e-mails. If you have not done so already take a moment to read our Introduction to Spyware located here here.
So how do you know if you are being spied upon? We list the key points below on how to monitor your system and check for the signs of spy software.
1) Work Environment: Assume you are being monitored. Most workplaces have the right to do this so by default so get used to the fact that someone is monitoring you. There are several ways employers can monitor employees. Some use activity logging software to see what programs are being accessed and for how long. Naturally, many will use spy software programs also known as "snoop ware" or a key-logger to take snapshots and log all keystrokes. An employer may actually monitor internet traffic as it moves across an intranet. Responsible employers will have policies on monitoring posted on monitoring practices, P2P file sharing, IM or chat usage and e-mail and web surfing.
2) Anti-Spy Programs: A popular way to find out if someone is spying on you. Anti-Spy programs look for signatures or traces that are specific to certain spy software. Some simply do text string scanning to find them, and others actually extract and attempt to remove the spyware. Be careful of the ones that use only text string scanning. Text string scanning can give false positives and in some cases it actually it can accidentally target anti-spy software! Beware! There are a number of rogue anti-spyware applications that will inject spyware into your system instead of removing it.
Of course, Anti-Spy software can be a double-edged sword! Many spies will actually buy anti-spy software to scan and check to make sure their spyware is not being detected. There is a hidden arms race that rages between spyware vendors and anti-spy companies.
3) System Resources: Poorly written spy software will usually put an enormous drag on system resources. Watch out for poor system resources, running out of memory, lots of hard disk activity or a screen that "flickers". This is caused by some spy software programs as they take snapshots of the computer screen that requires system resources.
4) Machine Access: Watch for people trying to gain physical access to your machine. Many software programs are designed for spying but require physical access to the target machine.
5) Installation Monitors: Currently on the market are software programs that will log every installation that occurs on your machine. It is best to leave these hidden on the system. It is possible to catch the installation of many spies in this way.
6) Anti-Virus: Many anti-virus programs can catch prolific spy software because they are often classified as "Trojan Horses". Keep spy software up to date and make sure it is running in the background. This might not protect you against from some spy software but it may let you know if any repurposed Trojan horses have been installed. Keep in mind that Trojans (see below) like NetBus or DeepBO are also classified as spy software because they open up a system to outside connections. Don not be lulled into a false sense of security because you have one installed. They are helpful but there is no such thing as 100% foolproof protection.
7) Personal Firewall: In today's treacherous Internet it is very helpful to also run a personal firewall. Firewalls will alert you to both inbound and outbound activity. You can control programs allowed in and out of your system. Watch for suspicious programs you do not recognize trying to send data out of your system.
8) Downloading Smarts: Simply put use common sense when downloading and avoid sources you cannot trust. If you are someone who frequents "warez" or crack sites you will more than likely encounter a Trojan or virus. The same applies for Peer-two-Peer applications as well.
9) Common Sense: Be careful about what you install on your system. Don't run e-mail attachments and read the EULA (end user license agreement). Keep an Up-To-Date Anti-Spy Package on your machine.
10) Spy Software: Ironically, you can monitor for spy software by installing spy software on your system first! Since spy software can record all keystrokes it can monitor and record the installation of another spy software. Again, this turns into a virtual arms race, but keep in mind that many spy programs are vulnerable to anti-spy attacks.