In the immortal words of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Computer bugging isn’t especially difficult; it’s cheap, the “tools” of the trade are freely available, and it’s easy for unwitting users to be targeted — often without realizing it. If you have your suspicions, or if something feels off, there are some ways to connect the dots. From there, your next call should be to Barefoot Professional Investigations for computer forensics and debugging.
Signs Your Computer is Bugged
Your computer used to boot up quickly. Programs would launch fast, and run with no problems. Suddenly, it seems that everything is slower, and less efficient. If you’re on a desktop, you may notice that the fan’s working overtime. If you’re on a laptop, you may notice that the battery drains faster, or that the computer feels warmer to the touch than usual. While this can have other sources, it’s worthwhile to err on the side of caution.
High Resource Use
Even when your hardware seems to work normally, you may find that your software is sluggish. Open your task manager; if you don’t have many applications open but your processor and RAM usage are sky-high, look to see where those resources are being used. Sometimes there’s a clear culprit (keeping half a dozen tabs open will slow things down, for instance). But if the process is one you don’t recognize, or if a program you use often suddenly takes a lot more bandwidth than usual, proceed with caution; monitoring software and malware can be very resource-hungry.
Audio and Video Recording
You’re working on a spreadsheet and a light appears in your peripheral vision. You realize that your webcam is on — and, for the life of you, you can’t remember setting it to record. You may not have; hacking computers’ cameras and microphones is extremely common.
Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to review the programs installed on your computer. You should recognize most of them, since it’s common to use the same programs day in and day out. If you see something you haven’t used in a long time, uninstall it; older programs — especially if they’re unsupported — can be a major source of security vulnerabilities. If you see something you don’t recall installing, Google it. Sometimes you’ll find that it’s tied to another program on your computer. Other times, you’ll find that it’s meant to exploit your system. In the latter case, it’s better to get computer debugging rather than trying to remove the offending program yourself.
Strange Internet Connections
Many of the processes and programs on your computer make use of internet connections, and it can be challenging to separate the signal from the noise. We suggest closing as many things as possible and checking active internet connections. If you see a connection that doesn’t belong, it’s entirely possible that your activity is being monitored remotely. Similarly, network ports are another point of vulnerability that should be paid close attention.
Warnings from Your Antivirus
Needless to say, your computer — regardless of the model — should have a reputable antivirus installed, and once it’s installed it should be kept up-to-date. If it detects spyware, key trackers, or other common types of malware, it will tell you. Don’t ignore those warnings. If you have an IT department, forward warnings to them; if you’re on your own, it helps to stay informed about the malware you’re dealing with. We also suggest that you run scans and cleanups on schedule, and make sure your firewall settings are up to date.
A Closing Thought
Not every sign we’ve listed above necessarily means that you’re being monitored. On one hand, when you have an older computer, updates, registry cruft, operating system changes, and even something as simple as dust can cause poor performance. System crashes can be caused by even minor incompatibilities between different software you’re using, especially after a major update. And if you’re working for someone else, it’s a best practice to assume that your performance and computer use are being monitored.
With that being said, if you think that someone or something malevolent is to blame, it’s best to know for sure. Curtail computer use — especially with regard to financials and other sensitive information — and, whatever you do, don’t try to fix the problem yourself. You’re better served getting in touch with a professional investigator that knows what to look for, and knows the ins and outs of computer debugging if they find something untoward. In the Charlotte area, your first call should be to Barefoot Professional Investigations.