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Can someone spy on my computer?

Answer: With all the different types of spyware and malware floating around, it is natural to wonder if other users can see what you are doing on your computer. The good news is that it is very unlikely.

Most modern operating systems, such as Mac OS X and Windows Vista, have a high level of security that prevents unauthorized access. Even if there is a partial breach in your system's security, it is still nearly impossible for another user to spy on your system. For example, a major security hole may give an unknown user access to a directory on your hard drive, but he or she would still not be able to "see" your computer. Also, spyware programs may collect data without your knowledge, but this information is only acquired from the spyware program itself, not the rest of the system.

The most likely way for someone to spy on your system is with a Remote Desktop program. These programs, such as PC Anywhere, Windows Remote Desktop Connection (RDC), and Apple Remote Desktop, allow users to view another computer's screen on their desktop. Of course, the computer being accessed must allow incoming connections for this to happen. This option is typically turned off by default. However, if your computer is part of an office network, you may want to ask the network administrator if your computer has remote access enabled. If so, it may be possible for someone on your local network to view your computer screen.

Fortunately, most remote desktop programs have notifications that alert the user if the computer is being observed by someone else. These notifications may appear in the Task Bar (Windows) or the Menu Bar (Mac). So if you're at work and you see an icon that looks like a pair of eyes or a binoculars appear somewhere on your desktop, someone may in fact be watching your screen. It might be time to close Solitaire and get back to work.

Published: September 18, 2008 — by Per Christensson

Answer from the PC Help Center