How to Know If Your Computer is Being Monitored

Spying eye icon, laptop and two cameras watching over the laptop on the light background
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Quick Guide: How to Know If Your Computer Is Being Monitored

Are you concerned that someone may be spying on your computer? It’s not an outlandish concern. Modern spyware has become too easy to get a hold of, and it’s practically invincible once installed on your PC. Below are some tell-tale signs that you or your computer is being monitored:

  • Your computer becomes excruciatingly slow.
  • Your webcam randomly turns on.
  • Your browser keeps getting redirected.
  • Pop-ups flood your screen.
  • Your computer heats up more than usual.

There are several crucial steps that help prevent spyware from infecting your computer, such as keeping your system updated and monitoring active connections.

Our number one recommendation is to get an antivirus program so it can scan your device and root out suspicious files and programs. Norton 360 is currently our top-rated antivirus.

Get Norton 360 for Your Device

To learn more, keep reading our comprehensive guide on knowing if your computer is being monitored.

Spying has become an everyday threat to most users. Hackers constantly develop new ways to monitor our computers and harvest as much of our data as possible.

To make matters worse, monitoring apps are difficult to detect. This means you may have no idea that your device has become compromised. But worry not — in this article, we dive deep into signs that your computer is being spied on, how to detect and remove spyware, and how to prevent it from happening again.


How to Know If Your Computer is Being Monitored

Unfortunately, there’s no single way of determining if your computer is being spied on. The most sophisticated spying software can sneak past even the best antivirus program available.

To spot a monitoring app on your device, you need to constantly watch out for telltale symptoms. Below, we discuss some common signs your computer might be monitored.

Infographic showing how to know if your computer is being monitored

1. Your webcam is recording without your authorization

Hacker coming out of the webcamIf your webcam light is on and you’re not using it, then that might mean someone else is.

Spyware can be installed on your computer by hackers — or even by a person you know. These malicious programs give hackers the ability to remotely activate your webcam and microphone. Once activated, they can use your camera to record you.

Hackers who catch you in vulnerable situations can use the information they collect to blackmail you. You can protect yourself against this by physically blocking your camera’s access to you. Make sure to tape over your webcam when you’re not using it, as well as routinely check which programs have access to your webcam.

To check which programs have access to your webcam, follow these steps on your Windows device:

  1. Open Windows Settings.
  2. Choose “Privacy and security.”
  3. Select “Camera” from the options on the left.
  4. Go through this list and see which programs last accessed your webcam or which one is currently accessing it.

2. Your task manager or activity monitor is disabled

A common sign that you might be infected with malware is if your task manager is disabled. This means that you can’t open your task manager program and see which programs are running. Checking this is as quick as making a few keyboard strokes.

To open your Windows Task Manager, click Ctrl + Shift + Esc. Alternatively, you can click the magnifying glass button on your desktop toolbar, then search for “Task Manager.”

To open your macOS Activity Monitor, click Command + Spacebar. This will open your Spotlight search field. Search for and then select “Activity Monitor.”

3. Your computer becomes slow

Computervirus Laptop

Trojans and other malicious software tend to make your computer slower. This is because they suck up a lot of CPU, RAM, and hard disk input/output on your computer. They run programs simultaneously that, among other things, copy files, send a lot of your data to their server, mine cryptocurrencies, and more.

For this reason, you should pay attention to how responsive your computer is. For example, does it take longer than usual to boot? Are programs taking longer than usual to open? These are just a few signs that your computer might be infected with monitoring software.

On the other hand, a valid program that is incorrectly configured could be to blame for your device’s slowness. You can check your task manager window to see which programs are using your computer’s resources.

Keep in mind that some programs are simply resource-intensive by default, especially if your device isn’t equipped to run them. For instance, a laptop with an old graphics card will struggle to run Adobe Photoshop or the latest video games.

4. Your browser often gets redirected

Internet search results that are unrelated to your inquiry are sometimes an indication that you have been hacked. For instance, if you type “car” into a search engine and get results that have nothing to do with vehicles, then something is likely wrong.

You can look through installed toolbars and plugins to try and spot any plugins that you didn’t download and set up yourself.

Additionally, browser redirections might be caused by sophisticated software known as a browser hijacker. This software hijacks your browser and sends you to unauthorized, mostly hostile, websites. One motive could be to generate ad revenue by redirecting your search results to advertisements.

Some common browser hijackers that cause redirections are CoolWebSearch, CouponServer, and GoSave. These malicious programs can end up in your browser in various ways, such as by clicking on suspicious links sent to your email.

5. Your computer heats up frequently

Malware frequently strains the capabilities of your computer, causing your device to overheat. This is primarily because they execute numerous programs at once. Adware and bitcoin miners are examples of resource-intensive software that can overheat your computer.

Investigate if you notice such indicators emerging abruptly. Checking your task manager can be a good place to start. If an app seems to be using up too many resources on your computer, try shutting it down. If that doesn’t work, install an antivirus program and run a deep search of your device.

You can also install temperature monitoring software. Checking your CPU temperature is as easy as installing and using monitoring software and then reading the value.

The best tools for checking CPU temperature on Windows are AIDA64, HWiINFO, or HWMonitor. On Mac, popular temperature monitoring tools include Temp Monitor, Monity, and SMART Utility.

Your computer’s temperature should hover around 120 °F (48.9 °C) when idle and 175 °F (79.4 °C) when under stress. Anything above that should be investigated further. Again, it could be a legitimate program that’s stressing out your device or even a hardware malfunction such as the system fan. But it doesn’t hurt to check.

6. You got logged out of websites you automatically log in to

If a hacker has access to your computer, they might log you out of your accounts, so they can capture your keystrokes using a keylogger. This means a hacker can discover your password if you type it with a keylogger installed.

Keep an eye on how your browser behaves, and keep track of the accounts you’ve logged out of. It’s possible your cookies were deleted, which is why you were logged out. However, if not, then you need to investigate more closely. Open your task manager and search for any apps you didn’t install yourself or that have odd names. Then, uninstall them.

7. You have strange browser activity

Do not visit unsecure websites iconYour browser provides access to a lot of your data, such as your social media information, bank account details, and other crucial information that could be appealing to a hacker. For this reason, there are numerous ways hackers can hijack your browser to get access to this information.

Keep an eye out for strange browser activity. Here are just some examples:

  • Your browser’s homepage has changed.
  • You have browser extensions you didn’t install.
  • There are toolbars on the browser you didn’t install yourself.

8. You have weird programs installed on your computer

Hackers use malicious software to access your computer. Because in some cases these are presented as legitimate software, you may accidentally download malware without knowing it.

For instance, malware is frequently spread using torrents. This means you might be excited to download Microsoft Word for free — only for it to contain malware.

Be cautious about the installed programs on your computer, and remove them permanently if they seem to behave differently. The programs might, for instance, have odd names or extensions such as the usual .exe and not so common .com, .scr, .bat, or .pif.

If you see a program with an unfamiliar extension, fire up your antivirus and look up these programs’ file names on Google to see if it gets flagged.

9. You receive a ransomware attack message

What-is-Ransomware-IconA ransomware attack is one of the most frequent and harmful computer attacks in recent years. Ransomware attacks your computer or network and encrypts all of your data. Then, to break the encryption and regain access to your files, hackers will ask you to send a specified sum of money using cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. In other words, they will hold your files ransom — hence the term “ransomware.”

If this happens to you, we strongly advise against paying hackers to get your files back.  The best course of action in this scenario is always to contact the relevant authorities. In the USA, for example, you can contact CISA or the FBI to report ransomware.

When reporting a ransomware attack, you must have as much information about the attack as possible. Here are just some of the information authorities might ask of you:

  • Your personal information or your organization’s information (industry, business type, size)
  • Approximate date and time of the ransomware attack
  • How the attack occurred (via email link or attachment, internet browsing, etc.)
  • A copy or photo of the ransom demand note or splash screen
  • Name of the ransomware variant (usually included in the ransom note or encrypted file)

10. You get strange and frequent pop-ups on your desktop

Random popups on your browser, and occasionally even on your desktop, are a dead giveaway that you have malware on your system. This is primarily brought on by clicking on an advertisement banner on a website, which causes malicious code to be injected into your browser to enable pop-ups. In other instances, your browser’s toolbars may be responsible for the pop-ups that display advertisements.

To get rid of this, check to make sure there aren’t any installed toolbars you didn’t authorize yourself. In extreme cases, the popups can appear right on your desktop, which means they are caused by malware. We recommend installing an effective antivirus to scan and root out the malware.


How to Detect and Remove Spyware on Your Computer

Infographic showing how to detect and remove Spyware on your computer

Detecting a monitoring app isn’t easy, even if you’re tech-savvy. It requires a deep understanding of your operating system and how spyware behaves. Fortunately, there are tools you can use to detect and remove spyware. Below, we discuss the various ways you can detect and remove monitoring apps from your computer.

1. Use a reputable anti-virus

Laptop with a bug shielded icon and blob backgroundSpyware’s ability to conceal itself in critical system files or registries makes it difficult to detect. This is where a spyware detector app or antivirus comes in.

Norton 360 is armed with deep PC scanning that can identify suspicious files or malicious programs. Its real-time threat protection also automatically scans all incoming data in real time and blocks out any malicious links and attachments that you encounter. It goes further to provide a firewall that acts as the first level of defense by either blocking or allowing incoming web traffic. This all makes it very hard for spyware to get to your computer.

Download Norton 360

Check our other top antivirus recommendations: Bitdefender, Surfshark One, and Intego.

2. View active internet connections

An excellent way to tell if you are being monitored is by checking your internet connections. A bad actor uses monitoring software to spy on you and send your data to their base over the internet. To combat this, tools such as TCPView allow you to monitor every connection your computer makes to the internet.

As you can imagine, this can end up being a long list. Before monitoring your connections, we recommend shutting down your browser and any other installed programs that use the internet. This allows you to narrow down the list and scrutinize every connection to identify any strange internet activity and shut them down.

To monitor your connections on Windows, follow the steps below:

  1. Download and install TCPView.
  2. Run the program.
  3. Screenshot of TCPView app, processes
  4. Investigate all connections that are listed as “Established” or “Listening” in the “State” column.
  5. If you encounter a program you’re not sure of, right-click on it and select “Process Properties.”
  6. If the path to the program seems legitimate, then that’s a sign the program is legitimate, too. You can also Google the file name (in the screenshot below, that would be “RevitAccelerator.exe”) to see if anyone else has flagged the program as malicious.
  7. Screenshot of TCPView app, Investigate process properties

Another way to identify legitimate programs is by checking the local port it uses. More on that in the next section.

3. Monitor open ports

Computers use ports as the gateway to the internet. For a program to connect to and communicate with the internet, it has to communicate via a port. Modern browsers, for example, use port 80 to connect to the internet. Different ports will be open depending on the programs that you use. The problem, however, comes in when your computer has too many open ports that give an attacker a variety of options to launch an attack.

You can use a port scanner such as TCPView to identify all the open ports on your system and Windows firewall to close down any unused ports. This reduces the chances of a hacker getting a foothold into your computer remotely and monitoring you.

Below, you can find step-by-step instructions on how to close unused ports using Windows firewall:

  1. In the search bar of your taskbar, search for “firewall.”
  2. Windows start, search Firewall
  3. On the right-most panel, click on “New Rule.”
  4. Screenshot of Windows Firewall inbound rules settings
  5. Select whether the port is TCP or UDP according to TCPView then select “Specific local ports.”
  6. Enter the port number you would like to block (in our case, it’s 55555).
  7. Screenshot of New Inbound Rule Wizard, Protocol and Ports
  8. Select “Block the connection.”
  9. Screenshot of New Inbound Rule Wizard, Action tab settings
  10. Select when you prefer the rule to be applied.
  11. Screenshot of New Inbound Rule Wizard, Windows
  12. Name the rule.
  13. Screenshot of New Inbound Rule Wizard, Naming the rule

4. Format your hard drive

Monitoring software has gotten sophisticated and sneaky over the years. They have become harder to detect and harder to get rid of. If all else fails, it’s time to consider formatting your hard drive to get rid of spy software.

In practice, this means you will wipe your hard drive clean and, in the process, lose all your files. That is unless you kept backups. In this case, you can then restore these backups after formatting. Formatting your hard drive is a sure way of getting rid of any spyware no matter how sophisticated it is.

Here’s how to format your hard drive on Windows:

  1. Insert your Windows installation disk or bootable USB drive.
  2. Set your computer to boot from a disk or USB drive. You can do this by restarting your computer and quickly pressing F2, F10, or Del.
  3. Navigate through the installation screens until you reach the screen listing your installed drives.
  4. On the list of installed drives, select the drive you want to format (likely the one listed as Primary) then click “Format” at the bottom.
  5. That’s it! You can now reinstall Windows on the formatted drive.

Here’s how to format your hard drive on Mac:

  1. Ensure your Mac is connected to the internet. This will allow you to reinstall the operating system at the end of the process.
  2. Click the Apple menu and select Restart. Hold ⌘ Command+R while the computer reboots. This will open the boot menu.
  3. Select “Disk Utility” from the boot menu.
  4. On the left, under internals, select the hard drive you would like to format.
  5. Choose your file system. Since this is your boot disk, select “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)“.
  6. Name your drive.
  7. Click “Erase” to format the drive. It should take a few seconds.
  8. Close disk utility to return to the boot menu.
  9. Select “Reinstall OS X” to begin reinstalling your operating system.

5. Identify suspicious processes through Task Manager

Windows Task Manager is a handy tool that can help you detect any strange programs. Such programs may be used to access your computer remotely, which is why they need to always be running in the background.

To open your task manager, press the Ctrl, Alt, and Esc keys at the same time. Once opened, pay attention to processes and check to see if any of them appear to be suspicious.

Below, you can find step-by-step instructions on how you can identify suspicious processes using task manager.

  1. Open Task Manager.
  2. Right-click on a process you are not sure of and is consuming a lot of resources.
  3. Click on “Search online.”
  4. Screenshot of Windows Task Manager, Process right click menu, Search online option selected
  5. Read the snippet on the results page and determine if the program is legitimate.
  6. Screenshot of Microsoft Bing search results, partial
  7. If the results page state the program is malicious, right-click on the process again and select “End task.”
  8. Windows Task Manager, End process option
  9. You should also uninstall the program that was running this process.

Continue monitoring the process list, and make sure the program doesn’t re-appear automatically. If it does, it’s time to consider using an antivirus to remove the spyware permanently.


How to Prevent Monitoring Software on Your PC

Infographic showing how to prevent monitoring software on your PC

Modern operating systems come with solid security right out of the box. For this reason, attackers focus on tricking users to give them access to their systems. They do this using a wide range of techniques. To stay safe, we recommend you take the necessary precautions discussed below to protect your computer from being spied on.

1. Download software from only trustworthy sources

One of the most common ways monitoring tools and other malware are propagated to users is through what appears to be legitimate software. For example, downloading your favorite video game via torrents may seem tempting since it’s free. However, if you don’t know how to identify safe torrents, you may end up downloading malware instead.

2. Keep your system updated

An outdated system may have vulnerabilities that can be exploited by a bad actor. These vulnerabilities may give a hacker a foothold in your system. Keeping your system up-to-date with the latest updates ensures all vulnerabilities are patched and your system is secure.

Here’s how to check if your Windows system is up-to-date:

  1. Click “Start” then “Settings.”
  2. Windows start menu, settings option highlighted
  3. At the bottom, click on “Updates & Security.”
  4. Screenshot of Windows, Update and Security settings
  5. You’ll get a list of all available updates for download, if any.
  6. Click “Download” each of them. Your computer will automatically download and install the updates.
  7. Congratulations! Your system is up-to-date.

Here’s how to check if your Mac is up-to-date:

  1. Click the Apple menu.
  2. Click “About This Mac.”
  3. Apple dropdown menu, About This Mac option highlighted screenshot
  4. Select “Software Update.”
  5. Screenshot of Apple software update window, Software Update option highlighted
  6. Click “Update Now” to download and install any available update. If the update is already downloaded, click “Restart Now” to install it.

3. Don’t open suspicious emails

Hacker icon inside email

Emails have been used to transmit spyware for as long as email has existed. Links and attachments contained in the email may have infectious code that allows even a mildly competent hacker to gain access to your personal devices. That’s why you should be cautious with the emails you open. Avoid emails that are from sources you don’t know and appear suspicious.

Even if the email is from someone you know it’s a good idea to scan it and any attachments with a good antivirus software just to be safe. It’s common for users to unknowingly send malware to their friends.

4. Use a good VPN

A VPN keeps you and your online activities hidden from any snooping third parties. It mostly does this by masking one of the most important pieces of information about your computer, which is your IP address. An IP address is a sequence of numbers that’s unique to your computer and thus can be used to identify you on the internet.

NordVPN is one of the best VPNs in the market today. It will protect you by changing your IP address and the location you appear to be in. Furthermore, your connection is encrypted and routed through multiple servers around the world together with that of other users. This makes you a needle in a haystack for any hacker to identify you.

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Please note that a VPN won’t protect you from monitoring software installed by phishing techniques like clicking on suspicious links and attachments. It works effectively in combination with the precautions we advise you to take.

5. Use strong passwords

Passwords iconMost users tend to get lazy when it comes to creating and managing their passwords. It’s common for a user to have a single password across multiple accounts and devices. Considering how important passwords are in safeguarding our information and computers, we shouldn’t take them lightly.

Of course, creating and keeping track of different strong passwords isn’t easy. To avoid this, you can take a look at our curated list of the best password managers to help you create and store strong passwords for all your accounts. Right now, our top-rated password manager is 1Password.

6. Be suspicious of strangers

One of the most common ways individuals and organizations get hacked is through social engineering. This occurs when a hacker tricks a user into clicking a link. Here are some tell-tale signs of suspicious links you should avoid:

  • Misspelled URLs such as “chace.com” instead of “chase.com”.
  • Domains that are entirely numbers such as 101.83.44.10.
  • Shortened links such as “shorturl.at/eGR04” could be dangerous if the source is not trustworthy.

Hackers can also trick users into giving up their password or downloading an attachment. These attackers could be lurking anywhere, from your favorite chat forums to your frequented gaming servers. For this reason, always be vigilant about who you interact with and the information you give them about yourself.


Is Someone Monitoring your Computer?

It’s surprisingly easy for a hacker to infiltrate your PC. You may end up downloading and installing tracking software without realizing it. This is because spyware has advanced to become practically invisible. Try to perform regular “check-ups” on your device’s temperature, browser activity, active connections, webcam permissions, and more.

We also recommend getting antivirus software like Norton 360, which can deep scan your device and root out suspicious files, software, and processes. A good VPN also encrypts your connection, so you can keep your real location and IP address out of sight.

Get Norton 360 for Your Device

Want to know if your other devices are being monitored? Check out our other articles on the topic here:

How to Know if Your Computer is Being Monitored: Frequently Asked Questions

Still have a pressing question? Take a look at our FAQ section to see if we might have the answer for you. If not, you can always leave us a comment in the comment section.

Yes, there are signs you can look out for to tell if your computer is being monitored. Signs such as:

  • Your computer is overheating.
  • Strange programs are running in the background.
  • Pop-ups are flooding your screen.

To learn about more ways you can tell if your computer is being monitored and how to protect yourself, read this article.

Yes. Even the most cunning spyware can be detected by using a good and reputable antivirus. The antivirus will deep scan your system, going through each individual file on your hard drive in a hunt for spyware. If found, the antivirus will delete the spyware and restore your computer’s security.

It depends. Windows with its built-in firewall and Windows Defender can detect and dismiss most spyware. However, there are sophisticated spyware programs that can completely hide from Windows’ defense system. To read more on how you can detect spyware, read our full article.

Tech journalist
Ian is an enthusiastic content writer who loves researching and writing about cybersecurity, internet privacy and online freedom. He's a marketer and cybersecurity enthusiast who aims to educate others through his writing. During his downtime, he enjoys going on nature walks and baking sourdough bread.