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Are you paranoid about your computer? If not, perhaps you should be. Most people who own a PC use it for countless personal tasks like banking, communicating with friends and managing personal contacts. And most people enable saved passwords in their browsers and applications because it’s more convenient. Anyone with access to your computer could snoop on every aspect of your life.

The common response is to secure a computer with a password. But sometimes that’s not enough or, in the case of family PCs, not possible. Fortunately, there are several ways to see what’s happening on your PC when you are not around.

Who’s Using Your Computer? Have A Look!

The easiest way to tell who is using your computer is to snap a photo. There are several ways to do that, but the best is iSpy iSpy Turns Your Computer Webcam Into Surveillance Equipment [Windows] iSpy Turns Your Computer Webcam Into Surveillance Equipment [Windows] Read More , an open-source software that I’ve recommended in the past. You can download iSpy for free from the software’s website.

As you may have guessed, iSpy uses your webcam to keep tabs on your PC, and it specifically offers motion tracking and automatic photo/video capture. This makes it a fully automated system that you can set up once and forget How to Track What Others Do on Your Computer With iSpy How to Track What Others Do on Your Computer With iSpy Have you ever been in a situation where you suspect someone has been using your computer, but you just aren't certain who is doing it and what they're actually doing when they're logged in? This... Read More . Here’s how to get started.

After installing and launching the software, look for the Add button in the upper left hand corner. Click it and then hit “Local Camera.”

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This will bring up a video source menu with a number of tabs. By default it should select the “Local Device” tab which will include a drop-down list of webcams currently connected to your PC. Select the webcam you want to use and also adjust the resolution as desired. Since you’re not looking to record constantly, you should select a relatively high resolution like 1280×720 or even 1920×1200. Once done hit “Ok” to add the camera.

Now the edit menu will appear. There’s a lot here, so it can be confusing, but there’s just a few settings you need to worry about.

First, go to the Motion Detection How To Set Up A Motion Detection Surveillance System With iPhone Notifications How To Set Up A Motion Detection Surveillance System With iPhone Notifications One thing I've been meaning to do is set up my always-on home server as a CCTV Surveillance System that sends alerts to my iPhone whenever it detects motion. Though the results are fantastic, you... Read More  tab. Make sure the “Use Detector” drop-down menu has the “Two frames” setting selected. Your window should appear as below.

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Now that you have motion detection set up, go to the “Images” tab. Here, check the “Local saving enabled” box. That will save your photos to your computer so you can view them later.

There is a flaw in this plan, of course. The person snooping may notice the webcam is on and go searching for the photos taken. You can get around this by going to the “Alerts” tab. In the “Select Action” drop-down box you’ll see the option to send an alert via email, SMS or Twitter. Photos can accompany these alerts giving you an instant look at the perpetrator.

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You have to be a subscriber for this to work, however. A basic (one user) subscription can be had for $7.95 per month or $69.95 per year. Alternatively, you can set the iSpy media directory to a networked drive How To Build & Use Your Own Network Attached Storage Using A Ubuntu Netbook How To Build & Use Your Own Network Attached Storage Using A Ubuntu Netbook Read More . That will make the photos harder to find, but there’s no way to receive alerts for free.

Something else you may worry about is iSpy’s visibility, as the default window is large and obvious. Never fear. All you need to do is close the program, then start it again using the iSpy (Silent Start) executable. You should find this easily with a Windows search. The program is still visible in the system tray, but by the time someone sees the tray item, you’ve already caught them red-handed.

Finally, iSpy will work while you have your computer locked by a password if you’re logged in to your account. The software will not work at first boot (before you log in) or if your user account is logged out.

Log Every User

Most people think keyloggers are malware. That can indeed be the case, but keylogging utilities can also be used for perfectly legitimate purposes. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to monitor your PC while you’re away. Unless a webcam, which can be circumvented with various old-fashioned techniques (wear a mask, throw a bag over it, unplug it, etc) a keylogger is very difficult to get around.

Of course, you’ll need legit software to do this, and it’s probably not a good idea to download the first free tool someone recommends. In the past we’ve had good experiences with Elite Keylogger (our review) Monitor Activity On Your PC with Elite Keylogger [MakeUseOf Giveaway] Monitor Activity On Your PC with Elite Keylogger [MakeUseOf Giveaway] Read More , Revealer Keylogger and All In One Keylogger.

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Beaware that any keylogger is going to cause havoc with your antivirus. That’s because it does the same thing as malware trying to steal your passwords. Beware that you’ll need to whitelist the keylogging software and that you’ll need to disable your antivirus during installation.

All three of the options listed here ask you to spend money for their full version. However, Revealer Keylogger does provide limited functionality for free. The other two ask you to fork over some cash after their trial expires.

Take Automatic Screenshots

Another option that’s less detailed, but easier on your antivirus, is an automatic screenshot application. There are a few ways to set this up (you can even use hotkey scripts How to Automate Mundane Tasks with AutoIt How to Automate Mundane Tasks with AutoIt Read More ) but the easiest solution is TimeSnapper, a tool that takes a screenshot automatically every few seconds. You can download a free 30-day trial. The program’s $24.95 full license is $24.95 for an individual user.

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This program is very simple. Once installed, it automatically takes screenshots every few seconds. Trial users can only take them every 10 seconds, but full version users can choose a custom interval. These captures don’t impact the way other applications work so there’s no way for someone who doesn’t know it’s running to suspect anything is amiss. The only way to tell it’s running is to examine the system tray, as it does leave an icon there while active.

TimeSnapper would be useful even if it only took screenshots, but there’s more to it than that. The program lets you play back screenshots in chronological order to see what happened while you were away. There’s even a reports function that will tell you how much time has been spent with various programs on your PC. While it’s intended to monitor your productivity, these features can just as easily be used to track how your PC is used.

Conclusion

These three applications accomplish similar goals, but there’s nothing to prevent you from using all three for the ultimate in PC monitoring Monitor Teenage Computer Use & Detect Inappropriate Content With Care4Teen [Windows] Monitor Teenage Computer Use & Detect Inappropriate Content With Care4Teen [Windows] As my girls grow into young teens, as a father I do tend to worry quite a bit. I worry about them when they go out to a friend's house, I worry about them when... Read More . Installed in tandem, there’s no aspect of your PC that would go unmonitored; you’d know even if someone sat down, tried to log in, but failed to guess your password.

Do you monitor your PC, and if so, what tools do you use? Share your secrets in the comments below.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

  1. Leo
    October 20, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I use best keylogger signum-soft.com/ to protect the computers in my company, after I realized that I do not have adequate control over the work of my employees. Also, the installation of keyloggers is not a bad idea also for a personal computers, because in this way you can protect yourself from unwanted content search by your children. In any case, keyloggers are an excellent solution for monitoring and controlling work on any computer.

  2. Mady
    September 3, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Nice article, I'm using Revealer Keylogger Free for a while now, it does a great job.

  3. astral_cyborg
    September 3, 2014 at 4:41 am

    Check BlackBox Security Monitor Express

  4. Fred
    September 3, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Any way to detect if someone (say a sysadmin) is logging in remotely when you're not at your desk?

    • dragonmouth
      September 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

      Sysadmin does not have to log into your PC, (s)he has a record of all your Internet activity on the server you're connected top.

  5. Bben
    September 2, 2014 at 11:01 am

    First, before you panic, do a threat analysis. What exactly are the threats you face - they are not going to be the same for everyone, and the solutions are not going to be the same either. Who is it you really need to keep out?
    Sleazy roommate? Suspicious spouse, 8 year old kid? Noisy parent?

    Then, look at what you want to keep them out of. Your personal finances? Pics of things you don't want seen ( Why do you even have these on something as notoriously insecure as a computer?) Your FB account? Porn? Something else?

    For most of these a password is sufficient. If you are suspicious - change the password. Create a guest account and lock it down. These are the Minimum precautions however. Scale your defense up from there to take in more tech savvy possible intruders that you personally may face.

    Now for the more serious threat - the real geek. Give me 30 seconds alone with your admin account open and I will own your computer no matter what defenses you have in place. If the account is closed, it may take a little more time. But If I have physical access - maybe that webcam isn't such a bad idea.

  6. Alex
    September 2, 2014 at 9:10 am

    With ispy, could you set it to save to a Dropbox folder then set up an IFTTT alert in case they delete it?

    • Matt S
      September 3, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      I'm not familiar with IFTTT. But I've used Dropbox with iSpy in the past.

  7. Matt S
    September 2, 2014 at 6:14 am

    If you can't think of a reason why you'd want to protect your PC with a webcam you simply lack imagination. Plus, it's pretty cool.

  8. Kevin M.
    September 2, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Why go to all this time and trouble? Because this author wants you to think that for some bizarre reason you cannot secure a family computer? Really? Thats strange because I have been securing them since Windows XP and have had no issues ensuring the person using mine or those of my clients had permission.

    There are ways to promote your favorite products Matt but really, do yourself a huge favor and make sure you know what you are talking about before making ignorant statements like "in the case of family PCs, not possible". To someone that is clueless they will believe that false statement, but for everyone else it is you that appears clueless!

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