Computer Help forum


Is someone accessing my laptop remotely?

by ItalianAl / February 17, 2013 1:19 AM PST

Hello everyone.

I just joined today, primarily to ask the following questions:

Here's the problem, and the symptoms. I unfortunately have a family member who has some serious emotional problems. This person, by definition, is a sociopath. He has also had drug related issues as well, and whether thats still an issue I dont know, as I dont deal with him anymore. But he's also got some friends who are simply really bad people.

So I've had problems in the past with theft, break-ins, accessing my computer without permission, etc. I am now concerned that its been accessed remotely. He does not live close to me, but he has friends who do.

I have a Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop with Win Vista. I have been noticing that every once in a while, at different times of day when I'm at home, the laptop will switch itself on without me touching it. I'll suddenly hear the characteristic two-tone noise that it makes, which is something like doot-doot, then the fan will turn on and off as I recall, and other little noises. Again, the computer is sitting on the other side of the room, closed when this happens.

Now, I try to ALWAYS turn the computer OFF when I'm done using it. I DONT use sleep or hibernate. I go to start, click the off button, and I wait til it shuts off and all the little lights are off before I close the cover. Now sometimes, the next time I turn it on I get a message saying it didnt shut off properly, and there's that black and white screen with the safe mode option showing. Usually I just click enter to restart it normally. But this alleged improper shutdown happens 1-2 times a week.

Anyway, its been turning itself ON at least once a week that I'm aware of, because I'm home to hear it. It wasnt til yesterday that I began to worry about it. So I did some searches, and one thing that was mentioned about remote intrusions, was to check to see if the remote access block is checked under the firewall and under computer. Well, the box for remote access was checked ON for both firewall AND under computer. So I unchecked the boxes.

I am no computer expert, and the only protection I had/have is Windows security essentials, which I assumed was adequate against spyware and viruses. But as I looked into this potential problem, I was amazed at just how in-secure these computers are from the factory! I read that someone can access your computer remotely, add or take info from your computer, and yet there is absolutely no built in warning, and no message that lets you know that someone has accessed it, and theres no way to know what they did when they were in your computer! Well, aside from going through all your zillions of files to see if anything has been changed, stolen or corrupted.

Shouldnt it be basic common sense that there should be SOME indicator that lets you know when someone has accessed your computer? Shouldnt there be a page or a window that comes up that simply states that "computer was remotely accessed at 1:42pm today, 2/17/13"? Shouldnt there be a window that lists any new uploads into folders or downloads from your folders, or the addition of folders, etc when someone does access your computer remotely? I assumed there was, and that I would have known if someone was accessing it, but apparently I was completely wrong about that, to my own peril....

Is there not a serious problem with identity theft and hacking, spying, etc? So why make computers that allow people to hack them with absolutely no warning to the owner? I know, its my responsibility to get spyware, but I have what I was told was GREAT protection, but apparently it can be manipulated, which leads us back to the question, why isnt there an AUTOMATIC warning in window that tells you EVERY time your computer was potentially accessed built into the computer's basic software?

Anyway, enough of my rant(sorry about that), I guess my questions are:

1. Are the remote setting boxes checked 'on' from the factory? because I never clicked them on!

2. If I didnt click the remote settings on, how did they get clicked on?

3. Is it possible to access someones laptop remotely if its turned fully off?

4. Why is my laptop turning itself on with no input from anyone? Is it possibly related to its other problem of not always shutting down "correctly"? I've read that others have had issues with Vista not shutting down correctly.

5. Is it possible for someone to turn on my laptop remotely?

6. Is there really any way to find out if any files have been taken or added remotely?

7. Is there a trail that can be followed if someone has accessed my computer? Did Dell or Microsoft at least think to program in some way of recording intrusions or save the addresses of the remote computer used to access my computer? Is there a record of the remote access events?

Lastly, what do I need to do in addition to windows essentials and unchecking the remote access boxes to protect my computer, and what can I do to catch the person attempting it? is there ANY software that will tell me when someone accesses my computer remotely or attempts it, while recording their ip address?

Thanks a lot, and sorry for the lengthy first thread, but I felt that all the info would be necessary to accurately describe the situation...

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Possible, but unlikely
by Jimmy Greystone / February 17, 2013 1:52 AM PST

It's possible, but unlikely. If you are shutting the computer off, and it still seems to be turning back on, that would mean that someone would have to be using Wake-on-LAN functions, and doing that over the Internet would be exceedingly difficult to where very few people would even bother.

But a simple way to test this is to simply make sure to disconnect any network cables, and if your model has a hardware switch to disable wifi, do that as well. If it's still tuning on, then odds are it's something else. You could also unplug it and remove the battery when you're not using it, and then there's absolutely no way of anyone being able to access it short of physically entering your residence and reconnecting the power.

As for the rest, you'd need to get some kind of expert involved, and it'd be expensive. Despite what you see on TV and in movies, it's not like you can just press a few keys and pull up a lot of things, or hack into someone else's computer in a few seconds. It takes a fair amount of skill combined with a lot of time and effort. Most of the so-called hackers out there are just a bunch of social malcontents who probably know less about computers than you do. There's a couple of programs that automate the process to a few mouse clicks, and that's what these people use. The program just scans for any known exploits and if it finds one, drops in a malicious payload. If you're keeping up on your Windows updates, have some kind of firewall in place, and don't just click on any random link that comes into your inbox, odds are you have something other than a hacker issue.

You could have something as simple as a stuck power button that is causing the laptop to power on at times, and then do a forced shut down as well. Even if the person is a clinical sociopath, that just means they would have no moral qualms about breaking into your computer if they thought there was something to gain from it. The term often gets distorted in popular usage, but a sociopath is just someone who has little to no ability to empathize or understand the feelings of others; it doesn't mean they're some kind of serial killer. There's actually been an interesting postulation posed, about how some of the most successful people in business are sociopaths. Their lack of empathy makes them utterly ruthless, and they will not feel even the slightest bit bad about firing tens of thousands of people if it makes them a few extra bucks. But a sociopath isn't just going to target people for no reason, they have to feel like there's something for them to gain personally. So if you ask yourself if there's anything you have that this person might want, and you can't come up with anything, odds are you're focusing on the wrong thing with regards to your problem. Otherwise, you'll need to take your computer to the police, let them analyze it. And/or hire a lawyer, who then in turn hires an expert to gather evidence for a restraining order, etc. If you stop and think about it for just a second: Assume you find irrefutable proof this person is behind everything. What then? What good does this information do you? If they were smart enough to do it once, they can certainly do it again, and if they are willing to break into your residence (even by proxy) to make it happen, there's even less you can do.

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hopefully you are right, but...
by ItalianAl / February 17, 2013 2:48 AM PST
In reply to: Possible, but unlikely

The person I'm talking about fits the sociopath description in every way. Also, you are 100% correct in that sociopaths will target people who have something they want, but if you look more deeply into it, you'll also find that they are always looking for something to deal with boredom, and they almost always have one or multiple marital affairs, or they cheat on their significant other. This person has been doing that for 20 years now! They also are very sneaky and seek risky behavior for excitement, like sneaking a lover into your family home for an affair while the spouse is upstairs asleep. Check! They will hurt anyone and eventually everyone around them because they get a thrill out of it, and it makes them feel powerful to be able to negatively influence people's lives in such a profound way. Check! They claim to care about people, but always use destructive criticism, and always try to put you down and negatively judge you whenever possible, but they will NEVER accept ANY criticism of themselves without usually becoming angry! Check! They simply enjoy hurting people, and it doesnt matter who it is, a family member or a person who is supposed to be a friend. Check! They have absolutely no concern for the welfare or feelings of others, although they will pretend to be a good, caring person in order to get your trust, then things start to go downhill. Check! Lets just say that the parents of his wife have helped him immensely over the past 15 years, and let them live in their home for a long time, and in response to that, he uses them, cheats on their daughter right in their own home, while they are upstairs asleep, etc!

Anyway, I dont trust this person at all, and I fully expect further problems in the future. According to psychiatrists, approx 4% of society are sociopaths. Psychopaths are different, in that they arent really functioning members of society in that they will go out and murder people, where sociopaths are more functional and more subtle in their approach to what they do. They too may kill people, but they dont do it in a way that leaves much evidence, because they do care about their own welfare, just not anyone else's... One thing to remember though, if you look at how they act, they are truly cowards. They do everything behind your back.

But this person had previously accessed my computer before, and I had to change all my bank acct numbers, add passwords, etc. He has the resources to hack a computer, if in fact its possible to do so.

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Several things you can do
by wpgwpg / February 17, 2013 1:56 AM PST

First to see what's recently been accessed, you should have "Recent items" enabled on your Start menu. If that's not there, you can right-click the Start button and click Properties, then click Customize. Secondly to see when your computer was powered off and on you can look through the system event log. To do that click Start -> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Event Viewer. Once in Event Viewer click on the system log and scroll through the entries which will show when the computer was started and when it was stopped. The next thing would be to be sure you're behind a hardware and software firewall. A router provides the hardware one and Windows provides the software one.

If none of the above is sufficient, you can disable your network connection. If via wire, you could unplug it. If WiFi, you could disable it. I would also check the task manager to see if there're tasks scheduled to run at times when your computer might be unattended. You could encrypt your data, and you could get an external hard drive and keep the sensitive data on an external hard drive, which you could unplug when you're done with it. You could go into your BIOS setup and create a power on password.

Good luck.

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by ItalianAl / February 17, 2013 3:03 AM PST

I did go in and install a password into windows so that when I power up the computer, a password must be entered to get in. I am pretty much self taught when it comes to computers, as I went to high school in the mid 80's at a time when there were zero computers in the classroom. I clicked the start button, found the "recent items" button and clicked it. There are only about 12 items listed there.

I'm hoping I'm worrying about nothing here, but from past experience its better to be safe than sorry....

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There is a "Recent items" folder
by wpgwpg / February 17, 2013 3:58 AM PST
In reply to: Thanks

In Windows 7 there's a Recent Items folder under C:\Users\yourid\Appdata\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows that goes back a good way. Mine has 146 items going back to August of 2012. The Recent Items listed under the Start menu are the 15 most recent ones. I didn't see what version of Windows you're running so I'm just giving you the info from my laptop which runs Windows 7. YMMV.

Good luck.

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