How To Check If Someone Is Remotely Accessing Your Computer

November 2, 2023


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    Can You Tell If Someone Is Using Your Computer?

    Remote access scams are some of the most devious (and dangerous) schemes out there. If cybercriminals trick you into giving them access to your device, it not only puts your data at risk — but also your identity and finances.

    According to the latest data from the FBI [*]:

    Americans lost over $800 million to tech support and remote access scams in 2022 alone.

    Being able to determine if someone is remotely accessing your computer is a fundamental element of digital security in 2023.

    In this guide, we’ll explain how you can tell if someone is remotely viewing or controlling your computer, so you can protect your privacy, data, and finances from hackers and fraudsters.

    How Does a Remote Access Scam Happen?

    Cybercriminals can take remote control of your computer by using sophisticated tools and hacking techniques. However, a more common way for criminals to run remote access scams is by using social engineering tactics to trick someone into handing over remote access.

    For example, last year, the FBI issued a warning about bogus calls from fraudsters impersonating customer support agents at reputable tech companies [*]. In these tech support scams, con artists duped customers into downloading apps that granted the hackers remote access to their computers.

    Here’s how a typical remote access scam plays out:

    • A bogus tech support team makes contact. You may receive a text, email, or phone call from someone claiming to represent a trusted company such as Microsoft or Amazon. In other cases, scammers post fake tech support phone numbers on social media or in search results and wait for you to call them.
    • Next, the fraudsters claim that your device, account, or finances are vulnerable. When you’re on a call with scammers, they deliberately try to induce panic. In most tech support scams, the impersonator insists that your computer has a virus or that hackers have access to your online accounts and could siphon your money.
    • To “stay safe,” the fraudster will tell you to download a program. Under the pretense of helping you fix the problem, scammers will pressure you to download a remote access app, such as AnyDesk, TeamViewer, or RemotePC.
    • Once the app is set up, the fraudster takes control of your computer. The program that the scammer asks you to install grants them full control over your device. They can then spy on you, steal your data, configure settings, and even access your online accounts, emails, and banking.
    • Finally, the fraudster locks you out. Sometimes, a hacker will change the settings on your computer or use ransomware to lock you out of your own network. They may demand a fee or cryptocurrency payment before relinquishing access again.

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    How To Detect Remote Computer Access (5 Steps)

    1. Look for blatant signs of active intrusion
    2. Inspect all recent activity on your device
    3. Check for remote access programs
    4. Review your firewall settings
    5. Run an antivirus scan

    Remote access enables people to connect to a computer or network from another device and location. While Virtual Network Computing (VNC) is a convenient system for remote working teams, it’s not without inherent risks. When an unauthorized user has unlawful remote access to your computer, this can have catastrophic consequences.

    The good news is that it’s possible to detect when someone has remote access to your operating system. Here’s how to check if someone is remotely accessing your computer:

    1. Look for blatant signs of active intrusion

    While some hackers are more stealthy than others, it's usually easy to spot the signs of an intruder on a computer network.

    • Unfamiliar activity on your online accounts. Have you noticed unauthorized logins, new user accounts, or changes to your personal information? It's possible that someone else can access and make changes to your accounts.
    • Phantom mouse movement or unexpected cursor activity is a telltale sign that someone else is trying to commandeer your computer. An employee at a Florida water plant foiled a potentially critical attack on a town’s water supply upon spotting suspicious mouse activity [*].
    • Slow or unresponsive devices. When hackers have a remote desktop connection, they can download data or install malware on your device. This covert background activity consumes more system resources, causing a device to heat up and run more slowly than usual.  
    • Persistent pop-ups and error messages. Don’t ignore a sudden influx of strange pop-ups. If the Command Prompt fires up unprompted on your computer, this could be another giveaway.
    • Genuine security software warnings. If your antivirus software is sending you repeated notifications, an intruder may be lurking on the network.
    • Active microphone or camera. If these devices activate without your permission, it’s a potential security threat. Someone may be using your computer to spy on you.

    2. Inspect all recent activity on your device

    If scammers have remote access to your device, it will show up as unfamiliar activity on your computer or browser.

    Here’s how to examine recent activity on your computer:

    Check all recently accessed files and apps

    • For Windows, navigate to the Start menu to view any recently opened apps.
    • On MacOS, select the Apple icon and then Recent Items.

    Review browser history for any unfamiliar websites, extensions, or downloads. For example, you can check the My Activity setting in Google Chrome to see all websites you’ve visited, searches you’ve made, and websites you’ve visited. Take note of anything suspicious.

    Check login events to see if anyone has made failed login attempts or if someone was accessing your computer at unusual hours of the day or night.

    • On a Windows computer, go to the Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tool > Event Viewer. Then, on the left side, select Security and review all login events.
    • On a Mac, you need third-party software to review login attempts or remote sessions.

    Investigate system logs to see if anyone has remotely accessed your computer.

    • On a Windows computer, press the Windows key + R to open the Run window. When the window opens, type "eventvwr" — short for Event Viewer — and press Enter.
    • On a Mac, open Finder. Go to Applications > Utilities, and then open Console.

    3. Check for remote access programs

    Another way to confirm if someone is remotely accessing your computer is to see if you can find any remote access programs installed. Some notable examples to look out for are TeamViewer, LogMeIn, and AnyDesk.

    Check active tasks for remote access programs

    • On Windows, open the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc.
    • On a Mac, open the Activity Monitor by pressing Command + Space. Alternatively, select the magnifying glass icon and search for Activity Monitor.

    Search across current programs and applications

    You may be able to find the applications mentioned above by going into your installed programs list on Windows or into your Applications folder on a Mac.

    4. Review your firewall settings

    Scammers with remote access to your device may change your firewall settings to give themselves backdoor access to your device.

    To review your firewall settings on a Windows device:

    • Press the Windows key + X, then select Control Panel.
    • Navigate to System and Security > Windows Defender Firewall > Advanced Settings.
    • Examine Inbound Rules and Outbound Rules to see if there are any activities or connections that you don’t recognize.
    • Right-click on any rule that you think is suspicious, and select Disable Rule. This precaution will block the connection temporarily. Before permanently disabling any rule, research to verify if it is legitimate.

    To review your firewall settings on a Mac:

    • Click on the Apple menu, then System Preferences.
    • Select Security & Privacy, then open the Firewall tab.
    • If the firewall is not enabled, select the padlock icon (on the bottom left corner). You can enable the firewall by entering your administrator credentials.
    • Select Firewall Options to view the full list of rules and applications.
    • Examine this list for any suspicious activities or connections. If you find a questionable rule, uncheck the box next to the application to block the connection.

    5. Run an antivirus scan

    Hackers use malicious programs to take control of your accounts and devices. An antivirus tool monitors your computer in real-time to prevent cyberattacks and deter anyone attempting to take over your computer.

    However, beware of free antivirus software or computer “clean up” tools, as scammers often hide malicious code inside of these tools. Instead, opt for a recognized antivirus and digital security solution, such as Aura.

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    If Your Device Has an Unknown Remote Admin, Do This

    If you believe that an unauthorized person has remote access, respond quickly to secure your device.

    The steps below explain how to protect both Windows PCs and Macs.

    Immediately disconnect from the internet

    First, you should unplug the Ethernet cable or turn off your Wi-Fi connection. Without an internet connection, a hacker can't use your computer. However, as some malware can still run offline, the best approach is a total computer shutdown.

    Update all of your passwords using a secure device

    The compromised device may have spyware or keyloggers that can record your new passwords. It’s safer to change your passwords with another device — like your smartphone or a friend’s computer. Create new passwords for all of your online accounts, including email, social media, and banking websites.

    Use antivirus software to find and delete suspicious programs

    You can limit the damage caused by malware by reviewing your installed programs and removing any software that you don't recognize or trust.

    On Windows, you can access your installed programs through the Control Panel. On Macs, you can review all installed programs via the Applications folder.

    Back up and wipe your device

    This step removes any hidden malware and restores your device to its original settings. Before you perform a factory reset on your device, copy all files and settings to the cloud or an external hard drive.

    Secure your Wi-Fi router

    Sophisticated malware can affect other IoT devices via your home internet connection. To stop hackers from gaining access to the rest of your family’s devices, encrypt your home network.

    Here’s how to secure your Wi-Fi router:

    • Change the default login credentials — remember to use long, complex, and unique passwords.
    • Disable the remote administration settings to prevent unauthorized access.
    • Enable WPA3 encryption — if your router doesn’t support WPA3 encryption, choose WPA2.
    • Update your router's firmware to the latest version.

    ⛳️ Related: What Is VPN on iPhones? Why You Need It & How To Turn It On

    How To Prevent Future Remote Access Attacks

    A proactive stance offers the best form of defense. Rather than waiting for an attack to happen, improve your cyber hygiene to reduce the chances of someone remotely accessing your computer.

    • Install a password manager. 80% of breaches are related to passwords [*]. It's easier to create and store unique, complex passwords for every account by using a dedicated password manager.
    • Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). You can stop people from accessing your accounts by requesting a second verification measure before granting access. The most secure options include an authenticator app, fingerprint scan, and security token.
    • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your data, hiding your location and activity when you're online. A secure connection could be a stumbling block that prevents hackers from intercepting and gaining unauthorized remote access to your computer.
    • Regularly update all apps and software on your devices. Updates often include important security patches that fix known device vulnerabilities. Enable auto-updates whenever possible.
    • Beware of phishing. Most people know to be wary of suspicious links or attachments in emails and text messages — and yet, Americans lost $40 million to phishing scams in 2022 [*]. Reading about new variations and examples of phishing can save you from falling victim to identity theft.
    • Report scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). By reporting unauthorized remote access incidents, you help authorities investigate cybercrime and protect others from becoming victims. Gather evidence of any suspicious activity, including relevant screenshots. You can report the activity by visiting

    Although iOS and macOS devices are known for their security, the truth is that no device is unhackable. Scammers can take over your Macbook just as easily as any other computer.

    To stay one step ahead of scammers, consider Identity Guard’s identity theft protection. Identity Guard’s award-winning solution can protect your devices, finances, and personal information from hackers and identity thieves.

    38 million people trust Identity Guard with their identity. See more

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