Ask Leo! #685 – My Ex Set Up My Computer and Is Now Spying on Me. What Can I Do?

This Week's Newsletter

When your ex is no longer your tech, replacing your hard drive, and should you spend your valuable time reporting spam?

My Ex Set Up My Computer and Is Now Spying on Me. What Can I Do?


I was dating a guy who installed Linux on my computer and is also the administrator on my computer. He can completely monitor my computer from his home. We are no longer dating but he is still screwing around with my computer. What can I do? He also knows my passwords.

I normally avoid these types of relationship-related tech questions, because they're more about relationships than about technology. And I'm certainly no therapist.

However, I get this type of question often enough that I'm going to use it as an example of the technological implications when good relationships go bad.

Short answer: you're in trouble until you take some drastic action.

Trust given

We need to be very clear about something: whoever sets up your computer has total access to it, not just at the time they set it up, but potentially until you reformat the machine.

Think about that carefully for a second: the person who installed the operating system for you has total access to your machine.

As part of the installation, they at least set an administrative password. Of course you can change that password,1 and that might work to a point. If the person who set up your computer is trustworthy, changing passwords would be enough to prevent their further access.

Trust violated

But what if they're not trustworthy? Or what if they become untrustworthy?

Changing passwords is not enough if you can't trust the person who set up your computer.

They could easily have installed spyware, back doors, and used other techniques to continue to give them access. And they could have done this when they set up your system or at any time thereafter.

Scary, huh?

Protect yourself now

The only way to ensure that you and only you have complete control over your machine is to:

  1. Back up to preserve your data and anything else currently on the machine.
  2. Reformat, erasing everything on the machine, including anything your ex may have left behind.
  3. Reinstall the operating system and all applications from scratch.

Anything short of that could easily leave your ex a backdoor he can still use to access your system and spy on you, or worse.

Protect yourself in the future

The only real way to ensure you don't run into this situation again is to learn to do it yourself.

Yes, you could pick another trustworthy friend or family member, or perhaps a computer professional, but the issues remain: how long can you trust them?

Perhaps you have someone you trust completely, and that's great. It makes life easier for you if you have truly trustworthy tech help.

But even so, learn from this experience. Having someone else set up your computer or have administrative access to it is never something to take lightly.

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What Should I Look for in a Replacement Hard Drive?

What features should I look for on a long lasting hard drive? I know it will fail at some point, and that I should have multiple backups. I grew up in a time when the technology was much more expensive, so I'm not really used to being able to have access to multiple backups. What I'm looking for is how I can determine the expected lifespan of a hard drive.

My friend and I both lost backup drives in the last week, both were 3 years old. Mine was used constantly as a network storage device, hers was used sparingly as a backup drive. We have both given up hope in recovering the data. I do have mine on a few other drives, but not as well consolidated at it was on the drive that died, there is little hope for her photo collection.

I would suppose warranty length and MTBF would be two factors I could determine the lifespan. Also, I know a couple of sites that keep the statistics. I was also wondering if recovery ‘insurance' would be useful.

I have to start by pointing out that if data was lost when a “backup” drive failed, then it wasn't really a backup drive; it must have held the one-and-only copy of the files that were lost. As I so often say, if it's in only one place, it's not backed up.

I've been watching hard drives and hard drive technology for a couple of decades now, and it's been both amazing and frustrating: amazing in the speed and capacity we now take for granted, and frustrating in that there are certain things we can still never count on.

Like the drives themselves.

Continue Reading: What Should I Look for in a Replacement Hard Drive?

Am I Wasting My Time Reporting Scam and Spam Emails?

You once said that when it comes to email scams, we should just mark it as a scam or spam and move on. But I've found websites to report them to, and some email addresses to forward them to, and I'd like to think I'm doing some good. Are you saying that I'm wasting my time reporting email scams directly to these agencies?


I just don't believe reporting spam to these sites and services is worth the time and effort. I don't see any harm in doing it; I just don't think it helps.

I do want to be very clear, however, that a different type of “reporting spam” is very important, and we should all be doing that.

Continue Reading: Am I Wasting My Time Reporting Scam and Spam Emails?

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Posted: January 2, 2018 in: 2018
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