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Issue #136: February 28, 2010

Q: I am trying to divorce my husband.  Let’s say he is less than cooperative.  He is stationed in Afghanistan and during his holiday leave he installed a hijack program on my home computers. He was able to see every key stroke and changed my email account info, deleted and manipulated emails, and who knows what else.  I have had the programs removed but I am still fearful for the safety of my information to the point where I will not go online with the home computers.  The cable company has told me they do not have a secure internet line and that the IP address changes daily. Do I need to purchase new computers, a new router, etc?  Can he still hack into my computers if he has the computer ID info?  Are his actions illegal?  How can I be safe? 

– Teri H.
Niceville, Fla

A: Wow, Teri, my heart goes out to you, both for the end of your marriage, and your computer troubles.  Let me see if I can’t ease your burden about the latter problem.  I am not a lawyer, and I do not portend to dispense legal advice, but in my opinion, installing snooping software on someone’s computer (even on one’s own computer if the intention is to monitor someone else without their consent) is highly questionable, and probably a violation of multiple electronic wiretapping laws.  However, the burden of proof is on you, and it will probably be pretty tough to prove your allegations to the satisfaction of the courts.  To go beyond my opinion, I suggest you consult with a lawyer to find out what are your options.  There is no way for me to know precisely the level of risk you have without knowing more about the surveillance software installed and what was done to disable/remove it, but it seems like a purge and re-install of Windows is in order, including a full format of the hard drive.  That should wipe out any ability to monitor your computer activity.  I think your fear of going online is a little misplaced.  The software probably was not installed via your internet connection – but rather by someone with physical access to the computer.  That would be needed again to reinstall any monitoring software.  However, be wary if you use any remote access software like LogMeIn.com or GoToMyPC, as this could provide full control of your machine unless you have taken specific measures to deny it, such as changing account passwords, or completely disabling whatever account was used to get on the computer.  As for your other questions, I see no benefit to replacing your router, but again, a password change is in order to prevent access to the router’s setup program.  Your cable company is correct – there is no such thing as a “secure” internet connection – you’re either connected, or you’re not, and security is provided by firewalls and monitoring software.  By installing those and properly configuring them, you can have a reasonably good amount of control over what comes and goes on your system.  Be warned though — this type of setup requires advanced skills in computer and network security.  People build entire careers around this type of work, since doing it requires lots of training and certification.  If you truly believe you’re at risk of being compromised again, I suggest you seek professional assistance from someone trained in these matters.  Good luck!


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