Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

It's possible for someone on your local network to monitor and perhaps even log internet traffic. That could easily include your IM conversations.

My husband says he can download a program to his machine that will enable him to read my MSN Messenger conversations. I use a separate laptop with the log history turned off, but he says he can put something onto the router that will record all the conversations, and email. Is this true, and if so, how can I stop it, or prevent him from reading my messages?

I have to admit that it's actually somewhat depressing how often I get questions of this nature; spouses wanting to snoop on each other, or like this one, spouses afraid of being snooped on. All technical issues aside, I find it rather sad.

The short answer is: yes.

The longer answer involves both how, as well as some steps you can take to avoid it.

I think that everyone really needs to realize that whomever sets up your network and provides your access to the internet can do pretty much anything they want. I spoke to this in some detail in an earlier article Can my ISP monitor my internet usage?.

Just consider whoever set up your internet access at home as an extension of your ISP.

A great example is my own. As you might imagine I have a bit of a home network that's used by my wife, my assistant, and even any visitors if they happen to bring along a computer. In a very real sense I'm their internet service provider; they're connecting to my network. As a result, should I feel so inclined, I have access to all the networking and other equipment here in my home to do whatever I might want.

"... anyone with access to your home network could conceivably snoop in on your conversations or worse."

I could snoop on anyone connected to my network if I were so inclined.

The same or something similar is probably true in your own home.

But it gets worse.

We've often talked about software that can be used in wireless hotspots to snoop on people's internet traffic and potentially steal passwords or other sensitive information.

That same technique works quite well on many wired networks as well. That means that anyone with access to your home network could conceivably snoop in on your conversations or worse.

Needless to say, that probably includes your spouse.

So what's a person to do?

Well, the ultimate answer is that if you can't trust your spouse or whomever it is that is providing your internet connection then you shouldn't use it. Period. That's really the only truly guaranteed way of protecting your information.

If that's not in the cards, then partial solutions are similar to those mentioned in the ISP article:

  • Secure connections - any connection that begins with https instead of http is an encrypted connection. Your spouse can see which sites you are visiting, but not the actual data being sent back and forth.

  • Anonymous Web Surfing - Your spouse can tell if you're using services like Anonymizer, Tor or others, but that's all; he or she won't be able to tell where you're surfing, or what's being said or displayed.

  • Encrypted Email - there are several ways to send encrypted email. Your spouse will be able to see who you're emailing, but won't be able to read the messages.

  • VPN Services - There are services available that will allow you to set up a "Virtual Private Network" connection to their services which then connect you to the internet. Once again, it's obvious that you're using the service, but your spouse can't see what it is your doing beyond that.

So it really all boils down to your level of concern compared with the amount of effort you're willing to put into it.

Unlike the ISP scenario, where I don't believe there's typically a credible threat, based on the questions I get I can totally understand that this situation is quite possible.

And, as I said to start, quite sad.

Article C3054 - June 12, 2007 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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2 Comments
Laleh
January 4, 2008 2:59 AM

Hi Leo,
I have the exact same problem, I know it's sad but these situations are complicated and not the place to talk about it,anyways, I want to know something else that is more important to me.
I found out a while ago that my husband can do all these stuff so whatever I wanna do I do on the computer at work. My only problem is that
I'm not sure I am getting all my emails in my mailbox! becuase for what I understand you can put a spy on someone's email anddress and you control whatever they get or send? so my question is How can I find out that if this is happening or not and how can I stop it or prevent it?
This would really help me thanks
Laleh

Laleh
January 4, 2008 3:02 AM

Hi Leo,
I have the exact same problem, I know it's sad but these situations are complicated and not the place to talk about it,anyways, I want to know something else that is more important to me.
I found out a while ago that my husband can do all these stuff so whatever I wanna do I do on the computer at work. My only problem is that
I'm not sure I am getting all my emails in my mailbox! becuase for what I understand you can put a spy on someone's email anddress and you control whatever they get or send? so my question is How can I find out that if this is happening or not and how can I stop it or prevent it?
This would really help me thanks

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