Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Trust is tricky when it comes to computers. When you add relationships to the mix, things quickly get complicated, and unfortunately, very serious.
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 they are about technology. And I'm certainly no Dr. Phil.
However I get this type of question so often, I'm going to use it as an example of the technological implications when good relationships go bad.
Short version: you're in trouble until you take some drastic action.
I need to start by being very clear about something: whoever sets up your computer has total access to it. And not just at the time they set it up, but potentially from that day forward, until the day 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 that installation, they at least set the administrative password, so they of course know what that is. Now, you could say, "I'll just change the password", and that might work to a point. You might need to change more passwords than just the administrator's, but for the moment let's assume that's enough. If the person who set up your computer is trustworthy, changing that password would be enough to prevent their further access.
But what if they're not trustworthy? Or what if they become untrustworthy?
There's a adage in the computer world that runs along the lines of "don't piss off the sysadmin". The sysadmin, or system administrator, controls the system, and the adage is simply that you don't want to upset that person and have them cancel your account, delete your important files or whatever. A good and trustworthy sysadmin won't, of course.
The person who set up your machine is your sysadmin. As long as they have access to your computer, they can do whatever they want.
Changing passwords is not enough if your sysadmin is untrustworthy. They could easily have installed spyware, backdoors and other ways that they could retain access no mater what you do. And they could have done this at system installation time or anytime thereafter.
The only way to positively ensure that you and only you have complete control over your machine is to backup and then reformat and reinstall the operating system and all applications from scratch. Anything short of that could quite easily leave your former sysadmin/boyfriend the backdoor he can still use to access your system and spy on you, or worse.
And the only way to ensure that you're not going to run into this situation again is to learn to do it yourself. Yes, you could pick another friend or family member, but the issues remain: can you trust them and how long can you trust them?
Perhaps you have someone that you can trust completely, and that's great, but do learn from this experience that setting up your computer or allowing anyone else administrative access to it is never something to be taken lightly.
Comments on this entry are closed.
If you have a question, start by using the search box up at the top of the page - there's a very good chance that your question has already been answered on Ask Leo!.
If you don't find your answer, head out to http://askleo.com/ask to ask your question.