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I have a friend who caught his landlord in his apartment using his laptop (he moved out afterward). The next time he tried to log in, his password was changed. I fixed the password problem but I got to thinking, what if his landlord installed some sort of spying software (keylogging, internet monitoring, remotely viewing webcam etc.)?

So my question is if I scan the PC using an offline (kaspersky rescue disk 10) or online malware scanner (Malwarebytes), will they detect spy software? I am under the impression there are legit spying tools that are used for monitoring kids or cheating spouse computers which may be given a free pass by anti malware vendors. Does any such spy software exist which will slip through anti-virus scans? Or is all spy software considered malware and caught by malware scanners?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Maybe, but it doesn't matter.

There's no matter about "Legit" tools getting a free pass-- The simple point is that Anti-malware and Anti-virus tools can only reliably check for the tools / spyware / viruses that they have been programmed to check for.

Even if legit monitoring tools are not given a free pass by the detection tools, you still have to face the issue that there are countless spy programs which are not detected, simply because they are not known about. There will always be software which will slip through antispyware tools.

If you suspect that there is monitoring software installed on your system, the only 100% guarantee to clear it off is to format your system and reinstall. Antispyware tools can only tell you what is not installed-- they cannot tell you what is installed.

To quote one of my other answers here:

The first rule about computer security:

If I can touch it, I own it.

There are no exceptions to this rule. Physical access = game over.

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I'm afraid even that is not sufficient for the truly paranoid. Given in our days we now have UEFI and similar stuff, it's conceivable that such a beasty can survive a complete reinstallation of a system including formatting. The last sentence is true, of course. –  0xC0000022L May 14 '13 at 20:58
    
Very good point. From what I have seen so far, some randomly named exe (wghwsjdgadhgda.exe or something like that) failed to start when I logged in. Thankfully he isn't a big computer geek and barely has any software installed and has only a handful of documents. I will simply backup his documents, wipe the disk and reinstall. –  Mister Tea May 15 '13 at 11:37

Besides the concerns about your friend's laptop, you should tell him to change all his passwords for email accounts, logins to websites, home banking credentials, and so on, because they could have been read and stolen from the landlord.

Of course, if you suspect that his computer was put some malware on, he should perform these tasks from another machine.

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