I have a classmate who borrowed my computer at school one day. He is really
talented when it comes to computers and I am not. He did something to my computer that allows him to access my webcam from his computer. I have no idea how he did that, but when I use the computer, I can suddenly see the light indicating that my webcam is running and he can watch me. It’s creepy and I don’t know how to undo what he did. My question to you is how can I remove his access to my webcam?
You’re right. It is creepy.
And depending on where you live, it might actually be an illegal form of
harassment or even assault.
If this person is really your friend, you would ask him to remove it, he
would, and you’d believe him when he told you that there was nothing left of his
handiwork on your machine.
But because you’ve come to me instead, I can only assume at least one or more of
those conditions is not true.
Get a better friend
Unfortunately, all of the techniques to get rid of what amounts to spyware are fairly technical in nature. If you don’t feel knowledgeable enough to handle those kinds of things, then the solution boils down to a completely a different approach.
Find someone you trust – completely – and who is technical enough to be able to handle situations like this.
Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know exactly who to trust. Trust the wrong person and you could end up with even more malicious software on your computer than you started with.
And I can tell you from all of the questions that I get on Ask Leo!, it’s extremely common for friends who you might trust today to turn out to be exceptionally untrustworthy tomorrow.
But I do suggest this first because for many people, it’s often the only practical approach.
Just don’t trust too quickly or easily, OK?
Get professional help
Another approach would be to take your computer into a computer shop or a repair shop and see if they have a service or recommendation for a service that would clean this up for you.
Obviously, this will most likely cost money.
Not so obviously is that the approach that they take might well be significantly more severe than you might think.
And yet, it’s really the only option that’s guaranteed to work completely.
Backup, reformat, and reinstall
Here’s the problem: You don’t know what your classmate did.
More completely, you don’t know what else your classmate may have done.
Sure, he installed something that apparently controls your webcam and allows him to look in on you. But he could have done much, much more.
He could have installed other spyware or malware that’s not nearly as easy to notice.
Unfortunately, once your machine has been compromised, there’s no way to ever guarantee that all of the malware has been removed by the various tools and techniques that might be employed.
Short of erasing everything and starting over, that is.
So, the safest approach is to backup your entire system and then reformat the hard disk, erasing everything on it. Then, you’ll reinstall Windows and all of your applications and restore your data from that backup.
Now, you can see why it’s critical to never, ever loan your computer to someone who you don’t completely trust.
Most people find the steps that I’ve listed so far unacceptable. Perhaps they have no technically savvy friends that they would trust to this degree. Perhaps they can’t afford professional help. Or perhaps they don’t have the time, resources, or ability to do a complete reformat and reinstall.
They just want to know what programs to run to get rid of whatever it is.
Even though after running those programs, there’s still no guarantee that there still isn’t malware on the machine.
Fine. Here’s what I’d do:
First, put a piece of masking or electrical tape over the webcam, blocking its ability to see anything. That portion of your privacy, at least, is instantly restored.
I’d seriously consider uninstalling the webcam completely. If it’s part of your laptop, I’d uninstall its drivers. The result is that there’s no webcam for him to control remotely. Yes, that means you can’t use the webcam either; that’s the price that you’d pay.
The lesson to learn
The single biggest lesson to learn here is to never loan your computer to someone you don’t completely trust.
As I’ve often said, “If it’s not physically secure, it’s not secure.” Anyone who has physical access to your computer can, if they know what they’re doing, access all your data, compromise your online accounts, and install malicious software on your computer.
All without your knowing about it until it’s too late.