Spot a Spy

Spying and espionage is not just found in a James Bond movie. Cyber-spying and corporate espionage are two common ways for people to be tracked and have information stolen in the modern world. And of course, there is always the danger of being stalked, followed, or watched, especially with the technology available to a determined tracker. If you are concerned that someone is watching you or your company, there are several ways of spotting these individuals. Knowing how to spot these kinds of spies can be useful in stopping them from making you a victim.


Spotting Cyber-Spies

  1. Check your browser history. If there are unusual websites, or sites that you did not visit, someone may be using your computer. Likewise, if your search history has been cleared out, and you did not do it, someone else may have done so. In these cases, someone has spied on you by directly accessing your computer.
    • Remember to turn your machine off when you aren't using it, or have a strong password with letters, numbers, and symbols to lock out unwanted users.
  2. Check to see if third party software is running on your machine. These programs, sometimes called virtual network computing (VNC) software, allow someone to access your computer from a remote location as long as it is on. Many people use programs like LogMeIn or GoToMyPC to do work remotely. If you have such a program, and someone else obtained your log in information, they could access your machine from an outside location.[1]
  3. Be aware of your computer or device's operating speed. If you notice a lag in speed, it may be the result of someone using the internet to track your activity.[2] A tracking app will take up valuable memory, and cause other processes on your computer to slow down. Look at the apps your device is running, and notice any unfamiliar ones.
    • Most major commercial antivirus programs, like Symantec, McAfee, and Norton, are good at tracking apps like this on your computer.
  4. Check your bills. If someone has access to your devices, they probably have access to other information about you, and may be using that to steal your identity. In addition, spying apps on your phone will use the GPS to send tracking data, and so will likely drive up your data charges.[3]
  5. Watch out for downloads from insecure websites. If you are downloading something from a website, use your computer's security system to check whether that site is trusted or secure. If you have been downloading files from an insecure website, outsiders may be able to access it.[4]

Spotting Corporate Spies

  1. Know your company's important information and who has access to it. Think about types of information that a competitor would have interest in. This can be sensitive research and corporate strategy, or even something like balance sheets. If someone is accessing this information who shouldn't be, they may be a corporate spy.[5]
  2. Know the difference between legal and illegal activity. Most corporate espionage involves researching information that is readily available to anyone. This can include a list of employees, upcoming events or sales, or recent changes in structure. A person finding information through legal methods can be a threat to your business, but they are not criminal offenses. Fraud, breaking and entering, theft, and other illegal activities are the only avenues for prosecuting corporate espionage.[6]
    • Employees can sometimes be careless in posting information to personal social media accounts, including office activity or changes in job status. This information can be very useful to corporate spies, and is entirely legal for them to acquire.
  3. Look for unfamiliar faces. Are there people in your building or office that you don't recognize? Many workplaces aren't totally familiar with their workforce, and sometimes people are able to just tailgate, or follow in an actual employee.
    • Remember this is only to help spot someone who isn't supposed to be there. Your company should have clear policies for reporting a security breach of this type. Follow those protocols for reporting and taking further action.
  4. Keep an eye out for unusual activity. Tracking employee activity can reveal patterns of unusual actions. If someone is accessing more files than usual, or from unusual places like their own home, they may be getting information for someone else.[7]
    • Dumpster-diving, or otherwise rooting through trash, is a simple way to gain information on a company. If you see someone rooting through your company's garbage (and it's not an employee looking for something they accidentally threw away), that might be a corporate spy.
  5. Be on the lookout for social engineering. Most corporate espionage is done simply by talking to people, and asking leading questions. Spies may call posing as employees, claiming to have forgotten their user name or password. Be aware of odd questions, or attempts to intimidate someone into giving up information.[8]
    • This can include so-called "phishing" schemes, where outsiders will ask for passwords and other information, claiming to be from IT or other reputable parts of your company.
    • Employees can be trained to look for certain leading questions, or particular social cues that suggest espionage. Your company should have clear processes for revealing sensitive information, and if those processes aren't followed, that will raise a red flag for you or your employees.

Identifying Spies in Your Personal Life

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings. Avoid walking around staring at your cell phone or listening to music. If someone is following you, it will be much easier if you aren't paying attention to what is going on around you.[9]
  2. Check for cars following you. Look for non-descript or plain vehicles; spies don't usually go around in flashy cars. Alternatively, check for vehicles you know, that is belong to people you know who might have a reason to follow you.[10]
    • If you are driving, slow down a little, and see if the car you think is following you does so as well. If you are on a highway, change lanes, and see if they follow.
    • If someone is following you, it won't be in a flashy sports car. It will likely involve something non-descript, that can easily blend in without catching your attention. If you think you are being followed, take notice of distinguishing features like a license plate.[9]
  3. Look for hidden cameras. There are many small cameras out there that are easy to miss. They can be hidden in tight spaces or in other objects, allowing someone to record you and your actions. Most cameras are small, so you'll want to be on the look out for smaller items that appear out of place, or loose wires that don't seem to run to anything.[11]
    • You can use a smartphone to discover cameras. Turn off all the lights in the room you are in, then put your phone in camera mode. Look at the room through the camera. Night vision cameras will emit a bright red light (which is how they see in the dark), which will appear on your screen. If you see that, you may have found a hidden camera.
    • There are a number of hidden camera detectors available for purchase. They are small devices that produce a high-frequency red light, which you can use to sweep the room. The light will reflect off of any lenses, chips, or infrared lights.[12]
  4. Check for listening devices. If you notice odd sounds on your phone, even after you've hung up, someone might be listening in to your conversations. Listening devices may also cause interference on electronic devices like televisions and radios.[10][13]
  5. Look for unusual Wi-Fi networks. Hidden devices like cameras and recorders can use Wi-Fi networks to transmit what they find. If your phone or laptop detects a strong signal in your home that isn't your network, someone may be using that nearby network.[9]


  • Many companies monitor their employee's computer and web activity, so someone may already be tracking you while at work.
  • Read books and articles on becoming a spy. They can include tips in these books that you might be able to apply when looking for a spy.
  • If someone is stalking, sending threats, or blackmailing you, seek immediate help from enforcement authorities. The aggressor's actions may have nothing to do with spying but your safety comes first.

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Sources and Citations