I think someone has been using my computer when I’m away. Is there any way I can find out for sure and see what they’ve been doing while on it?

This is a pretty common problem that occurs. Maybe it happens at the office when you’re home for the evening or maybe when you’re on vacation. An overnight worker could take the initiative to access your computer or maybe your house sitter uses it. Either way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re okay with that and with it being your personal computer, you have the right to find out what they’ve been doing with your computer. If you think this has happened to you before, keep reading for some helpful information that may help you track things down.

There are a few things you can do to inspect the recent activities on your computer. There are several software programs available today that do this for you, but there is another way you may want to check out before you go and purchase anything.

There is a series of files on any Windows system by the name of index.dat. This file holds a list of the Web addresses that have been accessed using Internet Explorer on a computer. So, if you use IE as your main browser, you can go through the list of URLs and find out what the mystery person has been doing on your computer. Now, obviously, this will only work if you think the misuser has been connected to the Internet while using your computer. If you think they have been doing other things with other programs, you may want to take a different route.

Index.dat also works with the cookie files of Web sites, which often store a user’s ID and password information from a certain site. They also can help you track the user’s movements through a Web site so you know exactly what they were doing. One last thing, cookies store shopping information so you can tell right away if someone placed a purchase order through your system or not.

If you want to locate the index.dat file, here’s how you do it.

Windows 95 and 98:

Go to Start, Find, Files or Folders. Once there, a new box will appear and under the Named: field, type “index.dat” (without the quotes). Next, you need to choose where you want your system to look for it, so under the Look in: section, click on the down arrow and pick My Computer. Make sure you check the box that says “Include subfolders” and then click Find Now.

Windows XP:

Go to Start, Search and click on All Files and Folders from the left side panel. Next, type “index.dat” (without the quotes) in the “All or part of the file name” box. In the Look in: field, choose My Computer. Next, click on the More Advanced Options link to add even more criteria to your search. Check off the box that says “Search system folders” and the one that reads “Search hidden files and folders.” When you have everything selected, hit the Search button.

Once your computer finds all of the index.dat files, a list will appear and you can start to look through them to see what activity has been happening on your computer. You may be able to delete some of them by right clicking on a single one and choosing Delete. Others you may not be able to delete, because other parts of Windows could be using it to function properly. You just have to go through and try each of them if you really want them off your system. Always remember to delete them from the Recycle Bin as well.

Now, if you would like to purchase a program that will help you eliminate these files from your computer, you may want to try such ones as Spider 1.16, Spectorsoft, SpectorPro or eBlaster. You can do a search on Google (or any search engine) for these programs to read more about them and purchase them.

Also, if you really don’t want other people using your computer, you should consider password protecting it. Pick a password that only you would understand, making it very difficult for anyone else to crack it. Here’s some advice on choosing the strongest password possible. But, if someone happens to make their way into your system, you can use the guidelines above to check things out and eventually put a stop to it all!

~ Erin