How can I eliminate all tracking,spyware,etc. from my work computer
August 24, 2010 6:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm keeping my former employer's computer. How can I be sure that there is no spyware/tracking programs or chip/etc on it?

My former employer never paid my last month and half salary. So I did not return the laptop they gave me to work on.

It's been more than a year now, and I'd like to put the computer to use, but I'm afraid that it still has some kind of tracking or spying system on it. I realize that I might be "paranoid" but this company was particularly nasty and I want to be cautious.

How can I eliminate their remaining influence on the computer?
posted by meantime to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: really, if this is all about "how do I keep a stolen laptop" then it's a bit over the line for AskMe, sorry. -- jessamyn

Reformat the drive?
posted by astapasta24 at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nuke it.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:40 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Full nuke and pave is the only way to make sure.
posted by deezil at 6:44 AM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: How do I "Full nuke and pave"? Sorry if it's a basic question, I'm just doubting I can just format c: and call it a day.

Sonic, your link leads me right back to this page.
posted by meantime at 6:58 AM on August 24, 2010

Boot from some kind of removable media, either a CD or thumbdrive, and reformat the hard drive.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:00 AM on August 24, 2010

Format the hard drive and install a new operating system.
posted by COD at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2010

Yeah, echoing the chorus -- back up anything you want to keep, then format/reinstall the operating system of your choice. If you have installation media available for the operating system you want to use, the format will be part of the reinstallation process. If you do not, choose which operating system you want to use and acquire it through whichever route is most appropriate for you.

This is somewhat unlikely, but it's possible the laptop may have a lo-jack type tracking system enabled in the BIOS that would not be disabled with a format/reinstall. If you don't mind posting or memailing the make and model of the laptop, I can help you determine that.
posted by biggity at 7:12 AM on August 24, 2010

If you don't return it, couldn't they report it to the police as stolen?

Additionally, if you didn't get paid, you can probably file a claim with the state they're located in and get paid.
posted by anniecat at 7:15 AM on August 24, 2010

Hopefully you have the following: 1) Access to someone's else's computer; and 2) Either a Windows installation CD or (even better) the laptop's software reinstallation DVD.

On another computer, download and burn a copy of Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN). This file is an ISO file and will need to be burnt to a CD - here is how you do that if you don't know how.

Boot your laptop, and press F12/F2 or whatever key you need to, to start the BIOS setup screen. Select the CD drive as your boot drive (aka your start drive). Press the CD drive button and insert the CD you've just created into the CD drive. Save the BIOS changes and restart.

Your laptop will now use the DBAN CD to boot. It will not boot into Windows like it normally does, but into a system called Linux.

Here is what you need to do. You can also watch this Youtube video as well for a full overview.

What DBAN does is totally overwrite your drive - every single thing that is on there is gone. Forever. Unrecoverable. No more trojans, spyware, keyloggers, operating system. No more data files either - so be really really sure that you want to do this before you do it!

Once the DBAN CD has finished it's goodness, restart the laptop, and insert your reinstallation DVD, and follow your nose.
posted by humpy at 7:21 AM on August 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow! That's perfect! Thank you!

AnniecatThey made it a practice of not paying any employees that they let go of any money that they owed them. The cfo also routinely made jokes about not paying suppliers and that it was cheaper for them to pay lawyers, etc than bills. There are many parties that have already beat them in court, but are still waiting for payment. Rather than get involved in a legal battle, I decided to let it go. But I definitely wasn't going to give them back the computer before I got my salary.

I dont know if they would report it to the police, but I think I'm ok there because we both can claim that the other party hasn't returned what is rightfully owed, and they owe me a good deal more than the computer is worth.
posted by meantime at 7:37 AM on August 24, 2010

Have you spoken to a lawyer about this? Your former employer might claim there was some valuable IP on that laptop, and come after you for it. There are a very few places that you can take property in lieu of wages, but only under very limited circumstances.
posted by scruss at 8:14 AM on August 24, 2010

posted by emilyd22222 at 8:17 AM on August 24, 2010

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