So, I work in this small company (10 people) where we do stuff in programming, for various platforms. I started recently working there (2 months) right after I graduated. My work is not exactly programming related, but I have enough knowledge to do some intermediate level programming like writing scripts in bash (I use Linux and Mac), writing simple programs and compile them and so on, but my comprehension of network and security topics is limited.

Some of my workmates, on the opposite, are more experienced programmers, computer science graduated, with deeper knowledge in network systems, web applications and programming. The work environment is very casual and friendly, we occasionaly meet after work to have a drink.

In the workplace, we all share the same LAN network, we recurrently use programs for remote desktop control and file transfer. We also host applications accessible via webservices. All our computers are login-protected and theoretically no one knows each other passwords.

Besides that, personally I use my computer for non-work related subjects: I access my personal email, chat with friends, access homebanking and social networks, edit personal documents which I save in the computer's hard drive.

Recently, I noticed that some of my colleagues sporadically arrive earlier at work (only one at a time) for no particular reason... As we work in small rooms, their excuse is that they can concentrate better earlier in the morning with less noise. Furthermore, I also noticed that some of them once in a blue moon bring their personal laptop to do some work related stuff. (I am not sure of the relevance of these behaviour to the question itself, I am just giving you the facts.)

This is very hard to put, but is there anyway that my colleagues can access my computer information and my personal files? Or is there some method they can use to discover my personal passwords?

I am speculating, of course, unfortunately I hope this doesn't happen, but I have no way of discovering it, and surely the right to question it.

As the above questions may seem too general, I will also leave this one for you:

Is there any way to find out if some one logged into my computer, by accessing some logs or any other info? I will take all your inputs, remember I use Linux and Mac.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site! Sure, this is on-topic. Glad to have you here, and hope to see you continue to participate in the future!
    – D.W.
    Aug 11, 2011 at 19:56
  • 1
    The answers below by D.W. and Ryan M. are good and accurate. Additionally, you may want to take a look at a couple related answers I've posted to some other questions: security.stackexchange.com/questions/2463/… and security.stackexchange.com/questions/2429/…
    – Iszi
    Aug 11, 2011 at 20:26
  • 1
    Do not tell them your username and password? If they do access your profile, you should make your boss aware, because while an admin might have permission to access ANYTHING on your work computer your colleague sitting next to you does not. You could also simply not use your work computer for personal reasons unless its required ( i.e. you get a call from your bank saying your money is gone ).
    – Ramhound
    Aug 16, 2011 at 15:32
  • Sure they can, specially if they're friends with the IT guys. Also they arrive earlier and bring their laptops to do freelance work.
    – Ben
    Jul 14, 2014 at 20:59

7 Answers 7


Yes. Your colleagues, if they really wanted, could probably access your computer, your personal files, your passwords, your banking account, etc. That's just the way of it.

There are any number of ways they could do this, if they wanted to be dishonest and malicious. One simple way would be to install a keylogger (or other spyware) on your machine at some point when no one else is around. Another way would be to boot up your computer (possibly with a Linux LiveCD, to bypass any password protections) and look at all files stored on your computer, including passwords saved by your browser, etc. Password protections on your accounts will basically keep honest people honest, but won't stop dishonest co-workers.

In general, it is hard to protect yourself against a knowledgeable attacker when the attacker has (1) physical access to your machine, and (2) authorized access to your local network. You cannot prevent it. And, you cannot reasonably detect it; there is no way you'd reasonably be able to reliably detect tampering by looking in the log files. (I mean, it might be possible, but it's way too hard and complicated, and life is much too short.)

Generally, this is primarily a social problem, not a technical problem. There are any number of ways that your co-workers or roommates could mess with you. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of people are generally honest (or at least, like to think of themselves as honest), especially if you avoid giving them an overwhelming motivation to screw with you. So I would not spend too much time worrying about the technical issues. Just avoid putting anything too sensitive on your work machine, and get on with your life.

In other words, here is my recommendation: Don't use your work machine for highly sensitive personal stuff like online banking, porn, or highly sensitive things you wouldn't want your employer to know (e.g., side consulting jobs, controversial activities in your free time, etc.). Apart from the security risks, you are giving your employer authorized access to all of that information. Do you really want your employer to have access? And do you want all that information stored in the company's backups? It's probably not a great idea. And, don't piss off your co-workers so badly that they'd be tempted to engage in nasty kinds of revenge (always good advice, regardless of computer security issues).

Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about the computer security risks. On the other hand, if this has you worried and you want to protect yourself against some kinds of mischief, here are a few modest steps you could consider taking:

  1. install full-disk encryption, and use a hard-to-guess passphrase -- this will make it harder for someone who has physical access to your machine to get at your personal files.
  2. when you leave your machine unattended, log out of the full-disk encryption, and re-type in your password when you come back
  3. make sure the user account you usually use does not have administrator privileges
  4. turn on automatic updates and make sure your browser is fully updated
  5. back up your machine regularly
  6. if you use Firefox, install the HTTPS Everywhere extension (unfortunately it isn't available for other browsers).

These are far, far, far from perfect, and if a co-worker wanted to mess with you, they probably still could. But if it makes you feel more comfortable, go for it.

  • 8
    Note that password protection of the BIOS, or encryption of the home folder, can still be defeated if the malicious co-worker sneaks a hardware keylogger onto your system
    – Iszi
    Aug 11, 2011 at 20:25
  • Thank you very much. That is a very complete answer. I learned a lot about the different ways someone could harm others computer's. I will take a look at Truecrypt. And I already followed your adviced by not accessing this site on my workplace today :p Aug 12, 2011 at 22:19
  • 3
    @CoffeeNestea - Look it up on YouTube. It's quite literally plug-and-play. You'll never notice it unless you physically inspect the cable connecting your keyboard to your PC every time.
    – Iszi
    Aug 13, 2011 at 15:25
  • 5
    +1 for "physical access == root access (full control)" Sep 6, 2011 at 16:11
  • 1
    You don't know how many times I've heard "We had to reset your password in order to install an OS update, new one is 12345678, change it when prompted.".
    – Ben
    Jul 14, 2014 at 21:12

is there anyway that my colleagues can access my computer information and my personal files?

Many ways. From just looking over your sholder when you are not paying attention to installing a hardware key logger to intercepting your network traffic. Someone there probably has administrative access to your machine. Whoever has administrative access can really see everything you do without doing anything malicious.

Or is there some method they can use to discover my personal passwords?

Again many different ways from trivial to sophisticated. Installing a hardware key logger, a software key logger, software monitoring program on your machine, sniffing network traffic, setting up a webserver to impersonate a website you frequently use, and just plain old asking.

'I can upgrade your system but I need your password.'

I have no way of discovering it, and surely the right to question it.

Well, there are lots of ways of discovering if someone is doing malicious things. It always pays to be cautious, but unless you have much clearer evidence that one of your coworkers is malevolent, I would be prudent but not excessivly so.

Defensive measures span from physical tamper seals and video monitoring to logging and auditing to network monitoring. The easiest measure you can take are things like:

  • Don't type in a password or username when someone is in visible range.
  • Put a rearview mirror on your display.
  • Use encrypted communications when possible (https instead of http).
  • Keep your data on a personal encrypted USB thumb drive.
  • Configure the existing logging and monitoring system to detect logins and security critical functions, and review the logs.
  • Be nice to your coworkers.


Note: I have no association with ThinkGeek, except for occasionally purchasing stuff from them.

  • NSA link is gone Jul 14, 2014 at 10:04
  • Updated it, it was just a slight URL change
    – Ale
    Oct 12, 2014 at 12:11

To directly answer your question: Type last at a command prompt and it will show you user names and timestamps of successful login attempts (this doesn't do much good if they pulled your hard drive out to browse your files).

Although you shouldn't do your personal stuff on your work computer (legal reason.. something about the company owning any documents stored or created on the computer?)

Edit: just to expand a little.. As D.W. mentioned, it's very difficult to protect your machine from someone who has physical access to your computer. They could install key loggers, they could boot from a USB or Live CD and mount your hard drive. Even password protecting the BIOS to disable USB or CD boots can be undone by removing the little battery on the MoBo.

A couple things you can do to make it more difficult for them to yoink your stuff: Encrypt your home folder and use a GOOD password. Encrypting the data would force them to try and steal your password hash and crack it, and then logging in with your password just so they can see your files. Like I mentioned earlier, you could password protect your BIOS and then disable boot from external devices. In the end, though, this only makes it more difficult (doesn't prevent) the theft of your data.

I think the easiest solution is to not do personal stuff at work.. then there's a lot less worrying you have to do.

  • 3
    Note that password protection of the BIOS, or encryption of the home folder, can still be defeated if the malicious co-worker sneaks a hardware keylogger onto your system.
    – Iszi
    Aug 11, 2011 at 20:24

Probably the best protection for physical access is full disk encryption and a smartcard that stays on your keychain.

I mean this is assuming you're colleagues aren't a bunch of professional hackers. I doubt the NSA is interested in your computer.

Also, don't put personal files on your computer. Just don't. Assume that everything on your work computer is public.

  • 1
    +1 for "don't put personal files on your work computer."
    – Hennes
    Oct 12, 2014 at 17:35

In short, you can't. (Unless you use your own network, use truecrypt, gum up the usb ports and make sure that the mouse, keyboard and motherboard usb headers haven't been tampered with, and boot from a live linux CD/pendrive)

If allowed, bring your own laptop or PDA to work with your own GPRS dongle, use https everywhere or use a remote server over ssh and don't let it out of your sight.

However, that would require an extraordinary amount of trust from your employer which would be unlikely to be granted unless you were on the board, and even then your motives may be questionable as noone would know what you were up to.

If you need to do personal stuff, use your own kit and be open about it without revealing sensitive information.


To answer your top question: no, you cannot, short of taking it with you. As everyone else has pointed out, physical access = total control.

To add to what others have said, look at Blue Pill (hypervisor-based malware):


and, in particular, the "Evil Maid" attack:


Your coworkers may not be this sophisticated, so leaving a screen saver password and using full-disk encryption may be enough, but if you happen to work at the NSA, you're hosed the minute your box is out of your sight.


The answer is "Yes". If you are all on a shared network, then they have a way to communicate with your computer. Even if you assume that their intent is pure, perhaps you can not guarantee the hygiene of their personal machines. This is how "Wannacry" spread - exploited machines on the same network using vulnerable port (445 - Windows).

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .