Exposed: the PC repair shops that rifle through your photos and passwords
The exercise was simple. Create a simple fault on a laptop, load it with spy software, take it into several repair shops, then sit back and see what happened. Would they arrive at the same diagnosis and charge us a fair price to fix it?
First, Sky News engineers installed professional spy software on a new laptop. Spector Pro was programmed to load on start-up and silently record every ‘event’ that took place. If the mouse was moved, a folder opened or a file looked at, we would know about it. Every event would also trigger a screen snapshot to be taken.
We also installed Digiwatcher. This devious little tool auto-runs on start-up and quietly tells any connected webcam to secretly film whoever is at the machine. The process is invisible and the video file is hidden on the hard drive and password protected.
To create the fault, we simply loosened one of the memory chips so Windows wouldn’t load. To get things working again, one needs only push the chip back into the slot and reboot the machine. Any half-way competent engineers should fix it in minutes.
Laptop Revival in Hammersmith initially offered us a free diagnosis when we dropped our laptop off. Yet the spy software later revealed something extraordinary. The webcam shows that almost immediately the technician discovers our loose memory chip and clicks it back into position [based on recorded boot and shut down times]. The machine is rebooted and the problem solved.
Yet he then begins browsing through our hard drive. A folder marked ‘Private’ is opened and he flicks through our researcher’s holiday photographs, including intimate snaps of her wearing a bikini. He stares at picture after picture, stopping only to show them to colleagues.
He then picks up the phone and calls our researcher. He tells her our motherboard is faulty and will need to be replaced. Usually it costs £130 but he’ll do it for £100. We tell him we’ll think about it and call him tomorrow.
After more snooping, he logs off. But a few hours later, another technician boots our machine. He also begins searching our hard drive until he finds log-in details for our Facebook and Hotmail accounts. With a cackle he removes a memory stick from around his neck, plugs it in and then copies them across.
He also discovers our holiday photos and copies those of our researcher in her bikini.
Most worryingly, when he discovers log-in details for our online bank account, he logs onto the bank’s website and attempts to break into the account. He only fails because the details we created were false.
There were also difficulties with PC World in Brentford. The technician triumphantly diagnosed a faulty motherboard and insisted we needed a new one. We were told unless we paid £230 in advance, we couldn’t have it repaired. We agreed. But when we collected the laptop and got it home, we discovered only a memory chip had been replaced and not the motherboard.
at Evnova Computers in Barbican the loose memory chip was also spotted and fixed. But the company also told us we needed a new motherboard. We declined the offer and collected our laptop. When we examined it, we discovered technicians had soldered the memory bus pins together to recreate the original fault.