Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Monday, November 24, 2014
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
It’s happened to all of us. You step away from your computer and come back a few minutes later. While you were gone, your computer’s hard drive lights start flashing — but what exactly is it doing? It’s natural to be a bit suspicious.
This is generally nothing to worry about. All normally configured Windows systems will do this regularly. Malware is always a possibility, of course. You can run an antimalware scan if you’re worried.
Yes, Your Computer Waits Until You’re Not Around
Your computer probably isn’t trying to be sneaky. Instead, it’s trying to be smart and respectful. Windows has some jobs to do in the background, and it tries to politely wait until your computer is “idle” — when it’s not actively being used by a person — to do these jobs. This ensures the computer’s resources aren’t wasted when you’re using it. The necessary background tasks won’t slow your computer down while you’re using it.
It’s not your imagination — WIndows actually waits until your computer is idle to start doing many of these tasks. And, it may even pause the task when you start using your computer again, so if you sit down at the computer to check what’s going on you may see no trace of the activity. The WIndows Task Scheduler provides a way to only run a task while the computer is idle, andmany tasks are configured to work this way.
What’s It Doing in the Background?
But what exactly is your computer doing in the background? The exact background tasks depend on what software you have on your computer and how it’s configured, but here are some common ones:
This is just a short list, of course. There’s an almost infinite number of possibilities depending on what software you’re using. For example, if you have Steam open in the background and an update to a game you have installed was just released, Steam will be downloading the update and installing it automatically. File-downloading programs like BitTorrent clients can obviously cause this sort of hard disk activity, too.
Checking What Programs Are Actually Using Your Disk
That’s all well and good in theory, but you might want to know what your computer is actually doing. First of all, if you’re really worried that your computer could have malware on it, you should perform a scan with a reputable antimalware utility instead of just using system tools to see what’s going on. But, if you’d like to monitor your disk activity, you can.
You can use the Task Manager or Resource Monitor tools included with Windows to check per-process disk activity, which is good if your hard drive light is blinking away or your computer is slowing down due to high disk usage and you have no idea why.
To open it, first launch the Task Manager by right-clicking your taskbar and selecting Task Manager or pressing Ctrl+Shift+Escape. On Windows 8, the new Task Manager shows disk activity, so you can just click the Disk header to sort by current disk activity. You can then search for the name of the process to find out what’s going on.
Windows 7 users don’t have this feature in the task manager. If you’re using Windows 7, you’ll need to click over to the Performance tab and click “Open Resource Monitor.” Click the Disk tab in the Resource Monitor windowand you’ll see a list of processes you can arrange by their current disk usage. Even on Windows 8 and 8.1, the Resource Monitor window provides more detail than the Task Manager.
To log disk activity and check it later, useProcess Monitor — one of the awesome SysInternals tools Windows geeks love so much. You can choose to leave Process Monitor running in the background while you step away from your computer. The next time you come back and see your computer’s hard drive light flashing (and possibly hear a mechanical hard drive grinding away), you can look at your Process Monitor window and check to see which processes were just using the hard drive.
Process Monitor captures a variety of events, but you can click the buttons on the toolbar to ensure it only shows file system events. Below, we can see the Windows search-indexing process was at work.
Process Monitor is good because it provides a history. Even if a process stops using the disk entirely or terminates itself, you still view this information. (Note that you probably wouldn’t want to run this tool all the time, as capturing and logging all system events like this consumes system resources. Process Monitor only logs events while it’s open, so you can’t launch it after a particularly intensive burst of disk activity and see what was happening before the launch.)
Again, this is generally nothing to worry about. All computers will do this, and that’s normal. If you suspect something is amiss, run a scan with an antivirus program. Or, if you’re feeling particularly geeky, look into it yourself with one of the tools above!
Posted by CAMACOL at 9:55 AM
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Once again there are urgent security patches released for Windows, and this time the problems they fix are “potentially catastrophic” issues with the encryption stack. This is why you should have Windows install updates automatically.
It’s possible you leap into action every time you see the security notification, but many people don’t. And, if you do, what’s the point of installing critical security updates manually? Just have them install themselves.
Patches Should Be Installed as Soon As Possible
You often need to patch security problems as soon as possible to fix whatever the problem is. After a patch is released, the security hole becomes public knowledge if it wasn’t already. Attackers now know the problem and can rush to start exploiting it as soon as possible before people update. Attackers know business and home users are often slow to update, and they can wreak some havoc in the time before people patch.
Just selecting “manually install updates” and installing updates when you remember to do so isn’t really good enough. You want Windows Update to install those updates for you automatically. For software like your web browser and browser plug-ins, you also want to leave automatic updates enabled — thankfully, that’s the default these days. If you disable automatic updates for Firefox, Flash, Adobe Reader, or other important software, you should go turn them back on right now.
It’s Not As Annoying As You Think
Automatic updates get a bad rap. In Windows XP and Windows Vista, your computer might automatically install updates while you get up for a coffee break and have rebooted itself by the time you get back. You could lose all your work if you weren’t there to stop the 10-minute automatic reboot countdown. This led to many people disabling those automatic updates.
But Windows has improved since then. Windows 7 and 8 are configured to install updates at more convenient times, often when you reboot or shut down your PC if possible. On Windows 8 and 8.1, there’s a much longer grace period — you see a “you recently updated, so you need to reboot your PC” message, but your computer will wait three entire days before rebooting on its own. You’ll have plenty of time to restart on your own terms without losing your work.
That’s right: You don’t have to click a button every four hours to postpone the reboot. You can actually use your computer without being harassed! If only Windows 8 and 8.1 didn’t have so many other problems that are making people cling to Windows 7.
This Registry Hack Prevents Automatic Reboots
If you’d like to avoid the automatic reboots entirely, you can. A registry hack allows you toprevent these automatic reboots from occurring. You can then enable automatic updates and get on with your life, secure in the knowledge that your computer won’t automatically reboot itself when you step away. The registry hack flips a setting you can change in group policy on Professional and Enterprise editions of Windows.
Big Problems Are Rare
Some people are scared to install updates because of potential system problems, from blue screens and corrupted Windows installations to various other issues. And, indeed, Microsoft’s Windows Updates seem to have had more problems than usual lately.
Such problems have been very rare. This year, there was an update for Windows 7 that caused blue screens of death on some PCs. Aside from that, we’ve seen a few botched updates but no updates that led to blue screens like that. In some cases, driver updates have broken some drivers. In 2009, a McAfee antivirus update made some computers unbootable, but that only affected computers running that particular antivirus — one we wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
Exactly how many computers were affected by these problems? We don’t have any good data that tells us this, but it’s a minuscule percentage of people. On the other hand, there are millions and millions of computers that are part of botnets, often because they refused to install security updates and ended up infected. Some people have estimated that 500 million computers each year become part of botnets. Far, far fewer computers than that experience problems with updates.
Spend any time at all on the Internet and you’ll realize that malware is a much bigger problem than Windows Update breaking computers. One is very rare — and can be fixed with System Restore or a similar recovery feature if it ever happens — while one is much more common and can result in the theft of your important data.
Optional Updates Are Optional
You’re free to ignore optional updates for a while, if you like. You can choose what you want to do with optional updates in your Windows Update settings, and you could have Windows only install critical security updates. You could then install optional updates on your own schedule. If you’re really worried, this would reduce the amount of potential update problems you experience while ensuring you get the critical security updates you need.
To do this, visit the Windows Update settings in the Control Panel and uncheck the “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates” checkbox.
Even if you consider yourself an advanced Windows geek who knows what you’re doing, this is especially critical if you’re setting up someone else’s computer. They should be getting Windows Updates automatically so they don’t end up ignoring the notification and never installing updates.
If you instantly install the updates every time you see them, you technically don’t need to do this. But, if you’re instantly installing the updates, why not just have them installed automatically? If the reason is to avoid reboots, Windows 8 is better about this and all versions of Windows allow you to avoid that annoying reboot with a single registry hack. Windows will also allow you to install updates while restarting or shutting down your computer, so Windows respects your time much more than it used to. Automatic updates are critical for Windows users.
Posted by CAMACOL at 8:53 AM
Monday, November 17, 2014
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
By Justin Bachman
|Debris at the crash site of the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo rests in the Mojave desert on Oct. 31|
Posted by CAMACOL at 7:54 AM