Computer Question For The Technologically Literate

Michael Colton

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I have no idea if this is in the right place or if there is a spot in the Lounge for this. If so, feel free to move it. I know we have some technologically proficient folks in Chrons, so I figured I could ask it here.

I do not know much about technology, especially hardware or OS related things. I recently switched away from Apple computers and I am still getting used to the Windows OS. Why does my Task Manager show so many processes running all the time when I'm not doing anything? Doesn't that slow down my computer's ability to utilize the processor and memory for actual things I want to do? Do all of these things have to be running?
 

Ursa major

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I'm using Windows 8.1 at the moment, and at the moment, there some foreground Apps, all of which I started, and 66 -- it was 68 a moment ago -- background** processes, some of which are processes in the start-up list.

I'm pretty sure that could live without some of them being run, but as the machine is relatively fast, I'm not too bothered at the moment (and I'd hate to stop a vital process). However, on my Windows 7 HP all-in-1 PC, which has a touch screen that I never use (except accidentally), the process running it is notorious (with me) for hogging the CPUs, to the extent that I have to stop it sometimes. (But this was only after I checked online -- well, I googled the process name -- to discover its purpose.)


** - On previous Windows iterations, only the Applications would be shown; they and the background process would appear under a different tab (whose name I can't recall, but will be seeing in an hour or two, as I'll be using a different machine by then).
 

Michael Colton

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Are those background processes things that have to be running? All computers use them? It's just that my old Apple one's didn't tell you about them?

What made me think of this is periodically hearing my computer spin up when I am doing nothing but sitting here writing. What is it doing?
 

HareBrain

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What made me think of this is periodically hearing my computer spin up when I am doing nothing but sitting here writing. What is it doing?

Ha -- this worries me too. I keep thinking it's trying to sell my secrets to North Koreans or something.

I have to say that in years of noticing this behaviour, I've never found any evidence of anything to worry about, and I don't believe they slow things down to any noticeable degree.
 

Michael Colton

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I am probably being paranoid. One of the downsides of not knowing much about this topic is that my mind immediately jumps to malware and the like, because I don't actually know how they work. And coming from the Apple world, all you ever hear about is all of the viruses, malware, spyware, etc., that plagues the Windows world. Hyperbole, I'm sure - but it always springs to my mind.
 

Ray McCarthy

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Are those background processes things that have to be running? All computers use them? It's just that my old Apple one's didn't tell you about them?
Yes all real OS have all that stuff.
See
http://www.wattystuff.net/2014/03/dont-panic/

But why switch from Apple to Windows?
I'm moving from Windows to Linux Mint as MS has gradually been strangling Windows since XP.

Anti-Malware:
Don't use Outlook, Internet Explorer or MS Office with Macro Enabled.
Never enable remote content in Email
Don't open email attachments unless you know what they are
Never install stuff from random websites that tell you you need a codec or plug in
Use Firefox with No-Script and whitelist & Blacklist.

OSX / Apple does get Spyware, trojans, malware too. Even Linux.
 

Venusian Broon

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I'm, like Ursa, on windows 8.1 and am proudly running 7 apps, 74 background processes and 24 Window processes.

I can see what most of track back to, so I'm more or less confident that they are all supposed to be running. Unfortunately that is years of experience of MS systems that tells me that - and I can understand why you might be a bit nervous Michael.

In all they are taking up 2% of my CPU and 15% of my RAM - or so task manager says - so I'm not really noticing them at all.
 

Michael Colton

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Yes all real OS have all that stuff.
See
http://www.wattystuff.net/2014/03/dont-panic/

But why switch from Apple to Windows?

Too much software that does not work on a Mac. Too expensive. This was the first time in my life I bought my own computer, the rest were hand-me-downs from my brother and he had Apples back then (he has since switched to Windows OS for business requirements). So the first time I bought my own computer I wanted something that could run anything I would want to use or play and I wanted something less expensive.

I have no interest in any open source things as they always have technological know-how requirements I don't have. I just need to be able to install what I want and have it work - not check to see if my OS is supported, if so how to get it working, etc. Windows 8 has been really intuitive for me, so I have been happy.
 

Ray McCarthy

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That's why I'm switching from Windows to linux for Laptop, cheaper and works better*. Some of my old "must have" software won't work on newer Windows, has no newer replacements and does work on WINE on Linux. I've been using Linux on servers for over 15 years though.


(*XP properly set up is better than Linux for a laptop, but it's too old and unsupported now, so Linux Mint is on my newer Laptop as it's superior to Win8, Vista, Win7 unless you are locked into MS Corporate stuff)
 

Michael Colton

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That's why I'm switching from Windows to linux for Laptop, cheaper and works better*. Some of my old "must have" software won't work on newer Windows, has no newer replacements and does work on WINE on Linux. I've been using Linux on servers for over 15 years though.


(*XP properly set up is better than Linux for a laptop, but it's too old and unsupported now, so Linux Mint is on my newer Laptop as it's superior to Win8, Vista, Win7 unless you are locked into MS Corporate stuff)

Ah, your last sentence can help explain where I currently am. I use Microsoft's software for so many things now that I would be rather lost without it. And I have no old software that I need - what I desired was an OS that all newer things worked with.

So for instance, I use Windows 8 on all of my personal computers but my employer is still using 7 because the cost for moving an organization as huge as them to a new OS is astronomical. Thousands of computers and interrelated systems would be a big project, or so I hear through the departmental grapevine. But now that I am on a Windows OS, I know that anything I bring into work from my home is compatible. That wasn't the case before when I was using an Apple. Add to that little things like having games I can actually play and other random software that just was never available on my Mac unless I booted in Parallel or whatever it was called - my life has much less hassle now.

The only downside so far is my graphic design work. I don't have a license for the Windows version of the Adobe Suite, so I am forced to work with other software. Which is rather annoying. But I can't afford to pay for a subscription (yes, Adobe is primarily working with subs now) for the latest Suite.

But even in that case, there are many more third-party software options for that sort of thing on the Windows side. Mac, it was essentially Photoshop or nothing.
 

goldhawk

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Are those background processes things that have to be running? All computers use them? It's just that my old Apple one's didn't tell you about them?

Your OS runs a lot of processes to do its work. It is designed this way so that activity in one process is unlikely to effect another. If you didn't see about 100 processes when you were doing nothing, then Apple wasn't reporting all the processes. It was most likely reporting just your processes, not the ones belonging to the OS.

What made me think of this is periodically hearing my computer spin up when I am doing nothing but sitting here writing. What is it doing?

Do you have autosave enabled? That is one thing it could be doing. Others are checking for new mail, updating its directories, or Microsoft looking for illegitimate copies of its software.

Or it could be malware. Get a good virus scanner and use it often. :)
 

J Riff

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I turn off as many startup items as possible. MsConfig is where the startup list is , usually, I think....
Then, count up how many processes are active, I have only about ten. That way, if something starts up, like malware, it will stand out.
Rundle32 is always showing up, and you can turf it. That's for XP/7
8.1 I don't want to know. *
 

Ray McCarthy

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start | Run | type in services.msc
the ones marked "disabled" here are safe to disable. Some others are a bit fatal to disable.
http://www.wattystuff.net/2014/03/dont-panic/

Symantic AV is worst thing to have. If you have AV, only scan on demand, and scan new things you download.

AV mostly is useless, causing problems and missing threats. It doesn't protect you from social engineered malware. Education is HUGELY more effective than AV application.

Most "decently implemented" malware / trojans / key loggers / Zombie mailers etc DO NOT show up on task list and have no noticeable effect at all on your computer. The only common exception is ransomware.

It's stupid Toolbars, Desktop search, animated / fancy themes, Auto Indexing, AV, stupid media applications, DRM, webcams, Skype and bad configuration that badly affect computer performance, not generally malware.
 

Michael Colton

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Much appreciated for the link. I will check it out. I currently am using a malware program only for manual scans. For downloads, I let Windows 8 do the scan. As far as I know, the only problem I have had was my own fault (not paying attention when installing something).
 

J Riff

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Right. Uncheck all boxes. There's even a little prog that will do it for you. Also, when you get something, like I just did, sometimes you have to wait a few days for the virus definitions to catch up. My IE was shutting down immediately. Firefox started doing the same thing. MBam saw nothing until 3 days later, when it identified various trojans, after updating.
I haven't used a full-on virus scanner for ten years, unless things go completely haywire, at which point a re-install is usually the best fix. Some techs will tell you that the freeware scanners are better than McAfee/Norton! It's a racket.
 

Michael Colton

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Indeed. I spent a significant amount of time one weekend researching the different scanners. Several free ones out-performed Norton by a mile.
 

Ray McCarthy

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My XP was last re-installed a couple of months after I got the laptop. So no re-install since June 2002. No malware ever.
I occasionally check with Silentrunners.org and "gmer".
I only use external firewall / router (NEVER use a 3G dongle direct, use a wifi firewall with a 3G dongle).
I use Noscript on Firefox
I don't install from dubious sources
No added crapware or toolbars
No preview of media player, VLC, or PDFs in Browser (Evil)
Flashblocked by default in addon in Firefox.
Java (not Javascript) is blocked by default.
Flash, Java etc kept up to date.

If something evil pops up that can't be closed or cancelled in browser I use task manager to kill browser.

I never run browser full screen. Only full height. Safer.

Boot time on this 13 year old (in April) laptop is 40 seconds.
I upgraded HDD to 120G from original by using adaptors and Partition Magic to make exact copy and resize partitions on a desktop PC.
WiFi upgraded from 11Mbps to 108Mbps
CD Writer/DVD ROM upgraded to CD/DVD writer
Recently case came to bits. Got a different but compatible model scrap laptop £5 and swapped case. Bonus was it had a working GeForce4 440go 64M graphics card, and mine was only GeForce 2 16M card. So now I can run internal LCD and external screen both at 1600x1200 full colour.
 

J Riff

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That is impressive. Windows and no viruses since 2002, should be a medal for that. I still have XP on two computers, will instigate your tips, TX, I assume you just use Firefox and never turn IE on, or is it gone?
 

Ray McCarthy

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Before Firefox I used Netscape.
Before Thunderbird I used various other email clients.

IE and Outlook (Express or Office) introduce too many vulnerabilities. I only ever used IE for MS/Win Updates.

I've had a virus once, ever, since 1979. It was in 1989 when someone else came in and installed a game on DOS during lunch. After that I locked the office. Later of course with NT4.0 and later in offices a computer would be locked from casual co-workers.

Checking tools: Need to be used by experts
Silent Runners. Download and run as administer. You may want to restart in Safe Mode if in doubt.
http://www.silentrunners.org/

Gmer Root kit checker
http://www.gmer.net/

Note that AV software causes MORE problems than malware today as Malware apart from ransom-ware is meant to be invisible and doesn't cause strange behaviour. Crashing or slowing down is almost always NOT due to virus/malware.
AV software nor UAC doesn't stop the user repeatedly clicking on OK.

The common routes to infection:
Autorun. When win95 was announced I knew it would be a problem. It's USB sticks, network shares, floppy, CD, DVD, SD cards, USB malicious devices inc PSU or mouse and network/Internet uPNP/SSDP discovery. An external firewall on a router/modem will stop Internet attacks on this vector. I've installed over 1000 computers since 1996 with NT4.0 and also some Win 2000, XP, Vista, Win7 for Offices/Colleges/Industry. I've always disabled Autorun and SSDP and uPNP in the Registry. Belatedly MS has released a tool. It should never have existed, nor been enabled by default. Some Media Streaming gadgets need uPNP on for PC connection. If so make sure uPNP is disabled on the Internet Router/Firewall/Modem.

ActiveX. Don't use any flavour of IE or Outlook. ActiveX is arbitary code run outside the browser sandbox. No other browser or email uses it. It should NEVER have been in MS Email & Browser but only in native applications. Idiots!

Java via Browser. This is NOT javascript. It's applications loaded via local storage, network or browser. The risk is the same as any unknown program. Hardly any website uses it so set it in Firefox to "Use on demand". Make sure up to date and remove old versions.

Javascript. Most websites need it. Use Noscript plugin on Firefox. Infection is automatic. So only "whitelist" known sites. Other sites, including Google (+, groups, YouTube, search page etc), Twitter, Facebook are so problematic with risk of malware infected adverts and malicious users as well as privacy busting tracking on all other sites you only enable temporary javascript. Don't click on adverts or stuff you don't know what it does. Some domains should NEVER be enabled due to Privacy issues, not Malware.

Toolbars and Codecs. Don't install Toolbars, adblockers or Codecs / Media viewing from random sites when the site asks. Go to an appropriate place, such as adobe.com for Flash.

Installing applications from random sources
. Never EVER install / download "pirate" or "cracked" versions of apps/programs/films/ebooks. A common method to install a Trojan / Malware.

Server services with no properly set up external firewall. Server, Computer Browser, IIS/Webserver, MS-SQL server HTTPS, FTP, Telnet, Remote Assistance, DCOM, Remote Registry, File and Printer Sharing. All these allow or have allowed remote infection silently EVEN IF AV running, if not blocked by the Firewall in you router/Modem. Do not rely on Windows Firewall as it allows these to pass! Do not put a Windows PC in "DMZ" of a router. You can't disable DCOM and MS SQL without breaking window applications, but the others should be "Disabled on startup" in services.msc

Web Applications. Don't view PDFs and many other none Web page things in a Browser. Disabling Firefox and other browser PDF built in is done in the browser (about:config in Firefox). Also Check Plug-ins/Add-on and Applications in settings/Options. I have most applications set to File Download or Ask.

Firewall
Never use USB for Internet connection. Use WiFi or cabled Internet to a router.
Never use a USB 3G or 4G dongle direct. Use a portable WiFi point with a firewall and mobile dongle built in.

UAC is useless protection.
Not being Administrator only helps a little.

Education, not AV programs is the key!

Make sure you have notebook (not kept in Laptop bag) and password set on Windows. Use different real passwords for everything. Use a master password on Firefox. Disable Forms autofill/memory and only let Firefox remember non-financial site passwords.

Public WiFi Hotspots.
Do not do any Financial web pages, ebay, pay-pal etc. If you MUST do email have an extra Web based account that emails are forwarded to. HTTPS isn't safe! search HTTPS WiFi Man in the middle attack. A solution is to use a trusted VPN (already setup) at the University, Cafe, Hotel etc. We had one on Port 80 on a linux server in the Attic so that to the University (for our kids) or when I was travelling it couldn't be blocked as port 80 is a Web site. So using the VPN meant that on public WiFi we were really using ALL internet stuff (Web, FTP, SFTP, email, usenet, IRC etc) via our home network and also able to access our home media, printer and file shares securely.
 

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