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Posted December 20, 2008

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What's Your Computer Doing Behind Your Back

Is Big Brother Watching You?

If you have third-party firewall software like ZoneAlarm, for instance, running on your Windows computer, you can probably see its Icon sitting in your Systems Trey down by your clock. Most of these Icons will glow red or blue depending on whether your computer is uploading or downloading data to or from the Internet. What's Your Computer Doing Behind Your Back
If you'll take the time to notice, even when your Web browser is turned off the firewall Icon in your systems Trey stays busy all the time. Even when you're not surfing the Web, your computer is in constant communication with the Internet. Try this sometime. Close all your open programs until there's nothing on your screen but your Desktop. Now, watch your firewall icon in the Systems Trey. It can't be still for over 15 seconds, can it?

So what sort of information and data is flowing to and from your computer to and from the Internet even when Internet Explorer or Firefox or any other web browser is turned off? Well, it could be lots of things. You probably have a bunch of programs running in the background exchanging information with their motherships to see if they are properly updated. But who knows?

There is a way to find out what your computer and the Internet are talking about behind your back. Follow these simple steps:

  • Click the Start button and then click Run. Type cmd in the Run box and press your Enter key.

  • At the Command prompt type netstat   -b  5   >  activity.txt and press your Enter key.

  • Wait for, oh say, a couple of minutes and then hold down your Ctrl key and type c.

  • Now, type activity.txt at the Command prompt and hit your Enter key and a Notepad file will open.

See What's Happening Behind your Back

This Notepad file will contain a log of every program on your computer that is responsible for initiating dialogue to and from the Internet during those two minutes you waited when following the instructions in the black box above. It will show the websites that these programs connected to. If you see something that looks suspicious, open Task Manager and click the Precesses tab. There you will see all (or almost all) of the programs running in the background. See if you can find the suspicious program there somewhere. If you find something that doesn't look right, like imabug.exe for instance, type it into Google and find out all you can about it. If you're sure it's up to no good, go back to the Task Manager and stop it from running. You may then want to find it on your computer and eliminate it. But be careful and don't delete something Windows needs in order to run.

There are probably a lot of things running in your computer's background that aren't represented by icons in your Systems Trey. If you have Apple software, like iTunes, on your computer, unless you have instructed it to do otherwise, it will be checking for updates every 15 minutes or so. If you have Java installed, it too is bad about constantly checking for updates. This is harmless activity but if you have dozens of programs all stumbling over one another to dial home every 15 minutes, that's going to slow down your computer not to mention your Internet browser.

So, why not run this simple little MS-DOS trick and see a sampling of what is going on behind your back?

Some Explanatory Notes

If you try this in Vista you will get the notepad document all right but instead of the information you were expecting, there will only be the words, "The requested operation requires elevation". This is because of Vists's UAC or User Account Control. You can avoid this by running DOS as Administrator. That's easy. Click Start > All Programs > Accessories and then right-click on Command Prompt and then click Run as administrator. When the UAC box comes up click Continue. Now you're at the command prompt so start typing and follow the instructions in the black box above.

Spacing is important in DOS. Both in Vista and XP you must type netstat without a space at the prompt (the blinking >) and then a space and then -b space 5 space > space then activity.txt. If that's confusing, just look at the first image I've provided above.

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