Leo's Answers #189 – July 28, 2009

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Leo Notenboom

Hello!

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*** New Articles

How can two programs that are nearly identical be so different in size and speed?

Why does one stand alone anti-spyware program (just as an example) take up 10MB on my machine but a similar anti-spyware program takes up 150MB? They both have a GUI; have real time scans; scan for spyware, adware, trojans, keyloggers, rootkits; automatic signature definition updates; allow the user to configure what gets scanned, when it gets scanned, etc. etc. And they’re both free.

Other than one program having a fancier dashboard, they seem to be almost identical in functionality and they’ve been rated just about equal by various reviewers. Does the larger program hog more CPU resources simply because it is larger?

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I’m sure it’s kinda strange to the non technical person, but what you describe is very, very common. Programs that do similar things are often dramatically different in both size, and speed.

The answer’s actually fairly complex, since there are many things that factor in – every thing from a variety of choices made by the software’s designer, to the age of the product.

Continue reading: How can two programs that are nearly identical be so different in size and speed?
http://ask-leo.com/C3820

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I have constant disk activity, and I don’t know why. How can I tell what program is doing it?

My machine has a constant red led, constant disk activity, no response from mouse, Task Manager, not able to gain control of any processes or programs. Problem is, I have had Process Explorer(boot) running and it shows +-98% inactive!!! I am unable to see what is causing me the problem (using Admin. Tools Events etc. when I look at various categories).

Obviously something appears to be running outside of Windows XP Pro SP.3. Unfortunately I am unable to find and DESTROY it.

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One thing I can tell you is that it’s not outside of Windows. The assumption that the CPU usage is telling you something is incorrect.

In the past we’ve used a tool called FileMon to determine what’s been writing to your disk. FileMon has since been replaced by a significantly more powerful utility, Process Monitor.

We’ll look at using Process Monitor to see if we can determine just exactly who’s doing what to your machine.

Continue reading: I have constant disk activity, and I don’t know why. How can I tell what program is doing it?
http://ask-leo.com/C3819

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Is an online backup service a good idea?

I routinely back up everything to an external hard drive but instead of using DVD’s as a secondary backup, I use a program called Dropbox. It allows 2Gb of storage for free and for a fee, you can get more storage. Since the storage is in cyberspace, I sometimes wonder if someone could access the files I have stored there. Do you have an opinion on it? I don’t store anything there with private personal data just in case.

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I’ve written some about free online backup services before, but I want to take this question and look at the entire concept of online backups.

Online backup services can be a useful component of a broader backup strategy. But from security to completeness to speed and cost, there are a number of factors to consider before deciding if online backup is the right thing to do.

Continue reading: Is an online backup service a good idea?
http://ask-leo.com/C3818

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How do I tell what svchost is doing?

I read through the articles on svchost and CPU utilization. I am wondering if the same goes for svchost and memory utilization. I have been trying to trace back to when this started and cannot. But, the problem is I have one svchost process that will accumulate very large amounts of physical and virtual memory (almost 2 GBs!) which slows my system down considerably. I have ended this process without my computer shutting down consistently, the process just restarts. Is there a way to trace the PID to the program executing this?

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As I’ve discussed in prior articles, svchost is a required system component. It’s the “host” for a variety of “services”, hence the name – service host or svchost.

It gets complicated because there may be multiple copies of svchost.exe running, and each copy of svchost .exe may be hosting multiple services.

Why it’s organized that way is probably beyond mortal comprehension, but there are some tools and techniques to try and isolate which svchost is doing what.

Continue reading: How do I tell what svchost is doing?
http://ask-leo.com/C3817

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How do I set what email program my system uses?

Laptop running XP and Office 2003. For no apparent reason, when in Word and click FILE/SEND TO I get an error message saying I need to connect to MS Exchange Server, Until 10 days ago, this command seamlessly opened up a window in Thunderbird (the only email client on the machine)and attached the file. Any ideas on what happened?

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No real ideas on what happened, but I do have some ideas on what needs fixing.

To begin with, I’m guessing that you do, indeed, have at least one more email client than just Thunderbird on your machine.

Continue reading: How do I set what email program my system uses?
http://ask-leo.com/C3816

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*** Comments

A sampling of some of the comments that have been posted recently on Ask Leo!

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How do I remove a virus?

GloucesterBob writes:

Good article, but surprised you didnt mention rolling back your XP/Vista to a system restore point before the date you noticed the pop up, its worked for me, and a lot easier task for most people than full system restore.

System restore is overrated, IMO, and not (repeat not) a reliable malware removal tool. Two prior articles: Can I get rid of spyware using system restore?, and Why can’t I rely on System Restore for backups?.

-Leo

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Can my ISP monitor my internet usage?

Prowler writes:

Hello Leo, and all who have posted on this article! My question is possibly like a few others that makes me wonder… However I do know that my ISP can do what ever they want too, if need be spy on me and what I’m doing online like, Surfing, Downloading, Reading Emails blah blah etc! But mainly its downloading that they are looking into on my PC. Is there such a way to possibly spy on my ISP!!!! to find out why they wanna know so much about me / what I do on my free time! I would be glad to know if anyone can answer that for me. Or help me find a better way to stop my ISP from knowing what I do online, Which is my own business not anyone else’s. See I feel that it is a invasion of my privacy which no one should know what I do online. It is my own business like I said!

What’s important to understand here is that just because an ISP can spy on you doesn’t mean that they are spying on you. In fact I’m sure that 99.9999% of the time your ISP doesn’t give a toot what you’re doing and isn’t going to take the time, bother and expense to spy on you.

When ISPs do look at what you’re up to, it’s typically for one of three reasons: 1) someone complained to them about some aspect of your behavior, 2) law enforcement has some kind of interest in you and came to your ISP with the appropriate paperwork, or 3) you caused some kind of technical difficulty – like perhaps using tons of bandwidth by running a server – that caught the ISPs attention.

There’s only so much you can do. You can encrypt everything you’re doing over a VPN, tunnel or some other kind of anonymization service, but even then things like the amount of bandwidth you use will always be visible to your ISP and may start them asking questions if it’s causing problems.

The important thing here is simply to know that your ISP can see what you do by default. They probably don’t, unless there’s a good reason.

Don’t take it personally, but you’re just not that interesting.

-Leo

*** Leo Recommends

Webopedia
Internet and Technology dictionary and search engine

Ever come across an internet or computer related term or acronym that made absolutely NO sense? And yet the writer, perhaps even me, uses it as if everyone on the planet should know what it means?

Webopedia is the site for you. “The only online dictionary and search engine you need for computer and Internet technology definitions.”

Continue reading…
Webopedia – Internet and Technology dictionary and search engine
http://ask-leo.com/C2572

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Each week I recommend a specific product or resource that I’ve found valuable and that I think you may as well. What does my recommendation mean?

*** Popular Articles

The answer to this one should probably scare you just a little, and is one of the many reasons I say “if it’s not physically secure, it’s not secure”…

I forgot my password – can I somehow get my auto-login remembered password?

I’ve forgotten my password [to a web site, mail account, instant messaging tool, etc.]. However, I can log in because I have ‘remember my password’ configured, so the computer just logs me in automatically since it saved password. Is there a way I can see what that password is?

Yes.

And that should scare you, because it’s an important lesson about just how dangerous it is to use ‘remember me’.

Why? Because if you can recover it, then anyone who has access to the machine can probably recover it.

‘Remember my password’ doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, now does it?

Continue reading…
I forgot my password – can I somehow get my auto-login remembered password?
http://ask-leo.com/C2733

*** Thoughts and Comments

Thanks for all the feedback on the new newsletter layout. I was surprised to find that it was 100% positive. Whew!

I am also making some layout changes to the site – apparently those of you using the Safari browser have been suffering with a couple of oddities. (I hate browser differences – not blaming Safari, just the fact that all browsers don’t render the same site the same way.) It’s a bit of a change, but you should be seeing this weeks articles more clearly now.

I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but I now have five Seagate FreeAgent Go 500GB USB External Drives. I love them because they’re big in capacity but small in size, and take all their power off of the USB cable – no external power supply. I have four in my basement for backup data storage – two pair, with each drive in the pair mirroring the other, and one in my backpack for backup when I travel.

They’re not particularly fast drives, but that’s not what I use them for. As you know I’m a stickler for backing up, and these drives are really cost effective solutions.

I haven’t yet written them up as a formal “recommendation” on the site, but I’m thinking that’ll happen after a while.

’till next time…

Leo
Leo A. Notenboom

This will be my #1 source to look for computer-related tips!
– Natalia

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