| By Ian “Gizmo” Richards |
Unexpected disk and processor activity on your PC is worrisome, but unexplained Internet activity is more troubling.
When a PC suddenly starts uploading or downloading data from the Internet, a bit of paranoia is perfectly reasonable — possibly your system is infected with a virus or other malware. In this report, I’ll give you some tips and tools for diagnosing unexplained Internet traffic.
Monitoring tools for watching Internet traffic
You can’t identify mysterious Internet activity if you don’t know there is activity. In the days of dial-up modems, flashing lights on the modem let you know when real information was flowing back and forth. However, the lights on today’s ADSL and cable modems can flash almost continuously, making them a poor guide to intensive Internet activity.
The Windows network icon (showing two linked computers) in the system tray will also flash when Internet transfers take place. But its flash likewise represents local network activity — making it, too, an unreliable guide. It’s also been dropped from Windows 7.
The best way to monitor the volume of Internet traffic through your PC is to install a download/upload metering utility. Most of these simple applications display on your desktop or system tray a small graph of current Internet traffic. The better apps trigger alarms when traffic reaches specified levels.
My favorite is NetMeter, available as a tiny 575KB download directly from the publisher’s site. It looks deceptively bare-bones when first installed, but it’s a powerful utility and easy to customize.