How secure is standby mode on a laptop? Can spyware get in while a
computer is in standby? My security software warned me about my first
spyware ever, and I am trying to figure out how it got on my computer.
I do online banking, use Paypal and eBay and Yahoo email. I have never
had spyware before and it really makes me nervous!
My take is that standby is actually no more secure than leaving your
computer on. Now, some will take me to task for that, but there are a
couple of reasons I say this.
It’s confusing because while, no, spyware can’t get in while your
computer’s in standby, there’s a chance that your computer wasn’t in
standby the entire time.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Standby is a power-saving mode used by laptops. Typically, if you
fail to use your computer for some time, the computer will go into
standby mode by turning off the screen, disk, other accessories and
even the CPU, while leaving RAM powered so that it doesn’t have to be
re-loaded when you resume from standby.
When the machine is truly in standby, it is for most practical
purposes, off. The processor’s not running, and the computer’s
typically not paying attention to the outside world; other than waiting
for you to come back and push the power button, that is.
If the processor’s not running, then nothing’s going to happen either good
or bad. You won’t get infected by anything.
standby that would make it any more risky than just using your
But here’s the catch: some laptops will “wake up” on their own. I’ve
seen it happen where a laptop periodically wakes up for reasons unknown
and goes back to sleep. It’s unclear if this was a bug, or some kind of
state checking feature. Of course while it’s awake, the computer is
once again “on”.
So that would be something to at least be aware of.
Another point at which almost all laptops will “wake up” from
standby automatically is when the battery, which is still being used to
maintain your RAM, gets too close to empty. If you have hibernation
enabled, the laptop will wake up so that it can then go into
hibernation. (Hibernation writes everything to disk, and completely
turns off the computer. Unlike standby, hibernation uses no power to maintain its
So, presumably, there’s a window where the computer is on again,
even though you’ve placed it in standby.
Now, all that is actually fairly insignificant, because as I said,
that simply means that standby is really no more secure than when your
computer is on.
And your computer is secure when it’s on, right? I mean, you’ve done
all the right firewall, anti-spyware, anti-virus and other things to
stay safe when you’re using the computer, right? If so, there’s nothing
particularly special about standby that would make it any more risky
just using your computer.
In your case, it’s extremely unlikely that anything happened while
you were in standby, since most of the time, your computer is
off when in standby. It’s much more likely that whatever took place did
so while the computer was on and running.
Particularly given that most spyware infections happen because
somebody did something while actually using the computer.