Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How secure is standby mode?


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.

“… there’s nothing particularly special about
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.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

6 comments on “How secure is standby mode?”

  1. I think you want to say leo that in standby mode there is no really activity on your laptop and you are totally safe besides you turned on your firewall and your antivirus or anti spyware , the really danger if there is any hidden activity on your laptop.

    thanks leo …

  2. I stopped using Yahoo software a year ago, and noticed a HUGE drop in Spyware on my machine (I run checks every week with 3 different programs). It still surprises me why Yahoo is still so popular, when it is so very intrusive?

  3. many things can be adjusted to leave standby mode
    Under Device Manager the power settings of each item(though perhaps not every one) let you change whether the device should do this or not.
    I believe that hibernation is not enabled by default. If your laptop is on battery and in standby but approaches the low point, what happens when hibernation has not been enabled?
    With hibernation: The data which is written to the HDD, how do you delete/manage this? Can you, say, have Tuesdays’s grind(a compilation of open work) saved and loaded on demand? Were this possible, would the files reflect updated content or time of save access?
    I am wondering about TRUE standards of energy efficiency. Many hardware stats cite “on Vista”… this concerns me since Vista is in troublesome status with my “rule of efficiency”(get work done the quickest and shut off completely when not working. When in between be able to respond quickly — which goes back to getting work done quickly). Vista has so many crashes yet on default: Hard Disks, Monitor, et cetera go off after about 10 minutes and/or the system goes into standby/hibernates. If the system is OFF/peripherals are OFF, you are not utilizing them…thus NO work is is better to turn off the device(if possible) My point: What is the true efficiency of the hardware? Better yet, what to look for in comparing hardware?

  4. Oh, furthermore. If you already have spyware, you might be just as susceptible to its effects in standby mode as when the computer is “active.”


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.