Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
When your computer is put into standby mode, it's turned off ... mostly. And it might wake up again on its own. Is that an added risk? Not really.
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.
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.
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 state.)
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.
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