How do computer programs run?

These programs run secretly on your Windows PC

Benjamin Schischka

Memory hogs and spies - there are also hidden programs running on your PC. With our tips you can throw camouflaged pests and ballast overboard.

EnlargeUnmasked: Hidden Programs on PC
© lassedesignen - Fotolia.com

Find hidden processes: Anyone who thinks that the taskbar shows all currently running programs is very wrong. Much more applications are running in the background than Windows wants to reveal to you via the taskbar icon. You can get a first overview with the key combination "Ctrl" + "Shift" + "Esc", with which you switch to the Task Manager.

Under "Apps" (or "Applications" in older Windows versions) the Task Manager shows the currently open software - you shouldn't experience any surprises here. Use "End task" to close the selected program (caution, data loss!). The "Processes" tab is more exciting: Windows lists all running processes here, sortable by name, user, CPU usage and memory usage. In Windows 10 you will find these processes under the "Apps".

Simply stopping the services is dangerous - especially if it is a Microsoft service that Windows may need urgently. With a trick you can hide all Microsoft services. Press the Windows key and "R" at the same time. Enter "msconfig" in the Run field and confirm with Enter. In the "Services" tab you will not only see services that have already ended and manufacturer names, but also a click box that hides all Microsoft services. This avoids a potential danger, but it is also not advisable if you accidentally shut down your antivirus software, for example.

Tip: The freeware Process Explorer also shows processes that the Windows Task Manager hides. Many processes have unfamiliar names - often only a Google search provides information about function and benefit. Not all processes are absolutely necessary - some even slow down the PC unnecessarily.

Rootkits trick the task manager

Rootkits are pests that hide deep in the system from Windows users and even from the antivirus software. Rootkits manipulate the core of the operating system or running processes in such a way that they are not visible to Windows Explorer or any other file manager. A look at the Task Manager would be wasted effort - this is where you reach the limits of what the Task Manager can do.

Particularly ingeniously programmed rootkits are even hidden in the master boot record. This leftover MSDOS times is loaded when the computer is started, even before the operating system. Code residing there can, in principle, control the operating system. Only as of Windows Vista, Microsoft operating systems no longer allow the manipulation of the master boot record during operation - at least not without further ado. The aim of most rootkits: camouflage spyware and Trojans, which then send personal data to the network.

Working and surfing under a user account with restricted rights is a good protection against rootkits. Many rootkits can only connect to the system with admin rights, so create a new user account with restricted rights if you have not already done so. You should also use a two-way firewall. Because this not only notifies you of incoming connections, but also programs that want to transmit outside. In Windows 10, both are no longer an issue by default. You no longer have to act here. But there are also tools that find and eliminate rootkits that have already crept in - for example the free Sophos Virus Removal Tool.

Conclusion : Answering the question of which programs are running in the background is not that easy. The real difficulty then is to clean out the unnecessary or even harmful programs. It is best to start with the Control Panel and uninstall any tools you no longer need there - this will also thin out the Task Manager. Next, work your way from the most resource-hungry applications to the less wasteful ones. At least that's how you get rid of the memory hogs.