Start your computer and watch it carefully. After some initial activity it settles down into an idle state. The desktop doesn’t change, the icons and folders on it don’t change, nothing else appears on the screen, and you might think that WIndows isn’t doing anything. However, unseen under the surface there is a lot of activity going on and this could be adware, spyware, Trojans, or worms – terms used for various types of malware. Are you sure it is clean and free of malware? How do you know?
At times during the day, your computer may become slow and unresponsive, and the internet may become hard to access. What is causing this? Even if your computer is clear of malware, poorly written software might be causing the slowdown, or too many programs might be trying to access the internet at the same time, causing the web browser to display pages slowly or download at much lower speeds than it normally does.
Getting to the root of problems can be difficult. Where do you start? Virus scans are an obvious starting place and they can certainly help, but sometimes they do not find anything and you know there is something wrong. You just cannot find what it might be.
One single tool is rarely sufficient for every problem that might arise with the PC or Windows and you need several. One tool that you should add to your utility toolkit is GlassWire. This is a network security monitor that displays real-time information in a simple and easy-to-understand form.
GlassWire is currently free, although in the future there may be paid versions with more features according to the website.
GlassWire graph view
When the program is run, there are four tabs and the first is Graph. This displays a scrolling live chart of the network traffic – the amount of data that is being uploaded and downloaded. You can view the last week, 24 hours, three hours or five minutes.
The five minute display is live and the bumps in the chart show when something on your computer has accessed the internet to upload or download information. Windows Task Manager can display network activity in the live scrolling chart, but GlassWire is far more useful.
When certain events occur, such as an application or service accessing the internet for the first time, a marker is put on the scrolling chart. This can be clicked to get more information about the item, such as the name and which URL or IP address it accessed. When multiple events occur, a number appears in the marker and clicking it displays a list of events. Each one can be clicked to get more information.
In addition to this, when a spike appears in the traffic chart, it can be clicked, which pauses the display and shows the program or service that caused the spike, which URL it accessed and how much data was uploaded and downloaded. A snapshot can be taken and saved to disk by clicking a camera icon.
The idea is that malware often causes unusual network activity and this will show up in GlassWire. You can then find out what caused the activity. It isn’t an anti virus program and it will not remove any malware, but it will help you to identify problem software by showing the unusual network activity.
In addition to the live chart, there is an Apps view that lists all the programs and services that have accessed the internet. It shows the names and the amount of data uploaded and downloaded for each one. A Traffic view shows the different types of network traffic.
The Firewall tab in GlassWire shows the apps and services that have accessed the internet, which URLs they have accessed and how much data has been uploaded and downloaded. There is an icon next to each item in the firewall display and clicking it blocks internet access.
GlassWire does not have a firewall and allowing and blocking internet access for individual apps is achieved by configuring the built in Windows Firewall. GlassWire is a firewall manager and not a firewall itself. This means that there is no additional firewall software to install and it must be one of the easiest ways to configure the Windows Firewall.
There is a minor flaw though, and this is the switch to turn the GlassWire firewall on or off. It does not turn Windows Firewall on or off, only the ability to manage apps with GlassWire. It just needs a better menu description. Another issue with wording is Incognito. Turning on Incognito mode lead people to believe that they are using the web anonymously, but what it actually does is to stop GlassWire logging internet activity. GlassWire normally logs everything to do with the internet, so it is useful to be able to turn this feature off. You still need to use the private browsing mode of your web browser too.
The Usage tab of GlassWire shows internet usage, such as the amount of data uploaded and downloaded. There are day, week and month views and this is an essential tool for anyone that has limited internet usage. A lot of ISPs provide unlimited internet these days, but there are still some services that have limited.
There are other utilities that monitor internet usage, but they have a major flaw and this is that they simply log incoming and outgoing traffic. If you have another computer on the network and you transfer files to it, or if you have a wireless printer, then all that activity is logged too and so they badly overestimate internet usage.
GlassWire is the only utility I have looked at (I'm sure there are more though), that enables you to log only external network traffic and to ignore internal traffic. This will give you a much more accurate data usage figure.
GlassWire runs in the background and as events occur, a pop-up message appears just above the taskbar at the right side of the screen. In case you missed them, there is an Alerts tab that lists them all. It records a variety of information and is very useful. For example, it shows when programs have changed, such as an update installed in the background that you were not aware of.
Boost your security
GlassWire is a great utility and it enables you to improve the security on your Windows computer. It is not a replacement for other security software, so you still need anti virus, but the monitoring of internet access and logging of activity makes it easier to detect internet-related problems and malware and to see what the cause might be.
There are some very capable networking tools available, but they tend to be very complicated to use and require expert knowledge. Although GlassWire is hardly a novice's tool and does require some knowledge, it can be used by any reasonably competent computer user. If you have Windows 7 or 8, go and grab a copy and start monitoring your network.