When Applications Don't Play Nicely
February 26, 2014

Jim Swepson

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A friend of mine is a consultant and she doesn't easily have access to the latest technology and as such her trusty laptop is the mainstay of her business. She also uses her machine for personal stuff such as: online banking, online shopping, as well as her business and its applications. A good security system is of course essential.

Recently though she downloaded, at the “soft” insistence of her bank, a specific security application. It was to guarantee extra security whilst using her personal online banking facilities and so she downloaded it without too much thought, trusting that her bank would not allow her to download software that could cause problems.

It wasn't long after this that she noticed her laptop was running much slower, in fact over the space of a few months it became so slow that when finances allowed, she would invest in a new laptop.

When she wanted to place another application onto her laptop, she asked me if we could do this for her. We decided to update her laptop, and it wasn't long before it was noted that the CPU levels were unacceptably high. Even after the download the CPU was still running way higher than it should and her laptop was very very slow. She explained that she was planning on changing soon, as it had been getting too slow.

We decided to take a look and it and it wasn't long before we located the security application – which was interfering with another security application that she already had in place. Now I'm not saying this application doesn't do what it is purported to do, but on her particular laptop and with the security application she was already using it was causing major problems. We asked if we could take it off and she gave us permission to do so, unusually this took a very long time as we couldn't just remove it in the usual manner, we had to go onto the company's site to get download info to do this.

Finally, the security application was removed and within minutes her laptop became not just doubly faster but ten times faster! The CPU was behaving within normal parameters and she was ecstatic that her old laptop was responsive and fast! Happily by removing this security application she no longer needed to purchase a new one saving her hundreds of pounds.

I guess the moral of my story here isn't that all security applications have problems, not even that this particular application is a risky download. It's more about awareness. We often don't know how our applications in-situ can be impacted by new applications placed on our machines. It got me thinking that a knowledge of this would have made my friend re-think downloading this type of application.

When companies add new applications that can impact hundreds or thousands of machines, they should test not just the performance of the new application but also how it impacts applications in-situ.

But for the layman the risks are not considered. My advice to anyone downloading applications whether personal or business is do your homework. For the personal user, do a Google search and find out if there are any risks associated with downloading the application. For businesses, use a network emulator to replicate the conditions of your networked environment, run your application and your new applications and see how they react to each other. It's not rocket science, a simple application that seems safe can unfortunately cause mayhem! Mitigate the risk with awareness and research.

Jim Swepson is a Pre-sales Technologist at Itrinegy.

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