Device driver

How to Check if Your HP Laptop Has the Conexant Keylogger

Many HP laptops released in 2015 and 2016 have a major problem. The audio driver provided by Conexant has debugging code enabled, and it either logs all your keystrokes to a file or prints them to the system debug log, where malware could snoop on them without looking too suspicious. Here’s how to check if your PC is affected.

Why Is My HP Laptop Logging My Keystrokes?

HP says it has no access to this data, and the keylogger in question does not appear to be malicious. There’s no evidence that the keylogger actually does anything with the keystrokes it captures beyond saving them to your PC. However, this could be dangerous, as that sensitive log of keystrokes would be available to malware and may be stored in backups. In other words, it’s not malice—just incompetence.

This appears to be debugging code in the Conexant audio driver, code which should have been removed by Conexant before the driver shipped on PCs. The part of the driver which listens for media shortcut keys automatically logs the keys it sees you press. It was discovered by researchers from Modzero.

How to Check if the Keylogger Is Active

There appears to be different behavior on different HP laptops, depending on the version of the audio driver they include. On many laptops, the keylogger writes keystrokes to the C:\Users\Public\MicTray.log file. This file is wiped at each boot, but it may be captured and stored in system backups.

Navigate to C:\Users\Public\ and see if you have a MicTray.log file. Double-click it to view the contents. If you see information about your keystrokes, you have the problem driver installed.

If you do see data in this file, you’ll want to delete the MicTray.log file from any system backups it may be a part of to ensure the records of your keystrokes are erased. You should also delete the MicTray.log file from here to erase the record of your keystrokes.

Even if you don’t see…

Microsoft, Please Stop Breaking My PC With Windows 10’s Automatic Updates

Hey Microsoft, could you please stop breaking my PC? The latest WPD driver update released on March 8, 2017 is just the latest in a long string of bad updates. If Windows 10 is going to force these updates on my system, the least Microsoft could do is test them properly first.

Don’t get us wrong: automatic updates are very important for security reasons, and we believe they are a good thing. The problem is that Microsoft isn’t just releasing security updates. They’re making major changes to Windows, and not testing the updates properly. They need to do better.

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Microsoft Just Released a Bad Driver Update, and I Have to Fix It

The latest and most obnoxious update—at least for me, personally—was the “Microsoft – WPD – 2/22/2016 12:00:00 AM – 5.2.5326.4762” update released on March 8, 2017.

Microsoft removed this update from Windows Update, but not until after my and other PCs installed it. As a Microsoft representative explained in a discussion post on Microsoft’s community forums:

“An incorrect device driver was released for Windows 10, on March 8, 2017, that affected a small group of users with connected phones or portable devices. After installation, these devices are not detected properly by Windows 10”

That’s right: Microsoft released a bad driver update that broke the MTP drivers in Windows. MTP is used to access files on connected Android phones and tablets, media players, Windows phones, and some other types of portable devices.

This update seems broken for everyone, so how did it get onto Windows Update in the first place? Driver updates are supposed to be tested through the Windows Hardware Quality Labs before they’re allowed onto Windows Update. Apparently that isn’t happening properly.

Microsoft caught the problem, so that should be the end of the story, right? Nope. Microsoft isn’t going to release an automatic fix through Windows Update to correct the problem. It’s my job to fix what Microsoft broke on my PC, and it’s your job to fix it on your PC if Windows 10 automatically installed the same update for you.

As this is a driver update, there’s no way to “uninstall” it like you would a normal update. Instead, Microsoft recommends you use a system restore point, something that won’t be possible on many PCs, as Windows 10 seems to sometimes ship with System Restore disabled. If you can’t do that, Microsoft invites you to follow a 13-step process involving the Device Manager and several commands run in an Administrator Command Prompt window.

That’s absurd. Worse yet,…

How to Maximize Your Linux Laptop’s Battery Life

Laptop manufacturers spend a lot of time tuning their device drivers for Windows battery life. Linux usually doesn’t get the same attention. Linux may perform just as well as Windows on the same hardware, but it won’t necessarily have as much battery life.

Linux’s battery usage has improved dramatically over the years. The Linux kernel has gotten better, and Linux distributions automatically adjust many settings when you’re using a laptop. But you can still do some things to improve your battery life.

Basic Battery-Saving Tips

Before you do anything too complex, adjust the same settings you would on a Windows laptop or MacBook to maximize battery life.

For example, tell your Linux laptop to suspend—this is what Linux calls sleep mode—more quickly when you’re not using it. You’ll find this option in your Linux desktop’s settings. For example, head to System Settings > Power on an Ubuntu desktop.

Screen brightness can affect battery life dramatically. The brighter your display backlight, the worse your battery life will be. If your laptop has hotkeys to change screen brightness, try them—they’ll hopefully work on Linux, too. If not, you’ll find this option somewhere in your Linux desktop’s settings. It’s available at System Settings > Brightness & Lock on Ubuntu.

You can also tell your Linux desktop to turn off the screen more quickly when it’s inactive. The laptop will use less power when its screen is off. Don’t use a screensaver, as those just waste power by making your computer do more work and leaving the display on.

You can also disable hardware radios you don’t use. For example, if you don’t use Bluetooth, you can disable it to gain some more battery life. Head to System Settings > Bluetooth to disable Bluetooth on an Ubuntu desktop.

If you’re not using Wi-Fi, you can save a bit of power by disabling that, too. On Ubuntu, head to System Settings > Network and enable “Airplane Mode” to disable Wi-Fi and other wireless radios.

Remember that what you do with the laptop is also important. Running heavier software and using more CPU resources will cause your laptop to use more battery power. For this reason, you may want to look at a more lightweight desktop environment, such as the Lxde-based Lubuntu instead of the Unity-based main Ubuntu desktop.

Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers (If You Need Them)

If your laptop has integrated Intel graphics, congratulations. You shouldn’t need to worry about power management issues with your graphics drivers. Intel graphics aren’t the fastest, but they have excellent open-source driver support and “just work” out of the box.

If your laptop has NVIDIA or AMD graphics, however, you may need to do some work to decrease power consumption.

The worst case scenario is a laptop with NVIDIA Optimus or AMD’s switchable graphics. Such laptops have two different GPUs. For example, an NVIDIA Optimus laptop will have both a more powerful, battery-draining NVIDIA GPU and a less powerful, battery-friendly Intel GPU. On…