PotW: Process Hacker

January 17, 2021

Have you ever pulled up Task Manager in Windows and felt like an all-powerful, super admin? This happens a lot when an Engineer first starts their journey down that lonely path of understanding computers better than those around them. Admittedly, Task Manager is a fine program. It was first written by David Plummer in the mid-90s, as a side project no less. Yes, that’s 25 years ago now, and remarkably it has survived all these decades in Windows with various modifications and a bit of window dressing. Yeah, there’s no excusing that pun.

But, since those early days of learning Windows and feeling like a complete champion that could use a computer backwards and forwards, those feelings of greatness have long since faded. That’s probably true for many of us.

If there were only a way to get that feeling back. If only there were a program to bring back some of that initial excitement back into administration.

Well, as it turns out there is! It’s called Process Hacker. Process Hacker bills itself as “a free, powerful, multi-purpose tool that helps you monitor system resources, debug software, and detect malware.” And, let me tell you, the first time I opened it some old emotions came back. I felt like I was peering into the heart of the operating system all over again. It was just like when I had stumbled upon Task Manager all those years ago. All of the hidden complexities of the modern operating system just faded from view. I was left looking on in amazement at how this little portable application showed me processes running under svchost. It showed me all of the files being written to disk in real-time. I could finally see open, listening, and closed network connections in the GUI. It enumerated services that didn’t show up anywhere else. Once again, I was administrator of my own system. Microsoft could hide nothing from me anymore.

So, let me go over some of the features of the software.

  • It can graph stats, which allows you to quickly track down resource hogs and runaway processes.
  • It can show you what process is locking a file and allows you to close the handle on the file.
  • It can easily align processes with network connections, allowing you to easily close them when necessary.
  • It shows you running processes with a high resolution and color coding. Plus there’s a search!
  • It can even show stack traces with kernel-mode, WOW64, and .NET support.

All of this power comes in a small package, too. You can download it from their site as an install or portable binary. The installer file, which is the larger of the two, is only 3 MB.

If all of this has not convinced you yet, I’m not sure what will. You can feel like the ultimate Engineer with this thing. It’s the Swiss Army Knife of utilities. Plus, to put it all together, it’s free. It won’t cost you a dime to use. So, go download it from their site today and feel the rush of power I felt all over again. Tell us what you think in our Discord.

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