our computer is gross

Our home desktop Windows machine is used only by my wife and two pre-teen girls. We’ve been infected by some crapware lately and I tried to clean it up. In addition to the stuff visible on the hard disk, there’s this thing called the Windows registry. This is is used for all sorts of nefarious purposes, such as boot-time start-up of programs that you never heard of and don’t want running on your machine. I couldn’t believe what I found in there.

I did this:


(and then type)


(In the regedit menus do:)


(and type)


(or erotic, or anything else you’d be surprised to find on your computer).

I feel so violated.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.


  1. Hi Howard,

    I suspect you know about most of these tips, but just in case any other Wetmachiners don’t…

    If you don’t have it yet, I strongly suggest you get either (or both) Spybot Search & Destroy (http://www.safer-networking…) and AdAware: (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/…). Both are free, and both will clean your system of all sorts of malware. Run it early, run it often. Personally, I prefer Spybot.

    You also need a firewall. XP comes with one, but the simple fact is, it’s inadequate (gosh, imagine that from Microsoft!). For one thing, the firewall doesn’t start up until well into the boot process, up to several seconds *after* the network has been enabled. That’s like a lock on your front door that only actually locks itself a few hours after you turn the key. This can cause a system to be infected by all sorts of viruses even *before* the Windows XP installation process is finished (see this Slashdot discussion: http://ask.slashdot.org/art…)

    The best solution, assuming you have broadband, is a hardware firewall (D-Link and Linksys both make broadband router/firewall boxes for home use). A good backup software firewall can help you detect when some bit of malware is trying to phone home. ZoneAlarm (http://www.zonelabs.com/sto…) traditionally has been a good one.

    Finally, you must absolutely stop running IE. While Microsoft shills will tell you that nothing is perfect and totally secure, the simple fact is that most of the breaches in security on the Windows platform uses IE as the infection vector. Use Mozilla FireFox, which will scan for its own security updates.

    Of course, you could always run Linux… If you feel like giving it a go, I suggest downloading Knoppix, a Linux distribution that runs entirely from CD, so you don’t even have to touch your Windows hard disk. It’s invaluable for troubleshooting and recovery operations as well. See http://www.knoppix.net/

    Best of luck!

  2. Oh… one more thing I forgot to mention. If you have Windows XP or 2000, try not to run programs under a user that has administrator priviledges (or Power User priviledges eother). This will provent malware from being able to install itself and write to the system registry. I forced everyone using my neice’s PC to have non-privileged accounts, and it has remained more-or-less malware free.

    The problem with this approach is that many applications basically assume that the user has full read/write access to the entire hard disk, which isn’t the case if you’re not the administrator or power user. For some of those programs, I made an alternate “Program Files” directory that everyone can read and write to and installed them there. Malware will likely not be able to find that directory with their dumb auto-install techniques. And they can’t write to the Windows directory, which is necessary for most malware to work.

    Of course, anyone who knows any UNIX knows that this is one of the most fundamental safety tips: never, ever run as root if you don’t need to. Unfortunately, the Windows world is yet to catch one to something that UNIX has been doing for the last 30 years.

Comments are closed