So You Think Your Computer Caught a Little Bug, continued…

Malware always lurking in the shadows…

In the preceding post regarding the Windows Task Manager, I covered how to use this as a diagnostic tool to identify malware and stop it from running. However, stopping a program from running doesn’t prevent it from restarting when the computer is turned on or is restarted.

How can we prevent this?!?!

Introduction

So what is happening here? Some of you may already know that our computers keep a list of programs to run automatically when we turn them on or restart them. It’s a nice convenience because imagine how tedious it would be to have to start up 10 to hundreds of programs every time we restart our computers.

Anyway, lots of malware can sneakily embed themselves in this ‘startup’ list to take advantage of the process. So, if we identify malware when we do our initial diagnostic with the Task Manager, the next step is to check the Startup Folder and then MSConfig (the MSConfig utility mentioned should be available on all Windows machines from Vista to the most recent version).

These tools are relatively standard and many of you may already be familiar with them. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are useful to know and can give you a better sense of control over your computer’s security.

The Startup Folder

As we can infer from the name, the Startup Folder helps us out during the startup of our computers. This is where our computers store that ‘list’ of programs to start automatically after it turns on, or restarts.

How do we access this Startup Folder?

Fortunately this is pretty easy. Just press:

windows button + R

Just in case ‘windows button’ is not the official term, here’s a picture to clarify what I mean

After pressing those buttons, the ‘Run’ dialog box will popup in the bottom-left corner of the screen. In the dialog box, type:

shell:startup

Then, click the OK button

The next thing you should see after you click the OK button is a window to the actual Startup Folder.

Look at that! You’re almost pro!

Anyway, that’s enough positive reinforcement for today. While accessing this folder here’s what to do:

  • delete anything you see that’s unfamiliar
  • search the name of the program on the internet if you’re uncertain about deleting it
  • don’t be worried about removing something important because it can be recovered from the recycling bin

You might notice that my Startup Folder is empty. That is intentional, because then my computer is quicker to start up and be ready to use.

You might be wondering about the 10s to hundreds of programs that I mentioned earlier that our computers start up automatically without us having to worry about it. Well, think of it like this. There’s technically two ‘startup’ lists we need to check. We just checked the first one, now we’ll cover how to check the other ‘startup’ list.

MSConfig

The next tool in our arsenal is the MSConfig, officially known as System Configuration or Microsoft System Configuration Utility on older versions of Windows. This tool will show us what’s hiding from the Startup Folder!

Fortunately, this tool is also easy to access. Like the Startup Folder, press:

windows button + R

As you already know, the ‘Run’ dialog box will popup in the bottom-left corner of the screen. In the dialog box, type:

msconfig

After you click OK, then the MSConfig window will popup

System Configuration is MSConfig

You’ll see several tabs at the top of the MSConfig window, and they are all pretty handy and definitely worth exploring on your own. However, the ‘Startup’ tab is where we want to focus now.

Example of MSConfig with ‘Startup’ list contents

Depending on what version of Windows you’re operating, this tab might show you a list of programs or it might redirect you to the ‘Startup’ tab on the Task Manager, like on my computer.

Example of MSConfig without ‘Startup’ list contents. Click the words in hypertext

It might seem that I just wasted time showing the MSConfig tool when I could have just used the Task Manager. Well, I demonstrated this method because I can’t be sure of what version of Windows any given reader is using. Furthermore, the MSConfig tool has other functions that can be helpful in combating malware or even just optimizing your computer.

Fortunately, whether you’re using the ‘Startup’ tab from the Task Manager or MSConfig tool, the process of enabling and disabling programs from automatically starting is the same and has the same effect.

How do we use it?

  • Scroll through the list and focus on the ‘Name’ and ‘Publisher’ (or ‘Manufacturer’) columns
  • research the names of the programs with which you’re unfamiliar on the internet
  • disable everything you identify as malware, you find suspicious, or you deem unnecessary to be automatically started
  • to disable a program from automatically starting, simply click (or right-click) on its name to highlight its row and then click the ‘Disable’ button, and voilà! You have stopped the program from automatically restarting!
  • get a cookie and say “F*** yeah!!!”

Some final considerations

To recap, to keep programs from starting automatically we need to check two lists. One list is found within the Startup Folder and the other list is the ‘Startup’ tab found on either the Task Manager window or MSConfig window. Scroll through the lists for any programs that are malicious or unnecessary. Do an internet search on any unfamiliar programs you find on those lists. Remove or disable them from automatically starting at startup. Done.

Hopefully you find these tools useful. I like them because they’re pretty easy to use and give me a sense of control over the security of my computers.

In addition to security, removing programs from these ‘startup’ lists can make your computer faster, also.

Now, you might be wondering if it’s easier to just search for and delete the program. Yes, but sometimes it’s hard to find malicious programs hiding within your file system. Finding them can take time and so the tools described above provide quick and easy measures you can proactively take to immediately reduce the negative impact malware can have on your computer.

Stay tuned, in future posts I’ll cover strategies on how to Search and Destroy malicious programs on your computer. Anyway, I hope you’ve found this article useful. Thanks for reading!

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