Performance and Security enhancement


Utilities for Security and Performance

If your computer seems to be running slower than it used to, pop-up advertising is appearing at an alarming rate, your web browser's settings keep changing in undesired ways or you just want a better idea what your computer is up to (eg. "What the heck is PRPCUI.exe?"), here are some resources for understanding what's going on and making things better, presented in roughly the order from those that require the lease detailed understanding to the most:
  • Ad-Aware:

    Ad-Aware was, not very long ago, *the* place to start for malware detection and removal, with the added bonus that it was free.  Alas, recent versions of Ad-Aware (even the Personal version) are no longer licensed quite so freely (let's be clear -- a DOE-owned computer shouldn't have it installed without a paid license.)  It is still free for personal use, so it is highly recommended for home and personal laptop use, though it may not be keeping up with the constantly expanding field, which is a common problem with this type of software.  One thing to keep in mind:  you must be sure to keep your definitions up-to-date, just like a virus scanner, in order to get the most benefit.
  • Spybot - Search&Destroy:

    This is the historical alternative to Ad-Aware, with similar good results "in the early days", but it too may be failing to keep up.  Unlike Ad-Aware, it's license is quite liberal, so it can be installed as desired.  It has an "Advanced" mode, with a variety of additional tools beyond the basic malware scanner, (but keep in mind that some of these features are indeed "Advanced" and not to be played with lightly).  Broken record time:  you must be sure to keep your definitions up-to-date.  You should also consider using the "Immunize" feature to prevent some infestations, and to blacklist some sites known to host various forms of malware.


  • Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool:  This is a regularly updated (but far from comprehensive) online removal tool for Windows 2000 and Windows XP.  It isn't a bad idea to run this scanner once a month or whenever you suspect you might have caught "something".


  • Microsoft's AntiSpyware Beta:  Though called a Beta product, this is essentially a re-GUIed and slightly modified version of a long standing and respected commercial product that Microsoft recently purchased.   Some recent tests by more-or-less independent testers have shown this tool to be better even than the old reliables, Ad-Aware and SpyBot.


  • Defragmenting your hard drive is something to put on the calendar 2-4 times a year.  Because Windows' built-in defragmenter seems especially slow, and modern disk drives hold so much, this is something usually left running overnight.  Third-party alternatives exist that may do a better job in various ways.  Let's hope I get around to listing one or two here in the not-too-distant future...


  • CrapCleaner:  This is a system optimization tool for removing unnecesary temporary files and registry entries. The default installation creates a "Run CCleaner" entry in the Recycle Bin's context (right-click) menu.
  • Monitoring startup activity and services.

    Programs that start when you boot or login to your computer can be big performance drains, in addition to doing unwanted things.  The following may help you understand and control what's going on.  (N.B. Some of the following are capable of rendering your system unusable if not handled with care!  They may require significant understanding of Windows' internals to be most useful):


    • StartUp Monitor and Startup Control Panel.  These are separate utilities, but they are from the same source and complement each other nicely.  (The author of these has additional utilities that you may find worthwhile as well.)
    • msconfig.exe:  This is Windows' very own "System Configuration Utility", with which one can look at and configure system startup paramters and files, which is especially useful to see the effects of individual changes. You can hose things up quite good in here however, so be careful!
    • services.msc:  This provides a Management Console to configure the startup of various registered services.  This is useul for disabling unnecessary or unused Windows services.  A potentially informative feature in this Console is the "Description" column, though it can still be quite cryptic (or blank).  
    •'s website provides several downloads that you might find useful, such as HijackThis ("a general homepage hijack detector and remover"), CWShredder (CoolWebsearch removal tool) and StartUpList ("way better than msconfig")
    • (slow site) 
    • Security Task Manager
    • HijackThis
    • BHODemon
  • Pop-up Blockers

Pop-up blocking software is increasingly unnecessary because other tools are including their own pop-up blockers.  Mozilla/Firefox for instance have built in pop-up blockers.  Internet Explorer has a pop-up blocker added with Windows XP SP2.  The Google Toolbar (recommended in the "Networking Software" recommendations) has a pop-up stopper as well.  Still, you might fight some utility in the products available from the PanicWare website.  Versions of their Pop-Up Stopper FREE Edition served this author quite well for over a year, but as I said above, it no longer seems as essential as in the pastthe basic functionality has been supplanted by features in other software.
Microsoft Office updates are a combination of security fixes, bug fixes and new features.  Though not emphasized as much as Windows Updates, the security fixes for Office are of similar importance.  Unfortunately, using the online updating system usually requires an installation CD that matches your product (for instance, "Office XP Pro" disks are not acceptable for updating "Office XP Standard".)  Many people, for a variety of reasons, don't have their original installation CD(s).  If you do not have an acceptable installation CD available then the online product update scan can still be used to determine what updates are applicable.  Then you can usually download full updates and apply them manually without the installation media.  (Browse for the downloads that match your product -- most are in self-extracting executable format.)  

  • Clock keepers

  • Multi-desktop software

Other resources

Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at}