Software can be good or evil.

by Chief Technical Officer at Science Translations
(article reprint from June 2005 issue of ASPects)

I’ve been looking, as always in recent months, at a lot of computers that don’t run right. Most have massive infections that include from a few dozen to several thousand spyware and adware bits and chunks, including files, autorun shortcuts, folders, processes, and registry entries.

Two computers were a little different last week. The first was for a client I visit regularly, and there was already autorun-blocking software in place. Two new items had gotten past the blocks. One was routine, and then there was yet another Claria/Gain toolbar. Nothing strange there; although the program was designed not to be removable with the usual cleanup tools. What’s new is that the program has a functional add/remove entry, which really did delete the program, although it did pause for a marketing pitch to keep the product, and then took me to a marketing web page afterwards in the hopes of adding some other product to the system. Good marketing.

The second computer had a massive infection, and multiple passes with multiple cleanup tools were needed just to reduce the boot time from seven minutes. The usual tools, plus some surgical intervention in the registry, took care of most of the usual suspects. There was still clearly an infection, and a leftover message at shutdown, telling me that a program was not responding.

Looking a little closer, and examining the running services, I found the name of the process that matched the shutdown error. And I was able to end it, no problem, no error. Went back into the process list. It’s back! Did some Google searches, and found that the program included two processes. OK, ended the other one first. It came back, too, instantly. Hmmm. This program just can’t be crashed. This is like the Klez virus of a few years back; it had two programs running that each repaired the other, and each repaired the autostart entries of both, on the fly, withing having to wait for a reboot. Our products should be so stable.

These programs, and more that aren’t as smoothly done, are our competition for system resources and CPU time. Consider looking at your programs like a spyware producer, and ask:

  • Can my program self-repair its settings?
  • Does it include uninstall marketing?
  • Can it survive an automated removal program?

All software should be this good. Or evil. Sometimes I get those two mixed up.

When Jerry Stern isn’t fixing computers, he is also the webmaster at, author of FileTiger, and is online at