How to Disable Auto-Starting Programs with Windows Defender

By Woody Leonhard

Auto-starting programs can cause computer problems ranging from pain in the neck to freezing up the entire system. The best way to gain control over auto-starting programs in Windows Vista is to use the Windows Defender program. Windows Defender is a security application that has a remarkable program called Software Explorer that you can use to see and disable auto-starting programs and spyware.

Note that the term disable doesn’t mean the program itself gets deleted, detangled, or defanged. It only means that the program will not run automatically every time you log on to Windows.

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1Bring up Windows Defender by choosing Start→All Programs→Windows Defender.

Windows Defender probably tells you that there are no creepy-crawlies on your PC. Of course, Defender’s definition of “unwanted” software may differ drastically from yours.

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2Click the Tools icon at the top. Then, on the right, click the link to Software Explorer. In the Category drop-down box, choose Startup Programs.

Windows Defender shows you a list of all the identified programs that run when you log on to Windows.

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3If you want to understand where the programs come from, right-click any program and choose Startup Type.

Defender re-sorts the list based on where the auto-starting program hooks into your system. If you go looking for the source of your auto-running programs, or if you’re trying to figure out how a piece of scumware got hooked into Vista, this list will tell you.

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4To prevent a specific program from starting automatically, select the program and then, in the lower-right corner, click Disable.

Don’t click the Remove button and remove the program’s auto-run hook completely. Disable it. That way, if you change your mind, you can always come back and reverse your decision. Also, if you bump into an exotic form of malware, leaving the hook in (but disabling it) can help anti-scumware researchers figure out how it got into your PC in the first place.

You might see the Microsoft Windows host process (Rundll32) on your list of programs. This is a “wrapper” program that’s used to run other programs. If you see Rundll32 on the left side, you have to look at the Startup Value on the right to see what program actually runs.

5When Windows Defender asks if you're sure you want to disable the program, click Yes.

If a program appears twice in the list — starting from two different locations, using two different hooks into Vista — you have to disable both locations to keep the program from running when you log on to Vista. Scumware programs often do this to make it harder for you to delete them.

6When you’ve finished disabling the program(s) you don’t want to run (or identified the ones that can’t be disabled in Windows Defender), click “X” to return to Vista.

Don’t forget to follow up on the programs that need to be clobbered by more direct means.