Windows registry is a database that stores configuration settings for applications on the Windows operating system, but it’s also a sneaky place to hide a virus or malware.
Many users never need to access Microsoft’s Windows registry because it manages resources and more automatically. This makes it an ideal place for cybercriminals to stash malicious software, and it can cause significant damage to your PC, including system crashes and hard drive failures.
It’s not ideal to have, especially when your private data, banking details, online accounts and more are at risk of being stolen.
This guide will help you fix any unusual entries in the Windows registry, along with the best way to find malicious software using antivirus software.
Virus/Malware in Windows Registry: Quick fixes
Removing any irregular entries in the Windows registry can be tricky if you don’t know where the database is and what you’re looking for. Follow the steps below to access the registry and get rid of malicious files.
However, we recommend following each step, especially if you want to quickly eliminate a virus or malware.
Use System Restore
Using System Restore on Windows is a great way to roll back your PC back to a previous state before installing a software update or application.
As well as fixing registry errors or removing unfamiliar registry entries, it’s a great way to back up your data in case of any errors.
To turn it on, type in “Create a restore point” in the search box on the taskbar and click on the app. Under Protection Settings in the System Protection tab, select your main system driver – for example, OS (C:) (System) – and click Configure. Select Turn on system protection and use the Max Usage slider to adjust how much space Windows will reserve to store restore points. Click Apply, then OK.
With System Restore turned on, Windows will automatically create restore points for software updates and system changes.
To return your PC to a previous state, open the same app and click System Restore. Click Next and select a restore point from the list. Then click Next and then Finish to start the process.
Check Windows Registry
It’s important to note that if you’re uncomfortable navigating through the Windows registry and unsure what files to delete, move on to the next step.
Manually fixing the Registry Editor can be tricky, and if you delete the wrong file, it can damage your PC for good. That’s why it’s a good idea to use System Restore.
Type in “Registry editor” in the search box on the taskbar. Click on Registry Editor > HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > SOFTWARE > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion.
In this folder, search for folders that start with Run, such as Run or RunOnce. Click on these to open a list of programs. Check for any unfamiliar or known malware in these files. If you notice any, right-click and select Delete.
You should also check under these folders for any hidden malware:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > explorer > Shell Folders
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > explorer > User Shell Folders
HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > Explorer > User Shell Folders
HKEY_CURRENT_USER > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > Explorer > Shell Folders
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > RunServicesOnce
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE > Software > Microsoft > Windows > CurrentVersion > RunServices
If you aren’t sure, you can check to see if a file is malware by searching for it online.
Change your passwords
If you’ve noticed sudden changes on your computer because of an unfamiliar entry in Windows Registry, chances are your PC has been infected with a virus or malware, and your online accounts and devices are at risk of being compromised.
To help mitigate potential malware threats or hackers taking control of your accounts, change your passwords and use a strong password to stop suspicious activity.
Changing passwords will stop hackers from trying to steal any sensitive information and your online accounts.
Use antivirus software to detect and stop malware
The easiest way to find a virus or malware disguised as an unfamiliar file in Windows registry is by using one of the best antivirus software like Norton 360 (from $19.99/year). It will keep you safe from any malicious software, like ransomware, adware, spyware, phishing and more.
That’s not all; antivirus software can provide extra features like VPNs, cloud storage, PC boosters and more. Norton 360 has all these features and extra security tools that can backup your data, prevent online identity theft and stop malware.
What’s more, Norton 360 comes with monitoring features to identify all suspicious activity on your device. It will help detect and notify you about any unusual activity, including random entries in Windows registry, and stop it using it’s protection tools.
What is Windows Registry?
Windows Registry is a central hierarchical database used to manage resources and store configuration settings for various applications, users and hardware devices on Window’s operating system. This organised file system uses information the Windows will use as a reference during operations. This includes device drivers, user interfaces, apps on your device and the different types of documents they create, security account services and more.
The Windows Registry plays a crucial role in allowing the Microsoft OS on your computer to function properly. No all applications need to use Windows registry, but many important ones do, and some are dependent on other applications through the registry.
Is it safe to make changes in Windows Registry?
A majority of users will never have to open the Windows registry, as it is mainly for the system to reference and for professionals who know what they are doing. It can be used to customise, troubleshoot and optimise your device, but if something is removed by mistake, it could ruin the system.
Unless you know what you’re doing and looking for, it’s best to keep the Windows registry as is and use specific tools to clean up and delete any virus or malware hiding as an entry. One of these tools is a registry cleaner, such as the free CCleaner or AVG TuneUp, which will do the trick.
For even better tune-up software, check out Norton Utilities Ultimate to, well, boost PC speeds and clean up your device. It will help get rid of unnecessary apps and files that are slowing down or ruining your PC.
To identify and remove malicious software and prevent infections from happening, it’s best to use an antivirus like Norton 360 to detect any malicious activity and stop the malware from causing more harm.
Can any antivirus software stop viruses and malware?
The best antivirus software will stop malware in its tracks. Not all antivirus software is equal, as some don’t have high malware detection and protection rates or have accredited lab scores to back them up.
However, many high-standard AV protections offer near-perfect scores when detecting and protecting against malware, meaning even complex malicious software can’t go unnoticed. Even if it’s a malicious entry hiding in Windows Registry, an antivirus will be able to find it out and get rid of it.
Services, including Norton 360 (from $19.99/year) and Bitdefender (from $19.99/year), include device monitoring features to help uncover suspicious activity early and offer the tools to fight off cyberattacks. Whether its a phishing attack, ransomware, spyware or infostealer malware, these security products have the tools to protect you.
These services have protection features that block malicious activity on your device. To make sure your device is ready to identify and block malware damaging your system, set yourself up with an antivirus.
Best antivirus to prevent viruses and malware
1. Norton 360 🥇From $19.99/year
Best overall antivirus of 2023
“Norton” and “antivirus” are synonymous these days, as the well-established cybersecurity brand has successfully fought against malware, viruses and nasty software threats since 1990.
Norton 360 offers excellent antivirus protection and extra features that make for a valuable, all-in-one security product. Its Norton 360 Deluxe and Premium package may cost a pretty penny. Still, with security across multiple platforms, a full-blown VPN, Dark Web Monitoring, Parental Controls and more, it will have a household free of cyber threats.
Norton’s certainty of its antivirus software’s capabilities is clearly defined by the brand’s 100% Virus Protection Promise. If a device protected by Norton 360 can’t get rid of a virus, the user receives their money back. It’s a big claim, but unquestionably, no one should expect to get that refund.
If you have the money for it, you can also check out the premium Norton 360 Platinum package for even more online protection, including from identity theft. Without a doubt one of the best antivirus to get.
Read our full Norton 360 review
2. Bitdefender 🥈 From $19.99/year
Best security features and tools
Bitdefender takes the spot as best antivirus, and for good reason. It’s not enough that it boasts near-perfect lab test scores across the board, as it goes the extra mile by giving users access to a plethora of advanced security features.
Bitdefender goes above and beyond in the features department, all while keeping known malware, ransomware, and viruses at bay. It will defend your device against new attacks, provide security for online transactions, keep you safe with a reliable VPN, and protect your accounts with a password manager.
It’s a no-brainer when it comes to defending your devices against virtually any form of cyberattack, and its top-notch protection extends to its most affordable package, too. Protecting your PC and smartphone, from Windows and macOS to iOS and Android, is becoming even more necessary, and Bitdefender is the tricked-out shield you need.
Read our full Bitdefender review
3. Malwarebytes 🥉 From $44.99/year
Best antivirus for Windows PC
Hundreds of malware emerge every minute, and it’s Malwarebytes’ mission to detect and conquer them all. Does the antivirus do this successfully? Yes, but there’s wiggle room for improvements.
Malwarebytes’ no-nonsense approach to protecting your devices from the onslaught of malware and viruses is effective for those who need a reliable antivirus that will detect and remove malicious software, especially with its free version. However, while its premium service provides 24/7 real-time detection, conveniently blocks vicious ransomware and shields users from malicious websites, it doesn’t go beyond on the feature front.
That’s no bad thing, as sometimes a user only needs a powerful antivirus to keep them safe from cyber threats. But considering its competitors add a few more security tools, such as data breach monitoring and a firewall, there’s room for improvement.
Read our full Malwarebytes review
4. Avast One 🙌 From $39.99/year
Best antivirus for beginners + free plan available!
With Avast One, you can protect your device from viruses, malware and ransomware for free. That’s right, and you don’t have to pay a dime for the extra security features the antivirus throws in, including its VPN, firewall and more.
Avast One will safeguard your device from malware, comes with ransomware protection, blocks harmful websites and downloads from the web, scans your emails for malicious attachments, stops hackers from infiltrating your device through Wi-Fi with a firewall – the list goes on. That’s a lot of tools for software that’s free, and the included VPN and the ability to speed up your PC are a welcome bonus.
It’s the ideal antivirus software for home use, as it takes the hassle out of staying wary of cyber threats lurking around, even if you’re not a tech whizz. What’s more, if you are looking for added precautions, its paid Individual and Family packages still boast great value. Hard to go wrong with this best antivirus.
Read our full Avast One review
5. AVG👍 From 4.99/month
Best antivirus for + free plan available!
You can never go wrong with free antivirus protection, but some deliver even better detection and protection rates, along with extra security features, without costing a dime. This is where AVG antivirus shines.
AVG provides reliable protection and only a small impact on performance for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. It safeguards your devices against malware, viruses and zero-day exploits, along with blocking malicious links and attachments in emails. Throw in phishing protection when surfing the internet and extra security features such as its SafePrice browser extension and Network Inspector, and you’ve got yourself a do-it-all antivirus.
Sure, you can find all of these perks with Avast, but if you like a slick, darker user interface that’s easy to navigate, then AVG is for you.
Read our full AVG Antivirus review