Dec 08

Preying on ignorance

I’ve been spending a bit of time looking into something that has bothered me for awhile. I refer to it as “Predatory Utility Software”, or “PUS”.

On Christmas day, I received two pieces of spam. These were admirable because they were able to defeat SpamSieve (my favorite software purchase of 2008). They were frustrating because they offered a piece of… software called “Error Nuker”.

For years, I’ve been telling people that so-called “registry cleaners” don’t do anything, and in fact can be the single most destructive tool you can run in Windows. One bad edit, and you can kill Windows.

I’m not even going to delve into the method that many tools like this use to spread themselves. While not “malware” in the truest sense of the word, spamming novice users, and confusing them to the point that they download tools like this should be illegal.

Windows gets “cruft” in the registry and occasionally in the filesystem over time with the installation, uninstallation, and updating of applications and Windows itself. The thing is, though this cruft in the registry causes your registry hive files to grow in size, it is benign. Tools such as this that lie to users and tell them that “errors” will occur are frankly more malignant than the actual problem they feign to solve.

I ran “Error Nuker” on a test Windows VM. It took quite a bit of time to “scan” my system, telling me each of the locations it was scanning. But you know what? In the end, all it did was point out locations in the registry that referenced files on the disk that were no longer there.

Now, it’s important to note that dead links from the registry are usually the result of uninstalling the application that put them there*. Meaning that, the only thing that cares that the link is dead is the application or application(s) that are no longer there! Meaning it does nothing!

*This tool also calls out files in Most Recently Used (MRU) menu locations in Windows – which if you are like me, you edit, send, and delete documents like crazy. But these MRU links being dead is hardly what I’d call an error condition.

“Error Nuker” is something like $20-$49 (depends on which spammer you get solicited by, I guess). Frankly, it isn’t worth free. It literally does nothing, and although it has a safe delete option, the fact that it is just a glorified registry cleaner means it’s effectively useless. An analogy? Do you think washing your car will make it go faster? Me either.

I’ve seen worse “PUS” – specifically the kind that is truly malware. But it’s really a shame that we’ve gotten to this point, where Windows users will fall prey to junk software pimping itself as fixing Windows’ problems.