By Steve Bass | Wednesday, May 6, 2009 at 7:20 pm
WinPatrol is a free tool you just must have on your Windows PC: It gives you a way to stop unwanted programs from loading (and tells you which apps are safe), watches out for spyware and keyloggers, keeps your System tray uncluttered, and when you boot, can get you to the desktop quickly.
At its core, WinPatrol raises a flag when something suspicious happens within critical parts of your system. For instance, you’ll get an alert when anything is added to any of the Registry’s Startup locations and you’ll have the option of blocking it or disabling it later. WinPatrol watches almost 20 functions, including when a browser plug-in is added, a file type association is changed, a scheduled task is created, your HOST file is touched, or a new ActiveX component is installed.
WinPatrol keeps watch on all the junk that tries to load when your system boots.
WinPatrol is more than a cool tool; I’ve used it for over five years; it’s a permanent watchdog that watches over my system.
One of the many things I like is a sweetie called the Delayed Start feature. My system gets to the desktop faster because only essential programs–Kaspersky Security Suite, for instance, and Ad Muncher–are loaded right away. You can set non-essential startup programs to launch up to an hour after the system boots. For instance, I have a bunch of utilities (Volumouse, UltraMon, and others), loading sequentially a few minutes after the system boots. I have the start times for SnagIt, a screen capture program, delayed for 30 minutes.
With WinPatrol’s Delayed Start, you can delay the start time of programs that want to load when your system boots.
WinPatrol also keeps track of when a program, service, Registry entry, or hidden file was first detected on your machine. WinPatrol gives you a single list that sorts critical files and entries by their date detected. That’s valuable because if your system’s infected, the files appear as recent additions.
WinPatrol will export detailed reports in various formats — a spreadsheet with a complete dump of everything WinPatrol is monitoring, an easy-to-read report log, and a valuable hijack report, which is essential if you think your system’s infected.
WinPatrol works with XP and Vista, and has two versions. The free one is adequate for most people, and it includes almost all of the features of the $30 Plus version. WinPatrol Plus is worth the money, I promise you. In additional to lifetime upgrades, you get access to the descriptions of over 20,000 applications trying to sneak onto your system. So if you keep seeing ctfmon loading, for instance, and don’t recognize it, WinPatrol gives you the details and tells you if it’s a safe application. Here’s a comparison chart.
By the way, each WinPatrol upgrade has something that’s valuable, and most are included in both the free and Plus versions. For instance, last year WinPatrol started watching for keyloggers, programs that collect your keystrokes.
[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]